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News articles on interviews
Mongabay.com news articles on interviews in blog format. Updated regularly.
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.
Building a new generation of local conservationists: how improving education in Uganda may save one of the world's great forests
(06/20/2013) Conservation work is often focused on the short-term: protecting a forest from an immediate threat, saving a species from pending extinction, or a restoring an ecosystem following degradation. While short-term responses are often borne of necessity, one could argue that long-term thinking in conservation and environmental work (as in all human endeavors) is woefully neglected, especially in the tropics. This is why programs like the Kasiisi Project are so important: by vastly improving education for primary kids near a threatened park in Uganda, the project hopes to create a "generation of committed rural conservationists," according to founder and director, Elizabeth Ross.
Should zoos educate the public about climate change?
(06/18/2013) Zoos are usually thought of as entertainment destinations. As a place to take the kids on a nice afternoon, they are sometimes perceived to lack the educational heft of an art museum or a theatre. However, over the past few decades many of the world's best zoos and aquariums have also worked to educate their visitors about conservation issues, in addition to funding and supporting programs in the field to save the ever-growing number of imperiled species. But as threats to the world's species mount—including climate change—many are beginning to ask what, if anything, zoos and aquariums should do to address the global environmental crisis.
Why endangered species need conservation champions
(06/13/2013) Without heroic conservationists many of today's most beloved species would be extinct: think of pandas, tigers, and elephants. By single-mindly focused on saving a particular species, these conservation champions bring much-needed research, publicity, and, most importantly, targeted actions to keep an imperiled animal from the brink. Through their own exuberance, these heroes also gather others to their cause. But, many of the world's heroic conservationists are little-known to the broader public. To address this a new book, Wildlife Heroes: 40 Leading Conservationists and the Animals They Are Committed to Saving, strives to introduce the public to some of the world's most devoted conservationists.
Conserving the long-neglected freshwater fish of Borneo
(06/11/2013) Borneo is a vast tropical island known for orangutans, rhinos, elephants, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, hornbills, and ubiquitous leeches. Conservationists have championed all of these species (aside from the leeches) in one way or another, but like many tropical regions Borneo's freshwater species have long been neglected, despite their rich biodiversity and importance to local people. But a new organization, the Kinabatangan River Spirit Initiative, is working to change that.
Tibetan monks partner with conservationists to protect the snow leopard
(06/10/2013) Tibetan monks could be the key to safeguarding the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) from extinction, according to an innovative program by big cat NGO Panthera which is partnering with Buddhist monasteries deep in leopard territory. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, snow leopard populations have dropped by a fifth in the last 16 years or so. Large, beautiful, and almost never-seen, snow leopards are the apex predators of the high plateaus and mountains of central Asia, but their survival like so many big predators is in jeopardy.
Saving one of Africa's most stunning parks through biomass briquettes and fuel-efficient stoves
(06/06/2013) When Rebecca Goldstone and Michael Stern first arrived in Uganda's Kibale National Park in 2000 to study monkeys, little did they know then that they would stay on to kick-start an innovative organization, The New Nature Foundation, connecting locals to the park through videos and visits. Nor did they know they would soon tackle the biggest threat to Kibale: deforestation for cooking fuel wood. Since 2006, the couple's organization has implemented a hugely-successful program that provides biomass briquettes for environmentally-friendly fuel for locals, cutting down on the need for forest destruction.
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.
The comeback kids: the role of zoos in saving species from oblivion (photos)
(06/03/2013) While many people may view zoos first and foremost as attractions, these institutions have a long history of supporting and instigating conservation work, including saving species from extinction that have vanished from their wild habitat. But such efforts require not just dedication and patience, but herculean organizational efforts. Enter, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which works with zoos and aquariums to set up conservation programs and track endangered species in captivity.
Connecting kids through elephants: innovative zoo program links children in the UK and India
(05/30/2013) You may think children in urban, northern UK have little in common with those in rural Assam, India, but educational connections are possible you just have to know where to look. In this case, an innovative education initiative at Chester Zoo has employed its five ton stars—the Asian elephants—to teach British children about life in faraway India.
Snowy tigers and giant owls: conservation against the odds in Russia's Far East
(05/28/2013) The Russian Far East is one of the wildest places on Earth: where giant tigers roam snow-covered forests and the world's biggest owls stalk frozen rivers. Bordering northern China and North Korea, the forests of Primorye are known for the diversity of habitats, including coastal forests along the Sea of Japan, vast coniferous forests in the Sikhote-Alin mountains, and even steppe. These diverse ecosystems also makes the forests a hotspot for endangered species, including Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), Blakiston's fish owls (Bubo blakistoni), and one of the world's rarest big cats, Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis), which number only 30-50 animals.
How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature - An interview with Mark Tercek
(05/15/2013) In 2008, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) surprised the conservation world when it selected Mark Tercek, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, as its new president and CEO. For people familiar with Tercek, however, the move made perfect sense: he was a leading figure in Goldman's efforts to pursue new environmental policies. While at the helm of TNC, Mark Tercek has continued his focus on ecosystem services or attributing economic value to nature. In his new book, Nature’s Fortune, Mark discusses the fruit of this work.
All the world's rarest birds in one book: photo contest enlivens new guide
(05/06/2013) The World's Rarest Birds is an extraordinary bird book. 590 different bird species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, with many species only existing in captivity. A new book, The World's Rarest Birds, catalogs all of these species. Each species is shown with remarkable color-photography and illustrations. Threats to species habitat are described, population estimates per species are given, and each species has a quick response (QR) code that takes the reader to a species-specific BirdLife International webpage. The book also covers 60 Data Deficient species. Data Deficient means that there exists little to no information on the relative abundance and distribution of the species.
Climate Myths: how climate denialists are getting away with bad science
(04/29/2013) In Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science, Dr. John J. Berger deconstructs the climate change denialists' myths in simple, easy-to-read terms. According to the Pew Research Center: "Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) [Americans] say there is solid evidence that the earth’s average temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades, up six points since November 2011 and 12 points since 2009." Yet implementing national-level climate change mitigation legislation is not occurring in the U.S.
The river of plenty: uncovering the secrets of the amazing Mekong
(04/23/2013) Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of freshwater biodiversity. Meanwhile, the river is facing an existential crisis in the form of 77 proposed dams, while population growth, pollution, and development further imperil this understudied, but vast, ecosystem.
