Proposed Colombia dam threatens to wipe out endangered plants, disrupt river [07/26/2017]
- A proposed $800 million dam in northwestern Colombia would provide 352 megawatts of electricity annually. - The dam is sited in the Samaná Norte River, which scientists are just starting to survey after being barred due to conflict. A recently discovered, critically endangered species of palm, Aiphanes argos, is highly threatened by the dam. Its dicoverer says that flooding caused by dam construction could put the palm at high risk of extinction. - Other critics say the dam may also displace local communities and reduce populations of a fish species important to the local economy. A dam expert says reduced water flow from damming the Samaná Norte could release more methane into the atmosphere. - A representative from the company charged with construction of the dam says precautions will be taken to mitigate environmental damage.
Working with communities to fight fires in Way Kambas National Park [07/26/2017]
- Way Kambas National Park in southern Sumatra supports populations of Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers and elephants, along with hundreds of other species. - In 1997, forest fires hit 70 percent of the park, killing many animals and hampering regeneration in previously logged areas. - Local authorities and conservation groups are now working with residents to prevent and fight fires, with notable success.
Conserving the World’s Remaining Intact Forests (commentary) [07/25/2017]
- Intact forests are among the few places on earth where native trees and animals can fulfill their ecological roles outside the influence of industrial humankind. - Some interpret “intact” to mean absent the influence of people, but people have lived within forests the world over for millennia and we are only beginning to understand how they have – and continue to – influence them. - We cannot solve our most pressing environmental and development problems by compromising the few areas that remain whole. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Audio: Global megadam activism and the sounds of nature in Taiwan [07/25/2017]
- Activists from around the world attended the conference to strategize around stopping what they see as destructive hydropower projects. As Bardeen relates in her commentary, many attendees at the conference have faced harassment, intimidation, and worse for their opposition to dam projects, but they’re still standing strong in defense of free-flowing rivers. - We also speak with Yannick Dauby, a French sound artist based in Taiwan. Since 2002, Dauby has been crafting sound art out of field recordings made throughout the small country of Taiwan and posting them on his website, Kalerne.net. - In this Field Notes segment, Dauby plays a recording of his favorite singer, a frog named Rhacophorus moltrechti; the sounds of the marine life of the corals of Penghu, which he is documenting together with biologists; the calls bats use to echolocate (slowed down 16 times so they can be heard by human ears!); and more! - All that plus the top news on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast!
Pangolin hunting skyrockets in Central Africa, driven by international trade [07/24/2017]
- The study pulled together information on markets, prices and hunting methods for pangolins from research in 14 countries in Africa. - Pangolins are hunted for their meat in some African countries, and their scales are used in traditional medicine, both locally and in several Asian countries, including China. - The researchers found that as many as 2.71 million pangolins from three species are killed every year across six Central African countries – at least a 145 percent increase since before 2000. - They recommend better enforcement of the 2016 CITES ban across the entire supply chain, from Africa to Asia.
Orangutans find home in degraded forests [07/24/2017]
- The study leveraged three years of orangutan observation in the field and airborne mapping of the forest structure using laser-based light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology. - The research team found that orangutans make use of habitats that have been ‘degraded’ by logging and other human uses. - The research is part of a larger effort in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department to map carbon stocks and plant and animal biodiversity throughout the Malaysian state of Sabah with the goal of identifying new areas for conservation.
Mounting outcry over Indonesian palm oil bill as legislators press on [07/21/2017]
- The bill cements the right of oil palm planters to operate on peat soil, at a time when President Joko Widodo is trying to enforce new peat protections to stop another outbreak of devastating fires and haze. - The bill has also been criticized for outlining a variety of tax breaks and duty relief schemes for palm oil investors, although those provisions have been dialed back — but not completely eliminated — in the latest draft. - The bill's main champion in the House of Representatives is the Golkar Party's Firman Soebagyo. He says it will help farmers and protect Indonesian palm oil from foreign intervention. - Responding to mounting public criticism, some cabinet members recently asked the House to abandon the bill, but Soebagyo, who is leading the deliberations, says they will continue.
Big forests, big ag: Are rainforests the right place for industrial agriculture? (commentary) [07/21/2017]
- Gabon remains a relative stronghold for endangered wildlife like chimpanzees and forest elephants. - Singapore-based Olam International, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, has agreed not to plant palm oil in protected wetlands, and also set aside conservation areas and corridors for wildlife in its concessions in Gabon. - But there is only so much that can be done to minimize the impact of clearing 26,000 hectares in the middle of one of the world’s most forested countries. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Camera traps capture elusive ocelots in Peru’s Madre de Dios [07/20/2017]
- The ocelot is a particularly important part of the Amazonian ecosystem because it’s a dominant species in the food chain, especially at the mesopredator level. - Between 1960 and 1970, Peru’s population of ocelots went through a crisis known as a population bottleneck. Even today, they are sometimes kept as pets or killed for their fur. - In addition to the hunting of ocelots, the study highlights the vulnerability of Peru’s Las Piedras District. Although it has some of the most remote forests in Peru, the district is at risk of deforestation and degradation due to the human pressures like logging.
As Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem faces multiple threats, local resistance grows [07/17/2017]
- Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem covers 2.6 million hectares and is home to some 105 mammal and 382 bird species, many found nowhere else on earth. - The ecosystem is part of a World Heritage Site that has been listed as "In Danger" since 2011 — a designation that was renewed earlier this month. - The local government's plans for the ecosystem include large hydroelectric dams. Deforestation and encroachment for palm oil and pulp and paper production are also major problems for the Leuser. - Local NGOs and community groups are speaking out against large-scale projects in the ecosystem, citing threats to the area's human residents as well as to wildlife.
Transforming business as usual in Indonesia: an interview with Aida Greenbury [07/17/2017]
- Aida Greenbury is the former Chief Sustainability Officer at Asia Pulp & Paper, a forestry giant with extensive operations in Indonesia. - Greenbury was the lead internal architect for APP's 2013 forest conservation policy, which is today one of the most ambitious zero deforestation commitments in the plantation sector. - Greenbury left APP in May and is today working on collaborative initiatives to protect and restore ecosystems.
Colombia expands indigenous reserves near key deforestation hotspot [07/14/2017]
- The Puerto Sabalo - Los Monos and Monochoa indigenous reserves are both located in the province of Caquetá, which has the highest rate of forest loss in Colombia. - The expansion of the two reserves connects Chiribiquete with Predio Putumayo, the country's largest indigenous reserve, creating a conservation corridor slightly larger than the entire country of Honduras. - A recent report by the Mapping the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) shows that cattle ranching and agricultural development have opened a new deforestation hotspot in Caquetá province’s Amazon rainforests — and that deforestation is expanding towards Chiribiquete National Park.
Going under: mangrove restoration in low-lying Guyana a vital need, say experts [07/13/2017]
- A mature mangrove tree, which can grow as high at 30 feet, acts as a buffer against the sea and storms, a filter for the water, and can chop ten times more carbon than any other plant. - Greater seawall defense is an urgent problem in a country where portions of the coastline are nearly five feet below sea level at high tide. - Almost 90 percent of the country’s population lives and works along Guyana’s fertile Atlantic coast, making a lack of seawall defense a potential threat to food security, livelihoods and lives.
Soy King Blairo Maggi wields power over Amazon’s fate, say critics [07/13/2017]
- Brazil’s Blairo Maggi made a fortune with vast Mato Grosso soy plantations in Legal Amazonia. Today, Amaggi Group, the family company, dominates the nation’s agribusiness sector — profiting from farm commodities, and the roads, railways, and industrial waterways that transport them. - Maggi rose through Brazilian politics, becoming Mato Grosso’s governor, a senator, and today, the Temer administration’s agriculture minister. He is also a leader of the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, that dominates Brazilian government. - Once known as the Soy King, Maggi has often pushed anti-environmental agribusiness policies, including those resulting in major Amazon deforestation, ending indigenous land demarcation, and harmful infrastructure projects putting biodiversity at risk. He has also, paradoxically, worked to end illegal logging and to reduce deforestation. - On Monday, 17 July, Maggi will meet with the Trump administration to urge the U.S. to lift its ban on Brazilian beef, a ban prompted by scandal involving a corrupt federal meat inspection service overseen by his ministry. Maggi was recently accused of corruption by federal Lava Jato investigators. He continues to shape Amazon policies.
Temer signs law that could see millions of acres lost in the Amazon [07/13/2017]
- MP 759, signed into law this week by President Temer, and little noticed by the media, significantly alters Brazil’s Terra Legal program, introduced in 2009 by President Lula — a program that has already been hijacked by land thieves, critics say. - The new law introduces further multiple loopholes to allow land thieves, who have illegally occupied and cleared vast areas of public land in the Amazon, to legalize their land holdings, and to do so both easily and cheaply. - MP 759, among other things, increases the land claimable via Terra Legal from 1,500 to 2,500 hectares; allows wealthy land thieves to go on paying very little for land; and offers what in practice is an amnesty for land grabbers who illegally seized public lands between 2004 and 2011. - With government regulatory and enforcement agencies hard hit by massive budget cuts, analysts fear that the passage of MP 759 will result in an alarming increase in rural violence, which is already running at very high levels.
Audio: DJ remixes the sounds of birds, lemurs, and more to inspire conservation [07/12/2017]
- Our first guest is Ben Mirin, aka DJ Ecotone, an explorer, wildlife DJ, educator, and television presenter who creates music from the sounds of nature to help inspire conservation efforts. - In this very special Field Notes segment, Mirin discusses his craft and some of the challenges of capturing wildlife sounds in the field — including why it can be so difficult to record dolphins when all they want to do is take a bow ride on your boat. - We also speak with Cleve Hicks, author of a children’s book called A Rhino to the Rescue: A Tale of Conservation and Adventure, not only to express his love of nature but to help raise awareness of the poaching crisis decimating Africa’s rhino population. - All that plus the top news on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast!
Abdon Nababan, former head of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples alliance, to run for North Sumatra governor [07/12/2017]
- Nababan announced his candidacy in a Facebook post today. - He recently ended his tenure as leader of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago. - The current governor is unelected, having risen to the position after his running mate was arrested for corruption. - Graft is an epidemic in Indonesia, serving the interests of mining, logging and plantation firms at the expense of indigenous groups.
Ongoing mass extinction causing ‘biological annihilation,’ new study says [07/11/2017]
- Building on research in which they showed that two species have gone extinct per year over the past century, a team of biologists analyzed the population trends for 27,600 vertebrates around the world. - They found that nearly a third of the animals they looked at were on the decline. - In a closer look at 177 well-studied mammals, the team found that all had lost 30 percent or more of their home ranges, and 40 percent had lost at least 80 percent of their habitat.
Study: Biodiversity poorly protected by conservation areas worldwide [07/10/2017]
- The study identified the highest concentrations of species, phylogenetic and functional biodiversity on Earth and determined how well the current network of protected areas encompasses these dimensions. - The three facets of biodiversity overlap on only 4.6 percent of land on Earth, with only 1 percent under protection. - The research points to areas that could be prioritized to maximize the amount of unique biodiversity protected.
