10-second nature news digest

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

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



Palm oil giant Korindo silences critical report with cease-and-desist letter [09/19/2019]
- Korindo, a major palm oil operator in Indonesia’s Papua region, has sent a cease-and-desist letter to delay the publication of a report highlighting its various violations there.
- The report was to have been published Sept. 5 by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but the organization says it’s had to postpone publication indefinitely.
- Mighty Earth, the campaign group whose focus on Korindo’s operations prompted the two-year FSC investigation, says Korindo effectively robbed local communities of hundreds of millions of dollars in land, natural resources and livelihoods.
- Korindo says it issued the letter to seek more time to address some points, and denies that it’s threatening litigation over the report. It also says it’s working to address the findings of violations.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, September 13, 2019 [09/13/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Loss of Madagascar’s biodiversity is a loss for Earth, Pope says [09/09/2019]
- On a visit to Madagascar this weekend, Pope Francis denounced the “excessive” forest loss in the country.
- He was speaking at the presidential palace, during a courtesy call to President Andry Rajoelina.
- The pope also visited Mozambique before arriving in Madagascar, where he addressed the ecological disaster faced by the African nation after it was hit by two back-to-back cyclones this year.
- His seven-day tour which includes a day trip to Mauritius on Monday comes to a close on Tuesday.


Nail paint helps researchers estimate numbers of rare Cuban bat species [09/09/2019]
- Very little is known about the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus), an extremely rare species known from just a single remote cave in western Cuba.
- Now, following a survey that involved bright nail paints to mark individual bats, researchers have estimated that there are fewer than 750 Cuban greater funnel-eared bats in the the cave locally known as Cueva la Barca.
- What the population number means for the species is, however, hard to say at the moment because of the lack of any previous estimates, researchers say.


Asian otters gain protection from the pet trade [09/06/2019]
- The smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter are now on the CITES list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade.
- Asian small-clawed otters are particularly sought after as domestic pets and for ‘otter cafés,’ where wild otters are forced to interact with paying customers.
- Conservationists say that a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, September 6, 2019 [09/06/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Sri Lanka scales up its domestic campaign to protect sharks with a global push [09/05/2019]
- With the killing of sharks and rays on the rise, Sri Lanka played a lead role in pushing three proposals to extend global protection to 18 species at the recently concluded CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
- Sixty-three sharks and 42 ray species are found in Sri Lankan waters, and are threatened by overexploitation driven by an ever-increasing demand for sharks fins, meat, and liver oil.
- While five species of sharks currently enjoy legal protection against the species trade in Sri Lanka, conservationists see an urgent need to extend protection to all reef sharks and other endangered shark and ray species.


New monkey species found in Amazon forest area that’s fast disappearing [09/05/2019]
- From a stretch of the Amazon forest lying between the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers in the Brazilian state of Pará, researchers have described a new-to-science species of marmoset.
- The marmoset, with its distinct white tail, white forearms with a beige-yellowish spot on the elbow, and white feet and hands, has been named Mico munduruku after the Munduruku, an indigenous group of people who live in the Tapajós–Jamanxim interfluve.
- At the moment, given the scarcity of information on M. munduruku, the researchers recommend listing the marmoset as data deficient on the IUCN Red List.
- However, the Amazon forest that’s home to the newly described species is being rapidly cut for agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and infrastructure development.


Protected areas best conserve mammalian diversity when connected with corridors, biologged weasels show [09/04/2019]
- For protected area (PA) networks to be an effective conservation tool, they should be well-connected to allow species movement through unprotected landscapes, but questions remain on what configuration of natural features can best facilitate animal movement.
- A recent study compared three theories of animal movement (structurally intact corridors, least-cost paths, and stepping stones) by analyzing the fine-scale movements of GPS-tagged fishers, a member of the weasel family. They found the tagged fishers consistently moved along structurally intact, natural corridors across a PA network.
- With the Aichi 2020 Biodiversity Targets in mind, the authors highlight that simply increasing the number of protected areas alone may not achieve the objectives of the protected area network amidst an increasingly fragmented landscape; the conservation of natural corridors between PAs may be equally important, something for future planners to consider.


New report reveals northern Ecuadorian region has lost 61 percent of forests [09/04/2019]
- The Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve maintains only 61 percent of its original plant cover. The area’s ecological significance is partly due to its sitting in a transition zone between humid tropical forests and seasonally dry forests.
- In Cotacachi-Cayapas Park, a high level of conservation success represents a source of hope. Now the challenge is to connect the park to private reserves to guarantee protection of the most-threatened lowland forests.


‘Holy grail’: Nest of extremely rare bird captured on video in Russia [09/04/2019]
- In a remote part of the Russian Far East, researchers have for the first time filmed a nesting Nordmann’s greenshank, a bird that researchers know very little about.
- While the Nordmann’s greenshank forages along the coast where it can be seen more easily from boats, it goes deep into larch forests in very remote locations to nest.
- While the observed nest failed, the team managed to tag seven adult greenshanks and eight chicks with unique leg bands, which will help them track each individual bird as they fly across Asia and back.
- There are believed to be fewer than 2,000 Nordmann’s greenshanks living in the wild today, with the species facing different threats in the various countries and territories through which it passes on its winter migration.


New species of giant flying squirrel brings hope to one of the world’s ‘most wanted’ [09/04/2019]
- Scientists have discovered a new species of giant flying squirrel in China belonging to one of the world’s rarest and most mysterious genera.
- The first species in the genus, the Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi), was described in 1981 and hasn’t been seen since.
- A second species, the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), was described in 2013, but also from just a single specimen.
- Researchers believe the conservation outlook for the new species, the Mount Gaoligong flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis), is better than for its relatives, given its greater abundance in the wild and prospects for community and government involvement to protect it.


Transforming African conservation from old social cause into next-gen growth market [09/03/2019]
- Africa’s conservation challenges are daunting, and on the surface it would seem that time is running short for African wildlife.
- One Ghanian entrepreneur sees conservation as one of the great opportunities for Africa, though: Fred Swaniker, the founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, has won accolades for his efforts to transform higher education in Africa.
- One of his latest ventures is African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation, which aims to help Africans use their knowledge, experience and big ideas to “own and drive” the conservation agenda in Africa.
- Ahead of ALU’s Business of Conservation Conference taking place Sept. 8-9 in Kigali, Rwanda, Swaniker spoke with Mongabay about equipping conservation leaders with business, managerial and leadership skills “to transform a generations-old social cause into a next-generation high-growth market.”


A Philippine island employs a rare cockatoo in its fight against mines [09/03/2019]
- The Philippine island of Homonhon in best known as the first site in Asia where Ferdinand Magellan set foot on his historic circumnavigation of the globe.
- Today, the island is home to open-pit mines that have been operating for decades to get valuable deposits of chromite and nickel.
- Locals opposed to the mines now have a new weapon in their fight: a recent assessment of the island’s flora and fauna, showing that it houses threatened and endemic species, in particular the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo.
- The regional environment department has recommended that in light of this finding, the entire island be declared a critical habitat, which would protect the identified species from mining and other activities.


