Massive protected area around ‘Atlantic Galapagos’ one step closer to becoming reality [09/18/2019]
- Bringing the protection of the “Atlantic Galapagos” one step closer to becoming a reality, the Governor of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, Philip Rushbrook, designated a large-sale Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island last month. - The MPA will cover the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. That means that an area of more than 440,000 square kilometers or 170,000 square miles will be included in the Ascension Island MPA, making it one of the largest in the world. - While legislation and a management plan won’t be finalized until long-term funding has been secured for the MPA, it has been proposed that commercial fishing and mineral extraction be prohibited altogether within the waters around Ascension Island, which has been described as a “miniature Galapagos Islands” because of its rich biodiversity.
Pan Borneo Highway development endangers the Heart of Borneo [09/18/2019]
- The construction of the Pan Borneo Highway in the Malaysian state of Sabah could disrupt the connections between wildlife populations and appears to run counter to the state’s conservation commitments, according to a new study. - Passages under the highway and the rehabilitation of key forest corridors could lessen the impacts of the road, but the authors of the study caution that these interventions are expensive and may not be effective. - They argue that planners should consider canceling certain sections of the road with the greatest potential for damaging the surrounding forest.
Gran Chaco: South America’s second-largest forest at risk of collapsing [09/17/2019]
- Distributed between Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, the Gran Chaco is a collection of more than 50 different ecosystems typified by dry forest. - The Gran Chaco is one of the most deforested areas on the planet. Every month, an area twice the size of Buenos Aires is cut down. - Chaco deforestation is driven by the expansion of the agricultural frontier and hunting, as well as climate change.
Indigenous communities, wildlife under threat as farms invade Nicaraguan reserve [09/17/2019]
- Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve straddles the country’s border with Honduras and was declared a UNESCO site in 1997. It comprises one of the largest contiguous rainforest regions in Latin America north of the Amazon Basin and includes 21 ecosystems and six types of forest that are home to a multitude of species, several of which are threatened with extinction. - According to a report by the Nicaraguan environmental agency MARENA, a little more than 15 percent of the Bosawás reserve had been cleared and converted for agricultural use in 2000. But today, that number stands at nearly 31 percent. Satellite data show deforestation reached the heart of the reserve’s core zone earlier this year. - Deforestation in Bosawás stems mainly from migration, as people in other parts of the country move to the region looking for fertile land and space to raise cattle and grow crops. - Indigenous communities are allowed to own land within Bosawás. But sources say land traffickers are selling plots of land to non-indigenous farmers and ranchers, creating conflicts that have caused death on both sides.
Audio: Humpback whales across the Pacific Ocean are singing the same song [09/17/2019]
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jim Darling, a marine biologist who is here to play us some recordings of remarkably similar humpback whale songs from around the world. - Darling and colleagues found that North Pacific humpback whale songs can be incredibly similar to each other — nearly identical, in fact. That means that our view of the whales as living in distinct groups might very well be wrong. And that view dictates a lot of the conservation measures we’ve designed to protect imperiled populations of humpbacks. - Darling joins us today to talk about his humpback research and play us some of those recordings so you can hear the similarity for yourself.
Newly described Chinese giant salamander may be world’s largest amphibian [09/17/2019]
- The critically endangered Chinese giant salamander is not just one, but three distinct species, researchers have now confirmed in a new study. - One of the newly recognized species, the South China giant salamander (Andrias sligoi), could be largest amphibian on the planet, the researchers say. - The researchers say they hope the recognition of the Chinese giant salamanders as three species will help the amphibians’ conservation by triggering separate management plans for the species.
Mexican officials battle a tide of fire eating away at a protected reserve [09/16/2019]
- Fires raged in the Mexican state of Campeche this summer, with NASA satellites picking up nearly 10,000 fire alerts the state so far this year — around twice the number recorded in 2018. This puts 2019 in third place (behind 2003 and barely behind 2013) for the highest incidence of fires in the state since data collection began in 2001. - Of these fires, 15 percent occurred in protected areas. Several afflicted Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of which burned through 3,087 hectares (7,628 acres) before being extinguished. - Stretching across the central Yucatan Peninsula to the Guatemalan border, the Calakmul Reserve, as well as the Balamku and Balamkin state reserves that sit contiguous with it, comprise more than 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of jungle. The reserves are home to some of the country’s most impressive biodiversity and provide vital habitat to threatened animals and plants. - The main driver of fires in Campeche is slash-and-burn agriculture. Officials worry that fire seasons will only intensify as more people set up farms in the region, and as state funding to fight fires continues to dwindle.
Popular pesticide linked to weight loss and delayed migration in songbird [09/16/2019]
- In a new study, wild white-crowned sparrows that were exposed to seeds treated with imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, suffered considerable weight loss and delayed the timing of their migration. - The delayed migration could in turn be affecting the birds’ survival and reproduction, the researchers say. - The findings suggest that neonicotinoids could have partly contributed to the decline of several farmland-dependent bird species in North America as seen in the past few decades, the researchers add.
Video: Pango-Cam offers amazing and unique view of pangolin behavior [09/16/2019]
- The Pango-Cam is a first-of-its-kind camera setup attached to a black-bellied pangolin’s back to provide unique footage of the animal’s behavior. - A collaboration between filmmaker Katie Schuler and pangolin biologist Matthew Shirley, the team recently recorded excellent footage in Nigeria, as seen in the video below. - Pangolins are poorly understood and are also under grave threat from the illegal wildlife trade, so it’s hoped the Pango-Cam can improve awareness and knowledge of the secretive animals. - Pango-Cam footage is featured in Schuler’s new film that’s appearing at Jackson Wild, a conservation event and film festival running in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from Sept. 21-27.
‘A green desert’: Mammals take a hit in Colombia’s oil palm plantations [09/16/2019]
- Researchers studying oil palm plantations in Colombia found that mammal diversity dropped compared to nearby savanna. - Some mammals used plantations for hunting and foraging, but none stayed permanently. - With the Colombian government’s pledge to drastically increase its cropland, scientists fear savannas and wetlands could be at threat.
Shocking news: There are actually three species of electric eel in the Amazon, not one [09/13/2019]
- A mostly nocturnal species found in freshwater habitats in Mexico and South America, the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) belongs to the knifefish family and is more closely related to catfish and carp than other eels. It was first described more than 250 years ago by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. - But now a team of scientists led by Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has determined that E. electricus is in fact three distinct species. - During their work in the field, the researchers used a voltmeter to record a member of one of the newly described species, E. voltai, discharging 860 volts, the highest discharge ever recorded for any animal (the previous record was 650 volts).
A pearl oyster farm in Bali aims to be a sustainable source of the jewel [09/13/2019]
- A pearl oyster farm on the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Bali is working to establish a sustainable source for the creatures that produce South Sea pearls, prized for their use in jewelry. - But the industry’s fast growth has taken a toll on wild oyster populations, and there’s also been a decline in the quality of pearls. - In response, Indonesia has launched a pearl oyster breeding initiative. - Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of South Sea pearls, accounting for 43 percent of global supply.
‘Radically changing’ a rare Mauritian plant’s story: Q&A with ecologist Prishnee Bissessur [09/12/2019]
- Roussea simplex, a unique plant that grows only on the mountains of Mauritius, is the only species in its genus, with just 250-odd individuals remaining in the wild. - Prishnee Bissessur, a graduate student at the University of Mauritius who has been studying the plant since 2015, has “radically changed what was known of the plant’s ecology so far,” according to one ecologist. - Mongabay spoke with Bissessur to learn about her work on Roussea simplex, what makes the plant so fascinating, and the challenges of studying it.
Nepal to conduct, self-fund, rhino census in March 2020 [09/11/2019]
- In 2019 a planned rhino census in Nepal was called off after wildlife officials failed to raise the necessary funds from donors. - The country’s finance ministry recently announced that will support a new rhino census, to be held in March 2020. The government has allocated 11 million rupees of the total 16 million rupees ($140,000) the census is estimated to cost. - Nepal has succeeded in virtually eliminating rhino poaching, but large numbers of rhinos have died of unknown or natural causes in the country’s sanctuaries, adding urgency to calls for a new census to be held. - The decision to self-fund the census comes as the government is promoting a variety of populist, nationalist projects.
A lifeline for the last leopards (commentary) [09/10/2019]
- From being extinct in the wild, the Arabian oryx was reclassified in 1986 as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species after its reintroduction to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, with its global numbers increased to thousands, the Arabian oryx was the first animal ever to revert to “Vulnerable” status after having previously been listed as extinct in the wild. - Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) aims to replicate this miraculous turnaround for the Arabian leopard – a little-studied, desert-dwelling subspecies listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List – and for leopard populations everywhere with a new $20 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Wild Cats. - The Arabian Leopard Initiatives will support a holistic and urgent program to rigorously monitor the Arabian leopard’s population and distribution, as well as halt its decline through community conservation projects. The cornerstone will be a captive breeding program dedicated to shoring up Arabian leopard populations and reintroducing them into their former habitats. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Camera trap study reveals Amazon ocelot’s survival strategies [09/10/2019]
- Ocelots suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 70s due to hunting, but populations have rebounded since the international fur trade was banned. Now, heavy deforestation and increasing human activity across their range threaten to put this elegant creature back on the endangered list. - Researchers collected images from hundreds of camera traps set across the Amazon basin and analyzed the effect of different habitat characteristics on the presence of ocelots. Statistical modeling revealed the cat’s preference for dense forests and a dislike of roads and human settlements. - Experts say ocelots may also be responding to human activity and forest degradation in ways that camera traps cannot easily detect, such as changing how and when they use a particular habitat. The study looked at ocelot behavior in protected and forested habitat, not in degraded landscapes. - Ocelots are considered ambassador species for their forest ecosystem, and studies like this give support to maintaining protected areas, which are increasingly under threat from agricultural expansion and other human activities.
Malawi sentences pangolin smugglers, cracks down on wildlife crime [09/10/2019]
- Two Malawian nationals arrested in May and suspected of being part of one of Africa’s largest transnational wildlife trafficking syndicates have now been sentenced to three years in prison by a Malawian court. - The suspected kingpin of the trafficking network, a Chinese national named Yunhua Lin, was arrested in August this year following a three-month manhunt and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 11. - Lin’s wife, Qin Hua Zhang, and eight others who had been arrested during the May raids are due in court on Sept. 12, and further hearings have been scheduled throughout the month.
Loss of Madagascar’s biodiversity is a loss for Earth, Pope says [09/09/2019]
- On a visit to Madagascar this weekend, Pope Francis denounced the “excessive” forest loss in the country. - He was speaking at the presidential palace, during a courtesy call to President Andry Rajoelina. - The pope also visited Mozambique before arriving in Madagascar, where he addressed the ecological disaster faced by the African nation after it was hit by two back-to-back cyclones this year. - His seven-day tour which includes a day trip to Mauritius on Monday comes to a close on Tuesday.
Nail paint helps researchers estimate numbers of rare Cuban bat species [09/09/2019]
- Very little is known about the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus), an extremely rare species known from just a single remote cave in western Cuba. - Now, following a survey that involved bright nail paints to mark individual bats, researchers have estimated that there are fewer than 750 Cuban greater funnel-eared bats in the the cave locally known as Cueva la Barca. - What the population number means for the species is, however, hard to say at the moment because of the lack of any previous estimates, researchers say.
