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News articles on habitat destruction
Mongabay.com news articles on habitat destruction in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/20/2014) Due to the wonderful idiosyncrasies of evolution, there is one country on Earth that houses 20 percent of the world's primates. More astounding still, every single one of these primates—an entire distinct family in fact—are found no-where else. The country is, of course, Madagascar and the primates in question are, of course, lemurs. But the far-flung island of Madagascar, once a safe haven for wild evolutionary experiments, has become an ecological nightmare. Overpopulation, deep poverty, political instability, slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging for lucrative woods, and a booming bushmeat trade has placed 94 percent of the world's lemurs under threat of extinction, making this the most imperiled mammal group on the planet. But, in order to stem a rapid march toward extinction, conservationists today publicized an emergency three year plan to safeguard 30 important lemur forests in the journal Science.
Migrating monarch butterflies hit shockingly low numbers
(01/31/2014) The monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico this year has hit its lowest numbers ever, according to WWF-Mexico. Monarch butterflies covered just 0.67 hectares in Mexico's forest, a drop of 44 percent from 2012 already perilously low population. To put this in perspective the average monarch coverage from 1994-2014 was 6.39 or nearly ten times this year's. For years conservationists feared that deforestation in Mexico would spell the end of the monarch migration, but now scientists say that agricultural and policy changes in the U.S. and Canada—including GMO crops and habitat loss—is strangling off one of the world's great migrations.
Madagascar's most famous lemur facing big threats
(12/18/2013) The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), perhaps the most well-known of Madagascar’s endemic animals, is facing a "very high" risk of extinction in the wild. The Madagascar Section of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group reassessed the Red List status of ring-tailed lemurs and upgraded the species from Near-Threatened (2008) to Endangered (2012). Ring-tailed lemurs are facing extinction in some parts of Madagascar because of continued habitat loss, and more recently, species exploitation.
New Guinea animals losing vital tree cavities to logging, hunting practices
(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities "home." A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.
Bonobos: the Congo Basin's great gardeners
(12/11/2013) The survival of primary forests depends on many overlapping interactions. Among these interactions include tropical gardeners, like the bonobo (Pan pansicus) in the Congo Basin, according to a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology. Bonobos are known as a keystone species, vital to the diversification and existence of their forests.
Sri Lankan elephant amnesty will lead to poaching, warn conservationists
(12/03/2013) Environmentalists have responded with alarm to a proposed amnesty permitting the registration of illegally captured elephants in Sri Lanka. Recent reports in Sri Lankan media have outlined the proposal, stating that during the amnesty period it would be possible to register elephant calves for a fee of about $7,600. Elephants are closely linked with Sri Lankan history and culture, and are considered sacred in both Buddhism and Hinduism. But the situation for elephants in the country is complicated.
Where have all the dugongs gone?
(12/03/2013) Legend has it that lonely sailors mistook them for beautiful, mythical mermaids. But as it turns out, the muse behind these beguiling sea nymphs was instead the dugong – a rather ungainly, gentle and mini-bus sized marine mammal, cousin to the manatees and part of the sea cow family. However, while they may have once fuelled stories for fairytales and Disney movies, their far-from-glamorous life is currently under serious threat in many parts of the world.
New project works to raise the profile of the world's littlest bear
(12/02/2013) The world's least-known bear also happens to be the smallest: sun bears (Helarctos malayanus), so called for the yellowish horseshoe mark on its chest, are found across Southeast Asia. But despite their telltale markings, super-long tongues, and endearing cuteness, sun bears remain little-studied and little-known compared to many of the region's other large mammals. Now, a new project is working to raise the profile of the sun bears of Borneo—Survival of the Sun Bears—which are a smaller subspecies of the mainland animals.
Scientists discover new cat species roaming Brazil
(11/27/2013) As a family, cats are some of the most well-studied animals on Earth, but that doesn't mean these adept carnivores don't continue to surprise us. Scientists have announced today the stunning discovery of a new species of cat, long-confused with another. Looking at the molecular data of small cats in Brazil, researchers found that the tigrina—also known as the oncilla in Central America—is actually two separate species. The new species has been dubbed Leopardus guttulus and is found in the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, while the other Leopardus tigrinus is found in the cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.
Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana imperiled by port development
(11/08/2013) The story of the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collie) is one of adversity and resurgence. Once believed extinct, the species has made a remarkable comeback over the last two decades. However, according to concerned scientists, a new plan to build a massive port in the iguana's habitat could push the species back to the edge of extinction.
