conservation news and environmental science news.
Photos: wild, weird, and rare mammals storm the conservation world
(11/21/2010) What do the New Zealand greater short-tailed bat, the black-and-white ruffed lemur, and the numbat have in common? They are all new members of the Zoological Society of London's EDGE top 100 most endangered and unique mammals list. Arguably the most innovative conservation program in the world, EDGE decides which species to focus conservation efforts on not based on popularity or fund-raising potential, but on hard data, only working with species that are considered the most endangered and evolutionarily distinct.
50 NGOS tell big oil to get out of uncontacted natives' territory
(11/21/2010) A letter signed by over 50 NGOs is calling on three big oil companies—Perenco, Repsol-YPF, and ConocoPhillips—to withdraw from Peruvian territory inhabited by uncontacted indigenous tribes. The letter states that the oil companies' presence in the area threatens the uncontacted tribe with diseases, for which they have little immunity, and puts the lives of oil company workers in jeopardy, since past encounters have ended in violence.
Bad books: US paper products are breaking the law and devastating rainforests
(11/18/2010) Everyone knows books are made of paper, but few think of where that paper comes from. However, two new reports may change that. Both the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) have found that some paper used in books, including popular children's books, is linked to forest devastation in Indonesian, even targeting endangered trees that have been harvested illegally.
Photo: expedition discovers 20% of world's squids, including new species
(11/18/2010) An expedition to the seamounts of the southern Indian Ocean has proven that the region is a biodiverse hotspot for squids. To date, the expedition has identified 70 species of squid comprising 20% of the world's known squid species. But that's not all: they have also uncovered new species. At just over 2 feet long (27 inches or 70 centimeters), a species of squid found by the expedition proves to a brand new member of the chiroteuthid family. Squids from this family, which number around a dozen known species, employ bioluminescent organs to attract unwary prey.
Scientists call upon Indonesia to recognize value of secondary forests
(11/18/2010) A group of scientists have called upon the governments of Indonesia and Norway to recognize the conservation value of logged-over and "degraded" forests under their partnership on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. The letter urges the Indonesian government to extend protection to forest areas that may not be pristine but still serve as important carbon sinks, house endangered wildlife, and provide livelihoods for communities.
Reforestation effort launched in Borneo with nearly-extinct rhinos in mind
(11/18/2010) The Rhino and Forest Fund (RFF) has partnered with the Forestry Department of Sabah in northern Borneo to launch a long-term reforestation project to aid Malaysia's threatened species with particular emphasis on the Bornean rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), one of the world's most imperiled big mammals. The reforestation project will be occurring in and adjacent to Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which is surrounded on all sides by oil palm plantations.
Rebuttal: Slaughtering farmed-raised tigers won't save tigers
(11/18/2010) A recent interview with Kirsten Conrad on how legalizing the tiger trade could possibly save wild tigers sparked off some heated reactions, ranging from well-thought out to deeply emotional. While, we at mongabay.com were not at all surprised by this, we felt it was a good idea to allow a critic of tiger-farming and legalizing the trade to officially respond. The issue of tiger conservation is especially relevant as government officials from tiger range states and conservationists from around the world are arriving in St. Petersburg to attend next week's World Bank 'Tiger Summit'. The summit hopes to reach an agreement on a last-ditch effort to save the world's largest cat from extinction.
UN warns of likely food crisis next year for world's poor
(11/17/2010) The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warns in a new report that next year could see a rise in food prices, especially imperiling the world's poor. The report predicts that food prices will jump 11% for the world's poorest nations and 20% for low-income food-deficit countries. Already, the UN estimates that 1 billion people in the world suffer from hunger, the highest number in history.
Massive shark sanctuary declared in the Coral Triangle
(11/17/2010) A shark sanctuary has been declared around the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia. Larger than Denmark, the new sanctuary covers 17,760 square miles (46,000 square kilometers) of one of the world's richest marine biodiverse region, the Coral Triangle. Protections not only cover sharks, but dugongs, marine turtles, mobulas, and manta rays as well. In addition, reef bombing and fishing for the aquarium trade are banned.
