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Mongabay.com news articles on asia in blog format. Updated regularly.









Russia charges non-violent activists with 'piracy' for protesting Arctic oil drilling

(10/07/2013) In what is being described by Greenpeace as an 'imaginary offense,' Russia has charged 30 people with piracy after activists protested against oil exploitation in the Arctic. The 30 charged included not only protestors, but a British journalist and Russian videographer who were on board Greenpeace's ship, the Arctic Sunrise, when it was stormed by the Russian military late last month.


Myanmar faces new conservation challenges as it opens up to the world

(10/04/2013) For decades, one of Southeast Asia's largest countries has also been its most mysterious. Now, emerging from years of political and economic isolation, its shift towards democracy means that Myanmar is opening up to the rest of the world. Myanmar forms part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, and some of the largest tracts of intact habitat in the hotspot can be found here.


Unlikely success: how Zimbabwe has become a global leader in rhino conservation

(10/02/2013) With its collapsed economy, entrenched poverty, and political tremors, one would not expect that a country like Zimbabwe would have the capacity to safeguard its rhinos against determined and well-funded poachers, especially as just across the border South Africa is currently losing over two rhinos a day on average. And indeed, without the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), rhinos in Zimbabwe would probably be near local extinction. But the LRT, which is centrally involved in the protection of around 90 percent of the country's rhinos in private reserves along with conservancy members, has proven tenacious and innovative in its battle to safeguard the nation's rhinos from the poaching epidemic.


Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape

(10/01/2013) In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.


Coal railway could cause 'ecological disaster' in Indonesian Borneo, warn environmentalists

(09/30/2013) Activists have urged the Indonesian government to cancel or reassess plans to build a 148-kilometer coal railway in Indonesian Borneo, claiming the project will be an 'ecological disaster' that will destroy watersheds and lead to increased coal exploitation in the region, threatening ecosystems and undermining local government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Borneo tribesmen block road as controversial rainforest dam impoundment begins

(09/27/2013) Indigenous leaders have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to protest Sarawak's newest dam, report environmental activists who oppose the project.


Terror from above: eagle tackles deer in stunning camera trap photos

(09/26/2013) During a routine Amur tiger survey with remote camera traps in December 2011, a few photos gave biologists a shock when they revealed the stunning sight of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) launching itself on the back of a 7-month old sika deer (Cervus nippon) and bringing down prey that outweighed it by at least seven times. Photographed in remote Far East Russia, the photos show an incredibly-rare instance of an eagle preying on a deer.


'Ecological Armageddon': mammals vanish entirely from forest fragments after 25 years

(09/26/2013) As tropical forests worldwide are increasingly cut into smaller and smaller fragments, mammal extinctions may not be far behind, according to a new study in Science. Tracking native smalls mammals in Chiew Larn Reservoir, Thailand for over 25 years, scientists found a stunning and rapid decline in mammal populations, until most forests were almost completely emptied of native mammals.


Malaysia clearcutting forest reserves for timber and palm oil

(09/26/2013) In July Bikam Permanent Forest Reserve in Malaysia's Perak state was degazetted, allowing the forest to be clearcut for an oil palm plantation. Only after the forest was lost, did the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) announce that it had contained the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) on the Malay peninsula, a large hardwood tree that's classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species is now reportedly extinct in Malaysia, although may still be found in Indonesia. However, the degazettement of the 400-hectare Bikam Forest Reserve wasn't an abnormality, according to activists. Since 2009, over 9,000 hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves have been degazetted in northwestern state, wiping out not just trees, but undercutting protected mammals and birds while threatening watersheds.


Rihanna poses with endangered primate stolen from the wild

(09/23/2013) On Friday R&B singer, Rihanna, posed in Thailand with a slow loris, an endangered primate that is often illegally touted on the streets of Southeast Asia by pet dealers. The picture, which the celebrity shared on instagram, went viral, and over the weekend Thai police arrested two men—one 20 and one 16—who allegedly provided the slow loris to the Rihanna for the impromptu photo.


Zombie coal: Borneo resurrects controversial coal plant

(09/18/2013) The Malaysian government is taking another look at building a hugely controversial coal-fired plant in the Bornean state of Sabah, a proposal that was thrown out in 2011 due to a large-scale grassroots movement. The 300 megawatt coal plant would have been built in Lahad Datu on the edge of a wildlife reserve and the state's renowned coral reefs. Reportedly, the government is now considering building the same plant only further south in Tawau, which also lies on the coast.


Villagers occupy govt office in Indonesia Borneo in protest against palm oil land grab

(09/18/2013) Villagers in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province occupied a local government office last week, fed up with the government’s lack of action to resolve a long-running land dispute with palm oil company PT Rezeki Alam Semesta Raya. Around 29 villagers occupied the Kuala Kapuas district head office in Central Kalimantan on Thursday.


