Thylacine survey: Are we going to rediscover the ‘moonlight tiger’? [05/26/2017]
- The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was declared extinct in 1936. But anecdotal reports of sightings of the marsupial inspired a recent media frenzy, leading to speculation that some might still be living in the forests of northern Queensland's Cape York Peninsula. - A biological survey conducted via camera traps had been planned for the region before news of the reported sightings spread. The aim of the survey is to find out why so many of Australia’s native marsupials – and those of Cape York in particular – are disappearing. They also hope to figure out if there are any as-yet undocumented mammals living there, such as a small, endangered rat-kangaroo called the northern bettong (Bettongia tropica). - A bettong expert says cattle ranching, invasive animals, and changing fire management regimes may be hurting native mammals in Australia. - The researchers caution that the possibility of finding evidence of thylacines living in Cape York is vanishingly small. But, if the near-impossible happens and they do manage to document some, they say news of the rediscovery likely won't be released until protections are enacted.
Temer seeks to privatize Brazil’s deforestation remote sensing program [05/26/2017]
- Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, in a surprise move at the end of April, tried to privatize much of the remote sensing deforestation work that, until now, has been successfully carried out by INPE, the federal National Institute for Space Research. So sudden was the move that INPE’s head learned of it from a journalist. - Under the plan, private companies would take over monitoring for Amazonia, the Cerrado (where Brazilian deforestation is most intense), and indigenous reserves (under attack by the Temer administration). Experts view the move as a bow to the powerful agribusiness lobby, which wants more control of Amazonia, the Cerrado and indigenous preserves. - The hurried maneuver was met with shock from experts inside and outside the government, with charges that the 8-day bid process was absurdly short, and with some calling the proposal incompetent. Critics suggest the privatization bid process may have been designed to turn over deforestation remote sensing to a foreign company. - Vocal protests from 6,000 experts led the Ministry of the Environment to shelve privatization for now; though the measure could still be revived. A concern of experts was that the company engaged would have played a key role in assessing whether or not Brazil was meeting its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.
On the road to ‘smart development’ [05/25/2017]
- Ecologist Bill Laurance and his team are looking at development projects across Southeast Asia in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. - The scientists are traveling throughout the regions to better understand the needs of planners, and to impart lessons about ‘smart development’ based on decades of research in the tropics. - In Malaysia, they are focusing on finding solutions that preserve the repository of forests and biodiversity there in a way that also looks out for the country’s human residents.
As Arctic sea ice shows record decline, scientists prepare to go blind [05/25/2017]
- Starting in the mid-1980s, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) constructed eight “F-series” satellites, in bulk, with the plan to launch satellites in succession as each one failed to maintain a continuous record of Arctic sea ice extent. - But in 2016, Congress cut the program, resulting in the dismantling of the last, still not launched, satellite. It is now likely that an impending failure of the last DMSP satellites in orbit will leave the world blind until at least 2022, even as the Arctic shows signs of severe instability and decline. - While international and U.S. monitoring is still being done for ice thickness, the Trump administration has proposed cuts to satellite missions, including NOAA’s next two polar orbiting satellites, NASA’s PACE Satellite (to monitor ocean and atmospheric pollution), and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (for carbon dioxide atmospheric measurements). - All of these cuts in satellite monitoring come at a time when the world is seeing massive changes due to climate change, development and population growth. One satellite program spared Trump’s budgetary axe so far is Landsat 9, which tracks deforestation and glacial recession. How Congress will deal with Trump’s proposed cuts is unknown.
Who owns Indonesia’s deadly abandoned coal mines? [05/25/2017]
- More than 630 open-pit coal mines have been left behind by mining companies in East Kalimantan. These holes have claimed the lives of at least 27 people, mostly children - Indonesian law requires companies to fill in their mining pits, and prohibits mining within 500 meters of houses. However, these regulations are frequently violated. - Mongabay-Indonesia spent months investigating the true scope of the problem, and the individuals responsible for these violations.
Communities band together to protect El Salvador’s last mangroves [05/24/2017]
- Jiquilisco Bay is home to about half of El Salvador's remaining mangroves. But many mangrove tracts were nearly wiped out by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and siltation from upstream deforestation and controlled flooding were damaging the rest. - In response, local communities formed a coalition, called the Mangrove Association, to help protect and expand the region's mangroves. - Around 80 communities are involved in the Mangrove Association. They work to restore damaged areas, and have re-planted hundreds of acres of mangrove forest.
Brazil agribusiness company accuses ally Temer in secret bribe taping [05/23/2017]
- The world’s largest meat processor, Brazil’s JBS has been rocked by scandal. In March, investigations revealed the company had bribed federal officials to turn a blind eye to tainted meat, and had also illegally raised 59,000 head of cattle on illegally deforested Amazon lands. JBS is a key backer of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. - Now, JBS owners the Batista brothers, in a plea bargain with federal investigators, have produced a tape in which Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, in conversation with one of the JBS owners, apparently enthusiastically endorses the use of bribes by the company. Temer claims the recording has been altered. - Temer has consistently done the bidding of the agribusiness lobby, which brought him to power a year ago. He has worked to reverse indigenous land rights gained under the 1988 constitution, and to dismember conservation units, with up to 1.2 million hectares of forest to be turned over to land thieves who illegally seized federal lands. - There are calls for the president to resign, though Temer has refused to step down. Legislation to dismember Amazon conservation units was recently approved by Brazil’s Assembly and is headed for the Senate, which has until 29 May to approve the bills, a timeline which is looking extremely tight considering current events.
China’s first national park, an experiment in living with snow leopards [05/19/2017]
- Sanjiangyuan National Park is expected to open in 2020 as China’s first park in its new national park system. - As many as 1,500 endangered snow leopards (Panthera uncia) live in the area. The cats are subject to poaching and persecution in retaliation for their predation on livestock, which are edging out their natural prey. - The new park seeks to capitalize on the reverence many local Tibetan Buddhists have for wildlife, employing a conservation model that engages the public and attempts to ease tensions between people and predators. - The new national park system is intended to create a more effective kind of protected area than currently exists in China.
Kenya cracks down on illegal trade in rare and venomous vipers [05/16/2017]
- Early this year Kenyan authorities placed tight new restrictions on the trade and export of several snake species, including the Kenya horned viper (Bitis worthingtoni) and the Mt. Kenya Bush Viper (Atheris desaixi). - The two snake species are regularly trafficked abroad for the pet trade as well as for luxury food and medical reseach. - Authorities say criminal networks regularly bribe officials and are investigating whether politicians may be involved in the trade. - Nevertheless, the Kenyan government appears to be taking a hard line against viper traffic, cracking down on smugglers and ramping up international cooperation to fight viper traffic.
Son Doong Cave: Tourism and conservation coexist in one of Vietnam’s largest national parks [05/16/2017]
- Home to the world's largest cave, Son Doong, the park gets thousands of visitors per year. - Tourism in the area has also benefited the local economy, leading to a decrease in unsustainable use of area resources such as timber. - Despite government plans to install a cable car for tourists, area guides remain optimistic about the future of the park and the cave.
‘Killed, forced, afraid’: Philippine palm oil legacy incites new fears [05/09/2017]
- Following a rush of corporate investment in the 1960s, agroindustry company NDC-Guthrie set up camp on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The company hired a private security force dubbed the "Lost Command" to protect its oil palm plantations. - Sources say the Lost Command used violence to expand NDC-Guthrie's land holdings in the 1980s, with allegations ranging from forcibly displacing residents of local communities and extorting business-owners to looting, rape, and even murder. - In the 1990s NDC-Guthrie was bought by Filipinas Palm Oil Plantations Inc. (FPPI), which continues to operate in the region today. A company representative said "issues have been blown up" and that FPPI is interested in expanding further in Mindanao. - The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) touted oil palm propagation as a way to elevate the national economy and even stem armed conflict. But industry watchdog groups disagree, saying palm oil's track record of conflict in the Philippine archipelago does not bode well for the future.
The rise and fall of Regina Lopez, the Philippines’ maverick environment minister [05/09/2017]
- Lopez was a well-known environmental activist prior to her 2016 appointment as director of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. - During her 10-month tenure, Lopez shut down or suspended 26 mines that failed to pass environmental audits, cancelled approval of 75 proposed mines, and banned new open-pit metal mines. - On May 3, Lopez was removed from her post by a House-Senate committee charged with rejecting or confirming political appointments. The committee included politicians with ties to the mining sector. - President Rodrigo Duterte — a firm supporter of Lopez — appointed a former Armed Forces chief of staff to replace her.
DRC’s Garamba National Park: The last giraffes of the Congo [05/09/2017]
- Today there are only 46 giraffes left in Garamba National Park, in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in a nearly 2,000 square-mile area. - Garamba is situated in a dangerous part of Africa crawling with heavily armed poachers and various guerilla groups. - Garamba is one of 10 national parks and protected areas in 7 countries managed by African Parks, a non-profit conservation organization.
Indigenous groups, activists risk arrest to blockade logging in Malaysia [05/08/2017]
- Blockades are being set up in peninsular Malaysia's northern state of Kelantan by groups that say logging activities are damaging forests and the surrounding environment. - Kelantan has seen more forest clearing in recent years as the state ramps up tree plantation development. - Activist groups say forestry departments are granting forest access to logging companies, while restricting access to forest-dependent communities. - Malaysian courts ruled recently that forests being targeted by logging companies belong to indigenous Orang Asli communities.
Trump failure to lead on climate doesn’t faze UN policymakers in Bonn [05/08/2017]
- Policymakers from nearly 200 countries are gathering in Bonn this week for climate change talks aimed at fulfilling the promise of the Paris Agreement. U.S. negotiators will be there too, despite President Trump’s denial of climate change and his signaled alliance with the fossil fuel industry. - Under President Obama, the U.S. played a key leadership role in climate negotiations, bringing China fully on board, and helping broker the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the pact — a four-year process — and claims he will make a final decision this month. It seems likely China would step into the leadership gap left by the U.S. - Bonn negotiators remain unfazed by Trump’s climate change denialism or his threat to withdraw from Paris. Every signatory nation is going forward with meeting voluntary carbon reduction pledges. Some policymakers do worry how the parties to the Paris Agreement will make up the loss of billions of dollars in U.S. climate aid promised under Obama, but now denied by Trump. - The feeling among Bonn participants is that the rest of the world will go forward briskly and effectively in combatting climate change by embracing alternative energy solutions that will bring jobs and prosperity to their countries, while the U.S. will play the role of a rogue nation that will share no part in the resulting economic boon.
“We don’t believe in words anymore”: Indians stand against Temer govt. [05/03/2017]
- Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but agribusiness and land thieves are working with the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories, and to defund FUNAI, the federal agency representing Indian concerns. - In response, Brazil’s Indians are launching numerous protests. Last week more than 4,000 indigenous leaders from 200 tribes gathered in Brasilia to demonstrate. They were greeted in front of the Congress building with a police teargas attack. - Emboldened by government support, ranchers and their hired gunmen brutally attacked a peaceful land occupation by members of the Gamela tribe in Maranhão state in northern Brazil on 30 April with rifles and machetes; 13 Indians were seriously injured. - In the Amazon, the Munduruku have blocked the Transamazonian highway, creating a 40 kilometer backup of trucks loaded with the soy harvest. In an unusual twist, the truckers met with the Munduruku Wednesday afternoon and expressed solidarity with the Indians, agreeing that the government’s failure to meet the people’s needs is the real problem.
Over the bridge: The battle for the future of the Kinabatangan [05/03/2017]
- Proponents of the project contend that a bridge and associated paved road to Sukau would have helped the town grow and improve the standard of living for its residents. - Environmental groups argue that the region’s unrealized potential for high-end nature tourism could bring similar economic benefits without disturbing local populations of elephants, orangutans and other struggling wildlife. - The mid-April cancellation of the bridge was heralded as a success for rainforest conservation, but bigger questions loom about the future of local communities, the sanctuary and its wildlife.
Preserving orangutan culture an ingredient for successful conservation [05/02/2017]
- Scientists once thought that all animal behavior was instinctual, but now know that many animals — particularly social animals — are able to think and to learn, and to display culturally learned behaviors. - Orangutans are one animal in which occurrences of culture have been fairly well proven, with orangutan groups at different study sites displaying variant behaviors that have neither environmental nor genetic origins, meaning they can only be cultural in nature. - Among these cultural behaviors are basic tool making and use for food harvesting, purposeful vocalizations, and variations in nest building materials and methods. Scientists fear habitat loss and crashing populations could cause this cultural heritage to vanish. - The loss of varied cultural behaviors could potentially make orangutans less adaptable to changes in their environment at a time when, under extreme pressure from human development, these great apes need all the resources they can muster.