Botanist killed in crossfire in Philippines
(11/17/2010) A local botanist was killed in crossfire between the Filipino military and suspected communist guerrillas with the New People's Army on Monday, reports the Inquirer.net.
Stymied by lack of global climate deal, states develop own low carbon accord
(11/17/2010) California and other states launched an international initiative that will work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning toward a low carbon economy in the absence of a global climate deal.
New bat species confirmed in Ecuador, may already be extinct
(11/16/2010) Although the first specimen was collected over 30 years ago, scientists have only now confirmed that a tiny brown bat is indeed a unique species. Named Myotis diminutus for its incredibly small size, the new bat was discovered in the Chocó biodiversity hotspot, amid the moist forests of western Ecuador.
Back from extinction: Tasmanian tiger caught on video?
(11/16/2010) A 9 second video released today on YouTube claims to show a living Tasmanian tiger. The footage was captured by Murray McAllister last year. McAllister says he has seen the believed-to-be-extinct Tasmanian tiger several times in the last few years.
Photographer discovers new species of meat-eating plant in Cambodia
(11/16/2010) British photographer Jeremy Holdren recently discovered a new species of carnivorous pitcher plant in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains during a survey with Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
Extensive logging, lemur hunting in Madagascar national park despite moratorium
(11/16/2010) A biological survey in Northeastern Madagascar has turned up evidence of extensive logging in Masoala National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its biologically-rich rainforest. The findings suggest that harvesting of valuable hardwoods—including rosewood, ebony, and palissander—continues despite an official ban on the logging and export of timber.
Pictures: 'Mr. Burns' frog discovered in Colombia along with 2 other new species
(11/15/2010) Three previously undocumented species of frog have been discovered in Colombia, reports Conservation International.
Chaco biodiversity expedition suspended
(11/15/2010) A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to the dwindling dry forest of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay to record biodiversity, and hopefully uncover 'hundreds' of new species, has been suspended by the Paraguayan government. The suspension comes after a local organization voiced concern that the expedition would threaten uncontacted member of the Ayoreo tribe in the forest.
Pictures: Belize Zoo devastated by hurricane
(11/15/2010) The world famous Belize Zoo is closed until further notice after suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Richard, which leveled trees and inflicted heavy damage on wire fences. The zoo has send out an urgent plea for building materials and funds to help with recovery. None of the facility's animals or staff were injured.
What do wolves and sharks have in common?
(11/15/2010) Sharks dwell in the ocean, wolves on land; sharks are a type of fish, wolves are a mammal; sharks go back some 400 million years, wolves only some 2 million years. So, these animals should have little in common, right? However, a new study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment points to surprising similarities among these disparate animals. As top predators, both wolves and sharks impact their prey and other species in similar ways.
Critics say Obama slow on endangered species
(11/15/2010) The Obama Administration is lagging behind past administrations in its listing of dwindling species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To date the US Fish and Wildlife Service has added 51 species to the ESA since Obama's took office, according to the conservation group, Center for Biological Diversity. By contrast, the Clinton Administration averaged 65 species a year with a total of 522 species protected. Obama is more proactive than George W. Bush, however, who was seen by many critics as actively undercutting the ESA. Only one of the species protected so far by the Obama Administration is found in the continental US.
Bacteria deep in the Gulf of Mexico consumed oil faster than expected, study finds
(11/15/2010) BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year killed countless marine animals, but it was a boon for oil-eating bacteria. The organisms, usually quiescent deep in the ocean, burst into life when the Deep Water Horizon wellhead ruptured and released a torrent of their favorite food. A study published in the 8 October issue of Science demonstrated how quickly bacteria consumed the light crude oil.
Cheetahs reproduce more successfully after early pregnancies
(11/15/2010) Early pregnancies prepare a cheetah for a life of productive motherhood, new research shows. A study published on 20 September in Conservation Letters advises captive breeding programs to focus on breeding female cheetahs at young ages to set the stage for many litters throughout their lives. The world's fastest animal, the cheetah has not outpaced a disheartening march toward extinction. Populations have declined from an estimated 100,000 a century ago to about 13,000 today. For years, researchers have pointed to the high genetic similarities among individual cheetahs as the main reason why captive cheetahs don't often get pregnant.
