A Rare History
rare (râr) adj. 1. Infrequently occurring; uncommon. –The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Rare has gone through many incarnations during its three-decade history. But the name has stuck, and the reason is simple. The organization seeks to preserve rare and unusual creatures, the habitats that sustain them, and the people who live amidst them. Rare does this by putting people first, by inspiring conservation among the local communities in which species and habitats are threatened.
The Early Years
When RARE was established in 1973, it was an acronym for Rare Animal Relief Effort. While on an extended car trip through Central America, Capt. David Hill, an avid US birdwatcher and pilot for Flying Tigers, conceived of a conservation organization that would protect that region’s vulnerable and unique fauna. Initially, he wanted to ally with the National Audubon Society, which then lacked its current international reach. Audubon offered free office space at its New York headquarters, but suggested that Hill incorporate RARE as an independent organization. RARE Inc. had its first board meeting on Nov. 9, 1973.
Its first big campaign came the following year, when RARE Inc. allied with Friends of the Earth and the Animal Welfare Institute to launch the “Save the Whales” campaign, using ads, buttons, and demonstrations. RARE Inc. then led a worldwide initiative to protect the manatee, which helped result in 1978’s passage of the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, declaring the entire state a manatee refuge.
RARE Inc.formed an alliance with the World Wildlife Fund in the early to mid ’80s and focused on outreach and education. In 1986, the organization split from WWF to become the RARE Center for Tropical Bird Conservation, using the Resplendent Quetzal as its logo and focusing more narrowly on the bird conservation in Central America and the Caribbean.
With just two staffers and a modest budget, Rare launched its first “Pride campaign” based upon the work of Paul Butler (who would later join RARE Center for Tropical Bird Conservation as its director for conservation education) and the Saint Lucia Forestry Department. In the late 1970s the Saint Lucia Parrot flickered on the edge of extinction, numbering barely more than 100. Butler and the Forestry Department were convinced that the only way to save this national treasure was to engage every segment of the community in actively protecting its habitat. That meant moving beyond standard education models and finding ways to inspire and motivate people on an emotional level.
To achieve these goals, Butler turned to the private sector for a number of time-tested marketing techniques. He built a comprehensive marketing campaign around a charismatic image of the Saint Lucian parrot. The campaign included a larger-than-life mascot that personified the environment and generated awareness and excitement, a pop song about the bird, billboards, bumper stickers, and engaging classroom activities. As momentum picked up, local political figures and religious leaders began incorporating campaign messages into their speeches and sermons. The end result was a groundswell of community pride that motivated people to save their most precious natural assets, including the parrot and its habitat. Today the species numbers 600, is absolutely protected by law, and is slowly expanding its range from the refuge of the island’s central forest reserve to other forested areas that it formally occupied.
Not only did the campaign pull the Saint Lucian parrot from the brink of extinction, it generated a legacy of local environmental pride that exists to this day.
The Pride program was officially born when the organization asked Butler to join its staff and begin replicating his experience in other Caribbean islands, like Saint Vincent and Dominica. Butler wrote a manual to share his methods, condensing 10 years of experience into a one-year action plan, and began the process of identifying entrepreneurial conservation leaders in other islands whom he could mentor through the process.
After establishing a track record in thirteen Caribbean nations from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s, what is now called Rare Pride expanded throughout Latin America, the Pacific, and most recently Asia and Africa.
Additional Tools for Community Conservation
In 1994, recognizing the need for a wider range of tools for developing conservation leadership at the community level, RARE Center for Tropical Bird Conservation launched an intensive, three-month training course in conversational English and natural history for rural adults to become nature guides in Costa Rica. The program has since flourished and has been introduced to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Africa. Brett Jenks, currently Rare president and CEO, joined that year to spearhead the program. In 1998, RARE Center developed the first of its workshops to train people in ecotourism promotion.
