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News articles on southeast asia

Mongabay.com news articles on southeast asia in blog format. Updated regularly.





Poachers enlisting impoverished wildlife rangers as accomplices in elephant, rhino killing

(04/01/2013) Corruption among wildlife rangers is becoming a serious impediment in the fight against poaching, fuelled by soaring levels of cash offered by criminal poacher syndicates, senior conservation chiefs have admitted. Rangers in countries as diverse as Tanzania and Cambodia are being bribed by increasingly organised poaching gangs keen to supply ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts to meet huge consumer demand in Asia.


NGO says Malaysian regulators should shut down two Sarawak companies after damning video

(03/26/2013) The fallout from a video by Global Witness exposing widespread corruption in Sarawak continues, as the Bruno Manser Fund, a European NGO, has called on the Companies Commission of Malaysia to "dereigster" land corporations highlighted in the video. The video purports to connect the head of Sarawak, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, to illegal land deals on indigenous territory.


Over ten percent of a species' total population found in smuggler's bag

(03/25/2013) On Friday, March 15th Thai authorities arrested a 38-year-old man attempting to collect a bag containing 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) in Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Found only in Madagascar both species are listed as Critically Endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but have become lucrative targets for the black-market pet trade given their scarcity and beauty.


Conservation scientists: Aceh's spatial plan a risk to forests, wildlife, and people

(03/22/2013) A group of biologists and conservation scientists meeting in Sumatra warned that potential changes to Aceh's spatial plan could undermine some of the ecological services that underpin the Indonesian province's economy and well-being of its citizens. After its meeting from March 18-22 in Banda Aceh, the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) issued a declaration [PDF] highlighting the importance of the region's tropical forest ecosystem, which is potentially at risk due to proposed changes to its spatial plan.


Ant communities more segregated in palm oil plantations than rainforest

(03/21/2013) Ants are an important ecological group in both degraded and natural habitats. They interact with many other species and mediate a range of ecological processes. These interactions are often interpreted in the context of ant mosaics, where dominant species form strict territories, keeping other ants out. This segregation between ant species is well-documented in monoculture plantations. Now new research published in Ecography has shown that these changes are driven by the replacement of rainforests with monocultures and not the arrival of non-native species.


Video uncovers top level corruption in Sarawak over indigenous forests

(03/20/2013) Tax evasion, kick-backs, bribery, and corruption all make appearances in a shocking new undercover video by Global Witness that shows how top individuals in the Sarawak government may be robbing the state of revenue for their own personal gain. Anti-corruption groups have believed that corruption has been rife in the Malaysian state of Sarawak for decades, but Global Witness says their investigation offers undeniable proof.


The beautiful amphibian from Hell: scientists discover new crocodile newt in Vietnam (photos)

(03/19/2013) Researchers have discovered a new species of Vietnamese salamander that looks like it was birthed from an abyssal volcano. Found tucked away in Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science, the scientists described the species in the new edition of Current Herpetology. Coal-black with orange-tinted toes, the new crocodile newt (in the genus Tylototriton) was determined to be a new species when it showed morphological and genetic differences from near relatives. Despite its remarkable appearance, the researchers say these are typical colors for crocodile newts.


APP conservation policy came after it pulped most of its forests

(03/19/2013) Asia Pulp & Paper's widely heralded forest conservation policy came after the forestry giant had already cleared nearly all of the legally protected forests within its concessions in Sumatra, alleges a new report published by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group.


Cambodia loses half its seasonal wetlands in 10 years

(03/18/2013) Cambodia lost more than half of its seasonally flooded grasslands in ten years due to industrial agricultural conversion, abandonment of traditional farming, and illegal drainage, putting several endangered bird species at risk and undermining traditional livelihoods in the region, reports a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology.


