Ruthmery Pillco, Who Leads Our Andean Bear Conservation Project, Named Disney Conservation Hero

Ruthmery Pillco, who leads field activities for our Andean Bear Conservation Project, was recently announced as one of fifteen Disney Conservation Heroes, recognized for their efforts to protect the planet. She joins a diverse global community of indigenous conservationists protecting critically endangered and threatened species such as Grauer’s gorillas, golden lion tamarin monkeys, and leatherback sea turtles.

The Disney Conservation Fund awards grants annually to individuals and organizations working together to stabilize and increase the populations of at-risk species. Ruthmery’s work to protect the Andean bear in the Peruvian Amazon, which is categorized as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, has earned her this distinction from Disney. During this project, she works with local communities to reforest areas for the Andean bear’s habitat and restore native plant species. She also leads a field team to identify and record information about the bears’ distribution and diet. Additionally in Costa Rica, her botanical expertise and project leadership enabled her team to help prevent the extinction of a rare and critically endangered plant species in the cinnamon family that has only been known to scientists since 1998. Her team carefully collected seeds from the only four mature plants found in the wild, propagated and planted them to grow the wild population of this species.

Ruthmery joins the latest cohort of 15 Disney Conservation Heroes across 13 countries who work with local communities to care for wildlife and their habitats, including those who protected their own land as nature reserves to individuals who found new ways to support wildlife while honoring cultural traditions.

“We know that behind each of these [conservation] efforts are dedicated individuals going above and beyond to ensure a world in balance,” writes Claire Martin on Disney’s blog, who helps manage the awards. “These Heroes have each taken risks, shown courage, and contributed to an inspiring global story of hope for the future.”

Read Disney’s full blog here.


International Women’s Day Highlight: Amy Rosenthal

This International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting a powerful woman who has helped advance the protection of the Amazon for many years within various roles at Amazon Conservation. Amy Rosenthal, who has worked directly with the organization and now helps guide the institutional vision as one of our board members, is a longtime environmental advocate and has experienced firsthand the changes and challenges within the field of environmental protection.

Amy’s interest in environmental conservation dates back to middle school, when she was doing science projects on the rainforest. She remembers showing her class, “old-school slides of pictures of the Amazon — the ones where you pop them into a round carousel.” Many years later, she finally had the opportunity to visit the Amazon in 2000. “To this day, I love the smell, the tastes, the colors, the element of surprise and wonder that’s with you everywhere in the Amazon. And I admire the people who know this place better than I ever will. They are the stewards and storytellers of the most magical place on our planet.”

During that trip, she remembers the majority of her mentors were men, as well as the researchers she worked with. “Things have changed a lot for women in fieldwork and conservation…As time went on, more of my colleagues were women, and I began to encounter more female mentors. Today, you’re more likely to run across women leaders in international fora and in our partner organizations and local community allies.” She believes that this change is due to a variety of drivers. “Early women leaders helped pave the way for others, as I found in my mentors; male mentors, like our founder, Adrian Forsyth, opened doors. More women were admitted to the sciences for their educational advancement, particularly in the fields of conservation science.”  Additionally, Amy commends how the work of conservation has changed, to becoming  deeply transdisciplinary, requiring project management and team-building, in addition to field biology. “All of these shifts seem to have brought in more women, which is wonderful to see and be a part of!”

Amy Rosenthal on a visit to our biological stations in 2007

Though there are more women now than ever working in the environmental field statistically, there is still progress to be made. In 2014, Dorceta E. Taylor published a report on the state of diversity in environmental organizations, finding that out of the 300 environmental institutions surveyed, men are still more likely than women to occupy the most powerful positions in environmental organizations. Additionally, there is still a low percentage of minorities on the boards of environmental organizations. Amy stresses the importance of diversity noting that, “Boards that have members from the same profession, socioeconomic background, or ethnicity are vulnerable to making poor decisions because they don’t reflect the diversity of thought, knowledge, and experience that the most important and difficult decisions require. An ideal board, which we’re working towards, would have members who can represent the worldviews, experiences, and local knowledge of the communities that Amazon Conservation works with. With that wisdom incorporated into our decision-making, we’ll be an even stronger board and the organization will have more meaningful, salient, and legitimate impact where we know the planet’s forests need it most.”

