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News articles on technology and conservation
Mongabay.com news articles on technology and conservation in blog format. Updated regularly.
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Brazil's satellite monitoring reduced Amazon deforestation by 60,000 sq km in 5 years
(05/08/2013) Brazil's advanced satellite monitoring system, coupled with increased law enforcement, was responsible for nearly 60 percent of the 101,000 square kilometer-drop in deforestation observed between 2007 and 2011, argues a new study published an international think tank.
A new tool against illegal logging: tree DNA technology goes mainstream
(04/22/2013) Modern DNA technology offers a unique opportunity: you could pinpoint the origin of your table at home and track down if the trees it was made from were illegally obtained. Each wooden piece of furniture comes with a hidden natural barcode that can tell its story from a sapling in a forest all the way to your living room.
Entire planet will soon have rapid deforestation detection system
(04/09/2013) World Resources Institute (WRI) today previewed a long-awaited tool that could revolutionize global forest monitoring, reports the UN Forum on Forests, which is meeting this week in Istanbul, Turkey.
Conservation gets boost from new Landsat satellite
(04/03/2013) Efforts to monitor the world's forests and other ecosystems got a big boost in February with the launch of Landsat 8, NASA's newest earth observation satellite, which augments the crippled Landsat 7 currently orbiting Earth (technically Landsat 8 is still named the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and will remain so until May when the USGS turns control of the satellite over to NASA). Landsat 8/LDCM is the most advanced Earth observation satellite to date. It is the eighth Landsat since the initial launch in 1972.
Scientists successfully freeze Barbary sheep embryos for conservation purposes
(03/18/2013) The Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), or aoudad, is a goat-antelope found in northern Africa. It is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, with populations imperiled by hunting, habitat loss, and competition with livestock. Still little is known about its remaining population, prompting scientists in Mexico to test possible assisted reproduction of captive individuals.
Deforestation in key Madagascar park accelerated after 2009 coup d'etat, finds satellite analysis
(03/18/2013) Deforestation and forest disturbance in Madagascar's largest national park increased significantly less than a year after a coup displaced the country's democratically-elected president in 2009, finds a new study that analyzed forest cover in Masoala National Park.
A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level
(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Featured video: Saving the Amazon through maps
(02/20/2013) In a new video ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, talks about recent—and historical—efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforest through map-making and technology. Today scientists like Plotkin are teaching indigenous people how to digitally map their territory to win land rights over the forest they've used for centuries.
Illegally logged trees to start calling for help
(01/24/2013) Illegal loggers beware: trees will soon be calling—literally—for backup. The Brazilian government has begun fixing trees with a wireless device, known as Invisible Tracck, which will allow trees to contact authorities after being felled and moved.
Bloodsucking flies help scientists identify rare, hard-to-find mammals
(01/16/2013) Last year scientists released a study that is likely to revolutionize how conservationists track elusive species. Researchers extracted the recently sucked blood of terrestrial leeches in Vietnam's remote Annamite Mountains and looked at the DNA of what they'd been feeding on: remarkably researchers were able to identify a number of endangered and rarely-seen mammals. In fact two of the species gleaned from these blood-meals had been discovered by scientists as late as the 1990s. In the past, trying to find rare and shy jungle animals required many man hours and a lot of funding. While the increasing use of remote camera traps has allowed scientists to expand their search, DNA sampling from leeches could be the next big step in simplifying (and cheapening) the quest for tracking the world's mammals.
How a text message could save an elephant or a rhino from a poacher
(01/15/2013) Soon a text message may save an elephant's or rhino's life. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is implementing a new alarm system in some protected areas that will alert rangers of intruders via a text message, reports the Guardian. Elephants and rhinos have been killed in record numbers across Africa as demand for illegal rhino horns and ivory in Asia has skyrocketed.
