Newsletter 2018-11-01


Colombia: Dying of thirst, Wayuu blame mine, dam, drought for water woes by Lucy Sherriff [11/01/2018]

– The struggle for access to safe and sufficient water for drinking and irrigation defines life for the indigenous Wayuu of La Guajira, Colombia’s northernmost department.
– Activists have described the Wayuu as being in the throes of a humanitarian crisis, with Wayuu children suffering high rates of malnutrition and death as a result of water and food scarcity.
– The Wayuu blame their thirst mainly on the Cerrejón coal mine, which they say drains water from the local river and groundwater and pollutes what’s left. A dam built by the government to provide water in times of drought has only made matters worse, they say.
– However, Cerrejón disputes the notion that it is seriously affecting the tribe, while the government defends decisions that have compromised the Wayuu’s water access.

In the Peruvian Amazon, the prized shihuahuaco tree faces a grim future by Leslie Moreno Custodio (Ojo Público) [10/31/2018]

– Scientists estimate that if measures are not taken to protect it, in 10 years’ time the shihuahuaco may go extinct.
– In 2018, around 4,000 cubic meters (141,000 cubic feet) of shihuahuaco timber was illegally extracted.
– The loss of the tree, one of the tallest in this part of the Amazon, would have a severe ripple effect on the species that live in and around it, including the increasingly rare harpy eagle, the biggest raptor in the jungle.

Will trade bans stop a deadly salamander plague from invading the US? by Jeremy Hance [10/30/2018]

– In 2008, scientists started noticing that populations of fire salamanders were disappearing in Western Europe. A few years later, nearly all had vanished from large portions of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The culprit turned out to be a fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, which infects the skin of salamanders and often kills them. Research indicates Bsal came from Asia and was spread to Europe via the importation of Asian salamanders.
– The U.S. is home to the world’s highest diversity of salamander species, many of which are thought to be susceptible to Bsal infection. So far, scientists haven’t detected the pathogen in North America, but many believe it’s just a matter of time until it gets here unless drastic action is taken.
– In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed a ban on the trade of 201 species of salamander species in 2016. However, the recent discovery that frogs can also carry Bsal led to an outcry from scientists urging government to ban the import of all salamander and frog species.
– However, many hobbyists think a total ban is overkill. They instead favor a “clean trade” in which some imported animals would tested for Bsal.

The Brazilian government’s land war against rebel slave descendants by Anna Sophie Gross [10/29/2018]

– Slavery wasn’t abolished in Brazil until 1888, but by then thousands of remote rural communities known as Quilombos had been founded by runaway slaves. Under the 1988 Constitution, these Quilombos, which lacked land deeds, were guaranteed land rights, and a process was devised to legitimize the settlements.
– However, the Brazilian government has long dragged its feet to demarcate and recognize these communities. Meanwhile, land grabbers who typically obtain fraudulent land documentation, have laid claim to Quilombo territory, often in order to establish vast soy plantations and for other agribusiness purposes.
– Today, the government has imposed numerous legal hurdles against Quilombos seeking their land deeds, using a convoluted bureaucratic process, draconian budget cuts to programs helping the communities, and imposing reparations that must be paid to agribusiness entrepreneurs who have seized traditional lands.
– Across Brazil today, 3,123 Quilombos have been certified, and to date, more than 1,700 of these have called on INCRA, the federal agency, to title their territories. But just 40 have received titles. Legal attacks on Quilombos have grown fierce under the Temer administration, with president-elect Jair Bolsonaro threatening more severe policies.

Timor-Leste: Maubere tribes revive customary law to protect the ocean by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/26/2018]

– Traditional laws governing the management of natural resources known as tara bandu were outlawed during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. Since the country gained independence in 2002, it has been reviving the tradition in an attempt to control the exploitation of its forests and oceans.
– There are signs tara bandu has had a positive effect on some local forest, mangrove and coral reef ecosystems.
– Esteem for tradition seems to outweigh the adverse effects tara bandu has had on some people’s livelihoods, encouraging respect for the law.
– This is the first story in Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Maubere’s revival of tara bandu.


Coral bleaching events cause behavioral changes in key reef fish species by [11/01/2018]

– New research suggests that higher ocean temperatures and coral bleaching are also triggering rapid behavioral shifts in reef fish.
– Over the course of two years, an international team of researchers spent more than 600 hours underwater observing butterflyfish, a species that is considered a key indicator of coral reef health, both before and after a global coral bleaching event in 2016.
– The researchers found that aggressive behavior had decreased in butterflyfish by an average of two thirds, with the biggest behavorial changes observed on reefs where bleaching had killed off the most coral.