Conservation lessons from the bonobos [05/01/2017]
- Lola ya Bonobo, the world’s first bonobo sanctuary, was founded in 1994 by Claudine Andre, who came to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at a young age, and who, after a chance meeting with a bonobo at the Kinshasa zoo, dedicated her life to the species. Today, Lola has been recognized worldwide as a model for primate rehabilitation. - The sanctuary primarily credits “inclusive conservation” for its success, a process by which Lola not only cares for rescued DRC bonobos, but also for nearby human communities — supporting farms, schools and medical facilities. The communities in turn support Lola. - The bonobos at the sanctuary — often traumatized after being rescued from the great ape trade — spend years in rehabilitation, being served by human foster mothers and other caring Lola staff. When deemed ready, bonobo troupes are returned to the wild Congo.
Despite numerous challenges, rhinos are thriving in India’s Jaldapara National Park [05/01/2017]
- Jaldapara National Park in the northern fringe of West Bengal hosts more than 200 one-horned rhinos. - Growing demand for rhino horn means poaching is a rising threat, especially when anti-poaching measures in neighboring Assam State prompt poaching networks to seek new targets. - In addition to extensive anti-poaching patrols, the park's management is relying on cooperation with residents of nearby villages to protect the park's wildlife. - The park now shares 40 percent of ecotourism revenue with community-based Joint Forest Management Committees, trains former offenders as wildlife protectors and is developing other projects to integrate the welfare of communities and wildlife.
Delicate Solomon Island ecosystem in danger of heavy logging [05/01/2017]
- Foreign and domestic companies are making a push – at times using allegedly unethical means – for the timber found on the island of Nende in the Santa Cruz chain of the Solomon Islands. - The island’s old-growth forests are home to animals like the Santa Cruz shrikebill, which is found nowhere else on Earth. - Concerns have been voiced that logging could wreak havoc on the ecosystem, from the watersheds in the mountains down to the coral reefs ringing the island, if large-scale logging is allowed to proceed.
Corruption drives dealings with logging companies in the Solomon Islands [05/01/2017]
- The old-growth forests on the island of Nende anchor a unique ecosystem that hold creatures found nowhere else and that have supported communities for centuries. - Logging companies are eager to harvest the island’s timber, which could be worth as much as SI$10 million ($1.26 million). - Scientists worry that logging would destroy everything from the mountain sources of the island’s fresh water to the reefs where sedimentation as a result of logging could kill coral. - Conservation groups and sources from within the provincial government have charged that the companies are using coercion and bribes to convince landowners and development organizations to back their plans to log Nende’s forests.
Amazon’s fate hangs on outcome of war between opposing worldviews [04/27/2017]
- The battle for the Amazon is being fought over two opposing viewpoints: the first, mostly held by indigenous and traditional people and their conservationist allies, sees forests and rivers as valuable for their own sake, and for the livelihoods, biodiversity, ecological services and climate change mitigation they provide. For them the forests need protection. - The second worldview holds that Amazon forests are natural resources to be harvested and turned into dollars, an outlook largely held by wealthy landowners, land thieves, loggers, cattle ranchers and farmers. For them the forests are there to be cut down, and the land is there to be used for economic benefit. - The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby now has overwhelming political power in the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration, which are pushing a raft of bills and administrative actions to take away indigenous land rights, dismember conservation units, gut environmental licensing laws and defund environmental protection agencies. - The great fear is that the collision of the two worldviews in the wilds of the Amazon will result in escalating lawlessness and bloodshed against indigenous and traditional people, along with significant environmental destruction. The loss of Amazon ecosystems could be catastrophic for humanity, as the region’s forests are crucial for global carbon storage.
Conserving Congo’s wild places on a shoestring [04/25/2017]
- The park operates on a budget so small they can hardly afford to patrol the 76,000 hectares (188,000 acres) of mangroves, waterways, beach and ocean. - Though the beach and savannah portions of the park are partially protected areas, a handful of communities have continuously lived there since long before the park’s creation. - Park officials and rangers face the difficult task of protecting the vast area with just a handful of rangers and are up against generations of ingrained practices by residents, such as poaching turtles and their eggs.
Namibia’s low cost, sustainable solution to seabird bycatch [04/25/2017]
- Accidental take of marine animals by commercial fisheries is a serious global environmental problem, with 40 percent of the world’s ocean fishing totals disposed of as bycatch annually. - Roughly 63 billion pounds of unwanted wildlife — seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles, countless fish species, rays, and cephalopods — are killed as bycatch due to the swallowing of baited hooks or entanglement in nets. - Nambia, once known as the “world’s worst fishery” regarding avian bycatch is addressing the problem. It has installed “bird-scaring” lines on the nation’s 70 trawlers and on its 12 longline fishing vessels, and has also adopted other low cost methods to minimize avian bycatch, which once killed more than 30,000 birds annually. - The Meme Itumbapo Women’s Group, known for its seashell necklaces and other jewelry, is now sustainably manufacturing and supplying the bird-scaring lines from their headquarters “Bird’s Paradise,” in Walvis Bay, Namibia. The hope is that these combined efforts will reduce avian bycatch by 85-90 percent in the near future.
The land is forever: Rodrigo Tot wins Goldman Prize for land-title quest [04/24/2017]
- Rodrigo Tot is one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize honoring global “grassroots environmental heroes.” - He has been working for decades to secure title to his community’s lands, which are embroiled in an ongoing dispute with mining interests. - Tot has faced threats to his safety as well as the murder of his son in 2012, in what he believes was retaliation for his land-rights work.
The March for Science makes its stand: “There is no Planet B” [04/24/2017]
- On Saturday, April 22nd tens of thousands of protestors defied bone chilling rain to march on Washington D.C., while fellow marchers protested at “March for Science” events across America and around the world. - The D.C. march, attended by prominent scientists and supporters of science, was held in opposition to the anti-science policies of Congress and the Trump administration — which has proposed draconian cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency, and a virtual shutdown of U.S. climate research. - Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, summed up the purpose of the march: “to insure that policy is informed by an objective assessment of scientific evidence.“ - Caroline Weinberg, co-founder of the U.S. March for Science, noted that: “Science extends our lives, protects our planet, puts food on our table [and] contributes to the economy.… [P]olicymakers threaten our present and future by ignoring scientific evidence.”
Women could be a key to great ape conservation in the Congo [04/21/2017]
- The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), and Coopera are all organizations working with women in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help advance great ape conservation through education, empowerment, healthcare and food security access. - Some examples: BCI helps fund pilot micro-credit projects for women who want to launch business enterprises, including soap and garment making. GRACE employs women as surrogate mothers for newly orphaned gorillas during an initial 30-day quarantine period. - GRACE also provides women and their families with bushmeat alternatives by teaching them to care for and breed alternative protein sources. Coopera helps provide alternative food sources through ECOLO-FEMMES, an organization that trains women in livestock breeding and agriculture to reduce great ape hunting in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. - Coopera, working with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots, engages young rape victims in tree planting to provide food sources to wild chimpanzees. JGI’s women’s programs in Uganda and Tanzania keep girls in school through peer support, scholarship programs and sanitary supply access. Educated women have smaller families, reducing stress on the environment.
No safe forest left: 250 captive orphan chimps stuck in sanctuaries [04/20/2017]
- Cameroon currently has more than 250 rescued chimpanzees living in three chimp wildlife sanctuaries. Attempts to find forests into which to release them — safe from the bushmeat and pet trade, and not already occupied by other chimpanzee populations — have failed so far. - The intensification of logging, mining and agribusiness, plus new roads into remote areas, along with a growing rural human population, are putting intense pressure on un-conserved forests as well as protected lands. - Unless habitat loss, poaching and trafficking are controlled in Cameroon, reintroduction of captive chimpanzees may not be achievable. Some conservationists argue, however, that reintroduction of captive animals is needed to enhance genetic resilience in wild populations. - If current rates of decline are not curbed, primatologists estimate that chimpanzees could be gone from Cameroon’s forests within 15 to 20 years.
Is a property boom in Malaysia causing a fisheries bust in Penang? [04/19/2017]
- Driven by high demand for housing, developers in Malaysia's Penang Island are artificially expanding the coastline and planning to construct new islands. - Local fishers say building works have already damaged their livelihoods, and fear further construction will destroy their fishing grounds. - Mangroves and endangered bird species are also threatened, and the mining and transport of construction materials could spread adverse environmental impacts beyond just Penang.
Deforestation has become big business in the Brazilian Amazon [04/18/2017]
- Agamenom da Silva Menezes, is typical of modern Amazonian real estate operators: he is a wealthy individual who openly works with those who make a living by illegally laying claim to, deforesting and selling public lands for a high price. Lawlessness in the region means such land theft is rarely punished. - Agamenom and others like him use militias, hired thugs, to intimidate landless peasant farmers as well as less powerful land thieves who try to claim Amazonian forests. The land is then deforested and sold to cattle ranchers, with each tract of stolen federal land bringing in an estimated R$20 million (US$6.4 million) on average. - In March, the Temer government slashed by over 50 percent the budget of the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for both IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, and the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which oversees Brazil’s conservation units. - As a result, land thieves are likely to get bolder in their theft, deforestation and sale of public lands to cattle ranchers and others. Without a major shift in federal forestry policy and a dramatic improvement in enforcement, land theft and deforestation are likely to worsen across the Amazon basin.
Documenting the fight to save Borneo’s animals [04/18/2017]
- After graduating from school, Aaron 'Bertie' Gekoski was on a fairly conventional career path for a young businessman. - But the more successful his agency became, the more Gekoski felt like something was missing. - So he quit the business and embarked on a totally new adventure: wildlife filmmaking. - Gekoski spoke about his unusual career path, his passion, and filmmaking during an April 2017 interview with Mongabay.com.
Connectivity and coexistence key to orangutan survival on croplands [04/13/2017]
- Orangutans are in drastic decline, largely due to habitat loss. From 1973–2010, Borneo lost 39 percent of its forests; estimates say that another 37 percent of orangutan-suitable habitat will be converted to agricultural use there through 2025. Similarly, 60 percent of habitat suitable for Sumatran orangutans was lost between 1985 and 2007. - If orangutans are to survive in the wild through the 21st century, researchers will need to discover ways in which the animals can be helped to coexist with humans within agricultural landscapes. Researchers are also looking for creative ways to provide connectivity between remaining forest patches to promote and preserve genetic resilience. - Scientists Gail Campbell-Smith, Marc Ancrenaz and others have shown that orangutans can use croplands, including oil palm plantations, if humans work to prevent conflict. Noise deterrents, such as bamboo cannon guns, along with the education of farm laborers and agribusiness companies, are techniques helping to reduce animal-human conflicts. - Researcher Marc Ancrenaz and colleagues provided orangutans and other arboreal wildlife with rope bridges over small rivers in Malaysia — a successful approach to providing connectivity. It took four years for orangutans to begin using the bridges, but now young orangutan males use the structures to disperse more widely.
Great apes in Asian circus-style shows on rise — so is trafficking [04/12/2017]
- Asian zoos, circuses and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions with costumed, dancing, roller-skating great apes. Investigations show that nearly all of these trained primates were not bred in captivity, but illegally traded out of Africa and Indonesia, with destinations in China, Thailand and other Asian countries. - The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were thought to be orangutans. - Wild young apes are traumatized by their capture, and many die along the supply chain, or with their final “owners” by whom they are frequently poorly treated. Young great apes trained in captivity become increasingly unmanageable as they age, and many are “retired” to tiny, solitary cages, or simply disappear. - Trafficking arrests are rare. UNEP recorded just 27 arrests in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 cases of illegally trafficked great apes were documented, with many more undetected. Solutions are in the works, but time is running out for the world’s great apes if they are to be conserved.
Ex-mine security head cleared of murder, assault against indigenous Guatemalans [04/10/2017]
- During protests over contested land in 2009 a well-known Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader and mine opponent named Adolfo Ich was killed, another Maya Q’eqchi’, German Chub, was shot and paralyzed from the waist down, and several other community residents were wounded. - Guatemala's Office of the Public Prosecutor charged Mynor Padilla, the Fenix mine's head of security at the time of the protests, with homicide and assault. Padilla maintained his innocence throughout the trial. - On Thursday a judge in Puerto Barrios acquitted Padilla and ordered his immediate release, instructing the Office of the Public Prosecutor to pursue criminal charges against Padilla's accusers.
Illegal bushmeat trade threatens human health and great apes [04/06/2017]
- Hunting for bushmeat impacts over 500 wild species in Africa, but is particularly harmful to great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos — whose small, endangered populations struggle to rebound from over-hunting. Along with other major stressors including habitat loss, trafficking and climate change. - Bushmeat brings humans into close contact with wildlife, creating a prime path for the transmission of diseases like Ebola, as well as new emerging infectious diseases. Disease spread is especially worrisome between humans and closely related African great ape species. - Bushmeat consumption today is driven by an upscale urban African market, by illegal logging that offers easy access to remote great ape habitat, plus impoverished rural hunters in need of cash livelihoods. - If the bushmeat problem is to be solved, ineffective enforcement of hunting quotas and inadequate endangered species protections must be addressed. Cultural preferences for bushmeat must also change. Educational programs focused on bushmeat disease risk may be the best way to alter public perceptions.
