The ambitious plan to recover and rewild the feisty, dwarf cow [07/19/2019]
- Although critically endangered, the population of tamaraw has stabilized and grown over the last two decades. - Conservationists along with indigenous people are now planning on using the core population to rebuild and rewild other populations across the island of Mindoro. - Conservationists say none of this would be possible without the active supoort of Mindoro’s indigenous tribal groups, who are leading efforts to restore the tamaraw.
Congo government opens Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to oil exploration [07/18/2019]
- In 2018, the government of the Republic of Congo opened up several blocks of land for oil exploration overlapping with important peatlands and a celebrated national park. - According to a government website, the French oil company Total holds the exploration rights for those blocks. - Conservationists were alarmed that the government would consider opening up parks and peatlands of international importance for oil exploration, while also trying to garner funds for their protection on the world stage.
Indonesian officials foil attempt to smuggle hornbill casques to Hong Kong [07/18/2019]
- Indonesian authorities have arrested a woman for allegedly attempting to smuggle 72 helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) casques to Hong Kong. - The distinctive-looking bird is critically endangered, its precipitous decline driven by poaching for its casque — a solid, ivory-like protuberance on its head that’s highly prized in East Asia for use as ornamental carvings. - Tackling the hornbill trade will be on the agenda at next month’s CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
Information is key – but lacking for sharks and rays in the Western Indian Ocean (commentary) [07/18/2019]
- Due to overexploitation, at least 27 percent of the 222 different shark and ray species found in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) are considered threatened, meaning that they are classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. These species face a high risk of extinction and need urgent conservation intervention. - Although the majority of sharks and rays pose no threat to humans, we pose a major threat to them, primarily through fisheries. Shark fisheries have existed for many decades, although historically they were primarily caught as unwanted bycatch. However, they are now increasingly being targeted due to the high demand for meat for local consumption and export, and for their fins for the global shark (and ray) fin trade. - Ensuring that sharks and rays are sustainably managed is important not only because they provide an important source of food and income for many coastal communities, but also because they serve an important function in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems through their roles as apex and meso predators, and as food for other, larger marine species. However, information needed to sustainably manage shark and ray populations is sorely lacking in the WIO. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
From over 100,000 species assessments in IUCN update, zero improvements [07/18/2019]
- The latest IUCN Red List update, which includes assessments of 105,732 species, lists more than 28,000 species as threatened with extinction. - The declines of many of these species can be attributed to human overexploitation, according to the IUCN. The red-capped mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus), for example, has moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019, largely because of threats from illegal hunting for bushmeat and conversion of much of the monkey’s Atlantic coast forest habitat in West Africa to agriculture. - More than 5,000 trees from 180 countries, and 500 deep-sea bony fish species like the bioluminescent lanternfishes, were also added to the Red List this year. - No species was assessed as having genuinely improved in status enough to earn it a place in a lower threat category, according to the IUCN.
Orangutan habitats being cleared in areas near palm oil mills, report finds [07/17/2019]
- A new study identifies the palm oil mills in Indonesia with the most clearance of orangutan habitat happening around them. - The top 10 mills are all on the island of Borneo and are producing palm oil that makes its way into the supply chains of consumer goods giants such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Avon, Mars, Mondelēz and more — companies that promised long ago to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation. - Just because deforestation is happening around a palm oil mill does not mean it is being done by an entity supplying that mill with palm fruits. But it is a strong red flag that this may be the case. - Several of the consumer goods giants contacted by Mongabay said they were either actively investigating the deforestation or suspending trading with the mills. Others were more vague in their responses.
Thousands of sharks and rays are likely entangled in plastic polluting Earth’s oceans [07/16/2019]
- Scientists at the UK’s University of Exeter examined existing scientific literature and took to Twitter to find documented instances of shark and ray entanglements. - They ended up finding reports of more than 1,000 entangled animals — and they say the actual number of sharks and rays snarled in plastic is likely to be far higher, as few studies have focused specifically on the issue. - “Entanglement in marine debris is symptomatic of a degraded marine environment and is a clear animal welfare issue,” the authors write in the study. But they add that entanglement is “likely a far lesser threat” to shark and ray populations than the threat posed by commercial fishing.
Study finds lemurs in degraded Madagascar forest skinny and stunted [07/15/2019]
- In Madagascar’s Tsinjoarivo rainforest, adults of the critically endangered diademed sifakas living in the most degraded of forest fragments tend to be skinnier, and young individuals show stunting, compared to individuals living in more intact parts of the forest, according to a new study. - Skinny bodies in adults could mean that their nutritional intake is compromised in the disturbed areas, researchers say, while young sifakas could be growing more slowly in the most disturbed areas in response to reduced nutrition in the diet. - Sifakas living in less-disturbed forest fragments, however, don’t appear to be in poorer health than those in continuous, intact forests. This could be because the long-lived sifakas are likely resilient to moderate habitat changes, the researchers say. - But threats could add up and cause local populations to disappear, the researchers add.
Study examines how the Atlantic surfclam is successfully adapting to climate change [07/12/2019]
- Global climate change poses a severe threat to marine life, but scientists have found at least one species that appears to be successfully adapting to warmer ocean waters. - A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, even without factoring in the impacts of fishing, global animal biomass in Earth’s oceans is expected to decrease by as much as 17 percent by 2100 under a “high emissions” scenario that leads to 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming. - However, a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that, as ocean temperatures rise, Atlantic surfclams, a large saltwater clam found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, are capably shifting their range into waters that would have previously been inhospitable to their survival.
More than 10,000 animals and plants seized in massive global operation [07/12/2019]
- A 26-day worldwide effort in June termed Operation Thunderball, coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO), led to seizures of thousands of protected animals and plants. - Confiscated items included more than 2,600 plants, nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, more than 4,300 birds, 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusks, nearly 10,000 marine wildlife animals and their products, and 74 truckloads of timber. - Based on intelligence gathered before the operation was launched, the authorities identified wildlife trafficking routes and smuggling hotspots, which then led to seizures and almost 600 people being identified as suspects.
Let there be lights, to help migratory cranes avoid power lines [07/12/2019]
- A test of a new system deploying ultraviolet (UV) lights on power lines greatly reduced potentially deadly collisions with the lines by migrating sandhill cranes. - Developers of the Avian Collision Avoidance System, or ACAS, randomly assigned the system to be on or off each night of a four-month testing period. - Turning on the lighting system reduced crane collisions by 98 percent and enabled crane flocks to more quickly and calmly avoid the power lines while in flight. - Many birds can detect UV light, though humans cannot, so the system has potential to reduce a major threat to a range of migratory species without affecting the visibility of structures to humans.
Eat the insects, spare the lemurs [07/11/2019]
- To solve the twin challenges of malnutrition and biodiversity loss in Madagascar, new efforts are promoting edible insects as a way to take pressure off wildlife that people hunt for meat when food is scarce. - Insects are widely eaten in Madagascar. They are also incredibly nutritious and one of the “greenest” forms of animal proteins in terms of their land, water and food requirements and their greenhouse gas emissions. - One program is testing the farming of sakondry, a little-known hopping insect that tastes a lot like bacon. Another is setting up a network of cricket farms. - Other attempts to reduce reliance on forest protein include improving chicken husbandry in rural areas.
‘Let us trade’: Debate over ivory sales rages ahead of CITES summit [07/11/2019]
- Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe want to sell off their ivory stocks to raise money for conservation. - Growing human and elephant populations in these southern African countries have provoked increased human-wildlife conflict, and the governments see legal ivory sales as a way to generate revenue for conservation and development funding. - Other countries, most notably Kenya, oppose the proposal, on the grounds that previous legal sales stimulated demand for ivory and coincided with a sharp increase in poaching.
Asian elephants gang up in a bid to survive an increasingly human world [07/11/2019]
- Adolescent elephants in south India are adapting to human-dominated landscapes, probably to learn from older bulls how not to get killed by people. - These unusual associations, which can last for several years, were not recorded 20 years ago. - Researchers say it’s important to use this information to mitigate human-elephant conflict, including by not removing old bulls that don’t raid crops, which can pass down this behavior to young elephants.
Snowy owl summer: Raptor rehabilitation center releases Arctic visitor [07/10/2019]
- A snowy owl injured on its Massachusetts wintering grounds was brought to Tufts Wildlife Clinic this spring. - In nature, wildlife must heal fast or perish if they can’t find food or defend themselves from predators, but the lucky ones are brought to a clinic specializing in injured animals. - Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University is one such place. - Mongabay interviewed the clinic’s assistant director about the healing path of “snowy 397” before his eventual successful release.
Vaquita habitat now listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’ [07/10/2019]
- The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided to list the Sea of Cortez and its islands in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only place where the critically endangered vaquita is known to occur, on the List of World Heritage in Danger. - The porpoise’s numbers have dropped drastically, from around 300 in the mid-2000s to just 10 individuals, according to the latest estimate, mostly as a result of getting entangled in gillnets used in the poaching of totoaba fish. - The continuing illegal totoaba trade poses a threat to the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee said, recommending that the site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Chimps in Sierra Leone adapt to human-impacted habitats, but threats remain [07/10/2019]
- Western chimpanzees are adapting to survive in severely degraded habitat, a new study says. - However, the study also finds the abundance of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone is impacted by even secondary roads. - Ensuring the long-term survival of western chimps calls for changes in agriculture, roads and other development, researchers say.
After a lengthy delay, still no green light for Sri Lanka’s red list [07/09/2019]
- The rediscovery in recent years of species long thought to be extinct has sparked calls by scientists for an update of Sri Lanka’s red list of threatened species. - The current list is based on assessments from 2012, and a scheduled update in 2017 was missed because of procedural delays and resource constraints. - Conservationists have also called for the red-listing criteria used in Sri Lanka to be consistent with the global guidelines set out by the IUCN, in order to ensure consistency in conservation efforts. - They also want more species recovery initiatives based on the national red list, to make better use of the data to optimize conservation efforts.
Deadly virus detected in wild frog populations in Brazil [07/09/2019]
- Researchers have detected the first case of ranavirus infection in both native frog species as well as the invasive American bullfrog in the wild in Brazil. - While the study cannot attribute ranavirus as the cause of death for the observed American bullfrog tadpoles, the findings suggest that ranavirus is spread in the wild, the researchers say. - Ranavirus infections could be far more widespread in Brazil, and may have simply gone unnoticed until now, the researchers add.
In Nigeria, a highway threatens community and conservation interests [07/09/2019]
- Activists and affected communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state continue to protest plans to build a major highway cutting through farmland and forest that’s home to threatened species such as the Cross River gorilla. - The federal government ordered a slew of measures to minimize the impact of the project, but two years later it remains unclear whether the developers have complied, even as they resume work. - Environmentalists warn of a “Pandora’s box” of problems ushered in by the construction of the highway, including illegal deforestation, poaching, land grabs, micro-climate change, erosion, biodiversity loss and encroachment into protected areas. - They’ve called on the state government to pursue alternatives to the new highway, including investing in upgrading existing road networks.