Breaking the mold: Divya Karnad takes on fisheries and science journalism in India
(04/15/2013) Fishing is not a woman's domain in most countries across the globe. In parts of India there are fishing communities who believe that having a woman onboard a fishing boat brings bad luck. Despite this, Divya Karnad, a scientist who studies marine life in India, has spent several years studying fisheries and their impact on species like sharks and sea turtles. Her work forms a part of global efforts to track declining marine species and encourage more sustainable fishing.
Fighting deforestation—and corruption—in Indonesia
(04/11/2013) The basic premise of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program seems simple: rich nations pay tropical countries for preserving their forests. Yet the program has made relatively limited progress on the ground since 2007, when the concept got tentative go-ahead during U.N. climate talks in Bali. The reasons for the stagnation are myriad, but despite the simplicity of the idea, implementing REDD+ is extraordinarily complex. Still the last few years have provided lessons for new pilot projects by testing what does and doesn't work. Today a number of countries have REDD+ projects, some of which are even generating carbon credits in voluntary markets. By supporting credibly certified projects, companies and individuals can claim to "offset" their emissions by keeping forests standing. However one of the countries expected to benefit most from REDD+ has been largely on the sidelines. Indonesia's REDD+ program has been held up by numerous factors, but perhaps the biggest challenge for REDD+ in Indonesia is corruption.
Improving the rigor of measuring emissions from deforestation, agriculture
(04/03/2013) While much has been written about the potential of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by protecting tropical forests, a proposed program to do just that has been challenged by a number of factors, including concerns about the accuracy of measuring for carbon reductions. Failure to properly account for carbon could undermine the effectiveness of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program as a tool for mitigating climate change and securing benefits for local people. To help address the technical issues that underpin carbon measurement, the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have launched a new Certificate in Advanced Terrestrial Carbon Accounting.
Harnessing religious teachings about stewardship to protect the planet - an interview with Sikh activist Bandana Kaur
(03/28/2013) Many religious groups have taken on the role of environmental custodians, citing scriptures that urge living in harmony with plants and animals. Representatives of nine world religions pledged in 2009 to develop environmental programs. The Sikh religion’s contribution to that effort is called EcoSikh. With a global community 30 million strong, Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion. Sikhs trace their roots to Punjab. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Green Revolution — research and technology breakthroughs that dramatically increased agricultural yields worldwide — turned Punjab into “the breadbasket of India.” In the past 20 years, though, the intensive farming has eroded Punjab’s soil and water.
Forging zoos into global conservation centers, an interview with Cristian Samper, head of WCS
(03/25/2013) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is one of the world's leading environmental organizations. Founded in 1895 (originally as the New York Zoological Society), the WCS manages 200 million acres of wild places around the globe, with over 500 field conservation projects in 65 countries, and 200 scientists on staff. The WCS also runs five facilities in New York City: the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, Prospect Park and Queens Zoos, and the world renowned Bronx Zoo.
CITES 40th Anniversary: Reflections of CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon
(03/04/2013) The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is often hailed by scholars and conservationists as the most effective international environmental agreement. On March 3, CITES celebrates its 40th anniversary. What accounts for its success? In the following interview, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon reflects on the convention’s strengths and weaknesses.
Extinction warning: racing to save the little dodo from its cousin's fate
(03/04/2013) Sometime in the late 1600s the world's last dodo perished on the island of Mauritius. No one knows how it spent its final moments—rather in the grip of some invasive predator or simply fading away from loneliness—but with its passing came an icon of extinction, that final breath passed by the last of its kind. The dodo, a giant flightless pigeon, was a marvel of the animal world: now another island ground pigeon, known as the little dodo, is facing its namesake's fate. Found only in Samoa, composed of ten islands, the bird has many names: the tooth-billed pigeon, the Manumea (local name), and Didunculus ("little dodo") strigirostris, which lead one scientist to Christen it the Dodlet. But according to recent surveys without rapid action the Dodlet may soon be as extinct as the dodo.
Elephant and Rhino issues to be debated at CITES 16th Conference of Parties
(03/04/2013) When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets from March 3-14 in Bangkok for its 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), elephants and rhinos will be at the top of the agenda. While there are no proposals to open up trade in either elephant ivory or rhino horn, there are several other items on the agenda that will likely generate debate, including proposals for extension of the moratorium on ivory trade, a decision-making mechanism for ivory trade, and suspension of any rhino trophy hunting. Also to be discussed are enforcement mechanisms, including how to prevent illegal ivory from entering existing legal domestic markets.
Overview of the CITES 16th Conference of Parties in Bangkok
(03/01/2013) When countries meet in Bangkok, Thailand for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), to be held from March 3-14, they’ll consider 70 proposals submitted by 55 States regarding a range of species, from polar bears to turtles and tropical timbers. To help sort through the many agenda items, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon provided the following overview of the most significant issues.
Travel in Madagascar: strange wildlife and stunning landscapes
(02/27/2013) The promise of lemurs, lizards, and a bouquet of biodiversity brought mongabay.com founder Rhett Butler to Madagascar sixteen years ago. He was not disappointed by what he found and was inspired to return, many times to experience the wildlife, landscapes, and people of the dynamic island. In 2004, Rhett founded wildmadagascar.org, a site that highlights the spectacular cultural and biological richness of Madagascar and reports on environmental news for the Indian Ocean island nation.
Warlords, sorcery, and wildlife: an environmental artist ventures into the Congo
(02/25/2013) Last year, Roger Peet, an American artist, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to visit one of the world's most remote and wild forests. Peet spent three months in a region that is largely unknown to the outside world, but where a group of conservationists, headed by Terese and John Hart, are working diligently to create a new national park, known as Lomami. Here, the printmaker met a local warlord, discovered a downed plane, and designed a tomb for a wildlife ranger killed by disease, in addition to seeing some of the region's astounding wildlife. Notably, the burgeoning Lomami National Park is home to the world's newest monkey species, only announced by scientists last September.
