20 Years, 20 'Rap Stars', and 'Still Counting…'


New Book Marks Two Trailblazing Decades of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program and 1,300+ New Species Discoveries

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Arlington, VA — Twenty years of field study in some of the least-known wildernesses left on Earth have led to many of the most remarkable biological discoveries of the past two decades, and helped communities, businesses, and nations make smarter development decisions about land and water use, reported Conservation International (CI) today with the publication of a new book to mark the historic conservation outcomes of its Rapid Assessment Program (RAP).

The program's achievements are highlighted in the new book "Still Counting…" edited by Leeanne Alonso, Director of CI's Rapid Assessment Program in collaboration with other leading scientists. Part memoir, part historical report, part methodology guide, "Still Counting…" revisits RAP expeditions to some of the most remote and least known areas on the planet, recounting the physical challenges and personal highlights experienced by its scientists. It features more than 400 amazing color photographs of rare and exciting species from around the globe.

"It's been an amazing adventure," said Alonso, who has coordinated and led surveys for the past 13 years. "Despite the pressures we put on nature, it continues to mystify, inspire and teach us with a wealth of hidden treasures and ecosystem services that people rely on, and that we're still only beginning to understand."

To mark the twenty years, CI has designated the Top 20 "RAP stars" of the program's history. Species (listed in editors' notes below), include some of the most biologically surprising, unique, or threatened discoveries of the teams' surveys, and include poster species that have captured the public's and media's imagination with popular nicknames like the "Pinocchio frog", the "Yoda bat", the "Walking shark", and the "ET salamander".  They are among the 1300 new or rarely seen species that RAP surveys have observed.


Launched in 1990, the idea behind the creation of CI's Rapid Assessment Program was to build a team of the best field biologists from different disciplines, and create what CI founder, CEO, and Chairman Peter Seligmann described in the foreword to the book as "An ecological SWAT team that could accurately assess the health of an ecosystem in a fraction of the time it would normally take". 


RAP's pioneering team of four included legendary field biologists Ted Parker and Al Gentry, who tragically lost their lives several years later during a field accident, but left an enduring scientific legacy that lives on today.

Since that time, CI's RAPs have expanded to include 10-30 scientists per expedition from a wide variety of disciplines and governmental, NGO, and academic institutions around the world. In doing so, the Rapid Assessment Program has revolutionized the history of biological field study with its nimble, but scientifically rigorous surveys, which typically last just four to six weeks, with five to seven nights of exploration per site.

Among the program's achievements, are the completion of 80 surveys in 27 countries, including 51 terrestrial RAPs, 15 MarineRAPs and 13 freshwater AquaRAPs.  Major accomplishments of the surveys include:

  • the collection of more than 1300 never-before-seen species new to science. More than 500 of these have been formally described by taxonomists, but many more are currently being processed
  • the investment of more than $5.3 million into local communities and national economies through funding that is primarily spent in-country
  • The creation, expansion, or improved management of nearly 21 million hectares of protected areas  (~81,000+ sq. miles)
  • distribution data records for 400 globally threatened species  & new records and range information for over 2,000 species 
  • training of more than 400 students and scientists in developing countries
  • foundation work for land claims by indigenous people, resulting in the creation of special community conservation areas for them in countries including Peru and China, as well as data to help them manage their reserves
  • methodology now used in a program called IBAT (Integrative Biodiversity Assessment Tool) to inform businesses on where to develop their extractive industries.
Dr. Leeanne Alonso, Rapid Assessment Program Director, sorting through leaf litter looking for ants as part of the 2009 RAP survey to the Nangaritza region of southeastern Ecuador.
Photo: © Jessie Deichmann

CI President and primatologist Dr. Russ Mittermeier, who has joined many RAP surveys, explains in the book that the vision was to train "the superstars of the future", the majority of whom live in the tropical countries where expeditions take place.  He said, "We have truly laid the groundwork for the future and created constituencies that are already carrying the cause of conservation forward."

In explaining the role of species data in informing development decisions, Alonso, an entomologist, said, "Species are the building blocks of all our natural ecosystems. We know so little about each species still, and the roles they play in keeping our planet healthy and functional, from filtering fresh water, to dispersing seeds, controlling pests, pollinating crops, inspiring engineering and providing many life-saving medicines we rely upon."

