conservation news and environmental science news.
India commits $10 billion to expand forests
(02/25/2011) The Indian government has approved a bold plan to expand and improve the quality of its forests as a part of the nation's National Action Plan on Climate Change. The reforestation plan, dubbed the National Mission for a Green India (NMGI), will expand forests by five million hectares (over 12 million acres), while improving forests quality on another five million hectares for $10.14 billion (460 billion rupees).
Parks key to saving India's great mammals from extinction
(02/24/2011) Krithi Karanth grew up amid India's great mammals—literally. Daughter of conservationist and scientist Dr. Ullas Karanth, she tells mongabay.com that she saw her first wild tigers and leopard at the age of two. Yet, the India Krithi Karanth grew up in may be gone in a century, according to a massive new study by Karanth which looked at the likelihood of extinction for 25 of India's mammals, including well-known favorites like Bengal tigers and Asian elephants, along with lesser known mammals (at least outside of India) such as the nilgai and the gaur. The study found that given habitat loss over the past century, extinction stalked seven of India's mammals especially: Asiatic lions, Bengal tigers, wild dogs (also known as dholes), swamp deer, wild buffalo, Nilgiri Tahr, and the gaur. However, increasing support of protected areas and innovative conservation programs outside of parks would be key to saving India's wildlife in the 21st Century.
Image: new bird discovered in Madagascar
(02/24/2011) The rich and unique biodiversity of Madagascar has a new member: a forest dwelling bird in the rail family, dubbed Mentocrex beankaensis. In 2009 US and Malaygasy scientists conducted a survey in Madagascar's dry Beanka Forest. They discovered several new species, of which the new rail is the first to be described.
U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in Sumatra
(02/24/2011) The U.S. government announced the first grants under the first phase of its 2009 Tropical Forests Conservation Act agreement with Indonesia.
First International Serengeti Day hopes to halt road project
(02/23/2011) On March 19th the conservation organization, Serengeti Watch, is planning the world's first International Serengeti Day to celebrate one of the world's most treasured wildlife ecosystems. But the day also has another goal: bring attention to a Tanzanian government plan to build a road that would essentially cut the ecosystem, threatening the world's largest mammal migration. "The proposed road will be a major commercial route that cuts across a narrow stretch of the Park near the border with Kenya. It goes through a wilderness zone critical to the annual migration of 1.3 million wildebeest and 0.7 million zebras, antelope, and other wildlife. This will involve extracting a strip of land from the Park itself, resulting in both the fragmentation of the ecosystem and the removal of the Serengeti National Park from the list of UN World Heritage Sites," said David Blanton, co-founder of Serengeti Watch, in an interview with mongabay.com.
Coral crisis: 75% of the world's coral reefs in danger
(02/23/2011) Marine scientists have been warning for years that coral reefs, the most biodiverse ecosystems in the ocean, are facing grave peril. But a new comprehensive analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) along with twenty-five partners ups the ante, finding that 75% of the world's coral reefs are threatened by local and global impacts, including climate change. An updating of a 1996 report, the new analysis found that threats had increased on 30% of the world's reefs. Clearly conservation efforts during the past decade have failed to save reefs on a large-scale.
Top 25 most endangered turtles: Asian species in crisis
(02/23/2011) Surviving hundreds of millions of years on Earth have not saved turtles from facing extinction at human hands. A new report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Conservation Coalition, identifies the world's 25 most imperiled turtles, including one that is practically assured extinction: 'Lonesome George' the last Abdington Island tortoise in the world. The list includes four turtle species from South and Central America, three from Africa, and one from Australia. But Asia is the hotbed for turtles in trouble with 17 of the top 25 species, or 68%. The numbers are even more alarming if one looks only at the top ten: eight of the top ten are in Asia, and six of these in China.
