Wildlife detectives link smuggled African elephant ivory to 3 major cartels [09/20/2018]
- By matching DNA from elephant tusks found in major illegal ivory shipments, and using information on the ports of origin of the shipments, researchers have pinpointed three major cartels that moved most of Africa’s large illegal ivory shipments between 2011 and 2014. - These three cartels operated from Entebbe in Uganda, Mombasa in Kenya, and Lomé in Togo. - The researchers hope that links established in the study will help tie ivory-trafficking kingpins to multiple large ivory seizures, and strengthen the case against them.
Indonesia’s Teater Potlot takes on the plight of the Sumatran tiger [09/19/2018]
- A seventh-century Srivijaya king, Srijayanasa, believed progress should bring merit to man and creature alike. - “Puyang,” a play by a South Sumatra theater group, explores the undoing of this pact through the eyes of a mythical tiger. - Today, there are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers believed to be living in the wild, as plantation and mining interests raze their forest homes.
As turtles go, so go their ecosystems [09/19/2018]
- Turtles are among the most threatened of the major groups of vertebrates in the world, a new review paper says, perhaps even more so than birds, mammals, fish or amphibians. - Of the 356 species of turtles recognized today, about 61 percent are either threatened or have become extinct in modern times. - Turtles contribute to the health of a variety of environments, including desert, wetland, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and losing these animals could have serious ecological consequences, researchers say.
How much plastic is too much plastic for sea turtles? [09/14/2018]
- Researchers in Australia examined the digestive tracts of 246 dead sea turtles collected from along the coast of the state of Queensland and counted up to 329 pieces of plastic. - Younger turtles were found to have consumed considerably higher amounts of plastic pieces than adult turtles, the study found, possibly because they are less selective about what they eat. The young turtles also drift with ocean currents, just like plastic debris tends to do, and both might end up aggregating in the same places. - The higher the number of plastic pieces a turtle has inside its gut, the higher the chance of it being killed by the plastic. For an average-sized turtle, ingesting more than 14 pieces of plastic translates into a 50 percent likelihood of death.
On the hunt for a silent salamander-killer [09/13/2018]
- Sometime around 2008, a mysterious disease started killing off the Netherlands’ fire salamanders. Three years later, 96 percent were dead. - The disease turned out to be Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), a relative of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that has been implicated in the decline or extinction of some 200 frog species around the world. - Scientists think Bsal originated in Asia and spread to Europe through the pet trade. And they believe it’s only matter of time before it gets to the U.S. – the world’s hotspot of salamander diversity, where nearly half of all species may be susceptible. - Now, scientists are in a race against time to find the fungus as soon as possible after it gets here in the hopes that quickly enacted quarantines may stop, or at least slow, its spread.
Illegal wildlife trade on Facebook in Thailand open ‘for all to see’ [09/12/2018]
- In a rapid assessment in 2016, carried out for just 30 minutes a day over a total of 23 days, wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC found 1,521 listings of live wild animals for sale on Facebook in Thailand. - The animals on offer belonged to at least 200 species, of which about half are protected by the country’s laws, while the rest aren’t regulated at all. - More than 500 individuals listed were mammals, with 139 listings of the Sunda slow loris, a threatened primate. - The listings also included the critically endangered helmeted hornbill and Siamese crocodile.
Conservation groups herald protection of tiger habitat in Malaysia [09/11/2018]
- The state government of Terengganu has set aside more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) for critically endangered Malayan tigers and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia. - The state’s chief minister said the newly created Lawit-Cenana State Park’s high density of threatened species made the area a priority for protection. - The park is home to 291 species of birds and 18 species of mammals, including elephants, tapirs and pangolins.
These Asian monkeys can’t taste the sweetness of natural sugars [09/11/2018]
- Asian leaf-eating monkeys cannot taste natural sugars and show no preference for foods flavored with sugars, a new study has found. - While these monkeys have the sweet-taste receptor genes needed to taste natural sugars, when the researchers expressed these genes in single cells, the cells did not show any response to maltose, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose or sorbitol. - The researchers also conducted a behavior test using sugar-flavored and non-sugar-flavored jellies, and found that colobine monkeys like the silvery lutung and the hanuman langur ate all of the jellies without preferring one over the other. On the other hand, Japanese macaques preferred sucrose and maltose-flavored jellies over bland ones. - This lack of preference for sugary foods, along with a previously known inability to taste bitterness, means these monkeys are less likely to face competition from other species for food sources.
Plantations can produce more palm oil if they keep riverbanks forested [09/10/2018]
- Conservationists have long known that keeping riverbanks forested in regions with heavy palm oil development helps protect wildlife and their habitat. - Now, a recently published study finds there are economic benefits to palm oil producers, as well. It finds oil palm plantations that maintain buffers of forest along rivers can improve their yields because these buffers reduce erosion. - The team found that a larger buffer has a bigger payoff in the long term, but a forest buffer of 10 to 20 meters could maximize yields even within a ten-year period. Meanwhile, buffers of 30 meters or more could maximize yields in the long term. - The authors note that their calculations were conservative, meaning that the economic benefits of riparian forest buffers to oil palm plantations may be even higher than their estimates indicate.
8 species of birds have possibly gone extinct over past few decades [09/06/2018]
- A new study has found that eight species of birds are likely to have completely disappeared in the past couple of decades. - Researchers recommend that three species currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List be reclassified as extinct, while one be treated as extinct in the wild. - Four more bird species are dangerously close to extinction, if not already there, and should be re-classified as critically endangered (possibly extinct), researchers say.
Fires tear through East Java park, threatening leopard habitat [09/05/2018]
- Authorities in East Java, Indonesia, are trying to stop a wildfire from spreading into core zone of the Coban Wisula forest, home to Javan leopards. - The fire is burning within Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a major tourist attraction. An iconic landscape in the park, known as Teletubbies Hill, has already gone up in flames. - A local NGO is monitoring the situation to make sure none of the leopards are flushed out of their habitat and into contact with humans, which could turn violent.
Diverse family of algae could help corals survive warming seas [09/05/2018]
- Scientists have found that some algae that associate with corals are much more diverse and much older than previously thought. - The origin of certain algae occurred at around the same time corals began building reefs on a grand scale around the world, the researchers showed. - The diversity of these algae could boost corals’ resistance to higher ocean temperatures.
87 elephants found dead in Botswana, one of last safe havens for the species [09/05/2018]
- At least 87 elephants were killed by poachers in recent months, conservation nonprofit Elephants Without Borders said based on an ongoing aerial survey in northern Botswana. - Given that the current aerial survey is only halfway through, conservationists worry the final number of poached elephants will be much higher. - The government of Botswana, however, has refuted the organization’s claims and called the figures “unsubstantiated,” in a statement published on Twitter.
New Zealand penguins make ‘crazy’ 7,000-km round trip for food [09/03/2018]
- Until recently, researchers did not know where the Fiordland penguins of New Zealand, known locally as tawaki, went to hunt during their pre-moult summer period. - A new study that tracked 17 penguins has found that the birds made a round trip of up to 6,800 kilometers (4,225 miles) in 2016, making it one of the longest-known pre-moult penguin migrations to date. - The penguins went nearly halfway to Antarctica, traveling to the sub-tropical front south of Tasmania or to the sub-Antarctic front to hunt, the researchers found. - It’s not clear why they went so far, given that other penguin species in New Zealand seem to find enough food in the waters near their breeding colonies. Researchers say more studies over several seasons and involving more individual penguins are needed.
The secret life of the southern naked-tailed armadillo [09/03/2018]
- The southern naked-tailed armadillo spends 99.25 percent of its time underground. If by chance you locate one above ground, it can dig away in a matter of seconds. - The air of mystery surrounding this species led Desbiez and his team to seek out any information they could about its day-to-day activities and its natural history in Brazil’s Pantanal region. - Unlike other species that Desbiez studies, such as the giant armadillo and the giant anteater, the southern naked-tailed armadillo is rated as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
Cheap prices lead to more exotic pets in the wild, research finds [08/30/2018]
- New research shows that exotic amphibians and reptiles sold inexpensively as pets are more likely to end up in the wild, where they can pose problems for native wildlife. - The authors of the study believe that many pet owners may not fully understand the responsibility of owning these animals, some of which can grow to large sizes and live for decades. - They suggest that limiting the numbers of certain species popular as pets could help limit their often-destructive impact on ecosystems.
Will protecting half the Earth save biodiversity? Depends which half [08/30/2018]
- Adding large swaths of “wild areas” to the current network of protected areas in order to protect half of the Earth doesn’t mean more species will be protected, or that a larger portion of species’ ranges will be covered, a new study has found. - Researchers say it’s important to not be seduced by the idea of protecting areas simply because they’re big and politically easier to protect, but instead to prioritize areas because they’re special and/or have key species in them. - The study also revealed a surprising trend: existing protected areas around the world are good at covering at least some of the range of most of the world’s birds, mammals and amphibians.
More remote islands might be more susceptible to invasive species: study [08/29/2018]
More isolated oceanic islands harbor fewer native species due to the fact that plants and animals are less capable of naturally dispersing to and colonizing those islands. This is known as the species-isolation relationship (SIR), one of the most fundamental concepts in the study of island biogeography. While the isolation of islands means that they […]
Taking it slow can help reduce impacts of Arctic shipping on whales (commentary) [08/28/2018]
- Thanks to climate change, traveling through the Northwest Passage is quickly becoming an exotic option for cruise ship passengers — and an enticing shortcut for cargo ships. - But an increasingly ice-free Arctic means more than just a chance for a new sightseeing adventure: Significantly increased ship traffic is altering the submarine calm of one of the quietest places on Earth. That could have serious implications for marine mammals and fish that rely on sound for group cohesion, socializing, finding mates, navigating, and detecting threats. - As we grow sensitive to plastics and other toxins that plague ocean species, we must remember that while noise is the one form of pollution that we cannot see, we can work together to turn down the volume. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
For India’s black-necked cranes, dogs are a major threat [08/28/2018]
- In the cold desert region of Ladakh in northern India, dogs are currently the “single biggest threat” to black-necked cranes, experts say. - Recent surveys have found feral dogs responsible for driving down the bird’s population by eating its eggs and chicks. - The forest department’s dog-sterilization efforts have not had any impact so far, officials say.
