DRC set to reclassify national parks for oil, open rainforest to logging [07/19/2018]
- An investigation by Greenpeace finds that since February, DRC’s environment ministry has handed over control of three logging concessions in Congo Basin rainforest to Chinese-owned logging companies. Two of these concessions are located in a massive peatland – the largest in the tropics – that was discovered last year. - Fourteen more concessions are expected to be awarded to companies in the coming months. - The DRC government is also reportedly planning to declassify large portions of Salonga and Virunga national parks to allow oil exploration. Virunga is one of the last bastions of critically endangered mountain gorillas. - These moves threaten a long-standing logging moratorium in the country, as well as forest protection agreements between the DRC and other countries.
Plant communities roar back after rat removal from Pacific islands [07/19/2018]
- In a multi-year study, scientists found that tree seedlings were more than 5,000 percent more abundant after rats were eradicated from Palmyra Atoll, a group of 25 small islands in the Pacific Ocean. - Invasive rats, brought by ships over the past few centuries, eat tree seedlings and vegetation, in addition to driving down seabird numbers. - Managers eradicated the islands’ rats in 2011, and within a month, seedling densities had increased.
Southeast Asian deforestation more extensive than thought, study finds [07/18/2018]
- Researchers analyzed a suite of satellite imagery products and found much greater deforestation than expected since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia. - Much of the 82,000 square kilometers (31,700 square miles) they estimate to have been developed into croplands in the region’s highlands reflects previously undocumented conversion of forest, including primary and protected forests, to agriculture. - Through a sample-based verification process, the authors found that 93 percent of the pixels from areas allocated to areas of net forest loss by the authors’ model were confirmed as net forest loss, and 99 percent of the pixels delineated as other areas were accurately labelled as non-net forest loss. - The findings contrast with previous assumptions about land-cover trends currently used in projections of global climate change and future environmental conditions in Southeast Asia.
New report spotlights financiers of palm oil giant clearing Liberia’s forests [07/17/2018]
- A new report by Friends of the Earth highlights deforestation by Golden Veroleum Liberia, an arm of the billionaire Widjaja family’s conglomerate. - The largest financiers of Golden Veroleum’s parent company include U.S. financial firms Vanguard, BlackRock, Kopernik Global Investors, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Northern Trust and CitiGroup; Dutch firms Robeco and Rabobank; and Asian firms China Merchants Bank, Maybank Indonesia and Bank Mandiri. - Golden Veroleum cleared some 150 square kilometers of land between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.
Soy giant Louis Dreyfus pledges deforestation-free supply chain [07/16/2018]
- The Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a global commodities trader, has announced a plan to eliminate the destruction of native vegetation from its soy supply chain in Brazil and across Latin America. Particularly important to environmentalists, LDC pledges to avoid buying soy from producers who have caused new deforestation in the Cerrado biome. - The Amazon Soy Moratorium, instituted in 2006 via an agreement between Greenpeace and global commodities companies, has been credited with vastly reducing the cutting of forests to make way for soy planting there. But the companies, until now, have resisted making a similar commitment in the Cerrado, where soy-caused deforestation is rampant. - Many environmentalists are hailing LDC’s new deforestation commitment, though they note that the pledge has yet to be backed by implementation and timeline details. - Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, has also just announced the planned launch this year of a certification system that will only source soy from areas that have been certified as deforestation-free. From 2025 onward, the company also plans to transition to sourcing only from “zero deforestation areas.”
Mangroves and their deforestation may emit more methane than we thought [07/13/2018]
- A recently published study finds mangroves release more methane than previously estimated. - Methane packs much more of a global warming punch than carbon dioxide, and the study indicates this methane could be offsetting around 20 percent of a mangrove’s soil carbon storage rate. - Deforestation of mangroves releases much of the carbon stored by mangroves, including methane.
Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat [07/13/2018]
- Twenty-five of the world’s top environmental scientists have sent a letter to Indonesia’s president, seeking a halt to a planned hydroelectric dam in the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest species of great ape on Earth. - The scientists also slammed the Chinese government for funding the project as a part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, saying it has disregarded the environmental consequences of building and operating the dam. - The developers of the project have dismissed the criticism, saying they will enforce strong environmental safeguards to protect the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
Extractive industries threaten a million square kilometers of intact tropical forests around the globe [07/12/2018]
- According to a recent report, mining companies currently have claims on 11 percent of all intact rainforests left in the world, meaning 590,000 square kilometers (227,800 square miles) of pristine tropical forest ecosystems are at risk. That’s an area larger than France. - Oil and gas concessions, meanwhile, cover 8 percent of tropical intact forest landscapes (IFLs). That’s another 408,000 square kilometers (157,529 square miles), roughly the size of the US state of California. - The report, issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last month, assesses the threats from extractive industries to the 5.2 million square kilometers, or just over 2 million square miles, of tropical IFLs left in the world. In total, nearly one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of those intact tropical forests are potentially threatened by extractive activities.
RSPO fails to deliver on environmental and social sustainability, study finds [07/11/2018]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is widely considered the strongest certification scheme for the commodity, which is grown largely on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to critically endangered species such as orangutans. - A new study has found that RSPO-certified plantations perform no better than non-RSPO estates on a series of sustainability metrics, including species and habitat conservation, as well as social benefits to local communities. - The researchers attributed the scheme’s shortcomings to a lack of clarity on its central objectives, as well as weak environmental safeguards. - For its part, the RSPO has disputed the study’s findings, citing other reports that it says highlight a net positive impact to the environment and communities from certification.
Revealed: Paper giant’s ex-staff say it used their names for secret company in Borneo [07/10/2018]
- Last December, it came to light that a plantation company clearing forest in Indonesia was owned by two employees of Asia Pulp & Paper, a giant firm that has promised to stop deforesting. - APP claimed the employees had set up the company on their own, without management knowing. But an investigation by Mongabay provides evidence that contradicts APP’s story. - The findings place APP squarely in the middle of an emerging debate about the presence of “shadow companies” among the holdings of the conglomerates that dominate Indonesia’s plantation sector.
Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife [07/10/2018]
- On today’s episode, we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can actually make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding the harassment of wildlife. - Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone pilot, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical that we have best practices for drones in place before we allow companies like Amazon and Uber to deploy fleets of drones in our skies. - “I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”
Palm oil firms using ‘shadow companies’ to hide their links to deforestation: report [07/09/2018]
- A new report highlights the use of opaque corporate structures by some of the world’s largest palm oil firms, allegedly to conceal their ties to destructive practices such as rainforest and peatland clearance. - The report focuses on Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The firms it flags include Sawit Sumbermas Sarana, Gama, Bintang Harapan Desa, and the Fangiono, Tee, and Salim family business groups. - Also last week, Martua Sitorus, co-founder of palm oil giant Wilmar International, resigned from the firm after he was shown to be running a second firm, Gama, with his brother that has cleared an area of rainforest twice the size of Paris since 2013. Wilmar promised to stop deforesting that same year. - “We are particularly concerned about this ‘shadow company’ issue as it really threatens NDPE policies, by allowing growers to continue to deforest, and allowing them to still find a market with companies with [zero-deforestation] policies,” said a researcher who worked on the report.
Brazil’s political storm driving Amazon deforestation higher [07/09/2018]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was dramatically reduced between 2005 and 2015, surged in 2016, then fell in 2017. Preliminary figures from IMAZON suggest the trend has now reversed, with deforestation up 22 percent between August 2017 and May 2018, compared to the same period the prior year. But, so far, official confirmation from INPE of this surge is lacking. - Experts say the source of the uptick lies with land-grabbers emboldened by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which has won many recent legislative and administrative victories, drastically cutting environmental and indigenous agency budgets, and pushing bills to shrink conservation units and erode indigenous land rights. - A recent Forest Code Supreme Court ruling may have further encouraged wealthy land-grabbers, when it granted billions in amnesty, forgiving fines against many guilty of illegal deforestation. Today, Pará’s Triunfo Xingu Area of Environmental Protection and the Indigenous Territory of Apyterewa are especially threatened by land-grabbing. - So is Pará’s Jamanxim National Forest; land thieves there hope congress will pass a bill to dismember the preserve, along with other Brazilian conservation units. Environmentalists worry that the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president, dubbed “Brazil’s Trump,” in October could send deforestation rates soaring.
Peru: How chocolate saved a community and a protected area from the drug trade [07/06/2018]
- In the forests surrounding Río Abiseo National Park, in the Peruvian Amazon region of San Martín, a burgeoning chocolate industry is gaining traction. - After dedicating more than twenty years to the cultivation of coca to supply cocaine trafficking, today the community of Mariscal Cáceres is committed to legal production of cacao that allows them to protect more than 300,000 hectares of forest. - Cacao growers in the community are partnering with Swiss dairy farmer to produce high-quality chocolate for markets in Europe and the U.S.
Fingerprinting technology gives investigators an edge against pangolin traffickers [07/04/2018]
- Researchers in the U.K. have modified the gelatin lifters used in criminal forensic investigations so they can pick up clues from pangolin scales and other illegally traded wildlife body parts. - Wildlife guards in Kenya and Cameroon are using packs of the gelatin lifters in the field to gather evidence. - The researchers say this new technology allows wildlife conservation officials to collect this evidence more quickly in remote areas, which in turn helps to ensure their safety.
Smartphone app helps indigenous communities fight deforestation [07/02/2018]
- Using a system called ForestLink developed by Rainforest Foundation UK, members of the Masenawa community documented the presence of an illegal gold mining camp in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. - The police then responded by destroying the mining equipment at the camp and arresting five people suspected of participating in illegal mining. - The biodiverse Madre de Dios region of the Amazon has been besieged by illegal gold mining, which has caused widespread deforestation.
Investing in indigenous communities is most efficient way to protect forests, report finds [07/02/2018]
- A new report adds to the growing body of evidence that indigenous peoples are the best protectors of the forests they call home. - The report compares conservation outcomes in lands controlled by indigenous groups against those in government-managed “protection zones” in 28 countries. - The rate of deforestation on customary lands is half what it is elsewhere, the report finds.
City forests store rainforest-levels of carbon, study finds [06/29/2018]
- A recently published study mapped the carbon stores of areas of tree cover in the London Borough of Camden. - Their results reveal high levels of carbon in Camden’s urban forests – including one area that approaches the carbon density of tropical rainforest. - They write that although the contribution of urban areas to global aboveground biomass may be comparatively small area-wise, some urban forests have carbon densities comparable to rainforests. - They say that their results highlight the importance of conserving urban forests as carbon sinks.
