March 1, 2024

Wildlife Conservation Network connects major donors with little monkeys and other endangered species

Three conservationists backed by San Francisco-area philanthropists Juan Loaiza and Donna Howe made the same request a few years ago: a reliable vehicle.

Conservationists leading the Ewaso Lions program in Kenya, the cotton-top tamarin program Proyecto Tití in Colombia, and the Andean Cat Alliance in Latin America had trucks that constantly broke down or had to rent vehicles to go out into the wild. field. .

“It was the year of the truck,” says Loaiza. “It’s difficult to carry out a conservation program without transportation. … We thought – well, if this is your biggest need, let us help you with that.

Loaiza, executive vice president of mission-critical database technologies at Oracle in San Francisco, and Howe, currently a WildAid nonprofit board member with experience in hospital administration and veterinary technology, are among the donors individuals who have established direct relationships with conservationists around the world. world through the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Network, or WCN.

The couple, who have supported the conservation of animals and wild places for decades, began working with WCN more than ten years ago after a friend encouraged them to visit Proyecto Tití during a family visit to Colombia, where Loaiza is originally from. . The nonprofit is working to save the critically endangered cotton-top tamarin — a one-pound primate that lives only in the dry tropical forests in the northwestern part of the country.

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That 2010 trip led to participation in WCN’s Wildlife Conservation Expo, a biannual gathering that allows donors to meet and hear directly from those working directly to save species and the habitats they depend on for survival. The couple was “amazed by the presentations from these simply amazing and inspiring conservationists,” says Howe. “We were really hooked at that point.”

WCN was co-founded in 2002 by current president and chairman Charles Knowles, who founded software company Rubicon Technology; Akiko Yamazaki, philanthropist and president of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, married to Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang; and John Lukas, curator of wildlife conservation at the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida and president of the Okapi Conservation Project.

The group aims to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats by supporting local conservationists. It does so by supporting what it calls “conservation partners”, organizations like Proyecto Tití, led by local entrepreneurs.

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It has also created vehicles such as the Lion Recovery Fund and the Pangolin Crisis Fund, which pool donor funding to issue grants that protect species across the full range of their habitats. WCN also supports “emerging local wildlife leaders” with scholarships and mentoring designed to give them the skills to practice conservation in their communities, says Jean-Gael Collomb, CEO of WCN.

All of these efforts aim to support individuals and groups based in the countries where the work needs to be carried out. “Conservation will be most effective if it is done by local citizens who are deeply connected to the place where they work, who understand the socio-economic and cultural context and can be highly responsive to it,” says Collomb.

To support these local groups, WCN aims to amplify their voices and connect them with people who want to support the work, he says.

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“If you’re an effective conservationist working in central Mozambique or Colombia, you don’t necessarily have access to the kinds of people who can be truly transformative in providing support for your mission,” says Collomb.

“Similarly, if you’re in New York or Boston or San Francisco, it’s very easy to find out about the big organizations, but it’s much harder to find out about some of these really effective conservationists who are in pretty remote places.”

Saving a half-pound monkey

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Consider the cotton-top tamarin, a species of only about 7,000 monkeys today that depends on the dwindling forests in the Colombian states of Bolívar and Atlantic, south and northeast of the port city of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea. Colombian Rosamira Guillen, executive director of Proyecto Tití, had never heard of the tiny primates before a visit to the Barranquilla Zoo in 1995.

Guillen, a landscape architect tasked at the time with remodeling the decaying facilities, was named its director in 2001 and began focusing on the monkeys, making them a symbol of the zoo. Through her work there, she met Proyecto Tití’s founder, Anne Savage, a biologist who is now president of the organization’s board of directors and scientific advisor.

As head of Proyecto Tití since 2008, Guillen has focused on addressing two main threats to the little monkey: habitat loss and hunting for the pet trade. Livestock and agriculture in the region have reduced the forest areas on which the species depends to 8%.

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“It’s like a little bit here, a little bit there, and it’s killing the species – threatening its genetic viability and threatening the size of the populations,” says Guillen.

To combat these losses, Proyecto Tití, with the help of WCN and donors such as Loaiza and Howe, has focused on expanding the forest through land purchases, working with other conservation groups and the country’s regional and national environmental authorities. to create protected areas, she says.

In total, the group has helped protect approximately 13,000 acres of forest through the development of four protected reserves in the region.

With grant funds, the group also purchased a 475-acre tract of land in 2015, adjacent to the 2,575-acre national park that is home to the Bolívar cotton groves – the Los Colorados Fauna and Flora Sanctuary—and established a protected reserve. Since then, Proyecto Tití has ​​managed to increase the reserve to more than 1,200 acres. “And we are about to double the size of the reserve with a new expansion project,” he says.

The nonprofit is also working on creating forest corridors that could connect to the national park. These fragments largely exist on the surrounding farmland that is being resettled following the 2016 peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government.

Working with the Caribbean Environmental Heritage Foundation, Proyecto Tití has ​​entered into conservation agreements with landowners to set aside 10% of their properties to be restored as forested areas that can be connected with areas on neighboring properties that lead into the national park. In return, landowners receive seeds, tools or other items they cannot afford that allow them to develop their agricultural skills using sustainable practices.

To stop poaching, the group is educating children and the community about cotton and its endangered status. They are also helping communities develop stable and sufficient income opportunities by improving the productivity of their land, carrying out artisanal work or starting small businesses, she says.

WCN has been valuable not only for connecting Proyecto Tití with donors who can help with land purchases and other needs – such as providing them with work vehicles – and for allowing the organization to develop long-term relationships that turn into friendships.

“It creates bonds, it creates commitment and it creates credibility and trust – which is very important for the type of work we do,” says Guillen.

Loaiza and Howe were with their children, then aged 10 and 12, on their first visit to the cotton fields. Despite being a dry tropical area, the region was recently flooded by torrential rains. The couple remembers counting on the help of the Proyecto Tití team as they crossed streams and walked through mud.

“And when we got to the forest, it was like a magical experience with the monkeys,” says Loaiza. “There were wild macaws flying through the air… It was an incredible experience for us and our children – it left a lasting impression on them.”

For Loaiza, protecting monkeys, lions, cats and other threatened species and the habitats on which they depend is fundamental.

“Wild spaces are disappearing and you can’t bring them back, so you have to protect them now,” he says. “We also see it as a great investment because your money only goes so far. When you work with conservationists, you see how small their budget is, how little they really need to save incredible places.”

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