Supporter Spotlight: Long-Time Donors Challenge Us and Encourage Our Growth

It may sound cliché to say our long-term supporters are the backbone that keeps Amazon Conservation learning and growing, but it’s true. When couple Elizabeth Cadwalader and Gene Baron first reached out to donate to our organization in 2012, they wanted to donate stock and at the time our organization wasn’t sure how or if we could receive a stock donation. Thanks to Elizabeth and Gene’s encouragement and patience, Amazon Conservation was able to set up the necessary systems to accept stock donations. Supporters like them have been crucial in encouraging our growth and expansion – whether it’s donation methods or programs — over the years and have thus been a large factor in our success.

What was it about our organization that made Elizabeth and Gene believe in our mission so strongly that they were willing to work with us through the whole process of setting up stock accounts with us? In a recent chat, they told us that it was our on-the-ground presence in the Amazon and our record of following up on projects to ensure their effectiveness that convinced them. Since their first stock donation, they have been sustaining supporters because they appreciate Amazon Conservation’s work that works alongside – not against – governments and businesses to achieve the best result for all. Read more about our talk with Elizabeth and Gene below.

Learn more about all the ways you can donate, including stock, DAFs, QCDs, estate gifts, and cryptocurrency, at the bottom of our donate page.

Elizabeth and Gene in the countryside of Harford County, Maryland.

Can you tell us a little more background about you?

Elizabeth: I grew up in Baltimore, traveled around the country and some of the world for about 11 years, and then came back to Baltimore to visit for a summer, and then I met Gene and here I am!

I had spent 3 years as a [AmeriCorps] VISTA volunteer, and I got very interested in teaching English as a second language. I spent a few years in Mexico under the mistaken impression that I needed to know Spanish for that, which I didn’t. I had majored in French in college, so I was very interested in languages and other countries and cultures. For the last 21 years I’ve been a painter, which is what I do now. One of your former employees actually bought one of my paintings – that was nice!

Gene: For my background, I’ve always been in Baltimore, born and raised here, except for a couple of years while at grad school. I was a music major in school, and I played what I would call semi-professionally while in college and after, then I worked in record stores in Baltimore for 8 or 9 years. Then in 1985 I went back to school to learn how to do mainframe programming. Starting in early 1986, I went to work for McCormick & Co., headquartered just north of Baltimore, and I worked for them doing various IT-related things for about 30 years. In 2015, I retired, and I got back into music. For the past few years, I have played the hammered dulcimer, which is a lovely instrument. Other than that, I’ve been taking care of things around the house and trying to travel a bunch.

Like Elizabeth, I have an interest in other cultures and languages. I was a very active international folk dancer for thirty years – mostly line and circle dancing from Eastern Europe, along with a smattering of other areas too. Actually, what I studied was ethnomusicology – studying music and cultures of the world. So our interest in other parts of the world is very strong for both of us.

What initially inspired you to support environmental causes generally and to help conserve the Amazon rainforest more specifically?

Elizabeth: I think the motivation was more reading about, first of all, how important the Amazon is, the oxygen, and all the different animal species, the people who live there, and reading all of the terrible things happening there – burning and cutting it down. I think the first thing I recall reading about was, Gee, they’re cutting this down to have more cattle so that we can all have cheap hamburgers. So we went on Charity Navigator and looked for someone that was working in the Amazon.

How did you initially learn about Amazon Conservation?

Elizabeth: After reading about the terrible things happening there, we went on Charity Navigator and that’s where we found you. I think before that, we really had only given $25 here or there, but didn’t really have the resources to do a lot. But I had some appreciated stock that had an unbelievably low cost basis, so we thought why don’t we donate stock. I remember that, because you had never gotten it before and it was a bit of a big thing to get that set up with a bank and get an account set up so that you could do it.

Once we decide on something – we give to a spectrum of charities, we have various ones in different areas, and then once we have our list, unless something stops working, unless a charity is no longer doing what we thought or hoped it would do, we keep on because I think you need to sustain what you started.

Why did you choose to support Amazon Conservation? What makes Amazon Conservation special to you?

Gene: Something else we look for in charities, like we’ve seen in a few cases where other excellent charities in, for example, Africa, but then there’s no real follow up. Like if they put in wells for people, they don’t come back to check that the wells are still going 5 to 6 to 10 weeks later. We look for an established charity that’s got a presence there and that is going to remain.