Ecotourism brings home the bacon in the Peruvian Amazon
(11/15/2010) Ecotourism is one of the most profitable uses of tropical forest in the Tambopata area of the Peruvian Amazon, according to a study released on 29 September in the journal PLoS ONE. In 2002 Peru’s government passed legislation to allow ecotourism-controlled zones in the Tambopata region of southeastern Peru. Policymakers hoped such zones would preserve spectacular rainforest habitats while bringing in steady money. Critics have wondered, though, whether the strategy can succeed in the face of other profitable―yet destructive―ventures on pristine forested land.
Rainforests, wildlife preserved by indigenous spiritual beliefs
(11/15/2010) New research within the native Wapishana and Makushi communities of Guyana suggests that indigenous cultural beliefs such as shamanism help preserve tropical forests and wildlife. The analysis, published in the September 2010 Journal of Latin American Geography, draws from a massive data set that tracks wildlife populations, hunting kill sites, and spiritually significant features of the landscape within a 48,000-square-kilometer area in southern Guyana. The authors recruited the hunters themselves to record much of the data.
Would legalizing the trade in tiger parts save the tiger?
(11/15/2010) Just the mention of the idea is enough to send shivers down many tiger conservationists' spines: re-legalize the trade in tiger parts. The trade has been largely illegal since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The concept was, of course, a reasonable one: if we ban killing tigers for traditional medicine and decorative items worldwide then poaching will stop, the trade will dry up, and tigers will be saved. But 35 years later that has not happened—far from it. "Words such as 'collapse' are now being used to describe the [tiger's] situation both in terms of population and habitat. Wild tiger numbers continue to drop so that we have about 3,500 today across 13 range states occupying just 7% of their original habitat. It’s universally acknowledged that we’re losing the battle," Kirsten Conrad, tiger conservation expert, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Thousands of marine turtles slaughtered in Madagascar for food
(11/14/2010) Over 10,000 marine turtles are being killed in one region of Madagascar for food every year, according to a new study in Animal Conservation. Although fishing for marine turtles is illegal, it has not stopped local artisanal fishermen from pursuing four different endangered marine turtle species. "We conducted this study because we know this small-scale, artisanal fishing is going on despite it being illegal to catch turtles under Malagasy law," Annette Broderick, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation (Cornwall) at the University of Exeter, said in a press release. "Because turtles are an endangered species, it's important for us to know what's going on in the region so we can work with the local community to find a sustainable way forward."
Nuclear power plant in a national park? Japanese NGOs seek international help
(11/14/2010) Despite pledging broad support for conservation in developing countries at the recent COP10 biodiversity summit, this year’s host Japan may be neglecting conservation issues closer to home.
RSPO to recognize secondary forests as conservation priority
(11/12/2010) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets environmental standards for palm oil production, has passed a resolution to reconfirm that secondary and degraded forests can classified as High Conservation Value (HCV) areas. The designation could increase the area of forest conserved within oil palm plantations provided it has high conservation significance, such as serving as habitat for endangered species like orangutans, Sumatran tigers, and rhinos.
Video: Amazon deforestation falls, degradation soars in Sept
(11/12/2010) Mongabay.com's Rhett Butler discusses the week in forests for Nov 12, 2010.
Formal petition filed against Belo Monte dam
(11/11/2010) The struggle against Brazil's Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River continues as today indigenous groups sent a formal petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to suspend the dam's construction, stating the dam violates human rights. The dam, which has been contentious in Brazil for decades, would flood 500 square miles of rainforest, lead to the removal of at least 12,000 people in the region, and upturn the lives of 45,000 indigenous people who depend on the Xingu River for survival.
Chaco expedition working to "minimize the risk" of running into uncontacted natives
(11/11/2010) A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to study the biodiversity of the dwindling dry forests of Chaco in Paraguay have responded to recent concerns that they risk encountering uncontacted natives, which could potentially threaten the natives' lives as well as their own.
Evo Morales for the Nobel Prize?