Bornean orangutans travel along the ground
(09/12/2013) A recent study of forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo has found that orangutans travel on the ground far more often than expected. The study, published in the American Journal of Primatology, was carried out in Wehea Forest involving the use of 78 camera traps across 38 square kilometres of forest.
Scientists discover that threatened bird migrates entirely within Amazon Basin
(09/11/2013) When one thinks of bird migrations, it's usually a north-south route that follows seasonal climates. But researchers in the Amazon have tracked, for the first time, a largely-unknown long-distance migration that sticks entirely to the Amazon Basin. Using satellite telemetry, scientists tracked a pair of Orinoco geese (Neochen jubata) from Peru and a male from Western Brazil, who both migrated to the Llanos de Moxos, a vast savanna and Amazonian watershed in Bolivia. The research has shown that the Orinoco geese—which breeds in both Peru and Brazil—depends on wetlands in the Llanos de Moxos for much of the year.
Ground zero for endangered species: new program to assist animals on the brink across Southeast Asia
(08/27/2013) Organizations within the international conservation community are joining forces to minimize impending extinctions in Southeast Asia, where habitat loss, trade and hunting have contributed to a dramatic decline in wildlife. The coalition is aptly named ASAP, or the Asian Species Action Partnership.
Safeguarding nine priority areas could protect all of Tanzania’s primates
(08/20/2013) Researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have recently developed a list of “Priority Primate Areas” to save Tanzania’s many primate species from extinction. A hub of unique and endangered primates, Tanzania is widely considered to be the most important mainland country for primate diversity in Africa. Approximately a third of the 27 primate species found in Tanzania are unique to the country, including the recently discovered kipunji.
Zoo races to save extreme butterfly from extinction
(08/15/2013) In a large room that used to house aquatic mammals at the Minnesota Zoo, Erik Runquist holds up a vial and says, 'Here are its eggs.' I peer inside and see small specks, pale with a dot of brown at the top; they look like a single grain of cous cous or quinoa. Runquist explains that the brown on the top is the head cap of the larva, a fact that becomes more clear under a microscope when you can see the encased larva squirm. I'm looking at the eggs of a Poweshiek skipperling, a species that is more imperiled than pandas, tigers, or bluewhales. Once superabundant, only several hundred Poweshiek skipperlings may survive on Earth today and the eggs I'm looking at are the only ones in captivity.
Scientists discover teddy bear-like mammal hiding out in Andean cloud forests (photos)
(08/15/2013) While the olinguito looks like a wild, tree-climbing teddy bear with a cat's tail, it's actually the world's newest mammalian carnivore. The remarkable discovery—the first mammal carnivore uncovered in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s—was found in the lush cloud forests of the Andes, a biodiverse region home to a wide-range of species found no-where else. Dubbed the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), the new mammal is a member of a little-known, elusive group of mammals—olingos—that are related to raccoons, coatis, and kinkajous. However, according to its description in the journal Zookeys, the olinguito is the most distinct member of its group, separated from other olingos by 3-4 million years (or longer than Homo sapiens have walked the Earth).
China's growing wine industry threatening pandas and other endangered species
(08/14/2013) In 1985, Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but the oenologist realized that its high altitude, hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Little NGO takes on goliath task: conserving the vanishing ecosystems of Paraguay
(08/12/2013) Landlocked in the navel of South America, the forests, wetlands and savannahs of Paraguay boast rich biodiversity and endemic species, yet the unique landscapes of Paraguay also face increasing threats, primarily from agricultural expansion. Controlled burns and clear cutting have become common practice as wildlands are converted for soy and cattle production. In some areas this land conversion is rapid: the Paraguayan Chaco, for instance, is being lost at a rate of 10% per year. One organization is working to reverse this trend. Para La Tierra (PLT) is a small NGO dedicated to the conservation of threatened habitats in Paraguay. Located on the Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, in-between two of South America's most threatened habitats: the Atlantic Forest and the vast topical savannah known as the cerrado, PLT is in a unique position to champion conservation.
Florida declares two butterfly species extinct as pollinator crisis worsens
(08/01/2013) Conservationist’s faced a crushing blow last month as two butterfly species native to Florida were declared extinct. 'Occasionally, these types of butterflies disappear for long periods of time but are rediscovered in another location,' said Larry Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife state supervisor for ecological services. We think it’s apparent now these two species are extinct.'
