Inside Rare: How One Conservationist Inspired Our Approach

Paul Butler in front of the Barre de L'Isle forest trail sign

Inside Rare: How One Conservationist Inspired Our Approach

S.H. IrbyJune 22, 2016

On Rare Senior Vice President Paul Butler’s 60th birthday and nearing the 40th anniversary of his campaign in St. Lucia, we revisit his roots in community-based conservation. Butler’s work to save the endangered St. Lucia parrot in the late 1970s inspired Pride, Rare’s globally applied approach to mobilizing communities, then countries, to adopt more environmentally sustainable behaviors.

When Paul Butler returned to St. Lucia for the first time in 10 years this April, reminders of his old life on the island came in waves: Winding roads, etched into mountains and speckled with grazing goats and cows. Mangos growing in trees and ginger growing the ground. The Barre de L’Isle forest trail, with its old sign still standing and advising tourists, “Remember to take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time.” And everywhere, the beautiful, brilliantly colorful St. Lucia parrot, painted on roadside signs, printed on the front of the tourism guide at his hotel, illustrated on knickknacks in craft market stalls, and flying overhead through the forest and skies. “As soon as we entered the forest, we saw parrots,” says Paul of his visit. “The very first bird we saw was a St. Lucia parrot. Of course, if the very first bird you see when you walk into the forest is this parrot, squawking over your head, that brings back a lot of memories.”

This bird and its survival are Paul’s legacy in St. Lucia. The St. Lucia parrot, once hunted, eaten, and trapped as a pet, its habitat steadily destroyed by human activity, is now revered and protected throughout the island. The species became an integral part of St. Lucian culture and an iconic symbol for its people after Paul teamed up with the St. Lucia Forestry Department in 1977 to stop the bird’s decline. He was only 22 at the time. Today, we at Rare celebrate Paul on his 60th birthday, for his inspired work in St. Lucia, for his 28 years at Rare, and for showing us Pride, the novel community mobilization approach that we’ve taken global.

 

From Threatened to Thriving: The Rebound of the St. Lucia Parrot

Paul Butler and a St. Lucia parrot

Paul Butler and a St. Lucia parrot

In 1977, Paul traveled to St. Lucia in his final year as a student at Northeast London Polytechnic, setting out to count the island’s remaining St. Lucian birds, study their decline, and give his findings to the St. Lucia Forestry Department. After exploring the island, he estimated that there were only 100 to 150 St. Lucia parrots left. 

Paul came up with a few key ways the Forestry Department could act to protect the species: the department could revise its outdated legislation identifying the penalty for killing the bird, and amp up that penalty; it could set up a sanctuary for the parrots within an existing forest reserve to protect parrot habitat; and it could keep the reserve running by opening it up to forest tours. Gabriel Charles, then head of forestry, saw a real chance for recovery in Paul’s ideas, and brought him on as a conservation advisor to help the department put those ideas in place. 

Paul and his teammates in the Forestry Department knew, however, that these conservation measures alone would not be enough to fully recover the parrot population. People had pushed the bird close to extinction, and people would have to support their protection. To raise awareness and inspire St. Lucians to engage in the effort to protect the parrot, Butler and the department carried out an outreach campaign designed to inform local people about the parrot’s decline and forge an emotional connection between St. Lucians and their bird.

The team messaged the unique value and beauty of the St. Lucia parrot in elementary schools, through radio waves, at community events, and through song with the help of local artists. They borrowed marketing strategies from the private sector and adapted them for local use, making the St. Lucia parrot as culturally ubiquitous as it is today by featuring the bird and its splash of deep red, green and blue feathers on billboards, bumper stickers, newspaper inserts, hats, t-shirts, comics, postcards, beer mugs, key rings, and whatever other incarnations they could design at a low cost. Paul and the forestry team also created a parrot mascot, Jacquot, who gave life to each of their events promoting parrot conservation. 

In 1979, St. Lucia declared the parrot its national bird. Over the next decade, the “parrot population began its slow but steady rebound,” Paul says. “New laws, and new respect.” Population estimates for the bird now exceed 1,500. Following the campaign, the UNEP Global 500 Award recognized Paul and Gabriel Charles for environmental achievement, and St. Lucia granted Paul national citizenship.

In 1987, Rare, then a much smaller organization focused solely on bird conservation, noticed St. Lucia’s pride for its endemic parrot, traced it back to Paul, and asked him to replicate the process in other Caribbean islands, starting in St. Vincent, with its own endemic parrot species. Eventually, Paul joined Rare full-time, lending his experiences in the Caribbean to the creation of Rare’s Pride program and writing its first manual: Promoting Protection through Pride.

 

Replicating the Pride Formula Around the Globe

Paul Butler in classroom in St. Lucia with Jacquot

Paul Butler visiting a classroom in St. Lucia during the
first Pride campaign with the campaign mascot Jacquot

Rare has run more than 300 Pride campaigns in over 50 countries to date, each of them rooted in the spirit of Paul’s first campaign in St. Lucia. Pride campaigns tap into the emotional connection people can have with nature, and channel it toward the adoption of environmentally sustainable behaviors. Just as Paul worked with St. Lucia’s forestry department, Rare teams up with local leaders in every community in which it works, who lead and own each Pride campaign from start to finish. These leaders, from local nonprofit organizations, government, and other key institutions, harness Rare’s behavioral science research in the design and leadership of their Pride campaigns. 

Our lighthearted Pride mascots and community-wide parades have evolved to support innovative solutions for sustainable watersheds, coastal fisheries, organic agriculture, and more. Today, Pride accelerates the adoption of these solutions through a formula of policy and government adoption, protected areas, and market incentives.

With Pride, Rare aims to ignite behavior change across individuals, communities, organizations, governments, and eventually, entire countries, to safeguard habitats and biodiversity, livelihoods, food security, and climate resilience. Paul continues to help Rare get there, recently developing a workshop program called Campaigning for Conservation, which delivers a condensed form of Pride and allows more communities access to its mobilization and capacity-building techniques.

Though our aspirations for a sustainable future continue to grow in scale, we look to Paul’s St. Lucia story to remember the value of passionate, dogged efforts to bring about behavior change toward nature at the community and national levels. Happy 60th, Paul, and thank you for bringing your conservation vision and your remarkable roots to Rare!