Latam Eco Review: Chocolate as a conservation strategy [06/29/2018]
The most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 18- 24 include features in honor of Colombia’s World Cup team (Humboldt Institute created “Colombian Biodiversity Team” cards profiling the country’s most iconic wildlife) and in other news, Peruvian farmers in a region once dominated by narcotrafficking now seek […]
Plant response to rising CO2 levels may alter rainfall patterns across tropics [06/28/2018]
- Stomata – the tiny pores through which plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen and water – are closing up everywhere on earth as atmospheric CO2 levels rise. This change in plant structure results in more water being stored within plants, and less being released to the atmosphere. - In a recent study scientists posit that the reduction in water released by stomata through transpiration will result in changing rainfall patterns across the tropics. Researchers used climate models to test the hypothesis, noting that while reduced transpiration will occur everywhere, tropical climates in different regions respond differently. - In South America, rainfall patterns are strongly influenced by changes in the amount of water that local plants release to the atmosphere. So if plants there retain more water, deeper droughts could result, consistent with most models. But Africa and Southeast Asia are protected from this atmospheric drying effect. - Forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are encircled by humid air over warm oceans. Reduced transpiration means more warm air rising from the islands, which draws in moist ocean air, increasing rainfall even as plants release less moisture. Some scientists dispute the study conclusions, noting that climate models poorly simulate water cycling.
A most unlikely hope: How the companies that destroyed the world’s forests can save them (commentary) [06/28/2018]
- In the age of Trump, lamenting the lassitude of governments may be satisfying, but it does little to solve our planet’s foremost existential crisis. It is for this reason that the hopes of billions of people now depend on the very companies most responsible for environmental destruction. - We’ve come to a pretty sorry pass if we’re depending in significant measure on these corporations to get us out of this mess. But it’s the pass we’re at, and there’s actually reason to hope that the same companies that got us into this mess can get us out. - In this commentary, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz writes that he feels confident these companies can make a difference because they’ve done it before. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017 [06/27/2018]
- According to new data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since the dataset began in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016. - Brazil came out on top for the most tree cover lost of any tropical country, a reversal from the country’s deforestation reductions over the past 14 years. Tree cover loss also rose dramatically in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. However, Indonesia’s numbers dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017. - Experts attribute the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes. - The new dataset was discussed at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum, which is taking place this week in Norway.
PepsiCo to probe deforestation in palm oil supplier’s Leuser Ecosystem concession [06/27/2018]
- PepsiCo has launched an investigation into reports of deforestation in one of its supplier’s oil palm plantations, located in the Leuser Ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to some of the last Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants left on Earth. - The investigation comes in response to a complaint from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which says the company has failed to act since the deforestation allegations were first reported four years ago. - For its part, the supplier alleges that the deforestation was carried out by local villagers encroaching into its concession, and that it is in discussions with them on resolving the long-running dispute over the land tenure. - Separately, PepsiCo has also recently updated and expanded its policy on sustainable palm oil, which has been criticized by RAN for failing to ensure the elimination of labor rights violations and forest destruction from the company’s extensive supply chain.
Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone [06/27/2018]
- The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil. - The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country. - Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution. - Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.
Logging roads drive loss of intact forest in FSC-certified logging concessions [06/27/2018]
- Logging roads in Central Africa cause greater loss of intact forest landscapes, or IFLs, on certified timber concessions compared to non-certified concessions, an analysis shows. - Certified timber companies typically build more robust road networks that are more apt to show up on satellite imagery than non-certified companies. - The findings highlight an apparent contradiction between certification for logging and the protection of IFLs, leading some critics to argue that IFL protection should not be part of the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.
‘Screen, not just green’ infrastructure projects to help economies and the environment [06/26/2018]
- Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University, argues that scientists should work to slow the pace of infrastructure development around the world. - ‘Delaying’ the process of development will allow time for the merits — and the potential dangers to the environment, communities and economies — to be debated publicly. - While many of these projects are viewed as wholly positive because they’re intended to connect markets and create jobs, a lot of them ‘should not happen,’ Laurance said.
Dutch pension fund divests from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesia [06/25/2018]
- APB, the Dutch pension fund for government and education employees, announced it would divest 300,000 euros from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesian Papua. - Norway’s pension fund divested from Posco Daewoo, and its parent company, Posco, in 2015. APB is still invested in Posco. - Posco Daewoo is owned by one of South Korean’s largest conglomerates.
Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests? [06/25/2018]
- NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) allowed scientists to study the response of the world’s tropical rainforests to the 2015-16 El Niño in more detail than every before, potentially providing insight into the longer-term response of tropical forests to escalating climate change. - During the El Niño, OCO-2 recorded a sudden global surge in CO2 emissions (above 400 ppm for a full year, the highest in modern history), an effect significantly enhanced by tropical forest emissions in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all responded to the El Niño by temporarily shifting from carbon sink to carbon source. - However, each region responded differently: El Niño brought extreme drought to South America, and trees there stopped absorbing CO2. In Southeast Asia, major forest fires raged in extremely dry conditions, quickly releasing stored carbon. In Africa, rainfall was normal, but high temperatures drove increased ecosystem respiration. - Scientists worry that a tipping point could be reached where tropical forests collapse, but more study is needed. Given the great uncertainties as to how tropical forests will respond to a warming world, taking action now to keep forests standing and healthy may offer the single best hope for mitigating negative impacts, say researchers.
Indonesia turns to green finance for development projects [06/25/2018]
- Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, is turning to green finance markets to fund new development projects it promises will be both environmentally and socially friendly. - In issuing these ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ bonds, Indonesia joins a growing number of developing countries seeking to appeal to ecologically and socially conscious international investors. - But critics question just how green and sustainable these bonds really are, highlighting concerns about greenwashing.
DRC adopts a strategy that will bolster community forestry, conservation group says [06/25/2018]
- A new community forestry strategy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could help provide Congolese communities with a say in the management of the country’s forests. - A group of local and international organizations, government agencies and community groups developed the strategy to strengthen the capacity of provincial authorities and ensure that the country’s community forestry laws do in fact include and benefit communities. - The plan calls for an “experimental phase” over the next five years to gradually provide access to areas of the roughly 700,000 square kilometers (more than 270,000 square miles) of available forest through community management permits.
Winning farmer support to reduce deforestation (commentary) [06/24/2018]
- It is critical to win farmer support for strategies to address deforestation if they are to succeed; in Brazil, farmers are economically powerful, increasingly sophisticated as a political block, and they own or control half of Brazil’s native vegetation. - They have grown weary of being vilified as criminals, of unmet promises of positive incentives for shifting to sustainable production systems, and of the chronic challenges of changing and inefficient regulations. To gain the support of conservation-minded, responsible farmers for the deforestation agenda, a new narrative and set of actions is needed that recognizes, applauds and rewards them for their efforts as it effectively includes them in dialogues. - A shared agenda is needed between environmental groups and farm sectors in Brazil to help restore collaboration; there is strong potential to build that collaboration around core issues faced by the farm sector–transportation infrastructure and inefficient and changing licensing procedures. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Latam Eco Review: Ports imperil Colombian crocodiles [06/23/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of June 11 – 17. Among the top articles: Port projects in northern Colombia threaten the mangrove habitats of American crocodiles. In other news, the Waorani people of Ecuador use camera traps to record an astonishing diversity […]
Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction (commentary) [06/22/2018]
- The sheer scale of the logging operations in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park makes it a wonder that there’s anything left of the forest, especially as the timber just keeps flowing into Vietnam unabated. In fact, Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. - Yet there is still plenty of wildlife, at least in Virachey National Park, where I have been part of a team that has been conducting a wildlife survey for four years now. - All hope could well be lost — man/progress must be served. But are the nails firmly placed in the biodiversity coffin and awaiting final pounding? Perhaps not. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
As Colombia expands its palm oil sector, scientists worry about wildlife [06/21/2018]
- Colombia’s aims to overtake Thailand to become the world’s third largest supplier of palm oil, a popular plant-based oil used in many products around the world. - Studies have shown that oil palm plantations provide poor habitat for wildlife, supporting a fraction of the species as neighboring forest. - Researchers say Colombia’s palm oil expansion could have minimal impacts on the country’s biodiversity if it takes places on already-degraded land, such as cattle pasture. They caution that development should not happen in areas that provide habitat for threatened species, or regions that are ecologically important. They say smaller plantations will have less of an impact, and recommend planting understory vegetation. - Biologists are also concerned the most common species of oil palm, called African oil palm, could hybridize with native palm plants and degrade the species’ genetic integrity.
New study provides blueprint to translate satellite data into conservation action [06/21/2018]
- A new paper offers a protocol to help conservation practitioners integrate forest-monitoring technology with policy to reduce illegal deforestation. - Public and private entities can more easily access the latest satellite-based remote-sensing technology to rapidly detect new deforestation, prioritize areas for action, identify the causes, and get the information to policymakers without delay. - The study calls for increased use of satellite technology to improve the monitoring, understanding and communication of deforestation events, as well as increase engagement between government institutions and civil society.
US/China trade war could boost Brazil soy export, Amazon deforestation [06/21/2018]
- President Donald Trump is pressing hard for a trade war with China. So far, he has imposed $50 billion in tariffs on the Chinese, and threatened another $200 billion; the Chinese are retaliating. An all-out U.S./China trade war could have serious unforeseen repercussions on the Brazilian Amazon, including increased deforestation, intensified pressures on indigenous groups, and escalated climate change. - The concern is that China will shift its commodities purchases, including beef and soy, away from the U.S. to Brazil. The Amazon and Cerrado biomes are already major exporters of both commodities, and are creating a boom in infrastructure construction to bring those products to market. Even without a trade war, experts expect Brazil to edge out the U.S. this year as the world´s largest soy producer. - The U.S. tariffs may already be prompting a shift in trade. Trump first threatened China with tariffs in January. By April, U.S. soy sales to China were down 70,000 metric tons compared to the same period last year. Data also shows a surge in Brazilian Amazon deforestation between February and April of 2018, compared to 2017, a possible response by Brazil soy growers eager to profit from a trade war. - If the U.S./China trade war results in a significant surge in Brazilian commodities production, deforestation rates there could soar. Scientists worry that Amazon deforestation, now at 17 percent, could be pushed past a 20-25 percent climate tipping point, converting rainforest to savanna, greatly swelling carbon emissions, and potentially destabilizing the regional and even global climate.
