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Wildlife & Endangered Species

Rudi Putra

Last Name: 
Putra

A biologist by training, Rudi Putra is dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.

Indonesia’s rainforests are among the most biodiverse on the planet, housing 12 percent of the world’s known mammal species. Only half of the original forests remain standing today, due to an astonishingly high rate of deforestation—an estimated 2 million acres are lost every year.  Read more »

First Name: 
Rudi
Country: 
Indonesia
Bio: 

Photos | Bahasa Indonesia

A biologist by training, Rudi Putra is dismantling illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.

Indonesia’s rainforests are among the most biodiverse on the planet, housing 12 percent of the world’s known mammal species. Only half of the original forests remain standing today, due to an astonishingly high rate of deforestation—an estimated 2 million acres are lost every year. 

A large culprit behind Indonesia’s rapid deforestation is the growing worldwide demand for palm oil. It is used as an additive in packaged foods such as cookies, cereal, potato chips, chocolate, margarine, baby formula, and canned soups, along with a variety of soaps and cosmetic products.

Almost 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, and despite a current moratorium on forest clearing in Indonesia signed by the president in 2011, much of the forest loss comes from illegal plantations that have forced their way into protected areas through bribes and rampant government corruption. 

Motivation
As a high school student growing up in the Aceh region, Rudi Putra showed an early interest in nature and animals. He studied conservation biology and fell in love with the Sumatran rhino, the smallest—and the most critically endangered—member of the rhinoceros family.

He became an expert researcher and tracker, leading rhino protection teams on field expeditions to track down poachers in the Leuser Ecosystem. This 6.4-million acre, federally protected forest spanning the Aceh and North Sumatra provinces is one of the few remaining homes for the Sumatran rhino. 

Putra realized that in addition to anti-poaching efforts, his work could not be complete without addressing a much larger threat rapidly outpacing conservation: habitat destruction from illegal palm oil plantations.

Further studies pointed to the importance of the forest for the 4 million people living near the protected Leuser Ecosystem, who rely on the forestland for sustainable agriculture and water. The forests also provide much-needed protection from flooding, which has grown in frequency and severity in recent years. Putra began to see his work as not only protecting the rhinos and their habitat, but the people of the region as well. 

Impact
With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.

He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.

Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.

Putra is now part of a fight against a new threat to the rainforest: a proposal from the Aceh provincial government that would legally open up large tracts of forestland in the Leuser Ecosystem to palm oil development.

In 2013, Putra organized an online petition to apply international pressure on the Indonesian government to enforce its own conservation laws and reject the Aceh government’s proposal. The petition garnered 1.4 million signatures, and has been widely credited with catalyzing international conversations between government officials from Norway, the European Union, Indonesia and the Aceh province.  

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Tuy Sereivathana

Last Name: 
Sereivathana

Khmer

Tuy Sereivathana introduced innovative low-cost solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Cambodia, empowering local communities to cooperatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation. Read more »

First Name: 
Tuy
Country: 
Cambodia
Bio: 
Tuy Sereivathana introduced innovative low-cost solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Cambodia, empowering local communities to cooperatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation.

Elephants and Development
Cambodia has a long history of peaceful coexistence between people and elephants. Its most famous building, the spectacular Angkor Wat temple, was built out of stone and marble with the help of elephants in the 12th and 13th centuries. Elephants, then abundant in Southeast Asia, served as the critical heavy machinery, carrying building materials and providing the necessary force to hoist pulleys and move stone. Long revered in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, elephants continue to hold deep meaning for followers of those religions today. In Khmer history following the Angkor period, several kings believed that possessing rare white elephants could bring glory for the country. However, despite their cultural significance, after a period of unregulated development, Cambodia’s wild elephant population has dwindled significantly.

 

Cambodia is a country in transition, having emerged from a violent and isolated past under the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and subsequent conflicts between the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian government in the 1980s. Now, growing as a constitutional monarchy, Cambodia has experienced a dramatic increase in population and an explosion of unregulated development. This has placed enormous strain on the country’s natural resources, particularly its now-fragmented rainforests.

