Newsletter 2018-08-02


In Peru, a new president is faced with old conservation challenges by Justin Catanoso [08/02/2018]

– Vizcarra has inherited the task of making critical decisions on the long-term, global benefit of an intact Amazon against short-term profits from mining, extraction and both legal and illegal logging.
– Nowhere is this struggle for balance more critical than in the country’s nature reserves and national parks such as Manu National Park.
– Manu is renowned as one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, with greater numbers of certain plants and animals than any other park on the planet.
– Critics cite a legacy of neglect and question whether the Vizcarra administration will do any better enforcing the nation’s environmental protection laws.

Chinese / Western financing of roads, dams led to major Andes Amazon deforestation by Gus Greenstein [08/01/2018]

– International development finance institutions (DFIs) invested heavily in large-scale infrastructure projects that triggered significant deforestation in the Andes Amazon especially within the nations of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia between 2000 and 2015, according to recent research published by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.
– Using satellite data, the study analyzed 84 large infrastructure projects and determined that the area around them experienced tree cover loss at a rate of over four times the average seen in comparable areas without such projects in those countries. That’s a forest carbon-sink loss equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of Colombia, Chile and Ecuador.
– Infrastructure now accounts for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet DFIs want to increase future lending from billions to trillions to meet global demand. This could imperil national Paris Climate Agreement goals (which in countries like Brazil are linked to preventing deforestation), and also could add to potentially catastrophic global carbon emission levels.
– The study isn’t merely academic: More than $70 billion in infrastructure projects, supported by development banks and the private sector, are planned for the Amazon basin between now and 2020. The researchers hope lessons learned from past infrastructure projects and highlighted in their study will improve future project oversight to help curb deforestation.


95 percent of all lemur species face high risk of extinction, experts say by [08/02/2018]
– More than 50 experts in primate conservation from around the world recently convened in Antananarivo to review the conservation status of the 111 species and subspecies of lemurs, all endemic to Madagascar, and provide updated threat assessments for the IUCN Red List.
– They found that 105 lemurs — 95 percent of all known lemur species and subspecies — might qualify as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction in the wild.
– The updated assessments produced by the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group must still undergo a review process before they are fully validated, but the group’s findings would increase the number of lemurs listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List from 24 to 38.

Colombia bans the use of mercury in mining by Antonio José Paz Cardona [08/01/2018]
– Colombia’s government announced on July 16 that it has banned the use of mercury in all mineral extraction activities. By 2023 mercury will be entirely prohibited for industrial use.
– In March of this year, Colombia also ratified the Minamata Convention, an international treaty that seeks to reduce global emissions of mercury and its detrimental effects on health and the environment.
– The challenge now will be to control mercury use in illegal mining.

Video: Meet the Bornean village chief dealing with the fallout from a corrupt plantation deal by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [08/01/2018]
– “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight.
– The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm.
– Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them features a local village chief named Kardie. Watch the video below.

The crisis in the European tropical timber sector in Central Africa (commentary) by Alain Karsenty [08/01/2018]
– European concessionaires in Africa are gradually selling their assets to Asian investors, who have substantial capital and operate in markets that accept lower-quality wood. This has led some Europeans to wonder whether they are truly on a level playing field with some of their Asian competitors.
– Withdrawal of European companies is associated with decline in FSC certification. Rougier and Wijma represented nearly 700,000 certified hectares in Cameroon, but their Chinese successors are not necessarily maintaining those certifications.
– A reduction in forest taxation for certified concessions seems to be the simplest solution, providing international donors compensate producing countries for the resulting loss of tax revenue.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Panama’s indigenous groups take land fight to the international stage by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [08/01/2018]
– Wounaan and Embera indigenous communities occupying four territories in eastern Panama are taking their nearly five-year land-titling battle with the government to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.
– Their move comes despite recent gains in the Panamanian process.
– Some indigenous leaders say new government-imposed conditions represent yet another delay in the already-long process.
– With their land title applications in legal limbo, the Wounaan and Embera are facing escalating and often violent conflicts with non-indigenous loggers, miners and others entering the lands they have traditionally occupied.

A ‘perfect policy storm’ cuts puma numbers by almost half near Jackson, Wyoming by John C. Cannon [08/01/2018]
– A 14-year study following 134 tagged mountain lions north of Jackson, Wyoming, found a 48 percent reduction in their numbers.
– The researchers found that the combination of the reintroduction of wolves and increases in elk and mountain lion hunting led to the precipitous drop.
– Lead study author and Panthera biologist Mark Elbroch recommends suspending puma hunting for three years in the region to allow the population to recover.

Mexico: pipeline divides Yaqui communities and triggers wave of violence by Rodrigo Soberanes [08/01/2018]
– The construction of a section of the Sonora gas pipeline in northern Mexico has resulted in confrontations between members of different Yaqui indigenous communities, the most recent one in May.
– The confrontations have left two people dead, more than 10 injured, 11 burned vehicles, and a section of gas pipe uprooted from the ground.
– Members of the Yaqui community in the town of Loma de Bácum made a legal request to suspend the construction of the Guaymas-El Oro section of the pipeline, and a court sided with them: the project cannot be resumed until all eight affected Yaqui communities approve it.

