10-second nature news digest

Conservation news digest for busy people from @Mongabay. Story summaries that can be read in about ten seconds per post.

Popular topics:: Amazon | Animals | Brazil | Congo | Conservation | Deforestation | Featured | Indonesia | Logging | Malaysia | Oceans | Palm oil | Rainforests | Wildlife



Why are more female than male Magellanic penguins stranded in South America every year? [01/17/2019]
- Thousands of Magellanic penguins become stranded every year along the coast of South America, from northern Argentina all the way down to southern Brazil, and are unable to make it back to their breeding grounds in Patagonia 1,000 miles or more away.
- Scientists have observed that the penguins that get left behind are three times as likely to be female as male. But, due to a dearth of data on the penguins’ migratory habits, it could not be determined why there was such a gender-based discrepancy to the strandings.
- New research published this month in the journal Current Biology sheds new light on the situation, however, finding that, among other behavioral differences, female Magellanic penguins are likely to venture farther north than their male counterparts — and that by doing so, they’re more likely to run into the kinds of trouble that can leave them stranded.


Can satellite data help monitor sustainable rural development? [01/17/2019]
- Rural residents in lower-income countries rely on natural resources for part of their livelihood, so a team of researchers explored whether farm-scale environmental characteristics obtained from satellite imagery could help assess and monitor rural poverty.
- Researchers found that integrating satellite data at four spatial scales could predict the poorest households across a landscape in Kenya with 62 percent accuracy, despite differences in how individual households interacted with the surrounding environment.
- The size of buildings within a homestead, the amount of bare agricultural land within and adjacent to the homestead, and the length of the growing season were the best predictors of the wealth of a given household.
- The researchers suggest that the increasing availability of high-resolution satellite data will enable their method to be better able to monitor progress toward meeting the sustainable development goals.


Coffee in trouble: 60% of wild coffee species threatened with extinction [01/17/2019]
- Of the 124 species of wild coffee known to science, 75 species, or 60 percent, are threatened with extinction due to deforestation, climate change and the spread of diseases and pests, a new study has found.
- The wild relative of Arabica, the most widely traded coffee in the world, is in particular trouble.
- Around 72 percent of the wild coffee species occur within some protected area, but many of the parks also have lax enforcement, and coffee species are rarely included within park management plans. Coverage of the potential range of the species is also poor.
- Moreover, only half of all wild coffee species occur in germplasm collections — critical resources for producing more resilient varieties of coffee in the future.


As Brazilian agribusiness booms, family farms feed the nation [01/17/2019]
- Brazil’s “Agricultural Miracle” credits industrial agribusiness with pulling the nation out of a recent economic tailspin, and contributing 23.5 percent to GDP in 2017. But that miracle relied on a steeply tilted playing field, with government heavily subsidizing elite entrepreneurs.
- As a result, Brazilian agro-industrialists own 800,000 farms which occupy 75.7 percent of the nation’s agricultural land, with 62 percent of total agricultural output. Further defining the inequity, the top 1.5 percent of rural landowners occupy 53 percent of all agricultural land.
- In contrast, there are 4.4 million family farms in Brazil, making up 85 percent of all agricultural operations in the country. The family farm sector produces 70 percent of food consumed in the country, but does so using under 25 percent of Brazil’s agricultural land.
- Farm aid inequity favoring large-scale industrial agribusiness over family farms has deepened since 2016 under Michel Temer, and is expected to deepen further under Jair Bolsonaro. Experts say that policies favoring family farms could bolster national food security.


Cellphones are still endangering gorillas, but recycling old ones can help [01/17/2019]
- The Congo Basin, key habitat for gorillas and chimpanzees, is rich in minerals such as coltan, gold and tin that are used in electronics.
- Mining is a major factor in the decline of species like the Grauer’s gorilla, which have lost habitat to the industry and are also hunted when forest is opened up for mining.
- Participating in cellphone recycling programs helps reduce the demand for mining in gorilla habitat.


