Newsletter 2018-02-01


Venezuela: can a failing state protect its environment and its people? by Glenn Scherer [02/01/2018]

– Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state, with 11.4 percent of its children malnourished, 10.5 percent of its workforce unemployed, and an annual inflation rate of roughly 2,700 percent for 2017.
– Serious food, fuel and medicine shortages have in recent months resulted in mobs raiding stores and shops, fishing boats, even the stoning of a cow to death where it stood in a field, in order for people to be able to provide for their families.
– Meanwhile, Pres. Maduro has sought to save his nation from economic ruin by selling off its natural resources, opening the Arco Minero in Bolívar state to mining – 112,000 square kilometers, more than 12 percent of the country. He has also announced the creation of the Petro cryptocurrency, backed by the nation’s oil and possibly minerals.
– Mongabay correspondent Bram Ebus, in partnership with InfoAmazonia, recently traveled to the remote Arco Minero and reported firsthand on the chaotic political and social situation, where indigenous communities and the environment are put at risk by economic hardship, a corrupt military, armed gangs and guerrilla bands.

Corals thrive on remotest islands in the Galápagos by Greg Asner and Clare LeDuff [01/31/2018]

– Our first reef community stop in the Reefscape project was the Galápagos Islands in December 2017.
– We found that ocean events such as El Niño can wipe out huge areas of reef, yet coral survival and regrowth remain evident.
– Our direct actions, be they destructive overfishing or constructive protection, have a huge impact on the future of coral reef ecosystems.
– One size does not fit all when it comes to coral reefs — even an archipelago hammered by coral-killing warm waters can harbor refugia for biodiversity.

Mega developments set to transform a tranquil Cambodian bay by Matt Blomberg [01/31/2018]

– Sim Him has organized the planting of more than 200,000 mangrove trees in Cambodia’s Trapeang Sangke estuary. The surrounding ecosystem, which feeds thousands of families, is thriving.
– But the nearby construction of a ferry terminal and a luxury resort are upsetting the estuary’s equilibrium, and development projects continue west along the coastline from there.
– Dotted along a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) coastal strip, no less than six large-scale developments present a direct threat to healthy mangrove forests and the fishing communities they support.
– Aside from being a nursery for sealife and a barrier to erosion, mangroves are also one of the planet’s most effective carbon neutralizers, capable of capturing and storing it for millennia.

Fang trafficking to China is putting Bolivia’s jaguars in jeopardy by Roberto Navia [01/26/2018]

– Residents in Bolivia’s Sena community say that they can sell a jaguar canine for about $215 on the Chinese market.
– According to Bolivian authorities, the fangs are valued in the Asian market at prices as high as cocaine.
– Between 2013 and 2016, 380 jaguar canines were seized by Bolivian authorities, which correlates to 95 jaguars killed.
– Residents say an influx of Chinese companies to build roads and bridges in Bolivia is contributing to increased trafficking of jaguar parts. However, authorities deny these claims.


Powering cameras and empowering people by Sue Palminteri [02/01/2018]

– Keeping equipment running in harsh field conditions can challenge any tech project, as can working successfully with volunteers.
– Mongabay-Wildtech spoke with leaders of one project, wpsWatch, that deploys connected camera traps to monitor wildlife and people in reserves and employs volunteers to monitor image feeds from afar.
– Powering equipment for field surveillance and “making it part of everyone’s day” enable the rapid image detection, communication, and response by ground patrols needed to successfully apprehend wildlife poachers using cameras and other sensors.

Zero-deforestation pledges need help, support to meet targets, new study finds by [02/01/2018]

– The study’s authors reviewed previous research to understand the impact that zero-deforestation commitments are having on reducing the loss of forests.
– Nearly 450 companies made 760 such commitments by early 2017.
– These pledges can reduce deforestation in some cases, but in others, they weren’t effective or had unintended effects, according to the study.
– The authors advocate for increased public-private communication, more support for smallholders, and complementary laws that support these pledges.

Hong Kong votes to ban ivory trade by 2021 by [02/01/2018]

– Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest ivory markets, has overwhelmingly voted to ban its domestic ivory trade.
– This ban comes just a month after China shut down all of its ivory markets on the mainland.
– The ban will be implemented in a three-step plan over the next three years.

$23.5 million funding pledge aims to protect critical West African national park by [02/01/2018]

– The National Geographic Society, Wyss Foundation, African Parks and the government of Benin have announced a combined commitment of more than $23 million to secure and restore the Pendjari National Park in Benin, West Africa.
– The park is one of the last remaining strongholds for elephants in West Africa, and is also home to the critically endangered West African lion and Saharan cheetah.
– In 2017, African Parks assumed management of the national park.