Indonesia to investigate death of journalist being held for defaming palm oil company [06/21/2018]
- Muhammad Yusuf, a journalist in Indonesia, reportedly died of a heart attack earlier this month while being held on charges of defaming a palm oil company owned by a powerful tycoon. - Activists and fellow journalists question the circumstances surrounding Yusuf’s arrest and death, and suspect the company used the defamation charges to silence Yusuf. - Indonesia’s national commission on human rights has vowed to investigate Yusuf’s death, which his widow has deemed unnatural.
Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students [06/21/2018]
- A forest school in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, funded by the Vienna-based animal welfare organization Four Paws and run by the local organization Jejak Pulang, has just started training its first eight orangutan orphans to learn the skills they need to live independently in the forest. - Borneo’s orangutans are in crisis, with more than 100,000 lost since 1999 through direct killings and loss of habitat, particularly to oil palm and pulpwood plantations. - Security forces often confiscate juvenile orangutans under 7 years of age, and without their mothers to teach them the skills they need, they cannot be released back into the forest. - Jejak Pulang’s team of 15 orangutan caretakers, a biologist, two veterinarians and the center’s director aim to prepare the orphaned orangutans for independence.
Amber deposits yield oldest evidence of frogs in wet, tropical forests [06/20/2018]
- Scientists have found the oldest frog fossils known to have been preserved in amber, from deposits in northern Myanmar. - These fossils, together with other fossils of mosses and bamboo-like plants recovered from the same amber deposits, provide the first definitive evidence that the amber-trapped frogs lived in wet, tropical forests alongside dinosaurs some 99 million years ago, researchers say. - One of the four frogs, which was trapped in sap alongside an unidentified beetle, has a nearly intact skeleton, and has been described as a new, extinct species, Electrorana limoae.
Illegal mining creeps into southern Bahuaja-Sonene National Park [06/20/2018]
- A large amount of fuel trafficking takes place Massiapo, the capital of the district of Alto Inambari, mostly for use in illegal gold mining operations. - A regional committee against illegal mining in Puno is considering declaring the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park a mining exclusion zone.
Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park at risk over illegal mining [06/19/2018]
- The illegal mining, which also takes place in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and in Tambopata National Reserve, has isolated part of the giant river otter population. - The current leaders of the Kotsimba indigenous community are creating a plan with the Ministry of Environment to abandon illegal mining, although an environmental disaster from over 10 years ago remains unaddressed.
Madagascar: Yet another anti-trafficking activist convicted [06/19/2018]
- Christopher Magnenjika, an activist working to stem corruption and wildlife trafficking in northeastern Madagascar, was tried, convicted, fined $9 and released earlier this month. - The charges against Magnenjika include “rebellion” and insulting local officials. - Magnenjika’s supporters say his arrest and conviction were a pretext for keeping him quiet about the illicit trade in rosewood, a valuable tropical hardwood. - Magnenjika is one of at least ten Malagasy activists who have faced imprisonment in recent years.
Animals are becoming night owls to avoid humans [06/19/2018]
- By analyzing 76 studies and activity patterns of 62 mammal species, including bears, deer, coyotes and tigers, researchers have found that large mammals are 1.36 times more active at night in areas with high human presence compared to areas with low human presence. - These results seemed to be consistent across species and continents. - Animals seem to be becoming more nocturnal not only to avoid direct threats like hunting, but to avoid even recreational human activities like hiking and mountain biking.
One tortoise at a time: Q&A with zoo veterinarian Justin Rosenberg [06/19/2018]
- In April, authorities discovered around 10,000 radiated tortoises, believed to be destined for the Asian pet trade, in an abandoned house in southwestern Madagascar. - The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) took the animals to its rescue center in Ifaty, and soon, veterinarians and keepers from around the world began traveling to Madagascar to help the animals. - Currently, between 9,000 and 10,000 tortoises are alive, with around 100 still in need of critical care. - Mongabay spoke with a veterinarian who spent several weeks at TSA’s facility about the ongoing efforts.
Oil palm plantations in Amazonia inhospitable to tropical forest biodiversity: Study [06/18/2018]
- According to a study published in the journal PloS One late last year, the Brazilian Amazon has about 2.3 million square kilometers (nearly 900,000 square miles) of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, making it one of the largest areas in the world for potential expansion of the palm oil industry. - Researchers investigated the responses of tropical forest mammals to living in a landscape made up of a mosaic of 39,000 hectares (more than 96,000 acres) of mature oil palm plantations and 64,000 hectares (a little over 158,000 acres) of primary Eastern Amazon forest patches in the Brazilian state of Pará. - They write in the study that their results in the Amazon “clearly” reinforce “the notion that oil palm plantations can be extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, as has been shown in more traditional oil palm countries in South-East Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.”
In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials [06/17/2018]
- A company in Indonesia plans to start mining gold in a district in the country’s West Papua province that forms part of the ecologically important Cendrawasih Bay National Park — an ostensibly protected area. - The company is currently applying for an environmental impact assessment that would allow it to obtain a mining permit, but local officials involved in the process say they see little benefit to the proposed mine. They say they prefer a development model built on tourism based on the region’s rich biodiversity. - The district chief, who has the final say in issuing the permit, has signaled he approves of the project — flip-flopping on a pledge he made at the end of last year to prioritize an environment-focused development framework.
Latam Eco Review: Paddington Bear Captured on Camera in Peru [06/15/2018]
Among the top articles from our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 4 – 10 was one about a golden spectacled bear named after Paddington Bear that was caught by a camera trap for the first time in Peru. In other news, the debate on hydroelectric plants intensifies in Colombia, and […]
Scientists find new snail-eating snakes, auction naming rights to save them [06/15/2018]
- An expedition in Ecuador has uncovered five new species of snail-eating snakes. - Four out of the five species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. - The researchers who conducted the expedition auctioned off their naming rights and used the funds to purchase and protect an area of forest where two of the most threatened new species are known to live.
Primate-rich countries are becoming less hospitable places for monkeys, apes and lemurs [06/15/2018]
- New research shows that many of the 65 percent of the world’s primate species found in four countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face the threat of extinction. - The scientists involved in the study used maps of primate ranges and information on the threats they face to predict what might happen to the animals through the end of the 21st century. - They found that increases in the amount of land turned over for human food production could cause the primate habitats to shrink substantially in these countries. - However, the team also found that intensive conservation measures could dramatically reduce the loss of primate habitat by 2100 and potentially avert the mass extinction of these species.
Facebook video shows orangutan defending forest against bulldozer [06/15/2018]
- Dramatic footage released last week by an animal welfare group shows a wild orangutan trying in vain to fight off destruction of its rainforest home in Borneo. - The video, filmed in 2013 but posted on Facebook on June 5th for World Environment Day by International Animal Rescue (IAR), was shot in Sungai Putri, a tract of forest in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. - Sungai Putri is one of the most important refuges for orangutans left in Indonesian Borneo. According to orangutan expert Erik Meijaard, Sungai Putri may be home to over 1,000 orangutans.
The diversity of biodiversity: Connecting shrews, ants and slime molds with carbon storage [06/14/2018]
- Research has shown that, in some cases, high-carbon forests support high levels of biodiversity. - But a recent study, which looked at a wide variety of species groups, demonstrates that regrowth forests can support a greater number of representatives of some species groups. - The findings support the conclusion that recovering forests should be included in conservation planning alongside old-growth forests.
Renowned wildlife conservationist Russell Mittermeier awarded 2018 Indianapolis Prize [06/13/2018]
- Mittermeier, a primatologist, herpetologist, and highly accomplished conservationist, is the seventh recipient of the prestigious prize, which has been awarded by the Indianapolis Zoological Society along with $250,000 in prize money every two years since 2006 to “the most successful animal conservationist in the world.” - He spent 11 years at WWF–U.S. before becoming president of Conservation International (CI) in 1989. It was while he was at CI that Mittermeier first heard of the concept of “biodiversity hotspots” — a concept he would go on to popularize and utilize to achieve a number of conservation successes. - “Russ Mittermeier is a consummate scientist, a visionary leader, a deft policy advocate and an inspiring mentor to many,” Michael Crowther, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, said in a statement. “Perhaps most important, he is a consistent winner in the battles for species and ecosystem survival.”
Audio: How soundscapes are helping us better understand animal behavior and landscape ecology [06/12/2018]
- On today’s episode, we take a look at soundscape phenology and the emerging role it’s playing in the study of animal behavior and landscape ecology. - The Mongabay Newscast previously looked at how soundscapes are being used in phenological studies when we talked about the great Sandhill crane migration on the Platte River in the US state of Nebraska. Today, we take a deeper dive into soundscape phenology with researcher Anne Axel, a landscape ecologist and professor at Marshall University in the US state of West Virginia. - Axel tells us all about this new field of study and plays a few of the recordings that have informed her research in this Field Notes segment.
Video: Mariyady, the priest investigating the corporate takeover of indigenous peoples’ forests in Borneo [06/11/2018]
- “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them, a local priest named Mariyady, researched the contracts signed between villagers and the company, and determined they were ripped off by the compensation they were paid — he described it as “murder.”
Mexico’s ejidos are finding greater sustainability by involving youth and women [06/07/2018]
- Ejidos now control more than two-thirds of Mexico’s 64 million hectares (158 million acres) of forest. They have generally proven to be an effective means of preserving those forests while creating economic opportunities for local communities through sustainable farming, ranching, and forestry operations. - But ejidos themselves face challenges that must be overcome in order to ensure their sustainability. Chief among them has been the lack of inclusion of youth and women, an issue many ejidos have begun to seriously address over the course of the past decade. - The traditional hierarchies built into ejido communities once posed what many observers saw as a serious threat to the future viability of the ejido system. But young people now represent a hopeful future not just for the ejidos they come from and plan to return to in order to ply their newly acquired skills, but also, perhaps, for the future of conservation in Mexico.
Illegal logging persists in Borneo orangutan habitat despite government ban [06/07/2018]
- Illegal logging continues inside an orangutan habitat in Borneo that the Indonesian government had decreed off-limits last year, an investigation by Greenpeace has found. - The group reported at least six logging camps in the concession held by a timber company, but noted that it was unclear whether the company itself, PT Mohairson Pawan Khatulistiwa (MPK), was engaged in the illegal logging. - This is the second time Greenpeace has found indications of commercial exploitation in the area since the government ordered PT MPK to halt its operations last year.
How corrupt elections fuel the sell-off of Indonesia’s natural resources [06/07/2018]
- A major driver of Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis is the corrupt sell-off of land and resources by politicians, often to raise money for expensive political campaigns. - Some government officials trade business licenses for cash bribes, while others engage in more complex schemes. There is every indication that permit selling in the agribusiness and extractive sectors is rife across Indonesia, even if the true extent remains hidden. - This article was produced under a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the London-based investigations house Earthsight, as part of our Indonesia for Sale series.