Disaster strikes in Bolivia as fires lay waste to unique forests [09/06/2019]
- Fires are raging in Bolivia, hitting particularly hard the Chiquitano dry forests of the country’s southern Santa Cruz region. - Officials say the fires are largely the result of intentional burning to convert forest to farmland. Sources say this practice has recently intensified after Bolivian president Evo Morales signed a decree in July expanding land demarcated for livestock production and the agribusiness sector to include Permanent Forest Production Lands in the regions of Beni and Santa Cruz. - Satellite data indicate 2019 may be a banner year for forest loss, with tree cover loss alerts spiking in late August to levels more than double the average of previous years. Most of these alerts are occurring in areas with high fire activity, with data from NASA showing August fire activity in Santa Cruz was around three times higher than in years past. - Human communities are suffering due to the fires, with reports of smoke-caused illnesses and drinking water shortages. Meanwhile, biologists are worried about the plants and animals of the Chiquitano dry forests, many of which are unique, isolated and found nowhere else in the world.
Asian otters gain protection from the pet trade [09/06/2019]
- The smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter are now on the CITES list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade. - Asian small-clawed otters are particularly sought after as domestic pets and for ‘otter cafés,’ where wild otters are forced to interact with paying customers. - Conservationists say that a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.
Connected forests key to more sustainable palm oil industry: report [09/05/2019]
- A new report says stronger criteria are needed to ensure that high-quality forested areas remain intact. - Keeping other forested areas connected while encouraging the movement of vulnerable species is crucial, say the researchers. - The key, they say, is to involve the palm oil industry – worth billions of dollars – particularly in high-producing countries with tropical forest like Indonesia.
New monkey species found in Amazon forest area that’s fast disappearing [09/05/2019]
- From a stretch of the Amazon forest lying between the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers in the Brazilian state of Pará, researchers have described a new-to-science species of marmoset. - The marmoset, with its distinct white tail, white forearms with a beige-yellowish spot on the elbow, and white feet and hands, has been named Mico munduruku after the Munduruku, an indigenous group of people who live in the Tapajós–Jamanxim interfluve. - At the moment, given the scarcity of information on M. munduruku, the researchers recommend listing the marmoset as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. - However, the Amazon forest that’s home to the newly described species is being rapidly cut for agricultural expansion, logging, mining, and infrastructure development.
‘Holy grail’: Nest of extremely rare bird captured on video in Russia [09/04/2019]
- In a remote part of the Russian Far East, researchers have for the first time filmed a nesting Nordmann’s greenshank, a bird that researchers know very little about. - While the Nordmann’s greenshank forages along the coast where it can be seen more easily from boats, it goes deep into larch forests in very remote locations to nest. - While the observed nest failed, the team managed to tag seven adult greenshanks and eight chicks with unique leg bands, which will help them track each individual bird as they fly across Asia and back. - There are believed to be fewer than 2,000 Nordmann’s greenshanks living in the wild today, with the species facing different threats in the various countries and territories through which it passes on its winter migration.
Transforming African conservation from old social cause into next-gen growth market [09/03/2019]
- Africa’s conservation challenges are daunting, and on the surface it would seem that time is running short for African wildlife. - One Ghanian entrepreneur sees conservation as one of the great opportunities for Africa, though: Fred Swaniker, the founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, has won accolades for his efforts to transform higher education in Africa. - One of his latest ventures is African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation, which aims to help Africans use their knowledge, experience and big ideas to “own and drive” the conservation agenda in Africa. - Ahead of ALU’s Business of Conservation Conference taking place Sept. 8-9 in Kigali, Rwanda, Swaniker spoke with Mongabay about equipping conservation leaders with business, managerial and leadership skills “to transform a generations-old social cause into a next-generation high-growth market.”
A Philippine island employs a rare cockatoo in its fight against mines [09/03/2019]
- The Philippine island of Homonhon in best known as the first site in Asia where Ferdinand Magellan set foot on his historic circumnavigation of the globe. - Today, the island is home to open-pit mines that have been operating for decades to get valuable deposits of chromite and nickel. - Locals opposed to the mines now have a new weapon in their fight: a recent assessment of the island’s flora and fauna, showing that it houses threatened and endemic species, in particular the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo. - The regional environment department has recommended that in light of this finding, the entire island be declared a critical habitat, which would protect the identified species from mining and other activities.
Indonesian court cancels dam project in last stronghold of tigers, rhinos [09/02/2019]
- A court in Indonesia’s Aceh province has ordered an end to a planned hydroelectric project in Sumatra’s unique Leuser Ecosystem. - Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Aceh government and the dam’s developer earlier this year over potential environmental destruction and violation of zoning laws. - The area is the last place on Earth that’s home to wild tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants — all critically endangered species whose habitat would be flooded and fragmented by the dam and its roads and power lines. - Villagers in the region were also widely opposed to the project, which they say would have dammed up the river on which they depend and forced them to relocate to make way for the reservoir.
A tiger refuge in Sumatra gets a reprieve from road building [08/31/2019]
- Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS), which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011. - UNESCO has noted particular concern about a spate of road projects planned for Kerinci Seblat and other protected areas within the TRHS. - According to park officials, Indonesia’s forestry ministry has refused permits for all new roads within the park; the sole project to receive permission is the upgrade of an existing road. - The park still faces immense pressure from encroachment for agriculture, logging, mining and poaching.
With new protections, saiga antelope may continue to be a symbol of Central Asia (commentary) [08/30/2019]
- Saiga antelope are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN “Red List” of threatened species. Disease and poaching have taken their toll on this ancient animal. - With potential disease threats, saiga cannot withstand the additional challenges of poaching and illegal trade. Saiga males are targeted and killed for their horn, which is used in traditional medicine in Asia. With the total remaining saiga population in Mongolia standing at less than 3,000, we are deeply concerned about both illegal trade and any potential commercial trade. - The majority of the 183 governments that are Parties to CITES gathered this week for their global meeting to regulate or prohibit commercial trade in threatened and endangered species. Given the high demand for saiga horn and this animal’s susceptibility to disease resulting in high levels of mortality across the population, the action taken in Geneva this week to strengthen saiga’s global protection was essential. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The end of the road: The future of the Pan Borneo Highway [08/30/2019]
- The construction of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of road for the Pan Borneo Highway across Malaysian Borneo holds the promise of spurring local economies for its proponents. - But from the outset, conservationists and scientists voiced concerns that the road would displace people, harm sensitive environments, and threaten Borneo’s splendid diversity of wildlife. - As construction moves forward, these groups are working with planners to find a way for the highway’s construction to avoid the worst environmental damage.
‘Not a pretty picture’: South China’s forests vanish as tree farms move in [08/29/2019]
- Forests in South China have been increasingly replaced by monoculture ecalyptus plantations grown for wood fiber for the pulp and paper industry. Even forests under official protection haven’t been spared. Xidamingshan Forest Reserve is one of these, losing so much of its native forest over the past decade that it was delisted by the World Database of Protected Areas in 2018. - Central government-led environmental inspections in 2016 found that the Guangxi region lost 6.9 percent of its nature reserve areas over a five year period between 2011 and 2015, with the loss primarily due to unclear borders and the ensuing environmental damage from economic activities such as plantation agriculture and mining. - The Guangxi government set about trying to determine the borders of the Xidamingshan Nature Reserve in 2016, with the final determination coming on Jan. 31, 2019. However, where those borders will actually be depends on the outcomes of negotiations between Guangxi and local governments, and their implementation is at the mercy of a protracted bureaucratic process. - Meanwhile, forests continue to be lost at a fast pace, with satellite data showing large areas of tree cover loss in 2019.
Calls for natural solution over man-made one in flood-ravaged rhino refuge [08/29/2019]
- Kaziranga National Park in India, the global stronghold of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, has 144 artificial highlands built to help animals find refuge during the annual floods that hit the region. - Experts say the artificial highlands are merely temporary solutions and won’t be beneficial over the long term. - Some say the artificial highlands will lead to more erosion and siltation in the grasslands than occurs naturally. Moreover, only rhinos seem to be using the artificial highlands, while other animals tend to move toward natural highlands in neighboring hills. - The real solution, some experts say, lies in keeping the migration routes that the animals follow to reach their natural highlands free of human settlements and commercial establishments.
‘We have cut them all’: Ghana struggles to protect its last old-growth forests [08/28/2019]
- Deforestation of Ghana’s primary forests jumped 60 percent between 2017 and 2018 – the biggest jump of any tropical country. Most of this occurred in the country’s protected areas, including its forest reserves. - A Mongabay investigation revealed that illegal logging in forest reserves is commonplace, with sources claiming officers from Ghana’s Forestry Commission often turn a blind eye and even participate in the activity. - The technical director of forestry at Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources said attempts at intervention have met with limited success, and are often thwarted by loggers who know how to game the system. - A representative of a conservation NGO operating in the country says a community-based monitoring project has helped curtail illegal logging in some reserves, but additional buy-in from other communities is needed to scale up its results. Meanwhile, the Ghanaian government is reportedly starting its own public outreach program, as well as coordinating with the EU on an agreement that would allow only legal wood from Ghana to enter the EU market.
Manta rays are social creatures who are choosy about their friends [08/28/2019]
- Researchers have found evidence of structured social relationships among wild, free-ranging reef manta rays. The rays appear to actively choose other individuals to socialize with, according to a study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology last week. - The researchers say that certain social groups were regularly seen together at specific cleaning stations, where the rays are cleaned by cleaner wrasse and other small fish, suggesting that they may be using those sites as meet-up points. Some rays were observed returning frequently to certain cleaning stations despite the close proximity of several other sites. - Reef manta rays are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List, which reports that the ray’s numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30 percent globally over the last 75 years. The researchers hope that by revealing the social lives of manta rays, they can help build public support for protection measures around the world.
Death on the Brahmaputra: The rhino, the rangers, and the usual suspects [08/28/2019]
- In February 2018, a greater one-horned rhino wandered from India’s Orang National Park into the nearby Burachapori-Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary. - In September 2018, officials lost track of the rhino. In June 2019, the rhino’s buried remains, and a bullet, were discovered close to a guard camp in Burachapori-Laokhowa. - Officials in Burachapori-Laokhowa did not officially report the rhino missing until the matter was leaked to the press more than a month later. - Suspicion has been cast, variously, on forest staff, illegal settlers and illegal fishers.
The Pan Borneo Highway on a collision course with elephants [08/28/2019]
- Out of the controversy surrounding the Pan Borneo Highway and its potential impacts on the environment has arisen a movement to bring conservationists, scientists and planners together to develop a plan “to maximize benefits and reduce risks” to the environment from the road’s construction. - The chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo has called for the highway to avoid cutting through forests. - But a planned stretch would slice through a protected forest reserve with a dense concentration of elephants. - A coalition of scientific and civil society organizations has offered an alternative route that its members say would still provide the desired connection while lowering the risk of potentially deadly human-wildlife conflict.