23rd new bird species of 2013 discovered

(09/18/2013) A ground-warbler from the Philippines is the twenty-third species of bird described in 2013.


Hydro projects a front for logging in Vietnam

(09/18/2013) Small hydroelectric projects in forested areas in Vietnam may be a front for logging operations in the country's national parks, reports Vietnam Net.


Photo essay: India's Western Ghats is a haven for endemic amphibians

(09/16/2013) The Western Ghats are a globally recognized repository of biological diversity for our planet. We know very little about most species found here, particularly the ecologically sensitive and spectacularly beautiful 179 amphibians. Astonishingly, 87% of all Western Ghats frogs are endemic and found nowhere else on the planet. Our collaborative research project with Drs Paul Robbins and Ashwini Chhatre examining biodiversity in production landscapes of Ghats unearthed some spectacular amphibians in 2013.


Activists target major snack makers over 'conflict' palm oil

(09/12/2013) Environmental activists have launched a major campaign targeting 20 of the largest snack food companies that use palm oil in their products. The campaign, led by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), says that food giants are failing to ensure the palm oil they source does not drive deforestation or worsen social conflict.


In transparency push, APP self-reports breach of its deforestation moratorium

(09/11/2013) In what may be an unprecedented move in the Indonesian forestry sector, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has announced two breaches of its moratorium on natural forest clearance. In a report published Wednesday, APP said an audit of its operations by The Forest Trust, the NGO charged with implementing the forestry giant's forest conservation policy, turned up two incidents of forest clearance that has taken place since the logging ban took effect in February 2013.


Indonesian villagers sue president over climate change

(09/11/2013) Eight Indonesian villagers have sued the country’s president and a number of other high-level government officials over the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction in their province, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. The villagers say they have suffered health problems, experienced financial losses and seen a general decline in their quality of life due to forest and peatland clearing, and they are pinning the blame on some of Indonesia’s highest elected and appointed officials.


Video: scientists discover new walking shark species in Indonesia

(09/11/2013) A species of shark that uses its fins to 'walk' along the bottom of the ocean floor has been discovered off the coast of Indonesia. The shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to wiggle along the seabed and forage for small fish and crustaceans, scientists from Conservation International said on Friday.


Large-scale opposition among Borneo villagers to deforestation

(09/10/2013) Nearly two-thirds of villagers surveyed across rainforests in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo are against large-scale deforestation due to the adverse impacts on livelihoods and the environment, finds a comprehensive new study across 185 communities. The research, conducted over a one-year period by an international team of scientists, is published in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE. The study found that people who live near forests place the greatest value on the benefits they afford, including medicinal plants, game, clean water, and fiber.


Harrison Ford causes stir investigating deforestation in Indonesia

(09/09/2013) Harrison Ford sparked a complaint from Indonesia's top forest official after the actor asked a series of tough questions about ongoing rainforest destruction in the Southeast Asian nation, reports Indonesian state media. Ford is in Indonesia filming a segment for Years of Living Dangerously, a Showtime documentary on climate change. The actor, known for his roles as Indiana Jones and Star Wars' Hans Solo, is taking a first hand look at deforestation in Sumatra.


Indonesia finally establishes REDD+ agency to tackle deforestation

(09/07/2013) Indonesia has finally established an agency to implement the country's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program. The REDD+ agency, established by a decree from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday, is a ministry-level body that will coordinate a national REDD+ strategy between various ministries that influence and control land use policy across the sprawling archipelago.


Malaysia to launch palm oil certification scheme to compete with RSPO

(09/06/2013) Malaysia will launch its own certification standard for palm oil produced by local firms by 2014, reports Reuters. The initiative aims to differentiate Malaysian palm oil from that produced in other countries, while offering a less stringent alternative to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the sector's leading certification body.


Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species

(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.


Indonesia should convert logging concessions to protected areas to stop deforestation for plantations, argues study

(09/05/2013) Reclassifying logging concessions as permanent forest estates and thereby barring them from conversion to industrial plantations would be an effective strategy for helping conserve Indonesia's fast-dwindling forests, argues a new study published in PLoS ONE. The study analyzed forest loss in areas zoned for different uses in Indonesian Borneo. It found that deforestation rates in timber concessions and protected areas were 'not significantly different' provided logging concessions were not reclassified as industrial plantation concessions.


China punishes top oil companies for failing to clean up their acts

(09/03/2013) China's top two oil companies have been penalized for missing pollution targets, reports China Central Television (CCTV). The Ministry of Environmental Protection has suspended all refinery projects for China National Petroleum Corporation (CPNC) and the China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) until they meet their pollution targets. The move is a part of a wider crackdown on pollution across China, which has suffered from record air pollution.