Brazilian hunger for meat fattened on soy is deforesting the Cerrado: report [01/16/2019]
- The Cerrado, Brazil’s savanna, covers over 20 percent of the nation’s territory, but it is seeing severe deforestation. A recent report uncovered links between municipalities with the highest levels of deforestation and with significant soy production. Soy is Brazil’s most important and profitable export, but is also used domestically as animal feed and as a biodiesel energy crop.
- In 2017, Brazil produced 16.3 million tons of soymeal for its domestic market, and more than 90 percent of that became animal feed, with 50 percent used as chicken feed, 25 percent as pig feed, and 12 percent for beef and dairy cattle feed.
- From 2013 to 2016, more than 75 percent of all direct soy crop expansion accomplished via native vegetation clearance occurred in the so-called Matopiba states (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia). A third of the 2016 soy harvest coming from Matopiba was utilized as animal feed or biodiesel consumed domestically in Brazil.
- More than 20 percent of all the native vegetation clearance occurring in the Cerrado in 2017 was located in just 20 out of 1387 municipalities. Forty percent of the soy produced in these 20 municipalities went to the Brazilian domestic market, with the soy processed mostly by Bunge, Granol, and Cargill.


How wasps saved Asia’s forests (commentary) [01/16/2019]
- In our recent study, we combined field observations and satellite imagery to show how the tiny pest-killing lopezi wasp (Anagyrus lopezi) helped combat deforestation in Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam by controlling a pest that was devastating cassava crops across the region.
- The world-hopping lopezi wasp is a beneficial insect whose arrival in Asia restored just one of the many ecological checks and balances that was lost when cassava and pink mealybug went intercontinental.
- Conservationists tend to be apprehensive about the use of exotic organisms for biological control — the purposeful and science-guided movement of species to control others. However, as we see with Thailand’s cassava, alien pests generally pose a much greater threat than do their cautiously selected enemies. Unlike the few catastrophes that emanated from misguided introductions in the early 1900s, recent biological control initiatives have been overwhelmingly effective.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


The man who made Ecuador’s wooden Tigua masks famous [01/16/2019]
- The 73-year-old artisan, woodworker, and painter takes his inspiration from Andean life for his artwork and colorful wooden masks.
- Long a part of traditional indigenous culture, popular use of the masks has declined over time but the art of the craft remains very much alive.


Agroforestry empowers Morocco’s mountain women [01/16/2019]
- Morocco’s mountain people have grown olive trees since ancient times, but unstable weather due to climate change has recently placed that heritage in jeopardy.
- Growing olives in agroforestry systems, where olive, fig and carob trees prevent erosion and provide cover for vegetable, fruit and herb plants that grow below, has provided better harvests for a group of women’s cooperatives.
- The cooperatives, called Femmes du Rif, have boosted the value of the 328 members’ olive oil, leading to remarkable social impacts ranging from better education for their children to improved infrastructure and even promotion of some members to regional and national political positions.
- Climate variability has caused an unprecedented and ongoing delay in the cooperative’s current olive harvest, underscoring the need to continually adapt to changing conditions through techniques like agroforestry.


Guyana signs on to forest management agreement with the EU [01/16/2019]
- After six long years, Guyana has signed on to an agreement with the EU that should prove instrumental in securing a profitable position for the small Latin American country in the global legal logging industry.
- The agreement will eventually allow Guyana to issue logging licenses under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) initiative.
- Government leaders in the EU and Guyana also anticipate that the agreement and partnership will lead to improved forest management and a decrease in illegal logging.


Camera traps find rich community of carnivores on Apostle Islands [01/16/2019]
- Some 160 camera traps deployed across the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior in Wisconsin, U.S., have revealed a diverse community of carnivores, including the American marten, black bear, bobcat, coyote, and gray wolf.
- The camera trap survey provided the first photographic evidence of the American marten in the islands in over 50 years. The marten is listed as endangered in Wisconsin.
- The study also found that islands that were larger or closer to the mainland, or both, held a greater number of carnivore species than islands that were small or more distant — patterns consistent with the concept of island biogeography.
- The movement of the carnivores, either through swimming or via ice bridges formed when parts of the lake freeze, could be under threat from climate change, the researchers warn.