Ecuador: Waorani people map their rainforest to save it [06/06/2018]
- Ecuador’s indigenous Waorani have undertaken a three-year mission to identify and map out the natural riches of their territory in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon — a region zoned by the government for oil exploration and exploitation activities. - The community’s efforts have covered 1,800 square kilometers (695 square miles) and identified 1,832 routes consisting of rivers, streams, hunting trails and paths. - The Waorani, who have seen the devastation wrought by the oil industry on other indigenous forest communities, have also determined to launch a campaign against outside intervention in their own territory, aimed at the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies.
Time is running out for palm oil certification (commentary) [06/06/2018]
- A number of voluntary schemes have been set up to address the environmental impacts of palm oil, which has experienced rapid growth in demand and has been identified as one of the leading drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss worldwide. - While there is some variation between them, none of the schemes has been very effective in slowing down deforestation. The range of schemes, and the existence of different modules within each scheme that allow members to opt for varying degrees of ambition, are leading to a watering down of sustainability outcomes in general. - For too long, certification has been considered as the one and only “possible and realistic” option for addressing the impacts of palm oil cultivation, but the fact is: we are running out of time. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Field Museum honors Peruvian organization for its conservation work with indigenous groups [06/05/2018]
- The Instituto del Bien Común, a Peruvian organization that works with indigenous communities, has received this year’s Parker/Gentry award for conservation from the Field Museum of Chicago. - The organization has mapped more than 7,000 indigenous territories in Peru, which serve as a baseline for the Peruvian government on indigenous land. - The group was also involved in the effort to designate Yaguas National Park, the country’s newest protected area, in January this year.
Paper giant denies secretly owning ‘independent’ suppliers [06/05/2018]
- A new NGO report details the links between Indonesia’s Sinarmas conglomerate and its “independent” wood suppliers. - Sinarmas and its Asia Pulp & Paper arm argue that some of the links are normal, but deny others. - NGO investigators speculate that Sinarmas may have structured its operations to deflect blame for the fires that burn nearly every year in its suppliers’ concessions, or even to evade taxes.
When palm oil meets politics, Indonesian farmers pay the price [06/05/2018]
- Activists have warned of a worrying number of farmers in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province being driven off their land by palm oil companies, often with the support of the local police and officials. - The province lost 10 percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2016, and palm concessions now account for more than 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of land there, including pristine forests that are home to species found nowhere else on Earth. - Given the long history of district chiefs issuing a flurry of concessions in exchange for campaign funding ahead of elections, activists fear the elections later this month will set the stage for even more land conflicts.
To protect the Congolese peatlands, protect local land rights (commentary) [06/04/2018]
- In 2017, researchers reported the existence of the largest tropical peatland complex in the world in the Congo Basin. - In early 2018, a team of scientists, including the author, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to probe deeper into the peatlands, which cover an area about the size of England and hold some 30 billion tons of carbon. - Around the same time, the DRC government has awarded logging concessions that overlap with the peatlands, in violation of a 16-year-old moratorium on logging. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Ecuador: Tribe sees how oil industry affects forest on ‘Toxic Tour’ [06/01/2018]
- Guided by the indigenous people of Ecuador’s Sucumbíos province, which has been hit by oil exploitation, Waorani people from Pastaza province joined a “Toxic Tour” to learn how contamination has affected other communities in the Amazon. - Faced with the possible concession of their territory for oil activities, the Waorani community in Pastaza province is preparing to defend itself using a strategy they call “spear and law.” - “What I tell them is to be firm, to take care of their territory, because it’s like an inheritance that our ancestors have left us and I believe that it’s mandatory for us to defend it,” says one woman from an area already heavily affected by oil drilling.
Taller, older trees fare better during Amazon droughts, study finds [06/01/2018]
- A new study finds that droughts will likely be harder on shorter, younger trees than on taller, older ones. But, conversely, smaller trees seem to be better at coping with higher temperatures. - They discovered that photosynthesis in forests comprised of trees that are shorter than 20 meters is three times more sensitive to rainfall inconsistency than forests where trees average 30 meters or more. The researchers think this is because taller trees are older, and older trees have deeper roots that allow them to tap into moister soil. - In the past few years, there’s been a noticeable drying trend in parts of the Amazon, one that scientists fear will only intensify as climate change ramps up.
How Colombia became Latin America’s palm oil powerhouse [05/31/2018]
- Commercial oil palm cultivation in Colombia began in 1945 when a U.S.-based company established a plantation in the banana zone of the Magdalena department. Following the economic liberalization of Colombia’s economy in the 1990s and then the 2002 election of former President Alvaro Uribe, the palm oil industry began a trajectory of rapid growth over the next 16 years. - Today, Colombia produces more palm oil than any other country in Latin America and is considered the fourth-largest producer worldwide. - With the disarming and demobilization of Colombia’s oldest, largest guerrilla group the FARC in 2016, the government talked about writing a new chapter in the country’s long-troubled history. One of the government’s central goals for peace was to expand economic and social investment in the countryside by encouraging agricultural development — especially in areas that were previously off-limits due to conflict. - But critics worry recent land use policy reforms looking to grow Colombia’s palm oil production further will effectively “legalize the accumulation of land” that agribusiness interests “illegitimately obtained during the armed conflict” at big costs to the country’s small farmers and indigenous groups.
Raid fails to stop gold mining, death threats on Amazon’s Tropas River [05/31/2018]
- Garimpeiros, gold miners, began arriving in large numbers on the Tropas River in the Tapajós basin in the 1980s. Driven out by Munduruku Indians, they returned in 2010, invading land occupied by 21 riverside indigenous communities. Despite protests by the Ipereg Ayu Movement, the Munduruku’s resistance group, the government has largely failed to act. - Today, the river is polluted as never before, and the indigenous people feel threatened. After repeated complaints by the Ipereg Ayu Movement, the federal authorities made a raid on a few mines in May, destroying some mining equipment. But the Federal Police failed to dislodge any miners currently occupying Munduruku territory. - The mine owners, in retaliation, took their protest to Brasilia. There, a federal deputy is urging passage of a bill to stop IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, from destroying seized mining equipment onsite, forcing the agency to turn it over to local authorities, many who are sympathetic to miners, and who could return the equipment to the miners. - Another bill could open all indigenous land in Brazil to large-scale mining. Many Munduruku remain defiant, and have led Tropas River patrols in an attempt to negotiate with mine owners and force them to leave. Analysts fear that, if the miners are not forced off indigenous lands and out of Crepori National Forest, violence could be inevitable.
Madagascar court upholds sentence for environmental activist [05/31/2018]
- In September 2017 a farmer named Raleva questioned a mining company about its permits during a meeting in his village in southeastern Madagascar. He was promptly arrested on charges of impersonating a local official. - In October, he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, but immediately released on parole — a common tactic in Madagascar that appears to be aimed at silencing opposition. - On May 22, an appeals court announced its decision to uphold the conviction. - Advocacy groups are now trying to put together a legal team that can take the case to Madagascar’s Supreme Court.
Norwegian government report sharply critical of funding for tropical forest conservation [05/31/2018]
- A recent report by Norway’s Office of the Auditor General had some tough criticisms for the country’s International Forests and Climate Initiative (NICFI), one of the chief funders of REDD+ initiatives around the world. - The Office of the Auditor General said that its investigation found “that progress and results are delayed, that current measures have uncertain feasibility and effect, and that the risk of fraud is not well-managed.” - Responding to the report, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, said that it provided some useful insights and that its recommendations would be followed up on. However, Elvestuen said he disagreed with many of the report’s key conclusions.
Bolivia’s Madidi National Park home to world’s largest array of land life, survey finds [05/30/2018]
- A two-and-a-half-year biological survey of Madidi National Park in Bolivia added 1,382 species and subspecies of plants and animals to the list of those living in the park. - The team believes that 124 species and subspecies may be new to science. - WCS, the organization that led the study, said the 18,958-square-kilometer (7,320-square-mile) park is the world’s most biodiverse protected area.
There may be hope for the extremely rare ‘sneezing monkey,’ report finds [05/29/2018]
- In a new report, researchers have confirmed the presence of five subpopulations of the extremely rare Myanmar snub-nosed monkey: three in Myanmar and two in China. - Logging, proposed hydropower projects, road construction and hunting continue to threaten the species. - However, the creation of two new protected areas to safeguard the monkeys’ habitat, one each in Myanmar and China, as well as improved cross-border collaboration between the two countries is helping reduce the risk of extinction for the species, researchers say.
Geneticists: It’s time to mix the Sumatran rhino subspecies [05/29/2018]
- The Sumatran rhino populations living in Borneo and Sumatra have been genetically separated for hundreds of thousands of years. - The species as a whole has no more than 100 living individuals in the wild, and perhaps as few as 30. Another nine are in captivity. - In a recent study of Sumatran rhinos’ mitochondrial DNA, geneticists argue it’s time to combine the subspecies, despite the potential risks and drawbacks. - The question is given extra urgency with plans afoot to capture a female rhino in Indonesian Borneo.
Dutch support soy transport mega-project, posing major risk to Amazon [05/29/2018]
- For more than a decade, the Netherlands has vigorously supported Brazil in development of the Northern Corridor, a mega-infrastructure transportation initiative that would transport soy and other commodities from Matto Grosso state via new road, rail and port projects to the Tapajós River in Pará state, then downriver to the Amazon, and to the Atlantic for export. - Although the Netherlands government publically says these projects will be constructed in a “sustainable” manner and reduce fuel used in transport, analysts — and even the Dutch government itself — say that the new harbors, roads and railroads would contribute significantly to deforestation, land grabbing and rural violence by bringing many new loggers, cattle ranchers, soy growers, and settlers into the Amazon region. - Internal documents from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, obtained through a FOIA request, show that the ministry is fully aware of these negative environmental and social impacts, but sees them as a mere public relations, or “reputation problem.” - Internal memos uncovered by Platform Investico, a Dutch collective of investigative journalists including Mongabay contributor Karlijn Kuijpers, alerted the public to Dutch participation in Brazil’s Amazon transportation infrastructure initiative and the environmental and social harm it could do. In response to these revelations, the Dutch Labor Party has requested a debate in parliament about Dutch involvement in the Northern Corridor.