Indonesian court cancels dam project in last stronghold of tigers, rhinos [09/02/2019]
- A court in Indonesia’s Aceh province has ordered an end to a planned hydroelectric project in Sumatra’s unique Leuser Ecosystem.
- Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Aceh government and the dam’s developer earlier this year over potential environmental destruction and violation of zoning laws.
- The area is the last place on Earth that’s home to wild tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants — all critically endangered species whose habitat would be flooded and fragmented by the dam and its roads and power lines.
- Villagers in the region were also widely opposed to the project, which they say would have dammed up the river on which they depend and forced them to relocate to make way for the reservoir.


A tiger refuge in Sumatra gets a reprieve from road building [08/31/2019]
- Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS), which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011.
- UNESCO has noted particular concern about a spate of road projects planned for Kerinci Seblat and other protected areas within the TRHS.
- According to park officials, Indonesia’s forestry ministry has refused permits for all new roads within the park; the sole project to receive permission is the upgrade of an existing road.
- The park still faces immense pressure from encroachment for agriculture, logging, mining and poaching.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 30, 2019 [08/30/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


The end of the road: The future of the Pan Borneo Highway [08/30/2019]
- The construction of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of road for the Pan Borneo Highway across Malaysian Borneo holds the promise of spurring local economies for its proponents.
- But from the outset, conservationists and scientists voiced concerns that the road would displace people, harm sensitive environments, and threaten Borneo’s splendid diversity of wildlife.
- As construction moves forward, these groups are working with planners to find a way for the highway’s construction to avoid the worst environmental damage.


A remote Indonesian district juggles road building with nature conservation [08/29/2019]
- The Indonesian government plans to build or upgrade thousands of kilometers of roads in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo Island.
- Proponents of the project say infrastructure upgrades are necessary to support a growing population, will boost economic growth, and will provide better access to services.
- But conservationists are concerned these roads will fragment and degrade some of the island’s last remaining intact ecosystems.
- This summer, Mongabay traveled the length of one such project in East Kalimantan province, into a remote region already undergoing changes as a result of current and planned road upgrades.


Calls for natural solution over man-made one in flood-ravaged rhino refuge [08/29/2019]
- Kaziranga National Park in India, the global stronghold of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, has 144 artificial highlands built to help animals find refuge during the annual floods that hit the region.
- Experts say the artificial highlands are merely temporary solutions and won’t be beneficial over the long term.
- Some say the artificial highlands will lead to more erosion and siltation in the grasslands than occurs naturally. Moreover, only rhinos seem to be using the artificial highlands, while other animals tend to move toward natural highlands in neighboring hills.
- The real solution, some experts say, lies in keeping the migration routes that the animals follow to reach their natural highlands free of human settlements and commercial establishments.


Manta rays are social creatures who are choosy about their friends [08/28/2019]
- Researchers have found evidence of structured social relationships among wild, free-ranging reef manta rays. The rays appear to actively choose other individuals to socialize with, according to a study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology last week.
- The researchers say that certain social groups were regularly seen together at specific cleaning stations, where the rays are cleaned by cleaner wrasse and other small fish, suggesting that they may be using those sites as meet-up points. Some rays were observed returning frequently to certain cleaning stations despite the close proximity of several other sites.
- Reef manta rays are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List, which reports that the ray’s numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30 percent globally over the last 75 years. The researchers hope that by revealing the social lives of manta rays, they can help build public support for protection measures around the world.


Death on the Brahmaputra: The rhino, the rangers, and the usual suspects [08/28/2019]
- In February 2018, a greater one-horned rhino wandered from India’s Orang National Park into the nearby Burachapori-Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary.
- In September 2018, officials lost track of the rhino. In June 2019, the rhino’s buried remains, and a bullet, were discovered close to a guard camp in Burachapori-Laokhowa.
- Officials in Burachapori-Laokhowa did not officially report the rhino missing until the matter was leaked to the press more than a month later.
- Suspicion has been cast, variously, on forest staff, illegal settlers and illegal fishers.


New road risks Pandora’s box of disruption in world’s most biodiverse national park (commentary) [08/28/2019]
- We are living in the most dramatic era of road and infrastructure expansion in human history. Thousands of projects are opening up many of Earth’s remaining wild areas and biodiversity hotspots to tsunamis of human pressures.
- About nine-tenths of all new infrastructure is currently being built in developing nations, which sustain most of the world’s tropical and subtropical forests—renowned for their environmental importance.
- William Laurance, a distinguished professor and authority on infrastructure developments, and Penny van Oosterzee, a tropical researcher, argue that planned or illegal road projects are imperiling Manu National Park, one of the world’s most critical protected areas and possibly the biologically richest ecosystem on Earth.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.


The Pan Borneo Highway on a collision course with elephants [08/28/2019]
- Out of the controversy surrounding the Pan Borneo Highway and its potential impacts on the environment has arisen a movement to bring conservationists, scientists and planners together to develop a plan “to maximize benefits and reduce risks” to the environment from the road’s construction.
- The chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo has called for the highway to avoid cutting through forests.
- But a planned stretch would slice through a protected forest reserve with a dense concentration of elephants.
- A coalition of scientific and civil society organizations has offered an alternative route that its members say would still provide the desired connection while lowering the risk of potentially deadly human-wildlife conflict.


With record support, rhino rays and world’s fastest sharks get new trade protections [08/28/2019]
- Governments from around the world have voted to strictly regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish — sharks and rays that have been declining rapidly in recent years.
- All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which mandates that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.
- With majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially shark fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision.
- The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in the history of CITES convention with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals.


Jumping the Shark: The Decline of the North Atlantic’s Shortfin Mako [08/28/2019]
- Conservation scientists have recommended a total fishing ban on shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) to allow the species’ population in the North Atlantic to recover from decades of overfishing.
- The shortfin mako has a slow breeding cycle, making overfishing particularly deletirious and recovery a slow process.
- A decision on whether to ban fishing of the species will be made in October by nations that are party to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), but past decision have often veered away from scientific recommendations.


Meet the first gene-edited reptile: An albino lizard [08/28/2019]
- A team from the University of Georgia, U.S., reported successfully creating an albino lizard through gene-editing, a first for reptiles.
- The mutation introduced in the unfertilized eggs of female brown anole (Anolis sagrei) lizards led to the birth of albino offspring.
- Gene editing in reptiles is considered difficult because of features like internal fertilization and sperm storage, which make it hard to predict when fertilization will take place.
- The researchers say they hope that exploring different gene functions in Anolis lizards will aid in the study of genetic defects in humans.


