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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In The Clouds

A threatened cloud forest in Mexico is the focus of an innovative, new concept in conservation photography

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eco RAVE
The Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) project, cocreated by Patricio Robles Gil and the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), aims to heighten awareness of threatened ecosystems through photography. By capturing images of endangered species of all kinds—insects, birds, and even fauna—the RAVE project is then able to present tangible evidence of conservation issues within a region, and consequently show how they will affect the rest of the world. The first expedition was to El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, one of the few remaining refuges for “the most spectacular bird in the New World,” the endangered Resplendent Quetzal.
Ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures worshiped the Resplendent Quetzal as a deity. To harm the bird would result in the death penalty. One of the last remaining refuges of this endangered species is a cloud forest in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, which straddles the Sierra Madre Mountains in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.

Some years ago, cloud forests became recognized as the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, making up just 2.5 percent of the world’s tropical forest area. Last April, El Triunfo became the focus of the first Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition, or RAVE.

Project RAVE
Cocreated by Patricio Robles Gil and the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), the idea is for a team of high-profile photographers to travel to a threatened area for a short period of time. They photograph the biodiversity as well as the scenic beauty, and return with an in-depth portrait of the conservation issues facing the region. Based on that visual and written material, a campaign develops to help conserve the area through fundraising events and general efforts to promote awareness.

Robles Gil, the founder of two influential conservation groups in Mexico, has long worked to preserve ecosystems across his homeland. The idea for RAVE began in the late 80s when Robles Gil would send teams of photographers to cover different regions in Mexico because he didn’t have enough time to document everything. A group would go for a few days and return with the imagery needed to launch an effective campaign.

“There are not many nature photographers in Mexico, and I was doing a lot of traveling every year. Between that and working in my office in Mexico City, finding time to get the material needed to launch a campaign was difficult. So I started thinking of inviting more photographers.”

eco RAVE
Robles Gil went to El Triunfo with a group of photographers for another project in the early ’90s. But the group was unsuccessful in capturing some of the endemic bird species, like the quetzal and the Horned Guan, that make the reserve so ecologically important. Years later, his unfinished business there was part of the reason why it was chosen for the first RAVE.

Exploring El Triunfo
Covering 460 square miles, El Triunfo is one of the largest and most well preserved cloud forests in Mesoamerica. It’s home to 24 percent of the animal species registered in Mexico and more than 2,000 types of plants, including trees that grow up to 200 feet. In short, one of the most important and extensive ecosystems in Mexico is facing severe environmental threats that include illegal logging, agricultural expansion and plans for a road that would divide the reserve in half.

Joining Robles Gil were ILCP fellows Jack Dykinga, Tom Mangelsen and Florian Schulz along with Fulvio Eccardi, whose early work in this area pushed nongovernmental organizations, governing bodies and other agencies to declare El Triunfo a biosphere reserve in 1990. He now serves as the vice president of El Triunfo Conservation Fund. A crew of cameramen, writers and technical assistants accompanied the group.


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