Film that fish: Stereo-video speeds surveys of marine fish communities [07/05/2019]
- Researchers use underwater visual surveys to assess the sizes of fish in marine communities and their associated habitats, but diver-based data collection is time-consuming and requires expertise, and results may vary among different data collectors. - A multinational research team recently published the first guide to help researchers using diver-operated stereo-video methods (stereo-DOVs) to standardize surveys of fish assemblages (species and their abundances) and their associated habitat. - The video provides a permanent, shareable record of each survey transect, including the species and numbers of fish seen, while the stereo option allows researchers to measure fish using overlapping images. - The guide provides information on appropriate equipment; designing a stereo‐DOV if needed; operating it during underwater studies; processing the video data after collection; and analyzing fish behavior, population features and habitat in the resulting video.
Chance rescue turns out to be first record of elusive tortoise species in India [07/05/2019]
- Two tortoises that a range officer in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India rescued from a group of boys turned out to be the impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), an elusive species that has never been recorded in India before. - Researchers who have studied the reptile in Myanmar say the high-elevation habitat in Arunachal Pradesh where the tortoises were found is quite similar to that in Myanmar. - Very little is known about impressed tortoises, and researchers and the range officer hope that a long-term survey will be launched to find more individuals of the species in India. - For now, the two rescued individuals have been sent to a zoo in the state’s capital.
Stylish jumping spider named after late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld [07/04/2019]
- Researchers have named a previously undescribed species of black-and-white jumping spider Jotus karllagerfeldi, after the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, known for his signature black-and-white style. - In addition to Karl Lagerfeld’s jumping spider, researchers have described four more new-to-science species of jumping spiders in the new paper, including J. albimanus, J. fortiniae, J. moonensis and J. newtoni. - All five newly described species belong to a group of miniscule spiders called the brushed jumping spiders, males of which can be extremely colorful and are known to perform elaborate mating dances using a brush of long, colorful bristles on their legs to wave to the females. - Despite being colorful and charismatic, very little is known about brushed jumping spiders, researchers say, urging amateurs who photograph these spiders to lodge their specimens with museums so that more new species can be described.
Zambia halts plans to dam the Luangwa River [07/03/2019]
- WWF reports that the Zambian government has cancelled a pre-feasibility study for a dam on the Luangwa River, the Ndevu Gorge Power Project, which would have cost $1.26 billion and generated between 235 and 240 megawatts of power if completed. - More than 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the river. Critics of the dam project argued that fragmentation of the Luangwa would threaten wildlife and freshwater fish stocks, as well as the agriculture and tourism that local communities rely on. - A study recently published in Nature found that two-thirds of the world’s 242 longest rivers are no longer free-flowing, mainly because so many of them have been fragmented by dams.
New eDNA sampling system aims for cleaner, more efficient field research [07/02/2019]
- Researchers tested a new self-preserving filter housing system that automatically preserves eDNA from water samples, while reducing the risk of DNA contamination and plastic waste. - Scientists who use eDNA currently rely on cumbersome cold storage or liquid preservatives and single-use sampling equipment to preserve their eDNA samples, which are highly sensitive to degradation as well as contamination. - The new system incorporates a hydrophilic plastic material in its filter housing that physically pulls water from the sample without having to add chemicals. - In a six-month test, it allowed data collectors to preserve samples quickly and easily, at ambient temperature and with far reduced plastic waste, preventing degradation for weeks and with slightly higher amounts of captured DNA than a standard method.
Japan resumes commercial whale hunting [07/02/2019]
- For years, Japan exploited a loophole in international rules to continue hunting whales despite being a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) bound by the commercial whaling moratorium that went into effect in 1986. The country has now quit the IWC altogether and resumed commercial whaling. - The first minke whale caught under the country’s new commercial whaling program was landed yesterday at Kushiro port in northern Japan, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based NGO. - IWC members Norway and Iceland are the only other countries on Earth that currently hunt whales commercially. But Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they’ll be sitting out the summer 2019 whaling season, meaning that, for the first time in 17 years, no whales will be caught in Iceland’s waters.
Search for a new home for Javan rhinos put on hold [07/02/2019]
- The Indonesian government says plans to establish a second habitat for the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros have been put on hold. - The species numbers an estimated 68 individuals, all of them corralled in a national park on the western tip of the island of Java. - Conservationists had for years considered finding a second habitat outside the park to establish a new population of rhinos, given the risks they currently face from disease and natural disasters. - However, the top contender for a second habitat currently serves as a military training ground, leaving conservationists to find ways to expand the rhinos’ suitable habitat within the national park.
Six endangered North Atlantic right whales died last month alone [07/01/2019]
- In June this year, six endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted dead in Canadian waters, including a 40-year-old breeding grandmother, and a 34-year-old grandfather. - With only some 400 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) estimated to survive today, researchers and conservation groups are worried. - Necropsies carried out so far suggest that some of the whales died from collisions with ships. - Entanglement in fishing gear is another leading cause of death among this extremely threatened species of baleen whale.
La Mosquitia: Dangerous territory for scarlet macaws in Honduras [07/01/2019]
- The scarlet macaw (Ara macao), with its iconic red, blue and yellow plumes, is the national bird of Honduras. It inhabits forests from northern Central America to the southern Amazon, but the northern subspecies (A. m. cyanoptera) is particularly imperiled. - “Ecotrafficking,” the term for wildlife trafficking in Honduras, is a major problem in La Mosquitia, the part of eastern Honduras, near the border with Nicaragua. - Today, around 600 scarlet macaws inhabit the pine forests of Gracias a Dios, the Honduran department where Mabita is located. Anaida Panting and her family oversee 38 scarlet macaw nests and 30 great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) nests.
What happens to an ecotourism town when the wildlife doesn’t show? [06/28/2019]
- Since the mid-1990s, the town of Donsol in the Philippines has based its economy around tourists viewing whale sharks. - Whale sharks are migratory fish. And while they showed up in reliable numbers during the first decade of Donsol’s venture into shark tourism, their numbers have become highly unpredictable in the past decade for reasons still unknown. - Tourism has declined as well, with 2018 registering the fewest visitor arrivals since whale shark tourism started. The local economy, which it had buoyed, is now flagging, although 2019 seems off to a strong start for both whale sharks and tourists. - Wildlife tourism, by nature, is susceptible to biodiversity loss and changes in animal behavior; it places host communities on a thin line between profit and loss.
Researchers discover right whales singing for the first time ever [06/28/2019]
- Right whales — three species of large baleen whales in the genus Eubalaena — have never been known to sing. As far as scientists knew, right whale vocalizations consisted entirely of individual calls, as opposed to the repeated, patterned phrases of true whale songs. - But according to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America this month, the extremely rare eastern North Pacific right whale appears to use its gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song. - A research team with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) analyzed 17-years’-worth of data from autonomous recorders deployed in the Bering Sea and documented four distinct right whale song types at five different locations between the years 2009 and 2017.
Altered fish communities persist long after reefs bleach, study finds [06/28/2019]
- In a new study, bleached reefs in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles had fewer predators like snappers and groupers and more plant-eating fish such as parrotfish and rabbitfish. - The researchers found that this change in the composition of fish species persisted for more than a decade and a half after bleaching occurred in 1998. - Scientists expect bleaching events to occur more frequently as a result of climate change, making it likely that these shifts in fish communities will become permanent.
Saving Guatemala’s vanishing macaws: Q&A with veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra [06/27/2019]
- The northern subspecies of the scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) has disappeared from much of its former range in Mexico and Central America due to habitat loss and wildlife trafficking. Researchers estimate there are between 150 and 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Guatemala. - Fire, used to clear land for agriculture, is the biggest driver of habitat loss in Guatemala. So far this year, NASA satellites have detected more than 40,000 fires in Guatemala, many occurring in scarlet macaw habitat. - The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is trying to protect Guatemala’s macaws through a program that monitors nest sites and places lab-hatched chicks in adoptive nests. - Mongabay caught up with WCS Lead Medical Veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra as he was working in the field in Laguna del Tigre National Park to chat about his work and the outlook for scarlet macaws.
New film details wrenching impact of illegal rhino horn trade on families [06/27/2019]
- A new short film, titled Sides of a Horn, looks at the impacts of the illegal trade of rhino horn on a community in South Africa. - The 17-minute film follows two brothers-in-law, one who is a wildlife ranger and another who contemplates poaching as a way to pay for his ailing wife’s medical care. - A trip to South Africa in 2016 inspired British filmmaker Toby Wosskow to write and direct the short feature, which was publicly released June 25.
Documentary seeks to tip the scales against illegal pangolin trafficking [06/27/2019]
- New film aims to raise awareness and strengthen protection and conservation of pangolins. - Hunting and trafficking of these animals in Africa has sharply intensified to meet demand from Asia in recent years. - Pangolins have historically been used for traditional medicine, decoration and gift-giving across Africa.
Food choice leaves some lemurs more vulnerable to loss of forest habitat [06/26/2019]
- The gut microbes of some lemur species are specialized to help in digesting food found in their habitats, a new study has found. - Lemurs are only found in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, and are one of the most threatened primate groups in the world. - The study suggests the mostly leaf-eating group of lemurs known as sifakas, in the genus Propithecus, host gut microbes that are specialized for their diets and therefore less adaptable to food sources found in other habitats. - Madagascar reports alarming rates of deforestation, losing 2 percent of its primary rainforest just last year, the highest rate of any country.
Sponges supply DNA for new method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity [06/26/2019]
- Tracking environmental DNA (eDNA) is fast becoming a popular method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity, but current methods are expensive and cumbersome. - Filter-feeding sponges can act as natural sieves to collect and concentrate eDNA from seawater. - Using sponge samples collected from the Antarctic and the Mediterranean Sea, researchers identified 31 organisms, including fish, penguins, and seals, clearly separated by location. - Although the method is still a proof of concept, it may lead to the development of simpler, less expensive technologies for aquatic eDNA collection.
Keeping stray rhinos safe is a challenge on fringes of Nepal park [06/26/2019]
- Since 2018, two rhinos have fallen into septic tanks in settlements near Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, one of which died. - These incidents highlight the difficulties in keeping wandering rhinos safe amid a building boom in the park’s buffer zones. - Park authorities and municipal officials have traded blame over who should be responsible for developing and enforcing wildlife-friendly building codes. - Adding to the problem, many residents lack the resources to plan buildings according to existing codes, much less the more stringent standards of wildlife-friendly codes, and enforcement is already a challenge
Great Indian bustard eggs being collected to kick-start captive breeding [06/25/2019]
- The critically endangered great Indian bustard is now down to just 160-odd individuals, most of them surviving in the Thar Desert in India’s Rajasthan state. - In a last-ditch effort, wildlife researchers along with the forest department have started a hunt for the birds’ eggs to begin the process of captive breeding of the species. Last week, they managed to collect two bustard eggs from the wild; they have permission to collect up to six a year. - Two captive breeding facilities for the bustard are being built: a main, bigger facility in the south of Rajasthan, and a second, smaller facility in the west, close to where many of the wild birds breed. - This is the first time that great Indian bustard eggs have ever been collected from the wild for the purpose of captive breeding, and protocols are still being figured out, says Rajasthan’s chief wildlife warden.
