Newsletter 2019-02-14


Graphic anti-wildlife-trafficking campaign tackles Vietnam’s pangolin problem by Michael Tatarski [02/14/2019]

– A bold new campaign launched in Ho Chi Minh City late last month focuses on pagodas and aims to educate Buddhists on the devastating impact of the illegal wildlife trade and the importance of these three species.
– Research has shown that fewer Vietnamese believe in the alleged medicinal properties of these animal parts than in the past.
– Despite increasing awareness and changes in attitude, massive shipments of ivory and pangolin scales continue to be sent to the country.

Dam déjà vu: 2 Brazil mining waste disasters in 3 years raise alarms by Zoe Sullivan and Caio de Freitas Paes [02/11/2019]

– Even as Brazil’s newly seated Bolsonaro administration calls for the gutting of environmental licensing rules and for other environmental deregulation, a January collapse of a Vale Mining tailings storage dam in Brumadinho, killing more than 150 people with more than 180 missing and feared dead, has outraged Brazilians.
– The disaster is the second such accident in barely three years. In November 2015, another Vale-affiliated dam collapsed, also in Minas Gerais state, killing 19 and polluting the Doce River for 500 miles all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The two accidents now vie for designation as Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
– Mongabay’s investigation of the 2015 accident response and the national and state inspection system, while not all encompassing, shows a high degree of long-term failure by government, by mining companies, and inspection consultants to adequately assess tailings dam risk, and to repair structurally deficient dams.
– Three years after the Fundão dam failure, government and mining companies have received poor marks from critics for victim compensation and fixes for socio-environmental harm. On February 7th, Brazil said it aims to ban upstream tailings dams (UTDs), the type that failed both times. No details were released as to how Brazil’s 88 existing UTDs would be dismantled.


DRC’s Virunga to welcome visitors again after 8-month closure by [02/14/2019]
– Escalating violence in mid-2018, resulting in the deaths of seven park rangers, forced the closure of Virunga National Park to visitors.
– The park is known for its diverse wildlife, especially its mountain gorillas, as well as its active volcano, but its location in eastern DRC is one of the most volatile regions on earth.
– After assessing the security of the park, officials will reopen stable areas for visitors on Feb. 15 interested in trekking to see the gorillas and to visit the rim of the volcano.

‘Beautiful legislation’ fails to protect PNG’s environment, landowners by Lucy EJ Woods [02/14/2019]
– On paper, Papua New Guinea has comprehensive laws to protect the environment and ensure that land deals are carried out in a just manner.
– But poor enforcement, and a lack of accountability when laws are violated, leaves ecosystems vulnerable and allows for customary land to be used for development projects without proper consent being obtained in advance.
– PNG’s traditional land tenure system, which covers around 97 percent of the country’s territory, makes land-use deals particularly complicated to negotiate.

The good luck black cat, revealed by camera traps by Sue Palminteri [02/13/2019]
– Camera traps enabled researchers and a professional photographer to document the presence of a rare melanistic (black) leopard, confirming reports of the cat in northern Kenya.
– Five different remote camera stations, positioned near water sources and trails, recorded the young female leopard over three months.
– The case demonstrates the value of remotely placed sensors in capturing both shy, cryptic animals and rare events in nature, such as melanism, which results from genes producing a surplus of pigment in an animal’s skin or hair so that it appears black.

Massive pangolin seizure in Borneo smuggling operation bust by [02/13/2019]
– A team of police and wildlife officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah seized nearly 30 metric tons (33 tons) of pangolins on Feb. 7.
– The raids on a factory in the state capital, Kota Kinabalu, and a warehouse in a village outside the city revealed a “smuggling syndicate,” which police believe has been operating for seven years.
– Sabah has become a waypoint for the trafficking of scales from pangolins in Africa to Asia.
– In this case, however, a man arrested in the raid told police that he had purchased the pangolins from local hunters in Malaysian Borneo.

