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News articles on featured
Mongabay.com news articles on featured in blog format. Updated regularly.
(12/28/2011) 2011 was designated as "Year of the Forests" by the United Nations. While there was relatively little progress on intergovernmental forest protection programs during the year, a lot happened elsewhere. Below is a look at some of the biggest tropical forest-related news stories for 2011. We at mongabay readily acknowledge there were a number of important temperate and boreal forest developments, including Britain's decision not to privatize its forests and the severe drought in Texas, but this article will cover only tropical forest news.
Our top nature pictures of 2011
(12/27/2011) My reporting for mongabay.com took me to six continents in 2011 and I managed to take photos on many of the trips. Overall I added more than 10,000 new photos to the travel section of the site. Below are some of my favorite pictures from 2011. Thank you for reading mongabay.com in 2011 and I wish you the best for 2012!
The dark side of new species discovery
(12/21/2011) Scientists and the public usually rejoice when a new species is discovered. But biologist Bryan Stuart has learned the hard way that the discovery of new species, especially when that species is commercially valuable, has a dark side-one that could potentially wipe out the new species before protections can be put in place. Stuart has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists - so far. That includes 22 species of frogs, three types of snakes, and two salamanders. His experience with one of these, a warty salamander from Laos with striking markings (Laotriton laoensis), opened his eyes to a dark side of scientific discovery: commercial overexploitation before protections are in place. Shortly after Stuart described the previously unknown species Paramesotriton laoensis in a scientific paper published in 2002, commercial dealers began collecting this Lao newt for sale into the pet trade. In essence, the dealers used Stuart's geographic description in the paper as a “roadmap” to find the rare newt.
Matt Miller: don't oversimplify issues in environmental debates
(12/21/2011) Matt Miller is director of communications for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, a position he’s held for ten years. He is responsible for the chapter’s publications and digital media. He writes for the Conservancy’s blogs Cool Green Science and Idaho Nature Notes. He has also completed two conservation fellowships for the Conservancy’s programs in Colombia and Micronesia. In his spare time, he is editor of Backcountry Journal and a freelance writer with credits in Grist, Living Bird, Bugle, Sports Afield and many other publications. Matt is a board member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and a regular speaker on conservation topics. He has traveled to six continents in search of wildlife and stories. Most recently, he's written about the plight of Pacific Islanders caused by rising sea levels and economic hardships. Matt lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife Jennifer, who promotes sustainable agriculture for the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides.
Is the Russian Forest Code a warning for Brazil?
(12/19/2011) Brazil, which last week moved to reform its Forest Code, may find lessons in Russia's revision of its forest law in 2007, say a pair of Russian scientists. The Brazilian Senate last week passed a bill that would relax some of forest provisions imposed on landowners. Environmentalists blasted the move, arguing that the new Forest Code — provided it is not vetoed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff next year — could undermine the country's progress in reducing deforestation.
Herpetology curator: behind-the-scenes of 'new species' discoveries
(12/18/2011) Bryan Stuart’s mission as a curator of amphibians and reptiles at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is to understand the diversity of life on earth. For that, he documents what species occur where and why. He’s particularly attracted to areas where there’s a dearth of knowledge, like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Gabon, and so far has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists: three species of snakes, two types of salamanders, and 22 kinds of frogs.
WWF: Asia Pulp & Paper misleads public about its role in destroying Indonesia's rainforests
(12/16/2011) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) continues to mislead the public about its role in destroying rainforests and critical tiger habitat across the Indonesian island of Sumatra, alleges a new report from Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian environmental groups including WWF-Indonesia. The report, titled The truth behind APP’s Greenwash, is based on analysis of satellite imagery as well as public and private documentation of forest cleared by logging companies that supply APP, which is owned by the Indonesian conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG). The report concludes APP's fiber suppliers have destroyed 2 million hectares of forest in Sumatra since 1984.
Interview with conservation legend George Schaller
(12/13/2011) Dr George Schaller is a veteran ecologist affiliated with two conservation organizations in New York, Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Spending much of his time during the past six decades in various countries of Asia, Africa and South America, he has studied and helped protect species as diverse as the Tiger, Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda and Tibetan Antelope. In addition, he has promoted the establishment of about 15 protected areas. His studies have been the basis for his scientific and popular writings.