A lifetime with elephants: an interview with Iain Douglas-Hamilton
(02/22/2013) Iain Douglas-Hamilton has dedicated his life to elephants. 'I like elephants because of the way they treat each other,' he says. 'They’re very nice to each other most of the time, but not all the time ... You see a lot of play...a lot of tender touching, caressing, tactile contact of one sort or another.' The affection goes both ways. Douglas-Hamilton recalls one curious female who would always approach his vehicle. 'Eventually I got so friendly with her that...I could walk with her and feed her the fruits of the wild gardenia tree. That was a very special elephant for me. She eventually brought her babies up to meet me.' Douglas-Hamilton’s dedication extends to protecting the species from harm, and especially the ivory trade. He calls the current ivory trade “totally unsustainable” and recommends a total ban on the trade.
Jaguars, tapirs, oh my!: Amazon explorer films shocking wildlife bonanza in threatened forest
(02/19/2013) Watching a new video by Amazon explorer, Paul Rosolie, one feels transported into a hidden world of stalking jaguars, heavyweight tapirs, and daylight-wandering giant armadillos. This is the Amazon as one imagines it as a child: still full of wild things. In just four weeks at a single colpa (or clay lick where mammals and birds gather) on the lower Las Piedras River, Rosolie and his team captured 30 Amazonian species on video, including seven imperiled species. However, the very spot Rosolie and his team filmed is under threat: the lower Las Piedras River is being infiltrated by loggers, miners, and farmers following the construction of the Trans-Amazon highway.
Amphibian, tapir paradise in Honduras being ravaged by illegal deforestation
(02/06/2013) Located in a mountainous area near the border with Guatemala, Cusuco National Park in Honduras is recognized by researchers as a critical refuge for endangered amphibians in a country that has suffered from widespread deforestation. But while the park largely escaped the devastation that has affected other protected areas in Honduras, the situation seems to be changing: since 2010 there has been a sharp increase in deforestation. Poachers, small farmers, and cattle ranchers are moving into the park using a network of research trails and camps established by Operation Wallacea, a British conservation science NGO.
From slash-and-burn to Amazon heroes: new video series highlights agricultural transformation
(01/31/2013) A new series of short films is celebrating the innovation of rural farmers in the Manu region of Peru. Home to jaguars, macaws, and tapirs, the Manu region is also one of the top contenders for the world's most biodiverse place. It faces a multitude of threats from road-building to mining to gas and oil concessions. Still the impact of smallscale slash-and-burn farming—once seen as the greatest threat to the Amazon and other rainforest—may be diminishing as farmers, like the first film's Reynaldo (see below), turn to new ways of farming, ones that preserve the forest while providing a better life overall.
Cute koalas have become 'urban refugees'
(01/28/2013) According to Susan Kelly, koalas have become "urban refugees," under siege by expanding cities that bring with them deforestation, dogs, traffic, and other ills for native wildlife. Director of Global Witness, and writer, producer and director of the new documentary Koala Hospital, Kelly has spent 3 years working to understand the rising threats to one of the world's most beloved marsupials. While Koala Hospital highlights the many perils facing koalas, including climate change due to record fires across Australia, it also looks at the efforts of individuals who work to save koalas one—by—one at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, taking in patients who have been orphaned, hit by cars, scarred in fires, or attacked by dogs.
Helping Borneo's indigenous people fight for their forests
(01/28/2013) In the 1980's and 1990's more timber was removed from the rainforests Borneo than from all of Africa and South America combined. This tragic loss of habitat, with its attendant loss of wildlife and indigenous cultures, has gone largely unrecognized in the United States. Joe Lamb, a Berkeley-based writer, activist, and arborist, has worked to change that.
Religion, Chinese government drive global elephant slaughter
(01/24/2013) By some estimates, more than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered across the savannas and forests of Africa and Asia for the ivory trade during 2012. The carnage represents as much as 4 percent of the world's elephant population. Accordingly, some conservationists are warning that elephants face imminent extinction in some of their range countries. While the plight of elephants is increasingly visible due to media coverage, less widely understood is the role religion plays in driving the ivory trade. This issue was explored at length in an explosive cover story published in National Geographic by Bryan Christy last October. The story, titled Blood Ivory, detailed how demand for religious trinkets is driving large-scale killing of Earth's largest land animal.
Save Lolita: new film urges release of captive killer whale
(01/22/2013) Through his new 90-second PSA, Save Lolita, filmmaker Daniel Azarian wanted to connect people to the plight of Lolita on a deeply human level; the only problem: Lolita is an orca, also known as a killer whale. But the stark, moving PSA succeeds, given the sociability of an individual—human or orca—who was stolen from her family and held in captivity for the past 42 years at Miami's Seaquarium.
Telling the story of the father of sea turtle conservation
(01/21/2013) In 1959, visionary Archer Carr founded the world's first conservation group devoted solely to sea turtles. Working with these marine denizens in Costa Rica, Carr was not only instrumental in changing local views of the turtles—which at the time were being hunted and eaten at unsustainable rates—but also in establishing basic practices for sea turtle conservation today. Now a new film by Two-Head Video, Inc. tells the story of Carr's work and the perils still facing marine turtles today.
Can ranchers co-exist with jaguars?
(01/17/2013) Jaguar once roamed from the United States to Argentina, but today they've been eliminated from several range countries, including the United States. The chief reasons are habitat loss and direct killing by humans, putting ranchers and farmers at the heart of the issue. Both ranchers and farmers convert key jaguar habitat and kill the big cats as a threat to their livestock. However in parts of Brazil's Pantanal, some ranchers are going about their business without killing jaguars. My Pantanal, a film by Andrea Heydlauff, Vice President of the wild cat conservation group Panthera, takes a look at one particular ranch that is helping prove that jaguars and ranchers can co-exist.
Rhino wars: documenting the poaching crisis in South Africa
(01/16/2013) In 2012 a record 668 rhinos were slaughtered by poachers in South Africa for the horns, which are used as scientifically-debunked medicine in Asia. Rhino poaching has hit record levels worldwide over the past few years, but no where is the carnage greater than South Africa, which houses well over half of the world's rhinos. Thus it's no surprise that when student filmmaker, Anne Goodard, arrived in South Africa to film zebra behavior, she quickly became enthralled by the dark and tragic drama surrounding the country's rhinos.
