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Mongabay.com news articles on rainforest people in blog format. Updated regularly.





Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2011

(12/22/2011) Many of 2011's most dramatic stories on environmental issues came from people taking to the streets. With governments and corporations slow to tackle massive environmental problems, people have begun to assert themselves. Victories were seen on four continents: in Bolivia a draconian response to protestors embarrassed the government, causing them to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous Amazonian reserve; in Myanmar, a nation not known for bowing to public demands, large protests pushed the government to cancel a massive Chinese hydroelectric project; in Borneo a three-year struggle to stop the construction of a coal plant on the coast of the Coral Triangle ended in victory for activists; in Britain plans to privatize forests created such a public outcry that the government not only pulled back but also apologized; and in the U.S. civil disobedience and massive marches pressured the Obama Administration to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Canada to a global market.


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."


Cultural shifts in Madagascar drive lemur-killing

(12/15/2011) Conservationists have often found that some cultural norms, religious beliefs, and taboos play a role in holding back traditional peoples from overusing their environment. Examples of such beliefs include days wherein one cannot hunt or fish, or certain species or regions that are off limits to exploitation. But the influence of the modern world can rapidly extinguish such beliefs, sometimes for the better, in other cases not. In many parts of Madagascar, lemurs are off the menu. These primates, found only in Madagascar, play a big role in Malagasy 'fady' or taboo-related folk stories: lemurs are protectors and, in some cases, even relatives. However, according to a new paper in PLoS ONE an influx of migrants, widespread poverty, lack domestic meat, and poor law enforcement has caused a sudden rise in eating lemurs, many of which are already near-extinction due to habitat loss.


Yasuni ITT: the virtues and vices of environmental innovation

(12/07/2011) As the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place in Durban, Ecuador has embarked on the development of a project presented as highly innovative. This project targets Yasuni National Park, which has been protected since 1979. Yasuni is home to several indigenous peoples and is a biodiversity hotspot. But it so happens that the park also sits atop a vast oil field of 846 million barrels, representing about 20 percent of the country’s oil reserves. The acronym Yasuni ITT stands for Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin, which are the names of three potential zones for oil extraction.


Community mapping of African rainforests could show way forward for preservation, REDD

(12/01/2011) A new initiative to place community mapping of central African rainforests online could prove key to local rights in the region, says the UK-based NGO Rainforest Foundation. Working with forest communities in five African countries, Rainforest Foundation has helped create digital maps of local forests, including use areas, parks, and threats such as logging and mining. The website, MappingForRights.org, includes interactive maps, photos, and video.


Carbon piracy, lack of recognition of indigenous rights undermining REDD in Peru, alleges report

(11/30/2011) Lack of meaningful consultation with indigenous communities over forest carbon projects is causing social conflict and undermining efforts to responsibly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in Peru under the REDD mechanism, argues a new report released during international climate talks in Durban.


Cultural erosion among indigenous groups in Venezuela brings new risks for Caura rainforest

(11/14/2011) One of the planet's most beautiful landscapes is in danger. Deep in southern Venezuela, among ancient forested tabletop mountains known as tepuis, crystalline rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, outside influences — malaria, the high price of gold, commercial hunting, and cultural erosion — are threatening one of world's largest remaining blocks of wilderness, one that is home to indigenous people and strikingly high levels of biological diversity.


Indigenous do not have right to free, prior and informed consultation on Amazon dam, rules Brazilian court

(11/09/2011) Indigenous communities do not have the right to free, prior and informed consultation on the Belo Monte dam because its infrastructure and reservoirs would not be physically located on tribal lands, ruled a Brazilian court.


Indigenous technicians scour Amazonia to help researchers track wildlife populations

(11/09/2011) Scientists only have so many hands and eyes. That’s why ecologists enlisted hundreds of Makushi and Wapishana villagers to record the sights and signs of animals across 48,000 square kilometers of the Amazon basin near the Brazil-Guyana border. In the ongoing project, scientists seek to describe the interactions between indigenous peoples, their environment and the native fauna.


Unsung heroes: the life of a wildlife ranger in the Congo

(11/01/2011) The effort to save wildlife from destruction worldwide has many heroes. Some receive accolades for their work, but others live in obscurity, doing good—sometimes even dangerous—work everyday with little recognition. These are not scientists or big-name conservationists, but wildlife rangers, NGO staff members, and low level officials. One of these conservation heroes is Bunda Bokitsi, chief guard of the Etate Patrol Post for Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a nation known for a prolonged civil war, desperate poverty, and corruption—as well as an astounding natural heritage—Bunda Bokitsi works everyday to secure Salonga National Park from poachers, bushmeat hunters, and trappers.