Habitat loss and pesticides causing decline in Europe's butterflies
(07/31/2013) Europe's grassland butterfly population has plummeted in the past two decades, new research published on Tuesday shows, with a near halving in the numbers of key species since 1990.
Illegal marijuana cultivation threatens Nigeria’s forests and chimps
(07/26/2013) The world’s highest deforestation rate, the execution of eight environmental activists including a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and ongoing turmoil surrounding oil operations in the Niger River Delta has created a notoriously disreputable environmental record for the West African country. Now, a new threat is rising in the already-compromised forests of Nigeria: illegal marijuana cultivation.
Booming cashmere trade eating up habitat for snow leopards, saiga, and wild yak
(07/25/2013) Snow leopards, wild yaks and other iconic wildlife on the world's highest mountains and great steppes are becoming "fashion victims" of the surging global trade in cashmere, new research has revealed. Scientists found wildlife being driven to the margins of survival by the "striking but unintended consequences" of huge increases in the numbers of the goats producing the luxurious lightweight wool.
Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species
(07/23/2013) Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world's largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic's Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.
The neglected giraffe: world's tallest animal in need of conservation assistance
(06/27/2013) Just two year's before his assassination, Julius Caesar brought to Rome one of the world's most astonishing living creatures: a giraffe. The animal was among Caesar's spoils from his campaign in Egypt and according to the Roman writer, Dio, the giraffe, which was arguably the first to ever touch European soil, was paraded in the Circus for all to see. Today, over two thousand years later, the giraffe has become one of the world's most recognizable animals: after all nothing looks quite like it with its spotted coat, tufted horns, and, most importantly, that impossibly long neck. But less commonly known is that the giraffe is in trouble with some subspecies down to just a few hundred individuals.
Loris champion: conserving the world's most surprising primate family
(06/04/2013) Before Anna Nekaris began championing the cause of the world's lorises, little was known about this cryptic family of large-eyed, nocturnal, insect-eating, venomous primates. Nekaris, with Oxford Brookes University and founder of the Little Fireface project, has been instrumental in documenting rarely-seen loris behavior, establishing conservation programs, and identifying new species of these hugely-imperiled Asian primates.
Over 500 scientists warn we 'are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet'
(05/27/2013) A new consensus statement by 520 scientists from around the world warns that global environmental harm is putting at risk the happiness and well-being of this and future generations.
Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
Domesticated bees do not replace declining wild insects as agricultural pollinators
(04/03/2013) Sprinkled with pollen, buzzing bees fly from one blossom to another, collecting sweet nectar from brilliantly colored flowers. Bees tend to symbolize the pollination process, but there are many wild insects that carry out the same function. Unfortunately, wild insect populations are in decline, and, according to a recent study, adding more honey bees may not be a viable solution.
Scientists discover 8 new frogs in one sanctuary, nearly all Critically Endangered (photos)
(03/21/2013) Two surveys in the mountainous forests of Sri Lanka's Peak Wilderness Sanctuary have uncovered eight new species of frogs, according to a massive new paper in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. While every year over a hundred new amphibians are discovered, eight new discoveries in a single park is especially notable. Sri Lanka is an amphibian-lovers paradise with well over 100 described species, most of which are endemic, i.e. found only on the small island country. Unfortunately the country has also seen more frog extinctions than anywhere else, and seven of the eight new species are already thought to be Critically Endangered.
The beautiful amphibian from Hell: scientists discover new crocodile newt in Vietnam (photos)
(03/19/2013) Researchers have discovered a new species of Vietnamese salamander that looks like it was birthed from an abyssal volcano. Found tucked away in Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science, the scientists described the species in the new edition of Current Herpetology. Coal-black with orange-tinted toes, the new crocodile newt (in the genus Tylototriton) was determined to be a new species when it showed morphological and genetic differences from near relatives. Despite its remarkable appearance, the researchers say these are typical colors for crocodile newts.
Warnings of global ecological tipping points may be overstated
(03/05/2013) There's little evidence that the Earth is nearing a global ecological tipping point, according to a new Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper that is bound to be controversial. The authors argue that despite numerous warnings that the Earth is headed toward an ecological tipping point due to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss or climate change, it's unlikely this will occur anytime soon—at least not on land. The paper comes with a number of caveats, including that a global tipping point could occur in marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels. In addition, regional tipping points, such as the Arctic ice melt or the Amazon rainforest drying out, are still of great concern.
