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Flawed from inception? Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT initiative threatened indigenous groups with simple mapping errors

(11/13/2013) The plan from Ecuador’s government was simple: Pay us and we won’t destroy the planet's most extraordinary ecosystem. Dubbed the Yasuni-ITT initiative, the plan called upon developed nations to pay for protecting Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park from oil companies. Now, a recent study claims the plan was fraught with flaws as basic as drawing lines on a map.


Amazon’s vast rainforest dominated by few tree species

(11/12/2013) The Amazon rainforest is so vast, and so diverse, that seemingly simple questions— such as which species of trees are most common— remain unanswered. Researchers are finally seeing the forest and the trees after an international collaboration of 120 scientists teamed up to compile the largest tree survey ever assembled from the Amazon.


Exclusive: Stunning aerial photos reveal Ecuador building roads deeper into richest rainforest on Earth (Yasuní National Park)

(11/12/2013) In August 2012, professional photographers Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet were on assignment for National Geographic in Yasuní National Park, home to arguably the most biodiverse rainforest in the world. While there, they happened to take an aerial shoot above an area known as Block 31 (see Map), a controversial oil concession located in the heart of the park, at the precise moment that the national oil company, Petroamazonas, was secretly building a new oil access road.


Amazon deforestation could cause droughts in California

(11/08/2013) Complete deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall in the Pacific Northwest by up to 20 percent and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada by up to 50 percent, suggests new research published in the Journal of Climate. The study is based on high resolution computer modeling that stripped the Amazon of its forest cover and assessed the potential impact on wind and precipitation patterns. While the scenario is implausible, it reveals the global nature of the ecological services afforded by the world's largest rainforest.


Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?

(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.


Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica

(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.


Rebranded as the Rainforest Trust, green group launches push to protect 6M acres of Amazon rainforest

(10/30/2013) The Rainforest Trust, which from 1988 until last month was known as the World Land Trust-US, has kicked off an effort to preserve some 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of rainforest in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon.


Belo Monte dam suspended

(10/29/2013) Construction on Belo Monte, Brazil's largest dam, was again halted by a federal court due to concerns over its license, reports Amazon Watch, an NGO that is mobilizing opposition to the project.


50,000 km of roads built across Brazilian Amazon in 3 years

(10/29/2013) Roads are rapidly expanding across the Brazilian Amazon opening up once remote rainforests to loggers, miners, ranchers, farmers, and land speculators, finds a new study published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.


Gold mining in the Amazon rainforest surges 400%

(10/28/2013) The extent of gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon has surged 400 percent since 1999 due to rocketing gold prices, wreaking havoc on forests and devastating local rivers, finds a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The assessment, led by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science, is based on a combination of satellite imagery, on-the-ground field surveys, and an advanced airplane-based sensor that can accurately measure the rainforest canopy and sub-canopy vegetation at a resolution of 1.1 meters (42 inches).


Pictures: 441 new species described in the Amazon rainforest since 2010

(10/25/2013) Scientists described at least 441 previously unknown species from Amazon rainforest between 2010 and 2013, according a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).


Armored giant turns out to be vital ecosystem engineer

(10/24/2013) The giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is not called a giant for nothing: it weighs as much as a large dog and grows longer than the world's biggest tortoise. However, despite its gigantism, many people in its range—from the Amazon to the Pantanal—don't even know it exists or believe it to be more mythology than reality. This is a rare megafauna that has long eluded not only scientific study, but even basic human attention. However, undertaking the world's first long-term study of giant armadillos has allowed intrepid biologist, Arnaud Desbiez, to uncovered a wealth of new information about these cryptic creatures. Not only has Desbiez documented giant armadillo reproduction for the first time, but has also discovered that these gentle giants create vital habitats for a variety of other species.


Featured video: bears work together to take down camera traps

(10/24/2013) Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have captured stunning images of Andean bear families taking down camera traps in Bolivia's Apolobamba National Natural Area of Integrated Management. In one series of images a mother and her two cubs bite, claw, and whack one of the cameras. However even as they destroy one camera, the bears' antics are captured by another as researchers typically set several cameras to capture different views of animals, a process that helps them identify individuals.


Illegal logging remains rampant in Brazil

(10/23/2013) Illegal logging remains pervasive in the Brazilian state of Pará, finds an assessment released Monday by Imazon.