Into the unknown mountains of Cambodia: rare birds, rice wine, and talk of tigers

(03/14/2013) Ringed with forested mountains forming the borders with Laos and Vietnam, the northeast corner of Cambodia has been an intriguing blank spot among my extensive travels through the country. Nestled up against this frontier is Virachey National Park, created in 1993. I began searching for a way to explore this area a couple of years ago, hoping to connect with conservation NGOs to get me into the park; no one seemed to know much about it. I learned that the area had been written off by these groups due to massive land concessions given to logging and rubber concerns. The World Bank abandoned its 8-year effort to create a management scheme for Virachey after the concessions were granted in 2007. A moratorium on the concessions is temporarily in place, but illegal logging incursions into the park continue.


Elephant woes: conservationists mixed on elephant actions at CITES

(03/14/2013) Conservationists couldn't agree if the glass was half-full or half-empty on action to protect elephants at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. Elephants, especially in Africa, have faced a massive rise in poaching over the last decade with tens-of-thousands shot dead every year. Forests elephants in central Africa have been especially targeted: new research estimates that an astounding 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in the last ten years alone. While conservationists had hopes that CITES would move aggressively against elephant poaching, the results were a decidedly mixed-bag.


Prayers for dying elephants: Buddhists hold prayer ceremony for elephants decimated by poachers

(03/11/2013) Buddhist leaders prayed for slaughtered African elephants in Bangkok, Thailand last week, reports WWF. During a special merit-making ceremony, often reserved for the recently deceased, Buddhist monks, abbots, and leaders prayed for the tens-of-thousands of elephants that have been killed for their ivory tusks. Bangkok is currently hosting an international meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where the elephant crisis is being discussed.


Norway's wealth fund dumps 23 palm oil companies under new deforestation policy

(03/11/2013) Norway's $700 billion pension fund continues to divest from companies linked to tropical deforestation, selling stakes in 23 palm oil producers last year, reports Rainforest Foundation Norway, an activist group that has led the campaign for divestment. The move by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) — the world's largest sovereign wealth fund — came after it revised its investment guidelines to include deforestation as a portfolio risk.


Captive frogs may be spreading diseases to wild cousins across Southeast Asia

(03/07/2013) Scientists have documented a series of links between exotic frogs for trade and diseases in wild frogs in Southeast Asia, including the first documented case of the chytrid fungus—a virulent and lethal disease—in Singapore. According to researchers writing in a new study in EcoHealth, frogs imported into Southeast Asia as pets, food, or traditional medicine are very likely spreading diseases to wild populations.


What happened to the elephants of Bouba Ndjida? [warning: graphic photos]

(03/07/2013) A new report released by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that poachers have killed a staggering 62 percent of Africa's forest elephants in the last decade. The insatiable demand for elephant ivory hails mainly from China and Thailand, which is ironically hosting this year's CITES (CoP16) meeting. The meeting will continue until March 13 2013. The study is based on a survey of five elephant range states including Cameroon. Cameroon is the home of Bouba Ndjida National Park, where the dizzying massacre of 650 elephants occurred last year.


Dozens arrested after community fights deforestation by paper company in Indonesia

(03/07/2013) Dozens of villagers from Indonesia’s North Sumatra province traveled to Jakarta this week to demand the release of 16 farmers who remain in detention after conflicts erupted between indigenous communities in Humbang Hasundutan district and PT Toba Pulp Lestari, a unit of the pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL).


Featured video: rare, strange mammal caught on camera in Sumatra

(03/05/2013) A video camera trap expedition into Sumatra's Leuser ecosystem has captured a rarely-seen, bizarre mammal on tape. The Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) is a goat-antelope found both on Sumatra and mainland Southeast Asia. Rarely seen and little-studied, the animals inhabit highland areas.


Thailand's Prime Minister commits to ending ivory trade

(03/04/2013) Yesterday, Thailand's Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, committed to ending the ivory trade in her country. Her announcement came during the opening of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, which seeks to regulate trade in biodiversity across borders. Wildlife groups say that Thailand's legal trade in domestic ivory—international ivory is illegal of course—has created an easy opening for smugglers from abroad. Currently the ivory trade in Thailand is estimated to be second only to that of China.


