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



As climate change disrupts the annual monsoon, India must prepare (Commentary) [09/19/2019]
- Over the past few decades, India’s total annual rainfall averages haven’t changed but the intensity of precipitation has increased as extreme weather events (EWEs) become more frequent and widespread. Today, the country witnesses more episodes of extremely heavy rainfall, as compared to the past’s consistent, well spread out seasonal rains.
- The nation’s meteorological department already admits that this is a clear impact of climate change. These intense storms pose a huge danger to India’s agriculture-based economy and to millions of farmers whose livelihoods still largely rely upon a consistent rainfall season. There are also periods of droughts interspersed with floods.
- The good news is that Indian authorities are aware of the change and are trying to tackle the impacts of shifting rainfall patterns and adapt to them.
- These extreme weather events are of global significance since more than 1.8 billion people live on the Indian subcontinent, and the impact in the South Asian region has economic fallout in other parts of the world. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Climate change threatens some island conifers with extinction [09/19/2019]
- A quarter of 55 conifer species native to islands are likely to go extinct by 2070 due to climate change, researchers from Brown University write in a new study.
- The researchers looked at where these species are living and thriving outside their native climatic ranges, to study their climatic tolerance in a more comprehensive way.
- Island conifers are keystone species, playing a vital part in maintaining the ecosystem and ensuring the survival of other species that depend on them.
- If the conifers in an ecosystem go extinct, the entire nature and composition of species found in that place could change dramatically.


Massive protected area around ‘Atlantic Galapagos’ one step closer to becoming reality [09/18/2019]
- Bringing the protection of the “Atlantic Galapagos” one step closer to becoming a reality, the Governor of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, Philip Rushbrook, designated a large-sale Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island last month.
- The MPA will cover the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. That means that an area of more than 440,000 square kilometers or 170,000 square miles will be included in the Ascension Island MPA, making it one of the largest in the world.
- While legislation and a management plan won’t be finalized until long-term funding has been secured for the MPA, it has been proposed that commercial fishing and mineral extraction be prohibited altogether within the waters around Ascension Island, which has been described as a “miniature Galapagos Islands” because of its rich biodiversity.


Pan Borneo Highway development endangers the Heart of Borneo [09/18/2019]
- The construction of the Pan Borneo Highway in the Malaysian state of Sabah could disrupt the connections between wildlife populations and appears to run counter to the state’s conservation commitments, according to a new study.
- Passages under the highway and the rehabilitation of key forest corridors could lessen the impacts of the road, but the authors of the study caution that these interventions are expensive and may not be effective.
- They argue that planners should consider canceling certain sections of the road with the greatest potential for damaging the surrounding forest.


Deforestation increase dovetails with armed conflict in Colombia, study finds [09/18/2019]
- According to the report’s primary author, forested areas in Colombia that are less than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from illicit crops are most likely areas to be deforested.
- Deforestation linked to armed conflict and coca cultivation was most prevalent in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, La Macarena, and San Lucas mountains, and in the regions of Tumaco and Catatumbo.
- All areas impacted in Colombia are those with high biodiversity and conservation value.


The Arctic and climate change (1979 – 2019): What the ice record tells us [09/18/2019]
- While 2019’s Arctic ice melt season started out with extraordinary record heat and rapid ice decline, a sudden cooling in August prevented this year from surpassing the 2012 low, and setting a new sea ice extent record.
- However, this year’s melt gave scientists no comfort, as they continue to document and view what has become known as the Arctic Death Spiral with increasing alarm. This story reviews the 40-year satellite record, along with some of the recent findings as to how Arctic ice declines are impacting the global climate.
- Researchers are increasingly certain that melting ice and a warming Arctic are prime factors altering the northern jet stream, a river of air that circles the Arctic. A more erratic jet stream — with increased waviness and prone to stalling — is now thought to be driving the increasingly dire, extreme global weather seen in recent years.
- The 40-year satellite record of rapidly vanishing Arctic ice — as seen in a new NASA video embedded within this article — is one of the most visible indicators of the intensifying climate crisis, and a loud warning to world leaders meeting at the UN in New York next week, of the urgent need to drastically cut carbon emissions.