National parks: Serving humanity’s well-being as much as nature’s [06/25/2019]
- A new study finds that living near a protected area in the developing world decreases poverty and increases childhood health. - Parks with tourism or multi-use were the best at delivering benefits to local populations. - There is an untold part of this story: conflict with wildlife was not incorporated into the study.
Angola pledges $60m to fund landmine clearance in national parks [06/25/2019]
- The Angolan government has announced a $60 million commitment to clear landmines in Luengue-Luiana and Mavinga national parks in the country’s southeast. - The region is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area — home to incredible natural biodiversity, but also one of the most heavily mined regions of Angola. - International funding for landmine clearance has fallen by 80 percent over the last 10 years, and without new funding Angola will miss its target of clearing all landmines by 2025. - The HALO Trust, a demining NGO, and the Angolan government hope that clearance of landmines will stimulate conservation in southeastern Angola and provide alternative livelihoods such as ecotourism to alleviate poverty and diversify the country’s economy away from oil.
Belize to protect critical wildlife corridor that’s home to jaguars and more [06/24/2019]
- The government of Belize has approved a proposal to protect the Maya Forest Corridor, a key stretch of jungle linking some of the region’s largest wilderness areas. - Once the corridor is secured, it will create the largest contiguous block of forest in Central America, experts say. - The Maya Forest Corridor is home to iconic animals like the jaguar; the critically endangered Central American river turtle; the endangered Central American spider monkey or Geoffroy’s spider monkey; and the endangered Baird’s tapir. - There is, however, a lot of work to be done before the Maya Forest Corridor gains official legal protection, including securing key privately owned patches of forest in the area.
Logging road construction has surged in the Congo Basin since 2003 [06/24/2019]
- Logging road networks have expanded widely in the Congo Basin since 2003, according to a new study. - The authors calculated that the length of logging roads doubled within concessions and rose by 40 percent outside of concessions in that time period, growing by 87,000 kilometers (54,000 miles). - Combined with rising deforestation in the region since 2000, the increase in roads is concerning because road building is often followed by a pulse of settlement leading to deforestation, hunting and mining in forest ecosystems.
Mongabay investigative series helps confirm global insect decline [06/24/2019]
- In a newly published four-part series, Mongabay takes a deep dive into the science behind the so-called “Insect Apocalypse,” recently reported in the mainstream media. - To create the series, Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and other scientists on six continents and working in 12 nations, producing what is possibly the most in-depth reporting published to date by any news media outlet on the looming insect abundance crisis. - While major peer-reviewed studies are few (with evidence resting primarily so far on findings in Germany and Puerto Rico), there is near consensus among the two dozen researchers surveyed: Insects are likely in serious global decline. - The series is in four parts: an introduction and critical review of existing peer-reviewed data; a look at temperate insect declines; a survey of tropical declines; and solutions to the problem. Researchers agree: Conserving insects — imperative to preserving the world’s ecosystem services — is vital to humanity.
Fire, cattle, cocaine: Deforestation spikes in Guatemalan national park [06/21/2019]
- Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala’s largest national park, provides habitat for an estimated 219 bird species, 97 butterflies, 38 reptiles and 120 mammals, and is also home to ancient Mayan ruins. But conservationists and archeologists say this biological and cultural wealth is threatened by high levels of deforestation in the park. - Between 2001 and 2018, Laguna del Tigre lost nearly 30 percent of its tree cover, and preliminary data for 2019 indicate the rate of loss is set to rise dramatically this year. Fire is the dominant driver of deforestation in the park, and is used to clear the land of forest and make it more farmable. Satellite imagery shows vast swaths of recently burned land where old growth rainforest stood less than 20 years ago. - Authorities blame residents within the park for much of the destruction, as well as industrial cattle operations and cocaine traffickers who set up airstrips on cleared land within the park. But community members have defended what they say is their right to live on the land and to use its resources, in some cases even resorting to violence. - Wildlife Conservation Society, along with the National Council for Protected Areas, have begun working on peace-building initiatives for the area with international agencies and organizations in the hopes of bridging the gap between environmental protection and human rights. But a lot of work remains.
Chinese nationals arrested in US after smuggling totoaba swim bladders worth $3.7 million from Mexico [06/21/2019]
- According to a report this week by Quartz, two Chinese nationals were arrested last month in the state of California with $3.7-million-worth of totoaba swim bladders that they had smuggled from Mexico. - More than 800 totoaba maws were confiscated by Mexican authorities last year in two separate busts of Chinese nationals who were attempting to smuggle the swim bladders out of the country. Also last year, Chinese customs officials confiscated 980 pounds of totoaba maws, estimated to be worth as much as $26 million. - These enforcement actions are welcome news, Andrea Crosta, executive director of wildlife trade watchdog group Elephant Action League wrote in a commentary for Mongabay earlier this year. But he added that, without further action to directly disrupt the totoaba maw supply chain and the operations of the wildlife crime networks involved in the illegal trade, there is “absolutely no chance” to save the vaquita.
The mine that promised to protect the environment: A cautionary tale [06/21/2019]
- In 2004, mining behemoth Rio Tinto made a bold commitment not just to protect but to “improve” the environment at its mining sites in ecologically sensitive areas around the world, through a strategy it called “net positive impact.” - A site in southeastern Madagascar where it was opening an ilmenite mine amid a gravely threatened coastal forest that’s home to unique species found nowhere else on the planet seemed like a good place to start. - A little more than a decade later, however, the initiative was dead: facing financial headwinds and falling behind on its pledges, Rio Tinto abandoned the NPI strategy in 2016. - In an article in the July issue of Scientific American, Mongabay contributor Rowan Moore Gerety tells how Rio Tinto came to make that promise and then to renege on it — and describes the result for Madagascar’s coastal forest and the people who live there.
All that glitters: Cameras spot Asian golden cat in more than one shade [06/20/2019]
- Cameras placed across the Dibang Valley in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh have captured Asian golden cats with six different coat colors. - These include five colors previously described from different parts of the cat’s distribution across Asia — golden, gray, cinnamon, melanistic (black) and ocelot (spotted) — as well as a previously unrecorded dark pattern of tightly spaced rosettes. - The study’s authors suspect that the different forms allow the Asian golden cat to be extremely adaptable, especially because the species occupies diverse habitats in the Dibang Valley, where competing predators such as tigers and snow leopards also occur. - Other researchers say the colors may be more of a continuum rather than clear-cut distinct forms, and that further study is needed to test the possible influence of other factors on the coat colors and patterns, including climatic conditions such as light exposure and temperature.
’Livestock revolution’ triggered decline in global pasture: Report [06/19/2019]
- Since 2000, the area of land dedicated for livestock pasture around the world has declined by 1.4 million square kilometers (540,500 square miles) — an area about the size of Peru. - A new report attributes the contraction to more productive breeds, better animal health and higher densities of animals on similar amounts of land. - The report’s authors say that technological solutions could help meet rising demand for meat and milk in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, without reversing the downward trend.
Sumatran rhinos to get a new sanctuary in Leuser Ecosystem [06/18/2019]
- A third captive-breeding sanctuary for the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino is set to be built in Indonesia, according to a top official. - The facility, scheduled to open in 2021, will be located within the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, home to what’s believed to be one of the largest populations of the critically endangered species. - Global and local rhino conservation groups have welcomed the plan and pledge to help with financial and technical support for the new facility. - Indonesia currently has two captive-breeding centers for the rhinos: in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park, which holds seven rhinos, and Borneo’s Kelian forest, which has a single rhino.
At least one species has been lost on more than half of Earth’s land area [06/18/2019]
- A study published in the journal Frontiers In Forests And Global Change last week largely supports the conclusions of the IPBES report released last month, determining that there is less intact habitat harboring its original community of life than has previously been estimated. And the authors of the study say their findings show that methods used to determine the most important areas for wildlife conservation using remote sensing and global datasets may not be accurately assessing faunal intactness. - Researchers found that at least one species has gone extinct on 54.7 percent of our planet’s land area (not including Antarctica), with some sites losing as many as 52 species. Even many forests identified as being intact because they have intact canopies have lost species below the canopy, the researchers found. - They conclude: “Recent papers have highlighted the small percentage of remaining wilderness or intact sites and yet our results indicate that truly intact sites with a full complement of species are likely to be much rarer still.”
Recreational divers help researchers track movements of rare stingray [06/18/2019]
- The smalleye stingray, thought to be widely distributed across the Indo-West Pacific, is rarely seen and is listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN Red List. - By compiling photographs and videos of the stingrays taken opportunistically by both research teams and recreational divers over the last 15 years off the coast of Mozambique, the only place the giant rays are regularly spotted, researchers have created a photographic database of the animals. - This database is now helping researchers gain some of the first insights into this elusive species. For example, researchers found that a female stingray had made a 400-kilometer (250-mile) round trip to birth her pups.
Primates lose ground to surging commodity production in their habitats [06/17/2019]
- “Forest risk” commodities, such as beef, palm oil, and fossil fuels, led to a significant proportion of the 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) of forest that was cleared between 2001 and 2017 — an area almost the size of Mexico. - A previous study found that 60 percent of primates face extinction and 75 percent of species’ numbers are declining. - The authors say that addressing the loss of primate habitat due to the production of commodities is possible, though it will require a global effort to “green” the international trade in these commodities.
Exotic pet trade responsible for hundreds of invasive species around the globe [06/14/2019]
- According to a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment last week, Burmese pythons in Florida are just one example of the hundreds of non-native and invasive species that are harming native species and ecosystems around the world thanks to the multibillion-dollar exotic pet trade. - “The volume of vertebrate animals that are traded worldwide is shocking, even to relatively seasoned invasion biologists,” the study’s lead author, Julie L. Lockwood, a professor at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in the United States, said in a statement. “The market in exotic pets has grown considerably since the 1970s, and so I don’t think most of us fully grasped how expansive the trade has become.” - Lockwood and colleagues note in the study that research has shown that, of the 140 non‐native reptiles and amphibians known to have been introduced in Florida so far, close to 85 percent arrived via the pet trade.
Leopards get a $20m boost from Panthera pact with Saudi prince [06/14/2019]
- Big-cat conservation group Panthera has signed an agreement with Saudi prince and culture minister Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Farhan Al Saud in which the latter’s royal commission has pledged $20 million to the protection of leopards around the world, including the Arabian leopard, over the next decade. - The funds will support a survey of the animals in Saudi Arabia and a captive-breeding program. - The coalition also hopes to reintroduce the Arabian leopard into the governorate of Al-Ula, which Bader heads and which the kingdom’s leaders believe could jump-start the local tourism sector.
Predator-free by 2050? High-tech hopes for New Zealand’s big conservation dream [06/13/2019]
- To preserve New Zealand’s remaining native biodiversity, the country has begun an ambitious nationwide program to eliminate its most damaging non-native invasive predators — rats, stoats and possums — by 2050. - To carry out this mammoth task, government and private entities across the country are applying new technologies to existing detection, exclusion, trapping, poisoning and other strategies used to reduce the numbers of harmful predators. - The program has wide public support, though some effective technologies, particularly gene editing, are controversial; recognition of the importance of public support, as well as cost and effectiveness, help guide the program’s development.
