By Roberta Kravette
Think about wildlife conservation and immediately the big names come to mind: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Nature Conservancy to name a few. Together with other well-known organizations, they form a kind wildlife conservation engine, propelling the movement to protect species and habitat worldwide. Without them and their vital work, many would already be gone.
The Little Known Army of Heroes
This is Part 1 of a 4 Part Series highlighting lesser-known, but vitally important conservation organizations around the world. We begin with 4 organizations working on the the African continent.
Small, some tiny by comparison, these organizations stand on the front lines, their names and work less known. They are staffed by dedicated, passionate men and women: rangers, researchers, rescuers, and educators. They do much of conservation’s heavy, sometimes dangerous, lifting. They work with locals (friendly to the cause, and not), encouraging, cajoling, persuading, changing minds, gathering data and statistics, protecting and rehabilitating animals and sometimes stepping between them and death. There are no corner offices, no formal galas for these folks. Many are unpaid volunteers. They live for their animals - and sometimes they die for them.
The sense of joy is palpable when these folks speak about the animals they work with, and at the same moment, the exude an even greater feeling of urgency and fear.
These 4 Organizations Deserve Our Support
These four organizations all have two things in common:
1) Programs to help locals: They are all incorporating initiatives and programs to help the local people co-exist with wildlife
2) Immediacy: They all feel there is no more time to loose.
The PAMS Foundation
When I began this story, I asked Mark Fowler which organizations he thought were especially effective and deserving of our help. Mark is the Vice President for Sustainability, Wildlife, and Conservation at the Explorers Club and also The Nature Initiative Director for Grace Farms Foundation, a not-for-profit organization supporting initiatives in the areas of nature, arts, justice, community, and faith. Mark works with anti-poaching, anti-trafficking law enforcement agencies worldwide. Mark is also a valued contributor.
From Mark Fowler: “I would also recommend the PAMS Foundation, which very effectively supports wildlife law enforcement operations …” That is rather an understatement.
Area of Concern: African Elephants, poaching
IUCN Assessment: Vulnerable (Some areas are worse than others, Tanzania lost 60% of its elephants in the five years between 2009 and 2014.)
Headquarters: Tanzania, Africa
Founded: 2009 by Wayne Lotter, Krissie Clark, and Ally Namangaya.
Why We Love the PAMS Foundation
The name “PAMS” originates from the founding vision to provide protected area management solutions. Their vision statement says it all: To enable a world in which wildlife and wild places are secure, and communities have the support necessary to live safely and in harmony with wildlife.
Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania lost 60% of its elephants to poachers. Wayne Lotter’s original idea was to create a network for intelligence-led anti-poaching initiatives to slow the slaughter down. The foundation of this network would be the local people themselves who would listen, learn, and report potential poaching activity. He financially helped the Tanzanian serious-crime investigation agency to add detection dogs and handlers, and provided strong backing for nervous prosecutors. All this and PAMS community projects have helped to bring down over 2,000 poachers including several kingpins in only five years. In August 2018, Wayne Lotter was murdrered in Dar es Salaam.
How Your Gift Helps The PAMS Foundation
To stop poaching local humans must want to protect local wildlife. Human/wildlife conflict is growing in direct proportion to the growing human population’s encroachment into wildlife habitat. PAMS seeks non-lethal, non-aggressive, low maintenance solutions, such as chili fences. In Tanzania, these fences, which are nothing more than chili and oil soaked rope, are avoided by the elephants that had regularly raided crops and killed livestock. One additional benefit of chili ropes: many former poachers are now chili farmers.
Among other initiatives, PAMS Foundations has developed an environmental education syllabus called “Living in Harmony with Nature” that they teach at schools in areas that surround conservation areas. Part of the program includes community sports competitions and tree planting by each student. Upon graduation, the student’s tree receives a certificate of achievement plaque with his/her name.
Tactical anti-poaching training, equipment and uniforms, and funding for food to go out on patrol. PAMS also assists with aerial surveillance in ultra-light aircraft. This allows for faster more effective spotting of potentially illegal activity as well as helping to understand and track the movement of wildlife.
The mission of the PAMS Biological Exploration program is to seek out explore and protect, “unknown and untouched forests, to describe their scientific value and characterize the species found.”
The Marine Megafauna Foundation
Area of Concern: Marine megafauna, particularly: Whale shark and manta ray
Whale Shark IUCN Assessment: Endangered, decreasing
Rays IUCN Assessment: The IUCN lists 17 species of ray.
Assessments range from Least Concern (3), to Vulnerable (1), Near Threatened (2), and Endangered (3), with 8 species rated DD or Data Deficient. Additionally, the populations of 16 ray species are assessed as Decreasing or Unknown. Only one species, the Southern eagle ray, is assessed as Stable.
Headquarters: Tofu Beach, Inhambane, Mozambique (Research Center)
Founders: Dr Andrea Marshall, Dr. Simon J. Pierce,
Why We Love The Marine Megafauna Foundation
I have to admit that when I began to gather information for our first Field Guide to Whale Sharks, I barely knew what one was. I was not alone. Globally, the hard research data on the biggest fish on the planet was minimal at best. Even simple questions had no firm answer: Do they migrate? How deeply do they dive and why? How long do they live, when do they give birth?
Today those whale shark questions still have questions, but thanks to Dr. Simon Pierce, co-founder of and a principal scientist for Marine Megafauna Foundation and his fantastic team of scientists and volunteers, our knowledge of whale sharks and rays and of our oceans is growing in … well, waves.
Dr. Pierce is also regional co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and a scientific advisor to the online global whale shark database, Wildbook for Whalesharks.
