conservation news and environmental science news.
Scientists: 60 million USD needed to gauge the global threat to biodiversity
(04/08/2010) One of the greatest barriers to saving the world's biodiversity is simply a lack of knowledge: to date less than 50,000 species have been surveyed by the IUCN Red List regarding their threat level, while the vast majority of the world's species are left unanalyzed especially fungi, plants, fish, reptiles, and insects and other invertebrates. To address this problem, some of the world's top biologists have proposed a 60-million US dollar program they dub the 'barometer of biodiversity' to gather a representative sample of all taxons.
Forgotten species: the subterranean Gekko gigante
(04/08/2010) Travelers to tropical destinations are likely familiar with the gecko. Clinging to walls and ceilings of buildings—sometimes staring down at you from the bedroom ceiling or glancing at you quizzically from the bathroom door—the small adhesive-footed lizard could be aptly described in some tropical areas as ubiquitous. Despite the apparent commonness of some species, geckos are delightful lizards with round wide eyes, a thick gripping tongue, and of course that amazing knack of seemingly defying gravity with specialized toe pads. But not all geckos are as easily found—or as common—as those hanging out, literally, in a jungle lodge. The Gekko gigante, also known as the Gigante narrow-disked gecko, has been little- noticed by the public. Even scientists know little about the lovely gray-and-blue gecko beyond the fact that it lays its eggs on cool moist cave walls in two Philippine Islands.
Unilever backtracks: may purchase palm oil from Sinar Mas
(04/07/2010) The world's biggest buyer of palm oil, Unilever, says it will again purchase palm oil from PT SMART, a subsidiary of Indonesian company Sinar Mas, if allegations about deforestation and peatland destruction prove untrue, or if Sinar Mas shows it is addressing the issue. Last December, the food and cosmetic giant, Unilever, suspended its $32.6 million contract with Sinar Mas after an independent audit—spurred by a 2008 Greenpeace report—showed that the Indonesian company was involved in the illegal destruction of rainforests and peatlands. Yet the company now seems to be signaling that the contract is back on the table even as it touts its sustainability efforts to the public.
US Eastern forests suffer "substantial" decline: 3.7 million hectares gone
(04/07/2010) The United States' Eastern forests have suffered a "substantial and sustained net loss" over the past few decades, according to a detailed study appearing in BioScience. From 1973 to 2000, Eastern have declined by 4.1 percent or 3.7 million hectares. Deforestation occurred in all Eastern regions, but the loss was most concentrated in the southeastern plains.
Brazilian cattle giants move toward zero deforestation in the Amazon
(04/07/2010) Brazilian cattle companies are making progress in their effort to map their supply-chains in the Amazon but are still falling short of their commitment to zero deforestation in the region, reports Greenpeace after a meeting at the Brazilian Association of Meat Exporters (ABIEC) in Sao Paulo.
Photo: Fruit-eating dragon discovered in the Philippines
(04/07/2010) Scientists have discovered a new species of giant lizard in the unlikeliest of places: a highly populated, deforested landscape in the Philippines.
Chaos and the Accord: Climate Change, Tropical Forests and REDD+ after Copenhagen
(04/06/2010) The Copenhagen Accord, forged at COP15 upended international efforts to confront climate change. Never before have 115 Heads of State gathered together at one time, let alone for the singular purpose of crafting a new climate change agreement. Even though the new Accord is still in intensive care, two things are already clear. First, we have entered an entirely new world. And second, tropical forests have the greatest potential to breathe life into the new agreement.
New blind snake discovery
(04/06/2010) Call them survivors: blindsnakes have been identified as one of the few groups of organisms that inhabited Madagascar when it broke from the Indian subcontinent around 100 million years ago. According to a new study in Biology Letters, blindsnakes not only survived the split of Madagascar and India, but likely traveled from Asia to Australia and Africa to South America on floating vegetation, the latter a journey that may have taken six months of drifting on ocean currents. "Blindsnakes are not very pretty, are rarely noticed, and are often mistaken for earthworms," says Blair Hedges of her subjects. "Nonetheless, they tell a very interesting evolutionary story."
