Rare fish-eating crocodile confirmed nesting in southwest Nepal after 37 years [11/21/2019]
- In Nepal, fewer than 100 mature adult gharials are estimated to remain, with only one population in the Narayani and Rapti Rivers of Chitwan National Park known to be breeding until recently. - Now, researchers have recorded nesting sites and more than 100 gharial babies in yet another site, in Bardia National Park in southwest Nepal. - The last time gharials were recorded breeding in Bardia was in 1982.
Researchers urge sustainability as palm oil tightens its grip on Latin America [11/20/2019]
- Hindered by deforestation restrictions in Southeast Asia, palm oil producers are looking farther afield to West and Central Africa, and Latin America, where conditions are conducive to oil palm cultivation and land is easier to come by. - Four Latin American countries already fill out the list of the world’s top 10 palm oil producers, with Colombia coming in at number four, and Ecuador, Brazil and Honduras placing seventh, ninth and tenth, respectively. Mexico may soon join the list, with a plan to cultivate an additional 100,000 hectares of the crop in the coming years. - While these countries have vast areas of land that have previously been deforested for agriculture and are suitable for growing oil palm, plantation expansion is still coming at the expense of rainforest. Researchers and the residents of areas that have been turned into plantations also allege human rights violations at the hands of palm oil producers. - Researchers and conservationists call for tighter regulation of the industry and more study of how oil palm production may impact the surrounding environment.
In Indonesian waters, filter feeders can ingest dozens to hundreds of microplastic particles every hour [11/20/2019]
- Researchers looked at plastic pollution in three coastal feeding grounds in Indonesia that are frequented by manta rays (Mobula alfredi) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus): Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area, Komodo National Park, and Pantai Bentar, East Java. - After estimating the amount of microplastic particles that are present in the waters of their three study areas, the researchers were then able to determine how much of that plastic might find its way into the digestive tracts of reef manta rays and whale sharks. - They found that reef manta rays may eat up to 63 pieces of plastic per hour when feeding in Nusa Penida and Komodo National Park, while whale sharks could be consuming up to 137 pieces per hour during seasonal aggregations in Java.
China’s wénwan drives a deadly mix-and-match of endangered wildlife [11/20/2019]
- A wide range of illegal wildlife products, from tiger claws to hornbill casques, are used to make baubles known as wénwan that are prized as status symbols among China’s burgeoning middle class. - Domestic bans on the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn have not slowed the growing and underregulated online market for wénwan products, with traders increasingly targeting other species to meet demand for exotic materials. - Without understanding the dynamics of the wénwan trade, including the cultural aspect, government and NGO efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade risk remaining ineffective.
Rabbit-sized, deer-like species of fanged ungulate rediscovered in Vietnam [11/18/2019]
- The silver-backed chevrotain is about the size of a rabbit and was first described to science in 1910 based on four specimens. A joint Vietnamese-Russian expedition to central Vietnam undertaken in 1990 collected a fifth specimen, which had been killed by a hunter. That was the last any scientist saw of the species. - However, local villagers and government forest rangers reported seeing a gray chevrotain in the vicinity of Nha Trang, a city in southern Vietnam. The gray coloring was the key, because that’s what distinguishes the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor), also known as the Vietnamese mouse-deer, from the far more common lesser chevrotain (T. kanchil). - Based on those survey results, a team of researchers set up three camera traps in the most promising locations and ended up recording the first evidence that a species not seen in nearly 30 years is still very much in existence.
Conserving wildlife is key to tropical forests’ carbon storage, study finds [11/18/2019]
- A new study shows that a decrease in the fruit-eating animals that disperse tree seeds leads to a reduction in carbon storage in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. - The complete defaunation, or loss of these species, from a forest can result in the area’s carbon storage capacity dropping by up to 3 percent. - It was previously believed that the carbon deficit from defaunation in Southeast Asia’s tropical forests wouldn’t be as significant as in the Amazon or the Congo Basin, but the study suggests otherwise. - Wildlife is being hammered in the region by overhunting and a massive snaring crisis for bushmeat, traditional medicine and the illegal pet trade, and conservationists have called for more action and enforcement to combat poaching.
Feral horses gallop to the rescue of butterflies in distress [11/18/2019]
- A new study suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Czech Republic could increase populations of some threatened butterfly species. - The research shows that the horses’ grazing creates and maintains short grasslands that some butterfly species thrive in. - The research points to the importance of considering the impacts of species introductions on the restoration of natural ecosystems.
‘Timebomb’: Fires devastate tiger and elephant habitat in Sumatra [11/15/2019]
- Another heavy fire season in Indonesia has taken a toll on the country’s remaining forest. In Sembilang National Park, on the island of Sumatra, fires raged into primary forest that provides vital habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants. - Satellite data and imagery indicate the fires may have had a big impact on tigers in the park. In total, around 30 percent of tiger habitat in Sembilang burned between August and September. The fires also encroached into the park’s elephant habitat. - Fires have also reportedly ravaged elephant habitat in Padang Sugihan Sebokor Wildlife Reserve, which lies southeast of Sembilang and serves as a corridor for wild elephants in South Sumatra. One report estimates that half of the reserve has suffered fire damage. - Researchers say slash-and-burn clearing techniques likely started most of fires in the area, which were then exacerbated by drier-than-usual conditions and underground peat stores left unprotected by policy rollbacks.s
Last of the belugas from Russia’s ‘whale jail’ released [11/15/2019]
- Late last year, drone footage revealed 87 belugas and 11 orcas packed in cramped, icy pens at Srednyaya Bay in Russia’s Far East. - Following international outrage, Russian authorities began an investigation and started releasing the whales to the Sea of Okhotsk, the place the mammals had been originally captured from. - On Nov. 10, Russian authorities announced that the last of the 50 beluga whales had been released to Uspeniya Bay, in the Primorsky Region, about 62 miles away from the holding facility. But it’s not the whales’ native habitat, conservationists say. - Activists and conservationists have criticized the lack of transparency in the release effort and the manner in which the whales have been moved to the sea without a proper rehabilitation process in place.
Mexico plans huge increase in palm oil production in sensitive ecosystems [11/14/2019]
- The government seeks to plant an additional 100,000 hectares (almost 250,000 acres) in the state of Campeche, half of which is under conservation protection. - Scientists, conservationists, and residents say existing oil palm plantations have already damaged important wildlife habitat and water sources, and worry what may come from an influx of many more. - Local organizations have filed a complaint before the Latin American Water Tribunal, saying the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food is promoting the program to plant 100,000 hectares of oil palm, “without consideration for the researchers, academics, environmentalists, indigenous people, and communities who live in the area where they intend to impose this crop as a development alternative.”
Mussel species that invaded Southeast Asian waters now appears in India [11/14/2019]
- Indian marine researchers have confirmed the presence of the invasive American brackish water mussel (Mytella strigata) in the backwaters of Kochi, a port city in the southern state of Kerala in India. - The species is native to Central and South America but in recent years has been found invading waters around Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. - The latest study presents the first formal report of this invasive species from the Indian subcontinent and the fourth record from the Indo-Pacific, the researchers say. - The researchers worry that the American brackish water mussel could soon outcompete the local green mussel and displace it completely, affecting livelihoods, since the green mussel fishery is a very lucrative industry along the Kochi coast.
Audio: Damian Aspinall on why he’s calling for zoos to be phased out within the next three decades [11/13/2019]
- On today’s episode, we speak with Damian Aspinall, chairman of the Aspinall Foundation, a UK charity that works to conserve endangered animals and return them to the wild. - Back in June of this year we welcomed Jim Breheny onto the Mongabay Newscast. Breheny is director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and he told me that zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well, and for that reason are vital to wildlife conservation today. - Aspinall does not agree that zoos are important for conservation of wild species. In fact, he argues that keeping animals in captivity in zoos is cruel, inhumane — and unnecessary. He appears on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast to discuss why he is calling for all zoos around the world to be closed down within the next 30 years, and how he says the work of preserving rare and endangered species could be better accomplished by in situ conservation interventions.
India’s Ganga River dolphins are being shouted down by noisy boats [11/12/2019]
- India’s Ganga River is getting noisier with increased ship traffic and dredging, and that’s stressing the river’s iconic dolphins and changing how they communicate, a new study has found. - When fewer than five vessels moving on the river per hour, the dolphins seem to enhance their vocal activities to compensate for the high-frequency noise generated by the propellers. - But as vessel traffic increases and water levels fall during the dry season, leading to more intense and sustained noise pollution, the dolphins don’t seem to alter their clicks much compared to baseline levels, the researchers found. - This is likely because having to continuously emit clicks in a persistently noisy world can be physically taxing, forcing the endangered mammals to “either call at baseline levels or shut up,” according to the researchers.
New honeyeater species described from Indonesia’s Alor Island [11/12/2019]
- Scientists have described a new bird species found only on the island of Alor in eastern Indonesia. - The Alor myzomela is easily distinguished from other known members of the Myzomela genus of honeyeater birds thanks to its unique call and paler upper wings. - A growing human population on the island is already fragmenting the species’ only known habitat, prompting the researchers to recommend it be considered endangered on the IUCN Red List. - The bird’s scientific name, Myzomela prawiradilagae, is a tribute to prominent ornithologist Dewi Malia Prawiradilaga from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
Global trafficking threat catches up to Sri Lanka’s endangered pangolins [11/11/2019]
- Hunting for domestic meat consumption has long been the main threat to the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in Sri Lanka, but a new study identifies a growing threat from hunting for scales to feed demand from China. - The researchers note an “established smuggling pathway” to India via fishing boat, which they say could explain why Sri Lanka isn’t highlighted as a trading or source country, as these stockpiles technically reach the global market through India. - The new study also identifies an emerging trend of increasing pangolin rescues, but links this to the growing human presence in pangolin habitats. - But the researchers also recorded pangolin sightings in areas and elevations they were previously not known to frequent, suggesting their ability to adapt to human and climate threats.
Scientists rediscover mammalian oddity in remote Vietnam [11/11/2019]
- Last seen in 1990, researchers have found a population of silver-backed chevrotains, a species of mouse-deer, surviving in Vietnam. - This lost species is threatened by hunting, snaring and habitat destruction, and scientists don’t yet know how many survive. - Mongabay columnist Jeremy Hance travels to Vietnam to attempt to see the animal himself and learn about its chances for a future.
Can a national management plan halt Madagascar’s shark decline? [11/11/2019]
- Sharks once were plentiful in Madagascar’s waters, but a spike in demand for shark fins dating to the 1980s has led to heavy exploitation and a reduction in the fishes’ abundance and size. - Madagascar has no national laws that specifically protect sharks. In June, though, the country released a new national plan for the sustainable management of sharks and rays. - The plan calls for a shark trade surveillance program, a crackdown on illegal industrial fishing, more “no-take” zones, and a concerted effort to collect better data. - Conservationists welcomed the plan as an important step — provided the country can enforce its provisions.