Gran Chaco: South America’s second-largest forest at risk of collapsing [09/17/2019]
- Distributed between Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, the Gran Chaco is a collection of more than 50 different ecosystems typified by dry forest.
- The Gran Chaco is one of the most deforested areas on the planet. Every month, an area twice the size of Buenos Aires is cut down.
- Chaco deforestation is driven by the expansion of the agricultural frontier and hunting, as well as climate change.


‘We’ve been negligent,’ Indonesia’s president says as fire crisis deepens [09/17/2019]
- Indonesia’s government has been negligent in anticipating and preparing for this year’s fire season, the country’s president says.
- The fires, set mostly to clear land for planting, have razed huge swaths of forest and generated toxic haze that has spread as far as Malaysia and Singapore.
- The president’s acknowledgement of the government’s lack of preparation comes in the wake of his own ministers apportioning blame for the fires to other parties.
- Activists say the government has little moral standing to go after the companies that have set their concessions ablaze, noting that the government itself has refused to take responsibility for failing to do enough to tackle similar fires in 2015.


Indigenous communities, wildlife under threat as farms invade Nicaraguan reserve [09/17/2019]
- Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve straddles the country’s border with Honduras and was declared a UNESCO site in 1997. It comprises one of the largest contiguous rainforest regions in Latin America north of the Amazon Basin and includes 21 ecosystems and six types of forest that are home to a multitude of species, several of which are threatened with extinction.
- According to a report by the Nicaraguan environmental agency MARENA, a little more than 15 percent of the Bosawás reserve had been cleared and converted for agricultural use in 2000. But today, that number stands at nearly 31 percent. Satellite data show deforestation reached the heart of the reserve’s core zone earlier this year.
- Deforestation in Bosawás stems mainly from migration, as people in other parts of the country move to the region looking for fertile land and space to raise cattle and grow crops.
- Indigenous communities are allowed to own land within Bosawás. But sources say land traffickers are selling plots of land to non-indigenous farmers and ranchers, creating conflicts that have caused death on both sides.


This land is ours: New law could end age-old injustice faced by Liberian women (commentary) [09/17/2019]
- Lofa County has vast swaths of fertile land, including rich, dense forest, and it was considered Liberia’s breadbasket before the country’s 14-year civil war, which affected this area more severely than any other in terms of population displacement and the destruction of infrastructure. Lofa was also the first county to be hit by the Ebola virus outbreak in March 2014.
- Yet, long pre-dating these profound traumas is an injustice that has shaped the lives of women here, and across Liberia, for generations: the denial of their land rights.
- The Land Rights Act, which President George Weah signed in September 2018, is the first Liberian law to recognize women’s rights to land and one of Africa’s most advanced land rights laws. It’s not hyperbole to say that it has the potential to fundamentally alter Liberian women’s life prospects and create a more just power balance in the country.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Audio: Humpback whales across the Pacific Ocean are singing the same song [09/17/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jim Darling, a marine biologist who is here to play us some recordings of remarkably similar humpback whale songs from around the world.
- Darling and colleagues found that North Pacific humpback whale songs can be incredibly similar to each other — nearly identical, in fact. That means that our view of the whales as living in distinct groups might very well be wrong. And that view dictates a lot of the conservation measures we’ve designed to protect imperiled populations of humpbacks.
- Darling joins us today to talk about his humpback research and play us some of those recordings so you can hear the similarity for yourself.


Newly described Chinese giant salamander may be world’s largest amphibian [09/17/2019]
- The critically endangered Chinese giant salamander is not just one, but three distinct species, researchers have now confirmed in a new study.
- One of the newly recognized species, the South China giant salamander (Andrias sligoi), could be largest amphibian on the planet, the researchers say.
- The researchers say they hope the recognition of the Chinese giant salamanders as three species will help the amphibians’ conservation by triggering separate management plans for the species.