New report finds millions of marine turtles killed by fisheries, not thousands
(04/06/2010) Humankind's appetite for seafood has had a bigger impact on the world's marine turtles than long thought. A new report by Conservation International (CI) in partnership with Duke University’s Project GloBAL (Global By-catch Assessment of Long-lived Species) finds that in the past eighteen years it is likely millions of marine turtles have been killed as bycatch by the world's fisheries.
Once common tortoise from Madagascar will be 'extinct in 20 years'
(04/05/2010) The radiated tortoise, once common throughout Madagascar, faces extinction within the next 20 years due to poaching for its meat and the illegal pet trade, according to biologists with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Returning from field surveys in southern Madagascar's spiny forest, they found regions without a single turtle. Locals said that armed bands of poachers were taking truckloads of tortoises to be sold in meat markets. The tortoise is also popular in the underground pet trade, although it is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
History repeats itself: the path to extinction is still paved with greed and waste
(04/05/2010) As a child I read about the near-extinction of the American bison. Once the dominant species on America's Great Plains, I remember books illustrating how train-travelers would set their guns on open windows and shoot down bison by the hundreds as the locomotive sped through what was left of the wild west. The American bison plunged from an estimated 30 million to a few hundred at the opening of the 20th century. When I read about the bison's demise I remember thinking, with the characteristic superiority of a child, how such a thing could never happen today, that society has, in a word, 'progressed'. Grown-up now, the world has made me wiser: last month the international organization CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) struck down a ban on the Critically Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna. The story of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is a long and mostly irrational one—that is if one looks at the Atlantic bluefin from a scientific, ecologic, moral, or common-sense perspective.
Seed dispersal in the face of climate change, an interview with Arndt Hampe
(04/05/2010) Without seed dispersal plants could not survive. Seed dispersal, i.e. birds spreading seeds or wind carrying seeds, means the mechanism by which a seed is moved from its parent tree to a new area; if fortunate the seed will sprout in its new resting place, produce a plant which will eventually seed, and the process will begin anew. But in the face of vast human changes—including deforestation, urbanization, agriculture, and pasture lands, as well as the rising specter of climate change, researchers wonder how plants will survive, let alone thrive, in the future?
Photo: baby lemur at the Bronx Zoo
(04/05/2010) The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo today announced the birth of an endangered Coquerel’s sifaka, a type of lemur native to the island of Madagascar. The baby boy lemur is named Ares and becomes one of 51 sifaka kept in captivity worldwide.
Film Director James Cameron's Next Film on the Amazon
(04/05/2010) Fresh off his huge blockbuster success with Avatar, James Cameron is taking a commendable stand on indigenous issues in the rainforest. Flying down to Brazil’s Amazonian city of Manaus recently, the film director criticized the Belo Monte hydro electric dam project. "For people living along the river, as they have for millennia," he said, "the dam will end their way of life. I implore the Brazilian government, and President Lula, to reconsider this project."
New timber ban failing to stop illegal logging in Madagascar
(04/04/2010) Rainforest timber continues to be cut illegally from Madagascar's national parks despite a recently announced moratorium on precious wood exports and logging, reports a source from the Indian Ocean island nation.
Cyber attacks against mine opponents in Vietnam, says Google
(04/02/2010) Malicious software is being used to spy on critics of a controversial bauxite mine in Vietnam, reports Google.
What happened to China?: the nation's environmental woes and its future
(04/01/2010) China has long been an example of what not to do to achieve environmentally sustainability. Ranking 133rd out of 146 countries in 2005 for environmental performance, China faces major environmental problems including severe air and water pollution, deforestation, water-issues, desertification, extinction, and overpopulation. A new article in Science discusses the complex issues that have led to China's environmental woes, and where the nation can go to from here.
James Cameron, in real life, fights to save indigenous groups from massive dam construction in Brazil
(04/01/2010) After creating a hugely successful science-fiction film about a mega-corporation destroying the indigenous culture of another planet, James Cameron has become a surprisingly noteworthy voice on environmental issues, especially those dealing with the very non-fantastical situation of indigenous cultures fighting exploitation. This week Cameron traveled to Brazil for a three-day visit to the Big Bend (Volta Grande) region of the Xingu River to see the people and rainforests that would be affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Long-condemned by environmentalists and indigenous-rights groups, the dam would destroy 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest and force the relocation of some 12,000 people.