Advanced technology reveals massive tree die-off in remote, unexplored parts of the Amazon
(12/12/2012) Severe drought conditions in 2010 appear to have substantially increased tree mortality in the Western Amazon, a region thought largely immune from the worst effects of changes occurring in other parts of the world's largest rainforest, reported research presented last week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The findings suggest that the Amazon may face higher-the-expected vulnerability to climate change, potentially undercutting its ability to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide through faster growth.
Conservationists turn camera traps on tiger poachers
(11/12/2012) Remote camera traps, which take photos or video when a sensor is triggered, have been increasingly used to document rare and shy wildlife, but now conservationists are taking the technology one step further: detecting poachers. Already, camera traps set up for wildlife have captured images of park trespassers and poachers worldwide, but for the first time conservationists are setting camera traps with the specific goal of tracking illegal activity.
Strong deforestation signals from Central and West Africa in July, August, and September 2012
(11/06/2012) NASA satellites picked up signals of potential deforestation across extensive parts of Latin America, West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia between July 1 and September 30, according to the latest update on Mongabay.com's Global Forest Disturbance Alert System (GloF-DAS).
A new tool for taking on elephant poaching: DNA forensics
(08/08/2012) One of the difficulties plaguing law enforcement and authorities when it comes to tackling elephant poaching is determining where the ivory originates. Now, research published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, has found a new way of tracking ivory back to wild elephants populations: forensic genetic studies.
3-D laser mapping shows elephants have big impact on trees
(08/06/2012) Scientists have long known that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are talented tree-topplers, able to take down even large trees in order to gobble out-of-reach leaves. However the extent of his behavior across a large area has been difficult to quantify. But a new study in Ecology Letters has used a bird's-eye view—with 3-D—of Kruger National Park in South Africa to determine the impact of elephants on trees.
10 African countries to develop satellite-based deforestation tracking systems with help of Brazil
(07/30/2012) Ten tropical African countries will receive training and support to develop national forest monitoring systems, reports the United Nations. Brazil, which has an advanced deforestation tracking system, will guide the initiative in partnership with the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Smartphones promoted as a tool for indigenous forest protection
(07/23/2012) Smartphones beeping in the woods may be a welcome presence that augurs the increased ability of indigenous communities to be stewards of their own biodiverse forests. Representatives of these communities and their supporters have advocated that international conservation policies like Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) be increasingly managed by the communities themselves.
Google Earth used to discover unknown forest in Angola, scientists find it full of rare birds
(07/09/2012) An expedition, followed up by some computer hunting on Google Earth, has discovered large remnants of old growth forest, including thriving bird communities, in the mountains of Angola. The Namba Mountains in Angola were expected to contain around 100 hectares of forest, but an on-the-ground survey, coupled with online research, has discovered numerous forest fragments totaling around 590 hectares in the remote mountains, boosting the chances for many rare species.
App designed to fight wildlife crime in Cambodia
(05/08/2012) Conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance has launched a new iPhone app that not only teaches users about Cambodian wildlife but also gives them information on how to help the group fight pervasive wildlife crime in the country. The app includes photos and information regarding species imperiled by the wildlife trade as well as informational videos with Jeff Corwin from the Animal Planet.
Does the Tasmanian tiger exist? Is the saola extinct? Ask the leeches
(04/30/2012) The use of remote camera traps, which photograph animals as they pass, has revolutionized research on endangered and cryptic species. The tool has even allowed scientists to document animals new to science or feared extinct. But as important as camera traps have become, they are still prohibitively expensive for many conservationists and require many grueling hours in remote forests. A new paper in Current Biology, however, announces an incredibly innovative and cheaper way of recording rare mammals: seek out the leeches that feed on them. The research found that the presence of mammals, at least, can be determined by testing the victim's blood for DNA stored in the leech.
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.
Airborne lasers discover undocumented deforestation in Belize park
(03/19/2012) A NASA funded expedition using airborne lasers to study ancient Mayan ruins has also documented widespread illegal deforestation in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. The lasers found that forest disturbance was actually 58 percent greater than recent satellite surveys showed, according new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS). Such deforestation not only imperils biodiversity, carbon storage, and migration routes for Central American species, but could also lead to plundering of the Maya site of Caracol.