African great ape bushmeat crisis intensifies; few solutions in sight [07/07/2017]
- Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos are all Critically Endangered or Endangered, and continue to decline toward extinction due to habitat loss and degradation, disease, and illegal hunting. - Great ape poaching, which supplies growing urban and rural bushmeat markets, is now at crisis levels across Central Africa, and despite conservationists’ efforts, is showing no sign of slowing down. - Vast networks of logging roads, modern weapons, cell phones, cheap motorized transportation, and high demand for wild meat in urban centers is driving the booming bushmeat market. - Africa’s great ape sanctuaries rescue some survivors, and active outreach to local communities offer a partial solution. Educational programs for children and adults, teaching the value of great apes, are seen as essential.
How the World Heritage Convention could save more wilderness: Q&A with World Heritage expert Cyril Kormos [07/06/2017]
- Since its inception in the 1970s, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention has officially recognized 1,052 sites of cultural or ecological importance around the planet. - Making the list as a World Heritage site can help provide a location with increased protection and attention. - The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisor to the World Heritage Committee, released a study showing that 1.8 percent of wilderness areas are covered under World Heritage protection. - The IUCN recommends a more methodical approach to the designation of World Heritage sites to help fill these gaps.
Amazon infrastructure EIAs under-assess biodiversity; scientists offer solutions [07/06/2017]
- In a new paper, scientists assert that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for major Brazilian Amazon infrastructure projects often fail in their performance of comprehensive biodiversity evaluations, so underestimate ecosystem risk. - Their proposed solution is the development and use within EIAs of multiple, complementary scientific methods they say would be cost effective, and make more comprehensive biodiversity assessments possible. - These methods include satellite imaging, near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, and DNA metabarcoding to detect a wider range of species. The scientists propose these methods be implemented to improve pre-construction biodiversity surveys and EIAs. - A major concern by researchers is that Brazil’s Congress is currently considering legislation that would do away with the existing environmental licensing process, and reduce or eliminate existing EIA requirements.
Is Brazil’s Forest Code failing to reduce deforestation? [07/06/2017]
- Engagement with the land registration system that underpins the Forest Code was initially high, but the researchers found that it had little bearing on the amount of illegal deforestation. - Only 6 percent of farmers surveyed said they were actively restoring deforested parts of their land, while 76 percent said that they would only do so if forced by authorities. - After dropping off substantially in the late 2000s, deforestation rates are once again on the rise, reaching their highest levels since 2008 last year.
Study: Brazilian mega-dams caused far more flooding than EIA predicted [07/05/2017]
- A satellite study of the Santo Antônio and Jirau dams in the Amazon found the area flooded by their reservoirs to be much greater than projected by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done as part of the Brazilian dams’ licensing process. - Satellite images from 2006-2015 were analyzed, spanning the time immediately before, during, and after dam construction, and then these images were compared with the flooding predictions found in the EIA. - The total flooded area upstream of the dams was found to be 69.8 percent larger than projected by the EIA. The area of natural forest flooded exceeded EIA predictions by 52 percent. - Political considerations likely influenced the EIAs gross inaccuracy, with real world results. In 2014, Madeira River floods upriver from the dams impacted 75,000 people, killed a quarter-million livestock and caused over US $180 million in damage.
Merabu’s efforts to keep the carbon in its trees [07/05/2017]
- Merabu residents harvest a variety of non-timber forest products. - “The forest is our storehouse,” one resident explains. "We have a village forest and a backup forest.” - One observer says the village could dispose of its plastic better.
Indonesia is running out of places to put rescued animals [07/04/2017]
- The head of the state conservation agency in North Sumatra says both of her rescue centers are over capacity. She is having to send animals to zoos. - The glut is due to an increase of people handing over protected species to the government, in line with efforts by authorities and NGOs to raise awareness of the law. - Dedicated facilities exist to receive some species, but for others, authorities have had to improvise.
Photos: Four new species of burrowing frogs discovered in India [06/30/2017]
- The four new species include Kadar Burrowing Frog (Fejervarya kadar), CEPF Burrowing Frog (F. cepfi), Manoharan’s Burrowing Frog (F. Manoharani) and Neil Cox’s Burrowing Frog (F. neilcoxi). - Two of the newly described frogs, the Kadar Burrowing Frog and CEPF Burrowing Frog, could be facing serious threats, the researchers warn. - The Rufescent Burrowing Frog was previously listed as a Least Concern species under the IUCN Red List because of its wide distribution, but the new study shows that the species is actually restricted to a much smaller area.
Leaked terms of huge EU-Japan trade deal spark environmental alarm [06/29/2017]
- A new trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Japan is set to become one of the biggest ever. - The deal would alleviate certain trade barriers, improve access to automobile and machinery industries for both Japan and the EU and establish new protocols for the resolution of investment disputes. - Conservation NGOs are critical of the deal's terms, which they say lack "any binding obligations" to environmental protection, and will result in lower standards against illegal logging.
International illegal logging conference touches on myriad issues [06/29/2017]
- A core issue at this year's conference was the FLEGT process. - FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) is the EU's answer to fighting the global scourge of illegal logging. - Collectively around the world, illegal logging is the highest-value environmental crime, at $51-$152 billion per year, according to a 2016 report by Interpol and the UNEP.
Audio: The fight to save Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem [06/27/2017]
- One of the richest, most biodiverse tropical forests on the planet, Leuser is currently being targeted for expansion of oil palm plantations by a number of companies. - Tillack explains just what makes Leuser so unique and valuable, details some of her organization’s investigations into the ongoing clearance of Leuser in violation of Indonesia’s moratorium on deforestation for new oil palm plantations, and how consumers like you and me can help decide the fate of the region. - We also welcome to the show research ecologist Marcone Campos Cerqueira for our latest Field Notes segment. Cerqueira has recently completed a study that used bioacoustic monitoring to examine bird ranges in the mountains of Puerto Rico, and he’ll share some of his recordings with us on today’s show.
Norway vexed as Brazil sends mixed message on Amazon forest protection [06/27/2017]
- Last week, Brazil’s President Michel Temer fully vetoed MP 756, and partially vetoed MP 758, two provisional measures which he himself introduced and which Congress approved that would have cut conserved Amazon lands by 600,000 hectares (2,316 square miles). - Almost simultaneously, Brazil’s environmental minister, José Sarney Filho, announced urgent plans for the administration to introduce a new bill to Congress to dismember the same conservation units described in the vetoed MP 756. - Also last week, Norway gave a stern warning to Temer on his visit to Oslo, telling him that Brazil could lose millions of dollars from the Amazon Fund if Brazil’s deforestation rates continue rising. - 7,989 square kilometers of Brazilian rainforest were lost between August 2015 and 2016. A rise in annual Amazon deforestation to 8,500 square kilometers would reduce Norway’s funding to Brazil to zero. Brazil defended itself, claiming preliminary annual data shows a recent leveling off of its deforestation rate.
2 new reptiles discovered in Sumatra [06/27/2017]
- A newly discovered snake in Takengon, in the highlands of Aceh province, was named for one of Indonesia's few herpetologists. - The snake is non-venomous, but it mimics the characteristics of its venomous cousins as a survival technique. - The other creature, a lizard, inhabits the forests along central Sumatra's western coast.
Logging in Malaysia’s Ulu Muda forest threatens wildlife and water supplies [06/26/2017]
- The Ulu Muda forest is the primary source of water for four million Malaysians, as well as for industry and agriculture. - The forest is also home to a huge diversity of species, including the Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, sambar deer and clouded and spotted leopards. - Although the federal government imposed a ban on logging in the reserve in 2003, local authorities have allowed commercial logging to increase over the past decade.
Footprints in the forest: The future of the Sumatran rhino [06/23/2017]
- Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) remain in the wild, a number many biologists say is too low to ensure the survival of the species. - Several organizations have begun to build momentum toward a single program that pools resources and know-how in Malaysia and Indonesia, the last places in Southeast Asia where captive and wild rhinos still live. - Advocates for intensive efforts to breed animals in captivity fear that an emphasis on the protection of the remaining wild animals may divert attention and funding away from such projects. - They worry that if they don’t act now, the Sumatran rhino may pass a point of no return from which it cannot recover.
Warnings and protests mark Brazilian President Temer’s trip to Norway [06/22/2017]
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from 2015 to 2016 jumped 29 percent over the previous year, the highest rate of loss recorded since 2008. - In a letter sent to Brazilian Minister of Environment Jose Sarney Filho, Norway's Environment Minister, Vidar Helgesen, noted the "worrying upward trend" in deforestation since 2015 and warned that "Even a fairly modest further increase" in deforestation would mean that no further payments from Norway to Brazil would be forthcoming. - A number of Norwegian environmental and rights-based organizations, including Greenpeace, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian Solidarity Committee for Latin America, and Rainforest Foundation Norway, say they are planning a protest in front of the Prime Minister's residence in Oslo on Friday.
Unexamined synergies: dam building and mining go together in the Amazon [06/22/2017]
- 40 large hydroelectric dams are slated for the Amazon basin over the next 20 years, feeding the massive electricity needs of an energy-hungry mining industry — digging, processing and exporting iron, aluminum, manganese and gold. - But mining’s energy needs are rarely linked to plans for new dams or their environmental impact assessments. Amazon mining and dam building have repeatedly in the past resulted in major harmful environmental and social impacts, including displacement of indigenous and traditional communities. - Transnational mining companies and consortiums are major beneficiaries of government largesse through subsidies, tax breaks and the energy obtained from newly commissioned Amazon dams. - Brazilian infrastructure development in the Amazon, including dam building and mining, could — if environmental and social issues are not properly addressed — turn the Amazon into a national sacrifice zone where biological and cultural diversity are drastically diminished.
Illegal logging and hunting threaten Yasuní isolated indigenous groups [06/22/2017]
- A preliminary report on illegal logging in the Tagaeri-Taromenane Intangible Zone reveals a complete law enforcement abandonment of the eastern part of Yasuní National Park. - People living inside Yasuní National Park have denounced the presence of Peruvian timber and bushmeat traffickers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. - Experts fear the constant pressures to which the isolated indigenous groups are subjected in the Intangible Zone will trigger massacres and increase the likelihood of extinction of isolated populations. - Multiple NGOs are preparing to file official complaints against the violation of environmental and human rights by illegal logging and hunting pressures.
New highway brings deforestation near two Colombian national parks [06/21/2017]
- The Marginal de la Selva is a $1 billion dollar highway project would connect Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador without having to enter the Andes mountains. - The unfinished section that would complete the project cuts through a natural corridor between two national parks, which both contain exceptionally high levels of biodiversity — even by Colombia’s standards. - Forest loss in the sensitive ecological area has shot up in anticipation of the highway and as illegal armed groups promote deforestation in the region. - Critics say institutions lack territorial control in the area and are unable to coordinate effectively to ensure environmental laws are enforced.
Five new species in world’s largest tree genus found on Sulawesi [06/21/2017]
- Syzygium is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the myrtle family that contains more than 1,500 species. - Only 14 of those were previously known to occur on Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh-largest island, however. By comparison, Borneo, Sulawesi’s larger neighbor to the west, is home to around 200 Syzygium species. - Due to the rate of tropical forest destruction across Indonesia, according to the researchers who discovered the new Syzygium species, three of the five newly described species on Sulawesi qualify for an endangered listing on the IUCN Red List.