The secret to the surging popularity of sloths: viral Web videos
(01/16/2013) Sloths have been the beneficiary of a surge of popularity of late. A big part of that has been filmmaker Lucy Cooke's footage of baby sloths at the world's only sloth orphanage in Costa Rica. Posted on the Internet in 2010, a 90-second clip went viral and has now been watched millions of times. That video, called ‘Meet the Sloths’, 'attracted celebrity fans from Ricky Gervaise to Ashton Kutcher and turned the sleepy residents of the world’s only sloth orphanage into international superstars,' according to Cooke.
Landmines, chains, and hope: the elephants of Thailand
(01/15/2013) Few animals draw more compassion and awe from people than elephants. Highly intelligent, deeply social, and touchingly sensitive, elephants have much in common with human beings, despite their size and shape. Yet elephants around the world are still often abused and mis-treated, whether to entertain tourists or as victims of human strife. A new film, The Last Elephants in Thailand, sets out to document both the good and bad that elephants encounter in a world dominated by homo sapiens.
In the kingdom of the black panther
(01/15/2013) The black panther has a mythical aura: Rudyard Kipling chose the animal for one of his heroes in the Jungle Book, in the 1970s it became the symbol of an African-American socialist party, while comic guru Stan Lee selected the stunning feline for his first black superhero. But the real black panther isn't an actual species, instead it's a rare dark pigmentation found most commonly in leopards, but also occasionally in jaguars and other wild cats. The rarity of the black panther—not to mention its striking appearance—has added to their mystery. However, recent studies have found that black panthers, in this case 'black leopards,' are astoundingly common in one part of the world: the Malayan peninsula.
Saving manta rays from the fin trade
(01/15/2013) Tens of millions of sharks and rays are killed each year to meet demand for shark fin, a delicacy across East Asia. But while the plight of sharks has gained prominence in international environmental circles in recent years, the decline in rays has received considerably less attention. A new film, Manta Ray of Hope, aims to change that. Produced by cinematographer, scuba diver, and marine conservationist Shawn Heinrichs, Manta Ray of Hope offers a look at the mysterious and magnificent world of the world's largest ray, the manta ray. The film highlights both the threats mantas face as well as some of the people who are working to save them.
Saving the Arabian leopard, the world's smallest leopard
(01/14/2013) Today most people are more likely to associate Yemen with warfare and bizarre terrorism plots rather than wildlife. But Yemen is home to a surprising diversity of animals, including a population of the world's smallest leopard: The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr). Native to the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabian leopard is today extremely rare — less than 200 animals are thought to survive in the wild. Despite the cat's precarious position, there is relatively little local enthusiasm to protect a species that is widely seen as a threat to livestock. Nevertheless one man in Yemen is trying to boost the value of leopard in the eyes of local people. David Stanton, an American teacher living in Yemen, had devoted his life to saving the Arabian leopard.
Paradigm shift needed to avert global environmental collapse, according to author of new book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse
(01/10/2013) Global strategist, trained educator, and international lecturer Daniel Rirdan set out to create a plan addressing the future of our planet. His book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse, published this year, does just that. "It has been a sixty hour a week routine," Rirdan told mongabay.com in a recent interview. "Basically, I would wake up with the burden of the world on my shoulders and go to sleep with it. It went on like this for eighteen months." It becomes apparent when reading The Blueprint that it was indeed a monumental undertaking.
Mercury hurts birds and people: what we can learn from studying our feathered friends
(01/07/2013) Birds aren't that different from people. We learn from our parents, just like zebra finches learn songs from their fathers. We are active and noisy during the day, like birds, and we can also be territorial. Also like birds, we try to attract mates through colorful displays and beautiful songs. Birds are sensitive to pollution in their environment just like we are: harmful elements such as mercury wreak similar havoc on human and bird biology alike. Because our species share so many attributes, studying birds illustrates the connections between them and us.
Making the connection: environmentalism as a family value
(12/26/2012) Passing values from one generation to the next is a central theme for most families. For career conservationists, Chip and Jill Isenhart, passing along a passion for the environment to their children took more than just lectures, and their efforts offer insights into furthering the cause of global environmental education.
From catastrophic to the sustainable: the flight of the Amur Falcon
(12/17/2012) It is said that the price of 'freedom and justice' is constant vigilance. It seems the same can be said of conservation and sustainability in our ever changing world. In a story and allegory appropriate for many of the challenges that face our global environment, two Indian conservation champions, Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan (both protégés and associates of famed conservation leader, Dr Ullas Karanth of the WCS India), have stepped to work with a host of international and local interests to help save one species of beleaguered bird, the Amur Falcon of Eurasia.
Uncontacted tribes still exist, but extinction threat looms
(12/11/2012) The world is more interconnected than ever. Globally, there are six billion cell phone subscribers and 900 million Facebook users. Nearly 32 million people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter. Given this content it may seem hard to believe that there remain people who have never had contact with the outside world. Yet such people do exist today. Most of them live in the most remote parts of the world's wildest forests. One of this year's best paperback books takes a close look at one uncontacted group — the Arrow People of the Brazilian Amazon. Written by veteran journalist Scott Wallace, The Unconquered is a gripping first-person account of a journey to learn more about this little-known tribe.
Forests, farming, and sprawl: the struggle over land in an Amazonian metropolis
(12/04/2012) The city of Parauapebas, Brazil is booming: built over the remains of the Amazon rainforest, the metropolis has grown 75-fold in less than 25 years, from 2,000 people upwards of 150,000. But little time for urban planning and both a spatial and mental distance from the federal government has created a frontier town where small-scale farmers struggle to survive against racing sprawl, legal and illegal mining, and a lack of investment in environmental protection. Forests, biodiversity, and subsistence farmers have all suffered under the battle for land. In this, Parauapebas may represent a microcosm both of Brazil's ongoing problems (social inequality, environmental degradation, and deforestation) and opportunity (poverty alleviation, reforestation, and environmental enforcement).
Jeff Corwin talks sharks
(12/04/2012) Sharks are among the most feared of all the world's predators, yet humans kill tens of millions of sharks for every person who falls victim to shark attack. Part of our fear stems from lack of understanding. A new eBook however tries to change that. Jeff Corwin, an Emmy Award Winning TV host, has this week released Jeff's Explorer Series: SHARKS, the first of a new eBook series, which Corwin likens to the 21st century version of an encyclopedia. The eBook is rich with video, images, and text. It is narrated by Corwin.