Evidence mounts that Maya did themselves in through deforestation
(12/08/2011) Researchers have garnered further evidence for a smoking gun behind the fall of the great Maya civilization: deforestation. At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference, climatologist Ben Cook presented recent research showing how the destruction of rainforests by the Mayan ultimately led to declines in precipitation and possibly civilization-rocking droughts. While the idea that the Maya may have committed ecological-suicide through deforestation has been widely discussed, including in Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse, Cook's findings add greater weight to the theory.
Palm oil, pulp companies commit to zero-tolerance policy for orangutan killing
(12/06/2011) Two Indonesian plantation companies have signed an agreement to train workers not to kill or injure orangutans and other protected species. The agreement was brokered by the Indonesian government between Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), a non-profit with operations in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, and two major plantation firms: PT Smart, one of Indonesia's largest palm oil producers, and PT Lontar Papyrus, which supplies wood-pulp to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). Both companies are holdings of the Sinar Mas Group. Under the terms of the deal, OFI will assist the companies 'in delivering a best management practices training program on orangutans and endangered species for its employees, affiliates and pulpwood suppliers.'
Environmental news in review: Keystone pipeline delayed, Dole exits banana project, a rhino goes extinct
(12/02/2011) November 2011 was a big month for environmental news stories. Topping the list was the Obama Administration's decision to delay the controversial Keystone pipeline which would have carried tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The scheme was vehemently opposed by environmental groups which turned the issue into a litmus test for Obama, whose campaign platform included a promise to take action on greenhouse gas emissions. More than 1,200 protesters were arrested in demonstrations leading up to Obama's decision.
Interview with conservation legend, Richard Leakey
(11/28/2011) Following in his family's footsteps, Dr. Richard Leakey, is considered the heir to the scientific legacy of his parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, icons in the field of paleoanthropology. Dr Richard Leakey has been credited with some of the field's most successful paleoanthropologic finds, including a near complete, groundbreaking, Homo Erectus fossil dubbed 'Turkana Boy'. The scientific contributions of the Leakey family have reshaped our views of the origins of mankind and shed new light on the history and shared ties of the human family.
Report questions legitimacy of Asia Pulp & Paper's conservation initiatives
(11/22/2011) A new report by an Indonesian environmental group casts doubt on Asia Pulp & Paper's commitment to sustainability. In its corporate social responsibility reports and advertisements, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of Indonesia's largest pulp and paper suppliers, has touted several forest reserves as indicators of its commitment to environmental stewardship. APP has portrayed these as voluntary, goodwill efforts to conserve Sumatra's endangered wildlife. But in a new report, Greenomics-Indonesia, a Jakarta-based NGO, says that at best these projects represent compliance with existing Indonesian laws or are in areas where commercial exploitation isn't viable.
Seahorses under stress
(11/21/2011) With about 25 million seahorses sold each year, global consumption of seahorses is massive. They’re used in traditional Asian medicine and also sold as curios and aquarium pets. Over the last decade, overexploitation and habitat degradation have prompted declines of between 15 to 70 percent in many seahorse populations. Marine biologist and author Helen Scales notes there is much still unknown about seahorses.
War of words between Greenpeace, Asia Pulp & Paper over deforestation allegations
(11/16/2011) Greenpeace and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a giant global paper supplier, are locked in a heated battle over the activist group's allegations that APP products contain fiber sourced from the destruction of forests in Indonesia. At stake is APP's access to some of the world's most lucrative markets. Until APP provides solid evidence refuting Greenpeace's accusation that its pulp and paper production isn't coming at the expense of natural forests in Indonesia, APP will have a difficult time winning over critics.
Covert Creatures: The Clandestine Lives of Seahorses
(11/15/2011) Seahorses are strange looking creatures, with a horse's head on top of a kangaroo’s pouched belly, bulging, swiveling chameleon eyes, a prehensile monkey tail, color-changing armor and a royal crown, all shrunk down to the size of a chess piece. To marine biologist Helen Scales, these elusive creatures are a perfect symbol of the ocean's biodiversity.
