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March in review: Tsunami, slow loris trafficking, palm oil

Asia was the focus for readers of’s environmental news section during the month of March: 7 out of the 10 most popular articles were about Asia.

Unfortunately most of the Asia-related news was bad: logging in Malaysia and Indonesia, Japan’s tsunami, trafficking of the slow loris for the pet trade, and a huge land giveaway to foreign companies in Papua New Guinea. However a couple of position stories did make it into the top top, including a post about a newly discovered population of the critically endangered Andean cat and an initiative by an Indonesian NGO to combat illegal logging by giving communities a stake in forest management.

Some of the big stories for the month:

McDonald’s announced a far-reaching sourcing policy that could significantly reduce the fast-food giant’s impact on the environment, including global forests. Its Sustainable Land Management Commitment (SLMC) requires its suppliers to use “agricultural raw materials for the company’s food and packaging that originate from sustainably-managed land”. The policy will initially focus on five commodities: beef, poultry, coffee, palm oil, and packaging.

Click to enlarge.

The Global Heritage Fund launched a new alert system that uses Google Earth and other satellite-based tools to protect cultural heritage sites from fire, looting, encroachment, destructive tourism, and other threats. The platform, dubbed the Global Heritage Network (GHN), relies on high resolution satellite imagery and detailed maps of 500 key archeological and cultural heritage sites in developing countries around the world.

A Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) paper reported mature oil palm plantations now cover at least 8.3 million hectares in Peninsular Malaysia (2 million ha), Borneo (2.4 million ha), and in Sumatra (3.9 million ha). The analysis is conservative: it only accounts for mature plantations—those established in 2002 or earlier—that are over 200 ha. Smaller and/or immature plantations are thought to cover at least another 3 million ha in Malaysia and Indonesia.

In response to growing criticism over wealth apparently acquired through close ties to the logging industry, Sarawak Chief Minister Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud claimed that 70 percent of his state’s rainforest is intact. Taib invited independent observers to assess Sarawak’s forest cover, but his claims were quickly undermined by simple perusal of Google Earth, which showed widespread impacts from logging.

Indonesian environmental groups launched a urgent plea urging the country’s two largest pulp and paper companies not to clear 800,000 hectares of forest and peatland in their concessions in Sumatra. Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs, released maps showing that Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) control blocks of land representing 31 percent of the remaining forest in the province of Riau, one of Sumatra’s most forested provinces. Much of the forest lies on deep peat, which releases large of amount of carbon when drained and cleared for timber plantations. Another 400,000 ha of forest is controlled by other operators.

U.S. Republican congress members officially rejected the widespread scientific consensus that the world is warming and the primary cause is greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists responded with a scathing opinion piece in Nature, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals.

And finally in mongabay-specific news, a Thai version of the children’s rainforest section was posted and more than 2,000 pictures from Rhett Butler’s recent trip to West Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo were posted. The number of monthly unique visitors to also broke 2.9 million for the first time.

Most popular news articles – March 2011

  1. Google Earth reveals stark contrast between Sarawak’s damaged forests and those in neighboring Borneo states [12311]
  2. Is Japan’s tsunami linked to climate change? [11438]
  3. Cuddly slow loris threatened by the pet trade [9934]
  4. New population discovered of the America’s mini snow leopard: the Andean cat [6791]
  5. Fighting illegal logging in Indonesia by giving communities a stake in forest management [6440]
  6. Some earthquakes may be linked to climate change [5527]
  7. ‘Cute’ umbrella video of slow loris threatens primate [5250]
  8. Pulp and paper firms urged to save 1.2M ha of forest slated for clearing in Indonesia [4362]
  9. Greening the world with palm oil? [4098]
  10. First large-scale map of oil palm plantations reveals big environmental toll [3855]
  11. Eastern cougar officially declared extinct [3435]
  12. 5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea forests handed to foreign corporations [2994]
  13. Japan’s earthquake disaster may boost rainforest logging in Borneo [2823]
  14. World’s sixth mass extinction still preventable [2664]
  15. Want water? save forests [2552]
  16. Using Google Earth to monitor threats to archeological sites [2530]
  17. McDonald’s launches new sourcing policy for palm oil, paper, beef to reduce global environmental impact [2345]
  18. World deforestation rates and forest cover statistics, 2000-2005 [2300]
  19. Before-and-after tsunami satellite pictures [2270]
  20. New species of zombie-creating fungi discovered [2089]
  21. Future threats to the Amazon rainforest [1946]
  22. How to save the Amazon rainforest [1904]
  23. 15 conservation issues to watch [1738]
  24. Dubai’s artificial islands have high environmental cost [1730]
  25. Why is oil palm replacing tropical rainforests [1670]
  26. Elle MacPherson promotes consumption of illegal rhino horn [warning: graphic image] [1662]
  27. Visiting the rainforest – a practical guide [1555]
  28. Goodbye national parks: when ‘eternal’ protected areas come under attack [1486]
  29. As US Republicans officially dismiss climate change, scientists charge them with ‘willful ignorance’ [1357]
  30. Report: corruption in Sarawak led to widespread deforestation, violations of indigenous rights [1328]
  31. Saving Madagascar’s largest carnivorous mammal: the fossa [1309]
  32. Two new freshwater stingrays discovered in the Amazon [1309]
  33. Foreign big agriculture threatens world’s second largest wildlife migration [1263]
  34. Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra lose 9% of forest cover in 8 years [1257]
  35. The real Avatar story: indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation [1239]
  36. First ever footage of the elusive long-eared jerboa [1227]
  37. New seabird discovered, first in 55 years [1205]
  38. Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill [1176]
  39. What is the current status of REDD+? [1164]
  40. Moratorium on Amazon deforestation for soy production proving effective [1160]
  41. Report: 90 oil spills in Peruvian Amazon over 3 years [1116]
  42. Pet trade, palm oil, and poaching: the challenges of saving the ‘forgotten bear’ [1071]
  43. Cambodia approves rubber plantation—in national park [1020]
  44. World’s only pure blue lizard at risk of extinction [987]
  45. Treasure chest of wildlife camera trap photos made public [947]
  46. Biomimetics, technology that mimics nature [929]
  47. Video: camera trap proves world’s rarest rhino is breeding [921]
  48. Expedition granted?: Indonesia’s ‘paper parks’ targeted in National Geographic contest [917]
  49. New road project to run through Laos’ last tiger habitat [916]
  50. Deforestation gives some Brazil beef a big carbon footprint [911]

Italicized titles represent news articles posted during the month

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