Newsletter 2018-03-22


Cerrado: Traditional communities accuse agribusiness of ‘green land grabbing’ by Alicia Prager and Flávia Milhorance [03/22/2018]

– The Cerrado savannah includes many traditonal communities. Among them are the gerazeiros who arrived in Wetern Bahia as much as 200 years ago. For those many years, they occupied small communal villages, and farmed, grazed, and harvested surrounding native lands held by the Brazilian government.
– Typically lacking legal deeds to these lands, the gerazeiros have increasingly come into conflict with agribusiness expansion. Company-run plantations have, according to local people, laid claim to the natural lands, fenced them off, placed guards, then converted native vegetation to soy, corn and cotton monocultures.
– Another conflct: In the Cerrado, a percentage of a land owner’s property must be kept in its natural state, as a Legal Reserve. However, these reserves needn’t be contiguous with croplands. As a result, say locals, agribusiness is laying claim to natural lands that the gerazeiros have long used sustainably for their livelihoods.
– Conflict continues to esclate. The Cerrado states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia – known collectively as Matopiba – saw a 56 percent increase in reported land conflicts (400 in total) over the five year period, 2012-2016. In contrast, the national increase over the same period was 21 percent.

Indigenous Amazonian women demand end to extraction by Kimberley Brown [03/22/2018]

– After long journeys by foot and bus, the women gathered in Ecuador’s capitol Quito to protest last week and call for a meeting with Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno.
– After several days of protest, Moreno agreed to a meeting with the group today.
– Amazonian leaders say they plan to discuss their mandate, particularly the sexual exploitation and harassment they face due to extractive activities in the Amazon and the loss of economic opportunity.

Brazilian lawmakers funded by donors guilty of environmental crimes: report by Anna Sophie Gross [03/21/2018]

– The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has 513 members. Of those, 249 received a total of 58.9 million reais (US$18.3 million) in official donations during the 2014 election from companies and people who committed environmental crimes, including illegal clearing of forests, says a recent report by Repórter Brasil.
– Receiving these donations is not a crime, but it does provide insight into how environmental offenders are connected to, and potentially influencing, lawmakers and their decisions. Of the 249 deputies who received tainted donations, 134 are members of the Bancada Ruralista, the pro-agribusiness rural caucus that dominates the chamber.
– Since the 2014 general election, Brazil’s election laws have been tightened. In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court passed a decree that made it illegal for companies to donate to candidates and political parties. These new rules will be in effect for the October 2018 presidential election.
– Analysts still worry that money from those who have committed environmental crimes will go right on flowing to politicians ¬¬— possibly illegally or utilizing newly discovered campaign finance law loopholes — risking the possibility of influence peddling.

Cerrado: Agribusiness may be killing Brazil’s ‘birthplace of waters’ by Alicia Prager and Flávia Milhorance [03/19/2018]

– The eighth World Water Forum takes place in Brasilia this week, and World Water Day is this Thursday, 22 March. So Mongabay here takes a close look at the Cerrado as Brazil’s “birthplace of waters.”
– The Cerrado savannah, despite its annual dry season, has in the past had water to spare. Eight out of 12 of Brazil’s major river basins and three aquifers — the Guarani, Bambuí and Urucuia — all rely on the Cerrado as a source for much of their water.
– Traditional communities are also reliant on the Cerrado’s aquifers and streams. But as agribusiness has moved into the region, putting large-scale irrigation into operation, those communities have complained of a diminishing water supply. A major water conflict arose recently between the town of Correntina and large-scale farms, in Bahia state.
– The diminishing Cerrado water supply has complex causes, including deforestation due to land conversion to agriculture; large-scale irrigation to grow water-intensive crops like soy, cotton and corn; and climate change. However, scientists say that addressing the problem proactively is critically important to local communities and all of Brazil.

