Newsletter 2018-06-21


Abdon Nababan: ‘North Sumatran land mafia offered me $21m to win election — and then hand over control of government’ by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [06/21/2018]

– When Abdon Nababan, one of Indonesia’s foremost indigenous rights activists, sought election for governor in his home province, he was provided an unprecedented insight into the corrupt inner workings of the nation’s electoral system.
– In an exclusive interview with Mongabay and The Gecko Project, he explained how the odds are stacked against candidates who seek to turn their back on corruption and “money politics.”
– Previous stories by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, produced under the series Indonesia for Sale, have explored in depth how the nation’s democracy is straining under the weight of corruption linked to plantation industries.
– Millions of voters will return to the polls to select regional heads next week, with this system intact.

Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students by Jim Tan [06/21/2018]

– A forest school in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, funded by the Vienna-based animal welfare organization Four Paws and run by the local organization Jejak Pulang, has just started training its first eight orangutan orphans to learn the skills they need to live independently in the forest.
– Borneo’s orangutans are in crisis, with more than 100,000 lost since 1999 through direct killings and loss of habitat, particularly to oil palm and pulpwood plantations.
– Security forces often confiscate juvenile orangutans under 7 years of age, and without their mothers to teach them the skills they need, they cannot be released back into the forest.
– Jejak Pulang’s team of 15 orangutan caretakers, a biologist, two veterinarians and the center’s director aim to prepare the orphaned orangutans for independence.

Illegal mining creeps into southern Bahuaja-Sonene National Park by VANESSA ROMO [06/20/2018]

– A large amount of fuel trafficking takes place Massiapo, the capital of the district of Alto Inambari, mostly for use in illegal gold mining operations.
– A regional committee against illegal mining in Puno is considering declaring the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park a mining exclusion zone.

Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park at risk over illegal mining by VANESSA ROMO [06/19/2018]

– The illegal mining, which also takes place in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and in Tambopata National Reserve, has isolated part of the giant river otter population.
– The current leaders of the Kotsimba indigenous community are creating a plan with the Ministry of Environment to abandon illegal mining, although an environmental disaster from over 10 years ago remains unaddressed.

Madagascar: Yet another anti-trafficking activist convicted by Edward Carver [06/19/2018]

– Christopher Magnenjika, an activist working to stem corruption and wildlife trafficking in northeastern Madagascar, was tried, convicted, fined $9 and released earlier this month.
– The charges against Magnenjika include “rebellion” and insulting local officials.
– Magnenjika’s supporters say his arrest and conviction were a pretext for keeping him quiet about the illicit trade in rosewood, a valuable tropical hardwood.
– Magnenjika is one of at least ten Malagasy activists who have faced imprisonment in recent years.

‘Not all doom and gloom’: Q&A with conservation job market researchers by Jeremy Hance [06/18/2018]

– Intense competition, a flood of unpaid internships, a prevalence of short-term work, high student-loan debt: young conservationists are reporting a tough, rough time in the job market.
– A recent study in Conservation Biology attempts to uncover some concrete data on the hard-to-quantify conservation job market in an effort to help students prepare themselves for the competitive hunt for paid employment.
– Mongabay interviewed study co-authors Jane Lucas, who is now doing a postdoc at the University of Idaho, and Evan Gora, who is now doing a postdoc at the University of Louisville, to hear what they learned.
– Their advice? Start researching the job market early, even before you’re actively looking for work. Reach out to people who have the career you want. And make sure you’re gaining diverse skills.

In Peru, coca puts one of the world’s best coffee crops at risk by VANESSA ROMO [06/18/2018]

– Of the more than 8,400 hectares (nearly 21,000 acres) of coffee planted, only 2,330 hectares (about 5,700 acres) remain in operation.
– A buffer zone around Bahuaja-Sonene National Park has been impacted: Drug trafficking has expanded into the protected area, damaging more than 400 hectares (over 980 acres) of important biological corridors.
– Coffee production of the area’s central coffee cooperative, Cecovasa, has dropped from 8.5 million pounds to 600,000 pounds, jeopardizing the group’s survival.


Warmer sea surface temperatures imperil the survival of juvenile albatross: Study by [06/21/2018]

– New research finds that increased sea surface temperatures can affect the survival of juvenile albatross during their first year at sea and lead to reduced population growth rates.
– Ecologists in the US and France examined how climate change and functional traits — attributes like body size and foraging habits that define a species’ role in the broader ecosystem — impact population dynamics of the black‐browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) by studying 200 breeding pairs of the long‐lived, migratory seabirds at Kerguelen Island in the southern Indian Ocean.
– Changes in sea surface temperature during the breeding season were found to have little impact on black-browed albatross population growth rates, but higher sea surface temperatures in late winter did have a significant impact because of their effect on the survival of juveniles, according to the study.