Legislation leaves future of world's largest temperate rainforest up in the air
(11/27/2012) Although unlikely to pass anytime in the near term, recurring legislation that would hand over 80,000 acres of the Tongass Rainforest to a Native-owned logging corporation has put local communities on guard in Southeast Alaska. "The legislation privatizes a public resource. It takes land that belongs to all of us, and that all of us have a say in the use and management of, and it gives that land to a private for-profit corporation," Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
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."
Remembering the Dust Bowl: it could happen again
(11/15/2012) The Dust Bowl, a film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, and The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History, a book authored by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Told in first-person narrative by survivors of the Dust Bowl and brought to color through vivid storytelling and over 300 rare archival photos, these two combined efforts must be watched and read by those concerned with our human impact on Earth.
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.
'The ivory trade is like drug trafficking' (warning graphic images)
(11/05/2012) For the past five years, Spanish biologist Luis Arranz has been the director of Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Arranz and a team of nearly 240 people, 140 guards among them, work to protect a vast area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of virgin forest, home to a population of more than 2.300 elephants that are facing a new and more powerful enemy. The guards are encountering not only bigger groups of poachers, but with ever more sophisticated weapons. According to Arranz, armed groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda are now killing elephants for their ivory.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil hits 10 year mark
(10/04/2012) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is holding its tenth annual meeting later this month. The initiative, which aims to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil production through a certification standard, has advanced considerably during that time, moving from an idea to a reality: RSPO-certified palm oil now accounts for 12 percent of global palm oil production. Yet the RSPO is not without controversy. Some palm oil companies say its criteria are too costly to adopt and are therefore discriminatory, while environmental critics argue its bar for "sustainable" palm oil is too low and the loopholes allow producers to claim membership even if they aren't actually producing certified palm oil across all their holdings. Nonetheless the RSPO has support from many of the world's largest palm oil producers, traders, and consumers as well as the biggest NGOs.
Gaming for rainforests
(10/03/2012) The average gamer will spend thousands of hours playing video games by the time they reach adulthood, but the most popular games among some demographics — shoot-em-up and sports games — don't seem to offer many dividends to society or the environment. However Jan Dwire doesn't believe that has to be the case. With a small team in Costa Rica, Dwire has developed "Rainforest Rangers", a multi-platform game that teaches kids about rainforests, including their importance and the threats they face.
In midst of rhino poaching epidemic, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy has happy problem: too many black rhinos
(10/02/2012) So far this year, South Africa has lost 430 rhinos to poachers, more than one animal a day. The epidemic of rhino poaching, fueled by demand for black-market powdered rhino horn in Vietnam and China, is decimating rhino species worldwide. In fact, last year saw the official extinction of two rhino subspecies: the Vietnamese rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus), a subspecies of the Javan, and the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes), a subspecies of the black. However there is one place where rhinos still thrive. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya has found itself with a unique, but happy, problem: they have so many black rhinos, which are considered Critically Endangered by the IUNC Red List, that they need to move some to stop rhino-fights. In other words, their rhino population has hit its limit for the 25,000 hectare (62,000 acre) nonprofit protected area.
In eco-pact, will controversial paper giant APP turn over a new leaf?
(09/26/2012) Over the past decade-and-a-half there has arguably been no paper supplier as controversial as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an umbrella brand for several Indonesian forestry companies. The paper giant has been dogged by allegations that is destroying key wildlife habitat, driving substantial greenhouse gas emissions through the conversion of peat forests, dispossessing local communities of land, and engaging in a heavy-handed campaign to undermine its critics within Indonesia and abroad. Its reputation hasn't be helped by its financial record — in 2001 it defaulted on $13.9 billion in debt, making it difficult for APP to raise money for expansion.
Penguins face a slippery future
(09/26/2012) Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises. Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk. Now, a young organization, the Global Penguin Society (GPS), is working to save all of the world's 18 penguin species by working with scientists, governments, and local communities.
Conflict and perseverance: rehabilitating a forgotten park in the Congo
(09/19/2012) Zebra racing across the yellow-green savannah is an iconic image for Africa, but imagine you're seeing this not in Kenya or South Africa, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Welcome to Upemba National Park: once a jewel in the African wildlife crown, this protected area has been decimated by civil war. Now, a new bold initiative by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), dubbed Forgotten Parks, is working to rehabilitate Upemba after not only decades of conflict but also poaching, neglect, and severe poverty.
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.
An interview with conservation writer David Quammen
(09/05/2012) David Quammen has done consistent and conscientious reporting from the trenches of ecological and evolutionary research for over thirty years now. Few in the world can claim as intimate and broad an understanding of conservation biology as he can. His books such as The Song of the Dodo and Monster of God match scientific and literary perfection. Nandini Velho and Umesh Srinivasan talk to him about the history of conservation science and what it can seek to create.
Private reserve safeguards newly discovered frogs in Ecuadorian cloud forest
(08/28/2012) Although it covers only 430 hectares (1,063 acres) of the little-known Chocó forest in Ecuador, the private reserve las Gralarias in Ecuador is home to an incredible explosion of life. Long known as a birder's paradise, the Reserva las Gralarias is now making a name for itself as a hotspot for new and endangered amphibians, as well as hundreds of stunning species of butterfly and moth. This is because the reserve is set in the perfect place for evolution to run wild: cloud forest spanning vast elevational shifts. "The pacific slope cloud forests [...] are among the most endangered habitats in the world," explains Reserva las Gralarias' founder, Jane Lyons, in a recent interview with mongabay.com.
Elephant ancestors and Africa's Bigfoot: new initiative works to preserve a continent's wildest tales
(08/20/2012) Paula Kahumbu, the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, is on a mission to reconnect young Africans with the natural world through storytelling. In a new initiative dubbed Africa's Wildest Stories, Kahumbu and others are recording the wit and wisdom of African elders in Kenya as they share their love of nature and the way in which Africans, for millennia, have co-existed with their environment and its astounding wildlife.
Turning gorilla poachers into conservationists in the Congo [warning: graphic photos]
(08/13/2012) Although founded only four years ago, Endangered Species International-Congo, has ambitious plans to protect dwindling Western gorilla populations and aid local people in the Republic of the Congo. The organization, an offshoot of Endangered Species International (ESI), has been spending the last few years studying the bushmeat trade in Pointe-Noire, the country's second largest city, and developing plans for turning hunters into conservationists.