Mars to use only sustainably-sourced fish in pet food by 2020
(04/01/2010) Mars, Inc. announced Thursday it will use only sustainably-sourced fish in its pet products, including PEDIGREE®, SHEBA® and WHISKAS® branded products, by 2020.
Malaysian palm oil grower loses case over damages to rainforest community
(04/01/2010) IOI group suffered a legal setback this week when the Miri High Court — a court for Miri District in Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo — ruled that the palm oil grower is liable for damages caused by the destruction of land belonging to Long Teran Kanan, a Kayan native community. The legal battle has dragged on for 12-years but now represents an important precedent for forest-dependent communities in Malaysia, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak's forest people.
Depopulation may be harming the Amazon rainforest
(03/31/2010) Urbanization may be having unexpected impacts in the Amazon rainforest by leaving forest areas vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders, report researchers writing in Conservation Letters. Conducting field surveys during the course of 10,000-kilometers of travel along remote Amazon rivers, Luke Parry of Lancaster University found that a sharp decrease in rural habitation has not been accompanied by a decline in harvesting of wildlife and forest resources, indicating that urban populations exact a heavy toll on distant forests through hunting, fishing, logging, and harvesting of non-timber forest products.
Sumatran rhino loses pregnancy: conservationists saddened but remain resolute
(03/31/2010) Rhino conservationists' hopes were dampened today by news that Ratu, a female Sumatran rhino, had lost her pregnancy. Just months after the announcement of the pregnancy—the first at Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park—Ratu lost the embryo. Still, say conservationists, the very fact that Ratu became pregnant at all should keep hope alive for the beleaguered species.
US gun, guitar, and furniture-manufactures must declare basic information about wood sources
(03/31/2010) In May of last year federal agents raided Gibson Guitar headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee after they received information that the guitar-giant was using illegally logged rosewood from Madagascar in the construction of their musical instruments. The scandal forced Gibson's CEO to take a leave of absence as a member of Rainforest Alliance.
First-ever photo of rare and spectacular hummingbird from Colombia
(03/31/2010) A conservationist has taken the first-ever photos of a living Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) in the El Dorado Nature Reserve in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, reports ProAves, a bird conservation group.
Rockhopper penguins benefit from new park in Argentina
(03/31/2010) Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) are easily distinguished by the spiked plumes on their head, their neon-yellow eyebrows, and red eyes. But these wild-looking penguins are also endangered: the IUCN Red List classifies them as Vulnerable to extinction due to pollution and drowning by fishing nets.
Indonesia to establish rainforest trust fund
(03/30/2010) Indonesia is preparing to establish a trust fund to reduce deforestation, reports the Jakarta Globe.
When it comes to Yellow Fever, conserving howler monkeys saves lives
(03/29/2010) Abundant and diverse wildlife help people in many ways: for example bees pollinate plants, birds and mammals disperse seeds, bats control pest populations, and both plants and animals have produced life-saving medicines and technological advances. But how could howler monkeys save people from a Yellow Fever outbreak? A new study in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science explores the link between howler monkeys, mosquitoes, and humans during a recent yellow fever outbreak in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Yellowstone Country As Seen from the Heart Mountain Trail
(03/29/2010) Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming has the distinction of being the first of its kind—a federally set-aside space meant for preservation and enjoyment by American and international visitors alike. Its geologic wonders and abundant wildlife attract millions of visitors each year. Some of the best kept secrets of the region, however, lay just outside Yellowstone’s borders. About sixty miles to the east of the national park, jutting out from the floor of an otherwise dry and desolate stretch of plain, is Heart Mountain. An extensive ring of mountain ranges encircle the Big Horn Basin, home to towns of Cody, Powell, and Clark, WY. A Japanese internment camp, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, once housed over 11,000 detainees during World War II. Its remnants rest at the foot of the towering rocky surface that shares its name.
Diverse habitats needed for survival of small mammals in Mexico
(03/29/2010) A new study in Tropical Conservation Science shows that small tropical mammals in Mexico—bats and rodents—require a variety of habitats to thrive. Surveying mammal populations in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, researchers found that sites comprising the greatest habitat diversity carried also the greatest diversity of rodents. In turn bats lived in all variety of habitats and moved easily from one to another.