Major palm oil companies failed to secure proper permits in Indonesian Borneo
(02/23/2011) Some of Indonesia's biggest and most powerful palm oil companies appear to have failed to initially secure the proper permits to convert rainforests to oil palm plantations in Central Kalimantan, reports Greenomics, an Indonesian activist group.
Photo gallery: Borneo paradise saved from beachside coal plant
(02/22/2011) Last week the Malaysian government announced it had canceled a plan to build a coal-fired plant in the state of Sabah. The coal plant would have rested on a beach overlooking the Coral Triangle, one of the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystems, and 20 kilometers from Tabin Wildlife Reserve, a rainforest park home to endangered orangutans, Sumatran rhinos, Bornean elephants, and thousands of other species. The cancellation followed a long campaign by a group of environmental and human right organizations dubbed Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-power the Future), which argued that the coal plant would have imperiled ecosystems, ended artisanal fishing in the area, hurt tourism, and tarnished Sabah's reputation as a clean-green state.
Kids found organization to save endangered species
(02/22/2011) Many American children under ten spend their free time watching TV and movies, playing video games, or participating in sports, but for siblings Carter (9 years old) and Olivia Ries (8) much of their time is devoted to saving the world's imperiled species. The organization One More Generation (OMG) not only has a clever name (yes, it is meant to pun the common Oh-My-God acronym), but may have the two youngest founders of an environmental organization in the US. "We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct," Carter told mongabay.com. OMG, which is run with help from the Ries' parents as well as an impressive list of conservation and wildlife experts, has taken on a number of local and international campaigns, including raising money for cheetahs, working against throw-away plastic bags, and taking action to change the US tradition of Rattlesnake Roundups where thousands of rattlesnakes are killed for a community festival.
2% GDP could turn global economy green
(02/21/2011) Investing around $1.3 trillion, which represents about 2% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP), into ten sectors could move the world economy from fossil-fuel dependent toward a low carbon economy, according to report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). In addition, the investments would alleviate global poverty and keep stagnating economies humming, while cutting humanity's global ecological footprint nearly in half by 2050 even in the face of rising populations.
Gulf of Mexico bottom still coated in oil, recovery long way off
(02/21/2011) Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia has seen the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and the view wasn't pretty. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Joye told the conference that she found places where oil lay on the Gulf floor nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick. Joye's findings contradict rosier pictures of the overall damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, including a recent statement by Kenneth Feinberg, the US government czar for oil compensation, that the Gulf would largely recover by next year.
First strike against illegal gold mining in Peru: military destroys miners' boats
(02/21/2011) Around a thousand Peruvian soldiers and police officers destroyed seven and seized thirteen boats used by illegal gold miners in the Peruvian Amazon, reports the AFP. The move is seen as a first strike against the environmentally destructive mining. Used to pump silt up from the river-bed, the boats are essential tools of the illegal gold mining trade which is booming in parts of the Amazon.
Oil company charged after allegedly forcing entry into Virunga National Park
(02/21/2011) The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) national parks authority, ICCN, has filed a suit against oil company, SOCO International, for allegedly forcing entry into Virunga National Park. The legal row comes amid revelations that two oil companies, SOCO and Dominion Petroleum, are exploring the park for oil.
Coal's true cost in the US: up to half a trillion
(02/20/2011) According to the global market coal is cheap, yet a new study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences finds that the hidden costs of coal are expensive, very expensive. Estimating the hidden costs of coal, such as health and environmental impacts, the study found that burning coal costs the US up to $523 billion a year. Dubbed 'externalities' by economists, the paper argues that these costs are paid by the American public to the tune of $1,698 per person every year.
Complaint lodged at FSC for plantations killing baboons
(02/20/2011) The African environmental group, GeaSphere, has lodged a complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) for certifying tree plantations as sustainable that are culling baboons in South Africa, as first reported by FSC-Watch. The primates are trapped with bait and then shot. According to the complaint, "unofficial numbers from reliable sources state that more than 1000 baboons have been shot over the past 2 years" in Mpumalanga Province. Documents record permits given to cull 1,914 baboons in 13 separate plantations, however Philip Owen of GeaSphere says that plantations have refused to release official data on how many baboons have been killed.