Elizabeth: Another thing we really appreciate with Amazon Conservation is everyone has really been friendly and made it feel like we’re a part of it. You can give to some organizations, and you basically just get your thank you note, and that’s it. But we feel like “part of the family”.

Do you have a favorite program or initiative that stands out to you?

Gene: I would say 2 things, and they’re the major things that you’re working on. One is all of the things that you’re doing to stop deforestation. What I didn’t know as much about, which I learned at the last event in Washington, DC, was the science and technology to track illegal logging and things like that, which it seems is the best way to do that. I really appreciate that!

Elizabeth: You also mentioned, which I also remember from Mr. [Bruce] Babbitt’s talk about 8 or 10 years ago, how well you work with companies so that they can do business and find ways to do it without destroying everything.

Gene: The example that I remember was where a natural gas platform was constructed solely by helicopter, airborne, so no one had to cut down forest to build access roads and things like that. It’s an Impressive way to do that. Years ago, if you just went right up against the government and large companies, you certainly would lose. So trying to work collaboratively, where possible, to get what you want while they also get what they want as much as possible.

Elizabeth: We also really liked those Luci Lights, so that people who couldn’t get electricity could still have solar light. You were really helping families and communities. Also, we have a son who is 34, so of course we are thinking about the future world and what will be still around.

Gene: That also means we want to see more political pressure in that part of the world, as [thinking about the future] just makes this work a more urgent matter.

Do you have anything else to add that you’d like people to know about our work in the Amazon?

Gene: Keep doing what you’re doing! Keep awareness up of how incredibly diverse and how important that part of the world is, with all the different animal species. It’s important for everyone to know that.

Elizabeth: I do try to tell people about it, to share things on social media. I think people aren’t as aware as they should be about how diverse with so many different species and how many are endangered and also the various people who live there who are being crowded out and their whole way of life is being threatened. I think it’s really interesting that even when they know that they could live in the “modern world”, they don’t want to.

And also – GIVE your stock to the Amazon! Then you won’t have to pay capital gains tax!

Learn more about all the ways you can donate, including stock, DAFs, QCDs, estate gifts, and cryptocurrency, at the bottom of our donate page.


Inauguration of Cacao Processing Plant and Andean Bear Interpretation Center in Peru

Over the past month, Amazon Conservation inaugurated two new critical facilities that mark important milestones for our conservation efforts in Peru. The first is a new processing plant, which is fundamental in our Productive Forests program that supports sustainable, forest-friendly livelihoods under our Empowering People strategy. The second is a new Interpretation Center, dedicated to promoting environmental education about the Andean bear and advancing science to help conserve the bear’s habitat as part of our Putting Science and Technology to Work strategy. Both accomplishments are examples of how Amazon Conservation continues to go deep in our work with communities and habitats at the headwaters of the Amazon.

Cacao and Copoazu Processing Plant Inaugurated in Madre de Dios

On June 30, the indigenous community Infierno in Peru’s Madre de Dios department inaugurated a new processing plant for cacao and copoazu, strengthening the sustainable livelihoods of 19 families. With this new plant, local cacao and copoazu producers in the region are now able to produce high-quality products to be marketed both nationally and internationally. With the support of our sister organization Conservación Amazónica–ACCA in Peru, producers from Infierno received organic certification for their cacao through the Cooperativa Agroindustrial de la Interoceánica Ltda. (COOPAIDI), thereby opening up new international markets for their products.

The creation of this processing facility is the result of a public-private effort between private companies, regional governments, and local communities to ensure the preservation of the artisanal quality of cacao and copoazu (a tropical fruit also known as “white chocolate”). At the inauguration, María Elena Gutiérrez, Executive Director of Conservación Amazónica–ACCA, announced, “This is a day of celebration for the people of the Native Community of Infierno, with whom we have been working for many years, and represents a huge step in their ability to make a living from native cacao and copoazu, not only in national but also international markets. At Amazon Conservation, we believe that sustainable livelihoods are vital so that people can live with a healthy and resilient Amazon.”

This project was made possible thanks to financial support from Euroclima+ and the collaboration of technical teams from the Ministry of Production, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and the Ministry of External Commerce and Tourism of the Regional Government of Madre de Dios who are working together to rescue and promote native products, in particular cacao, and to strengthen the regulation of these products.

