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From the Serengeti to Lake Natron: is the Tanzanian government aiming to destroy its wildlife and lands?

(04/14/2011) What's happening in Tanzania? This is a question making the rounds in conservation and environmental circles. Why is a nation that has so much invested in its wild lands and wild animals willing to pursue projects that appear destined not only to wreak havoc on the East African nation's world-famous wildlife and ecosystems, but to cripple its economically-important tourism industry? The most well known example is the proposed road bisecting Serengeti National Park, which scientists, conservationists, the UN, and foreign governments alike have condemned. But there are other concerns among conservationists, including the fast-tracking of soda ash mining in East Africa's most important breeding ground for millions of lesser flamingo, and the recent announcement to nullify an application for UNESCO Heritage Status for a portion of Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains, a threatened forest rich in species found no-where else. According to President Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania is simply trying to provide for its poorest citizens (such as communities near the Serengeti and the Eastern Arc Mountains) while pursuing western-style industrial development.


World Atlas of Mangroves: A Book Review

(04/14/2011) Because recent research has shown that it is often the case that mangroves store more carbon than tropical forests--from 90 tons to 588 tons carbon from above-ground and below-ground biomass combined with net primary productivity of 7 to 25 tons carbon annually--while providing an estimated ecosystem services value of up to US$ 9270 per hectare per year, the timely publication of the World Atlas of Mangroves is an excellent reference for those of us working to protect mangroves globally. With information sourced from 1400 literature references, the atlas gives the reader the information they need so as to further understand mangrove ecosystems, and the opportunities to develop mangrove ecosystem conservation and carbon projects.


Election cycle linked to deforestation rate in Indonesia

(04/14/2011) Increased fragmentation of political jurisdictions and the election cycle contribute to Indonesia's high deforestation rate according to analysis published by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and South Dakota State University (SDSU). The research confirms the observation that Indonesian politicians in forest-rich districts seem repay their election debts by granting forest concessions.


Indonesia can meet low carbon goals without sacrificing economic growth, says UK report

(04/14/2011) Indonesia can meet its low carbon development goals without sacrificing economic growth, reports an assessment commissioned by the British government.


Opposition rises against Mekong dam as governments ponder decision

(04/13/2011) As the governments of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam ready to meet on April 19th to decide whether or not to move forward on the Xayaburi Dam, critics of Mekong River hydroelectric project have warned that the dam will devastate freshwater biodiversity and impact the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands, if not more. Last month a coalition of 263 organizations from 51 countries released a letter in opposition of the dam’s construction.


Gas from 'fracking' not climate friendly

(04/13/2011) It appears every time a fossil fuels industry claims its energy is 'green' or 'climate-friendly', scientists discover this just isn't so. The most recent culprit is natural gas produced by an already controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, which extracts the gas from shale basins. A new study in Climatic Change has found that the process of fracing is worse than coal over a 20-year period and about equal over 100-years. Coal had long been considered the worst climate offender of all energy options.


Satellite evidence of deforestation in uncontacted tribe's territory sparks legal action

(04/12/2011) The destruction of 3,600 hectares (8,900 acres) of the Gran Chaco forest in Paraguay by large Brazilian cattle ranching companies has led to a legal complaint filed by a local indigenous-rights organization, since the land in question was one of the last refuges of a group of uncontacted indigenous people in the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe. The loss of the forest was revealed in part by satellite images of the remote area.


Noise in oceans leads to 'severe acoustic trauma' in octopus, squid

(04/12/2011) Researchers have documented for years how noise pollution impacts dolphins in whales, but a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment finds that even low intensity noise can severely injure cephalopods, which include octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. The injuries are bad enough to possibly lead to stranding and death, thereby providing a feasible explanation for a number of recent strandings, including giant squid washing ashore in Spain.


Giant fish help grow the Amazon rainforest

(04/12/2011) A fruit in the flooded Amazon falls from a tree and plops in the water. Before it can even sink to the floor, a 60-pound monster fish with a voracious appetite gobbles it. Nearly a week later—and miles away—the fish expels its waste, including seeds from the fruit eaten long ago and far away. One fortunate seed floats to a particularly suitable spot and germinates. Many years later the new fruit tree is thriving, while the same monster-fish returns from time-to-time, waiting for another meal to drop from the sky. This process is known as seed-dispersal, and while researchers have studied the seed-dispersal capacity of such species as birds, bats, monkeys, and rodents, one type of animal is often overlooked: fish.


