conservation news and environmental science news.
Authorities confiscated over 1000 tigers in past decade
(11/09/2010) Highlighting the poaching crisis facing tigers, a new report by the wildlife trade organization, TRAFFIC, found that from 2000-2010 authorities have confiscated the parts of 1,069 tiger individuals, many of them dead. The tigers, or their body parts, were confiscated from 11 of the species' 13 range countries, according to the report entitled Reduced to Skin and Bones. Yet the number only hints at the total number of tigers (Panthera tigris) vanishing in the wild due to the illegal trade in tiger parts for traditional Asian medicine and decorative items, such as skins.
U.S. companies should help drive push toward sustainable palm oil
(11/09/2010) U.S. companies should take a leadership role in helping ensure that palm oil production is sustainable and does not come at the cost of forests, climate, and communities, argues a new report published ahead of the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The report, published by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), says that while the U.S. is only a minor consumer of palm oil, its demand for the vegetable oil is fast rising, increasing four-fold since 2006. Palm oil, which is among the cheapest of vegetables owing to its high yield, is now found in up to 50 percent of packaged retail food products.
The unruly evolution of island life
(11/09/2010) From the terrifying Komodo dragon to the diminutive hobbit Homo floresiensis, islands are home to some remarkable curiosities of size. Despite the fame of giant lizards and pygmy humans, a longstanding tenet of evolutionary biology suggests that the size of island animals moves towards the middle of the pack. A study published on 1 September in the Journal of Biogeography explores these two seemingly contradictory notions and finds that neither is a perfect explanation.
Carbon emissions hurting coral recruitment
(11/08/2010) While research has shown that ocean acidification from rising CO2 levels in the ocean imperils the growth and survival mature coral reefs, a new study has found that it may also negatively impact burgeoning corals, by significantly lowering the success of coral recruitment. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that coral recruitment could fall by 73% over the next century due to increasing acidification.
Eco-friendly palm oil conference opens
(11/08/2010) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that has devised certification criteria to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil, opens its annual meeting tomorrow in Jakarta.
Saving the best for last: a journey into the final phases of orangutan rehabilitation
(11/08/2010) Rehabilitation is a powerful word these days. Fashionable, too. In wildlife conservation, rehabilitation can serve functions ranging from augmenting threatened animal populations to desperate attempts to save species from permanent extinction. At its base, rehabilitation consists of handling, preparing and releasing wild animals that have been in some way negatively affected by humans. Rehabilitation programs cover the globe (from cottage-scale sparrow and raccoon rescues in suburban parks to well-established raptor protection programs, wolf rehabilitation and public education about these wild predators in Colorado, semi-touristy rehabilitation centers in Thailand housing everything from gibbons to elephants, vet hospitals dedicated to flu-ridden bobtail lizards in Australia, and sexy lion and cheetah hubs in southern Africa which breed endangered serval cats). The motivations behind these programs are also diverse, but the umbrella goal is unified: to aid the continued survival, so often precarious, of animals valued by people.
Open landfills feed population growth of predatory Alaskan gulls
(11/08/2010) Gulls in northern Alaska are making a killing on the garbage they scavenge from landfills, new research shows. Glaucous gulls that consume a lot of trash raise more chicks than gulls that eat only natural food, according to a study in the August 2010 issue of The Condor. The garbage is a boon for the gulls, but it’s a bust for other birds nesting on Alaska's coastal plain. These gulls are predators, and their burgeoning numbers threaten waterbird populations already in decline.
Flight of the Monarchs Reveals Environmental Connections across a Continent
(11/08/2010) As autumn settles across North America, one hallmark of the season is the gentle southward flight of the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate towards the forests that shelter their species during the winter months. Unfortunately, as with other forests across the planet, the Monarch's "over- wintering grounds" in Mexico are suffering from increased human pressures. An innovative conservation group called the ECOLIFE Foundation has stepped up to help safeguard the Monarch's winter forests, and in the process discovered that addressing the Monarch's plight came only after uncovering connections that bind us all. The following article is an interview with Bill Toone, the Executive Director of ECOLIFE.