The case for forests’ prominent role in holding off climate change [01/16/2019]
- The authors of a new report argue that investment in forests as a climate change mitigation strategy is just as important as addressing emissions from the energy sector.
- Despite the recognized potential contributions of forests to slowing the warming of the earth, they aren’t typically seen as a permanent solution to climate change.
- The authors of the report contend that provisions in the Paris rulebook, approved at the UN climate conference in Poland, are designed to hold countries responsible for changes to their forests so that such ‘reversals’ won’t go unaccounted for.


Asiatic black bear cubs rescued from illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam [01/15/2019]
- Vietnamese authorities confiscated the two female bear cubs from wildlife smugglers in Hai Phong province on January 9, according to Vienna, Austria-based animal welfare NGO Four Paws.
- After spending a night in a hotel, the cubs were taken to a Four Paws bear sanctuary in Ninh Binh on January 10, where they are receiving intensive medical care.
- Authorities do not know who was meant to buy the bear cubs or where their ultimate destination was. It’s likely that the bears were imported from Laos, though they could also have come from a bear farm in Vietnam.


‘Ecosystem guardians’ remain passionate despite dicey conditions [01/15/2019]
- A recent investigation conducted by several conservation groups has found that working conditions for wildlife rangers in Central America are difficult and in some cases dangerous.
- Most of the rangers surveyed reported facing life-threatening situations during the course of their duties.
- However, these ‘ecosystem guardians’ also remain passionate about their role in protecting Central America’s natural treasures.


China busts major ivory trafficking gang following EIA investigation [01/15/2019]
- In 2017, an undercover operation by the watchdog group Environmental Investigation Agency identified three men involved in smuggling elephant ivory from Africa to the little-known town of Shuidong in China, which, according to the trafficking syndicate, receives up to 80 percent of all illegal ivory from Africa.
- Following EIA’s report, Chinese enforcement authorities raided several places in Shuidong and surrounding areas and arrested one of the three men who received a jail term of 15 years. A second member of the gang voluntarily returned to face trial and was jailed for six years.
- The third identified member of the syndicate has also been repatriated to China from Nigeria under an INTERPOL Red Notice and will face trial in China.
- In addition to these three men, enforcement actions have also led to the conviction of 11 suspects by the local court, with jail terms ranging from six to 15 years.


For orangutans affected by El Niño, change unfolds over time [01/15/2019]
- A long-term study in Kutai National Park in Indonesian Borneo has shown how weather caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle affects the behavior, habitat requirements, feeding ecology and birth intervals of the park’s orangutans.
- The study increases conservationists’ understanding of how orangutans survive in difficult and variable climatic conditions — important information given the likely impact of climate change.
- Understanding the influence of the ENSO cycle was only possible through a multi-year study, highlighting the value of long-term projects. But the current trend is for short-term studies, which are often more appealing to funders and researchers.


Antarctica now shedding ice six times faster than in 1979 [01/14/2019]
- Antarctica’s ice is melting about six times faster than it was in the late 1970s.
- Between 1979 and 2017, melting ice caused the global sea level to rise by around 14 millimeters (0.55 inches).
- The pace at which ice is melting is also increasing: Through 1990, the continent lost 40 billion metric tons (44 billion tons) per year; between 2009 and 2017, that figure jumped to 252 billion metric tons (278 tons) annually.


