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News articles on biodiversity

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









Into the Congo: saving bonobos means aiding left-behind communities, an interview with Gay Reinartz

(09/23/2010) Unlike every other of the world's great apes—the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan—saving the bonobo means focusing conservation efforts on a single nation, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While such a fact would seem to simplify conservation, according to the director of the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI), Gay Reinartz, it in fact complicates it: after decades of one of world's brutal civil wars, the DRC remains among the world's most left-behind nations. Widespread poverty, violence, politically instability, corruption, and lack of basic infrastructure have left the Congolese people in desperate straits.


Why biodiversity is worth saving

(09/23/2010) In recognition of the United Nations' declaration of 2010 as the 'International Year of Biodiversity', the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) has included a special section on the biodiversity in its September 2010 issue of Biotropica.


Orangutans can survive in timber plantations, selectively logged forests

(09/23/2010) Selectively logged forests and timber plantations can serve as habitat for orangutans, suggesting that populations of the endangered ape may be more resilient than previously believed, reports research published in the journal PlosONE. The study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Erik Meijaard of Jakarta-based People and Nature Consulting International, found roughly equivalent population densities between natural forest areas and two pulp and paper plantation concessions in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.


Plant names cut by over half a million

(09/22/2010) Researchers expect to strike out some 600,000 plant species names from taxonomy lists, representing over half of the names in current lists which stretched to nearly a million. The names cut are duplicate monikers for the same plant: for example, researchers discovered an astounding 800 different names for the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). Researchers are once-and-for-all weeding out alias names in an attempt to create a single definitive list of plant names.


Photos: 'Lost amphibian' search makes good: three 'extinct' species rediscovered

(09/22/2010) A search for 100 of the world's 'lost amphibians'—unseen for decades and in many cases supposed extinct—have turned up three species so far, one of which hasn't been recorded since the Nazis were bombing London. The lost amphibian expeditions, formed by Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), have found surviving populations of the cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton Mosaueri) in Mexico, the Mount Nimba reed frog (Hyperolius Nimbae) in the Ivory Coast, and the Omaniundu reed frog (Hyperolius sankuruensis) from the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Photos: New species spins the world's strongest and largest spider web

(09/20/2010) A newly discovered species of spider in Madagascar spins the world's longest web, report scientists writing in the Journal of Arachnology and PLoS ONE.


How the overlooked peccary engineers the Amazon, an interview with Harald Beck

(09/20/2010) When people think of the Amazon rainforest, they likely think of roaring jaguars, jumping monkeys, marching ants, and squeezing anacondas. The humble peccary would hardly be among the first animals to cross their mind, if they even know such pig-like animals exists! Yet new research on the peccary is proving just how vital these species are to the world's greatest rainforest. As seed dispersers and seed destroyers, engineers of freshwater habitats and forest gaps, peccaries play an immense, long overlooked, role in the rainforest. "Peccaries have the highest density and biomass of any Neotropical mammal species. Obviously these fellows have quite an appetite for almost anything, but primarily they consume fruits and seeds. Their specialized jaws allow them to crush very hard seeds. The cracking sounds can be heard through the thick vegetation long before we could see them. As peccary herds bulldoze through the leaf litter in search for insects, frogs, seeds, and fruits, they destroy (i.e. snap and trample) many seedlings and saplings, sometimes leaving only the bare ground behind," Harald Beck, assistant professor at Towson University in Maryland, told mongabay.com in an interview.


Unknown elephant relative photographed in Kenya

(09/16/2010) Scientists conducting research in the Boni-Dodori forest on the coast of northeastern Kenya may have discovered a new species of giant elephant-shrew, reports the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).


Saving wild tigers will cost $82M/year

(09/15/2010) The cost of maintaining the planet's 3,500 remaining wild tigers is around $80 million a year, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS Biology.


Goats, cats trigger near extinction of Hawaiian bird in past 7 years

(09/14/2010) A new survey by the United States Geological Survey shows the population of the Palila (Loxioides bailleui), a beautiful songbird found only in Hawaii, has fallen from 4,400 birds to 1,200 birds since 2003, a decline of nearly 75 percent. The bird is being driven toward extinction by introduced sheep and goats, which are destroying the Palila's key food source, and feral cats, which are killing off adult birds and hatchlings, according to the American Bird Conservancy.


Population of Asia's rarest waterbird 30% higher than previously thought

(09/13/2010) A record-breaking 429 White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni) were recorded in a new survey in Cambodia, dramatically expanding the known global population of the critically endangered bird species, reports BirdLife International.