Sarawak government mocks its indigenous people
(02/20/2011) The Sarawak government mocked the plight of its rainforest people in a press release issued earlier this month, says a rights' group.
Rehabilitated orangutans need guards in Borneo, says activist
(02/19/2011) 1,200 orangutans set for reintroduction into the wild in Indonesian Borneo will be immediately at risk from poaching and illegal logging, warned an orangutan welfare group.
Illegal wildlife trader busted in Jakarta
(02/19/2011) Indonesian authorities busted a man selling illegal wildlife products on the Internet, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Nigeria moving forward on REDD to protect last remaining forests
(02/19/2011) The tiny state of Cross River, Nigeria, has managed to preserve large swathes of endangered rainforest despite lucrative – and often intimidating – offers from loggers and other interests. It's also laid the groundwork for a state-wide program designed to earn international carbon credits by saving trees, thus securing its spot in an elite network of states that are moving forward as UN talks stall.
British government throws out plan to sell forests, apologizes
(02/17/2011) The British government, headed by Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, has tossed out a controversial proposal to sell off significant sections of its forest to the private sector. The plan came under relentless criticism, including 500,000 people who signed a petition against the proposal, and brought together a wide variety of British notables such as actress Dame Judi Dench, poet Carol Anne Duffy, and the Archbishop of Canterbury to oppose the government's plan.
Saving Madagascar's largest carnivorous mammal: the fossa
(02/17/2011) Madagascar is a land of wonders: dancing lemurs, thumbnail-sized chameleons, the long-fingered aye-aye, great baobab trees, and the mighty fossa. Wait—what? What's a fossa? It's true that when people think of Madagascar rarely do they think of its top predator, the fossa—even if they are one of the few who actually recognizes the animal. While the fossa gained a little notice in the first Madagascar film by DreamWorks, its role in the film was overshadowed by the lemurs. In this case, art imitates life: in conservation and research this feline-like predator has long lived in the shadow of its prey, the lemur. Even scientists are not certain what to do with the fossa: studies have shown that it's not quite a cat and not quite a mongoose and so the species—and its few Malagasy relatives—have been placed in their own family, the Eupleridae, of which the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the biggest. But if this is the first you've heard of such matter, don't feel bad: one of the world's only fossa-researchers, Mia-Lana Lührs also stumbled on the species.
Researchers rediscover one of the world's most sought-after lost frogs
(02/17/2011) The Search for Lost Frogs, a global expedition to uncover amphibian species not seen for decades, has uncovered one of the expedition's most sought-after species: the Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios). The discovery in Ecuador was one bright spot in a search that revealed more about the crisis and extinctions of frogs than it did about the hopefulness of finding cryptic communities. In total the expedition rediscovered 4 of its 100 targeted species.
Worldwide search for 'lost frogs' ends with 4% success, but some surprises
(02/16/2011) Last August, a group of conservation agencies launched the Search for Lost Frogs, which employed 126 researchers to scour 21 countries for 100 amphibian species, some of which have not been seen for decades. After five months, expeditions found 4 amphibians out of the 100 targets, highlighting the likelihood that most of the remaining species are in fact extinct; however the global expedition also uncovered some happy surprises. Amphibians have been devastated over the last few decades; highly sensitive to environmental impacts, species have been hard hit by deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, agricultural chemicals, overexploitation for food, climate change, and a devastating fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. Researchers say that in the past 30 years, its likely 120 amphibians have been lost forever.
California proposes ban on selling shark fin
(02/16/2011) Last year Hawaii banned the sale of shark fins; California may be next. Bill 376, introduced by two Democrats, would outlaw the sale of shark fins, including the popular Asian delicacy shark fin soup, in the US's most populous state.