New Andean Bear Interpretation Center Raises Awareness About Keystone Species

On July 1, a new Andean Bear Interpretation Center was inaugurated in our Wayqecha Conservation Hub in Peru’s department of Cusco. Located in a cloud forest in the buffer zone of Peru’s Manu National Park, this area is critical for conservation efforts thanks to its high biodiversity and endemic species and its position as a natural corridor for plant and animal species pushed uphill by global warming, making it an ideal location to connect national and international visitors with nature and science.

The Andean Bear Interpretation Center is an important space for environmental education for local students and our science team at our sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACCA in Peru as we work to better understand the behavior of the Andean bear, also known as the spectacled bear. A threatened species and the only bear in South America, the Andean bear is a keystone species in this region of Peru, currently under threat by habitat loss, forest fires, hunting, and animal trafficking. Since their territory covers long distances, they also play a critical ecological role in dispersing seeds across high elevations and thus regenerating forests.

Amazon Conservation’s Andean Bear Conservation Program, led by Ruthmery Pillco, has been working to protect their habitats and restore the plants that are part of their diet through conservation efforts alongside local populations, for whom the Andean bear is a cultural icon. Through citizen science, community-based reforestation, and environmental education efforts, we hope to restore the habitat necessary for this species’ survival and raise awareness about the vulnerability of cloud forest ecosystems in the face of climate change.

The Andean Bear Interpretation Center was made possible through the support of the Stadler Foundation, International Conservation Fund of Canada, International Association for Bear Research & Management, Barker Langham, and the neighboring communities of Manu National Park buffer zone.

Interactive Games Show Consequences of Human Activity on Amazon’s Chemical Makeup

In the Bolivian department of Pando, Amazon Conservation through our sister organization Conservación Amazónica–ACEAA held workshops in the communities of Holanda, Empresiña, San Antonio, and Luz de América to spread awareness about the impacts of human activities on the Amazon rainforest. These workshops, part of the PRODIGY project financed by the German Ministry of Research and Education-BMBF, included interactive learning activities and games that informed participants from these local communities about the chemical makeup of the Amazon ecosystem and helped demonstrate how human activities can alter the ecosystem’s vulnerable chemistry.

One exercise explored how uncontrolled extractive activities such as illegal gold mining can leave behind harmful substances like mercury that enter and disrupt the natural chemistry of the Amazon as a result of agitating river sediment and destroying river banks. Through workshops like these, we aim to raise awareness among local people in the Amazon, especially young people and future community leaders, about the impacts of human activities on forest ecosystems. Through our Empowering People program, we also work on the ground in these and other communities throughout the region to support them in building forest-friendly and sustainable livelihoods as viable alternatives to activities that negatively impact the Amazon’s ecosystem. Learn more about how we Empower People across the region here.

Research Finds Chagas Disease in Pando Not Linked to Local Açai

On June 28, at a meeting of the Inter-Institutional Platform for Connection of Amazon Fruit Products (PICFA) in Cobija, Bolivia, we presented a study that corrects misinformation about the link between açai and the parasite causing Chagas disease in the region. While the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi has been found in the primary açai species produced in Brazil (Euterpe olerásea), the açai species grown in Pando (Euterpe precatoria) is distinct. The presentation of this research, which impacts açai producers across the region, shows the importance of disseminating information through the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change to strengthen local information-sharing resources and networks for forest producers.

According to this study, presented this past month by Daniel Larrea, Coordinator of Science and Technology at Conservación Amazónica – ACEAA in the department of Pando’s capital city, the presence of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi was not found in any of the local samples studied. These results indicate that the processed product of the local açai species is safe to consume in its initial processing stages. Entitled “Açai and Chagas: Myth or Reality, Molecular detection of the parasite that causes Chagas disease in açai fruit and pulp,” this study also serves as an important tool for early detection measures to control and prevent the spread of diseases like Chagas in the processing of Amazonian fruits in Pando.

The technical manual with the study’s results is available in Spanish on the website of the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change here. Daniel Larrea also gave an interview discussing these important findings, which can be viewed in Spanish here.

To find out more about how we are working to build local networks to support local forest producers and their livelihoods in Pando through the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change, take a look at our latest update or visit the Observatory’s website here.

This study was part of the project, “Strengthening of sustainable productive capacities in communities of the Manuripi National Amazon Wildlife Reserve in Pando, Bolivia,” implemented by our partners in Bolivia, Conservación Amazónica-ACEAA, in collaboration with SWEBOL BIOTECH A.B. S.R.L. with financial support from the World Wildlife Fund and Andes Amazon Fund (AAF), through the Inter-Institutional Platform for Connection of Amazon Fruit Products (PICFA) of Pando in coordination with the Departamental Federation of Açai and Amazonian Fruit Harvesters of Pando (FEDAFAP).

