conservation news and environmental science news.
Extinction warning: racing to save the little dodo from its cousin's fate
(03/04/2013) Sometime in the late 1600s the world's last dodo perished on the island of Mauritius. No one knows how it spent its final moments—rather in the grip of some invasive predator or simply fading away from loneliness—but with its passing came an icon of extinction, that final breath passed by the last of its kind. The dodo, a giant flightless pigeon, was a marvel of the animal world: now another island ground pigeon, known as the little dodo, is facing its namesake's fate. Found only in Samoa, composed of ten islands, the bird has many names: the tooth-billed pigeon, the Manumea (local name), and Didunculus ("little dodo") strigirostris, which lead one scientist to Christen it the Dodlet. But according to recent surveys without rapid action the Dodlet may soon be as extinct as the dodo.
Bolivia leads the way in wetland protection
(03/04/2013) Bolivia continues to be a champion for Amazonian conservation. On February 2, 2013, Bolivia celebrated World Wetlands Day with the designation of more than 6.9 million hectares of the Llanos de Moxos to the Ramsar Convention's Wetlands of International Importance. In addition to being the largest Ramsar designation to date, Bolivia now claims 14.8 million hectares of protected wetland, making it the leading Contracting Party out of 164 participating countries in terms of Ramsar site surface area.
A New Blueprint for a Green Economy - book review
(03/04/2013) Edward B. Barbier and Anil Markandya, contributing authors to 1989 classic Blueprint for a Green Economy, have revisited the theme to implement a green economy and published A New Blueprint for a Green Economy. The central theme of A New Blueprint for a Green Economy is how we can make economies green today given what we have learned from our efforts since 1989.
Elephant and Rhino issues to be debated at CITES 16th Conference of Parties
(03/04/2013) When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets from March 3-14 in Bangkok for its 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), elephants and rhinos will be at the top of the agenda. While there are no proposals to open up trade in either elephant ivory or rhino horn, there are several other items on the agenda that will likely generate debate, including proposals for extension of the moratorium on ivory trade, a decision-making mechanism for ivory trade, and suspension of any rhino trophy hunting. Also to be discussed are enforcement mechanisms, including how to prevent illegal ivory from entering existing legal domestic markets.
Saving forests by putting a price on them
(03/04/2013) During the 2013 SuperBowl, the championship game of the US National Football League, a truck company aired an advertisement that likened farmers to God’s favorite assistant. It suggested that when God needs something tough, or gentle, done, he calls a farmer. The narration, taken from a speech given to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 by Paul Harvey, a radio host, plays directly to the near mythical stature of farmers and ranchers in American culture and their deep connection to nature.
Tokelau, 1st county with 100% renewable energy, leads call for climate action
(03/02/2013) The tiny territory of Tokelau is today leading a call by 14 Pacific island nations for the world to take action to stop climate change.
Violence in Kenya's Tana River Delta stems from natural resource conflict
(03/02/2013) Since August 2012, Kenya's Tana River Delta has been besieged by civil conflict continuing into the New Year. The New York Times reported in January at least 200 people are dead and 36,000 displaced in increasingly violent skirmishes between the herders and farmers who share the delta of Kenya's largest river. Although the conflict began as an isolated dispute over water, both groups engaged in retaliatory attacks that have earned comparisons by major global media to the violence preceding Kenya's notoriously violent presidential election.
Overview of the CITES 16th Conference of Parties in Bangkok
(03/01/2013) When countries meet in Bangkok, Thailand for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), to be held from March 3-14, they’ll consider 70 proposals submitted by 55 States regarding a range of species, from polar bears to turtles and tropical timbers. To help sort through the many agenda items, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon provided the following overview of the most significant issues.
Saving forests by stemming agricultural sprawl
(03/01/2013) I’m fortunate to travel the world helping conserve habitats for some of the world’s most iconic species. When I visit places like the Amazon and Sumatra, I’m still awestruck by their diversity and pristine beauty. I’m also reminded how threatened they are. Our growing demand for food and fiber is fueling deforestation in resource-rich regions of the world. As environmentalists, if we don’t change where and how we produce food and fiber, we can turn off the lights and go home. There won’t be any biodiversity left to protect.
Frogs radio-tracked for first time in Madagascar
(03/01/2013) Researchers have radio-tracked frogs for the first time in Madagascar. Attaching tiny radio transmitters weighing 0.3-0.35 grams (1/100 of an ounce) to 36 rainbow frogs (Scaphiophryne gottlebei), the research team tracked the movement of the colorful frogs through rugged canyons in Madagascar's Isalo Massif. They found that the frogs have a short breeding period that occurs after the first intense rainfall at the start of the rainy season.