Brazil evicts 80 rural peasant families, awards land thieves parcel [06/21/2017]
- 80 families, hopeful of being granted land in the Amazon state of Pará, have instead been ordered by a Brazilian court to vacate their camp located on the parcel in just two weeks. - The land will then be turned over to members of the Vilela family, notorious convicted land thieves, illegal forest fellers and members of the wealthy Brazilian rural elite. - The judge’s decision has been called into question. Eliane Moreira, Justice Prosecutor in the Pará Public Ministry, has long criticized authorities for allowing land thieves to use the environmental register to legitimize land grabs, something the judge has now endorsed. - It will be very difficult for the peasant families to appeal the decision, as they don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer and cover other legal expenses.
Religious leaders: Rainforest protection a ‘moral imperative’ [06/20/2017]
- The three-day event, held in Oslo, Norway, includes discussions between NGOs, government agencies, universities, indigenous groups and major religions. - The event marks the launch of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, which seeks to build on the moral case for rainforest protection with tangible metrics and goals. - Indigenous and religious leaders from 21 countries attended the event, organized by the UN Development Programme, Rainforest Foundation Norway and Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.
Borneo’s ‘biocultural holocaust’: an interview with author Alex Shoumatoff [06/19/2017]
- Over the past half century, we've laid waste to the rainforests of Borneo thanks to humanity's demand for food, fuel, and fiber. - The Wasting of Borneo, a new book by Alex Shoumatoff, chronicles some of Borneo's staggering losses - Shoumatoff is a former writer and editor for The New Yorker, Outside, Condé Nast Traveler, and Vanity Fair who Donald Trump once called "the greatest writer in America".
International action a must to stop irreversible harm of Amazon dams, say experts [06/19/2017]
- A study, published in Nature and led by Edgardo Latrubesse of the University of Texas at Austin, went beyond local impacts of individual dams to assess cumulative, basin-wide impacts that planned dams are bringing to 19 major Amazon sub-basins. - The team developed a new metric: the Dam Environmental Vulnerability Index (DEVI) which includes assessments of basin integrity (vulnerability to land use change and erosion, etc.); fluvial dynamics (influence of sediment fluxes and flood pulses); and the extent of the river affected by dams. - A score for each sub-basin from 0-100 was assigned, with higher values indicating greater vulnerability. The Madeira, Ucayali, Marañon and Tapajós sub-basins were found to be most threatened; all had DEVI totals higher than 60. - The researchers say that a collective, cooperative, multi-country Amazon region assessment of dams and their cumulative impacts is urgently needed to get a handle on the true magnitude of the threat to the Amazon, as well as means to a solution.
If Brazil okays Terra Legal changes, land grabbers win, Amazon loses, say environmentalists [06/16/2017]
- Provisional Measure (MP) 759, now converted into a bill called the Conversion Law Project (PLC) 12/16, would significantly alter the successful Terra Legal program, introduced originally in 2009. President Temer has until 22 June to sign the bill or veto it. - The original program enabled peasant families to gain ownership of their small land plots. The new version introduces multiple loopholes to allow big, wealthy land owners to use the program, threatening small land owners and the environment, especially the Amazon. - Analysts say the new law, if passed, will allow another 20 million hectares (77,200 square miles) of the Amazon biome and 40 million hectares (154,440 square miles) of the Cerrado (savanna) to be legally cleared. - The bill ups the acreage claimable via the Terra Legal program, ends a rule allowing peasant families to delay paying for plots until the land is supported by adequate infrastructure, allows one farmer to acquire multiple plots, and ends a rule allowing peasant families to pay far less for their land than big farmers.
Groundwater may play key role in forest fires [06/16/2017]
- Researchers compared groundwater dynamics to fire incidence in Borneo. - During prolonged dry spells, groundwater levels can get so low that capillary action cannot take place, creating a condition called "hydrological drought." - The researchers found that when a fire occurs, almost 10 times more land is burned in a hydrological drought year than in a non-drought year. - They write that their findings may help better predict fire occurrence and extent during El Niño events, and may provide a tool to help plan and adapt to climate change.
Brazil on verge of legitimizing Amazon land theft on a grand scale, warn NGOs [06/15/2017]
- Brazil’s president has until 22 June to approve or veto two bills (PLC 4 and PLC 5) turning over more than 600,000 hectares (2,317 square miles) of federally protected Amazon forest to illegal loggers, illegal miners and land thieves. - The measures, initiated by Temer and already approved by Congress, are seen as a reward to the bancada ruralista (rural lobby of agribusiness and mining) for its aid in bringing Temer to power through the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. - Large portions of the Jamanxim National Park and of the National Forest of Jamanxim would have their protections downgraded to an Area of Environmental Protection, where logging, mining and private property are allowed. - Mongabay recently went to the region to observe conditions there: we found major illegal mining operations underway within federal conservation units and interviewed miners who have been exploited by mine “owners” under conditions analogous to slavery.
Why losing big animals causes big problems in tropical forests [06/14/2017]
- A team of scientists from Germany and Spain built a mathematical model to test the interplay between plants and animals that results in the distribution of seeds. - Field data collected from Peru’s Manu Biosphere Reserve formed the foundation of the model. - The scientists discovered the importance of matching between the sizes of seeds and the birds in the ecosystem. - As larger birds were removed from the forest, the forest’s biodiversity dropped more quickly.
Norway bans government purchasing of palm oil biofuel [06/13/2017]
- The growth of the palm oil industry has been blamed for a host of damaging environmental impacts, such as deforestation and carbon emissions. - Research indicates that biofuel made with palm oil may be even worse for the climate than fossil fuels. - The Norwegian parliament responded to these impacts by voting in a regulation to its Public Procurement Act to stop using biofuel palm oil-based biofuel. The resolution further stipulates that the "regulatory amendment shall enter into force as soon as possible." - Conservationists laud the move, but say more countries need to follow suit. They recommend the EU's biofuel policy be updated to reflect concerns about palm oil.
30 years of protecting the mysterious Okapi [06/13/2017]
- The discovery of the elusive okapi, once believed to be a mythical unicorn, was one of the most exciting taxonomic findings of the twentieth century. - To protect this shy, giraffe-like animal, wildlife conservationist John Lukas founded the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) in 1987. - During the past three decades, the project team has seen both successes and challenges, from political unrest to a brutal rebel attack in 2012 that killed 6 people and 14 okapis.
Long plagued by illegal logging, Cambodia faces accusations of corruption [06/12/2017]
- Long known as a hotspot for rapid and largely illegal deforestation for logging, Cambodia was singled out in a May 2017 EIA report. - The report was the result of months of undercover investigations which found that from November 2016, more than 300,000 cubic meters (nearly 10.6 million cubic feet) of timber have been illegally felled in a wildlife sanctuary and two protected areas in Cambodia. - Most of the timber was sold to Vietnam and generated $13 million in kickbacks from Vietnamese timber traders. - Environmental experts believe that a much-publicized crackdown on illegal logging launched in Cambodia in early 2016 was little more than theatrics.
‘Give us back our land’: paper giants struggle to resolve conflicts with communities in Sumatra [06/09/2017]
- Plantation firms like Asia Pulp & Paper and Toba Pulp Lestari have a long history of land grabbing, often dating back to the New Order military dictatorship. More recently, they have pledged to eliminate the practice from their supply chains. - Many of the conflicts remain unaddressed. The companies say they are working hard to resolve them. - A new online platform launched by the Rainforest Action Network shows that communities are still suffering the impacts of having their traditional forests and lands seized to make way for plantations.
Indigenous Guarani leader appeals to Europe to save people and forests [06/07/2017]
- Brazil’s Temer administration is seriously violating the rights of the Guarani-Kaiowá people according to their leader, Ladio Veron, who is touring Europe this Spring to garner support for the rights of indigenous people in Brazil. - Veron, in presentations and petitions across Europe, has highlighted the rising violence against indigenous people in Brazil, publicized past and on-going land thefts, and protested the efforts of the Temer government to halt the demarcation of indigenous lands guaranteed under the nation’s 1988 Constitution. - The tour is being conducted against a background of escalating civil unrest and public protest in Brazil, as the Temer government staggers under the weight of corruption charges. His administration’s approval rating is in the single digits and near collapse, though the current National Congress has also been antagonistic to indigenous rights.
‘Crunch time for biodiversity’: Farming, hunting push thousands of species toward extinction [06/07/2017]
- Eighty percent of threatened animals are losing ground - literally, in the form of habitat loss - to agriculture. - Up to 50 percent of threatened birds and mammals face extinction at the hands of hunters. - In a study published in the journal Nature, a team of scientists explores solutions to avoid destroying the habitats of these animals, such as increasing yields in the developed world and minimizing fertilizer use.
One cow per hectare: deforestation in Colombia after FARC’s exit [06/06/2017]
- Caquetá was one of the epicenters of the war against FARC. The exit of FARC, at the end of last year, coincided with an increase in deforestation in the region. - In 2015, only 7,000 hectares were destined for coca crops in Caquetá, and more than 1.5 million for livestock. - To combat deforestation, the government - with the collaboration of other environmental entities - formed the programs "bubble against deforestation" (‘Burbuja contra la deforestación’ in Spanish) and ‘Visión Amazonia.’ - Experts fear that without additional investment, deforestation will be allowed to continue unchecked.
Financing sustainable agriculture possible, if terms fit farmers’ needs [06/02/2017]
- Worldwide, more deforestation results from the push for farmland than any other cause. - The Global Canopy Programme reports that funding aimed at encouraging a move away from deforestation-based agriculture and toward more sustainable methods must be designed to address the needs of farmers. - Loans with longer terms and lower interest rates can help farmers who are switching to sustainable agriculture survive the ‘valley of death’ – that is, the first few years of new methods before their production becomes profitable.
Why not both? Rainforest diversity stems from two seemingly irreconcilable processes [06/02/2017]
- Scientists have long been puzzled by the immense diversity of tropical rainforests, but a new study finds that both light and height are key to plant diversity. - Diversity in the tropics isn’t just about light-loving species versus shade-tolerant ones, but also about how tall plants are when they hit maturity. - Research supports both niche theory and unified neutral theory, but with some twists.
Philippines’ indigenous Higaonon fight for return of ancestral land [06/01/2017]
- The Higaonon filed an “ancestral domain claim” in 2002 for land they have traditionally inhabited, which is their right under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. But the government allowed agribusiness company A Brown Corporation, Inc., to establish oil palm plantations through its subsidiary ABERDI on the land that same year. - Members of local human rights organizations allege legally required free, prior and informed consent was never obtained by the company before setting up its plantations, and that some residents were tricked into waiving the rights to their land. - Residents claim intimidation and harassment by ABERDI and other subsidiary company Nakeen, and say they were left with nothing after plantation operations ceased – despite initial promises of benefits. - A government representative said there is an ongoing investigation into whether ABERDI is operating with the proper permits.
Brazil assaults indigenous rights, environment, social movements [06/01/2017]
- The Temer administration and Congress, dominated by the increasingly militant bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby, are encouraging violence, say critics, as attacks reach record levels against the landless peasants of the agrarian reform movement and against indigenous groups fighting for land rights assured by the 1988 Constitution. - In May a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry, dominated by the bancada, recommended prosecution of 67 people, many of them serving in the federal government, who the commission claims have allegedly committed illegal acts by supporting indigenous groups and their land claims. - Also in May, Congress approved MPs (administrative orders), handed down by Temer, removing 486,000 hectares of the National Forest of Jamanxim and 101,000 hectares of the National Park of Jamanxim from protection, likely allowing land thieves to claim these formerly protected Amazon areas for private ownership, ranching and mining. - The Chamber of Deputies also rushed through MP 759, giving real estate ownership rights to hundreds of thousands of small land owners illegally occupying land in Brazil. Critics say the MP is also a massive gift to wealthy land thieves. Another bill, now on hold, could gut environmental licensing rules for infrastructure and agribusiness projects.