A healthy and productive Amazon is the foundation of Brazil’s sovereignty (commentary) [08/27/2019]
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro likes to assert that foreigners deserve no say over the fate of the Amazon because it is a national sovereignty issue. In making the argument, Bolsonaro at times lays out a grand conspiracy under which a body like the U.N. tries to “internationalize” the Amazon, claiming it as the domain of the world.
- As fires rage, some on social media are raising the idea of the Amazon being the domain of the world. But this discussion plays directly into Bolsonaro’s narrative, strengthening his hand.
- Instead, concerned people of the world should talk about how a healthy and productive Amazon actually underpins Brazil’s sovereignty by strengthening food, water, and energy security, while supporting good relations with its neighbors.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


What’s in a name? For Sri Lanka’s newest geckos, a political firestorm [08/27/2019]
- Researchers recently described six new species of geckos, but the discovery has been overshadowed by controversy over their naming.
- Nationalist figures accuse the researchers of dishonoring historical heroes by naming the geckos after them, with one group even filing a complaint with the police.
- The scientific community has risen in support of the researchers, pointing out that naming a new species after an individual is universally considered a badge of honor.
- For their part, the researchers say the focus should be on the new species, which are so rare and their range so restricted that they should be considered critically endangered.


Giraffe trade to be monitored, strictly regulated [08/26/2019]
- Until recently, there weren’t any international regulations governing the trade in giraffes and their body parts.
- On Aug. 22, countries voted to list the giraffe under Appendix II of CITES, which would tighten the monitoring and regulation of the giraffe trade.
- Giraffe numbers have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years.


DiCaprio joins $5M effort to combat Amazon fires [08/26/2019]
- In response to rising deforestation and fires in the Amazon, on Sunday actor Leonardo DiCaprio and philanthropists Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth announced the establishment of a $5 million fund to support indigenous communities and other first responders working to protect the Amazon.
- The Amazon Forest Fund is the first major initiative of the Earth Alliance, which Global Wildlife Conservation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and the Emerson Collective formed in July.
- The fund’s initial grants went to five Brazilian organizations: Instituto Associacao Floresta Protegida, the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, Instituto Kabu, Instituto Raoni, and Instituto Socioambiental.
- The establishment of the fund comes amid global outcry over rising deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. After years of declining deforestation in the region, forest clearing spiked in July. Then last week, smoke from land-clearing fires blackened the skies above Sao Paulo, acting as a catalyst for worldwide awareness of the issue.


The Pan Borneo Highway could divide threatened wildlife populations [08/26/2019]
- Crews are set to begin construction on a stretch of Malaysia’s Pan Borneo Highway in eastern Sabah state, involving the widening of the road from two lanes to four.
- The new divided highway will cross the Kinabatangan River and pass through a critical wildlife sanctuary that’s home to orangutans, elephants and proboscis monkeys, along with other wildlife species already hemmed in by the region’s oil palm plantations.
- Planners and politicians hope the road will stimulate local economies and bring in more tourists.
- Conservationists and scientists, however, are concerned that the highway could further section off animal populations and damage the current tourism infrastructure, unless certain mitigation measures are introduced.


Sumatran elephant sanctuary under threat from bridge, port projects [08/26/2019]
- Both the planned bridge and private port in southern Sumatra would be built in an area that includes a key wildlife sanctuary that’s home to 152 critically endangered Sumatran elephants.
- The bridge would link to an island being developed for tourism, while the port would serve a pulpwood mill operated by Asia Pulp & Paper.
- Environmentalists have called for minimal disruption to the habitat if the projects go ahead, including elevated roads and strict zoning to ensure the elephants can co-exist alongside the anticipated influx of people.
- An attempt was made in 1982 to relocate the elephants from the area to make way for a migrant colony, but the elephants moved back and the area was subsequently designated as a sanctuary.


Hawaii braces for potential mass-coral bleaching event [08/23/2019]
- Current sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal for this time of year and have exceeded the temperatures preceding the catastrophic 2015 bleaching event.
- Bleached coral is not dead, but because the vast majority of the energy for the coral is coming from the algae’s activities, the vacated coral is severely weakened.
- People can act to alleviate coral stress by not touching, standing or anchoring on the reef; keeping chemicals such as sunscreens with oxybenzone or octinoxate out of the water; and suspending fishing for herbivorous fish.
- Visitors to Hawaiian reefs are being urged to participate in the real time monitoring of the reefs’ health using the newly launched Hawaiicoral.org website


Aimed at linking communities, Malaysian highway may damage forests [08/23/2019]
- Leaders hope that the construction of a road linking the Pan Borneo Highway between the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak will connect remote communities to markets and to each other.
- But conservationists warn that the highway will cut through some of the last remaining dense forest in Sarawak.
- In addition to the challenges of building in a rainy tropical environment, the mountainous terrain will make construction and maintenance difficult, skeptics of the road say.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 23, 2019 [08/23/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Bid to allow sale of ivory stockpiles rejected at wildlife trade summit [08/23/2019]
- A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would have allowed them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected by 101 votes to 23 at the CITES wildlife trade summit taking place in Geneva.
- Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are placed in Appendix II of CITES, which allows commercial trade in registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits in place.
- But such sales are severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II, which Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal sought to amend.
- Several other African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the one-off sales permitted under the annotation in 1997 and 2008 had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy, negating the argument that flooding the market with legal ivory would drown out the illegal trade.


In Sri Lanka, the sweet smell of agarwood draws calls for trade protection [08/23/2019]
- Agarwood, a resinous substance produced by tree species in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera, is a prized source of natural perfume and incense, and is regularly smuggled out of Sri Lanka.
- Although all agarwood-producing species are already listed in CITES Appendix II, fresh calls are being made to include one of them, Gyrinops walla, found in Sri Lanka, in Appendix I to prevent its trade at least until farmed products are available in the market.
- Botanists are promoting the domestication of G. walla, pointing to the success of cinnamon, which used to be harvested from the wild in Sri Lanka but is now produced in home gardens and commercial plantations.


Australia to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn [08/22/2019]
- Australia has formally announced a plan to ban its domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn.
- Sussan Ley, the country’s environment minister, said she would meet with ministers in November to ensure that steps are taken to ban domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn all jurisdictions.
- At the ongoing CITES meeting, a coalition of 30 African elephant range countries tabled a proposal asking all domestic markets of ivory to be closed. But the proposal was voted down.


In Cambodia, a rare acquittal in a climate of danger for green activists [08/22/2019]
- Deported environmental activist Alejandro-Gonzalez Davidson, who faced charges relating to protests against sand dredging in Cambodia, was found not guilty by a Phnom Penh court on Aug. 22.
- Three Cambodian activists have already served 10 months in prison over charges stemming from the same protests, and still face large fines.
- Activists working in Cambodia face grave dangers from both authorities and illegal mining and logging interests.


Discovery of a metallic-blue tarantula bolsters case for trade protection [08/22/2019]
- A shiny, metallic-blue tarantula is Sri Lanka’s latest addition to the Indian Ocean island’s list of spiders, a new study reveals.
- The discovery comes as a global summit on wildlife trade takes place in Geneva, where Sri Lanka is calling for enhanced protection of tarantulas from the exotic pet trade.
- Researchers identify habitat loss and the pet trade as the biggest threats to tarantulas in the wild, and call for strict enforcement of laws against smuggling of species.