Ecuador: Sarayaku leader Patricia Gualinga defends territory despite threats by Isabel Riofrio [03/19/2018]

– Gualinga was cornered and threatened by an intruder at her home in Puyo, in the Ecuadorean Amazon, after the man broke one of her windows with a stone.
– Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to Ecuador’s Ministry of Internal Affairs about the threat in a plea for Gualinga’s protection.
– The investigation is still underway, with no word on any suspects or leads.

Save the Sumatran rhino ‘because we can’ (commentary) by [03/16/2018]

– Mongabay sent contributing editor Jeremy Hance to Indonesia in 2017 to visit the last remaining Sumatran rhinos in the forests and protected sanctuaries where captive breeding is having some limited success.
– Hance argues today in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald that we should save the Sumatran rhino, not only because losing biodiversity is bad for the health of humanity’s environment, but also “because we can.”
– To keep these ‘lovably weird’ rhinos from extinction, the Indonesian government must act, he argues, because even if there’s 100 left, that size population is unlikely to be viable in the long term.


In Bali fish die-offs, researchers spot a human hand by Luh De Suriyani [03/22/2018]

– Mass fish die-offs are not uncommon in the volcanic lakes that dot Indonesia, including Bali’s Lake Batur, which sits in the crater of an active volcano.
– While sulfur releases, steep temperature gradients and other natural phenomena are responsible for some of the bigger die-offs, researchers have identified the chemicals from excess fish feed as the main culprit for the more frequent die-offs caused by oxygen depletion.
– Similar die-offs in other lakes around Indonesia have also been traced back to household and industrial waste, as well as agricultural runoff and fish farms. Researchers have warned that more than a dozen lakes could die out as soon as 2025 as a result of this chemical assault.

New report highlights top 50 tortoises and turtles on brink of extinction by [03/22/2018]

– More than 50 percent of the world’s tortoises and turtles are threatened with extinction, according to a new report.
– The 2018 report presents an updated list of 50 species that are at immediate risk of extinction, selected on the basis of their “survival prospects and extinction risks.”
– Some 58 percent of the top 50 species are native to Asia, the report said, with most species coming from China, followed by Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Madagascar.

Company outed for fires in Indonesian palm lease still clearing forests in timber concession, NGO finds by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/22/2018]

– Agribusiness conglomerate Korindo has since 2017 implemented a moratorium on forest clearing in its oil palm concessions, after it was found to be burning forests in Indonesia’s Papua province.
– A new report indicates that since then, the company may have degraded more than 30 square kilometers of pristine forest to build logging roads in one of its timber concessions — an area excluded from the self-imposed moratorium.
– The NGO Mighty Earth has called on the company to extend both the forest clearing moratorium and a high carbon stock approach, which it employs on its oil palm concessions, to its timber operations.

Over $720 million in profit from tourism in Peru’s protected natural areas by Alexa Eunoé Vélez Zuazo [03/22/2018]

– According to a study published recently by the Conservation Strategy Fund, tourism in Peru’s natural protected areas created 36,000 jobs in 2017.
– One of the findings indicates that revenue from ecotourism activity is 40 times greater than the amount invested by the state in the management and handling of the country’s protected areas.

More than 40 percent of Madagascar’s freshwater life sliding toward extinction, IUCN finds by [03/22/2018]

– In an assessment of 653 freshwater plant and animal species living on Madagascar and nearby islands, biologists found that 43 percent are threatened with extinction or there isn’t enough information to assess how well they’re doing.
– Nearly 80 percent of endemic plants examined in the study face extinction.
– The team lists unsustainable farming practices, deforestation, dam construction, mining and the overuse of natural resources, such as overfishing, as causes for the widespread declines.

