Israeli-led crowdfunding hopes to save rare monkey • By SHARON UDASIN Two Israeli professors are leading a campaign to give the critically endangered yellow-tailed woolly monkey population a fighting chance to thrive, by crowdfunding the means necessary to purchase their threatened Peruvian habitat.
The creators of “This is My Earth” (TiME), a grassroots platform that raises funds to protect vulnerable lands, are aiming to buy their first such site in the coming months. The 150-hectare habitat in question, called El Toro, lies in the heart of the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot in Peru’s Amazonas region – an area facing threats of deforestation, human immigration and government negligence, according to TiME.
“This is the first time that I know of that Israeli activists are going to actually be involved in saving a significant global biodiversity hotspot,” Prof. Alon Tal, co-founder of TiME, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Tal, a veteran environmental activist and professor of public policy at Tel Aviv University, founded TiME last year alongside Prof. Uri Shanas, an expert in conservation biology at the University of Haifa and Oranim College.
TiME intends for its members – anyone who donates at least $1 to the platform – to periodically vote to determine where money should be invested to save threatened habitats. Each time members select a winning hotspot, the project’s leaders then plan to direct the funds to local, on-the-ground environmental organizations that are responsible for completing the land purchases.
Tal and Shanas, together with an advisory board of environmental scholars from around the world, successfully raised $35,000 through an Indiegogo campaign in the summer of 2015 to get their web-based platform up and running. While the platform was under construction, they also received some pro bono help from social media experts, arranged by the Jewish Federation of San Francisco, Tal explained.
About six months ago, they began accruing members and asked people to vote on three sites – the El Toro biodiversity hotspot in Peru, a wildlife hub in Kenya’s Mount Longonot National Park and the Turneffe Atoll – a coral reef off the coast of Belize. While they were able to attract some votes, the traffic was not as high as expected, with the Peruvian site gaining only 176 votes and the other two receiving 84 and 85, respectively.
“It was going, but it wasn’t going fast enough,” Tal said. “We had a meeting and said we need a success story.”
Tal and his colleagues are now hoping to make El Toro their “proof of concept” – not only to save the yellow-tailed woolly monkeys and other animals living there, but also to energize prospective voters to join in on the next round of funding elsewhere in the world.
To purchase the Peruvian land in question, TiME needs to raise a minimum of $30,000 for the first core 80 hectares of land, which is most sensitive to disturbances, Tal explained. A total of $100,100 would allow the group to buy a larger 150-hectare plot.
Assuming that the required funds have been raised, the money would be transferred to the British Neotropical Primate Conservation, which would work with its sister organization the Asociación Neotropical Primate Conservation Peru, information from TiME said.
The specific El Toro area that TiME would like to purchase lies near the village of La Esperanza, about 350 km. from the coast and about 100 km. from the Ecuadorian border.
In addition to the critically endangered yellow-tailed woolly monkey, some 234 bird species, 44 reptiles and amphibians and 37 large mammal species make their home at the site, according to TiME. Some of these include the endangered Peruvian night monkey, while-bellied spider monkey and royal sunangel, as well as the vulnerable long-whiskered owlet and pudu.
Although the yellow-tailed woolly monkey is critically endangered, the population of this species is actually on the rise in the area that TiME aims to purchase and protect, Tal explained.
“There is this incredible situation that this monkey species is disappearing except in one place,” he said.
As TiME’s creators move forward with a holiday campaign to raise the necessary purchasing funds, through Indiegogo’s Generosity. com, Tal stressed the importance of the local Peruvian community’s involvement in the venture.
“The community where they live is part of the process,” he said. “This is not some sort of colonial model of conservation.”
“This is their natural heritage and has huge economic potential in terms of eco-tourism,” Tal added.
Because El Toro is titled land that belongs to the local Yambrasbamba Campesino community, Peruvian law dictates that the land can be sold only to community members, according to TiME. The purchase would therefore occur in the name of the community under a tripartite contract between the Neotropical Primate Conservation, the community and current landowners, the organization said.
The Neotropical Primate Conservation would be the legal managers of the area for 20 years, to undertake scientific research and conservation projects, with guards in place to prevent hunting and logging. The opportunity to work as guards, serve as ecological tour guides and host international students would also strengthen local community members, information from TiME said.
Any income generated by the research station that would operate on the land, as well as potential grants and additional crowdfunding campaigns, would be used to purchase more land and increase the size of the conservation area, TiME explained. Once the plot has reached at least 300 hectares of land in size, the group would register with the Peruvian Environment Ministry as a private conservation area as part of the national protected areas system.
As of Thursday afternoon, in its first few opening days, the TiME campaign had raised $1,191.
“The public needs to know that there’s a keystone species that’s warm and fuzzy that they can get their arms around,” Tal said.
With the holidays approaching, Tal stressed his hopes that people might consider choosing slightly cheaper jelly donuts this Hanukka and instead contribute to an effort that would help maintain unique species that are living in the wild.
“On Hanukka, we talk about a renewable light,” he said, noting that environmentalists typically align this concept with renewable energy causes.
“For biodiversity, you can make the same argument that nature is a renewable resource, but only if you give it sufficient oxygen,” Tal continued. “This monkey is going to make us more human.”
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