Cultural erosion among indigenous groups in Venezuela brings new risks for Caura rainforest
(11/14/2011) One of the planet's most beautiful landscapes is in danger. Deep in southern Venezuela, among ancient forested tabletop mountains known as tepuis, crystalline rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, outside influences — malaria, the high price of gold, commercial hunting, and cultural erosion — are threatening one of world's largest remaining blocks of wilderness, one that is home to indigenous people and strikingly high levels of biological diversity.
Illuminating Africa's most obscure cat
(10/18/2011) Africa is known as the continent of big cats: cheetahs, leopards, and of course, the king of them all, lions. Even servals and caracals are relatively well-known by the public. Still, few people realize that Africa is home to a number of smaller wild cat species, such as the black-footed cat and the African wild cat. But the least known feline on the continent is actually a cryptic predator that inhabits the rainforest of the Congo and West Africa. "The African golden cat has dominated my thoughts and energy for over a year and a half now. When carrying out a study like this one, you find yourself trying to think like your study animal," Laila Bahaa-el-din, University of Kwazulu Natal graduate student, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
If camera traps don't prove existence of Bigfoot or Yeti nothing will
(10/13/2011) Let me state for the record that I am skeptical of the existence of Bigfoot or the Yeti, however I do have a fascination for following the latest news on the seemingly never-ending search for these hidden hominids. This week a Yeti conference in Russia announced 'indisputable proof' of the legendary hairy ape in the wilds of Southern Siberia. What did this proof consist of? Not DNA, photographs, video, or the Yeti itself (dead or alive) as one would expect from the word 'indisputable', but a few alleged Yeti hairs, an alleged bed, and alleged footprints. Cryptozoologists, those who are fascinated by hidden species such as the proposed Yeti and Bigfoot, don't serve their cause by stating the reality of a species without the evidence long-deemed necessary by scientific community to prove it—either a body or DNA samples combined with clear photographic evidence—instead they make themselves easy targets of scorn and ridicule.
High gold price triggers rainforest devastation in Peru
(10/11/2011) As the price of gold inches upward on international markets, a dead zone is spreading across the southern Peruvian rain forest. Tourists flying to Manu or Tambopata, the crown jewels of the country’s Amazonian parks, get a jarring view of a muddy, cratered moonscape ... and then another ... and another in what the country boasts is its capital of biodiversity. While alluvial gold mining in the Amazon is probably older than the Incas, miners using motorized suction equipment, huge floating dredges and backhoes are plowing through the landscape on an unprecedented scale, leaving treeless scars visible from outer space. Sources close to the Peruvian Environment Ministry say the government is considering declaring an environmental emergency in the region, but emergency measures passed two years ago were not enough to contain the destruction, and some observers doubt that a new decree would have any more impact.
Should public or private money finance efforts to save forests?
(10/11/2011) The 11th Rights and Resources Initiative Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change in London, which will focus on The Status and Role of Public and Private Finance to Reduce Forest Loss and Degradation. The goal of the RRI Dialogue is to examine the current state of public and private financial mechanisms for REDD+ and adaptation and contribute to developing an updated vision for the optimal design and deployment of finance to reduce forest loss and degradation - while respecting the rights and development needs of local people. RRI has partnered with Mongabay.com to present two diverging viewpoints on issues to be discussed at length at the dialogue, featuring Vicky Tauli-Corpuz (Executive Director, Tebtebba) and Scott Poynton (Executive Director, The Forest Trust).
Panama canal drives forest conservation, offers insight on value of ecosystems
(09/26/2011) As demonstrated by growing enthusiasm for conserving forests and the rise of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program, the public is increasingly aware of the role forests play in delivering ecosystems services — like clean air and water — that benefit mankind. Yet, science still lags conventional wisdom — researchers have yet to fully quantify much of what healthy forests provide. Bridging this gap is key to unlocking the full value of protecting and restoring tropical forests. The ambitious Agua Salud Project in Panama is attempting to do just that.