Biofuel company caught clearing elephant habitat in Sri Lanka
(02/20/2013) A biofuel plantation near Yala National Park has landed Lanka Orex Leasing Company PLC (LOLC) in Sri Lanka's highest court. Environmentalists say the company is illegally bulldozing Asian elephant habitat, including scrubland and tree stands, near the buffer zone of Yala National Park for gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) biofuel plantation.
Lion population falls 68 percent in 50 years
(12/04/2012) African lions, one of the most iconic species on the planet, are in rapid decline. According to a new study in Biodiversity Conservation, the African lion (Panthera leo leo) population has dropped from around 100,000 animals just fifty years ago to as few as 32,000 today. The study, which used high resolution satellite imagery to study savannah ecosystems across Africa, also found that lion habitat had plunged by 75 percent.
Africa's great savannahs may be more endangered than the world's rainforests
(12/04/2012) Few of the world's ecosystems are more iconic than Africa's sprawling savannahs home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and the undisputed king of the animal kingdom: lions. This wild realm, where megafauna still roam in abundance, has inspired everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Karen Blixen, and David Livingstone to Theodore Roosevelt. Today it is the heart of Africa's wildlife tourism and includes staunch defenders such as Richard Leakey, Michael Fay, and the Jouberts. Despite this, the ecosystem has received less media attention than imperiled ecosystems like rainforests. But a ground-breaking study in Biodiversity Conservation finds that 75 percent of these large-scale intact grasslands have been lost, at least from the lion's point of view.
Wolves, mole rats, and nyala: the struggle to conserve Ethiopia's highlands
(11/20/2012) There is a place in the world where wolves live almost entirely off mountain rodents, lions dwell in forests, and freshwater rolls downstream to 12 million people, but the place—Ethiopia's Bale Mountains National Park—remains imperiled by a lack of legal boundaries and encroachment by a growing human population. "Much of the land in Africa above 3,000 meters has been altered or degraded to the point where it isn’t able to perform most of the ecosystem functions that it is designed to do. Bale, although under threat and already impacted to a degree by anthropogenic activities, is still able to perform its most important ecosystem functions, and as such ranks among only a handful of representative alpine ecosystems in Africa."
Meet Cape Town's volunteer 'toad shepherds'
(11/08/2012) August marks the last month of winter in South Africa, and, as temperatures begin to rise, activists in Cape Town prepare for a truly unique conservation event. Every year at this time western leopard toads (Amietophrynus pantherinus) endemic to the region and Critically Endangered, embark on a night-time migration through Cape Town from their homes in the city's gardens to the ponds they use as breeding sites—as far as three kilometers away. This season over one hundred volunteers took to the streets, flashlights in hand, to assist the toads in navigating the increasing number of man-made obstacles in their path. Among them was life-long resident and mother, Hanniki Pieterse, who serves as an organizer for volunteers in her area.
Happy Halloween: nine new species of tree-climbing tarantula discovered
(10/31/2012) If you suffer from acute arachnophobia, this is the perfect Halloween discovery for you: a spider expert has discovered nine new species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) tarantulas in the Brazil. Although tarantula diversity is highest in the Amazon rainforest, the new species are all found in lesser-known Brazilian ecosystems like the Atlantic Forest, of which less than 7 percent remains, and the cerrado, a massive savannah that is being rapidly lost to agriculture and cattle ranching.
After seven year search, scientists film cryptic predator in Minas Gerais
(10/25/2012) South America's rare and little-known bush dog (Speothos venaticus) looks like a miniature dachshund who went bad: leaner, meaner, and not one to cuddle on your lap, the bush dog is found in 11 South American countries, but scientists believe it's rare in all of its habitats, which include the Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands, and the cerrado savannah. Given its scarcity, little is known about its wanderings.
Learning to live with elephants in Malaysia
(09/18/2012) Humans and elephants have a lot in common: both are highly intelligent, intensely social, and both are capable of having a massive impact on their local environments. Given their similarities, it might not be surprising that elephants and human have often run afoul of one another. Conflict between these two great species has probably been going on for thousands of years, but as human populations have grown dramatically, elephant populations have been crippled and forced into smaller-and-smaller pockets. No-where is this more true than in Southeast Asia.
Tigers vs. coal in India: when big energy meets vanishing cats
(08/01/2012) Burning coal fuels climate change, causes acid rain, and spreads toxic pollutants into the environment, but now a new Greenpeace report warns that coal may also imperil the world's biggest feline: the tiger. Home to world's largest population of tigers—in this case the Bengal subspecies (Panthera tigris tigris)—India is also the world's third largest coal producer. The country's rapacious pursuit of coal—it has nearly doubled production since 2007—has pushed the industry into tiger territory, threatening to destroy forests and fragment the tiger's already threatened population.