Audio: Frances Seymour on why rich nations need to start paying up to protect the world’s tropical forests [05/31/2017]
- Seymour shares her thoughts on why now was such an opportune moment for the publication of the book, whether or not the large-scale investment necessary to protect the world’s tropical forests shows signs of materializing any time soon, and which countries are leading the forest conservation charge. - We also welcome Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer back to the program to answer a question from Newscast listener Brian Platt about which 'good news' stories are worth talking about more in these tough times for environmental and conservation news. - All that and the top news on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast.
Vietnam pledges to investigate massive illegal logging violations as international pressure grows [05/31/2017]
- The report, released May 8 by the Environmental Investigation Agency, detailed how corrupt government officials in Vietnam are helping to funnel millions of dollars in illegal timber from Cambodia into Vietnam. - Vietnam imports an average of 4.5 million cubic meters of roughly 150 different species of wood from over 100 countries. - In the midst of an agreement with the EU to ensure the source of its timber is legal, Vietnam is now under tremendous scrutiny.
Pressure builds on palm oil firm Goodhope after RSPO sanction [05/31/2017]
- The RSPO ordered Goodhope to freeze its operations in Indonesia earlier this month amid allegations of land grabbing and forest destruction. - Goodhope said recently that it needed more time than the RSPO had given it to bring its operations into compliance with the roundtable's standards. - The company says it is working with credible auditors to conduct new assessments of its concessions, after the RSPO deemed previous audits the firm had commissioned as lacking in credibility.
Governor halts work on coal railway being built without permits in Indonesian Borneo [05/30/2017]
- During a field visit to Katingan Regency in Central Kalimantan, Mongabay-Indonesia observed that developers of a coal-transport rail line had already cleared forest land and constructed around two kilometers of track. - Government sources confirmed the developer did not have the necessary permits to begin work on the project. - On May 23, the Central Kalimantan governor announced that work on the project had been suspended, although he did not signal any intent to initiate law-enforcement actions against the developer.
Amid life and death risks, Brazil’s land defenders stand firm [05/29/2017]
- They comprise a diverse range of people, from indigenous groups to fishing communities descended from rubber tappers. - In 2015, more land defenders were killed in Brazil than any other country put together, according to watchdog organization Global Witness. - Among land defenders, indigenous activists are the most-targeted for their work and activism.
Thylacine survey: Are we going to rediscover the ‘moonlight tiger’? [05/26/2017]
- The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was declared extinct in 1936. But anecdotal reports of sightings of the marsupial inspired a recent media frenzy, leading to speculation that some might still be living in the forests of northern Queensland's Cape York Peninsula. - A biological survey conducted via camera traps had been planned for the region before news of the reported sightings spread. The aim of the survey is to find out why so many of Australia’s native marsupials – and those of Cape York in particular – are disappearing. They also hope to figure out if there are any as-yet undocumented mammals living there, such as a small, endangered rat-kangaroo called the northern bettong (Bettongia tropica). - A bettong expert says cattle ranching, invasive animals, and changing fire management regimes may be hurting native mammals in Australia. - The researchers caution that the possibility of finding evidence of thylacines living in Cape York is vanishingly small. But, if the near-impossible happens and they do manage to document some, they say news of the rediscovery likely won't be released until protections are enacted.
Temer seeks to privatize Brazil’s deforestation remote sensing program [05/26/2017]
- Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, in a surprise move at the end of April, tried to privatize much of the remote sensing deforestation work that, until now, has been successfully carried out by INPE, the federal National Institute for Space Research. So sudden was the move that INPE’s head learned of it from a journalist. - Under the plan, private companies would take over monitoring for Amazonia, the Cerrado (where Brazilian deforestation is most intense), and indigenous reserves (under attack by the Temer administration). Experts view the move as a bow to the powerful agribusiness lobby, which wants more control of Amazonia, the Cerrado and indigenous preserves. - The hurried maneuver was met with shock from experts inside and outside the government, with charges that the 8-day bid process was absurdly short, and with some calling the proposal incompetent. Critics suggest the privatization bid process may have been designed to turn over deforestation remote sensing to a foreign company. - Vocal protests from 6,000 experts led the Ministry of the Environment to shelve privatization for now; though the measure could still be revived. A concern of experts was that the company engaged would have played a key role in assessing whether or not Brazil was meeting its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Not out of the woods: Concerns remain with Nigerian superhighway [05/26/2017]
- The six-lane highway was shifted in April to the west so that it no longer cuts through the center of Cross River National Park, a ‘biological jewel’ that is home to 18 primate species. - In a new study, scientists report that multiple alternative routes exist that would still provide the intended economic connections and avoid harming the environment in the area. - However, Nigerian conservation and community rights group worry that the state government won’t follow through on its promises.
Slight bumps in protected areas could be a boon for biodiversity [05/26/2017]
- Increasing protected areas by 5 percent in strategic locations could boost biodiversity protection by a factor of three. - The study examined global protected areas and evaluated how well they safeguard species, functional and evolutionary biodiversity. - More than a quarter of species live mostly outside protected areas. - The new strategy from the research leverages the functional and evolutionary biodiversity found in certain spots and could help conservation planners pinpoint areas for protection that maximize all three types of biodiversity.
On the road to ‘smart development’ [05/25/2017]
- Ecologist Bill Laurance and his team are looking at development projects across Southeast Asia in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. - The scientists are traveling throughout the regions to better understand the needs of planners, and to impart lessons about ‘smart development’ based on decades of research in the tropics. - In Malaysia, they are focusing on finding solutions that preserve the repository of forests and biodiversity there in a way that also looks out for the country’s human residents.
Brazil agribusiness company accuses ally Temer in secret bribe taping [05/23/2017]
- The world’s largest meat processor, Brazil’s JBS has been rocked by scandal. In March, investigations revealed the company had bribed federal officials to turn a blind eye to tainted meat, and had also illegally raised 59,000 head of cattle on illegally deforested Amazon lands. JBS is a key backer of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. - Now, JBS owners the Batista brothers, in a plea bargain with federal investigators, have produced a tape in which Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, in conversation with one of the JBS owners, apparently enthusiastically endorses the use of bribes by the company. Temer claims the recording has been altered. - Temer has consistently done the bidding of the agribusiness lobby, which brought him to power a year ago. He has worked to reverse indigenous land rights gained under the 1988 constitution, and to dismember conservation units, with up to 1.2 million hectares of forest to be turned over to land thieves who illegally seized federal lands. - There are calls for the president to resign, though Temer has refused to step down. Legislation to dismember Amazon conservation units was recently approved by Brazil’s Assembly and is headed for the Senate, which has until 29 May to approve the bills, a timeline which is looking extremely tight considering current events.
Experts explore sustainable infrastructure amid major development needs [05/23/2017]
- The Asia-Pacific region's biological wealth and rapid development makes it a highly vulnerable and critical part of Earth's overall health, notes expert William Laurance. - Laurance, a distinguished research professor at Australia’s James Cook University, noted that 95 percent of illegal deforestation takes place within 3.4 miles of a road. - Southeast Asia, with the most wood per hectare of forests in the world and home to numerous developing nations, is particularly at risk.
New soy-driven forest destruction exposed in South America [05/22/2017]
- Mighty Earth looked at updated satellite imagery from 28 sites in the Cerrado in Brazil and the Gran Chaco and the Amazon in Bolivia. - They found evidence of 60 square kilometers of land clearing for soy production since their September 2016 investigation. - Bunge and Cargill, the two companies that figure prominently in Mighty Earth’s latest report, argue that they are working to eradicate deforestation from their supply chains.
Indonesian governor asks president to let timber firms drain peat in his province [05/20/2017]
- West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis asked President Joko Widodo to let some timber plantation companies drain peatlands, even though Jakarta banned the practice last year. - In a letter to the president dated Apr. 25, Cornelis makes an economic argument for allowing the companies to proceed as usual. - Cornelis is a member of an international consortium of governors dedicated to fighting climate change; Greenpeace said his request to the president amounted to a "double standard." - His request came just days after Jakarta sanctioned a timber firm in his province for building an illegal canal through the Sungai Putri peat swamp forest.
Rebel road expansion brings deforestation to remote Colombian Amazon [05/19/2017]
- The 138-kilometer road was carved illegally through rainforest and used by the FARC rebel group to transport coca, from which cocaine is produced. - Officials from city governments have begun a project to widen and pave the road, saying it will help communities transport agricultural goods to markets. - Conservationists decry the move, citing research finding road expansion opens “a Pandora’s box of environmental evils” that includes land-grabbing, illegal road development and accelerated deforestation. - A Colombian governmental agency recently ordered all construction on the road stop until further environmental studies could be performed and greater restrictions applied. However, an official said construction activity has not ceased.
A stubborn dreamer who fought to save Amazon’s Waimiri-Atroari passes [05/18/2017]
- As a young man in the 1960s, José Porfirio Fontenele de Carvalho decided to resist Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship by going into the Amazon to help indigenous groups in their struggles against the military’s assault on their way of life. - He made early contact with the warlike Waimiri-Atroari Indians, who were decimated in their struggle to block the BR-174 highway through their territory. The Indians tell of numerous atrocities committed against them by the government during this period. - With Carvalho’s help, a new indigenous reserve, covering 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles), was established, along with a conservation unit — the Biological Reserve of Uatumã. Through the years, Carvalho won other concessions for the Waimiri-Atroari. - Today, the group has increased its number to nearly 2,000, though the tribe continues fighting the government. President Temer is now determined to put a major transmission line through their lands. Most observers agree: without Carvalho’s assist, the Waimiri-Atroari would likely be extinct, and their forests gone. He died this month at age 70.
Audio: Bill Laurance on the “infrastructure tsunami” sweeping the planet [05/17/2017]
- We recently heard Bill argue that scientists need to become more comfortable with expressing uncertainty over the future of the planet and to stop “dooming and glooming” when it comes to environmental problems. - We wanted to hear more about that, as well as to hear from Bill about the “global road map” he and his team recently released to help mitigate the environmental damage of what he calls an “infrastructure tsunami” breaking across the globe. - We also welcome to the program Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences. Her current work is focused on using high-resolution satellite imagery to study the population dynamics of Weddell seals in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. - In this Field Notes segment, Michelle will also play for us some of the calls made by adult Weddell seals and their pups, which couldn’t be more different from each other and are really quite remarkable, each in their own way. But you really have to hear them to believe them.
What would you do if you had “nature’s pharmacy” in your backyard? [05/17/2017]
- Though most cures are not medically proven and scientific experts remain skeptical of their benefits, others say that indigenous peoples’ long-accumulated wisdom of the forest and what grows in it is undeniable. - In Ecuador, knowledge of the medicinal properties of the Amazon have been passed down throughout the generations by Yachaj, or medicine men, who spend years living with the forest, meditating and listening to nature. - Training to become a Yachaj takes three to ten years and involves long separations from loved ones and society.