Palm oil, poverty, and conservation collide in Cameroon
(09/13/2011) Industrial palm oil production is coming to Africa, its ancestral home. And like other places where expansion has occurred rapidly, the crop is spurring hope for economic development while generating controversy over its potential impacts. The world's most productive oil seed has been a boon to southeast Asian economies, but the looming arrival of industrial plantations in Africa is raising fears that some of the same detriments that have plagued leading producers Malaysia and Indonesia—deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, conflicts with local people, social displacement, and poor working conditions—could befall one of the world’s most destitute regions. While there is no question that oil palm is a highly lucrative crop that can contribute to economic development, there is also little doubt that conversion of native forests for plantations exacts a heavy toll on the environment. The apparent conflict seems to pit agroindustrial goliaths against greens, with communities falling somewhere in between. But Herakles, a New York-based investment firm planning to construct a 60,000-hectare plantation in the Central African country of Cameroon, says its approach will bridge this gap between economic development and the environment. Social and environmental campaigners are skeptical.
Children on the frontlines: the e-waste epidemic in Africa
(09/09/2011) In Agbogbloshie, a slum outside the capital city of Accra, Ghana, tons of electronic waste lies smoldering in toxic piles. Children make their way through this dangerous environment, desperate to strip even a few ounces of copper, aluminum, brass, and zinc from worn-out electronics originating from the United States and Europe. "The smell alone will drive all but the most desperate away, but many are so desperate they persevere despite the obvious dangers. It is a very tough thing to witness," explains Dr. Kwei Quartey, a Ghanaian author and physician, in a recent mongabay.com interview.
Sowing the seeds to save the Patagonian Sea
(09/07/2011) With wild waters and shores, the Patagonia Sea is home to a great menagerie of marine animals: from penguins to elephants seals, albatrosses to squid, and sea lions to southern right whales. The sea lies at crossroads between more northern latitudes and the cold bitter water of the Southern Ocean, which surround Antarctica. However the region is also a heavy fishing ground, putting pressure on a number of species and imperiling the very ecosystem that supplies the industry. Conservation efforts, spearheaded by marine conservationist Claudio Campagna and colleagues with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are in the early stages. Campagna, who often writes about the importance of language in the fight for preservation, has pushed to rename the area to focus on its stunning wildlife.
Big damage in Papua New Guinea: new film documents how industrial logging destroys lives
(08/29/2011) In one scene a young man, perhaps not long ago a boy, named Douglas stands shirtless and in shorts as he runs a chainsaw into a massive tropical tree. Prior to this we have already heard from an official how employees operating chainsaws must have a bevy of protective equipment as well as training, but in Papua New Guinea these are just words. The reality is this: Douglas straining to pull the chainsaw out of the tree as it begins to fall while his fellow employees flee the tumbling giant. The new film Bikpela Bagarap('Big Damage') documents the impact of industrial logging on the lives of local people in Papua New Guinea.
The glass is half-full: conservation has made a difference
(08/11/2011) Don't despair: that's the message of a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, which argues that decades of conservation actions at multiple scales have had a positive impact for many of the world's endangered species. While such actions have not yet turned back the tide of the current mass extinction crisis, they have achieved notable successes which often get lost in the gloom-and-doom news stories on biodiversity declines. According to the paper, conservation actions take place on three scales. Microscale conservation focuses on a single species or ecosystem; mesoscale means conservation cooperation between a number of countries, such as efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade or protect wide-ranging species; and finally macroscale means global organizations or campaigns, such as those that pressure multinational corporations to become more biodiversity-friendly.
Taking corporate sustainability seriously means changing business culture
(08/11/2011) As more and more people demand companies to become sustainable and environmentally conscious, many corporations are at a loss of how to begin making the changes necessary. If they attempt to make changes—but fall short or focus poorly—they risk their actions being labeled as 'greenwash'. In addition, if they implement smart changes and self-regulations, but their employees don't buy-in to the process, all their investments will be for nothing. This is where Accountability Now, a young, fresh social responsibility agency, comes in. Clare Raybould, director of Accountability Now, believes companies—large and small—have the potential to change the world for the better, but they simply need a guiding hand to change not just the way a company works, but its culture.