Emperor penguins could disappear by 2100 if nations don’t cap emissions [11/08/2019]
- Researchers have combined a global climate model that projects where and when sea ice forms and a model of penguin populations to predict how penguin colonies would react to changing sea ice under future climate scenarios. - The models found that under the business-as-usual scenario, where countries fail to halt climate change, emperor penguin numbers will decline by around 86 percent by 2100. - However, if countries meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, then emperor penguin numbers would decline by about 31 percent, giving them a fighting chance at survival.
Colombian town faces earthquakes, pollution, water shortage as industry expands [11/08/2019]
- Residents of the town of Puerto Gaitán say their water sources are being used for the cultivation of oil palm plantations and the extraction of crude oil. - Studies have found water quality near the town qualifies as “poor” and water reserves have dropped off for many areas, forcing residents to import water from elsewhere. - Locals say seismic tremors induced for oil extraction have damaged houses and soil. - Researchers say wildlife populations have been harmed by agricultural chemicals used for palm oil production and habitat loss caused by expanding plantations.
Mischaracterizing the conservation benefits of trade (commentary) [11/08/2019]
- The authors of a Science paper on global wildlife trade respond to an editorial published on Mongabay that criticized their methodology. - Brett R. Scheffers of the University of Florida/IFAS; Brunno F. Oliveira of the University of Florida/IFAS and Auburn University at Montgomery; and Leuan Lamb and David P. Edwards of the University of Sheffield say their paper ‘uses a rigorously assembled database to make the first global assessment of traded species—both legal and illegal, and from national to international scales—and to identify the global hotspots of trade diversity.’ - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Facebook and Instagram posts help locate pygmy seahorses in Taiwan [11/06/2019]
- By contacting underwater photographers and divers and searching for photos and posts on Facebook and Instagram, researchers have confirmed the presence of five species of pygmy seahorses in Taiwan. - This makes Taiwan one of the world’s pygmy seahorse diversity hotspots, the researchers say. - Green Island and Orchid Island, in particular, were hotspots for pygmy seahorse diversity, the researchers found, and they hope that these discoveries will help inform conservation planning.
New toads named from a Sumatran biodiversity trove that’s under threat [11/06/2019]
- Researchers have recently described three new species of toads belonging to the Sigalegalephrynus genus of puppet toads living in the highlands of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island. - The genus was first proposed in 2017 with the description of two species. Researchers believe there may be even more puppet toads left to discover. - The discovery highlights the vast diversity of Sumatra’s herpetofauna, but also the immense threats the island’s wildlife faces, primarily from loss of habitat to deforestation and agriculture. - The researchers say all of the newly described species should be listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Saving the Gran Chaco: Conservationists demand protection before it’s too late [11/05/2019]
- The Gran Chaco is South America’s second-largest forest biome, and is home to thousands of species. - The Chaco has lost around 20 percent of its forest cover since 1985 as land is cleared for agriculture. The Argentine portion has lost 30 percent. - In response, a project called the Argentine Gran Chaco 2030 Commitment was created to demand more be done to protect the Chaco. As of Nov. 7, 80 organizations and institutions around the world had signed on in support.
Indonesia plans IVF for recently captured Sumatran rhino [11/05/2019]
- In a bid to save the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino, Indonesia will attempt to harvest and fertilize an egg cell from a lone female at a captive-breeding center in Borneo. - The sperm for the in vitro fertilization attempt will come from a male at a captive-breeding center in Sumatra; combining the Sumatran and Bornean lineages is expected to help boost the gene pool for an animal whose global population may be as low as 40. - Conservationists anticipate obstacles, however: Pahu, the female, is quite old at about 25, and is possibly too small to be able to carry a regular-sized offspring to term. - The planned attempt by Indonesia comes after conservationists in Malaysia tried and failed to carry out an IVF treatment there, with both the age of the female rhino and lack of access to quality sperm cited for the failure.
‘Fantastic grandmothers’ snorkel, help uncover large sea snake population [11/04/2019]
- A group of seven women in their 60s and 70s, who call themselves the “fantastic grandmothers,” have helped uncover a surprisingly large population of the venomous greater sea snake in the waters surrounding Nouméa, the capital of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. - By November 2018, the women, all Nouméa residents and expert swimmers and snorkelers, and the researchers had collectively taken nearly 300 photographs of more than 140 individual greater sea snakes — much more than researchers had long believed to occur in the area. - The citizen science project isn’t just revealing numbers, it’s also helping uncover detailed information on the ecology of greater sea snakes, such as their breeding patterns and changes in population structure over seasons.
There’s a new fin whale subspecies in the North Pacific [11/01/2019]
- The northern fin whale subspecies was previously believed to include populations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, but a recent genetic analysis of more than 150 fin whale samples from both ocean basins and the Southern Hemisphere showed that the two populations actually qualify as two separate subspecies. - By comparing DNA from fin whales in the North Pacific and the North Atlantic, researchers determined that the populations have been genetically distinct for hundreds of thousands of years. - Improving our understanding of fin whale taxonomy can have important implications for the conservation of the species, which is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Less force, more kindness as Sri Lanka tries to defuse human-elephant conflict [10/31/2019]
- Several different methods attempted over the past 70 years to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka have proved ineffective, experts say. - With more than 300 elephants and 70 people killed in 2018 alone, and a third of the island effectively elephant country, Sri Lanka is mired in an escalating crisis trying to balance its developmental and conservation needs. - Conservationists have called for designing development programs that account for elephant impact assessments, and abandoning translocations and other control methods in favor of electric fencing that has proven more effective.
New species of shrimp-like creature found in a whale shark’s mouth [10/31/2019]
- Japanese scientists found a new-to-science species of shrimp-like creature from the gills of a female whale shark that lived in a fish preserve off the island of Okinawa. - The newly described species is a type of amphipod, a group of shell-less crustaceans that usually feed on decaying plant and animal matter and can be found in a wide variety of environments, from freshwater to some of the deepest parts of the ocean. - The researchers have named the amphipod Podocerus jinbe, after the Japanese word jinbe for whale sharks. - It unlikely that the amphipods were feeding directly on the whale shark, the researchers say, and may have been inhabiting the whale shark’s mouth because it provided a good habitat with fresh seawater and food and shelter from predators.
Finding hope in ‘extreme conservation’ (Insider) [10/31/2019]
- A Mongabay staff writer shares an account of his trek to see mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - From a low of 250 individuals in the 1980s, the mountain gorilla subspecies now numbers more than 1,000, making it the only great ape whose population is growing. - Those gains have come thanks to the “extreme conservation” practiced by a dedicated group of people who have worked to ensure the survival of one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. - This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.
Ayahuasca tourism an overlooked driver of trade in jaguar body parts, researchers say [10/30/2019]
- According to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice earlier this month, the booming ayahuasca tourism industry may be an overlooked threat facing jaguars, a most iconic species that is listed as Nearly Threatened on the IUCN Red List. - Through discussions with street vendors, shamans, and individuals working in the tourism industry, researchers found that jaguar canine pendants, jaguar skin bracelets, and other jaguar products are being sold to tourists under the pretense that they somehow enhance the ayahuasca experience. - The researchers suggest that one way to effectively halt this growing illicit trade is to more formally regulate ayahuasca tourism and educate both tourists and tour operators.
Can camera traps diagnose the severity of a mystery giraffe skin disease? [10/30/2019]
- Giraffe skin disease, a mystery condition that inflicts crusty lesions on the world’s tallest animal, has been recorded in 13 giraffe populations in seven African countries. It is particularly widespread in Tanzania. - Researchers used camera trap images to quantify how severe the disease was among giraffe populations in Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ruaha national parks. - They found that most cases of the infections that the camera traps detected were “mild” or “moderate” according to a scale they devised, suggesting that the disease, although widespread, is likely not life-threatening at the moment. - The researchers have, however, observed that giraffes with more severe infections tend to move with difficulty, which could make them more vulnerable to lion predation — a hypothesis they are now investigating with data from Ruaha National Park.
’Rampant’ fishing continues as vaquita numbers dwindle [10/29/2019]
- An expedition surveying the Gulf of California for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise has reported seeing more than 70 fishing boats in a protected refuge. - Vaquita numbers have been decimated in the past decade as a result of gillnet fishing for another critically endgangered species, the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000 per kilogram ($9,000 per pound) in Asian markets. - Local fishing organizations in the region say that the government has stopped compensating them after a gillnet ban, aimed at protecting the vaquita from extinction, went into effect in 2015.
Indigenous communities ‘robbed’ as land grabbers lay waste to Brazilian rainforest [10/28/2019]
- Terra Indígena Ituna/Itatá in northern Brazil is home to several groups of uncontacted peoples who are dependent on the surrounding forest for survival. - But outsiders have been increasingly moving in and clearing land for agriculture and mining. Brazilian authorities estimate that about 10 percent of the territory has been illegally invaded and destroyed this year alone, and satellite data show deforestation is still ramping up. Because of the scale of these incursions, Ituna/Itatá is now believed to be the most deforested indigenous territory in Brazil. - While assaults on indigenous territories in Brazil have been happening for decades, activists say the sharp rise in deforestation and land-grabbing in Ituna/Itatá this year has been closely linked to the country’s controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has also launched an open attack on Funai, the government agency tasked with protecting indigenous interests in Brazil. The president signed a decree curbing Funai’s powers earlier this year, dealing a further blow to an agency already weakened by the previous government’s move to slash its funding in half. - Ibama, Brazil’s environment agency, has responded to the assault on Ituna/Itatá with at least five operations in the area in 2018 and 2019. Yet the long-term impact appears to be limited: just weeks after the latest crackdown, activists and local sources report that land-grabbers have gone back to clearing the forest.
10 takeaways from Indonesia’s grassroots #SaveAru success [10/28/2019]
- The Save Aru campaign is one of Indonesia’s most successful grassroots movements in recent years. - The people of Indonesia’s Aru Islands managed to defeat a plan to turn more than half of their archipelago into a massive sugar plantation. - This month, The Gecko Project and Mongabay published a narrative article about the movement. Here are 10 takeaways from how they did it.
How Laos lost its tigers [10/28/2019]
- A new camera trap study finds that tigers vanished from Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area by 2014, their last stand in Laos. - Leopards were killed off 10 years prior, making these big cats also extinct in Laos. - Scientists believe it’s most likely that the last tigers and leopards of Laos succumbed to snares, which are proliferating in astounding numbers across Southeast Asian protected areas. - The Indochinese tiger now only survives in Thailand and Myanmar, and may be on the edge of extinction.
Holding social media companies accountable for facilitating illegal wildlife trade (commentary) [10/25/2019]
- For traffickers engaging in some of the world’s biggest black-market trades, Facebook Inc. is the enabler. The company serves as a vehicle for thousands of traffickers who sell illegal goods using Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to market their goods, connect with and negotiate sales with buyers, and even receive payments. - Facebook, and other social media firms, mainly rely on algorithms and artificial intelligence to moderate harmful content. But investigations by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) show time and again how these algorithms actually connect traffickers faster than moderators can remove them. They suggest friends and recommend groups, putting illicit actors in touch with one another, continually expanding networks of users engaging in similar illegal activities. - When it comes to crime on social media, the enabler always walks free. It’s time for regulators to take steps to hold online platforms accountable for facilitating the illegal trafficking of wildlife. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
New species of orange-red praying mantis mimics a wasp [10/25/2019]
- From the Peruvian Amazon, researchers have described a new-to-science species of bright orange-red praying mantis that conspicuously mimics a wasp. - The mantis mimics not only the bright coloration of many wasps, but also a wasp’s short, jerky movements. Such conspicuous mimicry of wasps is rare among mantises, which usually tend to resemble leaves or tree trunks, the researchers say in a new study. - The researchers have named the praying mantis Vespamantoida wherleyi.
