Native Peruvian Communities Coming Together to Save their Environment and Culture

March 26th, 2012

Amazon community on the Rio Corrientes. Photo by: Patrick le Flufy.

  • Back in the 1970’s a petrol company (Pluspetrol) set up petroleum operations near the Rio Corrientes (in the Peruvian Amazon) that were very close to some tribal villages; the machinery was not built very well and the villages suffered 2 large oil spills that contaminated the water, causing the people to suffer poisoning and serious health problems.
  • An organization called FECONACO (Federation of Native Communities of Rio Corrientes) was formed to report to the government about oil spills and other environmental problems in the region.  The organization was made up of native people who started working to stop the damage Pluspetrol was causing.
  • After the spills, and additional waste dumping by Pluspetrol, the natives of FECONACO banded together and fought to stop the company’s operations.
  • Now the organization has grown and is made up of specially-trained environmental monitors who are studying the pollution caused by Pluspetrol.
  • Other tribes in jungle communities have also been banding together to conserve and manage their natural resources.
  • A group called Curuinsi was formed of students instructed by elders of native communities teaching about Peruvian culture, jungle knowledge, herbal medicines, and other sacred and cultural traditions and customs.
  • Curuinsi is working to spread the knowledge of native culture to native young people as well as other people (like foreigners) who are interested in learning.  In addition to teaching people about traditional ways, they are working to record the information and spread it through the internet to make it accessible for others. 
  • FECONACO and Curuinsi are two examples of efforts made by native Peruvian people stop the negative influences of Western development on their land. 
  • Local people are coming together to try to stop all the problems facing the Peruvian jungle (deforestation, pollution, etc.). 
  • Each community has formed their own special way of dealing with issues and responding to threats to their habitat. 
  • These communities need the help and support of the government to stop loggers and developers from damaging their jungle home.

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Scientists Need more Data to Save the Great Apes!

March 21st, 2012


  • There are 6 species of great apes currently living: bonobos, chimpanzees, 2 species of gorillas, and 2 species of orangutans…all of them are critically endangered
  • Poor and incomplete data (scientific information) makes predicting the number of great apes left in the wild almost impossible
  • The most serious threats to great ape populations are deforestation and habitat destruction, hunting, and disease
  • A large-scale study was conducted by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology (a place that studies apes and evolution) on great ape conservation efforts in Africa over the past 20 years to see if conservation efforts have been effective
  • Through the study, scientists were able to identify effective strategies for ape conservation and identify problems and obstacles that prevent work from being successful
  • Ape conservation is difficult because of political problems in the countries where they live, lack of funding and support, and lack of law enforcement and habitat protection
  • Scientists believe that the best strategy for saving the great apes is to support long-term projects, continuing to work in areas where ape conservation work has already been done, and to increasing the amount of enforcement for laws and regulations protecting apes and their habitat
  • More financial support for conservation organizations is needed for conservation efforts to be successful
  • People can help by donating to conservation organizations, supporting conservation efforts, and spreading the word about why conservation is so important!

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Where have all the Critters Gone: the Sad Reality of ‘Empty Forest Syndrome’

March 15th, 2012
  • Unsustainable and illegal hunting is reducing populations of wildlife at alarming rates.  This is particularly a problem in Africa and Asia, and is a growing concern in the Amazon region.
  • Removing wildlife from the wild reduces biodiversity and causes harmful changes in ecosystems- disrupting food webs, altering community interactions among plants and animals, and potentially changing the vegetative structure of forests.
  •  18% of forests in the world are ‘protected’.  Conservationists believe this to be a great success.  Unfortunately, just because something is labeled as being protected doesn’t mean that it actually is.
  • Even though forests are labeled as being protected, illegal hunting takes place and there is not enough support or enforcement to make sure that wildlife is safe from poachers.
  • So much wildlife is being hunted at such a rapid rate that some forests are devoid of animals. In other words, the trees are there, but the animals aren’t.
  • Rural communities depend on bushmeat as a source of protein because they do not have access to domesticated sources of meat.  The hunting problem is compounded because in addition to hunting the meat for consumption, they also sell the meat to earn an income.
  • Forest conservation faces many problems, mostly due to a lack of funding and support.  These problems include: limited political support, poor infrastructure, overstretched education systems, inefficient legal systems, and corruption.
  • It is difficult to discourage local people from hunting because they feel it is their right to do so.  In many communities, hunting is traditional, having been practiced for generations.
  • Conservationists are going to have to come up with creative solutions to combat these problems.

Cuscus being sold as meat in the Wamena market

 A cuscus being sold as meat in an Indonesian market

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Will Big Companies Tell the Truth about Their Impact on the Environment?

March 15th, 2012
  • A new initiative called the Forest Footprint Disclosure (FFD) asks big companies to reveal their impacts on the environment in terms of 5 raw materials commonly produced from forest areas: soy, palm oil, timber and pulp, cattle, and biofuels.
  • Some companies have agreed to the request, but others have refused.  Out of 357 invitations to participate, less than a quarter of companies accepted.
  • Consumers want to know that the companies they buy from are doing their best to operate without destroying the environment.
  • Supporters of the FFD say that commercial industries need to realize how important it is to protect forests because of all the ecosystem services they provide. Ecosystem services include benefits like maintaining rainfall, protecting against floods and droughts, and storing carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere.
  • In addition to reporting, the FFD works with companies on ways to reduce their impacts, and showcases companies who are successful in doing so.
  • Some companies supporting the initiative are: Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, British Airways, Nike, and Greenenergy International.
  • Some companies who declined to participate: Starbucks, McDonalds, Target, Time Warner, Coca Cola, Amazon, and General Mills.

Deforested rainforest in Borneo

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Toy airplane used to explore rainforest

March 12th, 2012

Aerial photograph from the drone showing forest clearing. Courtesy of Lian Pin Koh.

A pair of scientists have modified a model airplane with a camera and other sensors so it can be used to explore rainforests.

  • The scientists tested their “conservation drone” on Indonesia’s Sumatra island.
  • So far they have used the remote-controlled aircraft to map deforestation, count orangutans and other endangered species, and get a bird’s eye view of hard-to-access forest areas.
  • The drone’s flights can be plotted using Google Maps. A typical flight lasts 25 minutes and can cover about 50 football fields.
  • “The main goal of this project is to develop low-cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that every conservation biologist in the tropics can use for surveying forests and biodiversity,” said Lian Pin Koh, the scientist who came up with the idea. “Drones are already being used for many purposes including the military, agriculture, and even in Hollywood for filming. But they are still not commonly used for conservation purposes.”
  • Koh said the concept of the drone came to him after an exhausting day hiking through the forest.
  • He hopes the drone could have other uses including tracking deforestation, law enforcement, and monitoring forest fires.
  • “My dream is that in the future, every field ecologist will have a drone as part of their toolkit, since it doesn’t cost more than a good pair of binoculars!” said Koh.

    Conservation drone

    Remote-controlled conservation aircraft

    Remote-controlled conservation plane
    Koh and Wich with their drone.
    “The idea for developing this low-cost drone came to me during one of my field trips to Borneo in 2004,” Koh told “A very exhausting day of fieldwork made me wish for a remote control aircraft that I could send into the forest to do the work for me so that I could take a break the next day.”

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