Wildlife, Forests, and Us

The Rainforest Alliance got its start more than 30 years ago protecting—you guessed it!—rainforests. (That included, of course, all the magnificent flora and fauna found within said forests.) But it wasn’t long before we realized we couldn’t protect forests without enlisting the efforts of people who depended on them, and that we couldn’t expect these folks to protect forests unless they had a way to support their families.

That’s why we work to create sustainable forest-based livelihoods. And since agriculture drives more than 70 percent of tropical deforestation, we also work with farmers to increase their yields in Earth-friendly ways, so they don’t need to clear more trees for cropland. Then, too, the effects of climate change—drought, unpredictable rainfall, severe weather events—severely impact farmers and foresters, so we work on climate change resilience, as well.

Which brings us back to protecting forests, since forests help to slow climate change by absorbing some of the nasty emissions we humans generate.

Simply put, everything is connected, and that’s why we work on many fronts, all over the world, all at the same time. Since the beginning, all our work has benefitted wildlife. While some organizations choose to focus on a single, beloved species, or others work on behalf of endangered animals, we have found that an integrated landscape approach to conservation is the most effective. Read on for just a few of our favorite wildlife success stories.


The Sulawesi bear cuscus, named for its thick, dark and bear-like fur, isn’t really a bear but an arboreal marsupial. When the Rainforest Alliance began working with 1,500 smallholder cocoa farmers on the southern tip of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, in the mega-biodiverse Bantaeng region, we discovered that these farmers were regularly killing cuscus because they mistakenly believed these creatures to be eating their plants. In our trainings, farmers not only learned how to grow their cocoa in ways that nourish soil health, protect nearby forests and waterways, and boost yields, they also learned that the cuscus is protected by the Indonesian government—and that, in fact, it hadn’t been eating the cocoa plants at all. (The real culprit? Rats!) Now these farmers, their cocoa plants, and the cuscus all live in harmony in Bantaeng.

Sulawesi Cuscus bear in a tree

Endemic Sulawesi Cuscus bear in a tree, Tangkoko national park, Indonesia

Photo credit: iStock


In recent decades, jaguar populations around the world have plummeted by 50 percent, mainly due to deforestation (habitat destruction) and hunting. Bolivian forestry company CINMA-San Martín (which is certified by the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council standards) manages nearly 300,000 acres (119,200 ha) in the Amazonian forest reserve of Bajo Paragua. Together with the Panthera foundation and the biology department of the Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, CINMA-San Martín set up 26 monitoring stations, activated for 24 hours a day over the course of 71 days. The cameras caught more than 200 images of jaguars, corresponding to at least 10 individual animals—the highest number recorded in more than 20 studies previously done in the region.

This was great news, not only because the jaguar is a majestic, iconic creature. Jaguars are an indicator species—meaning its presence signals good ecosystem health—and an umbrella species, meaning it helps protect other wildlife that share its habitat. Other photos from the study attest to this beneficial web of relationships: 32 additional species of mammals—including spider monkeys, giant otters, and giant armadillos, some of which are considered vulnerable or on the verge of extinction—were also caught on camera.

See? Everything is connected.

Jaguar image caught by camera trap

A still photograph of a jaguar from a motion-sensitive camera footage in Bolivia’s Bajo Paragua forest.

Photo credit: Rosario Arispe and Claudia Venegas

Cerulean Warbler

When the Rainforest Alliance joined forces this year with businesses, foresters, the US Forest Service, and landowners in the southeast United States to form the Appalachian Woodlands Alliance (AWA), we did so with an eye to conserving the incredible biodiversity of these woods. With 158 tree species, the region ranks as one of North America’s highest in total floral diversity; it is also the world’s center for lungless salamander diversity. All told, the Appalachian woodlands represent one of the world’s richest temperate forests. The AWA is devoted to conserving this treasure while simultaneously boosting the local economy through sustainable forest management.

Imagine our delight when we found that not only is the AWA’s work helping conserve habitat for salamanders and thousands other creatures, but that one bird species in particular demonstrates the beauty of our integrated, global approach: the cerulean warbler. The warbler breeds in the Appalachian woodlands before traveling thousands of miles to overwinter in Andean forests, where it shows a great fondness for shade coffee plantations—exactly the kind of coffee farms that the Rainforest Alliance works with and certifies. On shade coffee farms in Colombia, it was found that densities of warblers are 3 to 14 times higher than those in neighboring primary forest. (Watch out, red-eyed tree frog—the cerulean warbler may be making a play for your mascot job!)

Cerulean warbler
Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture

Night Monkey

Migratory birds aren’t the only creatures who love shade coffee farms. A study found that Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farms adjacent to natural forestlands successfully extend wildlife corridors, providing habitat for a variety of wildlife—including the threatened night monkey (Aotus lemurinus). “Night monkeys are rarely spotted because they are nocturnal and dwell in trees,” Deanna Newsom, senior analyst for evaluation and research at the Rainforest Alliance, explained. "By radio-tagging a group of night monkeys in Colombia, we found that they spend almost as much time foraging for food on densely shaded coffee farms as they do in the rainforest."

Shaded coffee farms resemble natural forest, with coffee plants growing under the shade of the canopy. The layered vegetation provides important habitat to an abundance of wildlife, including mammals and migratory birds. Using camera traps, researchers found 12 different species of mammals living on shaded certified and non-certified coffee farms, including honey bears (Potos flavus), olingos (Bassarycion gabbii) and white-nosed coati (Nasua nasua).

Night monkeys peering out of their roost

A pair of noisy night monkeys peer out of their roost in order to watch the canoe travel up the river. Photographed in the heart of Yasuni National Park, in the Westernmost stretch of the Amazon Basin, Ecuador. 

Photo credit: Cody Conway
Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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