The Pan Borneo Highway brings wildlife threats to nat’l park doorstep [08/21/2019]
- The southern terminus of the Pan Borneo Highway in Malaysia extends to the edge of Tanjung Datu National Park in Sarawak.
- The highway’s proponents say the road is already bringing more tourists who are eager to see the park’s wildlife to the adjacent communities, helping to boost the local economy.
- But one of the world’s rarest primates, the Bornean banded langur, resides in the park, raising concerns in the conservation community that increased access could bring poachers into the park.


Amazon rainforest fires leave São Paulo in the dark [08/21/2019]
- The number of forest fires in Brazil soared 85 percent between January 1 and August 20 compared to a year ago, according to data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). Roughly half of fire occurrences of this year were registered in the last 20 days, INPE data showed.
- In a technical note released in the evening of August 20, the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia) said the occurrences are directly connected to deforestation as it didn’t find any evidence to argue that the fires could be a consequence of a lack of rain.
- Fires in Brazil came to spotlight since the afternoon of August 19, when São Paulo’s skies suddenly turned black, spurring discussion about the linkage between the fires and the phenomenon. Since then, “Amazon Fires” are trending on Twitter under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas.
- Far-right President Bolsonaro reacted on August 21, raising suspicion that members of NGOs could be behind the fires in retaliation against the government for having caused the suspension of a $33.2 million payment from Norway to the Amazon Fund.


Wild orchid trade in China is huge, overlooked and ‘devastating,’ study finds [08/21/2019]
- In just one year of survey, researchers recorded more than 400 species of wild-caught orchids, involving 1.2 million individual plants worth potentially more than $14.6 million, being traded at markets in southern China.
- At least some of the trade is illegal and in breach of CITES regulations, the study found.
- Traders frequently sell non-native species of orchids. Moreover, native species that either have very small populations or have probably gone extinct in China also appear in the markets, suggesting they are likely being sourced from neighboring countries.


Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway [08/19/2019]
- The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway.
- The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway.
- Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo.
- But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.


Travel: A charmed encounter with birds-of-paradise in Papua’s Arfak Mountains [08/19/2019]
- The provinces of West Papua and Papua in Indonesia have pinned their hopes for economic growth on ecotourism and sustainable development.
- The Arfak Mountains in West Papua have become a hotspot for bird-watching, thanks to forests teeming with spectacular birds-of-paradise.
- Mongabay Indonesia recently traveled to the village of Minggrei for a bird-watching trip to see what makes the experience so special that tours are booked out until 2021.


CITES 2019: What’s Conservation Got To Do With It? (commentary) [08/16/2019]
- From August 17-28, the global community convenes in Geneva for the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- Species whose very future on this planet will be debated include the African elephant, Southern white rhino, giraffe, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, and mako shark.
- Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at WCS, argues governments must not let their decisions be swayed by the pressures of those more interested in trade than conservation.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Bid for greater protection of star tortoise, a trafficking mainstay [08/16/2019]
- The illegal trafficking of the Indian star tortoise, an IUCN-listed vulnerable species, is thriving despite its trade being restricted under CITES Appendix II and domestic legislation in all three range states.
- To fight this, range states Sri Lanka and India, along with other countries, have submitted a proposal for the upcoming CITES summit to move the star tortoise from Appendix II to Appendix I.
- The CITES Secretariat has recommended rejecting the proposal, saying that adding the star tortoise to Appendix I provides no clear benefit for its protection, but proponents say the alarming scale of the trade should be reason enough, and hope to convince the CITES parties of the value of uplisting the tortoise.


Madagascar: What’s good for the forest is good for the native silk industry [08/16/2019]
- People in the highlands of central Madagascar have long buried their loved ones in shrouds of thick wild silk, typically from the endemic silkworm known as landibe (Borocera cajani).
- With support from NGOs, traditional silk workers have widened their offerings to include scarves made of wild silk for sale to tourists and the country’s elites.
- In recent years, the price of raw materials has shot up as the forests the landibe grows in succumb to fire and other threats, making it difficult for silk workers to continue their craft.
- However, where there are forest-management challenges, there is also opportunity: the silk business provides an incentive for local people to protect their trees. Some well-organized and well-supported community groups are cashing in on conservation, in spite of the broader silkworm recession.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 16, 2019 [08/16/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Asian elephant footprints serve as safe spaces for frog nurseries [08/16/2019]
- Researchers have discovered that Asian elephant footprints can create stable, safe breeding grounds for frogs in Myanmar.
- The scientists believe these stable foot ponds can last for more than a year, and that a series of them provides connectivity for frog populations.
- While the ecosystems services of African savanna and forest elephants have been widely studied, the scientists say more research should be spent on Asian elephants and how they impact their ecosystems.


Ekuri Initiative: Inside a Nigerian community’s battle to keep its forest [08/15/2019]
- The Ekuri Community in southeastern Nigeria started an initiative in the early 1990’s to manage their community forest adjacent to the Cross River National Park, home to the critically-endangered Cross River gorilla and a suite of other unique and threatened species.
- Formalized through the Ekuri Initiative, planned community forest management has helped to drive local development, conservation, sustainable forest management and address poverty by improving access to sustainable livelihoods.
- The Initiative has resisted threats from logging companies and more recently attempts by state authorities to build a 260-km superhighway that would have destroyed much of the community forest.
- However, community leaders worry that if state and national governments continue to ignore their efforts, villagers might think conservation efforts do not respect their rights to survival.


Nigeria finds itself at the heart of the illegal pangolin trade [08/15/2019]
- Pangolins have long been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon.
- Strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in Nigeria, and the illegal trade in pangolin parts has gone deeper underground.
- Hunters and traders tell Mongabay that the impact of increased trafficking on pangolin populations is becoming clear as they are increasingly difficult to find in the forest.
- Chinese buyers will pay anywhere between $3 and $20 for a pangolin — a relative fortune for local bushmeat traders. Traffickers can then get as much as $250 for the scales from one pangolin in markets in Asia.


Europe-bred rhinos join South African cousins to repopulate Rwanda park [08/14/2019]
- Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos have been flown from Europe to Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
- Eastern black rhino populations across the region are small and isolated, with the risk of inbreeding damaging long-term genetic viability.
- The rhinos come from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding program and will add vitally needed fresh genetics into Rwanda’s fledgling population, made up of rhinos bred in South Africa.


World’s largest frog moves heavy rocks to build nests, study finds [08/13/2019]
- The goliath frog, the world’s largest known frog species, sometimes moves large stones and rocks weighing more than half its weight to create dammed ponds on sandy riverbanks to serve as nesting sites, a new study has found.
- Digging out a large nest that is more than a meter wide by moving large rocks requires a lot of physical strength, which could be a potential explanation for why goliath frogs are among the largest frogs in the world, researchers say.
- The goliath frog is endangered, yet there’s still a lot that researchers do not understand about the frog’s behavior.


Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one [08/12/2019]
- Economist Adrian Lopes used data modeling to explore the links between rhino horn suppliers in India and South Africa.
- His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around.
- Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.


Sri Lanka pushes for protection of sea cucumbers amid overexploitation [08/10/2019]
- With fewer species of sea cucumbers being recorded in catches, Sri Lanka stands to benefit from a proposal that is calling for increased protection of threatened species under CITES Appendix II.
- Experts say there’s good precedent for believing that the listing will raise awareness and spur action to protect the sea cucumbers, citing the example of various shark species that received greater attention after being listed.


Indigenous-managed lands found to harbor more biodiversity than protected areas [08/09/2019]
- Researchers say they found that amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile abundance in Australia, Brazil, and Canada is highest on lands managed or co-managed by indigenous communities — higher even than on protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, which were found to have the second highest levels of biodiversity.
- Both indigenous-managed lands and protected areas harbored more biodiversity than unprotected areas included in the study that the researchers selected at random. The researchers also determined that the size and geographical location of any particular area had no effect on levels of species diversity, suggesting that it’s the land-management practices of indigenous communities that are conserving biodiversity.
- The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of expanding the boundaries of traditional conservation strategies, which frequently rely on establishing protected areas to conserve critical habitat for biodiversity.


Peru: Invaders claim their first victim at the Macuya Forest Investigation Center [08/09/2019]
- On June 13, forest defender Julio Crisanto López was wounded by two gunshots as he was leaving the Macuya Forest, and died several days later.
- Since 2017, deforestation in the protected area has destroyed more than 500 hectares of forest according to satellite images.
- Though protected and dedicated to biological research, land traffickers have invaded portions of it, cutting trees and preparing the way for farmers to begin raising crops or cattle.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 9, 2019 [08/09/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Forests and forest communities critical to climate change solutions [08/08/2019]
- A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the importance of land use in addressing climate change.
- The restoration and protection of forests could be a critical component in strategies to mitigate climate change, say experts, but governments must halt deforestation and forest degradation to make way for farms and ranches.
- The IPCC report also acknowledges the role that indigenous communities could play.
- The forests under indigenous management often have lower deforestation and emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


Protecting the strange sea pangolin and other animals: Q&A with deep sea biologist Chong Chen [08/07/2019]
- Creatures living in deep-sea hydrothermal vents lead a unique life that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Yet these animals are at risk of disappearing because of deep-sea mining before we even learn about them.
- A deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusk, the scaly-foot snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum), for example, debuted as endangered on the IUCN Red List this year because of threats from mining.
- Mongabay spoke with deep-sea biologist Chong Chen, who has been assessing deep-sea hydrothermal vent species for the IUCN Red List, about his work and why listing these species on the IUCN Red List matters.


Bolsonaro can bully on deforestation, but he can’t hide from satellites (commentary) [08/07/2019]
- In response to rising international criticism over a surge in forest clearing since the beginning of the year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and officials in his administration have recently stepped up attacks on scientists at the country’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) for continuing to report transparently on deforestation in the Amazon.
- The expectation among civil society groups is that the Bolsonaro administration will soon stop releasing or start manipulating INPE’s deforestation data. But if Bolsonaro thinks that approach will pacify critics, he is gravely misleading himself: Bolsonaro will not be able to hide what’s happening in the Amazon from the rest of the world.
- From Planet’s constellation of satellites to NASA’s Landsat to the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Sentinel-1, today there are many eyes in the sky looking down at the Amazon.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Indonesia agrees to attempt Sumatran rhino IVF with eggs from Malaysia [08/06/2019]
- Conservationists have welcomed a long-awaited agreement by Indonesia and Malaysia to move ahead with assisted reproductive technology for the captive breeding of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino.
- Indonesia has long balked at sending rhino sperm to Malaysia for use in artificial insemination, but has now agreed to accept eggs from Malaysia to carry out in vitro fertilization.
- If successful, the program would give the species a much-needed boost in genetic diversity.
- Scientists in Germany last year used IVF to successfully produced embryos — though not a baby — of white rhinos, an African species.


New orchid species from Japan lives on dark forest floor, never blooms [08/05/2019]
- Researcher Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University has found flowering plants of a new species of orchid on Japan’s Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima islands, now named Gastrodia amamiana.
- G. amamiana belongs to a group of mycoheterotrophic orchids that live on dark forest floors, do not use photosynthesis to get their nutrients, and steal nutrition from fungi instead. G. amamiana’s flowers likely never open up or bloom.
- Researchers have already found evidence of tree thinning close to where G. amamiana was discovered, and they worry that logging could dry the soil and consequently the fungi that the orchid depends on.


Hornbill heroes: A conversation with a top Indonesian bird conservation NGO [08/05/2019]
- With their ostentatious bills, raucous calls, and unusual behavioral traits, hornbills are arguably one of the most charismatic groups of birds in the tropics. No country is home to more species than Indonesia, which has 13.
- Hornbills in Indonesia are particularly under threat due to habitat destruction. Some species are also targeted by the wildlife trade, including, most notably, the helmeted hornbill, whose dense casque is made up of “hornbill ivory” that’s highly sought in China.
- Until very recently, the decline in hornbill populations in Indonesia has been relatively under-appreciated. But that changed in 2013 when Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, founder of Rangkong Indonesia, published a report estimating that the wildlife trade killed 500 helmeted hornbills a month in West Kalimantan alone.
- In June 2019, Mongabay interviewed Yoki Hadiprakarsa and Dian Hardiyanti from Rangkong Indonesia about their work to protect hornbills in Indonesia.


Stunning new wrasse species underlines need to protect deeper-lying reefs [08/05/2019]
- A new species of wrasse discovered in mesophotic reefs off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, underlines how little is known about marine environments.
- Deeper-lying reefs are just as threatened by climate change and other human impacts as shallow reefs and need greater protection.
- Mesophotic reefs could be an important and under-recognised source of fish larvae that supports coastal fisheries.


Africa’s largest reserve may lose half its area to oil development [08/02/2019]
- The Termit and Tin Touma National Nature Reserve in Niger was Africa’s largest when it was established in 2012.
- Just seven years on, however, the government is considering redrawing its boundaries and slashing its size by nearly half.
- The move comes in response to a push by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which has exploration rights in a small section of the reserve, to expand its operations significantly.
- Conservation groups, including the NGO that manages the reserve, say the move would impact areas of high biodiversity, threatening species such as the critically endangered addax and dama gazelle.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 2, 2019 [08/02/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Some turtle embryos can influence their own sex, study finds [08/02/2019]
- The sex of some turtle species is influenced not by genes but by the temperatures they experience in the nests. Embryos of the Chinese pond turtle, however, can move inside the eggs toward cooler or hotter spots and influence their own sex, at least to some extent, a new study has found.
- This is good news because it means that, at least in theory, the turtles might be able to buffer some of the predicted shifts in the sex ratio because of climate change.
- But while the embryos seem to be influencing their sex under ideal conditions, researchers say that it may not be enough to counter the rapidly changing climate brought about by human activities.


