This Costa Rican land preserve is home to hundreds of plants and animals. Most amazing of all, it was bought by children.
The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is home to an amazing variety of birds, butterflies, frogs, and plants, as well as sloths, monkeys, tapirs, and jaguars. At 22,500 hectares, it’s the largest private land reserve in Costa Rica—and it exists thanks to the vision and generosity of children.
Rainforests around the world have been decimated by unsustainable agricultural practices, ranching, logging, and mining. According to the Nature Conservancy, rainforests once covered 6 million square miles (15.5 million square kilometres), but deforestation has reduced their size to only 2.4 million square miles (6.2 million square kilometres).
From 1940 until the end of the 1980s, 50 percent of the Costa Rican rainforest had been destroyed. Since then, Costa Rica has taken a proactive approach to ending the destruction of its precious rainforest.
“By the end of the 1980s, Costa Rica had the fastest deforestation rate in Latin America; about 100,000 hectares had been cut down,” says biologist Mark Wainwright. “As people started to realize that the forest was not an inexhaustible resource, different initiatives sprouted up, some government-led and some private, to set aside some pieces of forest before they were gone.”
How to buy a rainforest
In 1987, unexpected help came from half a world away. In the Fagerviks School in the Swedish countryside, Eha Kern was teaching her primary school class about the rainforest.
“The children asked, ‘Is it true that rainforests are disappearing?’ Yes, I said, it’s true. ‘But we have to do something about it,’ they said. Nine-year-old Roland suggested, ‘Why can’t we buy a rainforest?’” recalls Kern on a recent visit to the Poco Sol research station in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
Although Kern thought the children would soon forget about the idea, a visit by a tropical biologist, Sharon Kinsman, got them even more excited. One evening Kinsman showed pictures of the rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, to the children and their parents. A hat was passed around and they raised a couple of hundred dollars.
The children brainstormed to come up with fundraising initiatives. Kern says they thought of holding bake sales and even rabbit jumping contests. Although the rabbit jumping contests didn’t pan out, in four years they raised $25,000 by holding bake sales and selling cards, paintings, and crafts.
Soon other classes in the school took part in their own fundraising activities. Their dream spread across Sweden, and eventually the children raised $100,000.
In 1991, Kern and her student Roland Tiensuu were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in recognition of their efforts as grassroots environmental heroes. The $175,000 prize is the largest environmental award in the world for grassroots environmentalists, and it is awarded in six global regions.
Eventually, Roland’s idea inspired children in 44 countries, and $2 million was raised to buy the tract of forest that was appropriately named the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is managed by a nonprofit organization, the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL). Founded in 1986 by a group of local Costa Ricans, its mission is to preserve, conserve, and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity.
Mark Wainwright is the current president of the MCL as well as a biologist, teacher, author, and illustrator. He wrote and illustrated The Mammals of Costa Rica: A Natural History and Field Guide (Zona Tropical, 2007). Wainwright arrived in Monteverde in 1991, where he developed a passion for the rainforest that has kept him there.
Wainwright says that every time he walks in the rainforest he can find a species he’s never seen before. The rich biological diversity of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest includes
- 800 species of trees
- 700 species of butterflies
- 500 species of orchids
- 450 species of birds
- 121 species of mammals
Add to this many species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects, as well as other plant species.
Location, location, location
What contributes to this abundance of life—and what makes the Children’s Eternal Rainforest so special—is its location. At 1,476 to 5,900 feet (450 to 1,800 metres) above sea level, it lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, an area known as the continental divide. It lies at the convergence of hot, dry weather on the Pacific side and cool, wet weather on the Caribbean (Atlantic) side. This location allows the rainforest to support such a wide diversity of species.
A life zone is a unique ecology of plant and animal life that flourishes in regions with similar altitudes and latitudes. Normally, life zones are large geographical areas, but the Children’s Eternal Rainforest is home to dozens of unique life zones. A hiker can walk through seven life zones in a couple of hours on the western side of the forest, but in other parts of the world, seven life zones would cover thousands of miles.
To put size in perspective, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest covers only 0.0048 percent of the Earth’s land surface, but it contains 5 percent of the world’s birds and 1 percent of the world’s species of frogs.