Bolsonaro acts; Brazil’s socio-environmental groups resist [01/14/2019]
- The Bolsonaro administration is barely two weeks old, but the new president and his appointees continue to make incendiary statements and press forward with provisional measures and policies that could seriously infringe indigenous, quilombola and agrarian reform land rights, and environmental protections.
- Protest has been loud against the government’s plan to shift the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation away from FUNAI, the indigenous affairs agency, to the Agriculture Ministry, which is dominated by agribusiness and far right ruralists who have long desired indigenous lands. Another proposal may “rent” indigenous lands to ruralists.
- Amazon land thieves also have been emboldened since the election, with the invasion of the Arara Indigenous Reserve in southeast Pará state on 30 December, two days before Bolsonaro took office. On 11 January, land thieves invaded the Uru-eu-wau-wau reserve in Rondônia state. There has been no federal law enforcement response to either conflict.
- On 5 January armed land grabbers attacked a landless rural workers agrarian reform encampment occupied by 200 families in Colniza in Mato Grosso state. One landless peasant was killed and nine seriously wounded. The landless peasants were awaiting a court ruling as to whether a nearby tract would be deeded to the group.


Palm oil companies continue to criminalize farmers in Sumatra (commentary) [01/14/2019]
- Nearly five years after Friends of the Earth U.S. reported about escalating conflict between farmers in the village of Lunjuk on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and palm oil company PT Sandabi Indah Lestari — or PT SIL — those communities remain in conflict with PT SIL, which supplies Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader.
- “Criminalization is now the strategy being used by the company. Sometimes when villagers are harvesting their own palm oil, the company calls the police and accuses them of stealing. They then say that they will only release them if they hand over their lands to the company,” said Osian Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union.
- The entrenched conflict poses significant risks to PT SIL, its partner Wilmar, their investors, and the consumer brands sourcing palm oil grown on PT SIL’s plantations.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Bringing the tapir back to Borneo [01/14/2019]
- Malayan tapirs were found in Borneo until at least 1,500 years ago and maybe into the modern era.
- Some researchers have proposed bringing the tapir back to the island by rearing a new captive population on site.
- Not everyone is convinced: some scientist view the idea as without conservation value and prohibitively expensive.
- This post is part of “Saving Life on Earth: Words on the Wild”, a monthly column by Jeremy Hance, one of Mongabay’s first staff writers.


With its $3.85b mine takeover, Indonesia inherits a $13b pollution problem [01/14/2019]
- The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
- The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
- Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.


Latam Eco Review: Resistance, hope and camera traps [01/11/2019]
The recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service, include a call to cover climate change, the dangers of opposing Colombia’s largest hydropower plant, and the most inspiring conservation news of 2018. ‘We are not doing enough’: 25 media groups commit to cover climate change “Journalists across the continent have a profound obligation to […]

Karen indigenous communities in Myanmar have officially launched the Salween Peace Park [01/11/2019]
- Last month, indigenous Karen communities, the Salween Peace Park Committee, and the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) officially launched the Salween Peace Park in the Mutraw District of Myanmar’s Kayin State.
- A three-day event in mid-December 2018 that featured traditional Karen ceremonies and performances was held to mark the ratification of Salween Peace Park’s charter, which was developed by Karen communities to embody their “aspirations for genuine peace and self-determination, environmental integrity and cultural preservation,” according to a statement.
- The Salween Peace Park encompasses 5,485 square kilometers (nearly 1.4 million acres) of the Salween River Basin, including more than 340 villages, 139 demarcated Kaw, 27 community forests, four forest reserves, and three wildlife sanctuaries.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 11, 2019 [01/11/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Studying human behavior to protect orangutans: Q&A with Liana Chua [01/11/2019]
- Conservation efforts have traditionally focused too much on wildlife and not enough on human communities, says social anthropologist Liana Chua.
- When it comes to orangutans, Chua says indigenous communities in Borneo are unlikely to share the concerns and priorities of international conservation organizations. Killing of orangutans by humans is a major threat to the apes’ survival.
- Devoting real attention to the issues that are important to local people is key to developing better conservation policies, Chua says.
- Chua leads a project billed as “a novel anthropology-conservation collaboration” that aims to improve human-orangutan coexistence in Borneo.