Growing strawberries organically yields more nutritious fruit and healthier soil
(11/08/2010) Strawberry plants grown on commercial organic farms yield higher-quality fruit and have healthier soil than those grown conventionally, according to a study published on 1 September in the journal PLoS One. The research suggests that sustainable farming practices can produce nutritious fruit, if farmers manage soil and its beneficial microbes properly. This is among the most comprehensive studies to investigate how conventional and organic farming methods affect both fruit and soil quality.
Belize lost 10,000 ha of forest per year since 1980
(11/07/2010) Forests in Belize have been cleared at a rate of nearly 10,000 hectares per year for the past 30 years, a recent study shows. In 1980, forests covered 79.5% of the land surface of Belize but as of February 2010 it had decreased to 62.7%. The area covered by forests in the country thus went from about 6500 square miles 30 years ago to around 5300 square miles today, losing an area the size of Rhode Island.
Eight new plants discovered in Bolivia
(11/07/2010) Researchers have described eight new species of plant from in and near Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Andes. Described in the journal Novon by botanists with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the National Herbaium in Laz Paz, Bolivia, seven of the eight plants were found as apart of the Proyecto Madidi (Project Madidi), a ten year effort to describe the plant species of three inter-connecting protected areas in Bolivia—Madidi National Park, Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Communal Lands, and Apolobamba Integrated Management Natural Area.
Will biodiversity agreement save life on Earth?
(11/07/2010) On Friday, October 29th, 193 member nations of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reached a possibly landmark agreement on saving the world's suffering biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan. The agreement was especially notable after nations failed—by all accounts—to live up to the goals from the previous CBD agreement, including stemming the global loss of biodiversity by 2010. According to scientists, the world's species continue to vanish at mass-extinction rates due to habitat loss, deforestation, overconsumption, pollution, climate change, and invasive species. To addresses this crisis the new CBD agreement sets out 20 goals for 2020. But given the global challenges in saving the world's species and the lack-of-teeth in agreement (it is strictly voluntary), will the CBD make a difference or in ten years time will goals be again unmet and life on planet Earth worse off than ever? To answer this mongabay.com turned to a number of experts in the conservation world.
Deforestation jumps, but Guyana nonetheless qualifies for REDD payment
(11/07/2010) Guyana's deforestation rate over the past 12 months was roughly three times the average annual rate over the prior 20 year period, but was still well below the baseline under the recent $250 million forest conservation partnership with Norway, according to a new report released by Guyana Forestry Commission's REDD+ Monitoring Reporting and Verification System (MRVS).
Mato Grosso moves to strip protection of the Amazon rainforest
(11/07/2010) The Mato Grosso state assembly passed a bill that would substantially reduce protections for the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, a biologically-rich wetland, according to a statement signed by 27 organizations. The bill, which was approved 19 votes to one, would replace the ecological zoning system proposed by the state's former governor, Blairo Maggi, after three years of consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The bill reduces areas set aside for conservation by 73 percent and calls for a 67 percent increase in the area zoned for agriculture intensification.
Deforestation falls, but rainforest damage surges in Brazil in Sept
(11/06/2010) Despite the worst drought on record in the region, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon during September fell by 20 percent relative to September 2009, reports Imazon, a research institute that provides monthly updates on forest clearing.
Madagascar's president linked to illegal logging (video)
(11/05/2010) Video released by the Environmental Investigation Agency reveals Chinese rosewood traders have direct links to Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina, who seized power during a March 2009 military coup.
Video: Dutch to ban unsustainable palm oil by 2015
(11/05/2010) Mongabay.com's Rhett Butler reviews what happened this week in forest news, including the decision by The Netherlands to ban non-certified palm oil from its markets in 2015.
Dutch to use only certified palm oil by 2015
(11/04/2010) The Netherlands has committed to only using palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by 2015, providing a huge boost for the certification standard which aims to improve the social and environmental performance of the world's most productive oil crop. The pledge makes the Netherlands the first country to commit itself to using only sustainable palm oil.
Asia Pulp & Paper's emissions from paper production 500 times higher than claimed
(11/04/2010) Asia Pulp & Paper is misrepresenting the greenhouse gas emissions generated through its paper production by several orders of magnitude claims a new analysis of its carbon footprint by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN).
