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News articles on interviews
Mongabay.com news articles on interviews in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
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.
Lessons from the world's longest study of rainforest fragments
(08/15/2011) For over 30 years, hundreds of scientists have scoured eleven forest fragments in the Amazon seeking answers to big questions: how do forest fragments' species and microclimate differ from their intact relatives? Will rainforest fragments provide a safe haven for imperiled species or are they last stand for the living dead? Should conservation focus on saving forest fragments or is it more important to focus the fight on big tropical landscapes? Are forest fragments capable of regrowth and expansion? Can a forest—once cut-off—heal itself? Such questions are increasingly important as forest fragments—patches of forest that are separated from larger forest landscapes due to expanding agriculture, pasture, or fire—increase worldwide along with the human footprint.
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.'
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.
Saving (and studying) one of Nigeria's last montane forests
(07/26/2011) Between 2000 and 2010, Nigeria lost nearly a third (31 percent) of its forest cover, while its primary forests suffered even worse: in just five years (2000 to 2005) over half of the nation's primary forests were destroyed, the highest rate in the world during that time. Yet, Nigeria's dwindling forests have never received the same attention as many other country's, such as Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia, or Peru, even though in many ways Nigeria struggles with even deeper problems than other developing nations. Despite vast oil business, the nation is plagued by poverty and destitution, a prime example of what economists call the 'resource curse'. Environmentally, it has been named one of the worst in the world. Yet, not all forest news out of Nigeria is bleak: the success of the Nigerian Montane Forest Project in one of the country's remaining forests is one such beacon of hope, and one example of how the country could move forward.
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.
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.
Environment versus economy: local communities find economic benefits from living next to conservation areas
(06/12/2011) While few would question that conserving a certain percentage of land or water is good for society overall, it has long been believed that protected areas economically impoverish, rather than enrich, communities living adjacent to them. Many communities worldwide have protested against the establishment of conservation areas near them, fearing that less access and increased regulations would imperil their livelihoods. However, a surprising study overturns the common wisdom: showing that, at least in Thailand and Costa Rica, protected areas actually boost local economies and decrease poverty.
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.
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.
Down to 50, conservationists fight to save Javan Rhino from extinction
(05/17/2011) Earlier this year, the International Rhino Foundation launched Operation Javan Rhino to prevent the extinction of the critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), formerly found in rain forests across Southeast Asia. Operation Javan Rhino is a multi-layered project which links field conservation, habitat restoration, and management efforts with the interests of local governments and communities. The following is an interview with Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation.
Ten-year-old takes on KFC for destroying US forests
(05/15/2011) Cole Rasenberger's quest to save forests in the US South started as a school assignment to 'be an activist' about something important to him. However, after learning from Dogwood Alliance that coastal forests in North Carolina are being destroyed to make throw-away paper packaging for big fast food companies—such as McDonalds and KFC—Cole Rasenberger, at the age of 8, became more than an activist; he became an environmental leader! He started by targeting McDonalds directly. With the help of 25 friends, and his elementary school administration, he got every student in his school to sign postcards to McDonalds. In all, Cole sent 2,250 postcards to McDonalds.
Cambodia's wildlife pioneer: saving species and places in Southeast Asia's last forest
(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. 'You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,' Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.
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.
The value of the little guy, an interview with Tyler Prize-winning entomologist May Berenbaum
(04/06/2011) May Berenbaum knows a thing or two about insects: in recognition of her lifelong work on the interactions between insects and plants, she has had a character on The X-Files named after her, received the Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award for her work in making science accessible to the public, and this year has been awarded the prestigious Tyler Environmental Prize. "Winning the Tyler Prize is an incredible honor—most of my scientific heroes have been Tyler Prize winners and I’m exceedingly grateful to be considered worthy of being included among their ranks," Berenbaum told mongabay.com in an interview. "The Prize is also tremendously enabling—because the money is unrestricted I can use it to carry out projects that have been difficult to fund."
The saola: rushing to save the most 'spectacular zoological discovery' of the 20th Century
(04/04/2011) The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) may be the most enigmatic, beautiful, and endangered big mammal in the world—that no one has ever heard of. The shy ungulate looks like an African antelope—perhaps inhabiting the wide deserts of the Sahara—but instead it lives in the dense jungles of Vietnam and Laos, and is more related to wild cattle than Africa's antelopes. The saola is so unusual that is has been given its own genus: Pseudoryx, due to its superficial similarities to Africa's oryx. In the company of humans this quiet forest dweller acts calm and tame, but has yet to survive captivity long. Yet strangest of all, the 200 pound (90 kilogram) animal remained wholly unknown to science until 1992.
Expedition granted?: hoping to save nearly-extinct seals through National Geographic contest
(03/24/2011) Dashiell Masland, known as 'Dash', has always been in love with the sea and its inhabitants. Now, she is hoping to take that passion to the Hawaiian Islands to save one of the world's most threatened marine mammals: the Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Extinction is a real possibility: already, the related Carribbean monk seal vanished forever around 1950. Decimated by sealers, whalers, and even soldiers in World War II, the Hawaiian monk seals are struggling to make a come back with only 1,100 individuals surviving and the population decreasing by 4% a year. Today many face starvation due to a lack of prey. This is where Masland, who is currently competing in National Geographic's Expedition Granted, hopes to help.
What is the current status of REDD+?
(03/23/2011) The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism is supposed to be the great hope for saving the world's forests. Advocates say REDD — now known as REDD+ — could finally create financial incentives for keeping forests standing instead of chopping them down for timber, pulp and paper, cattle, palm oil, and rubber. At the same time, REDD could generate benefits for the rural poor, while safeguarding biodiversity and other ecosystem services. But the devil is in the details. Ensuring that REDD is properly designed, funded, and implemented means that progress has been slower than some supporters have hoped. A poorly designed REDD may be worse than no REDD at all. So where does that leave REDD now? Mongabay asked John-O Niles, the Director of the Tropical Forest Group, for his thoughts on the current status of REDD policy.