In Malta, legal loopholes give poachers cover to hunt migratory birds [01/11/2019]
- Malta is a stopping-off point for some 170 species of birds migrating between Europe and Africa. But poachers kill or capture up to 200,000 wild birds every year — a problem widespread across the Mediterranean.
- In particular, illegal trapping of birds such as finches continues to persist in Malta, despite the European Court of Justice ruling against Malta for allowing the trapping of protected species.
- To legalize finch trapping within the framework of European law, Malta used a legal maneuver called a derogation by claiming that finch trapping was a traditional practice in the country.
- Such legal derogations are being used as a smokescreen to illegally trap finches and other protected species not just in Malta but in other countries as well.


Termites help to protect tropical forests during drought, study finds [01/10/2019]
- Researchers studying the effects of termites in an old-growth tropical forest in Malaysian Borneo found that both termite numbers and activity increased during the El Niño drought of 2015-2016, resulting in higher leaf litter decomposition and soil moisture compared to a test plot where the termite population had been artificially suppressed.
- These improvements in soil condition also resulted in an increase in seedling survival, suggesting that termites will have an important role to play in maintaining plant diversity in the future, given that the severity and frequency of droughts is predicted to increase with a changing climate.
- Why termite number and activity increase during drought is unclear at present, but researchers think that the conditions possibly made the termites’ tunnels drier and less water-logged, making moving through the environment easier.


Should Trump be listening to indigenous people on fire management? [01/10/2019]
- The U.S. President again this week used an inaccurate statement about forest management to make a political point.
- Forest ecologists pushed back, saying Trump’s understanding of forest management is problematic.
- A better management technique than the President’s idea of forest cutting has long been in use in California: prescribed burns, which indigenous peoples have practiced for millennia.
- A recent Mongabay feature on the Karuk and Yurok indigenous peoples in northern California illustrated how they still use fire on their lands, and how it’s becoming a model for governmental land managers.


Drones with thermal cameras help detect camouflaged species [01/10/2019]
- Scientists tested the capacity of small drones equipped with thermal cameras to survey European nightjar nests in areas where construction or logging is planned.
- Nightjars use camouflage and cryptic behavior to avoid predation, which makes them difficult to observe on the ground and avoid disturbing, as required by U.K. law. Finding a faster, more cost-effective survey method to detect their presence could help forestry and construction managers comply with regulations more efficiently.
- The scientists say that the drone-thermal camera combination would be suitable for surveying other open-country wildlife, and could be aided by automated analysis of the thermal signatures of target species.


Ocean warming projected to accelerate more than four-fold over next 60 years: Study [01/10/2019]
- 2017 currently holds the record for hottest ocean temperatures, but, according to a new study, 2018 is likely to take the top spot as hottest year on record for Earth’s oceans as global warming’s impacts accelerate.
- The mean speed of ocean warming over the past 60 years, from roughly 1958 to 2017, was 5.46 zettajoules per year, according to the study. The oceans will warm at an even more rapid pace over the next 60 years, with the mean speed of ocean warming projected to be 23.78 zettajoules per year.
- If we proceed with “business as usual,” the upper ocean (above a depth of 2,000 meters) will warm by 2,020 ZetaJoules by 2081-2100, six times more than the total ocean warming recorded over the past 60 years, the researchers found. If we were to meet the emissions reductions targets that countries committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement, however, we could cut total ocean warming within that timeframe nearly in half to about 1,037 zettajoules.


Protecting India’s fishing villages: Q&A with ‘maptivist’ Saravanan [01/10/2019]
- Fishing communities across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are fighting to protect their traditional lands as the sea rises on one side and residential and industrial development encroaches on the others.
- To support these communities, a 35-year-old local fisherman is helping them create maps that document how they use their land.
- By creating their own maps, the communities are taking control of a tool that has always belonged to the powerful.
- Their maps allow them to speak the language of the state so they can resolve disputes and mount legal challenges against industries and government projects encroaching on their land and fishing grounds.