Environment secretary of São Paulo faces controversies over management plans of protected areas [05/15/2017]
- The suspension of the implementation of MPs affects over a million hectares of marine regions and oceanic islands. - One MP is under investigation following accusations that the secretariat surreptitiously introduced changes to decrease the level of protection for some areas. - Critics accuse the environment secretary of putting industrial interests over the defense of the environment.
Drylands greener with forests than previously thought [05/12/2017]
- The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, increases global forest cover estimates by 9 percent. - Using very high resolution imagery, the team calculated that dryland forest cover was 40 to 47 percent higher above current totals. - The researchers calculate that 1.1 million hectares (4,247 square miles) of forest covers the Earth’s drylands.
Palm oil firm pledges to stop deforesting after RSPO freezes its operations in Papua [05/11/2017]
- Goodhope Asia Holdings, an arm of Sri Lanka's Carson Cumberbatch, is the latest palm oil company to promise to purge its operations of deforestation, peatland conversion and human rights abuses. - Announcing such a commitment and implementing it are two different matters. Despite the growing prevalence of such pledges, no major user or processor of palm oil can say it has actually eliminated deforestation from its supply chain. - Goodhope subsidiary PT Nabire Baru presides over what one watchdog called “possibly the most controversial plantation in Papua.”
Industry-NGO coalition releases toolkit for making ‘No Deforestation’ commitments a reality on the ground [05/10/2017]
- Numerous companies involved in the global palm oil supply chain, from producers and traders to consumer companies that use the commodity in their products, have adopted Zero Deforestation commitments — but pledging to address the deforestation and human rights abuses associated with palm oil supply chains is one thing, while making those commitments a reality on the ground is another. - Companies have said they need more support from governments of tropical forest nations to make their Zero Deforestation commitments a reality, citing a maze of administrative and regulatory frameworks across palm oil producing countries as hampering their efforts. - The new HCS Approach Toolkit might help address this very issue, however, as it is intended to standardize the methodology for protecting tropical forests and identifying suitable landscapes for the sustainable production of palm oil. - The revised HCS Approach Toolkit lays out the fundamental elements of a methodology for protecting high carbon stock (HCS) forests and other high conservation value (HCV) areas such as peatlands. Simply achieving “no deforestation” is not the only goal of the revised HCS Approach, though.
In Liberia, a battered palm oil industry adjusts to new rules [05/10/2017]
- Palm oil companies signed a series of large contracts between 2008-2012 to develop plantations in Liberia. - Disputes over land ownership by rural communities and the imposition of new environmental rules have forced investors to adjust their projections. - The ‘High Carbon Stock’ approach, endorsed by environmental advocates, will restrict expansion in some cases.
Howler monkeys booming in Belize sanctuary 25 years after translocation [05/10/2017]
- Disease, hurricanes and hunting wiped out the native howler monkeys living in the Cockscomb Basin by the 1970s. - Between 1992 and 1994, 62 black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) were relocated from a nearby reserve. - After surveying the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in March and April, scientists figure there are at least 170 howler monkeys – and perhaps many more – living all over the 51,800-hectare (128,000-acre) preserve.
‘Killed, forced, afraid’: Philippine palm oil legacy incites new fears [05/09/2017]
- Following a rush of corporate investment in the 1960s, agroindustry company NDC-Guthrie set up camp on the Philippine island of Mindanao. The company hired a private security force dubbed the "Lost Command" to protect its oil palm plantations. - Sources say the Lost Command used violence to expand NDC-Guthrie's land holdings in the 1980s, with allegations ranging from forcibly displacing residents of local communities and extorting business-owners to looting, rape, and even murder. - In the 1990s NDC-Guthrie was bought by Filipinas Palm Oil Plantations Inc. (FPPI), which continues to operate in the region today. A company representative said "issues have been blown up" and that FPPI is interested in expanding further in Mindanao. - The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) touted oil palm propagation as a way to elevate the national economy and even stem armed conflict. But industry watchdog groups disagree, saying palm oil's track record of conflict in the Philippine archipelago does not bode well for the future.
Extremely rare bay cat filmed in Borneo [05/09/2017]
- Researchers photographed the bay cat while conducting a wildlife survey in the Rungan Landscape in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. - The forests in this landscape include peat swamps and heath, a habitat type in which bay cats have not previously been recorded, scientists say. - The team has not released the exact location of the potentially new population of bay cats because the forest where the cat was filmed is not legally protected.
Anti-trafficking activist held without trial in Madagascar [05/08/2017]
- Clovis Razafimalala has been working to end rosewood trafficking in Madagascar since 2009. - He has been imprisoned since September on charges of unauthorized rebellion and burning state files and property during a protest he maintains he did not participate in. - No trial date has been announced, although one is supposed to be set by May 26. - Activists say his case raises concern for the civil rights of Malagasy environmental activists.
Indigenous groups, activists risk arrest to blockade logging in Malaysia [05/08/2017]
- Blockades are being set up in peninsular Malaysia's northern state of Kelantan by groups that say logging activities are damaging forests and the surrounding environment. - Kelantan has seen more forest clearing in recent years as the state ramps up tree plantation development. - Activist groups say forestry departments are granting forest access to logging companies, while restricting access to forest-dependent communities. - Malaysian courts ruled recently that forests being targeted by logging companies belong to indigenous Orang Asli communities.
RSPO freezes palm oil company’s operations in Papua [05/08/2017]
- The RSPO ordered Goodhope Asia Holdings to stop work in seven of its concessions in Indonesia, citing "poor quality" audits commissioned by the company to ensure it follows RSPO rules. - High Conservation Value assessments for all seven of the concessions were conducted by a team of Bogor Agricultural University lecturers led by Nyoto Santoso. The assessments are being treated as suspect by the RSPO. - While Goodhope opposes the measures, they have been lauded by environmental NGOs as a positive step.
Study finds hundreds of thousands of tropical species at risk of extinction due to deforestation [05/05/2017]
- Scientists have long believed that the rate at which we are destroying tropical forests, and the habitat those forests represent, could drive a global mass extinction event, but the extent of the potential losses has never been fully understood. - John Alroy, a professor of biological sciences at Australia’s Macquarie University, examined local-scale ecological data in order to forecast potential global extinction rates and found that hundreds of thousands of species are at risk if humans disturb all pristine forests remaining in the tropics. - Mass extinction will occur primarily in tropical forests because Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity is so heavily concentrated in those ecosystems, Alroy notes in the study.
Indigenous lands ‘critical’ to forest protection in Peru, biodiversity maps show [05/05/2017]
- Indigenous lands account for 36 percent of protected forests in Peru. - In total, 42.6 percent of Peru's forest fall under some sort of protection, and the new biodiversity maps highlight forest types that are underrepresented in that figure. - The forests in the transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon appear to be the most in danger, as the forest types in this area are found at some of the lowest levels in Peru's parks, reserves and concessions. This area also faces some of the highest deforestation rates in the country.
Scientists rediscover ‘lost’ monitor lizard in Papua New Guinea [05/05/2017]
- The only specimen of the monitor lizard Lesson collected on New Ireland never reached its destination in France and was not studied in detail. - Since then, it has been believed that the monitor lizards on New Ireland are the common mangrove monitors (Varanus indicus). - But the new study confirms that the monitor lizards on New Ireland are a distinct species.
A fight to control chainsaws in Myanmar could turn the tide on illegal logging [05/04/2017]
- In remote areas where illegal logging is most rampant, officials struggle with outreach to poor villagers about recently implemented laws that make most chainsaws illegal. - Many times faster and more efficient than traditional handsaws and axes, chainsaws are also dangerous tools that can cause serious injury or death. - Unregulated chainsaw use is nearly impossible for forestry officials to track or regulate, as most illegal logging is taking place in remote areas that are extremely difficult to reach.
“We don’t believe in words anymore”: Indians stand against Temer govt. [05/03/2017]
- Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but agribusiness and land thieves are working with the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories, and to defund FUNAI, the federal agency representing Indian concerns. - In response, Brazil’s Indians are launching numerous protests. Last week more than 4,000 indigenous leaders from 200 tribes gathered in Brasilia to demonstrate. They were greeted in front of the Congress building with a police teargas attack. - Emboldened by government support, ranchers and their hired gunmen brutally attacked a peaceful land occupation by members of the Gamela tribe in Maranhão state in northern Brazil on 30 April with rifles and machetes; 13 Indians were seriously injured. - In the Amazon, the Munduruku have blocked the Transamazonian highway, creating a 40 kilometer backup of trucks loaded with the soy harvest. In an unusual twist, the truckers met with the Munduruku Wednesday afternoon and expressed solidarity with the Indians, agreeing that the government’s failure to meet the people’s needs is the real problem.
Over the bridge: The battle for the future of the Kinabatangan [05/03/2017]
- Proponents of the project contend that a bridge and associated paved road to Sukau would have helped the town grow and improve the standard of living for its residents. - Environmental groups argue that the region’s unrealized potential for high-end nature tourism could bring similar economic benefits without disturbing local populations of elephants, orangutans and other struggling wildlife. - The mid-April cancellation of the bridge was heralded as a success for rainforest conservation, but bigger questions loom about the future of local communities, the sanctuary and its wildlife.
Audio: A deep dive into the study of marine wildlife through bioacoustics [05/03/2017]
- Here at the Mongabay Newscast, we’re very interested in acoustic ecology, perhaps for obvious reasons: Acoustic ecology, sometimes known as ecoacoustics or soundscape studies, is the study of the relationship between human beings and the natural environment as mediated through bioacoustics, or the sounds that are produced by and affect living organisms. - In order to highlight the findings of this exciting line of research, we’ve created our ongoing Field Notes segment. And in this particular Field Note, which takes up the entire episode, Leah Barclay plays for us several of the underwater recordings she’s made of humpback whales, the Great Barrier Reef, water insects, and more. - Find all that plus the top news in this episode of the Mongabay Newscast!
Preserving orangutan culture an ingredient for successful conservation [05/02/2017]
- Scientists once thought that all animal behavior was instinctual, but now know that many animals — particularly social animals — are able to think and to learn, and to display culturally learned behaviors. - Orangutans are one animal in which occurrences of culture have been fairly well proven, with orangutan groups at different study sites displaying variant behaviors that have neither environmental nor genetic origins, meaning they can only be cultural in nature. - Among these cultural behaviors are basic tool making and use for food harvesting, purposeful vocalizations, and variations in nest building materials and methods. Scientists fear habitat loss and crashing populations could cause this cultural heritage to vanish. - The loss of varied cultural behaviors could potentially make orangutans less adaptable to changes in their environment at a time when, under extreme pressure from human development, these great apes need all the resources they can muster.
A return to mixed roots in a Sumatran forest [05/02/2017]
- The indigenous Rejang are rediscovering multicropping after years spent focusing on coffee monoculture. - The Rejang generally abandoned polyculture after the national government established a national park on their lands. - Multicropping helps them make money year-round instead of just when it's time for the coffee harvest.