The Great Insect Dying: How to save insects and ourselves [06/13/2019]
- The entomologists interviewed for this Mongabay series agreed on three major causes for the ongoing and escalating collapse of global insect populations: habitat loss (especially due to agribusiness expansion), climate change and pesticide use. Some added a fourth cause: human overpopulation. - Solutions to these problems exist, most agreed, but political commitment, major institutional funding and a large-scale vision are lacking. To combat habitat loss, researchers urge preservation of biodiversity hotspots such as primary rainforest, regeneration of damaged ecosystems, and nature-friendly agriculture. - Combatting climate change, scientists agree, requires deep carbon emission cuts along with the establishment of secure, very large conserved areas and corridors encompassing a wide variety of temperate and tropical ecosystems, sometimes designed with preserving specific insect populations in mind. - Pesticide use solutions include bans of some toxins and pesticide seed coatings, the education of farmers by scientists rather than by pesticide companies, and importantly, a rethinking of agribusiness practices. The Netherlands’ Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery includes some of these elements.
Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo [06/12/2019]
- Logging and hunting have decimated a population of Bornean orangutans in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Indonesia. - Help has recently come from a pair of unlikely allies: an animal welfare group and a human health care nonprofit. - Cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the needs of ecosystems and humans is becoming an important tool for overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles in conservation.
Audio: Bronx Zoo director says zoos are more relevant to conservation than ever [06/12/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we speak with Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, about the contributions zoos make to the cause of global biodiversity conservation. - Breheny is well aware that a large contingent of the population questions the relevance of zoos in the 21st century. But he says that, as mankind’s influence extends ever farther and habitat for wildlife continues to shrink, zoos are more relevant than ever, as they preserve for the future the diversity of species who share the planet with us today. - On today’s episode of the Newscast, Breheny tells us about the evolution of zoos and aquariums that he’s witnessed over his 40-plus-year career; how zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well; and about his experience attempting to tell the story of zoos through the Animal Planet TV show ‘The Zoo.’
Homestay programs in Nepal’s rhino hub hold promise and pitfalls for locals [06/12/2019]
- When faced with criticism that local people don’t benefit from wildlife tourism to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, officials and conservationists point to homestay programs set up in communities on the park’s borders. - These homestay programs aim to provide the communities with alternative livelihoods and to create an incentive to protect forests and wildlife. - In the villages of Amaltari and Barauli, two very different homestay programs have been established, catering to different groups of visitors. Both models have their strengths, but also their shortcomings.
For the Philippine eagle, a shot at survival means going abroad [06/11/2019]
- The Philippines has loaned off two Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi) to Singapore for a 10-year breeding agreement, part of wider efforts to protect the species against disease outbreaks and natural calamities. - Prior to the agreement, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) managed the only sanctuary of its kind in the world for this critically endangered species. - Despite rigorous community-oriented programs to protect the eagles, human activity, including hunting and habitat destruction, remains the biggest threat to the Philippine eagles.
Inside an ambitious project to rewild trafficked bonobos in the Congo Basin [06/11/2019]
- A decade ago, a troop of formerly captive bonobos was for the first time reintroduced to the wild in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Following that successful reintroduction, a new troop of 14 bonobos is now in the process of being released and is anticipated to be fully in the wild by September. - Congolese conservation group Amis des Bonobos du Congo (ABC) is working to make sure the communities surrounding the release site feel invested in the project.
Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins [06/11/2019]
- On June 10, Canada’s House of Commons passed a bill that bans the practice of keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in captivity in the country. - Bill S-203 also prohibits breeding of the animals and collecting reproductive materials from them. The only exceptions to these provisions will be in cases of rescues and rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or “in the best interests of the cetacean’s welfare.” - The legislation, also known as the “Free Willy” bill, allows Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, the only two facilities in Canada that still house cetaceans, to continue to keep their animals as long as they do not breed or bring in any new individuals.
The Great Insect Dying: The tropics in trouble and some hope [06/10/2019]
- Insect species are most diverse in the tropics, but are largely unresearched, with many species not described by science. But entomologists believe abundance is being impacted by climate change, habitat destruction and the introduction of industrial agribusiness with its heavy pesticide use. - A 2018 repeat of a 1976 study in Puerto Rico, which measured the total biomass of a rainforest’s arthropods, found that in the intervening decades populations collapsed. Sticky traps caught up to 60-fold fewer insects than 37 years prior, while ground netting caught 8 times fewer insects than in 1976. - The same researchers also looked at insect abundance in a tropical forest in Western Mexico. There, biomass abundance fell eightfold in sticky traps from 1981 to 2014. Researchers from Southeast Asia, Australia, Oceania and Africa all expressed concern to Mongabay over possible insect abundance declines. - In response to feared tropical declines, new insect surveys are being launched, including the Arthropod Initiative and Global Malaise Trap Program. But all of these new initiatives suffer the same dire problem: a dearth of funding and lack of interest from foundations, conservation groups and governments.
Caribbean nations boost protection for extremely rare largetooth sawfish [06/08/2019]
- On June 5, Caribbean countries agreed to boost protection for the largetooth sawfish by adding it to Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention. - Plants and animals added to Annexes I and II of the SPAW Protocol are afforded the highest levels of protection, with countries falling within the Caribbean region committing to ban the collection, possession or killing of the species, prohibit their commercial trade, and take steps to reduce disturbances to the species. - Experts have welcomed the measure, but say that SPAW countries must “follow through with their obligations to implement protections.” - Legal protection aside, education and local community involvement is key to giving species like sawfish “a fighting chance,” experts say.
New pilot whale subspecies revealed: Q&A with marine biologist Amy Van Cise [06/07/2019]
- For centuries, Japanese seafarers have noted two distinct types of pilot whale in their waters: One with a squarish head and dark body, the other a bit bigger with a round head and a light patch on its back. - The two types have long been officially classified simply as forms of the same species, short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), but a new genetic study finds that they are actually distinct subspecies. - The finding is just the latest shake-up of the cetacean family tree after the discoveries of new whale species in recent years. - Mongabay spoke with the new study’s lead author, Amy Van Cise, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, about the science of whale taxonomy and what her team’s discovery means for the conservation of short-finned pilot whales.
Twice as many fishing vessels now, but it’s harder to catch fish [06/06/2019]
- The global fishing fleet has more than doubled from about 1.7 million boats harvesting fish in 1950 to 3.7 million fishing vessels in 2015. - More fishing vessels have become motorized as well: while only 20 percent of the world’s fishing vessels were powered by motors in 1950, this number rose to 68 percent in 2015. - The growing fishing fleet is, however, catching less seafood for the same effort. - There are geographic variations: while Asia’s fishing fleet has dramatically increased over the past decades, catching fewer fish for the same effort, fleet sizes in North America and Western Europe shrank slightly, accompanied by an increase in fish catch per unit effort.
The Great Insect Dying: Vanishing act in Europe and North America [06/06/2019]
- Though arthropods make up most of the species on Earth, and much of the planet’s biomass, they are significantly understudied compared to mammals, plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Lack of baseline data makes insect abundance decline difficult to assess. - Insects in the temperate EU and U.S. are the world’s best studied, so it is here that scientists expect to detect precipitous declines first. A groundbreaking study published in October 2017 found that flying insects in 63 protected areas in Germany had declined by 75 percent in just 25 years. - The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme has a 43-year butterfly record, and over that time two-thirds of the nations’ species have decreased. Another recent paper found an 84 percent decline in butterflies in the Netherlands from 1890 to 2017. Still, EU researchers say far more data points are needed. - Neither the U.S. or Canada have conducted an in-depth study similar to that in Germany. But entomologists agree that major abundance declines are likely underway, and many are planning studies to detect population drops. Contributors to decline are climate change, pesticides and ecosystem destruction.
Why more women should be included in the leadership of Virunga National Park (commentary) [06/05/2019]
- Since 2014, the number of female park guards serving in Virunga National Park, located in war-ridden eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been gradually increasing. Today, 29 women serve in the ranks of this 731-strong force. - There has been a flurry of international media attention to the women who chose the ranger profession. But so far, nobody has looked at how the presence of these women affects the functioning of the ranger force, and the relations between the park and the population living in its vicinity. - While gender equality is not a guarantee for improving park-people relations, we believe the integration of women in Virunga’s administrative and security structures needs to be reinforced, in particular at the higher echelons. Gender equality is not only of inherent importance, but — as our research indicates — also corresponds to a strong demand among the population living around the park. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Lemur yoga: Fueling the capture of wild lemurs? (commentary) [06/03/2019]
- In April, the BBC published a fawning article about an English hotel that is offering lemur yoga classes featuring endangered ring-tailed lemurs. Knowing full well that this media coverage would negatively impact lemurs living in the wild, we contacted the BBC, hoping to mitigate the damage. - In today’s digital age, every lemur kept in captivity, either in Madagascar or abroad, is fueling — directly and indirectly — the illegal extraction of lemurs from the wild. - Not a week goes by without more news of the precipitous decline of Madagascar’s biodiversity. And while it will take tens of millions of dollars to protect what is left, refusing to engage in exploitative encounters and sharing your lemur selfie online is a good place to start. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The Great Insect Dying: A global look at a deepening crisis [06/03/2019]
- Recent studies from Germany and Puerto Rico, and a global meta-study, all point to a serious, dramatic decline in insect abundance. Plummeting insect populations could deeply impact ecosystems and human civilization, as these tiny creatures form the base of the food chain, pollinate, dispose of waste, and enliven soils. - However, limited baseline data makes it difficult for scientists to say with certainty just how deep the crisis may be, though anecdotal evidence is strong. To that end, Mongabay is launching a four-part series — likely the most in-depth, nuanced look at insect decline yet published by any media outlet. - Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and researchers on six continents working in over a dozen nations to determine what we know regarding the “great insect dying,” including an overview article, and an in-depth story looking at temperate insects in the U.S. and the European Union — the best studied for their abundance. - We also utilize Mongabay’s position as a leader in tropical reporting to focus solely on insect declines in the tropics and subtropics, where lack of baseline data is causing scientists to rush to create new, urgently needed survey study projects. The final story looks at what we can do to curb and reverse the loss of insect abundance.
Mass die-offs of puffins in Alaska may be linked to climate change [05/31/2019]
- Between October 2016 and January 2017, the carcasses of hundreds of severely emaciated seabirds, mostly tufted puffins, washed onto the beaches of St. Paul Island, off Alaska. - Not all birds that die wash up on a beach and are discovered. So the researchers ran an analysis and estimated that between 2,740 to 7,600 tufted puffins died during that time. - Upon examining the carcasses, the researchers found that the birds had most likely died of starvation linked to shortage in prey triggered by climate change and a warming ocean.
Tiny tracking tags help decode how echolocating bats navigate [05/30/2019]
- Although navigation in echolocating bats has been studied for a long time, questions remain on how bats differentiate among echoes from different objects. - Researchers designed a small, lightweight tag that can capture movement and sound information in three dimensions to create a map of a bat’s sensory environment. - The data helped researchers pinpoint the movements of bats during flight and while catching prey, as well as how echoes from various objects differ. - One-third of bat species are threatened with extinction or lack basic ecological data, so such information can help scientists and wildlife managers understand bats’ foraging behavior and develop better measures for their conservation.