Peru's real test is a 200km pipeline

(10/27/2011) One of Ollanta Humala's most striking achievements since becoming Peru's president three months ago is new legislation guaranteeing indigenous people the right to be consulted about and in agreement with any project that affects them. Leading indigenous organization AIDESEP, usually so critical of the government, cautiously welcomed the move, while Survival International called it 'a significant step away from the policies of former Peruvian president Alan Garcia, who vetoed a similar bill.'


Bolivian road project through Amazon reserve canceled

(10/23/2011) Following a violent crackdown on protestors which deeply embarrassed the Bolivian government, president Evo Morales has thrown-out plans to build a road through an indigenous reserve, reports the BBC. Protestors marched 310 miles (498 kilometers) from the Amazon to La Paz to show their opposition to the road, saying that the project would destroy vast areas of biodiverse rainforest and open up their land to illegal settlers.


Should public or private money finance efforts to save forests?

(10/11/2011) The 11th Rights and Resources Initiative Dialogue on Forests, Governance and Climate Change in London, which will focus on The Status and Role of Public and Private Finance to Reduce Forest Loss and Degradation. The goal of the RRI Dialogue is to examine the current state of public and private financial mechanisms for REDD+ and adaptation and contribute to developing an updated vision for the optimal design and deployment of finance to reduce forest loss and degradation - while respecting the rights and development needs of local people. RRI has partnered with Mongabay.com to present two diverging viewpoints on issues to be discussed at length at the dialogue, featuring Vicky Tauli-Corpuz (Executive Director, Tebtebba) and Scott Poynton (Executive Director, The Forest Trust).


Following violent crackdown against protestors, Bolivia puts Amazon road project on ice

(09/27/2011) After a police crackdown against indigenous activists, Bolivian President Evo Morales has suspended a large highway project through the Amazon rainforest. The police reaction—which included tear gas, rounding up protestors en masse, and allegations of violence—resulted in several officials stepping down in protest of the government's handling. Some indigenous people marched 310 miles (498 kilometers) from the Amazon to La Paz to show solidarity against the road, saying they had not been consulted and the project would destroy vast areas of biodiverse rainforest.


Featured video: new documentary puts human face on logging in Papua New Guinea

(09/27/2011) A new documentary, filmed single-handily by filmmaker David Fedele, covers the impact of industrial logging on a community in Papua New Guinea. Entitled Bikpela Bagarap(or 'Big Damage' in English), the film shows with startling intimacy how massive corporations, greedy government, and consumption abroad have conspired to ruin lives in places like Vanimo, Papua New Guinea.


Tribal leader to the UN: Indigenous peoples of the Amazon are in danger

(09/22/2011) Amazonian indigenous peoples and their traditional territories are living under constant threat.


Indigenous people blockade river against 'murderous' oil company

(09/21/2011) Over the weekend more than 100 Shuar indigenous people, also known as Wampis, blockaded the Morona River in Peru in an effort to stop exploratory oil drilling by Canadian-owned Talisman Energy. The blockade in meant to prevent oil drilling in an area of the Peruvian Amazon known as Block 64, home to four indigenous tribes in total and the Pastaza River Wetland Complex, a Ramsar wetland site.


Loving the tapir: pioneering conservation for South America's biggest animal

(09/11/2011) Compared to some of South America's megafauna stand-out species—the jaguar, the anaconda, and the harpy eagle come to mind—the tapir doesn't get a lot of love. This is a shame. For one thing, they're the largest terrestrial animal on the South American continent: pound-for-pound they beat both the jaguar and the llama. For another they play a very significant role in their ecosystem: they disperse seeds, modify habitats, and are periodic prey to big predators. For another, modern tapirs are some of the last survivors of a megafauna family that roamed much of the northern hemisphere, including North America, and only declined during the Pleistocene extinction. Finally, for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the often-shy tapir in the wild, one knows there is something mystical and ancient about these admittedly strange-looking beasts.


Malaysian court blocks rainforest tribes' fight against mega-dam in Borneo

(09/09/2011) Indigenous tribes in Borneo suffered a stinging defeat Thursday after Sarawak's highest court ruled against them in 12-year-long legal battle. Tribal groups had challenged the Malaysian state government for seizing indigenous lands in order to build a massive hydroelectric power plant, dubbed the Bakun dam, but the three-person top court found unanimously against the tribes.