Wildlife trafficker gets 5 years in Malaysian prison
(11/04/2010) A Malaysian court sentenced notorious wildlife trafficker Anson Wong to five years in jail, reports The Star.
Better protection of cultural heritage sites could generate $100B in poor countries
(11/04/2010) Cultural heritage sites could play a key role in efforts to alleviate poverty provided they are protected from a growing range of threats, says a new report published by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF).
Bushmeat hunting alters forest structure in Africa
(11/04/2010) According to the first study of its kind in Africa, bushmeat hunting impacts African rainforests by wiping-out large mammals and birds—such as forest elephants, primates, and hornbills—that are critical for dispersing certain tree species. The study, published in Biotropica, found that heavy bushmeat hunting in the Central African Republic changes the structure of forest species by favoring small-seeded trees over large-seeded, leading to lower tree diversity of trees that have big seeds.
Biological shocker: snake reproduces asexually
(11/03/2010) Researchers have discovered a biological shocker: female boa constrictors are capable of giving birth asexually. But the surprise doesn't end there. The study in Biology Letters found that boa babies produced through this asexual reproduction—also known as parthenogenesis—sport a chromosomal oddity that researchers thought was impossible in reptiles.
US elects barrage of climate change deniers, threatening support for green energy
(11/03/2010) The US midterm election, which won Republicans the House but safeguarded the Senate for Democrats, has brought in a number of self-proclaimed climate change deniers, ending any likelihood that an energy bill will be passed over the next two years and essentially stumbling the White House's strategy on climate change. Newly elected Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marc Rubio of Florida, both members of the nascent Tea Party, have stated they do not believe in climate change despite that scientists overwhelming agree the Earth is warming due to human impacts.
Undercover for animals: on the frontline of wildlife crime in the US
(11/03/2010) Special Agent O’Connor is a veteran wildlife law enforcement officer, with over 20 years of service under belt. She began her career in wildlife law enforcement as a Conservation Police Officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, where she served for eight years. She then moved to federal wildlife law enforcement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was first posted to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota. During that time, she investigated several major cases that led to felony convictions for violations of wildlife laws. She now serves as a training officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the interagency law enforcement training organization that serves 88 Federal agencies, in Georgia.
Tropical agriculture "double-whammy": high emissions, low yields
(11/02/2010) Food produced in the tropics comes with high carbon emissions and low crop yields, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In the most comprehensive and detailed study to date looking at carbon emissions versus crop yields, researchers found that food produced in the tropics releases almost double the amount of carbon while producing half the yield as food produced in temperate regions. In other words, temperate food production is three times more efficient in terms of yield and carbon emissions.
World's rarest snake making a comeback
(11/02/2010) The Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae) shares a similar story with many highly endangered island species. Invasive mongoose killed every racer on the Caribbean island of Antigua, leaving only a small population on nearby Great Bird Island. Confined to 8 hectares, this final population was being killed-off by invasive Eurasian black rats. By the time conservationists took action, only 50 Antiguan racers survived in the world. But here's where the story turns out different: 15 years later, a partnership between six conservation groups has succeeded in raising the population tenfold to 500 snakes and expanded its territory to other islands through snake-reintroductions.
Illegal logging rampant in Vietnam
(11/01/2010) Illegal logging is rampant in Vietnam, according to a new report from the the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's General Forestry Department.
Nobel Prize winner, anti-poverty group, scientists fire back at logging lobbyist
(11/01/2010) An industrial lobbyist is facing mounting criticism for his campaign to reduce social and environmental safeguards in Indonesia.
UK government plan to sell off half its forests faces stiff criticism
(11/01/2010) The UK's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced plans to sell up to 150,000 hectares of its forest to the private sector—over half of its forests in England—touching off harsh criticism from environmentalists, including the UK's Green Party.
Japanese making themselves sick with dolphin hunt
(11/01/2010) Japan's dolphin hunt of Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) could be making people sick, according to a new study by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Campaign Whale. The controversial hunt, which kills some 15,000 dolphins annually, produces cheap meat-for-consumption that on average contains over double Japan's limit on mercury contamination. "We are very concerned that people in Japan are threatening their health and possibly that of their children by unwittingly eating Dall’s porpoise meat that is dangerously contaminated with poisons such as mercury and PCBs," Andy Ottaway, Director of Campaign Whale, said in a press release.