Photo by Amy Rosenthal

This all leads back to developing an efficient, effective, and holistic approach to strategically protecting the Amazon, which is a crucial wellspring for the world and for the local communities who live there. As one of the five great forests with significant biocultural diversity, there are still many species to discover that play a critical role in how ecosystems function. Amy notes that, “Fortunately, the world is more focused on protecting biodiversity and safeguarding our climate today than ever before…At the same time, there’s finally a recognition of the indispensable role Indigenous and local communities play in stewarding their lands, opening doors for direct support and nesting of traditional management and knowledge. And today’s technology gets us closer to real-time global biodiversity monitoring and conservation than ever before.” She concludes that, “Amazon Conservation is a pathbreaking leader in many of these spheres, informing policies, harnessing hi-tech solutions, and partnering with Indigenous organizations to ensure durable, holistic and equitable conservation of the Amazon. I am proud and honored to be a part of it!”





New Research at Los Amigos Shows Critical Role of Forests in Scrubbing Harmful Mercury from the Amazon and Atmosphere

Artisanal gold mining deforestation in Madre de Dios

A study conducted at our Los Amigos Biological Station and recently published in Nature revealed that intact forests near gold mining areas provide a critical ecosystem service. They intercept and sequester massive amounts of mercury, keeping it from entering the global atmosphere and preventing it from poisoning nearby ponds and streams, where it is substantially more harmful to people and animals.

Gold mining has devastated the Madre de Dios region of Peru for decades. The extraction process consists of excavating river sediment in search of gold pieces. Miners separate the gold from the soil by mixing liquid mercury with the sediment, which they eventually burn off,  releasing mercury in the air. This contaminant ends up on plants’ surfaces and can be absorbed into the leaves. It can then enter soil when the leaves are either washed with rainfall or when the leaves fall to the forest floor.

In this study, postdoctoral researcher Jacqueline Gerson, who conducted this research while a PhD student at Duke University, sought to find out whether mercury was entering land surrounding mining sites in Peru. The study was done by collecting and comparing rainwater, air, leaf, and soil samples from two mining sites at each of three distinct locations: previously logged forests, jungle at least 30 miles (50 km) from these mining sites (“remote sites”), and the intact primary forests of Los Amigos, a 360,000-acre protected area that is a safe haven from the nearby mining.

They discovered that mercury not only penetrates soil near gold mining sites but that the forests located near these areas have some of the highest inputs of mercury ever reported in literature. And, they also found that this mercury is already affecting the local wildlife. When testing birds, they found that local birds have 2-12 times more mercury in their feathers compared to birds in more remote sites. A level this high threatens the species’ ability to reproduce, disrupting not only the offspring of birds but also throwing the entire food chain into potential chaos. This is a clear case and warning about what is happening to forests across the Amazon where gold mining – both legal and illegal – is happening.

View of forest from the Los Amigos canopy tower

However, the study also highlighted the importance of keeping Amazonian forests standing and avoiding deforestation so that mercury didn’t become even more dangerous for humans and wildlife. “We found that mature Amazonian forests near gold mining sites are capturing huge amounts of atmospheric mercury, more than any other ecosystem previously studied in the entire world,” noted Gerson. The standing forests provide an incredible ecosystem service by scrubbing mercury out of the atmosphere and preventing it from entering lakes and ponds where a greater proportion of it will become methylmercury – the most harmful form of mercury. The forests at our Los Amigos Conservation Concession serve that function as they sequester atmospheric mercury from nearby illegal mining operations.

For wildlife and people, the risk of being affected by sequestered mercury – prior to mercury becoming methylmercury – is generally low. “You could walk through the forest, you could swim in the water, you could bury yourself in the leaves and you’re not going to get mercury toxicity from doing that,” Gerson assures. “The study really highlights the importance of continuing to conserve these forests, and the increased danger that would occur if these forests were cleared, because that would release the sequestered mercury back into the atmosphere or into nearby lakes and ponds where it could be consumed by people and animals. We always talk about how carbon sequestration is important. This is also an incredibly important service forests are providing.”