There are approximately 1.9 million documented species of animals, but it is estimated that as many as 10-30 million species of organisms are yet to be discovered and scientifically described. Many disappear before scientists ever have the chance to discover and study them – a tragic process known as Centinelan extinction.  By conducting RAP surveys in places under consideration for industrial development, RAP is able to create a record of species that otherwise could have lived and disappeared without anyone's knowledge. 

"By publicizing their existence, we dramatically increase their chances of survival", said Alonso.

Participating in a RAP survey is no easy feat.  The most remote and difficult RAP surveys often require several days of strenuous hiking, usually up steep mountainsides through dense, wet forests. 

Survey sites are selected following analysis of satellite images, aerial photographs, and over-flights and are chosen primarily based on habitat type and condition. RAPs have all been located within Biodiversity Hotspots – regions with high diversity and endemism (found nowhere else) but with lower threat and more expansive natural habitat for exploration.

As for the future of RAPs, Mittermeier said, "In spite of all that we have learned, there is still much to do. The pressures on the countries richest in biodiversity have not diminished, and many regions still remain unexplored. Knowledge has already helped to conserve some of the world's highest priority sites and regions, and knowledge will continue to be our strongest tool in ensuring the future of life on our planet."



Photographs and species descriptions available for download & media use
(please note that photographer credits MUST be included, and photo use MUST be in editorial connection with this story about Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program)

Video of new species and expeditions available for download and media use here:  ftp://mediaguest:conservation2@visual.conservation.org

"Still Counting… Biodiversity Exploration for Conservation: The First 20 Years of the Rapid Assessment Program
by Leeanne E. Alonso (Editor), Jessica L. Deichmann (Editor), Sheila A. McKenna (Editor), Piotr Naskrecki  (Editor), Stephen J. Richards (Editor).

Published by University of Chicago Press; 316 pages, 400 color photographs;  available in paperback for purchase $20.

Learn more and download this book in pdf format

RAP Scientists Available For Journalists

Leeanne Alonso – Ants and general RAP information
Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA
703-341-2590; cell 202-549-6010
Languages:  English, Spanish

Stephen Richards – Amphibians and regional RAP team leader
Cairns, Australia
Languages:  English

Dr. Piotr Naskrecki – Katydids and other insects, photographing species 
Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Boston, MA
+1 (617) 953-1412
Languages:  English, Polish

Jessica Deichmann – Amphibians
Philadelphia, USA

Dr. Mark Erdmann – marine species
Languages:  English, Bahasa Indonesian

CI'S 20 "RAP Stars"
(listed in no particular order)

Click each photo for complete captions, or view the entire lightbox of photos at:

"Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko" Uroplatus phantasticus
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"E.T. salamander" Bolitoglossa sp. nov.
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Pinocchio frog" Litoria sp. nov.
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
Papua New Guinea
"Large Green Tree Frog" Nyctimystes sp.
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
Papua New Guinea
"Chinchilla Tree Rat" Cuscomys ashaninka
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Yoda bat" (Tube-nosed Fruit Bat) Nyctimene sp. nov.
(NEW to science, but previously discovered)
Papua New Guinea
"Smoky honeyeater" Melipotes carolae
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
Indonesia (Western New Guinea)
"Gola Malimbe" Malimbus ballmanni
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"Walking shark" Hemiscyllium galei
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Flasher Wrasse" Paracheilinus nursalim
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Suckermouth catfish" Pseudancistrus kwinti
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Peacock katydid" Pterochroza ocellata
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"RAP katydid" (named after CI's Rapid Assessment Program)
Brachyamytta rapidoaestima
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
Ghana & Guinea
"Conservation International Blattodean" Simandoa conserfariam
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
"Dragonfly" Platycypha eliseva
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)
Democratic Republic of Congo
"Fish-hook Ant" Polyrhachis bihamata
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"Tigress Ant" Strumigenys tigris
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
Papua New Guinea
"Emperor scorpion" Pandinus imperator
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"Goliath bird-eating spider" Theraphosa blondi
(previously seen, NOT new to science)
"Dinospider" Ricinoides atewa
(NEW to science, discovered by RAP)

Conservation International (CI) Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in nearly 40 countries on four continents.

For more information please visit www.conservation.org/rap