Antarctic penguins losing to climate change through 80% krill decline

(04/11/2011) Climate change has hit species of Antarctic penguins by causing a staggering decline in their prey: krill. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that both chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have seen their populations decline likely do to less krill, instead of habitat changes. Since 1970 krill populations have fallen by 80% in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. Because krill require sea ice to reproduce, shrinking sea ice from climate change has made it more difficult for them to breed.


Customs officials confiscate over a thousand monitor lizards headed to China

(04/11/2011) Thai Customs officials have confiscated 1,800 Bengal monitor lizards on the border between Thailand and Malaysia, reports the AFP. Officials said the lizards were likely headed to China for consumption.


A new rhino species?

(04/11/2011) Using genetic data and re-assessing physical evidence, scientists write that they have uncovered a new species of rhino, long considered by biologists as merely a subspecies. Researchers write in an open access PLoS ONE paper published last year that evidence has shown the northern white rhino is in fact a distinct species from the more commonly known—and far more common—southern white rhino. If the scientific community accepts the paper's argument it could impact northern white rhino conservation, as the species would overnight become the world's most endangered rhino species with likely less than ten surviving.


Cambodian prime minister cancels titanium mine project citing impact on biodiversity and local people

(04/11/2011) In a surprise move, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Sandech Hun Sen, has cancelled a titanium strip mine project in one of Southeast Asia’s last great intact forest ecosystems, the Cardamom Mountains. According to a press release sent out by the Cambodian government the mine was canceled due to "concerns of the impact on the environment, biodiversity and local livelihoods" of villagers. The mine, which was planned to sit directly in the migration route for the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, had been largely opposed by locals in the region who spent years developing eco-tourism in the region.


Study calls for REDD+ money to boost yields in West Africa using agrochemicals

(04/10/2011) Small-scale agriculture 𔃐 including cocoa, cassava, and oil palm farming 𔃐 has driven large-scale conversion West Africa tropical forests, reports new research published in the journal Environmental Management.


Conversion of Brazil's cerrado slows

(04/08/2011) Destruction of Brazil's cerrado, a woody savanna that covers 20 percent of the country, slowed during the 2008-2009, reports Brazil's Ministry of Environment.


KFC dumps palm oil due to health, environmental concerns

(04/08/2011) KFC Corporation, the fast food giant, will stop using palm oil in its deep friers, reports The Independent.


Greenpeace says McKinsey's REDD+ work could encourage deforestation

(04/07/2011) One of the world's top consultancies, McKinsey & Co., is providing advice to governments developing 'Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation' (REDD+) programs that could increase risks to tropical forests, claims a new report published by Greenpeace. The report, Bad Influence – how McKinsey-inspired plans lead to rainforest destruction, says that McKinsey’s REDD+ cost curve and baseline scenarios are being used to justify expansion of industrial capacity in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guyana.


New method to measure threat of extinction could help conservationists prioritize

(04/07/2011) Researchers have developed a new method to predict how close species are to extinction. Dubbed SAFE (Species Ability to Forestall Extinction) the researchers believe the new tool, published in the Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, should help conservationists select which species to focus on saving and which, perhaps controversially, should be let go.


More biodiversity equals cleaner water, but why?

(04/07/2011) A new landmark study not only proves that adding more species to a freshwater stream linearly increases the ecosystem's ability to clean pollutants, but also shows why. The study, published in Nature found that by increasing the biodiversity of a lab controlled mini-stream from one algae species to eight caused the ecosystem to soak up nitrate pollution 4.5 times faster on average. To conduct the experiment, researchers used plastic to create 150 mini model streams. Molding the plastic, they recreated real stream-like habitats such as pools, runs, and eddies. Different species of algae gravitated toward particular mini-habitats, creating special ecological niches and allowing more of the stream to be utilized by the algae for soaking up the nitrate pollution. Less utilization of the available habitats resulted in a dirtier river and vice-versa.


