Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood [05/22/2018]
- According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region. - According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.” - Increasing deforestation is not the only threat posed by opening new areas to roads. “These growing road networks provide accessibility for other forms of resource exploitation,” Hughes notes in the study. “Most notably this includes selective logging, and hunting, which in the Indo-Malay region also targets a vast suite of species as pets, medicine and meat.”
First record of ultrasound communication in the mysterious Sunda colugo [05/01/2018]
- Until recently, the Sunda colugo was known to only produce calls in the audible range. But scientists have now published the first-ever record of these animals producing ultrasound calls in the Penang Hill forests of Malaysia. - Overall, the researchers recorded colugo ultrasound calls 16 times and spotted seven individuals likely associated with those calls. - The team has yet to determine the purpose of the ultrasound calls.
New species of Malaysian water beetle named after Leonardo DiCaprio [04/30/2018]
- A new species of water beetle has been named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. - The species was discovered in Borneo during a survey organized by Taxon Expeditions, which sets up trips for citizen scientists to discover undescribed species. - The discoverers chose to honor DiCaprio for his support of environmental causes.
‘We are going to self-destruct’: Development plans threaten Malaysian island [04/30/2018]
- The Langkawi archipelago off Malaysia’s northwest coast is made up of more than 100 islands, including the main island – the country’s third largest. For years a well-kept secret of pristine beaches, unspoilt rainforest and unique limestone outcrops, tourism began to take off in the 1990s after the island was declared duty free and luxury resorts began to open. - Some 3.5 million people visited Langkawi last year. Now the authorities want even more – 5.5 million by 2020 – and have ambitious plans to transform the island with high-rise hotels and apartments, coastal roads on reclaimed land, and other trappings of a 21st century tourist destination. - But critics say little has been done to upgrade the island’s basic infrastructure – sewage systems, water supply, and waste management – adding to the strain on an already fragile environment.
‘Shocking and worrying’: Selective logging has big, lasting impact on fish [04/26/2018]
- A new study finds nearly as few fish species in selectively logged forests as they did in forests clear-cut for plantations. Both selectively logged and clear-cut areas had around half the number fish species present in protected, intact forests. - These findings run counter to conventional wisdom that holds selective logging is not as ecologically destructive as complete deforestation. - The study also found a similar number of fish species in streams in oil palm plantations with and without remnant forest buffers, which are often mandated in the hopes of safeguarding biodiversity. - The study’s authors say their findings underline the importance of protecting remaining primary forest.
Signoff on rhino sperm transfer between Indonesia, Malaysia expected mid-May: Official [04/26/2018]
- Indonesia has sent a memorandum of understanding to the Malaysian government regarding the transfer of sperm for use in a captive-breeding attempt, an official confirmed to Mongabay on April 26. - Hoping the sperm can be used to fertilize Malaysia’s last remaining female Sumatran rhino, conservationists have been awaiting permission for the transfer for years. - Herry Subagiadi, secretary to the conservation director at Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, says he expects Malaysia to sign the agreement in mid-May. - Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, with just nine living in captivity in Indonesia and Malaysia, and as few as 30 surviving in the wild.
Restoring flagging oil palm plantations to forest may benefit clouded leopards, study finds [04/24/2018]
- A team of biologists fitted four clouded leopards in the Kinabatangan region of Malaysian Borneo with satellite collars, and they gathered several months of data on the animals’ movements. - They found that the cats stuck to areas with canopy cover, and they avoided land cleared for oil palm. - Converting underperforming oil palm plantations back to forest could help the clouded leopard population with minimal impact on the state’s production of palm oil, the authors predict.
Bornean bantengs feeling the heat in logged forests, study finds [04/20/2018]
- A recent study shows that Bornean bantengs in recently logged forests in Malaysia’s Sabah state have become less active during the daytime in response to the hotter temperatures brought on by there being fewer trees providing shade. - Banteng herds living in forests with more regrowth continue to be active throughout the day as they have more shade and refuge. - The paper’s researchers suggest that steps must be taken to reduce the stress upon bantengs, such as limiting disturbance during key times of activity and maintaining blocks of mature forest.
‘Lost’ fairy lantern spotted in Malaysian Borneo after 151 years [04/04/2018]
- In January last year, a team of botanists spotted Thismia neptunis again, 151 years after it was first recorded in the rainforests of western Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo. - Thismia neptunis is tiny, standing at just 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) when flowering, and spends its life underground, parasitizing fungi for its food supply. - Given that the species is likely restricted to a small area within a primary lowland rainforest of Sarawak, and might have fewer than 50 individuals, the researchers believe that the species qualifies as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Borneo’s elephants prefer degraded forests, a new study finds [03/27/2018]
- New research has found that Bornean elephants most often use degraded forests with canopy heights topping out at around 13 meters (43 feet). - Less than 25 percent of the state’s protected intact forests, which include primary forests, are suitable for elephants, the authors concluded. - The team suggests that maintaining suitable elephant habitat in Malaysian Borneo will require the protection of relatively small patches of degraded forests that elephants favor.
Sarawak’s Penan now have detailed maps of their ancestral homeland [03/20/2018]
- Some 63 Penan communities came together to create 23 maps of their territory in central Borneo over the past 15 years. - For three days in late November 2017, the Penan of the region celebrated the completion of the maps. - The Penan now believe they are armed with the information that will help them hold on to their land in the face of pressure from outside timber and industrial agriculture interests.
Oil palm plantations’ dearth of biodiversity rubs off on nearby forests, study shows [03/19/2018]
- Oil palm plantations in Malaysian Borneo host a lower number of frog species than forests in same area. - However, the plantations exhibit an edge effect that extends as far as 4 kilometers, resulting in a decline in the diversity of frog species in adjacent forests. - The researchers suggest that for small forest patches or narrow corridors to be of long-term conservation value in oil palm landscapes, their sizes and widths need to adequately account for these edge effects.
Small hydropower a big global issue overlooked by science and policy [03/13/2018]
- Brazil recently announced an end to its mega-dam construction policy, a strategy other nations may embrace as understanding of the massive environmental and social impacts of big dams grows. - However, a trend long neglected by scientists and policymakers ¬ the rapid growth of small dams – has been spotlighted in a new study. - Nearly 83,000 small dams in 150 nations (with 11 small dams for each large dam), exist globally, while that number could triple if all capacity worldwide is used. More than 10,000 new small dams are already in the planning stages. But small dam impacts have been little studied by scientists, and little regulated by governments. - Environmentalists say that, with the rapid construction of new small dams, it is urgent for researchers to assess the impacts of different types of small dams, as well as looking at the cumulative impacts of many small dams placed on a single river, or on main stems and tributaries within watersheds.
Sarawak makes 80% forest preservation commitment, but some have doubts [03/12/2018]
- The Malaysian state of Sarawak is committing to the preservation of 80 percent of its land area as primary and secondary forest, according to an announcement by Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg. - According to data, concession boundaries for oil palm and other kinds of tree plantations covered 32.7 percent of Sarawak’s land area as of 2010/11, suggesting that if Sarawak is to fulfill its commitment to preserve 80 percent of its land as primary and secondary forest, then it may need to cancel some of these concessions. - The director of environmental and human rights watchdog organization Earthsight expressed doubts that Sarawak will follow through on the commitment, and recommends the state increase transparency and crack down on illegal logging.
Bornean bearded pigs seen adapting to oil palm habitats, study finds [03/06/2018]
- Bornean bearded pigs appear to thrive in oil palm plantations, but remain heavily dependent on nearby forests as their primary habitat, a recent study indicates. - The findings are crucial because of the species’ key role as an “ecosystem engineer,” controlling the spread of tree species and turning over the soil with their rooting behavior. - The researchers have called on the Malaysian government to better protect these forests in a bid to ensure a sustainable population of bearded pigs in mixed forest-oil palm areas.
Scientists aim to give engineers the tools for ecologically sensitive development [02/26/2018]
- EIAs, or environmental impact assessments, are notoriously flawed and don’t always provide an accurate assessment of the risks of development projects. - A recent article by a team of scientists is part of a larger effort to give planners and engineers the data for more environmentally sensitive development. - The article appears in the February issue of Jurutera: The Journal of Malaysian Engineers.