Big damage in Papua New Guinea: new film documents how industrial logging destroys lives

(08/29/2011) In one scene a young man, perhaps not long ago a boy, named Douglas stands shirtless and in shorts as he runs a chainsaw into a massive tropical tree. Prior to this we have already heard from an official how employees operating chainsaws must have a bevy of protective equipment as well as training, but in Papua New Guinea these are just words. The reality is this: Douglas straining to pull the chainsaw out of the tree as it begins to fall while his fellow employees flee the tumbling giant. The new film Bikpela Bagarap('Big Damage') documents the impact of industrial logging on the lives of local people in Papua New Guinea.


Peru passes landmark indigenous rights legislation

(08/24/2011) A new administration in Peru is moving toward granting indigenous people long-sought legal rights, reports Survival International. Yesterday, the Peruvian congress approved new legislation that gives indigenous people free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for any project on their land. If signed into law and enforced, the legislation would provide indigenous groups considerable clout in keeping industry off their lands if they choose.


Indigenous protestors embark on 300-mile walk to protest Amazon road in Bolivia

(08/21/2011) Indigenous protesters are targeting a new road in the Bolivian Amazon, reports the BBC. The 190-mile highway under construction in the Bolivian Amazon will pass through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Tipnis), a 4,600-square mile (11,900 square kilometers) preserve which boasts exceptional levels of rainforest biodiversity, including endangered blue macaws and fresh-water dolphins. Indigenous peoples who live in Tipnis are participating in a month-long protest march against the road, which they claim violates their right to self-governance.


Uncontacted tribe missing after armed drug dealers storm their forest

(08/09/2011) Concern is rising for the welfare of uncontacted natives in the Brazilian Amazon after armed marauders stormed the area where they were last documented. Last week men with rifles and machine guns, believed to be drug traffickers from Peru, overran a remote government guard post run by FUNAI (Brazil's Indigenous Affairs Department) on the Envira River, near the uncontacted indigenous people's location on the border of Brazil and Peru. The uncontacted indigenous people in question made headlines worldwide earlier this year after photos and film of them were released from flyovers.


Picture of the day: horse-and-rider in the Amazon

(08/02/2011) Riding a horse in the world's greatest tropical rainforest may be the definition of what kids today call 'bad-ass'. It certainly makes cowboys in Texas look prosaic.


How fruit defines Borneo

(08/01/2011) Among conservationists and biologists, the mega-island of Borneo is a sort of Mecca. Its rich plant and animal biodiversity, as well as high degree of endemism (unique species found nowhere else) make it a naturalist's dream. There is one aspect of this biological richness which applies to the wellbeing and happiness of all of Borneo’s residents, human and animal, in a very direct way: fruit. From wild forest berries to juicy cultivated rambutans, fruit permeates the ecology, landscape and culture of Borneo. On the island there are over 70 wild fruit trees species and around 45 cultivated species that are consumed by people (1). Science has certainly not yet documented all the fruit consumed by wildlife, but we know that the total must be over 500 species.


Indigenous peoples in Suriname still wait for land rights

(07/31/2011) Legal rights and recognition for the diverse indigenous peoples of Suriname have lagged behind those in other South American countries. Despite pressure from the UN and binding judgments by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Suriname has yet to recognize indigenous and tribal land rights, a situation that has disconnected local communities from decisions regarding the land they have inhabited for centuries and in some cases millennia. A new report, Securing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Conservation in Suriname: A Review outlines how this lack of rights has alienated indigenous communities from conservation efforts in Suriname. Instead of having an active say in the creation of conservation reserves, as well as their management, decisions on indigenous lands have traditionally been imposed from the 'top-down' either by government officials or NGOs.


WWF partnering with companies that destroy rainforests, threaten endangered species

(07/25/2011) Arguably the globe's most well-known conservation organization, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has been facilitating illegal logging, vast deforestation, and human rights abuses by pairing up with notorious logging companies in a flagging effort to convert them to greener practices, alleges a new report by Global Witness. Through its program, the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN), WWF—known as World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada—has become entangled with some dubious companies, including one that is imperiling orangutans in Borneo and another which has been accused of human rights abuses in the Congo rainforest. Even with such infractions, these companies are still able to tout connections to WWF and use its popular panda logo. The Global Witness report, entitled Pandering to the Loggers, calls for WWF to make large-scale changes in order to save the credibility of its corporate program.


Amazon tribes win support to protect 46 million ha of Amazon forest

(07/21/2011) Indigenous communities working to protect the Amazon rainforest got a boost last week with the launch of a "biocultural conservation corridor" initiative in two regions of Brazil.