Conservation lessons from the bonobos [05/01/2017]
- Lola ya Bonobo, the world’s first bonobo sanctuary, was founded in 1994 by Claudine Andre, who came to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at a young age, and who, after a chance meeting with a bonobo at the Kinshasa zoo, dedicated her life to the species. Today, Lola has been recognized worldwide as a model for primate rehabilitation. - The sanctuary primarily credits “inclusive conservation” for its success, a process by which Lola not only cares for rescued DRC bonobos, but also for nearby human communities — supporting farms, schools and medical facilities. The communities in turn support Lola. - The bonobos at the sanctuary — often traumatized after being rescued from the great ape trade — spend years in rehabilitation, being served by human foster mothers and other caring Lola staff. When deemed ready, bonobo troupes are returned to the wild Congo.
Delicate Solomon Island ecosystem in danger of heavy logging [05/01/2017]
- Foreign and domestic companies are making a push – at times using allegedly unethical means – for the timber found on the island of Nende in the Santa Cruz chain of the Solomon Islands. - The island’s old-growth forests are home to animals like the Santa Cruz shrikebill, which is found nowhere else on Earth. - Concerns have been voiced that logging could wreak havoc on the ecosystem, from the watersheds in the mountains down to the coral reefs ringing the island, if large-scale logging is allowed to proceed.
Corruption drives dealings with logging companies in the Solomon Islands [05/01/2017]
- The old-growth forests on the island of Nende anchor a unique ecosystem that hold creatures found nowhere else and that have supported communities for centuries. - Logging companies are eager to harvest the island’s timber, which could be worth as much as SI$10 million ($1.26 million). - Scientists worry that logging would destroy everything from the mountain sources of the island’s fresh water to the reefs where sedimentation as a result of logging could kill coral. - Conservation groups and sources from within the provincial government have charged that the companies are using coercion and bribes to convince landowners and development organizations to back their plans to log Nende’s forests.
Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff” has been fired [04/28/2017]
- A little more than a year after being named Brazil’s deforestation “sheriff,” Thelma Krug has reportedly been fired after a dispute over how trends in forest destruction are monitored in the country. - Climate Home’s Claudio Angelo reports from Brasilia that government officials told members of the press that Krug had “expressed her interest in leaving” in order to “dedicate more time to her attributions at IPCC” — but that sources say Krug's dismissal was actually the result of a dispute with vice-minister Marcelo Cruz, who questioned the deforestation data produced by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), where Krug is a senior scientist. - Brazil has already named Krug’s replacement: Jair Schmitt, a biologist with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he oversees the agency’s environmental inspections.
An interactive map connects landowners and forest change in one of the world’s most biodiverse places [04/28/2017]
- The Atlas of Deforestation and Industrial Plantations in Borneo documents the loss of rainforest over 40 years from oil palm and pulpwood plantations in one of Earth’s most biodiverse places. - By connecting landowners and deforestation patterns publicly available, the atlas adds transparency to wood and oil palm supply chains. - Allowing users to see how human impacts have reshaped Borneo is essential amid competing demands for cheap oil and conserved forest.
Cross River superhighway changes course in Nigeria [04/28/2017]
- The 260-kilometer (162-mile) highway is slated to have six lanes and would have run through the center of Cross River National Park as originally designed. - The region is a biodiversity hotspot and home to forest elephants, drills, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees and Cross River gorillas. - The proposal shifts the route to the west, out of the center of the national park, which garnered praise from the Wildlife Conservation Society. - The route still appears to cut through forested areas and protected lands.
Amazon’s fate hangs on outcome of war between opposing worldviews [04/27/2017]
- The battle for the Amazon is being fought over two opposing viewpoints: the first, mostly held by indigenous and traditional people and their conservationist allies, sees forests and rivers as valuable for their own sake, and for the livelihoods, biodiversity, ecological services and climate change mitigation they provide. For them the forests need protection. - The second worldview holds that Amazon forests are natural resources to be harvested and turned into dollars, an outlook largely held by wealthy landowners, land thieves, loggers, cattle ranchers and farmers. For them the forests are there to be cut down, and the land is there to be used for economic benefit. - The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby now has overwhelming political power in the Brazilian Congress and the Temer administration, which are pushing a raft of bills and administrative actions to take away indigenous land rights, dismember conservation units, gut environmental licensing laws and defund environmental protection agencies. - The great fear is that the collision of the two worldviews in the wilds of the Amazon will result in escalating lawlessness and bloodshed against indigenous and traditional people, along with significant environmental destruction. The loss of Amazon ecosystems could be catastrophic for humanity, as the region’s forests are crucial for global carbon storage.
Singapore convicts rosewood trader in historic CITES seizure [04/26/2017]
- Late last month a high court in Singapore found Wong Wee Keong guilty of importing rosewood from Madagascar in 2014 in violation of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). - Environmental groups are heralding the ruling, which reversed the decision of a lower court and sidestepped conflicting claims about the legality of the shipment by Malagasy authorities. - The outsized shipment to Singapore was larger than all of the other seizures of rosewood in the world, combined, over the past decade.
Women could be a key to great ape conservation in the Congo [04/21/2017]
- The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), and Coopera are all organizations working with women in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help advance great ape conservation through education, empowerment, healthcare and food security access. - Some examples: BCI helps fund pilot micro-credit projects for women who want to launch business enterprises, including soap and garment making. GRACE employs women as surrogate mothers for newly orphaned gorillas during an initial 30-day quarantine period. - GRACE also provides women and their families with bushmeat alternatives by teaching them to care for and breed alternative protein sources. Coopera helps provide alternative food sources through ECOLO-FEMMES, an organization that trains women in livestock breeding and agriculture to reduce great ape hunting in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. - Coopera, working with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots, engages young rape victims in tree planting to provide food sources to wild chimpanzees. JGI’s women’s programs in Uganda and Tanzania keep girls in school through peer support, scholarship programs and sanitary supply access. Educated women have smaller families, reducing stress on the environment.
Mapping indigenous lands in Indonesia’s tallest mountains [04/21/2017]
- Local NGOs in the Baliem Valley of Indonesia's Papua province are working with indigenous peoples to map their customary territories. - Over the past two decades, one foundation has mapped 19 of the 27 customary territories in Papua's Jayawijaya district. - Some communities who were initially suspicious of the program have decided to trust it.
Canceled: Plans for a bridge in a critical wildlife area in Borneo have been scrapped [04/20/2017]
- Plans for the Sukau Bridge, crossing the Kinabatangan River near a wildlife sanctuary in Malaysian Borneo, raised a global outcry. - "We are not going ahead with the bridge," Sabah Forest Department Chief Conservator Sam Mannan announced at an event in London. - In explaining his decision, Mannan reportedly cited a recent letter by celebrated naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, as well as concerns expressed by scientists, NGOs and corporations.
Study finds there are ways to mitigate deforestation risks of palm oil expansion in Africa [04/20/2017]
- It’s been estimated that, over the next five years, as much as 22 million hectares (or more than 54 million acres) of land in Central and West Africa could be converted to oil palm plantations. - Seven African nations signed a pledge dedicating themselves to the sustainable development of the palm oil sector, known as the Marrakesh Declaration, at the UN climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco last November. - According to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters earlier this month, those seven nations, which collectively represent 70 percent of Africa’s tropical forests, have good reason to be proactive when it comes to managing the rollout of oil palm operations within their borders. But there is also reason to hope that oil palm expansion in Africa will be done more sustainably in Africa.
No safe forest left: 250 captive orphan chimps stuck in sanctuaries [04/20/2017]
- Cameroon currently has more than 250 rescued chimpanzees living in three chimp wildlife sanctuaries. Attempts to find forests into which to release them — safe from the bushmeat and pet trade, and not already occupied by other chimpanzee populations — have failed so far. - The intensification of logging, mining and agribusiness, plus new roads into remote areas, along with a growing rural human population, are putting intense pressure on un-conserved forests as well as protected lands. - Unless habitat loss, poaching and trafficking are controlled in Cameroon, reintroduction of captive chimpanzees may not be achievable. Some conservationists argue, however, that reintroduction of captive animals is needed to enhance genetic resilience in wild populations. - If current rates of decline are not curbed, primatologists estimate that chimpanzees could be gone from Cameroon’s forests within 15 to 20 years.
Guatemala declares state of emergency as rainforest goes up in flames [04/19/2017]
- The fires have been concentrated in Maya Biosphere Reserve, a collection of protected areas – including national parks – in the country's north. - Officials believe many of the fires were started to clear land for illegal cattle ranching and drug trafficking. - Declaring a state of emergency will allow agencies to more quickly deploy firefighters to affected areas. - Community-managed areas in the biosphere reserve have seen less fire activity, reportedly due to higher fire prevention capacity.
Brazil moves to cut Amazon conservation units by 1.2 million hectares [04/19/2017]
- Under the cover of Brazil’s current political crisis, the Congress — dominated by the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby — is pushing forward measures to dramatically slash the size of conservation units in Pará state in the eastern Amazon, removing conservation protection from 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres) of forest. - The moves, yet to be approved by the full Congress, would reduce Jamanxim Flona (National Forest) by 480,000 hectares, Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve by 180,000 hectares, the National Park of Jamanxin by 344,000 hectares, and the Itaituba II National Forest by 169,000 hectares. - The dismembered portions of the conservation units would be re-designated as Areas of Environmental Protection (APAs), where private land ownership, agriculture and forest clearing is allowed. Brazilian agribusiness — wealthy ranchers and farmers — are likely to benefit significantly from the shift, while forests and biodiversity would suffer. - Some of the conservation units have received significant funding from foreign donors, including the European Union and the World Bank. The congressional measures must now go for approval to the lower Chamber of Deputies and then to the Senate. Both measures must be approved by the end of May or lose validity. Approval seems likely.
Forest conservation might be an even more important climate solution than we realize: Study [04/19/2017]
- Trees are a crucial regulating factor in the cycle of water and heat exchange between Earth’s surface and atmosphere — and thus forests play a key role in regulating local climates and surface temperatures, according to the authors of the study. - The researchers discovered that forests often help keep temperate and tropical regions cooler, while contributing to warming in northern high-latitude areas. - “Forests play a more important role in cooling the surface in almost all regions of the Earth than was previously thought,” Kaiguang Zhao, an assistant professor of environment modeling and spatial analysis at The Ohio State University and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Scientists launch global search for 25 ‘lost’ species [04/19/2017]
- The first phase of the this campaign, launched today by the Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), will see groups of scientists spreading out across the world in search of "25 most wanted lost species". - Collectively, these 25 species have not been seen in more than 1,500 years. - The top 25 species include 10 mammals, three birds, three reptiles, two amphibians, three fish, one insect, one crustacean, one coral and one plant, found across 18 countries.
Deforestation has become big business in the Brazilian Amazon [04/18/2017]
- Agamenom da Silva Menezes, is typical of modern Amazonian real estate operators: he is a wealthy individual who openly works with those who make a living by illegally laying claim to, deforesting and selling public lands for a high price. Lawlessness in the region means such land theft is rarely punished. - Agamenom and others like him use militias, hired thugs, to intimidate landless peasant farmers as well as less powerful land thieves who try to claim Amazonian forests. The land is then deforested and sold to cattle ranchers, with each tract of stolen federal land bringing in an estimated R$20 million (US$6.4 million) on average. - In March, the Temer government slashed by over 50 percent the budget of the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for both IBAMA, the federal environmental agency, and the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which oversees Brazil’s conservation units. - As a result, land thieves are likely to get bolder in their theft, deforestation and sale of public lands to cattle ranchers and others. Without a major shift in federal forestry policy and a dramatic improvement in enforcement, land theft and deforestation are likely to worsen across the Amazon basin.