Illegal loggers ‘cook the books’ to harvest Amazon’s most valuable tree [05/24/2018]
- A new study finds that illegal logging, coupled with weak state-run timber licensing systems, has led to massive timber harvesting fraud in Brazil, resulting in huge illicit harvests of Ipê trees. This process is doing major damage to the Amazon, as loggers build roads deep into forests, causing fragmentation and creating greater access. - To reduce document fraud, the Brazilian federal government this month required that all states register or integrate their timber licensing systems within a national timber inventory and tracking system known as Sinaflor. While this should reduce fraudulent paperwork, onsite illicit timber harvesting practices remain a major problem. - Better oversight of forest management plans and more onsite inspections of timber operations are needed to curb illegal logging practices and to prevent harvesting on public lands and in indigenous reserves. The high value of Ipê wood — selling for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at export — makes it very profitable for illegal loggers. - Ipê wood is largely shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Analysts say that buyers all along the timber supply chain turn a blind eye toward fraud, with sawmills, exporters, and importers trusting the paperwork they receive, rather than questioning whether the lower prices they pay for Ipê and other timber may be due to timber laundering.
Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests [05/23/2018]
- According to a new study, Ghana is losing hornbill species to “uncontrolled” hunting, mostly for meat, from its forested parks and reserves. - The researchers found that the five largest species of hornbills in the Bia Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have disappeared in recent decades. - The authors of the paper suggest that increased enforcement will help protect threatened hornbills, as well as other wildlife species, in areas under intense pressure from humans.
Trio of studies challenges Indian government claim of increasing forest cover [05/23/2018]
- Three studies published over the past seven months show that forest cover in India is declining, contrary to findings from the latest Forest Survey of India report. - One study found 16 to 30 percent forest loss in the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, while another study found that the Eastern Ghats lost nearly 16 percent of their forest area between 1920 and 2015. - The third study, which analyzed patterns of forest cover across India from 2001 to 2014, found “significant negative changes” in the seasonal green cover, with the highest decline recorded in tropical moist deciduous forests.
Brazil has the tools to end Amazon deforestation now: report [05/18/2018]
- A coalition of environmental NGOs known as the Zero Deforestation Working Group has developed a practical plan called “A Pathway to Zero Deforestation in the Amazon.” First proposed at the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, last November, the NGOs propose workable strategies for ending deforestation quickly in Brazil, while also yielding significant economic and social benefits. - Deforestation continues, the report says, because cleared land is worth more than forested land in the Amazon, so there is a strong economic incentive to buy up large amounts of forestland and clear it. Also, enforcement of Brazilian forestry laws remains weak. Finally, markets have been slow to make, and implement, commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains. - Deforestation solutions require a new development vision for the Brazilian Amazon, say analysts, with policies that promote the sustainable use of forest products, and policies that end the expansion of agro-commodities into native forests, and promote agribusiness growth on the nation’s surplus of 15-20 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land. - Law enforcement to curb illegal land grabbing also needs to happen, especially on the 70 million hectares of public land in Amazonia not allocated for specific uses. Also, government must start tracking cattle from point of origin with indirect suppliers, where deforestation occurs, to slaughterhouses. A key step to a solution: open talks between agribusiness and environmentalists.
How an island of mice is changing what we know about evolution [05/17/2018]
- Researchers have identified the smallest-known island where multiple species of mammals evolved from a single founding species. The Philippine island of Mindoro is the size of Yellowstone National Park and host to four species of earthworm mice. - Genetic analysis indicates all members from these four species descended from just a few individuals that rafted to Mindoro from a neighboring island millions of years ago. - Three of the species are endemic to Mindoro, and the researchers believe they evolved on different mountains. The study’s findings highlight the pivotal role mountains can play in speciation, and provide evidence that evolution can occur even in small areas. - The researchers say this underlines the importance of protected areas not just for species preservation, but for species emergence as well. The apparent success of such a small founding population may also give hope for species currently hovering on the precipice of extinction.
Humans are leaving their mark on the world’s protected areas, study finds [05/17/2018]
- About one-third of the world’s total protected area — around 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) — bears the scars of substantial degradation at the hands of humans, according to research published in the journal Science. - The researchers found that large parks and reserves held to the toughest standards are doing significantly better than those with laxer controls. - The authors argue that assessments of the effectiveness of protected areas should be considered, especially as governments try to meet one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets calling for protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land area by 2020.
Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation. - With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014. - The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area. - Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.
Greenpeace disowns paper giant over deforestation allegations [05/16/2018]
- Environmental NGO Greenpeace will end its engagement with the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group and its pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). - A new mapping analysis by the NGO showed 80 square kilometers of forests and peatlands has been cleared since 2013 in two concessions that are linked to the paper giant. - Greenpeace said this finding put APP’s commitment to end deforestation in jeopardy.
‘Rainbow’ chameleon among three new species described from Madagascar [05/16/2018]
- Researchers discovered the brilliantly colored rainbow chameleon, now named Calumma uetzi, during an expedition to the remote Sorata massif in northern Madagascar in 2012. - Over surveys between 2015 and 2016, the researchers found another new species of chameleon, now dubbed Calumma juliae, in a 15-square-kilometer patch of forest. The researchers were unable to find any males of this species. - They also found only a single male specimen of the third new chameleon species, Calumma lefona, spotted in Andrevorevo in northern Madagascar.
The destruction of nature in S. Sumatra has given rise to a criminal generation (commentary) [05/16/2018]
- Reports of criminal activity have increasingly trickled out of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province. - Could these incidents of violence, lawbreaking and general lack of respect for order be related to diminishing natural resources and destruction of the landscape? This article explores this idea. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author alone.
Study links malaria to deforestation in the Amazon [05/15/2018]
- A study published recently adds evidence to the argument that deforestation aids the spread of malaria. - Researchers compared deforestation patterns to malaria rates in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that places with the highest incidences of malaria were impacted forest patches between 0.1 and 5 square kilometers in size. - The researchers write that these forest patches contain the shaded, watery, forest-edge habitat preferred by the mosquitos that transmit malaria. - To keep malaria from becoming an even bigger threat, the authors call for better monitoring of mosquito populations, land planning, and income generation schemes for forest-dwelling communities.
Attack of the turtles: ruralists assault environmental laws, Amazon [05/15/2018]
- With the Brazilian public focused on the October elections, and many members of congress gone home to organize runs for office, the bancada ruralista, rural lobby, has launched a raft of amendments, attached to unrelated bills, that would undo many of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections. There is a strong chance of passage. - These stealth measures are known as “jabutis” or “turtles.” Two jabutis, attached to an energy bill, could lead to the privatization of Brazil’s electricity sector, and to allowing the ownership of land by foreigners, currently forbidden in Brazil, for the purpose of building dams, transmission lines, and other energy facilities. Passage could greatly benefit China. - Another rider, attached to a bill giving emergency humanitarian assistance to Venezuelan refugees, would abolish a legal requirement to consult with indigenous communities about new energy projects to be built beside roads and railways that already cross their lands. The rider would immediately impact the Waimiri-Atroari Indians in Roraima state. - Another jabuti would benefit Cerrado agribusiness by classifying all proposed irrigation projects as “projects of public interest,” making them easier to approve, with less rigorous environmental impact studies. Another jabuti would simplify the environmental licensing process for small hydroelectric dams, potentially harming both the Amazon and Pantanal.
Sifaka lemurs listed as “critically endangered” amid mysterious die-off [05/15/2018]
- In the last month and a half, at least 31 Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) have died in Berenty Reserve near Madagascar’s southern tip. - It’s one of the largest lemur die-offs scientists can remember. - Experts believe that a parasite or tick-borne disease is likely to blame, but the exact cause remains unknown. - At a large IUCN meeting held last week in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, primate specialists decided to uplist all nine sifaka species from endangered to critically endangered.
Typo derails landmark ruling against Indonesian palm oil firm guilty of burning peatland [05/15/2018]
- A district court in Indonesia has shielded an oil palm company from a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to pay $26.5 million in fines for burning peatlands in a high-biodiversity area, citing a typo in the original prosecution. - The verdict has stunned activists, who had hoped that the original guilty verdict would set a strong precedent for the judicial fight against environmental crimes. - The government is appealing the latest ruling, which, ironically, is fraught with typos that — under the same legal logic — would render it just as invalid as the original guilty verdict.
Higher incomes, not higher carbon dioxide levels, drive forest gains, study finds [05/15/2018]
- New research indicates that higher levels of economic development, rather than carbon dioxide, are responsible for some countries’ gains in forest cover. - The findings contradict several climate change models that point to the role that higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere can play as a “fertilizer” for plants. - Policy decisions should account for the role that development plays in the health of forests, the authors say.
Damming the Amazon unfettered after Brazilian purge (commentary) [05/14/2018]
- In January 2018, two key Brazilian officials, Paulo Pedrosa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), and Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of Energy Research Enterprise, an MME agency responsible for energy planning, announced a shift away from destructive Amazon mega-dam construction. - They said the reason for the shift was the heavy environmental and social impacts of such dams. - After the appointment of Moreira Franco, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, both MME officials were replaced. Franco is under investigation in the lava jato (car wash) corruption probe. Amazon dams are particularly prone to corruption. - There has been no mention since January that any planned Amazonian dams listed for construction by 2026 will be cancelled. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indonesia enlists plantation companies to ensure haze-free Asian Games [05/14/2018]
- Organizers of the Asian Games in August are wary of the major sporting event being hit by haze from brush and peat fires, an annual occurrence in Sumatra, where one of the host cities is located. - The government has called on pulpwood and oil palm companies with concessions in fire-prone areas to take steps to restore degraded peatlands and prevent fires during this year’s dry season, which runs from June through September. - The companies are legally obliged to restore areas of deep peat, and some are fast-tracking their other fire-prevention programs in light of the Asian Games.
New species of shrew discovered on a single mountaintop in the Philippines [05/11/2018]
- The newly described Palawanosorex muscorum, or the Palawan moss shrew, is known to live only near the peak of Mount Mantalingajan on Palawan Island in the southern Philippines. - The shrew has a stout body and broad forefeet with long claws, which it uses to dig through humus on the forest floor to look for earthworms. - The moss shrew has no close known relatives in Asia, and how it came to live on Mount Mantalingajan is a mystery, researchers say.
Sumatran habitat for tigers, orangutans gets a partial reprieve from development [05/10/2018]
- The Aceh provincial government has vowed to protect Gunung Leuser National Park, the core part of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, by canceling infrastructure projects in the park. - However, questions linger over the future of the remaining part of the wider ecosystem, where planned infrastructure projects remain unaffected by the latest pledge. - Activists have called on the provincial government to recognize the wider Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh’s spatial plans so that the region is excluded from any infrastructure development that could threaten the habitat of the many endangered species living there.