Environmentalists and locals win fight against coal plant in Borneo
(02/16/2011) Environmentalists, scientists, and locals have won the battle against a controversial coal plant in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo. The State and Federal government announced today that they would "pursue other alternative sources of energy, namely gas, to meet Sabah's power supply needs." Proposed for an undeveloped beach on the north-eastern coast of Borneo, critics said the coal plant would have threatened the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most biodiverse marine ecosystems, and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos and Bornean orangutans. Local fishermen feared that discharges from the plant would have imperiled their livelihood.
Selling the Forests that Saved Britain
(02/15/2011) I confess that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to auction off all 650,000 acres of England’s national forests to the highest bidder came as a bit of a shock to me – especially as the contained such world-famous national treasures as Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Dean and the New Forest. Although warned by my Irish mother that Tories can never be trusted, Mr. Cameron’s passionate pledge to deliver the “greenest government ever” seemed sincere, especially given his ambitious plans to cut Britain’s pollution. Anyway, even if he turned out to be as slippery as his predecessors, his deep green Liberal Democratic coalition partners would, I thought, keep the planet high on his priority list.
Cambodia approves titanium mine in world's 'most threatened forest'
(02/15/2011) The Cambodian government has approved a mine that environmentalists and locals fear will harm wildlife, pollute rivers, and put an end to a burgeoning ecotourism in one of the last pristine areas of what Conservation International (CI) recently dubbed 'the world's most threatened forest'. Prime Minister, Hun Sen, approved the mine concession to the United Khmer Group, granting them 20,400 hectares for strip mining in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. The biodiverse, relatively intact forests of the Cardamom Mountains are a part of the Indo-Burma forest hotspot of Southeast Asia, which CI put at the top of their list of the world's most threatened forests. With only 5% of habitat remaining, the forest was found to be more imperiled than the Amazon, the Congo, and even the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Chevron found guilty, ordered to pay $8.2 billion in epic oil contamination fight
(02/14/2011) It was the environmental legal battle that some believed would never end (and they may still be right). But today in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, after 18 years of an often-dramatic court case, Chevron was found guilty of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.2 billion in damages, however the oil giant says it will appeal the ruling. The lawsuit was filed by indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon who argue that poor environmental safeguards from Texaco in the 1970s and 80s led to widespread oil contamination and high rates of diseases, including cancer, among the populace. In 2001 Chevron purchased Texaco and inherited the legal fight. For its part, Chevron has dubbed the ruling "illegitimate" and with an appeal will drag the case on longer.
India pledges to protect cat-crazy rainforest
(02/14/2011) The Jeypore-Dehing lowland rainforest in Assam, India is home to a record seven wild cat species, more than any other ecosystem on Earth. While it took wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati two years of camera-trapping to document the seven felines, the announcement put this forest on the map—and may very well save it. A year after the record was announced, officials are promising to pursue permanent preservation status for the forest, which is threatened by logging, poaching, oil and coal industries, and big hydroelectric projects.
Not enough data on world's tropical plants to predict impact of warming world
(02/14/2011) How many tropical plant species are threatened by climate change? Which plants have big enough ranges to survive a warming world, not to mention deforestation? How likely is it that the tropics are undergoing a current mass extinction? These questions may appear straight forward, but a new study in Global Change Biology finds that researchers lack the hard data necessary to come to any confident conclusions. According to the study, nine out of ten tropical plants from Africa, Asia, and South America lack the minimum number of collections needed (at least 20) to determine the species' range, and therefore predict the impact of climate change.
Vines rising in the Amazon and other American rainforests
(02/14/2011) For years tropical scientists have anecdotally reported an increase in vines in the Amazon and other American tropical forests, but now a number of studies have confirmed such reports: vines are on the rise in Neotropical rainforests.
