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Darwin Initiative

…building a future for Haiti's unique biodiversity

BirdLife International, working with UK-based project partners the Zoological Society of London and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, has secured over US$450,000 (£285,000) from Defra's Darwin Initiative in support of vital conservation action to prevent the extinction of Haiti's unique biodiversity.

Haiti's forests support an incredible diversity of range-restricted endemic animals. However, only 3% of these forests remain and are being lost at a rate of 10% every five years, with the result that many species are globally threatened or even possibly extinct. The Massif de la Hotte is a mountainous area in south-westernmost Haiti, and is one of the few areas still retaining forest cover, albeit reduced to a patchwork of remnants within the Macaya National Park. These forests represent one of the most important places in the world for the conservation of threatened vertebrates – 42 globally threatened mammals (Hispaniolan solenodon and Hispaniolan hutia), birds, reptiles and amphibians occur there. Even more significantly, it is the world's most important Alliance for Zero Extinction site, supporting populations of 15 Critically Endangered and Endangered Eleutherodactylus frogs that are unique to the massif.The Massif de la Hotte's biodiversity faces multiple threats including habitat fragmentation, unsustainable use of forest products, habitat clearance for agriculture, and direct persecution of threatened vertebrates. BirdLife is already working with Société Audubon Haïti and the locally-based Fondation Macaya to improve the livelihoods of people in the communities in the buffer zone of Macaya National Park, and thereby reduce some of the pressures on the Macaya forests. These communities rely on the ecosystem services that the forests provide for them, including the daily provision of fresh water and firewood or the prevention of landslides and flooding when tropical storms and heavy rains pass over. It is the maintenance and improvement of these services, and increasing the resilience of the forests to the effects of global climate change that lie at the heart of an integrated approach to conservation in the massif.

The Darwin Initiative funding will help ensure that the unique biodiversity also has a sustainable future in these forests. Drawing on UK biodiversity expertise represented by the Zoological Society of London and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, BirdLife will be coordinating a broad program to build institutional capacity and strengthen critical skills in Haiti (within Société Audubon Haïti, Fondation Macaya and at the Université Quisqueya) through experiential learning focused on field research, project planning, monitoring and management. This will be enhanced through formal university-based courses, UK training opportunities, and mentorship.

“Darwin funding will provide training, support and a scientific framework to ensure that the forests of the Massif de la Hotte continue to provide vital services – such as drinking water, firewood, and flood and landslide protection – to people in the surrounding communities, and at the same time help ensure a sustainable future for the area’s unique wildlife" said David Wege, BirdLife InternationalOver the next three years, the project will aim to strengthen the evidence-base on the distribution, population status, ecology and conservation requirements of globally threatened vertebrates and their habitats in the Massif de la Hotte. Conservation plans for mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and strategic habitat restoration plans will be developed. In the process, Haitian capacity for conserving and monitoring vertebrates and their habitats, and skills in conservation biology, planning, advocacy and management will be strengthened. A targeted media and outreach programme will raise awareness of Haiti's unique vertebrates and their habitats across a range of local, national and international audiences. Specific community-level awareness-raising programmes in the Massif de la Hotte will be conducted in parallel with field research programmes, and will also be used to identify community resource needs for developing longer-term sustainable-livelihood strategies that ensure regional biodiversity conservation.

The devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake had no immediate material impact within the Massif de la Hotte. However, the aftermath is starting to be felt with people fleeing Port-au-Prince to find refuge in the remote communities around the Macaya National Park. The Darwin Initiative funding comes at a critical time to help Société Audubon Haïti, Fondation Macaya and others to work towards accommodating earthquake victims in the communities around Macaya, and to ensure a sustainable future for the people and the area's unique wildlife.

4th July 2014