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









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.


Photos: Visiting Gunung Palung in Indonesian Borneo

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


Pulp and paper firms urged to save 1.2M ha of forest slated for clearing in Indonesia

(03/17/2011) Indonesian environmental groups launched a urgent plea urging the country's two largest pulp and paper companies not to clear 800,000 hectares of forest and peatland in their concessions in Sumatra. Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs, released maps showing that Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) control blocks of land representing 31 percent of the remaining forest in the province of Riau, one of Sumatra's most forested provinces. Much of the forest lies on deep peat, which releases large of amount of carbon when drained and cleared for timber plantations.


Fighting illegal logging in Indonesia by giving communities a stake in forest management

(03/10/2011) Over the past twenty years Indonesia lost more than 24 million hectares of forest, an area larger than the U.K. Much of the deforestation was driven by logging for overseas markets. According to the World Bank, a substantial proportion of this logging was illegal. Curtailing illegal logging may seem relatively simple, but at the root of the problem of illegal logging is something bigger: Indonesia's land policy. Can the tide be turned? There are signs it can. Indonesia is beginning to see a shift back toward traditional models of forest management in some areas. Where it is happening, forests are recovering. Telapak understands the issue well. It is pushing community logging as the 'new' forest management regime in Indonesia. Telapak sees community forest management as a way to combat illegal logging while creating sustainable livelihoods.


Breakthrough? Controversial palm oil company signs rainforest pact

(02/09/2011) One of the world's highest profile and most controversial palm oil companies, Golden Agri-Resources Limited (GAR), has signed an agreement committing it to protect tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia. The deal—signed with The Forest Trust, an environmental group that works with companies to improve their supply chains—could have significant ramifications for how palm oil is produced in the country, which is the world's largest producer of palm oil.


Monitoring deforestation: an interview with Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil's space agency INPE

(02/08/2011) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the world's best deforestation tracking system is found in the country with the most rainforest: Brazil. Following international outcry over immense forest loss in the 1980s, Brazil in the 1990s set in motion a plan to develop a satellite-based system for tracking changes in forest cover. In 2003 Brazil made the system available to the world via its web site, providing transparency on an issue that was until then seen as a badge of shame by some. Since then Brazil has become recognized as the standard-bearer for deforestation tracking and reporting—no other country offers the kind of data Brazil provides. Space engineer Gilberto Camara has overseen much of INPE's earth sensing work and during his watch, INPE has released several new exciting capabilities.


Environmental groups deny 'conspiracy' claims by Madagascar's acting leader

(02/03/2011) Two environmental groups investigating the illegal rosewood trade flatly rejected claims by Madagascar's acting president that they are involved in a campaign to undermine his rule. Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital city of Antananarivo who assumed power following civil strife in March 2009, claimed last month in an interview with Revue de l’océan Indien that the London-based Global Witness and the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency were attempting to sully his image through their undercover investigation into the rosewood trade. The groups found evidence suggesting that Rajoelina was involved in rosewood trafficking. The evidence included video footage of Chinese rosewood traders claiming to deal directly with Rajoelina.


Sarawak's last nomad: indigenous leader and activist, Along Sega, dies

(02/03/2011) Along Sega never knew exactly how old he was, but when he passed away yesterday in a hospital far from the forest where he born, he was likely in his 70s. Leader among the once-nomadic hunter and gatherer Penan people of Borneo and mentor to Swiss activist, Bruno Manser, Along Sega will be remembered for his work to save the Penan's forest—and their lifestyle and culture—from logging companies, supported by the Sarawak government and provided muscle by the state police.


Woman turns home bird sanctuary into effort to save rare birds

(02/02/2011) Twelve percent of the world's species are considered threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List, the authority on such matters. While habitat destruction and alien invasive species bear the brunt of the responsibility, the commercial pet trade has contributed to the decline of some of the world's most beautiful species. But with several species on the brink of extinction in the wild, captive-breeding efforts have taken on new significance. Now a San Francisco Bay Area resident is working to take such efforts to a new level. Michele Raffin is at the forefront of the new wave of bird breeders who believe that unless some of these birds are bred for conservation purposes, they will die out both in the wild and in captivity.