A lion's story, an interview with the filmmakers of The Last Lions
(02/14/2011) The new theatrical film, The Last Lions does not open, as one would expect, with a shot of lions or even an African panorama. Instead the first shot is a view of our planet from space at night. Billions of artificial lights illuminate continent showing just how much humans over the past few thousand years have come to dominate our world. Then comes the lions, but not in person, just in this staggering, and little known, statistic: in the last 50 years we have gone from a population of 450,000 lions to 20,000 today, a 95% decline. While the dramatic story of the The Last Lions follows the perils and tragedies of lion motherhood in one of the world's last untouched places—the Okavango Delta—this statistic hangs over the film, reminding us that the story we are witnessing is on the verge of extinction.
Rhino horn price matches cocaine
(02/13/2011) As a rhino poaching epidemic continues throughout Africa and Asia, the price of rhino horn has matched cocaine, according to the UK's Daily Mirror. The price of illegal powdered rhino horn—obtained by killing wild rhinos and sawing off their horns—has hit £31,000 per kilo or nearly $50,000 per kilo. The price has already topped that of gold.
As South Sudan eyes independence, will it choose choose to protect its wildlife?
(02/11/2011) After the people of South Sudan have voted overwhelmingly for independence, the work of building a nation begins. Set to become the world's newest country on July 9th of this year, one of many tasks facing the nation's nascent leaders is the conservation of its stunning wildlife. In 2007, following two decades of brutal civil war, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) surveyed South Sudan. What they found surprised everyone: 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang (or topi) antelope and Mongalla gazelle still roamed the plains, making up the world's second largest migration after the Serengeti. The civil war had not, as expected, largely diminished the Sudan's great wildernesses, which are also inhabited by buffalo, giraffe, lion, bongo, chimpanzee, and some 8,000 elephants. However, with new nationhood comes tough decisions and new pressures. Multi-national companies seeking to exploit the nation's vast natural resources are expected to arrive in South Sudan, tempting them with promises of development and economic growth, promises that have proven uneven at best across Africa.
Can 'water footprinting' help cut the 500 liters of H2O needed to produce a carton of OJ?
(02/11/2011) Carbon trading promotes good behavior by creating a standardized currency representing a verifiable environmental benefit. Payments for watershed services do the same for cutbacks in water pollution, albeit on a smaller scale. Now, the Nature Conservancy and the Coca-Cola Company are experimenting with a new method of “water footprinting” that could do the same for total water use – a key component in the development of a market-based scheme that would promote responsible water usage.
Zambia building a carbon exchange
(02/11/2011) Carbon finance can help rural Africans establish more sustainable ways of doing business, and several efforts are underway to build carbon exchanges that can help project developers identify prices and manage risk. These efforts will only generate meaningful change, however, if the rural poor understand carbon markets and how to access them. The African Carbon Credit Exchange aims to build that understanding.
Leaked government study: road will damage Serengeti wildlife, despite president's assurances
(02/10/2011) Tanzania's President, Jakaya Kikwete, today gave promises that his proposed road project, which will bisect the Serengeti plains, would not hurt one of the world's most famed parks and one of its last great land migrations. "The Serengeti is a jewel of our nation as well as for the international community. […] We will do nothing to hurt the Serengeti and we would like the international community to know this," Kikwete said in a statement reported by the AFP. However, a government environment impact study, leaked to the conservation organization Serengeti Watch, paints a very different picture of how the road will damage the Serengeti. The report includes warnings that the road will 'limit' the migration of the plains' 1.5 million wildebeest and 500,000 other herbivores including zebra.
Prince Charles: 'direct relationship' between ecosystems and the economy
(02/09/2011) At an EU meeting in Brussels, dubbed the Low Carbon Prosperity Summit, the UK's Prince Charles made the case that without healthy ecosystems, the global economy will suffer.