New Observatory Empowers Forest Producers to Adapt to Changing Climate

Earlier this year, we launched our new tool in support of forest-based economies called the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change. The Observatory is the culmination of a 10-month project that focuses on strengthening the management of Amazonian fruits in the Bolivian Amazon rainforest such as açai, Brazil nuts, cacao, majo, copoazu and royal palm.

Through the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change, local producers are able to access and share important information like this study, giving them the latest tools, information, and processing protocols to ensure that their products are competitive. To spread awareness and build local capacity among local communities in utilizing this platform, we have hosted events for local producers in Pando to provide training and space to share critical solutions that help producers adapt to the changing climate that increasingly impacts the primary livelihoods for many in the region.

In its first six months, the Observatory has been critical in empowering local people by providing a space to share important research and build networks among local producers across the department of Pando, Bolivia. This past month, we presented important research that corrects misinformation about the link between açai and the parasite causing Chagas disease in the region, which helps establish early detection measures to control and prevent the spread of diseases like Chagas in the processing of Amazonian fruits.

In June, we hosted a webinar that had more than 100 participants from across Pando who joined to learn how to access and utilize the resources, information and technology available through the Observatory. Through the webinar, we also introduced a user’s guide for how to best utilize the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change, which can be accessed in Spanish here.

The Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change has two overarching goals that serve to both empower people to build forest-based economies and fight the impacts of deforestation and climate change:

  1. Prevent deforestation by placing economic value on keeping forests standing because the diversification of fruits helps local communities mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  2. Create a localized network that enables producers to adapt more efficiently to climate change by sharing “early alerts” about the local impacts of climate change on forest products and effective solutions to adapt to these changes.

In Pando, the Observatory stands to directly benefit around 87,500 people linked to the harvest of Amazonian fruits, including indigenous and local communities and nine local enterprises. Once the Observatory is in place with educational workshops and technical training in Pando, we plan to replicate the Observatory in other parts of the Amazon biome to benefit all producers and communities who depend on this ecosystem and whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change.

This project would not be possible without the support of the EUROCLIMA+ program. For more information about the Observatory of Amazonian Fruits and Climate Change, please visit the website here.

Cross-Border Workshops in Peru Use Geospatial Data to Detect Ecosystem Changes

Conservación Amazónica–ACCA, Amazon Conservation’s sister organization in Peru, held two workshops alongside geospatial scientists from the University of Richmond’s Amazon Frontier Spatial Analysis (ABSAT) team on June 9-10 and June 13-17 through ACCA’s partnership with the SERVIR-Amazonia program, an initiative of USAID and NASA. The goals of both workshops included showing how to analyze geospatial data and how to use geospatial science to detect ecosystem changes across borders and in indigenous landscapes.

The first workshop, “Ecosystem Services and Socio-Environmental Dynamics in Indigenous Landscapes,” took place on June 9 and 10 in the town of Puerto Breu in east-central Peru near the border with Brazil. In attendance were 122 indigenous leaders and representatives from 13 different Amazonian ethnic groups from Peru and Brazil. The workshop, led by the team from the University of Richmond, focused on how geospatial science can detect changes in Amazonian ecosystems as a result of alterations in the forest surface and these effects relate to climate change.

During the two-day event, indigenous representatives and leaders participated in activities to aid in recognizing and understanding the changes that their forests are undergoing. Participants learned about evapotranspiration, which is the way in which trees remove water from their bark as a result of tree respiration, and how this process has been altered due to climate change, resulting in forest degradation and the loss of the ecosystem services they offer.

The knowledge shared also included how the geospatial applications, known as “dashboards”, developed by the University of Richmond’s ABSAT team, work as information management tools to interactively monitor and analyze indicators and fundamental data related to deforestation, degradation, evapotranspiration, temperature, and precipitation in the cross-border area and territories between Peru and Brazil.

“The dashboard allows anyone to model or simulate a situation in which, for example, if forest is lost or if forest is transformed into another type of cover, what would be the consequences of this loss. If this could cause an increase in temperature, evapotranspiration reduction or water reduction,” said David Salisbury, leader of the University of Richmond’s ABSAT team.