Population density corresponds with forest loss in the Congo Basin
(03/29/2010) Africa's greatest rainforest ecosystem, the Congo Basin, has undergone significant deforestation and degradation during the past century. A new study in the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science examined whether or not there was a connection between population density and forest loss.
More research and conservation efforts needed to save Colombia's monkeys
(03/29/2010) Approximately thirty monkey species inhabit the tropical forests of Colombia with at least five found no-where else in the world. A new review appearing the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science of Colombia's primates finds that a number of these species, including some greatly endangered species, have been neglected by scientists. The researchers looked at over 3,500 studies covering over a century of research by primatologists.
Finding forest for the endangered golden-headed lion tamarin
(03/29/2010) Brazil's golden-headed lion tamarin is a small primate with a black body and a bright mane of gold and orange. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) survives in only a single protected reserve in the largely degraded Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Otherwise its habitat lies in unprotected patches and fragments threatened by urbanization and agricultural expansion. Currently, a natural gas pipeline is being built through prime tamarin habitat.
Mapping the landscape of NGOs working to protect forests
(03/29/2010) A new report published by the UK Environmental Funders Network maps out the civil society organizations working to address deforestation.
Women in Bangladesh help biodiversity with homegardens
(03/29/2010) Overpopulated, largely poor, and environmentally degraded, the nation of Bangladesh has known its share of woes. Yet even in face of struggles, including a forest loss of over 90 percent, the women of Bangladesh are aiding the country's struggling people and biodiversity through the establishment of some 20 million homegardens. Long-neglected by the government and NGOs, these homegardens provide food, firewood, and medicine.
Last chance to save Bangladeshi forest: 90 percent of the Sal ecosystem is gone
(03/29/2010) Considered the most threatened ecosystem in Bangladesh, the moist deciduous Sal forest (Shorea robusta) is on the verge of vanishing. In 1990 only 10 percent of the forest cover remained, down from 36 percent in 1985 according to statistics from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). A new study in the online open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science looks at the threats posed to the Shal forest and ways in which it may still be saved.
Wildlife Management Areas in Africa require changes to become sustainable
(03/29/2010) Wildlife Management Areas in Africa were created to serve a dual purpose. By granting local communities usage rights over wildlife in designated areas, African countries hoped both to allow communities to benefit from their wildlife while taking an active part in conservation. A new paper in published in the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science outlines the current problems facing WMAs, using Tanzania as an example, and recommends possible solutions.
BPA not just in food and water, but contaminating the ocean
(03/28/2010) Increasingly consumers are concerned about the chemical bisphenol A or more-widely known as BPA, which is present in certain plastics. The chemical is capable of leaching from plastic containers and liners into our food and drink. But now there's a new place BPA has shown up in surprisingly high concentrations: the world's oceans. Scientists have discovered that despite being known for their hardness, polycarbonate plastics actually decompose in oceans, leaching chemicals, including BPA, throughout the marine ecosystem.
'Very dramatic' changes in Greenland: ice loss spreads north
(03/28/2010) Over the past ten years scientists have measured increasing ice loss along southern Greenland. Now a new study in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the ice loss has spread north with likely consequences for global sea level rise.
Just how bad is meat-eating for the environment?
(03/28/2010) Meat is booming. In the past thirty years, livestock production has increased threefold. In many parts of the world where incomes are expanding, meat, once a delicacy, is now eaten regularly and voraciously. But what are the environmental impacts of this 'livestock revolution'? Two recent studies look at the global impact of the livestock industry, one alleges that its environmental impacts in relation to greenhouse gas emissions has been overestimated, while the other takes a holistic view of the industry's environmental impact.
Spanish oil company develops own rules for contacting uncontacted Amazon tribes
(03/26/2010) Imagine you're in one of the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest and suddenly you come across members of an uncontacted tribe. What should you do? The experts say, "Turn around. At all costs, make no attempt at contact." Repsol YPF, exploring for oil in northern Peru, has taken a different approach. Despite the extreme vulnerability of the tribes to any form of contact, the company suggests that its workers talk to them in certain instances, and even provides specific phrases to use and conversation topics to address.