Audio: Crystal Davis, director of Global Forest Watch, on conservation and Big Data [04/18/2017]
- Mongabay has partnered with Global Forest Watch (GFW) over the years, and GFW has even funded some of our coverage of global forest issues. - Crystal Davis fills us in on how the GFW tool and dataset is being used to inform forest conservation initiatives right now, new features planned for the future, and her thoughts on the ways Big Data is changing how we approach conservation. - We also speak with Francesca Cunninghame, the Mangrove Finch Project Leader for the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, in our latest Field Notes segment.
Hunting is driving declines in bird and mammal populations across the tropics [04/14/2017]
- The team of ecologists and environmental scientists behind the research examined 176 studies, including many local studies, in order to get a larger picture of the magnitude of hunting-induced declines in tropical mammal and bird populations. - In areas impacted by hunting, bird abundance declined by an average of 58 percent compared to areas with no hunting, while mammals declined by an average of 83 percent, according to their study. - “Thanks to this study, we estimate that only 17 percent of the original mammal abundance and 42 percent of the birds remain in hunted areas.”
Rainforest conservation may be aimed at the wrong places, study finds [04/13/2017]
- Climate-based conservation policies often focus on forests with large carbon stores – but what this means for biodiversity protection has been unclear. - Previous research found a link between tree diversity and carbon storage on the small-scale, with tropical forests that have more tree species possessing larger stores of carbon. But this correlation had not been tested for larger areas. - Researchers examined thousands of trees at hundreds of sites in the tropical forests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Their results indicate that on the one-hectare scale, tree diversity is low and carbon storage is quite high in Africa, while the opposite is the case in South America. In Southeast Asia, both carbon stocks and tree diversity appear to be high. - The researchers say their results indicate carbon-focused conservation policies may be missing highly biodiverse ecosystems, and recommend a more fine-tuned approach for prioritizing areas for conservation.
Connectivity and coexistence key to orangutan survival on croplands [04/13/2017]
- Orangutans are in drastic decline, largely due to habitat loss. From 1973–2010, Borneo lost 39 percent of its forests; estimates say that another 37 percent of orangutan-suitable habitat will be converted to agricultural use there through 2025. Similarly, 60 percent of habitat suitable for Sumatran orangutans was lost between 1985 and 2007. - If orangutans are to survive in the wild through the 21st century, researchers will need to discover ways in which the animals can be helped to coexist with humans within agricultural landscapes. Researchers are also looking for creative ways to provide connectivity between remaining forest patches to promote and preserve genetic resilience. - Scientists Gail Campbell-Smith, Marc Ancrenaz and others have shown that orangutans can use croplands, including oil palm plantations, if humans work to prevent conflict. Noise deterrents, such as bamboo cannon guns, along with the education of farm laborers and agribusiness companies, are techniques helping to reduce animal-human conflicts. - Researcher Marc Ancrenaz and colleagues provided orangutans and other arboreal wildlife with rope bridges over small rivers in Malaysia — a successful approach to providing connectivity. It took four years for orangutans to begin using the bridges, but now young orangutan males use the structures to disperse more widely.
New genus created for arboreal toads in Indonesia [04/13/2017]
- The proposed genus was created to fit two new species of toad. - The name of the genus, Sigalegalephrynus, was inspired by the toads' resemblance to a wooden puppet from North Sumatra. - The toads appear to have mating calls that are unlike those of other amphibians in the Sunda Shelf.
Guatemala issues red alert as national parks burn [04/12/2017]
- Northern Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve comprises several national parks and other protected areas. - Fire activity is concentrated in one park in particular – Laguna del Tigre National Park – where satellite data from NASA recorded more than 400 fires occurring over the past week. - Land use is restricted in Guatemalan national parks, but officials say the fires are largely human-caused by illegal cattle ranching, logging, and drug trafficking. Budget challenges have limited the capacity of local institutions to effectively control the forest fires.
Great apes in Asian circus-style shows on rise — so is trafficking [04/12/2017]
- Asian zoos, circuses and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions with costumed, dancing, roller-skating great apes. Investigations show that nearly all of these trained primates were not bred in captivity, but illegally traded out of Africa and Indonesia, with destinations in China, Thailand and other Asian countries. - The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were thought to be orangutans. - Wild young apes are traumatized by their capture, and many die along the supply chain, or with their final “owners” by whom they are frequently poorly treated. Young great apes trained in captivity become increasingly unmanageable as they age, and many are “retired” to tiny, solitary cages, or simply disappear. - Trafficking arrests are rare. UNEP recorded just 27 arrests in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 cases of illegally trafficked great apes were documented, with many more undetected. Solutions are in the works, but time is running out for the world’s great apes if they are to be conserved.
Rare barking deer photographed in Vietnam [04/11/2017]
- This is only the third site in Vietnam where the giant (or large-antlered) muntjak has been photographed in the last decade, conservationists say. - The giant muntjac is the largest species of muntjac, or barking deer. - It lives a cryptic life in the remote rainforests of the Annamite Mountain range in Southeast Asia. - Overhunting and habitat loss has wiped out the muntjac from across most of its previous range.
Governments must do more to help companies end deforestation in commodities supply chains, companies say [04/11/2017]
- Fern conducted interviews with and policy reviews of 15 companies, from major consumer-facing companies like IKEA, Nestlé, and Unilever, to producers and traders such as APP (Asia Pulp and Paper), Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources, and Sime Darby. - One overriding message emerged, Fern reports: companies see government policies and actions — or lack thereof — as one of the main obstacles to cleaning up their supply chains. - Many companies view the governments of countries where commodities production occurs as having a crucial role to play in “creating an enabling framework of rules, regulations and effective administration without which private sector commitments to tackle deforestation can only have limited impact,” the report states.
Land titling for indigenous communities leads to forest protection, peer-reviewed study finds [04/10/2017]
- Deforestation is responsible for as much as 10 percent of total global carbon emissions, which means that finding effective means of keeping forests standing is crucial to global efforts to halt climate change. - Previous studies have found that securing indigenous land rights is a successful path to keeping forests and the carbon sinks they represent intact, but the full effects of land titling for indigenous communities are still unclear. - Now the authors of a peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week say they found that forest clearance is actually reduced by more than three-quarters and forest disturbance by roughly two-thirds over the two-year timespan immediately following the granting of land title to an indigenous community.
Brazil slashes environment budget by 43% [04/07/2017]
- Brazil accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, the world's largest tropical forest. - After several years of decline, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is on the rise again. - Environmentalists say that the budget cut will "profoundly [impact] deforestation -- and, consequently, Brazil's climate targets."
New leaf-nosed bat uncovered amidst burning habitat in Venezuela [04/06/2017]
- Using genetic and morphologic comparisons, scientists uncovered a new leaf-nosed bat species they named Sturnia adrianae. The species inhabits montane forest in northern Venezuela and Colombia. - The species is comprised of two subspecies, one of which is restricted to an isolated mountain range in northeastern Venezuela where human-caused fires are common. - The study's lead author recommends increasing conservation and scientific attention for the area to preserve bat habitat, safeguard water supplies, and help prevent landslides like those that recently killed at least 250 people in Mocoa, Colombia.
Illegal bushmeat trade threatens human health and great apes [04/06/2017]
- Hunting for bushmeat impacts over 500 wild species in Africa, but is particularly harmful to great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos — whose small, endangered populations struggle to rebound from over-hunting. Along with other major stressors including habitat loss, trafficking and climate change. - Bushmeat brings humans into close contact with wildlife, creating a prime path for the transmission of diseases like Ebola, as well as new emerging infectious diseases. Disease spread is especially worrisome between humans and closely related African great ape species. - Bushmeat consumption today is driven by an upscale urban African market, by illegal logging that offers easy access to remote great ape habitat, plus impoverished rural hunters in need of cash livelihoods. - If the bushmeat problem is to be solved, ineffective enforcement of hunting quotas and inadequate endangered species protections must be addressed. Cultural preferences for bushmeat must also change. Educational programs focused on bushmeat disease risk may be the best way to alter public perceptions.
Successful Colombian rainforest project exposes problems with carbon emissions trading [04/06/2017]
- The Chocó-Darién Conservation Corridor, as the community’s REDD+ project is called, is the first REDD+ project to be certified in Colombia. In 2012 it was the first REDD+ project operating on community land in the world. - COCOMASUR, an organization representing 2,600 Afro-Colombians, utilizes a team of forest rangers to monitor the tropical rainforest. - Despite their success, now the community is struggling to get compensated due to a carbon trading market that has “bottomed out.”
Indigenous groups, Amazon’s best land stewards, under federal attack [04/05/2017]
- According to 2014 data for Legal Amazonia, 59 percent of that year’s illegal deforestation occurred on privately held lands, 27 percent in conservation units, 13 percent in agrarian reform settlements, and a mere 1 percent on indigenous lands — demonstrating that indigenous land stewards are the best at limiting deforestation. - Indigenous groups control large reserves in the Amazon and have the constitutional right to more, but land thieves and agribusiness are working to prevent recognition of new indigenous territories — forested territories that, if protected, could sequester a great deal of climate change-causing carbon. - While President Lula failed to live up to indigenous expectations, the Dilma and Temer governments, heavily influenced by the agricultural lobby, showed much greater hostility to indigenous needs and demands. Indigenous groups plan a mass protest on April 24-28 to make their grievances known to the Temer government. - “The Brazilian economy has become increasingly dependent on agribusiness [with] political repercussions.… People [aren’t] against the Indians because they are Indians or because they have too much land. The problem is that the Indians have lands these political actors want.” — Márcio Meira, former head of FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian affairs agency.
In Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, conservation efforts drown in a sea of eucalyptus [04/05/2017]
- Since 2001, Brazil has almost doubled its area of protected land without increasing its conservation budget. - In the central corridor of the Atlantic Forest, protected areas are scattered among large extensions of eucalyptus monocultures maintained by pulp companies. - With limited resources and facing powerful companies, those in charge of protected areas are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Rotten beef and illegal deforestation: Brazil’s largest meatpacker rocked by scandals [04/05/2017]
- On March 17, agents with Brazil’s Federal Police raided facilities belonging to JBS and another food processing giant, BRF, as well as several smaller companies. - The raids were the culmination of a two-year investigation, called “Operation Weak Flesh,” into an alleged scheme by which JBS, BRF, and others were bribing government officials to look the other way as they sold and exported rotten and salmonella-tainted beef, pork, and poultry. - Just four days after its plants were raided as part of the corruption probe, JBS found itself embroiled in another scandal. On March 21, as part of a three-year operation code-named “Cold Meat,” Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, raided two JBS meatpackers in the state of Pará that are accused of having purchased thousands of heads of cattle raised on illegally deforested land in the Amazon.
Audio: WildTech covers the high- and low-tech solutions making conservation more effective [04/04/2017]
- Sue shares with us some of the most interesting technologies and trends that she sees as having the biggest potential to transform the way we go about conserving Earth’s natural resources and wildlife. - Also on the program, we feature a live-taped conversation with Jonathan Thompson and Clarisse Hart, two scientists with the Harvard Forest, a long-term ecological research project of Harvard University. - Guest co-host and Mongabay editor Becky Kessler helps lead a conversation about Thompson and Hart’s work, including a study they released looking at multiple scenarios for the future of Massachusetts’ forests that they say changed the way they approach research altogether.
