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Jungle for jaguars appeal aims to help ensure a future for wildlife

PUBLISHED: 10:41 19 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:42 19 October 2018

North-eastern Biological Corridor, Belize.
Picture: World Land Trust

North-eastern Biological Corridor, Belize. Picture: World Land Trust

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From its offices in a small market town in rural East Anglian an international charity is at the forefront of the fight to save irreplaceable wildlife habitat around the world from destruction. Sheena Grant meets the founder of the World Land Trust and hears about its latest appeal.

The World Land Trust's fundraising appeal aims to raise £600,000  to purchase and protect 8,154 acres within a 'wildlife corridor' which would otherwise face clearance for agriculture. Protecting this area will ensure ‘connectivity’ in a shrinking wild landscape for a population of at least 22 jaguars.
Picture: World Land TrustThe World Land Trust's fundraising appeal aims to raise £600,000 to purchase and protect 8,154 acres within a 'wildlife corridor' which would otherwise face clearance for agriculture. Protecting this area will ensure ‘connectivity’ in a shrinking wild landscape for a population of at least 22 jaguars. Picture: World Land Trust

It’s 30 years since husband and wife conservationists John and Viv Burton founded a charity to save 110,000 acres of threatened tropical forest in Belize.

Back then, fundraising to buy land on this scale to avert deforestation was almost unheard of and there were perhaps some who raised an incredulous eyebrow when they heard about the big plans of this couple living in the small market town of Halesworth.

Chris Packham (left) with World Land Trust founder and chief executive John Burton.
Picture: World Land TrustChris Packham (left) with World Land Trust founder and chief executive John Burton. Picture: World Land Trust

They needn’t have.

Three decades later that forest remains under the protection of the World Land Trust’s partner in a wildlife reserve named the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, which now spans 260,000 acres.

Since its formation in 1989 the World Land Trust (WLT), still based in Halesworth, has raised more than £25 million to purchase and protect more than 700,000 acres of threatened environmentally precious habitat in Africa, Asia, Central and South America.

And now, in its 30th anniversary year, the WLT’s focus is heading back to Belize with a new campaign to save jungle habitat at risk of deforestation.

More than 25,000 acres of forest has been lost in northern Belize in the past ten years and unprotected areas are in dire need of action to save the remaining habitats for wildlife, says the trust.

It is working with another local partner organisation, the Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative (CSFI), which manages two reserves in northern Belize providing a vital habitat corridor for wildlife. Without urgent intervention this corridor is in danger of being broken, which is why WLT has launched its Jungle for Jaguars appeal.

The appeal aims to raise £600,000 for CSFI to purchase and protect 8,154 acres within the corridor which would otherwise face clearance for agriculture. Protecting this area will ensure ‘connectivity’ in a shrinking wild landscape for a population of at least 22 jaguars. The habitat is also home to four other cat species - Puma, Jaguarundi, Margay and Ocelot - as well as endangered Baird’s Tapir and Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey. Many bird species will also be protected, including the Keel-billed Toucan, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Black Catbird, and rare species of hummingbirds.

“This is one of our most ambitious projects to date, as securing this corridor requires cooperation all the way from a local level to governmental and international support,” says John. “A successful outcome has the potential to lead to an important model for conservation in Central America going forward.

“This project has historical significance for WLT as well, as the trust was founded to protect another area of critically threatened tropical forest in northern Belize which was facing the same threats 30 years ago. This land, now protected by our partner Programme for Belize, covers 262,000 acres of natural habitat which would otherwise have been lost.”

John first came to East Anglia as a young man to go birdwatching and later bought a house locally.

“It’s one of the best areas in the whole of Britain for birds and wildlife,” he says. “When we decided to get out of London completely and start the charity, this was the place to do it.”

Back in the 1980s he had already realised the traditional “species orientated” approach to conservation was not working.

“If you’re talking about breeding animals in captivity for reintroduction you have to have habitat to put them back into,” he says. “With no wild (habitat) there is no chance of success. Deforestation for agriculture is just as urgent a threat today as it was in 1989. A lot of it is for palm oil but also soya and cattle ranching. Most of the soya is grown for cattle feed. The worldwide demand for beef is the single most destructive thing for natural habitat.

“Once you get ecosystem collapse things go badly wrong. You can’t have a healthy natural environment without a whole range of species and animals such as jaguar and tigers are part of that.”

And what of the future? Given that the problems of habitat loss and species decline have not diminished, despite all the World Land Trust has achieved in the last 30 years, does he feel optimistic?

“I’m neither an optimist or a pessimist,” he says. “I’m a realist. The world is in a huge mess. Right-wing populist politics are an absolute disaster for the natural world. Aside from climate change, consumerism is the over-riding challenge of our time and unending economic growth, both of which are unsustainable. Despite these challenges we can’t just sit and do nothing. Saving land to save species is still one of the best ways to ensure a future for wildlife ”

More information about the Jungle for Jaguars appeal and how to donate is online at worldlandtrust.org/jungleforjaguars.

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