With record support, rhino rays and world’s fastest sharks get new trade protections [08/28/2019]
- Governments from around the world have voted to strictly regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish — sharks and rays that have been declining rapidly in recent years. - All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which mandates that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild. - With majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially shark fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision. - The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in the history of CITES convention with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals.
Giraffe trade to be monitored, strictly regulated [08/26/2019]
- Until recently, there weren’t any international regulations governing the trade in giraffes and their body parts. - On Aug. 22, countries voted to list the giraffe under Appendix II of CITES, which would tighten the monitoring and regulation of the giraffe trade. - Giraffe numbers have fallen by 40 percent over the past 30 years.
The Pan Borneo Highway could divide threatened wildlife populations [08/26/2019]
- Crews are set to begin construction on a stretch of Malaysia’s Pan Borneo Highway in eastern Sabah state, involving the widening of the road from two lanes to four. - The new divided highway will cross the Kinabatangan River and pass through a critical wildlife sanctuary that’s home to orangutans, elephants and proboscis monkeys, along with other wildlife species already hemmed in by the region’s oil palm plantations. - Planners and politicians hope the road will stimulate local economies and bring in more tourists. - Conservationists and scientists, however, are concerned that the highway could further section off animal populations and damage the current tourism infrastructure, unless certain mitigation measures are introduced.
Sumatran elephant sanctuary under threat from bridge, port projects [08/26/2019]
- Both the planned bridge and private port in southern Sumatra would be built in an area that includes a key wildlife sanctuary that’s home to 152 critically endangered Sumatran elephants. - The bridge would link to an island being developed for tourism, while the port would serve a pulpwood mill operated by Asia Pulp & Paper. - Environmentalists have called for minimal disruption to the habitat if the projects go ahead, including elevated roads and strict zoning to ensure the elephants can co-exist alongside the anticipated influx of people. - An attempt was made in 1982 to relocate the elephants from the area to make way for a migrant colony, but the elephants moved back and the area was subsequently designated as a sanctuary.
Indigenous communities, nat’l parks suffer as Malaysia razes its reserves [08/23/2019]
- Forest loss appears to be accelerating in peninsular Malaysia in 2019. Much of this deforestation is happening in “permanent forest reserves,” which are supposed to be under official protection. However, Malaysian state governments have the authority to spontaneously degazette forest reserves for development. Sources say this has created a free-for-all, with loggers rushing to clear forest and sell timber. - Satellite imagery shows logging happening right up to the border of Taman Negara National Park, which lacks the buffer zone typical around national parks in other countries. Researchers say this is likely to have detrimental impacts on the parks’ wildlife. - Sources on the ground say deforestation is also affecting forest-dependent indigenous communities. Residents of one such community say mining – which often follows on the heels of logging in Malaysia – is also harming them. - Earlier this year, 15 Batek residents of the village of Kuala Koh died and more than 100 others were hospitalized due to mysterious illnesses. The government claims the deaths were caused by a measles outbreak, but outside experts say extremely high and unhealthy levels of manganese in their drinking water due to nearby mining may also be to blame. Advocates say the loss of their forests make indigenous communities more vulnerable to disease and illness, referring to the deforestation of their homes as “structural genocide.”
Bid to allow sale of ivory stockpiles rejected at wildlife trade summit [08/23/2019]
- A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would have allowed them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected by 101 votes to 23 at the CITES wildlife trade summit taking place in Geneva. - Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are placed in Appendix II of CITES, which allows commercial trade in registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits in place. - But such sales are severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II, which Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal sought to amend. - Several other African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the one-off sales permitted under the annotation in 1997 and 2008 had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy, negating the argument that flooding the market with legal ivory would drown out the illegal trade.
Australia to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn [08/22/2019]
- Australia has formally announced a plan to ban its domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. - Sussan Ley, the country’s environment minister, said she would meet with ministers in November to ensure that steps are taken to ban domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn all jurisdictions. - At the ongoing CITES meeting, a coalition of 30 African elephant range countries tabled a proposal asking all domestic markets of ivory to be closed. But the proposal was voted down.
The Pan Borneo Highway brings wildlife threats to nat’l park doorstep [08/21/2019]
- The southern terminus of the Pan Borneo Highway in Malaysia extends to the edge of Tanjung Datu National Park in Sarawak. - The highway’s proponents say the road is already bringing more tourists who are eager to see the park’s wildlife to the adjacent communities, helping to boost the local economy. - But one of the world’s rarest primates, the Bornean banded langur, resides in the park, raising concerns in the conservation community that increased access could bring poachers into the park.
Wild orchid trade in China is huge, overlooked and ‘devastating,’ study finds [08/21/2019]
- In just one year of survey, researchers recorded more than 400 species of wild-caught orchids, involving 1.2 million individual plants worth potentially more than $14.6 million, being traded at markets in southern China. - At least some of the trade is illegal and in breach of CITES regulations, the study found. - Traders frequently sell non-native species of orchids. Moreover, native species that either have very small populations or have probably gone extinct in China also appear in the markets, suggesting they are likely being sourced from neighboring countries.
Audio: The superb lyrebird’s song, dance and incredible vocal mimicry [08/20/2019]
- On this special show, we replay one of our favorite Field Notes episodes, featuring recordings of a songbird known for its own ability to replay sounds, including elaborate vocal displays and amazing mimicry of other species’ songs and even of trees blowing in the wind. - Male superb lyrebirds are extravagantly feathered creatures who clear patches of forest floor to prepare a stage on which they dance and sing their complex songs in order to attract a mate. - Female superb lyrebirds also sing plus they mimic other species as well as sounds from their environment, such as the creaking of trees in the wind. - Anastasia Dalziell discussed her study detailing findings on the vocal mimicry of male superb lyrebirds and the dances the birds use to accompany specific songs. She also discussed a previous study of hers looking at the mimetic vocal displays of female superb lyrebirds, which she said “highlights the hidden complexity of female vocalizations” in songbirds.
Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway [08/19/2019]
- The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway. - The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway. - Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo. - But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.
Travel: A charmed encounter with birds-of-paradise in Papua’s Arfak Mountains [08/19/2019]
- The provinces of West Papua and Papua in Indonesia have pinned their hopes for economic growth on ecotourism and sustainable development. - The Arfak Mountains in West Papua have become a hotspot for bird-watching, thanks to forests teeming with spectacular birds-of-paradise. - Mongabay Indonesia recently traveled to the village of Minggrei for a bird-watching trip to see what makes the experience so special that tours are booked out until 2021.
CITES 2019: What’s Conservation Got To Do With It? (commentary) [08/16/2019]
- From August 17-28, the global community convenes in Geneva for the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). - Species whose very future on this planet will be debated include the African elephant, Southern white rhino, giraffe, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, and mako shark. - Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at WCS, argues governments must not let their decisions be swayed by the pressures of those more interested in trade than conservation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Madagascar: What’s good for the forest is good for the native silk industry [08/16/2019]
- People in the highlands of central Madagascar have long buried their loved ones in shrouds of thick wild silk, typically from the endemic silkworm known as landibe (Borocera cajani). - With support from NGOs, traditional silk workers have widened their offerings to include scarves made of wild silk for sale to tourists and the country’s elites. - In recent years, the price of raw materials has shot up as the forests the landibe grows in succumb to fire and other threats, making it difficult for silk workers to continue their craft. - However, where there are forest-management challenges, there is also opportunity: the silk business provides an incentive for local people to protect their trees. Some well-organized and well-supported community groups are cashing in on conservation, in spite of the broader silkworm recession.
Asian elephant footprints serve as safe spaces for frog nurseries [08/16/2019]
- Researchers have discovered that Asian elephant footprints can create stable, safe breeding grounds for frogs in Myanmar. - The scientists believe these stable foot ponds can last for more than a year, and that a series of them provides connectivity for frog populations. - While the ecosystems services of African savanna and forest elephants have been widely studied, the scientists say more research should be spent on Asian elephants and how they impact their ecosystems.
Newly described giant extinct penguin and parrot once lived in New Zealand [08/16/2019]
- Paleontologists have found fossils of two extinct giant birds in New Zealand: an enormous penguin that would have been nearly as tall as an average adult human, and the largest parrot ever known to have existed. - The new species of extinct giant penguin, formally named Crossvallia waiparensis, was described from leg bones found at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in the North Canterbury region in 2018. - The extinct parrot, Heracles inexpectatus, was likely double the size of the previously largest known parrot species, the kakapo. The fossils of the parrot were first recovered from near St. Bathans in Central Otago in 2008.
Ekuri Initiative: Inside a Nigerian community’s battle to keep its forest [08/15/2019]
- The Ekuri Community in southeastern Nigeria started an initiative in the early 1990’s to manage their community forest adjacent to the Cross River National Park, home to the critically-endangered Cross River gorilla and a suite of other unique and threatened species. - Formalized through the Ekuri Initiative, planned community forest management has helped to drive local development, conservation, sustainable forest management and address poverty by improving access to sustainable livelihoods. - The Initiative has resisted threats from logging companies and more recently attempts by state authorities to build a 260-km superhighway that would have destroyed much of the community forest. - However, community leaders worry that if state and national governments continue to ignore their efforts, villagers might think conservation efforts do not respect their rights to survival.
Nigeria finds itself at the heart of the illegal pangolin trade [08/15/2019]
- Pangolins have long been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon. - Strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in Nigeria, and the illegal trade in pangolin parts has gone deeper underground. - Hunters and traders tell Mongabay that the impact of increased trafficking on pangolin populations is becoming clear as they are increasingly difficult to find in the forest. - Chinese buyers will pay anywhere between $3 and $20 for a pangolin — a relative fortune for local bushmeat traders. Traffickers can then get as much as $250 for the scales from one pangolin in markets in Asia.
Europe-bred rhinos join South African cousins to repopulate Rwanda park [08/14/2019]
- Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos have been flown from Europe to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. - Eastern black rhino populations across the region are small and isolated, with the risk of inbreeding damaging long-term genetic viability. - The rhinos come from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding program and will add vitally needed fresh genetics into Rwanda’s fledgling population, made up of rhinos bred in South Africa.
Big cat trade driven by demand for traditional Asian medicine, according to report [08/13/2019]
- Bones, blood, and other body parts of big cats are made into products such as balms, capsules, gels, and wines that practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe to be able to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to meningitis, though in fact they’ve been found to have no provable health benefits. - Even before farmed big cats are killed to feed the demand for traditional Asian medicine, however, they’re treated more like products than living, breathing creatures, according to a report released last month by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection. - China and South Africa are the world’s biggest breeders of captive cats. China alone is estimated to have between 5,000 and 6,000 tigers in captive breeding facilities, while South African facilities are holding between 6,000 and 8,000 lions and another 300 tigers.
World’s largest frog moves heavy rocks to build nests, study finds [08/13/2019]
- The goliath frog, the world’s largest known frog species, sometimes moves large stones and rocks weighing more than half its weight to create dammed ponds on sandy riverbanks to serve as nesting sites, a new study has found. - Digging out a large nest that is more than a meter wide by moving large rocks requires a lot of physical strength, which could be a potential explanation for why goliath frogs are among the largest frogs in the world, researchers say. - The goliath frog is endangered, yet there’s still a lot that researchers do not understand about the frog’s behavior.