Borneo, ravaged by deforestation, loses nearly 150,000 orangutans in 16 years, study finds [02/15/2018]
- A new study calculates that the island of Borneo lost nearly 150,000 orangutans in the period between 1999 and 2015, largely as a result of deforestation and killing. There were an estimated 104,700 of the critically endangered apes left as of 2012. - The study also warns that another 45,000 orangutans are doomed by 2050 under the business-as-usual scenario, where forests are cleared for logging, palm oil, mining and pulpwood leases. Orangutans are also disappearing from intact forests, most likely being killed, the researchers say. - The researchers have called for more effective partnerships between governments, industries and local communities to ensure the Bornean orangutan’s survival. Public education and awareness will also be key.
Duterte orders navy to fire on foreign poachers in Philippine waters [02/14/2018]
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called on the navy to open fire at foreign vessels suspected of poaching or extracting natural resources in the Southeast Asian nation’s exclusive waters. - Duterte made the decision to address concerns about territorial rights over Benham Rise, an undersea plateau off the country’s northeastern coast believed to be rich in oil, gas and fisheries. - A number of Southeast Asian nations, notably Indonesia, have recently taken a tough stance against marine poaching in the region, which is home to some of the world’s richest underwater ecosystems and threatened by overfishing.
New study suggests Borneo’s had elephants for thousands of years [01/31/2018]
- The research, published in January in the journal Scientific Reports, used genetic information and changes to the topography of the region to surmise that Asian elephants arrived in Borneo between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago. - The authors hypothesize that elephants moved from nearby islands or the Malaysian peninsula to Borneo via land bridges. - It’s an indication that the elephants are ‘native’ to Borneo, the scientists argue, and points to the need to bolster conservation efforts.
Biofuel boost threatens even greater deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia: Study [01/25/2018]
- A new report projects the global demand for palm oil-based biofuel by 2030 will be six times higher than today if existing and proposed policies in Indonesia, China and the aviation industry hold. - That surge in demand could result in the clearing of 45,000 square kilometers (17,374 square miles) of forest in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s biggest palm oil producers, and the release of an additional 7 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year — higher than current annual emissions by the U.S. - That impact could be tempered to some degree by the European Union, which plans to phase out all use of palm oil in its biofuel over the next three years, citing environmental concerns.
Indonesia hints rhino sperm transfer to Malaysia may finally happen this year [01/24/2018]
- Indonesia has signaled it may send a much-needed sample of Sumatran rhino sperm to Malaysia for use in a captive-breeding program seen as the last means of saving the critically endangered species. - If it goes to plan, the program would boost the genetic diversity of the species, of which only 30 to 100 individuals are believed to remain in the wild. - The Sumatran rhino population has been decimated by poaching and habitat loss, but the biggest threat facing the species today is the small and fragmented nature of their populations, with an increased risk of inbreeding.
Outrage and conspiracy claims as Indonesia, Malaysia react to EU ban on palm oil in biofuels [01/19/2018]
- Indonesian and Malaysian ministers have derided as unfair and misguided the European Parliament’s vote to approve the phase-out of palm oil from biofuels by 2021. - The vote Wednesday, over concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the palm oil industry, still needs to be ratified by the European Commission and member governments. - Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have filed official notes of protest, claiming a protectionist conspiracy to promote other vegetable oil producers, but activists say the EU’s concerns, including about deforestation, are valid and the ban justified.
Moth rediscovered in Malaysia mimics appearance and behavior of bees to escape predators [01/12/2018]
- The Oriental blue clearwing (Heterosphecia tawonoides) was rediscovered in Malaysia’s Taman Negara National Park by Marta Skowron Volponi, a Ph.D. student at Poland’s University of Gdansk and lead author of a paper about the moth recently published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science. - The moths have legs like bees, bright blue bands on their abdomens (bees in Southeast Asia can be a variety of colors, including blue), and furry bodies that resemble those of bees — though the moths’ “fur” is actually elongated scales. - While the conservation status of the moths is unknown, Skowron Volponi found that the Oriental blue clearwing’s preferred habitat seems to be the banks of clean watercourses flowing through the primary rainforests of Malaysia — a country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
Rainforests: the year in review 2017 [01/04/2018]
- 2017 was a rough year for tropical rainforests, but there were some bright spots. - This is Mongabay’s annual year-in-review on what happened in the world of tropical rainforests. - Here we summarize some of the more notable developments and trends for tropical forests in 2017.
New ‘ghost’ scorpion among several species recorded for the first time in Malaysian rainforest [01/04/2018]
- For the first time ever, scientists have surveyed the rainforest of Penang Hill comprehensively. The 130-million-year old forest is believed to have never been cut before and has remained largely unexplored. - Among the exciting discoveries is a potentially new species of “ghost” scorpion, and numerous first records for Penang Hill. - With a more complete understanding of the forests of Penang Hill, the scientists hope to nominate Penang’s forest as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Roads, dams and railways: Ten infrastructure stories from Southeast Asia in 2017 [12/27/2017]
- Southeast Asia is one of the epicenters of a global “tsunami” of infrastructure development. - As the countries in the region work to elevate their economic standing, concerns from scientists and NGOs highlight the potential pitfalls in the form of environmental degradation and destruction that roads, dams and other infrastructure can bring in tow. - Mongabay had reporters covering the region in 2017. Here are 10 of their stories.
Glimmer of hope as Malaysia’s last female Sumatran rhino shows signs of recovery [12/27/2017]
- The worst appears to be over for Iman, Malaysia’s last female Sumatran rhino, after she suffered massive bleeding from a ruptured tumor in her uterus earlier this month. - Veterinarians and rhino experts are hopeful but cautious about Iman’s recovery prospects, and continue to provide around-the-clock care. - The rhino is Malaysia’s last hope for saving the nearly extinct species, which is thought to number as few as 30 individuals in the world.
Experts to China: cooperate or South China Sea fisheries may collapse [12/21/2017]
- More than half the fishing vessels in the world operate in the South China Sea, where sovereign rights have been an object of fierce contention among bordering countries. - Scientists have been warning that the sea is fast becoming the site of an environmental disaster, the impending collapse of one of the world’s most productive fisheries. - Now a group of experts that includes geopolitical strategists as well as marine biologists is calling on the disputing parties to come together to manage and protect the sea’s fish stocks and marine environment. - Effective management hinges on China’s active participation, but it remains unclear whether that country, now the dominant power in the sea with a big appetite for seafood, will cooperate.
Palm oil’s ecological footprint extends to distant forests, study finds [12/21/2017]
- A new study has found that the ecological footprint of oil palm plantations on neighboring forests extends beyond just deforestation and is “substantially underestimated.” - This is based on the discovery of the extensive damage done to forest understory by wild boars that feed on the palm fruit. - The damage was found to persist more than a kilometer away from oil palm plantations, leading the researchers to call for the establishment of buffer zones as a way to address the problem.
Malaysia’s last female Sumatran rhino falls ill [12/17/2017]
- Malaysia’s last female Sumatran rhino, which was captured from the wild for a captive-breeding program to save the species, has fallen ill from a ruptured tumor in her uterus. - Veterinarians have been unable to provide the necessary medical treatment because of the rhino’s behavior and adverse conditions on the ground. - The captive-breeding program was dashed by the death of the only other female Sumatran rhino in Malaysia earlier this year and the refusal of the Indonesian government to share a frozen sperm sample for artificial insemination.
Malaysia seizes 337 kg of pangolin scales worth nearly $1 million [11/30/2017]
- The 337 kilograms of pangolin scales had been mailed from Sarawak and Sabah in 13 different boxes, and were being exported to Hong Kong. - With this latest seizure, Malaysian customs officials have confiscated a total of 15,000 kilograms of scales in just seven months, according to TRAFFIC. - The origin of the scales is still unknown, officials say.
WATCH: Rare sighting of mother Sunda clouded leopard and cubs caught on film [11/29/2017]
- On the afternoon of November 6, while traveling through Deramakot Forest Reserve in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, photographer Michael Gordon came across a sight he was not expecting: a Sunda clouded leopard mother with her cubs. - “When I first saw the clouded leopards from a distance I thought it was just some macaques on the road,” he told Mongabay. “Once I realized that it was actually three clouded leopards I stopped the car right away. I had my camera close by, but with only a 15mm macro lens attached. I wasn’t sure whether to just enjoy the moment or go into the boot of the car and change lenses. I figured I would regret it badly if I didn’t record it.” - The Sunda clouded leopard, found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, is such a rare and elusive big cat that it’s traditionally been rather difficult to study, never mind casually sight while driving through the forest.
