conservation news and environmental science news.
House windows may kill 22 million Canadian birds each year
(11/15/2012) The sickening thud of a bird crashing into a window is an all-too-familiar sound for many Canadian homeowners. Birds often mistake windows for openings, flying into the glass at full speed. A startling new analysis suggests about 22 million Canadian birds die each year from such crashes, researchers reported Sept. 4 in Wildlife Research.
Remembering the Dust Bowl: it could happen again
(11/15/2012) The Dust Bowl, a film by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, and The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History, a book authored by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Told in first-person narrative by survivors of the Dust Bowl and brought to color through vivid storytelling and over 300 rare archival photos, these two combined efforts must be watched and read by those concerned with our human impact on Earth.
Clever crows may grasp hidden causes
(11/15/2012) Crows may be imagining more than we imagined. New research suggests certain crows make decisions based on factors they can’t see. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) deepens our understanding of these crafty corvids, and could help explain how human reasoning evolved. Crows are intelligent problem solvers, capable of making hook-shaped tools to retrieve food and using multiple tools in a logical sequence. New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are particularly adept tool users, and have often been the subject of cognitive research. In this study, the New Zealand–based researchers tested whether New Caledonian crows could trace an event back to a cause that was hidden from their view.
New species of bioluminescent cockroach possibly already extinct by volcanic eruption
(11/14/2012) While new species are discovered every day, Peter Vršanský and company's discovery of a light-producing cockroach, Lucihormetica luckae, in Ecuador is remarkable for many reasons, not the least that it may already be extinct. The new species represents the only known case of mimicry by bioluminescence in a land animal. Like a venomless king snake beating its tail to copy the unmistakable warning of a rattlesnake, Lucihormetica luckae's bioluminescent patterns are nearly identical to the poisonous click beetle, with which it shares (or shared) its habitat.
Obama breaks climate silence at press conference
(11/14/2012) At a news conference today, a question by New York Times reporter Mark Landler pushed President Obama to speak at some length about climate change. In his answer, Obama re-iterated his acceptance of climate science and discussed how progress on tackling climate change might proceed in his second term, though he also noted that he wouldn't put action on the climate ahead of the economy. President Obama made a small reference to climate change in his victory speech following his historic re-election last Tuesday, but his answer today was the most the president has talked about the issue at any length since at least Hurricane Sandy.
Controversial wolf hunt moves to the Midwest, 196 wolves killed to date
(11/14/2012) The hugely controversial wolf hunt in the U.S. has spread from the western U.S. (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming) to the Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin) this year. Although the wolf hunt is less than a month old in the region—and only eleven days old in Minnesota—196 animals so far have been shot. As in the west, the wolf hunt has raised hackles among environmentalists along with fierce defenders among hunters. Wolves, which were protected under the the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1973, were stripped of that status by legislation in 2009, opening the door—should a state choose—to trophy hunting.
How to see the forest for the trees: new textbook helps to craft a global understanding of forest economics for all stakeholders
(11/13/2012) Environmental economics is similar to other expanding fields, it turns out. For example, Tauhid Zaman, assistant professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Business, lamented that network analytics far too often focuses on the purely theoretical, and quipped that his colleagues "want to date a model more than they want to model data." William F. Hyde might argue that the same could be said for environmental economists.
Mountain gorilla population up by over 20 percent in five years
(11/13/2012) A mountain gorilla census in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has a population that continues to rise, hitting 400 animals. The new census in Bwindi means the total population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) has reached 880—up from 720 in 2007—and marking a growth of about 4 percent per year.
Photos: Mozambique creates Africa's biggest marine protected area
(11/13/2012) Last week, the East African nation of Mozambique announced it was protecting 10,411 square kilometers (4,020 square miles) of coastal marine waters, making the new Marine Protected Area (MPA) the biggest on the continent. The protected area, dubbed the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago ("First" and "Second" islands), includes ten islands as well as mangrove forests, rich coral reefs, and seagrass ecosystems.
Borneo may lose half its orangutans to deforestation, hunting, and plantations
(11/13/2012) Borneo will likely lose half of its orangutans if current deforestation and forest conversion trends continue, warns a comprehensive new assessment by an international team of researchers. The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, overlays orangutan distribution with land use regulations in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. Borneo has suffered high rates of deforestation, logging, and forest conversion for industrial plantations in recent decades, endangering the world's largest surviving populations of orangutans.
U.S. to become world's largest oil producer in 5 years
(11/13/2012) In a dramatic reversal, the United States is set to become the world's largest producer of oil by 2017, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
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.