Scientist splits Amazonian giants into separate species

(10/23/2013) It's hard to mistake an arapaima for anything else: these massive, heavily-armored, air-breathing fish (they have to surface every few minutes) are the megafauna of the Amazon's rivers. But despite their unmistakability, and the fact that they have been hunted by indigenous people for millennia, scientists still know relatively little about arapaima, including just how many species there are. Since the mid-Nineteenth Century, scientists have lumped all arapaima into one species: Arapaima gigas. However, two recent studies in Copeia split the arapaimas into at least five total species—and more may be coming.


Map reveals gas company flying over Manu National Park

(10/17/2013) A map in an internal Peruvian government report reveals that gas company Pluspetrol has been flying over the protected Manu National Park (MNP) in the south-eastern Peruvian Amazon where UNESCO says the biodiversity "exceeds that of any other place on earth." The over-flight was done via helicopter on 3 February, 2012 by Pluspetrol personnel together with a team from the National Institute e Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afroperuvian Peoples (INDEPA).


40% of Brazil's rural area owned by 1.4% of landholders

(10/16/2013) Forty percent of the 509 million hectares of land classified as 'rural property' in Brazil is owned by 1.4 percent of rural households, finds a new analysis conducted by a group of Brazilian NGO's.


Nature tours in Costa Rica: an economic alternative to palm oil?

(10/16/2013) Oil palm plantations have been rapidly expanding across the tropics for the better part of the past twenty years due to high returns from palm oil production. But palm oil isn't necessarily the most profitable form of land use in wildlife-rich areas, as one conservation entrepreneur is demonstrating in Costa Rica.David Lando Ramirez, a landowner in Sarapiqui, northeastern Costa Rica, has converted a small patch of oil palm into a thriving ecotourism business centered around people's love of the Central American nation's stunning diversity of birds.


Featured video: 22-year-old produces documentary on the Peruvian Amazon

(10/15/2013) Spending a year on the Tambopata River in Peru's deep Amazon, allowed 22-year-old Tristan Thompson, to record stunning video of the much the region's little seen, and little known, wildlife. Thompson, a student at the University of the West of England, has turned his footage into a new documentary An Untamed Wilderness that not only gives viewers an inside look at the world's greatest forests, but also records the secretive behavior of many species, including howler monkeys, aracaris, leaf-cutter ants, hoatzin, and giant river otters.


Tapirs, drug-trafficking, and eco-police: practicing conservation amidst chaos in Nicaragua

(10/10/2013) Nicaragua is a nation still suffering from deep poverty, a free-flowing drug trade, and festering war-wounds after decades of internecine fighting. However, like any country that has been largely defined by its conflicts, Nicaragua possesses surprises that overturn conventional wisdom. Not the least of which is that the Central American country is still home to big, stunning species, including jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, and the nation's heaviest animal, the Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii). Still, not surprisingly given the nation's instability, most conservationists have avoided Nicaragua. But tapir-expert Christopher Jordan, who has worked in the country for over four years, says he wouldn't have it any other way.


Over 100 scientists warn Ecuadorian Congress against oil development in Yasuni

(10/03/2013) Over 100 scientists have issued a statement to the Ecuadorian Congress warning that proposed oil development and accompanying roads in Yasuni National Park will degrade its "extraordinary biodiversity." The statement by a group dubbed the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni outlines in detail how the park is not only likely the most biodiverse ecosystems in the western hemisphere, but in the entire world. Despite this, the Ecuadorian government has recently given the go-ahead to plans to drill for oil in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs, one of most remote areas in the Amazon rainforest.


Has Brazil turned against its progressive environmental policies?

(09/30/2013) Last year, Brazil rolled back crucial parts of its landmark Forestry Code, potentially opening vast tracts of forest for destruction; it is also moving ahead on a number of Amazon dams, including the infamous Belo Monte, despite international condemnation and conflict with indigenous people. Meanwhile, a new law under consideration proposes allowing large-scale mining in protected areas. Given this a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science argues that Brazil has thrown off its once admired mantle of environmental legislation, imperiling hundreds of thousands of species in the most biodiverse country on Earth.


Camera-traps reveal surprising mammals at remote site in Honduras (photos)

(09/30/2013) A camera trap survey along the Sikre River in Honduras has discovered that the region is home to a menagerie of rare mammals, including giant anteaters. The survey, published in mongabay.com's open access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, recorded five cat species in 70 square kilometers.


Video of Amazon gold mining devastation goes viral in Peru

(09/26/2013) Video of illegal gold mining operations that have turned a portion of the Amazon rainforest into a moonscape went viral on Youtube after a popular radio and TV journalist in Peru highlighted the story. Last week Peruvian journalist and politician Guido Lombardi directed his followers to video shot from a wingcam aboard the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), an airplane used by researchers to conduct advanced monitoring and analysis of Peru's forests. The video quickly received more than 60,000 views on Youtube.


