In 2017 the RRF awarded five emergency grants totalling over $100,000 to help combat a range of emergencies in natural UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa and the Americas, including wildfires, a spike in illegal wildlife trade and a human-wildlife conflict crisis.
A race against the clock: preventing imminent forest fire outbreak in Guatemala

Tikal National Park is located in northern Guatemala’s Petén Province, within the much larger Maya Biosphere Reserve. It exceeds two million hectares and is both a natural and cultural World Heritage site due to its extraordinary biodiversity and archaeological importance. Anthropogenic forest fires are recognised as one of the greatest threats to the site. They are started so as to clear land for agriculture and to ease extraction of forest products. The extent of these fires is reported to have increased in recent years, so much so that the Guatemalan government declared a state of emergency in Petén in 2016, when 122 hectares of forest within the National Park were destroyed by raging forest fires.

In April 2017, the RRF made a grant of $27,717 to Fundación ProPetén, a Guatemalan NGO that works at the site, to provide equipment and training to National Park staff to manage the fires that were expected to break out imminently, as the land clearing season began. The grant was used to develop and implement a plan for the prevention and control of forest fires, which included proactively preventing fire damage through clearing firebreaks, supporting patrols and providing training in techniques for the control of forest fires. The plan will also ensure long-term management of the threat to the World Heritage site.

Tikal National Park staff preparing to manage forest fires.
Combatting the escalating illegal trafficking of African grey parrots in the Republic of Congo

The Sangha Trinational World Heritage site is a major, 746,309 hectare transboundary conservation complex in the north western Congo Basin, which encompasses three adjoining national parks in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo. The site is a mosaic of ecosystems, including tropical forests and wetlands, and harbours viable populations of many threatened species, such as forest elephants and gorillas. Sangha Trinational is also a key remaining stronghold for the African grey parrot, a species recently uplisted to Endangered on the IUCN Red List and included in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Appendix I as a result of demand from the pet trade and habitat loss.

Since 2016, staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society working at Sangha Trinational have recorded a marked increase in the seizures of illegally captured African grey parrots in northern Congo, which were most likely captured in and around the World Heritage site. This increase in threat to the species is thought to be caused by a decline in populations in neighbouring countries, stricter trade restrictions, confusion over the species’ legal status in Congo and misalignment of Congolese law with international trade restrictions.

In April 2017, the RRF granted $14,467 to the Wildlife Conservation Society to respond to the escalation in threat to the African grey parrot in this natural World Heritage site. The funds were used to extend and construct facilities and improve procedures for the rehabilitation of seized parrots, support targeted law enforcement against parrot traffickers and document and report trans-boundary trafficking to CITES.

The grant resulted in a decrease in mortality in seized birds (from 45.5% to just 13.5%) and an increase in the percentage of seized birds rehabilitated and released back into the wild (from 24.4% to 42.2%). The focus on the African grey parrot also contributed to an increase in the judicial authorities’ awareness about their threatened status and trade restrictions, and the declaration of a zero-capture policy for the African grey parrot within Congo.

African grey parrots in a rehabilitation facility in Sangha Trinational Park. Credit: Zanne Labuschagne/WCS
Resolving a human-wildlife conflict crisis in Costa Rica

The Area de Conservación Guanacaste World Heritage site comprises 147,000 hectares of land and sea in the northwest of Costa Rica, encompassing several contiguous protected areas and a diverse plethora of habitats. 104,000 hectares of the site is terrestrial, where more than 900 vertebrate species have been recorded, including jaguars and pumas. However human-wildlife conflict resulting from livestock predation by these big cat species, and subsequent retaliatory killings of the cats, is a prevalent issue at the site. The problem recently came to a head due to the limited capacity of the bodies responsible for responding to livestock attacks, resulting in five jaguars being killed in 2016.

In May 2017, the RRF provided a grant of $9,999 to Asociación Confraternidad Guanacasteca (ACG), a local NGO that was approached by ranchers for help in addressing the situation, to reduce livestock loss and the threat of retaliatory killings of jaguars. The funds are being used to install measures on several ranches to prevent jaguar attacks on livestock, including lights and fencing. This will not only have a direct impact in terms of immediately reducing the threat of retaliatory killings, but also a catalytic and longer-term impact in building and restoring trust and cooperation between the site management bodies, NGOs and the local ranchers.

Portrait of a Jaguar (Panthera onca). Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.
Seeking survivors: coral health in Costa Rica during an extreme thermal event

The marine sector of the Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) World Heritage site in Costa Rica spans 43,000 hectares and includes near-shore islands, islets and a largely intact coast. It is an area of exceptionally high productivity inhabited by several turtle species, including Critically Endangered leatherback turtles.

However a severe coral bleaching event was predicted at the site between May and July 2017. Coral bleaching (which results from the temperature-induced breakdown in the symbiotic relationship between the coral host and the algae that live in its tissue) poses a significant threat to many coral reefs and it is feared that global climate change will result in the decimation of reefs around the world, with severe consequences for wildlife and people’s livelihoods.

In May 2017 the RRF made a grant of $29,972 to the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund to support the documentation and assessment of corals before, during and after the bleaching event and to study in detail the response of different coral colonies and different species to bleaching conditions. This novel initiative will provide vital information to guide coral species selection for translocation, restoration, and other management measures. The information obtained should prove invaluable in informing coral reef management in the face of climate change both within ACG and beyond.

Emergency response to planned developments in Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and contiguous Virunga National Park and World Heritage Site in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unique, with its active chain of volcanoes, rich diversity of habitats and exceptional biodiversity, notably rare and globally threatened species such as the mountain gorilla. The site is threatened by the imminent construction of a proposed cable car, tourist infrastructure, and climate change monitoring station on a mountain top within the heart of Volcanoes National Park. The proposed project would transect primary mountain gorilla habitat, fragment high conservation value forest and present significant environmental and social impacts to both biodiversity and the local communities.

An environmental impact assessment of the proposed development was undertaken, however a more complete and rigorous assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the proposed development is being advised by various stakeholder groups. Through previous support from the RRF, FFI and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme were able to secure the suspension of the cable car project, pending further review.

In December 2017, RRF provided a grant of $22,550 to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme to provide technical support to the review process. Using the support from RRF, International Gorilla Conservation Programme representatives are participating on a Conservation Committee that has been set up by the Government of Rwanda; the aim is to assist the Rwandan government’s decision-making concerning the potential threat the development poses to the mountain gorillas and other rare and globally threatened species.

Follow us on Twitter

RRF grants in 2017