Greater bamboo lemur removed from 'most endangered primates' list
(11/13/2012) Madagascar's greater bamboo lemur has been removed from the list of the world's 25 most endangered primates after conservationists discovered previously unknown populations of the rare creature, according to the Aspinall Foundation, a charity that set in motion a species survival plan for the lemur.
Norway's $650B pension fund to require deforestation disclosure among portfolio companies
(11/12/2012) Norway's $650 billion sovereign wealth fund will ask companies in which it invests to disclose their impacts on tropical forests, as part of its effort to reduce deforestation, reports Reuters. The move could usher in broader reporting on the forest footprint of operations.
Cute animal picture of the day: baby giraffe
(11/12/2012) Reticulated giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), one of nine subspecies, are found in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The world's tallest land animal, giraffes can stand as high as 5–6 meters (16–20 feet).
Hurricane Sandy pushes Haiti toward full-blown food crisis
(11/12/2012) Although Haiti avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Sandy, the tropical storm caused severe flooding across the southern part of the country decimating agricultural fields. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs now warns that 1.5 million Haitians are at risk of severe food insecurity, while 450,000 people face severe acute malnutrition, which can kill.
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.
Gaining from rain: precipitation is an indicator of tropical forest biodiversity
(11/12/2012) Policymakers seeking to conserve forests in southern India should focus on those receiving the highest levels of rainfall, according to new research. Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) found rainfall to be the most important environmental determinant of species richness in the Anamalai region of the southern Western Ghats.
Tanzania weighs new soda ash plant in prime flamingo territory
(11/08/2012) In a choice between flamingoes and a soda ash plant, a new report shows that local residents near Lake Natron, Tanzania prefer flamingoes. This is good news for conservationists as the area is the most important breeding site in the world for lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor). While the report shows agreement between residents and conservation groups that the project isn't worth its cost or risk, the Tanzanian government is not giving up yet.
Foreign loggers and corrupt officials flouting logging moratorium in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(11/08/2012) In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.
Meet Cape Town's volunteer 'toad shepherds'
(11/08/2012) August marks the last month of winter in South Africa, and, as temperatures begin to rise, activists in Cape Town prepare for a truly unique conservation event. Every year at this time western leopard toads (Amietophrynus pantherinus) endemic to the region and Critically Endangered, embark on a night-time migration through Cape Town from their homes in the city's gardens to the ponds they use as breeding sites—as far as three kilometers away. This season over one hundred volunteers took to the streets, flashlights in hand, to assist the toads in navigating the increasing number of man-made obstacles in their path. Among them was life-long resident and mother, Hanniki Pieterse, who serves as an organizer for volunteers in her area.
Day after Obama re-elected, group plans massive march over Keystone Pipeline and climate change
(11/07/2012) Hours after President Obama's historic re-election, climate group 350.org announced a massive rally to apply pressure on the administration to reject the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring tar sands from Alberta to an international market. In 2011 the group and its partners carried out massive civil disobedience action, resulting in over 1,000 arrests, and a rally 12,000-strong that literally encircled the White House. The pressure, which was also brought to Obama campaign offices around the country, helped spur the Obama Administration to suspend the pipeline.
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.
Threatened Galapagos coral may predict the future of reefs worldwide
(11/07/2012) The Galapagos Islands have been famous for a century and a half, but even Charles Darwin thought the archipelago’s list of living wonders didn’t include coral reefs. It took until the 1970s before scientists realized the islands did in fact have coral, but in 1983, the year the first major report on Galapagos reef formation was published, they were almost obliterated by El Niño. This summer, a major coral survey found that some of the islands’ coral communities are showing promising signs of recovery. Their struggle to survive may tell us what is in store for the rest of the world, where almost three-quarters of corals are predicted to suffer long-term damage by 2030.
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.
Over 100,000 farmers squatting in Sumatran park to grow coffee
(11/06/2012) Sumatra's Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park—home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and elephants—has become overrun with coffee farmers, loggers, and opportunists according to a new paper in Conservation and Society. An issue facing the park for decades, the study attempted for the first time to determine the number of squatters either living in or farming off Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the rough census—over 100,000 people—shocked scientists.
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).
Whale only known from bones washes up on beach in New Zealand
(11/05/2012) In 2010, a whale mother and male calf were found dead on Opape Beach in New Zealand. Although clearly in the beaked whale family—the most mysterious marine mammal family—scientists thought the pair were relatively well-known Gray's beaked whales (Mesoplodon grayi). That is until DNA findings told a shocking story: the mother and calf were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species no one had ever seen before as anything more than a pile of bones.