Migration routes of endangered Asian elephants have been disturbed by this development, leading to conflicts between local communities and elephants. With their habitat decreasing, elephants are destroying farms as they look for food on the edges of the forests. Many rural farmers have been forced to relocate as a result of development in other parts of the country, tilling small tracts of land on the forests’ edges to feed their families. Desperate farmers have, in the past, killed elephants to protect their crops. These migrant farmers have no experience living in wildlife areas and no bond with the forests or the elephants. They are extremely poor, have little education and no political power to resolve land and livelihood conflicts.

Human-Elephant Conflicts Resolved
Tuy Sereivathana (Vathana) was born in 1970, the same year that Cambodia entered into a period of extreme political upheaval. In 1975 his family fled from the city and the brutal Pol Pot regime to the rural village where Tuy’s father’s family lived. Tuy’s parents, both well-educated, taught school in the mornings to the local children and farmed in the afternoon to make ends meet. During his childhood years in the countryside, Tuy developed a deep respect for nature and was particularly fascinated with elephants. Later, when he was awarded a scholarship to attend university in Belarus, he focused on forestry studies and returned to Cambodia committed to working to conserve his country’s natural resources.

As a ranger with Cambodia’s national parks, Tuy worked throughout the country, connecting with rural communities and learning more about elephant migration and ecosystems. In Prey Proseth and Trang Troyeng, two communities not far from Tuy’s ancestral home where 30,000 people live on the forest’s edge, he became aware of the lack of capacity within these communities to manage the human-elephant conflict they faced. In response, Tuy began developing his community-based model, spending time with the farmers in their fields and building their trust. He taught villagers how to use hot chilies, native plants, fences, fireworks and fog horns to ward off elephants. He demonstrated the benefits of crop rotation and diversification. Tuy encouraged farmers to alternate rapidly-growing crops such as cucumbers, which can be harvested several times a year before the elephants discover they are ripe. With this type of system, only one of many annual harvests would be damaged in the event of an elephant raid into a farmer’s field. More importantly, he fostered cooperation among the farmers to work together as a community, encouraging them to organize overnight guard groups to protect the fields. Tuy was also able to revive in the communities the national and religious pride attached to the Asian elephant, as many Cambodians revere elephants as sacred Buddhist symbols. Because Tuy understood the dynamics of this environmental problem, he was able to develop simple, effective strategies and practical solutions at the grassroots level.

During this time, Tuy, affectionately known as “Uncle Elephant” in the communities he works with, left his position as a National Parks officer under the Cambodian Ministry of Environment in 2003 to assume the role of Human Elephant Conflict Team Leader for the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group, a project co-sponsored by Fauna & Flora International, the Cambodian government and community organizations. Tuy later became full-time manager of the project in 2006.

In 2008, Tuy helped set up schools and brought teachers to the isolated communities dealing with human-elephant conflict. He saw this as another opportunity to embed the elephant and wildlife conservation message into the community. With support from Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Los Angeles Zoo and International Elephant Foundation (IEF), Tuy was able to set up four schools. One day per week, these schools teach 250 children about the natural environment, elephants and other wildlife, and how to live in harmony with nature.

Since his work began, Tuy has seen significant success. At the start of the decade, elephant killings due to crop raids were not uncommon. As a result of Tuy’s involvement with the project, there has not been a single confirmed elephant death due to human-elephant conflict since 2005.

As elephant populations throughout Asia continue to decline, Tuy’s program has brought hope to local communities and bettered the prospects of endangered Asian elephants in Cambodia. Tuy’s model is now being used in neighboring communities and is being considered in other countries with human-elephant conflicts such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

Quote: 

"I want wild elephants and local communities to live together in harmony. Protecting and conserving elephants means we also provide home for other species to live." - Tuy Sereivathana

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Orri Vigfússon

Last Name: 
Vigfússon

Orri Vigfússon brokered huge international fishing rights buyouts with governments and corporations in the North Atlantic, effectively stopping destructive commercial salmon fishing in the region. Read more »

First Name: 
Orri
Country: 
Iceland
Bio: 