Africa's vanishing wild: mammal populations cut in half

(01/27/2011) The big mammals for which Africa is so famous are vanishing in staggering numbers. According to a study published last year: Africa's large mammal populations have dropped by 59% in just 40 years. But what is even more alarming was that the study only looked at mammal populations residing in parks and wildlife areas, i.e. lands that are, at least on paper, under governmental protection. Surveying 78 protected areas for 69 species, the study included global favorites such as the African elephant, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, and even Africa's feline king, the lion. "We weren’t surprised that populations had dropped but we were surprised by how large the drops had been," lead author Ian Craigie told mongabay.com in an interview.


Greening the world with palm oil?

(01/26/2011) The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the 'bar'. Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.


Marathon swimmer: an interview with the first man to swim the length of the Amazon

(01/23/2011) Explorers have been making their way down the world's mightiest river for hundreds of years. Untold numbers of people have not completed the journey, drowning in its murky waters, being eaten by animals, losing their way, succumbing to tropical disease, being killed by pirates or hostile local populations. But today a trip down the Amazon is less special—it has even been rafted and kayaked by a few intrepid souls. Traversing the majority of the Amazon can be done easily by commercial boat, provided you have the time and a lot of patience. But then in 2007 a Slovenian did something amazing: he swam the entire length of the river. The adventure took 66 days and exacted a heavy physical and mental toll, but Martin Strel survived and in so doing conveyed a simple, but powerful message to the world: we are part of the our environment.


American cougars on the decline: 'We’re running against the clock,' says big cat expert

(01/17/2011) It holds the Guinness World Record for having the most names of any animal on the planet, with 40 in English alone. It's also the widest-ranging native land animal in the Americas, yet is declining throughout much of its range. Mongabay talks with big cat expert Dr. Howard Quigley about the status and research implications of the elusive, enigmatic, and unique cougar.


Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia?

(01/13/2011) Over the past several years, Asia Pulp & Paper has engaged in a marketing campaign to represent its operations in Sumatra as socially and environmentally sustainable. APP and its agents maintain that industrial pulp and paper production — as practiced in Sumatra — does not result in deforestation, is carbon neutral, helps protect wildlife, and alleviates poverty. While a series of analyses and reports have shown most of these assertions to be false, the final claim has largely not been contested. But is conversion of lowland rainforests for pulp and paper really in Indonesia's best economic interest?


Converting palm oil companies from forest destroyers into forest protectors

(01/02/2011) In efforts to save the world's remaining rainforests great hopes have been pinned on "degraded lands" — deforested lands that are presently sitting idle in tropical countries. Optimists say shifting agriculture to such lands will help humanity produce enough food to meet growing demand without sacrificing forests and biodiversity and exacerbating social conflict. But to date, degraded lands remain an enigma, especially in Indonesia, where deforestation continues at a rapid pace. Degraded lands are often misclassified by various Indonesian ministries—land in a far-off province may be listed as "wasteland" by Jakarta, but in reality is blanked by verdant forest that sequesters carbon, houses wildlife, and affords communities with food, water, and other essentials. Granting logging and plantation concessions on these lands can result in conflict and environmental degradation.


Will Indonesia's big REDD rainforest deal work?

(12/28/2010) Flying in a plane over the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, rainforest stretches like a sea of green, broken only by rugged mountain ranges and winding rivers. The broccoli-like canopy shows little sign of human influence. But as you near Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, the tree cover becomes patchier—a sign of logging—and red scars from mining appear before giving way to the monotonous dark green of oil palm plantations and finally grasslands and urban areas. The scene is not unique to Indonesian New Guinea; it has been repeated across the world's largest archipelago for decades, partly a consequence of agricultural expansion by small farmers, but increasingly a product of extractive industries, especially the logging, plantation, and mining sectors. Papua, in fact, is Indonesia's last frontier and therefore represents two diverging options for the country's development path: continued deforestation and degradation of forests under a business-as-usual approach or a shift toward a fundamentally different and unproven model based on greater transparency and careful stewardship of its forest resources.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2010

(12/20/2010) Below is a quick review of some of the biggest environmental stories of 2010: Climate change rears it ugly head; Oil spill in the Gulf; Agreement to save global biodiversity; Illegal logging crisis in Madagascar; REDD kicks off in Indonesia; Brazil deforestation falls to its lowest level; Hungary's red sludge; Nestle caves to social media activists; New mammals galore' and Global climate framework back on the table?