Venezuelan crisis: Caring for priceless botanical treasures in a failed state [07/31/2019]
- Venezuela’s Botanical Garden of Caracas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Its 70-hectare (173-acre) garden, National Herbarium and Henri Pittier Library are considered a national, and international treasure, and a vital repository of Latin American and global natural history utilized frequently by researchers.
- But a devastating drought that started two years ago, plus massive thefts of equipment (ranging from air conditioners to computers, plumbing and even electrical wiring), plus a failed electrical and public water supply, have all combined to threaten the Garden’s priceless collections.
- The annual botanical garden budget has been slashed to a mere $500 per year, which has forced staff to rely on innovative conservation solutions which include crowd funding to pay for rainwater cisterns, as well as volunteer programs in which participants contribute not only labor, but irrigation water they bring from home.
- As Venezuela’s government grows increasingly corrupt and incompetent, and as the national economy spirals out of control with hyperinflation topping 1.7 million percent in 2018, the botanical garden’s curators have no ready answers as to how to go about preserving the rare plants they tend on into the future.


Forest loss threatens territorial gibbons in southern Borneo [07/31/2019]
- Bornean southern gibbons have the largest territories of any species in their genus, a new study has found.
- These large home ranges, combined with the species’ intense territoriality, puts it at particular risk of habitat loss as a result of deforestation and fire.
- The findings of this research demonstrate that this endangered species needs large areas of unbroken forest.


Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests [07/31/2019]
- A new study examines the health of reef fish populations in the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, a part of the Coral Triangle, which overlaps with Indonesian waters in the western Pacific.
- In remote areas far from large human populations, reef fish are generally doing well, the researchers found.
- The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.


Travelogue: Visiting an indigenous rainforest tribe in Borneo (Insider) [07/31/2019]
- Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler writes about his visit to Sungai Utik, a Penan Iban community in Indonesian Borneo last month.
- Rhett visited Sungai Utik to see how the community has protected their customary forest from logging and deforestation.
- Sungai Utik was recognized for their efforts with the prestigious U.N. Equator Prize last month.
- This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.


A Philippine community that once ate giant clams now works to protect them [07/31/2019]
- The island of Samal in the southern Philippines is home to one of 40 sites around the country where giant clams (Tridacna spp.) are nurtured as part of a conservation program.
- For the local community, giant clams had long been a source of food, so there was initially some resistance to the program when it started in 2001.
- Today, the clam sanctuary has grown into an ecotourism venture that generates revenue for the community and employs local seniors, particularly women.
- However, the mollusks are threatened by rising ocean temperatures, declining salinity and other human-driven factors, leaving their fate — and that of the community that has come to depend on them — in the balance.


Malagasy president considers backing declaration on conservation goals [07/30/2019]
- Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, is considering sponsoring a petition launched by the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) that outlines conservation priorities for the country.
- Almost 90 percent of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is endemic to the island nation, but is severely threatened by forest loss and trafficking.
- If the petition garners a sufficient number of signatures by August 2 it will be instated as the ‘Declaration of Ivato.’


Top Mongabay beach reads for the ‘dog days’ of summer [07/30/2019]
- The name Mongabay derives from a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar, so we wanted to share some relaxing ‘beach reads’ for some easy reading, whether you are on holidays or not.
- The ‘dog days’ are that time each year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises just before the sun, and ranges from July 3 to August 11. It also coincides with beach time holidays for many residents of the Northern Hemisphere.
- Here are a few top ‘beach reads’ our editors at Mongabay bureaus around the world suggest for our readers. Many more relaxing, good news stories can be found at our page that aggregates them all.


West Nile virus lingers longer in birds exposed to light pollution [07/29/2019]
- House sparrows exposed to light at night had higher levels of West Nile virus in their blood for two days longer than sparrows that were exposed to darkness, according to a new study.
- The research sought to mimic the effects of light pollution common to urban environments on virus levels in a known reservoir of West Nile virus, which can cause a flu-like fever in humans.
- The team’s research suggests that an outbreak could be 41 percent more likely to happen as a result of the persistence of the virus in this host.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 26, 2019 [07/26/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


Simba’s future depends on putting communities at the forefront of lion conservation (commentary) [07/25/2019]
- While Simba and Mufasa’s return to the big screen is good news for Disney and summer movie fans, in the quarter-century since the original animated version of The Lion King was released, Africa’s lion population has declined by roughly half. With only about 20,000 lions remaining in Africa, and their historic range having contracted by over 80 percent, the lion’s future is increasingly uncertain.
- In the face of these challenges, lion conservation is becoming a more urgent priority, particularly given the important role that lions play in African economies through wildlife tourism. In Tanzania, for example, home to perhaps half of all the remaining wild lions left in the world, lions are a cornerstone of a national tourism industry that earns over $2 billion annually and accounts for roughly a quarter of all foreign exchange earnings.
- Fortunately, when conservation programs are able to provide people with reasons to support lion conservation, local communities can become key stewards of lions and other wildlife.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Where did the birds go?: Q&A with river tern researcher Bosco Chan [07/24/2019]
- The river tern, a bird species that nests on sandbars, seems to have gone missing in China. Once thought to be common in Yingjiang county, Yunnan province, its population there dropped to just five birds in 2018.
- Researchers at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG), a Hong Kong-based NGO, are trying to protect this tiny population of a handful of birds.
- Mongabay spoke with Bosco Chan, head of KFBG’s Kadoorie Conservation China, about his team’s plans to save the incredibly rare species in China.


New roads in Papua New Guinea may cause ‘quantum leap’ in forest loss [07/24/2019]
- Papua New Guinea intends to nearly double its existing network of roads between now and 2022.
- A new study raises concerns about the impacts of building these roads through tropical forest environments on local communities, sensitive habitats and vulnerable species.
- The authors of the paper, published July 24 in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that the country would reap more benefits and avoid future debt by investing in existing roads, many of which are largely unusable because of flagging maintenance.


Building a global inventory of plants: Q&A with botanist Patrick Weigelt [07/23/2019]
- The Global Inventory of Floras and Traits, or GIFT 1.0, is the first database of its kind, bringing together thousands of published and unpublished plant species checklists and inventories from around the world.
- It holds more than 3,800 species lists for nearly 2,900 regions around the world, covering about 79 percent of the global land surface and 80 percent (more than 315,000 species) of all plant species known to science, the researchers who created the database say.
- Mongabay spoke with Patrick Weigelt, co-developer of GIFT, about what went into creating the database, and what it can be used for.


Secretive and colorful dryas monkey isn’t as rare as once thought [07/23/2019]
- In 2014, biologists discovered a population of critically endangered dryas monkeys (Cercopithecus dryas) living 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of their only known range in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Multi-level camera traps revealed that these stealthy monkeys are more common — and a lot weirder — than previously thought. They digest young leaves, snuggle up in impenetrable vine thickets, and sometimes boast an outrageous blue behind.
- In 2019, the IUCN downgraded their conservation status to endangered, and scientists are predicting a potentially positive future for the dryas.