Wisdom, world’s oldest known wild bird, is a mother again at 68 by [02/13/2019]
– Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is believed to be at least 68 years old and is the world’s oldest known wild bird.
– She returned to her regular nesting site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northern Pacific, in November last year, and her new chick hatched earlier this month.
– Millions of Layson albatrosses were slaughtered in the early 1900s for their feathers, which were used in hats in Europe. That makes Wisdom’s contribution to the species’ regeneration important as it recovers from the large-scale hunting, biologists say.

Nicaragua crisis takes an environmental toll with plunder of turtle eggs by Michelle Carrere [02/13/2019]
– Residents of communities around Nicaragua’s La Flor Wildlife Refuge raided some 2,000 turtle nests and killed at least six turtles during the summer of 2018, a conservation NGO says.
– The scale of the theft was exacerbated by an ongoing political and security crisis that has left the refuge devoid of rangers and military patrols.
– The country’s first lady has launched an “I love turtles” media campaign, but critics are skeptical about how effective it will be.

Grasshoppers: They come, they eat, they … pollinate? by Ashley Stumvoll [02/13/2019]
– A new paper describes 41 species of orthopterans — grasshoppers, crickets and katydids — visiting flowers, making them potential pollinators.
– More research is needed to understand what role these insects, often viewed as crop destroyers, play in pollination.
– Insects worldwide are in crisis due to pesticide use, loss of habitat and climate change.

Tool innovation shows cultural evolution at work among chimpanzees by Nina Finley [02/12/2019]
– Chimpanzees in the wild have long been known to use a balled-up wad of leaves as a sponge to soak up water to drink.
– In 2011, researchers in Uganda observed chimps using a fistful of moss instead of leaves — and noted that the practice of “moss-sponging” was spreading throughout the chimp community.
– The sudden emergence and then rapid spread of this new tool leads researchers to believe that chimpanzees are capable of cultural evolution.
– Deforestation and hunting threaten chimpanzees with extinction, and may make it more difficult for cultural innovations to spread.

Amazon at risk: Brazil plans rapid road and rail infrastructure expansion by Sue Branford [02/12/2019]
– New Minister of Infrastructure Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas is considered one of President Jair Bolsonaro’s most capable ministers. The former army engineer wants to streamline Brazil’s infrastructure agencies, root out corruption, and is seeking foreign investors, especially China, to finance a rush of new transportation construction.
– Conservationists and indigenous groups worry that Tarcísio Freitas’ plans to push forward with new roads and railways – including Ferrogrâo (Grainrail) and FIOL (the Railway for the Integration of the Center-West) – could open the Amazon and Cerrado biomes to land grabbers, illegal loggers, illicit ranchers and industrial agribusiness.
– While Tarcísio Freitas says that new Amazon transportation routes can help industrial agribusiness grow without causing new deforestation, in a Mongabay interview last year, he failed to address how all of this new infrastructure could be accomplished without also degrading Amazon forests or impacting indigenous communities.

The secret to a town’s perfect potatoes? Its well-preserved forest. by Jorge Rodríguez [02/11/2019]
– Concepción Chiquirichapa, a town in southwestern Guatemala, is renowned for its excellent potatoes.
– The rise of potato agriculture there is due, in part, to the use of leaf litter as an organic fertilizer and a steady supply of high-quality water from the local forest, which the town began restoring and protecting four decades ago.
– As potato farming spreads and the local population grows, the town is attempting in several ways to protect its natural resources.
– This is the third part of Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Concepción community’s effort to restore the forest of Siete Orejas.

US senators warn fund managers over palm oil by James Fair [02/11/2019]
– Investment firms managing trillions of dollars of assets are falling short in eliminating environmental harm, such as deforestation from the operations of the palm oil companies in which they hold a stake, say U.S. senators.
– The legislators are pointing to the world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, among others as choosing words over action in their environmental oversight.
– The companies identified will find it hard to ignore the politicians’ demand for greater transparency, a campaigner says.

Short film celebrates community forest titles in DRC by [02/11/2019]
– In 2018, the DRC government approved a plan for communities to gain legal control over their local forests.
– The Rainforest Foundation UK and its partners in the DRC have been working with 10 participating villages to help community members understand their legal rights to manage local forests.
– RFUK and its partners maintain that, in addition to the benefits the communities may derive, local management of forests could help halt deforestation, keeping billions of tons of carbon locked away in the fight to slow global climate change.