Campaigners push for reform of outdated CITES wildlife trade system [08/12/2019]
- CITES, the international treaty that regulates the trade in wildlife products, dates back to 1975, but some of the systems it uses have not changed in that time. - Campaigners say this lack of modernization has allowed the illegal wildlife trade to proliferate to the tune of more than $250 billion a year. - Better regulation would reduce the scale of the illegal wildlife trade and ensure legal commerce is truly sustainable, they say.
Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one [08/12/2019]
- Economist Adrian Lopes used data modeling to explore the links between rhino horn suppliers in India and South Africa. - His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around. - Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.
Indigenous-managed lands found to harbor more biodiversity than protected areas [08/09/2019]
- Researchers say they found that amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile abundance in Australia, Brazil, and Canada is highest on lands managed or co-managed by indigenous communities — higher even than on protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, which were found to have the second highest levels of biodiversity. - Both indigenous-managed lands and protected areas harbored more biodiversity than unprotected areas included in the study that the researchers selected at random. The researchers also determined that the size and geographical location of any particular area had no effect on levels of species diversity, suggesting that it’s the land-management practices of indigenous communities that are conserving biodiversity. - The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of expanding the boundaries of traditional conservation strategies, which frequently rely on establishing protected areas to conserve critical habitat for biodiversity.
Protecting the strange sea pangolin and other animals: Q&A with deep sea biologist Chong Chen [08/07/2019]
- Creatures living in deep-sea hydrothermal vents lead a unique life that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Yet these animals are at risk of disappearing because of deep-sea mining before we even learn about them. - A deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusk, the scaly-foot snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum), for example, debuted as endangered on the IUCN Red List this year because of threats from mining. - Mongabay spoke with deep-sea biologist Chong Chen, who has been assessing deep-sea hydrothermal vent species for the IUCN Red List, about his work and why listing these species on the IUCN Red List matters.
Indonesia agrees to attempt Sumatran rhino IVF with eggs from Malaysia [08/06/2019]
- Conservationists have welcomed a long-awaited agreement by Indonesia and Malaysia to move ahead with assisted reproductive technology for the captive breeding of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino. - Indonesia has long balked at sending rhino sperm to Malaysia for use in artificial insemination, but has now agreed to accept eggs from Malaysia to carry out in vitro fertilization. - If successful, the program would give the species a much-needed boost in genetic diversity. - Scientists in Germany last year used IVF to successfully produced embryos — though not a baby — of white rhinos, an African species.
New orchid species from Japan lives on dark forest floor, never blooms [08/05/2019]
- Researcher Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University has found flowering plants of a new species of orchid on Japan’s Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima islands, now named Gastrodia amamiana. - G. amamiana belongs to a group of mycoheterotrophic orchids that live on dark forest floors, do not use photosynthesis to get their nutrients, and steal nutrition from fungi instead. G. amamiana’s flowers likely never open up or bloom. - Researchers have already found evidence of tree thinning close to where G. amamiana was discovered, and they worry that logging could dry the soil and consequently the fungi that the orchid depends on.
Hornbill heroes: A conversation with a top Indonesian bird conservation NGO [08/05/2019]
- With their ostentatious bills, raucous calls, and unusual behavioral traits, hornbills are arguably one of the most charismatic groups of birds in the tropics. No country is home to more species than Indonesia, which has 13. - Hornbills in Indonesia are particularly under threat due to habitat destruction. Some species are also targeted by the wildlife trade, including, most notably, the helmeted hornbill, whose dense casque is made up of “hornbill ivory” that’s highly sought in China. - Until very recently, the decline in hornbill populations in Indonesia has been relatively under-appreciated. But that changed in 2013 when Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, founder of Rangkong Indonesia, published a report estimating that the wildlife trade killed 500 helmeted hornbills a month in West Kalimantan alone. - In June 2019, Mongabay interviewed Yoki Hadiprakarsa and Dian Hardiyanti from Rangkong Indonesia about their work to protect hornbills in Indonesia.
Stunning new wrasse species underlines need to protect deeper-lying reefs [08/05/2019]
- A new species of wrasse discovered in mesophotic reefs off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, underlines how little is known about marine environments. - Deeper-lying reefs are just as threatened by climate change and other human impacts as shallow reefs and need greater protection. - Mesophotic reefs could be an important and under-recognised source of fish larvae that supports coastal fisheries.
Africa’s largest reserve may lose half its area to oil development [08/02/2019]
- The Termit and Tin Touma National Nature Reserve in Niger was Africa’s largest when it was established in 2012. - Just seven years on, however, the government is considering redrawing its boundaries and slashing its size by nearly half. - The move comes in response to a push by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which has exploration rights in a small section of the reserve, to expand its operations significantly. - Conservation groups, including the NGO that manages the reserve, say the move would impact areas of high biodiversity, threatening species such as the critically endangered addax and dama gazelle.
Some turtle embryos can influence their own sex, study finds [08/02/2019]
- The sex of some turtle species is influenced not by genes but by the temperatures they experience in the nests. Embryos of the Chinese pond turtle, however, can move inside the eggs toward cooler or hotter spots and influence their own sex, at least to some extent, a new study has found. - This is good news because it means that, at least in theory, the turtles might be able to buffer some of the predicted shifts in the sex ratio because of climate change. - But while the embryos seem to be influencing their sex under ideal conditions, researchers say that it may not be enough to counter the rapidly changing climate brought about by human activities.
Logging, mining companies lock eyes on a biodiverse island like no other [07/31/2019]
- Woodlark Island sits far off the coast of Papua New Guinea and is swathed in old growth forests home to animals found nowhere else on the planet. However, the island and its unique inhabitants have an uncertain future. Lured by high-value timber, a logging company is planning to clear 40 percent of Woodlark’s forests. Researchers say this could drive many species to extinction. - The company says logging will be followed by the planting of tree and cocoa plantations, and it has submitted to the government a permit application to clear forests as an agricultural development project. However, an independent investigation found this application process “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information” and that the company did not properly obtain the consent of landowners who have lived on the island for generations. - It is unclear if the application has been approved, but there are signs that the company may be moving forward with its plans. - Meanwhile, a mining company is pushing forward with its own plans to develop an open-pit gold mine on the island. The mine is expected to result in increased road construction and discharge nearly 13 metric tons of mining waste into a nearby bay.
Forest loss threatens territorial gibbons in southern Borneo [07/31/2019]
- Bornean southern gibbons have the largest territories of any species in their genus, a new study has found. - These large home ranges, combined with the species’ intense territoriality, puts it at particular risk of habitat loss as a result of deforestation and fire. - The findings of this research demonstrate that this endangered species needs large areas of unbroken forest.
Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests [07/31/2019]
- A new study examines the health of reef fish populations in the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, a part of the Coral Triangle, which overlaps with Indonesian waters in the western Pacific. - In remote areas far from large human populations, reef fish are generally doing well, the researchers found. - The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.
West Nile virus lingers longer in birds exposed to light pollution [07/29/2019]
- House sparrows exposed to light at night had higher levels of West Nile virus in their blood for two days longer than sparrows that were exposed to darkness, according to a new study. - The research sought to mimic the effects of light pollution common to urban environments on virus levels in a known reservoir of West Nile virus, which can cause a flu-like fever in humans. - The team’s research suggests that an outbreak could be 41 percent more likely to happen as a result of the persistence of the virus in this host.
India pushes for its largest ever hydropower project despite concerns [07/29/2019]
- India’s hydropower sector has come back into focus with the government clearing the path for the controversial, large-scale Dibang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh state. - The project, estimated to cost about $4 billion, is expected to be the highest dam in India once completed and aimed at preventing flooding in downstream areas. It’s controversial for its proposed felling of trees and possible impact on local communities, ecology, environment and wildlife of the area. - In its focus on the hydropower sector, the Indian government has also introduced a bill to parliament on dam safety, to regulate the more than 5,600 existing dams in India, some of them more than 100 years old, and the nearly 4,700 under construction.
Simba’s future depends on putting communities at the forefront of lion conservation (commentary) [07/25/2019]
- While Simba and Mufasa’s return to the big screen is good news for Disney and summer movie fans, in the quarter-century since the original animated version of The Lion King was released, Africa’s lion population has declined by roughly half. With only about 20,000 lions remaining in Africa, and their historic range having contracted by over 80 percent, the lion’s future is increasingly uncertain. - In the face of these challenges, lion conservation is becoming a more urgent priority, particularly given the important role that lions play in African economies through wildlife tourism. In Tanzania, for example, home to perhaps half of all the remaining wild lions left in the world, lions are a cornerstone of a national tourism industry that earns over $2 billion annually and accounts for roughly a quarter of all foreign exchange earnings. - Fortunately, when conservation programs are able to provide people with reasons to support lion conservation, local communities can become key stewards of lions and other wildlife. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Where did the birds go?: Q&A with river tern researcher Bosco Chan [07/24/2019]
- The river tern, a bird species that nests on sandbars, seems to have gone missing in China. Once thought to be common in Yingjiang county, Yunnan province, its population there dropped to just five birds in 2018. - Researchers at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG), a Hong Kong-based NGO, are trying to protect this tiny population of a handful of birds. - Mongabay spoke with Bosco Chan, head of KFBG’s Kadoorie Conservation China, about his team’s plans to save the incredibly rare species in China.
Small-scale farming is a big threat to biodiversity in the western Amazon: Study [07/24/2019]
- Smallholder farming poses a significant threat to biodiversity in the western Amazonian forests of northeastern Peru, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, a study led by researchers at Princeton University has found. - Small-scale agricultural operations are generally considered to be much less harmful to wildlife than the wholesale clearance and conversion of forests to pasture or cropland, but the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology in May, shows that small-scale farmers’ activities are having a substantially negative impact on wildlife and plant life all the same. - Plans to build more roads in the northern Peru could exacerbate the situation, but the researchers say their findings have important implications for conservation policy in the western Amazon region and could help point a way towards mitigating the impact of future development.
New roads in Papua New Guinea may cause ‘quantum leap’ in forest loss [07/24/2019]
- Papua New Guinea intends to nearly double its existing network of roads between now and 2022. - A new study raises concerns about the impacts of building these roads through tropical forest environments on local communities, sensitive habitats and vulnerable species. - The authors of the paper, published July 24 in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that the country would reap more benefits and avoid future debt by investing in existing roads, many of which are largely unusable because of flagging maintenance.
Secretive and colorful dryas monkey isn’t as rare as once thought [07/23/2019]
- In 2014, biologists discovered a population of critically endangered dryas monkeys (Cercopithecus dryas) living 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of their only known range in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Multi-level camera traps revealed that these stealthy monkeys are more common — and a lot weirder — than previously thought. They digest young leaves, snuggle up in impenetrable vine thickets, and sometimes boast an outrageous blue behind. - In 2019, the IUCN downgraded their conservation status to endangered, and scientists are predicting a potentially positive future for the dryas.