Epidemic hits Amazonian indigenous group
(10/31/2010) An epidemic, suspected to be malaria, has struck down dozens of people of the Yanomami tribe in the Venezuelan Amazon, reports the Associated Press. Leaders of the three impacted village told health workers that approximately 50 people have died so far, many of them children.
Mixed messages on geoengineering: international community approves moratorium, US pushes research
(10/31/2010) Efforts to explore geoengineering, whereby governments would employ large-scale projects to alter the world's climate in a bid to combat climate change, received mixed messages this week. In Nagoya, Japan—where all but three of the world's nations (the US, Andorra, and the Holy See) met at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to hammer out an agreement on stemming biodiversity loss—member nations agreed on Friday to a moratorium on geoengineering schemes. On the same day a US congressional report on geoengineering, which it termed climate engineering, recommended "research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate."
Former Indonesian REDD+ negotiator arrested on corruption charge
(10/30/2010) Wandojo Siswanto, one of the lead negotiators for Indonesia's delegation at last year's climate talks in Copenhagen and a key architect of its Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program, has been arrested and charged with receiving bribes.
Embattled palm oil company seeks redemption from certification body
(10/30/2010) Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and its subsidiaries, Indonesia-based PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology (SMART) and PT Ivo Mas Tunggal, had submitted plans for coming into compliance with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a certification body for "greener" palm oil, reports Dow Jones.
Agreement reached at biodiversity summit
(10/29/2010) Delegates meeting in Nagoya, Japan, at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) today agreed to take new steps to halt the global decline of biodiversity.
Video: Biodiversity gets a boost
(10/29/2010) Mongabay.com's Rhett Butler reviews what happened this week in forest news.
Over 20,000 pangolins illegally poached in Borneo
(10/28/2010) Notebooks confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) reveal that 22,000 Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) were illegally poached from May 2007 to January 2009 in the Malaysian state in northern Borneo. The number, in fact, may be significantly higher since the logbooks didn't cover over a third of the time period. The logbooks were analyzed by TRAFFIC, an organization devoted to combating the illegal trade in wildlife.
Villagers beat, ride on, and kill baby elephant
(10/28/2010) A video camera has captured villagers in the Indian state of Assam, beating, riding on, and eventually spearing a three-year-old elephant to death that had been abandoned by its herd after suffering an injury. The footage, available from New Delhi Television (NDTV) [warning: it is graphic], shows policemen standing by as the animal is killed. The incident took place a day after the Asian elephant was declared a National Heritage Animal status by Indian authorities, granting it special cultural status.
After months on the run, man-eating tiger caught
(10/28/2010) A male Bengal tiger that killed eight people was captured after a months-long chase by officials with India's Forest Department and biologists with the local conservation organization, Wildlife Trust of India (WFI), in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. After avoiding laced bait and tranquilizer darts, the tiger was finally trapped by officials earlier this month. Even after being tranquilized three times, the animal still lashed out, injuring several villagers who had begun throwing rocks at it. Eventually, though, the hunt for the cat ended with its capture.
Harrison Ford chides US for spurning international biodiversity treaty
(10/28/2010) In a speech in Nagoya, Japan at the UN's Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) actor and conservationist, Harrison Ford, called on delegates to put aside differences and adopt a strong treaty to protect biodiversity. As a US citizen, he also urged his country to become a full signatory of the CBD. "The time has come for the United States to step up to the plate. The problem is so big and the time is so short, we have no choice. We have to act and we have to act now," said Ford.
Undergrads in the Amazon: American students witness beauty and crisis in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
(10/28/2010) Although most Americans have likely seen photos and videos of the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, they will probably never see it face-to-face. For many, the Amazon seems incredibly remote: it is a dim, mysterious place, a jungle surfeit in adventure and beauty—but not a place to take a family vacation or spend a honeymoon. This means that the destruction of the Amazon, like the rainforest itself, also appears distant when seen from Oregon or North Carolina or Pennsylvania. Oil spills in Ecuador, cattle ranching in Brazil, hydroelectric dams in Peru: these issues are low, if not non-existent, for most Americans. But a visit to the Amazon changes all that. This was recently confirmed to me when I traveled with American college students during a trip to far-flung Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. As a part of a study abroad program with the University of San Francisco in Quito and the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), these students spend a semester studying ecology and environmental issues in Ecuador, including a first-time visit to the Amazon rainforest at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuni—and our trips just happened to overlap.
