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From Africa to Central America – Forging International Partnerships to Conserve Wildlife

Tropical forests are used by local people for food, timber, and resource extraction. Balancing the needs of local people and the needs of sensitive wildlife has presented scientists with pressing global conservation challenges. To help protect and manage tropical wildlife, Klamath Bird Observatory Research Associate Dr. Jared Wolfe has partnered with academia, governments, and nonprofits in Central Africa and Central America to successfully develop and fund several capacity building grants focused on conserving important habitats at risk of being lost.

Since the discovery of oil in the mid-1990’s, the small African nation of Equatorial Guinea has developed at a rapid pace. The incredible diversity of wildlife, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, and lowland gorillas, are at risk of being lost due to poaching and logging as previously inaccessible areas are now within walking distance of new roads. In collaboration with partners from the Smithsonian Institute, Princeton University, Chicago Field Museum, and the government of Equatorial Guinea, KBO Research Associate Dr. Jared Wolfe co-founded the Biodiversity Initiative. The Biodiversity Initiative has been documenting the effects of fast-paced development on wildlife in Equatorial Guinea since 2012.

Amancio Motove Etingue with a Bar-tailed Trogon (72 ppi 4.8 x 4.6)

“Helping build the capacity of the Equatoguinean government to protect and study wildlife represents a critical step towards mitigating the effects of development, illegal hunting, and logging on vulnerable wildlife communities” says Dr. Wolfe. As such, the collaborative team of researchers has been training government biologists to conduct regular wildlife surveys to enforce passive protection, a powerful deterrent to illegal logging and hunting. “In addition to our annual training activities, we recently developed and received a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Without Borders grant to increase training and passive protection activities throughout the country” says Dr. Kristin Brzeski from Princeton University. “Our training initiative will focus on preparing governmental biologists and students who find themselves on the frontlines of protecting wildlife and forests in Equatorial Guinea. This way we are helping protect wildlife and forests, while preparing the next generation of African conservationists” says Dr. Luke Powell from the Smithsonian and director of Biodiversity Initiative.

Partnering with Costa Rica Bird Observatories, Dr. Wolfe was part of a collaborative team of Costa Ricans and Americans that successfully developed a USFWS Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant. This grant will fund a conservation easement program focused on protecting critical cloud-forest habitat in the highlands of Central America.

“In addition to hosting a diversity of endemic wildlife species, the Cordillera de Telemunca in southern Costa Rica provide critical wintering habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, a brightly-colored, small, and highly migratory bird currently undergoing precipitous population declines” says Dr. Jared Wolfe, co-author of the capacity building grant. According to Breeding Bird Survey, the Golden-winged Warbler has been subject to a 2.8% decline in population size every year for the past 40 years.

“By working with the Costa Rican government to identify and protect Golden-winged Warbler habitat on private land, through conservation easements, we can begin to effectively conserve Golden-winged Warbler populations on their wintering grounds” says Pablo Elizondo, Executive Director of the Costa Rica Bird Observatories and lead author of the grant. The team’s conservation easement program is slated to protect 1320 hectares of habitat on private lands in addition to creating 250 hectares of new habitat suitable for Golden-winged Warblers in the Costa Rica highlands.

To learn more about collaborative research and conservation initiatives in Costa Rica and Equatorial Guinea please visit the Costa Rica Bird Observatories and Biodiversity Initiative websites. Dr. Wolfe’s latest expedition in Equatorial Guinea was the feature-cover article in the July-August 2016 edition of Audubon Magazine.