How the son of a tailor rose to power in Indonesia’s palm oil heartland by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [03/22/2018]

In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the second part of that article. The first part described a secret deal between the son […]

Cities need forests too: A call for forests amid our concrete jungles (commentary) by Alistair Monument [03/21/2018]

– More than half the world’s population lives in cities, and that’s set to rise to two-thirds – more than 6 billion people – by 2050. Yet we still depend on forests more than we think.
– Having wild places around is critical, not just for nature but also for people. A wealth of studies have shown that cities with plenty of trees feel like healthier, happier places than those without.
– While deforestation has many drivers, one underlying challenge is that society doesn’t value forests enough. That’s something we can – and need to – change as individuals and as a collective. It starts with spending time in forests, connecting with nature, and showing that we care.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Leopards could reduce rabies by controlling stray dog numbers in India, study finds by [03/21/2018]

– Stray dogs make up about 40 percent of the diet of the roughly 40 leopards currently living in Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, according to a recent study.
– Dog bites lead to perhaps 20,000 deaths from rabies each year in India, according to the World Health Organization.
– A team of scientists figures that leopards kill 1,500 stray dogs each year, reducing the number of bites by about 1,000 per year and the number of rabies cases by 90.

‘A real surprise’: Study reveals low phosphorus doesn’t hinder rainforest growth by Morgan Erickson-Davis [03/20/2018]

– Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plants and is required for protein synthesis and cell division, among other critical processes. But phosphorus is typically scarce in the soils underlying tropical forests.
– A group of researchers investigated this by looking at trees in the forests of Panama, where soil phosphorus levels vary considerably.
– The researchers were surprised to find that tree species in low-phosphorus soils grew faster on average than species in high-phosphorus soils. Their results also indicate the growth rates of tree communities comprised of a variety of species doesn’t change doesn’t change in relation to soil phosphorus amount.
– The authors and other scientists say the study’s findings further our understanding of the dynamics between tropical plants and phosphorus and could help farmers grow crops more effectively without having to use environmentally harmful fertilizers.

Pearl Jam invests in Amazonian reforestation to offset emissions from current Brazil tour by [03/20/2018]

– Rock band Pearl Jam has partnered with Conservation International (CI) in purchasing carbon offsets for the estimated 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that will be generated by its Brazilian tour dates taking place this month.
– Proceeds from the offset purchase will be used to support a tropical forest restoration project that aims to plant 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023, said to be the largest reforestation effort in the world.
– “As a band, it’s important for us to recognize the environmental impact of our tours and do what we can to mitigate that,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard said in a statement.

Audio: Exploring humanity’s deep connection to water, plus the sounds of the Sandhill crane migration by Mike Gaworecki [03/20/2018]

– On today’s episode, we discuss humanity’s deep connection to water and hear sounds of one of the most ancient animal migrations on Earth, that of the Sandhill crane.
– Our first guest today is marine biologist and conservationist Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, & Better at What You Do.
– Our second guests are Ben Gottesman and Emma Brinley Buckley, researchers who are using bioacoustics to document Sandhill cranes on the Platte River in the U.S. state of Nebraska as the birds make a stopover during their annual migration. We’ll hear recordings of the cranes and other important species in this Field Notes segment.

How one of Indonesia’s biggest companies cut a secret deal to plant oil palm in Borneo by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [03/20/2018]

In the leadup to the release of the second installment of Indonesia for Sale, our series examining the corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis, we are republishing the first article in the series, “The Palm Oil Fiefdom.” This is the first part of that article, which can be read in full here. (Baca juga dalam Bahasa […]

Keeping carbon in the ground can cut emissions and boost food security, study finds by Jim Tan [03/20/2018]

– A new paper finds that a carbon tax meant to shift agricultural policies could raise food prices and threaten food security.
– However, improvements in storing carbon in the world’s soils could lessen the potential for worsening food security.
– The researchers suggest a globally coordinated effort on climate-friendly agriculture and land use would likely result in the best outcome for all.

UN’s Tauli-Corpuz, accused of terrorism in her native Philippines, plans to keep investigating ‘atrocities’ against indigenous peoples at home by Philip Jacobson [03/20/2018]

– Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is one of the most prominent figures in the global movement for indigenous rights.
– This month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration included her name on a list of suspected terrorists, along with a number of other environmental and human rights defenders.
– The Philippines is already the most dangerous country in Asia in which to be an environmental defender, with 41 murders recorded last year. Tauli-Corpuz fears it may be getting worse.