Science has been nearly silent in Brazil’s Forest Code debate
(08/09/2011) A recent push to revise Brazil’s forest code has emerged as one of the more contentious political issues in the country, pitting agribuisness against environmentalists trying to preserve the Amazon rainforest. Historically, the forest code has required private landowners to maintain a substantial proportion of natural forest cover on their properties, though the law has often been ignored. While both sides claim to be basing their recommendations on the 'best science' available, Brazilian scientists say they haven’t had much of a voice in the debate. In fact, says Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at the Amazon Research Institute and Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, 'throughout the development of the said revisions, Congress has neither invited nor commissioned a coordinated and serious contribution from the scientific community.'
Forest Code bill could undermine sustainable growth in the Amazon
(07/06/2011) In May Brazil's House of Representatives passed a bill that will reform the country's Forest Code, which requires farmers and ranchers in the Amazon to maintain a legal forest reserve amounting to 80 percent of total landholdings. Environmentalists say the bill, which is undergoing revision before heading to the Senate next month, would weaken the forest code, granting amnesty for illegal deforestation of up to 400 hectares per property and allowing clearing of forests along waterways and on hillsides — restrictions meant to limit erosion and damage to watersheds.
Brazilian senator: Forest Code reform necessary to grow farm sector
(07/06/2011) Over the past twenty years Brazil has emerged as an agricultural superpower: today it is the largest exporter beef, sugar, coffee, and orange juice, and the second largest producer of soybeans. While much of this growth has been fueled by a sharp increase in productivity resulting from improved breeding stock and technological innovation, Brazil has benefited from large expanses of available land in the Amazon and the cerrado, a grassland ecosystem. But agricultural growth in Brazil has always been limited — at least on paper — by its environmental laws. Under the country's Forest Code, landowners in the Amazon must keep 80 percent of their land forested.
Richard Leakey: 'selfish' critics choose wrong fight in Serengeti road
(07/02/2011) The controversial Serengeti road is going ahead, but with conditions. According to the Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, the road will not be paved and it will be run by the Tanzanian park authority who will have the power to monitor traffic to 'ensure no harm comes to the wildlife population'. Critics argue that even an unpaved road would eventually cripple the largest land migration in the world. However, famed Kenyan conservationist, ex-politician, and anthropologist, Richard Leakey, told mongabay.com that critics of the road are focusing on the wrong fight while failing to respect Tanzania's right to develop. Leakey says that instead of attempting to stop the road from being built, which he believes is inevitable, critics should instead focus on funding a truly wildlife-friendly road.
Unpaved road through Serengeti to progress
(07/02/2011) After a week of confusion, the Tanzanian government has finally clarified its position on the hugely-controversial Serengeti road. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, confirmed that a paved highway will not be built through the northern Serengeti National Park, however the government is still planning to construct a gravel road through the park. Yet critics have long warned that even an unpaved road would open Pandora's box: eventually commercial and population pressure would push the road to be paved, widened, and fenced leading to a collapse of the world's largest remaining-and most famous-land migration. Two million wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle pass along this route in annual migration from Tanzania to Kenya.
FSC mulls controversial motion to certify plantations responsible for recent deforestation
(06/24/2011) Members of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), meeting in Malaysia this week for its General Assembly, will consider various changes to the organization, including a vote on a controversial motion that would open the door—slightly at first—to sustainable-certification of companies that have been involved in recent forest destruction for pulp and paper plantations. Known as Motion 18, the change is especially focusing on forestry in places where recent deforestation has been rampant, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Dung beetles: a sewage SWAT team
(06/21/2011) Biology Professor Doug Emlen speaks with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the biology and armaments of dung beetles. An expert on the evolution and development of bizarre shapes in insects, Emlen notes that dung beetles are one of the 'kings' of odd morphology.
How do we save Africa's forests?
(06/19/2011) Africa's forests are fast diminishing to the detriment of climate, biodiversity, and millions of people of dependent on forest resources for their well-being. But is the full conservation of Africa's forests necessary to mitigate global climate change and ensure environmental stability in Africa? A new report by The Forest Philanthropy Action Network (FPAN), a non-profit that provides research-based advice on funding forest conservation, argues that only the full conservation of African forests will successfully protect carbon stocks in Africa.
Could palm oil help save the Amazon?