Photos: the world's most endangered turtles

(09/10/2010) More than 40 percent of the world's freshwater turtle species are threatened with extinction, according to a new assessment by Conservation International. Turtles are threatened primarily by hunting, habitat destruction, and the pet trade, making them among the most endangered groups of animals.


Frogs and friends at risk from booming global wildlife trade

(09/08/2010) Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel at Defenders of Wildlife and Chair of the Species Survival Network's (SSN) Amphibian Working Group, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the global amphibian trade. In her interview, Alejandra Goyenechea discusses the benefits of frogs and the many threats – such as habitat loss, climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and overexploitation – to their survival. Did you know frogs indicate environmental quality, like canaries in a coal mine? Or that many have medicinal properties, like the phantasmal poison dart frog which produces a painkiller 200 times the potency of morphine?


The role of wildlife conservation in human health

(09/07/2010) Livestock farming is an important traditional way for communities in sub-Saharan Africa to build and maintain wealth, as well as attain food security. Essentially, the transfrontier or transboundary conservation areas (TFCA) concept and current internationally accepted approaches to the management of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) are largely incompatible. The TFCA concept promotes free movement of wildlife over large geographic areas, whereas the present approach to the control of TADs (especially for directly transmitted infections) is to use vast fences to prevent movement of susceptible animals between areas where TADs occur and areas where they do not, and to similarly restrict trade in commodities derived from animals on the same basis. In short, the incompatibility between current regulatory approaches for the control of diseases of agro-economic importance and the vision of vast conservation landscapes without major fences needs to be reconciled in the interest of regional risk-diversification of land-use options and livelihood opportunities. An integrated, interdisciplinary approach offers the most promising way to address these issues—one where the well-being of wildlife and ecosystems, domestic animals, and Africa's people are assessed holistically, with a "One World – One Health" perspective.


Is carbon protection the same as biodiversity protection?

(09/05/2010) Protection of forests for their carbon value through Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) schemes has been increasing in recent years. These schemes concentrate on preserving forest cover, and thus have great potential for the conservation of natural biodiversity. Some (REDD+) initiatives already specifically take biodiversity protection into account.


Vultures rebound in Cambodia; only Asian country with rising population

(09/02/2010) The number of threatened vultures in Cambodia is on the rise according to a new survey by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other members of the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project.


Crackdown on illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam

(09/02/2010) A sweep of restaurants in Vietnam's Lam Dong Province turned up hundreds of pounds of illegal wildlife products, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


21% of Africa's freshwater plants and animals threatened

(09/02/2010) 21 percent of African freshwater plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, according to a five year assessment of 5,167 freshwater species by 200 scientists.


Could camera traps save wildlife worldwide?

(08/31/2010) It's safe to say that the humble camera trap has revolutionized wildlife conservation. This simple contraption—an automated digital camera that takes a flash photo whenever an animal triggers an infrared sensor—has allowed scientists to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen, and often globally endangered species, with little expense and relative ease—at least compared to tromping through tropical forests and swamps looking for endangered rhino scat . Now researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are taking the utility of the camera trap one step further: a study in Animal Conservation uses a novel methodology, entitled the Wildlife Picture Index (WPI), to analyze population trends of 26 species in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. While the study found a bleak decline in species, it shows the potential of camera traps for moving conservation forward since it marks the first time researchers have used camera traps to analyze long-term population trends of multiple species.


Photos: 'Tarzan' chameleon discovered in Madagascar

(08/31/2010) Scientists have discovered a new species of chameleon in a small block of rainforest in Madagascar.


Photos: Asia's tiniest frog discovered living inside carnivorous plants in Borneo

(08/25/2010) One of the world's smallest frogs has been discovered living inside carnivorous plants in Borneo, reports Conservation International, a conservation group that is jointly supporting a campaign with IUCN to search for some of the world's 'lost amphibians.' The species, described in Zootaxa by Indraneil Das and Alexander Haas of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg, is named Microhyla nepenthicola after the plant in which is was found, Nepenthes ampullaria, a species of pitcher plant from Malaysian Borneo.


Saving Prairie Chickens

(08/24/2010) It's not so complicated, but it's much easier said than done. I'm referring to the restoration of a species to a habitat that has been transformed over time in the absence of keystone grazing species like bison which served essentially as landscape architects and grounds crew for expansive grassland habitat. In an effort to restore the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) to the coastal prairie ecosystems of Texas and Louisiana, restoration biologists had to find such available and suitable habitat.