Malaysian NGOs boldly demand forest conservation action in Borneo

(02/28/2013) In an unusually bold statement catalyzed by the deaths of 14 rare elephants, six Malaysian NGOs today called on the Sabah state government to pursue 'a more conservation focused agenda' in managing the state's forests. The demand comes shortly after the death of 14 endangered pygmy elephants — thought poisoned by an oil palm plantation developer — thrust Sabah's environmental problems into the international spotlight.


Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific

(02/27/2013) The world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), is vanishing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study in Ecosphere. Scientists found that leatherback turtle nests have dropped by 78 percent in less than 30 years in the Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Worryingly, these beaches account for three-fourths of the western Pacific's distinct leatherback population; globally the leatherback is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the highest rating before extinction.


Featured video: moving green, local energy forward in Southeast Asia

(02/25/2013) A new video highlights the work and drive of renewable energy proponents at the inaugural meeting of Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA) in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Held last year, the meeting brought together 80 organizations from 12 countries to discuss the potential and challenges of green energy in the region. The idea of SEAREPA came about after activists in Sabah successfully defeated plans for a coal-fired power plant to be built adjacent to old-growth rainforest and one of the world's most biodiverse coral reefs.


Indonesia's East Kalimantan loses forest area to new province in Borneo

(02/24/2013) The creation of a new province, North Kalimantan, on Indonesian Borneo, has dramatically reduced the primary forest area in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province. The new province, located along the border of Malaysia’s Sarawak, includes the densely-forested Malinau district. With the loss of Malinau and other forested areas, East Kalimantan’s intact primary forest area has dropped to just 15 percent of the total area of the province.


Biofuel company caught clearing elephant habitat in Sri Lanka

(02/20/2013) A biofuel plantation near Yala National Park has landed Lanka Orex Leasing Company PLC (LOLC) in Sri Lanka's highest court. Environmentalists say the company is illegally bulldozing Asian elephant habitat, including scrubland and tree stands, near the buffer zone of Yala National Park for gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) biofuel plantation.


World's biggest camera trapping program hits 1 million photos of tropical animals (photos)

(02/14/2013) The world's largest study of wildlife using remote camera traps has captured one million photographs. The project, known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, takes photos of mammals and birds in 16 protected areas across 14 tropical countries in Asia, Africa, as well as Central and South America. Remote camera traps, which take stealth photos of wildlife when no humans are around, have become an increasingly important tool in the conservationists' toolbox, allowing researchers to monitor otherwise hard-to-find animals in remote and often punishing locations.


Unique song reveals new owl species in Indonesia

(02/13/2013) Want to find a new species of owl? Just listen. A unique whistling call has led scientists to discover a new owl on the Indonesian island of Lombok, according to a new study in PLoS ONE. Two scientific expeditions, occurring separately but within a few days of each other, both noticed something different about the calls coming from owls on Lombok.


Indonesian governor proposes opening protected areas to logging

(02/12/2013) The governor of Indonesia's Aceh Province on the island of Sumatra has proposed opening up more than 50,000 hectares of protected forest to logging, according to a new analysis by an Indonesian environmental group.


After Indonesian paper giant commits to no deforestation, pressure mounts on its biggest competitor

(02/12/2013) After Indonesian paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper's announcement last week that it will no longer source fiber produced from destruction of tropical rainforests, environmental groups are now urging Indonesia's other major paper company to make a similar commitment. On Tuesday, WWF echoed Greenpeace's call for Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Like APP, APRIL has been linked to large-scale conversion of Sumatra's endangered rainforests for industrial tree plantations to produce pulp and paper.


Academics urge Indonesian President to end agrarian conflict

(02/12/2013) Academics have called on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to resolve agrarian conflict in the country. Around 130 academics and researchers from around the country presented a petition to the president last Thursday, urging him to take action and outlining steps he should take to address the problem at its roots.