When it comes to captive breeding, not all Sumatran rhinos are equal [07/23/2019]
- A new partnership called Sumatran Rhino Rescue aims to capture critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceroses to reinvigorate a captive-breeding program. - Most experts agree that captive breeding is necessary to prevent extinction; with wild populations small and fragmented, too few baby rhinos are being born to keep the species alive. - The current plan approved by the Indonesian government focuses on capturing “doomed” or “isolated” animals in populations too small to survive in the long term. - However, female Sumatran rhinos living in isolation are particularly susceptible to reproductive problems, leading some experts to argue that it makes more sense to focus on capturing rhinos from healthier populations where rhinos are known to be breeding successfully — perhaps at the risk of harming the survival prospects of those populations.
Newly described pocket shark likely glows in the dark [07/22/2019]
- Researchers have described a new species of pocket shark, a small shark measuring just 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) long, that possibly glows in the dark. - The shark has been named the American pocket shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis, in recognition of the biologically rich region in which it was discovered. - Only two pocket sharks have ever been caught from the ocean. The previous specimen, M. parini, was collected from the eastern Pacific Ocean in 1979. - The discovery of a new pocket shark species shows there is much more to learn about the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say.
Cocoa and gunshots: The struggle to save a threatened forest in Nigeria [07/19/2019]
- Nigeria’s Omo Forest Reserve provides important habitat for animals such as forest elephants, as well as drinking water for the city of Lagos. - But the reserve has been severely deforested, losing more than 7 percent of its tree cover over the past two decades. Satellite data indicate 2019 may be a particularly bad year for the reserve’s remaining primary forest. - The primary cause of deforestation in Omo is cocoa farming. Seeking fertile soil and a respite from poverty, the reserve has attracted thousands of small farmers. They’re living in the reserve illegally, but the government is hesitant to evict them as doing so would disrupt their livelihoods and require a significant amount of funding. - Instead, the focus is on preventing more farmers from invading Omo. This is the goal of rangers who patrol Omo’s remaining forests looking for footprints and listening for chainsaws and gunshots. While they’ve been successful at preventing some encroachment, the reserve is too big for the relatively small team to effectively monitor in its entirety.
The ambitious plan to recover and rewild the feisty, dwarf cow [07/19/2019]
- Although critically endangered, the population of tamaraw has stabilized and grown over the last two decades. - Conservationists along with indigenous people are now planning on using the core population to rebuild and rewild other populations across the island of Mindoro. - Conservationists say none of this would be possible without the active supoort of Mindoro’s indigenous tribal groups, who are leading efforts to restore the tamaraw.
Congo government opens Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to oil exploration [07/18/2019]
- In 2018, the government of the Republic of Congo opened up several blocks of land for oil exploration overlapping with important peatlands and a celebrated national park. - According to a government website, the French oil company Total holds the exploration rights for those blocks. - Conservationists were alarmed that the government would consider opening up parks and peatlands of international importance for oil exploration, while also trying to garner funds for their protection on the world stage.
Indonesian officials foil attempt to smuggle hornbill casques to Hong Kong [07/18/2019]
- Indonesian authorities have arrested a woman for allegedly attempting to smuggle 72 helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) casques to Hong Kong. - The distinctive-looking bird is critically endangered, its precipitous decline driven by poaching for its casque — a solid, ivory-like protuberance on its head that’s highly prized in East Asia for use as ornamental carvings. - Tackling the hornbill trade will be on the agenda at next month’s CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
Information is key – but lacking for sharks and rays in the Western Indian Ocean (commentary) [07/18/2019]
- Due to overexploitation, at least 27 percent of the 222 different shark and ray species found in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) are considered threatened, meaning that they are classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. These species face a high risk of extinction and need urgent conservation intervention. - Although the majority of sharks and rays pose no threat to humans, we pose a major threat to them, primarily through fisheries. Shark fisheries have existed for many decades, although historically they were primarily caught as unwanted bycatch. However, they are now increasingly being targeted due to the high demand for meat for local consumption and export, and for their fins for the global shark (and ray) fin trade. - Ensuring that sharks and rays are sustainably managed is important not only because they provide an important source of food and income for many coastal communities, but also because they serve an important function in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems through their roles as apex and meso predators, and as food for other, larger marine species. However, information needed to sustainably manage shark and ray populations is sorely lacking in the WIO. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
From over 100,000 species assessments in IUCN update, zero improvements [07/18/2019]
- The latest IUCN Red List update, which includes assessments of 105,732 species, lists more than 28,000 species as threatened with extinction. - The declines of many of these species can be attributed to human overexploitation, according to the IUCN. The red-capped mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus), for example, has moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019, largely because of threats from illegal hunting for bushmeat and conversion of much of the monkey’s Atlantic coast forest habitat in West Africa to agriculture. - More than 5,000 trees from 180 countries, and 500 deep-sea bony fish species like the bioluminescent lanternfishes, were also added to the Red List this year. - No species was assessed as having genuinely improved in status enough to earn it a place in a lower threat category, according to the IUCN.
U.S. Virgin Islands bans coral-damaging sunscreens [07/17/2019]
- On June 25, lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands voted to ban common chemical sunscreen ingredients that can damage coral reefs. - With the ban, the U.S. Virgin Islands joins a handful of other jurisdictions around the world pioneering action on harmful sunscreens. - It will be the first such ban to take effect in the United States, followed by Hawaii and Key West, Florida, and among the first internationally.
Orangutan habitats being cleared in areas near palm oil mills, report finds [07/17/2019]
- A new study identifies the palm oil mills in Indonesia with the most clearance of orangutan habitat happening around them. - The top 10 mills are all on the island of Borneo and are producing palm oil that makes its way into the supply chains of consumer goods giants such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Avon, Mars, Mondelēz and more — companies that promised long ago to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation. - Just because deforestation is happening around a palm oil mill does not mean it is being done by an entity supplying that mill with palm fruits. But it is a strong red flag that this may be the case. - Several of the consumer goods giants contacted by Mongabay said they were either actively investigating the deforestation or suspending trading with the mills. Others were more vague in their responses.
Thousands of sharks and rays are likely entangled in plastic polluting Earth’s oceans [07/16/2019]
- Scientists at the UK’s University of Exeter examined existing scientific literature and took to Twitter to find documented instances of shark and ray entanglements. - They ended up finding reports of more than 1,000 entangled animals — and they say the actual number of sharks and rays snarled in plastic is likely to be far higher, as few studies have focused specifically on the issue. - “Entanglement in marine debris is symptomatic of a degraded marine environment and is a clear animal welfare issue,” the authors write in the study. But they add that entanglement is “likely a far lesser threat” to shark and ray populations than the threat posed by commercial fishing.
Study finds lemurs in degraded Madagascar forest skinny and stunted [07/15/2019]
- In Madagascar’s Tsinjoarivo rainforest, adults of the critically endangered diademed sifakas living in the most degraded of forest fragments tend to be skinnier, and young individuals show stunting, compared to individuals living in more intact parts of the forest, according to a new study. - Skinny bodies in adults could mean that their nutritional intake is compromised in the disturbed areas, researchers say, while young sifakas could be growing more slowly in the most disturbed areas in response to reduced nutrition in the diet. - Sifakas living in less-disturbed forest fragments, however, don’t appear to be in poorer health than those in continuous, intact forests. This could be because the long-lived sifakas are likely resilient to moderate habitat changes, the researchers say. - But threats could add up and cause local populations to disappear, the researchers add.
Study examines how the Atlantic surfclam is successfully adapting to climate change [07/12/2019]
- Global climate change poses a severe threat to marine life, but scientists have found at least one species that appears to be successfully adapting to warmer ocean waters. - A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, even without factoring in the impacts of fishing, global animal biomass in Earth’s oceans is expected to decrease by as much as 17 percent by 2100 under a “high emissions” scenario that leads to 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming. - However, a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that, as ocean temperatures rise, Atlantic surfclams, a large saltwater clam found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, are capably shifting their range into waters that would have previously been inhospitable to their survival.
More than 10,000 animals and plants seized in massive global operation [07/12/2019]
- A 26-day worldwide effort in June termed Operation Thunderball, coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO), led to seizures of thousands of protected animals and plants. - Confiscated items included more than 2,600 plants, nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, more than 4,300 birds, 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusks, nearly 10,000 marine wildlife animals and their products, and 74 truckloads of timber. - Based on intelligence gathered before the operation was launched, the authorities identified wildlife trafficking routes and smuggling hotspots, which then led to seizures and almost 600 people being identified as suspects.
Let there be lights, to help migratory cranes avoid power lines [07/12/2019]
- A test of a new system deploying ultraviolet (UV) lights on power lines greatly reduced potentially deadly collisions with the lines by migrating sandhill cranes. - Developers of the Avian Collision Avoidance System, or ACAS, randomly assigned the system to be on or off each night of a four-month testing period. - Turning on the lighting system reduced crane collisions by 98 percent and enabled crane flocks to more quickly and calmly avoid the power lines while in flight. - Many birds can detect UV light, though humans cannot, so the system has potential to reduce a major threat to a range of migratory species without affecting the visibility of structures to humans.
Eat the insects, spare the lemurs [07/11/2019]
- To solve the twin challenges of malnutrition and biodiversity loss in Madagascar, new efforts are promoting edible insects as a way to take pressure off wildlife that people hunt for meat when food is scarce. - Insects are widely eaten in Madagascar. They are also incredibly nutritious and one of the “greenest” forms of animal proteins in terms of their land, water and food requirements and their greenhouse gas emissions. - One program is testing the farming of sakondry, a little-known hopping insect that tastes a lot like bacon. Another is setting up a network of cricket farms. - Other attempts to reduce reliance on forest protein include improving chicken husbandry in rural areas.
‘Let us trade’: Debate over ivory sales rages ahead of CITES summit [07/11/2019]
- Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe want to sell off their ivory stocks to raise money for conservation. - Growing human and elephant populations in these southern African countries have provoked increased human-wildlife conflict, and the governments see legal ivory sales as a way to generate revenue for conservation and development funding. - Other countries, most notably Kenya, oppose the proposal, on the grounds that previous legal sales stimulated demand for ivory and coincided with a sharp increase in poaching.
Snowy owl summer: Raptor rehabilitation center releases Arctic visitor [07/10/2019]
- A snowy owl injured on its Massachusetts wintering grounds was brought to Tufts Wildlife Clinic this spring. - In nature, wildlife must heal fast or perish if they can’t find food or defend themselves from predators, but the lucky ones are brought to a clinic specializing in injured animals. - Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University is one such place. - Mongabay interviewed the clinic’s assistant director about the healing path of “snowy 397” before his eventual successful release.
Vaquita habitat now listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’ [07/10/2019]
- The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided to list the Sea of Cortez and its islands in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only place where the critically endangered vaquita is known to occur, on the List of World Heritage in Danger. - The porpoise’s numbers have dropped drastically, from around 300 in the mid-2000s to just 10 individuals, according to the latest estimate, mostly as a result of getting entangled in gillnets used in the poaching of totoaba fish. - The continuing illegal totoaba trade poses a threat to the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee said, recommending that the site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Chimps in Sierra Leone adapt to human-impacted habitats, but threats remain [07/10/2019]
- Western chimpanzees are adapting to survive in severely degraded habitat, a new study says. - However, the study also finds the abundance of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone is impacted by even secondary roads. - Ensuring the long-term survival of western chimps calls for changes in agriculture, roads and other development, researchers say.