David Salisbury, a professor at the University of Richmond, teaches representatives of different indigenous groups to read geospatial data and maps.

Through this workshop, we recognized the importance of collecting and incorporating the ancestral knowledge of the indigenous peoples of the Yuruá River basin. Given that they are the guardians of the forest, their knowledge and perspective may be able to identify blind spots that technology is not capable of identifying. For this reason, indigenous participation and ancestral knowledge are important contributions in developing the geospatial tool.

“Today, new generations are more prepared to face climate change, not only because of the tools that science provides them, but also because of the teachings to be the new leaders and guardians of this great forest – which is the Amazon – that they have learned from their parents and grandparents,” said María Elena Paredes, an Asháninka indigenous leader.

The second geospatial science workshop took place on June 13-17 on the campus of the National University of Ucayali in Pucallpa, Peru and focused on Cross-Border Corridors and Ecosystem Services of the Southwestern Amazon. The workshop included an overview of geospatial science and how it can help communities face climate change as well as the results of the ABSAT team’s latest geospatial research. There were 40 participants in attendance, including GIS analysts from local and national government entities from Peru and Brazil.

These workshops were made possible thanks to the valuable support of USAID. In addition, the technical and logistical needs were provided thanks to the work of various organizations including Conservacion Amazónica–ACCA and Upper Amazon Conservancy, and the workshops themselves were carried out with the support of representatives from SERVIR-Amazonía, the University of Richmond, and NASA.

“A Changing Amazon” Gallery Exhibit Inaugurated at Embassy of Peru in DC

On Thursday, June 16, Amazon Conservation inaugurated our gallery exhibit “A Changing Amazon: Climate Change and Conservation Solutions in the Amazon” at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC. The gallery exhibit, now open to the public through August 17, gives a visual retrospection of our work in Peru, explains how climate is affecting the Amazon, the role of Indigenous peoples in conservation, and showcases our conservation solutions in the region.

The gallery opening event included a cocktail reception with Peruvian fare and more than 40 guests including colleagues from the Norwegian and Peruvian Embassies, partners from IDB, USAID, World Bank, IUCN, an other organizations, as well as some of our most loyal supporters.

The highlight of the evening were the special remarks from the Peruvian Embassy, Bruce Babbitt, the former Governor of Arizona and former Secretary of the Interior; and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, President of the COP 20 UN Climate Convention, former Peruvian Minister of the Environment, current Leader of the Climate and Energy Global Practice of World Wild Fund for Nature International, and recently-appointed Chair of IUCN’s newly established Climate Crisis Commission.

To kick us off, Germán Prado, Cultural Attaché for the Embassy of Peru, spoke on behalf of the Peruvian Ambassador, Oswaldo de Rivero, who unfortunately was ill and could not attend the event, expressing the importance of the Amazon for climate change and the Peruvian government’s support of conservation efforts to become a model for forest governance.

We then heard motivating words of wisdom from Bruce Babbitt, who reflected on how the beauty of the Amazon initially inspired him to support conservation efforts and how Amazon Conservation’s innovative conservation models centering science, technology, and local peoples has made him a long-time supporter of our work. Bruce also highlighted how working closely with governments like Peru and Norway has been a key to our long-term success on the ground.

John Beavers, Amazon Conservation’s Executive Director, spoke next, reflecting on how the photos in the gallery exhibit reminded him of the Amazon’s incomparable natural beauty as well as its fragility and how quickly it can all disappear without swift action and climate-smart conservation solutions. Spurred on by the desire to protect this fragile ecosystem, John described how Amazon Conservation is working on the ground to empower local people and governments to protect the forests on which they depend through forest-based economies that can better adapt to the changing climate and improved governance to mitigate the main drivers of deforestation.

Finally, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal provided an uplifting outlook on climate solutions and the future of the Amazon. As Manuel has seen in his work with WWF, COP 20, and now IUCN’s Climate Crisis Commission, organizations like Amazon Conservation are evolving and building climate into their work, and he believes that Amazon Conservation is doing the work that is needed to scale up climate and conservation solutions in our efforts to bring our climate-smart conservation solutions to more communities and countries across the region.

The gallery exhibit is open to the public during business hours at the Embassy of Peru in DC now through August 17.

Amazon Conservation would like to thank the Embassy of Peru in DC and Ambassador Oswaldo de Rivero for their support in hosting our “A Changing Amazon” exhibit and opening reception.