Rio Tinto walks away from environmental responsibility for Bougainville’s Panguna mine [04/06/2017]
- Rio Tinto operated the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville from 1972 until 1989, when local landowners — angered about pollution and revenue sharing — forced the mine to shut down. - Rio Tinto divested its share of the mine in 2016, and now believes it has no obligation to address the mine's environmental legacy. - Today, Bougainville — an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea — is devastated by damages wrought by both war and the mine. - The Bougainville government is considering re-opening the mine in order to fund a cleanup.
Indigenous groups, Amazon’s best land stewards, under federal attack [04/05/2017]
- According to 2014 data for Legal Amazonia, 59 percent of that year’s illegal deforestation occurred on privately held lands, 27 percent in conservation units, 13 percent in agrarian reform settlements, and a mere 1 percent on indigenous lands — demonstrating that indigenous land stewards are the best at limiting deforestation. - Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but land thieves and agribusiness are working to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories — forested territories that, if protected, could sequester a great deal of climate change-causing carbon. - While President Lula failed to live up to indigenous expectations, the Dilma and Temer governments, heavily influenced by the agricultural lobby, showed much greater hostility to indigenous needs and demands. Indigenous groups plan a mass protest on April 24-28 to make their grievances known to the Temer government. - “The Brazilian economy has become increasingly dependent on agribusiness [with] political repercussions.… People [aren’t] against the Indians because they are Indians or because they have too much land. The problem is that the Indians have lands these political actors want.” — Márcio Meira, former head of FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian affairs agency.
Kaziranga: the frontline of India’s rhino wars [04/04/2017]
- Kaziranga National Park in India's Assam State is home to around 2,400 one-horned rhinos, as well as elephants, tigers and hundreds of other mammal and bird species. - India's rhinos were hunted nearly to extinction by the early 20th century, but have rebounded since the park was established. However, rhino horn is highly sought in the black market and poaching remains a constant threat. - Rangers in Kaziranga rely on antiquated weaponry to face off against poachers, whose links with international crime syndicates mean they are often better armed and better financed than forest guards. - The park's approach to conservation has drawn criticism from indigenous rights group Survival International, a critique that gained prominence in a recent BBC documentary.
Ebo forest great apes threatened by stalled Cameroon national park [04/03/2017]
- Cameroon’s Ebo forest is home to key populations of tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, along with an unspecified subspecies of gorilla, drills, Preuss’s Red Colobus, forest elephants, and a great deal more biodiversity. - The forest is vulnerable, unprotected due to a drawn-out fight to secure its status as a national park. Logging and hunting threaten Ebo’s biodiversity. The Cameroonian palm oil company Azur recently began planting a 123,000 hectare plantation on its boundary. - The Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP) has been working successfully to change the habits of local people who have long subsisted on the forest’s natural resources — turning hunters into great ape guardians. But without the establishment of the national park and full legal protection and enforcement, everyone’s efforts may be in vain.
From CEO to Conservation Legend: An Interview with Kristine Tompkins [03/31/2017]
- In addition to protecting habitat, Tompkins and her team are reintroducing megafauna – from giant anteaters to jaguars – back into Iberá National Park. - Tompkins calls climate change a ‘disaster’ and ‘horrifying,’ says the signs are obvious in South America. - She continues to preserve land in Chile and Argentina after losing her husband and conservation partner, Doug Tompkins, in 2015.
The military family that kept a pet orangutan in Indonesia [03/29/2017]
- Wildlife traffickers are chipping away at the dwindling populations of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. Deforestation lends poachers an assist, rendering the primates homeless and easier to catch. - Keeping an orangutan pet is illegal in Indonesia, but not once has a citizen been prosecuted for it. The owners tend to be influential figures -- police officers, soldiers, politicians. - Krismon was separated from his mother as an infant in the late 1990s. Only last year was he finally recovered from the military family he was living with. - The ape will spend the rest of his life behind metal bars — unless a plan to construct an orangutan haven comes to fruition in North Sumatra.
Communities conserving local forest in El Salvador vote to ban mining [03/28/2017]
- El Salvador is considered the most-deforested country in Central America, but national efforts to protect remaining forest appear to be on the upswing in the tiny country. - Cinquera, a municipality in northern El Salvador, has created its own forest preserve and attracted the attention of the national government. - In February, residents voted to ban metallic mining in the region. - On March 22, legislator Guillermo Mata announced that the legislative assembly’s multi-partisan environmental committee had approved the text of a law banning metallic mining. The bill is set to go to the floor for a vote this week, according to Mata.
Paying for healthcare with trees: win-win for orangutans and communities [03/28/2017]
- In 2016, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) was declared Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Orangutan habitat is fast disappearing due to deforestation caused by industrial agriculture, forest fires, slash and burn agriculture, and logging. - One of the most important remaining P. pygmaeus populations, with roughly 2,000 individuals, is in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park. Alam Sehat Lestari (Healthy Nature Everlasting, or ASRI) is partnering with U.S. NGO Health in Harmony and effectively reducing illegal logging in the park via a unique healthcare offering. - When communities were asked what was needed to stop them from logging conserved forest, the people answered: affordable healthcare and organic farming. Expensive medical costs were forcing people to log to pay medical bills, while unsustainable agricultural practices depleted the soil, necessitating the use of costly fertilizers. - The two NGOs opened an affordable health clinic, and later a hospital, offering discounted medical service to communities that stop logging. Forest guardians, recruited in every village, encourage people to curb deforestation. They also monitor illegal activity and reforestation, while offering training in organic farming methods. And the program works!
World’s second breeding population of Indochinese tigers discovered in Thailand’s forests [03/28/2017]
- The world’s second known breeding population of Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) confirmed in Eastern Thailand’s Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex - a UNESCO World Heritage site. - Remarkable discovery now makes Thailand home to two breeding populations of this tiger subspecies, a significant step toward ensuring their long-term survival in the wild. - Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and conservation groups Freeland and Panthera have conducted a scientific survey on the tiger population using the ‘photographic capture-recapture’ method, indicating a density of 0.63 tigers per 100 square kilometers. - While conservationists welcome these exciting new findings, they warn of the continued decline of tigers elsewhere in Thailand and across their global range.
Amazon land speculators poised to gain control of vast public lands [03/27/2017]
- In the Brazilian Amazon, the paving of highways makes adjacent forests far more attractive to land thieves, resulting in major deforestation. The Sustainable BR-163 Plan of 2006 created vast swathes of protected land — eight new conservation units — to prevent land theft and deforestation from happening near the vulnerable BR-163 highway in Pará state. - From the start, land speculators wanted to get their hands on one of those units, the National Forest of Jamanxim, known as “Flona Jamaxim.” They’ve occupied large areas of the Flona, making it one of Brazil’s conservation units with the most serious illegal forest clearing. Illicit activities there helped turn the region into a very violent place. - The rise of the agribusiness-friendly Temer administration in August 2016 emboldened the land speculators. Working with the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, they got Temer to pass interim measures in December 2016, dismembering Flona Jamanxim, reclassifying 305,000 hectares, and allowing land thieves to keep the land they had seized. - Other conservation units are being targeted: in January 2017, the government announced plans to slash conservation units in Amazonas state — dismembering the Biological Reserve of Manicoré, National Park of Acari, and National Forests of Aripuanã and Urupadi, and more. If approved, one million hectares will lose environmental protection.
Military base-building destroys coral reefs in the South China Sea [03/26/2017]
- The Spratly Islands, located in the South China Sea, are an underwater biodiversity hotspot. - But China's military base-building on these islands has destroyed huge expanses of coral reef. - A new study finds up to a 70 percent reduction in coral reef cover on atolls with military bases
As Thailand ramps up its palm oil sector, peat forests feel the pressure [03/24/2017]
- Thailand is currently the world's third-largest producer of palm oil. As of 2015, around 70 percent of land used for oil palm cultivation was managed by small-scale farmers. - Most of Thailand's palm oil is grown in the southern part of the country. In one protected area, called Pru Kaching, the government is trying to reclaim land from palm oil growers. But complicating factors have mired the effort. - In order to grow crops like oil palm in peatlands, the swampy peat must be drained – which releases carbon into the atmosphere and makes the forests that overlay them more susceptible to fire.
Panama’s Barro Blanco dam to begin operation, indigenous pleas refused [03/24/2017]
- For nearly a decade, Panama’s Barro Blanco dam has met with strong opposition from indigenous Ngäbe communities. It has also generated violent suppression from government forces, and attracted criticism from international organizations. - An agreement on the dam’s completion, reached by the government and the community’s now-ousted leader, was voted down by the Ngäbe-Bugle General Congress in September 2016. The dam’s surprise deregistration from the UN Clean Development Mechanism in October 2016 did nothing to stop the project. - Now, the General Administrator of Panama’s National Authority for Public Services has declared that the Ngäbe-Bugle General Congress never presented a formal rejection document to the government, meaning dam operations can begin. - Panama’s Supreme Court has ruled against the last two legal actions by indigenous communities impacted by Barro Blanco. The Supreme Court decisions cannot be appealed, so the communities have now exhausted all legal avenues within the country, leaving only international processes.
“Endangered species to declare?” Europe’s understudied bushmeat trade [03/20/2017]
- Bushmeat can be purchased in Europe’s capital cities, with the meat of endangered species such as primates and pangolins available. But the scale of the problem is not fully understood as few studies have been undertaken at airports and other points of entry to determine its scope. - In a Paris airport study, 134 passengers arriving from Africa were searched over a period of 17 days; nine were found to be carrying a total of 188 kilograms (414 pounds) of bushmeat. A more recent study of bushmeat arriving from Africa at two Swiss airports found that one third of meat seized was from threatened CITES species including pangolins, small carnivores and primates. - Based on what evidence there is of the trade, some appears to be organized for profit, with traffickers transporting suitcases full of bushmeat to sell on the black market. Africans who reside in Europe also sometimes bring back bushmeat from Africa as a “taste of home,” potentially contributing to the risk of spreading diseases that may be found in the meat. - Researchers are urging that DNA analysis tools be used more widely to learn what species are being transported as bushmeat into Europe, and to bring about more prosecutions of bushmeat traffickers who are dealing in endangered species. But with customs officials already stretched, and bushmeat a low priority, the technology is rarely utilized at present.
Saving orphaned baby rhinos in India [03/17/2017]
- The Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, near Kaziranga National Park in Assam State, is currently home to nine greater one-horned rhino calves, including eight orphaned in monsoon floods last year. - Carers at the center hand raise these young rhinos with the aim of reintroducing them to the wild when they are old enough to fend for themselves. - Since 2002, the center has raised and released 14 rhino calves, along with young from other species including elephants and wild buffalo. - Raising these vulnerable animals requires years of painstaking effort.
Cambodia’s Sambor Dam plans cause controversy as public left in the dark [03/16/2017]
- A recent social media posting by a government spokesman indicates that the Sambor Dam is a priority project for the Cambodian government, to be completed by 2027 with an output of 1,800 megawatts. - The developer that originally planned to build the dam, China Southern Power Grid, pulled out of the project after villagers protested the dam's potential impact on fisheries. Studies indicate the dam could reduce yields of fish and aquatic animals by as much as 30 percent. - China Southern Power Grid's feasibility studies also indicated that 19,000 people would have to be relocated for the dam. - In 2013, the Cambodian government hired the US-based National Heritage Institute to review options for the project. The report prepared by NHI has not been made public, which has drawn criticism from civil society groups.
Crime and not enough punishment: Amazon thieves keep stolen public land [03/15/2017]
- Land grabbing and illegal ranching (even on public lands) has long been, and still is, big business in the Brazilian Amazon. Last year the Brazilian government launched its most ambitious crackdown ever. And some of the criminals caught up in the federal police net were members of Brazil’s richest families. - In June 2016, federal law enforcement pounced on a gang of land thieves. Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJ Vilela, and Ricardo Caldeira Viacava, among others, were charged with clearing public lands — 300 square kilometers (74,132 acres) of forest, in total — an area 5 times larger than Manhattan, and of using slave labor to do it. - One of the gang’s innovations was to use sophisticated technology to work out just how much forest they could clear without being detected by monitoring satellites. Unfortunately for the offenders, they were spotted by Kayapó Indians who had their own sophisticated monitoring system (called radio!); they reported the crime to federal police. - But by October 2016, AJ Vilela was out of jail and awaiting trial. And unofficial reports from Pará state, gathered there by Mongabay in November, say that the gang is carrying on as before, illegally raising cattle on the public lands they illegally deforested. Question: why hasn’t the land been reclaimed by the government?
Current regulations unable to control trade in products from slave labor, expert says [03/13/2017]
- Kevin Bales is co-founder of the advocacy group Free the Slaves and professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham in the UK. - In his recent book, Blood and Earth, Bales discusses his research to uncover connections between labor rights and the protection of nature. - In this interview with Repórter Brasil, Bales discusses how current regulation is largely unable to stem the trade in products manufactured through slave labor and recommends governments devote more resources to combatting it. He also highlights a few promising developments that are helping to boost corporate transparency.