New carbon maps of Sabah’s forests guide conservation in Borneo [11/29/2017]
- Airborne LiDAR mapping combined with satellite imagery analysis has provided scientists, government agencies and NGOs with a “wall-to-wall” account of the carbon held in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. - The study, led by ecologists from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, revealed that more than 40 percent of the forests with the highest carbon stocks aren’t covered by the state’s most stringent protections. - The findings give wildlife biologists the chance to examine how carbon stocks correlate with the presence of biodiversity; NGOs the opportunity to identify new high-carbon areas to set aside under oil palm certification schemes; and the Sabah government the information to determine which forests are the most valuable and therefore need further protections.
RSPO tops among certification schemes, though all must improve: report [11/22/2017]
- A new report from the Forest Peoples Programme ranks certification schemes for biofuels and edible oils. - The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil topped the NGO’s rankings, although it too has significant problems. - “It seems that about half of RSPO members’ palm oil sold in Europe, mostly for biofuels, is…not RSPO-certified. For those concerned about human rights and social justice, this is very troubling,” FPP campaigner Marcus Colchester said.
More big mammals found in high-carbon forests, says new study [11/15/2017]
- The researchers used satellite data to measure forest carbon values and camera trap photographs to tally the mammal species present in forests and oil palm plantations. - Finer-scale data did reveal that high-carbon areas do support more species of medium and large mammals that are threatened with extinction. - Experts say that this research validates the high carbon stock approach for identifying priority areas for conservation. - Still, further research is required to better understand the role of connectivity between high-carbon forests in supporting biodiversity.
The fate of the Sumatran rhino is in the Indonesian government’s hands [11/10/2017]
- As the Sumatran rhino edges closer to extinction, aggressive interventions have stalled. Even ongoing efforts like ranger protection have been undercut by lack of government support. - As of May, conservation groups are united in their calls to ramp up captive-breeding efforts in Indonesia, but the government has not yet responded. - Frustrated conservationists cite bureaucracy, risk aversion, opaque and arbitrary decisions, and territorial squabbling as barriers to progress — but remain hopeful the government will act in time.
Road building threatens forests, water supplies in Kuala Lumpur area [10/19/2017]
- Construction has begun on the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), part of a broader plan to create a ring road around Malaysia’s capital. - The road has been controversial from the start, with environmentalists and residents raising concerns about its impact on forests, wildlife, erosion and urban water supplies. - Activists are particularly concerned about the second phase of the project, fearing it will threaten the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge, a proposed World Heritage site.
Leading US plywood firm linked to alleged destruction, rights violations in Malaysia [10/19/2017]
- An investigation has found that Liberty Woods, the top importer of plywood in the US, buys wood from a Malaysian company that has faced numerous allegations of environmentally unsustainable logging and indigenous rights violations. - Environmental NGOs have accused the timber industry in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, of clearing too much forest too quickly, polluting streams and rivers and failing to obtain consent to log from local communities. - Satellite imagery analysis in 2013 showed that, between 2000 and 2012, Malaysia had the world’s highest deforestation rate. - In Sarawak, where logging company Shin Yang is based, only 5 percent of forests remain relatively untouched.
Experts seek ways to mitigate environmental impacts of infrastructure boom in Asia Pacific [10/09/2017]
- More than 22 million kilometers of new roads are projected to be built in highly biodiverse tropical and developing countries by 2050. - Direct habitat loss, illegal logging, increased poaching and encroachment and animal road kill are some of the environmental risks associated with road development. - Last week, a conference of experts, officials and activists from the Asia-Pacific region discussed ways to maximize the socio-economic benefits of infrastructure development while mitigating the environmental risks.
Bats key pollinators for durian production, camera traps confirm [10/03/2017]
- A new study employing camera traps indicates that flying foxes in Malaysia are important pollinators of commercially valuable durian fruit trees. - The researchers set 19 traps in semi-wild durian trees. - Their investigation revealed that the bats had a positive impact on the transformation of the flower to fruit.
Poor grade for Malaysia, Singapore brands in palm oil sustainability: WWF [09/22/2017]
- Two out of three companies in Malaysia and Singapore are not transparent about their palm oil use, the World Wildlife Fund contends. - Most of these companies do not source palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. - Malaysia and Singapore’s brands have lower sustainability grades compared to global brands.
Cross currents: Mega-dams and micro-hydro offer two different futures for rural Borneo [09/20/2017]
- Rural villages along the Papar River in Sabah, Malaysia are getting electrical infrastructure for the first time by building micro-hydropower systems. - The proposed Kaiduan Dam would flood the Ulu Papar Valley, displacing villagers in order to provide a water source to the state capital, Kota Kinabalu, and its environs. - Villages share what they have learned about managing their new hydropower systems, and work together to try to block plans for the dam.
Ecologist wins Heinz environment prize for airborne mapping that informs policy [09/14/2017]
- Ecologist Greg Asner of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory will receive a $250,000 award from the Heinz Family Foundation for his work to map rainforests and coral reefs around the world. - Lawmakers and other key decision-makers use Asner’s research to guide policy in the United States, South America and Southeast Asia. - Asner said he intends to put the funds toward marine education and outreach in Hawaii, where he began his career.
Communities struggle to save Sabah’s shrinking mangroves [09/13/2017]
- A development plan establishing shrimp farms and timber plantations begun purportedly to reduce poverty in northern Sabah, Malaysia, has attracted criticism from local communities and NGOs, which say the project is ignoring communities’ land rights. - Satellite imagery shows the clearing of large tracts of mangrove forest for shrimp farms. Critics of the development say this is depriving forest-dependent local communities of their livelihoods as well as threatening mangrove wildlife. - Several communities have banded together and are together petitioning the government to officially recognize their rights to the remaining mangroves and prevent further clearing for development.
Bats and viruses: Beating back a bad reputation [08/29/2017]
- Ecologist Merlin Tuttle argues that too much research and media attention is focused on bats based on tenuous links to deadly disease-causing viruses such as Ebola. - Live Ebola virus has never been found in bats, and virologists acknowledge that other animals may be involved. - But scientists have plucked live strains of other dangerous viruses from bats, and researchers argue that continuing to study the association between viruses and bats (as well as other animals) will ultimately help us better prepare for future disease outbreaks.
Mammal numbers high in logged tropical forests, study finds [08/16/2017]
- The study quantified mammal numbers in forests and landscapes with varying degrees of human impact in Malaysian Borneo. - Across 57 mammal species recorded with live and camera traps, the average number of all animals combined was 28 percent higher in logged forests — where hunting wasn’t an issue — compared to old-growth forests. - The findings demonstrate the importance of conserving degraded forests along with more pristine areas.
Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link a double-edged sword for environment, wildlife [08/09/2017]
- Work on the East Coast Rail Link, a Chinese-backed cargo and passenger rail project that will connect Peninsular Malaysia’s east and west coasts, commenced August 9. - The project aims to shift traffic from roads to rails, but will also lead to habitat loss and fragmentation in the peninsula’s forested heart. - Developers have adopted mitigation measures, but areas of ecological significance will still be affected.
Orangutans find home in degraded forests [07/24/2017]
- The study leveraged three years of orangutan observation in the field and airborne mapping of the forest structure using laser-based light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology. - The research team found that orangutans make use of habitats that have been ‘degraded’ by logging and other human uses. - The research is part of a larger effort in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department to map carbon stocks and plant and animal biodiversity throughout the Malaysian state of Sabah with the goal of identifying new areas for conservation.
Hong Kong officials seize ‘largest ever’ ivory shipment worth $9 million [07/07/2017]
- The customs authorities discovered the tusks inside a 40-feet Malaysian consignment declared as “frozen fish”. - Following an initial investigation, the authorities have arrested the owner and two staff members of a trading company in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. - In December last year, Hong Kong government announced a three-step plan to phase out domestic ivory trade by the end of 2021.