Indonesia to investigate death of journalist being held for defaming palm oil company by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/21/2018]

– Muhammad Yusuf, a journalist in Indonesia, reportedly died of a heart attack earlier this month while being held on charges of defaming a palm oil company owned by a powerful tycoon.
– Activists and fellow journalists question the circumstances surrounding Yusuf’s arrest and death, and suspect the company used the defamation charges to silence Yusuf.
– Indonesia’s national commission on human rights has vowed to investigate Yusuf’s death, which his widow has deemed unnatural.

Amber deposits yield oldest evidence of frogs in wet, tropical forests by [06/20/2018]

– Scientists have found the oldest frog fossils known to have been preserved in amber, from deposits in northern Myanmar.
– These fossils, together with other fossils of mosses and bamboo-like plants recovered from the same amber deposits, provide the first definitive evidence that the amber-trapped frogs lived in wet, tropical forests alongside dinosaurs some 99 million years ago, researchers say.
– One of the four frogs, which was trapped in sap alongside an unidentified beetle, has a nearly intact skeleton, and has been described as a new, extinct species, Electrorana limoae.

Commercial values are a key driver of Zero Deforestation policies (commentary) by Róisín Mortimer [06/20/2018]

– Zero Deforestation Policies (ZDPs) are mostly developed in response to campaigns and motivated by risk management and protection of commercial values, a new enquiry finds, although personal and company values do factor in.
– ZDP implementation often focuses on integrating commercial values, reflecting a “quick-fix” approach.
– Personal and company values have high potential to influence ZDP implementation, especially when people are genuinely committed to the purpose. People can be genuinely committed when they relate the ZDP to their own personal values or to company values, which they identify with and feel empowered to act on.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Puan, the world’s oldest Sumatran orangutan, dies at 62 by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/20/2018]

– Puan, the world’s oldest living Sumatran orangutan, was euthanized on June 18 at Perth Zoo in Australia due to age-related complications.
– Her death left an incredible legacy of 11 children and a total of 54 descendants across the world, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the global Sumatran orangutan zoo population.
– Due to her genetic legacy, Puan played a vital role in ensuring the survival of the species, which has been categorized as critically endangered.

Here’s how much Antarctica’s melting ice is already contributing to sea level rise by [06/19/2018]

– According to new research, ice-melt in Antarctica has caused global sea levels to rise by as much as 7.6 millimeters since 1992 — and about 40 percent of that, some 3 millimeters, came in just the past five years.
– That’s the finding of a major climate assessment called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE), the results of which were published in the journal Nature last week.
– The findings of the IMBIE show that Antarctica is losing ice at a rate three times faster than it was just six years ago. Prior to 2012, Antarctica lost ice at a fairly steady rate of 76 billion metric tons annually, contributing about 0.2 millimeters to sea level rise. From 2012 to 2017, however, that rate of loss increased sharply to 219 billion metric tons of ice per year, contributing about 0.6 millimeters to rising sea levels.

Facing resource crisis, Indonesia charts a ‘green development’ course by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/19/2018]

– Faced with housing, water and food shortages and massive natural destruction, Indonesia is developing a five-year development plan that will become the country’s first low-carbon development initiative.
– Under the new plan, the government hopes to keep future development projects within the limits of the country’s ecological “carrying capacity” of fast-depleting natural resources.
– The green development plan also aims to attract green investment, which is crucial if the country wants to meet its stated target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030 from the business-as-usual scenario.

2018 Arctic sea ice melt season just got a big headstart by Gloria Dickie [06/19/2018]

– This Spring, Arctic sea ice extent nearly achieved a new record low for May, but instead came in at second place at 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles). That’s 310,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) greater than the all time May record set in 2016.
– While scientists and the media have focused in the past mostly on the September sea ice extent minimum, four years in a row of record winter Arctic heatwaves, along with a better understanding of ice melt mechanisms, has resulted in researchers putting much more attention on Spring events as the annual melt season gets underway.
– It is now understood that shrinking Arctic sea ice extent is having a significant influence on the global climate system, but extent isn’t all researchers are watching. They are becoming more and more concerned about the quality of the sea ice at the start of each melt season – thickness, as well as the disappearance of large amounts of multiyear ice.
– Thinner, more fractured ice, and more numerous Spring melt ponds make the Arctic ice more vulnerable to summer heatwaves and a warmer Arctic Ocean. As with May, June 2018 has so far seen rapid ice melt, with extent lagging only slightly behind the record set in June 2016. That doesn’t bode well for the September sea ice extent minimum.

