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Biggest new animal discoveries of 2013 (photos)

(12/23/2013) Thousands of species were scientifically described for the first time in 2013. Many of these were 'cryptic species' that were identified after genetic analysis distinguished them from closely-related species, while others were totally novel. Below are some of the most interesting "new species" discoveries that took place or were formally announced in 2013.


Assassination 25 years ago catalyzed movement to protect the Amazon

(12/22/2013) Twenty-five years ago today, Chico Mendes, an Amazon rubber tapper, was shot and killed in front of his family at his home in Acre, Brazil at the age of 44.


Unraveling the secrets of one of the world's most mysterious big cats

(12/22/2013) The Sunda clouded leopard has always been shrouded in mystery. Only declared a separate species from its mainland cousin, the Borneo clouded leopard, in 2006, the IUCN lists the cat as Endangered. The distinction between the Borneo clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulas) and the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) was made by ground-breaking molecular coding technologies and anatomy studies of the two species. Although it is Borneo's largest predator, very little is known about the Sunda leopard. As a medium-sized, well-camouflaged and mostly nocturnal animal, the leopard has evaded researchers since its discovery eight years ago.


Giant clams are easy to recognize, but genetics proves there is more than meets the eye

(12/21/2013) Giant clams are among the more easily spotted invertebrates of the marine realm. However, some are actually quite cryptic and distinct species are often difficult to identify, claims a study recently published in PlosOne. Much attention has been focused on charismatic species in research, but the scientists who authored the study argue that giant clams also deserve the spotlight because of the potential threats and present misunderstandings regarding their taxonimical classifications.


Anti-elephant poaching story goes viral in China

(12/20/2013) A newspaper story about the impact of the ivory trade has gone viral in China, raising awareness among millions of Chinese, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The story, published November 15 in Southern Weekly, has been shared widely across Chinese web sites and social media.


Scientists discover a new coral in the French Polynesia

(12/20/2013) With humans scattered throughout the globe, it is hard to imagine lands still unexplored or species undocumented. Yet, on the remote French Polynesian Gambier Islands a new coral reef species has been found thriving in underwater lagoons. Echinophyllia tarae was discovered by marine biologist Francesca Benzoni and the research crew members of the Tara Oceans International Research Expedition.


Indonesia appoints head of REDD+ agency to implement forest conservation plan

(12/20/2013) Indonesia has selected the first chief of its new REDD+ agency: Heru Prasetyo, an administrator and former private sector management consultant, reports Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's office. Prasetyo will take up the challenging task of implementing Indonesia's REDD+ program, which aims to steer the Southeast Asian nation away from business-as-usual management of its fast dwindling forests. The REDD+ program is part of the broader government plan to cut Indonesia's greenhouse has emissions by at least 26 percent from a projected 2020 baseline.


New marsupial discovered in Ecuador

(12/20/2013) Researchers working in Ecuador have identified a previously unknown species of shrew-opossum, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Contrary to its mousey appearance, Caenolestes sangay, named after the national park where it was discovered, is actually a marsupial. The team from Pacific Lutheran University set up more than 100 live traps over 15 nights on the eastern slopes of Andes. In the course of their research they recovered five specimens of the new species, each measuring approximately 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) long.


Featured video: what would a world without wildlife look like?

(12/20/2013) Greenpeace today released a clever video highlighting the global biodiversity crisis with a little help from a much-beloved Disney film. While it might seem unlikely the Africa's animals will vanish, this is exactly what's happening in parts of the continent due to poaching, unsustainable bushmeat trade, habitat loss, massive development projects that are often poorly planned, and a booming human population.


Conservation Hail Mary works: Mate for near-extinct fish found!

(12/20/2013) Researchers are celebrating after an urgent global search turned up a female mate for a fish that is on the brink of extinction.


Natural sponges: forests help moderate floods, droughts

(12/20/2013) A new study adds further evidence for the 'sponge effect' of forests.


Indigenous groups win right to pursue Chevron assets in Canada in Amazon pollution case

(12/19/2013) Indigenous plaintiffs in a long-running legal dispute against Chevron won the right to pursue the oil giant's assets in Canada as part of a $9.5 billion judgement by an Ecuadorean court over damages in the Amazon, reports Amazon Watch.