Lion populations plummet in Uganda's parks

(08/19/2010) Lion populations across Uganda's park system have declined 40 percent in less than a decade, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


Exploring Kenya's sky island

(08/18/2010) Rising over 2,500 meters from Kenya's northern desert, the Mathews Range is a sky island: isolated mountain forests surrounded by valleys. Long cut off from other forests, 'sky islands' such as this often contain unique species and ecosystems. Supported by the Nature Conservancy, an expedition including local community programs Northern Rangelands Trust and Namunyak Conservancy recently spent a week surveying the mountain range, expanding the range of a number of species and discovering what is likely a new insect.


Golden toad saved from brink of extinction

(08/17/2010) One hundred Kihansi Spray Toads have been flown to their native Tanzania after a close brush with extinction, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).


The biology and conservation of declining coral reefs, an interview with Kristian Teleki

(08/15/2010) Coral reefs are often considered the "rainforests of the sea" because of their amazing biodiversity. In fact, coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is not unusual for a reef to have several hundred species of snails, sixty species of corals, and several hundred species of fish. While they comprise under 1% of the world’s ocean surface, one-quarter of all marine species call coral reefs their home. Fish, mollusks, sea stars, sea urchins, and more depend on this important ecosystem, and humans do too. Coral reefs supply important goods and services–from shoreline protection to tourism and fisheries–which by some estimates are worth $375 billion a year.


Logged forests retain considerable biodiversity in Borneo providing conservation opportunity

(08/12/2010) A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that forests which have undergone logging in the past, sometimes even twice, retain significant levels of biodiversity in Borneo. The researchers say these findings should push conservationists to protect more logged forests from being converted into oil palm plantations where biodiversity levels drop considerably and endangered species are almost wholly absent. Given that much of Borneo's forests have been logged as least once, these long-dismissed forests could become a new frontier for conservationists.


Orangutan populations collapse in pristine forest areas

(08/12/2010) Orangutan encounter rates have fallen six-fold in Borneo over the past 150 years, report researchers writing in the journal PLoS One. Erik Meijaard, an ecologist with People and Nature Consulting International, and colleagues compared present-day encounter rates with collection rates from naturalists working in the mid-19th Century. They found orangutans are much rarer today even in pristine forest areas. The results suggest hunting is taking a toll on orangutan populations.


Stunning monkey discovered in the Colombian Amazon

(08/11/2010) While the Amazon is being whittled away on all sides by logging, agriculture, roads, cattle ranching, mining, oil and gas exploration, today's announcement of a new monkey species proves that the world's greatest tropical rainforest still has many surprises to reveal. Scientists with the National University of Colombia and support from Conservation International (CI) have announced the discovery of a new monkey in the journal Primate Conservation on the Colombian border with Peru and Ecuador. The new species is a titi monkey, dubbed the Caquetá titi ( Callicebus caquetensis). However, the announcement comes with deep concern as researchers say it is likely the new species is already Critically Endangered due to a small population living in an area undergoing rapid deforestation for agriculture.


Nation's wealth does not guarantee green practices

(08/11/2010) Developing countries are not the only ones that could benefit from a little environmental support. Wealthier countries may need to 'know themselves' and address these issues at home too. According to a recent study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, wealth may be the most important factor determining a country’s environmental impact. The team had originally planned to study "country-level environmental performance and human health issues," lead author Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modeling and professor at the University of Adelaide, told mongabay.com. Once they began looking at the available indexes, however, they saw the need for a purely environmental analysis.


Audit finds palm oil company destroyed peatlands, but not primary forest

(08/10/2010) An environmental audit of palm oil company, PT SMART, found that the company had not cut primary rainforest, yet had destroyed carbon-rich peatlands; however the audit analyzed only 40 percent of PT SMART's holdings and investigated none of its plantations in New Guinea. A subsidiary of agricultural giant Sinar Mas, PT SMART has been accused in a number of reports by Greenpeace of both destroying high conservation value forests and draining peatlands. Greenpeace's reports caused both food giants Unilever and Nestle to drop PT SMART as a supplier of their palm oil, while Cargill stated it would wait to hear the results of the audit. Given the audit's results, both sides are claiming victory.