As birds winter in Sri Lanka, one enthusiast makes sure their memory stays [10/25/2019]
- As migratory birds of all shapes and shades start flocking to Sri Lanka for the northern hemisphere winter, prominent local environmental lawyer and naturalist Jagath Gunawardena prepares to once again go bird-watching and sketching. - Sri Lanka is home to 439 bird species, 33 of them found nowhere else on Earth, including breeding residents and migratory species. - The island offers varying microclimates and habitats that provide a temporary refuge for the roughly 200 visiting species, though over the years, declining forest cover has impacted the distribution pattern of both resident and migratory species. - Gunawardena, who has been recognized by the state for his contributions to wildlife conservation and even had a new frog species named after him, has called for greater research and conservation efforts for some of the migratory birds that call Sri Lanka home.
Bonobo conservation stymied by deforestation, human rights abuses [10/24/2019]
- The bonobo is a relative of the chimpanzee, and is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) south of the Congo River. They are endangered, with habitat loss and the bushmeat trade their primary threats. The Sankuru Nature Reserve is the DRC’s largest nature reserve that is focused on bonobo conservation. However, deforestation rates have only increased in Sankuru since it was created in 2007. Meanwhile nearby Lomami National Park is experiencing almost no deforestation. - Researchers attribute the disparity in deforestation rates between Sankuru Nature Reserve and Lomami National Park to the lack of human settlements and clearer managerial strategy in the latter. They claim that Sankuru lacked buy-in from the local communities, and that conflicting land claims made conservation efforts more difficult to achieve. - However, there may be a dark side to Lomami’s success. Sources claim that the military, which is tasked with protecting DRC’s national parks, have engaged in torture of people suspected of poaching. There are also reports that a community within Lomami was displaced without proper consultation or a suitable alternative location. - Researchers say that to ensure effective engagement, indigenous forest-dwelling communities should be granted proper security of tenure over their lands, and community-managed forests should be set up and funded around the perimeter of the park.
This toad from central Africa impersonates a deadly viper to avoid predators [10/24/2019]
- The Congolese giant toad (Sclerophrys channingi) is the first toad found to mimic a harmful snake, in this case the highly venomous Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), which has longer fangs and produces more venom than any other known snake species. - A team of researchers who spent ten years in the field observing the Congolese giant toad and its mimicry behavior published their findings in the Journal of Natural History this week. - The triangular shape of the toad’s body, its particularly smooth skin for a toad, and its patterns of colors cause the amphibian to look like the viper’s head. In other words, the two are visually similar enough that any predators looking for a meal might certainly be wise to skip right past the Congolese giant toad rather than risk a lethal bite from a Gaboon viper. But just for a little extra insurance, the Congolese giant toad goes even further than mere visual mimicry.
New grouper species discovered in Australian fish market [10/23/2019]
- A newly discovered species of grouper almost became someone’s dinner before it could be described to science. - Jeff Johnson, an ichthyologist with Australia’s Queensland Museum, had been asked about the fish before, 15 years ago. Over the intervening years, he would occasionally be sent pictures of the same type of grouper, one lacking distinctive features that struck him as a potential new species, but had never found a specimen to examine. - Johnson’s big break came in 2017 when a fisherman got in touch and sent along a photo of a grouper, also known as rockcod, that the fisherman was hoping the fish expert could identify. Johnson recognized the fish in the photo as his mystery grouper and asked for the specimens so he could study them, only to be told that the fisherman had already sent the fish to be sold at a local market. But that didn’t stop Johnson from at last getting his hands on a specimen to prove this was an entirely new species.
For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge [10/23/2019]
- Sea turtles are protected species under Indonesian law, but continue to be caught and killed for food and ornaments in many parts of the country. - Official wildlife conservation agencies are typically underfunded, and large-scale conservation programs run by NGOs are far from effective, a conservationist says. - But in a fishing village on the island of Sulawesi, a lone fisherman is playing his part by buying live turtles accidentally caught by other fishers and usually injured, and caring for them until they heal and can be released back into the ocean. - Conservationists have welcomed his initiative and intent, but raised questions about his expertise, with some of the more than 20 turtles he has cared for so far dying.
Amazon’s male white bellbird has the loudest recorded call [10/23/2019]
- The call of the male white bellbird (Procnias albus) is the loudest bird call recorded in the world. - The bellbird’s call can reach 125 decibels, almost as loud as a very loud rock concert, and more than 9 decibels higher than the loudest recorded call of the screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), which held the previous record of being the world’s loudest bird. - The male could be producing its chainsaw-like calls to attract a potential mate, the researchers say, but why the female sits so close to the male when it screams, risking hearing damage, is unclear.
A ‘sly’ species of leaf-tailed gecko uncovered from Madagascar [10/23/2019]
- Scientists have described a new species of leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus fetsy, believed to be found only in Madagascar’s Ankarana Special Reserve. - All Uroplatus species are endemic to Madagascar and are best known for their leaf-like tails and coloration that allow them to blend into the foliage. - Though newly described, U. fetsy may already be at risk: the dry deciduous forests of the reserve are severely threatened by illegal logging, cattle grazing, fires, and artisanal mining. - The authors of the paper describing the new species say it could warrant endangered status on the IUCN Red List because of these threats to its habitat.
Once close to extinction, western South Atlantic humpback population close to full recovery [10/22/2019]
- According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science last week, there were nearly 27,000 western South Atlantic humpbacks as of 1830, but the population was reduced by some 95 percent, to just 450 whales, by the mid-1950s. In the 12 years between 1904 and 1916 alone, the population lost approximately 25,000 individuals. - Protection measures for humpbacks adopted in the 1960s and the broader moratorium on all commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the 1980s appear to have reversed that downward trajectory, however. There has been no hunting of the species since 1972, the report states, which is when the recovery really took off. - “Once protected, [western South Atlantic] humpback whales have recovered strongly, and their current abundance is close to 25,000 whales,” the authors of the study write. That means that the current population is estimated to be at 93 percent of its numbers prior to the exploitation by whalers that nearly extirpated the entire population.
New maps show where giraffes live — mostly outside protected areas [10/22/2019]
- By combining the latest data from on ground and aerial surveys, following movements of GPS-tagged animals, consultation with experts, and reviewing the scientific literature, researchers have produced a series of maps that they say represent the most comprehensive and accurate picture of where giraffes live in Africa. - While the IUCN recognizes only one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, the study’s authors decided to use the taxonomy suggested by recent studies that recognize the giraffe as not one but four distinct species — northern, southern, reticulated, and Masai giraffe — and five subspecies. - The new range maps will serve as a baseline from which conservationists can now start monitoring changes in giraffe distribution in the future, the researchers say. - The range maps show that around 70 percent of the giraffe’s range occurs outside government-managed protected areas.
Study finds massive reorganization of life across Earth’s ecosystems [10/21/2019]
- A new study pulls together data from 239 studies that looked at more than 50,000 biodiversity time series. - The research reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years. - The scientists found that the reorganization and loss of species are happening much more quickly in some environments than in others, a finding that could help inform future conservation.
DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve gets new management partner in WCS [10/21/2019]
- The Okapi Wildlife Reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will now be run under a new management partnership agreement between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the DRC government’s Nature Conservation Agency (ICCN). - Through the new management partnership agreement, WCS and ICCN hope to restore stability in the reserve and surrounding forests, improve the welfare and operations of its rangers, and enhance the social well-being of its resident communities. - The local communities are not part of the official agreement structure, but they will be consulted as management details become clearer, John Lukas of the Okapi Conservation Project said.
Why is Europe rewilding with water buffalo? [10/21/2019]
- Conservationists have released 18 water buffalo onto Ermakov Island in the Danube, in the first ever such rewilding project in Ukraine. - The water buffalo were gifted by a German-born naturalist-cum-farmer, Michel Jacobs, who has taken on a mission of saving the Carpathian’s distinct water buffalo. - Researchers believe the water buffalo will bring new richness and diversity to the Danube by acting as ecosystem engineers.
New flowerpecker species discovered in imperiled lowland forests of Borneo [10/18/2019]
- The Spectacled Flowerpecker wasn’t entirely unknown up until now. Scientists and birdwatchers have spotted the small, gray bird in the lowland tropical forests of Borneo in the past, with the first sighting appearing to have occurred in Sabah, Malaysia’s Danum Valley in 2009. - A team led by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. collected a specimen and studied the species for the first time earlier this year. The researchers formally described the Spectacled Flowerpecker to science in a study published in the journal Zootaxa yesterday. - The researchers say that it’s likely the bird’s current distribution has “become increasingly fragmented and diminished” thanks to human impacts on Borneo’s forests. They hope that by formally describing the new species of flowerpecker, they can help call attention to the importance of Borneo’s lowland forests.
These rare pigs can dig it. With a tool, that is. And moonwalk too [10/18/2019]
- A viral video shows a family of Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) using a piece of tree bark or branch to build a nest at a zoo in Paris. - Tool use has been widely reported among vertebrates, particularly primates, but this is the first published study and first recorded video of pigs using tools. - The study suggests that using a stick is a socially learned behavior, and expands the possibility of tool use and social learning among pig species. - There are limited studies on the Visayan warty pig, a critically endangered species in its native Philippines, due to its dwindling population in the wild.
Peru: Gold mine operating without license destroys primary forest in protected area [10/17/2019]
- A recent inspection conducted by the regional forest authority of Huánuco found a large area of forest has been cleared by gold mining in Puerto Inca Province in Peru. - The mine is located in the buffer zone around the El Sira Communal Reserve, affecting indigenous land and the basins of the Pintuyacu and Quimpichari rivers. - In response to these issues, the Regional Directorate of Energy and Mines ordered the suspension of activities in the Inca Dorado 2 mining concession in August. However, those who live nearby claim that the miners continue to mine gold at night.
Biodiversity ‘not just an environmental issue’: Q&A with IPBES ex-chair Robert Watson [10/17/2019]
- The World Bank and IMF meetings from Oct. 14-20 will include discussions on protecting biodiversity and the importance of investing in nature. - A recent U.N. report found that more than 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction. - In a conversation with Mongabay, Robert Watson, who chaired the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report, discusses the economic value of biodiversity.
Extreme snowfall led to reproductive collapse in some Arctic wildlife in 2018 [10/16/2019]
- In 2018, while the Arctic continued to see warmer summers and retreating snow cover in general because of rising global temperatures, there was also very heavy snowfall that kept several areas covered in “unusually large amounts of snow” even in late summer, when much of it should have melted. - In northeast Greenland, one of the regions affected by the excessive snowfall, most animals and plants, including Arctic foxes and migratory shorebirds, failed to reproduce, researchers found. - While one non-breeding year may not spell doom for Arctic wildlife, frequent extreme weather events like the one in 2018 could make it harder for Arctic species to bounce back and survive, the researchers warn.