(06/14/2011) For years now, environmentalists have become accustomed to associating palm oil with large-scale destruction of rainforests across Malaysia and Indonesia. Campaigners have linked palm oil-containing products like Girl Scout cookies and soap products to smoldering peatlands and dead orangutans. Now with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth's largest rainforest? With this potential there is a frenzy of activity in the Brazilian palm oil sector. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists in the Amazon. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in other parts of the world.
Conservation issues in Tanzania
(06/09/2011) What's happening in Tanzania? This is a question making the rounds in East African conservation circles. Why is a nation that has so much invested in wild lands and wild animals pursuing projects that researchers say will not only gravely harm some of the nation's world-famous wildlife and ecosystems, but also undercut its economically-important tourism industry?
Barbie, Legos, other toys linked to destruction of Indonesia's rainforests
(06/07/2011) Some of the world's largest and most prominent toy-makers are sourcing their packaging materials from companies linked to large-scale destruction of Indonesia's rainforests, alleges a new report from Greenpeace. The report, How APP is Toying with Extinction, is based on forensic analysis of toy packaging from Mattel, which manufacturers Barbie and Hot Wheels toys; Disney, which makes a variety of toys linked to its movies; Hasbro, which produces GI Joe, Star Wars, and Sesame Street toys and various games like Monopoly and Scrabble; and Lego, which makes the iconic plastic building blocks. The analysis found traces of mixed-tropical hardwood (MTH) and acacia fiber which are principally sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an umbrella paper products brand that sources from several companies that have been linked to rainforest destruction in Sumatra.
How do we save the Sumatran rhino?
(06/06/2011) Some conservation challenges are more daunting than others. For example, how do you save a species that has been whittled down to just a couple hundred individuals; still faces threats such as deforestation, poaching and trapping; is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity; and is losing precious time because surviving animals are so few and far-apart that simply finding one another—let alone mating and successfully bringing a baby into the world—is unlikely? This is the uphill task that faces conservationists scrambling to save the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). A new paper in Oryx, aptly named Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus sumatrensis from extinction? analyzes the conservation challenge, while putting forth a number of recommendations.
Arctic on the line: oil industry versus Greenpeace at the top of the world
(06/06/2011) At the top of the world sits a lone region of shifting sea ice, bare islands, and strange creatures. For most of human history the Arctic remained inaccessible to all but the hardiest of peoples, keeping it relatively pristine and untouched. But today, the Arctic is arguably changing faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change. Greenhouse gases from society have heated up parts of the Arctic over the past half-century by 4-5 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to a staggering decline in the Arctic sea ice. The large-scale changes suffered by the Arctic have created a new debate over conservation and exploitation, a debate currently represented by the protests of Greenpeace against oil company Cairn Energy, both of whom have been interviewed by mongabay.com (see below).
Interview with Indonesian climate official on rainforest logging moratorium
(06/03/2011) In May, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a presidential instruction laying out the specifications for a two-year moratorium on new concessions in primary forests and peatlands. The moratorium aims to create a window for Indonesia to enact reforms needed to slow deforestation and forest degradation under its Letter of Intent with Norway, which would pay the Southeast Asian nation up to a billion dollars for protecting forests.
Indonesia's moratorium disappoints environmentalists
(05/20/2011) The moratorium on permits for new concessions in primary rainforests and peatlands will have a limited impact in reducing deforestation in Indonesia, say environmentalists who have reviewed the instruction released today by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The moratorium, which took effect January 1, 2011, but had yet to be defined until today's presidential decree, aims to slow Indonesia's deforestation rate, which is among the highest in the world. Indonesia agreed to establish the moratorium as part of its reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) agreement with Norway. Under the pact, Norway will provide up to a billion dollars in funds contingent on Indonesia's success in curtailing destruction of carbon-dense forests and peatlands.
Uncovering the private lives of Amazon wildlife through camera traps
(05/20/2011) One of the best words to describe Amazon wildlife, including large mammals and birds, is cryptic. A person can spend a day trekking through the dense green and brown foliage of the Amazon and see nothing more than a few insects, maybe a frog here and there if they have good eyes. In fact, researchers have spent years in the jungle and never seen a jaguar, let alone a tapir. Some species like the bushdog and the giant armadillo are even more cryptic. Almost never encountered by people, in some parts of the Amazon they have taken on a mythic status, more rumor around the fire than reality. However, camera traps—automated cameras that take a flash photo whenever an animal triggers an infrared sensor—in the Amazon have begun to reveal long-sought information about the presence and abundance of species, providing new data on range and territories. And even at times giving glimpses into the private lives of species that remain largely shrouded in mystery.