Hail Mary effort aims to save the world's most endangered turtles
(04/17/2012) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has pledged to work with all of its institutions to save at least half of the world's most 25 endangered turtles as listed in a report by WCS and the Turtle Conservation Coalition last year. The program will include both conservation work in the field as well as participation from WCS's zoological institutions for captive breeding and future reintroductions. Even with WCS's ambitious program, however, it is likely this century will see a number of turtle extinctions.
Featured video: wild Sumatran elephants on camera trap video
(04/11/2012) A video camera trap project called Eyes on Leuser has captured wonderful footage of a very curious herd of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) in the island's Leuser ecosystem. The project has already documented a wealth of species, including imperiled and elusive animals like the Sumatran tiger, marbled cat, and white-winged duck.
Beyond Bigfoot: the science of cryptozoology
(03/26/2012) Anyone who doubts cryptozoology, which in Greek means the "study of hidden animals," should remember the many lessons of the past 110 years: the mountain gorilla (discovered in 1902), the colossal squid (discovered in 1925, but a full specimen not caught until 1981), and the saola (discovered in 1992) to name a few. Every year, almost 20,000 new species are described by the world's scientists, and a new book by Dr. Karl Shuker, The Encycloapedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, highlights some of the most incredible and notable new animals uncovered during the past century.
Over 5,000 vital biodiversity sites remain unprotected
(03/22/2012) A recent study has found that half of the world's Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites remain unprotected, leaving many endangered species, some on the verge of extinction, gravely vulnerable to habitat loss. Published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, the study urges governments to focus on expanding protected areas to cover the species that need it most.
Without data, fate of great apes unknown
(03/12/2012) Our closest nonhuman relatives, the great apes, are in mortal danger. Every one of the six great ape species is endangered, and without more effective conservation measures, they may be extinct in the wild within a human generation. The four African great ape species (bonobos, chimpanzees and two species of gorilla) inhabit a broad swath of land across the middle of Africa, and two species of orangutans live in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia.
Birders beware: climate change could push 600 tropical birds into extinction
(02/21/2012) There may be less birds for birders to see in the world as the planet warms. Climate change, in combination with deforestation, could send between 100 and 2,500 tropical birds to extinction before the end of century, according to new research published in Biological Conservation. The wide range depends on the extent of climate and how much habitat is lost, but researchers say the most likely range of extinctions is between 600 and 900 species, meaning about 10-14 percent of tropical birds, excluding migratory species.
Photo: World's smallest chameleon discovered in Madagascar
(02/15/2012) Scientists have discovered four new species of super-tiny chameleons in Madagascar, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE. The smallest of the new species, Brookesia micra, is found only on the small island of Nosy Hara and has been dubbed the smallest chameleon in the world, measuring from nose to tail 29 millimeters (1.14 inches) at its largest. Scientists believe it represents a notable example of island dwarfism.
Eco-toilets help save hippos and birds in Kenya
(01/04/2012) It may appear unintuitive that special toilets could benefit hippos and other wetland species, but the Center for Rural Empowerment and the Environment (CREE) has proven the unique benefits of new toilets in the Dunga Wetlands on Lake Victoria's Kenyan side. By building ecologically-sanitary (eco-san) toilets, CREE has managed to alleviate some of the conflict that has cropped up between hippos and humans for space.
Extinct frog rediscovered in Israel
(11/21/2011) After its marshland was drained, researchers thought the Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) had vanished for good. However a patrol at the Ha-Hula lake in Israel recently discovered a single female amphibian that turned out to be the long-lost, and long-sought, Hula painted frog.
800 nearly-extinct giant snails freeze to death in conservation center
(11/14/2011) Eight hundred large carnivorous snails, known as Powelliphanta snails (Powelliphanta augusta), died in a Department of Conservation (DOC) fridge in New Zealand over the weekend. A faulty temperature gauge caused the fridge to cool down to zero degrees Celsius, slowly killing all the molluscs but a lone survivor. The snails in question were taken from Mount Augustus into captivity before their habitat was mined for coal.
Vietnamese rhino goes extinct
(10/25/2011) In 2009 poachers shot and killed the world's last Vietnamese rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus), a subspecies of the Javan rhino, confirms a report from International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Vietnamese rhino was the last Javan rhino to survive on the Asian mainland and the second subspecies to vanish, following the extinction of the Indian Javan rhino (rhinoceros sondaicus inermis). The Javan rhino is the world's most imperiled rhino species with now only around 50 individuals surviving in a single park on its namesake island in Indonesia.