Biodiversity boosts crop pollinators and pest controllers, study finds [10/16/2019]
- A new study looks at the reliance on biodiversity of ecosystem services provided by pollinating and pest-controlling insects. - Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the “landscape simplification” that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects. - The scientists found that the reduction in ecosystem services provided by these insects tended to lead to lower crop yields.
Audio: Exploring the deep sea with biologist Diva Amon [10/16/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with deep sea biologist Diva Amon about what we do and don’t know about biodiversity at the bottom of the ocean. - Plans to mine the ocean floor are moving forward around the world, especially around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea that create deposits of valuable metals. But given the fact that humans have explored less than 1 percent of the deep sea, it’s fair to say that we really have no idea what’s at risk. - Amon is here to talk about the findings of a recent study she co-authored about biodiversity and research effort at deep sea vents, what got her into studying the bottom of the ocean in the first place, and two of her favorite deep sea creatures: the Dumbo octopus and the headless chicken monster.
Malaysian attempt at Sumatran rhino IVF fails on low quality of sperm [10/16/2019]
- A recent effort to produce a Sumatran rhino embryo from egg and sperm samples taken from the last of the species in Malaysia has failed, officials said. - The low quality of the sperm, extracted in 2015 and 2016 from an aging rhino that has since died, was cited as the main cause of the failure to fertilize the egg. - Malaysian officials say they will continue to improve and attempt their in vitro fertilization attempts, and have called on Indonesia to send sperm samples from younger rhinos held in Sumatra. - Indonesia has refused to send any samples, citing the need for a formal agreement, but conservationists say that captive-breeding of Sumatran rhinos is the only feasible solution to protect the species from extinction.
At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success [10/16/2019]
- Assam State Zoo in northeastern India has been breeding greater one-horned rhinos in captivity since the 1960s. - However, until 2011 the country lacked a formal, nationally coordinated program dedicated to maintaining a viable captive population of the species, which is considered by the IUCN to be vulnerable to extinction due to poaching. - India launched an official captive-breeding initiative in 2011. One calf has already been born at the Assam Zoo as part of the program, and another is on the way. An additional six have been born in the Patna Zoo in India’s Bihar state.
Cook Islands MPA leader fired after supporting seabed mining freeze [10/15/2019]
- Last month the Cook Islands government dismissed the director of the world’s biggest mixed-use marine protected area (MPA), which is called Marae Moana. - Jacqueline Evans, a marine scientist, had played a key leadership role in the seven-year campaign to establish Marae Moana and served as its director since the MPA was enshrined into law in 2017. - Her firing came after she expressed support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining across the Pacific Ocean. Seabed mining has been a sticking point throughout the history of Marae Moana, with some environmentalists hoping to prohibit it outright and other parties wanting to explore it as a potential source of revenue. - Evans was a 2019 winner of the prestigious international Goldman Prize for grassroots environmentalists in recognition of her work to make Marae Moana a reality.
Misuse of wildlife trade data jeopardizes efforts to protect species and combat trafficking (commentary) [10/15/2019]
- Oversimplification of the interpretation of wildlife trade data jeopardizes the ability of policy makers to prioritize aiming limited resources towards those species that truly require protection from unsustainable trade and wildlife trafficking, which threaten species with extinction. - In a recent study published in Science, the authors expressed a series of conclusions that are based on a gross misinterpretation of wildlife trade data. - Wildlife conservation policy decisions should rely on the best available analyses of threats in order to respond most efficiently. The interpretation of data presented in this study show numerous flaws that may interfere with perceptions about where unsustainable and illegal trade is actually occurring and where limited resources should be directed to prevent wildlife extinction. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Rare songbird recovers, moves off endangered species list [10/11/2019]
- The Kirtland’s warbler, a species that was close to extinction five decades ago, is now thriving and has been removed from the U.S. federal list of endangered species. - Where there were fewer than 200 breeding pairs of the warbler in the 1970s and 1980s, today there are more than 2,300. - However, the warbler’s continued survival is conservation-reliant, which means it will still depend heavily on continued conservation efforts. - Conservationists say the bird’s comeback is testament that the Endangered Species Act works, and warn that current attempts by the Trump administration to roll back conservation policies could lead to other protected species going extinct.
‘Witnessing extinction in the flames’ as the Amazon burns for agribusiness [10/10/2019]
- The vast and biodiverse Triunfo do Xingu protected area in the Brazilian Amazon lost 22 percent of its forest cover between 2007 and 2018, with figures this year indicating the rate of deforestation is accelerating. - The surge in deforestation, driven largely by cattle ranching, is part of a wider trend of encroachment into protected areas across the Brazilian Amazon under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, according to conservationists. - With the widespread clearing slicing up the larger protected area into smaller fragments of forest, human rights advocates worry that it will become increasingly difficult for forest-dependent indigenous communities to survive within it. - The deforestation is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the biodiversity of the region, which is home to countless species of plants and animals not adapted to living in areas with higher temperatures and less vegetation.
Legal and illegal trade negatively impacting survival and wellbeing of Africa’s wildlife: Report [10/09/2019]
- Released last week by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection to coincide with World Animal Day, the report looks at the “Big 5” and “Little 5” most-in-demand species and how trade in those animals impacts their wellbeing and conservation status. - Between 2011 and 2015, some 1.2 million animal skins from the “Big 5” African wildlife species identified in the report as being most in-demand — the Nile crocodile, the Cape fur seal, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, the African elephant, and the common hippo — were legally sold. - More than 1.5 million live animals belonging to one of the “Little 5” African species — the ball python, the African grey parrot, the emperor scorpion, the leopard tortoise, and the savannah monitor lizard — were exported for the exotic pet trade between 2011 and 2015, the report finds.
Saving Aru: The epic battle to save the islands that inspired the theory of evolution [10/09/2019]
- In the mid-1800s, the extraordinary biodiversity of the Aru Islands helped inspire the theory of evolution by natural selection. - Several years ago, however, a corrupt politician granted a single company permission to convert most of the islands’ rainforests into a vast sugar plantation. - The people of Aru fought back. Today, the story of their grassroots campaign resonates across the world as a growing global movement seeks to force governments to act on climate change.
For India’s flood-hit rhinos, refuge depends increasingly on humans [10/09/2019]
- Kaziranga National Park in India’s Assam state is home to almost 70 percent of the world’s 3,500 greater one-horned rhinos. - The park regularly floods during monsoon season. This natural phenomenon is essential to the ecosystem, but can be deadly for animals: 400 animals died in the 2017 floods, including more than 30 rhinos. This year, around 200 animals have died so far, including around a dozen rhinos. - With increased infrastructure and tourism development around the park, animals’ natural paths to higher ground are often blocked. - Authorities have responded by building artificial highlands within the park. Some criticize this approach, but park officials credit the highlands for reducing the death toll of this year’s floods.
Eight species, including Tapanuli orangutan, make first appearance on list of most endangered primates [10/08/2019]
- “Primates In Peril: The world’s 25 most endangered primates 2018-2020” is the tenth iteration of a report issued every two years documenting the primate species from across the globe that are facing the most severe threats of extinction. - The report finds that the Tapanuli orangutan is one of the world’s most imperiled primates largely due to the impacts of human activities, and that it is hardly alone in that respect: Nearly 70 percent of the 704 known primate species and subspecies in the world are considered threatened; more than 40 percent are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered. - Many species are, like the Tapanuli orangutan, down to just a few hundred individuals or less. The Skywalker hoolock gibbon, for instance, was only elevated to full species status by scientists in 2017 and makes it first appearance on the list of the 25 most endangered primates this year because there are less than 150 left in the wild.
For Indonesia’s newest tarsier, a debut a quarter century in the making [10/08/2019]
- Scientists first spotted a previously unknown type of tarsier on the Togean Islands off Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 1993, and it’s taken 25 years of further studies to describe the diminutive primate species as new to science. - Niemitz’s tarsier (Tarsius niemitzi) is named after Carsten Niemitz, one of the scientists on that initial visit to the Togean islands, whom the authors of the new paper call “the father of tarsier field biology.” - There are now 12 known tarsier species found in Sulawesi and surrounding islands, but the paper’s authors say the region could be home to at least 16, with more research needed. - They warn that loss of habitat makes it “quite plausible” that some tarsier species may go extinct before scientists have a chance to identify them.
Bouncing back: The recovery of the tenkile tree kangaroo [10/08/2019]
- The tenkile tree kangaroo population in Papua New Guinea’s Torricelli mountains has tripled since 1996 to more than 300 animals. - The Tenkile Conservation Alliance has improved conditions for both the critically endangered species and the local communities. - The tenkile is still imperiled by deforestation, illegal logging and climate change.
International wildlife trade sweeps across ‘tree of life,’ study finds [10/07/2019]
- About one in five land animals are caught up in the global wildlife trade, a new study has found. - The research identified species traded as pets or for products they provide, and then mapped the animals’ home ranges, identifying “hotspots” around the world. - The team also found that nearly 3,200 other species may be affected by the wildlife trade in the future. - The study’s authors say they believe their work could help authorities protect species before trade drives their numbers down.
Sumatra survey looks to identify at-risk rhinos for captive breeding [10/04/2019]
- The Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra is home to as many as 50 Sumatran rhinos, out of no more than 80 believed to survive in the wild. - Surveys in the area have identified some subpopulations large enough to breed naturally, as well as isolated individuals or small groups unlikely to find mates. - Indonesia’s current plan calls for larger groups to be protected in situ, while more isolated rhinos are to be gathered into sanctuaries for a captive-breeding program. - Both national and local officials back a plan to create a new sanctuary in the northern Sumatran province of Aceh.
Study tracks first incursion of poachers into ‘pristine’ African forest [10/03/2019]
- Researchers logged the first evidence of elephant poaching in a remote, pristine section of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the northern Republic of Congo. - The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, also revealed unique behavior changes between gorillas and chimpanzees as a result of selective logging. - The research highlights the need to incorporate the results of biodiversity surveys into plotting out the locations of areas set aside for conservation.
Finally, Latin America is tackling wildlife trafficking (commentary) [10/02/2019]
- On October 3-4, a High Level International Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Americas will take place in Lima, Peru. This is the first-ever such conference organized exclusively around wildlife trafficking in the Americas, with particular focus on South and Central America. Why has it taken so long, and why is it so important? - Latin America is the single most biologically diverse region in the world, and trade in its wildlife, including illegal trade, is not a new issue. Latin America’s unique and precious wildlife has endured threats from illegal and unsustainable commercial trade, both domestic and international, for decades—and in some cases, even longer. - There are still large intact forest and grassland habitats across the region, and populations of species that can either be maintained or restored, if strong action is taken today. Preventive measures can and must be taken now, to ensure that Latin America’s wildlife thrives, from Mexico to the tip of Patagonia. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Bid to breed Sumatran rhino is handicapped by bureaucratic ‘quibbling’ [10/02/2019]
- A group of international scientists working in Malaysia have successfully extracted an egg cell from the country’s last Sumatran rhino and injected sperm into it, in a last-ditch attempt at breeding the world’s most threatened rhino species. - However, the scientists say the prospects of a successful fertilization are “not bright,” given the poor quality of the genetic samples they had to work with. - They blame a bureaucratic impasse between Malaysia and Indonesia for depriving them of high-quality sperm from rhinos held in captivity in Indonesia, which they say would have given a better chance of fertilization. - An Indonesian official says no exchange of genetic material, including sperm and eggs, can proceed until the requisite paperwork is signed, but conservationists say this is “quibbling” at a time when the species faces extinction.
