Conservation newsFounded in 1999, Mongabay is a leading provider of environmental science and conservation news.
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.
Bill Clinton takes on Brazil's megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups
(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil's megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.
New land snail invading Singapore requires swift action
(03/28/2011) An African land snail Limicolaria flammea has been discovered by researchers in six locations in Singapore, perhaps heralding a new invasion of alien land snails in Southeast Asia. Although snails may seem largely innocuous creatures, past invasions have resulted in agricultural and economic damage. The global invasion of the giant African land snail (Achatina fulica) has been called one of the world's top 100 worst alien species. Writing in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, researchers examine the issue and provide suggestions as to how Singapore authorities can quickly rid the nation of Limicolaria flammea.
Google Earth reveals stark contrast between Sarawak's damaged forests and those in neighboring Borneo states
(03/28/2011) Images from Google Earth show a sharp contract between forest cover in Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo, and the neighboring countries of Brunei and Indonesia at a time when Sarawak's Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is claiming that 70 percent of Sarawak's forest cover is intact.
Logged forests in Vietnam retain significant biodiversity, including dipterocarp trees
(03/28/2011) Little remains of Vietnam's primary forest: as of 2005 only 12% of Vietnam forest was classified as primary. While deforestation rates have lessened since the end of the 1990s, survival of species in Vietnam depends in part on secondary, logged, and degraded forests. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that logged forests in southern Vietnam still retain significant biodiversity of trees, including important conservation species, such as Dipterocarp trees.
How to save the Pantanal and increase profits for the cattle industry
(03/28/2011) The Pantanal spanning Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay is the world's largest wetland—the size of Florida—and home to a wide-variety of charismatic species, such as jaguars, capybaras, and giant anteaters. However, the great wetland is threatened by expansion in big agriculture and an increasingly intensive cattle industry. Yet there is hope: a new study by Wildlife Conservation Society of Brazil (WCS-Brazil) researchers has found that cattle and the ecosystem can exist harmoniously. By replacing current practices with rotational grazing, cattle ranchers gain a healthier herd and more profits while safeguarding the ecological integrity and wildlife of the world's largest wetland system. The study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science is a rare instance of a win-win situation.
Environmental sustainability—the new economic bottom line
(03/28/2011) That’s the message in Accounting for Sustainability: Practical Insights. The book represents the compilation of a five-year project—nicknamed “A4S”—sponsored by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, that examined the feasibility of factoring industries’ impact on the environment into their economic spread sheets. Using case studies and interviews with leaders at major accounting firms, Accounting For Sustainability documents the bond between capitalism and environmental capital.
Counting orangutans: the best way to survey the great apes
(03/28/2011) How do you count orangutans when they are difficult to spot in the wild given that they are shy, arboreal, and few and far between? To find a solution, biologists have turned to estimating orangutan populations by counting their nests, which the great apes make anew every night. In order to make the most accurate count possible, researchers have studied the different factors that could impact the success, or lack thereof, of nest-counters in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Alien plants invade Nigerian protected 'gene bank'
(03/28/2011) Very few studies have been conducted on invasive species in Nigeria, however a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has discovered 25 invasive plants in a field gene bank at the National Center for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NASGRAB) in Ibadan. The gene bank is used to establish populations of important and, in some cases threatened, native plant species. The gene bank spans 12 hectares, but the study found that 18% of the area was overtaken with invasive species that likely compete with the protected Nigerian plants for nutrients, space, and light. Among the 25 invasive species, 14 were herbs, 8 were vines, 2 were shrubs, and one was a tree.
Cloud forest dung beetles in India point to 'fossil ecosystem'
(03/28/2011) In the cloud forests and grasslands of India's Western Ghats, known as sholas, researchers have for the first time comprehensively studied the inhabiting dung beetle populations. The resulting study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, has led scientists to hypothesize that the beetles in concordance with the sheep-like mammal, the nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius), may be a sign of a 'fossil ecosystem'.
Sawarak chief minister claims 70% of forest intact, invites independent observers to verify
(03/28/2011) Embattled Chief Minister of Sarawak Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud challenged independent observers to demonstrate that anything less than 70 percent of the Malaysian state's forest cover is "intact" rain forest, according to an interview with Sarawak Reports, a pro-Taib web site created earlier this month.
Rainforest information in Thai
(03/26/2011) Mongabay.com, a leading forest conservation and environmental science news web site, today announced the availability of its rainforest site for children in Thai. The site is available at world.mongabay.com/thai.
German bank dumps palm oil company stock
(03/25/2011) DWS, a fund management company run by Deutsche Bank, has dropped all Wilmar International stock from its financial products over concerns that the palm oil giant has failed to produce palm oil in a responsible manner despite being a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a eco-certification initiative. The move follows a campaign by Robin Wood, a German activist group.