We hope this innovative study will provide policymakers with some of the vital data needed to prioritize the protection of Amazonian forests.

Help us keep making science happen in the Amazon.

Click here to read the full publication in Nature Communications and the companion piece published in Scientific American. Click here to learn more about Los Amigos Conservation Hub.




77,000 Native Species Planted to Restore Montane Forest Ecosystems in Peru

This month marks the successful planting of 77,000 native species in Challabamba, Peru to restore montane forest ecosystems degraded by forest fires or ranching, and to ensure the protection of essential ecosystem resources for local communities.

Some of the native species planted are categorized as threatened on the IUCN Red List, such as Polylepis pauta and Polylepis incana, which are at risk due to habitat loss. Other species planted include the beautiful flowering Escallonia paniculata and Escallonia myrtilloides, an evergreen shrub or tree known for its distinctive crown shape resembling a pagoda. 

Reforestation and restoration activities began this past December by the field team at our sister organization on the ground in Peru, Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, alongside the local communities of Jajahuana and Juan Velasco Alvarado. 

Marco Ccoyo, the president of the Juan Velasco Alvarado indigenous community, notes that restoring degraded lands will also result in protecting ecosystem services for the community, including water, since trees can actually increase local water availability. “Our goal is to plant trees to get more water. We want to preserve the water in our lagoons, which is why we are carrying out reforestation. With this, we will avoid drought.”

The next reforestation and restoration campaign will take place during the first week of March with the planting of 3,000 more seedlings, amounting to 80,000 seedlings grown and planted. With this, we will continue to restore the watershed for the local communities of Peru.

This planting campaign is supported by the Acción Andina International Program, Global Forest Generation – GFG, the Asociación de Ecosistemas Andinos – ECOAN and the Stadler Foundation.



Swift Action Following Our MAAP Report Halts Illegal Mining in Ecuadorian Amazon

Earlier this month, we worked with our in-country partner EcoCiencia to document the rapid illegal mining expansion threatening the Ecuadorian Amazon.  With our satellite-based tools, we were able to identify the mining in real-time, and report it to local authorities, media, and the general public. Days after we launched the report, both the government and local people took action against this illegal deforestation.

Our report revealed the alarming illegal mining expansion of 173 acres (70 hectares) over four months in Yutzupino, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Napo province. Though it took place from October 2021-January 2022, most of the illegal expansion occurred recently in December. Though the Ecuadorian government carried out a field intervention in January to confirm the illegal activity, it continued to advance, increasing by at least 15 acres (6 hectares). We also documented the mining deforestation of 79 acres (32 hectares) between November 2019 and November 2021, on the banks of the Río Punino on the border between the provinces of Napo and Orellana.

Following the publication of this report, citizen demonstrations against illegal mining activity took place in Tena, the capital city of Napo. Local residents participated in a march against illegal mining, alongside representatives of the organization COICA (Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin), which advocates for indigenous peoples on a regional and international level, and CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon), a regional organization of indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Satellite images from this report, showing the alarming side-by-side of increased deforestation, were printed on banners for this march alongside the hashtags in Spanish, “Napo Without Mining”, “Napo Values Life”, and “Napo Resists”.

Mining activity in Yutzupino has been acknowledged and denounced by several local organizations in the past but after the publication of this report, public interest and coverage in the local and international media spiked. Pressure mounted for authorities to take action against this illegal activity and five days later, authorities implemented a large-scale operation consisting of 1,600 police and military. After this, the illegal mining activity in the monitored zone of Yutzupino has stopped, machinery was seized, and they are still in the process of investigating those responsible.

This report is part of a series focused on the Ecuadorian Amazon through a strategic collaboration between the organizations Fundación EcoCiencia and Amazon Conservation, with the support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). 