Expedition granted?: Indonesia's 'paper parks' targeted in National Geographic contest
(03/21/2011) Twenty-five year old Trevor Frost wants to save parks in Indonesia under attack by illegal logging, mining, and poaching. A lack of infrastructure, support, and funds has left many protected areas around the world to be dubbed 'paper parks', protected on paper, but not in reality. Frost, who is currently running in National Geographic's contest Expedition Granted, hopes to study the problem in Sumatra—among the world's most imperiled forests and wildlife—and show the world what we are losing even in National Parks.
Fearful Symmetry—Man Made, an interview with John Vaillant, author of The Tiger
(03/14/2011) In The Tiger, John Vailliant weaves a haunting and compelling true narrative of men who live—or die—with tigers. No doubt the story itself is on-the-edge of your seat reading. As well, the book provides factual information on the 400 or so Amur Tigers remaining, and the raw milieu that is Primorye, Far East Russia—a wilderness and people unto their own. What is special, transcendent even in this story, however, murmurs uncomfortably in the background. Questions emerge from deep taiga snow, not unlike the unseen Panchelaza Tiger. What exactly is our relationship with apex predators? How do people live with them? How would you live with them in your backyard? What if your pet dog disappeared? As we ourselves are apex predators, are we wise enough, tolerant enough, compassionate enough to share this planet with them? Evidence today points to the contrary, but this can change.
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.
Reaching kids with a conservation message via animation
(03/06/2011) During the Wildlife Conservation Network's October 2010 Wildlife Expo, mongabay.com encountered an animation that powerfully illustrates the concept of biodiversity loss in less than two-and-a-half minutes. Yesterday's Zoo recounts species that have disappeared and warns that a similar fate could befall many more unless urgent conservation action is taken. The animation is being used to raise money for wildlife protection efforts. In a March Q&A with Shane DeRolf, President & Executive Producer of Yesterday's Zoo, Mongabay learned more the project.
Parks key to saving India's great mammals from extinction
(02/24/2011) Krithi Karanth grew up amid India's great mammals—literally. Daughter of conservationist and scientist Dr. Ullas Karanth, she tells mongabay.com that she saw her first wild tigers and leopard at the age of two. Yet, the India Krithi Karanth grew up in may be gone in a century, according to a massive new study by Karanth which looked at the likelihood of extinction for 25 of India's mammals, including well-known favorites like Bengal tigers and Asian elephants, along with lesser known mammals (at least outside of India) such as the nilgai and the gaur. The study found that given habitat loss over the past century, extinction stalked seven of India's mammals especially: Asiatic lions, Bengal tigers, wild dogs (also known as dholes), swamp deer, wild buffalo, Nilgiri Tahr, and the gaur. However, increasing support of protected areas and innovative conservation programs outside of parks would be key to saving India's wildlife in the 21st Century.
Kids found organization to save endangered species
(02/22/2011) Many American children under ten spend their free time watching TV and movies, playing video games, or participating in sports, but for siblings Carter (9 years old) and Olivia Ries (8) much of their time is devoted to saving the world's imperiled species. The organization One More Generation (OMG) not only has a clever name (yes, it is meant to pun the common Oh-My-God acronym), but may have the two youngest founders of an environmental organization in the US. "We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct," Carter told mongabay.com. OMG, which is run with help from the Ries' parents as well as an impressive list of conservation and wildlife experts, has taken on a number of local and international campaigns, including raising money for cheetahs, working against throw-away plastic bags, and taking action to change the US tradition of Rattlesnake Roundups where thousands of rattlesnakes are killed for a community festival.
Saving Madagascar's largest carnivorous mammal: the fossa
(02/17/2011) Madagascar is a land of wonders: dancing lemurs, thumbnail-sized chameleons, the long-fingered aye-aye, great baobab trees, and the mighty fossa. Wait—what? What's a fossa? It's true that when people think of Madagascar rarely do they think of its top predator, the fossa—even if they are one of the few who actually recognizes the animal. While the fossa gained a little notice in the first Madagascar film by DreamWorks, its role in the film was overshadowed by the lemurs. In this case, art imitates life: in conservation and research this feline-like predator has long lived in the shadow of its prey, the lemur. Even scientists are not certain what to do with the fossa: studies have shown that it's not quite a cat and not quite a mongoose and so the species—and its few Malagasy relatives—have been placed in their own family, the Eupleridae, of which the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the biggest. But if this is the first you've heard of such matter, don't feel bad: one of the world's only fossa-researchers, Mia-Lana Lührs also stumbled on the species.
A lion's story, an interview with the filmmakers of The Last Lions
(02/14/2011) The new theatrical film, The Last Lions does not open, as one would expect, with a shot of lions or even an African panorama. Instead the first shot is a view of our planet from space at night. Billions of artificial lights illuminate continent showing just how much humans over the past few thousand years have come to dominate our world. Then comes the lions, but not in person, just in this staggering, and little known, statistic: in the last 50 years we have gone from a population of 450,000 lions to 20,000 today, a 95% decline. While the dramatic story of the The Last Lions follows the perils and tragedies of lion motherhood in one of the world's last untouched places—the Okavango Delta—this statistic hangs over the film, reminding us that the story we are witnessing is on the verge of extinction.
Slow but steady progress on recognizing indigenous land rights is interrupted by commodity boom
(02/09/2011) Progress over the past 25 years in recognizing indigenous peoples' rights to land and resources has been interrupted by a worldwide commodity boom, argues a new report published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The report says that surging food and energy prices—and associated appreciation of land values—have led some governments to pause on land tenure reform, and in some cases, rollback hard-won rights. The report cites instances in Asia, Africa, and South America where large blocks of land traditionally used by local people have been sold or leased to industrial interests. In a conversation with mongabay.com, Andy White, coordinator of RRI, discussed the new report and broader rights issues.
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.
