About ICR

Dai Village near ICR project Site

Integrated Conservation Research, Inc. (ICR) is an international non-profit organization founded in 1988. The goals and strategy for ICR were developed from a project sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institute which resulted in establishment of research and demonstration sites in tropical rainforests in China and Malaysia. Initial support was also provided by the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program, UNESCO, the National Geographic Society, and GEO ( Germany).

In China the ICR demonstration site is near Mengla, Xishuangbanna, Southern Yunnan Province. In Malaysia the site is at Poring, Kinabalu Park, Sabah (northern Borneo). More than a hundred scientists from China, Malaysia, United States, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and Japan have worked on various phases of tropical ecology at the ICR sites in China and Malaysia.

Quarters for field staff of Ministry of Forestry at demonstration site in Yunnan, China

The Dai minority people in Southern Yunnan, China, traditionally live in harmony with nature. They make use of hundreds of rainforest species, sustainably. Their culture has suffered with the loss of forests on which they depend.

This research is conducted in collaboration with local scientists, researchers, and forestry and park staff. Agreements to conduct this collaborative research were negotiated by ICR with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Yunnan Branch) and its various research institutes and the Yunnan Forestry Bureau; and with Malaysia’s National University (Sabah Branch, in Borneo), Sabah Parks, and the Director of Wildlife and National Parks.

Photo Courtesy of Diane Taylor-Snow, 2004

ICR works closely with local governments and entrepreneurs. Dr. Illar Muul shown together with Gabriel Sinit, who supervised in 1988 the installation of the world’s first canopy walkway for nature tourism in Kinabalu Park, Malaysia.


ICR is dedicated to the conservation of tropical rainforests. Recognizing that as much forest needs to be preserved as possible in pristine condition to insure protection of species diversity, ICR proposes that much larger, additional areas of forest could be saved through sustainable development.

Research by ICR and others has already established that intact forests can provide more income in goods and services than from monoculture plantations that are traditionally planted to replace them. In addition, research results indicate that rainforests can be profitably restored, provided that a high diversity of species is included and a sequence of planting that emulates natural succession is followed.

Canopy Walkway in Costa Rica

These goals were adopted in recognition that strict preservationist strategies have had only limited success. Much larger areas of forest can be saved through an integrated strategy that accounts also for the economic needs of developing nations. And much larger areas must be saved to preserve the vast bio-diversity because the tropical rainforest is comprised of thousands of kinds of forests, interwoven and locally different based on soil-type, rain fall, moisture, slope, elevation, and other geological factors, combined with geological and geographic history, and evolutionary opportunities of the past. Most of this complex system cannot be recreated, except adjacent to large conserved areas.


ICR works with governments, businesses, local entrepreneurs, and other conservation groups to integrate development with the best available information on preserving biodiversity. Our founding premise is that “high species diversity provides opportunities for economic diversification.” Economic diversification is the basis for long-term economic stability and for better opportunities for having an element of control in, rather than being a victim of, the international marketplace. The dire economic effects of current low world price of coffee is an example of consequences of not having diversified agricultural production. Yet, rainforests are still being cut to plant more coffee and other monocultures which are likely to become victims of market forces in the future. ICR provides consultation, and seeks donors and investors for ecologically sustainable economic development of intact tropical rainforests and reforestation of unproductive or low productivity land. Reforestation initially will favor economically valuable species of plants and animals, as a step toward re-establishing rainforest with high species diversity. In many places unproductive or low-productivity deforested land now far exceeds in area lands that still support forests.


The fastest growing element in the ecologically sustainable development program of ICR is nature tourism. In Malaysia, ICR has had direct involvement in the development of three additional sites, and indirect input in dozens of other sites. In China several additional sites have been developed based on the demonstration projects in southern Yunnan Province. ICR has been requested to help establish new demonstration projects also in Singapore, Peru (2), Costa Rica, Guyana, Ghana, and in Sri Lanka.

Many of the leading conservation organizations have incorporated ICR program elements in formulating their own sustainable development programs.

Photograph by Illar Muul, 1994

Involvement of Local People

In a collaborative project with ICR and Conservation International, these former parrot poachers built the canopy walkway in Ghana, now grossing about US $1 Million per year.



The economic success of ICR’ s demonstration project in Yunnan had a large part in the Chinese Government’s decision to designate 260,000 hectares of tropical rainforests in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan as a United Nations “World Heritage Site” and a “Man and the Biosphere Reserve.” Moreover, the demonstrated new economic incentives through nature tourism, together with the demonstration by World-Wide Fund for Nature of the relatively low profitability of rubber plantations, influenced the government to stop cutting down the remaining unprotected rainforests to establish new rubber plantations. The Chinese Government built a research center at the ICR site for international and Chinese scientists. In Hainan Island the Chinese Government was encouraged to establish additional national parks.In Malaysia, the national parks began to receive much more government support and new parks are being established. Tourism, including nature tourism, has flourished and now ranks as the third highest source of foreign exchange. At its peak, tourism exceeded thirteen million international visitors per year. The largest portion of growth in nature tourism is made up of local Malaysians who have become more aware of their natural heritage, and as their disposable income has increased. Increased international tourism influences the economy in a multitude of ways.

At the ICR demonstration site the government built accommodations for visiting research scientists and a well equipped research laboratory. The local scientific staff was increased and is very active in research.

Special Relationship between ICR and Rainmaker

The Rainmaker Conservation Project (RCP) is unique among the many organizations with which ICR collaborates. Most are interested in only a single element in the program for sustainable development that ICR offers. The management of RCP recognizes that a diversity of sustainable activities is more likely to assure long-term success. They are also very pro-active in involving the local community, not only through direct hires, but through community activities and promoting entrepreneurial efforts. Though the project is privately owned, the managers work closely with appropriate government departments and officials.The RCP has an excellent chance of becoming the first site to demonstrate that conserving tropical rainforest does not need to be an economic burden, but an enterprise that is more viable economically than ecologically unsustainable uses of the land. This would create an unequivocal incentive for rainforest conservation and rainforest restoration.

Contact Illar Muul – US (301) 371 8988