World's biggest owl depends on large old trees

(09/03/2013) The Blakiston fish owl (Bubo Blakistoni) is the world’s largest – and one of the rarest – owl species, with an impressive 6 foot (2 meter) wingspan. The giant owl, found exclusively in northeast Asia, shares its habitat with a menagerie of endangered and impressive animals, including Amur tigers, Amur leopards, Asiatic black bears and wild boars.


Palm oil now biggest cause of deforestation in Indonesia

(09/03/2013) Conversion of forests for palm oil production now appears to be the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, accounting for roughly a quarter of forest loss between 2009 and 2011, asserts a new Greenpeace report that accuses the sector's main certification standard of failing to stop forest destruction. The report, titled Certifying Destruction, uses satellite imagery, government concession data, field investigations, and third party analysis to conclude that several recent and current members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the industry's chief eco-certification body — are continuing to buy or trade palm oil produced via the conversion of rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands in the Southeast Asian nation.


500 fires rage across Sumatra

(08/29/2013) Nearly 500 fires are burning across the Indonesian island of Sumatra, raising fears that choking air pollution could return to Singapore and Malaysia.


Are sea turtles responsible for lower fish catches in India?

(08/29/2013) Fishing communities on Agatti Island in Lakshwadeep, India, blame their reduced fish catch on green turtles; according to them, green turtles chomp their way through the seagrass beds lining the shallow reef waters that are essential for fish to breed. This leads some in the community to clandestinely kill sea turtles and destroy their nests.


Only suspect in Cambodian journalist's murder acquitted

(08/29/2013) The only suspect in 2012 slaying of Hang Serei Oudom, a Cambodian environmental journalist, has been acquitted of murder by a court in Cambodia, reports the AFP.


Featured video: how tigers could save human civilization

(08/29/2013) In the video below, John Vaillant, author of the The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, tells an audience at TEDxYYC about the similarities between tigers and human beings. Given these similarities—big mammals, apex predator, highly adaptable, intelligent, and stunningly 'superior'—John Vaillant asks an illuminating question: what can we learn from the tiger? It turns out learning from tigers could help conserve the human race.


Indonesian group vows to map 30 million hectares of customary forest in 7 years

(08/28/2013) An indigenous peoples’ rights group has vowed to map millions of hectares of customary land in Indonesia, an ambitious target it hopes will help protect indigenous forests from encroachment by palm oil and pulp and paper concessions.


Ground zero for endangered species: new program to assist animals on the brink across Southeast Asia

(08/27/2013) Organizations within the international conservation community are joining forces to minimize impending extinctions in Southeast Asia, where habitat loss, trade and hunting have contributed to a dramatic decline in wildlife. The coalition is aptly named ASAP, or the Asian Species Action Partnership.


Six smugglers sentenced to jail time over pangolin trafficking in Malaysia

(08/20/2013) Six men have been sentenced to a year in jail after being convicted of smuggling 150 pangolins in peninsular Malaysia, reports Annamiticus. The men were also given fines totaling over $100,000.


Iraq gets its first national park: just call it Eden

(08/19/2013) Late last month, the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved the nation's first national park: the Mesopotamian marshes, which some scholars believe were the site of the historical Garden of Eden. The establishment of the park is a major milestone for a nation still plagued by violence with the park itself linked to the ravages of the Saddam Hussein regime.


China pledges $275 billion over 5 years to cut record air pollution

(08/19/2013) Last week China announced it was going to spend over a quarter of a trillion dollars ($275 billion) to fight rampant and life-threatening pollution in its urban centers over the next five years. Recent decades of unparalleled economic growth has taken a drastic environmental toll in China, including record air pollution levels in Beijing. The announcement follows other news, including that the Chinese government has recently scrapped a massive 2,000 megawatt coal plant project near the cities of Hong Kong and Shenzhen.


Endangered Chinese monkey population recovering

(08/14/2013) The number of black snub-nosed monkeys in southwestern China has increased by more than 50 percent since the 1990's due to conservation efforts, reports Chinese state media.


First of its kind rescue and release for sloth bear in India

(08/08/2013) For a young wild sloth bear who found himself amidst a panic-stricken village in India, rescue was fortunately, and surprisingly, close at hand. In a one-of-a-kind heartwarming story, a team from Wildlife SOS (WSOS) India – a conservation and welfare NGO – successfully rescued, treated and subsequently released the sloth bear back into the wild, but this time with a radio collar fitted around its neck.