Study finds widespread degradation, deforestation in African woodlands [08/27/2018]
- New research has found that deforestation rates between 2007 and 2010 in the woodlands of southern Africa were five times greater than previously thought. - Similarly, carbon losses from the region during that time period were three to six times higher. - The study used radar data, as opposed to visual satellite imagery, to measure the biomass found in southern Africa’s woodlands. - Around 17 percent of the region’s area was degraded during the time period, the researchers found.
Rare bird, feared extinct after hurricane, is spotted in Bahamas again [08/27/2018]
- The Bahama nuthatch (Sitta insularis), known only from a small pine forest on the island of Grand Bahama, some 84 kilometers (52 miles) east of Palm Beach, Florida, was thought to have gone extinct after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. - But two recent, independent expeditions have yielded sightings of the bird again. - Only a handful of individuals have been spotted, though, and researchers fear that chances of reviving the species’ population look bleak.
As the DMZ turns 65, a call for Korean peace through conservation (commentary) [08/24/2018]
- Long viewed as an untouchable border between two hostile nations, the DMZ has become an accidental paradise for plants and animals. Its 400 square miles have been largely unmarred by human activities since the 1950s, providing refuge for some 90 threatened or endangered species, including some that are found nowhere else on the planet. - As relations in the Korean Peninsula improve, there is now an opportunity to establish the DMZ as a globally significant natural site and cultural venue. - Imagine the enduring symbol of hope and collaboration that the DMZ would represent: A shared commitment to a wondrous and sustainable future for generations of people and wildlife to come. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
In Morocco’s markets, conditions for wildlife are ‘universally poor’ [08/24/2018]
- In Morocco’s wildlife markets, animals are usually kept in poor conditions without water, food and shade, a new study has found. - This is because vendors are largely unaware of the animals’ needs, researchers found. - Much of the trade is also illegal, but a lack of enforcement of existing animal welfare laws means there’s little deterrent to end the trade, researchers say. - Current Moroccan laws also do not reflect the stated commitment of the government to international standards for animal welfare.
Poachers caught on video killing mother bear and cubs at den in Alaska [08/21/2018]
- Two hunters allegedly killed a female bear and her cubs at the animals’ den in April, in violation of hunting laws. - The mother bear was part of a wildlife study and wore a tracking collar. - As part of the study, a video camera had been set up near the den and captured the hunters’ alleged actions. - The U.S. Humane Society says proposed changes to federal hunting laws that would make killing bears in their dens legal are “cruel and unsporting,” while several hunting groups argue that the law changes are necessary to stop the federal government’s overreach into Alaska’s wildlife management.
Fight to protect the world’s most threatened great ape goes to court [08/21/2018]
- Indonesia’s leading environmental watchdog has filed a lawsuit to block a project to build a dam and hydroelectric power plant in the Sumatran habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s newest known and most endangered great ape. - The lawsuit claims a series of administrative oversights in the project’s environmental impact permit, as well as a breach of zoning laws by building along a known tectonic fault line. - An online petition has also taken off, with more than 1.3 million people signing to call on President Joko Widodo to scrap the project. - Opposition to the project has also drawn the attention of top scientists from around the world, who last month signed an open letter to the president to press their case for the habitat to be preserved.
Wild-caught timber elephants in Myanmar die earlier than captive-born ones [08/20/2018]
- Myanmar’s wild-caught timber elephants have higher rates of mortality and shorter life spans compared to those born in captivity, a new study has found. - Among wild-caught individuals, elephants that were captured at older ages were worse off than those caught at younger ages, the researchers found. - Wild-caught elephants also suffered the highest mortality rates during the first year after capture, which decreased slowly over subsequent years. - The high number of deaths in the year following capture is likely related to capture-related injuries and trauma, followed by harsh taming, the authors say.
Latam Eco Review: Hunger for wildlife, mercury rising, and a black jaguar sighting [08/17/2018]
The most popular stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, in the last week investigated how human hunger is driving hunting in Venezuela (and danger for zoo animals, pictured above), how gold miners are contaminating Bolivia’s rivers with mercury, and news of Ecuador’s first wildlife corridor. Economic crisis in Venezuela: Hungry citizens hunt wildlife and zoo […]
The appeal acquittal of Feisal Mohamed Ali: A victory for rule of law, a process corrupted, or both? (commentary) [08/17/2018]
- With Kenya still stinging from the humiliation and embarrassment over the translocation-related deaths of 11 rhinos, a Kenyan court declared on August 3 that convicted ivory trafficker Feisal Mohamed Ali was to be set free. - Lady Justice Dora Chepkwony ruled that he should be acquitted for a number of reasons, ranging from constitutional concerns to original trial irregularities. - Following Feisal’s conviction, Feisal’s counsel said that the “trial court erred in law and fact [and] that it convicted [Feisal] on the basis of mere suspicion.” The counsel also stated that Feisal had been made a “sacrificial lamb so as to appease the public.” Considering the substantial national and international media attention that this trial had received as well as the political climate at the time, this possibility cannot be ignored. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The Japan pig is a tiny colorful pygmy seahorse smaller than a fingernail [08/17/2018]
- Scientists have described a new species of pygmy seahorse that’s colorful and smaller than the average fingernail. - The researchers have officially named the tiny seahorse Japan pig, or Hippocampus japapigu, because local people believe the animal resembles a “tiny baby pig.” - Unlike other pygmy seahorses, the newly described species has an elevated ridge on its upper back made of triangular bones, the purpose of which is still unclear. - The Japan pig is now the fifth pygmy seahorse species to be recorded in Japan.
Protected landscape across India-Bhutan border a refuge for wildlife during armed conflict [08/17/2018]
- From the late 1980s until 2003, ethno-political violence rocked Manas National Park (MNP), home to Bengal tigers and Indian rhinos, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. - But a shared border between the park and Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) helped the wildlife find refuge from the human presence. Since the end of the unrest, MNP has managed to preserve its overall animal diversity, according to a new study. - Extensive camera-trapping exercise across the three ranges of the park have confirmed the presence of 25 mammalian species, including threatened species such as clouded leopards, Asian elephants, Indian hog deer, and swamp deer.
Scientists say endangered whale sharks can live up to 130 years [08/15/2018]
- Scientists at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in the United States led a team of researchers who used minimally invasive methods for examining the growth patterns of whale sharks in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldives. The team repeatedly took measurements of free-swimming sharks over a 10-year period using three different approaches: visual, laser, and tape measures. - The team built models of whale shark growth patterns based on the measurements they had taken from 186 encounters with 44 sharks and determined that male whale sharks reach maturity at about 25 years of age, can grow to nearly 62 feet in length, and can live as long as 130 years. - Approximately 75 percent of the global whale shark population lives in the Indo-Pacific region of Earth’s oceans, with the other 25 percent occurring in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the IUCN Red List, combined data from both regions shows that the global whale shark population has likely declined by more than 50 percent over the past 75 years.
‘Biological passports’ show whale sharks travel less than we thought [08/15/2018]
- A study looking at chemical signatures in whale shark tissue and using photographic identification has revealed that young sharks in three countries along the western rim of the Indian Ocean don’t typically stray more than a few hundred kilometers from their feeding sites. - Of the more than 1,200 sharks photographed, only two traveled between different feeding sites — in this case, about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) between Mozambique and Tanzania. - The authors of the study say their findings demonstrate that local conservation of these populations is important because if whale sharks are wiped out in an area, they’re unlikely to repopulate it later on.
Predatory coral bring down jellyfish by working together [08/14/2018]
- For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that corals can work cooperatively to capture jellyfish. - The team observed the bright orange Astroides calycularis, which lives on sea walls and caves in the Mediterranean Sea, snagging mauve stinger jellyfish that became trapped by ocean currents. - Coral polyps first grab onto a jellyfish’s bell, and then others will begin ingesting the jellyfish’s arms in a process that takes just a few minutes.
Millipedes might soothe itchy lemurs, research finds [08/13/2018]
- Scientists have observed red-fronted lemurs in Madagascar biting millipedes and then rubbing themselves with the secretions. - A team of researchers published their observations in the journal Primates, along with their hypothesis that the lemurs were using the millipede secretions to treat worm infections. - The study’s lead author also observed lemurs eating the millipedes, which may slow the growth of parasites living in the primates’ intestines.
Earless African pygmy toad discovered on remote mountain in Angola [08/13/2018]
- Researchers have found a new species of African pygmy toad in Serra da Neve Inselberg, an isolated mountain and Angola’s second-highest peak. - The new species, formally named Poyntonophrynus pachnodes, or the Serra da Neve pygmy toad, lacks both external and internal parts of the ear that help frogs hear. - While earless toads aren’t rare, this is the first time a Poyntonophrynus species has been reported without ears.
Rare mountain-dwelling Nilgiri tahr could lose 60% of habitat as climate warms [08/10/2018]
- The shy, elusive Nilgiri tahr once occurred over a large area in the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot in India, but its distribution has shrunk considerably since the 1950s. - Currently, about 3,000 individuals are known to occur in isolated groups that are restricted to the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, covering less than 10 percent of their former range. - Extreme global warming could slash by 60 percent the amount of available habitat that’s suitable for the tahr, a new study has found.
In protecting the Javan rhino, locals gain a ‘more meaningful life’ [08/10/2018]
- Working in Javan rhino protection programs is no mean feat, according to locals who have dedicated decades of their lives to the endeavor. - From getting chased by rhinos to meeting face-to-face with armed hunters, their experiences speak to the often grueling reality of on-the-ground conservation work, highlighted by rare encounters with the elusive animals. - Yet despite the challenges, the workers say they have found worth in their daily duties, and have come to value the rhinos even more as a result.
Camera trap videos help protect biodiversity of Bigal River Biological Reserve in Ecuador [08/09/2018]
- Bigal River Biological Reserve is located in the southern buffer zone of Ecuador’s Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, a less-explored national park that the biological reserve helps to protect, according to Thierry Garcia of the Sumac Muyu Foundation, which founded and manages the reserve. - As part of its Bigal River Conservation Project, the Sumac Muyu Foundation has maintained camera traps in the reserve since 2014 and has collected hundreds of hours of footage showing big mammals like jaguars and tapirs as well as rare birds and other species going about their business in the foothill forests. - The main goals of the camera trap program run by the Sumac Muyu Foundation include documenting the mammals present in the reserve and which parts of the reserve they tend to roam, as well as monitoring those mammal populations and studying variations in their behavior due to natural forest dynamics or human pressures.