Global rainforest carbon map released online
(03/18/2012) Researchers have posted carbon stock data for the world's tropical forests on ArcGIS Online, a web-based mapping platform developed by Esri.
Camera traps go under the ocean, seeking sharks
(03/12/2012) Remote camera traps, which have become a hugely important conservation tool on land during the past decade, have now gone underwater. Marine biologists have used underwater video camera traps to compare the population of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii) in Belize's protected areas versus fishing areas in a new study in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. Conducted from 2005-2010, the study found that reef sharks benefited significantly from conservation areas.
What a Bornean elephant wants: more protected forests and wildlife corridors
(02/16/2012) Forest fragmentation and destruction is imperiling the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), according to a new paper published in PLoS ONE. Using satellite collars to track the pachyderms for the first time in the Malaysian state of Sabah, scientists have found that the elephants are extremely sensitive to habitat fragmentation from palm oil plantations and logging.
The camera trap revolution: how a simple device is shaping research and conservation worldwide
(02/14/2012) I must confess to a recent addiction: camera trap photos. When the Smithsonian released 202,000 camera trap photos to the public online, I couldn’t help but spend hours transfixed by the private world of animals. There was the golden snub-monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana), with its unmistakably blue face staring straight at you, captured on a trail in the mountains of China. Or a southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), a tree anteater that resembles a living Muppet, poking its nose in the leaf litter as sunlight plays on its head in the Peruvian Amazon. Or the dim body of a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) led by jewel-like eyes in the Tanzanian night. Or the less exotic red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which admittedly appears much more exotic when shot in China in the midst of a snowstorm. Even the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), an animal I too often connect with cartoons and stuffed animals, looks wholly real and wild when captured by camera trap: no longer a symbol or even a pudgy bear at the zoo, but a true animal with its own inner, mysterious life.
Guyanese tribe maps Connecticut-sized rainforest for land rights
(02/07/2012) In a bid to gain legal recognition of their land, the indigenous Wapichan people have digitally mapped their customary rainforest land in Guyana over the past ten years. Covering 1.4 million hectares, about the size of Connecticut, the rainforest would be split between sustainable-use regions, sacred areas, and wildlife conservation according to a plan by the Wapichan tribe that will be released today. The plan says the tribe would preserve the forest from extractive industries.
Rainforests store 229 billion tons of carbon globally finds new 'wall-to-wall' carbon map
(01/30/2012) Tropical rainforests store some 229 billion tons of carbon in their vegetation — about 20 percent more than previously estimated — finds a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings could help improve the accuracy of reporting CO2 emissions reductions under the proposed REDD program, which aims to compensate tropical countries for cutting deforestation, forest degradation, and peatlands destruction.
New app works to raise awareness of endangered species
(11/16/2011) Want to learn more about gorillas, whales, elephants, sharks, and penguins? A new mobile app hopes to raise awareness and conservation efforts for the world's endangered species. Dubbed 'Survival', the new app is a game that also raises knowledge about endangered species. Created by wildlife and media NGO, Wildscreen, the app is available free on the App store and Android Market.
Photos: satellite tracking of the unicorn of the sea
(10/19/2011) A new program aims to track one of the ocean's most enigmatic creatures: the narwhal (Monodon monoceros). Tagging nine narwhales in August, researchers plan to track the species in order to gain new insights about how the little-known toothed whale will withstand a rapidly melting Arctic due to climate change. "[This] is a chance to better understand these animals while their world changes around them. We know narwhals are often associated with sea ice, and we know the sea ice is shrinking. WWF is trying to understand how narwhals, as well as all other ice associated animals in the arctic can adapt to a changing environment," says Peter Ewins with WWF-Canada.
Group pushes entrepreneurship model for conservation
(09/28/2011) The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) is dedicated to protecting endangered species and preserving their natural habitats. This group supports innovative strategies for people and wildlife to co-exist and thrive. This year the group celebrates it's ten year anniversary. The WCN Expo is October 1st and 2nd, 2011. The following is an interview with Charles Knowles, the WCN's Executive Director and co-founder.