Interfaith leaders step up to protect the world’s ‘sacred’ rainforests [09/17/2019]
- In June 2017 — in response to the planetary climate crisis — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious leaders joined hands with indigenous peoples from five tropical countries to form the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI) — devoted to protecting the world’s last great rainforests.
- Since then, IRI has worked to engage congregations of all faiths around the globe in an effort to, through political pressure, protect the rainforests of Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Colombia and Peru — accounting for 70 percent of the world’s tropical forests.
- During Climate Week at the United Nations in New York City starting September 22, IRI will unveil its Faiths for Forests Declaration and action agenda, jumpstarting its global campaign to harness faith-based leadership and the faithful in recognizing tropical forests as “sacred” and humanity’s obligation to provide stewardship to these great bastions of biodiversity.
- IRI recognizes the staggering scope of the challenges that lay ahead — to create and energize a worldwide interfaith movement that will successfully pressure national governments to act on climate — national governments that have long backed industrial agribusiness, mining and timber extraction within the world’s last great rainforests.


Mexican officials battle a tide of fire eating away at a protected reserve [09/16/2019]
- Fires raged in the Mexican state of Campeche this summer, with NASA satellites picking up nearly 10,000 fire alerts the state so far this year — around twice the number recorded in 2018. This puts 2019 in third place (behind 2003 and barely behind 2013) for the highest incidence of fires in the state since data collection began in 2001.
- Of these fires, 15 percent occurred in protected areas. Several afflicted Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of which burned through 3,087 hectares (7,628 acres) before being extinguished.
- Stretching across the central Yucatan Peninsula to the Guatemalan border, the Calakmul Reserve, as well as the Balamku and Balamkin state reserves that sit contiguous with it, comprise more than 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of jungle. The reserves are home to some of the country’s most impressive biodiversity and provide vital habitat to threatened animals and plants.
- The main driver of fires in Campeche is slash-and-burn agriculture. Officials worry that fire seasons will only intensify as more people set up farms in the region, and as state funding to fight fires continues to dwindle.


Why I support the California Tropical Forest Standard (commentary) [09/16/2019]
- Simply put, we cannot address climate change without stopping deforestation. If we don’t address climate change, and we don’t slow the destruction of Earth’s tropical forests, we will put much of the world’s species and ourselves in danger.
- How do we support the indigenous communities in their fight to protect the forest — their home and a system that we all need? California provides one possible answer. This week, California’s Air Resources Board, or CARB, will vote on whether or not to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard.
- The Standard would be a key step to allow funding to flow to regions and states partnering with indigenous communities of the Amazon and other rainforests to reduce deforestation pressures on indigenous lands and develop sustainable economic alternatives across their jurisdictions.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Popular pesticide linked to weight loss and delayed migration in songbird [09/16/2019]
- In a new study, wild white-crowned sparrows that were exposed to seeds treated with imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, suffered considerable weight loss and delayed the timing of their migration.
- The delayed migration could in turn be affecting the birds’ survival and reproduction, the researchers say.
- The findings suggest that neonicotinoids could have partly contributed to the decline of several farmland-dependent bird species in North America as seen in the past few decades, the researchers add.


Going the extra mile (Insider) [09/16/2019]
- UK-based environmental journalist James Fair knows from personal experience just how unpredictable working in the field can be.
- After years of reporting on wildlife conservation projects for BBC Wildlife Magazine, Fair is deeply familiar with the many dangers faced by biologists, ecologists and zoologists in their work.
- Two decades ago after a fall and ankle injury while working in Bolivia, Fair half-crawled nearly three miles to get help.


A Papuan village finds its forest caught in a web of corporate secrecy [09/16/2019]
- Indonesian companies were given until March this year to disclose their “beneficial owners” under a 2018 presidential regulation, but less than 1 percent have complied.
- In the easternmost corner of the country, investors hidden by layers of corporate secrecy continue to bulldoze an intact rainforest and have nearly finished building a giant sawmill.
- The government is drafting new regulations to close loopholes in the rules governing anonymous companies, which could yet open a new front in the fight against deforestation and land grabs.


UN and policymakers, wake up! Burning trees for energy is not carbon neutral (commentary) [09/16/2019]
- On September 23, the signatories of the Paris Climate Agreement will gather at the United Nations for a Climate Action Summit to step up their carbon reduction pledges in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, while also kicking off Climate Week events in New York City.
- However, the policymakers, financiers, and big green groups organizing these events will almost certainly turn a blind eye toward renewable energy policies that subsidize forest wood burned for energy as if it is a zero emissions technology like wind or solar.
- Scientists have repeatedly warned that burning forests is not in fact carbon neutral, and that doing so puts the world at risk of overshooting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target.
- But that message has fallen on deaf ears, as lucrative renewable energy subsidies have driven exponential growth in use of forest wood as fuel. The world’s nations must stop subsidizing burning forest biomass now to protect forests, the climate, and our future. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.