More murders: Conservationists allegedly killed by soldiers in Cambodia by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/31/2018]

– Three people have been shot and killed by soldiers in northeastern Cambodia, apparently in retaliation for seizing equipment from illegal loggers.
– A police report names three individuals as responsible for the killings: a border police officer and two border military officers.
– Illegal logging and timber smuggling is commonplace between Cambodia and Vietnam, and officials from both countries are often complicit.
– Around 200 land activists were murdered worldwide in 2016, up from 185 in 2015.

Is a plantation a forest? Indonesia says yes, as it touts a drop in deforestation by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/31/2018]

– Indonesia has reported a second straight year of declining deforestation, and credited more stringent land management policies for the trend.
– However, the government’s insistence on counting pulpwood plantations as reforested areas has once again sparked controversy over how the very concept of a forest should be defined.
– Researchers caution that the disparity between Indonesia’s methodology and the standard more commonly used elsewhere could make it difficult for the government to qualify for funding to mitigate carbon emissions from deforestation.

New study suggests Borneo’s had elephants for thousands of years by John C. Cannon [01/31/2018]

– The research, published in January in the journal Scientific Reports, used genetic information and changes to the topography of the region to surmise that Asian elephants arrived in Borneo between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago.
– The authors hypothesize that elephants moved from nearby islands or the Malaysian peninsula to Borneo via land bridges.
– It’s an indication that the elephants are ‘native’ to Borneo, the scientists argue, and points to the need to bolster conservation efforts.

Two new dog-faced bats discovered in Panama and Ecuador by [01/31/2018]

– Researchers have described two new species of dog-faced bats: the Freeman’s dog-faced bat (Cynomops freemani) from Panama and the Waorani dog-faced bat (Cynomops tonkigui) from Ecuador.
– The Freeman’s dog-faced bat was named after bat specialist Patricia Freeman.
– The species name of the Waorani dog-faced bat, “tonkigui,” honors the Waorani tribe of Ecuador that lives near one of the locations where the bats were captured, the study says.

Environmental reporting in Vietnam often a comedy of errors by Michael Tatarski [01/30/2018]

– Vietnam’s global press freedom ranking is one of the lowest in the world.
– Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175 0f 180 in its 2017 annual press freedom index.
– Environmental journalists in Vietnam, including citizen journalists and bloggers, routinely face roadblocks and sometimes jail time.

Sumatra’s ‘tiger descendants’ cling to their customs as coal mines encroach by Dedek Hendry [01/30/2018]

– Sekalak village in southern Sumatra lies in one of the last remaining strongholds of the Sumatran tiger, a critically endangered species that the locals revere as both an ancestral spirit and the guardian of the forest.
– This respect for the tiger has sustained a generations-long pledge to protect the local environment, including the wildlife and water resources.
– However, the presence of a coal-mining operation in the area poses a threat to both the tigers and the villagers’ way of life: the mining road gives poachers greater access to once-secluded tiger habitat, and the mining waste is polluting the river on which the villagers depend.

For Australia’s fire-starting falcons, pyromania serves up the prey by [01/30/2018]

– Australia’s indigenous peoples have long spoken of birds of prey intentionally starting bushfires to flush out prey.
– In a new study, researchers have now compiled observations and anecdotes from scientific reports, firefighters and Aboriginal peoples to get a better understanding of how such bird-caused fires spread in Australia’s Northern Territory.
– Overall, most instances of fire-spreading by birds seem to be intentional, the authors say, but it is hard to say how common such fires are.

10 million acres added to Chile’s national park system by Erik Hoffner [01/30/2018]

– The announcement marked the culmination of a plan agreed to in March 2017 by President Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, President and CEO of Tompkins Conservation, to create a network of five new national parks in Chile, and the expansion of three others.
– As a herd of guanacos grazed in the distance, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared, “With these beautiful lands, their forests, their rich ecosystems, [we] expand the network of parks to more than 10 million acres. Thus, national parklands in Chile will increase by 38.5% to account for 81.1% of Chile’s protected areas.”
– Tompkins Conservation is a US-based foundation aimed at preventing biodiversity loss and added 1 million acres to the deal — it was founded by Kristine and Doug Tompkins, business leaders of clothing brands The North Face, Esprit, and Patagonia.