Hunting threatens the other Amazon: where harpy eagles are common and jaguars easy to spot, an interview with Paul Rosolie

(08/05/2010) If you have been fortunate enough to visit the Amazon or any other great rainforest, you've probably been wowed by the multitude and diversity of life. However, you also likely quickly realized that the deep jungle is not quite what you may have imagined when you were a child: you don't watch as jaguars wrestle with giant anteaters or anacondas circle prey. Instead life in the Amazon is small: insects, birds, frogs. Even biologists will tell you that you can spend years in the Amazon and never see a single jaguar. Yet rainforest guide and modern day explorer Paul Rosolie says there is another Amazon, one so pristine and with such wild abundance that it seems impossible to imagine if not for Rosolie's stories, photos, and soon videos. This is an Amazon where the big animals—jaguars, tapir, anaconda, giant anteaters, and harpy eagles—are not only abundant but visible. Free from human impact and overhunting, these remote places—off the beaten path of tourists—are growing ever smaller and, according to Rosolie, are in danger of disappearing forever.


80% of rainforests could adversely impacted by logging, deforestation, climate change by 2100

(08/05/2010) The world's tropical forests may suffer large-scale degradation and deforestation by the end of the century if current logging and climate change trends persist, finds a new analysis published in Conservation Letters.


Rainforest destruction progresses in waves

(08/05/2010) Tropical forest degradation progresses in a series of "waves", with forests initially exploited for high value products like hardwoods and then eventually used for successively lower value goods like firewood and fodder, reports new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Myanmar creates world's largest tiger reserve, aiding many endangered Southeast Asian species

(08/04/2010) Myanmar has announced that Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve will be nearly tripled in size, making the protected area the largest tiger reserve in the world. Spanning 17,477 square kilometers (6,748 square miles), the newly expanded park is approximately the size of Kuwait and larger than the US state of Connecticut.


Reforestation of rainforests sequesters more carbon than plantations

(08/03/2010) A new study in Ecological Management & Restoration has found that reforesting rainforest captures more carbon than monoculture plantation and even mixed species plantations. The research tested three projects in north-eastern Australia: a rainforest reforesting project using a variety of native trees, a mixed species plantation, and a monoculture plantation of conifers.


Bold rainforest idea makes good: Ecuador secures trust fund to save park from oil developers

(08/03/2010) In what may amount to a historic moment in the quest to save the world's rainforests and mitigate climate change, Ecuador and the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF) have created a trust fund to protect one of the world's most biodiverse rainforests from oil exploration and development. The fund will allow the international community to pay Ecuador to leave an estimated 850 million barrels of oil in Yasuni National Park in the ground instead of extracting it. This first-of-its-kind agreement, known as the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, will allow the rainforest protected area to remain pristine: preserving one of the most species-rich places on Earth, safeguarding the lives of indigenous people, and keeping an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.


Environmental assessment for Borneo coal plant riddled with errors

(08/03/2010) The Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) for a proposed coal plant in Sabah is full of holes, according to activists with the organization Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future), which opposes the plant. The official environmental report from Lahad Datu Energy lists species not endemic to Borneo, mistakes the nearest ecosystem to the coal plant, and confuses indigenous groups. Even more seriously, the DEIA leaves out information on the coal plant's specifics and possible 'green' alternatives.


Endangered Animals: 10 Reasons for Hope

(08/03/2010) Earlier last month the Zoological Society of San Diego launched two far reaching media and development projects which showcase the Zoo's extensive global field conservation programs. Mongabay had the opportunity to attend the launch ceremony of the Zoo's new 'Global Action Team' and the accompanying 'Ten Reasons for Hope' campaign. While at this event, we spoke with Alan Lieberman, Director of Regional Conservation Programs, about the development of both projects.


Scientists condemn current development plan in Kalimantan

(08/02/2010) Scientists with the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) have released a resolution opposing the current development plan for a road and bridge crossing Balikpapan Bay in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. The resolution states that the plan threatens not only the fragile ecosystems within the bay, but of the nearby mangroves as well as the Sungai Wain forest and its watershed, vital for local industry and people. According to ATBC, the plan could be easily remedied by officials picking an alternate route, which is also favored by locals since it would be 80 kilometers shorter.


Logging crisis pushes Madagascar's forests on to UNESCO's Danger List

(08/01/2010) UNESCO's World Heritage committee has added Madagascar's unique tropical forests to its Danger List of threatened ecosystems. The move comes following a drawn-out illegal logging crisis that has seen loggers and traders infiltrating the island-nation's national parks for rosewood. Bushmeat hunting of lemurs and other rare species also accompanied the crisis.


