Newsletter 2019-01-24


In PNG, a fallen bridge is testament to the chasm in rural development by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [01/24/2019]

– A year after the collapse of a bridge over the Banab River in northern Papua New Guinea, the crossing is finally on the verge of reopening.
– The bridge, a vital link between provincial capital Madang and agricultural areas to the north, has become a symbol of the central government’s neglect of rural areas.
– The state’s failure to provide infrastructure has led some communities to welcome extractive industries that promise to build roads, schools and hospitals.


Romeo finally found his Juliet, and an endangered frog has new prospects for survival by [01/24/2019]
– When Valentine’s Day rolled around last year, Romeo found himself without a date. That’s because Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog and, as far as scientists knew at the time, he was the last surviving member of his species. The last time he even bothered calling for a mate was apparently some time in late 2017.
– So last year, the teams at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny and the NGO Global Wildlife Conservation set up a dating profile for Romeo on as a means of raising money to fund an expedition into Bolivia’s cloud forests in search of a Juliet.
– That expedition led to the rediscovery of the Sehuencas water frog in the wild and the collection of three males and two females, all of whom were taken to the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny’s K’ayra Center for Research and Conservation of Threatened Amphibians. Once the quarantine period is over, Romeo will finally meet his Juliet — and the species just might make a comeback from the brink of extinction.

Bans on the bird trade in South America yield mixed results by [01/24/2019]
– After decades of rampant exports, several South American countries banned the international trade of wild-caught birds.
– In some cases, in concert with conservation, the bans have helped bird populations recover, leading several countries to invest in birdwatching tourism.
– However, the bans have also led to a significant illegal trade on the continent and a shift of the economic benefits from the wild bird trade to other countries.

In West Papua, a development plan that doesn’t require clearing forest by Een Irawan Putra [01/23/2019]
– Indonesia’s West Papua province on the island of New Guinea has pledged to set aside 70 percent of its land area as protected or conservation areas. Local government decisions will be key to the plan’s success or failure.
– In the administrative district of Tambrauw within West Papua, local indigenous communities depend on the forest for their livelihoods.
– The head of Tambrauw district, Gabriel Asem, says he prioritizes the land rights of local communities and that conservation and sustainable development can go hand in hand.

Liberia’s community forestry becoming a front for deforestation: Report by Ashoka Mukpo [01/23/2019]
– A report released by Global Witness late last year alleges that Liberia’s forestry laws are being “hijacked” by logging companies.
– These logging companies can potentially put vast areas of Liberia’s remaining rainforests at risk of large-scale deforestation.
– There’s historical precedent for the concerns under the current law: in 2012, Liberia was rocked by a scandal over permits meant to enable private landowners to enter into logging agreements with outside parties.

Agribusiness harm to Gran Chaco genetic diversity: centuries to heal by Jennifer Ann Thomas [01/23/2019]
– A study focusing on two prominent tree species in the Brazilian portion of the Gran Chaco biome found that degradation by industrial agribusiness, particularly soy growers, has put the biome’s genetic diversity at great risk. Decreasing genetic resilience could hamper the biome’s ability to adapt to climate change.
– The biggest Gran Chaco problem may be the lack of public awareness of its plight, and even its existence. Baseline plant and wildlife studies are limited, while Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia have done little to conserve the region, even as agribusiness continues to aggressively convert native vegetation to soy.
– By one estimate, the Gran Chaco in 2014 was losing native vegetation at a rate of 2.5 acres per minute. Another study predicted that more than half of all bird species and 30 percent of mammals found in the Gran Chaco today could be extinct in 10 to 25 years without conservation measures.
– The Brazilian study suggests that at least 42 separate natural remnants of the biome will need to be preserved for the next 300 to 3,000 years in order to maintain the minimum of 500 individuals within a species required to preserve genetic diversity for between 100 and 1,000 generations.

Indigenous communities in post-FARC Colombia struggle to destigmatize sacred coca leaf by Margaux Maxwell [01/23/2019]
– Like many mountains of Colombia, the Sierra Nevada’s thick vegetation, isolation, and deep valleys and canyons made it easy for illegal armed groups to find shelter and resources among the trees during the country’s civil war. These mountains have been home to many indigenous groups, including the Arhauco, Wiwa, Kogi and other peoples, for thousands of years.
– The 2016 agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended the 52-year civil war in Colombia, giving Indigenous communities control of their coca crops once again. But the coca leaf still faces stigmatization given its association with the illegal narcotic cocaine.
– The coca leaf has been used extensively as a sacred plant in rituals, medicine, food, religion, social interactions, and other aspects of life in the Andean Region of South America for at least 8,000 years. But in 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs declared “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention.”