Audio: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway with Mongabay’s John Cannon [10/01/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Mongabay staff writer John Cannon, who traveled the length of the Pan Borneo Highway in July and wrote a series of reports for Mongabay detailing what he discovered on the journey. - The Pan Borneo Highway is expected to make commerce and travel easier in a region that is notoriously difficult to navigate, and also to encourage tourists to see the states’ cultural treasures and rich wildlife. But from the outset, scientists and conservationists have warned that the highway is likely to harm that very same wildlife by dividing populations and degrading habitat. - Cannon undertook his 3-week reporting trip down the Pan Borneo Highway in an attempt to understand both the positive and negative effects the road could have on local communities, wildlife, and ecosystems, and he’s here to tell us what he found.
The climate crisis and the pain of losing what we love (commentary) [09/30/2019]
- World leaders came to the UN last week to decisively tackle climate change again. “This is not a negotiation summit because we don’t negotiate with nature. This is a Climate Action Summit!” declared the UN Secretary-General. But again, global leaders failed and committed to carbon cuts that fall far short of curbing catastrophe. - In doing so, our leaders committed us to an escalating global environmental crisis that is already unleashing vast changes across Earth’s ecosystems — with many sweeping alterations charted by our scientists, but many other local shifts and absences only noted by those who observe and cherish wild things. - The loss of familiar weather patterns, plants and animals (from monarchs to native bees) and an invasion of opportunistic living things (Japanese knotweed to Asian longhorned ticks) can foster feelings of vertigo — of being a stranger in a strange land — emotions, so personal and rubbing so raw, they can be hard to describe. - So I’ve tried to express my own feelings for one place, Vermont, my home, that is today seeing rapid change. At the end of this piece, Mongabay invites you to tally your own natural losses. We’ll share your responses in a later story. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Cheetahs, CITES, and illegal trade: Are consumer countries doing enough? (commentary) [09/30/2019]
- The capacity of CITES to fairly balance the voices of countries that harbor source populations of endangered species subject to international trafficking with the voices of consumer countries is vital. - Cheetahs are a case in point: Confined to less than 10 percent of their former distributional range with only 7,000 individuals left, the species is facing a significant threat from illegal trade in parts of its range. A demand for live animals as pets, primarily as cubs, is fueled by social media that glamorizes the keeping of these animals, with the Gulf States identified as a key market for this trade. All international trade in wild-caught cheetah cubs violates CITES and is illegal, and the trade in cubs is thought to be a key driver of decline in the cheetah population in the Horn of Africa. - Yet at the recent CITES CoP, countries chose to ignore these threats and downgraded efforts to combat illegal trade in cheetahs despite concerns raised by many African range states and conservation organizations. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Restoring Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, one small farm at a time [09/30/2019]
- An initiative in Indonesia’s Aceh province is engaging local farmers in restoring parts of the biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem by allowing them to farm and reforest tracts of land previously used for illegal oil palm plantations. - The forest is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers all still exist in the wild, but is being lost to encroachment for illegal plantations. - Under the initiative, farmers are trained to plant tropical hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetable crops from which they can make a sustainable living. - Only long-degraded land from past encroachment qualifies, removing any incentive for someone to damage land then apply for a management license.
‘Vulture restaurants’ provide lifeline for critically endangered species [09/27/2019]
- After a crash in vulture populations in South Asia in the 1990s, several species are rebounding in Nepal thanks to a ban on the drug diclofenac along with community efforts. - “Vulture restaurants” have been opened to save the birds from extinction by providing them with safe food and building awareness of their imperiled status. - Conservationists say broader efforts, such as regular monitoring of the remaining population and conservation of their habitat, are needed to save vultures.
Give it back to the gods: Reviving Māori tradition to protect marine life [09/27/2019]
- Ra’ui is an ancient Polynesian form of resource management in which traditional leaders close designated areas to the harvest of key species. - While the power of ra’ui remains strong in the outer Cook Islands, where local tradition often trumps national decree, the system fell into disuse on the largest and most populous island of Rarotonga half a century ago. - There, traditional leaders briefly and successfully revived the ra’ui system two decades ago, only for it to falter again in recent years. - Today, traditional leaders in the Cook Islands are cautiously optimistic that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire marine territory as a mixed-use protected area will help reinvigorate ra’ui across Rarotonga.
Wildfires spread to planned site of new Indonesian capital [09/26/2019]
- Fires raging across Indonesia have flared up in an area of Borneo where the government recently announced would be the site of the nation’s new capital. - The location had been chosen in part because it was believed to be at low risk from fires and other disasters. - Haze from the fires has affected local communities as well as a nearby orangutan rescue and rehabilitation center. - Authorities have arrested two farmers for setting fires on their land, but activists say they were doing so in a controlled manner and with the permission of local officials.
Wilderness cuts the risk of extinction for species in half [09/26/2019]
- Wilderness areas buffer species against the risk of extinction, reducing it by more than half, a new study shows. - Places with lots of unique species and wilderness with the last remaining sections of good habitat for certain species had a more pronounced impact on extinction risk. - The authors contend that safeguarding the last wild places should be a conservation priority alongside the protection and restoration of heavily impacted “hotspots.”
Notes from the road: 5 revelations from traveling the Pan Borneo Highway [09/25/2019]
- Construction of the Pan Borneo Highway will add or expand more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of roadway in Malaysian Borneo. - Mongabay staff writer John Cannon spent several weeks traveling the proposed route in July 2019 to understand the effects, both positive and negative, the road could have on communities, wildlife and ecosystems. - The project is designed to energize the economies of the region, and though officials have responded to entreaties from NGOs to minimize the harmful impacts of the road, they remain singularly focused on the economic benefits that proponents say the highway will bring.
Panthera: At least 500 jaguars lost their lives or habitat in Amazon fires [09/25/2019]
- The fires in the Amazon forest in Brazil and Bolivia this year have burned key habitats of at least 500 adult, resident jaguars as of September 17, experts at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, estimate. The numbers will continue to increase until the rains come, researchers say. - In Bolivia in particular, the fires have so far destroyed over 2 million hectares of forest in one of South America’s key “catscape”, a region that Panthera has identified as having the highest predicted density of cat species on the continent. - Panthera researchers also predict that many more jaguars will also likely starve or turn to killing livestock in neighboring ranches as a consequence of the fires, likely increasing conflict with the ranchers.
Nine new Fijian bees described, some restricted to a single mountaintop [09/24/2019]
- From the island country of Fiji, researchers have described nine new, and four previously known, species of bees belong to the genus Homalictus, a group that’s not been taxonomically reviewed in Fiji for 40 years. - Many Homalictus bee species either have very restricted distributions or are known only from single mountaintops, the researchers say, and could soon become extinct due to changes in climate and other environmental risks. - The researchers underscore the need for repeated field surveys to document and describe species from Fiji before they are lost. - One of the four previously described bee species may have already gone extinct, having not been recorded since 2010, despite extensive surveys in the area.
Paradise, polluted: Cook Islands tries to clean up its tourism sector [09/23/2019]
- Tourism accounts for almost 70 percent of the Cook Islands’ economy, but the industry is proving extremely damaging to its delicately balanced island ecosystem, and is contributing to islanders’ detachment from traditional ways of life. - Now, though, some tourism players, activists and government officials are pushing the industry to change tack in hopes it can start to sustain the island’s people and culture while protecting its ecology, too. - Tourism operators are being asked to live up to the sustainability street cred that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire exclusive economic zone as a multiple-use marine protected area has granted it on the international stage.
On World Rhino Day, looking back on an eventful year [09/22/2019]
- September 22 marks World Rhino Day, a global event established to celebrate the world’s five rhinoceros species, and to reflect on the challenges facing them. - The year that has elapsed since World Rhino Day 2018 has been a eventful one for rhino conservation. - Here, we look back at Mongabay’s coverage of some of the biggest stories from both Africa and Asia.
As climate crisis deepens, wildlife adapts, maybe with lessons for us [09/20/2019]
- Shifts in the timing of lifecycle events, like reproduction or migration, are widely thought to be the most common response of wildlife to global warming. - In recent years, pikas have been observed modifying their foraging habits in ways that may be behavioral adaptations to a changing climate. - A long-term study in Kutai National Park on the island of Borneo in Indonesia has shown how extreme weather, brought by the intensifying El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, is affecting the behavior, habitat requirements, feeding ecology and birth intervals of orangutans. - Researchers have discovered that African penguins, may be falling into a sort of “ecological trap,” one that humans created through overfishing and climate change.
‘Full-blown crisis’: North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970 [09/20/2019]
- Since 1970, bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada have suffered a net loss of 29 percent, or 2.9 billion birds. - Grassland birds seem to have been hit the hardest: there’s been a 53 percent reduction in grassland-bird populations since 1970; more than 700 million breeding individuals have been lost, and three-quarters of all examined grassland bird species are declining. - The study did not look into the causes of the bird declines, but the researchers say the patterns of loss in North America are similar to those observed elsewhere in the world, and the causes, including habitat loss, are likely to be similar.
Gravely injured orangutan rescued near site of controversial hydropower project [09/20/2019]
- A severely injured and malnourished Tapanuli orangutan has been rescued from a plantation near the site of a controversial hydropower project in Sumatra. - The animal was found to have deep, infected gashes on its head and under its arm, which rescuers say were likely inflicted by humans. - The orangutan may have been fleeing forest-clearing activity near the project site, which is located in the Batang Toru forest, the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. - This is not the first instance of orangutans apparently being driven out of their habitat by the project, which environmental activists and scientists say must be put on hold to protect the rarest great ape species in the world.
Will a massive marine protected area safeguard Cook Islands’ ocean? [09/19/2019]
- In 2017, the Cook Islands government passed the Marae Moana Act, which designated the country’s entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a multiple-use marine protected area (MPA). - Spanning almost 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) — an area roughly the size of Mexico — the MPA is the biggest of its kind in the world. - Now, as bureaucrats, NGOs and traditional leaders get to grips with implementing Marae Moana, many stakeholders are wondering what the act will mean in practice and whether it can meaningfully change the way the ocean is managed.
Massive protected area around ‘Atlantic Galapagos’ one step closer to becoming reality [09/18/2019]
- Bringing the protection of the “Atlantic Galapagos” one step closer to becoming a reality, the Governor of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, Philip Rushbrook, designated a large-sale Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island last month. - The MPA will cover the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. That means that an area of more than 440,000 square kilometers or 170,000 square miles will be included in the Ascension Island MPA, making it one of the largest in the world. - While legislation and a management plan won’t be finalized until long-term funding has been secured for the MPA, it has been proposed that commercial fishing and mineral extraction be prohibited altogether within the waters around Ascension Island, which has been described as a “miniature Galapagos Islands” because of its rich biodiversity.