Video: Pango-Cam offers amazing and unique view of pangolin behavior [09/16/2019]
- The Pango-Cam is a first-of-its-kind camera setup attached to a black-bellied pangolin’s back to provide unique footage of the animal’s behavior.
- A collaboration between filmmaker Katie Schuler and pangolin biologist Matthew Shirley, the team recently recorded excellent footage in Nigeria, as seen in the video below.
- Pangolins are poorly understood and are also under grave threat from the illegal wildlife trade, so it’s hoped the Pango-Cam can improve awareness and knowledge of the secretive animals.
- Pango-Cam footage is featured in Schuler’s new film that’s appearing at Jackson Wild, a conservation event and film festival running in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from Sept. 21-27.


‘A green desert’: Mammals take a hit in Colombia’s oil palm plantations [09/16/2019]
- Researchers studying oil palm plantations in Colombia found that mammal diversity dropped compared to nearby savanna.
- Some mammals used plantations for hunting and foraging, but none stayed permanently.
- With the Colombian government’s pledge to drastically increase its cropland, scientists fear savannas and wetlands could be at threat.


Facing a possible Climate Apocalypse: How should we live? (commentary) [09/15/2019]
- We live today under threat of Climate Apocalypse. But two world wars, genocides, the Bomb and untold suffering around the globe reported daily have all perhaps dulled our senses and our resolve; resulted in elders – especially our leaders – failing to face humanity’s ultimate existential crisis.
- More than 30 years after the Climate Emergency was publicly declared by climatologist James Hansen, disasters multiply – record heat, drought, deluge, rising seas. But climate change deniers hold sway in the U.S. and abroad, with almost no nations on Earth on target to achieve their deeply inadequate Paris Agreement goals.
- Now an even higher imperative has emerged, as new studies point not just to escalating risk, but toward potential doom. Understandingly, young people are angry and openly rebelling against their elders. The young point to a failure to act, and declare: there is no time for politics and business as usual. They’re right.
- Humanity’s only way out – the path to saving civilization, and much of life on Earth – is to act as though our lives, and our children’s lives, depend on it. Because they do. And one more thing: we mustn’t give up hope. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Shocking news: There are actually three species of electric eel in the Amazon, not one [09/13/2019]
- A mostly nocturnal species found in freshwater habitats in Mexico and South America, the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) belongs to the knifefish family and is more closely related to catfish and carp than other eels. It was first described more than 250 years ago by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.
- But now a team of scientists led by Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has determined that E. electricus is in fact three distinct species.
- During their work in the field, the researchers used a voltmeter to record a member of one of the newly described species, E. voltai, discharging 860 volts, the highest discharge ever recorded for any animal (the previous record was 650 volts).


New gecko species named in honor of Sri Lankan herpetologist Anslem de Silva [09/13/2019]
- Researchers in Sri Lanka have described a new species of day gecko, known only from a single reptile-rich habitat of the island’s Central Massif region, bringing to 33 the number of species in the genus found in Sri Lanka.
- They’ve named the gecko Cnemaspis anslemi, in honor of herpetologist Anslem de Silva, whom they describe as the father of modern herpetology in Sri Lanka.
- The diminutive, range-restricted gecko dwells in both home gardens and tropical evergreen rainforests in the Udamaliboda area, but its habitat is threatened by expanding tea and rubber plantations and mini hydropower plants.
- De Silva, who has a prolific record of his own in describing new species, says the latest discovery underscores the unique ways that reptiles and amphibians have evolved in the varied ecosystems in Sri Lanka, and means that more discoveries await.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, September 13, 2019 [09/13/2019]
- 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.