Audio: IUCN’s Inger Andersen: “Women represent 3.5 billion solutions” by Mike Gaworecki [01/23/2019]
– On today’s episode, we talk with the Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Inger Andersen.
– Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Switzerland, the IUCN is probably best known for its Red List of Threatened Species, a vital resource on the conservation statuses and extinction risks of tens of thousands of species with whom we share planet Earth. But the IUCN does much more than just maintain the Red List, as Inger Andersen, the organization’s director general, explains.
– Andersen also discusses how updates are made to the Red List (and what updates we can expect to the List in 2019), the importance of empowering women in conservation and sustainable development, the need to tackle unsustainable production and consumption patterns, and why the 2020 installment of the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress will be perhaps the most important yet.

Rhinos or roads? Nepal deals with a tricky balancing act by Abhaya Raj Joshi [01/23/2019]
– Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the world’s second largest population of greater one-horned rhinos, as well as nearly 100 Bengal tigers and more than 54 other mammal species.
– After a 2016 mission, UNESCO warned that Chitwan could be placed on the World Heritage in Danger list if a number of planned infrastructure projects were completed as proposed.
– Since then, the largest projects have been suspended or rerouted; now, conservationists say they are more concerned by the impacts of unplanned urbanization and local flood-control projects.
– Local officials often struggle to balance protecting Chitwan’s ecosystem against the popular demand for infrastructure development projects.

New species of leaf-mimicking lizard could already be victim of pet trade by Shreya Dasgupta [01/23/2019]
– From the forests of Marojejy National Park in Madagascar, researchers have described a new species of leaf-tailed gecko that has a somewhat compressed body, a small triangular head, and a leaf-shaped tail.
– So far, the gecko, named Uroplatus finaritra, is known only from within a small area at lower altitudes in Marojejy. Since forests in this area are rapidly disappearing due to illegal logging activity, both in and around the park, the researchers recommend that the gecko be listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
– The gecko may also have already appeared in the international pet trade under the label of the more common satanic leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus phantasticus.

Saving the forests of the Congo Basin: Q&A with author Meindert Brouwer by [01/23/2019]
– Central African Forests Forever, first published in 2017, takes readers to the heart of the continent, introducing them to the people and wildlife of this region.
– It author, independent communications consultant Meindert Brouwer, says the book also functions as a tool for sharing information about efforts to address poverty and environmental issues in the region.
– Mongabay spoke with Brouwer to learn more about his motivations and the reception of his work in Central Africa.

In Sumatra, a lone elephant leads rescuers on a cat-and-mouse chase by Cory RogersLili Rambe [01/23/2019]
– Conservationists recently tried to relocate a wild elephant from one forest on the island of Sumatra to another.
– The elephant’s original home, the Bukit Tigapuluh forest, has been heavily fragmented by human activity, pushing the animals within into nearby villages.
– The elephant, a female named Karina, is the last remaining member of her herd.

In Borneo, dwindling forests face further fragmentation as roads spread by Basten Gokkon [01/22/2019]
– A study by Indonesian and Australian researchers warns of a drastic reduction in forest habitat accessible to wildlife in Indonesian Borneo if a spate of road projects is completed as planned.
– Wildlife would be able to access just 55 percent of the remaining forests in the region under this scenario, from 89 percent today, the researchers write.
– The road-building spree is part of an economic development program that proponents say is desperately needed to improve livelihoods and welfare across Indonesian Borneo.
– While conservationists agree that infrastructure access is essential, they have called for greater oversight to mitigate or minimize impacts to forests and wildlife corridors.

A ‘FitBit for squid’ could help track the ocean’s squishier species by Marianne Messina [01/21/2019]
– The ITAG, a neutrally buoyant sensor device for soft-bodied invertebrates, is currently in development through joint research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Monterey Bay Aquatic Research Institute.
– The device has shown success in tracking animals such as squid and jellyfish as they respond to environmental changes.
– The casing is 3D printable, and the electronics array will be open-sourced, so scientists may quickly develop tracking devices for other marine invertebrates previously difficult to monitor.
– The current ITAG versions are smaller and more easily retrievable than a 2015 prototype, but researchers are still working to bring the size down and the retrieval rates up.

Ecuador’s artisans struggle to save wooden toy culture by Kimberley Brown [01/21/2019]
– Environmentalists have long been promoting the benefits of wood toys, especially over their plastic counterparts that create massive waste. Plastic toys are often produced cheaply, break easily, are thrown away quickly, and can take hundreds of years to decompose.
– The 87-year-old artisan wood worker known affectionately Mr. Tops has been creating and selling traditional Ecuadorian toys here for over 50 years.