On an island in the sun, coal power is king over abundant solar [08/08/2018]
- Locals and environmentalists have opposed a plan to expand a coal-fired power plan in northern Bali, Indonesia. - They are worried that the expansion will exacerbate the existing impact of the plant on the environment and locals’ health and livelihoods. - A particular concern focuses on the survival of dolphins and endemic species living in close proximity to the plant, with Greenpeace saying the dolphins have particularly been affected since the plant came on line in 2015. - Another major worry is air pollution, with many locals complaining of respiratory ailments as a result of the fumes and coal dust emitted from the plant.
Africa’s biggest cobra is five species, not one, study finds [08/08/2018]
- Africa’s largest true cobra is not one, but five separate species, a new study has confirmed. - Two of these species, the black forest cobra (N. guineensis) and the West African banded cobra (N. savannula), are new to science. - As a single species, forest cobras were not considered threatened. But with the splitting of the cobra into five species, some species could be more vulnerable to forest loss and bushmeat hunting than others. - The occurrence of five forest cobra species also has implications for the development of antivenom to treat forest cobra bites, researchers say.
Audio: Beavers matter more than you think [08/07/2018]
- We discuss one of the world’s most overlooked keystone species, the beaver, on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast. - Environmental journalist and writer Ben Goldbarb is a big proponent of giving beavers far more attention than they’re paid. His latest book is fittingly called Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. - Today, the North American beaver population is on the rebound thanks to conservationists who are helping bring this keystone species back to habitat across the continent. Goldfarb tells us all about these efforts and just why beavers’ role as “ecosystem engineers” is so crucial.
Alan Rabinowitz, big cat evangelist and voice of the wild, dies at 64 [08/07/2018]
- Alan Rabinowitz, a U.S. zoologist dubbed the “Indiana Jones of wildlife protection” by Time Magazine, died of cancer on Aug. 5 at the age of 64. He leaves behind a legacy of more than three decades of unceasing efforts to protect big cats and other wildlife at risk of extinction. - Rabinowitz was instrumental in the creation the world’s first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve in Belize, as well the creation of protected areas in Thailand and Myanmar, and the discovery of new species. - In 2006, Rabinowitz co-founded Panthera, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation the world’s 40 wild cat species and the vast landscapes that hold them, along with his close friend Thomas S. Kaplan, a U.S. entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Ocean acidity stifles coral-anchored communities [08/06/2018]
- Researchers working in the seas around Japan found that higher levels of carbon dioxide, like those found around volcanic vents in the ocean floor, diminish the diversity of corals and other lifeforms. - The study took place at the convergence of marine temperate and subtropical climates. - Their findings indicate that rising acidity could inhibit coral growth and reduce the number of species living in these ecosystems.
Largest king penguin colony in the world has shrunk by 90% [08/06/2018]
- In 1982, researchers estimated that there were more than 500,000 breeding pairs and over 2 million king penguins on the remote Île aux Cochons, or Pig Island, a French territory in southern Indian Ocean. - More than three decades later, by 2017, the number of king penguins on the island had dropped drastically to just about 200,000 penguins, including some 60,000 breeding pairs, researchers report in a new study. - The reasons for this decline are still unknown, but the researchers hope that further field studies will be able to verify the massive drop and identify the factors that led to it.
Biodiversity and the society of superlatives (commentary) [08/03/2018]
- The media is full of references to the vast number of species in tropical ecosystems: “Megadiverse Ecuador;” “Colombia, the most biodiverse country on Earth;” “Life at its purest!” Every tropical country has its own. But the way we use these superlatives and the richness that they try to represent tells us something important about the way in which we perceive and relate to biodiversity and natural systems. - Perpetuating this bias can lead us down two slippery paths. First, it masks the complexity of natural systems and the diversity of life strategies. The importance of an ecosystem is reduced to a measurement of the number of species that it harbors. Second, we end up ignoring the intrinsic value of species and ecosystems. - Changing this misplaced emphasis on species richness will require significant reforms in all levels of our education systems. In the name of conservation, Nature has been turned into an economic asset and, in many instances, its usefulness for humans has become the only value that we can bring to light for the common citizen. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
95 percent of all lemur species face high risk of extinction, experts say [08/02/2018]
- More than 50 experts in primate conservation from around the world recently convened in Antananarivo to review the conservation status of the 111 species and subspecies of lemurs, all endemic to Madagascar, and provide updated threat assessments for the IUCN Red List. - They found that 105 lemurs — 95 percent of all known lemur species and subspecies — might qualify as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction in the wild. - The updated assessments produced by the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group must still undergo a review process before they are fully validated, but the group’s findings would increase the number of lemurs listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List from 24 to 38.
A ‘perfect policy storm’ cuts puma numbers by almost half near Jackson, Wyoming [08/01/2018]
- A 14-year study following 134 tagged mountain lions north of Jackson, Wyoming, found a 48 percent reduction in their numbers. - The researchers found that the combination of the reintroduction of wolves and increases in elk and mountain lion hunting led to the precipitous drop. - Lead study author and Panthera biologist Mark Elbroch recommends suspending puma hunting for three years in the region to allow the population to recover.
India’s dancing deer and their unique floating home are under threat [07/31/2018]
- The critical floating habitats of the rare sangai, or dancing deer, in Loktak Lake in Manipur, India, are losing out to mushrooming agricultural practices and human settlements, a new study has found. - The loss of floating islands from the southern and northern part of Loktak is a “major concern,” the study noted, one that could lead to the “destruction of the only floating national park in the world.” - Much of the changes in the unique floating meadows of Loktak Lake can be attributed to the construction of the Ithai barrage on the Manipur River in 1979 for a hydroelectric project, researchers say.
Researcher names spectacular new frog after his granddaughter [07/31/2018]
- A researcher has identified a colorful tree frog as a new species. - Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum, conducted genetic and biochemical analysis on frogs that were thought to be a morph of Cruziohyla calcarifer. - His research, published in the journal Zootaxa, showed that individuals collected from Panama and northern South America are genetically distinct. - He named the new amphibian Sylvia’s Tree Frog, Cruziohyla sylviae, after his 3-year-old granddaughter.
The mystery of the sick turtles: Q&A with animal disease detectives Chrissy Cabay and Daniel Woodburn [07/30/2018]
- A puzzling shell disease is affecting western pond turtles, a species listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, in the state of Washington in the U.S. - Researchers from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium are investigating if disinfection practices that keep zoos clean could actually be removing good microbes that are beneficial for turtles, making them vulnerable to shell disease when they are released into the wild. - Other experts, from the University of Illinois’s Zoological Pathology Program, are trying to understand what causes the disease and how it spreads. So far, they have discovered a new species of fungus that appears to be associated with the lesions that are characteristic of the shell disease. - Mongabay spoke with Chrissy Cabay of Shedd Aquarium and Daniel B. Woodburn of the University of Illinois to find out more about their work.
Deforestation for rubber ramps up near UNESCO site in Cameroon [07/27/2018]
- A new report by Greenpeace Africa finds this future-plantation has grown by 2,300 hectares in one year between April 2017 and April 2018. In total, Greenpeace estimates around 10,050 hectares have been deforested since clearing began in 2011, and warns that 20,000 more hectares of rainforest are slated for clearing in the coming years. - The 45,000-hectare (450-square kilometer) concession is owned by China-owned Sud Cameroun Hévéa (Sudcam), and is located less than one kilometer from Dja Faunal Reserve. The reserve is inhabited by at least 107 mammal species, including critically endangered western lowland forest gorillas. The reserve is also home to the indigenous Baka people. - Watchdog and scientific organizations like Greenpeace Africa and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) warn rubber expansion threatens the integrity of Dja and the future of its wildlife. - According to the Greenpeace Africa report, Sudcam’s concession violates a number of
established rules and agreements, including the rubber sourcing policies of several companies that buy from it.
Fish find it harder to smell in acidic oceans, study finds [07/27/2018]
- Even tiny decreases in seawater pH (or increases in ocean acidity) are enough to weaken the European sea bass’s sense of smell, which it relies on to find food and mates and to evade predators, a new study has found. - In waters containing high carbon dioxide levels predicted for the end of the century, the sea bass had to be on average up to 42 percent closer to the source of the smell in order to detect it, compared to when they were exposed to waters containing present-day levels of carbon dioxide. - The researchers also found that in fish that were exposed to more acidic waters, the expression of genes for smell receptors in their nose was decreased.
10 of 11 black rhinos now dead after relocation attempt in Kenya takes tragic turn [07/26/2018]
- Last month, officials with the Kenya Wildlife Service attempted to move 11 endangered black rhinos from two national parks, Nairobi and Lake Nakuru, to a third, Tsavo East. Nine of them died shortly after arriving in their new home from what an autopsy has shown to be salt poisoning. - Today, the Kenyan government announced that a tenth rhino has died and that the eleventh — now the sole survivor of the translocation operation — was attacked by lions yesterday and is clinging to life. - The black rhinoceros is a Critically Endangered species, according to the IUCN Red List. Only about 5,500 individuals are believed to survive in the wild today, 750 of them in Kenya.
Global marine wilderness has dwindled to 13 percent, new map reveals [07/26/2018]
- New research examining the effects of 19 human stressors on the marine environment shows that only 13 percent of oceans can still be considered wilderness. - Of the remaining wilderness, much of which is located in the high seas and at the poles, less than 5 percent falls under protection, and climate change and advances in technology could threaten it. - The authors of the study call for international cooperation to protect the ocean’s wilderness areas, including a “Paris Agreement for the Ocean,” which they hope will be signed in 2020.
Why mangroves matter: Experts respond on International Mangrove Day [07/26/2018]
- July 26 is International Mangrove Day, dedicated to the unique forests that survive at the interface of land, river and sea. - Mangroves protect coastlines from storm surges, filter out pollutants, and are home to a wide array of diverse life. - However, mangroves have declined rapidly around the world, losing out to shrimp farms, tourist resorts, agricultural and urban land over the past decades. - What does the disappearance of this special forest ecosystem mean for our planet? Experts respond.
Videos: spectacled bear’s home in the dry forests of Peru revealed [07/26/2018]
- Laura, an Andean spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), is the first bear to wear a GPS collar in Peru’s Batán Grande Archaeological Complex, an ecosystem offers greater visibility than cloud forests, where the bears typically live. - Laura and about 50 other bears have been monitored for ten years by the Spectacled Bear Conservation Peru (SBC) after they were discovered in the unique Peruvian dry forest ecosystem. - Over an area of 15,000 hectares (over 37,000 acres), the SBC program uses camera traps, GPS collars and direct field observation to study the bears.