Logging in Malaysia’s Ulu Muda forest threatens wildlife and water supplies [06/26/2017]
- The Ulu Muda forest is the primary source of water for four million Malaysians, as well as for industry and agriculture. - The forest is also home to a huge diversity of species, including the Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, sambar deer and clouded and spotted leopards. - Although the federal government imposed a ban on logging in the reserve in 2003, local authorities have allowed commercial logging to increase over the past decade.
Footprints in the forest: The future of the Sumatran rhino [06/23/2017]
- Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) remain in the wild, a number many biologists say is too low to ensure the survival of the species. - Several organizations have begun to build momentum toward a single program that pools resources and know-how in Malaysia and Indonesia, the last places in Southeast Asia where captive and wild rhinos still live. - Advocates for intensive efforts to breed animals in captivity fear that an emphasis on the protection of the remaining wild animals may divert attention and funding away from such projects. - They worry that if they don’t act now, the Sumatran rhino may pass a point of no return from which it cannot recover.
Borneo’s ‘biocultural holocaust’: an interview with author Alex Shoumatoff [06/19/2017]
- Over the past half century, we’ve laid waste to the rainforests of Borneo thanks to humanity’s demand for food, fuel, and fiber. - The Wasting of Borneo, a new book by Alex Shoumatoff, chronicles some of Borneo’s staggering losses - Shoumatoff is a former writer and editor for The New Yorker, Outside, Condé Nast Traveler, and Vanity Fair who Donald Trump once called “the greatest writer in America”.
Norway bans government purchasing of palm oil biofuel [06/13/2017]
- The growth of the palm oil industry has been blamed for a host of damaging environmental impacts, such as deforestation and carbon emissions. - Research indicates that biofuel made with palm oil may be even worse for the climate than fossil fuels. - The Norwegian parliament responded to these impacts by voting in a regulation to its Public Procurement Act to stop using biofuel palm oil-based biofuel. The resolution further stipulates that the “regulatory amendment shall enter into force as soon as possible.” - Conservationists laud the move, but say more countries need to follow suit. They recommend the EU’s biofuel policy be updated to reflect concerns about palm oil.
One of Malaysia’s last rhinos euthanized to ‘end her suffering’ [06/05/2017]
- Puntung was one of three Sumatran rhinos known to survive in Malaysia, and one of fewer than 100 representatives of this Critically Endangered species. - Her health first raised concern in March, when she was found to suffer from an abscess in her jaw. - Dental surgery was successfully performed in April, but she was then found to have squamous cell cancer. - Veterinarians determined the disease was fatal and that treatment would only prolong her suffering. Puntung was euthanized just after dawn on Sunday, June 4.
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.
More than 300 smuggled tortoises seized in Malaysia [05/17/2017]
- Customs officials at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport raided the cargo area of the airport on May 14 following a tip-off, and found the tortoises packed into five boxes labeled as stones. - The boxes reportedly arrived on an Etihad Airways flight from Antananarivo airport in Madagascar, and were registered with a fake business address in Malaysia. - No arrests have been made yet, but the case is being investigated under Section 135(1)(a) of the Customs Act 1967, officials say.
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.
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.
An interactive map connects landowners and forest change in one of the world’s most biodiverse places [04/28/2017]
- The Atlas of Deforestation and Industrial Plantations in Borneo documents the loss of rainforest over 40 years from oil palm and pulpwood plantations in one of Earth’s most biodiverse places. - By connecting landowners and deforestation patterns publicly available, the atlas adds transparency to wood and oil palm supply chains. - Allowing users to see how human impacts have reshaped Borneo is essential amid competing demands for cheap oil and conserved forest.
Canceled: Plans for a bridge in a critical wildlife area in Borneo have been scrapped [04/20/2017]
- Plans for the Sukau Bridge, crossing the Kinabatangan River near a wildlife sanctuary in Malaysian Borneo, raised a global outcry. - “We are not going ahead with the bridge,” Sabah Forest Department Chief Conservator Sam Mannan announced at an event in London. - In explaining his decision, Mannan reportedly cited a recent letter by celebrated naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, as well as concerns expressed by scientists, NGOs and corporations.
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.
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.
Rhino poachers in Borneo: Q&A with a conservationist who lived with them [04/17/2017]
- Fiffy Hanisdah Saikim — now a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation — spent two years living with Tidong communities on the outskirts of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Malaysian Borneo. - These communities included both poachers and people employed in ecotourism and conservation programs centered around the Sumatran rhino and other endangered species. - According to Saikim, attempts to engage communities in anti-poaching programs can succeed when they demonstrate that conservation has better long-term economic returns than poaching. - The Sumatran rhino is now extinct in the wild in Malaysia, but Saikim believes lessons from Tabin can be applied in places where rhinos still exist in the wild.
Rare Malaysian rhino still sick, but showing signs of improvement [04/10/2017]
- Puntung, one of three Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos known to survive in Malaysia, is suffering from an abscess in her jaw. - The rhino’s caretakers feared she would not survive the infection despite receiving round-the-clock veterinary care. - Since Saturday, Puntung has shown signs of improvement, although she is “not out of the woods yet.”
One of the last three rhinos in Malaysia is critically ill [04/07/2017]
- Wildlife officials fear Puntung, one of the last three rhinos known to survive in Malaysia, is on the brink of death due to an abscess in her jaw. - The abscess has not responded to veterinary treatment provided at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, where Puntung lives with the other two surviving rhinos in Malaysia. - The Sumatran rhino was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Fewer than 100 are believed to remain, mostly in Indonesia.
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
Survival of nearly 10,000 orangutans in Borneo oil palm estates at stake [02/27/2017]
- 10,000 orangutans remain in areas currently allocated to oil palm. These animals can only survive if environmental practices in plantations adhere to standards such as those prescribed by RSPO. - Orangutan rescues should only be allowed when no other solutions exist; otherwise they will aggravate problems of deforestation and orangutan killing. - Further scrutiny of companies and other groups that are at the forefront of these improvements is needed, but increasingly campaigners should focus on the laggards and rogues that cause the greatest environmental damage. - This a commentary – the views expressed are those of the authors.
Seven ‘most wanted’ elephant poachers arrested in Malaysia [02/15/2017]
- The poachers were caught in a joint operation between the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) and Malaysia’s Armed Forces on February 10. - During the raid, the authorities seized animal parts worth about $112,300, as well as hunting gear and firearms, including shotguns, machetes, knives, bullets, explosives and firecrackers. - During subsequent raids on February 11 and 12, Perhilitan officers seized two elephant tusks, elephant meat, and more weapons and equipment.
Will there really be enough sustainable palm oil for the whole market? [02/07/2017]
- A report by non-profit CDP suggests companies may have a false confidence in their ability to find enough sustainable palm oil to meet their commitments. - Certified sustainable palm oil was in short supply last summer and prices spiked when two major producers were suspended by the industry’s main certification association, revealing vulnerabilities in the supply. - Better planning to secure future supply includes working more intensively with suppliers, says CDP.
Introducing Mongabay news alerts [02/01/2017]
- Now Mongabay readers can keep up-to-date on the latest conservation and environmental science developments by subscribing to our free topic-based news alerts. - The alerts enable a user to sign up for daily or weekly notifications via email on topics they select. - Our current topic list includes dozens of topics and locations.
Want to be a responsible palm oil firm? Follow these reporting guidelines [01/25/2017]
- Ceres, Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance and WWF are among the groups behind the guidelines. - Some of the guidelines describe how companies should map and name their suppliers, disclosing the locations of their own operations as well as those of the firms they buy from. - How companies can ensure they aren’t grabbing community lands are another focus of the guidelines.
Bridge through Borneo wildlife sanctuary moving forward [01/22/2017]
- For more than a year, scientists and conservationists have argued that the 350-meter (1,148-foot) Sukau bridge crossing the Kinabatangan River in the Malaysian state of Sabah would hurt wildlife populations and a blossoming ecotourism market more than it would boost local economies. - The paved road that would accompany the bridge would cut through the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, home to Borneo elephants and 11 species of primates including orangutans. - A government official responded to recent reports about the bridge’s construction, saying that it would not begin until the environmental impact assessment has been completed.