(11/11/2010) Does Evo Morales merit a Nobel peace prize for his admirable work on climate justice? Former prize winners, as well as the Bolivian Congress, believe he deserves it and both have launched an international campaign on behalf of Bolivia’s indigenous president. In April of this year, Morales helped to organize the First World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which drew a whopping 35,000 people to the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. Designed as a kind of counter summit to the official Copenhagen conference of 2009, which proved a debacle in terms of reining in climate change, Cochabamba represented a milestone in social mobilization.
Amazon biodiversity older than believed
(11/11/2010) A new study in Science has found that the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest goes back much further than expected, perhaps upending old ideas about how the Amazon basin became arguably the world's most biodiverse ecosystem. According to the study, the origin of rich biodiversity in the Amazon likely goes back more than 20 million years when the Andean mountains were rising.
Rainforests thrived in warmer conditions in the past, yet study requires "caution"
(11/11/2010) A new study in Science is likely to reopen the contentious debate about the impact of climate change on tropical rainforests. Scientific modeling of future climate conditions in tropical rainforests, such as the Amazon, has shown that climate change—combined with deforestation and fire—could create a tipping point whereby a significant portion of the Amazon could turnover to savannah, pushing untold species to extinction and undercutting the many ecosystem services provided by tropical rainforests. Yet, a new study headed by Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), has found a tropical forest ecosystem thriving in much warmer conditions than today.
It's not just size that matters: how population affects climate change
(11/11/2010) As the world's population increases, a surge in the number of older adults and the movement of people from the countryside to crowded cities will significantly affect levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, according to a sweeping study published in the 11 October issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A significant but attainable slowing of the planet's growing population could achieve up to 29 percent of the total decrease in emissions needed to stave off the harmful consequences of climate change by 2050, according to the study.
Brazil's development bank announces $588m fund to reduce agricultural emissions
(11/11/2010) Brazil's national development bank launched a 1 billion reais ($588 million) fund that will finance projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, reports Reuters.
Local efforts block attempt to ship illegal rosewood from Madagascar
(11/10/2010) Authorities in Madagascar successfully blocked an attempt to ship illegally logged rosewood from the port of Vohemar over the weekend, according to local reports. The incident, while isolated, suggests citizens, the Waters and Forests Administration, local media, and shipping companies are having an impact on slowing the rosewood trade that has devastated Madagascar's rainforest parks, wildlife, and rural communities.
Beyond gloom: solutions to the global coral reef decline
(11/10/2010) The world's coral reefs are in trouble. Due to a variety of factors—including ocean acidification, warming temperatures from climate change, overfishing, and pollution—coral cover has decline by approximately 125,000 square kilometers in the past 50 or so years. This has caused some marine biologists, like Charlie Veron, Former Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, to predict that coral reefs will be largely extinguished within a century. This year alone, large-scale coral bleaching events, whereby coral lose their symbiotic protozoa and become prone to disease and mortality, were seen off the coasts of Indonesia, the Philippines, and some Caribbean islands. However a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution attempts to dispel the gloom over coral reefs by pointing to strategies, and even some successes, to save them.
Researchers track the little-known giant sunfish
(11/10/2010) Getting to know the heaviest bony fish in the world is surprisingly hard. At 3 m (10 ft) long and 2,200 kg (4,850 lb), the Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, is an elusive giant. A typical day in its life is still a mystery. Now, a study published on 30 September in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology has opened a small portal onto their behaviors – and has underlined concerns that sunfish die in alarming numbers as unintentional catches in commercial fisheries.
African apes threatened by rising temperatures
(11/10/2010) Most people wish each day had more than 24 hours. But as the planet heats up, that limited number of hours might push endangered African apes even closer to extinction by making their current habitats unsuitable for their lifestyle, according to a controversial study published on 23 July in the Journal of Biogeography.
Alleged rhino horn dealer takes his own life
(11/10/2010) The illegal trade in rhino horn doesn't just end in the deaths of thousands of rhinos. Humans, too, often lose their lives in the trade. Both those poaching rhinos and those protecting them, such as park rangers, have been killed in gun battles. But the trade ruins lives in many ways: yesterday, Tommy Fourie, 51, who allegedly sold 36 rhino hunters to a game farmer, shot himself with a hunting rifle in South Africa.