Kids campaign to save South Africa's rhinos from poaching
(08/09/2012) The young founders of the U.S. conservation group, One More Generation (OMG), have taken on a new task: halting rhino poaching in South Africa. After a trip last year to visit South Africa, Carter Ries (age 11) and Olivia Ries (age 9), have jump-started a campaign to help convince the South African government to put more resources into halting a rhino poaching plague in the country. Last year an astounding 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa for their horns, averaging more than one rhino a day.
Interview with the new CEO of The GEF, the world's largest funder of environmental projects
(07/30/2012) The Global Environment Facility or 'GEF' unites 182 government members, in partnership with multiple international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector, with the goal of addressing global environmental issues. The following is an interview with Dr. Naoko Ishii of Japan, who was recently elected as the new CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, by the unanimous decision of the GEF's governing council.
Saving 'Avatar Grove': the battle to preserve old-growth forests in British Columbia
(07/23/2012) A picture is worth a thousand words: this common adage comes instantly to mind when viewing T.J. Watt's unforgettable photos of lost trees. For years, Watt has been photographing the beauty of Vancouver Island's ancient temperate rainforests, and documenting their loss to clearcut logging. The photographer and environmental activist recently helped co-found the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), a group devoted to saving the island's and British Columbia's (BC) last old-growth while working with the logging industry to adopt sustainable practices. This February the organization succeeded in saving Avatar Grove—which was only discovered in 2009—from being clearcut. The grove, a rare stand of massive and ancient trees named after the popular eco science-fiction movie, has become a popular tourist destination, providing a new economic incentive for communities to protect rather than cut Canada's last great forests.
Building indigenous resilience in the face of land-grabbing, deforestation in Malaysian Borneo
(07/10/2012) In the 1980s images of loincloth-clad tribesmen blockading blocking logging roads in Malaysian Borneo shocked the world. But while their protests captured the spotlight momentarily, Borneo's forests continued to be destroyed at rapid rates, undermining traditional communities that are dependent on these ecosystems for food, shelter, medicine, clean water, and spiritual inspiration. Nomadic tribes are now but a memory in Borneo, but other tribal groups continue to fight for their forests by seeking legal recognition of their lands and blocking destructive projects, including oil palm plantations, logging operations, and large-scale hydroelectric projects. Helping them is The Borneo Project, a Berkeley-based non-profit that works in partnership with indigenous communities and the small non-profits that support them.
Should we devote 2014 to wilderness?
(06/11/2012) American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau once said, "In wilderness is the preservation of the world." Anyone who has spent time in vast untouched wild space likely understands Thoreau's comment. Yet wilderness everywhere—already vanishing—remains imperiled by a variety of threats. To draw attention to the importance of the keeping wilderness in the world, PAN Parks, an organization that works to protect wilderness in Europe, has proposed to make 2014 the International Year of Wilderness.
Saving Indonesia's monkey with a heart-shaped bottom
(06/05/2012) North Sulawesi is one of the world's most beautiful places. Verdant forests and stunning coral reefs, combined with high levels of species endemism, make it a top biodiversity hotspot. But pressure on the region's natural resources is mounting. Mining projects, conversion of forests for plantations, overfishing, and the expansion of a commercial bushmeat trade is endangering some of Sulawesi's most charismatic animals, including the distinctive Sulawesi crested black macaque. Found only in North Sulawesi, the crested black macaque could be one of Indonesia's most iconic conservation symbols, but relatively few people know of its existence. And the locals who do may be inclined to eat it as a delicacy.
Charting a new environmental course in China
(05/21/2012) Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works in more than 30 countries and has projects in all 50 of the United States. The Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119 million acres of wild-lands and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. TNC has taken an active interest in China, the world's most populated nation, and in many important ways, a critical center of global development. The following is an interview with multiple directors of The Nature Conservancy's China Program.
Noel Rowe: all the world's primates "in one place"
(05/14/2012) Spanning the gamut from mouse lemurs to mountain gorillas, All The World’s Primates is a comprehensive database of primate species. Founded in 2004 by Noel Rowe and Marc Myers and designed primarily to aid scientists and college students in primatology research, ATWP is also readily accessible to anyone who would like to know a little more about primates. The database is continually updated when new species are discovered; from its inception in 2004 until 2010, 58 new species had been added to the site. In addition to discoveries made by primatologists in the field, All The World’s Primates compiles information from the latest genetic studies. The site also includes photos and videos of many species, and was recently expanded to include a visual key for identification.
Susan Cosier: Good environmental writing takes 'time, effort, and poetry'
(05/11/2012) Susan Cosier is a senior editor for Audubon, as well as running the magazine’s Green Guru column where she answers readers’ questions about how to live life in ways which are environmentally responsible. Susan studied environmental science as an undergrad at Wesleyan University, then went to NYU where she earned a Master of Arts in Science in the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. Her work has appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine, Wildlife Conservation, Utne Reader, and Scientific American MIND. Susan lives in Brooklyn, NY, and when she’s not writing about interesting things, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and trying to learn Spanish.
Permaculture: a path toward a more sustainable Amazon?
(05/03/2012) Communities living in and around tropical forests remain highly dependent on forest products, including nuts, resins, fruit and vegetables, oils, and medicinal plants. But relatively few of these products have been successfully commercialized in ways that generates sustained local benefits. When commercialization does happen, outsiders or a few well-placed insiders usually see the biggest windfall. Large-scale exploitation can also lead to resource depletion or conversion of forests for monoculture-based production. The ecosystem and local people lose.
Exploring Asia's lost world
(05/03/2012) Abandoned by NGOs and the World Bank, carved out for rubber plantations and mining by the Cambodian government, spiraling into a chaos of poaching and illegal logging, and full of endangered species and never-explored places, Virachey National Park may be the world's greatest park that has been written off by the international community. But a new book by explorer and PhD student, Greg McCann, hopes to change that. Entitled Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journey to the Green Corridor, the book highlights expeditions by McCann into parts of Virachey that have rarely been seen by outsiders and have never been explored scientifically, including rare grasslands that once housed herds of Asian elephants, guar, and Sambar deer, before poachers drove them into hiding, and faraway mountains with rumors of tigers and mainland Javan rhinos.