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.
Elephant massacre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(02/28/2013) A key Congo wildlife reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants in just 15 years due to poaching to meet Asian demand for ivory, reports a new survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Democratic Republic of Congo authorities.
Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia
(02/28/2013) Biologists have discovered two new species of salamander in Tamá National Natural Park in Colombia. While the discovery should be cause for celebration, the news was dampened by the fact that both species are already infected with the deadly fungal disease, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has wiped out amphibian populations worldwide. Both of the new salamanders belong to the genus Bolitoglossa, which are web-footed salamanders found in the tropical Americas.
Guide for filing complaints on rule-breaking by palm oil companies published
(02/28/2013) Over the past 25 years palm oil production has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of deforestation and peatlands degradation in Southeast Asia. And there are fears that expansion in West and Central Africa could soon make palm oil a major cause of forest conversion on that continent.
Selective logging changes character of tropical forest
(02/28/2013) Selective logging is usually considered less harmful than other forestry practices, such as clear cutting, but a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has found that even selective logging has a major impact on tropical forests lasting decades. Comparing trees in two previously logged sites and two unlogged sites in northeast India, researchers found less tree diversity in selectively logged forests with trees dispersed by birds proved especially hard-hit.
Can saving forests help feed the world?
(02/28/2013) As world population climbs from 7 to a projected 9 billion people and emerging and developing economies demand ever more of the food and fiber that drive deforestation, many environmentalists ask with increasing urgency whether and how tropical forests can survive. But the question may actually be whether and how the world’s increasing, and increasingly rich, population can be fed unless tropical forests survive.
New video game turns kids into conservationists
(02/28/2013) Count coral in the Chagos Archipelago, save amphibians from the deadly chytrid fungus, replant trees in the Atlantic Forest, and count predators and prey in the African Savannah—a new free online game by Wildscreen, dubbed Team WILD, allows young players to learn about science and conservation while moving fast-paced through different ecosystems. Wildscreen is a conservation charity devoted to using imagery to raise awareness and protect wildlife.
Indonesian palm oil company denies child labor claims, new allegations arise
(02/28/2013) PT Sinar Sawit Andalan (PT SSA), a palm oil plantation company in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, has denied allegations that the company employs children. PT SSA was responding to a video released earlier this month that showed school-age children carrying polybags at the company’s work site in West Kalimantan’s Sintang district.
The challenge of putting Brazil’s forests in good hands
(02/28/2013) People often associate Brazil with its forests. It’s no wonder given that nearly 60% of the country’s territory is covered by forest and it holds about one-third of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests. You might assume that a country like this would care about educating people to sustainably manage this precious heritage. Well, you’d be wrong!
Does the presence of scientists help deter poaching and deforestation in protected areas?
(02/27/2013) While vast areas of wildlife habitat have been set aside in protected areas in recent decades, many reserves continue to suffer from illegal encroachment, logging, mining, and poaching. The recent spasm in elephant and rhino poaching within African parks merely underlines the problem. Intuitively, it would seem that scientists' presence in a protected area would help safeguard it from illegal activities. But according to a new paper published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, no one has definitively shown that to be the case.
Shell suspends Arctic oil drilling for the year
(02/27/2013) Royal Dutch Shell announced today that it was setting "pause" on its exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic for 2013. Shell's operations are currently under review by the federal government after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks during last year's opening attempt to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska in late December.
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.
Scientists: stop treating population growth as a 'given' and empower women
(02/27/2013) Climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, water scarcity, and land issues: almost all of the world's environmental problems are underpinned by too many people inhabiting a finite planet. A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B warns that overpopulation—combined with over-consumption—is threatening to push the entire globe into "a collapse of global civilization." But cultural changes, especially more empowerment of women and access to contraceptives, may hold the key to reducing population growth and eventual sustainability.
The corporate conservation revolution
(02/27/2013) There’s a new kind of environmental hero emerging. They don’t live in Washington, D.C., and they’re known more for their interest in increasing earnings than in reducing greenhouse gases. They are found in an unlikely place: The Corporate Boardroom, and they’re making a big difference in saving the worlds forests and our climate. In recent years, a group of visionary corporate leaders have been quietly teaming up with a growing number of environmental groups to take a hard look at what’s left of our planet’s natural resources. Together, they agree: we are past the point where our land and oceans can meet the food, energy and commodity demands of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.