The ocean crisis: hope in troubled waters, an interview with Carl Safina
(02/07/2011) Being compared—by more than one reviewer—to Henry Thoreau and Rachel Carson would make any nature writer's day. But add in effusive reviews that compare one to a jazz musician, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin, and you have a sense of the praise heaped on Carl Safina for his newest work, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. Like Safina's other books, The View from Lazy Point focuses on the beauty, poetry, and crisis of the world's oceans and its hundreds-of-thousands of unique inhabitants. Taking the reader on a journey around the world—the Arctic, Antarctic, and the tropics—Safina always returns home to take in the view, and write about the wildlife of his home, i.e. Lazy Point, on Long Island. While Safina's newest book addresses the many ways in which the ocean is being degraded, depleted, and ultimately imperiled as a living ecosystem (such as overfishing and climate change) it also tweezes out stories of hope by focusing on how single animals survive, and in turn how nature survives in an increasingly human world. However, what makes Safina's work different than most nature writing is his ability to move seamlessly from contemporary practical problems to the age-old philosophical underpinnings that got us here. By doing so, he points a way forward.
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.
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.
Can entrepreneurial insights save the Masai Mara?
(01/23/2011) At the epicenter of East Africa’s Great Migration, the Masai Mara of Southern Kenya hosts one of the world's great wildlife spectacles, as herds of over two million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle congregate in search of fresh grazing brought by the annual rains. Yet, even here in one of the world's great wild places, modern man casts a long shadow, and the Mara Ecosystem is degenerating under the pressures of uncontrolled tourism, divisive local politics, and the burgeoning population growth of the local Maasai people. Working to reverse what seems to many conservationists a hopeless trend for the area, a champion of the Masai Mara has emerged in AJ Patel, founder of the Hasla Mara Wildlife Conservation Foundation. Building a career as a successful entrepreneur and civic leader in San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley, AJ now focuses his considerable business experience and skills for the cause of global wildlife conservation
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.
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.
Saving the maleo, a geothermal nesting bird, in Sulawesi
(12/06/2010) More species are threatened with extinction in Indonesia than any other country on Earth. If we are to save them, it will take more protected areas, radical shifts in deforestation, and better anti-poaching efforts, but in many cases it will also take species-specific conservation efforts that work directly with local people. The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) is a model organization for this method, founder Marcy Summers describes it as 'very small, community-based, and efficient, with very low overhead.' By focusing on the wonderfully bizarre maleo, a ground-dwelling bird on the island of Sulawesi, the organization has succeeded in protecting a vital nesting area while initiating a moratorium on the egg-harvesting, which once devastated the species.
Rebuttal: Slaughtering farmed-raised tigers won't save tigers
(11/18/2010) A recent interview with Kirsten Conrad on how legalizing the tiger trade could possibly save wild tigers sparked off some heated reactions, ranging from well-thought out to deeply emotional. While, we at mongabay.com were not at all surprised by this, we felt it was a good idea to allow a critic of tiger-farming and legalizing the trade to officially respond. The issue of tiger conservation is especially relevant as government officials from tiger range states and conservationists from around the world are arriving in St. Petersburg to attend next week's World Bank 'Tiger Summit'. The summit hopes to reach an agreement on a last-ditch effort to save the world's largest cat from extinction.
Would legalizing the trade in tiger parts save the tiger?
(11/15/2010) Just the mention of the idea is enough to send shivers down many tiger conservationists' spines: re-legalize the trade in tiger parts. The trade has been largely illegal since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The concept was, of course, a reasonable one: if we ban killing tigers for traditional medicine and decorative items worldwide then poaching will stop, the trade will dry up, and tigers will be saved. But 35 years later that has not happened—far from it. "Words such as 'collapse' are now being used to describe the [tiger's] situation both in terms of population and habitat. Wild tiger numbers continue to drop so that we have about 3,500 today across 13 range states occupying just 7% of their original habitat. It’s universally acknowledged that we’re losing the battle," Kirsten Conrad, tiger conservation expert, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Flight of the Monarchs Reveals Environmental Connections across a Continent
(11/08/2010) As autumn settles across North America, one hallmark of the season is the gentle southward flight of the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate towards the forests that shelter their species during the winter months. Unfortunately, as with other forests across the planet, the Monarch's "over- wintering grounds" in Mexico are suffering from increased human pressures. An innovative conservation group called the ECOLIFE Foundation has stepped up to help safeguard the Monarch's winter forests, and in the process discovered that addressing the Monarch's plight came only after uncovering connections that bind us all. The following article is an interview with Bill Toone, the Executive Director of ECOLIFE.
Undercover for animals: on the frontline of wildlife crime in the US
(11/03/2010) Special Agent O’Connor is a veteran wildlife law enforcement officer, with over 20 years of service under belt. She began her career in wildlife law enforcement as a Conservation Police Officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, where she served for eight years. She then moved to federal wildlife law enforcement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was first posted to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota. During that time, she investigated several major cases that led to felony convictions for violations of wildlife laws. She now serves as a training officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the interagency law enforcement training organization that serves 88 Federal agencies, in Georgia.
Undergrads in the Amazon: American students witness beauty and crisis in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador
(10/28/2010) Although most Americans have likely seen photos and videos of the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, they will probably never see it face-to-face. For many, the Amazon seems incredibly remote: it is a dim, mysterious place, a jungle surfeit in adventure and beauty—but not a place to take a family vacation or spend a honeymoon. This means that the destruction of the Amazon, like the rainforest itself, also appears distant when seen from Oregon or North Carolina or Pennsylvania. Oil spills in Ecuador, cattle ranching in Brazil, hydroelectric dams in Peru: these issues are low, if not non-existent, for most Americans. But a visit to the Amazon changes all that. This was recently confirmed to me when I traveled with American college students during a trip to far-flung Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. As a part of a study abroad program with the University of San Francisco in Quito and the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS), these students spend a semester studying ecology and environmental issues in Ecuador, including a first-time visit to the Amazon rainforest at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuni—and our trips just happened to overlap.