‘At capacity’? A Nepali park reckons with its rhinos by Abhaya Raj Joshi [11/01/2018]

– An investigation into a recent increase in natural deaths among the 600 greater one-horned rhinos in Chitwan National Park suggested the park may have reached its carrying capacity for the species.
– The park and its resources are facing pressure both from a growing population of rhinos within the park and from increasing human settlement on its periphery.
– Assessments of the park’s carrying capacity for rhinos vary wildly, ranging from 500 to more than 2,000, leading to differences of opinion about the role overcrowding could play in rhino deaths.

17 new brilliantly colored species of sea slugs described by Shreya Dasgupta [11/01/2018]

– Researchers have just described 17 stunning new species of sea slugs that live among coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region.
– All the species belong to the genus Hypselodoris, and come in a wide variety of colors.
– Researchers reorganized the genus Hypselodoris, adding new-to-science species to the group, and revealing secrets of the evolution of their brilliant color patterns.

Is northern India better prepared for air pollution this winter? by Mayank Aggarwal [10/31/2018]

– Over the last few years, Delhi and adjoining regions in north India have consistently faced severe levels of air pollution during the winter season, from November to February. Overall air quality in Delhi this year has already dipped into the “poor” and “very poor” categories.
– Following criticism from courts and orders to devise comprehensive plans, India’s environment ministry and state governments, including those of Delhi and nearby regions, have formulated plans to tackle air pollution.
– They include satellite-based air pollution monitoring to check burning of crop residue in the winter, and strengthening of monitoring pollution from vehicles, among others.
– But some environmentalists feel that more needs to be done to curb the air pollution.

Deforestation continues upward trend in the Brazilian Amazon by [10/31/2018]

– Deforestation is rising in the Brazilian Amazon, which contains the majority of forest in the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
– The trend is evident in data released by both Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, and the Brazilian government.
– The data is from both sources’ month-to-month deforestation tracking systems.
– Official data for the deforestation year, which runs from August to July, is expected to be released next month.

Land restoration makes progress in Ethiopia by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese [10/31/2018]

– In Meket – a district in Ethiopia’s Amhara National Regional State (ANRS) – efforts are underway to restore what experts say is one of the more severely deforested and degraded regions in the country.
– Of the land in ANRS, less than 2 percent forested land remains, and efforts are underway to restore degraded and deforested areas.
– In 2016, Ethiopia turned to forestry sector development projects in the form of short rotation planting and rehabilitation of degraded lands in ANRS and other districts.

Thousands of radiated tortoises seized from traffickers in Madagascar by John C. Cannon [10/31/2018]

– More than 7,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises were confiscated by authorities from suspected wildlife traffickers in Madagascar on Oct. 24.
– The seizure happened in the same area where a similar bust, involving nearly 10,000 tortoises of the same species, took place in April.
– The NGO Turtle Survival Alliance is working with the Madagascar environment ministry to care for the surviving tortoises.

Forest report points to opportunity for recovery by Jennifer Rigby [10/31/2018]

– In its biennial report, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) points to an overall global slowing of logging as cause for optimism about the world’s forests.
– Over the seven decades that the assessments and reports have been conducted and issued by the UN’s FAO, issues of concern have shifted from supply to sustainability.
– The report claims that the regenerative preservation of forests could help achieve at least 10 of the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the international community in 2015.

Chainsaw Massacre: Protected areas in danger in Brazil’s state of Rondônia (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside and Paulo Vilela Cruz [10/31/2018]

– Eleven reserves are on the chopping block in Rondônia, as legislators in the notoriously anti-environmental state move to revoke protections in the coming weeks.
– The 11 protected areas total 3 percent of the state’s total area. Four are desginated as “sustainable development reserves” with traditional communities that would lose their land rights. This would likely increase land conflicts in Rondônia, which already has the highest rate of rural murders of any Brazilian state.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In the Peruvian Amazon, the prized shihuahuaco tree faces a grim future by Leslie Moreno Custodio (Ojo Público) [10/31/2018]

– Scientists estimate that if measures are not taken to protect it, in 10 years’ time the shihuahuaco may go extinct.
– In 2018, around 4,000 cubic meters (141,000 cubic feet) of shihuahuaco timber was illegally extracted.
– The loss of the tree, one of the tallest in this part of the Amazon, would have a severe ripple effect on the species that live in and around it, including the increasingly rare harpy eagle, the biggest raptor in the jungle.