Pity the pangolin: little-known mammal most common victim of the wildlife trade

(02/11/2013) Last year tens-of-thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinos were butchered to feed the growing appetite of the illegal wildlife trade. This black market, largely centered in East Asia, also devoured tigers, sharks, leopards, turtles, snakes, and hundreds of other animals. Estimated at $19 billion annually, the booming trade has periodically captured global media attention, even receiving a high-profile speech by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, last year. But the biggest mammal victim of the wildlife trade is not elephants, rhinos, or tigers, but an animal that receives little notice and even less press: the pangolin. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you're not alone.


Catching Borneo's mysterious wild cats on film

(02/07/2013) In my childhood's biology books from the 50's, the Australian marsupial tiger Thylacine is classified rare but alive. Today we know that the last thylacine died in a Tasmanian zoo 7th September, 1936, after a century of intensive hunting encouraged by bounties. The local government had finally introduced official protection 59 days before the last specimen died. Despite the optimism in my old books, no more thylacines were ever found. No film of it in the wild exists.


Investors beware: global land grabbing ends in 'financial damage' and human rights violations

(02/07/2013) Investing in companies that flout local community rights in developing countries often leads to severe economic losses, according to a new report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). A rising trend in "land grabbing" from Africa to South America by corporations and even foreign governments results in social instability, which can lead to large-scale protests, violence, and even murder, delaying and sometimes derailing projects. Such instability poses massive risk to any investor, not to mention supporting corporate entities that are accused of ignoring human rights.


Palm oil company thugs attack Sulawesi villagers, injuring 8

(02/06/2013) Local thugs, allegedly linked to an oil palm plantation company, attacked a group of villagers in Indonesia’s Gorontalo province on the island of Sulawesi last week, injuring eight people, including a woman and a small child.


Sri Lanka to give poached ivory to Buddhist temple, flouting international agreements

(02/05/2013) The Sri Lankan government is planning to give 359 elephant tusks to a Buddhist temple, a move that critics say is flouting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The illegal tusks were seized in Sri Lanka last May en route to Dubai from Kenya; they are believed to stem from hundreds of butchered elephants, including juveniles, inside Africa, possibly Uganda. The decision comes after a high-profile National Geographic article, Ivory Worship, outlined how demand for ivory religious handicrafts, particularly by Catholics and Buddhists, is worsening the current poaching crisis. In 2011, it was estimated that 25,000 elephants were illegally slaughtered for their tusks.


The beginning of the end of deforestation in Indonesia?

(02/05/2013) Asia Pulp & Paper, a forestry giant that has been widely criticized for its role in driving deforestation and contributing to social conflict in Indonesia, today announced a zero deforestation policy that could have a dramatic impact on efforts to slow the Southeast Asian nation's high rate of deforestation. The policy, which went into effect February 1, is ambitious enough that one of APP's most vocal critics and agitators, Greenpeace, will suspend its highly-damaging campaign against the paper giant. The campaign against APP has cost the paper giant tens of millions of dollars in lost business since 2009. The new policy targets several of the major criticisms against APP, including deforestation, degradation of high carbon peatlands, conservation of critical wildlife habitat, and social conflict with local communities.


14 Bornean elephants found dead, likely poisoned

(01/31/2013) Wildlife officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah have found the bodies of 14 Bornean elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, and suspect that more may be found dead. While tests are pending, they believe the elephants were likely poisoned due to damage in the animals' digestive tracts. Only around 2,000 Bornean elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are left on the island of Borneo with the vast bulk found in Sabah.


HarperCollins establishes policy barring paper sourced from rainforest destruction

(01/29/2013) HarperCollins has established a policy that excludes paper sourced from destruction of tropical rainforests and old growth forests. The revised policy, posted on its web site earlier this month, is a response to a campaign by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), an activist group that is targeting companies linked to clearing of Indonesian rainforests and peatlands for pulp and paper production:


Typhoon Bopha decimated coral reefs

(01/24/2013) When Typhoon Bopha, also known as Pablo, ran ashore on Mindanao, it was the largest tropical storm it ever hit the Philippine island. In its wake the massive superstorm left over 1,000 people were dead and 6.2 million affected with officials saying illegal logging and mining worsened the scale of the disaster. However, the Category 5 typhoon also left a trail of destruction that has been less reported: coral reefs.