Old trees necessary for nesting animals
(10/17/2011) Aged, living trees are essential for over 1,000 birds and mammals that depend on such trees for nesting holes, according to a study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. In much of the world, tree-nesting animals depend on holes formed through maturity and decay—and not woodpeckers—requiring standing old trees.
Kenya should embrace living with nature as the model for a healthier, wealthier nation
(09/27/2011) Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are supporting government efforts to enact progressive new policies through its Vision 2030 initiative as it promises to lift us out of a depressed economy and to take us onto a path to becoming a prosperous developed nation. For this to occur, development must be sustainable —but for now what the people want and need most is for the basic necessities for life to be assured like adequate water, sanitation, energy, health, education, homes, and jobs. It is unfortunate that some of our leaders are mistaken in believing that this means Kenya should look like USA or Europe with concrete cities and mega highways, speed trains, and artificial gardens—it will all be at the cost of our spectacular natural environment and wildlife heritage. Kenya hardly has any natural resources, what we have is wilderness and wildlife. For Kenya to stand apart, she must aspire to safeguard the environment and protect forests and wildlife as a central means of to attaining this sustainable development goal.
Loving the tapir: pioneering conservation for South America's biggest animal
(09/11/2011) Compared to some of South America's megafauna stand-out species—the jaguar, the anaconda, and the harpy eagle come to mind—the tapir doesn't get a lot of love. This is a shame. For one thing, they're the largest terrestrial animal on the South American continent: pound-for-pound they beat both the jaguar and the llama. For another they play a very significant role in their ecosystem: they disperse seeds, modify habitats, and are periodic prey to big predators. For another, modern tapirs are some of the last survivors of a megafauna family that roamed much of the northern hemisphere, including North America, and only declined during the Pleistocene extinction. Finally, for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the often-shy tapir in the wild, one knows there is something mystical and ancient about these admittedly strange-looking beasts.
Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity
(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.
Balancing agriculture and rainforest biodiversity in India’s Western Ghats
(08/08/2011) When one thinks of the world's great rainforests the Amazon, Congo, and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and Indonesia usually come to mind. Rarely does India—home to over a billion people—make an appearance. But along India’s west coast lies one of the world's great tropical forests and biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats. However it's not just the explosion of life one finds in the Western Ghats that make it notable, it's also the forest's long—and ongoing—relationship to humans, lots of humans. Unlike many of the world's other great rainforests, the Western Ghats has long been a region of agriculture. This is one place in the world where elephants walk through tea fields and tigers migrate across betel nut plantations. While wildlife has survived alongside humans for centuries in the region, continuing development, population growth and intensification of agriculture are putting increased pressure on this always-precarious relationship. In a recent paper in Biological Conservation, four researchers examine how well agricultural landscapes support biodiversity conservation in one of India's most species-rich landscapes.
Last search for the Eskimo curlew
(06/29/2011) The Eskimo curlew is (or perhaps, 'was') a small migratory shorebird with a long curved beak, perfect for searching shorelines and prairie grass for worms, grasshoppers and other insects, as well as goodies including berries. Described as cinnamon-colored, the bird nested in the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada during the summer and in the winter migrated en masse as far south as the Argentine plains, known as the pampas. Despite once numbering in the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps even in the millions), the Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis) today may well be extinct. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has decided to conduct a final evaluation of the species to determine whether its status should be moved from Critically Endangered to Extinct, reports Reuters.
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.
Amphibian-plague strikes frogs harder in pristine ecosystems
(05/31/2011) Frog populations worldwide are facing two apocalypses: habitat destruction and a lethal plague, known as chytridiomycosis. Over 30 percent of the world's amphibians are currently threatened with extinction and it is thought at least 120 species have gone extinct in just the last 30 years. Unfortunately, a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that the two threats—habitat loss and chytridiomycosis—are likely to leave no frog population undisturbed. According to the study, frogs that live in still-pristine habitats are more susceptible to chytridiomycosis than those that are already suffering from habitat loss.
New paper stirs up controversy over how scientists estimate extinction rates
(05/19/2011) A new paper in Nature negating how scientists estimate extinction rates has struck a nerve across the scientific community. The new paper clearly states that a mass extinction crisis is underway, however it argues that due to an incorrect method of determining extinction rates the crisis isn't as severe as has been reported. But other experts in the field contacted disagree, telling mongabay.com that the new the paper is 'plain wrong'. In fact, a number of well-known researchers are currently drafting a response to the day-old, but controversial paper.