High-tech hell: new documentary brings Africa's e-waste slum to life
(04/30/2012) Shirtless boys rapidly pull the computer apart, discarding bits and pieces, until they expose the wires, yank them out, and toss them into a fire. Acrid, toxic smoke blooms as the boys prod the wires and the fire strips the plastic around the wires, leaving the sought-after copper. Welcome, to Agbogbloshie, where your technology goes to die. A new film e-wasteland captures the horrors of the world's largest e-waste slum through surreal and staggering images. Shot over three weeks by one-man guerrilla filmmaker, David Fedele, e-wasteland is an entirely visual experience without dialogue or voiceover.
Doing good and staying sane amidst the global environmental crisis
(04/23/2012) Several years ago while teaching a course in environmental science a student raised her hand during our discussion of the circumstances of modern ecological collapse and posed the question, "what happens when there is no more environment?" At the time I had no response and stumbled to formulate some sort of reply based on the typical aseptic, apathetic logic with which we are programmed through education in the scientific tradition: that there will always be some sort of environment, that life has prospered through the five previous mass extinctions and that something will survive. While this may be the case, the time has come for more of us to consider the broader spectrum of what global humanity is facing as the planet’s ecology is decimated.
How a crippled rhino may save a species
(04/09/2012) On December 18th, 2011, a female Sumatran rhino took a sudden plunge. Falling into a manmade pit trap, the rhino may have feared momentarily that her end had come, but vegetation cushioned her fall and the men that found her were keen on saving her, not killing her. Little did she know that conservationists had monitored her since 2006, and for her trappers this moment had been the culmination of years of planning and hope. A few days later she was being airlifted by helicopter to a new home. Puntung, as she has become called, was about to enter a new chapter in her life, one that hopefully will bring about a happy ending for her species.
Brazil can eliminate deforestation by 2020, says governor of giant Amazon state
(04/05/2012) Brazil can reduce Amazon deforestation to zero by 2020 while boosting rural livelihoods and maintaining healthy economic growth, the governor of Pará told mongabay.com on the sidelines of the Skoll World Forum, a major conference on social entrepreneurship, last week. Governor Simao Jatene is hopeful that a revolution in land management and governance can turn the tide in Pará, a state that is three times the size of California and has lost more Amazon forest -- 90,000 sq km of Amazon forest since 1996 -- over the past decade-and-a-half than any other in Brazil.
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.
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.
Innovative program seeks to safeguard Peruvian Amazon from impacts of Inter-Oceanic Highway
(03/06/2012) Arbio was begun by Michel Saini and Tatiana Espinosa Q. in the Peruvian Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The project focuses on a protective response to the increased encroachment and destructive land use driven by development. The recent construction of the Inter-Oceanic Highway in the Madre de Dios area presents an enormous threat to forest biodiversity. Arbio provides opportunities to help establish a buffer zone near the road to limit intrusive agricultural and deforestation activities.
Tourism for biodiversity in Tambopata
(02/27/2012) Research and exploration in the Neotropics are extraordinary, life-changing experiences. In the past two decades, a new generation of collaborative projects has emerged throughout Central and South America to provide access to tropical biodiversity. Scientists, local naturalists, guides, students and travelers now have the chance to mingle and share knowledge. Fusion programs offering immersion in tropical biology, travel, ecological field work, and adventure often support local wilderness preservation, inspire and educate visitors.
Colombian community leader talks about REDD
(02/21/2012) A pioneering project to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in a former conflict zone in Colombia has won gold certification under the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity (CCB) standard. The accreditation will help local communities access carbon finance in their efforts to safeguard biologically-rich forests. The project is located in Colombia's Darien region, near the border with Panama. The area is part of the Chocó, the rainforest ecosystem that runs along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador but has been heavily affected in places by deforestation. Everildys Cordoba is the project's coordinator on the community side. Cordoba grew up in Penaloza, a small town not far from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and the country's border with Panama. But in 1998, she was forcibly displaced by armed actors. Today, she has returned to her land to lead the project.
Innovative conservation: wild silk, endangered species, and poverty in Madagascar
(02/20/2012) For anyone who works in conservation in Madagascar, confronting the complex difficulties of widespread poverty is a part of the job. But with the wealth of Madagascar's wildlife rapidly diminishing— such as lemurs, miniature chameleons, and hedgehog-looking tenrecs found no-where else in the world—the island-nation has become a testing ground for innovative conservation programs that focus on tackling entrenched poverty to save dwindling species and degraded places. The local NGO, the Madagascar Organization of Silk Workers or SEPALI, along with its U.S. partner Conservation through Poverty Alleviation (CPALI), is one such innovative program. In order to alleviate local pressure on the newly-established Makira Protected Area, SEPALI is aiding local farmers in artisanal silk production from endemic moths. The program uses Madagascar's famed wildlife to help create more economically stable communities.
Margaret Southern: small efforts can add up to big impact
(02/13/2012) Margaret Southern writes about international conservation strategies and projects for The Nature Conservancy's editorial strategy team. She also writes about green living for TNC's Cool Green Science blog. She recently started All Hands On Earth, an organization which informs the public about the little things anyone can do to make a positive impact on the planet. Southern's newest project is Picnic for the Planet, an Earth Day celebration, which begins next month.
Kelly Blynn: activists not "letting the pressure off" on Keystone pipeline
(02/06/2012) Along with Bill McKibben and a small cadre of passionate environmental activists, Kelly Blynn co-founded the climate activism group "350." 350 exemplifies the power of online networks combined with activism and has coordinated some of the largest and most successful environmental protests in history. The 350 team has organized more than 5,200 events in 181 countries around the world. Kelly graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Geography and Environmental Studies and experience coordinating one of the largest university campus environmental activism groups in the United States. Blynn is currently situated in Washington, D.C.
Vampire and bird frogs: discovering new amphibians in Southeast Asia's threatened forests
(02/06/2012) In 2009 researchers discovered 19,232 species new to science, most of these were plants and insects, but 148 were amphibians. Even as amphibians face unprecedented challenges—habitat loss, pollution, overharvesting, climate change, and a lethal disease called chytridiomycosis that has pushed a number of species to extinction—new amphibians are still being uncovered at surprising rates. One of the major hotspots for finding new amphibians is the dwindling tropical forests of Southeast Asia.