When it comes to captive breeding, not all Sumatran rhinos are equal [07/23/2019]
- A new partnership called Sumatran Rhino Rescue aims to capture critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceroses to reinvigorate a captive-breeding program.
- Most experts agree that captive breeding is necessary to prevent extinction; with wild populations small and fragmented, too few baby rhinos are being born to keep the species alive.
- The current plan approved by the Indonesian government focuses on capturing “doomed” or “isolated” animals in populations too small to survive in the long term.
- However, female Sumatran rhinos living in isolation are particularly susceptible to reproductive problems, leading some experts to argue that it makes more sense to focus on capturing rhinos from healthier populations where rhinos are known to be breeding successfully — perhaps at the risk of harming the survival prospects of those populations.


Making room for wild foods in forest conservation [07/22/2019]
- The first-ever FAO report on the importance of biodiversity for food and agriculture warns that the abundance of our food supply is diminishing — with worrisome consequences for global food security.
- The report also looks at the decline in wild foods, an underreported but essential component of food security, especially for forest dependent communities.
- While wild foods make up less than 1 percent of global caloric intake, they provide essential micronutrients to hundreds of millions of people.
- Acknowledging the role that wild food plays for forest-dependent communities, and the right of access to those foods, could be an important contribution to the debate around forest conservation.


Indonesia, facing a waste crisis, plans to burn it for electricity [07/22/2019]
- The Indonesian government has targeted four cities in Java island to build incineration facilities this year to tackle the country’s plastic waste crisis.
- Environmentalists say burning waste to generate electricity is not a sustainable solution to the issue, and will only add more problems, including the emission of toxic gases.
- They instead suggest tackling the problem at the source, by reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place.
- Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest source of the plastic trash that ends up in the oceans, after China.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 19, 2019 [07/19/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


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.


In Madagascar, villagers oppose plans for a dam that would inundate their land [07/18/2019]
- A dam project in Madagascar’s central highlands, still in its planning stages, would submerge several villages, forcing hundreds or thousands of people out of their ancestral homes.
- Residents at risk of being displaced oppose the dam, and civil society groups argue that its potentially large size and social impact are not justified by the relatively small amount of power it would produce.
- The Italian company behind the project insists it’s not yet clear if the project is feasible and has made no definitive plans to build the dam.


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.


The frog and the university: Meet the niche new species from Sri Lanka [07/18/2019]
- The recent discovery of a new frog species in a niche habitat in Sri Lanka’s cloud forest has highlighted the need for conserving the Indian Ocean island’s dwindling montane habitats.
- The frog, Lankanectes pera, is named after the University of Peradeniya, the country’s oldest, and dwells only in pristine streams flowing through canopy-covered montane forests in the highest reaches of the Knuckles Mountain Range.
- Researchers are calling for extensive studies to inform conservation actions for the species, which they’ve recommended be classified as critically endangered, given its small range and population.


U.S. Virgin Islands bans coral-damaging sunscreens [07/17/2019]
- On June 25, lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands voted to ban common chemical sunscreen ingredients that can damage coral reefs.
- With the ban, the U.S. Virgin Islands joins a handful of other jurisdictions around the world pioneering action on harmful sunscreens.
- It will be the first such ban to take effect in the United States, followed by Hawaii and Key West, Florida, and among the first internationally.


We are planting trees everywhere: Q&A with Madagascar’s environment minister [07/17/2019]
- Alexandre Georget, a founder of Madagascar’s first green party in 2008, is the country’s new environment minister.
- In an interview with Mongabay, Georget discussed the government’s reforestation plans and outlined how he expected to approach its 2019 goal of reforesting 40,000 hectares.
- He also described the government’s new position on the sale of confiscated illegally harvested precious timber, in advance of the upcoming CITES meeting in August.


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.


Newly described tree species from Tanzania is likely endangered [07/17/2019]
- Researchers have described a new species of tree from the Usambara mountains of northeastern Tanzania.
- The tree, which grows up to 20 meters (66 feet) in height, has been named Mischogyne iddii after Iddi Rajabu, a resident botanist at the Amani Nature Reserve, where some individuals of the tree can be found.
- The newly described species is known from only two locations in the Usambara mountains, and the researchers estimate that fewer than 50 individuals remain, suggesting a threat category of endangered on the IUCN Red List for the species.


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.


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.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 12, 2019 [07/12/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


‘Dangerous’ new regulation puts Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands at risk [07/12/2019]
- The Indonesian government has effectively rescinded protection for much of its carbon-rich peatlands by issuing a new regulation that limits protection to the area of a peatland ecosystem where the peat is the thickest.
- Concession holders will now be allowed to exploit areas outside these “peat domes,” as long as they maintain the water table, in a mechanism seemingly borrowed straight out of the pulpwood industry playbook.
- Under previous regulations, areas with a layer of peat 3 meters (10 feet) or deeper were off-limits for exploitation, and any companies with such areas in their concessions were obliged to restore and protect them. These areas are now open to exploitation, as long as they’re not considered part of the peat dome.
- Activists warn the new regulation will encourage greater exploitation of Indonesia’s fast-diminishing peatlands, increasing the risks of fire, carbon emissions, and failure to meet the government’s own emissions reduction and peat restoration goals.


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.


Can jurisdictional certification curb palm oil deforestation in Indonesia? (commentary) [07/10/2019]
- In this commentary, Dan Nepstad of Earth Innovation Institute and John Watts and Silvia Irawan of Inovasi Bumi argue that the surge in oil palm expansion in Indonesia since the early 2000s has caused deforestation, environmental degradation and social conflicts; strategies to reduce these negative impacts have seen only modest success.
- The authors say the jurisdictional certification pilots of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) represent a promising new approach to these issues. The RSPO pilot in Seruyan — a district that has experienced many of these problems — has led to several innovations, including an agricultural facility that provides technical support to smallholders while managing funds received from companies, implementation of the “jurisdiction-wide environmental protection plan” regulation, a mechanism for resolving land conflicts, and a method for mapping and registering independent smallholders.
- Deforestation may be on the decline in Seruyan, with the exception of the El Niño related fires of 2015 and 2016. Through jurisdictional certification, there is the potential to protect 480 thousand hectares of standing forests and restore 420 thousand hectares of forests.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


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 Indonesia, a land ‘left behind’ weighs its development alternatives [07/09/2019]
- After defeating a plan to turn much of the Aru Islands into a series of giant sugar plantations, indigenous people in the eastern Indonesian archipelago are mulling how to raise their standard of living without sacrificing their rich environment.
- Time may be short: Indonesia’s minister of agriculture appears to be pushing another corporate-backed agribusiness plan in Aru involving Andi Syamsuddin Arsyad, an up-and-coming tycoon better known as Haji Isam. The two visited Aru together last year.
- Some Aruese believe development focused on tourism or fisheries would be a better fit for the delicate, small-island ecosystem, home to some of Indonesia’s last best rainforest and famous for its birds-of-paradise.