Indonesian people-not international donors or orangutan conservationists-will determine the ultimate fate of Indonesia's forests

(07/29/2010) Many of the environmental issues facing Indonesia are embodied in the plight of the orangutan, the red ape that inhabits the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Orangutan populations have plummeted over the past century, a result of hunting, habitat loss, the pet trade, and human-ape conflict. Accordingly, governments, charities, and concerned individuals have ploughed tens of millions of dollars into orangutan conservation, but have little to show in terms of slowing or reversing the decline. The same can be said about forest conservation in Indonesia: while massive amounts of money have been put toward protecting and sustainable using forests, the sum is dwarfed by the returns from converting forests into timber, rice, paper, and palm oil. So orangutans—and forests—continue to lose out to economic development, at least as conventionally pursued. Poor governance means that even when well-intentioned measures are in place, they are often undermined by corruption, apathy, or poorly-designed policies. So is there a future for Indonesia's red apes and their forest home? Erik Meijaard, an ecologist who has worked in Indonesia since 1993 and is considered a world authority on orangutan populations, is cautiously optimistic, although he sees no 'silver bullet' solutions.


Visiting the Gulf: how wildlife and people are faring in America's worst environmental disaster, an interview with Jennifer Jacquet

(07/29/2010) "President Obama called it 'the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.' So I thought I should face it and head to the Gulf"—these are the opening words on the popular blog Guilty Planet as the author, marine biologist Jennifer Jacquet, embarked on a ten day trip to Louisiana. As a scientist, Jacquet was, of course, interested in the impact of the some four million barrels of oil on the Gulf's already depleted ecosystem, however she was as equally keen to see how Louisianans were coping with the fossil fuel-disaster that devastated their most vital natural resource just four years after Hurricane Katrina.


If Madagascar's biodiversity is to be saved, international community must step up

(07/27/2010) The international community's boycott of environmental aid to Madagascar is imperiling the island's unique and endangered wildlife, according to a new report commissioned by the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) Bureau of Africa. International aid to the desperately poor nation slowed to a trickle after a government coup last year, including a halt on environmental funding from the US government. Since then the island has experienced an environmental crisis: illegal loggers and traders began decimating protected areas, and the wildlife trade, including hunting endangered lemurs for bushmeat, took off.


Coral reefs doomed by climate change

(07/22/2010) The world's coral reefs are in great danger from dual threats of rising temperatures and ocean acidification, Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told scientists attending the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meeting in Sanur, Bali. Tracing the geological history of coral reefs over hundreds of millions of years, Veron said reefs lead a boom-and-bust existence, which appears to be correlated with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. With CO2 emissions rising sharply from human activities, reefs—which are home to perhaps a quarter of marine species and provide critical protection for coastlines—are poised for a 'bust' on a scale unlike anything seen in tens of millions of years.


Scientists sound warning on forest carbon payment scheme

(07/22/2010) Scientists convening in Bali expressed a range of concerns over a proposed mechanism for mitigating climate change through forest conservation, but some remained hopeful the idea could deliver long-term protection to forests, ease the transition to a low-carbon economy, and generate benefits to forest-dependent people.


Wildlife trafficking hubs identified in Indonesia

(07/21/2010) The bulk of illegally traded wildlife moves through two "triangles" that span the Indonesian archipelago, an ecologist told scientists attending a meeting convened in Sanur, Bali by the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation.


Amazing reefs: how corals 'hear', an interview with Steve Simpson

(07/21/2010) Corals aggregate to form vast reefs, which are home to numerous species and provide vital ecological services such as protecting shorelines. However, coral reefs are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world due to many factors, such as global warming and ocean acidification. Recent research by Simpson and his team of scientists has shown that corals, rather than drifting aimlessly after being released by their parent colonies and by chance landing back on reefs, instead find their way purposefully to reefs by detecting the sound of snapping shrimps and grunting fish on the reef. However, that discovery also means that the larvae might struggle to find reefs when human noises, like drilling or boats, mask the natural ocean sounds.


Following public outcry, New Zealand drops plan to mine protected areas

(07/20/2010) The New Zealand government has caved to public pressure, announcing that it is dropping all plans to mine in protected areas. The plan to open 7,000 hectares of protected areas to mining would have threatened a number of rare and endemic species, including two frogs that are prehistoric relics virtually unchanged from amphibian fossils 150 million years old: Archey's frog (Leiopelma archeyi) and Hochstetter's frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri).


30 frog species, including 5 unknown to science, killed off by amphibian plague in Panama

(07/19/2010) With advanced genetic techniques, researchers have drawn a picture of just how devastating the currently extinction crisis for the world's amphibians has become in a new study published in the Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Studying frog populations using DNA barcoding in Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé researchers found that 25 known species and 5 unknown species have vanished since 1998. None have returned.



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