Expand or Intensify? Balancing biodiversity and rising food needs: study [09/13/2019]
- A recent study shows that for a given rise in food production, the impact of cropland expansion on biodiversity is many times greater than that for cropland intensification. This is because expansion can be expected to occur in those regions with the highest existing levels of biodiversity, mainly in Central and South America, a new study finds.
- Researchers estimated crop expansion and intensification potential for 17 major agricultural crops using socio-economic data as well as data on biophysical constraints. This information was overlaid with spatial data on biodiversity, specifically endemism richness to determine how each strategy would impact biodiversity in different locales.
- Worldwide, there is a major gap between the amount farms are producing and potential yields that could be achieved if plants were grown in an optimal way on minimal land. Closing this yield gap by 28 percent through land use intensification would increase production equal to expanding cropland area by 730 million hectares.
- In the future, we need to not only protect biodiversity on uncultivated wildlands, but also make the very most economically and ecologically of our existing croplands, encouraging biodiversity there as well, while maximizing food production.


Worldwide deforestation rising despite bold commitments, report finds [09/13/2019]
- In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests set out bold commitments to stem deforestation, cutting it in half by 2020 and ending it entirely by 2030, along with global forest restoration targets.
- But a new assessment finds that, globally, the loss of forests is on the rise, at rates that are around 40 percent higher than five years ago when the agreement was signed.
- The report’s authors say that, despite the “sobering” findings, the assessment should serve as a call to action that more needs to be done to address deforestation and forest degradation.


Decolonizing trees in a tropical city to nurture multi-cultural identity [09/13/2019]
- The survey found that 73 percent of trees in Georgetown were cultivated for their edible fruits.
- The random distribution of trees suggests social cohesion, fostered by a sharing of food traditions, and could provide a blueprint for other multicultural cities.
- But climate change and economic growth mean tree preservation and planting are needed to mitigate social and environmental impacts.


A pearl oyster farm in Bali aims to be a sustainable source of the jewel [09/13/2019]
- A pearl oyster farm on the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Bali is working to establish a sustainable source for the creatures that produce South Sea pearls, prized for their use in jewelry.
- But the industry’s fast growth has taken a toll on wild oyster populations, and there’s also been a decline in the quality of pearls.
- In response, Indonesia has launched a pearl oyster breeding initiative.
- Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of South Sea pearls, accounting for 43 percent of global supply.


On an island coveted by miners, villagers prepare to raise a ruckus [09/13/2019]
- Residents of the Indonesian island of Wawonii believed they had won a long-running battle against mining companies with concessions on their land after authorities promised to revoke the permits in March.
- However, only nine of the 15 permits were scrapped, while at least one of the remaining companies continues offering to buy out residents and clearing land.
- Organizers of the earlier protests are now bracing for an even more intensive campaign, in the hope of drawing enough attention to their cause that the government steps in and cancels the remaining permits.
- One of the companies involved says the land belongs to the state and the villagers have no claim to it.


Indonesian minister draws fire for denial of transboundary haze problem [09/12/2019]
- Indonesia’s environment minister continues to deny that fires in the country are sending toxic haze to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.
- An environmental activist warns that this stance, which goes against the data presented by Malaysia, risks undermining Indonesia’s credibility.
- The haze is an annual irritant in diplomatic ties between Indonesia and its neighbors, with much of the burning taking place to clear land for oil palm and pulpwood plantations.
- Malaysia has offered to help Indonesia fight the fires, which have sickened tens of thousands of people in Sumatra and Borneo, threatened an elephant reserve, and churned more than 100 millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


‘Radically changing’ a rare Mauritian plant’s story: Q&A with ecologist Prishnee Bissessur [09/12/2019]
- Roussea simplex, a unique plant that grows only on the mountains of Mauritius, is the only species in its genus, with just 250-odd individuals remaining in the wild.
- Prishnee Bissessur, a graduate student at the University of Mauritius who has been studying the plant since 2015, has “radically changed what was known of the plant’s ecology so far,” according to one ecologist.
- Mongabay spoke with Bissessur to learn about her work on Roussea simplex, what makes the plant so fascinating, and the challenges of studying it.