Rapid population drop weakened the Grauer’s gorilla gene pool [01/10/2019]
- The loss of 80 percent of all Grauer’s, or eastern lowland, gorillas in the past two decades has led to a severe reduction in the subspecies’ genetic diversity, new research has found.
- That slide could make it more difficult for the fewer than 4,000 remaining Grauer’s gorillas to adapt to changes in their environment.
- Scientists look for signs of hope in the animal’s sister subspecies, the mountain gorilla, which, studies suggest, has adapted to its own low levels of genetic diversity.


Why are fewer monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico? [01/09/2019]
- Fewer and fewer monarch butterflies are reaching their overwintering grounds in Mexico every year, and new research might shed light on why.
- A 2016 study found that the monarch population in Mexican overwintering colonies has declined by approximately 80 percent over the past two decades. Pinpointing the causes of this decline has proven difficult, however.
- A study published in the journal Animal Migration last month suggests a possible cause: The monarchs are simply finding places other than Mexico to spend the winter months, and possibly even giving up their migratory ways altogether, in order to survive.


Community-based conservation offers hope for Amazon’s giant South American turtle [01/09/2019]
- Rural communities began protecting the threatened giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) along a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) stretch of the remote Juruá River in Brazil’s Amazonas state back in 1977 – becoming the largest community-based conservation management initiative ever conducted in the Brazilian Amazon.
- A new study shows that these community stewards – who protect turtle nests and receive payment only in food baskets – have had incredible success not only in preserving endangered turtle species, but also in conserving riverine invertebrate and vertebrate species, including migratory birds, large catfish, caiman, river dolphins and manatees.
- Today, the Middle Juruá River community-protected beaches are “true islands of biodiversity, while other unprotected beaches are inhabited by few species. They are empty of life,” say study authors. On the protected beaches, turtle egg predation is a mere 2 percent. On unprotected beaches on the same river, predation rates are as high as 99 percent.
- The study also helps debunk a Brazilian and international policy that proposed the eviction of local traditional communities from newly instituted conservation units because they would be detrimental to conservation goals. Instead, researchers agree, traditional communities should be allowed to keep their homes and recruited as environmental stewards.


Start them young: Uganda targets children for conservation awareness [01/09/2019]
- Uganda is home to a wide variety of primates, including chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. Deforestation, hunting and rapid population growth are among the threats facing the country’s wildlife.
- Aiming to inspire future generations to protect the country’s wildlife, Uganda has made conservation education part of its national curriculum.
- Conservation education centers, which give children first-hand introductions to chimpanzees and other wildlife, are a key part of the education effort.
- The Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center in Entebbe is the country’s busiest, receiving more than 260,000 guests each year.


George, the last known Hawaiian snail of his kind, dies at 14 [01/09/2019]
- George, the last known member of the Hawaiian snail species Achatinella apexfulva, died on the first day of 2019.
- In 1997, researchers collected the last 10 known A. apexfulva specimens from the island of O‘ahu in a last-gasp bid to save the species through captive breeding. A few offspring did result from the program, but none survived, except George.
- George, who was 14 years old when he died, was emblematic of the plight of the Hawaiian land snails, which are threatened by habitat loss and the introduction of predatory species.


Audio: Rhett Butler on how sound can save forests and top rainforest storylines to watch in 2019 [01/08/2019]
- On today’s episode, we welcome Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler to discuss the biggest rainforest news stories of 2018 and what storylines to watch in 2019. He also discusses a new peer-reviewed paper he co-authored that looks at how bioacoustics can help us monitor forests and the wildlife that call forests home.
- This year marks the 20th anniversary since Rhett Butler founded Mongabay. Subscribers to our new Insider Content Program already know the story of how he founded Mongabay.com two decades ago in his pajamas. At first, Mongabay was a labor of love that Rhett pursued in his spare time, after coming home from his day job.
- Mongabay has come a long way since then, with more than 350 contributors covering 50 countries and bureaus now open in India, Indonesia, and Latin America. Overseeing this global environmental news empire provides Rhett with a wealth of insight into the science and trends that are shaping conservation.