North America's tiniest turtle vanishing
(05/12/2011) Despite decades of conservation work, populations of North America's smallest turtle, the bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii), is continuing to decline. Habitat destruction, invasive plants, road-kill, and the illegal pet trade have all played a role in the bog turtle historic decline, but researchers are now reporting increased mortalities across bog turtle populations, bringing fears of disease or an as-yet-unnamed environmental issue.
Fight for flamingos: Tanzania to mine in world's most important flamingo breeding ground
(05/09/2011) It's not easy to find a single word to describe witnessing hundreds of thousands of flamingos filling up a shallow lake in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. 'Spectacle' comes to mind, but even this is not wholly accurate for the surreal pink crowd. However one describes it, this biological wonder may be under threat as Tanzania plans to mine in a flamingo breeding ground that is not only regionally important, but globally. Astoundingly, over half of the world's lesser flamingos (between 65-75%) are born in a single lake in northern Tanzania: Lake Natron.
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.
How to save the Pantanal and increase profits for the cattle industry
(03/28/2011) The Pantanal spanning Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay is the world's largest wetland—the size of Florida—and home to a wide-variety of charismatic species, such as jaguars, capybaras, and giant anteaters. However, the great wetland is threatened by expansion in big agriculture and an increasingly intensive cattle industry. Yet there is hope: a new study by Wildlife Conservation Society of Brazil (WCS-Brazil) researchers has found that cattle and the ecosystem can exist harmoniously. By replacing current practices with rotational grazing, cattle ranchers gain a healthier herd and more profits while safeguarding the ecological integrity and wildlife of the world's largest wetland system. The study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science is a rare instance of a win-win situation.
Top 25 most endangered turtles: Asian species in crisis
(02/23/2011) Surviving hundreds of millions of years on Earth have not saved turtles from facing extinction at human hands. A new report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Conservation Coalition, identifies the world's 25 most imperiled turtles, including one that is practically assured extinction: 'Lonesome George' the last Abdington Island tortoise in the world. The list includes four turtle species from South and Central America, three from Africa, and one from Australia. But Asia is the hotbed for turtles in trouble with 17 of the top 25 species, or 68%. The numbers are even more alarming if one looks only at the top ten: eight of the top ten are in Asia, and six of these in China.
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.
Tiger summit reaches bold agreement and raises $300 million
(11/24/2010) The summit to save the world's biggest cat, and one of the world's most popular animals, has agreed to a bold plan dubbed the Global Tiger Recovery Program. Meeting in St. Petersburg, 13 nations have set a goal to double the wild tiger's (Panthera tigris) population worldwide by 2022. Given that tiger numbers continue to decline in the wild, this goal is especially ambitious, some may even say impossible. However, organizations and nations are putting big funds on the table: around $300 million has already been pledged, including $1 million from actor, and passionate environmental activist, Leonardo Dicaprio.
New population of Critically Endangered monkey discovered
(11/22/2010) Classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, listed among the Top 25 Most Endangered primates in the world, and rated number 71 on the EDGE's list of world's most endangered and unique mammals, the yellow-tailed woolly monkey needed some good news—and this week it got it. The conservation organization, Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), has announced the discovery of an unknown population of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda), buttressing hopes that the species will survive in the long-term.
New bat species confirmed in Ecuador, may already be extinct
(11/16/2010) Although the first specimen was collected over 30 years ago, scientists have only now confirmed that a tiny brown bat is indeed a unique species. Named Myotis diminutus for its incredibly small size, the new bat was discovered in the Chocó biodiversity hotspot, amid the moist forests of western Ecuador.
Villagers beat, ride on, and kill baby elephant
(10/28/2010) A video camera has captured villagers in the Indian state of Assam, beating, riding on, and eventually spearing a three-year-old elephant to death that had been abandoned by its herd after suffering an injury. The footage, available from New Delhi Television (NDTV) [warning: it is graphic], shows policemen standing by as the animal is killed. The incident took place a day after the Asian elephant was declared a National Heritage Animal status by Indian authorities, granting it special cultural status.
Picture: new monkey discovered in Myanmar
(10/26/2010) Hunters' reports have led scientists to discover a new species of monkey in the northern forests of Myanmar. Discovered by biologists from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association with support from primatologists with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the People Resources and Biodiversity Foundation, the strange looking primate is a member of the snub-nosed monkey family, adding a fifth member to this unmistakably odd-looking group of Asian primates. However, the species survives in only a small single population, threatened by Chinese logging and hunting.