Saving the Sumatran rhino requires changing the status quo [01/20/2017]
- With a small, fragmented population, the Sumatran rhino is currently on the path to extinction. - Despite dedicated efforts by conservationists, existing policies — population surveys, anti-poaching efforts and a small breeding program — have been unable to reverse this trend. - Attorney and nonprofit consultant W. Aaron Vandiver argues that we now face a binary choice between maintaining the status quo until the species goes extinct, or embracing the expense and “risk” required to carry out an ambitious plan to capture and manage the surviving population. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
An ‘infrastructure tsunami’ for Asia: Q&A with researcher William Laurance [01/06/2017]
- The world is in the grips of an infrastructure development boom, which threatens to cause enormous damage to vital ecosystems. - The “global roadmap” project led by William Laurance aims to show where roadbuilding can have the greatest benefits or the greatest harm. - Now, researchers are trying to map at a much finer scale in crucial zones in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Elephants in Borneo slaughtered for ivory (WARNING: graphic photos) [01/03/2017]
- The carcass of the first elephant was discovered on December 27, and that of the second elephant — a sabre-tusked bull named Sabre — was found on New Year’s Eve. - Both elephants had their tusks removed. - According to Sabre’s satellite collar, the elephant was likely killed on 21 November 2016.
Sudden sale may doom carbon-rich rainforest in Borneo [01/02/2017]
- Forest Management Unit 5 encompasses more than 101,000 hectares in central Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. - The area’s steep slopes and rich forests provide habitat for the Bornean orangutan and other endangered species and protect watersheds critical to downstream communities. - Conservation groups had been working with the government and the concession holder to set up a concept conservation economy on FMU5, but in October, the rights were acquired by Priceworth, a wood product manufacturing company.
The year in tropical rainforests: 2016 [12/31/2016]
- 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.
Reports that wild Sumatran rhinos may survive in Malaysia prompt hope, skepticism [12/08/2016]
- Sumatran rhinos were declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. No more than 100 are believed to survive anywhere. - This week, researchers for WWF Malaysia announced that an August expedition found a footprint in the Sabah’s Danum Valley Conservation Area, which they believe could belong to a rhino. - Other experts say the evidence is too scant to support such a conclusion.
Land reclamation in Malaysia puts environment, endangered turtle at risk [12/02/2016]
- With technology bringing construction costs down, land reclamation projects are increasingly attractive to real estate developers and investors in Malaysia. - Turtle landings at nesting sites near land reclamation projects have plummeted. Traditional fishing communities also fear for their way of life. - Environmental activists and coastal communities call for more detailed environmental impact assessments.
How citizen science is transforming river management in Malaysian Borneo (commentary) [11/29/2016]
- For thousands of years Sabah’s Kinabatangan River has wound its way down from the hills of Borneo’s northern interior through some of the planet’s richest lowland rainforests before flowing into the Coral Triangle. - Crises in ecosystems unfold over time. In the late twentieth century, events up-river brought massive change in the Kinabatangan’s catchment. - It is the growth of citizen science around systematic water quality measurement, carefully targeted (by indigenous knowledge) in the places and moments that matter in complex rapidly changing watersheds, that appears to offer the best way to identify and tackle the causes and to guide river restoration. - This post is a commentary based largely on presentations at Sabah’s International Heart of Borneo and Ramsar conferences in November 2016 — the views expressed are those of the author.
Cash-strapped rhino groups turn to crowdfunding, with little success [11/28/2016]
- Bornean and northern white rhinos have little chance to avoid extinction without cutting-edge assisted reproductive technology. - Conservation groups find it difficult to attract funding to develop these technologies, which are costly and not guaranteed to succeed. - Organizations in Kenya and Malaysia have launched separate crowd-funding appeals to fund efforts to develop in vitro fertilization techniques. - Both campaigns are far below targeted donation levels.
69m people breathed toxic smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires: study [11/22/2016]
- The study was led by a researcher from Newcastle University and published in the journal Scientific Reports. - The findings support an earlier study which concluded that 100,300 people are likely to have died prematurely as a result of last year’s fires. - Researchers said they could have drawn more reliable conclusions if local hospitalization data had been available, but such data is scarce.
World’s tallest tropical tree discovered, along with nearly 50 other record-breakers [11/10/2016]
- The tallest is a towering 94.1-meter (nearly 309-foot) tree with a canopy that measures 40.3 meters (132 feet) in diameter, discovered in Sabah’s relatively undisturbed Danum Valley. - Asner was able to observe the tree first-hand during a helicopter ride on Monday to the remote region. “I’ve been doing this for a solid 20 years now, and I have to say, this was one of the most moving experiences in my career,” Asner told Mongabay. - The tree is in the genus Shorea, though the exact species has yet to be determined. Asner and his colleagues also found 49 other trees taller than 90 meters spread all over Sabah, and plan to visit each of them in the coming weeks.
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.
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.
139 scientists shoot down ‘misleading’ reports from Malaysia peat congress [10/04/2016]
- The researchers issued an open letter in response to certain newspaper articles about the 15th International Peat Congress, held recently in Malaysia, a top palm oil producer. - One article erroneously portrays an IPC executive as endorsing new studies finding drainage-based peatland agriculture to be not necessarily unsustainable, when the executive made no such comments. - More broadly, the articles in question portray as fringely held the view that drainage-based peatland development is unsustainable, when in fact it is backed by an extensive body of research and held by a large number of scientists, not just by “militant environmentalists” and “green NGOs” as implied by the articles. - The articles were published in The Jakarta Post and The Borneo Post.
Efforts to conserve Asia’s rhinos meet successes, setbacks [09/22/2016]
- Asia is home to three of the world’s five surviving rhino species - Rhino populations in India and Nepal are growing, but Javan and Sumatran rhinoceroses remain critically endangered - Their survival likely depends on successful collaboration between governments and conservation organizations
SE Asian governments dismiss finding that 2015 haze killed 100,300 [09/20/2016]
- On Monday, researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities reported that 100,300 people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are likely to have died prematurely from haze produced by last year’s devastating agricultural fires in Indonesia. - Government officials from the three countries cast doubt on the findings. - One of the study’s authors suggested the figure was actually conservative, as it only accounted for adults and for deaths that could occur within one year of exposure to the haze.
‘A major concern’: plantation-driven deforestation ramps up in Borneo [09/10/2016]
- Researchers analyzed satellite data and historical land cover maps to determine how much forest was cleared for plantations between 1973 and 2015. - In total, they found 18.7 million hectares of old-growth forest was cleared between 1973 and 2015. Of that, they concluded 4.5 to 4.8 million hectares were cleared for plantation expansion – mostly for palm oil production. - They found less plantation-driven deforestation on the Indonesian side than they were expecting, but a big jump from 2005 to 2015. Malaysia has remained relatively constant since the 1970s. - The researchers recommend their findings be used to increase transparency and accountability.
Malaysia is a major transit point for ivory smugglers [09/09/2016]
- Between January 2003 and May 2014, about 66 ivory seizures, totaling 63,419 kilograms (~140,000 pounds) of ivory, were made either within Malaysia or outside the country, but with Malaysia identified as part of the trade chain. - Most of the ivory — about 96 percent — came from just 26 large-scale seizures, each with more than 500 kilograms of ivory, suggesting that organized crime groups with “high levels of financial, organizational and networking resources,” are involved. - Most ivory seizures originated from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the team found, which are the three most important exit points in Africa for illegal trade in elephant ivory.
The good, the bad, and the ugly in palm oil (commentary) [09/09/2016]
- A new study quantifies the impact of palm oil on forest cover in Borneo. - The results indicate that the plantation industry was the principle driver of the loss of old-growth forest in Malaysian Borneo. - The good news, at least for Indonesia, is that considerably more oil palm has been developed on land that had been cleared many years previously. - This post is a commentary — the views expressed are those of the authors.
These banks are pumping billions into Southeast Asia’s deforestation [09/08/2016]
- The new Forests and Finance database was launched on Tuesday by a coalition of research and campaign groups. - The data show that in 2010-2015, banks in Asia and the West pumped over $50 billion into Southeast Asian forest-risk companies. - Many banks lack policies to prevent their money from being used to harm the environment. - Even the policies that do appear strong on paper are often of little effect, experts say.