Environmental protection agency chief: Brazil will do the same to indigenous as 'Australians did to the Aborigines'

(07/17/2011) Curt Trennepohl, president of Brazil's environmental protection agency (IBAMA), caused an uproar last week when he told an Australian TV crew that his agency's role "is not caring for the environment, but to minimize the impact". Later when Trennepohl believed the cameras were off he went on to say Brazilian indigenous tribes would suffer the same fate as Australia's Aborigines, reports Folha de S.Paulo.


Indonesia to recognize rights of forest communities, indigenous peoples

(07/12/2011) Indonesia will 'recognize, respect and protect' the rights of traditional forest users, including indigenous people, as it works to slow deforestation, reports the Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of NGOs.


Picture of the day: waterfall on the endangered Xingu river

(07/11/2011) Characterized by crystal-clear waters and surrounding by tropical rainforest, the Xingu is considered one of the most beautiful rivers in the Amazon basin. Yet the Xingu is on the brink of destruction due Belo Monte, an $18.5 billion hydroelectric project backed by Brazilian government energy companies; Vale, mining giant; Bertin, one of the largest meat processing firms; and nearly a dozen other companies. The vast majority of Belo Monte's funding comes from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).


BNDES paradox: bank funds both destruction and conservation of indigenous lands

(07/07/2011) At the same time it is funding a dam that will devastate indigenous lands and block the Xingu River, Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) may allocate some $14.3 million (BRL 22.3 million) in grants for projects developed within the Kayapo indigenous lands, reports Conservation International.


Logging company fined $100 million for illegal logging in Papua New Guinea

(06/28/2011) In a landmark court decision a judge has slapped a logging company with a nearly $100 million (K225.5 million) fine for large-scale illegal logging. Last week, Malaysian timber company, Concord Pacific, was sentenced to pay four forest tribes for environmental destruction in the first ruling of its kind for Papua New Guinea.


Brazil confirms existence of new uncontacted Amazon tribe

(06/22/2011) The Brazilian government confirmed the existence of a community of uncontacted Amerindians in a protected area near the Peruvian border, reports Funai, Brazil's Indian affairs agency.


Last chance to see: the Amazon's Xingu River

(06/15/2011) Not far from where the great Amazon River drains into the Atlantic, it splits off into a wide tributary, at first a fat vertical lake that, when viewed from satellite, eventually slims down to a wild scrawl through the dark green of the Amazon. In all, this tributary races almost completely southward through the Brazilian Amazon for 1,230 miles (1,979 kilometers)—nearly as long as the Colorado River—until it peters out in the savannah of Mato Grosso. Called home by diverse indigenous tribes and unique species, this is the Xingu River.


Germany backs out of Yasuni deal

(06/13/2011) Germany has backed out of a pledge to commit $50 million a year to Ecuador's Yasuni ITT Initiative, reports Science Insider. The move by Germany potentially upsets an innovative program hailed by environmentalists and scientists alike. This one-of-a-kind initiative would protect a 200,000 hectare bloc in Yasuni National Park from oil drilling in return for a trust fund of $3.6 billion, or about half the market value of the nearly billion barrels of oil lying underneath the area. The plan is meant to mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, and safeguard the rights of indigenous people.


Environment versus economy: local communities find economic benefits from living next to conservation areas

(06/12/2011) While few would question that conserving a certain percentage of land or water is good for society overall, it has long been believed that protected areas economically impoverish, rather than enrich, communities living adjacent to them. Many communities worldwide have protested against the establishment of conservation areas near them, fearing that less access and increased regulations would imperil their livelihoods. However, a surprising study overturns the common wisdom: showing that, at least in Thailand and Costa Rica, protected areas actually boost local economies and decrease poverty.


Brazil's shame

(06/03/2011) As an American I know a lot about shame — the U.S. government and American companies have wrought appalling amounts of damage the world over. But as an admirer of Brazil's recent progress toward an economy that recognizes the contributions of culture and the environment, this week's decision to move forward on the Belo Monte dam came as a shock. Belo Monte undermines Brazil's standing as a global leader on the environment. Recent gains in demarcating indigenous lands, reducing deforestation, developing Earth monitoring technologies, and enforcing environmental laws look more tenuous with a project that runs over indigenous rights and the environment.


Peru to abolish uncontacted tribe's reserve, says group

(06/01/2011) Territory inhabited by an uncontacted Amazon tribe in Peru is again up for grabs, claims Survival International.


Photos: Cambodians rally as 'Avatars' to save one of the region's last great rainforests

(05/31/2011) Two hundred Cambodians rallied in Phnom Penh last week to protest the widespread destruction of one of Southeast Asia's last intact lowland rainforests, known as Prey Lang. In an effort to gain wider media attention, protestors donned dress and make-up inspired by the James Cameron film, Avatar, which depicts the destruction of a forest and its inhabitants on an alien world. The idea worked as the rally received international attention from Reuters, CNN (i-report), MSNBC, and NPR, among other media outlets.