Travel in Madagascar: strange wildlife and stunning landscapes
(02/27/2013) The promise of lemurs, lizards, and a bouquet of biodiversity brought mongabay.com founder Rhett Butler to Madagascar sixteen years ago. He was not disappointed by what he found and was inspired to return, many times to experience the wildlife, landscapes, and people of the dynamic island. In 2004, Rhett founded wildmadagascar.org, a site that highlights the spectacular cultural and biological richness of Madagascar and reports on environmental news for the Indian Ocean island nation.
Chinese government creating secret demand for tiger trade alleges NGO (warning: graphic images)
(02/26/2013) The number of tigers being captive bred in China for consumption exceed those surviving in the wild—across 13 countries—by over a third, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, alleges that while the Chinese government has been taking a tough stance on tiger conservation abroad, at home it has been secretly creating demand for the internationally-banned trade. Few animals in the world have garnered as much conservation attention at the tiger (Panthera tigirs), including an international summit in 2010 that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the vanishing wild cats.
Asiatic cheetahs: on the road to extinction?
(02/26/2013) Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are unique among large cats. They have a highly specialized body, a mild temperament, and are the fastest living animals on land. Acinonyx jubatus venaticus, the Asiatic subspecies, is unique among cheetahs and the only member of five currently living subspecies to occur outside of Africa. Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List—with a population of between 70 and 100 individuals—the Asiatic cheetah is one of the rarest felines on the planet. But new proposed road through one of its last habitat strongholds may threaten the cat even further.
Good news about climate change? Evolving technology could make cleaning the air more profitable than fouling it
(02/26/2013) In the wake of the hottest and driest summer in memory throughout much of North America, and Super-storm Sandy that flooded cities and ravaged large swaths of the Mid-Atlantic coast, many now recognize that the climate change isn’t just real, but that it is already at our doorstep. As this realization continues to sink in, the political will may ripen to take more aggressive action to put a brake CO2 emissions. Already, President Obama, who had remained mostly silent on the issue during his reelection campaign, has made it clear that tackling climate change will be among his top second-term priorities. But the fact remains that even if the entire world switched magically to 100 percent solar and other non-polluting power sources tomorrow, it’s too late to roll back some of the impacts of climate change.
Rise in 1.5 degrees Celsius likely to spark massive greenhouse gas release from permafrost
(02/25/2013) While nations around the world have committed to keeping temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era, new research published in Science suggests that the global climate could hit a tipping point at just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Studying cave stalactites and stalagmites in Siberia, scientists found that at about 1.5 degrees Celsius the Siberian permafrost melts, potentially releasing a greenhouse gas bomb of 1,000 giga-tonnes, according to some experts.
Nitrogen pollution in China increased 60% annually between 1980 and 2010
(02/25/2013) Nitrogen deposited on land and water in China increased 60 percent annually from the 1980s to the 2000s due to rising use of fertilizer, growth in livestock production, increased coal burning, and a sharp rise in car ownership, reports a study published last week in the journal Nature.
Full Product Transparency: Cutting the Fluff Out of Sustainability - Book Review
(02/25/2013) Full Product Transparency: Cutting the Fluff Out of Sustainability, by Ramon Arratia, Sustainability Director, Interface, provides us with a clear, concise challenge.
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.
Warlords, sorcery, and wildlife: an environmental artist ventures into the Congo
(02/25/2013) Last year, Roger Peet, an American artist, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to visit one of the world's most remote and wild forests. Peet spent three months in a region that is largely unknown to the outside world, but where a group of conservationists, headed by Terese and John Hart, are working diligently to create a new national park, known as Lomami. Here, the printmaker met a local warlord, discovered a downed plane, and designed a tomb for a wildlife ranger killed by disease, in addition to seeing some of the region's astounding wildlife. Notably, the burgeoning Lomami National Park is home to the world's newest monkey species, only announced by scientists last September.
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.
Long lost tribe spotted in the Colombian Amazon
(02/23/2013) The March 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine features an account of the flight that confirmed the presence of an isolated indigenous tribe in a remote part of the Colombian Amazon.
A lifetime with elephants: an interview with Iain Douglas-Hamilton
(02/22/2013) Iain Douglas-Hamilton has dedicated his life to elephants. 'I like elephants because of the way they treat each other,' he says. 'They’re very nice to each other most of the time, but not all the time ... You see a lot of play...a lot of tender touching, caressing, tactile contact of one sort or another.' The affection goes both ways. Douglas-Hamilton recalls one curious female who would always approach his vehicle. 'Eventually I got so friendly with her that...I could walk with her and feed her the fruits of the wild gardenia tree. That was a very special elephant for me. She eventually brought her babies up to meet me.' Douglas-Hamilton’s dedication extends to protecting the species from harm, and especially the ivory trade. He calls the current ivory trade “totally unsustainable” and recommends a total ban on the trade.