New rare frog discovered in Sri Lanka, but left wholly unprotected
(11/05/2012) Sri Lanka, an island country lying off the southeast coast of India, has long been noted for its vast array of biodiversity. Islands in general are renowned for their weird and wonderful creatures, including high percentages of endemic species—and Sri Lanka, where scientists recently discovered a new frog species, is no exception.
It's not just Sandy: U.S. hit by record droughts, fires, and heatwaves in 2012
(11/05/2012) As the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy—killing over 100 people and producing upwards of $50 billion in damage along the U.S. East Coast—has reignited a long-dormant conversation on climate change in the media, it's important to note that this is not the only weird and wild weather the U.S. has seen this year. In fact, 2012 has been a year of record-breaking weather across the U.S.: the worst drought in decades, unprecedented heatwaves, and monster forest fires. While climatologists have long stated that it is not yet possible to blame a single extreme weather event on climate change, research is showing that rising temperatures are very likely increasing the chances of extreme weather events and worsening them when they occur.
As forest carbon credit market grows, REDD fails to keep pace, finds report
(11/05/2012) Forest carbon credits reached a record market value in 2011, but the market for credits generated under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism fell sharply, as new projects were slower-than-expected to develop and faced political and economic headwinds, reports a new assessment of the global forest carbon market published by Ecosystem Marketplace.
'The ivory trade is like drug trafficking' (warning graphic images)
(11/05/2012) For the past five years, Spanish biologist Luis Arranz has been the director of Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Arranz and a team of nearly 240 people, 140 guards among them, work to protect a vast area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) of virgin forest, home to a population of more than 2.300 elephants that are facing a new and more powerful enemy. The guards are encountering not only bigger groups of poachers, but with ever more sophisticated weapons. According to Arranz, armed groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army from Uganda are now killing elephants for their ivory.
Micro-hydro and decentralized green energy goals set in Borneo
(11/04/2012) The first ever meeting of the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People's Assembly (SEAREPA) ended with agreement on 12 future projects, including developing community micro-hydro power and pushing for new policies on decentralized renewable energy in the region. Held in Malaysian state of Sabah on the island, the meeting brought together 130 people from some 80 different groups.
HSBC bank funding large-scale rainforest destruction and invasion of indigenous lands in Borneo, alleges report
(11/02/2012) HSBC has earned tens of millions financing the destruction of rainforests and invasion of indigenous land in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, alleges an explosive new report from Global Witness.
China, India should cut tariff on eco-certified palm oil to boost demand, says RSPO official
(11/02/2012) China and India, the world's largest palm oil buyers, should reduce or eliminate an import tariff on eco-certified palm oil to boost demand for less-damaging production of the widely-used oilseed, said the President of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) during the body's tenth annual meeting in Singapore.
Scientists create 'tree of life' mapping all known bird species
(11/02/2012) Scientists have created an evolutionary maps for all the world's nearly 10,000 bird species. The 'tree of life' is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.
Photos of flooded New York Aquarium released
(11/02/2012) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) today released pictures showing damage caused earlier this week at the New York Aquarium by Hurricane Sandy. The photos show extensive flooding in parts of the aquarium, which is located on the Coney Island boardwalk and is run by WCS.
Bloomberg endorses Obama, cites climate change
(11/01/2012) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today endorsed President Barack Obama for a second term, citing the importance of addressing climate change in the aftermath of the devastating impact of tropical storm Sandy earlier this week.
Artificial 'misting system' allows vanished toad to be released back into the wild
(11/01/2012) In 1996 scientists discovered a new species of dwarf toad: the Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis). Although surviving on only two hectares near the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania, the toads proved populous: around 17,000 individuals crowded the smallest known habitat of any vertebrate, living happily off the moist micro-habitat created by spray from adjacent waterfalls. Eight years later and the Kihansi spray toad was gone. Disease combined with the construction of a hydroelectric dam ended the toads' limited, but fecund, reign.
From 'fertilizer to fork': food accounts for a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
(11/01/2012) Growing, transporting, refrigerating, and wasting food accounts for somewhere between 19-29 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, according to a new analysis by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). In hard numbers that's between 9.8 and 16.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than double the fossil fuel emissions of China in the same year. Over 80 percent of food emissions came from production (i.e. agriculture) which includes deforestation and land use change.