Google Earth used to identify marine animal behavior
(06/14/2011) From the all-seeing eye of Google Earth, one can spy the tip of Mount Everest, traffic on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, and the ruins of Machu Picchu, but who would have guessed everyone's favorite interactive globe would also provide marine biologists a God's-eye view of fish behavior? Well, a new study in the just-launched Scientific Reports has discovered visible evidence on Google Earth of the interactions between marine predators and prey in the Great Barrier Reef.
Could camera traps save wildlife worldwide?
(08/31/2010) It's safe to say that the humble camera trap has revolutionized wildlife conservation. This simple contraption—an automated digital camera that takes a flash photo whenever an animal triggers an infrared sensor—has allowed scientists to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen, and often globally endangered species, with little expense and relative ease—at least compared to tromping through tropical forests and swamps looking for endangered rhino scat . Now researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are taking the utility of the camera trap one step further: a study in Animal Conservation uses a novel methodology, entitled the Wildlife Picture Index (WPI), to analyze population trends of 26 species in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. While the study found a bleak decline in species, it shows the potential of camera traps for moving conservation forward since it marks the first time researchers have used camera traps to analyze long-term population trends of multiple species.
Coral reef survival depends on the super small, an interview with Forest Rohwer
(08/30/2010) If you take a teaspoon and dip it into the ocean what will you have? Some drops of lifeless water? Only a few decades ago this is what scientists would have said, however, the development of increasingly powerful microscopes have shown us a world long unknown, which has vital importance for the survival of one of the world's most threatened and most treasured ecosystems: coral reefs. A single milliliter of water is now known to contain at least a million living microbes, i.e. organisms too small to see without a microscope. After discovering their super-abundant presence, researchers are now beginning to uncover how these incredibly tiny life-forms shape the fate of the world's coral reefs.
Camp merges technology and conservation for local students
(08/03/2010) From July 23-25, Taiwanese undergraduates held a camp in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, that taught local high school students to use technology as a conservation tool. The Taiwanese volunteers aimed to help local people in this popular rainforest tourism destination to use the Internet to research and promote sustainable tourism practices. The high school students, who had no formal training in using the Internet, learned to use email, produce a blog, conduct research, and use GPS devices to create a map of part of the local trail system.
Forest loss in India likely worse than conventionally believed
(07/06/2010) Researchers have questioned 2009 findings by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) that found that India's forests were, unlike many tropical Asian nations', on the rebound. According to the FSI, Indian forests had grown by almost five percent from the 1990s. Yet, were these finding too good to be true?
NASA, Google Earth catch North Korea logging protected area
(05/18/2010) Employing satellite data from NASA and Google Earth, Guofan Shao, a professor of geo-eco-informatics at Purdue University, has established that North Korea is logging Mount Paekdu Biosphere Reserve. Since North Korea is off-limits to most researchers, Shao has turned to open-access satellite data to monitor deforestation on the UN designated Man and Biosphere region.
A nation of tragedies: the unseen elephant wars of Chad
(05/12/2010) Stephanie Vergniault, head of SOS Elephants in Chad, says she has seen more beheaded corpses of elephants in her life than living animals. In the central African nation, against the backdrop of a vast human tragedy—poverty, hunger, violence, and hundreds of thousands of refugees—elephants are quietly vanishing at an astounding rate. One-by-one they fall to well-organized, well-funded, and heavily-armed poaching militias. Soon Stephanie Vergniault believes there may be no elephants left. A lawyer, screenwriter, and conservationist, Vergniault is a true Renaissance-woman. She first came to Chad to work with the government on electoral assistance, but in 2009 after seeing the dire situation of the nation's elephants she created SOS Elephants, an organization determined to save these animals from local extinction.