Photos: surprises discovered in tiny forest fragment surrounded by palm oil
(11/10/2010) Researchers have uncovered an astounding number of species in a tiny protected forest fragment surrounded on all side by palm oil plantations in the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Researchers with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Queen Mary, University of London and the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE – University of Kent) recorded sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), the banded langur (Presbytis femoralis), and agile gibbons (Hylobates agilis), but most notable, was the first record ever of the Ridley's leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros ridleyi) in Sumatra. The discoveries highlight the importance of preserving even small forest fragments surrounded by agriculture.
Indonesia to launch rival palm oil certification standard
(11/10/2010) The Indonesian government is moving closer to launching its own certification system to ensure less damaging palm oil production, reports the Jakarta Post. The scheme would rival the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder body that has been developing criteria since 2004 and began shipping certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in 2008.
Sustainably certified fishery kills over 250 fur seals in one season
(11/10/2010) The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries estimates that from 2007-2008, 273 New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) were killed by offshore trawling hoki fisheries, an increase of over 75 seals since the previous year. New Zealand's hoki fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2001 and re-certified in 2007. Hoki is commonly used for ubiquitous fried fish sandwiches, such as those served at McDonald's.
Authorities confiscated over 1000 tigers in past decade
(11/09/2010) Highlighting the poaching crisis facing tigers, a new report by the wildlife trade organization, TRAFFIC, found that from 2000-2010 authorities have confiscated the parts of 1,069 tiger individuals, many of them dead. The tigers, or their body parts, were confiscated from 11 of the species' 13 range countries, according to the report entitled Reduced to Skin and Bones. Yet the number only hints at the total number of tigers (Panthera tigris) vanishing in the wild due to the illegal trade in tiger parts for traditional Asian medicine and decorative items, such as skins.
U.S. companies should help drive push toward sustainable palm oil
(11/09/2010) U.S. companies should take a leadership role in helping ensure that palm oil production is sustainable and does not come at the cost of forests, climate, and communities, argues a new report published ahead of the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The report, published by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), says that while the U.S. is only a minor consumer of palm oil, its demand for the vegetable oil is fast rising, increasing four-fold since 2006. Palm oil, which is among the cheapest of vegetables owing to its high yield, is now found in up to 50 percent of packaged retail food products.
The unruly evolution of island life
(11/09/2010) From the terrifying Komodo dragon to the diminutive hobbit Homo floresiensis, islands are home to some remarkable curiosities of size. Despite the fame of giant lizards and pygmy humans, a longstanding tenet of evolutionary biology suggests that the size of island animals moves towards the middle of the pack. A study published on 1 September in the Journal of Biogeography explores these two seemingly contradictory notions and finds that neither is a perfect explanation.
Carbon emissions hurting coral recruitment
(11/08/2010) While research has shown that ocean acidification from rising CO2 levels in the ocean imperils the growth and survival mature coral reefs, a new study has found that it may also negatively impact burgeoning corals, by significantly lowering the success of coral recruitment. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that coral recruitment could fall by 73% over the next century due to increasing acidification.
Eco-friendly palm oil conference opens
(11/08/2010) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that has devised certification criteria to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil, opens its annual meeting tomorrow in Jakarta.
Saving the best for last: a journey into the final phases of orangutan rehabilitation
(11/08/2010) Rehabilitation is a powerful word these days. Fashionable, too. In wildlife conservation, rehabilitation can serve functions ranging from augmenting threatened animal populations to desperate attempts to save species from permanent extinction. At its base, rehabilitation consists of handling, preparing and releasing wild animals that have been in some way negatively affected by humans. Rehabilitation programs cover the globe (from cottage-scale sparrow and raccoon rescues in suburban parks to well-established raptor protection programs, wolf rehabilitation and public education about these wild predators in Colorado, semi-touristy rehabilitation centers in Thailand housing everything from gibbons to elephants, vet hospitals dedicated to flu-ridden bobtail lizards in Australia, and sexy lion and cheetah hubs in southern Africa which breed endangered serval cats). The motivations behind these programs are also diverse, but the umbrella goal is unified: to aid the continued survival, so often precarious, of animals valued by people.
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