The world’s biggest reptile fair is also a hub for traffickers [05/30/2019]
- On June 1, a quarterly event in Germany which touts itself as the largest reptile trade show in the world, will again sell tens of thousands of reptiles. - The fair, referred to as “Hamm”, is a meeting point for aficionados seeking the rarest and best reptiles, including animals that are threatened with extinction and may have been poached from the wild. - Conservationists criticize the fair saying that it is the biggest hub for the legal and illegal trade in reptiles in the world. - While national laws protect many of the reptile species, legal loopholes allow the trade to persist.
Community conservation in Namibia requires balance and understanding (commentary) [05/29/2019]
- In a recent article, John Grobler recounted his experiences from a one-week visit to Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia. Mr. Grobler’s report, based on brief experiences in Nyae Nyae and a cursory study of the Namibian conservancy system, leaves much to be desired. - Grobler implies that the Namibian conservancy program has been less successful in terms of conserving wildlife and providing benefits to local people than the government and supporting NGOs claim. In order to judge the Namibian conservancies, one needs to first place them within the broader African conservation context. - This context allows us to examine a more central question about conservancies, one that has been incorrectly answered by many. What exactly are Namibian conservancies, and what is their purpose? - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
In a first, chimps found bashing tortoises against trees to get at the meat [05/29/2019]
- For the first time, researchers have observed chimpanzees in Gabon vigorously smashing forest hinge-back tortoises against tree trunks to try and crack open their shells and extract meat out of them. - It was usually adult male chimps that were successful at cracking open tortoise shells. One female and two adolescents were seen trying too, but they were unsuccessful, following which an adult male finished the job, sharing the meat with them. - In an unexpected observation, a adult male chimp cracked open a tortoise, ate half of its meat, then stored the remainder in a tree fork. He came back for it the next day, suggesting that chimpanzees plan for the future.
What is magic without ape parts? Inside the illicit trade devastating Nigeria’s apes [05/29/2019]
- Beliefs regarding the spiritual powers of apes drive a thriving trade in ape body parts in Nigeria and beyond. - In many cultures within Nigeria, chimpanzee and gorilla parts are believed to provide protection from evil spirits and curses, or allow communication with ancestors. - Due to a lack of data, the trade in ape body parts is sometimes viewed as simply a by-product of the much larger trade in bushmeat. Mongabay’s reporting suggests that the body part trade is, in its own right, a complex, well-organized and far more lucrative business.
Altered forests threaten sustainability of subsistence hunting [05/29/2019]
- In a commentary, two conservation scientists say that changes to the forests of Central and South America may mean that subsistence hunting there is no longer sustainable. - Habitat loss and commercial hunting have put increasing pressure on species, leading to the loss of both biodiversity and a critical source of protein for these communities. - The authors suggest that allowing the hunting of only certain species, strengthening parks and reserves, and helping communities find alternative livelihoods and sources of food could help address the problem, though they acknowledge the difficult nature of these solutions.
Vets rule out poaching and disease in recent death of rare Javan rhino [05/29/2019]
- In March, a Javan rhinoceros was found dead in a protected area at the western tip of the Indonesian island. - A necropsy carried out by veterinarians has now determined that the young rhino bled to death, due to injuries likely sustained during a fight with an adult male rhino. - The finding rules out earlier fears that the rhino may have been killed by poachers or contracted an infectious disease from livestock living near the park. - The estimated population of the critically endangered animals is now at a minimum 68 individuals.
Audio: Chatty river dolphins in Brazil might help us understand evolution of marine mammal communication [05/28/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Gabriel Melo-Santos, whose study of Araguaian river dolphins in Brazil has revealed that the species is much chattier than we’d previously known — and could potentially help us better understand the evolution of underwater communication in marine mammals. - The Araguaian river dolphin was only described to science in 2014, and there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the freshwater cetacean species. It was believed that the solitary nature of the dolphins meant that they wouldn’t have much use for communication, but Gabriel Melo-Santos led a team of researchers that recorded 20 hours of vocalizations and documented 237 distinct types of sounds made by the dolphins. - In this Field Notes segment, Melo-Santos plays some of the recordings he’s made of Araguaian river dolphins, explains how he managed to study the elusive creatures thanks to their fondness for a certain fish market in Brazil, and discusses how the study of Araguaian river dolphin vocalizations could yield insights into how their sea-faring relatives use their own calls to maintain social cohesion.
Conservation groups concerned as WHO recognizes traditional Chinese medicine [05/28/2019]
- The World Health Organization (WHO) will include traditional Chinese medicine in the revision of its influential International Classification of Diseases for the first time. - The move concerns wildlife scientists and conservationists who say the WHO’s formal backing of traditional Chinese medicine could legitimize the hunting of wild animals for their parts, which are used in some remedies and treatments. - The WHO has responded by saying that the inclusion of the practice in the volume doesn’t imply that the organization condones the contravention of international law aimed at protecting species like rhinos and tigers.
Last male rhino in Malaysia dies [05/27/2019]
- A Sumatran rhino affectionately known as Tam died May 27 following months of poor health. - Tam was the last male Sumatran rhino known to survive in Malaysia. One female of the species is now living in Malaysia. - When he was captured in 2008, researchers hoped he would contribute to efforts to breed the critically endangered species in captivity. Tam died without reproducing.
Study suggests MPAs and fisheries closures can benefit highly migratory marine species [05/24/2019]
- Conventional wisdom holds that marine protected areas don’t offer much in the way of protections to highly migratory species of marine life, given that those species are unaware of the imaginary borders humans draw on maps to delineate such areas. - New research finds that, to the contrary, large MPAs can confer benefits on migratory marine species — but only when they are carefully designed, strictly enforced, and integrated with sustainable fisheries management. - The study, published last month in the journal Marine Policy, explores whether or not there are any benefits of “targeted spatial protection” measures, including large-scale fisheries closures and marine protected areas (MPAs), for highly migratory species like billfishes (such as swordfish and marlins), pelagic sharks (such as blue, great white, mako, silky, and thresher sharks), and tuna — and highlights ways that spatial protection for migratory pelagic species can be improved.
Malaysia’s last male rhino is fading fast, officials say [05/24/2019]
- Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino, Tam, has experienced an abrupt decline in health due to old age, authorities say. - Veterinarians and rhino keepers at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah state are providing round-the-clock palliative care, but say Tam appears to have suffered multiple organ failure. - If he dies, Malaysia would be left with one last Sumatran rhino, a female, Iman, whose own health has weakened due to a ruptured tumor in her uterus. - Conservationists say stakeholders, including the government of Indonesia, home to most of the remaining Sumatran rhinos on Earth, have been far too slow to work together on efforts to save the species.
Ñembi Guasu: Huge new conservation area in Bolivia’s Gran Chaco [05/23/2019]
- The new protected area spans more than 12,000 square kilometers (4,650 square miles) of well-conserved forests and is home to a massive number of animal and plant species. - Among the area’s 300 species of birds and 100 species of mammals are jaguars, pumas and night monkeys. - The protected zone is also home to the Ayoreo indigenous community, which is in a state of voluntary isolation.
Documentary on world’s rarest ape generates film festival buzz [05/23/2019]
- The first documentary ever made about the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest and most threatened species of great apes, is racking up awards at film festivals around the world. - U.K.-based filmmaker Matt Senior says his interest in the orangutan, which was only described as a new species in 2017, was piqued by a Mongabay article. - Only 800 of the apes are believed to exist in the Batang Toru forest in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Their habitat is under threat from a massive Chinese-funded hydropower project being built in the area. - Matt says he hopes the documentary will raise public awareness about this newest species of orangutan and the very real threats pushing it toward extinction.
For India’s imperiled apes, thinking locally matters [05/23/2019]
- Northeastern India is home to two ape species: eastern and western hoolock gibbons. - Populations of hoolock gibbons in India are both protected and harmed by practices and beliefs specific to the human communities with whom they share their habitats. - In several gibbon habitats, local indigenous people are leading conservation efforts that are deeply informed by local circumstances. - The fortunes of different gibbon populations within India show that there is no one-size-fits-all conservation strategy for apes.
For migrating songbirds, ‘baby shark’ is more than just an annoying tune [05/22/2019]
- Researchers who opportunistically examined the stomach contents of tiger sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico over eight years found that the sharks had been eating land-dwelling songbirds. - The months during which the researchers encountered tiger sharks with birds in their guts coincided with the peak timings for coastal bird sightings for 11 species of songbirds, suggesting that the shark-bird interactions could be linked to the annual migration of these terrestrial birds. - Surprisingly, most of the recorded shark-bird interactions occurred during the fall, when the migrating songbirds are about to start crossing the Gulf of Mexico and are presumably well-rested. - The researchers speculate that unpredictable storms could be forcing the migratory birds to the water, making them easy prey, especially for baby tiger sharks that are yet to learn how to forage.
The health of penguin chicks points scientists to changes in the ocean [05/22/2019]
- A recent closure of commercial fishing around South Africa’s Robben Island gave scientists the chance to understand how fluctuations in prey fish populations affect endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) absent pressure from humans. - The researchers found that the more fish were available, the better the condition of the penguin chicks that rely on their parents for food. - This link between prey abundance in the sea and the condition of penguin chicks on land could serve as an indicator of changes in the ecosystem.
Bauxite mining and Chinese dam push Guinea’s chimpanzees to the brink [05/21/2019]
- Guinea is home to about half of the world’s critically endangered western chimpanzees. - A bauxite mining boom is driving the chimpanzees from their habitats in Guinea’s Boké region. To compensate, two mining firms agreed in 2017 to fund the establishment of Moyen-Bafing National Park, home to an estimated 5,300 chimpanzees. - The national park is itself threatened by a bauxite mine and a proposed hydroelectric dam — projects that could kill as many as 2,800 of the great apes.
Interest in protecting environment up since Pope’s 2015 encyclical [05/21/2019]
- New research into the usage of environmentally related search terms on Google suggests that interest in the environment has risen since Pope Francis released Laudato Si’ in 2015. - Laudato Si’, a papal encyclical, argues that it is a moral imperative for humans to look after the environment. - Researchers and scholars believe that the pope’s support for protecting the environment could ripple well beyond the 16 percent of the world’s population that is Catholic.
Volunteers find bones of new species of extinct heron at Florida fossil site [05/20/2019]
- Two volunteers assisting researchers of the Florida Museum of Natural History have found bones that belong to a previously undescribed species of extinct heron, according to a new study. - The Montbrook site, a large fossil excavation site located a 45-minute drive south of Gainesville, Florida, where the volunteers were working, is estimated to be 5 million to 5.5 million years old. - Researchers have named the now-extinct heron species Taphophoyx hodgei or Hodge’s tiger heron, after property owner Eddie Hodge, who contacted the Florida Museum of Natural History and allowed them to excavate the site after his granddaughter discovered fossils there in 2015. - Based on their examination of the bones, the researchers say the extinct species is likely closely related to today’s tiger herons (Tigrisoma spp.), which live in Mexico and Central and South America.