Indigenous group claims Ecuadorian government complicit in 'genocide'

(04/06/2011) Ecuador's paramount indigenous organization has filed a legal complaint against the government, including President Rafael Correa, for allegedly participating in 'genocide' against indigenous people in the Amazon. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is arguing that expanding oil exploration and mining is imperiling the lives of uncontacted tribes that have chosen voluntary isolation known as the Tagaeri and the Tarmenane, reports the AFP.


Malaysian palm oil giant in fight with forest people gets rebuke from RSPO

(04/06/2011) A Malaysian palm oil company facing criticism for a land use dispute with forest people in Borneo has been suspended from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an eco-certification body.


The value of the little guy, an interview with Tyler Prize-winning entomologist May Berenbaum

(04/06/2011) May Berenbaum knows a thing or two about insects: in recognition of her lifelong work on the interactions between insects and plants, she has had a character on The X-Files named after her, received the Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award for her work in making science accessible to the public, and this year has been awarded the prestigious Tyler Environmental Prize. "Winning the Tyler Prize is an incredible honor—most of my scientific heroes have been Tyler Prize winners and I’m exceedingly grateful to be considered worthy of being included among their ranks," Berenbaum told mongabay.com in an interview. "The Prize is also tremendously enabling—because the money is unrestricted I can use it to carry out projects that have been difficult to fund."


Japan disaster to put logging pressure on rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia

(04/05/2011) The tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month is likely to boost wood imports into the recovering nation, adding increased pressure on the already imperiled rainforests of Southeast Asia. Even before the disaster, Japan was the world's number one importer of wood chips and plywood and the second largest importer of logs. Japan usually imports plywood from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, however the forests of Southeast Asia are facing tremendous loss due to logging and clearing for industrial-scale agriculture, such as palm oil.


Vanishing mangroves are carbon sequestration powerhouses

(04/05/2011) Mangroves may be the world's most carbon rich forests, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. Measuring the carbon stored in 25 mangrove forests in the Indo-Pacific region, researchers found that mangroves forests stored up to four times as much carbon as other tropical forests, including rainforests. "Mangroves have long been known as extremely productive ecosystems that cycle carbon quickly, but until now there had been no estimate of how much carbon resides in these systems. That's essential information because when land-use change occurs, much of that standing carbon stock can be released to the atmosphere," explains co-author Daniel Donato, a postdoctoral research ecologist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Hilo, Hawaii.


Iconic cheetah, Chewbaaka, dies

(04/05/2011) The symbol of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), a male cheetah named Chewbaaka has passed away. At the age of 16, Chewbaaka outlived most cheetahs in the wild, but was killed from wounds suffered after a rabid kudu leapt into his enclosure.


World Bank proposes to limit funding to coal plants

(04/05/2011) Following years of criticism from environmentalists and some governments the World Bank has proposed new rules regarding carbon-intensive coal plants, reports the Guardian. The new rules would allow lending for coal-fired plants only to the world's poorest nations and would only lend after other alternatives, such as renewable energy, had been ruled out.


The saola: rushing to save the most 'spectacular zoological discovery' of the 20th Century

(04/04/2011) The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) may be the most enigmatic, beautiful, and endangered big mammal in the world—that no one has ever heard of. The shy ungulate looks like an African antelope—perhaps inhabiting the wide deserts of the Sahara—but instead it lives in the dense jungles of Vietnam and Laos, and is more related to wild cattle than Africa's antelopes. The saola is so unusual that is has been given its own genus: Pseudoryx, due to its superficial similarities to Africa's oryx. In the company of humans this quiet forest dweller acts calm and tame, but has yet to survive captivity long. Yet strangest of all, the 200 pound (90 kilogram) animal remained wholly unknown to science until 1992.


World Bank to resume lending to palm oil sector after 18-month moratorium

(04/03/2011) After a two-year moratorium triggered by complaints over social conflict between local communities and palm oil companies, the World Bank has announced the adoption of a framework to restart lending to the palm oil sector. The framework was developed after months of consultations with stakeholders, including the private sector, NGOs, farmers, indigenous communities, development experts, and governments.