Suppliers of Lowe’s in the US and Walmart in Brazil linked to slave labor in the Amazon [03/13/2017]
- Slave labor-analogous conditions were revealed by investigation of logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A supply chain investigation of the timber harvested through these camps has found links to markets in Brazil and the U.S. - Major retailers with links to intermediaries that sourced wood from logging camps found to use slave labor practices include Lowe's, Timber Holdings, and Brazilian Walmart stories. Timber Holdings has used wood from Brazil in major renovation projects for New York's Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Slave labor in the Amazon: Risking lives to cut down the rainforest [03/13/2017]
- Investigations show conditions analogous to slave labor as defined by Brazilian law are not uncommon at small logging camps in Pará, Brazil. - A recent bust of one labor camp by a team headed by the Ministry of Labor led to the rescue several men living in substandard conditions. Interviews of the men and observations by Repórter Brasil indicate their lives were forcibly put at-risk at the camp. - Workers from other logging camps came forward to report instances of nonpayment, and being threatened by guns when they demanded their pay. - Although the job is life threatening and illegal, and wages aren't guaranteed, workers report often having no other choice but to work at the logging camps.
Investigation reveals slave labor conditions in Brazil’s timber industry [03/13/2017]
- The report was the culmination of an investigation into slave labor practices in the state of Pará’s timber industry led by the Integrated Action Network to Combat Slavery (RAICE). - The investigation found several conditions used by Brazilian law to define slave labor were occurring at logging camps, including forced work, debt bondage, isolation, exhausting working hours and life-threatening activities. - According to the report, workers at the camp often felt forced into illegal logging because of dire economic circumstances.
Iconic musician Paul Simon announces tour supporting biodiversity [03/13/2017]
- Twelve-time Grammy winner Paul Simon spoke to Mongabay during a recent conference in Durham, North Carolina. - Proceeds from the tour will support the Half-Earth Project, an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. - He spoke to Mongabay about optimism, life on Earth, and more during an hour-long conversation. - It was widely reported in 2016 that the performer was considering retirement from touring, but has now heeded Wilson's call for saving biodiversity.
Successful forest protection in DRC hinges on community participation [03/12/2017]
- Forest covers at least 112 million hectares of the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Studies from 2013 show that subsistence agriculture and the need for firewood threaten DRC’s forests, and new investments in the countries forests by industrial outfits could contribute to the problem. - DRC’s leaders have signed on to international agreements and have begun to receive millions of dollars to finance projects aimed at keeping DRC’s forests standing, protecting global climate and reducing poverty.
From conflict to communities: Forests in Liberia [03/10/2017]
- Liberia holds 40 percent of West Africa’s Upper Guinean rainforest. - National and international organizations have worked with communities and the country’s leadership to clean up the corruption that many say has pervaded outside investments in timber and commercial agriculture. - Currently, the Land Rights Act, which would give communities more control over their forests, awaits approval, but its progress has been paralyzed, in part by this year’s elections.
Living above a century-old coal fire, Jharia residents pay the price for India’s mining ambitions [03/10/2017]
- The Jharia coalfields, in India's Jharkhand state, contain high-grade coal and have been continuously mined since 1894. - The first underground fire was recorded in 1916. By the 1970s, around 17.32 square kilometers (6.68 square miles) were affected by fires. Mine executives say that has now been reduced to around 2.18 square kilometers. - More than 100,000 families are affected by the fires and need to be relocated. - Doctors say the average life expectancy of people living in the coalfields is reduced by 10 years, due to air and water pollution.
Climate change driving widespread local extinctions; tropics most at risk [03/09/2017]
- Climate change forces three fates on species: adapt, flee or die. A new meta-analysis compiled data from 27 studies to see how species distributions have changed over timescales of 10-159 years, and included 976 species. Almost half (47 percent) had seen some local populations disappear along the warming edge of their ranges. - The tropics were especially vulnerable to climate change-driven local extinctions. The data showed that 55 percent of tropical and subtropical species experienced local extinctions, whereas the figure was only 39 percent for temperate species. Though the tropical data set was not large, this higher tropical risk concurs with past studies. - Tropical species are at greater risk due to climate change because they live in some of the world’s hottest environments, so are already at the upper limit of known temperature adaptation, are restricted to small areas, particular rare habitats, and narrow temperature ranges, or have poor dispersal ability and slow reproductive rates. - Scientists see multiple solutions to the problem: beyond the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions, they recommend conserving large core areas of habitat, and preserving strong connectivity between those core areas, so plants and animals can move more freely between them as required as the world warms.
Amazon Soy Moratorium: defeating deforestation or greenwash diversion? [03/08/2017]
- In the early 2000s, public outrage over Amazon clear cutting for soy production caused transnational grain companies including Cargill, Bunge and Brazil’s Amaggi, to join with soy producers and environmental NGOs including Greenpeace to sign the voluntary Amazon Soy Moratorium, banning direct conversion of Amazon forests to soy after 2006. - The agreement’s signatories have long proclaimed its phenomenal success. A 2014 study found that in the 2 years preceding the agreement, nearly 30 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome occurred through deforestation. But after the ASM direct deforestation for soy fell to only 1 percent of soy expansion in the Amazon biome. - Critics say these statistics hide major ASM failings: that its apparent success is largely due to there already being so much deforested land in the Amazon as of 2006, that there was plenty of room for soy expansion without cutting forest. Also, cleared pastureland onto which soy moved, often simply displaced cattle into forests newly cut by land grabbers for ranchers. - Of most concern: ASM covers only one of two Legal Amazonia biomes. While marginally protecting the Amazon, it doesn’t cover the Cerrado savanna, where soy growers have aggressively cleared millions of acres of biodiverse habitat — critics see the ASM as corporate and NGO greenwash; defenders say it inspired other tropical deforestation agreements globally.
Trapped elephants face attacks by mob in India [03/03/2017]
- The herd of about 25 elephants is "trapped" within dense human habitation in an area called Athgarh in the state of Orissa in India. - The elephants take shelter in some of the small forest patches during the day, and go out to look for food in the evenings, which mostly constitutes of crops, getting harassed in the process. - Conservationists say that harassing elephants has now become a form of entertainment in the area.
China’s Domestic Dams: Hydropower not only an export for world’s biggest dam builder [02/28/2017]
- China is the world's biggest financier and builder of dams, with projects across the globe. It also has extensive domestic hydropower ambitions. - Twenty dams have been proposed or constructed along the Lancang, China's stretch of the Mekong River. - Separated from village life by deep canyons, the Lancang Jiang, whose name means "Turbulent River," is viewed by many in China as good for little more than its hydropower potential. - Further downstream, in the Mekong Basin, the river is the source of sustenance for tens of millions of people. Any changes to upstream ecology could have severe effects in downstream countries.
The Spirit of the Steppes: Saving Central Asia’s saiga [02/27/2017]
- The Critically Endangered saiga (Saiga tatarica) once numbered in the millions. This large antelope was perhaps best known for making one of the last of the world’s remaining great mammal migrations — a trek sweeping twice per year across the steppes of Central Asia. - Saiga populations declined more than 95 percent by 2004, according to the IUCN. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan banned hunting in the 1990s, but the horns of male saiga are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine, and illegal trafficking is a major threat; if not curtailed the trade could doom the species. - In the 21st century, international NGOs and regional organizations such as the Saiga Conservation Alliance (SCA) and Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) formed partnerships with Central Asian nations to better conserve the species. And their work was paying off, until 2015. - That’s when disease killed over 200,000 adult saiga of the Betpak Dala population in Central Kazakhstan. At the end of 2016, the Mongolian herd was hit hard by a new viral infection, with 4,000 saiga carcasses buried so far. But the saiga is reproductively resilient, and could be saved, if the species receives sufficient attention, say conservationists.
The changing face of Amazon development: from land grab to eco-lodge [02/23/2017]
- Ariosto da Riva was often described as “the last of the bandeirantes”, the violent adventurers who first penetrated the Brazilian Amazon in the 16th century in search of gold. Working with Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), he owned a million hectares of forest, pushed indigenous people from their lands, and brought in settlers. - His daughter, Vitória da Riva Carvalho, though wealthy, did not buy into his legacy. She is noted instead for her strong defense of the rainforest and for her world-renowned ecotourism destination, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge, located outside the town of Alta Floresta — which her father settled — in northernmost Mato Grosso state. - The evolution of the relationship between father and daughter helps trace the unfolding land conflicts that have smouldered and exploded in the Amazon between indigenous and traditional peoples on one side; and land speculators, land grabbers, loggers, settlers and soy growers on the other. - Today, most of the indigenous people who lived in the region where the Cristalino Jungle Lodge entertains its wealthy guests are gone — dead, pushed into indigenous reserves, or retreated elsewhere. But for now, the rainforest and much extraordinary biodiversity remains, with people like Vitória da Riva Carvalho as its stewards.
Proposed Trump policy threatens Critically Endangered Grauer’s gorilla [02/21/2017]
- The largest great ape, Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) has nearly disappeared in the past two decades. Numbers have plummeted by 77 percent; perhaps 3,800 remain. This animal, dubbed “the forgotten gorilla” because it was so little studied and was absent from most zoos, is in serious danger of extinction. - Their slaughter was precipitated by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s bloody civil war and by mining for coltan and tin ore, “conflict minerals” used in cell phones, laptops and other electronics. Gorillas are heavily poached by armed militias, miners, and less often, by refugees: the animals are being eaten nearly to extinction. - The gorillas could suffer greater harm from warlords and miners if President Trump signs a proposed presidential memorandum leaked to Reuters. It would allow US companies to buy conflict minerals freely without public disclosure, likely increasing mining in the Congo basin — and poaching. - Trump’s plan would nullify the current US Conflict Mineral Rule, passed with bipartisan support in 2010 and enacted as part of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Dodd Frank Act. Meanwhile, conservationists are hopeful that the Grauer’s gorilla can be saved — but only with a DRC and planet-wide response.
What happens when the soy and palm oil boom ends? [02/21/2017]
- Over the past 30 years demand and production of oils crops like oil palm and soybeans has boomed across the tropics. - This rapid expansion has in some places taken a heavy toll on native, wildlife-rich ecosystems. - Derek Byerlee, co-author of a new book titled The Tropical Oil Crop Revolution, spoke with Mongabay about the tropical oil crop sector and what's to come for the industry.
Grief, anger and fear in the aftermath of a deadly coal-mining disaster in Jharkhand State, India [02/16/2017]
- On Dec. 29, 2016, the Lalmatia coal mine's massive overburden dump collapsed into the pit, killing 23 workers — including five whose bodies have still not been recovered. - Workers claim they reported warning signs to management ahead of the disaster but were ignored. In the days following the collapse, inspection authorities said Lalmatia was not fit for mining. - The mine is under the umbrella of government-owned Coal India Limited, but production was outsourced to a private company. - India aims to ramp up its coal production to one billion tonnes per year, with "large scale contract mining" expected to play a major role in reaching this goal.
Getting there: The rush to turn the Amazon into a soy transport corridor [02/15/2017]
- The development over the last 40 years of Mato Grosso state in Brazil’s interior as an industrial agribusiness powerhouse has, from the beginning, been hindered by a major economic problem: how to get the commodities to the coast for profitable export. - The first route of export from Mato Grosso was a costly and time-consuming southern one, with commodities trucked on a circuitous route to Santos in São Paulo state and Paranaguá in Paraná state on the Atlantic coast. - The paving of the northern section of BR-163, running south to north through Pará state, opened a much less expensive, faster route, with commodities now moved to Miritituba on the Tapajós River, then downstream to the Amazon, and on to Europe and China. - New infrastructure plans call for the channelization of the Juruena, Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, creating a 1,000-mile industrial waterway. Two railways, one over the Andes, are also proposed. These schemes pose grave threats to the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity, indigenous and traditional communities, and even the global climate.
Counterintuitive: Global hydropower boom will add to climate change [02/14/2017]
- For many years new hydropower dams were assumed to be zero greenhouse gas emitters. Now with 847 large (more than 100 MW) and 2,853 smaller (more than 1 MW) hydropower projects currently planned or under construction around the world, a new global study has shown that dam reservoirs are major greenhouse gas emitters. - The study looked at the carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) emitted from 267 reservoirs across six continents. Globally, the researchers estimate that reservoirs contribute 1.3 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, comparable to those from rice paddy cultivation or biomass burning. - Reservoir emissions are not currently counted within the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) emissions assessments, but they should be, argue the researchers. In fact, countries are currently eligible under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to receive carbon credits for newly built dams. - The study raises the question as to whether hydropower should continue to be counted as green power or be eligible for UN CDM carbon credits.