Food crisis 2011?: drought in China could push food prices even higher
(02/09/2011) The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a drought in China could devastate the nation's winter wheat crop and further inflate food prices worldwide. Already, food prices hit a record high in January according to the FAO. Rising 3.4 percent since December, prices reached the highest point since tracking began in 1990. While many fear a food crisis similar to the one in 2008-2007, experts say the world has more food in reserve this time around and gasoline, at least for now, remains cheaper. However, if China loses its winter wheat that could scuttle any hopes of avoiding another price rise in crop staples.
Best Valentine's Day gift: name a hissing cockroach after your sweetheart
(02/09/2011) Chocolate, roses, and jewelry are out this year. Instead the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo is offering a unique gift this Valentine's Day: the right to name one of the zoo's giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches after a loved one—or perhaps an 'ex'.
Slow but steady progress on recognizing indigenous land rights is interrupted by commodity boom
(02/09/2011) Progress over the past 25 years in recognizing indigenous peoples' rights to land and resources has been interrupted by a worldwide commodity boom, argues a new report published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The report says that surging food and energy prices—and associated appreciation of land values—have led some governments to pause on land tenure reform, and in some cases, rollback hard-won rights. The report cites instances in Asia, Africa, and South America where large blocks of land traditionally used by local people have been sold or leased to industrial interests. In a conversation with mongabay.com, Andy White, coordinator of RRI, discussed the new report and broader rights issues.
Haiti's deforestation has dire economic impacts
(02/09/2011) December Climate talks in Cancun highlighted the importance of maintaining healthy forests to protect the planet’s most vulnerable people from the consequences of future climate change. Haitians have been glimpsing that future for more than a year after a lack of healthy forests left them vulnerable to other disasters. Here’s a look at the take-home lessons from Haiti’s year of environmental ruin.
Photos: new super tiny frogs discovered in Sri Lanka, one critically endangered
(02/09/2011) Two new incredibly small frogs have been discovered in Sri Lanka, an island nation off India with at least 100 species of frogs. The new frogs are in the genus Pseudophilautus, which are shrub frogs native either to Sri Lanka or India. One of the new species, dubbed Pseudophilautus hankeni, survives only in high mountain forests, and will likely be classified as Critically Endangered. "These species were discovered as a part of a broad amphibian survey that we carried out about 10 years ago in Sri Lanka. In that survey we discovered nearly 100 new species new to science. We are in the process of describing them now," explained Dr. Madhava Meegaskumbura, who participated in the frogs' discovery and formal description, to mongabay.com.
Breakthrough? Controversial palm oil company signs rainforest pact
(02/09/2011) One of the world's highest profile and most controversial palm oil companies, Golden Agri-Resources Limited (GAR), has signed an agreement committing it to protect tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia. The deal—signed with The Forest Trust, an environmental group that works with companies to improve their supply chains—could have significant ramifications for how palm oil is produced in the country, which is the world's largest producer of palm oil.
7.5 million ha of Indonesian forest slated for clearing
(02/09/2011) 7.5 million hectares of natural forest will escape Indonesia's planned moratorium on new forestry concessions, according to a new report from Greenomics Indonesia, an activist group.
Rising land, food prices cause recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to stagnate
(02/09/2011) Rising food, energy, and mineral prices, coupled with new interest in forests for their carbon-storing capacity, are driving a global land grab that threatens the rights of hundreds of millions of people living in and around tropical forests, argues a new report published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
First validated REDD forest carbon credits issued
(02/09/2011) A conservation project in Kenya has become the first to win validation for REDD credits under the Voluntary Carbon Standard.
Half a million people sign petition against Belo Monte, Brazilian mega-dam
(02/08/2011) In a protest today in Brasilia, Brazil, indigenous people delivered a petition to authorities signed by 500,000 people calling on them to cancel the controversial Belo Monte dam. They hope the petition, organized by online activist group Avaaz, will help convince Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the project. However, actions by Brazil's first female president have pushed the dam forward.
Another low record for Arctic ice in January
(02/08/2011) The extent of ice cover in the Arctic for January was the lowest on record, following another record-low in December for that month, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
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