The ultimate bike trip: the Amazon rainforest
(10/17/2010) Like all commercial roads through rainforests, the 5,300 kilometer long Rodovia Transamazonica (in English, the Trans-Amazonia), brought two things: people and environmental destruction. Opening once-remote areas of the Amazon to both legal and illegal development, farmers, loggers, and miners cut swathes into the forest now easily visible from satellite. But the road has also brought little prosperity: many who live there are far from infrastructure and eek out an impoverished existence in a harsh lonely wilderness. This is not a place even the most adventurous travelers go, yet Doug Gunzelmann not only traveled the entirety of the Transamazonica in 2009, he cycled it. A self-described adventurer, Gunzelmann chose to bike the Transamazonica as a way to test his endurance on a road which only a few before have completed. But Gunzelmann wasn't just out for adrenaline-rushes, he was also deeply interested in the environmental issues related to the Transamazonica. What he found was a story without villains, but only humans—and the Amazon itself—trying to survive in a complex, confusing world.
Farms in the sky, an interview with Dickson Despommier
(10/12/2010) To solve today's environmental crises—climate change, deforestation, mass extinction, and marine degradation—while feeding a growing population (on its way to 9 billion) will require not only thinking outside the box, but a "new box altogether" according to Dr. Dickson Despommier, author of the new book, The Vertical Farm. Exciting policy-makers and environmentalists, Despommier's bold idea for skyscrapers devoted to agriculture is certainly thinking outside the box.
Can 'boutique capitalism' help protect the Amazon?
(10/11/2010) Most companies talk green, but few—almost none in fact—actually walk the walk. Sustainable design company, Ecostasy, not only walks the walk, but actually seeks out among the most challenging places to work: the imperiled Brazilian Amazon. Specializing in hand-crafted products by indigenous groups—such as jewelry, pots, and furniture—Ecostasy seeks to balance smart economics, environmental protection, and community development. Make no mistake, however, Ecostasy is not a non-profit, but a rare and refreshing example of a company truly dedicated to changing the world for the better. "In my mind, a virtuous company does not compromise ethical principles for economic interests. For me, being ethical is comprised of conducting oneself with honesty and responsibility to one’s constituencies (customers, employees, suppliers), society and the environment," Katherine Ponte, founder of Ecostasy, told mongabay.com in an interview.
The Nestlé example: how responsible companies could end deforestation
(10/06/2010) The NGO, The Forest Trust (TFT), made international headlines this year after food giant Nestlé chose them to monitor their sustainability efforts. Nestlé's move followed a Greenpeace campaign that blew-up into a blistering free-for-all on social media sites. For months Nestle was dogged online not just for sourcing palm oil connected to deforestation in Southeast Asia—the focus of Greenpeace's campaign—but for a litany of perceived social and environmental abuses and Nestlé's reactions, which veered from draconian to clumsy to stonily silent. The announcement on May 17th that Nestlé was bending to demands to rid its products of deforestation quickly quelled the storm. Behind the scenes, Nestlé and TFT had been meeting for a number of weeks before the partnership was made official. But can TFT ensure consumers that Nestlé is truly moving forward on cutting deforestation from all of its products?
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.
Yasuni on film: could a documentary save the world's most biodiverse ecosystem?
(10/04/2010) How do you save one of the most biologically and culturally diverse places in the world if most people have never heard of it? If you want a big audience—you make a film. This is what wildlife-filmmaker Ryan Killackey is hoping to do with his new movie Yasuni Man. Killackey says the film will show-off the wonders of Yasuni National Park while highlighting the complexity of its biggest threat: the oil industry. "Conceptually, the film resembles a true-life cross between the documentary Crude and the blockbuster Avatar—except it's real and it's happening now," Killackey told mongabay.com.
Hope remains for India's wild tigers, says noted tiger expert
(09/30/2010) As 2010 marks 'The Year of the Tiger' in many Asian cultures, there has been global interest in the long-term viability of tiger populations in the wilds of Asia. Due to increasing pressures on remaining tiger habitats and a surge in demand for tiger parts from traditional medicine trades, many conservation experts consider the current outlook for wild tiger populations bleak. Dr Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India does not share this view. He believes that a collaboration of global and local interests can secure a future for tigers in the wild.
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.
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.
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.
Into the Congo: saving bonobos means aiding left-behind communities, an interview with Gay Reinartz
(09/23/2010) Unlike every other of the world's great apes—the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan—saving the bonobo means focusing conservation efforts on a single nation, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While such a fact would seem to simplify conservation, according to the director of the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI), Gay Reinartz, it in fact complicates it: after decades of one of world's brutal civil wars, the DRC remains among the world's most left-behind nations. Widespread poverty, violence, politically instability, corruption, and lack of basic infrastructure have left the Congolese people in desperate straits.
How the overlooked peccary engineers the Amazon, an interview with Harald Beck
(09/20/2010) When people think of the Amazon rainforest, they likely think of roaring jaguars, jumping monkeys, marching ants, and squeezing anacondas. The humble peccary would hardly be among the first animals to cross their mind, if they even know such pig-like animals exists! Yet new research on the peccary is proving just how vital these species are to the world's greatest rainforest. As seed dispersers and seed destroyers, engineers of freshwater habitats and forest gaps, peccaries play an immense, long overlooked, role in the rainforest. "Peccaries have the highest density and biomass of any Neotropical mammal species. Obviously these fellows have quite an appetite for almost anything, but primarily they consume fruits and seeds. Their specialized jaws allow them to crush very hard seeds. The cracking sounds can be heard through the thick vegetation long before we could see them. As peccary herds bulldoze through the leaf litter in search for insects, frogs, seeds, and fruits, they destroy (i.e. snap and trample) many seedlings and saplings, sometimes leaving only the bare ground behind," Harald Beck, assistant professor at Towson University in Maryland, told mongabay.com in an interview.
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.'