2700 scientists issue call to action on border wall wildlife threat [07/25/2018]
- A recently published study finds that more than 1,500 species stand to be affected by the completion of a border wall along the U.S. – Mexico border. - Overall, they found that a continuous border wall would disconnect more than 34 percent of native, nonflying U.S. species – 346 in total – from at least half of their range. Of these 346 species, 17 percent – including jaguars and ocelots – would have remnant U.S. populations covering less than 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), which the researchers write would elevate their risk of local extinction. - The authors say that to reduce risk to wildlife, the U.S. Congress should ensure that the DHS follows the scientific and legal framework of environmental protection laws such as the ESA and NEPA. They also implore the DHS to strengthen research and monitoring along the border, consider and mitigate environmental harm imposed on particularly sensitive ecosystems and species by wall construction, and train Border Patrol agents to be more sensitive to the presence of researchers. - As of press time, 2,723 scientists and 674 general supporters had signed the study in support.
Forest communities pay the price for conservation in Madagascar [07/25/2018]
- In a two-year investigation of a REDD+ pilot project, a team of researchers spoke with more than 450 households affected by the establishment of a large protected area called the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a 3,820-square-kilometer (1,475-square-mile) tract of rainforest in eastern Madagascar. - The REDD+ project, supported by Conservation International and the World Bank, was aimed at supporting communities by providing support for alternative livelihoods to those communities near the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor protected area. - They found that the REDD+ project’s preliminary studies identified less than half of those negatively affected by the Corridor’s designation. - The team also discovered that the value of the one-off compensation, in the form of support to pursue other livelihoods, fell far short of the opportunity costs that the communities are likely to face as a result of losing access to the forest in the coming decades.
Trump Admin unveils plan to weaken the US Endangered Species Act [07/24/2018]
- The Trump Administration has unveiled a plan to revise regulations that implement portions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), which conservationists say would cripple the law adopted in 1973 to protect imperiled species and critical habitat. - A proposal announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) last week would, for the first time ever, allow economic impacts to be considered when determining how to protect plant and animal species under the ESA. - Further components of the proposal would make it easier to delist an endangered species, impose “a non-exhaustive list of circumstances” in which the designation of critical habitat can be rejected because it “would not be prudent,” and change the parameters under which federal agencies are required to consult with the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries before taking any action that might impact a listed species or cause the “destruction or adverse modification” of habitat. - The ESA is credited with having been instrumental in the recovery of bald eagles, gray whales, grizzly bears, and a number of other species.
A warmer climate tinkers with Arctic spider’s choice of prey [07/24/2018]
- A team of researchers found that higher temperatures led Arctic wolf spiders to eat fewer insect-like springtails in study plots. - Springtails eat fungus, an essential decomposer in the Arctic ecosystem, so with more springtails around in the warmer study plots, there was less decomposition. - The scientists suggest that this change in prey preference could modulate the effects of a warming climate on the carbon that’s released from the thawing tundra.
Study finds elephants plant trees, play big role in forest structure [07/23/2018]
- Many large animals – collectively called “megafauna” – eat the fruit of Platymitra macrocarpa trees, including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), bears and gibbons. - When researchers examined the fruit consumption, seed dispersal, and seed germination trends of P macrocarpa, they discovered that elephants were responsible for the lion’s share of successful seedling germination – 37 percent – despite consuming only 3 percent of available fruit. - They also noticed a decline in P macrocarpa, which they say may be due to extirpated rhinos or reductions in local elephant populations. - They say their results highlight the important role large herbivores play in forest structure, and that losses of these animals might significantly change tree composition and even a forest’s ability to store carbon.
Peru: Marañón dry forests protected as a regional conservation area [07/20/2018]
- Peru has formalized the creation of the Regional Conservation Area of Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests of the Marañón through a Supreme Decree. - The new regional conservation area will ensure the conservation of a representative sample of this ecosystem, which is home to 143 plant species, 22 bird species and 14 reptile species that live nowhere else in the world. - A second Supreme Decree, passed on the same day, has formalized the creation of the Regional Conservation Area of the Vista Alegre Omia. These conservation areas are the first of their kind in the Amazonas region.
New species of shark named after pioneering ‘Shark Lady’ Eugenie Clark [07/20/2018]
- Scientists have just described a new species of shark from the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. - The new species was formally named Squalus clarkae or Genie’s Dogfish, in honor of the late marine biologist Eugenie Clark, best known for her pioneering work on sharks, which earned her the nickname of “Shark Lady.” - The newly described big-eyed shark belongs to the dogfish family, a group of small sharks that live primarily in deep waters and reproduce slowly.
Latam Eco Review: Ecuadoran court demands Chevron pay $9.5 billion in damages [07/20/2018]
Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about the legal victory of communities in Ecuador’s Amazon against Chevron; the animals in a dry forest on a private protected area in Peru; discoveries by camera traps in a jaguar refuge in Bolivia; the threat of extinction to the […]
DRC set to reclassify national parks for oil, open rainforest to logging [07/19/2018]
- An investigation by Greenpeace finds that since February, DRC’s environment ministry has handed over control of three logging concessions in Congo Basin rainforest to Chinese-owned logging companies. Two of these concessions are located in a massive peatland – the largest in the tropics – that was discovered last year. - Fourteen more concessions are expected to be awarded to companies in the coming months. - The DRC government is also reportedly planning to declassify large portions of Salonga and Virunga national parks to allow oil exploration. Virunga is one of the last bastions of critically endangered mountain gorillas. - These moves threaten a long-standing logging moratorium in the country, as well as forest protection agreements between the DRC and other countries.
Securing a future for Grevy’s zebras and the cultures of northern Kenya (commentary) [07/19/2018]
- Grevy’s zebras were once widespread across the Horn of Africa, but their numbers were decimated by poaching and civil unrest during the 1970s and 80s. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Grevy’s zebras remain worldwide today. - Habitat loss and competition with people and livestock for water and pasture pose a bigger threat than poaching to the species’ survival today. - Conservation initiatives devised and implemented at the grassroots level hold the key to the species’ future. Local efforts by the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) seek to promote sustainable grazing practices and employ local communities in monitoring zebra movements, thereby safeguarding both the area’s natural and cultural heritage. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Plant communities roar back after rat removal from Pacific islands [07/19/2018]
- In a multi-year study, scientists found that tree seedlings were more than 5,000 percent more abundant after rats were eradicated from Palmyra Atoll, a group of 25 small islands in the Pacific Ocean. - Invasive rats, brought by ships over the past few centuries, eat tree seedlings and vegetation, in addition to driving down seabird numbers. - Managers eradicated the islands’ rats in 2011, and within a month, seedling densities had increased.
Cross-border camera trap research puts wild Amur leopard number at 84 [07/19/2018]
- Scientists working in Russia and China have used camera traps to estimate that 84 Amur leopards remain in the wild. - Previous studies tracked the cats using their footprints in snow, but the camera trap photographs allowed the researchers to identify individual animals by their unique spot patterns. - The team found that 20 percent of the Amur leopards appeared on both sides of the border between China and Russia, highlighting the importance of cross-border collaboration.
How a better understanding of psychopathology in captive primates can aid in conservation efforts [07/18/2018]
- Maya Kummrow, a doctor of veterinary medicine, writes in a paper recently published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine that non-human primates have been used as models of human psychopathology — the study of mental illness — for decades. But, she notes, “the acquired knowledge has only hesitantly been applied to primates themselves.” - In the paper, Kummrow states that she is seeking to raise awareness among her fellow veterinarians about the wealth of information on NHP psychopathology that is available in human medicine and anthropology literature and calls for “mental health assessments and professionally structured treatment approaches” in NHP medicine, as well. - In this Q&A, Mongabay spoke with Kummrow about how her review of the literature on NHP psychopathology and treatment might apply to primate conservation efforts.
Pushing Vietnam’s shrimp industry toward sustainability [07/17/2018]
- Shrimp farming is one of the biggest industries in Vietnam, and the government is pushing to expand it, having announced plans last year to boost exports from $3 billion in 2016 to $10 billion by 2025. - But there are significant environmental problems associated with current farming methods, which contribute to deforestation, erosion, land subsidence and rising salinity levels that are threatening the stability of the entire Mekong region. - The Vietnamese government and a range of international development partners are working to improve the way the country farms shrimp, with an emphasis on small-scale operators. - However, the reality is that most farmers are reluctant to change.
New species of venomous snake discovered by accident in Australia [07/17/2018]
- While researching sea snakes in the mining town of Weipa in Australia’s remote Cape York Peninsula, a team of biologists chanced upon a black and white snake that’s new to science. - The venomous snake, now named Vermicella parscauda, belongs to a group of snakes called bandy bandies that live in burrows and feed on a specialized diet of blindsnakes. - So far, the team has found only six individuals of the new species in the Weipa area, a site with large-scale bauxite mining, which could suggest that the burrowing snake might be in trouble.
EU demand siphons illicit timber from Ukraine, investigation finds [07/17/2018]
- Corrupt management of Ukraine’s timber sector is supplying the EU with large amounts of wood from the country’s dense forests. - The London-based investigative nonprofit Earthsight found evidence that forestry officials have taken bribes to supply major European firms with Ukrainian wood that may have been harvested illegally. - Earthsight argues that EU-based companies are not carrying out the due diligence that the EU Timber Regulation requires when buying from “high-risk” sources of timber.
Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat [07/13/2018]
- Twenty-five of the world’s top environmental scientists have sent a letter to Indonesia’s president, seeking a halt to a planned hydroelectric dam in the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest species of great ape on Earth. - The scientists also slammed the Chinese government for funding the project as a part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, saying it has disregarded the environmental consequences of building and operating the dam. - The developers of the project have dismissed the criticism, saying they will enforce strong environmental safeguards to protect the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
Another Cecil? Secrecy surrounds June trophy lion hunt [07/13/2018]
- A U.S. trophy hunter baited and killed a male lion on June 7th in Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, a part of Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa. Suspicions are that the animal shot was Skye, a beloved lion in the region. - U.S. citizen Jared Whitworth allegedly paid nearly $80,000 for the hunt. Authorities say the animal killed wasn’t Skye, but have offered no proof. Skye hasn’t been seen since the day Whitworth made his kill, and one of the lion’s cubs was found dead, which often happens when other males take over a pride. - If the killed lion was Skye, this would be a breach of South African regulations, because the lion was too young to be legally hunted. Authorities also say that if it is confirmed that the lion was baited, that could violate South African laws. - In response, the U.S. Humane Society and Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to reject importation of the mystery lion’s body. In March, the Trump administration’s USFWS announced a new policy to consider African trophy import permits on a case-by-case basis.