Tanzania creates new reserve to protect rare colobus monkeys and trees by Shreya Dasgupta [01/21/2019]
– Tanzania has officially created a new national park, the Magombera Nature Reserve, extending protection to numerous species of rare plants and animals, including the endangered Udzungwa red colobus monkey and Verdcourt’s Polyalthia tree.
– The formal declaration of the reserve comes after some 40 years of research and conservation efforts.
– The declaration of the reserve is just the first formal step, and one of the subsequent tasks will be to develop a management plan for the park together with local villages and other stakeholders, researchers say.
– A key feature of the management plan is to boost tourism to the reserve, which can eventually benefit the local communities, if sustained over the long term.

Solomon Islands province bans logging in bid to protect environment by [01/21/2019]
– The leaders of Central Island province, part of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, have decided not to issue new business licenses to logging and mining companies following a local petition and recent reports detailing the lack of sustainability and legality in the country’s logging sector.
– Local and international organizations have blamed unsustainable and corrupt logging practices for destroying the islands’ sensitive habitats and creating civil strife among the people who live there.
– Provincial governments in the Solomon Islands lack the power to block logging outright, leading Central Island province to take the licensing approach to stop new operations.

Latam Eco Review: Pirate fishers in the Caribbean and many new reserves created by [01/19/2019]
The recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service, include a ‘pirate’ fishing vessel being welcomed in Panama, news of forestry officials indicted for illegal logging in Peru’s Amazon, and the loss of 11 protected areas in Brazil. Disease and drugs surround uncontacted peoples of Peru’s Amazon Infection, lack of culturally appropriate health services, […]

Madagascar’s next president to take office, bears suspect eco record by Edward Carver [01/18/2019]
– Andry Rajoelina is set to be sworn in as president of Madagascar tomorrow, Jan. 19.
– Many conservationists and civil society representatives were disappointed by his election.
– Rajoelina had served as de facto president from 2009 to early 2014 after a coup d’état carried him to power.
– His past administration faced charges of corruption, especially regarding natural resource management. Top officials, including Rajoelina himself, were rumored to be involved in the illegal rosewood trade, which flourished during his time in office.

A sociological approach to global biodiversity loss (commentary) by Jordan Fox Besek [01/18/2019]
– The connections between social processes and environmental processes that generate biodiversity loss are very unclear compared to climate change, or even other environmental problems like oil spills or the clear-cutting of forests.
– In our recent article published in the journal Social Currents, we show that, because of these difficulties, the global crisis of anthropogenic biodiversity loss should, first and foremost, be explained historically. This means paying attention to how large scale social processes, for instance the increasing commodification of global agriculture or changes in international banking, interact with large scale environmental processes, for example the entire size of a species’ habitat.
– Overall, we believe that sociology can become an important contributor to research on biodiversity loss. For this to happen, however, it should be based on analysis of how broad social and environmental structures contribute to biodiversity loss, as well as the ways in which actual species extinctions are dependent upon a specific historical context.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 18, 2018 by [01/18/2019]
– 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.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

New space lasers offer best 3D look at global forests yet by David Klinges [01/18/2019]
– Forest monitoring has increasingly turned to satellites over the past several decades, and 2018 was no exception.
– In the last few months, NASA launched two sensors into space that will play a prominent role in monitoring forest biomass and structure over the next decade: the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) now attached to the International Space Station, and the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2).
– These two satellites, which in combination provide complete coverage of the planet, are equipped with lidar sensors that record forest structure in 3D, contributing to an ongoing wave of large-scale forest ecosystem measurements.

Why are more female than male Magellanic penguins stranded in South America every year? by [01/17/2019]
– Thousands of Magellanic penguins become stranded every year along the coast of South America, from northern Argentina all the way down to southern Brazil, and are unable to make it back to their breeding grounds in Patagonia 1,000 miles or more away.
– Scientists have observed that the penguins that get left behind are three times as likely to be female as male. But, due to a dearth of data on the penguins’ migratory habits, it could not be determined why there was such a gender-based discrepancy to the strandings.
– New research published this month in the journal Current Biology sheds new light on the situation, however, finding that, among other behavioral differences, female Magellanic penguins are likely to venture farther north than their male counterparts — and that by doing so, they’re more likely to run into the kinds of trouble that can leave them stranded.


As Brazilian agribusiness booms, family farms feed the nation by Anna Sophie Gross [01/17/2019]
The man who made Ecuador’s wooden Tigua masks famous by Kimberley Brown [01/16/2019]
Agroforestry empowers Morocco’s mountain women by Monica Pelliccia [01/16/2019]
Bolsonaro acts; Brazil’s socio-environmental groups resist by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [01/14/2019]