New meteorological theory argues that the world's forests are rainmakers
(02/01/2012) New, radical theories in science often take time to be accepted, especially those that directly challenge longstanding ideas, contemporary policy or cultural norms. The fact that the Earth revolves around the sun, and not vice-versa, took centuries to gain widespread scientific and public acceptance. While Darwin's theory of evolution was quickly grasped by biologists, portions of the public today, especially in places like the U.S., still disbelieve. Currently, the near total consensus by climatologists that human activities are warming the Earth continues to be challenged by outsiders. Whether or not the biotic pump theory will one day fall into this grouping remains to be seen. First published in 2007 by two Russian physicists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, the still little-known biotic pump theory postulates that forests are the driving force behind precipitation over land masses.
Hugh Powell: birds lend invaluable insight into ecosystems
(01/23/2012) Hugh Powell is science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as well as a contributor to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Oceanus and other publications. He's traveled extensively while writing, including stints in Antarctica for WHOI's Live from the Poles. Before finding his niche as a science writer, Hugh studied the interconnections between black-backed woodpeckers, insects, and forest fires in Montana. He currently resides in Ithaca, New York.
New book series hopes to inspire research in world's 'hottest biodiversity hotspot'
(01/17/2012) Entomologist Dmitry Telnov hopes his new pet project will inspire and disseminate research about one of the world's last unexplored biogeographical regions: Wallacea and New Guinea. Incredibly rich in biodiversity and still full of unknown species, the region, also known as the Indo-Australian transition, spans many of the tropical islands of the Pacific, including Indonesia's Sulawesi, Komodo and Flores, as well as East Timor—the historically famous "spice islands" of the Moluccan Archipelago—the Solomon Islands, and, of course, New Guinea. Telnov has begun a new book series, entitled Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, that aims to compile and highlight new research in the region, focusing both on biology and conservation. The first volume, currently available, also includes the description of 150 new species.
Rainforests need massive finance, but REDD must be well-designed to succeed
(01/17/2012) A proposed mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by protecting tropical forests has evolved considerably since it started to gain momentum during the 2005 climate talks in Montreal. Known then as 'avoided deforestation', the concept was simple: pay tropical forest countries to keep their forests standing. Since then, the concept has broadened to include activities beyond strict forest conservation, including reducing logging and fire, protecting carbon-dense peatlands, encouraging better forest management practices in existing forest concessions, and promoting reforestation and afforestation. A prominent voice in the discussion around REDD since its inception is the environmental activist group Greenpeace. Mongabay recently caught up with Roman Czebiniak, Greenpeace International's Political Advisor on Climate Change and Forests, for an update on the organization's position on REDD as well as recent developments in the forest carbon policy arena.
How lemurs fight climate change
(01/09/2012) Kara Moses may have never become a biologist if not for a coin toss. The coin, which came up heads and decided Moses' direction in college, has led her on a sinuous path from studying lemurs in captivity to environmental writing, and back to lemurs, only this time tracking them in their natural habitat. Her recent research on ruffed lemurs is attracting attention for documenting the seed dispersal capabilities of Critically Endangered ruffed lemurs as well as theorizing connections between Madagascar's lemurs and the carbon storage capacity of its forests. Focusing on the black-and-white ruffed lemur's (Varecia variegata) ecological role as a seed disperser—animals that play a major role in spreading a plant's seeds far-and-wide—Moses suggests that not only do the lemurs disperse key tree species, but they could be instrumental in dispersing big species that store large amounts of carbon.
The other side of the Penan story: threatened tribe embraces tourism, reforestation
(12/19/2011) News about the Penan people is usually bleak. Once nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo, the indigenous Penan have suffered decades of widespread destruction of their forests and an erosion of their traditional culture. Logging companies, plantation developments, massive dams, and an ambivalent government have all played a role in decimating the Penan, who have from time-to-time stood up to loggers through blockades, but have not been successful in securing recognition of legal rights to their traditional lands. Yet even as the Penan people struggle against the destruction of their homelands, they are not standing still. Several Penan villages have recently begun a large-scale reforestation program, a community tourism venture, and proclaimed their a portion of their lands a "Peace Park."
Will 'sustainable' palm oil sell in China?
(12/19/2011) Owing to the high yield of the African oil palm tree, palm oil is today the cheapest commercial source of edible oil. But oil palm expansion in recent decades has at times had high indirect costs, including destruction of biologically diverse rainforests and further marginalization of forest-dependent people, especially in southeast Asia. Concerns over the environmental and social impact of palm oil production in the spurred a group of palm oil producers, processors, and buyers to team up with conservation groups to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. But a big question looms over all certification efforts: will the world's largest importers of palm oil — India and China — buy it?
Herpetology curator: behind-the-scenes of 'new species' discoveries
(12/18/2011) Bryan Stuart’s mission as a curator of amphibians and reptiles at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is to understand the diversity of life on earth. For that, he documents what species occur where and why. He’s particularly attracted to areas where there’s a dearth of knowledge, like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Gabon, and so far has discovered 27 species unknown previously to scientists: three species of snakes, two types of salamanders, and 22 kinds of frogs.
Interview with conservation legend George Schaller
(12/13/2011) Dr George Schaller is a veteran ecologist affiliated with two conservation organizations in New York, Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Spending much of his time during the past six decades in various countries of Asia, Africa and South America, he has studied and helped protect species as diverse as the Tiger, Mountain Gorilla, Giant Panda and Tibetan Antelope. In addition, he has promoted the establishment of about 15 protected areas. His studies have been the basis for his scientific and popular writings.
Interview with conservation legend, Richard Leakey
(11/28/2011) Following in his family's footsteps, Dr. Richard Leakey, is considered the heir to the scientific legacy of his parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, icons in the field of paleoanthropology. Dr Richard Leakey has been credited with some of the field's most successful paleoanthropologic finds, including a near complete, groundbreaking, Homo Erectus fossil dubbed 'Turkana Boy'. The scientific contributions of the Leakey family have reshaped our views of the origins of mankind and shed new light on the history and shared ties of the human family.
Cargill should do more to end use of problematic palm oil, says RAN
(11/24/2011) As part of our coverage of the 9th Annual Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil currently underway in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, mongabay.com is interviewing participants and attendees. In the following interview, mongabay.com speaks with the delegation from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an advocacy group which has been critical of some Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) members for what is sees as ongoing social and environmental problems.
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