Audio: Listen to the first-ever recordings of right whales breaking into song [07/09/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jessica Crance, a research biologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who recently discovered right whales singing for the first time ever. - Gunshot calls made by right whales are exactly what their name suggests they are — loud, concussive bursts of noise. Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly musical, but the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whales appears to use gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song. - Jessica Crance led the research team at NOAA that documented North Pacific right whales breaking into song in the Bering Sea. On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Crance will play recordings of two different right whale song types and discuss what we know about why the critically endangered whales might be singing in the first place.
Deadly virus detected in wild frog populations in Brazil [07/09/2019]
- Researchers have detected the first case of ranavirus infection in both native frog species as well as the invasive American bullfrog in the wild in Brazil. - While the study cannot attribute ranavirus as the cause of death for the observed American bullfrog tadpoles, the findings suggest that ranavirus is spread in the wild, the researchers say. - Ranavirus infections could be far more widespread in Brazil, and may have simply gone unnoticed until now, the researchers add.
In Nigeria, a highway threatens community and conservation interests [07/09/2019]
- Activists and affected communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state continue to protest plans to build a major highway cutting through farmland and forest that’s home to threatened species such as the Cross River gorilla. - The federal government ordered a slew of measures to minimize the impact of the project, but two years later it remains unclear whether the developers have complied, even as they resume work. - Environmentalists warn of a “Pandora’s box” of problems ushered in by the construction of the highway, including illegal deforestation, poaching, land grabs, micro-climate change, erosion, biodiversity loss and encroachment into protected areas. - They’ve called on the state government to pursue alternatives to the new highway, including investing in upgrading existing road networks.
Chance rescue turns out to be first record of elusive tortoise species in India [07/05/2019]
- Two tortoises that a range officer in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India rescued from a group of boys turned out to be the impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), an elusive species that has never been recorded in India before. - Researchers who have studied the reptile in Myanmar say the high-elevation habitat in Arunachal Pradesh where the tortoises were found is quite similar to that in Myanmar. - Very little is known about impressed tortoises, and researchers and the range officer hope that a long-term survey will be launched to find more individuals of the species in India. - For now, the two rescued individuals have been sent to a zoo in the state’s capital.
Stylish jumping spider named after late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld [07/04/2019]
- Researchers have named a previously undescribed species of black-and-white jumping spider Jotus karllagerfeldi, after the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, known for his signature black-and-white style. - In addition to Karl Lagerfeld’s jumping spider, researchers have described four more new-to-science species of jumping spiders in the new paper, including J. albimanus, J. fortiniae, J. moonensis and J. newtoni. - All five newly described species belong to a group of miniscule spiders called the brushed jumping spiders, males of which can be extremely colorful and are known to perform elaborate mating dances using a brush of long, colorful bristles on their legs to wave to the females. - Despite being colorful and charismatic, very little is known about brushed jumping spiders, researchers say, urging amateurs who photograph these spiders to lodge their specimens with museums so that more new species can be described.
Slight warming could be enough to heighten risk of malaria: Study [07/04/2019]
- New research has found that malaria parasites need less time to develop at lower temperatures than previously thought. - Earlier research postulated that malaria transmission in cooler areas was unlikely because parasites took longer to mature than the lifespans of their mosquito hosts. - The researchers found that the parasites needed between 31 and 37 days to develop at 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) — substantially lower than the 56 days postulated by previous research and well within the lifespan of female mosquitoes.
Zambia halts plans to dam the Luangwa River [07/03/2019]
- WWF reports that the Zambian government has cancelled a pre-feasibility study for a dam on the Luangwa River, the Ndevu Gorge Power Project, which would have cost $1.26 billion and generated between 235 and 240 megawatts of power if completed. - More than 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the river. Critics of the dam project argued that fragmentation of the Luangwa would threaten wildlife and freshwater fish stocks, as well as the agriculture and tourism that local communities rely on. - A study recently published in Nature found that two-thirds of the world’s 242 longest rivers are no longer free-flowing, mainly because so many of them have been fragmented by dams.
Japan resumes commercial whale hunting [07/02/2019]
- For years, Japan exploited a loophole in international rules to continue hunting whales despite being a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) bound by the commercial whaling moratorium that went into effect in 1986. The country has now quit the IWC altogether and resumed commercial whaling. - The first minke whale caught under the country’s new commercial whaling program was landed yesterday at Kushiro port in northern Japan, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based NGO. - IWC members Norway and Iceland are the only other countries on Earth that currently hunt whales commercially. But Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they’ll be sitting out the summer 2019 whaling season, meaning that, for the first time in 17 years, no whales will be caught in Iceland’s waters.
Search for a new home for Javan rhinos put on hold [07/02/2019]
- The Indonesian government says plans to establish a second habitat for the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros have been put on hold. - The species numbers an estimated 68 individuals, all of them corralled in a national park on the western tip of the island of Java. - Conservationists had for years considered finding a second habitat outside the park to establish a new population of rhinos, given the risks they currently face from disease and natural disasters. - However, the top contender for a second habitat currently serves as a military training ground, leaving conservationists to find ways to expand the rhinos’ suitable habitat within the national park.
Six endangered North Atlantic right whales died last month alone [07/01/2019]
- In June this year, six endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted dead in Canadian waters, including a 40-year-old breeding grandmother, and a 34-year-old grandfather. - With only some 400 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) estimated to survive today, researchers and conservation groups are worried. - Necropsies carried out so far suggest that some of the whales died from collisions with ships. - Entanglement in fishing gear is another leading cause of death among this extremely threatened species of baleen whale.
La Mosquitia: Dangerous territory for scarlet macaws in Honduras [07/01/2019]
- The scarlet macaw (Ara macao), with its iconic red, blue and yellow plumes, is the national bird of Honduras. It inhabits forests from northern Central America to the southern Amazon, but the northern subspecies (A. m. cyanoptera) is particularly imperiled. - “Ecotrafficking,” the term for wildlife trafficking in Honduras, is a major problem in La Mosquitia, the part of eastern Honduras, near the border with Nicaragua. - Today, around 600 scarlet macaws inhabit the pine forests of Gracias a Dios, the Honduran department where Mabita is located. Anaida Panting and her family oversee 38 scarlet macaw nests and 30 great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) nests.
What happens to an ecotourism town when the wildlife doesn’t show? [06/28/2019]
- Since the mid-1990s, the town of Donsol in the Philippines has based its economy around tourists viewing whale sharks. - Whale sharks are migratory fish. And while they showed up in reliable numbers during the first decade of Donsol’s venture into shark tourism, their numbers have become highly unpredictable in the past decade for reasons still unknown. - Tourism has declined as well, with 2018 registering the fewest visitor arrivals since whale shark tourism started. The local economy, which it had buoyed, is now flagging, although 2019 seems off to a strong start for both whale sharks and tourists. - Wildlife tourism, by nature, is susceptible to biodiversity loss and changes in animal behavior; it places host communities on a thin line between profit and loss.
Researchers discover right whales singing for the first time ever [06/28/2019]
- Right whales — three species of large baleen whales in the genus Eubalaena — have never been known to sing. As far as scientists knew, right whale vocalizations consisted entirely of individual calls, as opposed to the repeated, patterned phrases of true whale songs. - But according to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America this month, the extremely rare eastern North Pacific right whale appears to use its gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song. - A research team with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) analyzed 17-years’-worth of data from autonomous recorders deployed in the Bering Sea and documented four distinct right whale song types at five different locations between the years 2009 and 2017.
Altered fish communities persist long after reefs bleach, study finds [06/28/2019]
- In a new study, bleached reefs in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles had fewer predators like snappers and groupers and more plant-eating fish such as parrotfish and rabbitfish. - The researchers found that this change in the composition of fish species persisted for more than a decade and a half after bleaching occurred in 1998. - Scientists expect bleaching events to occur more frequently as a result of climate change, making it likely that these shifts in fish communities will become permanent.
Saving Guatemala’s vanishing macaws: Q&A with veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra [06/27/2019]
- The northern subspecies of the scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) has disappeared from much of its former range in Mexico and Central America due to habitat loss and wildlife trafficking. Researchers estimate there are between 150 and 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Guatemala. - Fire, used to clear land for agriculture, is the biggest driver of habitat loss in Guatemala. So far this year, NASA satellites have detected more than 40,000 fires in Guatemala, many occurring in scarlet macaw habitat. - The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is trying to protect Guatemala’s macaws through a program that monitors nest sites and places lab-hatched chicks in adoptive nests. - Mongabay caught up with WCS Lead Medical Veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra as he was working in the field in Laguna del Tigre National Park to chat about his work and the outlook for scarlet macaws.
New film details wrenching impact of illegal rhino horn trade on families [06/27/2019]
- A new short film, titled Sides of a Horn, looks at the impacts of the illegal trade of rhino horn on a community in South Africa. - The 17-minute film follows two brothers-in-law, one who is a wildlife ranger and another who contemplates poaching as a way to pay for his ailing wife’s medical care. - A trip to South Africa in 2016 inspired British filmmaker Toby Wosskow to write and direct the short feature, which was publicly released June 25.
Documentary seeks to tip the scales against illegal pangolin trafficking [06/27/2019]
- New film aims to raise awareness and strengthen protection and conservation of pangolins. - Hunting and trafficking of these animals in Africa has sharply intensified to meet demand from Asia in recent years. - Pangolins have historically been used for traditional medicine, decoration and gift-giving across Africa.
Food choice leaves some lemurs more vulnerable to loss of forest habitat [06/26/2019]
- The gut microbes of some lemur species are specialized to help in digesting food found in their habitats, a new study has found. - Lemurs are only found in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, and are one of the most threatened primate groups in the world. - The study suggests the mostly leaf-eating group of lemurs known as sifakas, in the genus Propithecus, host gut microbes that are specialized for their diets and therefore less adaptable to food sources found in other habitats. - Madagascar reports alarming rates of deforestation, losing 2 percent of its primary rainforest just last year, the highest rate of any country.
Thousands of endangered snails raised in captivity returned to natural habitat in Bermuda [06/26/2019]
- Due mostly to predation by invasive species of carnivorous snails and flatworms, greater Bermuda land snails (Poecilozonites bermudensis) were driven nearly to extinction in their native habitat on the oceanic islands of Bermuda over the past several decades. In fact, the snails were believed to have disappeared altogether until 2014, when a small population was discovered. - It’s believed that there are less than 200 of the snails remaining in the wild, but that population has now been joined by 4,000 individuals bred in captivity in the UK and reintroduced on Bermuda’s Nonsuch Island — a nature reserve with strict quarantine protocols designed to ensure that alien species detrimental to the snails will not be introduced to the island. - Following the 2014 rediscovery of the greater Bermuda land snail, scientists at the UK’s Chester Zoo and the Zoological Society of London launched a collaborative captive breeding program for the snails at the request of the Bermudian government. Over the past three years, the breeding program has built up a population of the snails with sufficient numbers to begin reintroductions in the wild.