Attempt to export nearly-extinct pygmy sloths sets off international incident in Panama

(09/20/2013) Last Monday, the police officer on morning duty at Isla Colón International Airport, Panama noticed some foreigners loading crates with what appeared to be animals on a private jet. Finding this suspicious, he alerted his supervisor. Within minutes the local police chief, the mayor of Bocas, the director of the regional office of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), community leaders and heads of local conservation organizations were informed about the incident. Little by little, a crowd of concerned citizens from Bocas town gathered around what turned out to be eight pygmy sloths – some of the rarest mammals on Earth


Indigenous peoples resume occupation of Brazil's Belo Monte dam site

(09/19/2013) 150 indigenous protesters have once again occupied the Belo Monte dam site in an effort to block the controversial project, reports Amazon Watch, an NGO that is helping lead the fight against the dam.


Climate change could kill off Andean cloud forests, home to thousands of species found nowhere else

(09/18/2013) One of the richest ecosystems on the planet may not survive a hotter climate without human help, according to a sobering new paper in the open source journal PLoS ONE. Although little-studied compared to lowland rainforests, the cloud forests of the Andes are known to harbor explosions of life, including thousands of species found nowhere else. Many of these species—from airy ferns to beautiful orchids to tiny frogs—thrive in small ranges that are temperature-dependent. But what happens when the climate heats up?


Brazil's satellite data suggests rise in Amazon deforestation over past year

(09/12/2013) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon appears to have risen significantly over the past year, according to data released by the country's space agency, INPE. Data aggregated from INPE's monthly deforestation alert system shows a 34 percent rise for the 12 months ended July 31, 2013 relative to the year-earlier period.


Indigenous people of Honduras granted one million hectares of rainforest

(09/12/2013) One-hundred and fifty years after a treaty with England granted the Miskito people rights over their land--a treaty which was never fully respected--the government of Honduras has officially handed over nearly a million hectares (970,000 hectares) of tropical forest along the Caribbean Coast to the indigenous people. The Miskito are found along the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua and number around 200,000.


Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests

(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.


Scientists discover that threatened bird migrates entirely within Amazon Basin

(09/11/2013) When one thinks of bird migrations, it's usually a north-south route that follows seasonal climates. But researchers in the Amazon have tracked, for the first time, a largely-unknown long-distance migration that sticks entirely to the Amazon Basin. Using satellite telemetry, scientists tracked a pair of Orinoco geese (Neochen jubata) from Peru and a male from Western Brazil, who both migrated to the Llanos de Moxos, a vast savanna and Amazonian watershed in Bolivia. The research has shown that the Orinoco geese—which breeds in both Peru and Brazil—depends on wetlands in the Llanos de Moxos for much of the year.


Brazil establishes 2 Amazon parks covering 2.4m acres

(09/10/2013) The Brazilian government has designated 952,000 hectares of remote public land in the Amazon as two new protected areas.


Satellite reveals 'hidden' 1000-ha oil palm plantation in Amazon rainforest in Peru

(09/06/2013) A regional forestry official in Peru has expressed surprise over the sudden appearance of a 1000-hectare oil palm plantation in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.


Featured video: 'this is day one for the olinguito'

(09/04/2013) Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins.


Deforestation surges as Ecuador kills Amazon protection plan

(09/04/2013) Data released this week by Terra-i, a collaborative mapping initiative, shows that deforestation in Ecuador for the first three months of 2013 was pacing more than 300 percent ahead of last year's rate. The report comes shortly after Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa killed off a proposed plan to prohibit oil drilling in Yasuni National Park in exchange for payments equivalent to half the value of the park's unexploited oil.


Scientists catch boa constrictor eating a howler monkey (photos)

(09/02/2013) In a world first, scientists have captured images and video of a boa constrictor attacking and devouring whole a femle howler monkey, one of the largest new world primates weighing in at around 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds). The rare predation event was recorded in a tiny forest fragment (2.5 hectares) in the Brazilian state of Rondonia by Erika Patricia Quintino, a PhD student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul.


$450/ha tax on deforestation could help curb forest loss in Bolivia, suggests new simulation

(09/01/2013) Levying a $450 per hectare tax on deforested lands could help curb forest clearing in Bolivia, suggests a new game-based simulation developed by researchers.