Hazy figures cloud Indonesia’s peat restoration as fire season looms [01/08/2019]
- An El Niño weather system in the early months of 2019 could see forest fires flare up once again in Indonesia.
- The government rolled out a slate of measures following disastrous fires in 2015, centering on the restoration of degraded peatlands that had been rendered highly combustible by draining for agriculture.
- While the number and extent of fires since then have declined significantly, activists attribute this more to milder weather in the intervening years, rather than the government’s peatland management and restoration measures.
- Activists have also questioned figures that suggest the target of restoring 24,000 square kilometers (9,300 square miles) of peatland by the end of 2020 has been almost achieved, saying there’s little transparency about the bulk of the required restoration, being carried out by pulpwood and plantation companies.


Flashing lights ward off livestock-hunting pumas in northern Chile [01/07/2019]
- A new paper reports that Foxlights, a brand of portable, intermittently flashing lights, kept pumas away from herds of alpacas and llamas during a recent calving season in northern Chile.
- Herds without the lights nearby lost seven animals during the four-month study period.
- The research used a “crossover” design, in which the herds without the lights at the beginning of the experiment had them installed halfway through, removing the possibility that the herds were protected by their locations and not the lights themselves.


New species of tree frog from Ecuador has a mysterious claw [01/07/2019]
- A team of biologists surveying a remote and largely unexplored part of the Andes in Ecuador have described a new species of tree frog that’s dark brown in color, with bright orange flecks dotting its body.
- The researchers have named the tree frog Hyloscirtus hillisi, after David Hillis, a U.S. evolutionary biologist known for his work on the Hyloscirtus genus of tree frogs.
- While the researchers don’t have an estimate of the frog’s population, they think its numbers are likely low.
- The species’ small habitat also lies near a large-scale mining operation, putting the frog at immediate risk of extinction.


‘Everything’s moving’: Indonesia seeks global pushback on illegal fishing [01/06/2019]
- Officials in Indonesia, home to one of the world’s biggest fisheries, say their fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be stymied by the complex web of offshore holdings that own much of the illegal fishing fleet.
- Enforcement efforts have failed to net the owners of these vessels, instead only going as far as punishing the crew caught on board the boats.
- Indonesia’s fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has long called for an international consensus to recognize IUU fishing as a transnational crime, putting it in the same bracket as drug trafficking and human smuggling, which would enable greater international cooperation to identify and prosecute owners of illegal fishing boats.


Indonesia confiscated some 200 pet cockatoos. What happened to them? [01/04/2019]
- As Indonesia cracks down on the illegal wildlife trade, it is struggling to deal with the influx of animals confiscated from traffickers.
- Birds are among the most trafficked creatures. Due to a lack of rehabilitation centers, where they would slowly be prepared for life in the wild, many birds are released prematurely.
- That seems to have been the case with a group of cockatoos that were handed into the state after the infamous “water bottle bust” of 2015, in which a smuggler was caught with 23 yellow-crested cockatoos stuffed into plastic water bottles in his luggage.


Policymakers are not adequately factoring land use and human diets into climate mitigation strategies: Study [01/04/2019]
- A recent study finds that governments and researchers routinely underestimate the potential for changes to land use and human diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of global warming.
- Published in Nature last month, the research suggests that policymakers are not adequately accounting for the amount of carbon that could be stored in forests and other natural vegetation if those lands weren’t used for producing food, and are also failing to recognize the carbon emissions that will result from increased agricultural production.
- According to the study’s lead author, Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, these oversights on the part of climate policymakers are particularly crucial because successfully mitigating climate change will require more carbon be stored in forests and other native vegetation, even while the world will have to produce as much as 50 percent more food every year in order to feed the growing global population.