Latam Eco Review: Spectacled bears in the spotlight [07/13/2018]
Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about camera traps providing new insights into the spectacled bear’s natural habitat in Peru, and in Ecuador both private and governmental initiatives which are successfully fighting to protect the dry forest ecosystem in the southern part of the country. The […]
Salamanders have ‘tricks up their sleeves’ for weathering climate change [07/12/2018]
- North America is the world’s salamander diversity hotspot, and the Appalachian Mountains are home to around 10 percent of all species. - Salamanders play a big role in forest ecosystems, both as predators and prey, as well as helping keep carbon in the ground. - Previous research found that global warming stands to make a large portion of the Appalachians unsuitable for salamanders by the end of the century. - But a new study reveals Appalachian salamanders may be better able to acclimate to warmer, drier conditions than previously believed.
Krill fishing companies pledge to protect key food of Antarctic animals [07/12/2018]
- A majority of krill fishing companies have announced their commitment to voluntarily stop harvesting the tiny crustaceans from vast areas of the Antarctic Peninsula, including around important breeding penguin colonies. - These companies are all members of the Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies (ARK), representing 85 percent of the krill fishing industry in the Antarctic. - The companies have also pledged to support the creation of a network of large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic, the details of which will be finalized by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at a conference in Australia later this year.
Species evolve more than twice as fast at poles as in tropics: study [07/12/2018]
- Considering the swarming biodiversity at the equator, and the lack of diversity near the poles, scientists have long assumed that species evolve more rapidly in warm waters. But a new study of the evolutionary development of 30,000 fish species has turned that idea on its head. - Biologists found that a fish species in the tropics split into a new species on average every 10 to 20 million years. But near the poles, that average rate is roughly every four million years – more than twice as fast. - The reason may be the far more extreme and less stable climatic conditions found near the poles. This results in more frequent extinctions, which clears out species diversity and empties ecological niches, setting the stage for the next new burst of species formation in other groups of organisms. - But if species form faster at the poles than in the tropics, why isn’t there greater biodiversity in the Arctic and Antarctic than at the equator? One possibility: while speciation is more rapid at the poles, extinctions may be more numerous too. But this still isn’t clear, and more research will be needed to find out.
Rhino poop gives villagers in India a conservation incentive [07/11/2018]
- Elrhino company uses the fiber from rhino dung, along with other locally available products, to produce high-end paper products. - The founders of the company aim to help preserve India’s greater one-horned rhinos by giving villagers a financial incentive to help protect the species. - The company employs local residents to collect rhino waste, to work in the paper factory, and to produce decorations for its paper products.
Coral reefs thrive next to rat-free islands, new study finds [07/11/2018]
- A team of ecologists examined the impacts that invasive rats on tropical islands have on coral reef ecosystems. - Because rats eat seabird eggs and young, they can decimate seabird populations. - With fewer seabirds depositing their guano on islands, coral reef ecosystems near rat-infested islands can’t support as much life. - The findings suggest that eradicating rats from tropical islands could be a straightforward way of bolstering the health of coral reefs.
Vietnam’s bear bile farms are collapsing — but it may not be good news [07/11/2018]
- Consumer interest in farmed bear bile seems to be declining in Vietnam, according to a new study, but this raises concerns for both captive and wild bears. - Farmers are now spending very little on food for the bears, for instance, and often kill the bears after seven to eight years of extensive bile extraction. - Moreover, bear farming appears to be less lucrative than illegal hunting of wild bears because of both high consumer demand for wild-sourced products and underresourced law enforcement, the authors write.
Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife [07/10/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can actually make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding the harassment of wildlife. - Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone pilot, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical that we have best practices for drones in place before we allow companies like Amazon and Uber to deploy fleets of drones in our skies. - “I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”
Tiger, clouded leopard skins among illegal wildlife parts seized in Malaysia [07/09/2018]
- Malaysian authorities have seized wildlife parts worth 500,000 ringgit ($124,000) during a raid in the town of Kuala Lipis, outside Taman Negara, the country’s oldest national park. - Officials also arrested six Vietnamese nationals — four men and two women — alleged to be part of a larger tiger-poaching gang. - The confiscated animal parts include two entire tiger pelts suspected to have come from critically endangered Malayan tigers. Each of those pelts is estimated to be worth 200,000 Ringgit ($50,000) on the black market.
Investigation reveals illegal trade cartels decimating vaquita porpoises [07/09/2018]
- An investigation has exposed new details of the illegal trade in the totoaba fish’s swim bladder. - Totoaba swim bladders are used in traditional medicine and can fetch thousands of dollars per kilogram in Chinese markets. - Illegal fishing for totoaba is the primary reason vaquita porpoises are headed toward extinction. - Elephant Action League’s investigation has identified the people involved and the routes they use to smuggle the bladders to buyers in China.
Ice-free passage for ships through the Arctic could cause problems for marine mammals [07/09/2018]
- A new study suggests that increased ship traffic in the Arctic, as ice there melts due to climate change, could disturb marine mammal species. - In their assessment of 80 subpopulations living along the Northwest Passage and Russia’s Northern Sea Route, 42 are likely to be affected by a greater number of commercial ships, researchers found. - The team suggests that mitigation measures, such as those employed in other parts of the world to protect North Atlantic right whales, could be effective.
Latam Eco Review: Five newly described snakes named by auction in Ecuador [07/06/2018]
Among the top stories published by our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were features about five newly described snake species being named by auction in Ecuador, and news that Bolivia’s Madidi Park could possibly be the most biodiverse park on Earth. The banner image above shows one of the newly described snakes, a Bob […]
And then there were 12: Why don’t we hear about extinction until it’s too late? (commentary) [07/06/2018]
- Species threatened with extinction often don’t get the public’s attention until they no longer exist. - The author, zoologist Sam Turvey, argues that more attention to these critical cases is required. - Ahead of International Save the Vaquita Day on July 7, Turvey points out that the world’s most endangered marine mammal is dangerously close to extinction, and it’s not alone. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Scientists reveal yet another reason fig trees are titans of biodiversity [07/06/2018]
- Biologist David Mackay got a surprise when he began studying the birds visiting fig trees in his native Australia: While he expected to see plenty of species coming to eat the figs, he didn’t expect the insect eaters to outnumber them two-to-one. - Mackay already knew that figs feed more bird species than any other fruit. His research, published in June, would show that fig trees are disproportionately important for insect-eaters, too. It adds to growing evidence that fig trees are titans of biodiversity with important roles to play in conservation. - Altogether, Mackay recorded 55 bird species visiting Ficus rubiginosa fig trees to feed on insects. They included ten species — such as the superb fairy-wren and the shining bronze-cuckoo —whose recent declines in numbers have concerned conservationists.
Orangutan found shot, hacked at palm plantation with history of deaths [07/05/2018]
- An orangutan previously captured from an oil palm plantation in Borneo and released into a nearby national park has been found dead inside the plantation, with extensive bullet and knife wounds. - The killing is the third being investigated this year, and the fifth recorded at the plantation in question, run by a subsidiary of palm oil giant Best Agro Plantation, since September 2015. - The company says it has made efforts to protect the wildlife entering its plantation, but declined to answer questions about the string of orangutan deaths. - Warning: Some photos may be disturbing or graphic.
Two suspected poachers arrested for killing of Sumatran elephant [07/05/2018]
- Indonesian authorities have arrested two of four suspects alleged to have killed a rare Sumatran elephant and hacked off one of its tusks. - The arrest took place about a month after the elephant was found dead in the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra’s Aceh province. News of the killing garnered widespread attention and calls to solve the case. - There are only an estimated 2,400 Sumatran elephants left in the wild, scattered across 25 fragmented habitats on the island.
Lab-grown embryos raise hope of saving near-extinct rhino [07/05/2018]
- For the first time ever, scientists have successfully used IVF techniques to combine sperm from the near-extinct northern white rhino with eggs from the more abundant southern white rhino to create viable hybrid embryos. - The researchers hope to implant the embryos into surrogate female southern white rhinos to produce hybrid baby rhinos that can then ensure that at least some of the northern white rhino DNA is preserved. - Such IVF techniques can also be used to rescue populations of other endangered rhino species, such as the Sumatran rhino, researchers say. - But other experts say that while the science is promising, the underlying threat to the survival of all rhino species remains the insatiable demand for the animals’ horns.
Fingerprinting technology gives investigators an edge against pangolin traffickers [07/04/2018]
- Researchers in the U.K. have modified the gelatin lifters used in criminal forensic investigations so they can pick up clues from pangolin scales and other illegally traded wildlife body parts. - Wildlife guards in Kenya and Cameroon are using packs of the gelatin lifters in the field to gather evidence. - The researchers say this new technology allows wildlife conservation officials to collect this evidence more quickly in remote areas, which in turn helps to ensure their safety.
Global frog pandemic may become even deadlier as strains combine [07/03/2018]
- Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis – Bd for short – causes a disease called chytridiomycosis that affects a frog’s ability to absorb water and electrolytes through its skin. By 2007, Bd had spread around the world and had been implicated in the decline or extinction of some 200 species. - A new study finds that hybridization between a native strain of Bd and the one that’s caused the global pandemic can lead to greater infection rates and illness strength than either can alone. - It was conducted by researchers from universities in Brazil and the U.S. who looked at infection in several frog species in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. They chose that region because of its high amphibian biodiversity (despite being one of the most deforested ecosystems on the planet), as well as because it is the only known region in the world where multiple strains of Bd coexist and hybridize. - The researchers say their results indicate frogs may face a future even more dire than anticipated as different strains of Bd spread around the world and combine into more harmful forms. They call for increasing global monitoring efforts to detect these shifts before they lead to new outbreaks.
Rare nursery for baby manta rays discovered in Gulf of Mexico [07/03/2018]
- Adult giant manta rays can be seen in subtropical and tropical waters around the world, but baby and juvenile mantas are rarely encountered. - So when marine biologist Joshua Stewart saw several baby and juvenile mantas at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off Texas and Louisiana, he was surprised. - By looking through 25 years of dive data from the sanctuary, including photographs of manta rays, Stewart and his team confirmed that the sanctuary was a nursery ground for the mantas.