Black, white and unique: the Malayan tapir struggles for recognition [09/07/2016]
- The endangered Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) is the world’s biggest tapir, and the only one found in Asia. It ranges today from the Malaysian Peninsula to Myanmar and Thailand, and the island of Sumatra; it is threatened chiefly by habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, and by hunting, road-kills and bi-catches by snare hunters. - Though the Malayan tapir has been largely neglected in the past by conservationists and by the Malaysian public, the tide is slowly turning in its favour and interest in conserving the species is growing. - The Malay Tapir Conservation Project (MTCP), along with other scientific programs, are actively researching tapir behaviors, so as to develop more effective conservation plans. - The Malaysian government too is working to protect the animal. It has earmarked funds for the animal’s conservation as part of the current ten-year economic development plan. But the key to the Malayan tapir’s survival lies in a stronger commitment to forest habitat protection.
Sarawak establishes 2.2M acres of protected areas, may add 1.1M more [08/19/2016]
- The state will open a Department of National Parks and Wildlife by January of next year, and is in the process of creating several new protected areas that encompass all of its orangutan habitat. - The new department’s responsibilities will include managing and conserving wildlife, creating new totally protected areas (TPAs), and halting illegal hunting and the sale of bushmeat. - Since July 2016, Sarawak has gazetted a total area of 903,769 hectares (more than 2.2 million acres) comprising 43 national parks, 14 natural reserves, and six wildlife sanctuaries, and is in the process of creating another 31 new TPAs with a combined area of 451,819 hectares (more than 1.1 million acres).
Smoke from Indonesia’s fires begins to drift into Malaysia [08/17/2016]
- The number of Indonesian fires and hotspots in the 2016 dry season has so far been lower than last year. - The director of law enforcement at Indonesia’s environment ministry said the ministry accepted the unpopular decision by Riau Police to close the pending cases on the 15 companies under investigation. - Kalyana Sundram from the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) said companies liable for fires in Malaysia would have licenses immediately revoked by the central government.
PHOTOS: ‘A Visual Celebration of Borneo’s Wildlife’ [08/15/2016]
- “This is probably the finest and most comprehensive collection of images ever published of Borneo’s diverse wildlife, based on the latest research papers,” photogarapher and writer Bjorn Olesen told Mongabay. - All of the authors’ royalties from the book will be donated to Fauna and Flora International for its nature conservation work in Southeast Asia. - But if you just can’t wait until you get your hands on a copy, Mongabay has a sneak peek for you. Here is a selection of the photos from the book, with captions by Bjorn Olesen.
How to use the Bloomberg Terminal for advocacy work: advanced tools [08/08/2016]
- The Bloomberg Terminal offers users real-time access to global news, financial data, and analytics tools. - Historically, only for-profit financial organizations have used the Bloomberg Terminal, but the advocacy community could be leveraging its vast resources to enact change. - Part 3 of a three-part series on using the Bloomberg Terminal in advocacy work explains some of the terminal’s advanced tools.
IPOP’s demise undercuts palm oil industry progress [commentary] [08/08/2016]
- The Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) was a sustainability commitment signed by Indonesia’s biggest palm oil refiners in 2014. - Dave McLaughlin, the World Wildlife Fund’s acting senior vice president for sustainable food, argues that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments must do more to promote sustainability in an industry plagued by environmental destruction and illegal practices. - This post is a commentary — the views expressed are those of the author.
Malayan Sun bear: bile trade threatens the World’s smallest bear [08/01/2016]
- The Malayan Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is listed as Vulnerable to Extinction by the IUCN, and is threatened by habitat loss and hunting for traditional medicine. Its range once extended across mainland Southeast Asia, to Sumatra and Borneo, but the animal now occurs only patchily throughout. - Sun bears are a keystone species, vitally important to seed dispersal, pest control and nutrient cycling, so their extinction would likely bring major, though largely unstudied, impacts to tropical forests. - Killing Sun bears is prohibited under international and national wildlife protection laws, but these laws are often poorly enforced, while international trade in bear bile to serve the traditional medicine industry continues to boom. - Conservationists in Indonesia and elsewhere are studying Sun bear behavior to improve rescue and restoration efforts. Others want to eliminate commercial bear farms where bear bile is extracted, and end trafficking by creating strong national legislation, improving enforcement, and raising public awareness.
Like Indonesia, Malaysia to sink illegal foreign fishing boats: minister [07/29/2016]
- Instead of bombing vessels that trespass in its waters, Malaysia will sink them in a way that promotes the formation of artificial reefs and fish breeding, a Malaysian minister said after a fisheries summit in Jakarta. - Under president Joko Widodo, Indonesia has evolved into something of an enforcer of the seas. - The announcement from Malaysia is the latest sign of international approval for the policies of Jokowi, as he is known.
Study concludes conservation NGOs might be better off working outside the RSPO [07/26/2016]
- NGOs adopt a number of different roles based on their conservation goals and the resources at their disposal for achieving those goals. - However, the RSPO’s institutional structure could limit NGOs’ ability to have an impact, the authors of the study found. - Conservation NGOs have played a vital role in strengthening biodiversity conservation within the RSPO, the authors write, but the RSPO system has largely failed to support NGOs in reaching their initial conservation goals.
Piloting PALM Risk to detect palm oil-driven deforestation [07/20/2016]
- The PALM Risk Tool, hosted on World Resources Institute (WRI)’s Global Forest Watch (GFW) Commodities platform, uses satellite imagery to show deforestation risk around 800 palm oil mills. - Corporations can use the tool to increase transparency, improve plantation practices, honor sustainable palm oil commitments and preserve endangered species’ habitat; government and civil society can use it to hold companies accountable to stopping rampant deforestation for palm oil. - Piloting the technology, Unilever found 29 high-risk mills in its supply chain, and it will work with unsustainable suppliers to improve their operations and curb forest loss.
New map of Malaysia’s limestone hills will help set conservation priorities [07/11/2016]
- Limestone is a vital resource for the construction industry, meaning it is not likely that forest degradation and quarrying in a developing country like Malaysia, where 445 limestone hills have been recorded to date, will be halted any time soon. - That means it’s crucial to identify which hills should be prioritized for conservation. But in order to make such decisions, spatial and biological data on Malaysia’s limestone hills must be quantified, mapped, and, ideally, made publicly accessible. - The authors of a new study published in Tropical Conservation Science have done just that, compiling the first map of all of peninsular Malaysia’s 445 limestone hills based on information collected from geological reports and scientific literature.
Bornean orangutan declared ‘critically endangered’ as forests shrink [07/05/2016]
- The new IUCN assessment finds that hunting, habitat destruction, habitat degradation and fragmentation are the biggest drivers behind the population loss. - Things will likely get worse before they get better, but it’s not too late for the orangutan, according to one of the authors of the assessment. - According to the World Wildlife Fund, 45,000-69,000 Bornean orangutans still remain.
Did mining company drive 3 species to extinction? [06/30/2016]
- Limestone hills often harbor species that are found nowhere else in the world. - By quarrying limestone hills for raw materials, cement companies are invariably destroying the only habitat of many snails, wiping out entire species at one go, conservationists allege. - Conservationists are fairly confident that at least three species of snails on Gunung Tenggek and Gunung Sagu are now extinct due to quarrying activities by YTL Cement and other cement companies.
French MPs say they were pressured into dropping palm oil tax [06/29/2016]
- Indonesian and Malaysian officials at the highest levels have lobbied hard for the tax to be scrapped. - French politicians said Indonesia had threatened the country with “economic retaliation.” - Palm oil is an engine of Indonesia’s economy but leads the way in damaging the environment.
Malaysian land rights activist Bill Kayong murdered in broad daylight [06/24/2016]
- Sarawak Criminal Investigation Department chief Dev Kumar told The Borneo Post that the case is being classified as a murder. - Sarawak is plagued by corruption, human rights violations against indigenous communities, and environmental destruction, and activists and indigenous communities who speak out often face repression by the government while violence against them goes unpunished. - Rick Jacobsen of London-based NGO Global Witness said in a statement that “The brutal slaying of land rights champion Bill Kayong shows the risks faced by activists in Sarawak who stand up to the powerful interests behind land grabbing and environmental devastation.”
Malaysia gets its largest marine park [06/13/2016]
- Malaysia has formally established its largest marine park — the Tun Mustapha Park — off Sabah Province in Borneo. - The park is the result of more than 13 years of negotiations between government authorities, international partners, local communities, and non-governmental organizations, including WWF-Malaysia. - The park will allow local communities and commercial fisheries to operate in designated regions in a bid to ensure “sustainable use of resources”.