As nesting beaches warm, sea turtle populations are turning female–how scientists found out by Sue Palminteri [01/29/2018]

– Male sea turtles are becoming increasingly scarce, due most likely to warming global temperatures.
– Scientists combined hands-on field measurements with genetic and hormonal analyses to link free-swimming sea turtles of known sex back to their natal rookeries along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and determine the sex ratios over time at these locations.
– They found that females comprised over 2/3 of the turtles originating from beaches in the cooler southern portion of the GBR and nearly all the turtles (up to 99%) that originated from the warmer northern beaches.
– While a somewhat higher ratio of females may help maintain reproduction, scientists fear the loss of male turtles could jeopardize a population’s ability to sustain itself in the future.

Indonesia prepares to adopt standardized peat-mapping technology by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/29/2018]

– The winner of a competition announced in 2016 to come up with a fast, accurate and cost-effective method to map Indonesia’s vast tropical peatlands will be announced on Feb. 2.
– The government currently lacks an authoritative map of its carbon-rich peat areas, which it urgently needs to enforce a policy of conserving existing peatlands and rehabilitating degraded areas.
– The country’s peatlands are important as stores of greenhouse gases and habitats for endangered species; but their drainage and deforestation, mostly for oil palm plantations, has made Indonesia one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters and contributed to loss of wildlife habitat.

Camera trap captures spotted hyena in Gabon national park, the first in 20 years by [01/29/2018]

– The spotted hyena was thought to be extinct in Gabon’s Batéké Plateau National Park for 20 years as a result of wildlife poaching.
– But the camera trap image captured has given conservation groups hope that protection of the park is working and allowing wildlife to return.
– Camera traps have also recently snagged images of a lion, a serval and chimpanzees.

Elephant tusks and pangolin scales seized, six suspects arrested in Ivory Coast by [01/29/2018]

– Ivory Coast officials have announced the seizure of over half a ton each of elephant tusks and pangolin scales.
– The ivory and pangolin scales were being shipped to Vietnam and other Asian countries, officials said.
– Six people, including a Vietnamese national alleged to be the leader of the criminal syndicate, were also arrested.

Baby photos of 10 of the world’s rarest turtles from the zoo trying to save them by Avishai ShuterDon BoyerJulie Larsen Maher [01/26/2018]

– This photo essay comes via Mongabay’s partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wild View blog.
– Once a month we’ll publish a contribution from Wild View that highlights an animal species or group.
– This month, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Don Boyer, Avishai Shuter, and Julie Larsen Maher write about endangered turtles and tortoises WCS is trying to save.
– All photos by Julie Larsen Maher, head photographer for WCS.

Indonesian ruling rings alarms over criminalization of environmental defenders by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/26/2018]

– A court in Indonesia has sentenced an anti-mine activist to 10 months in jail on a rarely used charge of promoting communism.
– The ruling is just the latest in a series of controversial prosecutions of environmental activists and protesters based on draconian or obscure laws, which critics say is meant to silence dissent against politically connected developers.
– The environment ministry says it wants fewer cases going to court, but activists say the biggest perpetrators of what they deem the criminalization of criticism are the police and district attorneys.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 26, 2018 by [01/26/2018]

– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.

Do catch and release-induced abortions harm shark and ray populations? by Jack Elliot Marley [01/26/2018]

– Female sharks and rays are more susceptible to aborting their young after being captured than previously realized, according to a recent review of scientific literature.
– The review found that 88 species that bear live young were susceptible. Among a subset of those species for which adequate data was available, researchers estimated that an average of 24 percent of pregnant females abort their offspring when captured.
– The authors argue that the phenomenon may be responsible for lost generations of threatened species.
– However, outside researchers consulted for this story say that the killing of adult sharks poses a much bigger threat to species survival.

Rhino poaching in South Africa dipped slightly last year, but ‘crisis continues unabated,’ conservationists say by [01/25/2018]

– South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa announced in a press briefing today that 1,028 rhinos were illegally killed in the country in 2017.
– In Kruger National Park, which has typically been the epicenter of rhino poaching in South Africa, 504 illegal killings were recorded last year, Molewa reported. That’s a 24 percent reduction over 2016 — but these gains were offset by poaching in other regions, particularly KwaZulu Natal province.
– While the rhino poaching rate in South Africa has slowly decreased every year since peaking in 2014 with 1,215 animals lost, conservationists were not encouraged by the slightly lower number of rhinos killed last year.


The ups and downs of marine protected areas: Examining the evidence by Shreya Dasgupta [01/25/2018]

Maduro seeks sell off of Venezuela natural resources to escape debt – analysis by Bram Ebus [01/25/2018]

Luxury British yacht makers vow to examine supply chains by Sophie Cohen [01/23/2018]


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