Is Indonesia losing its most valuable assets?
(05/16/2011) Deep in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo in the late 1980s, researchers made an incredible discovery: the bark of a species of peat swamp tree yielded an extract with potent anti-HIV activity. An anti-HIV drug made from the compound is now nearing clinical trials. It could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and help improve the lives of millions of people. This story is significant for Indonesia because its forests house a similar species. In fact, Indonesia's forests probably contain many other potentially valuable species, although our understanding of these is poor. Given Indonesia's biological richness — Indonesia has the highest number of plant and animal species of any country on the planet — shouldn't policymakers and businesses be giving priority to protecting and understanding rainforests, peatlands, mountains, coral reefs, and mangrove ecosystems, rather than destroying them for commodities?
Belief and butchery: how lies and organized crime are pushing rhinos to extinction
(05/11/2011) Few animals face as violent, as well organized, and as determined an enemy as the world's rhinos. Across the globe rhinos are being slaughtered in record numbers; on average more than one rhino is killed by poachers everyday. After being shot or drugged, criminals take what they came for: they saw off the animal's horn. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which claims that it has curative properties, rhino horn is worth more than gold and cocaine on the black market. However, science proves all this cash and death is based on a lie. 'There is no medicinal benefit to consuming rhino horn. It has been extensively analyzed in separate studies, by different institutions, and rhino horn was found to contain no medical properties whatsoever,' says Rhishja Larson.
Scientists scramble to save dying amphibians
(04/28/2011) In forests, ponds, swamps, and other ecosystems around the world, amphibians are dying at rates never before observed. The reasons are many: habitat destruction, pollution from pesticides, climate change, invasive species, and the emergence of a deadly and infectious fungal disease. More than 200 species have gone silent, while scientists estimate one third of the more than 6,500 known species are at risk of extinction. Conservationists have set up an an emergency conservation measure to capture wild frogs from infected areas and safeguard them in captivity until the disease is controlled or at least better understood. The frogs will be bred in captivity as an insurance policy against extinction.
Elephants: the gardeners of Asia's and Africa's forests
(04/25/2011) It seems difficult to imagine elephants delicately tending a garden, but these pachyderms may well be the world's weightiest horticulturalist. Elephants both in Asia and Africa eat abundant amounts of fruit when available; seeds pass through their guts, and after expelled—sometimes tens of miles down the trail—sprouts a new plant if conditions are right. This process is known by ecologists as 'seed dispersal', and scientists have long studied the 'gardening' capacities of monkeys, birds, bats, and rodents. Recently, however, researchers have begun to document the seed dispersal capacity of the world's largest land animal, the elephant, proving that this species may be among the world's most important tropical gardeners.
Earth Day pictures: International Year of Forests
(04/22/2011) In my nearly 12 years of running mongabay.com, I have had the good fortune to visit spectacular forests around the world. So this Earth Day, instead of writing something pithy (Jeremy has done a fine job in his Earth Day post recognizing the value of what nature gives us), I'm just posting some of my favorite forest pictures I've taken in my travels.
What does Nature give us? A special Earth Day article
(04/22/2011) There is no question that Earth has been a giving planet. Everything humans have needed to survive, and thrive, was provided by the natural world around us: food, water, medicine, materials for shelter, and even natural cycles such as climate and nutrients. Scientists have come to term such gifts 'ecosystem services', however the recognition of such services goes back thousands of years, and perhaps even farther if one accepts the caves paintings at Lascaux as evidence. Yet we have so disconnected ourselves from the natural world that it is easy—and often convenient—to forget that nature remains as giving as ever, even as it vanishes bit-by-bit. The rise of technology and industry may have distanced us superficially from nature, but it has not changed our reliance on the natural world: most of what we use and consume on a daily basis remains the product of multitudes of interactions within nature, and many of those interactions are imperiled. Beyond such physical goods, the natural world provides less tangible, but just as important, gifts in terms of beauty, art, and spirituality.
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