Frogs and friends at risk from booming global wildlife trade
(09/08/2010) Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel at Defenders of Wildlife and Chair of the Species Survival Network's (SSN) Amphibian Working Group, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the global amphibian trade. In her interview, Alejandra Goyenechea discusses the benefits of frogs and the many threats – such as habitat loss, climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and overexploitation – to their survival. Did you know frogs indicate environmental quality, like canaries in a coal mine? Or that many have medicinal properties, like the phantasmal poison dart frog which produces a painkiller 200 times the potency of morphine?
The role of wildlife conservation in human health
(09/07/2010) Livestock farming is an important traditional way for communities in sub-Saharan Africa to build and maintain wealth, as well as attain food security. Essentially, the transfrontier or transboundary conservation areas (TFCA) concept and current internationally accepted approaches to the management of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) are largely incompatible. The TFCA concept promotes free movement of wildlife over large geographic areas, whereas the present approach to the control of TADs (especially for directly transmitted infections) is to use vast fences to prevent movement of susceptible animals between areas where TADs occur and areas where they do not, and to similarly restrict trade in commodities derived from animals on the same basis. In short, the incompatibility between current regulatory approaches for the control of diseases of agro-economic importance and the vision of vast conservation landscapes without major fences needs to be reconciled in the interest of regional risk-diversification of land-use options and livelihood opportunities. An integrated, interdisciplinary approach offers the most promising way to address these issues—one where the well-being of wildlife and ecosystems, domestic animals, and Africa's people are assessed holistically, with a "One World – One Health" perspective.
Coral reef survival depends on the super small, an interview with Forest Rohwer
(08/30/2010) If you take a teaspoon and dip it into the ocean what will you have? Some drops of lifeless water? Only a few decades ago this is what scientists would have said, however, the development of increasingly powerful microscopes have shown us a world long unknown, which has vital importance for the survival of one of the world's most threatened and most treasured ecosystems: coral reefs. A single milliliter of water is now known to contain at least a million living microbes, i.e. organisms too small to see without a microscope. After discovering their super-abundant presence, researchers are now beginning to uncover how these incredibly tiny life-forms shape the fate of the world's coral reefs.
Exploring Kenya's sky island
(08/18/2010) Rising over 2,500 meters from Kenya's northern desert, the Mathews Range is a sky island: isolated mountain forests surrounded by valleys. Long cut off from other forests, 'sky islands' such as this often contain unique species and ecosystems. Supported by the Nature Conservancy, an expedition including local community programs Northern Rangelands Trust and Namunyak Conservancy recently spent a week surveying the mountain range, expanding the range of a number of species and discovering what is likely a new insect.
Could biochar save the world?
(08/16/2010) Biochar—the agricultural application of charcoal produced from burning biomass—may be one of this century's most important social and environmental revolutions. This seemingly humble practice—a technology that goes back thousands of years—has the potential to help mitigate a number of entrenched global problems: desperate hunger, lack of soil fertility in the tropics, rainforest destruction due to slash-and-burn agriculture, and even climate change. "Biochar is a recalcitrant form of carbon that will stay almost entirely unaltered in soils for very long periods of time. So you can sequester carbon in a simple, durable and safe way by putting the char in the soil. Other types of carbon in soils rapidly turn into carbon dioxide. Char doesn't," managing director of the Biochar Fund, Laurens Rademakers, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
The biology and conservation of declining coral reefs, an interview with Kristian Teleki
(08/15/2010) Coral reefs are often considered the "rainforests of the sea" because of their amazing biodiversity. In fact, coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is not unusual for a reef to have several hundred species of snails, sixty species of corals, and several hundred species of fish. While they comprise under 1% of the world’s ocean surface, one-quarter of all marine species call coral reefs their home. Fish, mollusks, sea stars, sea urchins, and more depend on this important ecosystem, and humans do too. Coral reefs supply important goods and services–from shoreline protection to tourism and fisheries–which by some estimates are worth $375 billion a year.
Hunting threatens the other Amazon: where harpy eagles are common and jaguars easy to spot, an interview with Paul Rosolie
(08/05/2010) If you have been fortunate enough to visit the Amazon or any other great rainforest, you've probably been wowed by the multitude and diversity of life. However, you also likely quickly realized that the deep jungle is not quite what you may have imagined when you were a child: you don't watch as jaguars wrestle with giant anteaters or anacondas circle prey. Instead life in the Amazon is small: insects, birds, frogs. Even biologists will tell you that you can spend years in the Amazon and never see a single jaguar. Yet rainforest guide and modern day explorer Paul Rosolie says there is another Amazon, one so pristine and with such wild abundance that it seems impossible to imagine if not for Rosolie's stories, photos, and soon videos. This is an Amazon where the big animals—jaguars, tapir, anaconda, giant anteaters, and harpy eagles—are not only abundant but visible. Free from human impact and overhunting, these remote places—off the beaten path of tourists—are growing ever smaller and, according to Rosolie, are in danger of disappearing forever.
Endangered Animals: 10 Reasons for Hope
(08/03/2010) Earlier last month the Zoological Society of San Diego launched two far reaching media and development projects which showcase the Zoo's extensive global field conservation programs. Mongabay had the opportunity to attend the launch ceremony of the Zoo's new 'Global Action Team' and the accompanying 'Ten Reasons for Hope' campaign. While at this event, we spoke with Alan Lieberman, Director of Regional Conservation Programs, about the development of both projects.
Indonesian people-not international donors or orangutan conservationists-will determine the ultimate fate of Indonesia's forests
(07/29/2010) Many of the environmental issues facing Indonesia are embodied in the plight of the orangutan, the red ape that inhabits the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Orangutan populations have plummeted over the past century, a result of hunting, habitat loss, the pet trade, and human-ape conflict. Accordingly, governments, charities, and concerned individuals have ploughed tens of millions of dollars into orangutan conservation, but have little to show in terms of slowing or reversing the decline. The same can be said about forest conservation in Indonesia: while massive amounts of money have been put toward protecting and sustainable using forests, the sum is dwarfed by the returns from converting forests into timber, rice, paper, and palm oil. So orangutans—and forests—continue to lose out to economic development, at least as conventionally pursued. Poor governance means that even when well-intentioned measures are in place, they are often undermined by corruption, apathy, or poorly-designed policies. So is there a future for Indonesia's red apes and their forest home? Erik Meijaard, an ecologist who has worked in Indonesia since 1993 and is considered a world authority on orangutan populations, is cautiously optimistic, although he sees no 'silver bullet' solutions.