Pan Borneo Highway development endangers the Heart of Borneo [09/18/2019]
- The construction of the Pan Borneo Highway in the Malaysian state of Sabah could disrupt the connections between wildlife populations and appears to run counter to the state’s conservation commitments, according to a new study. - Passages under the highway and the rehabilitation of key forest corridors could lessen the impacts of the road, but the authors of the study caution that these interventions are expensive and may not be effective. - They argue that planners should consider canceling certain sections of the road with the greatest potential for damaging the surrounding forest.
Gran Chaco: South America’s second-largest forest at risk of collapsing [09/17/2019]
- Distributed between Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, the Gran Chaco is a collection of more than 50 different ecosystems typified by dry forest. - The Gran Chaco is one of the most deforested areas on the planet. Every month, an area twice the size of Buenos Aires is cut down. - Chaco deforestation is driven by the expansion of the agricultural frontier and hunting, as well as climate change.
Indigenous communities, wildlife under threat as farms invade Nicaraguan reserve [09/17/2019]
- Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve straddles the country’s border with Honduras and was declared a UNESCO site in 1997. It comprises one of the largest contiguous rainforest regions in Latin America north of the Amazon Basin and includes 21 ecosystems and six types of forest that are home to a multitude of species, several of which are threatened with extinction. - According to a report by the Nicaraguan environmental agency MARENA, a little more than 15 percent of the Bosawás reserve had been cleared and converted for agricultural use in 2000. But today, that number stands at nearly 31 percent. Satellite data show deforestation reached the heart of the reserve’s core zone earlier this year. - Deforestation in Bosawás stems mainly from migration, as people in other parts of the country move to the region looking for fertile land and space to raise cattle and grow crops. - Indigenous communities are allowed to own land within Bosawás. But sources say land traffickers are selling plots of land to non-indigenous farmers and ranchers, creating conflicts that have caused death on both sides.
Audio: Humpback whales across the Pacific Ocean are singing the same song [09/17/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jim Darling, a marine biologist who is here to play us some recordings of remarkably similar humpback whale songs from around the world. - Darling and colleagues found that North Pacific humpback whale songs can be incredibly similar to each other — nearly identical, in fact. That means that our view of the whales as living in distinct groups might very well be wrong. And that view dictates a lot of the conservation measures we’ve designed to protect imperiled populations of humpbacks. - Darling joins us today to talk about his humpback research and play us some of those recordings so you can hear the similarity for yourself.
Newly described Chinese giant salamander may be world’s largest amphibian [09/17/2019]
- The critically endangered Chinese giant salamander is not just one, but three distinct species, researchers have now confirmed in a new study. - One of the newly recognized species, the South China giant salamander (Andrias sligoi), could be largest amphibian on the planet, the researchers say. - The researchers say they hope the recognition of the Chinese giant salamanders as three species will help the amphibians’ conservation by triggering separate management plans for the species.
Mexican officials battle a tide of fire eating away at a protected reserve [09/16/2019]
- Fires raged in the Mexican state of Campeche this summer, with NASA satellites picking up nearly 10,000 fire alerts the state so far this year — around twice the number recorded in 2018. This puts 2019 in third place (behind 2003 and barely behind 2013) for the highest incidence of fires in the state since data collection began in 2001. - Of these fires, 15 percent occurred in protected areas. Several afflicted Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of which burned through 3,087 hectares (7,628 acres) before being extinguished. - Stretching across the central Yucatan Peninsula to the Guatemalan border, the Calakmul Reserve, as well as the Balamku and Balamkin state reserves that sit contiguous with it, comprise more than 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of jungle. The reserves are home to some of the country’s most impressive biodiversity and provide vital habitat to threatened animals and plants. - The main driver of fires in Campeche is slash-and-burn agriculture. Officials worry that fire seasons will only intensify as more people set up farms in the region, and as state funding to fight fires continues to dwindle.
Popular pesticide linked to weight loss and delayed migration in songbird [09/16/2019]
- In a new study, wild white-crowned sparrows that were exposed to seeds treated with imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, suffered considerable weight loss and delayed the timing of their migration. - The delayed migration could in turn be affecting the birds’ survival and reproduction, the researchers say. - The findings suggest that neonicotinoids could have partly contributed to the decline of several farmland-dependent bird species in North America as seen in the past few decades, the researchers add.
Video: Pango-Cam offers amazing and unique view of pangolin behavior [09/16/2019]
- The Pango-Cam is a first-of-its-kind camera setup attached to a black-bellied pangolin’s back to provide unique footage of the animal’s behavior. - A collaboration between filmmaker Katie Schuler, pangolin biologist Matthew Shirley, and National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab, the team recently recorded excellent footage in Nigeria, as seen in the video below. - Pangolins are poorly understood and are also under grave threat from the illegal wildlife trade, so it’s hoped the Pango-Cam can improve awareness and knowledge of the secretive animals. - Pango-Cam footage is featured in Schuler’s new film that’s appearing at Jackson Wild, a conservation event and film festival running in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from Sept. 21-27.
‘A green desert’: Mammals take a hit in Colombia’s oil palm plantations [09/16/2019]
- Researchers studying oil palm plantations in Colombia found that mammal diversity dropped compared to nearby savanna. - Some mammals used plantations for hunting and foraging, but none stayed permanently. - With the Colombian government’s pledge to drastically increase its cropland, scientists fear savannas and wetlands could be at threat.
Shocking news: There are actually three species of electric eel in the Amazon, not one [09/13/2019]
- A mostly nocturnal species found in freshwater habitats in Mexico and South America, the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) belongs to the knifefish family and is more closely related to catfish and carp than other eels. It was first described more than 250 years ago by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. - But now a team of scientists led by Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has determined that E. electricus is in fact three distinct species. - During their work in the field, the researchers used a voltmeter to record a member of one of the newly described species, E. voltai, discharging 860 volts, the highest discharge ever recorded for any animal (the previous record was 650 volts).
Nepal to conduct, self-fund, rhino census in March 2020 [09/11/2019]
- In 2019 a planned rhino census in Nepal was called off after wildlife officials failed to raise the necessary funds from donors. - The country’s finance ministry recently announced that will support a new rhino census, to be held in March 2020. The government has allocated 11 million rupees of the total 16 million rupees ($140,000) the census is estimated to cost. - Nepal has succeeded in virtually eliminating rhino poaching, but large numbers of rhinos have died of unknown or natural causes in the country’s sanctuaries, adding urgency to calls for a new census to be held. - The decision to self-fund the census comes as the government is promoting a variety of populist, nationalist projects.
A lifeline for the last leopards (commentary) [09/10/2019]
- From being extinct in the wild, the Arabian oryx was reclassified in 1986 as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species after its reintroduction to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, with its global numbers increased to thousands, the Arabian oryx was the first animal ever to revert to “Vulnerable” status after having previously been listed as extinct in the wild. - Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) aims to replicate this miraculous turnaround for the Arabian leopard – a little-studied, desert-dwelling subspecies listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List – and for leopard populations everywhere with a new $20 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Wild Cats. - The Arabian Leopard Initiatives will support a holistic and urgent program to rigorously monitor the Arabian leopard’s population and distribution, as well as halt its decline through community conservation projects. The cornerstone will be a captive breeding program dedicated to shoring up Arabian leopard populations and reintroducing them into their former habitats. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Camera trap study reveals Amazon ocelot’s survival strategies [09/10/2019]
- Ocelots suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 70s due to hunting, but populations have rebounded since the international fur trade was banned. Now, heavy deforestation and increasing human activity across their range threaten to put this elegant creature back on the endangered list. - Researchers collected images from hundreds of camera traps set across the Amazon basin and analyzed the effect of different habitat characteristics on the presence of ocelots. Statistical modeling revealed the cat’s preference for dense forests and a dislike of roads and human settlements. - Experts say ocelots may also be responding to human activity and forest degradation in ways that camera traps cannot easily detect, such as changing how and when they use a particular habitat. The study looked at ocelot behavior in protected and forested habitat, not in degraded landscapes. - Ocelots are considered ambassador species for their forest ecosystem, and studies like this give support to maintaining protected areas, which are increasingly under threat from agricultural expansion and other human activities.
Malawi sentences pangolin smugglers, cracks down on wildlife crime [09/10/2019]
- Two Malawian nationals arrested in May and suspected of being part of one of Africa’s largest transnational wildlife trafficking syndicates have now been sentenced to three years in prison by a Malawian court. - The suspected kingpin of the trafficking network, a Chinese national named Yunhua Lin, was arrested in August this year following a three-month manhunt and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 11. - Lin’s wife, Qin Hua Zhang, and eight others who had been arrested during the May raids are due in court on Sept. 12, and further hearings have been scheduled throughout the month.
Nail paint helps researchers estimate numbers of rare Cuban bat species [09/09/2019]
- Very little is known about the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus), an extremely rare species known from just a single remote cave in western Cuba. - Now, following a survey that involved bright nail paints to mark individual bats, researchers have estimated that there are fewer than 750 Cuban greater funnel-eared bats in the the cave locally known as Cueva la Barca. - What the population number means for the species is, however, hard to say at the moment because of the lack of any previous estimates, researchers say.
Disaster strikes in Bolivia as fires lay waste to unique forests [09/06/2019]
- Fires are raging in Bolivia, hitting particularly hard the Chiquitano dry forests of the country’s southern Santa Cruz region. - Officials say the fires are largely the result of intentional burning to convert forest to farmland. Sources say this practice has recently intensified after Bolivian president Evo Morales signed a decree in July expanding land demarcated for livestock production and the agribusiness sector to include Permanent Forest Production Lands in the regions of Beni and Santa Cruz. - Satellite data indicate 2019 may be a banner year for forest loss, with tree cover loss alerts spiking in late August to levels more than double the average of previous years. Most of these alerts are occurring in areas with high fire activity, with data from NASA showing August fire activity in Santa Cruz was around three times higher than in years past. - Human communities are suffering due to the fires, with reports of smoke-caused illnesses and drinking water shortages. Meanwhile, biologists are worried about the plants and animals of the Chiquitano dry forests, many of which are unique, isolated and found nowhere else in the world.
Asian otters gain protection from the pet trade [09/06/2019]
- The smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter are now on the CITES list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade. - Asian small-clawed otters are particularly sought after as domestic pets and for ‘otter cafés,’ where wild otters are forced to interact with paying customers. - Conservationists say that a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.
New monkey species found in Amazon forest area that’s fast disappearing [09/05/2019]
- From a stretch of the Amazon forest lying between the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers in the Brazilian state of Pará, researchers have described a new-to-science species of marmoset. - The marmoset, with its distinct white tail, white forearms with a beige-yellowish spot on the elbow, and white feet and hands, has been named Mico munduruku after the Munduruku, an indigenous group of people who live in the Tapajós–Jamanxim interfluve. - At the moment, given the scarcity of information on M. munduruku, the researchers recommend listing the marmoset as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. - However, the Amazon forest that’s home to the newly described species is being rapidly cut for agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and infrastructure development.