Timor-Leste: Q&A with a Maubere fisherman on reviving depleted fisheries by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/31/2018]

– Timor-Leste is trying to figure out how to sustainably tap its fisheries and other valued marine resources.
– In one of the most interesting and successful local efforts, several communities have been reviving the ancient customary law of tara bandu, a means of regulating the use of natural resources common to Timor-Leste’s Maubere indigenous tribes.
– Six years have passed since the village of Biacou established its tara bandu to protect and better manage its fisheries and coral reefs. To understand how the revitalized tradition has affected Biacou’s fisherfolk, Mongabay spoke to Fernando da Costa, a seasoned fisherman from the village.
– This is the second story in Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Maubere’s revival of tara bandu.

Chile mine and port project nears approval despite scientific opposition by Michelle Carrere [10/31/2018]

– The Chilean agency responsible for marine reserves did not take scientific information specified by its regional office into consideration when considering a proposed mining and port project.
– The Dominga project would be established within the foraging zones of species living in neighboring marine reserves.
– Two hundred scientists sent a letter to President Sebastián Piñera explaining the need to protect this space. Marine science experts like them say that the project’s area of influence underestimates impacts and will affect nearby protected areas.
– In April 2018, the Environmental Court ruled in favor of the project, but it is currently before the Supreme Court after an NGO lodged an appeal to invalidate the ruling.

The legal institutionalization of FSC certification in Gabon (commentary) by Alain Karsenty [10/31/2018]

– Gabon’s President Ali Bongo announced on September 26, during a visit to a Rougier wood processing plant, that all forest concessions in Gabon will have to be certified with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard by 2022.
– Unlike its neighbors, Gabon has never shown any interest in the European proposal for a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, probably because its timber exports are increasingly focused on Asia. If other countries follow Gabon’s lead and make private certification mandatory (the Congo-Brazzaville is considering this in its forestry law under preparation), the European strategy, which gives only a secondary place to private certification, will probably have to be reviewed.
– The future will tell us whether the Gabonese decision is the first step in consecrating the power of private governance in an area that has long remained particularly sovereign, or whether the conversion of a voluntary instrument into a legal prerequisite is turning against the FSC by undermining its credibility.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

$10bn pledged in new commitments to protect the world’s oceans by Basten Gokkon [10/30/2018]

– Representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society groups and philanthropic organizations have pledged billions of dollars to protect vast swaths of the world’s oceans.
– The impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and climate change on the world’s oceans were a focus of recently concluded Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia.
– Cooperation between governments is needed to prevent the world’s oceans from experiencing devastating damage from an onslaught of factors led by climate change.

What’s killing Nepal’s rhinos? by Abhaya Raj Joshi [10/30/2018]

– Nepal has had remarkable success at tackling the poaching of its greater one-horned rhinos. But since 2015, it has witnessed a sharp increase in deaths from unknown or natural causes.
– A number of theories have been advanced to explain the deaths: habitat degradation in Chitwan National Park and its surroundings leading to increased conflict over resources; the area reaching its natural carrying capacity for rhinos; a “baby boomer” die-off; or a simple shift in cause of death from death by poaching to death by natural causes.
– The government commissioned a study into the problem, but the report has not been published

Kenyan charcoal businesses trying to nip invasive tree in the bud by Rosalia Omungo [10/30/2018]

– An invasive species of mesquite named Prosopis juliflora, and known in Kenya as mathenge was introduced to the region to restore degraded drylands.
– Residents describe mixed feelings about whether to keep the mathenge tree or try to eradicate it. Some termed it a “dryland demon” — since it can inflict injuries in both people and livestock, while blocking paths where it formed canopies.
– Using charcoal production to both curb the spread of the prolifically invasive plant and reduce demand on native species is consistently described as a positive development by proponents.

The Osa Camera Trap Network: Uniting people to monitor biodiversity by Sue Palminteri [10/30/2018]

– The Osa Camera Trap Network monitors big cats and their prey on public and private lands across Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.
– Concern about connectivity for apex predators between Corcovado National Park and mainland Costa Rica has encouraged the participation of a diverse cadre of stakeholders that has broadened the scale of the project.
– Clear communication, together with a few photos of resident jaguars, have allowed the network’s 23 institutions and communities to install and maintain more than 200 cameras providing the baseline data needed for long-term monitoring of the area’s mammals.