Animals are becoming night owls to avoid humans by [06/19/2018]

– By analyzing 76 studies and activity patterns of 62 mammal species, including bears, deer, coyotes and tigers, researchers have found that large mammals are 1.36 times more active at night in areas with high human presence compared to areas with low human presence.
– These results seemed to be consistent across species and continents.
– Animals seem to be becoming more nocturnal not only to avoid direct threats like hunting, but to avoid even recreational human activities like hiking and mountain biking.

One tortoise at a time: Q&A with zoo veterinarian Justin Rosenberg by John C. Cannon [06/19/2018]

– In April, authorities discovered around 10,000 radiated tortoises, believed to be destined for the Asian pet trade, in an abandoned house in southwestern Madagascar.
– The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) took the animals to its rescue center in Ifaty, and soon, veterinarians and keepers from around the world began traveling to Madagascar to help the animals.
– Currently, between 9,000 and 10,000 tortoises are alive, with around 100 still in need of critical care.
– Mongabay spoke with a veterinarian who spent several weeks at TSA’s facility about the ongoing efforts.

Oil palm plantations in Amazonia inhospitable to tropical forest biodiversity: Study by [06/18/2018]

– According to a study published in the journal PloS One late last year, the Brazilian Amazon has about 2.3 million square kilometers (nearly 900,000 square miles) of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, making it one of the largest areas in the world for potential expansion of the palm oil industry.
– Researchers investigated the responses of tropical forest mammals to living in a landscape made up of a mosaic of 39,000 hectares (more than 96,000 acres) of mature oil palm plantations and 64,000 hectares (a little over 158,000 acres) of primary Eastern Amazon forest patches in the Brazilian state of Pará.
– They write in the study that their results in the Amazon “clearly” reinforce “the notion that oil palm plantations can be extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, as has been shown in more traditional oil palm countries in South-East Asia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.”

Community evicted by accused murderer seeks justice for Gabriel Filho by Anna Sophie Gross [06/18/2018]

– Under Brazil’s 1988 constitution, all private land must serve a social function. So unused property without a social function can legally be occupied and claimed by landless communities. However, this law has created major land conflicts between large-scale landowners, who lay claim to vast properties, and landless communities seeking land.
– One egregious case occurred in Tocantins state. Families began occupying, and homesteading on, an abandoned piece of land in 2007. Almost immediately, two landowners claimed the property, and began battling in court for ownership. The landless settlers stayed on the land, expecting the government to settle in their favor.
– In 2010, according to witnesses, one of the landowners shot a community member through the heart, but a trial date has still not been set. In April, the alleged murderer convinced the courts of his land claim and the residents of Gabriel Filho (named for the murdered community member), were evicted, and denied access to their homes, crops and livestock.
– Federal and state officials responsible for resolving the land dispute have stonewalled, and failed to take action on the community’s behalf. Legal experts say that Brazil’s landless movement typically receives little support in its land claims from government agencies or the justice system, and has gained limited sympathy from the general public.

In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials by Basten Gokkon [06/17/2018]

– A company in Indonesia plans to start mining gold in a district in the country’s West Papua province that forms part of the ecologically important Cendrawasih Bay National Park — an ostensibly protected area.
– The company is currently applying for an environmental impact assessment that would allow it to obtain a mining permit, but local officials involved in the process say they see little benefit to the proposed mine. They say they prefer a development model built on tourism based on the region’s rich biodiversity.
– The district chief, who has the final say in issuing the permit, has signaled he approves of the project — flip-flopping on a pledge he made at the end of last year to prioritize an environment-focused development framework.

Latam Eco Review: Paddington Bear Captured on Camera in Peru by [06/15/2018]

Among the top articles from our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, for the week of June 4 – 10 was one about a golden spectacled bear named after Paddington Bear that was caught by a camera trap for the first time in Peru. In other news, the debate on hydroelectric plants intensifies in Colombia, and […]

Footage of elusive Negros bleeding-heart dove captured in the wild by [06/15/2018]

– New footage of one of one of the most elusive birds in the world — the critically endangered Negros bleeding heart dove — has been released.
– A team with the Bristol Zoological Society, a UK-based conservation and education NGO, spent five days searching for the bird in the forests of the Philippines’ Panay Island in order to capture a video of the rarely seen species in the wild.
– The Negros bleeding-heart (Gallicolumba keayi) is a medium-sized, ground-dwelling species of pigeon endemic to the Philippine islands of Negros and Panay. There are perhaps as few as 70 and no more than 400 individuals of the species left on the two islands it calls home, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Scientists find new snail-eating snakes, auction naming rights to save them by Morgan Erickson-Davis [06/15/2018]

– An expedition in Ecuador has uncovered five new species of snail-eating snakes.
– Four out of the five species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss.
– The researchers who conducted the expedition auctioned off their naming rights and used the funds to purchase and protect an area of forest where two of the most threatened new species are known to live.