Jurisdictional certification approach aims to strengthen protections against deforestation [04/04/2017]
- Jurisdictional certification brings together all stakeholders across all commodities within a district or state to ensure the entire region is deforestation-free. - A few tropical forest regions have long used the jurisdictional approach; with proven success, more regions are now following suit. - Pilot programs in Brazil and elsewhere exemplify the successes and challenges of the jurisdictional approach.
Ebo forest great apes threatened by stalled Cameroon national park [04/03/2017]
- Cameroon’s Ebo forest is home to key populations of tool-wielding Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, along with an unspecified subspecies of gorilla, drills, Preuss’s Red Colobus, forest elephants, and a great deal more biodiversity. - The forest is vulnerable, unprotected due to a drawn-out fight to secure its status as a national park. Logging and hunting threaten Ebo’s biodiversity. The Cameroonian palm oil company Azur recently began planting a 123,000 hectare plantation on its boundary. - The Ebo Forest Research Project (EFRP) has been working successfully to change the habits of local people who have long subsisted on the forest’s natural resources — turning hunters into great ape guardians. But without the establishment of the national park and full legal protection and enforcement, everyone’s efforts may be in vain.
Forest fragmentation may be releasing much more carbon than we think [03/31/2017]
- Many tropical forests around the world have been severely fragmented as human disturbance split once-contiguous forests into pieces. Previous research indicates trees on the edges of these fragments have higher mortality rates than trees growing in the interiors of forests. - Researchers used satellite data and analysis software they developed to figure out how many forest fragments there are, and the extent of their edges. They discovered that there are around 50 million tropical forest fragments in the world today; their edges add up to about 50 million kilometers – about a third of the way from the earth to the sun. - When they calculated how much carbon is being released from tree death at these edges, they found a 31 percent increase from current tropical deforestation estimates.
New research shows role ancient peoples might have played in shaping Amazon rainforest [03/31/2017]
- While the extent to which mankind has influenced the Amazon is a topic of much heated debate, a common assumption is that whether a species thrived in a particular area or not was determined mostly by the process of natural selection. - But a research team that used data from more than 1,000 forest surveys to study forest composition at over 3,000 archaeological sites across the Amazon found that species domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples were five times as likely to be "hyperdominant" as non-domesticated species. - "This lays to rest the long-standing myth of the 'empty Amazon'," said Charles Clement, a senior researcher at Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA) and a co-author of the study.
Three new frog species found in disappearing Atlantic Forest [03/30/2017]
- The new species are of the Chiasmocleis genus of humming frogs. They spend most of their life underground, coming out only a few weeks a year for "explosive breeding." - The frogs look similar to species already known to science, but have distinct genes and minute physical differences that researchers used to set them apart. - They were found in the Atlantic Forest, which has been heavily degraded by agriculture. As little as 3.5 percent of the biome may remain today.
New species of wild ginger discovered in DR Congo [03/30/2017]
- Scientists have named the new ginger plant Aframomum ngamikkense after the proposed Ngamikka National Park in the Misotshi-Kabogo Massif. - The species is currently known only from forests at higher elevations of 1,500-2000 meters, where the plant occurs in large patches. - This discovery adds to the growing list of 50-odd known species of ginger found throughout Africa including Madagascar.
Indigenous peoples in Colombia play crucial role in the fight against climate change [03/30/2017]
- Research shows that the rights of the numerous indigenous groups in the Amazon are crucial to help curb global warming. - Trading in CO2 emissions prevented by protecting forests instead of cutting them down has been possible since 2008 under a UN mechanism called REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries), but there are complications. - Marked by lackluster regulation for years, since the CO2 market under REDD+ (or its predecessor REDD) was introduced, “carbon cowboys” have popped up in the remotest corners of the tropics, trying to profit from the growing trade in CO2 emissions.
Almost 1M hectares ‘missing’ from land holdings of major palm oil companies [03/29/2017]
- Palm oil is a major driver of tropical deforestation. The report was produced by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which looked at information publicly disclosed by 50 of the most major palm oil production companies. - Its findings indicate that while most companies disclose the area of planted land they manage, many fail to reveal the size, location, and use of many other areas in their portfolio, defying corporate accountability and concealing potential social and environmental risks. - A supply chain expert says failures to disclose information don't necessarily signal ill will on the part of the companies. Instead, it may be the result of unclear expectations, definitions, and protocols for reporting. - The Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world's leading palm oil certification body, is reportedly working to improve the reporting process of its member companies.
New study provides a blueprint for engaging indigenous peoples in REDD+ forest monitoring [03/28/2017]
- According to the authors of the study, using well-trained indigenous technicians is more cost-effective, takes less time, and, of course, helps meet the requirement for full and effective participation by indigenous peoples in REDD+ programs. - For the study, a team of thirty indigenous technicians performed a forest inventory in order to measure the forest carbon sequestered in five Emberá and Wounaan territories in Darién, Panama. - The researchers then compared the tree height and diameter data gathered by expert technicians and trained indigenous technicians and found no significant differences. - Meanwhile, access to Darién's forests was only possible because the study was managed by the Organización de Jóvenes Emberá y Wounaan de Panamá (OJEWP) in coordination with traditional indigenous authorities, in accordance with the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
Communities conserving local forest in El Salvador vote to ban mining [03/28/2017]
- El Salvador is considered the most-deforested country in Central America, but national efforts to protect remaining forest appear to be on the upswing in the tiny country. - Cinquera, a municipality in northern El Salvador, has created its own forest preserve and attracted the attention of the national government. - In February, residents voted to ban metallic mining in the region. - On March 22, legislator Guillermo Mata announced that the legislative assembly’s multi-partisan environmental committee had approved the text of a law banning metallic mining. The bill is set to go to the floor for a vote this week, according to Mata.
Paying for healthcare with trees: win-win for orangutans and communities [03/28/2017]
- In 2016, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) was declared Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Orangutan habitat is fast disappearing due to deforestation caused by industrial agriculture, forest fires, slash and burn agriculture, and logging. - One of the most important remaining P. pygmaeus populations, with roughly 2,000 individuals, is in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park. Alam Sehat Lestari (Healthy Nature Everlasting, or ASRI) is partnering with U.S. NGO Health in Harmony and effectively reducing illegal logging in the park via a unique healthcare offering. - When communities were asked what was needed to stop them from logging conserved forest, the people answered: affordable healthcare and organic farming. Expensive medical costs were forcing people to log to pay medical bills, while unsustainable agricultural practices depleted the soil, necessitating the use of costly fertilizers. - The two NGOs opened an affordable health clinic, and later a hospital, offering discounted medical service to communities that stop logging. Forest guardians, recruited in every village, encourage people to curb deforestation. They also monitor illegal activity and reforestation, while offering training in organic farming methods. And the program works!
A Sumatran king’s 1,400-year-old vision for sustainable landscape planning [03/28/2017]
- Indonesia's South Sumatra is an epicenter of the annual peat fires that ravage the archipelago country. - The province has become a staging ground for projects like KELOLA Sendang, which is intended to promote sustainable landscape management in an important tiger habitat. - More than a millennium ago, the ruler of the Srivijaya kingdom put forth his own vision for sustainable prosperity — one of which today's policymakers could take heed.
Two new clown tree frogs discovered in the Amazon [03/27/2017]
- Clown frogs are widespread throughout the Amazon region and get their name from their unique, bright coloration. - The two newly discovered clown frogs were previously considered to belong to other species, but researchers were able to show that they are their own distinct species after analyzing their DNA and the calls they make. - According to the international team of researchers who made the discovery, the conservation status of both clown frogs has yet to be determined — but it is likely that the species could already be considered threatened, especially given that both are reported to have particularly small distribution areas that are endangered by habitat destruction.
Amazon land speculators poised to gain control of vast public lands [03/27/2017]
- In the Brazilian Amazon, the paving of highways makes adjacent forests far more attractive to land thieves, resulting in major deforestation. The Sustainable BR-163 Plan of 2006 created vast swathes of protected land — eight new conservation units — to prevent land theft and deforestation from happening near the vulnerable BR-163 highway in Pará state. - From the start, land speculators wanted to get their hands on one of those units, the National Forest of Jamanxim, known as “Flona Jamaxim.” They’ve occupied large areas of the Flona, making it one of Brazil’s conservation units with the most serious illegal forest clearing. Illicit activities there helped turn the region into a very violent place. - The rise of the agribusiness-friendly Temer administration in August 2016 emboldened the land speculators. Working with the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, they got Temer to pass interim measures in December 2016, dismembering Flona Jamanxim, reclassifying 305,000 hectares, and allowing land thieves to keep the land they had seized. - Other conservation units are being targeted: in January 2017, the government announced plans to slash conservation units in Amazonas state — dismembering the Biological Reserve of Manicoré, National Park of Acari, and National Forests of Aripuanã and Urupadi, and more. If approved, one million hectares will lose environmental protection.
Panama’s Barro Blanco dam to begin operation, indigenous pleas refused [03/24/2017]
- For nearly a decade, Panama’s Barro Blanco dam has met with strong opposition from indigenous Ngäbe communities. It has also generated violent suppression from government forces, and attracted criticism from international organizations. - An agreement on the dam’s completion, reached by the government and the community’s now-ousted leader, was voted down by the Ngäbe-Bugle General Congress in September 2016. The dam’s surprise deregistration from the UN Clean Development Mechanism in October 2016 did nothing to stop the project. - Now, the General Administrator of Panama’s National Authority for Public Services has declared that the Ngäbe-Bugle General Congress never presented a formal rejection document to the government, meaning dam operations can begin. - Panama’s Supreme Court has ruled against the last two legal actions by indigenous communities impacted by Barro Blanco. The Supreme Court decisions cannot be appealed, so the communities have now exhausted all legal avenues within the country, leaving only international processes.
New cave catfish threatened by deforestation, mining, pollution [03/23/2017]
- The new catfish, Aspidoras mephisto, is the first completely cave-dependent member of the Callichthyidae family found in South America. - The species has adaptations to living underground, including a lack of pigment and reduced eyes. Researchers think it may use tree roots for shelter and food. - Surveys indicate A. mephisto is restricted to two caves in an area devoid of official protection. Deforestation and mining activities threaten the vegetation around the caves, and sewage from a nearby town may be polluting their water sources.
Downstream from a coal mine, villages in Indonesian Borneo suffer from water pollution [03/23/2017]
- East Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo, hosts rare expanses of biologically rich tropical rainforest. It also has rich deposits of coal — according to Greenpeace data, around 75 percent of the province has been assigned for coal mining. - PT Indominco Mandiri, a subsidiary of Thai conglomerate Banpu, operates a 25,000-hectare (~62,000-acre) mining concession in East Kalimantan. - Activists and residents say this mining operation has rendered the water of the Santan River unusable for drinking, irrigation or aquaculture.
Jokowi reiterates commitment to indigenous rights [03/23/2017]
- Instead of attending the fifth congress of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago last week in Sumatra as planned, Jokowi invited representatives of the organization to meet in Jakarta on Wednesday. - He told them he would push parliament to pass a law on indigenous rights and said he would form a task force to support the movement. - The administration is planning to recognize the rights of 18 more communities to the forests they call home, an area spanning a total of 590,000 hectares, the president said.