“This forest truly is possibly unmatched worldwide in terms of its biodiversity. It’s not just another rainforest,’ says Wainwright.
A forest with benefits
Preservation of this rainforest is important for many reasons. Locally, Wainwright says it’s the backbone of the local economy. In the towns of Monteverde and La Fortuna, ecotourism activities such as forest canopy or butterfly tours provide a living for hundreds of local families.
But perhaps even more important is the dual role the forest plays in protecting the water supply. The trees act like an umbrella, protecting the thin topsoil so that when it rains hard, the soil isn’t washed away. For most of the year, the moisture in the upper parts of the rainforest comes from clouds, not direct rainfall. The rainforest acts like a giant sponge. During the dry season, three-quarters of the moisture comes from the trees’ ability to condense moisture from the clouds.
“This is where life began,” says Tom Newmark, former CEO of New Chapter, and co-owner of Finca Luna Nueva, a biodynamic farm and eco-lodge that borders the rainforest. “If you look at the thin belt of land around the equator, which is maybe only 2 percent of the land on the planet, the tropical rainforests located there represent 50 percent of known life on the planet.”
Sadly, according to Newmark, “an acre a second of rainforest is ploughed under or burned down to grow monoculture industrial agriculture. That’s 31 million acres of rainforest cut down each year.”
Medicinal treasure trove
Rainforests provide us with valuable medicinal plants. So far, it’s estimated that only 1 percent of all medicinal plants found in the rainforest have been studied. Medicinal plants are vital for the manufacture of a variety of anticancer and antiviral drugs and new antibiotics. Over the past 25 years in the US, 70 percent of new drugs have been derived from natural sources.
“This vast medicine cabinet of Nature has been largely unexplored, but nevertheless, we’re burning it down, and who knows what important drug or dietary supplement or food might be lost forever by the irresponsible destruction that’s going on now around the world,” says Newmark.
Sharing her father’s philosophy and passion for the rainforest, Sara Newmark, Director of Sustainability at New Chapter, says, “Our company is devoted to protecting medicinals and acknowledging the place that traditional medicinals play in our world. Many of them come from the rainforest. We want to protect the rainforest to protect the knowledge that exists there.”
Since 2006, Whole Foods Market and New Chapter have contributed approximately $1 million, or 90 percent of the funds, that have purchased pieces of land to create corridors. These wildlife corridors fill in missing pieces of the rainforest, closing gaps created by development, roads, or human activity such as logging. The creation of a corridor allows animals and birds to move freely from one area to another and helps establish a healthy ecosystem. They have also contributed to reforestation.?Through the use of a simple motion camera, biologists at the Poco Sol research station were able to capture photos of a jaguar prowling his territory. It’s the sign of a healthy ecosystem—and proof the corridor is working—when the top life forms return to an area.
Preserving the rainforest
Today the MCL takes a three-pronged approach to managing the Children’s Eternal Rainforest:
- land purchase and protection
- education and community outreach
They do all of this with limited resources. The MCL must also maintain the forest’s boundaries and hire guards to protect it from poachers. As a general rule, one guard is required to patrol 2,471 acres (1,000 hectares) of land. At almost 56,834 acres (23,000 hectares), the rainforest has only five guards.
The MCL would also like to establish a permanent endowment fund to ensure the sustainability of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest into the future to keep the children’s dream alive for future generations.
“Whether you’re a person who loves the colours of the birds and the lizards, whether you’re a scientist who appreciates the play of evolution, or whether you want to protect the purity of the planet for your children and your children’s children, the planetary ecological services that are provided by the rainforest can’t be supported anywhere else,” says Tom Newmark.
Preserving the Children’s Eternal Rainforest benefits us all in so many ways—it’s not just another rainforest.
An industry shares its love
Canadian natural health companies are generously giving their funds and their support to causes that resonate with their corporate missions. From saving non-GMO seeds for future generations to supporting Canadian athletes as they strive for their best outcomes, your favourite natural health companies are giving back in surprising ways! Head over to the websites of your preferred brands and see what they’re doing to give back!