Tropics’ tallest tree found in Malaysia [06/12/2016]
- A yellow meranti in Malaysian Borneo has been crowned by researchers the tallest tree in the tropics. - The giant, which measures 89.5 meters (293.6 feet), is 1.2 meters (4 feet) taller than the previously record holder, another yellow meranti from Sabah’s Tawau Hills National Park. - The tree was spotted during a research project that used an airborne LiDAR scanner to create 3D images of forest structure.
Tracking assets for environmental advocacy work with Bloomberg [06/09/2016]
- Historically, only for-profit financial organizations have used the Bloomberg Terminal, but the advocacy community could be leveraging its vast resources to enact change. - Part 2 of a three-part series on using the Bloomberg Terminal in advocacy work explains how to track companies’ assets, such as palm oil and other commodities. - Tracking assets could enable advocacy groups to expose companies that fail to meet pledges to improve the sustainability of the products they source, among other tactics.
Orangutan reintroductions could risk population survival, study warns [06/08/2016]
- 1,500 orangutans now live in rescue centers located across Sumatra and Borneo, and many conservationists, along with the Indonesian government, want to return them to the wild as soon as possible. However, a new study poses a serious concern. - Borneo’s three recognized orangutan subspecies — from three distinct regions — are thought to have diverged from each other 176,000 years ago, meaning that hybridization between them may result in negative genetic effects. - If hybrid offspring reproduce, gene combinations beneficial to one lineage can be disrupted, causing poor health and reduced reproductive success. This “outbreeding depression” could threaten the survival of individuals and populations long-term. - Some scientists do not agree with orangutan subspecies designations, and would rather see the animals returned to the wild quickly, no matter where. Others say genetic testing of rescued animals and reintroduction to a matching subspecies region will prevent hybridization, and would be the prudent approach.
Unclear if France will revisit ‘discriminatory’ palm oil tax [06/06/2016]
- The proposed tax became a controversy in Indonesia and Malaysia, the two largest palm oil producers, which lobbied hard to get it rescinded. - France consumes less than two-tenths of a percent of the palm oil produced globally, most of which goes to India and China. - Palm oil is crucial to the Southeast Asian nations’ economies but leads the way in damaging the environment.
PanEco resigns from RSPO over ‘sheer level of inaction’ [06/03/2016]
- PanEco runs the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program in Indonesia. It was one of the RSPO’s 33 NGOs members. - The RSPO mainly consists of companies that produce, trade or use palm oil. - The palm oil sector is vital to the Indonesian economy but leads the way in damaging the environment.
The top 10 most biodiverse countries [05/21/2016]
- Today (May 22) is World Biodiversity Day. - In celebration, below is a look at the world’s ten most biodiverse countries as measured by species richness. - This list takes a simplified approach, created a weighted index using five groups of animals — amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles — and one group of plants — vascular plants.
Conservation’s people problem [05/17/2016]
- Since its beginnings, conservation has had a people problem. An ugly history of marginalizing indigenous and local communities living in ecosystems designated for protection has made re-gaining trust and building relationships with these groups one of the toughest aspects of conservation today. - In Part 4 of Conservation, Divided, veteran Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the field has shifted to embrace local communities as partners in conservation — and the work that remains to be done. - Conservation, Divided is an in-depth four-part series investigating how the field of conservation has changed over the last 30 years — and the challenges it faces moving into an uncertain future. Hance completed the series over the course of eight months. Stories are running weekly between April 26 and May 17.
Malaysian palm oil giant IOI sues RSPO over suspension [05/09/2016]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil suspended IOI Group’s sustainability certification in March. Now the company has filed a lawsuit against the association in Zurich, the seat of the RSPO. - The company characterized the move as a “painful” decision given its “great commitment and attachment” to the RSPO, but maintained that it had been “unfairly affected” by the suspension. - A leaked memo written by the RSPO’s secretary general reveals the company told him it “has done no wrong” and “prefers if this legal action is kept low profile.”
How to use the Bloomberg Terminal for advocacy work: the basics [05/06/2016]
- The Bloomberg Terminal offers users real-time access to global news, financial data, and analytics tools. - Historically, only for-profit financial organizations have used the Bloomberg Terminal, but the advocacy community could be leveraging its vast resources to enact change. - Part 1 of a three-part series on using the Bloomberg Terminal in advocacy work explains the basics.
Malaysian palm oil companies say their concession maps are state secrets [05/06/2016]
- In the name of transparency, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil agreed in 2013 to release the concession maps of its grower members. - Companies in Indonesia and Malaysia, the largest palm oil-producing countries, have resisted the dictum for various reasons, and the maps remain unpublished. - NGOs want the maps so they can better monitor companies’ operations, which are often linked to deforestation, social conflict and wildfires in tropical countries.
Malaysian assets in US allegedly tied to corrupt logging operations [05/03/2016]
- According to a report by investigative news site Sarawak Report, the Yaw family of Malaysia, the owners of the Samling timber group, have allegedly been channeling profits from their logging operations in Sarawak through a company called Sunchase Holdings, a multi-billion dollar real estate group based in Arizona, since the late 1980s. - Today, Sarawak Report found, the group owns a vast amount of land, including several major planned community developments, and also has investments in mineral companies and science and technology enterprises, such as INTRIX, a Sacramento-based software company. - “[T]he evidence shows that Sunchase was funded by the profits of timber corruption in Sarawak, authorised by Taib and channelled through Samling,” per the report.
Recent plantation expansions on peatlands came with huge carbon costs [04/27/2016]
- Draining peatland for tree plantations is considered one of the main drivers of Indonesia’s 2015 fire and haze crisis. - Even if they aren’t burned, drained peatlands release huge quantities of CO2. - New research and analysis finds oil palm and wood fiber plantations have continued to expand into peatlands in recent years, with consequential carbon emissions equating to more than 6,000 gallons of gasoline burned for every hectare of peatland drained.
Has big conservation gone astray? [04/26/2016]
- In Part 1 of Conservation, Divided, veteran Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world’s biggest conservation groups have embraced a human-centric approach known as “new conservation” that has split the field over how best to save life on Earth. - Neither side of the debate disagrees that conservation today is failing to adequately halt mass extinction. But how to proceed is where talks break down, especially when it comes to the importance of protected areas and the efficacy of the biggest, most recognizable groups. - Conservation, Divided is an in-depth four-part series investigating how the field of conservation has changed over the last 30 years — and the challenges it faces moving into an uncertain future. Hance completed the series over the course of eight months. Stories will run weekly through May 17.
Do we really want to save the Sumatran rhinoceros? (commentary) [04/21/2016]
- The Sumatran rhino is on the verge of extinction. - Nardelli says that despite the recent death of a Sumatran rhino after capture in Indonesian Borneo, past efforts have demonstrated that safe capture is possible. - Nardelli argues that captive breeding efforts are critical to save the species from extinction. - The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.
NGOs and oil-palm growers team up to help orangutans, but progress is slow [04/21/2016]
- Rescuing orangutans from plantations and moving them to protected lands has long been the conservation approach in response to rapid deforestation and plantation development in Borneo. - Increasingly, conservationists insist that commercial interests should share the burden of conserving orangutans by creating “high conservation value” forest enclaves on their properties. - Industry, through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, is starting to make progress on this issue. But some NGOs, grown impatient, have started working directly with companies to protect orangutans on oil-palm plantations in Borneo. - Even there, however, progress remains slow.
Designing the ideal wildlife corridor for Malaysia’s orangutans [04/18/2016]
- Wildlife corridors are critically important to perpetuating species in a fragmented landscape. Such corridors offer genetic mixing opportunities for large, wide-ranging mammals, especially when they’re trying to mate across vast agricultural landscapes. - Malaysian oil palm development has devastated the country’s forests. SAFE, a cooperative project between ecologists, the oil palm industry, and a Sabah landowner, is researching the ideal design for functional wildlife corridors within plantations. - As the Kalabakan River network is being converted to oil palm plantations, scientists will be gathering ongoing data on several existing riverine corridors, with a variety of widths and habitat characteristics, to see which ones work best for wildlife over time.
Malaysian palm oil giant IOI suspended from RSPO [03/25/2016]
- IOI Group’s membership was frozen on Friday over three of its operations in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. - Some say the move could affect the company’s bottom line. - IOI has generally denied the allegations against it, which include operating without the required permits, using fire to clear land, clearing rainforest and deep peat, and more.