Elephant tromping benefits frogs and lizards
(10/25/2010) While elephants may appear destructive when they pull down trees, tear up grasses or stir up soils, their impacts actually make space for the little guys: frogs and reptiles. The BBC reports that a new study in African Journal of Ecology finds that African bush elephants (Loxodonta Africana), facilitate herpetofauna (i.e. amphibians and reptiles) biodiversity when they act as ecosystem engineers.
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.
Fighting poachers, going undercover, saving wildlife: all in a day's work for Arief Rubianto
(09/29/2010) Arief Rubianto, the head of an anti-poaching squad on the Indonesian island of Sumatra best describes his daily life in this way: "like mission impossible". Don't believe me? Rubianto has fought with illegal loggers, exchanged gunfire with poachers, survived four days without food in the jungle, and even gone undercover—posing as a buyer of illegal wildlife products—to infiltrate a poaching operation. While many conservationists work from offices—sometimes thousands of miles away from the area they are striving to protect—Rubianto works on the ground (in the jungle, in flood rains, on rock faces, on unpredictable seas, and at all hours of the day), often risking his own life to save the incredibly unique and highly imperiled wildlife of Sumatra.
Discovery of new population boosts almost-extinct Colombian bird
(09/28/2010) The Baudo oropendola (Psarocolius cassini) has gone from less than a dozen known individuals to nearly a hundred due to the discovery of two new colonies in northwestern Colombia by local conservation group, Fundación ProAves. However, the new colonies are located in an unprotected area currently being impacted by deforestation. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy which focuses on bird conservation, said in a press release that his organization "is thrilled to have helped fund the research expedition that led to this stunning discovery of these two new colonies of this rare bird. Now we need to work with ProAves to conserve and protect them."
New ape species uncovered in Asia
(09/21/2010) Discovering a species unknown to science is a highlight of any biologist's career, but imagine discovering a new ape? Researchers with the German Primate Center (DPZ) announced today the discovery of a new species of ape in the gibbon family, dubbed the northern buffed-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus annamensis), according to the AFP. The new species was discovered in rainforests between the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: an area that contains a number of gibbon species.
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.
Photos: world's top ten 'lost frogs'
(08/09/2010) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International (CI) have sent teams of researchers to 14 countries on five continents to search for the world's lost frogs. These are amphibian species that have not been seen for years—in some cases even up to a century—but may still survive in the wild. Amphibians worldwide are currently undergoing an extinction crisis. While amphibians struggle to survive against habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation, they are also being wiped out by a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis.
Scientists hunt for 'lost frogs' around the globe
(08/09/2010) From now through October, teams of scientists will be scouring through leaf litters, in shallow pools, under rocks, and in tree trunks for the world's 'lost frogs'. Searching in 14 countries on five continents, the researchers are looking for some 100 species of frogs that have not been seen in decades and in some cases up to a century. While some of the species may well be extinct, researchers are holding out hope that they can find the ones that are still hanging on, albeit by a thread.
Forgotten species: the nameless giant forest snail
(08/04/2010) All species known to science are granted a Latin name. While this naming system is beneficent to researchers, Latin names—sad to say—don't really capture the public's attention anymore. Fortunately most species also have common names—the red fox, the pileated woodpecker, the Asian elephant, and so on. Some of these names even end up being quite wonderful: like the dusky dolphin (love the alliteration), the strawberry poison dart frog (points for creativity), the blobfish (if you see a photo you'll know why), and my all-time favorite: the goliath bird-eating spider. Although this name is slightly redundant (any spider that eats birds is goliath), I wouldn't change it for anything. However, some species, especially those less 'charismatic' ones, never get beyond their Latin name. Such is the fate of a giant forest snail known to researchers as Archachatina bicarinata and to the rest of us as...well nameless. But this begs a question: how do we save a species if we don't even name it?
Forgotten species: the cryptic Jerdon's courser
(07/06/2010) According to my Oxford English Dictionary, 'cryptic' means: 'secret, mystical; mysterious; obscure in meaning; enigmatic'. This is the perfect adjective for the rare Indian bird, Jerdon's courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus). 'It is not so easy to spot as it is a small bird and when you show the torch it crouches and merges with the surroundings. So we need very good trained eyes to look for them,' Dr. P. Jeganathan recently told mongabay.com.