Amplifying the Protection of of Biodiversity Hotspots in the Bolivian Amazon

For the past five years, our sister organization in Bolivia, Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA, has implemented important conservation projects on the ground with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), including safeguarding water sources for local Amazonian communities and leading conservation of endangered species in protected areas. Now they are taking the next step in this partnership to elevate the importance of conserving the Bolivia Amazon.

CEPF’s goal is to protect the world’s biodiversity hotspots, including the tropical Andes, the richest and most biodiverse region on the planet. With over 15 years of experience protecting the tropical Andes in the Bolivian Amazon, Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA has been chosen by CEPF to be the Regional Implementation Team for Bolivia, joining two other environmental organizations from Peru and Colombia in a conservation effort to preserve 28 key biodiversity areas in five conservation corridors across three countries. With this, we hope to improve the protection and management of key biodiversity areas, safeguard priority species threatened worldwide, and provide strategic leadership and effective coordination for conservation across the Amazon.

“The joint work between CEPF and the local partners across the Tropical Andes Hotspot has resulted in important advances for the conservation of the region,” said Marcos Terán, Executive Director of Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA. “This new phase poses the opportunity of consolidating and scaling up these achievements.”

Click here to learn more about this project.





Amazonian Fruit and Climate Change Observatory Launches in Bolivia

This month we launched the Amazon Fruit and Climate Change Observatory in Bolivia, which is the culmination of a 10-month project that focuses on strengthening the management of non-timber forest products in the Bolivian Amazon rainforest such as açaí, Brazil nuts, cacao or copoazu. Not only do non-timber forest products help prevent deforestation by placing economic value on keeping forests standing, the diversification of fruits helps local communities mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change Observatory is a virtual repository that compiles and shares important information on Amazonian forest products such as Brazil nuts, açaí, cacao, copoazu, majo and royal palm. Additionally, it provides updates on the state of forests and climate change in the department of Pando, Bolivia. It also features geographic information and technical documents with relevant information on the value chains of the region’s main Amazonian fruits, and tools that allow the socioeconomic monitoring of a specific harvesters’ initiative and production. Users are also granted access to a compilation of documents with information relevant to climate change and forest-sector related public policies.

Through the Observatory, this information is made available to all stakeholders involved in the processing of forest products, including local harvesters, public and private technical assistance institutions, private entrepreneurs and government decision-makers. This directly benefits around 87,500 people linked to the harvest of Amazonian fruits in Pando, Bolivia, including indigenous and local communities, along with 9 local enterprises developing capacity for the use of the information generated by the Observatory.

Thanks to the harvest of Amazonian fruits, deforestation and slash-and-burn are low in Pando compared to other parts of the Bolivian Amazon, turning this area into a refuge for the Bolivian lowlands. As the Observatory website states, “A healthy forest is a productive forest. A productive forest is a forest resilient to climate change.”


This project would not be possible without the support of the EUROCLIMA+ program. For more information about the observatory please visit the website here.


Los Amigos Declared A Nationally Recognized Conservation Area in Peru

Right in time for the new year, the Peruvian Government officially declared our Los Amigos Conservation Area as a nationally recognized conservation area through Ministerial Resolution 245-2021-MINAM, citing its importance in preserving the forest cover that contributes to the conservation of the Amazon rainforest ecoregion’s biodiversity. This recognition and achievement for the Peruvian Amazon reaffirms our commitment to the protection of the myriad of species and ecosystems found in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.

Los Amigos will now be included in official registration documents from Peru’s National System of Protected Natural Areas, which detail each area’s biological, environmental or landscape conservation value. The Peruvian government will also issue an official map of Los Amigos and provide training and advice for its planning and management if needed. ​​Additionally, Los Amigos’s national recognition helps protect it against interests from third parties, such as those who may assess its large tracts of forest as prospective cash cows for logging or mining.

Located in one of the largest and richest regions in terms of diversity of flora and fauna in the country, the Los Amigos landscape includes a mosaic of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including palm swamps, bamboo thickets, oxbow lakes, and various types of flooded and non-flooded forests. Wildlife is abundant, including 12 globally threatened species and abundant Amazonian fauna including giant otters, harpy eagles, spider monkeys and jaguars. Los Amigos and its surrounding areas register a total 617 species of birds, including threatened and endangered species, classifying it as one of the richest bird stations in the entire Amazon. The area also contains 11 species of primates and by way of comparison, all of Costa Rica holds only four.