Keeping stray rhinos safe is a challenge on fringes of Nepal park [06/26/2019]
- Since 2018, two rhinos have fallen into septic tanks in settlements near Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, one of which died. - These incidents highlight the difficulties in keeping wandering rhinos safe amid a building boom in the park’s buffer zones. - Park authorities and municipal officials have traded blame over who should be responsible for developing and enforcing wildlife-friendly building codes. - Adding to the problem, many residents lack the resources to plan buildings according to existing codes, much less the more stringent standards of wildlife-friendly codes, and enforcement is already a challenge
Great Indian bustard eggs being collected to kick-start captive breeding [06/25/2019]
- The critically endangered great Indian bustard is now down to just 160-odd individuals, most of them surviving in the Thar Desert in India’s Rajasthan state. - In a last-ditch effort, wildlife researchers along with the forest department have started a hunt for the birds’ eggs to begin the process of captive breeding of the species. Last week, they managed to collect two bustard eggs from the wild; they have permission to collect up to six a year. - Two captive breeding facilities for the bustard are being built: a main, bigger facility in the south of Rajasthan, and a second, smaller facility in the west, close to where many of the wild birds breed. - This is the first time that great Indian bustard eggs have ever been collected from the wild for the purpose of captive breeding, and protocols are still being figured out, says Rajasthan’s chief wildlife warden.
Angola pledges $60m to fund landmine clearance in national parks [06/25/2019]
- The Angolan government has announced a $60 million commitment to clear landmines in Luengue-Luiana and Mavinga national parks in the country’s southeast. - The region is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area — home to incredible natural biodiversity, but also one of the most heavily mined regions of Angola. - International funding for landmine clearance has fallen by 80 percent over the last 10 years, and without new funding Angola will miss its target of clearing all landmines by 2025. - The HALO Trust, a demining NGO, and the Angolan government hope that clearance of landmines will stimulate conservation in southeastern Angola and provide alternative livelihoods such as ecotourism to alleviate poverty and diversify the country’s economy away from oil.
Belize to protect critical wildlife corridor that’s home to jaguars and more [06/24/2019]
- The government of Belize has approved a proposal to protect the Maya Forest Corridor, a key stretch of jungle linking some of the region’s largest wilderness areas. - Once the corridor is secured, it will create the largest contiguous block of forest in Central America, experts say. - The Maya Forest Corridor is home to iconic animals like the jaguar; the critically endangered Central American river turtle; the endangered Central American spider monkey or Geoffroy’s spider monkey; and the endangered Baird’s tapir. - There is, however, a lot of work to be done before the Maya Forest Corridor gains official legal protection, including securing key privately owned patches of forest in the area.
Logging road construction has surged in the Congo Basin since 2003 [06/24/2019]
- Logging road networks have expanded widely in the Congo Basin since 2003, according to a new study. - The authors calculated that the length of logging roads doubled within concessions and rose by 40 percent outside of concessions in that time period, growing by 87,000 kilometers (54,000 miles). - Combined with rising deforestation in the region since 2000, the increase in roads is concerning because road building is often followed by a pulse of settlement leading to deforestation, hunting and mining in forest ecosystems.
Mongabay investigative series helps confirm global insect decline [06/24/2019]
- In a newly published four-part series, Mongabay takes a deep dive into the science behind the so-called “Insect Apocalypse,” recently reported in the mainstream media. - To create the series, Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and other scientists on six continents and working in 12 nations, producing what is possibly the most in-depth reporting published to date by any news media outlet on the looming insect abundance crisis. - While major peer-reviewed studies are few (with evidence resting primarily so far on findings in Germany and Puerto Rico), there is near consensus among the two dozen researchers surveyed: Insects are likely in serious global decline. - The series is in four parts: an introduction and critical review of existing peer-reviewed data; a look at temperate insect declines; a survey of tropical declines; and solutions to the problem. Researchers agree: Conserving insects — imperative to preserving the world’s ecosystem services — is vital to humanity.
Science community rallies support to save Madagascar’s natural riches [06/24/2019]
- Madagascar is set to host the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation’s 56th annual meeting in July. - The organizers have launched a petition to garner support for urgent actions that must be taken to preserve the island nation’s unique biodiversity. - The petition will be presented to the country’s president, who has been invited to sign it and recognize it as the Declaration of Ivato, after the site where the meeting will take place. - The document, available in four languages, can be accessed online until Aug. 2.
Fire, cattle, cocaine: Deforestation spikes in Guatemalan national park [06/21/2019]
- Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala’s largest national park, provides habitat for an estimated 219 bird species, 97 butterflies, 38 reptiles and 120 mammals, and is also home to ancient Mayan ruins. But conservationists and archeologists say this biological and cultural wealth is threatened by high levels of deforestation in the park. - Between 2001 and 2018, Laguna del Tigre lost nearly 30 percent of its tree cover, and preliminary data for 2019 indicate the rate of loss is set to rise dramatically this year. Fire is the dominant driver of deforestation in the park, and is used to clear the land of forest and make it more farmable. Satellite imagery shows vast swaths of recently burned land where old growth rainforest stood less than 20 years ago. - Authorities blame residents within the park for much of the destruction, as well as industrial cattle operations and cocaine traffickers who set up airstrips on cleared land within the park. But community members have defended what they say is their right to live on the land and to use its resources, in some cases even resorting to violence. - Wildlife Conservation Society, along with the National Council for Protected Areas, have begun working on peace-building initiatives for the area with international agencies and organizations in the hopes of bridging the gap between environmental protection and human rights. But a lot of work remains.
Chinese nationals arrested in US after smuggling totoaba swim bladders worth $3.7 million from Mexico [06/21/2019]
- According to a report this week by Quartz, two Chinese nationals were arrested last month in the state of California with $3.7-million-worth of totoaba swim bladders that they had smuggled from Mexico. - More than 800 totoaba maws were confiscated by Mexican authorities last year in two separate busts of Chinese nationals who were attempting to smuggle the swim bladders out of the country. Also last year, Chinese customs officials confiscated 980 pounds of totoaba maws, estimated to be worth as much as $26 million. - These enforcement actions are welcome news, Andrea Crosta, executive director of wildlife trade watchdog group Elephant Action League wrote in a commentary for Mongabay earlier this year. But he added that, without further action to directly disrupt the totoaba maw supply chain and the operations of the wildlife crime networks involved in the illegal trade, there is “absolutely no chance” to save the vaquita.
The mine that promised to protect the environment: A cautionary tale [06/21/2019]
- In 2004, mining behemoth Rio Tinto made a bold commitment not just to protect but to “improve” the environment at its mining sites in ecologically sensitive areas around the world, through a strategy it called “net positive impact.” - A site in southeastern Madagascar where it was opening an ilmenite mine amid a gravely threatened coastal forest that’s home to unique species found nowhere else on the planet seemed like a good place to start. - A little more than a decade later, however, the initiative was dead: facing financial headwinds and falling behind on its pledges, Rio Tinto abandoned the NPI strategy in 2016. - In an article in the July issue of Scientific American, Mongabay contributor Rowan Moore Gerety tells how Rio Tinto came to make that promise and then to renege on it — and describes the result for Madagascar’s coastal forest and the people who live there.
All that glitters: Cameras spot Asian golden cat in more than one shade [06/20/2019]
- Cameras placed across the Dibang Valley in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh have captured Asian golden cats with six different coat colors. - These include five colors previously described from different parts of the cat’s distribution across Asia — golden, gray, cinnamon, melanistic (black) and ocelot (spotted) — as well as a previously unrecorded dark pattern of tightly spaced rosettes. - The study’s authors suspect that the different forms allow the Asian golden cat to be extremely adaptable, especially because the species occupies diverse habitats in the Dibang Valley, where competing predators such as tigers and snow leopards also occur. - Other researchers say the colors may be more of a continuum rather than clear-cut distinct forms, and that further study is needed to test the possible influence of other factors on the coat colors and patterns, including climatic conditions such as light exposure and temperature.
A four-year ox-cart ride around Madagascar: Q&A with Alexandre Poussin [06/20/2019]
- Alexandre Poussin and his family recently completed a 5,000-kilometer (3,100-mile) oxcart ride around Madagascar, visiting sanctuaries for the island’s unique biodiversity that are off the beaten path. - Poussin witnessed firsthand the destruction of Madagascar’s forests and the threat faced by endemic species found there. - The French traveler and writer is encouraging tourists to the island to help protect its natural heritage.
’Livestock revolution’ triggered decline in global pasture: Report [06/19/2019]
- Since 2000, the area of land dedicated for livestock pasture around the world has declined by 1.4 million square kilometers (540,500 square miles) — an area about the size of Peru. - A new report attributes the contraction to more productive breeds, better animal health and higher densities of animals on similar amounts of land. - The report’s authors say that technological solutions could help meet rising demand for meat and milk in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, without reversing the downward trend.
Sumatran rhinos to get a new sanctuary in Leuser Ecosystem [06/18/2019]
- A third captive-breeding sanctuary for the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino is set to be built in Indonesia, according to a top official. - The facility, scheduled to open in 2021, will be located within the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, home to what’s believed to be one of the largest populations of the critically endangered species. - Global and local rhino conservation groups have welcomed the plan and pledge to help with financial and technical support for the new facility. - Indonesia currently has two captive-breeding centers for the rhinos: in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park, which holds seven rhinos, and Borneo’s Kelian forest, which has a single rhino.
At least one species has been lost on more than half of Earth’s land area [06/18/2019]
- A study published in the journal Frontiers In Forests And Global Change last week largely supports the conclusions of the IPBES report released last month, determining that there is less intact habitat harboring its original community of life than has previously been estimated. And the authors of the study say their findings show that methods used to determine the most important areas for wildlife conservation using remote sensing and global datasets may not be accurately assessing faunal intactness. - Researchers found that at least one species has gone extinct on 54.7 percent of our planet’s land area (not including Antarctica), with some sites losing as many as 52 species. Even many forests identified as being intact because they have intact canopies have lost species below the canopy, the researchers found. - They conclude: “Recent papers have highlighted the small percentage of remaining wilderness or intact sites and yet our results indicate that truly intact sites with a full complement of species are likely to be much rarer still.”
Recreational divers help researchers track movements of rare stingray [06/18/2019]
- The smalleye stingray, thought to be widely distributed across the Indo-West Pacific, is rarely seen and is listed as “data deficient” on the IUCN Red List. - By compiling photographs and videos of the stingrays taken opportunistically by both research teams and recreational divers over the last 15 years off the coast of Mozambique, the only place the giant rays are regularly spotted, researchers have created a photographic database of the animals. - This database is now helping researchers gain some of the first insights into this elusive species. For example, researchers found that a female stingray had made a 400-kilometer (250-mile) round trip to birth her pups.