A Thai oil firm, Indonesian seaweed farmers and Australian regulators. What happened after the Montara oil spill? [02/14/2017]
- The 2009 Montara oil spill was the worst such offshore disaster in Australian history. The company behind it acknowledges "mistakes were made that should never be repeated." - But while the firm has paid a penalty to the Australian government, it has yet to compensate Indonesia, which says it too suffered from the spill. - Now, thousands of seaweed farmers are suing the Thai-owned oil and gas giant, seeking compensation in Australian court. The Indonesian government has also launched a lawsuit. - The dispute highlights the complexity of regulating transnational corporations operating in maritime borderlands like the Timor Sea, a relatively narrow body of water rich in oil and gas reserves and surrounded by multiple countries.
India’s Manas National Park illustrates the human dimension of rhino conservation [02/13/2017]
- Manas National Park, one of India's rhino conservation areas, is at the heart of a proposed homeland for the Bodos, an indigenous ethnic group. - From the 1980s until 2003, the park was engulfed by armed conflict, and its rhino population was wiped out. During this period, the Bodos were frequently portrayed as hostile to conservation efforts. - A 2003 peace accord paved the way for the establishment of autonomous local governance, and the restoration of rhinos to the park. Former guerrillas now serve as anti-poaching patrols. - With the Bodos in power, a new group has been cast as ecological villains: Bengali Muslims living in the fringes of the park.
The clouded leopard: conserving Asia’s elusive arboreal acrobat [02/09/2017]
- The clouded leopard is not closely related to the leopard, but has its own genus (Neofelis), separate from the big cats (Panthera). In 2006, the single species of clouded leopard was split in two: Neofelis nebulosa is found on the Asian mainland, while Neofelis diardi, the Sunda clouded leopard, occurs only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. - Another subspecies native to Taiwan (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) is believed to be extinct, after none were found in a camera trapping survey conducted between 1997 and 2012. - Originally, researchers found it difficult to breed the animals in captivity, since mates tended to kill each other. A variety of breeding techniques have however allowed zoos around the world to begin mating the animals successfully, to create and maintain a genetically viable captive population. - Clouded leopards are incredibly elusive, and only with the advent of new technology, including camera traps and radio collars, have scientists been able to begin defining clouded leopard ranges, distribution, populations and threats. Public outreach is also helping build awareness around the plight of these Vulnerable wild cats.
Fighting rhino poaching in India, CSI-style [02/09/2017]
- RhODIS, the Rhino DNA Index System, relies on a database of rhino DNA collected from across rhino range states in Africa. - The system, developed in South Africa, allows investigators to link captured poachers and confiscated horns to specific poaching incidents. - Researchers are currently working to expand the database to include Asian rhino species. - This year, India is expected to be the first Asian country to roll out the program as part of its anti-poaching strategy.
Shrugging off the risks, Laos plans to proceed with the Pak Beng dam [02/08/2017]
- The Pak Beng dam is the third of nine mainstream dams planned for the Mekong in Laos, and the second in a cascade of six on the country’s upper stretch of the river. - If built, the 912-megawatt capacity dam will flood 4,178 hectares of land and create a 7,659-hectare reservoir along the river valley. - A suite of project documents was published last month, including impact assessments that conclude the project will lead to loss of agricultural land, forest and fisheries as well as possible contamination. However, the developers claim mitigation measures will be able to overcome the negative social and environmental impacts. - During a visit in January, Mongabay learned that people living in villages around the dam site had not been fully briefed on the project and its potential effects on their lives and livelihoods.
Soy invasion poses imminent threat to Amazon, say agricultural experts [02/08/2017]
- The meteoric rise in soy production in the state of Mato Grosso is eating up rainforest and savanna at a staggering rate, with 1.2 million hectares under production in 1991; 6.2 million hectares in 2010; and 9.4 million hectares by 2016. Much of that soy is being exported to China, and it is expected that Brazil will grow more soy to meet Asia’s need. - Since the time of Brazil’s military government (1964-1985), down to the present day, the national government has repeatedly offered lip service in support of Brazil’s agrarian poor, while offering large tax breaks and other major incentives to large landowners, large-scale agribusiness, and transnational commodities companies. - This trend of overwhelming federal support for big soy growers seems likely to continue under current Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi (once dubbed the “Soy King”), and due to the powerful influence held by the ruralista agribusiness lobby in the National Congress. - If China’s 21st century demand for soy, and Brazil’s ambition to meet that demand, don’t slacken, Amazon deforestation rates are likely to continue rising, and indigenous peoples are likely to see on-going threats to their communities and livelihoods. One place the threat is most dire is in the Tapajós Basin on the border of Mato Grosso and Pará states.
Resurrected Jeypore ground gecko faces second death sentence [02/07/2017]
- In India — a land that’s home to the regal tiger, the majestic elephant and the flamboyant peacock — gaining the Endangered Species spotlight can be difficult. Equally challenging in a land with 1.3 billion mouths to feed, is the conservation of habitat that is vital to threatened species. - The Jeypore ground gecko (Geckoella jeyporensis) was first noted in India’s Eastern Ghats in 1877, then not seen again and presumed extinct. Rediscovered by scientists in 2010, it exists in just two known areas covering a mere 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) of degraded habitat threatened by development. - Conservationists are working with the public and private sectors, and with local communities, urging the creation of “gecko reserves” to protect G. jeyporensis as well as the golden gecko (Calodactylodes aureus). But whether these little reptiles will inspire enough public enthusiasm is anyone’s guess.
Bright lights, big city, tiny frog: Romer’s tree frog survives Hong Kong [02/03/2017]
- Discovered in the 1950s, Romer’s tree frog has so far been declared extinct, rediscovered, immediately declared Critically Endangered, been seriously threatened by an international airport, and become the focus of one of the first ever successful, wholesale population relocation projects conducted for an amphibian. - At just 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters (0.6 to 1 inch) in length, this little brown frog lives at just a few locations within the sprawl of Hong Kong Island, as well as on a few outlying islands. It lives in moist forest leaf litter on the forest floor, and depends on temporary fish-free pools of water for breeding. - When Hong Kong planned a major new international airport within the shrinking habitat of the Romer’s tree frog, scientists responded quickly, studying the animal’s lifestyle, eating and breeding habits; they then instituted a captive breeding program at the Melbourne Zoo, and launched a restoration program. It worked. - While some restoration site populations have since failed, others continue to thrive. And with new protections now in place, scientists hold out some hope that Romer’s tree frog may be a Hong Kong resident for many years to come.
Battle for the Amazon: As Sinop grew, the Amazon rainforest faded away [02/01/2017]
- Sinop, a city of 125,000 people in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon in Mato Grosso state, is a modern success story. Prosperous and booming, the small urban center services a region dominated today by industrial agriculture. - Few remember how the city came to be. As recently as the 1970’s, the Sinop region was mostly rainforest and occupied by indigenous peoples. - At the time, Brazil’s military government highly favored large-scale land speculators. These men gained dubious title to millions of acres of rainforest, divided it into lots, and sold it off to poor Brazilian settlers. Many settlers found their transplantation into the Amazon very difficult. - Indigenous and traditional people who lacked land titles were driven out, often violently. The story of Sinop is a story of development, exploitation and conflict that has continued to play out across the Amazon region — especially in the Tapajós River basin today.
NGO takes action to save great apes in Cameroon’s Lebialem Highlands [01/31/2017]
- The Lebialem Highlands, in Cameroon’s southwest, is a rugged mountainous and plateaued region still inhabited by the Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla, the Endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee and the Vulnerable African forest elephant. - While the Cameroon government has taken action by protecting swathes of forest in the region, they admit to being unable to fully protect this habitat from incursions by surrounding communities, who go to the protected lands to farm, harvest bushmeat, hunt, log and mine. - The Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF), an NGO, has stepped in to help protect Highlands conserved areas — including the Tofala Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and the still to be created Mak-Betchou Wildlife Sanctuary. - Supported by the Rainforest Trust-USA, ERuDeF is also working to improve local village economies and livelihoods in order to take pressure off of wildlife.
Thap Lan: Thailand’s unsung forest gem under threat, but still abrim with life [01/31/2017]
- Thailand's Thap Lan National Park is part of the Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex (DPKY-FC), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance to global biodiversity. - The DPKY-FC supports 112 species of mammals, 392 species of birds, and 200 species of reptiles and amphibians. - Thap Lan receives few visitors and faces major threats, including poaching, illegal logging and the expansion of a highway leading from Bangkok to the country's northeast. - The park, along with the rest of the DPKY-FC, could be downgraded by UNESCO to inscription on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.”
‘Revolutionary’ new biodiversity maps reveal big gaps in conservation [01/27/2017]
- The research uses the chemical signals of tree communities to reveal their different survival strategies and identify priority areas for protection. - Currently, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory’s airplane provides the only way to create these biodiversity maps. But the team is working to install the technology in an Earth-orbiting satellite. - Once launched, the $200 million satellite would provide worldwide biodiversity mapping updated every month.
Before the flood: can the Bunong culture survive Cambodia’s Sesan II dam? [01/27/2017]
- When completed, the Lower Sesan II dam will inundate 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) of forest and force 5,000 people to relocate, activists say. - The Bunong, an ethnic minority group whose livelihood and culture depends on the river and the forest, will be among the most affected by the dam. - Even before the dam is completed, Bunong villages like Kbal Romeas have been divided, as some residents accept compensation packages while others staunchly refuse to leave their land.
Primates face impending extinction – what’s next? [01/24/2017]
- Nonhuman primates are on the decline almost everywhere. - The third most diverse Order of mammals, primates are under the highest level of threat of any larger group of mammals, and among the highest of any group of vertebrates - 63% of primates are threatened, meaning that they fall into one of the three IUCN categories of threat—Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. - This post is a commentary - the views expressed are those of the authors.
Indigenous traditional knowledge revival helps conserve great apes [01/20/2017]
- Deforestation and hunting continue to put Africa’s great apes at risk. National parks and other top down strategies have met with limited success. Many conservationists are trying alternative strategies, especially harnessing the power of indigenous taboos and other traditional knowledge to motivate local communities to protect great apes. - In remote parts of Africa, taboos against hunting have long helped conserve gorilla populations. However, those ancient traditions are being weakened by globalization, modernization and Christianity, with anti-hunting taboos and other traditional beliefs being abandoned at a time when they are most needed to conserve great apes. - Primatologist Denis Ndeloh Etiendem suggests a unique approach to reviving indigenous taboos and traditional beliefs — the creation of videos and films in which these beliefs are presented as a prime reason for conserving wildlife. He also urges that African environmental and general educational curricula focus not on endangered dolphins or whales, but on wildlife found in interior Africa. - Development specialist Dominique Bikaba emphasizes the importance of moving away from top down federal management, and to local management of community forests by indigenous communities, whose leaders mesh traditional beliefs with modern conservation strategies. Prime examples are successes seen at Burhinyi Community Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
‘Running out of time’: 60 percent of primates sliding toward extinction [01/19/2017]
- The assessment of 504 primate species found that 60 percent are on track toward extinction, and the numbers of 75 percent are going down. - Agricultural expansion led to the clearing of primate habitat three times the size of France between 1990 and 2010, impinging on the range of 76 percent of apes and monkeys. - By region, Madagascar and Southeast Asia have the most species in trouble. Nearly 90 percent of Madagascar’s more than 100 primates are moving toward extinction. - Primates also face serious threats from hunting, logging and ranching.
Trade in skulls, body parts severely threatens Cameroon’s great apes [01/19/2017]
- Primatologists in Cameroon have been heartened in recent years by the discoveries of new great ape populations scattered around the country. Unfortunately for these gorillas and chimpanzees, their numbers are being rapidly diminished by deforestation and human exploitation. - Cameroon’s gorillas and chimps have long fallen victim to the bushmeat trade, but they are now being hunted vigorously to feed a national and international illegal trade in skulls and other body parts which are being exported to Nigeria, other West African coastal states, and especially to the US and China, either as trophies or for use in traditional medicine. - Great ape trafficking operations in Cameroon are starting to resemble the ivory trade: International trafficking networks are financing hunters, providing them with motorbikes and sophisticated weapons. A spreading network of logging and agribusiness roads and a porous border between Cameroon and Nigeria are further facilitating the trade. - The seriousness of this poaching hits home when one considers that during a four-month period in 2015, anti-poaching and anti-trafficking squads in Cameroon arrested 22 dealers and seized 16 great ape limbs, 24 gorilla heads and 34 chimpanzee skulls in separate operations around the country. Law enforcement is likely only detecting 10 percent of the trade.
Is Brazil green washing hydropower? The case of the Teles Pires dam [01/18/2017]
- The Teles Pires Hydroelectric Company (builder and operator of Brazil’s Teles Pires dam in the Amazon Basin) was awarded a Green Certificate in the “Responsible Social and Environmental Management” category of the Chico Mendes Award, a prize named after the murdered Brazilian eco-hero. - The company has won other green awards for its construction projects (including Amazon dams), and been awarded carbon credits by the United Nations. - But critics ask how green the company that built the Tele Pires dam can be when their project wrecked indigenous and traditional communities, led to the dynamiting of an indigenous sacred site, did harm to biodiversity and fisheries, while also likely producing significant carbon emissions. - The company claims it is not to blame, because it complied with all government regulations during the dam’s construction, and even went further to make the project sustainable. The Teles Pires dam raises key questions about “sustainability,” and who has the right to define it.