Moreover, the Los Amigos Biological Station on the property has been the subject of various investigations on ecology, biological inventories, animal behavior and interactions between plants and animals. The station has hosted more than 213 research projects and produced 223 publications, including biological inventories of more than 30 types of organisms. It truly is a hub for research on this vital ecosystem.

Interested in learning more about Los Amigos Conservation Hub or visiting the biological station? Click here for more information.

Meaningful New Year’s Resolutions for Nature

In 2022, the Amazon Conservation Association looks forward to another year of maximizing the synergy of people, science, and innovation to protect and conserve the Amazon.

Here are three simple resolutions for you to join us in starting the year with purpose to make a real difference for nature in 2022:

  • Support your community and forests by shopping from local environmentally-conscious and forest-friendly businesses.

  • Join our Wild Keepers monthly giving program to amplify your impact by joining forces with other nature advocates to accomplish more through this powerful community effort.

  • Create a free estate plan to protect the people, pets, places, and causes you care about. We have partnered with FreeWill to offer our community a trusted, free online platform that makes creating a will quick and easy. Start your plan today!

Take a few moments to start the new year well — for you, your loved ones, and the Amazon.

In Memoriam: Tom Lovejoy

It is with heavy hearts that we lament the passing of renowned ecologist and long-time friend of Amazon Conservation Dr. Thomas Lovejoy this December 25. He was 80 years old.

Tom was a long-time advocate of conservation playing a prominent part in ensuring that the Amazon is a global priority for conservation since the 1970s. Among his numerous and profound contributions to the field, Tom coined the term “biological diversity”, helped develop the game-changing “debt-for-nature swap” model, and most recently, along with his colleague Carlos Nobre defined the Amazon’s tipping point. His many achievements have helped move conservation forward both in policy and on the ground.

Since 2009, Tom had been a member of Amazon Conservation’s Board of Directors, helping guide the strategic vision and direction of our organization.

Our Executive Director John Beavers, who worked closely with Tom as we developed and launched our 2020-2030 strategy, described him today as “such a dedicated, strategic, knowledgeable and faithful advocate of the Amazon and of biodiversity who enriched our understanding, improved our work, and provided the glimmers of hope that we needed to continue to advance our conservation efforts. It was such an honor to meet with him each time, knowing the many, many other people and institutions he was helping to advance the cause through his wealth of knowledge, experience, and caring.”

Our Founder Adrian Forsyth had many experiences with Tom in the rainforest, sharing that “Tom worked tirelessly until his last days. His accomplishments and awards were huge and many. Yet despite fame and frenetic schedule, he found time to help and listen to anyone who asked. Being kind was his natural state. Against the challenges of his mission, he smiled a lot. You could count on him after a grueling trip to come to your meeting in dapper, good spirits and to make an incisive observation or encouragement. With his passing, each of us, and indeed, our planet, has lost something, but far less than what we have gained from his exemplary life.“

Tom shared his love for the Amazon in an article on Yale News, describing what stepping foot on the Amazon felt like: “Before I got to the Amazon I was unable to truly anticipate what it would be like there. People imagine that in the tropical rainforest things are jumping out at you all the time, but in fact, it’s much more subtle than that. You’re dealing with hundreds of species of trees, and hundreds of shades of green. And it’s all a great blur when you first step into it. But then you begin to perceive the differences, and you begin to see the insect life. You hear a lot, and not just birds, but insects and amphibians and the like. Pretty quickly you do understand that this is one of the most diverse communities on Earth.” 

In one of his last writings for the New York Times, Tom spoke on the links between climate change and the loss of biodiversity, and the importance of protecting intact forests: “We’re losing a battle we can win, but only by keeping trees on our side…. We must let the big forests stand.”

His legacy of championing nature will not be forgotten and we will carry on the fight to keep the Amazon standing in his honor. As he wisely said, “As long as something still exists in the world it can be saved.”

Rest in peace, friend.