Leprosy prevalent among Amazon’s armadillos, study finds [06/29/2018]
- Researchers have found a high prevalence of leprosy among nine-banded armadillos in Brazil’s western state of Pará. - They also surveyed 146 people in the region and found that people who ate armadillos more than once a month showed higher signs of exposure to leprosy infection compared to people who consumed armadillos less frequently or not at all. - Overall, the study found that frequently handling armadillos, such as hunting or cleaning or cooking armadillo meat, puts people at higher risk of getting infected with leprosy.
Latam Eco Review: Chocolate as a conservation strategy [06/29/2018]
The most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 18- 24 include features in honor of Colombia’s World Cup team (Humboldt Institute created “Colombian Biodiversity Team” cards profiling the country’s most iconic wildlife) and in other news, Peruvian farmers in a region once dominated by narcotrafficking now seek […]
‘Urban Raptors’: Q&A with authors of book on ecology and conservation of city-dwelling birds of prey [06/29/2018]
- Nest cameras have been set up in cities across the United States to give viewers an intimate look into the nesting activities of urban-dwelling birds of prey like eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. These raptors represent a rare instance of wildlife thriving amidst the hustle and bustle of areas densely populated by mankind. - Raptor researchers Clint W. Boal and Cheryl Dykstra are co-authors of Urban Raptors: Ecology and Conservation of Birds of Prey in Cities, a new book that explores the science of how these birds of prey have adapted to city life and what humans can do to support them. - Mongabay spoke with Boal and Dykstra about the urban raptor species discussed in the book, what kinds of unique threats the birds of prey face in cities, and how important these urban populations are to overall raptor conservation.
After logging, activists hope to extend protections for Bialowieza Forest [06/28/2018]
- Bialoweiza Forest straddles Poland and Belarus and is Europe’s largest remaining lowland old growth forest, home to wildlife that has disappeared from much of the rest of Europe. In March 2016, the government approved a plan to triple industrial logging in Poland’s Bialoweiza forest. The government argued it was the only way to combat a spruce bark beetle outbreak, but environmentalists believed that was largely an excuse to give access to the state-run logging regime. - According to watchdog organizations, loggers cut 190,000 cubic meters of wood in 2017. This amounts to around 160,000-180,000 trees and affects an area of about 1,900 hectares. It also represents the most trees cut in the forest in any one year since 1987 when Poland was under a communist government. - In May 2018, Europe’s highest court ruled the logging illegal, noting that the government’s own documents showed that logging was a bigger threat than the beetles, which are a part of natural, cyclical process that is likely exacerbated by climate change. Poland, threatened with high fines, backed down—and the logging stopped. - Activists and environmentalists are calling for expanding national park status – which currently applies to just a small portion of Poland’s portion of the forest – over its entirety. But they worry a government panel of experts will once again push to open Bialoweiza to logging.
In its fight against rhino poachers, India lets the dogs out [06/28/2018]
- Since 2011, two dog squads have been deployed to help protect the greater one-horned rhinos of India’s Assam state. - Together, the squads are credited with assisting in more than 46 arrests. - Both the dogs and their handlers go through intensive training to develop and maintain their skills and the crucial bond that allows them to work as a team.
Belize Barrier Reef gets UNESCO upgrade [06/28/2018]
- UNESCO has announced that the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which it added to the World Heritage List in 1996, has been removed from its list of ‘sites in danger.’ - The system’s seven sites are a significant habitat for threatened species, including sea turtles, manatees, and marine crocodiles. - The area is also a popular tourist destination and global hotspot for diving. - The site was added to UNESCO’s list of sites in danger in 2009 due to the destruction of mangrove forests and marine ecosystems, the looming threat of offshore oil extraction, and unsustainable coastal development.
The plastic crisis sinks to a new low in the deep sea [06/28/2018]
- Plastic water bottles and snack-food packaging can be found in the deepest parts of the oceans, a new study has found. - By poring over the three decades of deep-sea videos, researchers have found that fragments of plastic made up one-third of the debris, of which, 89 percent were single-use items such as plastic bags and water bottles. - However, how all that plastic reaches the deep sea and affects deep sea creatures is still unclear.
Rwandan people and mountain gorillas face changing climate together [06/27/2018]
- The Critically Endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), has been brought back from extinction’s brink in Rwanda, with numbers in the Virunga Mountains around Volcanoes National Park estimated at 604 individuals in 2016, up from 480 in 2010. But long-time observers say climate change is bringing new survival challenges to the area. - Longer and deeper droughts in recent years have caused serious water shortages, which impact both local farmers and the mountain gorillas. People now must often go deep into the park to find clean water, which increases the likelihood of contact with the great apes, which increases the likelihood for the transfer of human diseases to the animals. - Hotter temps and dryer conditions could also pressure farmers to move into gorilla habitat in future, as they seek more productive cropland at higher altitudes. Also, as the climate changes, bamboo availability may be decreasing, depriving gorillas of a favorite food. This could force troops to forage outside the park in croplands, possibly leading to conflict. - Forced changes in diet could impact gorilla nutrition, making the great apes more susceptible to disease. A major disease outbreak could be disastrous due to low population numbers. Scientists urge more research to understand how climate change affects human behavior, which then affects gorillas, and how the fate of the two primates intertwines.
Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone [06/27/2018]
- The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil. - The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country. - Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution. - Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.
Logging roads drive loss of intact forest in FSC-certified logging concessions [06/27/2018]
- Logging roads in Central Africa cause greater loss of intact forest landscapes, or IFLs, on certified timber concessions compared to non-certified concessions, an analysis shows. - Certified timber companies typically build more robust road networks that are more apt to show up on satellite imagery than non-certified companies. - The findings highlight an apparent contradiction between certification for logging and the protection of IFLs, leading some critics to argue that IFL protection should not be part of the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.
Audio: The dialogue between science and indigenous knowledge [06/26/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss traditional indigenous knowledge and climate change with Snowchange Cooperative director Tero Mustonen. - Through Snowchange, which is based in Finland, Mustonen works with indigenous communities around the world on projects related to climate change. He will also be one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next assessment report, due out in the early 2020s. We were interested to hear how Mustonen thinks traditional indigenous knowledge can inform climate science. - We also speak with Mustonen about Snowchange’s work with indigenous communities, from ecological restoration to solar initiatives, the latter of which are specifically designed to empower women in remote indigenous communities.
For Madagascar’s park managers, the science literature is out of reach [06/26/2018]
- The park directors and conservation managers responsible for managing Madagascar’s protected areas tend not to rely on scientific research to make on-the-ground decisions, opting instead for experience and advice from others, a new study has found. - Several managers, for instance, felt there was “limited research of relevance to them and their needs.” - Others complained that even when relevant research was carried out, researchers often did not share the results with them. - Overall, Madagascar’s protected area managers need better access to research, and more relevant research, to help them manage the country’s parks more efficiently and effectively, the study’s authors write.
Latam Eco Review: Ports imperil Colombian crocodiles [06/23/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of June 11 – 17. Among the top articles: Port projects in northern Colombia threaten the mangrove habitats of American crocodiles. In other news, the Waorani people of Ecuador use camera traps to record an astonishing diversity […]
Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction (commentary) [06/22/2018]
- The sheer scale of the logging operations in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park makes it a wonder that there’s anything left of the forest, especially as the timber just keeps flowing into Vietnam unabated. In fact, Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. - Yet there is still plenty of wildlife, at least in Virachey National Park, where I have been part of a team that has been conducting a wildlife survey for four years now. - All hope could well be lost — man/progress must be served. But are the nails firmly placed in the biodiversity coffin and awaiting final pounding? Perhaps not. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Coral reef ‘oases’ that thrive amid threats give hope for conservation [06/22/2018]
- Scientists have identified 38 coral reef “oases” in the Pacific and western Atlantic that have either “escaped,” “resisted” or “rebounded” from declines in coral cover, even as neighboring reefs have not. - While these success stories do not discount reports that many coral reefs across the world are under grave threat, they do offer examples of places where corals are doing better, or not as bad, as coral communities elsewhere, scientists say in a new study. - The researchers are hopeful that the framework they’ve developed to identify the coral reef oases will be helpful in pinpointing oases across other ecosystems as well.
New ‘goblin spiders’ from Sri Lanka named after Enid Blyton characters [06/22/2018]
- Scientists have discovered nine new species of “goblin spiders” in Sri Lanka, of which they’ve named six after popular goblin characters from Enid Blyton’s children’s books. - Two of the nine newly described species belong to genera (Cavisternum and Grymeus) that have never been recorded outside of Australia before. - Most of the newly described goblin spider species seem to occur only in a few sites, or just a single forest patch, and may all be critically endangered, the authors of the study think.
As Colombia expands its palm oil sector, scientists worry about wildlife [06/21/2018]
- Colombia’s aims to overtake Thailand to become the world’s third largest supplier of palm oil, a popular plant-based oil used in many products around the world. - Studies have shown that oil palm plantations provide poor habitat for wildlife, supporting a fraction of the species as neighboring forest. - Researchers say Colombia’s palm oil expansion could have minimal impacts on the country’s biodiversity if it takes places on already-degraded land, such as cattle pasture. They caution that development should not happen in areas that provide habitat for threatened species, or regions that are ecologically important. They say smaller plantations will have less of an impact, and recommend planting understory vegetation. - Biologists are also concerned the most common species of oil palm, called African oil palm, could hybridize with native palm plants and degrade the species’ genetic integrity.
Warmer sea surface temperatures imperil the survival of juvenile albatross: Study [06/21/2018]
- New research finds that increased sea surface temperatures can affect the survival of juvenile albatross during their first year at sea and lead to reduced population growth rates. - Ecologists in the US and France examined how climate change and functional traits — attributes like body size and foraging habits that define a species’ role in the broader ecosystem — impact population dynamics of the black‐browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) by studying 200 breeding pairs of the long‐lived, migratory seabirds at Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean. - Changes in sea surface temperature during the breeding season were found to have little impact on black-browed albatross population growth rates, but higher sea surface temperatures in late winter did have a significant impact because of their effect on the survival of juveniles, according to the study.
Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students [06/21/2018]
- A forest school in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, funded by the Vienna-based animal welfare organization Four Paws and run by the local organization Jejak Pulang, has just started training its first eight orangutan orphans to learn the skills they need to live independently in the forest. - Borneo’s orangutans are in crisis, with more than 100,000 lost since 1999 through direct killings and loss of habitat, particularly to oil palm and pulpwood plantations. - Security forces often confiscate juvenile orangutans under 7 years of age, and without their mothers to teach them the skills they need, they cannot be released back into the forest. - Jejak Pulang’s team of 15 orangutan caretakers, a biologist, two veterinarians and the center’s director aim to prepare the orphaned orangutans for independence.
Amber deposits yield oldest evidence of frogs in wet, tropical forests [06/20/2018]
- Scientists have found the oldest frog fossils known to have been preserved in amber, from deposits in northern Myanmar. - These fossils, together with other fossils of mosses and bamboo-like plants recovered from the same amber deposits, provide the first definitive evidence that the amber-trapped frogs lived in wet, tropical forests alongside dinosaurs some 99 million years ago, researchers say. - One of the four frogs, which was trapped in sap alongside an unidentified beetle, has a nearly intact skeleton, and has been described as a new, extinct species, Electrorana limoae.
Puan, the world’s oldest Sumatran orangutan, dies at 62 [06/20/2018]
- Puan, the world’s oldest living Sumatran orangutan, was euthanized on June 18 at Perth Zoo in Australia due to age-related complications. - Her death left an incredible legacy of 11 children and a total of 54 descendants across the world, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the global Sumatran orangutan zoo population. - Due to her genetic legacy, Puan played a vital role in ensuring the survival of the species, which has been categorized as critically endangered.
Animals are becoming night owls to avoid humans [06/19/2018]
- By analyzing 76 studies and activity patterns of 62 mammal species, including bears, deer, coyotes and tigers, researchers have found that large mammals are 1.36 times more active at night in areas with high human presence compared to areas with low human presence. - These results seemed to be consistent across species and continents. - Animals seem to be becoming more nocturnal not only to avoid direct threats like hunting, but to avoid even recreational human activities like hiking and mountain biking.
One tortoise at a time: Q&A with zoo veterinarian Justin Rosenberg [06/19/2018]
- In April, authorities discovered around 10,000 radiated tortoises, believed to be destined for the Asian pet trade, in an abandoned house in southwestern Madagascar. - The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) took the animals to its rescue center in Ifaty, and soon, veterinarians and keepers from around the world began traveling to Madagascar to help the animals. - Currently, between 9,000 and 10,000 tortoises are alive, with around 100 still in need of critical care. - Mongabay spoke with a veterinarian who spent several weeks at TSA’s facility about the ongoing efforts.
Oil palm plantations in Amazonia inhospitable to tropical forest biodiversity: Study [06/18/2018]
- According to a study published in the journal PloS One late last year, the Brazilian Amazon has about 2.3 million square kilometers (nearly 900,000 square miles) of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, making it one of the largest areas in the world for potential expansion of the palm oil industry. - Researchers investigated the responses of tropical forest mammals to living in a landscape made up of a mosaic of 39,000 hectares (more than 96,000 acres) of mature oil palm plantations and 64,000 hectares (a little over 158,000 acres) of primary Eastern Amazon forest patches in the Brazilian state of Pará. - They write in the study that their results in the Amazon “clearly” reinforce “the notion that oil palm plantations can be extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, as has been shown in more traditional oil palm countries in South-East Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.”
Latam Eco Review: Paddington Bear Captured on Camera in Peru [06/15/2018]
Among the top articles from our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 4 – 10 was one about a golden spectacled bear named after Paddington Bear that was caught by a camera trap for the first time in Peru. In other news, the debate on hydroelectric plants intensifies in Colombia, and […]
Footage of elusive Negros bleeding-heart dove captured in the wild [06/15/2018]
- New footage of one of one of the most elusive birds in the world — the critically endangered Negros bleeding heart dove — has been released. - A team with the Bristol Zoological Society, a UK-based conservation and education NGO, spent five days searching for the bird in the forests of the Philippines’ Panay Island in order to capture a video of the rarely seen species in the wild. - The Negros bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba keayi) is a medium-sized, ground-dwelling species of pigeon endemic to the Philippine islands of Negros and Panay. There are perhaps as few as 70 and no more than 400 individuals of the species left on the two islands it calls home, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Scientists find new snail-eating snakes, auction naming rights to save them [06/15/2018]
- An expedition in Ecuador has uncovered five new species of snail-eating snakes. - Four out of the five species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. - The researchers who conducted the expedition auctioned off their naming rights and used the funds to purchase and protect an area of forest where two of the most threatened new species are known to live.
Primate-rich countries are becoming less hospitable places for monkeys, apes and lemurs [06/15/2018]
- New research shows that many of the 65 percent of the world’s primate species found in four countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face the threat of extinction. - The scientists involved in the study used maps of primate ranges and information on the threats they face to predict what might happen to the animals through the end of the 21st century. - They found that increases in the amount of land turned over for human food production could cause the primate habitats to shrink substantially in these countries. - However, the team also found that intensive conservation measures could dramatically reduce the loss of primate habitat by 2100 and potentially avert the mass extinction of these species.
The diversity of biodiversity: Connecting shrews, ants and slime molds with carbon storage [06/14/2018]
- Research has shown that, in some cases, high-carbon forests support high levels of biodiversity. - But a recent study, which looked at a wide variety of species groups, demonstrates that regrowth forests can support a greater number of representatives of some species groups. - The findings support the conclusion that recovering forests should be included in conservation planning alongside old-growth forests.
Renowned wildlife conservationist Russell Mittermeier awarded 2018 Indianapolis Prize [06/13/2018]
- Mittermeier, a primatologist, herpetologist, and highly accomplished conservationist, is the seventh recipient of the prestigious prize, which has been awarded by the Indianapolis Zoological Society along with $250,000 in prize money every two years since 2006 to “the most successful animal conservationist in the world.” - He spent 11 years at WWF–U.S. before becoming president of Conservation International (CI) in 1989. It was while he was at CI that Mittermeier first heard of the concept of “biodiversity hotspots” — a concept he would go on to popularize and utilize to achieve a number of conservation successes. - “Russ Mittermeier is a consummate scientist, a visionary leader, a deft policy advocate and an inspiring mentor to many,” Michael Crowther, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, said in a statement. “Perhaps most important, he is a consistent winner in the battles for species and ecosystem survival.”
Shark fisheries hunting dolphins, other marine mammals as bait: Study [06/13/2018]
- Global shark fisheries have for decades engaged in the deliberate catch of dolphins, seals and other marine mammals to use as bait for sharks, a new study has found. - The researchers found the practice picked up when prices for shark fin, a prized delicacy in Chinese cuisine, went up from the late 1990s onward. - The researchers have warned that the targeting of these species could hit unsustainable levels, and have called for more studies into the species in question as well as better enforcement of existing law protecting marine mammals.
Hunting, fishing causing dramatic decline in Amazon river dolphins [06/13/2018]
- Both species of Amazon river dolphin appear to be in deep decline, according to a recent study. Boto (Inia geoffrensis) populations fell by 94 percent and Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) numbers fell by 97 percent in the Mamirauá Reserve in Amazonas state, Brazil between 1994 and 2017, according to researchers. - Difficult to detect in the Amazon’s murky waters, both species are listed as “Data Deficient” by the IUCN. But researchers maintain that if region-wide surveys were conducted both species would end up being listed as Critically Endangered. - The team noticed scars from harpoon and machete injuries on the dolphins they caught. Interviews with fishermen confirmed the team’s suspicions: dolphins were being hunted for use as bait. The mammals also get entangled in nets and other fishing gear, are hunted as food, eliminated as pests, and suffer mercury poisoning. - Researchers believe the passage and enforcement of new conservation laws could save Amazon river dolphins, and halt their plunge toward extinction. But a lack of political will, drastic draconian cuts to the Brazilian environmental ministry budget, and continued illegal dolphin hunting and fishing make action unlikely for now.
Audio: How soundscapes are helping us better understand animal behavior and landscape ecology [06/12/2018]
- On today’s episode, we take a look at soundscape phenology and the emerging role it’s playing in the study of animal behavior and landscape ecology. - The Mongabay Newscast previously looked at how soundscapes are being used in phenological studies when we talked about the great Sandhill crane migration on the Platte River in the US state of Nebraska. Today, we take a deeper dive into soundscape phenology with researcher Anne Axel, a landscape ecologist and professor at Marshall University in the US state of West Virginia. - Axel tells us all about this new field of study and plays a few of the recordings that have informed her research in this Field Notes segment.
Poachers blamed in second Sumatran elephant death this year [06/11/2018]
- Forest rangers in northern Sumatra have found one of their patrol elephants dead and missing a tusk inside a protected forest. - Authorities have cited poisoning by poachers as the cause of death, making it the second such poaching-related elephant killing in Sumatra this year. - The local conservation agency has called on law enforcers to bring the perpetrators to justice, but past cases suggest this will be slow in coming.
Online pet trade in Southeast Asia poses a major new threat to otters [06/08/2018]
- Poaching of otters, especially juveniles, for the online pet trade is so widespread in Southeast Asia that it has emerged as a major new threat to the survival of Asia’s otter species. - A report from the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC and the IUCN Otter Specialist Group released today details the results of a two-year investigation that uncovered hundreds of otters for sale on Facebook and other online platforms. Sales of juvenile otters were especially prominent: over 70 percent of the animals found for sale online were under one year old, according to the report. - The report identified a lack of strong national legislation to protect these species in many of their range countries as a major reason the illegal exploitation of otters has been able to flourish online.
New technology leads to the arrest of eight people suspected of trafficking wildlife parts [06/07/2018]
- Eight men, including three government officials, all from African countries, have been arrested for allegedly trafficking wildlife body parts to Southeast Asia. - Officers from the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, based in Nairobi, Kenya, used data analytics software to track down the alleged smugglers, who were arrested in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo in May. - The investigation linked the accused to shipments of pangolin scales and elephant tusks seized in Southeast Asia.
Illegal logging persists in Borneo orangutan habitat despite government ban [06/07/2018]
- Illegal logging continues inside an orangutan habitat in Borneo that the Indonesian government had decreed off-limits last year, an investigation by Greenpeace has found. - The group reported at least six logging camps in the concession held by a timber company, but noted that it was unclear whether the company itself, PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK), was engaged in the illegal logging. - This is the second time Greenpeace has found indications of commercial exploitation in the area since the government ordered PT MPK to halt its operations last year.