Scientists blast greenwashing by front groups
(10/27/2010) A group of prominent scientists has published an open letter challenging the objectivity of World Growth International, an NGO that claims to operate on behalf of the world's poor, and its leader Alan Oxley, a former trade diplomat who also chairs ITS Global, a marketing firm. The letter, published online in several forums, slams World Growth and ITS Global as a front groups for forestry companies. The scientists note that while the groups have not disclosed their sources of funding, they assert ITS receives funding from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate that controls Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a forest products brand, and Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology, a palm oil firm, among other companies.
California puts fate of tropical rainforests up for vote
(10/27/2010) When you vote on Nov. 2, remember that Peru is planning to save all of its rain forest. To reach the zero deforestation goal, a new environmental policy put in place last year calls for innovative payments to indigenous people and peasants, who control around a quarter of the forest, and a mosaic of protected areas and sustainable timber production for much of the rest. Environmental costs are being rolled into environmental impact assessments, and the country is formulating new ways to mitigate and compensate for the effects of big development projects, such as roads and dams. Meanwhile, California is poised to make a headlong leap in the other direction. Proposition 23 on the Nov. 2 ballot would kill the state's 2006 climate law by permitting it to kick in only if California becomes a full-employment economic utopia of a sort not yet seen on this continent. While much of the Proposition 23 debate revolves around the important effects here, this policy U-turn could thwart budding environmental efforts around the world, such as those in Peru.
Norway calls for other nations to step up in fight against deforestation in Indonesia
(10/27/2010) On Monday, Norway's Environment Minister called for the US, Japan, and the EU to open their pocket books to support Indonesia's drive to stop deforestation, according to Reuters. Norway has pledged $1 billion to Indonesia in an effort to stop rampant deforestation mostly due to industrial logging and the establishment of commercial plantations for palm oil and paper production.
Picture: new monkey discovered in Myanmar
(10/26/2010) Hunters' reports have led scientists to discover a new species of monkey in the northern forests of Myanmar. Discovered by biologists from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association with support from primatologists with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the People Resources and Biodiversity Foundation, the strange looking primate is a member of the snub-nosed monkey family, adding a fifth member to this unmistakably odd-looking group of Asian primates. However, the species survives in only a small single population, threatened by Chinese logging and hunting.
The march to extinction accelerates
(10/26/2010) A fifth of the world's vertebrate species (i.e. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) are threatened with extinction, according to a massive new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and the situation is worsening for the world's wildlife: on average 52 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians move one category closer to extinction every year (the IUCN Red List categorizes species as Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and then Extinct). However, the news isn't all bad. The study found that conservation action does work: in the first analysis of its kind, researchers found that the global biodiversity decline would have been 18% worse if not for conservation attention, "nonetheless," the authors—174 scientists from 38 countries—write, "current conservation efforts remain insufficient to offset the main drivers of biodiversity loss." According to the study, these drivers include agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation of species, and invasive species.
The $1M bed: why Madagascar's rainforests are being destroyed
(10/26/2010) Consumer demand for rosewood furniture and musical instruments is driving illegal logging in Madagascar's national parks, endangering wildlife and undermining local community livelihoods, according to a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Global Witness. The report, based on more than a year of investigations, shows that Madagascar's valuable hardwoods—including ebony, pallisander, and rosewood—are being illegally harvested from rainforest parks and trafficked to Asia, Europe, and the United States. The vast majority of timber however ends up in China, where it is converted into luxury furniture.
Tsunami strikes Indonesia
(10/26/2010) A tsunami has killed more than 100 people in Indonesia following an earthquake on the same fault line that triggered the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Brazil to impose levy on oil profits to fund climate change adaption, mitigation
(10/26/2010) Brazil will fund climate change mitigation and adaption projects through a levy on domestic oil production, reports Reuters.
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