Journalists reporting on the environment faced increased dangers in 2018 [01/04/2019]
- Journalists describe some of the threats and dangers they faced in 2018.
- These range from intimidation to legal threats to outright violence.
- At least 10 journalists covering the environment were killed between 2010 and 2016, according to Reporters without Borders — all but two of them in Asia.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 4, 2019 [01/04/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Eavesdrop on forest sounds to effectively monitor biodiversity, researchers say [01/03/2019]
- Recording and analyzing forest soundscapes can be an effective way of monitoring changes in animal communities in tropical forests and human presence, researchers say in a new commentary published in Science.
- Bioacoustics, which can be used to cover a vast range of animal groups over large landscapes, can also fill the gap between the bird’s-eye view of satellites and the finer focus of on-the-ground surveys, to give a clearer picture of animal population trends over large landscapes.
- Moreover, bioacoustics has the potential to be an important tool in assessing what’s working and what’s not working in conservation, such as to monitor forests maintained by companies under certification or zero-deforestation commitments.
- The researchers have called for improvements in processing and analysis of huge acoustic data sets, which at the moment are the major bottlenecks in soundscape research.


Machine learning tool helps prioritize plants for conservation [01/03/2019]
- In a first global plant conservation assessment, a multi-institutional research team used the power of open-access databases and machine learning to predict the conservation status of more than 150,000 plants.
- They paired geographic, environmental, climatic, and morphological trait information of plant species of known risk of extinction from the IUCN Red List with information on plants of unknown risk in a machine learning model. The model calculated the likelihood that a given unassessed plant species was actually at risk of extinction and identified the variables that best predicted conservation risk.
- More than 15,000 of the species–roughly 10 percent of the total assessed by the team—had characteristics similar to those already categorized as at least near-threatened by IUCN and thus at a high likelihood of extinction.
- The protocol could provide a first cut in identifying unassessed species likely at risk of extinction and suggest how to allocate scarce conservation resources.


Our most popular stories of 2018 [01/03/2019]
- 2018 was a record-setting traffic year for Mongabay, topping 100 million views in direct readership and video watches for the first time.
- Overall we produced 1,495 articles for the main news section; 1,672 in Indonesian; 815 in Spanish; 338 in English by the India bureau; 116 in Portuguese; 92 in Italian; 72 in French, 36 in Chinese; 23 in German; and 2 in Japanese.
- Below are lists of our most popular articles published in 2018.


Habitat loss, pigs, disease: U.S. salamanders face a ‘tough situation’ [01/03/2019]
- A pandemic is on the horizon. A fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) almost completely wiped out several fire salamander populations in Europe and biologists think it may be only a matter of time until it gets to North America.
- North America is the world’s hotspot of salamander diversity, with around half the world’s species. The U.S. in particular has more salamander species than any other country. But more than 40 percent of U.S. species are threatened.
- Habitat loss is the main reason behind declines of U.S. salamanders. Invasive species like pigs are also a growing threat to many species, and researchers think global declines in insect abundance may also be greatly affecting them.
- Studies indicate many, if not most, U.S. salamanders are susceptible to Bsal – including many threatened species. Biologists worry the disease will be the nail in the coffin for salamander species already weakened by other pressures, and are trying to figure out how they stand to be affected and how best to rescue them.


Brazil’s indigenous agency acts to protect isolated Kawahiva people [01/03/2019]
- On 14 December, FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, supported by law enforcement, launched an operation to clear invaders – land thieves, illegal loggers, miners and ranchers – from the Pardo River indigenous reserve in Mato Grosso state. They did so possibly because FUNAI expects President Bolsonaro to curtail such raids in future.
- The reserve was established in 2016, after a 15-year effort by FUNAI to get it recognized. The territory covers 411,848 hectares (1,590 square miles) and is meant to protect the ancestral lands of the Kawahiva, a small beleaguered indigenous band that still lives there.
- Giving the Kawahiva a reserve was controversial from the start, and strongly opposed by loggers and agribusiness who denied the Kawahiva existed. FUNAI expeditions have since filmed the Kawahiva, proving that they do in fact continue to inhabit the territory.
- FUNAI officials fear that the Bolsonaro administration will refuse to demarcate the Pardo River Kawahiva reserve, and possibly even try to abolish it. Indigenous groups across Brazil say that if the government refuses to conclude the demarcation process for numerous indigenous reserves, and tries to dissolve some territories, they will resist.




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