Multi-National Challenge, Innovative Solution Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, the once-plentiful wild salmon populations in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic dwindled to dangerously low levels, affecting not only the sensitive ocean and river ecosystems of the region, but also the rural communities for whom salmon fishing is a long-held local tradition and source of income. In the early 1990s Orri Vigfússon started an innovative, multinational initiative to buy out the fishing rights of commercial salmon fishers whose over-fishing was causing the decline. He represents a new breed of environmental leader who utilizes business skills and negotiating to effectively protect precious natural resources. Through his work, Vigfússon has succeeded in preventing the seemingly inevitable decimation of wild North Atlantic salmon populations. An entrepreneur and life-long outdoorsman, Vigfússon first became aware of declining salmon stocks in the 1970s while fishing along the rivers of his native northern Iceland. Speaking with others who lived or fished along local rivers, he learned the extent of Iceland’s shrinking river salmon populations. In response, Vigfússon founded the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Five Million Salmon Saved Since 1989 the organization has raised US$35 million to buy the netting rights from commercial fishers across the North Atlantic, essentially paying commercial fishermen not to fish salmon in the North Atlantic. NASF has also brokered moratorium agreements with several national governments. These efforts have dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries. According to NASF estimates, commercial open-sea fishing in the Atlantic has dropped by more than 75 percent in the last 15 years, and river anglers in several countries in areas where nets have been closed have reported substantial increases in salmon catches. NASF estimates that in excess of five million North Atlantic salmon have been saved to date. Local Support Leads to International Changes In order for the buyout system to be successful, Vigfússon had to succeed on a number of fronts. He has to raise millions of dollars to compensate the commercial fishermen for the loss of income they suffer in giving up salmon fishing. The agreements are designed to cover a fixed period of years but the hope is that by the time the agreements expire many of the fishermen will not wish to return to salmon fishing. A large percentage of NASF’s funds, therefore, is spent on assisting the fishers to find alternative employment. He also has to negotiate with individual governments in order to persuade them to provide matched funding and to change the policies and economic decisions that have previously influenced their fishing industry practices. To ensure the sustainability of these efforts, Vigfússon began promoting viable economic alternatives for salmon fishers including snow crab and lumpfish caviar harvesting. In the beginning, Vigfússon reached out to a variety of stakeholders across Iceland, Europe and North America to convince them of the need to address the over-fishing problem. He met with residents of river communities and local anglers, who were all experiencing declining numbers of river salmon. He began discussions with commercial salmon fishers, talking openly with them about the extent of the problem from both an environmental and economic point of view, including how their own livelihoods were being affected. After raising significant grassroots support, Vigfússon approached governments, introducing his idea of the buyout agreements. With a mind for business and a passion for his cause, Vigfússon has since brokered multi-million dollar buyouts or moratorium agreements with commercial salmon fishers in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Wales, England, Greenland, France and Norway. Recently, Vigfússon and NASF´s branches in the UK and Northern Ireland brokered agreements to buy out the remaining drift nets in partnership with the authorities. In November 2006, after years of campaigning and negotiating by NASF, Ireland finally announced that it would buy out all of the country’s salmon drift-netting licenses. As part of the buyout, the Irish government will establish a hardship fund of more than US$39 million to address the financial losses that Irish salmon fishers will face, as well as providing an additional US$7 million fund to help rural communities deal with the loss of income. This development represents one of the final steps in Vigfússon’s vision of securing a complete halt to salmon fishing at sea in the North Atlantic. Vigfússon is now focused on the remaining interceptory coastal nets in Scotland and Norway, the last countries to operate major mixed-stock fisheries that prevent many returning salmon from reaching their native rivers. The governments in both countries have been slow to act and are reluctant to work with civil society groups such as NASF. As a result, both countries face significant negative impacts to the salmon stocks on their local rivers.

Quote: 

“My objective is to restore the abundance of wild salmon that formerly existed on both sides of the North Atlantic. This can only be achieved by safeguarding the fish at sea. If the numbers of salmon and many other species of fish are to be rebuilt, we must also protect the whole marine food chain.”

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Michael Werikhe

Last Name: 
Werikhe

Kenya’s “Rhino Man” walked thousands of miles in East Africa, Europe and North America to raise public awareness and money for the endangered black rhinoceros.