Nestle's palm oil debacle highlights current limitations of certification scheme
(03/26/2010) Last week Nestle, the world's largest food processor, was caught in a firestorm when it attempted to censor a Greenpeace campaign that targeted its use of palm oil sourced from a supplier accused of environmentally-damaging practices. The incident brought the increasingly raucous debate over palm oil into the spotlight and renewed questions over an industry-backed certification scheme that aims to improve the crop's environmental performance.
Guerrillas could drive gorillas toward extinction in Congo, warns UN
(03/25/2010) Gorillas may disappear across much of the Congo Basin by the mid 2020s unless action is taken to protect against poaching and habitat destruction, warns a new report issued by United Nations and INTERPOL.
Global deforestation slows
(03/25/2010) Global forest loss has diminished since the 1990s but still remains "alarmingly high", according to a preliminary version of a new assessment from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The report, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 (FRA 2010), shows that global forest loss slowed to around 13 million hectares per year during the 2000s, down from about 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s. It finds that net deforestation declined from about 8.3 million hectares per year in the 1990s to about 5.2 million hectares per year in the 2000s, a result of large-scale reforestation and afforestation projects, as well as natural forest recovery in some countries and slowing deforestation in the Amazon.
Madagascar bans rainforest timber exports following global outcry
(03/25/2010) Under mounting pressure over illegal logging of its national parks, Madagascar's transitional government on Wednesday reinstated a ban on rosewood logging and exports. The decree (no. 2010-141), which prohibits all exports of rosewood and precious timber for two to five years, was announced during a council meeting held yesterday at Ambohitsorohitra Palace in Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital city.
Photo: Camouflage expert discovered in Cambodia
(03/25/2010) Researchers have discovered a cryptic species of gecko in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a conservation group that operates in the region.
Half of Indonesia's mangroves gone in less than thirty years
(03/23/2010) The Jakarta Post reports that, according to the local NGO People’s Coalition for Justice in Fisheries (Kiara), Indonesia's has lost 2.2 million hectares of mangroves in less than thirty years, going from covering 4.2 million hectares in 1982 to just 2 million hectares today.
CITES chooses 'commerce' over sharks, leaving endangered species vulnerable
(03/23/2010) Only the porbeagle shark received protection today from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Seven other shark species failed to win international protection despite plummeting populations due to overfishing. Once again, Japan led the opposition to regulating the trade in white-tipped sharks and scalloped hammerheads, including two look-alike species: the great hammerhead and the smooth hammerhead. Japan has dominated the CITES meeting, successfully leading resistance to banning the trade in the Critically Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna and against monitoring the coral trade.
Nestle fiasco continues: Indonesian oil palm planters threaten boycott too
(03/23/2010) Candy and food giant Nestle is finding itself between a rock and a hard place. The online campaign against Nestle continues: today protesters once again posted thousands of negative messages on the company's Facebook page, most demanding that Nestle cut out palm oil linked to deforestation from its products. At the same time, a new problem has cropped up for Nestle: Indonesian oil palm planters are threatening to boycott Nestle products. Proving that the issues surrounding oil palm and deforestation are nothing if not complex: Facebook protestors say they will boycott Nestle if it doesn't cut out all links to Sinar Mas, a company that Greenpeace has linked to deforestation, whereas the Indonesia Palm Oil Growers Association are preparing a boycott if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas, according to the Jakarta Post.
Rise in poaching pushes CITES to vote 'no' to ivory sales
(03/22/2010) The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has pleased conservationists with its decision to not allow the one-off sales of ivory from government stockpiles in Tanzania and Zambia given the recent rise in elephants poaching in Africa.
El Niño in Venezuela: Hugo Chávez’s "Katrina" Moment?
(03/22/2010) Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been in power for more than ten years, during which time he has deflected numerous electoral challenges, a recall effort, a coup d’etat and even an oil lock out. A politically adroit statesman, he has demonstrated enormous staying power throughout all these political crises. Yet, Chávez’s luck may have finally run out: a devastating El Niño-linked drought has recently ravaged Venezuela and the government has been forced to undertake conservation measures for water and electricity. Hardly amused, some are holding Chávez responsible for the energy crunch and the drought could exact a heavy toll on the Venezuelan president in September’s legislative elections.
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