Red colobus conservation in Zanzibar: A cautiously optimistic tale [05/17/2019]
- Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park was established in 2004 to protect the endangered Zanzibar red colobus. - Initially met with conflict and resistance, the conservation project has now been embraced by local communities because they directly share in half of all tourism revenues. - This kind of community forest management could prove a successful model for other conservation sites in Tanzania and beyond.
’Green’ bonds finance industrial tree plantations in Brazil [05/16/2019]
- The Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a group of some 140 NGOs with the goal of making the pulp and paper industry more sustainable, released a briefing contending that green or climate bonds issued by Fibria, a pulp and paper company, went to maintaining and expanding plantations of eucalyptus trees. - The report suggests that the Brazilian company inflated the amount of carbon that new planting would store. - The author of the briefing also questions the environmental benefits of maintaining industrial monocultures of eucalyptus, a tree that requires a lot of water along with herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer that can impact local ecosystems and human communities.
Canopy-dwelling rainforest mammals most sensitive to human disturbance [05/15/2019]
- New research using arboreal camera traps finds that canopy-dwelling mammals are particularly sensitive to the impacts of human disturbance in rainforests and that these effects are easily missed by more traditional survey methods. - Large-bodied arboreal species like the endangered Peruvian woolly monkey and the endangered black-faced spider monkey were found to be most impacted by forest disturbance, according to the study, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions last week. - These larger primates are important seed dispersers for hardwood trees, which contribute disproportionately to the biomass of tropical forests. The loss of these species could thus lead to cascading ecosystems effects that might pose a significant threat to the carbon storage potential of degraded tropical forests.
Public education could curb bushmeat demand in Laos, study finds [05/15/2019]
- A recent survey of markets in Laos found that the demand for bushmeat in urban areas was likely more than wildlife populations could bear. - The enforcement of Laos’s laws controlling the wildlife trade appeared to do little to keep vendors from selling bushmeat, but fines did appear to potentially keep consumers from buying bushmeat. - The researchers also found that consumers could be turned off of buying bushmeat when they learned of specific links between species and diseases.
Penguin and seal poop powers life in Antarctica, study finds [05/14/2019]
- In Antarctica, where colonies of penguins and elephant seals aggregate, their droppings, rich in nitrogen, enrich the soil and support thriving communities of mosses, lichens and invertebrates, a new study has found. - Ammonia released from penguin and elephant seal feces can influence an area up to 240 times the size of the animal colony, the researchers found. - These findings can be used to create maps of Antarctica’s biodiversity hotspots, the researchers say.
Climate change spurs deadly virus in frogs in the U.K. [05/13/2019]
- As temperatures climb, ranaviruses cause more frog deaths over a longer part of the year, according to a new study. - The researchers combined data from outbreaks of disease caused by ranaviruses in common frogs (Rana temporaria) with laboratory investigations. - They say that shaded areas and deeper ponds could provide refuges for afflicted animals that might slow the spread of the virus, but they also caution that this “short-term solution” is only a stopgap as the warming climate continues to make life difficult for amphibians.
Lions vs. porcupines: A thorny tale with a moral about man-eaters [05/10/2019]
- African lions do not usually feed on porcupines. However, in the absence of preferred prey like wildebeests, zebras and other ungulates, they can turn to the prickly rodents. - Many of these encounters, according to a new study that documented 50 of them, don’t end well for the lions, which can be wounded or die from the quills. - A lion wounded in a porcupine encounter, and thus impaired from hunting and feeding, may turn to hunting softer targets such as humans and cattle. - The choice of porcupine as food also suggests the absence of other prey which may also lead a lion to prey on humans.
Social media enables the illegal wildlife pet trade in Malaysia [05/09/2019]
- Conservationists say that prosecuting wildlife traffickers in Malaysia for trading in protected species isn’t easy, as traders have several loopholes to aid their efforts. - One wildlife trafficker known as Kejora Pets has been operating in Peninsular Malaysia for years, selling “cute” pets to individuals through social media. - Malaysia’s wildlife act doesn’t address the posting of protected animals for sale on social media, and operators like Kejora Pets appear to avoid ever being in possession of protected animals, allowing them to skirt statutes aimed at catching illicit traders. - Proposed changes to Malaysia’s wildlife act could offer some relief to besieged populations of protected species by making it easier to prosecute online trafficking of protected animals.
Meet the new species of venomous pit viper described from India [05/09/2019]
- Wildlife researcher Rohan Pandit and his teammate Wangchu Phiang first stumbled upon the new-to-science pit viper species in May 2016 while surveying biodiversity in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India. - In a new paper, researchers have described this species and named it Trimeresurus arunachalensis, or Arunachal pit viper. - While the researchers have described the Arunachal pit viper based on a single specimen, they say the species’ unique features distinguish it from all the other known species of pit vipers.
New map shows warming waters where coral reefs could be under threat [05/08/2019]
- A new interactive map can help you identify, in near-real-time, areas where the sea is warming up at alarming levels, increasing the risk of coral reef bleaching. - The Coral Reefs at Risk of Bleaching Operations Dashboard, launched by Esri, a company that creates geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping software products, relies on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program. - While the satellite data itself isn’t new, the way the data is displayed is more understandable for the general public, the tool’s developer says. - The Esri map distills NOAA’s data and displays regions that are facing both high heat stress, increasing the risk of coral bleaching, such as those under Alert 1 and Alert 2 categories, as well as areas where the likelihood of coral bleaching is low or none at the moment, such as those under “Warning” and “Watch.”
Climate change is causing marine species to disappear from their habitat twice as fast as land animals [05/07/2019]
- New research finds that marine animals have disappeared from their habitat due to global warming at twice the rate of wildlife on land. - According to the study, published late last month in Nature, the loss of whole populations of ocean-dwelling species not only depletes the genetic diversity of those species, but can also trigger a cascade of impacts on predators and prey, thereby altering entire marine ecosystems. - The heightened vulnerability of marine life to global warming could have significant implications for the food supply and economies of seafood-reliant human communities.
’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds [05/07/2019]
- The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6. - The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction. - The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being.
‘Landscape of fearlessness’: bushbuck emboldened following top-predator decline in Mozambique [05/06/2019]
- Bushbuck in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park have become increasingly fearless in their foraging habits, changing from foraging exclusively in woodland areas to braving open floodplains. - Following years of civil war, populations of large herbivores and carnivores in Gorongosa declined by over 90 percent, with some top predators completely extirpated. - Researchers from Princeton University conducted experiments using state-of-the-art equipment to establish whether the bushbucks’ use of floodplains for foraging was due to the decline in predation threat. - Following experimentally simulated predation events, bushbuck significantly increased their use of tree cover, indicating that the reintroduction of top predators would restore a ‘landscape of fear’.
All you need is human feces: The strange world of dung beetle sampling [05/06/2019]
- Dung beetles have emerged as one of the most intensively studied animal groups in tropical rainforests. - They are very easy and cheap to survey and are strong indicators of the health of rainforests and the presence of diverse mammal communities. - Dung beetles also carry out critical roles and functions in rainforests, including spreading seeds and nutrients, but some of these are unraveling as humans drive species to extinction.
Malaysia calls on Southeast Asia to back palm oil against ‘unfair’ claims [05/03/2019]
- The Malaysian government has called for support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to support the region’s palm oil industry in the wake of a European Union policy to stop recognizing the commodity as a biofuel. - Malaysia and fellow ASEAN member Indonesia supply more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, while Singapore, another ASEAN state, is home to some of the world’s biggest palm oil companies and the banks that finance the industry. - Malaysia’s minister of primary industries, Teresa Kok, says there’s a global campaign to portray the production of palm oil as exceptionally destructive, which she calls “extremely provocative and belittling.” - While both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have instated policies to curb the clearing of rainforest for palm plantations, there still remain challenges to ensuring sustainability across the wider industry, environmental activists say.
Illegal logging poised to wipe Cambodian wildlife sanctuary off the map [05/02/2019]
- Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary has lost more than 60 percent of its forest cover since it was established in 1993, with most of the loss occurring since 2010. - A big driver behind the deforestation in Beng Per and in many other Cambodian protected areas was Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), which are areas of land – often in protected areas – allocated by the government to corporations aiming to invest in agriculture for short-term financial gains. Large areas of Beng Per were carved out for ELCs in 2011. - While the Cambodian government stopped officially allocating ELCs in 2012, deforestation is still hitting the park hard as small-scale illegal logging gobbles up remaining forest outside ELC areas. And once the land is denuded, it’s considered fair game for new plantation development. - Experts working on the ground say corruption is fuelling the widespread destruction of Cambodia’s forests, and is deeply entrenched in many different sectors including the federal government and local forest protection agencies.
Hippos poop a lot of silica, and that’s critical for Africa’s rivers and lakes [05/02/2019]
- By chomping on large amounts of silica-rich grass at night, then defecating into the Mara River during the day, hippos help move silicon from land to the water — something that’s vital for the health of the river and lakes further downstream, a new study has found. - Researchers analyzed samples of soil, water, grass and hippo feces from various points along the Mara River, and found that hippos alone were likely contributing more than 76 percent of the silicon being transported along the river. - If the Mara River’s hippos decline in number, it could lead to a reduction in the amount of silicon that makes its way to the lakes. This in turn could result in algal blooms that can use up the oxygen in the lakes downstream and kill the fish.
It’s now or never for Madagascar’s biodiversity, experts say [05/02/2019]
- As Madagascar’s recently elected president completed his first 100 days in office, experts identify five priority areas for conservation. - In a new comment piece in Nature Sustainability, the experts highlight the need for setting conservation goals that are aligned with the sustainable development of the country. - Strengthening the rights of local people and the rule of law is key to successful conservation, the authors say. - Urgent steps include tackling environmental crime, investing in protected areas, and mitigating environmental impacts from infrastructure development.
Huge rubber plantation in Cameroon halts deforestation following rebuke [05/01/2019]
- A massive rubber plantation operated by rubber supply group Halcyon Agri through its subsidiary Sudcam has come under fire in recent years for what many say are unsustainable environmental practices, lack of transparency, and negative impacts on local communities. Reports document the displacement of indigenous communities to make way for development, and felling has occurred right up against the intact rainforest of Cameroon’s Dja Faunal Reserve. - Initially silent about the rebuke of Sudcam, Halcyon unveiled a number of sustainability measures late last year and has actively sought to open a dialogue with NGOs. In response to criticisms, the company issued a “cease and desist” order on logging in Sudcam, developed a Sustainable Natural Rubber Supply Chain Policy, and created an independent Sustainability Council. - Satellite imagery indicates no further clearing has happened since the deforestation ban was issued in Dec. 2018. - Representatives of conservation NGOs that have been critical of the plantation in the past say they are pleased with Halcyon Agri’s response, and hope that the company will continue to improve conditions at its Sudcam plantation.
Recently discovered Brazilian river dolphin’s calls could help us understand evolution of marine mammal communication [05/01/2019]
- Until recently it was believed that the solitary nature of Araguaian dolphins meant that they wouldn’t have much use for communication. But scientists have now documented hundreds of sounds made by the dolphins — and they say that these vocalizations could help us better understand the evolution of underwater communication among marine mammals. - Using underwater cameras and microphones to record interactions between the dolphins, researchers recorded 20 hours of vocalizations, which they classified into 13 different types of “tonal sounds” and 66 types of “pulsed calls.” In total, they identified 237 distinct types of calls. - The most common sounds the dolphins made were “short two-component calls,” the researchers report in the study. About 35 percent of these calls were made by calves while reuniting with their mothers, which suggests that the calls are an important component of mother-calf communication.