New climate change report highlights grave dangers for Vietnam by Michael Tatarski [10/30/2018]

– Vietnam is among the most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts according to a recent International Panel on Climate Change report.
– The country’s diverse geography means it is hit by typhoons, landslides, flooding and droughts, weather events expected to worsen in coming years.
– Research has found that Vietnam is also home to abundant renewable energy potential, which could help alleviate some of these threats.

Audio: Documenting emperor penguin populations, a dispatch from Antarctica by Mike Gaworecki [10/30/2018]

– On this episode we get an update direct from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station about ongoing work to document Emperor penguin populations, an important indicator species of the Southern Ocean’s health.
– Our guest is Michelle Larue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota who is helping lead a project that’s using satellite imagery together with ground and flight surveys to compile population estimates for each of the 54 known Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. The project’s goal is to compile population estimates every year for an entire decade.
– LaRue, who has been to Antarctica multiple times to help assemble a decadal-scale dataset on Emperor penguin colonies, tells us what it’s like to work out of McMurdo Station, how she’s going about studying Emperor penguin population trends, and why the study of these flightless aquatic birds can help us keep tabs on the health of the Southern Ocean.

Global warming, human activities causing increased storm runoff, flash floods by [10/30/2018]

– A new study published in the journal Nature Communications this week looks at how storm runoff levels might respond to future changes in surface temperature and atmospheric moisture content driven by both natural causes and human activities.
– The research team behind the study, led by Pierre Gentine, an associate professor of earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University in New York City, says that there’s is the first global analysis to show that storm runoff extremes are rising sharply in response to climate and human-induced changes — and that the magnitude of storm runoff is likely to continue increasing in most regions at rates substantially higher than projected by previous climate models.
– Gentile and team argue that there is “an urgent need” to increase human society’s resilience to both climate change and the changing environment, because storm runoff extremes are intensifying as the world warms and our existing infrastructure systems may not be able to cope.

With a feast of grubs, a tribe makes its case for forest stewardship by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/30/2018]

– The indigenous Kombai tribe of Indonesia’s Papua region are seeking recognition of their right to manage their ancestral lands, in a bid to thwart the encroachment of oil palm plantations in the last great expanse of unspoiled wilderness in the country.
– They face legal hurdles to their bid, including a lack of clarity over the status of previously defunct logging concessions on their land, and onerous requirements to prove to the authorities their ties to the land.
– The administration of President Joko Widodo has pledged to issue customary forest titles to indigenous communities nationwide, but none of the tribes in Papua has received such recognition.
– Activists say empowering indigenous communities to manage their own forests is a key step to fighting climate change, because these communities tend to be better stewards of the forest than their own governments.

Palm oil executives arrested in bribery scandal in Indonesia by Hans Nicholas JongIndra NugrahaPhilip Jacobson [10/30/2018]

– In a sting operation on Friday, Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency caught a representative of Indonesia’s Sinarmas conglomerate bribing a pair of provincial legislators from Central Kalimantan.
– The firm wanted the politicians to avoid an investigation into the pollution of Lake Sembuluh in Seruyan, a district in Central Kalimantan. Local residents and activists say the lake, which is ringed by plantations and mills, has been contaminated by palm oil processing waste and pesticides.
– The company also wanted the provincial legislators to tell the media that its operating permits were in order, according to the KPK.

China legalizes use of tiger bone and rhino horn for traditional medicine by [10/30/2018]

– China has legalized the “controlled” use of rhino horn and tiger bone for medical use and cultural purposes, the government said in an announcement.
– China banned the trade in tiger bone and rhino horn in 1993, and removed both products from the list of medical ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine’s pharmacopoeia and curriculum. The latest decision reverses that 25-year ban.
– Conservationists worry that legalization of the trade could provide cover for illegal activities, threatening the already imperiled global populations of the endangered animals.

In Bali and beyond: An urgent focus on coral conservation (commentary) by Cristián Samper [10/29/2018]

– Millions of people depend on coral for their nutritional health and well-being.
– But we are damaging coral reefs today: with sediment that flows from rivers, caused by development and deforestation on land; with overfishing that upsets the delicate balance of species on reef; with chemicals, like cyanide, that are used to catch fish when there are few left to catch; with the rise in temperature caused by our continued dependence on fossil fuels.
– There is reason for hope, though. Some coral reefs around the world are stronger, more flexible, and more resilient than others to changes and threats in their environment. These reefs need to be protected.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Tsetse fly numbers dwindle in the warming Zambezi Valley by [10/29/2018]

– Tsetse flies carry the microorganism that causes sleeping sickness in humans and livestock, but a recent study reveals that their numbers have dropped at a site in the Zambezi Valley as temperatures have climbed.
– Sleeping sickness, known also as trypanosomiasis, is a debilitating and potentially deadly disease to humans that also kills perhaps 1 million cattle each year.
– The study’s authors say that the decline of the tsetse in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley might be accompanied by a rise in their numbers in cooler locales where they once weren’t as prevalent.