Palm oil exports to fall in 2013/2014

(12/19/2013) Palm oil exports may drop for the first time in 16 years due to price trends in the oilseed market, reports Oil World.


UN raps Malaysia on palm oil abuses, risks

(12/19/2013) Malaysia's push to join the ranks of rich countries shouldn't come at the expense of the environment or the vulnerable groups, warned a U.N. expert after a visit to the Southeast Asian nation.


Hershey commits to zero deforestation for palm oil

(12/19/2013) In an effort to avoid palm oil linked to deforestation, candy giant Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY) will source 100 percent of its palm oil from traceable sources by the end of 2014.


Little elephant is the first scientific record of dwarfism in the wild

(12/19/2013) Biologists in Sri Lanka have published the first documented evidence of dwarfism in an adult wild animal. A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) measuring just over 1.5 meters (five feet) in height was seen in an aggressive encounter with another male of average size. The elephant's small stature was due to disproportionately short legs, according to the findings published in the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group journal Gajah. "The 'dwarf' was by far the main aggressor in the altercation and appeared to be older than the other, a young adult," states the study. "Other than for the disproportionately short legs, morphologically and behaviorally the dwarf appeared normal."


Chickens before cows: new study finds cattle have outsized greenhouse gas footprint

(12/19/2013) If you want to lower your greenhouse gas emissions, choose chicken or poultry over beef and dairy, according to a massive new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study finds that global cattle production—both for beef and dairy—is responsible for a whopping 77 percent of the world's greenhouse gases attributed to livestock. Meanwhile, pork and poultry account for only 10 percent the greenhouse gases from livestock.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013

(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.


Brazilian cattle producers standardize audits to exclude deforestation from supply chain

(12/18/2013) Brazil's largest cattle producers have agreed to standardize and make public their audits as part of an effort to exclude from their supply chains livestock produced via deforestation, reports Greenpeace, which has led a campaign to improve the environmental performance of the sector. The agreement on a standard auditing protocol means that the companies' progress toward eliminating deforestation will now be directly comparable.


Ongoing deforestation reported in Borneo concession held by APP supplier

(12/18/2013) Up to 1,400 hectares of forest have been cleared in a concession belonging to an Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) supplier in Borneo, potentially putting the company in breach of the forestry giant's zero deforestation commitment, reports a coalition of local NGO's. In a report released Tuesday, Relawan Pemantau Hutan Kalimantan (RPHK), a coalition of NGO's in part supported by WWF-Indonesia, said that blocks of natural forest have been cleared in a concession belonging to PT Daya Tani Kalbar (DTK), an APP supplier. The clearing has taken place since APP's moratorium went into effect February 1, 2013.


Madagascar's most famous lemur facing big threats

(12/18/2013) The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), perhaps the most well-known of Madagascar’s endemic animals, is facing a "very high" risk of extinction in the wild. The Madagascar Section of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group reassessed the Red List status of ring-tailed lemurs and upgraded the species from Near-Threatened (2008) to Endangered (2012). Ring-tailed lemurs are facing extinction in some parts of Madagascar because of continued habitat loss, and more recently, species exploitation.


Using stories to connect people to biodiversity: an interview with Tara Waters Lumpkin, PhD

(12/18/2013) In a world where extinctions are almost commonplace and global warming barely raises an eyebrow, very few of us can return to find the places we grew up in unsullied by development. Sometimes, all that is left of a favorite grove of trees or strip of forest are memories. Through Izilwane: Voices for Biodiversity Project, an online magazine for story-tellers, Tara Waters Lumpkin has succeeded in bringing together more than one hundred "eco-writers" who have shared their memories, highlighted environmental crises in their localities and raised their voices against habitat destruction.


World suffers warmest November on record

(12/18/2013) Last month was the warmest November on record, according to new analysis from the NOAA. Temperatures were 0.78 degrees Celsius (1.40 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average November in the 20th Century. Global temperatures are on the rise due to climate change caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, but also by deforestation and land-use change.


Africa to build world's largest dam, but who will benefit?

(12/17/2013) The Congo River traverses the continent of Africa, ending its journey in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where it spills 1.5 million cubic feet per second into the Atlantic Ocean. Now, plans are underway to harness this tremendous force of water in what promises to be the world's largest hydropower scheme, The Grand Inga.


