Protecting a Symbol


The dedicated folks at the Red Siskin Initiative are unflappable.


With Conservation Nation’s support, the initiative has focused its energies on commencing daily conservation activities at the brand-new Red Siskin Conservation Center in Venezuela. Coordinator Miguel Angel Arvelo helped agronomist Luis Arrieta train local farmers on shade-friendly growing techniques to benefit the species, and prepared for visits from certification experts; while RSCC Curator Leo Ovalle even dug trenches to keep future red siskins at the RSCC safe from predators.


Leo, a fellow conservationist as well as veterinarian, says the siskin is a distinctive songbird, known for its range of melodies and an intense energy that matches its bright coloration.


“In particular with the Red Siskin, I began to know it and to observe its presence in the Lara state culture, approximately 20 years ago when I moved to live in that region,” Leo says. “However, I noticed with concern that despite this value that is granted in the region, very little effort was made to help preserve it.”


And the need to protect this species is great. The Red Siskin’s population plummeted a century ago because of a lucrative European pet trade, with some estimating at one time fewer than 200 birds remaining in their natural habitat. Progress is being made, however, thanks in large part to the Red Siskin Initiative.


But conservation efforts don’t exist in a vacuum. As Venezuela experiences political upheaval and many face economic hardship, RSI and Smithsonian scientists have discovered that the illegal trade threatening this bird continues. However, now more than ever for this country in turmoil, the Red Siskin can be a beacon for unity and identity—the bird is featured on currency and in traditional folk songs.


Fortunately, efforts to preserve the siskin by Miguel and his fellow conservationists have produced economic benefits for farmers, who are shifting toward sustainable coffee farming to encourage their national symbol to flourish in the wild. One such farmer is Luis, a field agronomist for the project.


Luis stresses the importance of using your power as a consumer to support farmers like himself, trying to both make a living and protect this endangered bird crucial to his regions’ cultural identity.


“Today I know that by cultivating the forest,” Luis says, “I can help them and feel satisfied that I’m contributing to conservation.”




Stay tuned for more updates about the initiative, including their ongoing campaign to fundraise to make their new facility a success!

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Rhino Rescue
Black Rhino

Rhino Rescue


Kenya is home to most of the critically endangered eastern black rhinos—and the only remaining northern white rhinos. With so few left in the wild, the survival of each animal is increasingly critical. Yet losses continue to occur due to poaching, infectious disease, and complications that arise when individuals are moved between sanctuaries.


Each of these cases illustrate how crucial it is for best practices for the care of endangered species to be passed along to those on the ground. Often these “best practices” are drawn from experiences with animals in human care, and others are drawn from experts working with the species across their range.


That’s why Conservation Nation is funding a four-day workshop this October for the top minds in the field to gather in Laikipia, Kenya, and share knowledge about how to best protect, monitor and research rhinos in the wild.


Smithsonian scientists, including Dr. Maureen Kamau, a veterinary research fellow with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Global Health Program, will be among a team of Kenyan and international experts who will teach those on the front lines of rhino healthcare about a range of topics, such as how to run the latest diagnostic tests, cutting edge treatment for infectious diseases, standardized protocols for conducting research on rhinos in the wild, and more.


“Despite the gradual recovery of the eastern black rhino population, this species is still critically endangered, and survival of every individual is critical,” Dr. Kamau says. This workshop “will provide a medium for rhino specialists from around the globe to share expertise for standardized veterinary care and discuss research gaps to augment eastern black rhino populations.”


This project is also striving to improve care for wild rhinos—during the workshop, veterinarians will train Rapid Response Teams: specialized veterinary groups equipped and ready to provide emergency care in the field.


Conservation Nation will additionally make possible the purchase of health monitoring equipment for Kenya Wildlife Service field veterinarians. Efforts like these can significantly strengthen the ability of field veterinarians in Kenya to provide the best possible care to populations in the wild, building partnerships and necessary support for species in dire need.


Check for more updates about Dr. Kamau’s work, the workshop and other Conservation Nation-funded efforts to protect endangered rhinos in the wild.  


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Saving Dolphins in Peru
Dusky Dolphin playing along the Kaikoura Coast.

Saving Dolphins in Peru

Eavesdropping on cetaceans—someone’s got to do it. And thanks to Conservation Nation, and supporters like you, that someone is going to be marine biologist Dr. Ximena Velez-Zuazo and her team.


Dr. Velez-Zuazo borrowed the equipment she needed last year to record marine mammals’ underwater sounds off the coast of Peru. She was able to discover multiple species had made the area their home, and near a busy maritime port, no less. To really protect these species, though, the scientists need more data. That’s where Conservation Nation comes in.


The equipment needed to record the species’ sounds


We’re going to get Dr. Velez-Zuazo not one, but three acoustic recorders, so she can continue her study. These recorders – and the data they provide – will be instrumental in determining how humans are interacting with animals near the port.


“Every month, we conduct long walks along the beach at the central coast of Peru. We cover 16 kilometers and record any stranding we detect,” Dr. Velez-Zuazo says. “Many of the strandings are of the two most elusive species: the dusky dolphin and the Burmeister’s porpoise. We are uncertain if the stranding is the result of the interaction with fishing nets and hooks used by fishermen at the beach or if they are drifting from southern areas with high fishing pressure.”


That’s not the only piece of the puzzle the team might solve with more data—if they can determine when the animals are visiting the terminal and where they are usually clustering, they might be able to recommend reducing human maritime activity during those times.


“To help species you need to know them. Or at least where they are, how many, and for how long,” Dr. Velez-Zuazo says. “By acquiring our own equipment, we will be able implement a long-term study according to our experimental design.”


Start a fundraiser to help Dr. Velez-Zuazo and her team today. Let’s help them figure out how they can protect these marine mammals so dolphins are rarely if ever found stranded on Peruvian shorelines.




“Studying behavior and movement of large marine vertebrates is a great challenge. In the open ocean, creatures are elusive and very difficult to detect! Using acoustics as a tool to elucidate where they are and how long they stay is vital to design and refine conservation strategies, like identifying critical habitats. Along the central coast of Peru, we are studying the interaction of dolphins and porpoises with human activities and infrastructure to inform best practices for their conservation.”—Dr. Ximena Velez-Zuazo


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