E.O. Wilson on Half-Earth, Donald Trump, and hope [01/17/2017]
- Celebrated biologist's new book outlines an audacious plan to save the biodiversity of Earth - He is also the author of numerous biological concepts, including island biogeography and biophilia - In a wide-ranging interview, he also discusses the Trump phenomenon and decries de-extinction and so-called 'Anthropocenists'
Pileated gibbons poached as bushmeat to feed illegal rosewood loggers [01/17/2017]
- There were 14,000 Pileated gibbons (Hylobates pileatus) in southeast Thailand in 2005, the last time a census survey was done. No one knows what those numbers look like today. The animals are falling victim to illegal hunting, which is the most serious threat to wildlife across Southeast Asia according to a recent study. - The gibbons are especially being poached as bushmeat in Thap Lan National Park by poachers who feed on them when they venture deep into the forest to cut Endangered rosewood trees. 'Hongmu' (red wood) timber imports from the Mekong region to China between 2000 and 2014 were valued at nearly US $2.4 billion. - Underfunded and under-equipped Thai park rangers regularly engage in firefights with the armed loggers, but it is believed that gibbon numbers continue to fall, as the animals are easily spotted when they sing, and are shot out of the trees. - “In the past we used to hear [the gibbons singing] a lot, but now we don’t hear them so much. I think it’s people going into the forest to log that is affecting them,” said Surat Monyupanao, head ranger at Thap Lan National Park.
Great apes and greater challenges: Trafficking in Cameroon [01/12/2017]
- Cameroon is home to four great ape species and sub-species: the Western Lowland gorilla, Cross River gorilla, Central chimpanzee and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Scientists still don’t fully understand these species and the secrets they may hold, especially for medical science, but those secrets will be lost if the animals are not conserved. - A thriving trade in ape skulls, bushmeat, and live animal trafficking is threatening to wipe out ape populations already stressed by habitat loss and fragmentation. The Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) is an NGO that is tackling the traffickers behind the African trade, but they are up against widespread government corruption that is hindering their efforts. - While confiscations of trafficked great apes is important, estimates put the total of traded animals being detected by law enforcement along trafficking routes at a mere 10 percent. That’s why many conservationists argue that trafficking needs to be stopped not at national borders and airports, but nipped in the bud at the source, in the wild.
‘Day of Terror’: Munduruku village attacked by Brazil’s Federal Police [01/11/2017]
- On November 7, 2012, Brazil’s Federal Police launched the Eldorado Operation with a raid aimed at destroying an illegal gold mining barge at Teles Pires, a Munduruku village. During the attack, an Indian was killed by police — “executed,” according to a Federal Public Ministry (MPF) investigation. - The gold mining barge that was destroyed that day — and others in indigenous territory along the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós Basin — had been allowed to operate illegally by the government for years previously. - The income earned from the gold mining barges had recently been used to fund indigenous opposition to the Belo Monte mega-dam, and resistance to more than 40 dams proposed for the Tapajós Basin. The extreme violence of the Eldorado Operation has shaken Munduruku trust in Brazil’s government. - According to the Indians, the police told them to lie about these events, or face persecution. Mongabay’s videotaped eyewitness interviews have resulted in the MPF opening a new investigation into the Eldorado Operation; MPF is seeking US $2.9 million in damages for the Munduruku.
The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven” [01/05/2017]
- Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast. - Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed. - A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state. - The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.
Smuggled to death: how loopholes and lax enforcement have sealed the fate of Siamese rosewood [01/05/2017]
- Thailand's Thap Lan National Park is on the frontline of the deadly battle against the illegal rosewood trade, but the root cause of the problem lies outside the park's borders. - Siamese rosewood has been listed under CITES Appendix II since 2013, but loopholes in trade rules and poor oversight allowed the trade to persist. - A key loophole was closed at last year’s CITES CoP17. Now, campaigners fear for the future of lookalike species like Burmese rosewood and padauk.
What to expect for rainforests in 2017 [01/05/2017]
- Will deforestation continue to rise in Brazil? - Will Indonesia continue on a path toward forestry reform? - What effect will Donald Trump have on rainforest conservation?
Local NGOs: Ecosystem services, not orangutans, key to saving Leuser [01/04/2017]
- Sumatra’s Leuser ecosystem covers 2.6 million hectares, encompasses two mountain ranges, three lakes, nine river systems and three national parks. It boasts 10,000 species of plant and 200 species of mammal — dozens found nowhere else on earth. Of the 6,000 orangutans left in Sumatra, 90 percent live in Leuser. - But the region has been under siege by the government of Aceh, which has repeatedly tried to sell off concessions to oil palm companies that encroach on the borders of conserved lands. - While international environmental NGOs have focused on saving Leuser’s orangutans, local NGOs have had far more success focusing on the US $23 billion in ecosystem services provided by the preserve — including flood prevention, water supply, agro-ecology, tourism, fire prevention, carbon sequestration, and more. - Many rural Sumatrans see orangutans not as important endangered species to be protected, but rather as garden and farm pests. Local organizers like Rudi Putra and T.M. Zulfikar are building a homegrown Sumatran conservation movement that relies heavily on litigation over the potential loss of Leuser’s ecosystem services.
No let-up in Thailand’s relentless, violent Siamese rosewood poaching [01/04/2017]
- Rosewood, famed for its blood red hue, is the world's most trafficked wildlife product. It accounts for a third of all seizures recorded by the UNODC from 2005-2014. - Most of the valuable Siamese rosewood has already been logged out in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, leaving Thailand's remaining stands prey to cross-border incursions by poaching gangs. - Seven wildlife rangers died in 2015 in incidents related to the Siamese rosewood trade, along with an unknown number of poachers, but the trade continues unabated.
Battle for the Amazon: Tapajós Basin threatened by massive development [01/03/2017]
- The Brazilian Amazon has systematically been deforested, dammed and developed by the federal government, river basin by river basin. The most recent to be so developed was the Xingu watershed. The next target, where road and dam construction has already begun, is the Tapajós Basin. - Plans by agribusiness and the government call for the paving of the BR-163 highway (almost complete); the building of a new railroad, nicknamed Ferrogrão or Grainrail (just given approval); and the building of the Teles Pires-Tapajós industrial waterway, requiring dozens of dams, plus canals. - As Mato Grosso soy plantations creep north deeper into the Tapajós region, agribusiness hopes to benefit from the rapid development of transportation infrastructure that will provide a cheap, fast northern road, rail and water route to the Atlantic for the export of commodities. - Indigenous groups, traditional river communities, environmentalists and social NGOs oppose the mega-infrastructure projects, which they say will bring deforestation, cultural disruption, and quicken local and global climate change. The conflict is over no less than the fate of the Amazon.
The year in tropical rainforests: 2016 [01/01/2017]
- After 2015's radical advancements in transparency around tropical forests between improved forest cover monitoring systems and corporate policies on commodity sourcing, progress slowed in 2016 with no major updates on tropical forest cover, resistance from several governments in releasing forest data, and some notable backtracking on zero deforestation commitments. - But even without the pan-tropical updates, we know that deforestation increased sharply in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for the world's largest area of tropical forest. - Low commodity prices may have bought some relief for forests.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2016 [12/28/2016]
- Some animal species showed signs of recovery after years of decline. - In 2016, the world became serious about protecting our oceans by establishing some of the largest marine protected areas ever. - Countries moved towards ending domestic ivory trade, and researchers discovered the world’s tallest tree.
Photos: Top 20 new species of 2016 [12/26/2016]
- This year, scientists discovered and described several thousand new species of animals and plants. - Many of these new species are already on the brink of extinction, threatened by poaching, illegal wildlife trade, habitat destruction and diseases. - Mongabay presents the top new species discovered in 2016.
Temer government set to overthrow Brazil’s environmental agenda [12/22/2016]
- A catastrophic setback to environmental and indigenous protections was narrowly averted last week when quick action from two federal deputies prevented the agricultural lobby from forcing passage of bills to authorize construction of three mega-industrial waterways in the Amazon and elsewhere. - The Congress will likely pick up the bills again after the recess in February. They would authorize building many dozens of dams and industrial waterways in three river basins — PDC 119/2015 on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers in the Amazon; PDC 120/2015 on the Tocantins and Araguaia rivers, also in the Amazon; and PDC 118/2015 on the Paraguai River. - In 2005, a similar bill was passed, fast tracking the Belo Monte dam and bypassing proper environmental evaluation. Today, Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Amazon mega-dam has been charged with environmental crimes, ethnocide and is under investigation for corruption. - Another bill working its way through the National Congress would completely gut the environmental licensing process for most infrastructure projects, while still another would take away hard won protections guaranteed to Brazil’s indigenous people in the 1988 Constitution.
Stone, Sand, Water: the key ingredients changing the Salween landscape [12/21/2016]
- A construction boom in Myanmar is fueling a demand for raw materials like limestone and sand. Extracting these resources threatens ecosystems and communities along the Salween River. - This push for economic and industrial development is also driving plans to build megadams on the Salween River. - Activists call for an alternative vision for development, based on sustainable technologies and small-scale, decentralized projects.
All I want for Christmas… a wildlife researcher’s holiday wish list [12/20/2016]
- They are some of the world’s most unique, beautiful (though sometimes, really ugly), little known, but always seriously threatened species. They’re among the many Almost Famous Asian Animals conservationists are trying to save, and which Mongabay has featured in 2016. - The examples included here are Asia’s urbane fishing cat, Vietnam’s heavily trafficked pangolin, Central Asia’s at risk wild yaks and saiga, and Indonesia’s Painted terrapin. All of these, and many more, could benefit from a holiday financial boost. - Mostly these creatures need the same things: research and breeding facilities; educational workshops; and really cool, high tech, high ticket, radio collars and tracking devices. These items come with price tags ranging from a few hundred bucks, to thousands, to tens of thousands of dollars.
Karen people call for a peace park instead of big hydropower in their homeland [12/14/2016]
- Despite decades of conflict and widespread deforestation, the Salween Basin is one of Asia-Pacific's most biodiverse ecoregions. - To protect this diversity, a group of Karen leaders, local people and NGOs have called for the creation of a 5,200-square kilometer park that would function as an indigenous-led protected area. The proposed park includes existing community forests, as well as the site of the planned Hat Gyi dam. - The stated aspirations of the park are "peace and self-determination, environmental integrity, and cultural survival," a stark contrast to the conflict, environmental degradation and oppression of minorities that have historically defined development projects in Myanmar.
Vanishing point: Bumblebee bat is world’s smallest; it’s also at risk [12/13/2016]
- Asia boasts 442 bat species, more than a third of the globe’s 1,200 species total. While many of these bats haven’t even been assessed by the IUCN, 7 are known to be Critically Endangered, 15 are Endangered and 44 are Vulnerable. - The bumblebee bat roosts in caves in Thailand and Myanmar. While population estimates have risen recently due to the discovery of new populations, this small bat is Vulnerable. Its roosting caves and forest habitat are being disrupted by people. - Bats worldwide are understudied and also unloved, partly due to poor public perceptions perpetuated by hundreds of horror movies with their portrayals of bloodsucking bats. The truth is that bats are incredibly beneficial to humans, eating prodigious amounts of insect pests. - One of the most fascinating facts about the bumblebee bat is that its two geographically separated populations in Thailand and Myanmar might currently be undergoing speciation, a process scientists would like to observe. Of course, that won’t happen if nothing is done to keep this tiny mammal from going extinct.
Home for the holidays: Chimp exits war-torn Iraq, lands in Kenya [12/12/2016]
- After years of effort, animal welfare advocates have negotiated the freedom of Manno, a trafficked chimpanzee who had been smuggled out of Syria for $15,000 and into a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the zoo, Manno suffered severely cramped conditions; he was fed a steady diet consisting mostly of snack foods. - Freeing the animal involved diplomatic negotiations at the highest level in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Kenya. Manno arrived in Kenya on November 30, and is undergoing a 90-day health quarantine at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. - The young chimp still must be accepted into the Sanctuary population. This is a slow, possibly multiyear, process, requiring introduction to a foster mother, followed by introduction to female chimps, then other males in the community. Manno’s long acclimation to humans will not allow him to ever return to the wild. - The chimp’s rescue was facilitated by individuals and organizations including Spencer Seykar, a Canadian high school teacher; Jason Mier, the executive director of Animals Lebanon; Jane Goodall and her institute; Daniel Stiles of the Project to End Great Ape Slavery; Dr. Stephen Ngulu, head wildlife veterinarian at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the staff of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and others.