How Your Gift Helps the Marine Megafauna Foundation
The Marine Megafauna Foundation has a strong focus on local community outreach and education as part of a long-term sustainable conservation approach. They actively encourage the next generation of scientists by including volunteer opportunities with their research teams. The hands-on experience these volunteers gain working with the whale sharks or rays is life-changing.
Here in their own words are an overall description the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s Initiatives:
By 2030, we will be one of the main explorers of marine ecosystems, focusing on megafauna as our flagship species. our current research focuses on species-level population ecology and conservation biology, with considerable overlay between the two areas.
We strive to be both a global and local educator: raising public awareness and inspiring action across the world, while working directly with coastal communities and government officials to enhance understanding and support behavioral change.
We work to improve the management of existing marine protected areas (MPAs) and develop effective, longterm conservation strategies to protect as restore key habitats. On a regional level, we are a trusted conservation leader, empowering local communities to manage marine resources sustainably.
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Area of Concern: Cheetah Survival
Cheetah IUCN assessment: Vulnerable, decreasing
Headquarters: Namibia, Africa
Founder: Dr. Laurie Marker
Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Work: Species survival through Human/ Wildlife Coexistence programs and genetic research.
Why We Love The Cheetah Conservation Fund
From the moment she founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Dr. Laurie Marker’s approach to saving the species included initiatives to enhance the well-being of the people who share the cheetah’s habitat.
Perhaps it is Dr. Marker’s innate ability to see the connection between all living things. Or maybe it is a function of those eyes that seem to reach into your soul as she looks at you – or perhaps there is something else.
Whatever it is that drives her, the knowledge that Dr. Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund are adding to the world’s understanding of cheetahs, combined with the innovated programs they are developing, constitute this species best chance for survival.
Human / Wildlife Coexistence
The heart of the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s approach to human/wildlife coexistence is a series of non-lethal solutions integrating the cheetah’s entire ecosystem, including the people and their livestock. Practical programs, based on science, nature, and common sense have put the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Dr. Laurie Marker at the forefront of wildlife conservation.
The Genetics of Species Survival
Not least important for a species on the edge of extinction, CCF currently operates Africa’s only fully equipped genetics lab in a conservation facility. Their research since the 1980’s has identified the effects of the cheetah’s limited genetic variation - effects that make its survival even more precarious. Dr. Marker is regularly invited to address conservationists all over the world.
How Your Gift Helps Cheetahs
Cheetah Genetic studies, Genome resource bank, cheetah census surveys
2. Human / Wildlife Conflict Resolution.
Programs to secure prosperity for the cheetah’s human neighbors: Guard Dog Program to protect livestock , Farmer training, and community outreach, Product development such as goat cheese and honey to reduce dependence on an unsustainable more-is-better livestock herding, Program to teach Sustainable and organic farming techniques.
3. Preparing the Next Generation of Conservationists and Scientists:
Science programs, internships, School outreach programs and more
Virunga National Park, The Virunga Alliance
Area of Concern: Securing Virunga National Park
IUNC Assessment: mountain gorillas: Threatened; okapi: Endangered; African elephant: Vunerable and more.
Located: Democratic Republic of Congo
Founded: 1925 as Albert National Park in 1925, extended in 1929, became Virunga National Park in 1969.
Saving the Mountain Gorilla
If there were ever an improbable conservation quest in 1989 saving the last critically endangered mountain gorillas would have been it. Their population, only 620 individuals, was rapidly shrinking.
Mountain gorillas live in just two places on earth, Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest and the Virunga Mountains. This rugged, densely forested range spans the borders of three countries which, for decades were most noted for intense poverty, warlords, ethnic mass murder, and corruption. The last three funded in no small means through the killing of wildlife and the sale of their parts. In recent decades, two of the three, Rwanda and Uganda have stabilized.
Saving Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest park and a UNESCO Heritage site (1979), is also one of the most dangerous. If the saving the mountain gorilla seemed improbable in 1989, then the idea of protecting the Virunga National Park today might appear near-impossible. However, for me, it is also one of the most hopeful conservation and human stories on our planet.
The Virunga mountains are a battle zone for armed groups of border-crossing rebels, local bandits, and militias. Wildlife poaching remains a prime source of their income. In the last 20 years, almost 200 rangers have been killed defending Virunga's wildlife.
Still, The Rangers Stand Tall, Protecting
the Land, Animals, and People
This unstoppable group of Rangers is led, since 2007, by the Park's equally unstoppable director, Emmanuel de Marode. De Marode, a Belgian prince (he does not “need” to put his life on the line for this cause), has been shot by poachers, left for dead, and returned to fight again. De Marode and his Rangers never give up.
The majority of Virunga's 800 Rangers are in their 20’s, married with children, and recruited from local villages; about 30 are women. Some had fathers or family members who were Rangers in the days before the militias invaded. For them making Virunga National Park's 3,012 sq. miles (7,801km2) safe for wildlife and the tourism that can support it is personal.
In May 2018, tourism was temporarily suspended. Over 12 Rangers had been killed in the 10 months before with the period culminating in the death of a woman ranger who was trying to protect two tourists and their driver.
How Your Gift Helps Virunga National Park
Peace Building, the Virunga Alliance’s Primary Focus
In their own words: “The Virunga Alliance was founded on the principle that the park’s survival depends on its ability to act as an asset for its surrounding communities. Through the responsible and sustainable development of the Park’s assets – tourism, clean energy, and sustainable agriculture – the Virunga Alliance is working to kick-start a green economy in eastern Congo, for the benefit of its neighboring communities.”
Your support of the Virunga Alliance goes to these projects and more:
1. The Orphan Gorilla Center, Senkwekwe.
2. Ranger training and support.
3. The Fallen Ranger Fund
4. Hydroelectric Power for Neighboring Villages and more.