Mobile app encourages Indian fishers to free entangled whale sharks [05/01/2019]
- When whale sharks in waters off the Indian state of Gujarat get trapped in fishing nets, a new mobile app lets fishers easily document their release. - Conservationists and fishers alike hope the app will speed up the compensation fishers receive for damaged nets. - However, fishers say the compensation, a maximum of 25,000 rupees ($360), should be increased to reflect the true loss of their revenue during their downtime without nets.
Western chimp numbers revised up to 53,000, but development threats loom [05/01/2019]
- A new survey of data from the IUCN’s Apes Database indicates that there are nearly 53,000 western chimpanzees in West Africa. - The number is significantly higher than previous estimates, which placed the population closer to 35,000, but the subspecies remains categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. - The authors of the study say their findings can help governments in the region ensure that proposed infrastructure projects do as little harm to the remaining chimpanzee populations as possible.
Audio: Saving forests and biodiversity by providing affordable healthcare [04/30/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony, an organization using healthcare for humans to save rainforests and their wildlife inhabitants. - In the decade since Heath in Harmony launched its healthcare-for-conservation program in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park, infant deaths in local communities have been reduced by more than two-thirds, the number of illegal logging households in the park has gone down by nearly 90 percent, the loss of forest has stabilized, 20,000 hectares of forest are being replanted, and habitat for 2,500 endangered Bornean Orangutans has been protected. - Webb talks about radical listening, the tremendous impacts for rainforests and orangutans of providing affordable healthcare to local communities, and her plans to expand Health in Harmony’s efforts outside of Indonesia on this episode of the Newscast.
Building the world’s biggest MPA: Q&A with Goldman winner Jacqueline Evans [04/30/2019]
- In July 2017, the South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands made a bold bid to convert its entire territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), into a mixed-use marine protected area. - Called Marae Moana, or “sacred ocean,” the MPA spans almost 2 million square kilometers (772,200 square miles), making it the biggest in the world, although only parts of it are strictly protected from fishing and other extractive activities. - Jacqueline Evans, a marine conservationist, was the driving force behind the MPA. - This week, Evans was awarded a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work on Marae Moana.
Javan rhino found dead in Indonesia, bringing global population down to 68 [04/30/2019]
- The body of a juvenile male Javan rhinoceros was discovered last month in a mud pit in Ujung Kulon National Park, the sole remaining habitat for the species. - The death of the rhino, known as Manggala, brings the known global population of his species down to 68 individuals. - The body was intact when found, and preliminary investigations indicated the rhino did not die due to an infectious disease. A detailed post-mortem is being conducted, with results expected May 7. - The body bore multiple wounds, leading park officials to suspect Manggala may have been attacked by an adult rhinoceros.
Meet the winners of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize [04/29/2019]
- This year is the 30th anniversary of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. - Also called the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from six continental regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations. - This year’s winners are Alfred Brownell from Liberia, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren from Mongolia, Ana Colovic Lesoska from North Macedonia, Jacqueline Evans from the Cook Islands, Alberto Curamil from Chile, and Linda Garcia from the United States.
Guns, Corals and Steel: Are Nuclear Shipwrecks a Biodiversity Hotspot? [04/28/2019]
- My team and I used deep technical diving techniques to explore the coral biodiversity of warships sunk in the 1946 nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. - Our surveys revealed that eight nuked warships harbored 27 percent of the world’s coral genera on their hulls, superstructures and armaments. - At depths down to 55 meters (180 feet), these ships lie well below the 21st-century ocean warming danger zone. - As a result, Bikini’s massive warships have become unexpected arks of coral biodiversity.
Large emperor penguin colony suffers ‘catastrophic’ breeding failure [04/26/2019]
- Until recently, the emperor penguin colony at Halley Bay on the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic was one of the world’s largest, supporting between 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs, or around 5 to 9 percent of the bird’s global population. - Since 2016, satellite images have shown that the colony has suffered a complete breeding failure, something that’s never been recorded before. - This breeding failure started in 2016 when, following abnormal stormy weather, the sea ice broke up in October, long before the chicks had fledged and were ready to go out to sea. In 2017 and 2018, the sea ice broke up early too, leading to the likely death of all chicks. - Around the same time, there was a massive increase in the numbers of emperor penguins at the Dawson-Lambton Glacier penguin colony 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Halley Bay, suggesting that many of the emperor penguins from Halley Bay had moved to Dawson-Lambton.
Creating a high-tech island to save one of the world’s rarest birds [04/25/2019]
- Scientists in New Zealand are combining tracking, genomics, and drone technologies to save the kākāpō, the giant flightless parrot nearly eradicated by invasive predators, such as dogs, rats, and cats brought by human settlers. - Data loggers on a predator-free island read information emitted by transmitters worn by each of the birds and send the data to the research team; the information tells researchers where birds are nesting, when birds are sick, and when (and with whom) a given bird mated. - The team supplements natural kākāpō breeding with artificial insemination, including flying a sperm-carrying drone that can swiftly move sperm from a male to an appropriate female across the island, which the researchers believe helps keep the sperm more viable when it reaches the female. - For this, scientists “match” male and female kākāpō using genetic analysis to determine how closely related the two birds are and choose mates that are most distantly related. The research team is reviewing genomic data from all adult kākāpō for clues about fertility and disease.
Killer whale vs. great white? No contest — the shark always flees [04/25/2019]
- Both the great white shark and the killer whale or orca are fearsome top predators. But of the two massive animals, the killer whale may be the more formidable one, a new study has found. - Researchers monitoring white sharks, lion seals and orcas around California’s Southeast Farallon Island have found that every time orcas pass through the area, the great white sharks vanish and don’t return to their hunting grounds until the next season. - The researchers aren’t sure why the sharks move away as soon as orcas arrive. It could be because orcas may be targeting white sharks as prey, or the killer whales could be bullying their competition out of the way to gain access to the island’s elephant seals.
Indonesia trains its citizens to deal with sea-mammal strandings [04/24/2019]
- The waters around Indonesia serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. - These cetaceans, however, are often found dead on Indonesian beaches, or alive but unable to return to deeper waters themselves. - To prevent the deaths of marine mammals that strand themselves on its shores, the government has sought to establish a network of first responders equipped with the knowledge and training to deal with problem. - Experts say what’s more important than providing an adequate response is to reduce the threats that lead to the strandings, including by improving the management of marine habitats and tackling pollution in the sea.
Bird flu in Namibia’s penguins wanes, after killing nearly 500 [04/24/2019]
- More than 450 African penguins, an IUCN-listed endangered animal, have died in an outbreak of bird flu on three islands off the coast of Namibia. - The virus, H5N8, is thought to have been introduced to the colonies, which hold 96 percent of Namibia’s penguins, by another bird traveling from South Africa, where a similar outbreak occurred in 2018. - The disease appears to be abating, and researchers are hopeful that the country’s penguins will recover. - However, they continue to face threats from food shortages caused by overfishing and climate change.
Virus may have caused mysterious foot disease in Chile’s rare huemul deer [04/24/2019]
- Researchers say they believe they have identified the potential cause of a foot disease that affected 24 huemul deer in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park between 2005 and 2010. - Preliminary results from tests on tissue samples taken from an infected fawn suggest that a parapoxvirus, a group of viruses that commonly infect and cause lesions in livestock, could have been the main cause of the foot disease. - If the pox virus is indeed the disease agent, then it’s an additional threat to the endangered species because these viruses are highly contagious, researchers say. - The study’s authors say they suspect the parapoxvirus may have come from cattle that was illegally introduced in the national park in 1991.
Camera trap study finds a threatened high-elevation mammal community in Peru [04/23/2019]
- A new camera trap study, the results of which were published in the journal Oryx last week, seeks to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the Cerros del Sira’s mammalian inhabitants. - An international team of scientists from Peru and the UK led by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, a biologist at Peru’s National University of Cusco, deployed 45 camera traps from 2015 to 2016 in the Sira Communal Reserve, part of the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yánesha Biosphere Reserve. - Aside from revealing the distribution of and threats to the Cerros del Sira’s mammal community, the results of the camera trap survey led to a number of other insights.
Community buy-in stamps out elephant poaching in Zambian park [04/22/2019]
- No elephants were poached in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park in 2018, and the surrounding area had a 50 percent decrease in poached carcasses found. - The North Luangwa Conservation Programme, a partnership between the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the country’s Department of Parks and Wildlife, has been around since the late 1980s and has focused its efforts on community involvement in stopping poachers from going after elephants, rhinos and other wildlife in the park. - Staff of the program say the participation of the communities living near the park’s borders is critical to protecting the elephants of North Luangwa. - The broader Luangwa ecosystem is home to more than 63 percent of Zambia’s elephants.
The extinction clock ticks for the little-known Philippine pangolin [04/22/2019]
- With the Palawan pangolin’s population decimated by poaching and its habitat lost to urban creep, scientists and conservationists are in a race against time to save and document everything about this forest dweller. - From 2001 to 2017, the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC recorded 38 seizure incidents in which the Philippines was the country of origin, transit point or end destination for pangolin shipments. A total of 667 pangolins were seized in these busts
Sage spending to save species (commentary) [04/22/2019]
- As we unite to celebrate the 49th Earth Day today, let us also unite to shift the conservation paradigm from intervention to prevention. If we can make the necessary investments to save species of “Least Concern” today, we’ll forego hiring armed guards to save the last of their kind in the future. - The architecture of the current conservation funding structure is in need of an overhaul to allow greater distribution of resources across all species, regardless of their conservation status, in order to strategically and wisely allocate the life-saving dollars bestowed upon the environmental community. - Procrastination has a hefty price tag, both in what we stand to lose financially and intrinsically for our planet. While species protection is costly, recovery of the survivors is exponentially greater. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
On one island, a microcosm of Vietnam’s environmental challenges [04/22/2019]
- It is also a popular tourist destination, and like many parts of the country faces the challenge of balancing development with environmental protection. - Tenuous conservation success stories can be found here, but current and future developments in surrounding areas pose acute threats.
Jane Goodall on Leonardo DiCaprio, her 85th birthday, and the need for hope [04/21/2019]
- Primatologist Jane Goodall is arguably the world’s best known conservationist for her research on chimps and her efforts to raise awareness on environmental issues globally. - On April 3rd, Jane turned 85 and was honored by the City of Los Angeles for her contributions to the planet. And actor Leonardo Dicaprio hosted a star-studded birthday dinner for her. - For the occasion, Mongabay’s founder Rhett Butler interviewed Jane about some examples of why she remains optimistic for wildlife and wild places. - Disclosure: Jane is a member of Mongabay’s advisory council.