Year-end highlights: environment pictures

(12/17/2010) Over the course of another busy year of reporting for mongabay.com, I spent nearly four months on the road, visiting nine countries and adding more than 10,000 new photos to the site. Most of my pictures this year are from Indonesia (two trips: North Sulawesi, Sumatra, and Bali in May and Papua, West Papua, and Bali in July and August), Colombia (Amazon, Darien, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Tayrona, and Chicaque in March), Mexico (COP16 in Cancun and nearby areas in December), Kauai (November), and California (various trips around the Bay Area throughout the year).


Teaching orangutans to be wild – orangutan rehabilitation

(12/15/2010) Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the process of rehabilitating orphaned orangutans and teaching them to be wild. This is the second in a two-part interview. The first part covered orangutan biology, habits and the interconnected threats, from the pet trade to habitat loss and expansion of oil palm plantations, facing these creatures. This second part focuses on what happens to surviving orangutans.


The secrets of animal TV: many nature shows rely on unethical tactics

(12/14/2010) Classic animal series like Shark Week hosted by the Discovery Channel and Wild America by Marty Stouffer have captivated audiences for years, bringing them closer than ever to nature from the comfort of their living room. Unfortunately what the audience doesn’t know is that many of those wildlife films incorporate unethical behavior including animal harassment, staged scenes, and the use of trained animals. These claims come from Chris Palmer, a veteran wildlife filmmaker with over 300 hours of original programming for prime time television and the giant screen, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University and author of Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books, 2010). Palmer concedes that his films have used these unethical techniques and that significant proportion of the wildlife programming we find ourselves enthralled with is as fake and scripted as any Hollywood movie.


The problem-solving ape: what makes orangutans special and why they are threatened

(12/13/2010) Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, spoke with Laurel Neme on her “The WildLife” radio show and podcast about orangutans. In the first part of her interview, they discussed orangutan biology, habits and the interconnected threats, from the pet trade to habitat loss and expansion of oil palm plantations, facing these creatures. The second part covers the process of rehabilitating orangutans and teaching them to be wild.


Sulawesi groups recognized for efforts to save endangered wildlife, forests

(12/08/2010) Two groups working with local communities to conserve forests in Sulawesi have won mongabay.com's 2010 Conservation Award. The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo), which works in Central Sulawesi, and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program, which operates in North Sulawesi, were recognized for their efforts to protect endangered forests on the Indonesian island, which is known for its high levels of endemic species.


Can RED Hot California Heat Up A Sedated Cancun?

(12/07/2010) In his concession speech after the 2010 mid-term elections, President Obama said that prospects for meaningful U.S. climate change legislation are doubtful and will be for years. With the US and the international community unable to take even modest steps to combat global warming, the State of California has stepped up in a big, big way. Despite record unemployment rates, deficits and unemployment, California voters trounced a measure that would have suspended AB 32, California's landmark climate change law. California's AB 32 cap and trade program will soon be the biggest market for compliance emission reductions outside of Europe. In the wreckage of the Copenhagen talks and the new political landscape in America, California is the most dynamic jurisdiction for climate change implementation.


Saving Sulawesi's 'pig-deer', the babirusa

(12/06/2010) The babirusa of Sulawesi may be one of the world's oddest looking—and acting—mammals. Literally meaning 'pig-deer' the babirusa, which includes four species, belongs to its own genus 'Babyrousa' in the pig family. Males are especially unique, sporting four tusks, two of which appear to come right out of the animal's snout. To make it to the top of the babirusa hierarchy, males will combat each other in an activity dubbed 'boxing' where they will rear up on their hind legs and club at each other. Despite their many oddities, the babriusa were not formally studied until the late 1980s when Dr. Lynn Clayton spent four years in Sulawesi's forest observing them.


Corporations, conservation, and the green movement

(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.


Losing nature's medicine cabinet

(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world's biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world's species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. "As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products," physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.


Brazil’s Operation Jaguar: Busting a Poaching Ring

(10/03/2010) Twenty years ago Brazil's most notorious jaguar hunter, Teodoro Antonio Melo Neto, also known as 'Tonho da onça' or 'Jaguar Tony,' swore off poaching after logging 600 kills. The foe turned ally of the jaguar then convinced environmental and research institutes, such as the non-governmental organization Instituto Pró-Carnívoros, of his about face and to employ his tracking skills for conservation. Thus began years of assisting these agencies find the animals so that they could monitor their movements and research their habits. His dramatic change of heart even became the subject of a children’s book titled Tonho da onça, which related a conservation message. But on July 20, 2010, 'Jaguar Tony,' now 71 years old, revealed his true spots when federal agents arrested him along with seven others preparing for another in a long series of illegal hunts.