Visiting the Gulf: how wildlife and people are faring in America's worst environmental disaster, an interview with Jennifer Jacquet
(07/29/2010) "President Obama called it 'the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.' So I thought I should face it and head to the Gulf"—these are the opening words on the popular blog Guilty Planet as the author, marine biologist Jennifer Jacquet, embarked on a ten day trip to Louisiana. As a scientist, Jacquet was, of course, interested in the impact of the some four million barrels of oil on the Gulf's already depleted ecosystem, however she was as equally keen to see how Louisianans were coping with the fossil fuel-disaster that devastated their most vital natural resource just four years after Hurricane Katrina.
How Greenpeace changes big business
(07/22/2010) Tropical deforestation claimed roughly 13 million hectares of forest per year during the first half of this decade, about the same rate of loss as the 1990s. But while the overall numbers have remained relatively constant, they mask a transition of great significance: a shift from poverty-driven to industry-driven deforestation and geographic consolidation of where deforestation occurs. These changes have important implications for efforts to protect the world's remaining tropical forests in that environmental groups now have identifiable targets that may be more responsive to pressure on environmental concerns than tens of millions of impoverished rural farmers. In other words, activists have more leverage than ever to impact corporate behavior as it relates to deforestation. A prime example of this power is evident in a string of successful Greenpeace campaigns, which have targeted some of the largest drivers of deforestation, including the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia and the soy and cattle industries in the Brazilian Amazon. The campaigns have shared a common approach: target large, conspicuous consumer-facing companies that sell in western markets.
Amazing reefs: how corals 'hear', an interview with Steve Simpson
(07/21/2010) Corals aggregate to form vast reefs, which are home to numerous species and provide vital ecological services such as protecting shorelines. However, coral reefs are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world due to many factors, such as global warming and ocean acidification. Recent research by Simpson and his team of scientists has shown that corals, rather than drifting aimlessly after being released by their parent colonies and by chance landing back on reefs, instead find their way purposefully to reefs by detecting the sound of snapping shrimps and grunting fish on the reef. However, that discovery also means that the larvae might struggle to find reefs when human noises, like drilling or boats, mask the natural ocean sounds.
Dangerous and exploitative: a look at pet wild cats
(07/13/2010) From bobcats, lynx, and pumas to the thousands of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, and little wildcats living in captive environments, the WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society is solely devoted to ending the commercial exploitation of all wildcats. Its primary objectives are to drastically reduce and subsequently eliminate the private ownership of wildcats as pets; wildcats held in roadside zoos and pseudo-sanctuaries; using wildcats for entertainment purposes; as well as hunting, trafficking, and trade of wildcats. Lisa Tekancic is an attorney in Washington, DC and founder and president of WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society. Their mission is to protect and defend all native and non-native wildcats. Lisa is an active member of the DC Bar’s Animal Law Committee and has organized and moderated two legal conferences: 'Trafficking, Trade, and Transport of Wildlife,' and 'Wildlife and the Law.' She presented a paper on the methodology of 'Animal Ethics Committee' for the International Conference on Environmental Enrichment, and for four years was volunteer staff at the National Zoological Park’s, Cheetah Station.
Conservation photography: on shooting and saving the world's largest temperate rainforest, an interview with Amy Gulick
(07/11/2010) Most of the US's large ecosystems are but shadows of their former selves. The old-growth deciduous forests that once covered nearly all of the east and mid-west continental US are gone, reduced to a few fragmented patches that are still being lost. The tall grassy plains that once stretched further than any eye could see have been almost wholly replaced by agriculture and increasing suburbs. Habitats, from deserts to western forests, are largely carved by roads and under heavy impact from resource exploitation to invasive species. Coastal marine systems, once super abundant, have partially collapsed in many places due to overfishing, as well as pollution and development. Despite this, there are still places in the US where the 'wild' in wilderness remains largely true, and one of those is the Tongass temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska.
Violence a part of the illegal timber trade, says kidnapped activist
(07/07/2010) The European parliament made a historical move today when it voted overwhelmingly to ban illegal timber from its markets. For activists worldwide the ban on illegal timber in the EU is a reason to celebrate, but for one activist, Faith Doherty of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the move has special resonance. In early 2000, Doherty and an Indonesian colleague were kidnapped, beaten, and threatened with a gun by illegal loggers in Indonesian Borneo.
In the midst of marine collapse will we save our last ocean?
(07/05/2010) Imagine an ocean untouched by oil spills: a sea free of pollution, invasive species, dead zones, and over-exploitation; waters where marine animals exist in natural abundance and play ecological roles undimmed by mankind. Such a place may sound impossible in today's largely depleted oceans, but it exists: only discovered in 1841, the Ross Sea spreads over nearly a million kilometers adjacent to the Antarctic continent. Here killer whales, penguins, sea birds, whales, and giant fish all thrive. However, even with its status as the world's 'last ocean', the Ross Sea has not escaped human impact. Over the last 15 years commercial fisheries have begun to catch one of its most important species in the ecosystem to serve them up on the dinner plates of the wealthy.
Uncovering the intelligence of insects, an interview with Lars Chittka
(06/29/2010) Many people would likely consider 'insect intelligence' a contradiction in terms, viewing insects—when they think of them as anything more than pests—as something like hardwired tiny robots, not adaptive, not intelligent, and certainly not conscious. However, research over the last few decades have shown that a number of well-studied insects are capable of performing amazing intellectual feats, from recognizing individuals to employing a symbolic language in a behavior known as a 'bee waggle'. "Already in 1900, Buttel-Reepen asked whether honeybees are mere reflex machines—and emphatically denied that claim," Dr. Lars Chittka, professor of Sensory and Behavioral Ecology at Queen Mary University in London, told mongabay.com in an interview. "Over the last century, we have seen a fundamental change in perspective on the learning capacities of insects, and there a now several credible lines of evidence that insects are capable of cognitive feats that had previously been ascribed only to 'higher' vertebrates".