Expedition granted?: hoping to save nearly-extinct seals through National Geographic contest
(03/24/2011) Dashiell Masland, known as 'Dash', has always been in love with the sea and its inhabitants. Now, she is hoping to take that passion to the Hawaiian Islands to save one of the world's most threatened marine mammals: the Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Extinction is a real possibility: already, the related Carribbean monk seal vanished forever around 1950. Decimated by sealers, whalers, and even soldiers in World War II, the Hawaiian monk seals are struggling to make a come back with only 1,100 individuals surviving and the population decreasing by 4% a year. Today many face starvation due to a lack of prey. This is where Masland, who is currently competing in National Geographic's Expedition Granted, hopes to help.
Arctic sea ice maximum ties for lowest on record
(03/24/2011) Providing more data on how climate change is impacting the Arctic, the maximum extent of sea ice this year was tied with 2006 for the lowest on record. Maximum sea ice simply means the territory the sea ice covers at its greatest point before the seasonal melt begins.
Involving communities in forest governance boosts biodiversity, local income
(03/24/2011) Involving local communities in the governance of forest resources boosts economic returns and biodiversity relative to areas where locals have little participation, report researchers writing in Science. The findings have implications for efforts to protect and sustainably manage forests under the reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism.
Pro-deforestation group criticizes palm oil giant for sustainability pact
(03/24/2011) World Growth International, a group that advocates on behalf of industrial forestry interests, has criticized Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Indonesia's largest palm oil producer, for signing a forest policy that aims to protect high conservation value and high carbon stock forest and requires free, prior informed consent (FPIC) in working with communities potentially affected by oil palm development. In a newsletter published March 10, World Growth International claimed that GAR's agreement "could severely hamper the company's growth" by limiting where it can establish new plantations and says that negotiating with multiple stakeholders "will delay and complicate any investment by the company." World Growth International concludes by implying that GAR may renege on its commitment. But Peter Heng, Managing Director, Communications and Sustainability at GAR, disagreed with World Growth International's assessment.
New organization seeks to make biofuels sustainable, but is it possible?
(03/24/2011) Not too long ago policy-makers, scientists, and environmentalists saw biofuels as a significant tool to provide sustainable energy to the world. However, as it became clear that biofuels were not only connected to deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions (sometimes exceeding fossil fuels), but also competed with the global food supply and water sources, biofuels no longer seemed like a silver bullet, but a new problem facing the environment and the poor. Still, biofuels have persisted not so much due to perceived environmental benefits, but to entrenched interests by the big agricultural industry, lobbyists, and governments. However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) hopes to begin certifying environmentally friendly biofuels that don't compete with food production or water sources.
New seabird discovered, first in 55 years
(03/23/2011) Stephen Maturin, if he were not fictional, would be delighted. A new seabird has been discovered by an international expedition headed by one of the world's top seabird-experts, Peter Harrison, after he received photos from vacationing birders of an unusual looking storm petrel off the coast of Chile.
Amazon deforestation flat since last year
(03/23/2011) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is roughly flat for the 7 months ended February 28 relative to the same period last year, reports Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO.
5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea forests handed to foreign corporations
(03/23/2011) During a meeting in March 2011 twenty-six experts—from biologists to social scientists to NGO staff—crafted a statement calling on the Papua New Guinea government to stop granting Special Agricultural and Business Leases. According to the group, these leases, or SABLs as they are know, circumvent Papua New Guinea's strong community land rights laws and imperil some of the world's most intact rainforests. To date 5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres) of forest have been leased under SABLs, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. "Papua New Guinea is among the most biologically and culturally diverse nations on Earth. [The country's] remarkable diversity of cultural groups rely intimately on their traditional lands and forests in order to meet their needs for farming plots, forest goods, wild game, traditional and religious sites, and many other goods and services," reads the statement, dubbed the Cairns Declaration. However, according to the declaration all of this is threatened by the Papua New Guinea government using SABLs to grant large sections of land without going through the proper channels.
What is the current status of REDD+?
(03/23/2011) The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism is supposed to be the great hope for saving the world's forests. Advocates say REDD — now known as REDD+ — could finally create financial incentives for keeping forests standing instead of chopping them down for timber, pulp and paper, cattle, palm oil, and rubber. At the same time, REDD could generate benefits for the rural poor, while safeguarding biodiversity and other ecosystem services. But the devil is in the details. Ensuring that REDD is properly designed, funded, and implemented means that progress has been slower than some supporters have hoped. A poorly designed REDD may be worse than no REDD at all. So where does that leave REDD now? Mongabay asked John-O Niles, the Director of the Tropical Forest Group, for his thoughts on the current status of REDD policy.
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