Free availability of satellite imagery has boosted deforestation monitoring applications, but risk of data gap looms

(09/29/2010) In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of satellite-based monitoring applications and technologies, which is perhaps best exemplified in the eyes of the public by Google Earth, which allows anyone with a decent internet connection to view overhead images of nearly any place on Earth. But these new applications are also helping scientists more effectively monitor environmental change, including the fluctuations in polar sea ice, shifts in oceanic plankton, and deforestation. An important factor in the expanded use of satellite imagery has been the U.S. government's free Landsat Data Distribution Policy, which allows free or inexpensive access to data captured by Landsat satellites, which have been collected data on a regular basis since 1972. But the Landsat program is not presently operating at its full capacity, increasing the risk of a 'data gap' before a new system is in place in 2012.


Conserving nature with economics

(09/29/2010) While many factors come into consideration when the fate of forests are being determined, economics often play a key role in land use decisions. When the perceived value of forest land is higher as cattle pasture, cropland, or plantation, then trees fall. But what happens when economic assumptions underlying these decisions are wrong? Forests, including the services they provide and the biodiversity they shelter, are lost in vain, much to the detriment of society and the planet. Working to avoid these costly outcomes is the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF), a California-based nonprofit that trains conservationists to use economics and strategic thinking as assets to conserve natural ecosystems in countries around the globe. CSF runs training programs that help emerging conservation leaders build and strengthen parks, influence policies, and avert damage from infrastructure projects.


Asia Pulp & Paper fumbles response to deforestation allegations by Greenpeace

(09/28/2010) A new audit that seems to exonerate Asia Pulp & Paper from damaging logging practices in Indonesia was in fact conducted by the same people that are running its PR efforts, raising questions about the much maligned company's commitment to cleaning up its operations. The audit slams Greenpeace, the activist group that accused Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) of illegal and destructive logging in Sumatra in its July 2010 report, How Sinar Mas is Pulping the Planet. It runs through each of the claims laid out in the Greenpeace report, arguing some are speculative or improperly cited. But the audit doesn't actually deny that APP is clearing forests and peatlands for pulp plantations. In fact, the audit effectively confirms that the company is indeed engaged in conversion of 'deep' peat areas, but argues that this activity isn't illegal under Indonesian law.


Is Brazil’s Sustainable Development Really Sustainable?

(09/26/2010) Sustainable development seems to have left the realms of institutional debate in Brazil and has emerged into a reality for businesses to remain competitive in their markets. It is also being used as a tool to stimulate the country’s economic growth. A notable example of this is hydroelectricity, as the country has strived for many years to generate electricity in innovative ways, rather than relying on the use of fossil fuels. Companies are also voluntarily signing up and engaging in Brazil’s GHG Protocol Program with a view to reduce carbon emissions and businesses large and small are leading on sustainable business practices. While Brazil has received a lot of respect for this forward thinking approach to sustainability, they have also been heavily criticized for hydro projects since the 1980s; in recent months the target has notably been the decision to move forward with the plan to build 3 dams on the Xingu River, which lies in the Amazon Basin.


Determining which birds cause airplanes to crash: an interview with a feather expert

(09/19/2010) Marcy Heacker, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Lab in Washington, DC, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about wildlife forensics, bird strikes and feather identification, and how her analyses help airports manage wildlife to enhance airline safety. She also discussed how she and other forensic scientists at this lab helped analyze the crash of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, otherwise known as the 'miracle on the Hudson.'


As a tiny island nation makes a big sacrifice, will the rest of the world follow suit?

(09/15/2010) Kiribati, a small nation consisting of 33 Pacific island atolls, is forecast to be among the first countries swamped by rising sea levels. Nevertheless, the country recently made an astounding commitment: it closed over 150,000 square miles of its territory to fishing, an activity that accounts for nearly half the government's tax revenue. What moved the tiny country to take this monumental action? President Anote Tong, says Kiribati is sending a message to the world: 'We need to make sacrifices to provide a future for our children and grandchildren.'



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