Bats worth billions

(04/03/2011) US agriculture stands to lose billions in free ecosystem services from the often-feared and rarely respected humble bat. According to a recent study in Science bats in North America provide the US agricultural industry at least $3.7 billion and up to a staggering $53 billion a year by eating mounds of potentially pesky insects. Yet these bats, and their economic services, are under threat by a perplexing disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) and to a lesser extent wind turbines.


Major Brazilian banks sued for loans linked to deforestation

(04/03/2011) Brazilian prosecutors have filed suit against the state-run Banco do Brasil and Banco da Amazonia for providing loans to companies that illegally cleared Amazon rainforest and used slave-like labor, reports Reuters.


March in review: Tsunami, slow loris trafficking, palm oil

(04/01/2011) A review of mongabay.com's March 2011 stories.


New World Growth report contains 'false and misleading' information

(03/31/2011) A new report from World Growth International, a lobby group for industrial forestry interests, contains 'false and misleading' information on the economic impact of reducing Indonesia's deforestation rate, says an Indonesian environmental group. The report, released today, claims that reducing deforestation in Indonesia will cost the country 3.5 million jobs annually by slowing expansion in the forestry sector.


Indigenous community takes court ruling into own hands and seizes oil palm plantation

(03/31/2011) A community in Malaysian Borneo seized an oil palm plantation belonging to the IOI Group after the palm oil giant failed to respect the terms of a court ruling that the plantation was established on native customary land, reports the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).


Pictures: Massive natural arch discovered in Afghanistan

(03/31/2011) Researchers in Afghanistan have discovered one of the world's largest natural arches, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


Escaped Bronx Zoo cobra found! (picture)

(03/31/2011) The missing Bronx Zoo cobra that caused consternation among some New York residents while becoming a pop culture icon has been found after a thorough search of the zoo's Reptile House.


'Luck and perseverance': new plant genus discovered in Amazon

(03/31/2011) The discovery of a new plant species is not uncommon, especially in places of remarkable biodiversity such as the Amazon rainforest. However, discovering a new plant genus, a taxonomic rank above species, is, according to Henk van der Werff fromt the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), "a matter of luck and perseverance". Researchers with the Missouri Botanical Garden have been blessed with both as they have announced two new species of Amazonian plants, one from Ecuador and one from Peru, that comprise a completely new genus: named, Yasunia, since the plant was originally discovered in Ecuador's vast Yasuni National Park.


Carbon labeling good for consumers and business

(03/31/2011) Want to know how many calories are in a serving from that box of cereal? Simply turn it over and you can read a wealth of information: calories, fat, fiber, nutrients. But what if you’d like to know how much carbon was emitted to produce your breakfast? Currently, you're out of luck. But an article in Nature Climate Change argues that labeling products—from food to household products—with their carbon footprint could reduce emissions over time as consumers and companies react to better environmental transparency. A 'carbon footprint' measures the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted to produce a product or service.


Pictures: Google Earth updates post-tsunami imagery

(03/31/2011) Google Earth has updated satellite imagery for areas most affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The images reveal large-scale devastation of coastal areas in the Sendai region of Japan.


'Huge reduction' of water from plants due to higher carbon levels

(03/30/2011) As if ocean acidification and a warming world weren't enough, researchers have outlined another way in which carbon emissions are impacting the planet. A new study shows that higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have taken a toll on how much water vapor plants release, potentially impacting the rainfall and groundwater sources. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that carbon dioxide levels over the past 150 years has reduced plants' spores, called stomata, by over one third (34%). This is important because stomata take in oxygen and carbon dioxide and release water vapor in a process dubbed 'transpiration'. Less stomata means less water driven into the atmosphere.


Photos: Visiting Gunung Palung in Indonesian Borneo

(03/30/2011) A description of mongabay.com's Rhett Butler's recent visit to Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. In my travels in Kalimantan, the forest of Gunung Palung around Cabang Panti ranks among the best. Within 24 hours of arriving I had already seen wild orangutans, red leaf monkeys, gibbons, bearded pigs, a variety of lizards and frogs, a cobra (a little too close for comfort), and an innumerable diversity of insects.


Norway to continue palm oil investments

(03/30/2011) Norway's $550 billion sovereign wealth fund will continue investing in Asian palm oil companies despite criticism from environmental groups, reports Reuters.