Cities may save some species from extinction, but they don’t save species’ ecological functions [04/19/2019]
- Some species are not only able to adapt to life in urban areas but actually thrive and grow more abundant than they might have in their natural surroundings. - Thus some cities have been declared urban conservation hotspots — but research published last year shows that while those cities might help preserve robust populations of otherwise threatened species, they do not help preserve the crucial ecological functions of those species. - If species and the ecological functions they provide are allowed to disappear altogether from natural habitats and only continue to persist in urban areas, that could have “long-term, unexpected effects on ecosystems,” researchers say.
Rise in crocodile sightings linked to habitat degradation in Indonesia [04/18/2019]
- The capture of a saltwater crocodile by Indonesian villagers last February was the latest in a series of increasingly frequent — and occasionally deadly — sightings of the reptiles near human settlements. - The animal was eventually released by the local conservation agency into an unsettled area. - Conservation officials say the destruction of the crocodiles’ habitat by blast fishing and conversion of coastal areas into farms may be driving the animals out of the wild and closer to villages. - Officials have called on villagers not to harm the animals if they catch them, given that they’re a protected species under Indonesian law.
Swelling amount of plastic in the ocean confirmed by new study [04/17/2019]
- A new study used log books from 60 years of plankton research to document the increase in the amount of plastic in the ocean. - The study’s authors tabulated the entanglements of the continuous plankton recorder, a sampling device that’s towed behind ships, revealing a significant increase in plastic in the ocean since the 1990s. - Scientists have long suspected such a trend but have been unable to demonstrate it with data until now.
Omura’s whale much more widespread across the globe than previously thought [04/17/2019]
- The global range of the world’s most recently discovered large whale species is starting to come into focus — as are the man-made threats to the species. - Salvatore Cerchio of the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts led a team that published a paper in Frontiers in Marine Science in March that includes a map of all known sightings of the elusive Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai), demonstrating that the whale has a much larger range than previously thought. - Given the new information they had about the global range of Omura’s whale, the researchers determined the whales face threats from, “at minimum, ship strikes, fisheries bycatch and entanglement, local directed hunting, petroleum exploration (seismic surveys), and coastal industrial development.”
China seizes over 2,700 elephant tusks in massive bust [04/17/2019]
- In one of the biggest busts in recent years, Chinese officials have seized 2,748 elephant tusks weighing more than 7 tonnes, the General Administration of Customs announced earlier this week. - The ivory was confiscated during a joint operation by customs authorities and police across six provinces on March 30. - Customs authorities added that since the beginning of 2019, they had filed 182 cases of smuggling of endangered wild species, seized more than 500 tons of endangered wildlife and their products, and arrested 171 suspects, disrupting 27 criminal gangs. - China instated a ban on the domestic trade in elephant ivory in 2018.
IUCN calls for moratorium on projects impacting rarest great ape species [04/17/2019]
- The IUCN has cited “ongoing and new threats” to the Tapanuli orangutan, found in a single forest ecosystem in northern Sumatra, to call for a suspension and reassessment of projects being undertaken within the ape’s habitat. - With a population of no more than 800 individuals, the Tapanuli orangutan is the world’s rarest and most threatened great ape species. - Roads through the Batang Toru ecosystem where it lives have fragmented the orangutan’s population. - The most high-profile threat is a planned hydropower plant and dam in the ape’s habitat, which scientists and conservationists have increasingly called to be halted.
Audio: Tool-using, ground-nesting chimp culture discovered in DR Congo [04/16/2019]
- On today’s episode, we talk to primatologist Cleve Hicks, who recently led a research team that discovered a new tool-using chimp culture in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Hicks and team spent 12 years documenting the behaviors of a group of chimps in the Bili-Uéré region of northern DRC, and their findings include an entirely new chimpanzee tool kit featuring four different kinds of tools. The chimps also build ground nests, which is highly unusual for any group of chimps — but especially for chimps living around dangerous predators like lions and leopards. - And the Eastern chimps’ novel use of tools and ground nesting aren’t even the most interesting behavioral quirks they displayed, Hicks says.
Last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle dies in China [04/16/2019]
- On April 13, the world’s only known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle died in China’s Suzhou Shangfangshan Forest Zoo following an attempt to artificially inseminate her, leaving behind just three confirmed individuals of the species. - The female turtle had been moved more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Changsha Zoo to Suzhou Zoo in 2008 in the hope that she would mate and produce offspring with the 100-year old male turtle that also lived in captivity at Suzhou. - The old turtle couple, however, failed to produce any offspring naturally, and several attempts at artificial insemination did not yield viable eggs. - After the fifth attempt at artificial insemination, the female died during recovery from anesthesia. The male recovered from the procedure.
Colorful display of newly described stick insects confounds scientists [04/16/2019]
- Most stick insect species blend into their surroundings to avoid predators. - But the males of two newly described species from madagascar, Achrioptera manga and Achrioptera maroloko, are brightly colored. - Some scientists believe this allows them to attract females, even at the risk of being spotted by predators. - Their distinctive hues make them potential flagship species for the biodiversity-rich regions where they were discovered: the forests of Montagne des Français and Orangea.
Waters off Galápagos have way more alien species than previously known [04/16/2019]
- The waters off the Galápagos Islands have nearly 10 times more alien marine invertebrates than previously recorded, a new study has found. - The study recorded a total of 53 non-native marine invertebrates (animals that lack a backbone, such as marine worms, sea squirts or moss animals) in the waters off two islands in the archipelago, up from five that were previously known. - Researchers suspect there are many more non-native species present in the Galápagos waters that remain to be discovered.
Conservation may offer common ground in Afghan conflict [04/15/2019]
- War, drugs, corruption, and terrorism are terms Westerners are more likely to associate with Afghanistan than biodiversity conservation. But Alex Dehgan says conservation has the potential to offer a bridge toward a more peaceful Afghanistan. - Dehgan lays out his case in a new book titled The Snow Leopard Project And Other Adventures In Warzone Conservation. The book follows Dehgan’s unorthodox career from a biologist and legal expert in Russia to his time with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) setting up Afghanistan’s first national park. - Dehgan argues that there is “an implicit understanding” among Afghans “of the links between conservation of the natural environment and their survival”. - Dehgan spoke about his adventures in conservation in Afghanistan in an April 2019 interview with Mongabay.
Deforested habitats leave migratory birds ill-prepared for journey north [04/15/2019]
- Migratory birds are experiencing precipitous population declines due to land-use change in Central and South America. - These birds rely on forested areas in their southern overwintering grounds for sustenance, but these have been widely replaced by less hospitable agricultural landscapes. - Some vulnerable migratory birds use tropical hardwood plantations at the same rate as forests, making these for-profit agricultural lands an attractive prospect for conservation, especially in contrast with poorer habitats like cattle pasture. - Agroforestry solutions, such as the retention of tall trees, can also provide habitat for at-risk species like the golden-winged warbler while providing ecosystem services to farmers.
To rescue Sumatran rhinos, Indonesia starts by counting them first [04/15/2019]
- In February, authorities in Indonesia held an exercise for Sumatran rhino researchers to track and tally the remaining wild population of the species. - The government aims to finalize an official count of the critically endangered rhino within three years, according to the environment ministry. - Natural breeding for the rhinos has been particularly difficult as the remaining individuals live in fragmented lowland forests away from each other. On top of that, rhinos are slow breeders and the females have a short fertility period. - Estimates of the current size of the wild Sumatran rhino population range from 30 to 100 individuals. Another nine live in captivity in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Solving the mystery of the UK’s vanishing hen harriers [04/12/2019]
- The numbers of breeding hen harriers, one of England’s rarest birds and a protected species, dropped sharply in the late 1990s and early 2000s. - To better understand why hen harriers were vanishing, researchers tracked the movements of 58 birds using satellite-based tags in conjunction with remote sensing land management data. - Birds with tags that stopped transmitting spent their last week of life predominantly on moors where hunters shoot grouse and were 10 times more likely to disappear or die when grouse moors dominated their ranges, suggesting they were killed. - The findings indicated that 72 percent of the tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.
Scientists urge overhaul of the world’s parks to protect biodiversity [04/11/2019]
- A team of scientists argues that we should evaluate the effectiveness of protected areas based on the outcomes for biodiversity, not simple the area of land or ocean they protect. - In a paper published April 11 in the journal Science, they outline the weaknesses of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which set goals of protecting 17 percent of the earth’s surface and 10 percent of its oceans by 2020. - They propose monitoring the outcomes of protected areas that measure changes in biodiversity in comparison to agreed-upon “reference” levels and then using those figures to determine how well they are performing.
Virtual Reality 360-degree video: An “empathy-generating machine” for conservation outreach? [04/11/2019]
- New video technology that films in 360 degrees brings viewers into the middle of the action and is set to become a powerful outreach tool to build understanding and empathy for wildlife and wild places. - Small off-the-shelf cameras rugged enough to film in the wild are relatively inexpensive, easy enough for field researchers and other filming novices to use, and sufficiently sophisticated to collect videos of resolutions higher than 5 megapixels. - At a recent presentation at National Geographic, four VR-360 filmmakers strongly endorsed the technology as a tool to inspire and nurture empathy in viewers for a range of conservation issues.
No rhino census this year as Nepal runs short of funds for survey [04/11/2019]
- A planned census of Nepal’s greater one-horned rhinoceros will not take place this year due to a lack of funds. - Revenue from ticket sales at national parks is divided between the government’s general budget and funds to support local communities, leaving wildlife officials dependent on donors to finance activities like the census. - This year’s census was believed to be particularly critical because large numbers of Nepal’s rhinos are dying due to unexplained or natural causes, prompting questions about the carrying capacity of Chitwan National Park, the country’s rhino stronghold. - Experts believe a census this year could reveal a decline in population, a politically unpalatable outcome in a country where rhino conservation is a matter of national prestige.
Peru: Get to know the diverse wildlife of the cloud forests of Pampa Hermosa | VIDEOS [04/11/2019]
- Biologist Sean McHugh, along with filmmaker and photographer Jasmina McKibben, recently traveled to the Colibri cloud forest in Peru’s Pampa Hermosa district in search of the spectacled bear. - At least 25 different species of mammals were observed in a rarely-investigated area of the Junín region of Peru. - Two spectacled bears and a new population of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys were captured on video.
Kenya on the brink of acquitting ivory trafficker number four (commentary) [04/10/2019]
- On April 11, Chief Magistrate Francis Kyambia is set to make judgement in a Mombasa, Kenya court on the ivory trafficking prosecution against Ephantus Mbare Gitonga. A not-guilty verdict, if rendered, will be the fourth consecutive acquittal in a major ivory case in the last fifteen months. - There will be many who find this hard to believe: Surely the only acquittal was that against Feisal Mohamed Ali in August 2018? He had originally been convicted in July 2017 for being in possession of 2.2 metric tons of ivory and sentenced to 20 years in jail with a $200,000 fine to boot. The widely celebrated finding was overturned in August of last year when Lady Justice D.O. Chepkwony of the Kenya High Court reached the decision that the initial ruling was flawed on multiple grounds. - There are, however, two other acquittals in major ivory cases that quietly came and went with nary a whisper of surprise, dismay, or disillusionment. And now clearing agent Ephantus Mbare Gitonga is on the verge of yet another acquittal. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.