In the case of the mountain bongo antelopes that were repatriated in the highlands of Kenya, the U.N. established Mount Kenya as a World Heritage Site and created an initiative entitled the Repatriation of Mountain Bongo Antelope to Mt. Kenya World Heritage Site. The Rare Species Conservatory Foundation led the U.N. initiative with a team of interinstitutional organizations on a national and international level to repatriate captive-bred mountain bongos into their native ecosystem. The initiative dedicated a swath of 1,000 square miles of highland habitat covering Mount Kenya, not only securing a range for the bongo but also protecting a water source for thousands of Kenyans. “These animals save land, which saves people,” says Reillo, who introduced 18 captive-bred bongos to Mount Kenya in 2004, four of which were bred at the RSCF.
Saving flagship species is imperative. “Conservation is about prioritizing,” says Reillo. “If a flagship species fails, inspiration is lost and all will fail. If you can’t believe that nature is worthwhile, then all you have is an epithet.”
The reach of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, though far-ranging, also has a direct impact on this very soil. The Green-Cheeked Amazon parrot, which many Palm Beachers have grown to love, gives Dr. Reillo an opportunity to hone his field study skills from the comforts of home, while giving the parrots a fighting chance in their adoptive land. The Green-Cheeked Amazons are an interesting dynamic of two exotic species from two different places in the world cohabitating in harmony. The Green-Cheeked parrots, which are endemic to Mexico, do not make nests but prefer trees with cavernous crevices. A stretch of old growth casuarina (Australian pine) in Palm Beach County (left intentionally vague for parrot safety) is the perfect nesting site for these parrots, which are often seen flying en masse (up to 30 per flock) from fruit tree to fruit tree, dining on citrus seed. This gives Reillo the opportunity to utilize new equipment and practice new field techniques, all while monitoring the parrots' numbers and habits, ensuring the safety and survival of this precarious population.
The last full census listed 138 parrots, but this was before 2009/2010’s unseasonably cold winter. Now, Reillo estimates the numbers to range from 100 to 150, which are up from 80 just five years ago. The Green-Cheeked Amazon, a Mexican native, is nearly extinct in its native land, which is losing more and more acreage to human encroachment daily (less than four-percent of the environment is left). There are now more feral populations of these birds than there are in their native land, which makes the small population in Palm Beach that much more important. They represent a larger picture of what is at stake on a global scale.
As more and more land is degraded in the name of progress, a blasé attitude seems to permeate as the norm. Environmentalism and conservation efforts often take a back seat when trying economic times are afoot, and the Great Recession has been no exception. But this puts the state’s natural environment in a dubious and cataclysmic situation. “We have depleted so much habitat that we are starting to lose animals; sustainability is nearly over,” says Reillo ominously. “Everything we are seeing across the world right now, with water and food shortages is happening here. Florida cannot be sustained by growing houses. We are pushing natural areas further and further to the limit until they will simply just cease to exist.”
But there is a silver lining to this story, where gains can be made to help stem future loss. “The demographic in this part of the state represents some of the most powerful people anywhere on earth, ever. The individual can do so much for so little it is unbelievable,” says Reillo. “Underwriting a project or program can literally change the world. One Bentley can make a difference that is hard to imagine.”
To read more about the Dr. Reillo and the current undertakings of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, please visit their website: www.rarespecies.org