Primates lose ground to surging commodity production in their habitats [06/17/2019]
- “Forest risk” commodities, such as beef, palm oil, and fossil fuels, led to a significant proportion of the 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles) of forest that was cleared between 2001 and 2017 — an area almost the size of Mexico. - A previous study found that 60 percent of primates face extinction and 75 percent of species’ numbers are declining. - The authors say that addressing the loss of primate habitat due to the production of commodities is possible, though it will require a global effort to “green” the international trade in these commodities.
Nearly 600 plant species have gone extinct in last 250 years [06/17/2019]
- At least 571 species of seed-bearing plants have gone extinct around the world in the last two and a half centuries. - This number is nearly four times higher than the previous known estimate and more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians that are known to have gone extinct, researchers say. - The study estimates that plants are now becoming extinct nearly 500 times faster than the background extinction rate for plants. - The geographical pattern of modern plant extinctions resembles that for animals: most plant extinctions occur on islands, in the tropics, and in areas with a Mediterranean climate that are rich in biodiversity.
Exotic pet trade responsible for hundreds of invasive species around the globe [06/14/2019]
- According to a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment last week, Burmese pythons in Florida are just one example of the hundreds of non-native and invasive species that are harming native species and ecosystems around the world thanks to the multibillion-dollar exotic pet trade. - “The volume of vertebrate animals that are traded worldwide is shocking, even to relatively seasoned invasion biologists,” the study’s lead author, Julie L. Lockwood, a professor at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in the United States, said in a statement. “The market in exotic pets has grown considerably since the 1970s, and so I don’t think most of us fully grasped how expansive the trade has become.” - Lockwood and colleagues note in the study that research has shown that, of the 140 non‐native reptiles and amphibians known to have been introduced in Florida so far, close to 85 percent arrived via the pet trade.
Leopards get a $20m boost from Panthera pact with Saudi prince [06/14/2019]
- Big-cat conservation group Panthera has signed an agreement with Saudi prince and culture minister Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Farhan Al Saud in which the latter’s royal commission has pledged $20 million to the protection of leopards around the world, including the Arabian leopard, over the next decade. - The funds will support a survey of the animals in Saudi Arabia and a captive-breeding program. - The coalition also hopes to reintroduce the Arabian leopard into the governorate of Al-Ula, which Bader heads and which the kingdom’s leaders believe could jump-start the local tourism sector.
Predator-free by 2050? High-tech hopes for New Zealand’s big conservation dream [06/13/2019]
- To preserve New Zealand’s remaining native biodiversity, the country has begun an ambitious nationwide program to eliminate its most damaging non-native invasive predators — rats, stoats and possums — by 2050. - To carry out this mammoth task, government and private entities across the country are applying new technologies to existing detection, exclusion, trapping, poisoning and other strategies used to reduce the numbers of harmful predators. - The program has wide public support, though some effective technologies, particularly gene editing, are controversial; recognition of the importance of public support, as well as cost and effectiveness, help guide the program’s development.
CITES to move wildlife trade summit from Colombo to Geneva this August [06/13/2019]
- An international summit on the global wildlife trade will be moved from Sri Lanka to Switzerland, following a lengthy delay sparked by terrorist bombings in the South Asian country during Easter services in April. - The 18th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP18) of CITES was originally scheduled to run May 23 to June 3 in Colombo, but will now take place in Geneva from Aug. 17 to 28. - The CITES announcement follows a comprehensive U.N. security assessment that concluded on May 31. - There was pressure to get the summit going with minimal delay, given the number of conservation programs and activities dependent on the outcome of the meeting, for which delegates had proposed increased trade protections for a host of plant and animal species.
The Great Insect Dying: How to save insects and ourselves [06/13/2019]
- The entomologists interviewed for this Mongabay series agreed on three major causes for the ongoing and escalating collapse of global insect populations: habitat loss (especially due to agribusiness expansion), climate change and pesticide use. Some added a fourth cause: human overpopulation. - Solutions to these problems exist, most agreed, but political commitment, major institutional funding and a large-scale vision are lacking. To combat habitat loss, researchers urge preservation of biodiversity hotspots such as primary rainforest, regeneration of damaged ecosystems, and nature-friendly agriculture. - Combatting climate change, scientists agree, requires deep carbon emission cuts along with the establishment of secure, very large conserved areas and corridors encompassing a wide variety of temperate and tropical ecosystems, sometimes designed with preserving specific insect populations in mind. - Pesticide use solutions include bans of some toxins and pesticide seed coatings, the education of farmers by scientists rather than by pesticide companies, and importantly, a rethinking of agribusiness practices. The Netherlands’ Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery includes some of these elements.
Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo [06/12/2019]
- Logging and hunting have decimated a population of Bornean orangutans in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Indonesia. - Help has recently come from a pair of unlikely allies: an animal welfare group and a human health care nonprofit. - Cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the needs of ecosystems and humans is becoming an important tool for overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles in conservation.
Did efforts to protect DRC’s elephants and bonobos leave a trail of abuses? [06/12/2019]
- New research shows encouraging results for the number of forest elephants and bonobos inside Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a major conservation site. - But the findings come amid reports that park rangers, who accompanied the researchers during the field surveys, have committed severe abuses against villagers in the region, including extrajudicial killings. - As conservation increasingly becomes militarized, advocates say Salonga is a case study about the need for accountability.
Audio: Bronx Zoo director says zoos are more relevant to conservation than ever [06/12/2019]
- On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we speak with Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, about the contributions zoos make to the cause of global biodiversity conservation. - Breheny is well aware that a large contingent of the population questions the relevance of zoos in the 21st century. But he says that, as mankind’s influence extends ever farther and habitat for wildlife continues to shrink, zoos are more relevant than ever, as they preserve for the future the diversity of species who share the planet with us today. - On today’s episode of the Newscast, Breheny tells us about the evolution of zoos and aquariums that he’s witnessed over his 40-plus-year career; how zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well; and about his experience attempting to tell the story of zoos through the Animal Planet TV show ‘The Zoo.’
Homestay programs in Nepal’s rhino hub hold promise and pitfalls for locals [06/12/2019]
- When faced with criticism that local people don’t benefit from wildlife tourism to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, officials and conservationists point to homestay programs set up in communities on the park’s borders. - These homestay programs aim to provide the communities with alternative livelihoods and to create an incentive to protect forests and wildlife. - In the villages of Amaltari and Barauli, two very different homestay programs have been established, catering to different groups of visitors. Both models have their strengths, but also their shortcomings.
Inside an ambitious project to rewild trafficked bonobos in the Congo Basin [06/11/2019]
- A decade ago, a troop of formerly captive bonobos was for the first time reintroduced to the wild in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Following that successful reintroduction, a new troop of 14 bonobos is now in the process of being released and is anticipated to be fully in the wild by September. - Congolese conservation group Amis des Bonobos du Congo (ABC) is working to make sure the communities surrounding the release site feel invested in the project.
Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins [06/11/2019]
- On June 10, Canada’s House of Commons passed a bill that bans the practice of keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in captivity in the country. - Bill S-203 also prohibits breeding of the animals and collecting reproductive materials from them. The only exceptions to these provisions will be in cases of rescues and rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or “in the best interests of the cetacean’s welfare.” - The legislation, also known as the “Free Willy” bill, allows Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, the only two facilities in Canada that still house cetaceans, to continue to keep their animals as long as they do not breed or bring in any new individuals.
The Great Insect Dying: The tropics in trouble and some hope [06/10/2019]
- Insect species are most diverse in the tropics, but are largely unresearched, with many species not described by science. But entomologists believe abundance is being impacted by climate change, habitat destruction and the introduction of industrial agribusiness with its heavy pesticide use. - A 2018 repeat of a 1976 study in Puerto Rico, which measured the total biomass of a rainforest’s arthropods, found that in the intervening decades populations collapsed. Sticky traps caught up to 60-fold fewer insects than 37 years prior, while ground netting caught 8 times fewer insects than in 1976. - The same researchers also looked at insect abundance in a tropical forest in Western Mexico. There, biomass abundance fell eightfold in sticky traps from 1981 to 2014. Researchers from Southeast Asia, Australia, Oceania and Africa all expressed concern to Mongabay over possible insect abundance declines. - In response to feared tropical declines, new insect surveys are being launched, including the Arthropod Initiative and Global Malaise Trap Program. But all of these new initiatives suffer the same dire problem: a dearth of funding and lack of interest from foundations, conservation groups and governments.
Caribbean nations boost protection for extremely rare largetooth sawfish [06/08/2019]
- On June 5, Caribbean countries agreed to boost protection for the largetooth sawfish by adding it to Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention. - Plants and animals added to Annexes I and II of the SPAW Protocol are afforded the highest levels of protection, with countries falling within the Caribbean region committing to ban the collection, possession or killing of the species, prohibit their commercial trade, and take steps to reduce disturbances to the species. - Experts have welcomed the measure, but say that SPAW countries must “follow through with their obligations to implement protections.” - Legal protection aside, education and local community involvement is key to giving species like sawfish “a fighting chance,” experts say.
New pilot whale subspecies revealed: Q&A with marine biologist Amy Van Cise [06/07/2019]
- For centuries, Japanese seafarers have noted two distinct types of pilot whale in their waters: One with a squarish head and dark body, the other a bit bigger with a round head and a light patch on its back. - The two types have long been officially classified simply as forms of the same species, short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), but a new genetic study finds that they are actually distinct subspecies. - The finding is just the latest shake-up of the cetacean family tree after the discoveries of new whale species in recent years. - Mongabay spoke with the new study’s lead author, Amy Van Cise, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, about the science of whale taxonomy and what her team’s discovery means for the conservation of short-finned pilot whales.
Twice as many fishing vessels now, but it’s harder to catch fish [06/06/2019]
- The global fishing fleet has more than doubled from about 1.7 million boats harvesting fish in 1950 to 3.7 million fishing vessels in 2015. - More fishing vessels have become motorized as well: while only 20 percent of the world’s fishing vessels were powered by motors in 1950, this number rose to 68 percent in 2015. - The growing fishing fleet is, however, catching less seafood for the same effort. - There are geographic variations: while Asia’s fishing fleet has dramatically increased over the past decades, catching fewer fish for the same effort, fleet sizes in North America and Western Europe shrank slightly, accompanied by an increase in fish catch per unit effort.
The Great Insect Dying: Vanishing act in Europe and North America [06/06/2019]
- Though arthropods make up most of the species on Earth, and much of the planet’s biomass, they are significantly understudied compared to mammals, plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Lack of baseline data makes insect abundance decline difficult to assess. - Insects in the temperate EU and U.S. are the world’s best studied, so it is here that scientists expect to detect precipitous declines first. A groundbreaking study published in October 2017 found that flying insects in 63 protected areas in Germany had declined by 75 percent in just 25 years. - The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme has a 43-year butterfly record, and over that time two-thirds of the nations’ species have decreased. Another recent paper found an 84 percent decline in butterflies in the Netherlands from 1890 to 2017. Still, EU researchers say far more data points are needed. - Neither the U.S. or Canada have conducted an in-depth study similar to that in Germany. But entomologists agree that major abundance declines are likely underway, and many are planning studies to detect population drops. Contributors to decline are climate change, pesticides and ecosystem destruction.