Sustainability takes only cents

(03/30/2011) Real economic global results from decoupling economic growth from unsustainable natural resource management and inefficient industrial processes are the central themes of Cents and Sustainability. Implementing wealth creation strategies at the local, national, and international level is the primary economic theme, or modus operandi, of the 21st Century, as opposed to 20th Century wealth appropriation strategies. This begets the question do concrete auditable examples of wealth creation while sustainably managing natural resources at the national level exist?


Fiji eyes investment from Malaysian palm oil industry

(03/30/2011) Officials in Fiji met with investors from the Malaysian palm oil industry this week to discuss the potential development of oil palm plantations in the Pacific island nation, reports FijiVillage.com.


Photo: new vipers discovered in Asia's rainforests

(03/30/2011) Researchers have discovered two new species of pitviper in Southeast Asia. After collecting snakes throughout the Asian tropics—Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia—researchers were able to parse out a more complex set of species than had been recognized. One of the new vipers has been dubbed Cryptelytrops rubeus for its ruby-colored eyes.


Clean energy investments rise 630% in 7 years

(03/29/2011) According to a report by the US Pew Environment Group global clean energy investments, which do not include nuclear power, jumped 630% since 2004. The report detailing 2010 clean energy investments found that China remains the global leader in clean energy, while the US fell from 2nd to 3rd. This is the second year in a row that the US fell: in 2009 it lost first place to China. In all $243 billion were invested in clean energy in 2010.


Last year's drought hit Amazon hard: nearly a million square miles impacted

(03/29/2011) A new study on its way to being published shows that the Amazon rainforest suffered greatly from last year's drought. Employing satellite data and supercomputing technology, researchers have found that the Amazon was likely hit harder by last year's drought than a recent severe drought from 2005. The droughts have supported predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) that climate change, among other impacts, could push portions of the Amazon to grasslands, devastating the world's greatest rainforest. "The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation—a measure of its health—decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," explains the study's lead author Liang Xu of Boston University.


Amazon still neglected by researchers

(03/28/2011) Although the Amazon is the world's largest tropical forest, it is not the most well known. Given the difficulty of access along with the fear of disease, dangerous species, indigenous groups, among other perceived perils, this great treasure chest of biology and ecology was practically ignored by scientists for centuries. Over the past few decades that trend has changed, however even today the Amazon remains lesser known than the much smaller, and more secure, tropical forests of Central America. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, which surveyed two prominent international tropical ecology journals (Biotropica and Journal of Tropical Ecology) between 1995 and 2008, finds that Central America was the subject of twice as many studies as the Amazon. In fact, according to the authors, much of the Amazon remains terra incognito to researchers, even as every year more of the rainforest is lost to human impacts.


What's behind the 85% decline of mammals in West Africa's parks?

(03/28/2011) A recent, well-covered study found that African mammals populations are in steep decline in the continent's protected areas. Large mammal populations over forty years have dropped by 59% on average in Africa [read an interview on the study here] and by 85% in west and central Africa, according to the study headed by Ian Craigie, which links the decline to continuing habitat degradation as well as hunting and human-wildlife conflict. However, a new opinion piece in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that this study missed an important factor in central and west Africa where the decline in mammals was the worst: rainfall.


India says tiger numbers up, but expert raises doubts

(03/28/2011) According to the Indian government tigers have gone up by 225 individuals in the past four years, from 1,411 big cats to 1,636 today, a 16% increase. The new census, however, also counts 70 tigers in the Sundarbans, which were not included in the past census, making the new grand total 1,706 Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). But don't raise champagne glasses just yet, renowned conservationist with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and tiger expert, Dr. Ullas Karanth, sees serious issues with the new tally, including a methodology that "has not been made public in a scientifically acceptable manner" and depends on a big count every few years instead of comprehensive and reliable year-by-year tracking methods. Despite such doubts, the news has generally been greeted with accolades.


Leaf harvesting impacts Amazon palm

(03/28/2011) Overexploitation of wildlife doesn't just threaten animals such as bluefin tuna, pangolins, and parrots, but plants as well. Leaves from the carana or puy palm (Lepidocaryum tenue) are used for thatching buildings in the northwestern Amazon, however a recent study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the overharvesting could imperil a palm's ability to survive.


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