Canada's biggest logger loses eco-certification

(12/17/2013) Resolute Forest Products, the largest industrial logging company in Canada, suffered a major setback this week when the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) revoked three certifications for the forestry giant. According to Greenpeace, the company lost its certification in Quebec and Ontario due to several problems, including a lack of consent from the Crees nations and failure to safeguard high priority conservation areas.


Democratizing forest monitoring on a global scale

(12/17/2013) Efforts to map and analyze deforestation and forest degradation got a boost today when Stanford University announced a new online course that provides training on how to use advance forest monitoring software. The course, which is freely available via Stanford University Online Learning, could immediately increase the capacity of environmentalists, forest managers, and researchers to track changes in forest cover.


New Guinea animals losing vital tree cavities to logging, hunting practices

(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities "home." A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.


Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century - a new tapir

(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.


Asian elephants depend on shifting cultivation during the dry season

(12/16/2013) Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) have co-existed with human practices for thousands of years, including shifting cultivation. Shifting agriculture encompasses a variety of different practices that involve abandoning plots for periods of time to allow natural vegetation to grow. The practice consists of cutting and burning the natural vegetation at the end of the dry season and cultivating with the rains. Harvesting is completed by the end of the wet season.


A bird's eye view of hornbills in northeast India

(12/16/2013) Hornbills are as peculiar, as they are magnificent. Their calls especially, can sound rather strange to the uninitiated - some grunt, some growl, and some cackle maniacally. These queer birds, with their large brightly-colored curved beaks, and a distinctive cavity-nesting habit, are also totem animals for many tribes in India.


Scientists: well-managed forest restoration benefits both biodiversity and people

(12/16/2013) In November this year, the world was greeted by the dismaying news that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in the past year. The year 2013 also holds the dubious distinction of being the first time since humans appeared on the planet, that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rose to 400 parts per million. A map by Google revealed that Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Indonesia all displayed over 10 million hectares of gross forest loss from 2000-2012, with the highest deforestation rate occurring in Malaysia.


Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor

(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.


Odd porcupine hugely imperiled by hunting, deforestation

(12/16/2013) The thin-spined porcupine, also known as the bristle-spined rat, is a truly distinct animal: a sort of cross between New World porcupines and spiny rats with genetic research showing it is slightly closer to the former rather than the latter. But the thin-spined porcupine (Chaetomys subspinosus), found only in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, is imperiled by human activities. In fact, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science found that the species remains a target for hunters, despite a reputation for tasting terrible.


Indonesian palm oil company demolishes homes and evicts villagers in week-long raid

(12/14/2013) Nearly 150 homes were reportedly destroyed in the latest incident in a long-standing conflict between indigenous Batin Sembilan residents and former Wilmar unit PT Asiatic Persada. Indonesian security forces allegedly stormed several villages inside a Sumatran palm oil plantation concession last weekend and earlier this week, accompanying company staff and hired thugs accused of destroying dozens of homes and looting residents’ property.


Sonar directly impacts whale behavior, according to military study

(12/13/2013) Noises from pile-driving, explosives, ship motors and other industrial activities have all been linked to adverse effects on marine wildlife. A new study, funded by the US Navy and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that military sonar may be directly impacting whale behavior. The idea that sonar might affect the behavior of whales is not new. A number of reports in the past have linked the use of military sonar to mass stranding events of beaked whales and baleen whale species.


Reforestation can't offset massive fossil fuels emissions

(12/13/2013) With the Australian, Japanese, and Canadian governments making an about-face on carbon-emissions reduction targets during the Warsaw climate summit, some experts are warning that the global need for solutions offsetting CO2 emissions is passing a "red line." Land-based mitigation practices comprise one of the solutions on the table as a result of both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol; however, a paper published in Nature Climate Change by an international team led by Brendan Mackey, has raised the looming question of whether or not land-based practices can actually improve CO2 levels as much as hoped.