‘Holy grail’: Nest of extremely rare bird captured on video in Russia [09/04/2019]
- In a remote part of the Russian Far East, researchers have for the first time filmed a nesting Nordmann’s greenshank, a bird that researchers know very little about. - While the Nordmann’s greenshank forages along the coast where it can be seen more easily from boats, it goes deep into larch forests in very remote locations to nest. - While the observed nest failed, the team managed to tag seven adult greenshanks and eight chicks with unique leg bands, which will help them track each individual bird as they fly across Asia and back. - There are believed to be fewer than 2,000 Nordmann’s greenshanks living in the wild today, with the species facing different threats in the various countries and territories through which it passes on its winter migration.
New species of giant flying squirrel brings hope to one of the world’s ‘most wanted’ [09/04/2019]
- Scientists have discovered a new species of giant flying squirrel in China belonging to one of the world’s rarest and most mysterious genera. - The first species in the genus, the Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi), was described in 1981 and hasn’t been seen since. - A second species, the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), was described in 2013, but also from just a single specimen. - Researchers believe the conservation outlook for the new species, the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis), is better than for its relatives, given its greater abundance in the wild and prospects for community and government involvement to protect it.
Indonesian court cancels dam project in last stronghold of tigers, rhinos [09/02/2019]
- A court in Indonesia’s Aceh province has ordered an end to a planned hydroelectric project in Sumatra’s unique Leuser Ecosystem. - Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Aceh government and the dam’s developer earlier this year over potential environmental destruction and violation of zoning laws. - The area is the last place on Earth that’s home to wild tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants — all critically endangered species whose habitat would be flooded and fragmented by the dam and its roads and power lines. - Villagers in the region were also widely opposed to the project, which they say would have dammed up the river on which they depend and forced them to relocate to make way for the reservoir.
A tiger refuge in Sumatra gets a reprieve from road building [08/31/2019]
- Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS), which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011. - UNESCO has noted particular concern about a spate of road projects planned for Kerinci Seblat and other protected areas within the TRHS. - According to park officials, Indonesia’s forestry ministry has refused permits for all new roads within the park; the sole project to receive permission is the upgrade of an existing road. - The park still faces immense pressure from encroachment for agriculture, logging, mining and poaching.
With new protections, saiga antelope may continue to be a symbol of Central Asia (commentary) [08/30/2019]
- Saiga antelope are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN “Red List” of threatened species. Disease and poaching have taken their toll on this ancient animal. - With potential disease threats, saiga cannot withstand the additional challenges of poaching and illegal trade. Saiga males are targeted and killed for their horn, which is used in traditional medicine in Asia. With the total remaining saiga population in Mongolia standing at less than 3,000, we are deeply concerned about both illegal trade and any potential commercial trade. - The majority of the 183 governments that are Parties to CITES gathered this week for their global meeting to regulate or prohibit commercial trade in threatened and endangered species. Given the high demand for saiga horn and this animal’s susceptibility to disease resulting in high levels of mortality across the population, the action taken in Geneva this week to strengthen saiga’s global protection was essential. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The end of the road: The future of the Pan Borneo Highway [08/30/2019]
- The construction of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of road for the Pan Borneo Highway across Malaysian Borneo holds the promise of spurring local economies for its proponents. - But from the outset, conservationists and scientists voiced concerns that the road would displace people, harm sensitive environments, and threaten Borneo’s splendid diversity of wildlife. - As construction moves forward, these groups are working with planners to find a way for the highway’s construction to avoid the worst environmental damage.
‘Not a pretty picture’: South China’s forests vanish as tree farms move in [08/29/2019]
- Forests in South China have been increasingly replaced by monoculture ecalyptus plantations grown for wood fiber for the pulp and paper industry. Even forests under official protection haven’t been spared. Xidamingshan Forest Reserve is one of these, losing so much of its native forest over the past decade that it was delisted by the World Database of Protected Areas in 2018. - Central government-led environmental inspections in 2016 found that the Guangxi region lost 6.9 percent of its nature reserve areas over a five year period between 2011 and 2015, with the loss primarily due to unclear borders and the ensuing environmental damage from economic activities such as plantation agriculture and mining. - The Guangxi government set about trying to determine the borders of the Xidamingshan Nature Reserve in 2016, with the final determination coming on Jan. 31, 2019. However, where those borders will actually be depends on the outcomes of negotiations between Guangxi and local governments, and their implementation is at the mercy of a protracted bureaucratic process. - Meanwhile, forests continue to be lost at a fast pace, with satellite data showing large areas of tree cover loss in 2019.
Calls for natural solution over man-made one in flood-ravaged rhino refuge [08/29/2019]
- Kaziranga National Park in India, the global stronghold of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, has 144 artificial highlands built to help animals find refuge during the annual floods that hit the region. - Experts say the artificial highlands are merely temporary solutions and won’t be beneficial over the long term. - Some say the artificial highlands will lead to more erosion and siltation in the grasslands than occurs naturally. Moreover, only rhinos seem to be using the artificial highlands, while other animals tend to move toward natural highlands in neighboring hills. - The real solution, some experts say, lies in keeping the migration routes that the animals follow to reach their natural highlands free of human settlements and commercial establishments.
‘We have cut them all’: Ghana struggles to protect its last old-growth forests [08/28/2019]
- Deforestation of Ghana’s primary forests jumped 60 percent between 2017 and 2018 – the biggest jump of any tropical country. Most of this occurred in the country’s protected areas, including its forest reserves. - A Mongabay investigation revealed that illegal logging in forest reserves is commonplace, with sources claiming officers from Ghana’s Forestry Commission often turn a blind eye and even participate in the activity. - The technical director of forestry at Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources said attempts at intervention have met with limited success, and are often thwarted by loggers who know how to game the system. - A representative of a conservation NGO operating in the country says a community-based monitoring project has helped curtail illegal logging in some reserves, but additional buy-in from other communities is needed to scale up its results. Meanwhile, the Ghanaian government is reportedly starting its own public outreach program, as well as coordinating with the EU on an agreement that would allow only legal wood from Ghana to enter the EU market.
Manta rays are social creatures who are choosy about their friends [08/28/2019]
- Researchers have found evidence of structured social relationships among wild, free-ranging reef manta rays. The rays appear to actively choose other individuals to socialize with, according to a study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology last week. - The researchers say that certain social groups were regularly seen together at specific cleaning stations, where the rays are cleaned by cleaner wrasse and other small fish, suggesting that they may be using those sites as meet-up points. Some rays were observed returning frequently to certain cleaning stations despite the close proximity of several other sites. - Reef manta rays are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List, which reports that the ray’s numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30 percent globally over the last 75 years. The researchers hope that by revealing the social lives of manta rays, they can help build public support for protection measures around the world.
Death on the Brahmaputra: The rhino, the rangers, and the usual suspects [08/28/2019]
- In February 2018, a greater one-horned rhino wandered from India’s Orang National Park into the nearby Burachapori-Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary. - In September 2018, officials lost track of the rhino. In June 2019, the rhino’s buried remains, and a bullet, were discovered close to a guard camp in Burachapori-Laokhowa. - Officials in Burachapori-Laokhowa did not officially report the rhino missing until the matter was leaked to the press more than a month later. - Suspicion has been cast, variously, on forest staff, illegal settlers and illegal fishers.
The Pan Borneo Highway on a collision course with elephants [08/28/2019]
- Out of the controversy surrounding the Pan Borneo Highway and its potential impacts on the environment has arisen a movement to bring conservationists, scientists and planners together to develop a plan “to maximize benefits and reduce risks” to the environment from the road’s construction. - The chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo has called for the highway to avoid cutting through forests. - But a planned stretch would slice through a protected forest reserve with a dense concentration of elephants. - A coalition of scientific and civil society organizations has offered an alternative route that its members say would still provide the desired connection while lowering the risk of potentially deadly human-wildlife conflict.
With record support, rhino rays and world’s fastest sharks get new trade protections [08/28/2019]
- Governments from around the world have voted to strictly regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish — sharks and rays that have been declining rapidly in recent years. - All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which mandates that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild. - With majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially shark fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision. - The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in the history of CITES convention with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals.
Jumping the Shark: The Decline of the North Atlantic’s Shortfin Mako [08/28/2019]
- Conservation scientists have recommended a total fishing ban on shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) to allow the species’ population in the North Atlantic to recover from decades of overfishing. - The shortfin mako has a slow breeding cycle, making overfishing particularly deletirious and recovery a slow process. - A decision on whether to ban fishing of the species will be made in October by nations that are party to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), but past decision have often veered away from scientific recommendations.
Meet the first gene-edited reptile: An albino lizard [08/28/2019]
- A team from the University of Georgia, U.S., reported successfully creating an albino lizard through gene-editing, a first for reptiles. - The mutation introduced in the unfertilized eggs of female brown anole (Anolis sagrei) lizards led to the birth of albino offspring. - Gene editing in reptiles is considered difficult because of features like internal fertilization and sperm storage, which make it hard to predict when fertilization will take place. - The researchers say they hope that exploring different gene functions in Anolis lizards will aid in the study of genetic defects in humans.
Giraffe trade to be monitored, strictly regulated [08/26/2019]
- Until recently, there weren’t any international regulations governing the trade in giraffes and their body parts. - On Aug. 22, countries voted to list the giraffe under Appendix II of CITES, which would tighten the monitoring and regulation of the giraffe trade. - Giraffe numbers have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years.
The Pan Borneo Highway could divide threatened wildlife populations [08/26/2019]
- Crews are set to begin construction on a stretch of Malaysia’s Pan Borneo Highway in eastern Sabah state, involving the widening of the road from two lanes to four. - The new divided highway will cross the Kinabatangan River and pass through a critical wildlife sanctuary that’s home to orangutans, elephants and proboscis monkeys, along with other wildlife species already hemmed in by the region’s oil palm plantations. - Planners and politicians hope the road will stimulate local economies and bring in more tourists. - Conservationists and scientists, however, are concerned that the highway could further section off animal populations and damage the current tourism infrastructure, unless certain mitigation measures are introduced.
‘Like spaghetti’: Worm-slurping, hopping rats discovered in the Philippines [08/26/2019]
- The highly biodiverse island of Luzon in the Philippines has yielded up two species of rats new to science. - Both are found high up on Luzon’s mountains, where they’ve evolved to feed on the earthworms that abound in the lush, wet habitat. - Researchers say they hope the new discoveries, the latest of dozens made here since 2000, will help shine a spotlight on the importance of conserving Luzon’s unique habitats and wildlife.
Sumatran elephant sanctuary under threat from bridge, port projects [08/26/2019]
- Both the planned bridge and private port in southern Sumatra would be built in an area that includes a key wildlife sanctuary that’s home to 152 critically endangered Sumatran elephants. - The bridge would link to an island being developed for tourism, while the port would serve a pulpwood mill operated by Asia Pulp & Paper. - Environmentalists have called for minimal disruption to the habitat if the projects go ahead, including elevated roads and strict zoning to ensure the elephants can co-exist alongside the anticipated influx of people. - An attempt was made in 1982 to relocate the elephants from the area to make way for a migrant colony, but the elephants moved back and the area was subsequently designated as a sanctuary.
