Protect Our Species

Published on: October 20, 2020

(October 19, 2020) Are we able to fully grasp the beauty and importance of all wildlife, including the tiniest, sometimes invisible creatures that are crucial for our living planet? When we think of wildlife often images of mammals and colorful birds come to mind, like the iconic orangutan. Amphibians and reptiles are usually not the first creatures we think of. Yet, they can be strikingly beautiful in color and extraordinary in shape. And they are important indicators of a healthy ecosystem.

The agricultural burden
Agricultural development and nature often clash. Deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction continue to have a negative impact on biodiversity and excessive chemical use is damaging to soil health and water supplies. Amphibians are extremely sensitive to environmental change and there has been a significant decline of frogs, toads, and salamanders around the world. Many species have completely disappeared, while others have become extremely rare. This is a troubling development we see around the world, including biodiversity-rich regions in South America.

Ecuador based initiative Tropical Herping strives to preserve tropical reptiles and amphibians through tourism, photography, research, and education. Their goal is to create a passion for amphibians and reptiles that will help gain support for the urgent conservation challenges faced by these groups of animals.

For the love of amphibians and reptiles
I have always been intrigued by the amazing amphibians and reptiles that can be found in rainforests and have been fortunate to visit rainforests in Madagascar, Costa Rica, French Guyana, and Colombia, where I encountered the rarest and most amazing species. Last May I was supposed to join the Tropical Herping 100 Species Tour, hoping to witness Ecuador’s rich variety of wildlife. Not being able to travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic I decided to have a chat with Frank Pichardo — Tropical Herping photographer and field researcher — curious to get some insights from the field and his view on agricultural development in Ecuador.

Frank is passionate about wildlife conservation and education. He says:
“I have always been very interested in amphibians. Especially during the rainy season, I love to go out in the rainforest and see the rich variety of creatures. At Tropical Herping we chose to focus on these species because they are very important indicators of ecosystem health and very sensitive to environmental changes. Their survival is seriously threatened by extensive chemical use in agriculture, farmers killing poisonous reptiles, and large-scale wildlife trade. We need to create awareness and protect them since they are very important for our intricate ecosystems”.

The need for change
Frank has seen firsthand how agricultural development impacts nature. His first encounter with the conflict between crop expansion and wildlife conservation was during his expeditions in Peru, his country of birth. He saw the degradation of the land and its long-term impact on nature. Over time he has seen the landscape change. He says: “I see how agriculture brings benefits, but the pressure of farming, especially the large-scale human intervention in the natural environment should urge us to change practices and rethink our future approach to development and conservation work”.

Frank understands that eradicating palm oil is not the solution since it is used for so many products and applications. What he wants to see is palm growers doing things better. He says: “As a first step they should start using another model and really start doing it. Sometimes companies start in a very good way, but then it turns out they cannot sustain it if they want to become more productive. At that point, they just want to grow and then they don’t care anymore. Reaching their financial goal outweighs their impact on the environment”.

The Palm Done Right approach
Collaborating with oil palm farmers to change their practices and tackle the environmental and social challenges has been Palm Done Right’s mission from the start. Instead of converting forests into farmland, we have been focusing on converting conventional oil palm growers to organic farming. When they join our network, they also commit to forest and wildlife conservation, and fair trade practices.

The Palm Done Right initiative also raises awareness for the importance of switching to sourcing sustainably produced palm oil and rewarding good practices. It is important that markets pay the true price for ingredients so the burden of investing in sustainable practices doesn’t fall excessively on the farmer. When markets reward responsibly grown palm oil, farmers are motivated and supported to change their practice and limit their impact on the environment. Farmers are more than willing to change since they depend on healthy ecosystems just as much as everyone else.

What you can do
It goes without saying that we are all responsible for maintaining healthy ecosystems, yet we need to remind ourselves every day that this requires action. We can and must all do our part: educating ourselves and our kids, thoughtfully choosing the products we use, and protecting even the tiniest animals in our fragile environments. Let’s follow Frank’s example and be passionate about the world around us and see the beauty and importance of all living creatures.

Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, Natural Habitat’s Sustainability & Corporate Communications Director and spokesperson for Palm Done Right. 

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