The world’s last male northern white rhino has died by [03/20/2018]

– Sudan, a 45-year-old rhino believed to be the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino, died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on March 19.
– Sudan had been battling ill health over the past few months, and after his condition worsened considerably in the last 24 hours, veterinarians decided to euthanize him.
– Sudan lived at Ol Pejeta with the only other northern white rhinos left on Earth — his daughter, Najin, and her daughter, Fatu — under 24-hour armed surveillance.
– The survival of the species now hinges on costly and never-before-attempted in vitro fertilization using eggs from the remaining females, stored sperm samples, and southern white rhino females as surrogates.

Sarawak’s Penan now have detailed maps of their ancestral homeland by John C. Cannon [03/20/2018]

– Some 63 Penan communities came together to create 23 maps of their territory in central Borneo over the past 15 years.
– For three days in late November 2017, the Penan of the region celebrated the completion of the maps.
– The Penan now believe they are armed with the information that will help them hold on to their land in the face of pressure from outside timber and industrial agriculture interests.

Belize creates one of Central America’s largest biological corridors by Shreya Dasgupta [03/19/2018]

– On Feb. 13, the government of Belize approved the 110-square-kilometer Belize northeastern biological corridor.
– The corridor aims to provide safe passage for wild animals like jaguars, pumas and Baird’s tapir to move freely between the Shipstern Nature Reserve and Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve in northern Belize.
– Private landowners have agreed to place their corridor-designated lands into a trust in perpetuity, with the lands to be managed as part of the protected area system for conservation purposes.

Indonesia launches bid to restore national park that’s home to tigers, elephants by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/19/2018]

– Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra is home to critically endangered tigers and elephants, but has been heavily deforested by illegal oil palm plantations and human settlements.
– The government has introduced a program to gradually relocate the people living within the park’s borders, by encouraging them to shift away from oil palm farming to alternative and sustainable forms of livelihood.
– If successful, the program could serve as a model for restoring other national parks across Indonesia, which face similar problems of human encroachment.

Radar returns to remote sensing through free, near-real-time global imagery by Sue Palminteri [03/19/2018]

– The European Space Agency’s launch of the Sentinel-1 satellite has made 20-meter resolution radar imagery of the whole planet freely available.
– The “all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth’s surface” complements standard optical satellite imagery in detecting forest loss, even under heavy cloud cover.
– The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) demonstrates the benefits of analyzing free radar imagery to accurately quantify wet season loss of rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon.

FSC-certified timber importer failed to check legality of shipment from Cameroon by John C. Cannon [03/19/2018]

– Hardwood Dimensions, a timber importer in the U.K., violated the EU Timber Regulation by not properly verifying the legality of a shipment of Cameroonian ayous in January 2017.
– A judge ordered Hardwood Dimensions to pay 4,000 pounds ($5,576) plus court costs in the case.
– The case calls into question the effectiveness of Forest Stewardship Council certification, which Hardwood Dimensions has held since 2000.

Oil palm plantations’ dearth of biodiversity rubs off on nearby forests, study shows by [03/19/2018]

– Oil palm plantations in Malaysian Borneo host a lower number of frog species than forests in same area.
– However, the plantations exhibit an edge effect that extends as far as 4 kilometers, resulting in a decline in the diversity of frog species in adjacent forests.
– The researchers suggest that for small forest patches or narrow corridors to be of long-term conservation value in oil palm landscapes, their sizes and widths need to adequately account for these edge effects.