Debate ensues over British supermarket chain’s decision to ban palm oil [05/10/2018]
- Iceland Foods recently decided to remove palm oil from its own-label products. The move follows a vote by the European Parliament to ban the use of palm oil in European biofuels. - An aggressive lobbying campaign spearheaded by actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top palm oil producers, have framed the ban as an attack on small farmers, although the industry is dominated by large companies. But Iceland’s move has also spurred debate among scientists and conservationists, some of whom say Iceland would do better to source palm oil that has been produced “sustainably.” - Iceland says it doesn’t believe there is enough “truly sustainable palm oil…currently available on the mass market” for that to be a practical solution. The credibility of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the world’s largest association for ethical production of the commodity, for example, is widely seen as questionable, as it has repeatedly failed to enforce its standards. - Greenpeace described Iceland’s move as a “warning shot from a tiny UK company, that could start to grow bigger if palm oil producers and governments don’t tackle the scourge of deforestation.”
A forgotten people: traditional Amazon hamlet fights for its territory [05/09/2018]
- In the early 20th century, rubber tappers established traditional communities along the middle reaches of the Xingu River in the Amazon. In the late 20th century these communities endured the threats of illegal loggers and land thieves. - In the early 2000s, São Sebastião do Xingu residents were told that a group of elite landowners had bought the land on which their hamlet stood, and that the community would be forced to vacate, which it did, moving upstream. Then, in 2005, the people were told again they would have to move to make way for Serra do Pardo National Park. - This time, the residents of São Sebastião resisted and stayed on the land, despite intense pressure from the Brazilian government to leave. They argued that they were not properly informed of the government’s plan to establish the park, that their livelihoods are sustainable, and that they live in harmony with the local ecology, rather than harming it. - São Sebastião residents continue to negotiate to stay on their land with officials from ICMBio, the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation. And while those talks have been painfully slow, the traditional people hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, and that they will be able to keep their homes and territory.
Indonesian activists protest China-funded dam in orangutan habitat [05/09/2018]
- The Chinese government plans to fund a massive hydroelectric power dam in the Batang Toru ecosystem in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where the newly described Tapanuli orangutan lives. - Activists staged a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta on May 8, coinciding with a state visit by Premier Li Keqiang, to condemn Beijing’s involvement in the project. - In a letter submitted by the demonstrators to the embassy, they demanded China withdraw its support for the project due to the massive environmental threats posed by the endeavor.
Pleistocene climates help scientists pick out targets for conservation in Brazil’s forests [05/08/2018]
- A team of scientists looked for places in the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest that have had stable weather patterns for a long time — going back to the Pleistocene Epoch — but that don’t fall within the boundaries of existing parks or reserves. - They measured the efficiency of the current network of protected areas in these areas, and they also came up with a prioritization scale for conservation efforts that incorporated the locations of intact forest landscapes. - The team reports that protected areas in the Amazon are four times as efficient at safeguarding these “climatically stable areas” as protected areas in the Atlantic Forest.
Four regions in Peru exposed to mercury contamination [05/08/2018]
- People living in the regions of Madre de Dios, Huancavelica, Puno, and Cusco have mercury levels higher than those considered safe. - It is estimated that in the last 20 years, more than 3,000 tons of mercury have been dumped into rivers in the Peruvian Amazon.
‘Rarest’ ape’s path to survival blocked by roads, dams and agriculture [05/03/2018]
- According to a new study, the Tapanuli orangutan, one of only seven species of non-human great ape alive today, faces serious threats to its survival as infrastructure development and agriculture threaten more than one-quarter of its habitat. - In November, a team of scientists reported that a new species of orangutan living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was distinct from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. - They believe that fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans survive. - Conservationists and scientists warn that a proposed 510-megawatt hydroelectric dam could push the new species closer to extinction.
What’s next for Indonesia’s stalled indigenous rights bill? [05/03/2018]
- The fate of a long-awaited bill on the rights of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples appeared to be in jeopardy last month when the home ministry, which had been tasked by the president with shepherding the bill’s passage into law, expressed the view that the bill was not necessary. - Though the ministry has since backtracked on its position following an outcry from indigenous rights advocates, it remains uncertain whether the bill will make it through the legislative process before the end of the current parliament term. - But even those pushing for the bill to be passed say it is far from perfect. Among the critiques is that it creates new hoops for indigenous communities to jump through on the path to securing tenure over their land and forests.
Religious leaders mobilize to protect indigenous people and forests [05/02/2018]
- Religious leaders joined forces with indigenous peoples from Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Meso-America and Peru at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in 2017 to launch the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI). - The IRI plans to mobilize high profile religious leaders to intervene in policy forums and advocate for forests and indigenous people with support from UN Environment. - It has been estimated that one third of climate change mitigation is from tropical rainforests and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is an effective and low-cost method of reducing carbon emissions.
New film shines light on cattle industry link to Amazon deforestation [05/01/2018]
- Approximately one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down, and nearly 80 percent of this deforestation is attributable to the cattle industry, says a new nearly hour-long documentary, “Grazing the Amazon.” - Many ranchers are outspoken in their justification for deforestation, possibly because they feel safe from prosecution under Brazilian law because of the bancada ruralista, the powerful agribusiness lobby that has a huge influence in congress and on the Temer administration. - One of the major problems driving deforestation is “cattle washing,” illicit techniques for raising cattle on newly deforested land by falsifying records, or shifting the cattle from illegal pasture to legal pasture, before sending them to slaughterhouses. Better recordkeeping could help to illuminate and limit this practice. - Government and/or banking sanctions and incentives are also badly needed to motivate cattle ranchers to move away from deforestation, and to support already proven techniques for sustainable livestock production in the Brazilian Amazon.
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.
Major Islamic financier singled out for deforestation in Indonesia [05/01/2018]
- Lembaga Tabung Haji is a Malaysian Islamic financial institution whose listed palm oil arm, TH Plantations, owns dozens of estates in Malaysia and Indonesia. - The firm was the subject of a recent report by Chain Reaction Research that alleges it cleared hundreds of hectares of carbon-rich forest and peatland for oil palm expansion in 2017. - The firm supplies major refiners and users of palm oil, such as Wilmar, ADM, Nestlé and Unilever, some of which have promised to stop sourcing palm oil linked to environmental destruction.
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.
Palm oil supplier to food giants clears forest, peatland in Indonesia, Greenpeace says [04/30/2018]
- The Yemen-based Hayel Saeed Anam Group, which sells palm oil to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever through subsidiaries, is responsible for clearing 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) of rainforest and peatland in Indonesia’s Papua province between 2015 and 2017, according to Greenpeace. - Staff from the environmental organization shot video revealing the extent of the destruction. - Greenpeace campaigners have raised concerns that Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are not upholding their commitments to get rid of deforestation, peatland destruction and exploitation from their supply chains.
3,000 indigenous people gather in Brasilia to protest ruralist agenda [04/30/2018]
- From 23-27 April, 3,000 indigenous people from a hundred groups all across Brazil came together in Brasilia for the 15th annual encampment to demonstrate against government policies and to demand justice. While last year’s event saw police crowd control with teargas, this year’s was peaceful. - This year’s encampment, like last year’s, was among the largest ever, catalysed by rising violence against indigenous leaders and activists, and by what participants see as the repressive and authoritarian policies of the Temer government and Congress, both of which are dominated by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby. - Among other demands, the demonstrators called for demarcation of ancestral lands, guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, but not yet carried out in many indigenous areas. Protestors also asked the government to obey International Labour Organization Convention 169, which Brazil signed, and assures pre-consultation of groups impacted by large infrastructure projects. - Indigenous women had an exceptionally strong presence at this year’s encampment, and there was further collaboration with traditional riverine group representatives, who in the past were sometimes indigenous opponents. Now, indigenous and traditional people are joining together to prevent the loss of their lands and cultures, and to preserve their way of life.
More gorillas and chimpanzees living in Central Africa’s forests than thought [04/27/2018]
- A study led by WCS researchers pulled together wildlife survey data collected between 2003 and 2013 at 59 sites in five countries across western Central Africa. - They then developed mathematical models to understand where the highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees are and why, as well as broader trends in the populations. - They found that more than 361,000 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and almost 129,000 central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) inhabit these forests — about 30 percent more gorillas and 10 percent more chimpanzees than previously estimated. - The team’s analyses also demonstrate that western lowland gorilla numbers are slipping by 2.7 percent a year.
Photos: Meet the 2018 ‘Green Oscars’ winners [04/27/2018]
- The six winners of 2018 Whitley Award are Munir Virani of Kenya; Shahriar Caesar Rahman of Bangladesh; Kerstin Forsberg of Peru; Dominique Bikaba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Anjali Chandraraj Watson of Sri Lanka; and Olivier Nsengimana of Rwanda. - Each recipient was awarded £40,000 ($56,000) in project funding over one year at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, U.K., on April 25. - A seventh conservationist, Pablo “Popi” Garcia Borboroglu from Argentina, who won the Whitley Award in 2010, received the Whitley Gold Award for his commitment to safeguarding the world’s penguin species.
‘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.
Environmental defenders fear backlash as defendant sues expert over testimony [04/26/2018]
- Basuki Wasis, an environmental expert whose testimony helped convict a provincial governor of abuse of power, now faces a lawsuit brought by the latter for alleged inaccuracies in his calculations of environmental damage. - The lawsuit against Basuki is similar to one he faced last year from a palm oil company that was fined for setting fires on its concession. The earlier lawsuit was dropped, but the company now appears to be targeting another expert witness who testified against it. - The litigation has sparked concerns among environmental experts and activists alike, who fear it will have a silencing effect and allow environmental crimes to go unpunished. - They also worry that without financial assessments of damages caused to the environment, prosecutors trying corruption cases in the natural resources sector will not be able to push for longer prison sentences and heavier fines.
‘Monumental’ bust in Madagascar triggers effort to save thousands of endangered tortoises [04/25/2018]
- Authorities discovered 9,888 starving and dehydrated radiated tortoises in a vacant house in southwestern Madagascar on April 10. - Since then, a team of organizations led by the Turtle Survival Alliance has been working to provide care for the critically endangered tortoises, 574 of which died during the first week. - The tortoises, endemic to Madagascar, have lost around 40 percent of their habitat to deforestation, and poachers commonly capture them for the pet trade in Asia and the United States.
Study puts a figure to hidden cost of community-company conflict in palm oil industry [04/25/2018]
- Two studies have revealed the extraordinary costs of social conflicts between local communities and palm oil firms in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the vegetable oil. - One study found that more than half of local household expenditure at present was going on things they would have obtained for free in the past, such as water and fruits, from the forests that were cleared to make way for palm plantations. - The other study highlighted the hidden burden of these same conflicts on the companies, amounting to millions of dollars in tangible and intangible costs, including reputational damage.