Shareholders to Chevron: company showing 'poor judgment' in Ecuador oil spill case

(05/26/2011) After being found guilty in February of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.6 billion in an Ecuador court of law, Chevron this week faced another trial: this time by shareholders in its Annual General Meeting in California. While Chevron has appealed the Ecuador case and a US court has put an injunction barring the enforcement of the ruling in the US, notable Chevron investors say the company has gone astray in its seemingly endless legal battle with indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon.


Controversial Brazilian mega-dam receives investment of $1.4 billion

(05/02/2011) Brazil's most controversial mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is moving full steam ahead against massive opposition, has received an extra infusion of cash from Vale, a Brazilian-run mining company.


Protected areas cover 44% of the Brazilian Amazon

(04/20/2011) Protected areas now cover nearly 44 percent of the Amazon — an area larger than Greenland — but suffer from encroachment and poor management, reports a new study by Imazon and the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). The report, published in Portuguese, says that by December 2010, protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon amounted to 2,197,485 square kilometers. Conservation units like national parks accounted for just over half the area (50.6 percent), while indigenous territories represented 49.4 percent.


Scientists urge Papua New Guinea to declare moratorium on massive forest clearing

(04/19/2011) Forests spanning an area larger than Costa Rica—5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres)—have been handed out by the Papua New Guinea government to foreign corporations, largely for logging. Granted under government agreements known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), the land leases circumvent the nation's strong laws pertaining to communal land ownership. Now, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest professional society devoted to studying and conserving tropical forests, is urging the Papua New Guinea government to declare a moratorium on SABLs.


Cambodian prime minister cancels titanium mine project citing impact on biodiversity and local people

(04/11/2011) In a surprise move, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Sandech Hun Sen, has cancelled a titanium strip mine project in one of Southeast Asia’s last great intact forest ecosystems, the Cardamom Mountains. According to a press release sent out by the Cambodian government the mine was canceled due to "concerns of the impact on the environment, biodiversity and local livelihoods" of villagers. The mine, which was planned to sit directly in the migration route for the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, had been largely opposed by locals in the region who spent years developing eco-tourism in the region.


Indigenous group claims Ecuadorian government complicit in 'genocide'

(04/06/2011) Ecuador's paramount indigenous organization has filed a legal complaint against the government, including President Rafael Correa, for allegedly participating in 'genocide' against indigenous people in the Amazon. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is arguing that expanding oil exploration and mining is imperiling the lives of uncontacted tribes that have chosen voluntary isolation known as the Tagaeri and the Tarmenane, reports the AFP.


Leaf harvesting impacts Amazon palm

(03/28/2011) Overexploitation of wildlife doesn't just threaten animals such as bluefin tuna, pangolins, and parrots, but plants as well. Leaves from the carana or puy palm (Lepidocaryum tenue) are used for thatching buildings in the northwestern Amazon, however a recent study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the overharvesting could imperil a palm's ability to survive.


Bill Clinton takes on Brazil's megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil's megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.


5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea forests handed to foreign corporations

(03/23/2011) During a meeting in March 2011 twenty-six experts—from biologists to social scientists to NGO staff—crafted a statement calling on the Papua New Guinea government to stop granting Special Agricultural and Business Leases. According to the group, these leases, or SABLs as they are know, circumvent Papua New Guinea's strong community land rights laws and imperil some of the world's most intact rainforests. To date 5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres) of forest have been leased under SABLs, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. "Papua New Guinea is among the most biologically and culturally diverse nations on Earth. [The country's] remarkable diversity of cultural groups rely intimately on their traditional lands and forests in order to meet their needs for farming plots, forest goods, wild game, traditional and religious sites, and many other goods and services," reads the statement, dubbed the Cairns Declaration. However, according to the declaration all of this is threatened by the Papua New Guinea government using SABLs to grant large sections of land without going through the proper channels.


Expedition granted?: Indonesia's 'paper parks' targeted in National Geographic contest

(03/21/2011) Twenty-five year old Trevor Frost wants to save parks in Indonesia under attack by illegal logging, mining, and poaching. A lack of infrastructure, support, and funds has left many protected areas around the world to be dubbed 'paper parks', protected on paper, but not in reality. Frost, who is currently running in National Geographic's contest Expedition Granted, hopes to study the problem in Sumatra—among the world's most imperiled forests and wildlife—and show the world what we are losing even in National Parks.



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