Climate adaptation begins with how we manage water (commentary) [09/12/2019]
- Some 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, but cities and other sectors have growing demands on the same water resources. To adapt to climate change without undermining food security and farmers’ livelihoods, we will have to fundamentally rethink agricultural water usage, our food systems, and our diets.
- A major new report from the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) makes this case loud and clear. The report urges us to face the fact that climate change will require ‘massive’ adaptation. It urges us to meet this challenge with urgency and resolve.
- The GCA report paints a sobering picture of our water and food security futures. We can and must adapt more quickly and effectively. Adaptive water management is an important place to start.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


REDD+ more competitive than critics believe, study finds [09/12/2019]
- Critics have argued that the strategy known as REDD+, or reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, hasn’t adequately slowed emissions from forest loss in developing countries in the way it was intended.
- Introduced in 2007, REDD+ is meant to help individual countries earn money for development when they lower the amount of released carbon from clearing and degrading forests.
- In a recent paper focused on the South American country of Guyana, a team of researchers argues that the problems with REDD+ stem from its implementation at the project level.
- REDD+ implementation across the jurisdiction of an entire country would address nearly all of the problems with individual REDD+ projects, and societies would benefit more financially than they currently do from commercial forest uses such as gold mining and logging, the researchers say.


New detection devices could record microplastic pollution levels in real time [09/11/2019]
- Microplastic pollution is a threat to marine life and is found in the bodies of animals all along the food chain.
- Detecting microplastic pollution levels in the oceans is becoming increasingly important, in part so that sources can be found and vulnerable species protected if possible.
- Traditional testing via tow nets and lab analysis is slow and expensive, but a new generation of sensors is being developed to measure microplastics faster and at various depths.
- Mongabay spoke with Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities for Massachusetts-based R&D laboratory Draper, which is developing new tools to record microplastic pollution levels in real time.


Beehive fences can help mitigate human-elephant conflict [09/11/2019]
- Crop-raiding by elephants can devastate small farmers, leading to food insecurity, lost opportunity costs, and even death, as well as negative attitudes towards elephants, but finding effective and inexpensive solutions has proven extremely difficult.
- Beehive fences—surrounding crops fields with beehives attached to fence posts and strung together with wires—may serve as a humane and eco-friendly way to protect crops from elephants.
- Repeated farm-level trials have demonstrated benefits to farmers of using beehive fences, including fewer elephants approaching their fields and, for communities willing to manage the bees, production of “elephant-friendly” honey. However, the strategy doesn’t work everywhere: it requires management by farmers and willingness of bees to occupy at least some of the hives, and appropriate length and positioning to dissuade elephants from just walking around them.
- Beehive fences have benefited farmers in several East African countries, and projects elsewhere have begun to test them as well, but several uncertainties, including their success at a scale that doesn’t just displace the elephants to the first unfenced farm, suggest they should still be used with other techniques as part of a toolkit to reduce human-elephant conflict.


Brazilian Amazon fires scientifically linked to 2019 deforestation: report [09/11/2019]
- A scientific report released today by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reveals critical overlap between deforestation and fire alerts. Mongabay had exclusive access to the report ahead of release.
- At least 52,500 hectares (130,000 acres) of the Brazilian Amazon — the equivalent to 72,000 soccer fields — were cleared through 2019 and then burned in August. The findings offer a base map overlapping 2019 deforestation and fire hotspots, and include 16 high-resolution time lapse videos unveiling newly cleared agricultural lands linked to fire occurrences.
- MAAP’s findings show that the dramatic photos that garnered worldwide attention of smoky fires sweeping the Brazilian Amazon in August do not correspond with burning rainforest, but instead coincide with areas intentionally deforested this year, with the cleared land then set ablaze to finish the agricultural conversion process.
- Although the report didn’t detect major forest fires in Brazil to date, the risk still exists, as the dry season deepens, given that many fire occurrences were detected on agriculture-forest boundaries. The study doesn’t say how much of the 52,500 hectares cleared in the first 8 months of 2019 were illegally deforested.