Old-growth trees store half rainforest carbon

(08/07/2013) Large trees store store up to half the above-ground biomass in tropical forests, reiterating their importance in buffering against climate change, finds a study published in Global Ecology and Biogeography. The research, which involved dozens of scientists from more than 40 institutions, is based on data from nearly 200,000 individual trees across 120 lowland rainforest sites in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It found that carbon storage by big trees varies across tropical forest regions, but is substantial in all forests.


Scientists discover new flying mammal in bushmeat market

(08/06/2013) The bushmeat markets of Lao PDR (Laos) are filled with racks of wild game harvested both legally and illegally from the surrounding landscapes. While these meat markets certainly provide local protein to patrons, for wildlife biologists they offer something more. These bizarre zoological exhibits are a rich source of information about wildlife populations and wildlife consumption in remote areas.


Former cop to face charges in illegal logging scandal, Indonesian police say

(07/30/2013) Labora Sitorus, a former police officer accused of running a nearly $150 million illegal logging ring in Indonesian New Guinea, faces charges of money laundering, illegal logging and fuel smuggling, a police spokesman said in Jakarta on Friday.


Nepal's tigers on the rebound

(07/30/2013) Nearly two hundred tigers roam the lowland forests of Nepal, according to a new survey. This is a 63 percent increase in the country's tiger population since 2009, and rare good news for global efforts to save the tiger from extinction.


Palm oil drives Malaysian rainforest tree to extinction

(07/30/2013) Oil palm plantations have extinguished the last habitat of a rainforest tree in Malaysia. Last week the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), a state agency, announced that the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) in Peninsular Malaysia were wiped out when Bikam forest reserve in Perak was cleared for oil palm plantations.


Palm oil company guards injure four villagers in Indonesian Borneo clash

(07/29/2013) Four villagers were injured and several vehicles destroyed in a clash between local residents and palm oil company guards in Indonesian Borneo last week. The clash is the latest incident in a long-running conflict between Wilmar subsidiary PT Bumi Sawit Kencana and villagers in Kotawaringin Timur district, Central Kalimantan.


The Javan Rhino’s final stronghold

(07/29/2013) August 27, 1883. It’s been called 'the day the world exploded'. One hundred and thirty years ago this month, the volcanic island of Krakatau (Krakatoa) blew its top. The smoking mountain had given several days warning to the human inhabitants of Java and Sumatra, the closest large islands, but no one could have imagined the intensity of the eruption and the devastation that followed. Several cubic miles of rock and ash - more than half the island – rocketed skyward. The explosion released over 10,000 times the energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and was an order of magnitude more powerful than the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Tsunamis greater than 100 feet high roared over coastal habitats, inundating lowland forests and scouring them of wildlife.


U.S. signs $32M debt-for-nature swap to protect rainforests in the Philippines

(07/26/2013) The U.S. government will redirect $31.8 million in debt payments owed to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) by the Philippines to establish a conservation fund for endangered rainforests across the Asian archipelago, reports the AFP.


How YouTube has put the world's only poisonous primates at risk

(07/25/2013) It all started with a video: in 2009 a Russian man uploaded a video of himself tickling his exotic pet (a pygmy slow loris) from Vietnam onto the hugely popular site YouTube. Since then the video has been viewed over half a million times. But a new study in the open source journal in PLoS ONE, finds that such YouTube videos have helped fuel a cruel, illegal trade that is putting some of the world's least-known primates at risk of extinction. Lorises are small, shy, and nocturnal primates that inhabit the forests of tropical Asia, but the existence of all eight species is currently imperiled by a booming illegal pet trade that has been aided by videos of lorises being tickled, holding tiny umbrellas, or doing other seemingly cute (but wholly unnatural) things.


Booming cashmere trade eating up habitat for snow leopards, saiga, and wild yak

(07/25/2013) Snow leopards, wild yaks and other iconic wildlife on the world's highest mountains and great steppes are becoming "fashion victims" of the surging global trade in cashmere, new research has revealed. Scientists found wildlife being driven to the margins of survival by the "striking but unintended consequences" of huge increases in the numbers of the goats producing the luxurious lightweight wool.


Zoos call on governments to take urgent action against illegal wildlife trade (photos)

(07/24/2013) In a single night in March, a band of heavily-armed, horse-riding poachers slaughtered 89 elephants in southern Chad, thirty of which were pregnant females. The carnage was the worst poaching incident of the year, but even this slaughter paled in comparison to the 650 elephants killed in a Cameroon park in 2012. Elephant poaching is hitting new records as experts say some 30,000 elephants are being killed every year for their ivory tusks. But the illegal wildlife trade—estimated at $19 billion—is not just decimating elephants, but also rhinos, big cats, great apes, and thousands of lesser-known species like pangolins and slow lorises. This growing carnage recently led to representatives of over 40 zoos and dozens of wildlife programs to call on governments around the world to take immediate action on long-neglected wildlife crime.



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