Species recognition shifts into auto with neural networks by Sue Palminteri [06/15/2018]

– Scientists have shown that a cutting-edge type of artificial intelligence can automatically count, identify, and describe the behaviors of 48 animal species in camera trap images taken in the Serengeti ecosystem.
– The team used a dataset of 3.2 million wildlife images to train and test deep convolutional neural networks to recognize not only individual animals but also what the animals are doing in each image.
– The models performed as well as human volunteers in identifying, counting, and describing the behavior of animals in nearly all the Serengeti camera trap images and also identified those images that required human review.
– The widespread use of motion-sensor camera traps for wildlife research and conservation, coupled with the inefficiency of manual image processing, means successful automation of some or all of the image analysis process is likely to save researchers time and money, as well as catalyze new uses of remote camera photos.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, June 15, 2018 by [06/15/2018]

– 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.

Primate-rich countries are becoming less hospitable places for monkeys, apes and lemurs by John C. Cannon [06/15/2018]

– New research shows that many of the 65 percent of the world’s primate species found in four countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — face the threat of extinction.
– The scientists involved in the study used maps of primate ranges and information on the threats they face to predict what might happen to the animals through the end of the 21st century.
– They found that increases in the amount of land turned over for human food production could cause the primate habitats to shrink substantially in these countries.
– However, the team also found that intensive conservation measures could dramatically reduce the loss of primate habitat by 2100 and potentially avert the mass extinction of these species.

Facebook video shows orangutan defending forest against bulldozer by [06/15/2018]

– Dramatic footage released last week by an animal welfare group shows a wild orangutan trying in vain to fight off destruction of its rainforest home in Borneo.
– The video, filmed in 2013 but posted on Facebook on June 5th for World Environment Day by International Animal Rescue (IAR), was shot in Sungai Putri, a tract of forest in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province.
– Sungai Putri is one of the most important refuges for orangutans left in Indonesian Borneo. According to orangutan expert Erik Meijaard, Sungai Putri may be home to over 1,000 orangutans.

DRC’s Virunga National Park closes until 2019 due to violence by [06/14/2018]

– Last month Mai Mai militia attacked a Virunga park vehicle carrying tourists from the city of Goma, killing park ranger, Rachel Makissa Baraka.
– Immediately following the incident, Virunga National Park said it was closing to visitors until June 4. Now officials are saying the park will be closed to tourists through the end of the year, until the security situation is more under control.
– Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park. It is best known for its population of mountain gorillas.

There’s now an app for mapping seagrass, the oceans’ great carbon sink by Basten Gokkon [06/14/2018]

– A new online tool aims to crowdsource an image and location database of the world’s seagrass, in a bid to shed light on the threatened and fast-receding underwater flowering plants.
– Anyone with a camera and internet access can upload images of seagrass beds and location info to SeagrassSpotter, available on desktop and mobile apps.
– Project Seagrass, the group behind the mapping tool, hopes it will help countries that are seagrass hotspots but lacking data, like Indonesia, to improve efforts to conserve these vitally important carbon sinks.
– Globally, the group hopes to obtain at least 100,000 records by engaging people from all around the world to collect data about seagrass in their locality. All collected data will be made freely available.

Researchers say economic models are greatly understating potential impacts of climate change by [06/14/2018]

– Researchers in the US and the UK are sounding the alarm over what they say are misleading conclusions reached by current models for estimating the future economic damages of global climate change.
– In a recent paper, Thomas Stoerk of the Environmental Defense Fund, Gernot Wagner of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment, and Bob Ward of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science write that there is “mounting evidence that current economic models of the aggregate global impacts of climate change are inadequate in their treatment of uncertainty and grossly underestimate potential future risks.”
– The authors sent a letter to Hans-Otto Pörtner and Debra Roberts, the co-chairs of the working group that is currently preparing the IPCC’s AR6, to make them aware of the paper and its recommendations for how to better account for “the uncertainties inherent in climate policy decisions.”

Activists blast EU for extending deadline to ban palm oil in biofuels by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/14/2018]

– The European Parliament and EU member states have agreed to phase out palm oil from motor fuels by 2030, much later than the initially proposed deadline of 2021.
– Environmental activists say the extension will allow the environmental and human rights violations linked to the production of palm oil — which prompted the push for the ban in the first place — to continue unabated for several more years.
– By one estimate, swaths of rainforest and peatland the size of the Netherlands could be destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations in the intervening years.


In a country long wary of nuclear, an Indonesian chases the thorium dream by Nadine Freischlad [06/12/2018]

As biomass energy gains traction, southern US forests feel the burn by Rachel Fritts [06/11/2018]

Super plane, satellites help map the Caribbean’s hidden coral reefs by Alex Fox [06/08/2018]

Mexico’s ejidos are finding greater sustainability by involving youth and women by Mike Gaworecki [06/07/2018]