Brazil’s dispossessed: Belo Monte dam ruinous for indigenous cultures [12/08/2016]
- Brazil’s Public Federal Ministry (MPF) launched a lawsuit in 2015 accusing Norte Energia, the consortium that built the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu River in Pará state, along with the federal government’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) with the crime of ethnocide. - Indigenous families say that serious harm was done to them when they were uprooted from their riverside homes; forced to give up their sustainable fishing, hunting and farming livelihoods; and compelled to seek jobs in an economically depressed urban environment. - Tamawaerw Paracana, an indigenous woman, describes the everyday challenges her family faces as they try to survive in an urban resettlement community: “I don’t have the means to live here. I don’t have the money for food. Here you have to have a job.… People who don’t work, can’t eat. There’s no food.” The ethnocide case has yet to go to court. - “Every day that goes by, there are more dams being built in our country; there are more people affected; and there are more rights violated. So our goal is to organize all the people affected and carry on this fight,” says Edizangela Alves Barros, an indigenous activist.
The media megaphone: does it help curb bad infrastructure projects? [12/07/2016]
- A tsunami of infrastructure development is putting global ecosystems, wildlife and indigenous people at risk; with 25 million kilometers of new roads planned by 2050, most in the developing world. Add pipelines, hundreds of dams on the Amazon, Mekong and other river systems, with their electricity used often by mega-mining projects. - As in the past, this tidal wave of construction is being heavily backed by national governments, greatly benefiting industry and international investors, often at the cost of indigenous peoples, rural communities, wildlife and habitat. Government and industry typically have large public relations budgets to promote such projects. - Many conservationists trying to mitigate the harm of ill-advised projects, or even see them canceled, are relying heavily on the media to achieve their aims. There is precedent for such a strategy: media coverage has historically played a key part in curbing some of the most ambitious of international mega-infrastructure projects. - As infrastructure development rapidly accelerate, today’s environmentalists are utilizing all the media tools at their disposal — ranging from traditional newspapers and television, to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube — to shine a light on poorly designed infrastructure projects and inform and engage the public.
‘My spirit is there’: life in the shadow of the Mong Ton dam [12/07/2016]
- The Mong Ton dam will provide 90% of its hydroelectricity to China and Thailand, leaving ethnic minority communities in Myanmar's Shan state to bear the costs. - Tens of thousands of people will be displaced when dam's 640-square kilometer reservoir fills, and habitat will be lost for endangered species like the clouded leopard and Sunda pangolin. - Even before the dam is complete, its construction has accelerated deforestation and resource extraction in the area.
From loathed to loved: Villagers rally to save Greater Adjutant stork [12/06/2016]
- The Greater Adjutant stork (Leptoptilos dubius) could once be found from India to Southeast Asia in the hundreds of thousands. Long despised and treated as a pest, this giant, ungainly bird is Endangered by habitat loss, with just 1,000 remaining by the 1990s. - Purnima Devi Barman fell in love with the species. But with most of the remaining birds living on private property, how to save it? She launched a one-woman campaign to teach local villagers in India’s Assam to value L. dubius, showing them it can enhance their livelihoods. - Arvind Mishra transformed another Indian community’s disgust for the huge storks into a strong desire to preserve them. With a Bihar community’s help, he’s established a rescue and rehabilitation center devoted exclusively to the care of downed Greater Adjutant chicks. - Barman and Mishra both serve as vibrant examples of how the unflinching commitment of just one person to a species can make the difference between conservation and extinction, and how engaged local communities can make the difference.
Fire on the Salween: Dams in conflict zones could threaten Myanmar’s fragile peace process [12/01/2016]
- Ethnic armed groups in Myanmar's border states have been in conflict with the central government for more than half a century. - Civil society groups, ethnic political groups and ethnic armed groups already blame the Salween dams for either exacerbating existing conflict or prompting new military incursions. - The UNHCR estimates that as of December 2015, Myanmar already has some 400,000 internally displaced persons, entire communities who have had to flee from war, natural disasters or development projects. Many fear the dams could create thousands more.
Brazil: deforestation in the Amazon increased 29% over last year [11/30/2016]
- Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest jumped 29 percent over last year. - Deforestation from 2015-2016 reached the highest level since 2008. - Relaxed environmental regulation, dry conditions, and Brazil's economy may be factors in the rising rate of forest loss.
A dam shame: the plight of the Mekong giant catfish [11/30/2016]
- Southeast Asia’s Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) is the world’s largest freshwater fish, with the biggest among them weighing an astonishing 650 pounds (300 kilograms), and growing to a length of 10 feet (3 meters). - Species numbers are thought to have crashed by 80 percent in recent decades, although there are no reliable population estimates for the fish. A sudden escalation in the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Mekong could seal the fate of the species. - A host of dams, both under construction and planned, threaten to block the catfish’s natural migration patterns, potentially driving it to extinction. The Xayaburi dam, which is already being built, poses the most immediate threat. - Radio telemetry and environmental DNA techniques are crucial to the study and monitoring of this elusive creature in the wild. Conservationists working at Cambodia’s proposed Sambor Dam hope to help the government design a project that might vastly improve aquatic connectivity.
Top scientists: Amazon’s Tapajós Dam Complex “a crisis in the making” [11/28/2016]
- BRAZIL’S GRAND PLAN: Build 40+ dams, new roads and railways at the heart of the Amazon to transport soy from the interior to the coast and foreign markets, turning the Tapajós Basin and its river systems into an industrial waterway, leading to unprecedented deforestation, top researchers say. - ECOSYSTEM IMPACTS: “The effects would clearly be devastating for the ecology and connectivity of the greater Tapajós Basin,” says William Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia; a leading rainforest ecology scientist. “It is not overstating matters to term this a crisis in the making.” - HUMAN IMPACTS: The dams would produce “A human rights crisis, driven by the flooding of indigenous territories and forced relocation of indigenous villages… [plus] the loss of fisheries, reduced fertility of fertile floodplains, and polluting of clean water sources,” says Amazon Watch’s Christian Poirier. - CLIMATE IMPACTS: “The worst-case scenario… over 200,000 square kilometers of deforestation,” says climatologist Carlos Nobre, which would be “very serious” and create “regional climate change.” Tapajós deforestation could even help tip the global scales, as the Amazon ceases being a carbon sink, and becomes a carbon source — with grave consequences for the planet.
Damming the Salween: what next for Southeast Asia’s last great free-flowing river? [11/24/2016]
- In accordance with deals signed under military rule, Myanmar plans to build five major hydroelectric dams on its stretch of the Salween River. - The majority of the power produced will go to China and Thailand. Critics say consumers in these countries will benefit while people in Myanmar's ethnic border states pay the price. - The dams threaten the river's ecology and the livelihoods of riverine communities, and could exacerbate conflict between the army and non-state ethnic armed groups.
Silent soldiers of the extreme, or why I’m glad I’m not a wild yak [11/22/2016]
- They are big mammals — wild yaks, muskoxen, saiga, takin and more — possessing a multitude of wildly ingenious evolutionary adaptations that allow them to live at the margins, in Asia’s coldest, toughest habitats. But they lack defenses against us and are at risk. - While some of these magnificent animals have received scattered attention from conservationists and the media across the years, most do not benefit from the publicity boon — or budgets — accorded to rhinos and snow leopards. - They are unsung, mostly unstudied, existing in the shadows — hidden by high elevations, deep snow, daunting deserts, and in our lack of knowledge and indifference. Scientist Joel Berger asks us to look at why we love only thin slivers of the natural world, while ignoring much of the bounty and beauty at the margins that could provide us hope and inspiration. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Where have all the lutungs gone? Mystery monkeys fast disappearing [11/18/2016]
- Asia boasts 16 species of lutung, in two ranges, one in south central and Southeast Asia (northeast India, southern China, Taiwan, Borneo, Thailand, Java and Bali), and the other at the southern tip of India and on Sri Lanka. - Lutungs are tree dwellers, threatened by a rapid loss of tropical forests due to oil palm plantations, logging, and human population growth; the animals are also illegally hunted for bushmeat, traditional medicine and the pet trade. - Like so many Almost Famous species, lutungs suffer from a lack of publicity, research, funding and local concern. Except for a few species, most are protected accidentally, when a forest in which lutungs live is preserved by a government or NGO trying to protect charismatic megafauna. - Of the 16 lutung species, the IUCN assesses 4 as Vulnerable, 2 as Near Threatened, 7 as Endangered, 2 as Critically Endangered, and one as suffering from insufficient data for a conservation assessment. While surveys are lacking, all lutungs are known to be in decline, some alarmingly.
Trump vows Paris Agreement pull out; world unites behind green economy [11/17/2016]
- Climate delegates and NGOs meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, responded to threats this week by Donald Trump to quickly renege on the US commitment to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. While the US under Pres. Obama led the way to the accord, COP22 summit attendees say that China is now likely to fill the leadership vacuum created by Trump. - COP22 participants also say that the world’s nations are now united in moving toward decarbonizing their economies with 21st century technologies to slow the rate of global warming, while creating millions of new green-energy jobs. Meanwhile, a US under Trump is on the path to re-embracing coal, a 19th century technology in rapid decline. - Summit attendees have discussed repercussions for a US withdrawal from the accord reached in December 2015 by nearly 200 nations. Beyond the loss of US standing on the world stage, backlash could come in the form of faltering trade agreements, failed military cooperation, economic sanctions, or a carbon tax levied on the US for failing its carbon-reduction pledges. - “Even though we are in a time of uncertainty because of the US election, there is no way to turn away from what [climate] scientists have shown us. Failure to act now will lead to catastrophic consequences,” said Peru’s Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, a key organizer of the Lima and Paris climate summits.
Trump election leaves COP22 climate delegates aghast, shaken but firm [11/11/2016]
- President elect Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, a move that — if carried out — COP22 delegates and NGOs say would be a disaster for the world, as well as the US economy. - The Paris Climate Agreement went into force in November and 195 nations, including the United States, are now obligated to meet their voluntary pledges to reduce carbon emissions and abide by the agreement for three years before they can seek to withdraw from it. Withdraw by Trump and the US would take another year — his entire presidential term. - “Beyond national politics, modernization of the energy system and of basic infrastructure [as driven by the Paris Agreement] is good for the US economy, for jobs, for growth,” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of recent UN climate summits. - “The Paris Agreement was signed and ratified not by a president, but by the United States itself. As a matter of international law, and as a matter of human survival, the nations of the world can, must, and will hold the US to its climate commitments,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
Endangered species database ‘outdated’, underestimates risk of extinction: new study [11/10/2016]
- The world’s most widely used database of endangered species, the IUCN Red List, may be underestimating the number of species at risk of extinction, a new study concludes. - Of the 586 bird species included in the study, 210 species belong in a higher-threat category than their current Red List classifications, the study found. - Some 189 species should be classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered in the IUCN Red List, but are currently deemed non-threatened.
From Ohio to Indonesia: captive-bred Sumatran rhinos may be the species’ only hope for a future [11/08/2016]
- Andalas, the first rhino born at the Cincinnati Zoo, has already fathered two calves with a female at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. Hopes are now pinned on his brother successfully breeding there too. - Researchers in Malaysian Borneo, where the last three rhinos surviving in captivity all have fertility problems, have turned to in vitro fertilization to try and produce a calf. - Experts say they have to be optimistic about the future, but Sumatran rhinos face daunting challenges: small numbers, low fertility, bureaucratic obstacles and questions over the wisdom of expending so many resources on so few animals.
Asia races to save the Critically Endangered helmeted hornbill [11/07/2016]
- The helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) is one of Southeast Asia’s most unique large bird species, but its numbers have plummeted since 2012 as organized crime trafficking rings trade in the “red ivory” of the birds’ casque, an enlargement of its beak, which can sell for $4,000 per kilo. - Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, Executive Director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, has worked with R. vigil for seventeen years. At first he was interested in its biology; then, as he watched the bird vanish from his nation’s forests, he became a crusader for its preservation. - A 2013 investigation revealed that in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province 6,000 helmeted hornbills were killed for their red ivory in a single year. The birds’ casques are carved into ornaments, jewelry and belt buckles, or are turned into pills with dubious curative powers. - While the species is protected under CITES, and has been declared Critically Endangered by the IUCN, trafficking enforcement efforts have largely been a failure so far across the region. Only a redoubled effort by Asian countries is likely to save it.
From Indonesia to Ohio: the struggle to breed Sumatran rhinos in captivity [11/03/2016]
- Sumatran rhinos were once widespread across southern Asia; today, fewer than 100 are believed to be left in the wild. - An international captive breeding program was launched in 1984, sending rhinos to the United States and United Kingdom. - The first calf wasn't born until 2001, because maintaining and breeding these rare rhinos turned out to be an unusual challenge.
Nations come together to save Kenya’s disappearing coastal forests [11/03/2016]
- Kenya's coastal forests are part of the Eastern Africa Coastal Forests ecoregion, with high levels of biodiversity and several species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. - An influx of migrants into the region has meant more human pressure on forests, with the region losing upwards of 10 percent of its tree cover in 15 years. - Major infrastructure and industry developments are also planned for the area, leaving conservationists worried about their environmental impacts. - A program by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development is aiming to help communities and governments better manage their forests – and keep the wildlife that lives within them from going extinct.