The Great Barrier Reef is losing its ability to bounce back from disturbances by [07/31/2018]
– According to a study published in the journal Science Advances this month, the Great Barrier Reef is losing its ability to bounce back from disturbances like coral bleaching, crown of thorns starfish outbreaks, and cyclones.
– A team of researchers led by scientists at Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ) found that, during the 18-year period between 1992 to 2010, the coral recovery rate of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park declined by an average of 84 percent.
– This impaired recovery ability is likely due to the succession of acute disturbances the reef has experienced as well as the ongoing impacts of chronic pressures like poor water quality and climate change, researchers found. But the study’s authors also say that effective local management strategies could help restore the reef’s capacity to recover.

India’s dancing deer and their unique floating home are under threat by Sahana Ghosh [07/31/2018]
– The critical floating habitats of the rare sangai, or dancing deer, in Loktak Lake in Manipur, India, are losing out to mushrooming agricultural practices and human settlements, a new study has found.
– The loss of floating islands from the southern and northern part of Loktak is a “major concern,” the study noted, one that could lead to the “destruction of the only floating national park in the world.”
– Much of the changes in the unique floating meadows of Loktak Lake can be attributed to the construction of the Ithai barrage on the Manipur River in 1979 for a hydroelectric project, researchers say.

In battle over land rights, indigenous groups are fighting uphill by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/31/2018]
– A new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that indigenous communities the world over are overwhelmingly on the losing end of the competition for land, including areas they have lived in for generations.
– The process by which they must obtain land titles is often costly, complex and long, sometimes dragging on for decades. By contrast, plantation companies and loggers can snap up titles to the same land in a matter of months or even weeks.
– In countries like Peru and Indonesia, highlighted in the WRI report, the path toward land ownership for indigenous communities is littered with bureaucratic and legislative requirements that advocates say governments are not doing enough to dismantle.
– In Indonesia, in particular, advocates contrast the red carpet rolled out for foreign investors, through deregulation, against the nearly insurmountable obstacles facing indigenous groups.

In Kenya’s Maasai Mara, detection dogs are a ranger’s best friend by Sue Palminteri [07/31/2018]
– For World Ranger Day 2018, we highlight how detection dogs help rangers keep wildlife — and the rangers themselves — safe in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
– Sniffer dogs search vehicles for ivory and firearms, while tracker dogs enable rangers to track and capture wildlife poachers, thieves in lodges, and cattle rustlers in surrounding villages.
– The dogs have enabled rangers to follow up on intelligence and increase their arrest rate, which they hope will make poaching less viable for local communities and improve security in the region.

Tracking the shift of tropical forests from carbon sink to source by [07/31/2018]
– Improved maps of carbon stocks, along with a better understanding of how tropical forests respond to climate change, are necessary to meet the challenge of keeping the global temperature below a 2-degree-Celsius (3.6-degree-Fahrenheit) rise, according to scientist Edward Mitchard of the University of Edinburgh.
– Currently, tropical forests take up roughly the same amount of carbon as is released when they’re cleared or degraded.
– But climatic changes, which lead to more droughts and fires resulting in the loss of tropical trees, could shift the balance, making tropical forests a net source of atmospheric carbon.

Researcher names spectacular new frog after his granddaughter by [07/31/2018]
– A researcher has identified a colorful tree frog as a new species.
– Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum, conducted genetic and biochemical analysis on frogs that were thought to be a morph of Cruziohyla calcarifer.
– His research, published in the journal Zootaxa, showed that individuals collected from Panama and northern South America are genetically distinct.
– He named the new amphibian Sylvia’s Tree Frog, Cruziohyla sylviae, after his 3-year-old granddaughter.

Rampant timber smuggling in Myanmar as forest service restructures by Genevieve Belmaker [07/30/2018]
– As Myanmar works to restructure to private sector management of the country’s forestry and timber resources, reports of illegal logging are surging.
– Until now, a government entity called the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) has been managing forestry resources and overseeing the export of timber products.
– Myanmar instituted a domestic logging ban from 2016-2017 that forbade private export of timber resources, but it did little to stop illegal activity.
– Since April of this year alone in just one of the country’s seven regions, there were 276 reported cases of illegal logging, along with 656 tons of seized timber and 59 vehicles.

The mystery of the sick turtles: Q&A with animal disease detectives Chrissy Cabay and Daniel Woodburn by Shreya Dasgupta [07/30/2018]
– A puzzling shell disease is affecting western pond turtles, a species listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, in the state of Washington in the U.S.
– Researchers from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium are investigating if disinfection practices that keep zoos clean could actually be removing good microbes that are beneficial for turtles, making them vulnerable to shell disease when they are released into the wild.
– Other experts, from the University of Illinois’s Zoological Pathology Program, are trying to understand what causes the disease and how it spreads. So far, they have discovered a new species of fungus that appears to be associated with the lesions that are characteristic of the shell disease.
– Mongabay spoke with Chrissy Cabay of Shedd Aquarium and Daniel B. Woodburn of the University of Illinois to find out more about their work.