Tiger farming and traditional Chinese medicine
(06/27/2010) The number of wild tigers has plummeted from 25,000-30,000 animals 50 years ago to around 3,200 today. A large part of the drop is from habitat loss and fragmentation. Tiger habitat has been reduced by 40 percent over the last decade, and tigers now occupy less than 7 percent of their historical range. Poaching has also contributed significantly to these dramatic population declines, particularly to supply parts for use in traditional medicine. In an interview with Laurel Neme, Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), notes that, although the Chinese government has made significant efforts to reduce demand for tiger products by eliminating tiger bone from the official pharmacopeias, raising consumer awareness and identifying cheaper and more effective herbal alternatives to tiger bone for use in TCM, tiger farms threaten to reopen demand for tiger products by breeding tigers excessively, stockpiling tiger carcasses, and stoking demand by making and selling wine made from tiger bone.
Interview with a conservation giant from India
(06/27/2010) It is perhaps sacrilegious to squeeze all the achievements of the Wildlife Trust of India Chairman, Dr M K Ranjitsinh in one short profile note. A scion of the former royal family of Wankaner in Saurashtra, Gujarat, he is one of the most distinguished and accomplished wildlifers in India and indeed the world. Named after the famous cricketer, Dr Ranjitsinh has led a peripatetic and multifarious life that has seen him make full use of his multi talented personality.
An interview with Rhett Butler
(06/16/2010) Rhett Butler, founder of Mongabay.com, spoke with Laurel Neme on her “The WildLife” radio show and podcast about what prompted him to develop this top environmental website and also about some of the more interesting and bizarre stories he’s pursued in Madagascar, the Amazon and around the world. Rhett founded Mongabay.com in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife, while examining the impact of emerging local and global trends in technology, economics, and finance on conservation and development. Mongabay.com is an independent information source, not affiliated with any other organization.
Indonesia's plan to save its rainforests
(06/14/2010) Late last year Indonesia made global headlines with a bold pledge to reduce deforestation, which claimed nearly 28 million hectares (108,000 square miles) of forest between 1990 and 2005 and is the source of about 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would voluntarily cut emissions 26 percent — and up to 41 percent with sufficient international support — from a projected baseline by 2020. Last month, Indonesia began to finally detail its plan, which includes a two-year moratorium on new forestry concession on rainforest lands and peat swamps and will be supported over the next five years by a one billion dollar contribution by Norway, under the Scandinavian nation's International Climate and Forests Initiative. In an interview with mongabay.com, Agus Purnomo and Yani Saloh of Indonesia's National Climate Change Council to the President discussed the new forest program and Norway's billion dollar commitment.
Using art to promote conservation
(06/14/2010) Pollyanna Pickering is widely recognized as one of Europe's foremost wildlife artists, and is one of the most published fine artists working in Britain today. She is an honorary patron of The Wildlife Art Society International, and a signature member of the Artists for Conservation Foundation and the Society of Feline Artists. She is also a full juried member of the New York based Society of Animal Artists. A familiar face on TV, the most recent documentary about her work Made in England was broadcast on BBC1 last year.
Plight of the Bengal: India awakens to the reality of its tigers—and their fate
(06/06/2010) Over the past 100 years wild tiger numbers have declined 97% worldwide. In India, where there are 39 tiger reserves and 663 protected areas, there may be only 1,400 wild tigers left, according to a 2008 census, and possibly as few as 800, according to estimates by some experts. Illegal poaching remains the primary cause of the tiger's decline, driven by black market demand for tiger skins, bones and organs. One of India's leading conservationists, Belinda Wright has been on the forefront of the country's wildlife issues for over three decades. While her organization, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), does not carry the global recognition of large international NGOs, her group’s commitment to the preservation of tigers, their habitat, and the Indian people who live with these apex predators, is one reason tigers still exist.
A total ban on primary forest logging needed to save the world, an interview with activist Glen Barry
(06/02/2010) Radical, controversial, ahead-of-his-time, brilliant, or extremist: call Dr. Glen Barry, the head of Ecological Internet, what you will, but there is no question that his environmental advocacy group has achieved major successes in the past years, even if many of these are below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media. "We tend to be a little different than many organizations in that we do take a deep ecology, or biocentric approach," Barry says of the organization he heads. "[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization."
Timber certification is not enough to save rainforests
(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world's largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative's supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.
Mexico has big role in the illegal parrot trade
(05/30/2010) Juan Carlos Cantu, Director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico office, spoke with Laurel Neme on her The WildLife radio show and podcast about the illegal parrot trade in Mexico and how his innovative research into the trade was used by the Mexican Congress to reform that country’s Wildlife Law to ban all trade in parrots. The illegal pet trade is probably the second-biggest threat facing parrots in the wild, with only habitat loss rating higher, and the impact is disturbing. Defenders of Wildlife documented this threat in a 2007 landmark study which found between 65,000 and 78,500 parrots are illegally trapped in the wild in Mexico every year.
Long-distance seed dispersal and hunting, an interview with Kimberly Holbrook
(05/24/2010) Scientists are just beginning to uncover the complex relationship between healthy biodiverse tropical forests and seed dispersers—species that spread seeds from a parent tree to other parts of the forest including birds, rodents, primates, and even elephants. By its very nature this relationship consists of an incredibly high number of variables: how abundant are seed dispersers, which animals spread seeds the furthest, what species spread which seeds, how are human impacts like hunting and deforestation impacting successful dispersal, as well as many others. Dr. Kimberly Holbrook has begun to answer some of these questions.