Deforestation, wetlands loss in Brazil and Indonesia generated 45b tons of CO2 in 20 years
(02/22/2013) The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched a global set of statistics on carbon emissions from deforestation, agriculture and other forms of land use for the 1990-2010 period.
Activists warn of industrial palm oil expansion in Congo rainforest
(02/21/2013) Industrial oil palm plantations are spreading from Malaysia and Indonesia to the Congo raising fears about deforestation and social conflict. A new report by The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), dramatically entitled The Seeds of Destruction, announces that new palm oil plantations in the Congo rainforest will soon increase fivefold to half a million hectares, an area nearly the size of Delaware. But conservationists warn that by ignoring the lessons of palm oil in Southeast Asia, this trend could be disastrous for the region's forests, wildlife, and people.
Controversial palm oil project concession in Cameroon is 89 percent 'dense natural forest'
(02/21/2013) Satellite mapping and aerial surveys have revealed that a controversial palm oil concession in Cameroon is almost entirely covered by "dense natural forest," according to a new report by Greenpeace. The activist group alleges that the concession, owned by Herakles Farms, is under 89 percent forest cover. The U.S.-based corporation intends to build a 70,000 hectare palm oil plantation in a region surrounded by four protected areas, including Korup National Park, but has faced stiff criticism from numerous environmental groups as well as conflict with locals.
15 percent of Guyana's reptiles and amphibians found nowhere else
(02/21/2013) Fifteen percent of Guyana's 324 known species of reptiles and amphibians are found nowhere else in the world, reports a comprehensive new assessment published in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
Photo: Pod of 100,000 dolphins spotted off California coast
(02/21/2013) A 'super mega-pod' of some 100,000 dolphins was spotted off the coast of San Diego last week, according to a report from NBC San Diego.
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.
Stress makes organic tomatoes more nutritious, sweeter
(02/20/2013) Organic tomatoes are sweeter (more sugar) and more nutritious (more vitamin C and anti-oxidants) than tomatoes grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The scientists theorize that stress may be why organic farming produces a more nutritious and tastier tomato.
First strike: nearly 200 illegal loggers arrested in massive sting across 12 countries
(02/20/2013) One-hundred-and-ninety-seven illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries have been arrested during INTERPOL's first strike against widespread forestry crime. INTERPOL, or The International Criminal Police Organization, worked with local police forces to take a first crack at illegal logging. In all the effort, known as Operation Lead, resulted in the seizure of 50,000 cubic meters of wood worth around $8 million.
China to tax carbon emissions
(02/20/2013) China will introduce a carbon tax, reports official state media.
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.
Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)
(02/19/2013) Despite weighing as much as full-grown human, almost nothing is known about the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) including its breeding and reproductive behaviors. How does mating occur? How long does pregnancy last? How many babes are typically born? Scientists are simply in the dark, but a ground-breaking study employing camera traps is beginning to change this. For the first time, scientists in the Brazilian Pantanal have documented giant armadillo breeding and the happy outcome: a baby giant armadillo.
Jaguars, tapirs, oh my!: Amazon explorer films shocking wildlife bonanza in threatened forest
(02/19/2013) Watching a new video by Amazon explorer, Paul Rosolie, one feels transported into a hidden world of stalking jaguars, heavyweight tapirs, and daylight-wandering giant armadillos. This is the Amazon as one imagines it as a child: still full of wild things. In just four weeks at a single colpa (or clay lick where mammals and birds gather) on the lower Las Piedras River, Rosolie and his team captured 30 Amazonian species on video, including seven imperiled species. However, the very spot Rosolie and his team filmed is under threat: the lower Las Piedras River is being infiltrated by loggers, miners, and farmers following the construction of the Trans-Amazon highway.
Arctic sea ice volume plunges over a third in less than 10 years
(02/18/2013) Few places are changing as rapidly as the Arctic due to global warming. Last year, scientists were stunned when the Arctic's seasonal ice extent fell to record low that was 18 percent below the previous one set in 2007. But new research in Geophysical Research Letters finds that the volume of ice is melting away just as quickly: satellite and ocean-based measurement have found that Arctic sea ice has fallen by 36 percent in Autumn since 2003. In winter, the ice volume has dropped 9 percent.
Imagine a bird without feathers...
(02/18/2013) In The Unfeathered Bird, Katrina van Grouw exquisitely combines creative and intellectual curiosity and produces a wonderful book. The Unfeathered Bird simply is a delight. Each page I turned over was like reliving the awe and discovery of childhood. Broad strokes of creativity confined and structured within the natural anatomy of birds. Raw curiosity and intrigue drawn patiently one pencil stroke at a time illustrating our unfeathered friends.
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