Indigenous communities, nat’l parks suffer as Malaysia razes its reserves [08/23/2019]
- Forest loss appears to be accelerating in peninsular Malaysia in 2019. Much of this deforestation is happening in “permanent forest reserves,” which are supposed to be under official protection. However, Malaysian state governments have the authority to spontaneously degazette forest reserves for development. Sources say this has created a free-for-all, with loggers rushing to clear forest and sell timber. - Satellite imagery shows logging happening right up to the border of Taman Negara National Park, which lacks the buffer zone typical around national parks in other countries. Researchers say this is likely to have detrimental impacts on the parks’ wildlife. - Sources on the ground say deforestation is also affecting forest-dependent indigenous communities. Residents of one such community say mining – which often follows on the heels of logging in Malaysia – is also harming them. - Earlier this year, 15 Batek residents of the village of Kuala Koh died and more than 100 others were hospitalized due to mysterious illnesses. The government claims the deaths were caused by a measles outbreak, but outside experts say extremely high and unhealthy levels of manganese in their drinking water due to nearby mining may also be to blame. Advocates say the loss of their forests make indigenous communities more vulnerable to disease and illness, referring to the deforestation of their homes as “structural genocide.”
Bid to allow sale of ivory stockpiles rejected at wildlife trade summit [08/23/2019]
- A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would have allowed them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected by 101 votes to 23 at the CITES wildlife trade summit taking place in Geneva. - Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are placed in Appendix II of CITES, which allows commercial trade in registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits in place. - But such sales are severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II, which Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal sought to amend. - Several other African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the one-off sales permitted under the annotation in 1997 and 2008 had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy, negating the argument that flooding the market with legal ivory would drown out the illegal trade.
Australia to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn [08/22/2019]
- Australia has formally announced a plan to ban its domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. - Sussan Ley, the country’s environment minister, said she would meet with ministers in November to ensure that steps are taken to ban domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn all jurisdictions. - At the ongoing CITES meeting, a coalition of 30 African elephant range countries tabled a proposal asking all domestic markets of ivory to be closed. But the proposal was voted down.
The Pan Borneo Highway brings wildlife threats to nat’l park doorstep [08/21/2019]
- The southern terminus of the Pan Borneo Highway in Malaysia extends to the edge of Tanjung Datu National Park in Sarawak. - The highway’s proponents say the road is already bringing more tourists who are eager to see the park’s wildlife to the adjacent communities, helping to boost the local economy. - But one of the world’s rarest primates, the Bornean banded langur, resides in the park, raising concerns in the conservation community that increased access could bring poachers into the park.
Audio: The superb lyrebird’s song, dance and incredible vocal mimicry [08/20/2019]
- On this special show, we replay one of our favorite Field Notes episodes, featuring recordings of a songbird known for its own ability to replay sounds, including elaborate vocal displays and amazing mimicry of other species’ songs and even of trees blowing in the wind. - Male superb lyrebirds are extravagantly feathered creatures who clear patches of forest floor to prepare a stage on which they dance and sing their complex songs in order to attract a mate. - Female superb lyrebirds also sing plus they mimic other species as well as sounds from their environment, such as the creaking of trees in the wind. - Anastasia Dalziell discussed her study detailing findings on the vocal mimicry of male superb lyrebirds and the dances the birds use to accompany specific songs. She also discussed a previous study of hers looking at the mimetic vocal displays of female superb lyrebirds, which she said “highlights the hidden complexity of female vocalizations” in songbirds.
Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway [08/19/2019]
- The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway. - The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway. - Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo. - But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.
CITES 2019: What’s Conservation Got To Do With It? (commentary) [08/16/2019]
- From August 17-28, the global community convenes in Geneva for the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). - Species whose very future on this planet will be debated include the African elephant, Southern white rhino, giraffe, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, and mako shark. - Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at WCS, argues governments must not let their decisions be swayed by the pressures of those more interested in trade than conservation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Madagascar: What’s good for the forest is good for the native silk industry [08/16/2019]
- People in the highlands of central Madagascar have long buried their loved ones in shrouds of thick wild silk, typically from the endemic silkworm known as landibe (Borocera cajani). - With support from NGOs, traditional silk workers have widened their offerings to include scarves made of wild silk for sale to tourists and the country’s elites. - In recent years, the price of raw materials has shot up as the forests the landibe grows in succumb to fire and other threats, making it difficult for silk workers to continue their craft. - However, where there are forest-management challenges, there is also opportunity: the silk business provides an incentive for local people to protect their trees. Some well-organized and well-supported community groups are cashing in on conservation, in spite of the broader silkworm recession.
Asian elephant footprints serve as safe spaces for frog nurseries [08/16/2019]
- Researchers have discovered that Asian elephant footprints can create stable, safe breeding grounds for frogs in Myanmar. - The scientists believe these stable foot ponds can last for more than a year, and that a series of them provides connectivity for frog populations. - While the ecosystems services of African savanna and forest elephants have been widely studied, the scientists say more research should be spent on Asian elephants and how they impact their ecosystems.
Newly described giant extinct penguin and parrot once lived in New Zealand [08/16/2019]
- Paleontologists have found fossils of two extinct giant birds in New Zealand: an enormous penguin that would have been nearly as tall as an average adult human, and the largest parrot ever known to have existed. - The new species of extinct giant penguin, formally named Crossvallia waiparensis, was described from leg bones found at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in the North Canterbury region in 2018. - The extinct parrot, Heracles inexpectatus, was likely double the size of the previously largest known parrot species, the kakapo. The fossils of the parrot were first recovered from near St. Bathans in Central Otago in 2008.
Nigeria finds itself at the heart of the illegal pangolin trade [08/15/2019]
- Pangolins have long been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon. - Strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in Nigeria, and the illegal trade in pangolin parts has gone deeper underground. - Hunters and traders tell Mongabay that the impact of increased trafficking on pangolin populations is becoming clear as they are increasingly difficult to find in the forest. - Chinese buyers will pay anywhere between $3 and $20 for a pangolin — a relative fortune for local bushmeat traders. Traffickers can then get as much as $250 for the scales from one pangolin in markets in Asia.
Europe-bred rhinos join South African cousins to repopulate Rwanda park [08/14/2019]
- Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos have been flown from Europe to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. - Eastern black rhino populations across the region are small and isolated, with the risk of inbreeding damaging long-term genetic viability. - The rhinos come from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding program and will add vitally needed fresh genetics into Rwanda’s fledgling population, made up of rhinos bred in South Africa.
Big cat trade driven by demand for traditional Asian medicine, according to report [08/13/2019]
- Bones, blood, and other body parts of big cats are made into products such as balms, capsules, gels, and wines that practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe to be able to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to meningitis, though in fact they’ve been found to have no provable health benefits. - Even before farmed big cats are killed to feed the demand for traditional Asian medicine, however, they’re treated more like products than living, breathing creatures, according to a report released last month by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection. - China and South Africa are the world’s biggest breeders of captive cats. China alone is estimated to have between 5,000 and 6,000 tigers in captive breeding facilities, while South African facilities are holding between 6,000 and 8,000 lions and another 300 tigers.
World’s largest frog moves heavy rocks to build nests, study finds [08/13/2019]
- The goliath frog, the world’s largest known frog species, sometimes moves large stones and rocks weighing more than half its weight to create dammed ponds on sandy riverbanks to serve as nesting sites, a new study has found. - Digging out a large nest that is more than a meter wide by moving large rocks requires a lot of physical strength, which could be a potential explanation for why goliath frogs are among the largest frogs in the world, researchers say. - The goliath frog is endangered, yet there’s still a lot that researchers do not understand about the frog’s behavior.
Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one [08/12/2019]
- Economist Adrian Lopes used data modeling to explore the links between rhino horn suppliers in India and South Africa. - His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around. - Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.
Indigenous-managed lands found to harbor more biodiversity than protected areas [08/09/2019]
- Researchers say they found that amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile abundance in Australia, Brazil, and Canada is highest on lands managed or co-managed by indigenous communities — higher even than on protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, which were found to have the second highest levels of biodiversity. - Both indigenous-managed lands and protected areas harbored more biodiversity than unprotected areas included in the study that the researchers selected at random. The researchers also determined that the size and geographical location of any particular area had no effect on levels of species diversity, suggesting that it’s the land-management practices of indigenous communities that are conserving biodiversity. - The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of expanding the boundaries of traditional conservation strategies, which frequently rely on establishing protected areas to conserve critical habitat for biodiversity.
Protecting the strange sea pangolin and other animals: Q&A with deep sea biologist Chong Chen [08/07/2019]
- Creatures living in deep-sea hydrothermal vents lead a unique life that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Yet these animals are at risk of disappearing because of deep-sea mining before we even learn about them. - A deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusk, the scaly-foot snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum), for example, debuted as endangered on the IUCN Red List this year because of threats from mining. - Mongabay spoke with deep-sea biologist Chong Chen, who has been assessing deep-sea hydrothermal vent species for the IUCN Red List, about his work and why listing these species on the IUCN Red List matters.
Indonesia agrees to attempt Sumatran rhino IVF with eggs from Malaysia [08/06/2019]
- Conservationists have welcomed a long-awaited agreement by Indonesia and Malaysia to move ahead with assisted reproductive technology for the captive breeding of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino. - Indonesia has long balked at sending rhino sperm to Malaysia for use in artificial insemination, but has now agreed to accept eggs from Malaysia to carry out in vitro fertilization. - If successful, the program would give the species a much-needed boost in genetic diversity. - Scientists in Germany last year used IVF to successfully produced embryos — though not a baby — of white rhinos, an African species.
Hornbill heroes: A conversation with a top Indonesian bird conservation NGO [08/05/2019]
- With their ostentatious bills, raucous calls, and unusual behavioral traits, hornbills are arguably one of the most charismatic groups of birds in the tropics. No country is home to more species than Indonesia, which has 13. - Hornbills in Indonesia are particularly under threat due to habitat destruction. Some species are also targeted by the wildlife trade, including, most notably, the helmeted hornbill, whose dense casque is made up of “hornbill ivory” that’s highly sought in China. - Until very recently, the decline in hornbill populations in Indonesia has been relatively under-appreciated. But that changed in 2013 when Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, founder of Rangkong Indonesia, published a report estimating that the wildlife trade killed 500 helmeted hornbills a month in West Kalimantan alone. - In June 2019, Mongabay interviewed Yoki Hadiprakarsa and Dian Hardiyanti from Rangkong Indonesia about their work to protect hornbills in Indonesia.
Stunning new wrasse species underlines need to protect deeper-lying reefs [08/05/2019]
- A new species of wrasse discovered in mesophotic reefs off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, underlines how little is known about marine environments. - Deeper-lying reefs are just as threatened by climate change and other human impacts as shallow reefs and need greater protection. - Mesophotic reefs could be an important and under-recognised source of fish larvae that supports coastal fisheries.