Papuan chef Charles Toto serves up sustainability and environmental protection in a platter [04/24/2018]
- Charles Toto is the founder of the Jungle Chef Community, a network of enthusiasts from across the Indonesian region of Papua who promote sustainable living and environmental protection through local cuisine. - Toto came up with the idea after seeing foreign documentary makers and tour groups embarking on weeks-long treks in the Papuan wilderness with nothing more than instant and canned food. - Over the years, he has learned to make the best use of the ingredients served up by the forest and the sea, and has taken his unique mission to culinary shows across Indonesia and abroad. - But for Toto and his group, the opening up of Papua’s forests to palm oil and other commercial operators, aided by a government-backed infrastructure push, threatens the region’s natural wealth and heritage.
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.
Conservation Effectiveness series sparks action, dialogue [04/23/2018]
- Our in-depth series examined the effectiveness of six common conservation strategies: Forest certification, payments for ecosystem services, community-based forest management, terrestrial protected areas, marine protected areas, and environmental advocacy. - We also examined how four of the biggest groups that dominate today’s conservation landscape — The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) — make decisions about which conservation strategy to employ. - Our series generated a lot of discussion and attracted a wide variety of feedback. - We hope to keep our databases of scientific studies and our infographics alive and relevant by developing a platform that allows researchers to update them by adding studies. We welcome ideas on this effort.
Island logging must go beyond current ‘best practices’ to avoid erosion: New study [04/23/2018]
- In a new study, a team of ecologists modeled what would happen if companies were allowed to log the forests of Kolombangara Island under several management scenarios, including those designed to minimize soil erosion and protect water quality. - As the model simulated higher proportions of land clearance, the most stringent methods couldn’t stop the soil erosion that would foul clean water and agricultural land for the island’s people, as well as the habitats of local aquatic plants and animals. - The Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association is spearheading an effort to get intact forests at elevations higher than 400 meters (1,310 feet) designated as a national park on the island.
Save intact forests for humanity’s sake, urge experts [04/20/2018]
- The world’s largest forests can help solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity, but only if we move to safeguard them, argues a New York Times op-ed by Tom Lovejoy and John Reid. - Lovejoy and Reid make a case for protecting the planet’s last “intact forest landscapes” for the role they can play in addressing critical social and environmental challenges. - They argue that while the extent of intact forests have declined by 7 percent so far this century, there are “practical and affordable” options for protecting them. - “aving forests more than just a nice thing to do; it’s a survival skill we’re going to need over the next hundred years or more,” Reid told Mongabay in an interview.
Bid to protect indigenous Indonesians hit by ministry’s doubts over rights bill [04/20/2018]
- Indonesia’s Home Affairs Ministry has shocked indigenous-rights advocates with its assessment that a bill currently before parliament on indigenous peoples is “not a necessity” and will only give rise to more problems. - That stance goes against the long-held commitment of the administration of President Joko Widodo to recognize and protect the rights of the country’s myriad indigenous communities, including their rights to ancestral forests. - The ministry, however, has played down the uproar, saying discussions on the bill are still in their early stages and other ministries and government agencies have yet to weigh in on the matter.
Latam Eco review: Colombian reserves fail large vertebrates [04/20/2018]
Below are summaries of the most read stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of April 9 – 15. The top two articles reported on high expectations for Peru’s new environmental minister, and the two sides of Colombian conservation, from a history of great success to threats to its most iconic […]
New species of ‘exploding ant’ discovered in Borneo [04/19/2018]
- Researchers have revealed a new species of exploding ant, which they discovered living in the rainforest canopy of Brunei on the island of Borneo. - Named Colobopsis explodens, the new ant ruptures its abdomen when threatened, killing itself in the process. This rupturing releases a sticky, yellow, toxic goo that has a spicy smell. - The researchers expect more exploding ant species will be described in the near future.
Tambopata: Where forest conservation and opportunity meet [04/19/2018]
- Robin Van Loon is founder of Camino Verde in Peru, an organization working to go above and beyond sustainable agro-economics in favor of regenerative agro-economics. - The Tambopata Region of the Peruvian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet where new species are still being discovered. It’s home to species of trees used and nurtured by Camino Verde for profit and forest health. - The vision of Robin Van Loon and his team at Camino Verde: see the forest for the trees, and you’ll find a way to preserve both for generations to come.
Brazil’s actual forest-related CO2 emissions could blow by Paris pledge [04/19/2018]
- Brazil is reporting its CO2 emissions within U.N. guidelines, but those rules ignore significant sources of national greenhouse gas emissions ¬by disregarding carbon emitting processes related to forests, say scientists. None of this underreporting is likely unique to Brazil, but it is perhaps more acute there than in other nations due to Brazil’s vast forests. - The U.N. doesn’t require Brazil and other developing nations to count certain greenhouse gas emissions in detail, especially sources it classifies as non-anthropogenic. This, for example, includes CO2 released from wildfires. However, most fires in the Brazilian Amazon are set by people clearing land, so those CO2 emissions are largely human-caused. - Forest degradation, methane emitted from reservoirs, and carbon released from soils where forests are converted to croplands or pastures go partly or totally untallied in emission reports, sometimes because data is lacking, or because the UN hasn’t included the source in its reporting criteria. Another problem: low-resolution satellite monitoring allows small-scale deforestation to go undetected, so is unreported. - As a result, Brazil’s actual carbon emissions are almost certainly higher than the figures reported to the United Nations — how much higher is unknown. But, experts say, that if this missing carbon were added to Brazil’s reported emissions, the nation would likely not meet its 2025 Paris Climate Agreement goal.
Unified land-use map for Indonesia nears launch, but concerns over access remain [04/19/2018]
- A unified database integrating all of the land-use maps currently in use in Indonesia is set for an earlier-than-expected launch this August, as the government scrambles to collate outstanding data from various agencies and regions. - The one-map policy is seen as key to resolving a host of development and planning problems caused by overlapping and often contradictory maps wielded by different agencies, including the issue of plantations being permitted inside forest areas. - The government, however, says access to the database will be restricted, and is drafting regulations that will govern who gets to see it.
Earth Day founding organizer calls for end to plastic pollution [04/18/2018]
- Denis Hayes was the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, and he took the event to the international stage in 1990. - Earth Day 2018 is slated for April 22 and focuses on plastic pollution, so Mongabay asked him about this event and what else is on the mind of this key leader of the international environmental movement. - Earth Day is said to be the most widely observed secular holiday in the world, with activities happening in most countries around the world. - Hayes is also active in sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. and his work is housed in one of the greenest office buildings in the world.
It’s time to confront the collusion between the palm oil industry and politicians that is driving Indonesia’s deforestation crisis (commentary) [04/18/2018]
- An investigation released today by Mongabay and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project reveals the deep connections between the international palm oil industry and the corruption of Indonesian democracy. - Some of the biggest firms in the industry, that are supplying supermarkets in the EU and U.S., are buying palm oil from plantations linked to corrupt politicians. - Six million hectares of rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands remains in licenses issued in opaque circumstances. If the role of corruption is confronted, through action in Indonesia, by overseas consumer companies and the international community, much of this forest could be saved.
Ghosts in the Machine: The land deals behind the downfall of Indonesia’s top judge [04/18/2018]
- This is the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis. - Indonesia for Sale is a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative reporting initiative established by UK-based nonprofit Earthsight. - The series is the product of 16 months of reporting across the Southeast Asian country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and plantation companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them.
Colombia grants ‘historic’ protections to rainforest, indigenous groups [04/13/2018]
- In a move described as “unprecedented,” Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday that the country intends to add 8 million hectares (80,000 square kilometers or 31,000 square miles) to its protected areas. - Santos also signed a decree granting indigenous communities the ability and autonomy to govern their own territories. - He said the government will be spending the next two weeks defining the bounds of the new protected areas, and that residents of local indigenous communities will be granted land titles giving them the autonomy to manage them. - Norway has committed $250 million towards Colombia’s initiative.
Small farmers not ready as Indonesia looks to impose its palm oil sustainability standard on all [04/13/2018]
- The Indonesian government plans to make its sustainable palm oil certification scheme, the ISPO, mandatory for small farmers by 2020. These farmers account for 40 percent of the total oil palm plantation area nationwide, but were exempted from the initial ISPO rollout. - A recent study shows that these smallholders are not ready to adopt the standard. They face a variety of challenges, largely stemming from the tenuous nature of their land ownership claims. - The Ministry of Agriculture fears that under the existing ISPO compliance regulation, many farmers will end up in prison for failing to comply by the deadline. The government is now drafting an updated ISPO regulation.
Most Popular Stories from Mongabay Latam, April 2 – 8 [04/13/2018]
These are the most popular stories at Mongabay Latam from April 2 – 8. The oil spill in Colombia is an ongoing environmental disaster. The search for the causes of the tragedy and the work to save affected animals were the most read stories of the week. The image above, a spectacular vista of the […]
Brazil’s high court curbs executive power to dismember protected areas [04/12/2018]
- Last week, Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) ruled that MP 558, a Provisional Measure, was unconstitutional, making it unlawful for the executive branch to use the administrative decree to reduce seven conservation units by 100,000 hectares — five of those units were in the Tapajós basin. - In addition, the STF ruled that in future it would be unconstitutional for the executive branch to use MPs to alter the boundaries of already established conservation units. Such reductions can only be approved by the legislature. - MPs can continue to be used in setting other policies, some harmful to the environment. Past MPs approved the building of new coal burning power plants, and for dramatically revising the Terra Legal program, revising it not to benefit the landless poor, but wealthy elites and land grabbers, say critics. - In another win for conservationists, environment minister José Sarney Filho created five new Brazilian conservation units last week, covering 1.2 million hectares. Two were created in Bahia state, in the Cerrado savanna biome; and three in Maranhão state, in the Caatinga tropical dry forest biome.
India’s new forest policy draft draws criticism for emphasis on industrial timber [04/12/2018]
- The Draft National Forest Policy 2018 is now open for public comments, and will replace the older 1988 policy once it comes into force. - Critics are apprehensive about how the draft policy deals with community participation and industrial forestry. - The current draft is bereft of knowledge-driven solutions, some experts say.