France imposes new palm oil tax; Indonesia, Malaysia protest [03/24/2016]
- The tax is part of France’s new biodiversity bill. It was imposed on environmental grounds. - The Indonesian and Malaysian governements, and industry associations in both countries, protest the tax. - The tax will eventually reach 90 euros per ton in 2020.
Indonesia’s oil palm maps remain hidden from public view. Why? [03/23/2016]
- In 2013, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil promised to publish its growers’ concession maps. - That hasn’t happened, but the RSPO has pledged to make good on its commitment this year. - Not everyone is on board with the initiative, however, and some doubt it will come to fruition. The public’s ability to monitor the industry hangs in the balance.
Facebook emerging as a ‘thriving’ wildlife trade marketplace [03/03/2016]
- During a five-month investigation in 2014, TRAFFIC found that more than 300 individual animals, belonging to 80 different species, were for sale on 14 different Facebook groups. - Several threatened mammals were for sale, including the vulnerable Malayan sun bear, Sunda slow loris, and smooth-coated otter, as well as the endangered white-handed gibbon. - TRAFFIC says that it has shared its findings with Peninsular Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN), which has launched several investigations into the online wildlife trade
77 inspiring rainforest pictures [02/14/2016]
- Mongabay was born out of my love for rainforests so for this Valentine’s day, - I’m doing something a little different: posting a bunch of my favorite rainforest photos from the past twenty years. - There are no wildlife photos in this set — the focus is solely on rainforests.
Focus on great apes, draws attention from other species, finds study [02/12/2016]
- Study found that in African and Asian countries with great apes, scientists tend to focus on few big national parks while ignoring many others. - Researchers found that 71 percent of published studies focused on mammals, while 31 percent focused on great apes alone. - Such bias could mean that knowledge of conservation today could become less applicable in the future, researchers say.
As the U.S. bans trans fats, palm oil is poised to take over – but at what cost? [02/11/2016]
- The impending ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration comes after the intake of trans fats was shown to cause increased risk of coronary heart disease. - With palm oil touted as a good substitute to trans fats, the U.S. palm oil market is set to increase 20 percent per year. - But conservationists worry that as demand increases, so will pressure on the world’s tropical forests as plantations expand.
How can banks spur the palm oil industry toward sustainability? [02/08/2016]
- Banks are starting to come up with ways to encourage sustainability in the palm oil sector, whose unbridled expansion is fueling deforestation and rights abuses across the world. - Still, the nascent green finance industry faces a number of obstacles as it seeks to expand its influence. - These include a lack of transparency with regard to company ownership, misguided valuations of palm oil enterprises, and more.
Study finds logging helps black rats invade tropical rainforests, push native species out [02/05/2016]
- Black rats have lived on the island of Borneo for decades, but mostly stayed around urban areas until recently, when they started to enter the edges of the rainforest. - A team led by researchers with Imperial College London tracked the movements of more than forty rats from four different species, including invasive black rats and three native species. - The researchers found that of all the species they studied, black rats (Rattus rattus) appear to have the strongest preference for disturbed habitats associated with logging.
Rare video: young orangutan and gibbon play together in the Borneo jungle [02/04/2016]
- Researchers recently captured rare footage of a young orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and a gibbon (Hylobates sp.) playing together in Sabangau Forest. - The video was captured as part of a long-term research and conservation project run by the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop). - The video offers “an amazing insight into how these young apes play and how different their development is,” said Susan Cheyne, OuTrop’s director of gibbon research.
How are NGOs innovating to reach palm oil financiers and companies? [02/04/2016]
- NGOs are increasingly engaging in dialogue with palm oil companies. - To get through to financiers, some NGOs present their arguments in terms of material risk. - However, some still some feel that there still exists a gap between activists and the finance world.
What’s preventing palm oil investors from going green? [01/28/2016]
- Green investment could make the palm oil industry more sustainable, but a variety of obstacles are preventing it from becoming more prevalent. - A lack of expertise, the structural issue of short-termism, and a lack of proven materiality all keep funds from flowing toward sustainable operations. - Additional issues specific to palm oil exist as well.
Do palm oil financiers care about sustainability? [01/26/2016]
- Sustainable finance has been touted as a solution to the palm oil industry’s links with forest destruction and rights abuses. - The movement’s progress, however, has been hampered by the difficulty of measuring the environmental impact of things like green loans and bonds. - Mongabay spoke to experts in the field to investigate how much investors and financiers in the palm oil sector care about their clients’ sustainability.
Reproductive technology (and understanding of experimental psychology) needed to save a critically endangered rhino [01/14/2016]
- Poaching and habitat loss have decimated Sumatran and Javan rhino populations nearly to extinction, with the few remaining individuals now isolated and unable to breed. - With traditional protection measures not improving the dire situation for Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, Payne urges as a “last resort” the use of sophisticated reproductive technology, including in-vitro fertilization of remaining females. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author.
Malaysia plans road expansion through dwindling elephant, orangutan habitat [01/14/2016]
- Sabah’s Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is home to some of the densest populations of megafauna in Malaysia. The tenuous patchwork of protected habitat along its namesake river is also surrounded by immensely profitable oil palm plantations on what was rainforest decades ago. - The federal government of Malaysia plans to build a bridge near the sanctuary and pave a road through part of it this year, raising the objections of NGOs and scientists who work in the region. - Critics say the road expansion will fragment valuable habitat, increase human-wildlife conflict, and go against elephant protection regulations.
Potential crisis in Sabah’s amazing Kinabatangan rainforest [01/13/2016]
- Malaysian Borneo’s Kinabatangan has become famous in primatological circles for its species richness. - But a proposed road project could put parts of the ecosystem at risk. - Russ Mittermeier asks policymakers to consider the long-term impacts of the road. - This post is a commentary — the views expressed are those of the author.
Deforestation increasing cases of ‘monkey malaria’ in humans, study says [01/13/2016]
- Since 2004, an increasing number of human Plasmodium knowlesi malaria cases have been identified throughout Southeast Asia, according to study. - Researchers found that between 2008 and 2012, forest loss around villages in Kudat and Kota Marudu districts in Sabah, Malaysia, was strongly correlated to the number of P. knowlesi malaria cases in the villages. - Study concludes that deforestation is resulting in “distinct public health consequences” in the region, which need to be urgently addressed.
Palm oil co suspends forest conversion to comply with Wilmar’s zero deforestation policy [01/13/2016]
- A Malaysian palm oil company has suspended forest clearing on a small portion of its holdings to comply with Wilmar’s zero deforestation policy. - Jaya Tiasa Holdings Bhd, a publicly-listed Malaysian company with nearly 70,000 hectares of plantations in Sarawak, said it will not plant 280 hectares — about a square mile #&8212; due to Wilmar’s policy. - Wilmar’s policy bars suppliers from converting forests and peatlands for oil palm plantations after December 2015.
Scientists try hair traps to track tropical carnivores [01/12/2016]
- Since 1990, the use of hair traps has been rapidly expanding in wildlife biology, but mainly in cooler climates. - By collecting hair samples, scientists can non-invasively collect DNA samples of wild animal populations to learn about genetic diversity and determine their habitat ranges. - Three past studies successfully used hair traps in the tropics. Two monitored several species of carnivores in Mexico, and one, as yet unpublished, monitored dingoes in Australia.
What’s ahead for rainforests in 2016? 10 things to watch [01/04/2016]
- Between Indonesia’s massive forest fires, the official approval of REDD+ at climate talks in Paris, and the establishment of several major national parks, there was plenty to get excited about in the world of rainforests during 2015. What’s in store for 2016? - Here are a few things we’ll be watching closely in the new year. - What are other rainforest-related things to watch in 2016? Add your thoughts via the comment function below.
The year in rainforests: 2015 [12/29/2015]
- Between the landmark climate agreement signed in Paris in December 2015, Indonesia’s fire and haze crisis of the late summer and early fall, and continuing adoption of zero deforestation policies by some of the world’s largest companies, tropical forests grabbed the spotlight more than usual in 2015. - Here’s a look at some of the biggest tropical forest-related developments from the past year. - Trends in forest cover tend to lag broad economic trends, but there were indications that the global economic slowdown driven by declining growth in China may be starting to impact tropical forests.