Above the ocean: saving the world's most threatened birds
(11/01/2012) A life on the ocean is a perilous one for any bird. They must expend energy staying aloft for thousands of miles and learn to be marathon swimmers; they must seek food beneath treacherous waves and brave the world's most extreme climates; they must navigate the perils both of an unforgiving sea and far-flung islands. Yet seabirds, which includes 346 global species that depend on marine ecosystems, have evolved numerous strategies and complex life histories to deal with the challenges of the sea successfully, and they have been doing so since the dinosaur’s last stand. Today, despite such a track record, no other bird family is more threatened; yet it's not the wild, unpredictable sea that endangers them, but pervasive human impacts.
Facing 'critical' situation, New York Aquarium closed indefinitely
(10/31/2012) The New York Aquarium on Coney Island suffered 'serious flood damage' during Hurricane Sandy and will be closed 'indefinitely', according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which runs the aquarium and other zoos in New York City.
Indonesia could plant 14.5m ha of oil palm in Borneo without further deforestation
(10/31/2012) Indonesia could establish some 14.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations in Borneo without needing to clear rainforest or high-carbon peatlands, finds a new interactive mapping tool developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
After protracted Greenpeace campaign, KFC UK says it will no longer source from Asia Pulp & Paper
(10/31/2012) After months of pressure from Greenpeace on its alleged links to deforestation in Indonesia, KFC UK/Ireland has adopted a forest policy that excludes fiber sourced via conversion of tropical rainforests. The policy excludes suppliers like Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), the Chinese/Indonesian forestry giant that has been the primary target of the Greenpeace campaign, but appears to apply only to Kentucky Fried Chicken operations in Britain and Ireland.
Happy Halloween: nine new species of tree-climbing tarantula discovered
(10/31/2012) If you suffer from acute arachnophobia, this is the perfect Halloween discovery for you: a spider expert has discovered nine new species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) tarantulas in the Brazil. Although tarantula diversity is highest in the Amazon rainforest, the new species are all found in lesser-known Brazilian ecosystems like the Atlantic Forest, of which less than 7 percent remains, and the cerrado, a massive savannah that is being rapidly lost to agriculture and cattle ranching.
After defeating coal plant, Borneo hosts renewable energy meeting
(10/31/2012) Last year, a coalition of environmentalists and locals won a David-versus-Goliath battle against a massive coal plant in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo. After facing a protracted campaign—including expert analysis of green energy options for Sabah—the state government announced it was scuttling plans to build the coal plant on a beach overlooking the Coral Triangle. Now, victorious grassroots campaigners are hosting the inaugural meeting of the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA), bringing 80 organizations together to discuss green energy options across southeast Asia.
Picture of the day: cheetah cubs wrestle Halloween pumpkins
(10/31/2012) The fastest land animal in the world, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) can exceed 110 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour) in short bursts. This speed allows them to take down prey using rapid-fire ambush hunting.
Mysteries surrounding the legendary and vanishing oriental bald ibis
(10/31/2012) In a remote corner of the Ethiopian highlands in January 2011, the bright tropical light combined with the fresh and thin air at 3,600 metres. The Ethiopian bird-watching guide and conservationist, Yilma Dellelegn, from the Ethiopian Wildlife Society, was startled when he spotted two un-ringed young bald ibises, together with two ringed and well known adult females (Zenobia and Salam) at their wintering site. Considering the dwindling numbers, two unaccounted for young birds, literally popping out of the blue, were a great surprise—and precious! The sighting had the potential to raise intriguing geographic and behavioral questions: in fact, the riddle of the migration and wintering strategy of the oriental northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) was still half way from being solved.
Leopard poaching is a bigger problem in India than previously believed
(10/31/2012) A recent study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC uncovered unnerving statistics about the illegal trade of leopards (Panthera pardus) in India: at least four leopards have been poached every week for the past decade in the country. The study, entitled Illuminating the Blind Spot: A study on illegal trade in Leopard parts in India, highlights the severity of leopard poaching from 2001 to 2010, despite preventative measures established in 1972 by the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) that prohibit the sale of leopard parts in India.
New York Aquarium entirely 'underwater'
(10/30/2012) Hurricane Sandy, which brought storm surges that reached 14 feet to New York City, has put the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium "under water," according to a statement from the organization. The aquarium is located on the Coney Island boardwalk, in the heart of an area where rescue operations are currently under way to save people stranded in their homes. There are reports that flooding has reached some people's roofs.
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