Photos: Forest fires rage on Sumatra oil palm concessions [09/11/2019]
- As Indonesia’s annual fire season gets underway, swaths of carbon-rich peat forests are being razed, and the subsequent toxic smoke has blanketed parts of Jambi province on the island of Sumatra.
- Dozens of hotspots have been detected on farmland, oi palm concessions, and even inside a protected peat forest in the province, according to the local disaster management agency.
- Mongabay visited one of the burning concessions, where minimally equipped workers are fighting to put out fires that have been burning for days without end.
- The workers deny that the oil palm company set the fire on the concession, claiming it started in a neighboring village. In 2015, three company employees were charged with setting fires on the same concession, though none were ever convicted.


Nepal to conduct, self-fund, rhino census in March 2020 [09/11/2019]
- In 2019 a planned rhino census in Nepal was called off after wildlife officials failed to raise the necessary funds from donors.
- The country’s finance ministry recently announced that will support a new rhino census, to be held in March 2020. The government has allocated 11 million rupees of the total 16 million rupees ($140,000) the census is estimated to cost.
- Nepal has succeeded in virtually eliminating rhino poaching, but large numbers of rhinos have died of unknown or natural causes in the country’s sanctuaries, adding urgency to calls for a new census to be held.
- The decision to self-fund the census comes as the government is promoting a variety of populist, nationalist projects.


‘Pray & continue’: Death of Philippine ranger is latest in legacy of violence [09/11/2019]
- Forest ranger Bienvinido “Toto” Veguilla Jr. was hacked to death by suspected illegal loggers on the Philippine island of Palawan on Sept. 5.
- He’s the 18th environmental defender slain in the province since 2001, and at least the 31st killed this year in the Philippines, identified in a recent report as the deadliest country for those trying to protect their land and the environment.
- Logging accounts for the third-highest number of deaths related to environmental violations in the Philippines, after mining and agriculture.
- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has called on Congress to pass legislation that would create an environmental law enforcement bureau to better protect rangers.


Chilean band Newen Afrobeat sings of a future it hopes to see [09/10/2019]
- Santiago, Chile-based band Newen Afrobeat’s songs are infused with themes to do with ecology, indigenous and women’s rights, and cultural understanding.
- Heavily influenced by Afrobeat, the musical style made famous by Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, Newen is fronted by a powerful trio of women singer/songwriters.
- Mongabay interviewed percussionist and Newen co-founder Tomas Pavez from his home in Santiago.


A lifeline for the last leopards (commentary) [09/10/2019]
- From being extinct in the wild, the Arabian oryx was reclassified in 1986 as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species after its reintroduction to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, with its global numbers increased to thousands, the Arabian oryx was the first animal ever to revert to “Vulnerable” status after having previously been listed as extinct in the wild.
- Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) aims to replicate this miraculous turnaround for the Arabian leopard – a little-studied, desert-dwelling subspecies listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List – and for leopard populations everywhere with a new $20 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Wild Cats.
- The Arabian Leopard Initiatives will support a holistic and urgent program to rigorously monitor the Arabian leopard’s population and distribution, as well as halt its decline through community conservation projects. The cornerstone will be a captive breeding program dedicated to shoring up Arabian leopard populations and reintroducing them into their former habitats.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Sri Lanka scientists stand by naming of new geckos amid nationalist criticism [09/10/2019]
- The recent naming of six day geckos endemic to Sri Lanka after historical figures has sparked controversy, with ultra-nationalist groups alleging malicious intent on the part of the researchers.
- Scientists, however, are standing in solidarity with the research team, supporting the naming of the new species after forgotten heroes as an act to immortalize their legacy in Sri Lankan history.
- A leading researcher says the criticism of the naming is “steeped in politics,” coming as it does amid a climate of nationalist posturing ahead of elections later this year.


Camera trap study reveals Amazon ocelot’s survival strategies [09/10/2019]
- Ocelots suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 70s due to hunting, but populations have rebounded since the international fur trade was banned. Now, heavy deforestation and increasing human activity across their range threaten to put this elegant creature back on the endangered list.
- Researchers collected images from hundreds of camera traps set across the Amazon basin and analyzed the effect of different habitat characteristics on the presence of ocelots. Statistical modeling revealed the cat’s preference for dense forests and a dislike of roads and human settlements.
- Experts say ocelots may also be responding to human activity and forest degradation in ways that camera traps cannot easily detect, such as changing how and when they use a particular habitat. The study looked at ocelot behavior in protected and forested habitat, not in degraded landscapes.
- Ocelots are considered ambassador species for their forest ecosystem, and studies like this give support to maintaining protected areas, which are increasingly under threat from agricultural expansion and other human activities.