Michael Werikhe (d. 1999), fondly known to many as "The Rhino Man," was raised in Mombasa on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. A lifelong protector of animals, Werikhe has walked thousands of miles on several continents to educate people around the world about the plight of the rhinoceros. Read more »

First Name: 
Michael
Country: 
Kenya
Bio: 

Kenya’s “Rhino Man” walked thousands of miles in East Africa, Europe and North America to raise public awareness and money for the endangered black rhinoceros.

Michael Werikhe (d. 1999), fondly known to many as "The Rhino Man," was raised in Mombasa on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. A lifelong protector of animals, Werikhe has walked thousands of miles on several continents to educate people around the world about the plight of the rhinoceros.

Poaching, fueled by the international black market's demand for rhino horn, has been leading the rhino toward extinction. Thirty years ago black rhinos had a population of approximately 100,000. The animal is now virtually extinct in several African countries including Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Werikhe's approach was creative and his goal straightforward: undertaking long walks to help save the animal he viewed as the symbol of environmental crisis. On these "Rhino Walks," Werikhe educated the people who joined him and raised funds for rhino conservation programs. This work was dangerous as he was frequently threatened by poachers.

Werikhe has traversed Africa, Europe and the United States capturing the imagination of young people wherever he goes. The money he has raised has aided the Kenyan government in its development of large, fenced, guarded tracts of land where rhinos can breed and survive. Animals from threatened areas are transported to these sanctuaries and, for the first time in years, the rhino population is reported to be on the increase. The black rhino population is currently estimated to be just over 2,000. The southern white rhino has fared slightly better. There are thought to be 8,800 of them.

Rhino horns are, however, still for sale on the international black market. In late 1993, Werikhe led two well-publicized walks in Taiwan, one of the biggest consumers of rhino horns in Asia. He visited many traditional medicine shops and encouraged the medicine men and the Taiwanese government to work together to educate the public about alternatives to rhino horn powder.

Prior to his passing 1999, Werikhe was active with the Rhino project at Kenya's Tsavo East National Park, 290 kilometers from Mombasa. In 1998 heavy rains and summer fires damaged the park severely. Werikhe was joined by a group of teenage school boys from England who raised money for Save the Rhino International and together they helped rangers at Tsavo East rebuild park infrastructure.

Quote: 

"If there is no hope for an animal so huge, strong and recognizable, what hope is there for lesser animals - the reptiles, the monkeys, etc."

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Eugène Rutagarama

Last Name: 
Rutagarama

A conservationist, Eugène Rutagarama risked his life to save 355 of the world’s last 650 mountain gorillas that were threatened by Rwanda’s war and massacres in the 1990s. He helped rebuild the national parks system and protect gorilla habitat. Read more »

First Name: 
Eugène
Country: 
Rwanda
Bio: 

The human suffering in Rwanda during the 1990s was incalculable, but without intervention the victims of war might have included a group of humanity's most endangered relatives mountain gorillas. Only about 650 mountain gorillas exist worldwide, some 355 in the Volcano National Park in the Virungas mountains straddling Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thanks to Eugène Rutagarama, the Virungas' fragile mountain gorilla population survived the war and the recent conflicts in the DRC. Indeed, the population has grown by 11 percent since 1989. Identified as a Tutsi, Rutagarama has endured a lifetime of persecution from the country's Hutu extremists. He escaped prison in 1991 and fled to Burundi with his family. Following the 1994 genocide, which took the lives of most of Rutagarama's relatives, he returned to Rwanda to help revive the weakened national parks. Although tourism provides important income to Rwanda, the protected areas administered by the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks were in jeopardy as the government tried to resettle more than two million people. Rutagarama created and garnered support for a strategic plan that led to the agency's rehabilitation, ensuring that the protected areas and mountain gorilla habitat were not overrun. Risking his life, he repeatedly traveled to hostile territories to deliver funds and supplies to park rangers in the DRC so they could continue their work. Today, Rutagarama works for the International Gorilla Conservation Program, rebuilding ecotourism, monitoring the mountain gorillas and building relationships with the communities near the parks.

Quote: 

"After a humanitarian disaster as horrific as genocide, the common struggle to preserve something of shared value, like the natural environment, can form an ideal for people to believe in. The opportunity and obligation to protect something precious can assist the reconstruction of a devastated society."

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