Amid lack of enforcement, fishermen take the fight to blast fishing by Ian Morse [10/29/2018]

– Indonesia’s ban on blast fishing has gone unenforced in some parts of Sulawesi island, local fishermen say.
– Two villages on Sulawesi’s eastern peninsula have responded to the lack of enforcement by declaring their own marine protected areas. The zones are now being patrolled by local fishing groups, but the province needs to sign off on them before legal action can be taken against violators.
– A local NGO called Japesda is helping the villages protect their waters.

Machine-learning app to fight invasive crop pest in Africa by Stephanie Parker [10/26/2018]

– To monitor the invasive fall armyworm caterpillar in Africa, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and Pennsylvania State University have collaborated on an AI add-on to FAO’s existing phone app to help farmers detect agricultural pests.
– The fall armyworm, an invasive pest of over 80 plant species, is native to the Americas but reached Africa in early 2016 and has wreaked havoc on their maize, threatening food security.
– The add-on, called Nuru, identifies leaf damage in photos taken by farmers and sends information to authorities to help monitor the presence of the pest.
– Detecting the pest quickly can help reduce unnecessary pesticide use that can damage human and ecosystem health.

Latam Eco Review: Wandering hippos, condor central, and the macaw trade by [10/26/2018]

Top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, last week followed high-flying condors to their lowland home; hippos wandering through Colombia’s jungles; and scarlet macaws in their last holdout in Central America. Ecuador’s León River is ‘condor central’ No matter how high or how far Ecuador’s condors soar, they always return home to a semi-desert, […]

Africa’s slender-snouted crocodile is not one but two species by [10/26/2018]

– The critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile is not one but two species, a new study has found.
– While the West African crocodile continues to retain its original name Mecistops cataphractus, the Central African species has been named Mecistops leptorhynchus.
– The description of M. leptorhynchus makes it the first new living crocodile species to be named and detailed in more than 80 years.
– As two species, the slender-snouted crocodiles are smaller in numbers and are at greater risk of extinction.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 26, 2018 by [10/26/2018]

– 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.

Whales and dolphins change the way they communicate in a noisy ocean by [10/26/2018]

– Two independent teams of biologists looked at the impact of ambient sound from ships on whales and dolphins.
– The research on whales revealed that noise from a passing ship led humpbacks in the vicinity to stop singing, sometimes for 30 minutes after the ship had passed.
– In the study on dolphins, the scientists showed that dolphins abbreviated their whistles in response to the sound.
– Both teams raised concerns about whether sound in the ocean increases the stress on marine mammals and how it might affect their ability to communicate with fellow members of the same species.

Bird-rich Indonesian island yields up new songbird species by Basten Gokkon [10/26/2018]

– Researchers have described a new species of songbird found only on the Indonesian island of Rote — the second new avian discovery there in less than a year.
– The Rote leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus rotiensis) was initially assumed to be the same species as the Timor leaf-warbler from a neighboring island, but closer studies of its physical characteristics and genetic analyses have distinguished it as its own species.
– Rote is home to a large number of species found only there or on neighboring islands, but lacks any major terrestrial protected area.

Peru seizes plane with 30kg of cocaine in Bahuaja-Sonene National Park by Vanessa Romo [10/25/2018]

– Last month, an aircraft was intercepted in Bahuaja-Sonene National Park by the Anti-Drug Directorate of the National Police of Peru. It was carrying multiple passengers, who engaged in gunfire with police.
– A bag containing 30 kilograms of alkaloid cocaine found inside the plane.
– Cocaine is produced from the leaves of coca plants. Bahuaja-Sonene has the largest area of illegal coca cultivation of any protected area, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with at least 118 hectares (292 acres) of coca grown within the park.


Violence spikes during Brazil elections, rural minorities fear worse by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [10/24/2018]

CITES rejects another Madagascar plan to sell illegal rosewood stockpiles by Edward Carver [10/24/2018]

Women’s work in Senegalese conservation includes exorcising demons by Jennifer O’Mahony [10/19/2018]