In 1996, a radio serial drama called Apwe Plezi was first broadcast on Saint Lucia, intertwining such plot themes as family planning, HIV prevention, spousal abuse and drugs, and the environment. Rare was, and remains, one of the only conservation organizations to tackle the interconnected issues of environment and population through this social marketing oriented approach. Immensely popular, Apwe Plezi ran for 400 episodes. Two subsequent themed radio soap operas have been launched, in the Eastern Caribbean and in Micronesia.
New Period of Growth
In 2000, the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation became simply Rare, and Brett Jenks became president and CEO. With the new millennium, the organization’s scope and vision expanded dramatically. Because Paul Butler could not be at all points around the globe where Pride was needed, Rare developed a university training program to teach the methodology to local activists in a central fashion. Starting with a training center at the University of Kent in the UK for English-speaking conservationists, Rare has since gone on to launch training centers in Mexico, Indonesia, and soon to be China – training more than 85 local conservationists from 40+ countries. Read more about what these Pride managers have accomplished.
The organization’s work in fostering sustainable employment opportunities is also beginning to be “scaled.” Three ecotourism enterprises have also been successfully established, in Río Plátano, Honduras; Sian Ka’an, Mexico; and Tikal, Guatemala; and a fourth is under way in Grenada – all managed by local entrepreneurs with training from Rare.
“Rare has experienced enormous change in the past five years,” Jenks notes. “Our budget has grown four-fold, and we’ve created hundreds of new partnerships. We’re now training and mentoring local leaders on four continents.
To disseminate its programs on a global scale, Rare has formed partnerships with a number of large international conservation organizations – including The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, Audubon, and others – which provide financial and operational support to complement the local management of Rare’s programs.
“But despite all the bells and whistles,” Jenks emphasized, “at its heart, Rare is still, and will continue to be, about the potential for one inspiring individual to build lasting support for the environment.”
Butler echoed Jenks’ perspective. “I never dreamed that we’d be closing in our hundredth Pride campaign,” he said. “Rare has grown from a small organization working in a couple of sites to an organization working in dozens of countries with many, many partners, both local and international. But it’s still the same small, open, and, yes, fun organization. We have managed to scale up without the bureaucracy.”
As Jenks is fond of saying, “conservation is about people.” And it is the people connected with Rare—from local nature guides to committed individuals at large NGOs, from Pride campaign managers working in the field to its home office staff, from local ecotourism entrepreneurs to Rare’s board members—that make the organization itself rare.
Changing the way people relate to nature
Rare specializes in social marketing – a method for changing attitudes and behaviors that has been successfully applied by other organizations to such issues as seatbelt use, smoking, pollution, teen drug abuse, and reproductive health.
Rare is the leader in social marketing for biodiversity conservation — with a successful track record in more than 40 countries to date. We train and support leaders from the world’s top environmental organizations, local grassroots groups, and governments – all of which are increasingly aware that failure to create support at the community level reduces the chance of conservation success.
Where is social marketing most urgently needed?
Rare works primarily in the developing tropics. Home to more than half of the world’s population, some of its most rapidly growing economies, and the richest remaining stores of biodiversity, the tropics will in large part determine the fate of our global natural resources.
What is Rare’s approach?
Rare has a proven model for changing awareness, attitudes, and behaviors toward conservation at the local level. It’s called a “Pride” campaign, and it inspires people to take pride in the natural assets that make their communities valuable and take action to protect them. Pride campaigns are intensive year-long marketing efforts that borrow private sector tactics and apply them to promoting more environmentally sustainable practices.
Many of the world’s largest conservation groups have requested Rare’s services to help build stronger local community support for their work. This includes The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Birdlife International, Audubon, the United Nations Environment Programme, the national governments of China, Mexico, Peru, and Indonesia, and many others.
Our Impact to Date
Rare has trained 120 local leaders in the developing world, whose campaigns have influenced 6.8 million people living in 2,400 remote communities. (List of sites where we work)
Together with our partners, we have created new protected areas and better reserve management; reduced forest fires, illegal logging, destructive fishing and unsustainable agriculture; and saved multiple species on the brink of extinction.