Isolated Amazonian tribe makes another appearance in Peru (video)

(08/26/2013) Over 100 members of a voluntarily isolated tribe emerged from the jungles of Peru in a rare appearance on the Las Piedras River across from the a Yine Indian community in late June. Belonging to the Mascho-Piro Indians, members of the "uncontacted" tribe are occasionally seen on riverbanks during the dry season, but appearances in such numbers and so close to a local community was unprecedented.


Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling

(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.


85% of Brazilian leather goes to markets sensitive to environmental concerns

(08/22/2013) Around 40% of beef and 85% of leather production serve markets that are potentially sensitive to environmental concerns, providing a partial explantation as to why Brazilian producers have made recent commitments to reducing deforestation for cattle production, finds a new study published in Tropical Conservation Science.


UN REDD program failing to build capacity for indigenous people in Panama

(08/22/2013) The U.N.'s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) program may be faltering in Panama due to its failure to build capacity for indigenous people who should play a central role in the initiative, argue researchers writing in the journal Nature.


With deforestation rising, Brazil sends more police to the Amazon

(08/19/2013) With deforestation pacing more than 90 percent ahead of last year's rate according to an estimate released today, Brazil said it has increased the number of environmental inspectors in the Amazon rainforest.


Meet the BABY olinguito

(08/18/2013) Since its announcement on Thursday, the olinguito—the world's newest mammal—has taken the world by storm. Hundreds of articles have been written about the new species, while its cuddly appearance has already been made the subject of cartoons. Now, conservationists have released the first photos of a baby olinguito. The new photos come from La Mesenia Conservation Project in Colombia, an Andean cloud forest reserve that is a project area for the NGO SavingSpecies.


Colombia establishes giant rainforest park to protect 'uncontacted' tribes

(08/16/2013) Next week the Colombian government will officially double the size of its largest national park, reports El Espectador.


Ecuador shelves big idea for saving the Amazon

(08/16/2013) The fate of the most biodiverse rainforest on Earth has been decided: it will be drilled for oil.


Scientists discover teddy bear-like mammal hiding out in Andean cloud forests (photos)

(08/15/2013) While the olinguito looks like a wild, tree-climbing teddy bear with a cat's tail, it's actually the world's newest mammalian carnivore. The remarkable discovery—the first mammal carnivore uncovered in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s—was found in the lush cloud forests of the Andes, a biodiverse region home to a wide-range of species found no-where else. Dubbed the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), the new mammal is a member of a little-known, elusive group of mammals—olingos—that are related to raccoons, coatis, and kinkajous. However, according to its description in the journal Zookeys, the olinguito is the most distinct member of its group, separated from other olingos by 3-4 million years (or longer than Homo sapiens have walked the Earth).


Little NGO takes on goliath task: conserving the vanishing ecosystems of Paraguay

(08/12/2013) Landlocked in the navel of South America, the forests, wetlands and savannahs of Paraguay boast rich biodiversity and endemic species, yet the unique landscapes of Paraguay also face increasing threats, primarily from agricultural expansion. Controlled burns and clear cutting have become common practice as wildlands are converted for soy and cattle production. In some areas this land conversion is rapid: the Paraguayan Chaco, for instance, is being lost at a rate of 10% per year. One organization is working to reverse this trend. Para La Tierra (PLT) is a small NGO dedicated to the conservation of threatened habitats in Paraguay. Located on the Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca, in-between two of South America's most threatened habitats: the Atlantic Forest and the vast topical savannah known as the cerrado, PLT is in a unique position to champion conservation.


Old-growth trees store half rainforest carbon

(08/07/2013) Large trees store store up to half the above-ground biomass in tropical forests, reiterating their importance in buffering against climate change, finds a study published in Global Ecology and Biogeography. The research, which involved dozens of scientists from more than 40 institutions, is based on data from nearly 200,000 individual trees across 120 lowland rainforest sites in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It found that carbon storage by big trees varies across tropical forest regions, but is substantial in all forests.


Deforestation ban working in Costa Rica

(08/05/2013) Costa Rica's ban on clearing of "mature" forests appears to be effective in encouraging agricultural expansion on non-forest lands, finds a study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study, which was led by Matthew Fagan of Columbia University, found that since Costa Rica implemented its ban on conversion of mature forests in 1996, the annual rate of old-growth forest loss dropped 40 percent despite an agricultural boom in the region. The results suggest that Costa Rica is intensifying agricultural production while simultaneously sparing forests.


Suspects arrested in Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist's murder

(08/03/2013) Eight suspects were arrested during early-morning raids Wednesday in the murder of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora.



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