Photos: Madagascar's wonderful and wild frogs, an interview with Sahonagasy
(03/03/2010) To save Madagascar's embattled and beautiful amphibians, scientists are turning to the web. A new site built by herpetologists, Sahonagasy, is dedicated to gathering and providing information about Madagascar's unique amphibians in a bid to save them from the growing threat of extinction. "The past 20 years have seen resources wasted because of a poor coordination of efforts," explains Miguel Vences, herpetologist and professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig. "Many surveys and reports have been produced that were never published, many tourists found and photographed amphibians but these photos were not made available to mapping projects, many studies carried out by Malagasy students did not make use of literature because it was not available."
Google Earth boosts deforestation monitoring capabilities
(02/07/2010) Google has taken a step towards ramping up the deforestation monitoring capabilities the Google Earth Engine by contracting Massachusetts-based Clark Labs to develop an online version of its Land Change Modeler application.
New tropical wood substitute could save rainforests worldwide
(12/18/2009) One of the main drivers of tropical deforestation is western consumption of hardwoods, more durable and weather-resistant than softwoods. For example, hardwood harvested in Southeast Asia—both legally and illegally obtained—often makes its way to China where it is crafted into cheap outdoor-ready hardwood products, which is then sold to the world's wealthy nations, such as the United States and countries in the EU. The trade releases significant greenhouse gases, threatens indigenous groups, and imperils the region's biodiversity. Yet a new product, apart of an art installation at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, may have the capacity to stem the loss of tropical forests for hardwoods.
Biggest private funder of Amazon conservation teams with Google and scientists to develop earth monitoring platform
(12/18/2009) The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the largest private funder of Amazon rainforest conservation, is playing an unheralded but integral role in the development of the Earth Engine platform, a system that combines the computing power of Google with advanced monitoring and analysis technologies developed by leading environmental scientists. The platform, which was officially unveiled at climate talks in in Copenhagen, promises to enable near real-time monitoring of the world's forests and carbon at high resolution at selected sites before COP-16 in Mexico.
Google's Earth Engine to help tropical countries monitor forests
(12/16/2009) A powerful forest monitoring application unveiled last week by Google will be made freely available to developing countries as a means to build the capacity to quality for compensation under REDD, a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism that would pay tropical countries for protecting forests, according to a senior Google engineer presenting at a side event at COP15 in Copenhagen.
Saving tigers by counting feces
(06/24/2009) Scientists have been counting tiger populations for decades, using a variety of methods including camera traps and DNA collected from tissue or blood after darting and sedating the world’s largest cat. However, a new method of surveying tiger populations could change scientists’ ability to non-invasively obtain accurate numbers for tiger populations around the world, according to a study in Biological Conservation.
How satellites are used in conservation
(04/13/2009) In October 2008 scientists with the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew discovered a host of previously unknown species in a remote highland forest in Mozambique. The find was no accident: three years earlier, conservationist Julian Bayliss identified the site—Mount Mabu—using Google Earth, a tool that’s rapidly becoming a critical part of conservation efforts around the world. As the discovery in Mozambique suggests, remote sensing is being used for a bewildering array of applications, from monitoring sea ice to detecting deforestation to tracking wildlife. The number of uses grows as the technology matures and becomes more widely available. Google Earth may represent a critical point, bringing the power of remote sensing to the masses and allowing anyone with an Internet connection to attach data to a geographic representation of Earth.
Study confirms that sonar can cause deafness in dolphins
(04/08/2009) A new study in Biology Lettersconfirms what marine biologists have long suspected: loud sonar can cause temporary deafness in dolphins, possibly explaining some mass strandings. The study, using a captive dolphin in a controlled experiment, found that sonar at high prolonged levels could even lead to slight behavioral changes.
Replacing natural experiences with technology hurts humans and the natural world
(04/02/2009) What is the difference between a robotic dog and a real one? Or a plasma screen displaying high definition images of natural splendor and a window that looks out an on actual natural scene? According to psychologists from the University of Washington the difference is massive. Writing in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science Dr. Peter Kahn, a developmental psychologist, explores the different effects produced by humans interacting with actual nature and technological nature, i.e. technology meant to represent the natural world in some aspect.