Malawi sentences pangolin smugglers, cracks down on wildlife crime [09/10/2019]
- Two Malawian nationals arrested in May and suspected of being part of one of Africa’s largest transnational wildlife trafficking syndicates have now been sentenced to three years in prison by a Malawian court.
- The suspected kingpin of the trafficking network, a Chinese national named Yunhua Lin, was arrested in August this year following a three-month manhunt and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 11.
- Lin’s wife, Qin Hua Zhang, and eight others who had been arrested during the May raids are due in court on Sept. 12, and further hearings have been scheduled throughout the month.


Uncovered coal barges are polluting North Sumatra’s waters [09/10/2019]
- Coal is brought by ship to fuel a power plant in the Pangkalan Susu area of Indonesia’s North Sumatra province.
- Mongabay observed ships waiting for days to be unloaded, moored in the Malacca Strait with piles of coal exposed to the open air.
- The strait ecosystem, including the fish and shrimp that local communities rely on for their sustenance and livelihood, is threatened by exposure to toxins from both the coal and ash settling in the water.
- The local community and fishermen have reported decreased catches and failed fish farm harvests, and attributed these to the operation of the Pangkalan Susu power plant.


Pro-deforestation policies could be ruinous for farmers (commentary) [09/10/2019]
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claims to be a champion of farmers and ranchers, but his policies in the Amazon could be ruinous for them in the long-run, argues Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.
- While large-scale deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest may offer short-term opportunities for ranchers and farmers to expand their holdings, scientists say the approach is a risky proposition in the long-term given the role the Amazon plays in sustaining Brazilian agribusiness through the rainfall it affords.
- Note: this commentary was originally written August 27, 2019. Minor modifications have been made to reflect the discrepancy between time of writing and publishing.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Into the abyss with deep sea biologist Diva Amon [09/09/2019]
- Dr. Diva Amon was raised on the shores of the Caribbean Sea and has become an expert on what lies deep below its surface, where light refuses to go.
- “We can’t effectively manage what we don’t understand or protect what we don’t know,” she tells Mongabay in a new interview.
- The promise and peril of deep sea mining is just one of the reasons she and her colleagues are working hard to understand the biodiversity of the oceans’ greatest depths.
- Dr. Amon is speaking at the upcoming Jackson Wild Summit in Wyoming later this month.


New UN report takes stock of renewable energy’s decade-long growth spurt [09/09/2019]
- 2018 was the ninth year in a row in which renewable energy capacity investments exceeded $200 billion and the fifth year in a row in which they exceeded $250 billion, according to a report released by the UN ahead of the Climate Action Summit to be held in New York City later this month.
- That means that, by the time it’s over, the current decade — 2010 to 2019 — will have seen a total of $2.6 trillion in renewable energy investments and a four-fold increase in global renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydroelectric dams, i.e. those with electricity generation capacity of 50 megawatts or more).
- Of all the major generating technologies, including those that burn fossil fuels, solar accounts for 638 GW of new power capacity installed since 2010, the largest single share claimed by any technology. Coal-fired power comes in second at 529 GW, wind in third at 487 GW, and gas in fourth at 438 GW.


Private sector could play outsized role in Cerrado conservation: study [09/09/2019]
- A recent study estimates the impacts of implementing a soy moratorium in the Cerrado savanna, Brazil’s second largest biome, which has already lost half of its native vegetation to agribusiness, much of it due to soy and cattle expansion.
- The Amazon Soy Moratorium, seen as one of the most successful voluntary corporate conservation agreements ever, was implemented in the Amazon biome in 2006, and helped greatly reduce deforestation from soy there.
- Now environmental NGOs and international retailers have called for a similar moratorium in the Cerrado, the biodiverse tropical savanna that borders the Amazon on its south and east.
- Full participation by the private sector in a Cerrado Soy Moratorium starting in 2021 — including resistant companies such a Cargill — could prevent 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres) of native vegetation being lost due to soy expansion, an area larger than Belgium, researchers found.




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