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.


Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni, home to uncontacted tribes, opens for oil drilling [07/05/2019]
- Ecuador’s environment ministry has approved the environmental assessment plans to drill for oil in Ishpingo, the last field of the controversial ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) project in Yasuni National Park.
- Saving Yasuni from oil extraction has long been a priority for conservationists, since former president Rafael Correa launched the ITT initiative in 2007, asking for international donations in return for keeping oil in the ground. The initiative failed in 2013.
- Ishpingo is the most controversial of the three ITT fields as it overlaps with the Intangible Zone, home to two uncontacted indigenous communities, the Tagaeri and Taromenane; the government claims it will not expand into this area.
- The Ecuadoran government also signed a new decree that now allows oil platforms to be constructed within the Intangible Zone’s buffer area, which was previously forbidden.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 5, 2019 [07/05/2019]
- There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
- Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
- If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
- Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.


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.


Peru: Madre de Dios land defenders face trouble whether they report crimes or not [07/05/2019]
- In the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, men and women have resisted the threats of mining and illegal logging for 12 years.
- Operation Mercury 2019, launched to eradicate illegal gold mining, also increased harassment of these environmental defenders. For this report, Mongabay Latam recorded their stories.
- No matter what land defenders do, they still lose: if they report illegal activities on their concessions they are threatened by those who are caught; and when they don’t alert anyone out of fear, the authorities sometimes fine them for not reporting the transgressions.


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.


Slight warming could be enough to heighten risk of malaria: Study [07/04/2019]
- New research has found that malaria parasites need less time to develop at lower temperatures than previously thought.
- Earlier research postulated that malaria transmission in cooler areas was unlikely because parasites took longer to mature than the lifespans of their mosquito hosts.
- The researchers found that the parasites needed between 31 and 37 days to develop at 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) — substantially lower than the 56 days postulated by previous research and well within the lifespan of female mosquitoes.


Ocean currents spin a web of interconnected fisheries around the world [07/04/2019]
- Most marine catches are made within a given country’s territorial waters, but the fish most likely originated in spawning grounds in another country’s jurisdiction, a new study shows.
- The modeling of catch, spawning and ocean current data shows that the dispersal of baby fish caught by ocean currents creates an interconnection between global marine fisheries.
- The finding highlights the need for greater international cooperation in protecting marine ecosystems everywhere, as an estimated $10 billion worth of fish spawn in one country and are caught in another every year.


Study: Vast swaths of lost tropical forest can still be brought back to life [07/03/2019]
- A new study has once again emphasized the importance of restoring degraded tropical forests in the fight against climate change.
- Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the study identifies more than a million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of lost tropical rainforest across the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia as having high potential for restoration.
- The researchers say there’s no time to waste on reforestation efforts, but caution that the type of reforestation undertaken must be carefully considered.
- Countries such as China have increased their forest cover through the extensive planting of a single tree species, but studies have shown that monoculture tree plantations are inferior to natural forests when it comes to capturing carbon, hosting wildlife, and providing other ecosystem services.


Lost in translation: Green regulations backfire without local context [07/03/2019]
- Strong green regulations modeled on those in industrialized countries don’t always have the intended effects of reducing conflict and environmental degradation, new research shows.
- These rules can place onerous burdens on small-scale producers that ultimately force them to go around the regulations, at times leading to more conflict and harm to the environment.
- The study’s author argues that regulations should be flexible enough to accommodate small-scale producers and the unique challenges they face.


Travelogue: Ground-truthing satellite data in Borneo (Insider) [07/03/2019]
- Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler writes about his visit to Indonesian Borneo last month.
- The goal of the Kalimantan trip was to ground-truth some GPS points that satellite data via Global Forest Watch suggested could be areas of recent deforestation.
- This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.


Madagascar mine ignites protests, community division [07/02/2019]
- An Australian mining company, Base Resources, plans to break ground soon on a mineral sands mining project in southwestern Madagascar.
- Base Resources says the project represents a development opportunity for the region. It has the support of most government officials and local mayors.
- But local opposition groups have called for an end to the project, citing the negative environmental impact it could have and insisting that it’s been made possible only through corrupt land deals.
- The battle over the project has played out in the Malagasy media for several years and is reaching a fever pitch as the project nears fruition. In the latest development, a Madagascar court released nine community members held for six weeks on accusations of participating in the destruction of Base Resources’ exploration campsite.


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.


As opposition wanes, a Malaysian land reclamation project pushes ahead [07/02/2019]
- When Mahathir Mohamad was elected Malaysia’s prime minister in May 2018, Chinese-backed developments were put in the political crosshairs.
- Forest City, a massive mixed-use development being built off the southern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, had already attracted controversy due to concerns about its impact on fisheries, seagrass beds, mangroves, and relations with neighboring Singapore.
- Although it’s been a bumpy political year for Forest City’s developers, construction continues on the project, as does debate over its environmental impacts.


Casualty of peace? Study shows rise in deforestation after conflicts [07/02/2019]
- A new study records a dramatic increase in the deforestation rate in four countries emerging from years of conflict.
- One of the countries studied, Sri Lanka, saw its deforestation rate in the five years after the end of its quarter-century civil war jump by 31.5 percent compared to the last five years of the conflict.
- Similar surges were seen in the three other countries: Peru, Ivory Coast and Nepal. The four countries saw an average spike in the five-year post-war period of 68 percent, against the world mean rate of 7.2 percent.
- Corruption at different scales, lack of funding for the entities in charge of forest and environmental management, inadequate policies, poor implementation are identified as key drivers of deforestation in these biodiversity hotspots.


An Indonesian forest community grapples with the arrival of the outside world [07/01/2019]
- Siberut Island, part of the Mentawai archipelago in western Indonesia, is recognized as a U.N. Biosphere Reserve due to its outstanding cultural and ecological value.
- The traditions of the indigenous Mentawai people, including agroforestry and customary land tenure, have allowed the people of the island live off the forest without depleting it.
- Roughly half of the island is protected as a national park. The rest, however, has been parceled out for timber and biomass plantations, road building, and the development of a special economic zone including a yacht marina and luxury resort.


Indigenous Iban community defends rainforests, but awaits lands rights recognition [07/01/2019]
- Over the past half century the rainforests of Borneo have been logged, strip-mined, burned, and converted for monoculture plantations. The forests that local people primarily relied upon for sustenance are now felled to feed commodities into the global market.
- But the Dayak Iban of Sungai Utik community in Indonesian Borneo has managed to fend off loggers and land invaders from their forest home.
- Sungai Utik’s efforts to sustainably manage its community forest in the face of large-scale deforestation and cultural loss across Borneo have won it accolades, including the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Equator Prize last month.
- During a June 2019 visit, Mongabay spoke with Apay Janggut, or “Bandi”, the head of the Sungai Utik longhouse about his community’s traditional practices, resistance to loggers, and efforts to adapt to issues facing indigenous peoples around the world.


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.




Copyright © 2015 Mongabay.com