East Africa’s mountain gorilla population now numbers more than 1,000 [06/05/2018]
- According to the results of a census released last week, the mountain gorilla population in East Africa’s Virunga Mountains numbered 604 as of June 2016, up from from 480 in 2010. The population hit an all-time low of 242 individuals in 1981. - The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla with two distinct sub-populations: one in the Virunga Mountains and another in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. A census conducted in 2011 found approximately 400 gorillas living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, meaning that the total number of mountain gorillas is now believed to be more than 1,000 individuals. - Conservationists were quick to celebrate the increasing mountain gorilla population as a much-needed instance of good news, even if they remain wary of the many persistent and looming threats the subspecies must still contend with.
Owner of South African hunting company indicted by US prosecutors over illegal elephant hunt [06/04/2018]
- The owner of a trophy hunting business in South Africa has been indicted by prosecutors with the United States Department of Justice for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. - Prosecutors in the US state of Colorado have alleged that Hanno van Rensburg, a South African national and owner of Authentic African Adventures, led an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park in 2015 and bribed Zimbabwean government officials with somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000 to look the other way. Van Rensburg is also accused of conspiring with a member of the hunting party from Colorado to illegally export elephant ivory to the US by falsifying documents to claim that the hunter was a South African resident and did not shoot the elephant inside the national park. - While prosecutors did not name the Colorado hunter with whom van Rensburg conspired to illegally export the elephant trophies, he has been identified as Paul Ross Jackson of Evergreen, Colorado. Jackson, a former vice president of the Dallas Safari Club, pleaded guilty in April to violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act in connection to the same hunt.
Death by hippo poop: Scientists solve a fish massacre in the Mara River [05/30/2018]
- In the Mara River in Kenya, an overload of hippo feces can deplete the oxygen in the river water, resulting in mass fish die-offs downstream, a new study has found. - Hippo pools are not just oxygen-poor, but also full of ammonium, hydrogen sulfide, methane and carbon dioxide — byproducts of microbial metabolism, some of which are potentially toxic to fish, the researchers say. - When it rains heavily, the feces-laden, oxygen-poor water from the hippo pools gets flushed downstream, causing fish deaths. - These frequent fish-kill events provide a great resource for the scavenger community in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, and have likely shaped The Mara River’s ecosystem, scientists say.
Audio: Mexico’s ejidos find sustainability by including women and youth [05/30/2018]
- On today’s episode, a special report on the community-based conservation and agroforestry operations known as ejidos in Mexico. - Mongabay Newscast host Mike Gaworecki traveled to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in February to visit several ejidos in the states of Quintana Roo and Campeche. Ejidos are lands that are communally owned and operated as agroforestry operations, and they’ve proven to be effective at conserving forests while creating economic opportunities for the local rural communities who live and work on the land. - But ejidos have also faced a threat to their own survival over the past decade, as younger generations, seeing no place for themselves in the fairly rigid structure of ejido governance, have moved out of the communities in large numbers. At the same time, the lack of inclusion of women in the official decision-making bodies, known as ejidatario assemblies, has also posed a challenge.
Bolivia’s Madidi National Park home to world’s largest array of land life, survey finds [05/30/2018]
- A two-and-a-half-year biological survey of Madidi National Park in Bolivia added 1,382 species and subspecies of plants and animals to the list of those living in the park. - The team believes that 124 species and subspecies may be new to science. - WCS, the organization that led the study, said the 18,958-square-kilometer (7,320-square-mile) park is the world’s most biodiverse protected area.
There may be hope for the extremely rare ‘sneezing monkey,’ report finds [05/29/2018]
- In a new report, researchers have confirmed the presence of five subpopulations of the extremely rare Myanmar snub-nosed monkey: three in Myanmar and two in China. - Logging, proposed hydropower projects, road construction and hunting continue to threaten the species. - However, the creation of two new protected areas to safeguard the monkeys’ habitat, one each in Myanmar and China, as well as improved cross-border collaboration between the two countries is helping reduce the risk of extinction for the species, researchers say.
Geneticists: It’s time to mix the Sumatran rhino subspecies [05/29/2018]
- The Sumatran rhino populations living in Borneo and Sumatra have been genetically separated for hundreds of thousands of years. - The species as a whole has no more than 100 living individuals in the wild, and perhaps as few as 30. Another nine are in captivity. - In a recent study of Sumatran rhinos’ mitochondrial DNA, geneticists argue it’s time to combine the subspecies, despite the potential risks and drawbacks. - The question is given extra urgency with plans afoot to capture a female rhino in Indonesian Borneo.
Mining, erosion threaten Indian rhino haven [05/28/2018]
- India’s Kaziranga National Park, home to the world’s largest population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, is under great risk of losing its connectivity with the larger Karbi Anglong landscape due to mining, quarrying and river erosion, a new report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has warned. - The NTCA report and directive comes in response to a complaint filed by activist Rohit Choudhury alleging significant environmental degradation and habitat destruction in the foothills of Karbi Anglong, a prime elephant habitat during the flood season. - Illegal mining and stone crushing aside, the NTCA report highlighted river erosion as a “natural threat” to Kaziranga. But experts caution that erosion is a natural part of Kaziranga’s flood-plain ecology, and isn’t necessarily bad.
Biomass study finds people are wiping out wild mammals [05/28/2018]
- A team of scientists mined previous studies for estimates of the total mass of carbon found in each group of organisms on Earth as a way to measure relative biomass. - Plants house some 450 gigatons of the 550 gigatons — or about 80 percent — of the carbon found in all of Earth’s life-forms, the team found, and bacteria account for another 15 percent. - Humans represent just a hundredth of a percent of the Earth’s biomass, but we’ve driven down the biomass of land animals by 85 percent and marine mammals by about 80 percent since the beginning of the last major extinction about 50,000 years ago.
Palm oil certification? No silver bullet, but essential for sustainability (commentary) [05/25/2018]
- We need a global standard on what constitutes sustainable palm oil and a common system to implement it. Arriving at this consensus requires a convening body to connect every link in the palm oil supply chain, across different countries and jurisdictions. - A recent report from Changing Markets Foundation, released with additional comments by NGOs such as FERN, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Mighty Earth, and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, criticizes the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and proposes that certification standards are — as stated by the same NGOs — ‘holding back the progressive reform of the sector’ and may even be causing ‘active damage.’ - This report disregards some of the important realities in the industry and on the ground, and fails to offer practical solutions. Simply bashing certification because of its imperfections puts the advances made at risk, instead of helping develop standards and synergies that facilitate compliance across the global palm oil supply chain. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Guardians of India’s rhinos find it takes a village to fight poachers [05/24/2018]
- Adjacent to an international border and with roads, a rail line and tea plantations within its boundaries, India’s Jaldapara National Park — home to more than 200 rhinos — is particularly vulnerable to poaching. - The forest department works closely with local residents to protect rhinos, and 40 percent of tourist revenues are earmarked to support community projects. - Forest department strategies range from rehabilitation of confessed poachers to joint exercises with the police and border patrol.
Chinese giant salamander is at least five species — all nearly extinct [05/24/2018]
- Scientists who spent four years surveying the Chinese giant salamander’s preferred river habitats across 97 counties in China spotted only 24 individuals at four sites. - None of the 24 individuals were “pure natural forms,” the researchers found, and were likely farm releases or escapees. - The Chinese giant salamander also represents not one but at least five different species-level lineages. However, the large extent of hybridization in these animals through farming could mean that these distinct lineages are already functionally extinct.
Making the most of conservation science (commentary) [05/23/2018]
- Increasing numbers of scientific papers on conservation are published every year, but for many people these remain inaccessible behind paywalls, difficult to locate in a vast ocean of research, or time-consuming to read. - There are increasing attempts to bring the evidence for particular questions together in digestible formats, such as systematic reviews or Mongabay’s Conservation Effectiveness series. One such enterprise is the Conservation Evidence project, which assesses the evidence for the effectiveness of conservation interventions. - A new edition of the book ‘What Works in Conservation,’ produced by Conservation Evidence, is available and free to download. This book helps us to see which conservation interventions have been shown to work, which have been shown not to work, and where we need more evidence. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests [05/23/2018]
- According to a new study, Ghana is losing hornbill species to “uncontrolled” hunting, mostly for meat, from its forested parks and reserves. - The researchers found that the five largest species of hornbills in the Bia Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have disappeared in recent decades. - The authors of the paper suggest that increased enforcement will help protect threatened hornbills, as well as other wildlife species, in areas under intense pressure from humans.
Trio of studies challenges Indian government claim of increasing forest cover [05/23/2018]
- Three studies published over the past seven months show that forest cover in India is declining, contrary to findings from the latest Forest Survey of India report. - One study found 16 to 30 percent forest loss in the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, while another study found that the Eastern Ghats lost nearly 16 percent of their forest area between 1920 and 2015. - The third study, which analyzed patterns of forest cover across India from 2001 to 2014, found “significant negative changes” in the seasonal green cover, with the highest decline recorded in tropical moist deciduous forests.
Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood [05/22/2018]
- According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region. - According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.” - Increasing deforestation is not the only threat posed by opening new areas to roads. “These growing road networks provide accessibility for other forms of resource exploitation,” Hughes notes in the study. “Most notably this includes selective logging, and hunting, which in the Indo-Malay region also targets a vast suite of species as pets, medicine and meat.”
Fishing gear poses the greatest danger to young great whites off the West Coast of the U.S. [05/22/2018]
- Fishing lines and nets pose the most significant threat to the survival of young white sharks in the waters off Mexico and southern California, according to a new study. - A team of scientists used a relatively “untapped” but ubiquitous storehouse of data to develop a statistical model for the survival rates of juvenile white sharks. - The researchers calculated that 63 percent of young white sharks living in this part of the Pacific survive annually, but that nearly half probably come in contact with gillnets set by commercial fishers. - The findings point to best practices, such as barring gillnets from inshore “nurseries” and asking fishers to check their nets for trapped sharks more regularly, that could help protect great whites.
In unsuspecting Indian villages, the international rhino horn trade takes a toll [05/22/2018]
- The vast majority of villagers around India’s Jaldapara National Park live in harmony with the area’s wildlife, but a small minority get involved in rhino poaching. - Experts and former poachers say villagers are recruited by organized poaching syndicates. Locals serve as guides and lookouts, while syndicates arrange for the transport and sale of rhino horns. - From West Bengal, rhino horns are taken to India’s northeastern states and then across the border to Myanmar and eventually to China.