Taking back the rainforest: Indians in Colombia govern 100,000 square miles of territory
(05/10/2010) Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon have long suffered deprivations at the hands of outsiders. First came the diseases brought by the European Conquest, then came abuses under colonial rule. In modern times, some Amazonian communities were virtually enslaved by the debt-bondage system run by rubber traders: Indians could work their entire lives without ever escaping the cycle of debt. Later, periodic invasions by gold miners, oil companies, colonists, and illegal coca-growers took a heavy toll on remaining indigenous populations. Without title to their land, organization, or representation, indigenous Colombians in the Amazon seemed destined to be exploited and abused. But new hope would emerge in the 1980s, thanks partly to the efforts of Martin von Hildebrand, an ethnologist who would help indigenous Colombians eventually win control over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest—an area larger than the United Kingdom.
How an agricultural revolution could save the world's biodiversity, an interview with Ivette Perfecto
(05/04/2010) Most people who are trying to change the world stick to one area, for example they might either work to preserve biodiversity in rainforests or do social justice with poor farmers. But Dr. Ivette Perfecto was never satisfied with having to choose between helping people or preserving nature. Professor of Ecology and Natural Resources at the University of Michigan and co-author of the recent book Nature’s Matrix: The Link between Agriculture, Conservation and Food Sovereignty, Perfecto has, as she says, "combined her passions" to understand how agriculture can benefit both farmers and biodiversity—if done right.
Can markets protect nature?
(05/03/2010) Over the past 30 years billions of dollars has been committed to global conservation efforts, yet forests continue to fall, largely a consequence of economic drivers, including surging global demand for food and fuel. With consumption expected to far outstrip population growth due to rising affluence in developing countries, there would seem to be little hope of slowing tropical forest loss. But some observers see new reason for optimism—chiefly a new push to make forests more valuable as living entities than chopped down for the production of timber, animal feed, biofuels, and meat. While are innumerable reasons for protecting forests—including aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, and moral—most land use decisions boil down to economics. Therefore creating economic incentives to maintaining forests is key to saving them. Leading the effort to develop markets ecosystem services is Forest Trends, a Washington D.C.-based NGO that also organizes the Katoomba group, a forum that brings together a wide variety of forest stakeholders, including the private sector, local communities, indigenous people, policymakers, international development institutions, funders, conservationists, and activists.
How hornbills keep Asian rainforests healthy and diverse, an interview with Shumpei Kitamura
(04/26/2010) Hornbills are one of Asia's most attractive birds. Large, colorful, and easier to spot than most other birds, hornbills have become iconic animals in the tropical forests of Asia. Yet, most people probably don't realize just how important hornbills are to the tropical forests they inhabit: as fruit-eaters, hornbills play a key role in dispersing the seeds of tropical trees, thereby keeping forests healthy and diverse. Yet, according to tropical ecologist and hornbill-expert Shumpei Kitamura, these beautiful forest engineers are threatened by everything from forest loss to hunting to the pet trade.
Jane Goodall renews her faith in nature and humanity during the "Gombe 50" anniversary, An interview with Dr. Jane Goodall
(04/12/2010) 2010 marks a monumental milestone for the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and its founder, Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE. Fifty years ago, Goodall, who is today a world-renowned global conservation leader, first set foot on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. The chimpanzee behavioral research she pioneered at Gombe has produced a wealth of scientific discovery, and her vision has expanded into a global mission 'to empower people to make a difference for all living things.' Time, however, has not stood still for Gombe. The wild chimps of the area have suffered as the local human population has swelled. Gombe National Park is now a forest fragment, a 35-square-kilometer island of habitat isolated in a sea of subsistence farming. Because the problems facing Gombe—unsustainable land practices, overpopulation, and a cycle of poverty—are typical of many other areas, lessons learned by Dr. Goodall and her team provide valuable insights for solutions at Gombe and beyond.
Seed dispersal in the face of climate change, an interview with Arndt Hampe
(04/05/2010) Without seed dispersal plants could not survive. Seed dispersal, i.e. birds spreading seeds or wind carrying seeds, means the mechanism by which a seed is moved from its parent tree to a new area; if fortunate the seed will sprout in its new resting place, produce a plant which will eventually seed, and the process will begin anew. But in the face of vast human changes—including deforestation, urbanization, agriculture, and pasture lands, as well as the rising specter of climate change, researchers wonder how plants will survive, let alone thrive, in the future?
Secrets of the Amazon: giant anacondas and floating forests, an interview with Paul Rosolie
(03/10/2010) At twenty-two Paul Rosolie has seen more adventure than many of us will in our lifetime. First visiting the Amazon at eighteen, Rosolie has explored strange jungle ecosystems, caught anaconda and black caiman bare-handed, joined indigenous hunting expeditions, led volunteer expeditions, and hand-raised a baby giant anteater. "Rainforests were my childhood obsession," Rosolie told Mongabay.com. "For as long as I can remember, going to the Amazon had been my dream […] In those first ten minutes [of visiting], cowering under the bellowing calls of howler monkeys, I saw trails of leaf cutter ants under impossibly large, vine-tangled trees; a flock of scarlet macaws crossed the sky like a brilliant flying rainbow. I saw a place where nature was in its full; it is the most amazing place on earth."
Why seed dispersers matter, an interview with Pierre-Michel Forget, chair of the FSD International Symposium
(03/07/2010) There are few areas of research in tropical biology more exciting and more important than seed dispersal. Seed dispersal—the process by which seeds are spread from parent trees to new sprouting ground—underpins the ecology of forests worldwide. In temperate forests, seeds are often spread by wind and water, though sometimes by animals such as squirrels and birds. But in the tropics the emphasis is far heavier on the latter, as Dr. Pierre-Michel Forget explains to mongabay.com. "[In rainforests] a majority of plants, trees, lianas, epiphytes, and herbs, are dispersed by fruit-eating animals. […] As seed size varies from tiny seeds less than one millimetres to several centimetres in length or diameter, then, a variety of animals is required to disperse such a continuum and variety of seed size, the smaller being transported by ants and dung beetles, the larger swallowed by cassowary, tapir and elephant, for instance."
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