How a family of local elites is still pitching to control a district in Borneo [04/11/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the seventh and final part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of […]
Indonesian billionaire using ‘shadow companies’ to clear forest for palm oil, report alleges [04/11/2018]
- Two plantation companies linked to Anthoni Salim, Indonesia’s third-richest man, are deforesting a peat swamp in Borneo, according to new research by Aidenvironment. - In response to the findings, Citigroup said it was cancelling all lending agreements with IndoAgri, the Salim Group’s agribusiness arm. - The Salim Group was previously accused of being behind four companies at the forefront of illegal oil palm expansion in Indonesia’s Papua region, employing a complex network of shared directorships and offshore companies to obfuscate its responsibility. - “It is not just the Salim Group; most of the main palm oil groups have these ‘dark sides’ that continue to deforest,” said Selwyn Moran, founder of investigative blog awas MIFEE.
New remote-sensing technique used to determine carbon losses in Sub-Saharan Africa [04/10/2018]
- Research published yesterday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution finds that pressures from human activities and climate change caused the African continent to lose as much as 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon between 2010 and 2016. - The study not only shows that there was an overall net carbon loss across sub-Saharan Africa, but also that substantial losses occurred in drylands — savannahs and woodlands that fall outside of humid zones — which lost approximately 5 percent of their total carbon stocks each year. - In order to quantify changes in above-ground biomass-carbon in sub-Saharan Africa, an international team of scientists used a new remote sensing technique based on a satellite system that employs low-frequency, passive microwave signals as opposed to the more common high-resolution photography.
Indonesia land swap, meant to protect peatlands, risks wider deforestation, NGOs say [04/09/2018]
- Under a government program, pulpwood and logging companies in Indonesia are eligible for a land swap if their existing concessions include at least 40 percent protected peatland. - However, a lack of transparency over how the substitute areas are selected has led to fears that up to half the land that could potentially be awarded may be natural forest, thereby speeding up deforestation in the name of protecting peatland. - There are also fears that granting eligible companies these substitute areas, which the government says will be on abandoned or undeveloped timber concessions, will reignite conflicts with local communities. - The government has promised to publish a map of the land swap areas, adding it wants to ensure the new lands don’t include natural forests and won’t spark conflicts with local communities.
How loopholes in Indonesia’s corruption law let environmental crime persist [04/09/2018]
In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the fifth part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son of Darwan Ali, […]
Indonesian conservation bill is weak on wildlife crime, critics say [04/06/2018]
- Lawmakers in Indonesia have submitted for review to President Joko Widodo’s administration a bill that would overhaul the country’s 28-year-old conservation law. - While environmental advocates have long pushed for updates to the law, the new draft has alarmed many with its various provisions that critics say represent a regression from the existing legislation. - Problem articles include a “self-defense” clause that would waive criminal charges for killing protected wildlife; a more nebulous definition of wildlife crime that some fear could make it harder to crack down on traffickers; and the opening up of conservation areas to geothermal exploration and other “strategic development” projects. - The ball is now in the court of the government, which is required to review the bill before sending it back to parliament for final passage. However, a minister says the government will “hold off” on its review, and suggests the existing conservation law is sufficient.
Vine-like lianas alter the edges of fragmented forests: New study [04/06/2018]
- A new study has found that a group of climbing plants called lianas spring up in higher numbers along the edges of fragmented forests than they do in less-disturbed patches. - Previous research has shown that lianas can cause trees to die or to stockpile less carbon, and they can also affect the mix of tree species present in the forest. - To ensure a healthy, functioning ecosystem, managers can set aside a buffer zone around the edges of these patches or increase the size of the protected area as a whole.
South Korean company under fire for alleged deforestation in Papua oil palm concession [04/05/2018]
- A report by WRI shows ongoing deforestation in an oil palm concession in Papua, Indonesia, operated by a subsidiary of South Korea’s POSCO Daewoo. - The company has responded by saying its operations in Papua are legal and fully permitted. - Concerns over deforestation by POSCO Daewoo have prompted other companies to say they will not allow its palm oil into their supply chains. These include big-name brands such as Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L’Oreal, Mars and Unilever. - POSCO Daewoo has issued a temporary moratorium on land clearing in its Papua concession and hired a consultant to advise it on how to proceed with its operations there.
New sloth book features amazing photographs and busts myths [PHOTOS] [04/05/2018]
- Sloths have gained in popularity in recent years but some misconceptions about them remain, such as their being ‘lazy,’ which is not true. Rather, it’s increasingly clear that sloths are quite active and incredibly stealthy. - A new book by an award-winning wildlife photographer and a world expert on sloths aims to raise awareness of facts like this, and raise funds for their conservation. - Sloths in fact sleep just 8-10 hours a day, and are otherwise quite active. And when they swim, they can move quite quickly. - Mongabay interviewed the authors and shares here several of the stunning images printed in the book.
NGOs denounce Tapajós basin intimidation, violence, Brazil inaction [04/04/2018]
- Thirty-eight national and international civil society organizations (CSOs), including social movements and NGOs, have condemned the Brazilian government and the builders of four Teles Pires River dams in the Amazon. The groups denounce the dam consortium for acts of intimidation against indigenous groups, especially involving the newly built São Manoel dam. - This dam was built by the Sao Manoel Energy Consortium, headed by the Brazilian subsidiaries of China Three Gorges Corporation, Energia de Portugal, and state company Furnas. The CSOs/NGOs say the Temer government sent in a national police unit as a “private security firm” to defend the dam builders and intimidate indigenous groups. - The CSOs/NGOs also say the government is in violation of numerous laws regarding the São Manoel dam, including a failure to properly consult with indigenous communities, threats made to those groups, incomplete environmental impact studies, and failure to implement agreed to “conditions” made by authorities in return for dam authorization. - Elsewhere, riverside communities on the Tapajós River, frustrated with government delays to meet a legal obligation to demarcate their lands, took action to mark the borders themselves. Illegal loggers and miners responded with threats of violence. The Brazilian government has done nothing so far to protect these traditional communities.
Ire and ore: Demands grow for clarity around Cambodian gold mine [04/03/2018]
- Earlier this year, residents of Tropeang Tontem in the province of Preah Vihear submitted a petition to the government Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. It complained about their treatment by local officials and a mining company. - According to Cambodian media, the petition was signed by 56 families. It states that government and company officials “forced us, coerced us and cheated us into thumb-printing a document that stated that we were farming on part of the company‘s land.” The petition requests that the document be “annulled in its entirety.” - Residents are also concerned about the intensive chemical processing of the gold ore in the open environment, a process that uses highly toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury. - A representative from a Cambodian NGO said the organization will be opposed to the mine until an environmental impact assessment of its operations is conducted, and until there is more clarity regarding mine activity.
Indonesia’s dying timber concessions, invaded by oil palms, top deforestation table [04/03/2018]
- A study shows that selective-logging leases accounted for the highest rate of deforestation in three provinces studied from 2013 to 2016. - While the discovery came as a surprise, the researchers attributed part of that deforestation to the illegal encroachment of oil palm plantations into many of these timber concessions. Another factor is the cutting of more trees than permitted by logging operators. - Environmentalists warn the problem could get even worse if the government follows through on plans to lift a ban on exports of unprocessed logs, which has been in place since 1985 (with a brief hiatus from 1997 to 2001).
New study discovers 81 lost human settlements in the Amazon rainforest [04/02/2018]
- By looking at satellite images of a previously unexplored part of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a team of archaeologists has identified 81 pre-Columbian human settlements. - The team also found that the settlements weren’t near major rivers, but closer to smaller streams and creeks, challenging a commonly held belief that pre-Columbian people tended to live close to fertile floodplains of large rivers, leaving the rest of the forest relatively untouched. - The researchers’ computer model predicted that the southern rim of the Amazon likely supported up to 1 million people in pre-Columbian times, a population that’s much larger than previous estimates.
Study: Indonesia’s ambitious peat restoration initiative severely underfunded [03/30/2018]
- Indonesia will need an estimated $4.6 billion to restore some 20,000 square kilometers (7,720 square miles) of degraded peatland by its self-imposed deadline of 2020, a study suggests. - To date, however, funding for the project that began in 2016 amounts to less than $200 million, with the result that only 5 percent of the restoration target has been achieved. - The study authors say the Indonesian government faces a dilemma over whether to concentrate its resources in a smaller area or risk potentially ineffective restoration methods to cover the entire target area.
Greenpeace International ends its Forest Stewardship Council membership [03/30/2018]
- Greenpeace International announced on March 26 that it would not renew its membership with the FSC. - The environmental organization says the FSC is not meeting its aims of protecting forests and ensuring that human rights are respected. - Greenpeace and the FSC both say they intend to continue to engage with each other, despite the end of a long formal relationship.
Agroforestry bolsters biodiversity and villages in Sri Lanka [03/29/2018]
- Residents of the rural Sri Lankan village of Pitekele relied on the nearby rainforest as a source of food, fuel, fiber and medicine for generations, until it was made into a park. - The forest’s new conservation status and rules for accessing traditional products caused traditional “home garden” agroforestry plots to replace the forest’s role in villagers’ incomes and food procurement strategies. - These unusually diverse agroforestry systems have reduced the pressure on native primary rainforest and serve to provide habitat, forest cover, biodiversity and food security within the buffer zone, where land is otherwise increasingly being used for tea cultivation. - Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot, and its home gardens are very diverse too: Pitekele’s home gardens support a richness of 219 species in 181 genera and 73 families.
Do environmental advocacy campaigns drive successful forest conservation? [03/29/2018]
- How effective are advocacy campaigns at driving permanent policy changes that lead to forest conservation results? We suspected this might be a difficult question to answer scientifically, but nevertheless we gamely set out to see what researchers had discovered when they attempted to do so as part of a special Mongabay series on “Conservation Effectiveness.” - We ultimately reviewed 34 studies and papers, and found that the scientific evidence is fairly weak for any claims about the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns. So we also spoke with several experts in forest conservation and advocacy campaigns to supplement our understanding of some of the broader trends and to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. - We found no evidence that advocacy campaigns on their own drive long-term forest conservation, though they do appear to be valuable in terms of raising awareness of environmental issues and driving people to take action. But it’s important to note that, of all the conservation interventions we examined for the Conservation Effectiveness series, advocacy campaigns appear to have the weakest evidence base in scientific literature.
In a land untouched by mines, indigenous holdouts fight a coal invasion [03/28/2018]
- Despite opposition from local officials and the absence of a required environmental impact assessment, a coal company was granted a permit to mine in Indonesian Borneo’s Central Hulu Sungai district. - The local Dayak people have vowed to fight the mine, and an environmental NGO is suing the central government for issuing the permit. - The permit was issued after changes to the law — said to simplify the process of issuing permits — allowed mining firm PT MCM to sidestep local officials.
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.