Myanmar’s logging ban feeds shadow economy of illegal trade [11/01/2016]
- Despite efforts by local authorities, a nationwide logging ban has heightened illicit trade of wood in Myanmar’s second-largest city. - An intricate network along the Irrawaddy River is leading illegally logged timber and logs into the city. - Even some business owners sympathetic to the logging ban find it necessary to operate outside the law.
Mongabay Newscast episode 4: Inside scoop on new Netflix documentary “The Ivory Game;” orangutan habitat under threat in Indonesia [11/01/2016]
- Crosta discusses how Chinese demand is driving the multi-billion dollar trade in ivory, as well as EAL’s project WildLeaks and the undercover investigations in mainland China and Hong Kong that have helped expose the illegal ivory being laundered through legal ivory markets. - We also speak with Mongabay contributor and Borneo Futures founder Erik Meijaard, who recently wrote a piece entitled, “Company poised to destroy critical orangutan habitat in breach of Indonesia’s moratorium.” - And of course we cover the top news on Mongabay.com for the past two weeks!
Thirst for coltan, gold threatens Venezuelan forests, indigenous lands [10/31/2016]
- Venezuela has invited foreign companies to play a leading role in developing the Orinoco Mining Arc, potentially opening 12 percent of the country to mining interests, and endangering forests, rivers, national parks and indigenous lands in the remote southeastern part of the nation. - The opening of these lands to mining comes as the nation continues its economic free-fall due to plummeting oil prices. The Maduro administration — which is struggling for its political life amid food and medicine shortages and civil unrest — hopes that mining will replace oil as a state cash cow. - Venezuela’s southeast is thought to be extremely rich in coltan (vital to electronic devices), gold, copper and diamonds. But it is also rich in forests, rivers and wildlife. - The development of the Orinoco Mining Arc would threaten Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, covering 30,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles). It would also threaten other protected areas and indigenous territory.
Could REDD help save an embattled forest in Cambodia? [10/28/2016]
- REDD in Cambodia has faced many obstacles, but now one long-awaited project has just gotten the green light to proceed. - Wildlife Alliance is pushing forward with a REDD project that aims to finance the newly established Southern Cardamom National Park's ongoing protection. - In an October 2016 interview with Mongabay.com, Gauntlett spoke about the Southern Cardamoms and her hopes for the project.
Environmentalists squirm as Jokowi eyes Lake Toba tourism bonanza [10/19/2016]
- Indonesian President Joko Widodo has established a special authority to revive tourism in Lake Toba, North Sumatra. - Environmentalists worry the plan could lead to forest clearance and exacerbate a worsening pollution problem. - Government officials argue tourism could actually be a boon for the lake's environment — trees included — as well as the local economy.
A plan to save the Mekong Delta [10/18/2016]
- The Mekong Delta Plan is the product of several years’ work by Dutch and Vietnamese officials, supported by a platoon of experts from both nations. - It's a blueprint for dealing not only with the effects of climate change and upstream dams but also with certain shortsighted activities by the Vietnamese themselves. - The region's farmers as well as the relevant branches of government must be persuaded to buy into the plan.
Asian elephant herds lack clear matriarchs, strict hierarchies: new study [10/18/2016]
- The differences between Asian and African elephants may be the result of their ecological environments, the team posits. - The researchers think that stable ecological conditions in Sri Lanka make it easier for Asian elephants to make their own movement decisions without having to rely on very experienced individuals to know where to go or how to avoid predators. - But as habitats continue to shrink and elephants are forced into smaller areas where they cannot avoid each other, their weak dominance hierarchies may result in greater conflict between individuals, the researchers think.
It’s a bear, it’s a cat; no, it’s a binturong and it’s threatened [10/13/2016]
- The binturong, or bearcat (Arctictis binturong) inhabits a range stretching from northeast India and Bangladesh to the Malay Peninsula, Borneo and the Philippines. It is found more rarely in Nepal, South China, Java, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. - This tree-dwelling species occupies its own unique genus: it possesses a prehensile tail (like a monkey), purrs and cleans itself like a cat, and has a territory-marking scent that smells exactly like buttered popcorn. - The binturong is threatened by habitat loss due to logging and agribusiness, especially the oil palm industry. It is also hunted for bushmeat, traditional medicine and the pet trade. A local coffee, made from beans that pass through a binturong’s digestive system, is also valued. - Binturongs have been little studied and their numbers in the wild are unknown. It is known that they eat prodigious amounts of strangler fig fruit, and that they are important seed spreaders. More study is urgently needed to determine how the species can be conserved.
Mother Nature and a hydropower onslaught aren’t the Mekong Delta’s only problems [10/13/2016]
- Vietnam's Mekong Delta, home to nearly 20 million people, is one of the most highly productive agricultural environments in the world, thanks in part to an elaborate network of canals, dikes, sluice gates and drainage ditches. - On the strength of Delta agriculture, Vietnam has gone from a chronic importer of rice to a major exporter. - But farmers in the region are critical of the government's food security policies, which mandate that most of the Delta's land be devoted to rice production. And many of them are taking measures to circumvent those rules, in ways that aren't always friendly to the environment. - That's just one example of how water and land-use policy in the Delta is undermining efforts to protect the vulnerable region from climate change and upstream development.
Exclusive: Rainforest rapidly cleared for sugarcane in Bolivia [10/12/2016]
- Satellite data indicate deforestation for sugarcane in the northern portion of the country near Madidi National Park is ramping up as the San Buenaventura sugar mill expands production in the area. - Nearly 2,000 hectares have been cleared for sugarcane so far, with a total of 11,700 hectares planned for cultivation by 2023. - The Tacana Indigenous community alleges it was forced to concede 4,000 hectares of its ancestral territory for the construction of the mill. - Deforestation already affects 20 percent of the Pan Amazon, and scientists warn that if it continues at this pace, it could produce an ecological collapse in less than 40 years.
Airbus to marshal its satellites against deforestation [10/12/2016]
- Starling is a new service developed by Airbus, The Forest Trust and SarVision. - Palm oil suppliers can use it to verify their compliance with their customers' zero-deforestation policies. - Starling, which will be sold to companies, is meant as a compliment to Global Forest Watch, a publicly available platform that anyone can use to track deforestation in near-real time. - Starling is more powerful than Global Forest Watch, with the ability to see through clouds and zoom in close enough to count the trees.
Indonesia’s oil palm plantations are rife with spitting cobras [10/06/2016]
- The Southeast Asian country is the world's top palm oil producer. It also ranks No. 2 in snakebites globally. - The species of serpent that has spread in Indonesia's oil palm and rubber plantations is the Sumatran cobra. - There is no available antivenom for Sumatran cobra bites. Plantation workers often die from them.
Vietnam sweats bullets as China and Laos dam the Mekong [10/06/2016]
- The Mekong River is the lifeblood of mainland Southeast Asia. It flows through six countries and affects the lives of some 60 million people. - China and Laos are damming the river in many places. And Thailand is planning a large-scale of diversion of water that could further affect its flow. - It's still an open question whether the dams in Laos can be financed. Will Beijing step in?
Brazil pledges to cut carbon, but government policies say otherwise [10/06/2016]
- Brazil's Paris Agreement target calls for a carbon emissions reduction of 37 percent by 2025, and 43 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. These reductions are dependent on the nation’s ability to meet its forestry goals. Brazil’s vast forests are vital for carbon storage and for curbing the worst impacts of climate change. - However, Brazil’s government is moving to relax environmental licensing regulations in order to fast track large-scale infrastructure projects, including industrial waterways, dams, highways and railways; and is pursuing a major agribusiness expansion — all of which could work to increase carbon emissions. - In addition, new studies show that Brazil will likely fall well short of the billions in funding needed to meet the country’s ambitious forestry goals which were declared in 2015, just before the Paris Climate Summit. - The continued curbing of Amazon deforestation is key to Brazil’s achievement of its Paris carbon cut targets, but recent news from the Amazon is bad: after years of decreased deforestation rates, forest loss in the Amazon is again on the upswing.
Field Notes: Mapping condor conservation strategies [10/05/2016]
- Nearly extinct in the wild in the 1980’s, the California condor is experiencing a recovery thanks to an intense management plan and a partial ban on lead ammunition. Unfortunately for captive condors released to the wild, lead poisoning is still a problem. - Holly Copeland’s GIS mapping study has shown that condors close to the coast suffer less from lead poisoning than those inland. Mapping also helps locate less risky release sites, and predict locales where birds might be most at risk from lead. - The mapping study detected increased wild behavior in the condors, meaning they are ranging farther from captive release sites. That is good news, but also means the birds that fly farther inland are being exposed to a greater risk of lead poisoning. - Copeland hopes that when the comprehensive California ban on lead ammunition takes full effect in 2019, the wild condors will benefit. The researcher is also applying her mapping experiences with condors, to eagles and other raptors in Wyoming.
Mongabay Newscast episode 2: Earth’s most climate-sensitive river delta, conservation in conflict zones [10/04/2016]
- No other delta region in the world is more threatened by climate change than the Mekong Delta, which is why the first installment of the series, up now, asks: “Will climate change sink the Mekong Delta?” - Three more articles by Mongabay correspondent David Brown, who traveled extensively in Vietnam to report these stories, will be coming out over the next couple weeks. - We also speak with Mongabay’s Israel-based forests editor, Genevieve Belmaker, who answered a question submitted by Muneer ul Islam Najar, a PhD Scholar in the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at Pondicherry University in Puducherry, India: “I want to ask you how can a person living in a conflict zone contribute to the environmental conservation?”
The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey: discovered and immediately endangered [10/04/2016]
- Discovered in 2010 and promptly listed as Critically Endangered, the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey lives only in the remote high forests of Northeast Myanmar, and across the border in China’s Gaoligong Mountain Natural Reserve. There are as few as 260-330 left in the wild. - Hunting, illegal logging and proposed hydropower development, taking place within the context of a simmering civil conflict, threaten to push the species to extinction. - On the plus side, conservationists have already gone a long way toward winning over local communities, getting them to stop hunting the animals; while the government’s approval of a newly proposed national park offers hope that the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey can be preserved.
Victory for forests: Rosewood gets enhanced protection at wildlife summit [10/04/2016]
- Rosewood refers to a large group of deeply-hued, durable timbers used for making expensive furniture as well as musical instruments like guitar. Majority of rosewoods belong to Dalbergia genus. - At a recent conservation meeting, governments voted to include all rosewood species belonging to Dalbergia genus under CITES protection, launching a clampdown on the illegal trade of rosewood. - This increased CITES protection means that all international trade in Dalbergia rosewoods will be subject to trade restrictions.
Will climate change sink the Mekong Delta? [10/03/2016]
- Scientists say the 1-meter sea level rise expected by century's end will displace 3.5-5 million Mekong Delta residents. A 2-meter sea level rise could force three times that to higher ground. - Shifting rainfall and flooding patterns are also threatening one of the most highly productive agricultural environments in the world. - The onus is now on Vietnam's government in Hanoi to approve a comprehensive adaptation and mitigation plan.
Program targets food security concerns among Panama’s indigenous women [10/03/2016]
- Malnutrition rates of indigenous children in Panama’s rural areas can be three to five times higher than that of non-indigenous children in the cities. - Poor access to employment and health care, a lack of participation in politics, land conflicts over resource development projects, and farming problems related to volatile climactic conditions all contribute to food insecurity among Panama’s indigenous groups. - Now, a 10-month program for indigenous women headed by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum aims to tackle food security among indigenous groups in Panama, as well as in Paraguay and El Salvador.
Indigenous communities take the lead on conservation in Colombia [09/30/2016]
- Colombia's Sierra Nevada mountain range and the land around it has experienced heavy deforestation, and many of its endemic species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. - The Wiwa use traditional conservation and cultural practices to manage forests, and believe it is their purpose to act as environmental stewards. - For around 20 years, local communities like the Wiwa have been buying up land around Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park, aided by The Nature Conservancy. - Satellite data indicate this may be helping prevent deforestation, with less tree cover loss within the Indigenous territory than outside of it.
Madagascar’s largest tortoise could become extinct in 2 years [09/27/2016]
- Currently listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List, the ploughshare tortoise occurs only in the Baly Bay National Park in northwestern Madagascar. - The animal’s striking gold and black domed shell has made it a prized pet in the international market, fueling organized poaching and trafficking that is driving the species towards extinction. - Since early 2016, ploughshare tortoises appear to have disappeared completely from several areas of the Baly Bay National Park.
‘We are revolutionaries’: Villagers fight to protect Myanmar’s forests [09/23/2016]
- Deforestation has been trending upward in the Tanintharyi region of southern Myanmar, with the area losing 6 percent of its tree cover in 14 years. Mines and new roads are among the threats to its forest. - A committee formed by a community in Tanintharyi is working to preserve the remaining forest of the Kamoethway river valley. - The organization – Rays of Kamoethway Indigenous People and Nature – has established nine different conservation zones in the region. - But members say another conservation project established by Myanmar's government and funded by oil and gas companies is threatening the community and its conservation efforts.