Madagascar: Conservation official arrested for killing 11 endangered lemurs by Riana Raymonde Randrianarisoa [03/16/2018]

– Two weeks ago, the bodies of 11 critically endangered lemurs were discovered in the Zahamena Ankeniheny Corridor protected area in eastern Madagascar.
– The lemurs were allegedly killed by one of the local officials charged with protecting them, to the dismay of conservation leaders.
– The alleged poacher was arrested on Feb. 27, and this week the police set out to arrest his suspected accomplices.
– The Madagascar government reacted to the poaching incident at the highest level, including pledges by the prime minister and minister of the environment to crack down on poaching.

Sharp-eyed Mongabay readers spot a jaguarundi (commentary) by Glenn Scherer [03/16/2018]

– Last Monday, in an article about Brazil’s Cerrado, this Mongabay editor mistakenly identified an animal in a photo as a puma (Puma concolor).
– Within hours multiple readers corrected that mistake, properly identifying the animal as a jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi).
– Curiosity aroused, this editor went to work learning more about jaguarundis.
– Most interesting find: these small cats of North, Central and South America, were until recently on track to be reintroduced to Texas, but a new president and his plan for a U.S. / Mexico border wall has put those plans in limbo.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, March 16, 2018 by [03/16/2018]

– 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.

Better agricultural planning could prevent 88% of biodiversity loss, study finds by Morgan Erickson-Davis [03/16/2018]

– Results of a new study reveal that nearly 90 percent of the biodiversity that scientists expect will be lost to future agricultural expansion could be saved if more effective land-use planning directed this expansion to areas with the fewest species.
– It found that 10 countries possessed the lion’s share of this potential, and could by themselves reduce the expected loss of the world’s biodiversity by 33 percent.
– However, there are caveats. The researchers write that most of these countries are among the “20 worst-ranked” in terms of environmental impacts and have governance and political issues that would impede effective land-use planning at a national level. And they say global land-use optimization aimed at protecting the natural resources of the world’s most biodiverse countries may come “at the expense of their own production opportunities and economic development.”
– The researchers write that in order for the world’s most biodiverse countries to reach their full conservation potential while providing for their human communities, global land-use policy and research need to better integrate the governance, political and economic challenges present in these countries.

150 years after being discovered, African monkey with handlebar moustache becomes its own species by Mike Gaworecki [03/16/2018]

An African monkey first described to science more than 150 years ago has now been elevated to full species status. The Blue Nile patas monkey is found in the Blue Nile basin of Ethiopia as well as in eastern Sudan. Its range is geographically distinct from that of other patas monkeys, as Sudan’s Sudd swamp […]

Report finds projects in DRC ‘REDD+ laboratory’ fall short of development, conservation goals by John C. Cannon [03/16/2018]

– The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released a new report that found that 20 REDD+ projects in a province in DRC aren’t set to address forest conservation and economic development — the primary goals of the strategy.
– The Paris Agreement explicitly mentions the role of REDD+ projects, which channel funds from wealthy countries to heavily forested ones, in keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century.
– RRI is asking REDD+ donors to pause funding of projects in DRC until coordinators develop a more participatory approach that includes communities and indigenous groups.


Conservationists rush to save Bolivian turtles threatened by egg trafficking by Eduardo Franco Berton [03/15/2018]

Will Madagascar’s industrial shrimp trawlers make way for local fishers? by Edward Carver [03/14/2018]

Analysis: U.S. call to drill off all coasts, economic and ecological folly? by Saul Elbein [03/14/2018]

Cerrado: appreciation grows for Brazil’s savannah, even as it vanishes by Alicia Prager and Flávia Milhorance [03/12/2018]

Cambodia creates its first marine national park where pirate fishers prowl by Matt Blomberg [03/12/2018]

Indigenous women march in Ecuador, vow to ‘defend our territory’ by Kimberley Brown [03/09/2018]

Colombian land defenders: ‘They’re killing us one by one’ by Taran Volckhausen [03/09/2018]


  • Op-ed for Sydney Morning Herald about Sumatran rhinos penned by Mongabay senior correspondent [03/19/2018]
  • New Special Reporting Project: Indigenous Peoples and Conservation [03/15/2018]