Featured video: U.S. forests decimated for 'green' bio-energy in Europe

(12/12/2013) Wetland forests in the southern U.S. are becoming the victims of a drive for so-called green energy in Europe, according to activist group Dogwood Alliance, which has produced a new video highlighting the issue. The activists contend that bio-energy that depends on chopping down forests not only devastates vital ecosystems, but actually emits more greenhouse gases than traditional fossil fuels.


Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline

(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.


Logging kingpin linked to kidnapping, violent assault seeks legitimacy via IPO

(12/11/2013) A businessman whose company kidnapped and violently assaulted environmentalists investigating illegal logging in a national park is set to earn millions of dollars from Thursday's initial public offering of Sawit Sumbermas Sarana, a palm oil company with holdings in Indonesian Borneo. Environmentalists are warning responsible investors to steer clear of the IPO.


Environmentalists call for recognition of orangutan, rhino habitat as heritage site

(12/11/2013) Environmentalists in Indonesia's Aceh Province are calling upon the local governor to nominate the Leuser Ecosystem as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to help protect the area — one of the last places where rhinos, elephants, tigers, and orangutans share the same habitat — from new legislation that would grant large blocks of forest for logging concessions, mining, and industrial plantations.


Bonobos: the Congo Basin's great gardeners

(12/11/2013) The survival of primary forests depends on many overlapping interactions. Among these interactions include tropical gardeners, like the bonobo (Pan pansicus) in the Congo Basin, according to a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology. Bonobos are known as a keystone species, vital to the diversification and existence of their forests.


Indonesia urged to implement decision recognizing indigenous rights to land

(12/10/2013) Indigenous rights groups are circulating a petition asking the Indonesian government to immediately implement a court ruling that would take management of million of hectares of customary forest out of the hands of the Ministry of Forestry and turn it over to traditional communities. The petition was posted on Change.org by Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).


Journalists win environmental news reporting prizes

(12/10/2013) Mongabay's internship program has benefited from the hard work and great environmental reporting of more than 30 writing interns since the program's inception in July 2012. This year, Mongabay asked this pool of contributing authors to submit their most compelling piece out of over 150 articles. The submissions were then reviewed by a panel.


Ecuador's government shuts down indigenous rights organization over oil battle

(12/10/2013) Last Wednesday, the government of Ecuador shutdown the indigenous rights NGO, Fundación Pachamama, in Quito over the group's opposition to oil drilling in indigenous areas. More than a dozen government officials showed up at Pachamama's office with a resolution by the Ministry of Environment that officially dissolved the organization, the first such moved by the government which in June passed an Executive Decree that tightened governmental oversight of the country's NGOs.


Average American consumes 50,000 pounds of raw materials annually for the stuff they buy

(12/10/2013) The average American car weighs about 3,000 pounds. But to produce that vehicle, a lot more raw materials were used than its final weight! Maybe as much as 100 times more, as reported by scientists in a recent paper in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science. For this car to be produced, iron ore is mined in Australia and made into steel. Steel is then shipped to Japan and made into a car, which is then sold in the U.S. Most studies until now, measured national consumption by accounting only for the final weight of the products we purchase.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013

(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.


China bans shark fin, bird's nest soup from state banquets

(12/10/2013) China has banned shark fin and bird's nest soup from being served at official state banquets, reports Chinese state media.


Palm oil IPO presents environmental, financial risks

(12/10/2013) An Indonesian palm oil company has failed to disclose all the financial and environmental risks to investors ahead of its December 12 initial public offering (IPO), alleges a new report from environmental groups. PT Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SSMS), a palm oil company that operates plantations in Indonesian Borneo, aims to raise a trillion ($88 million) in this week's IPO.


Conventional satellite imagery may underestimate forest clearing for subsistence agriculture

(12/09/2013) Analysis of forest cover using medium-scale satellite imagery may miss deforestation for small-scale subsistence agriculture, finds a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.


New mountain porcupine discovered in Brazil (photos)

(12/09/2013) In Brazil's Baturite Mountains, scientists have uncovered a new species of prehensile-tailed porcupine, according to a new paper in Revista Nordestina de Biologia. Dubbed, the Baturite porcupine (Coendou baturitensis), the new species was discovered when scientists noticed significant differences between it and its closest relative, the Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis). The name prehensile-tailed refers to these porcupines long, mobile tail which they use as a fifth limb to adroitly climb trees.


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