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.


Photos: Neon blue dragon discovered in Vietnamese rainforest

(01/15/2013) German and Russian biologists have discovered a stunning new species of lizard in Vietnam. The species, dubbed Calotes bachae, is described in a recent issue of the journal Zootaxa. Calotes bachae is a type of agama, a group of lizards commonly known as 'forest dragons.'


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.


Malaysian candidate pledges to drop controversial dam in Sarawak if elected

(01/14/2013) Malaysia's current opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, has pledged to cancel the controversial Baram Dam in Sarawak if upcoming general elections sweep him into the office of Prime Minister. Ibrahim made the announcement while visiting the state of Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, over the weekend, according to the indigenous rights NGO, Bruno Manser Fund.


New giant flying frog discovered near city of 9 million

(01/09/2013) Jodi Rowley is no stranger to discovering new amphibians—she's helped describe over 10 in her short career thus far—but still she was shocked to discover a new species of flying frog less than 100 kilometers from a major, bustling Southeast Asian metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, the new frog, dubbed Helen's tree frog (Rhacophorus helenae), may be on the verge of extinction, according to the description published in the Journal of Herpetology.


Paper giant breaks pledge to end rainforest logging in Sumatra, says group

(12/26/2012) Pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) continues to destroy large areas of rainforests and peatlands despite a commitment to end natural forest logging by 2009, says a new report issued by a coalition of Indonesian environmental groups. The Eyes on the Forest report finds that APRIL and its suppliers cleared at least 140,000 hectares (346,000 acres) of natural forest between 2008 and 2011 in Riau, accounting for 27 percent of all forest loss in the province during the period. Some of the area cleared by APRIL and its subsidiaries consisted of deep peat swamp forest, which stores massive amount of carbon.


China plans over 300 dam projects worldwide

(12/10/2012) A new report by the NGO, International Rivers, takes an in-depth look at the role China is playing in building mega-dams worldwide. According to the report, Chinese companies are involved in 308 hydroelectric projects across 70 nations. While dams are often billed as "green energy," they can have massive ecological impacts on rivers, raise local conflict, and even expel significant levels of greenhouse gases when built in the tropics.


Illegal logging, mining worsened impact of Philippines' killer typhoon

(12/06/2012) According to Filipino officials, rampant illegal logging and mining were likely a part of the cause for the high casualty count from Category 5 Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), especially in the Compostela Valley where government officials had warned people to stop the illegal activities. So far, 370 people have been found dead on the island of Mindanao with another 400 missing. Waters rose so high even emergency shelters were inundated.


Indonesia approves first REDD+ project in Borneo

(12/05/2012) The Indonesian government has approved its first REDD+ project to reduce emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation, reports President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's office.


China and India plan 818 new coal plants

(11/26/2012) Even as the clamor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions reaches a new high—echoed recently by such staid institutions as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA)—a new analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that 818 new coal-fired plants are under proposal in China and India. In all 1,199 new coal-fired plants are currently planned worldwide, according to the report, totaling 1.4 million megawatts of energy.


Sarawak minister tells clean energy activists to 'stop breathing'

(11/13/2012) A top minister in the Malaysian state of Sarawak has told activists campaigning for cleaner energy to 'stop breathing', reports The Borneo Post.


Development halted in crucial wildlife corridor in Malaysia

(11/07/2012) Kenyir Wildlife Corridor in northeast Malaysia is teeming with wildlife: elephants, gibbons, tigers, tapirs, and even black panthers (melanistic leopards) have been recorded in the 60 kilometer (37 mile) stretch of forest. In fact, researchers have recorded over 40 mammal species (see species list below), including 15 threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List. When these findings were presented by scientists to the Terengganu state government action followed quickly: all development projects have been halted pending a government study.


Controversial dam gets approval in Laos

(11/07/2012) Laos has given approval to the hugely-controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River, reports the BBC. The massive dam, which would provide 95 percent of its energy production to Thailand, has been criticized for anticipated impacts on the river's fish populations, on which many locals depend.



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