Researchers are looking into the past to help ensure a future for tropical forests by Mike Gaworecki [07/30/2018]
– As we seek to reverse global trends of deforestation and forest degradation, researchers are peering into the past to help chart a course forward for imperiled tropical forests.
– A study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution earlier this month found that, prior to the arrival of European colonists, indigenous peoples in the cloud forests of Ecuador cleared even more of the forests than we have cleared today.
– By studying this history, researchers hope to aid in the restoration of the forests that have once again been degraded for human purposes.

Indonesia forest assessment casts an optimistic light on a complex issue by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/30/2018]
– Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest span of tropical rainforest, has published its first ever report on the state of its forests.
– The reckoning is largely positive, highlighting declines in both the deforestation rate and forest fires in 2016 and 2017, thanks to policies spurred by devastating blazes in 2015.
– Chief among these is a program banning the clearing of peatlands and ordering plantation companies to restore and conserve areas of peat within their concessions.
– However, the rate of progress on the peat protection program, as well as community forest management reform, remains slow and underfunded. Experts also warn that the progress recorded over the past two years aren’t necessarily sustainable.

Community groups in Cambodia say logging surged with approaching election by [07/29/2018]
– Cambodia’s general election campaign has been accompanied by illegal logging, local leaders say, which can be a way for political parties to fund their activities.
– Facing scant and fractured opposition, the Cambodian People’s Party and its leader, Hun Sen, who has served as prime minister for 33 years, were expected to win.
– Community forestry leaders noted an uptick in felled trees and suspected collusion between the enforcement rangers and the illegal loggers, particularly in July.

Deforestation for rubber ramps up near UNESCO site in Cameroon by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/27/2018]
– A new report by Greenpeace Africa finds this future-plantation has grown by 2,300 hectares in one year between April 2017 and April 2018. In total, Greenpeace estimates around 10,050 hectares have been deforested since clearing began in 2011, and warns that 20,000 more hectares of rainforest are slated for clearing in the coming years.
– The 45,000-hectare (450-square kilometer) concession is owned by China-owned Sud Cameroun Hévéa (Sudcam), and is located less than one kilometer from Dja Faunal Reserve. The reserve is inhabited by at least 107 mammal species, including critically endangered western lowland forest gorillas. The reserve is also home to the indigenous Baka people.
– Watchdog and scientific organizations like Greenpeace Africa and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) warn rubber expansion threatens the integrity of Dja and the future of its wildlife.
– According to the Greenpeace Africa report, Sudcam’s concession violates a number of established rules and agreements, including the rubber sourcing policies of several companies that buy from it.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 27, 2018 by [07/27/2018]
– 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.

Fish find it harder to smell in acidic oceans, study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [07/27/2018]
– Even tiny decreases in seawater pH (or increases in ocean acidity) are enough to weaken the European sea bass’s sense of smell, which it relies on to find food and mates and to evade predators, a new study has found.
– In waters containing high carbon dioxide levels predicted for the end of the century, the sea bass had to be on average up to 42 percent closer to the source of the smell in order to detect it, compared to when they were exposed to waters containing present-day levels of carbon dioxide.
– The researchers also found that in fish that were exposed to more acidic waters, the expression of genes for smell receptors in their nose was decreased.

Latam Eco Review: Witchcraft and wildlife trafficking in Peru by [07/27/2018]
Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about a hydropower project in one of Bolivia’s most diverse protected areas; Colombian Air Force drones that revealed alarming deforestation in Tinigua Park; and wildlife trafficking and witchcraft in Peru. Bolivia’s Ivirizu hydroelectric project threatens the biodiversity of Carrasco National […]

Combining aerial imagery and field data estimates timber harvest and carbon emissions by Neha Jain [07/27/2018]
– Researchers used images from LiDAR, a remote sensing technique that produces 3-D depictions of forest structure, to map logging areas—including roads, skid trails, gaps under the canopy, and decks used to store timber—for four timber concessions in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.
– Pairing the LiDAR data with statistics on the number of trees felled and damaged, the researchers established equations relating the logging area data to both the volume of timber harvested and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
– The equations explained up to 87 percent of the variation in the volume of timber extracted.
– Using this method, governments, NGOs, and private organizations can verify timber harvests, formulate future management plans, and estimate harvest volumes and greenhouse gas emissions in other tropical forests, including areas of illegal logging.

10 of 11 black rhinos now dead after relocation attempt in Kenya takes tragic turn by [07/26/2018]
– Last month, officials with the Kenya Wildlife Service attempted to move 11 endangered black rhinos from two national parks, Nairobi and Lake Nakuru, to a third, Tsavo East. Nine of them died shortly after arriving in their new home from what an autopsy has shown to be salt poisoning.
– Today, the Kenyan government announced that a tenth rhino has died and that the eleventh — now the sole survivor of the translocation operation — was attacked by lions yesterday and is clinging to life.
– The black rhinoceros is a Critically Endangered species, according to the IUCN Red List. Only about 5,500 individuals are believed to survive in the wild today, 750 of them in Kenya.


In Malaysia, an island drowns in its own development by Keith Schneider [07/26/2018]