Six new catfish species, facial tentacles and all, described in Amazon by [02/11/2019]
– Researchers have described six new species of catfish from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America.
– All six species belong to the genus Ancistrus, and have tentacles sprouting from their faces, spines sticking out from their heads, and armor-like bony plates covering their bodies.
– The newly described fish were once plentiful but are now scarce, the researchers say, largely due to habitat destruction from agricultural expansion, deforestation and gold mining.

Jammin’ at wind farms may help save bats by Mary Bates [02/11/2019]
– Hundreds of thousands of bats are killed by wind turbines each year in North America.
– New technology that uses an ultrasonic acoustic field to jam bat echolocation was found to reduce bat fatalities by 54 percent at a wind energy facility in Texas.
– The Bat Deterrent System will be released commercially in North America this year.
– Tests are ongoing to maximize the system’s effectiveness for various bat species.

Ecuador’s indigenous Cofán hail court-ordered end to mining on their land by Antonio José Paz Cardona [02/11/2019]
– A court in Ecuador’s Sucumbíos province has ordered that the mining concessions already in operation on territory claimed by the Cofán indigenous people, and those currently in the process of being granted, must be canceled, affecting some 324 square kilometers (125 square miles) in total.
– The ruling also requires that reparations be made for any impacts caused by recent mining.
– For the community, the court’s decision is a victory that represents a milestone for the rights of all indigenous communities in Ecuador.

Sumatran tiger killed at London Zoo by potential mate by [02/10/2019]
– Melati, a 10-year-old female Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), was killed Feb. 8 at ZSL London Zoo when she was introduced to a 7-year-old male called Asim.
– Asim had been transferred from Denmark as part of the European Endangered Species Programme, a captive-breeding program.
– The two tigers had been kept in separate but adjacent paddocks for 10 days before zookeepers opened the door between them on the morning of Feb. 8.
– Scientists believe that fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers live on their namesake Indonesian island.

Meet eight female conservation scientists who inform and inspire by Erik Hoffner [02/10/2019]
– The International Day of Women and Girls in Science highlights the achievements of female scientists, and is celebrated on February 11 this year.
– Here we highlight eight women contributing greatly to the conservation sciences.

Indonesia rescues captive orangutans, but leaves their owners untouched by Ayat S. Karokaro, Junaidi Hanafiah [02/08/2019]
– Authorities in Indonesia have confiscated two juvenile Sumatran orangutans, a critically endangered species, being kept as pets.
– Possession of an orangutan is punishable by up to five years in prison in Indonesia, but authorities have never prosecuted any pet owners, who tend to be powerful and influential figures, and instead go after the poachers and traders.
– Conservationists say there need to be legal consequences for keeping orangutans as pets, in order to discourage the illegal trade, which involves poachers killing mother apes to capture babies and juveniles.

Butterfly business: Insect farmers help conserve East African forests by Janet Njung’e [02/08/2019]
– As many as 1,200 people living around the forests of coastal Kenya and Tanzania have turned to butterfly farming to make a living. Many of them were once loggers who now defend the forest.
– Three butterfly-farming initiatives aim to conserve forests while generating sustainable incomes for local communities by raising and selling pupae to research institutes and butterfly houses in Europe and Turkey.
– The most successful of the initiatives is helping to conserve the 420 square-kilometer (162 square-mile) Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve in Kilifi county, Kenya, the last large remnant of a forest that once stretched from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique.
– By contrast, the two Tanzanian projects are currently challenged by a government ban on wildlife exports.

To fight deforestation first tackle inequality, study says by Kimberley Brown [02/08/2019]
– Agriculture is the leading cause of tropical forest loss in Latin America.
– New research from the University of Bern says institutions – including environmental policies, laws and regulations – are vital in preventing agricultural expansion, and deforestation.
– Higher inequality can cause ruptures within communities, and prevent collective action needed to protect the environment.

How do you assess if a reintroduced species is thriving? Listen for it by Sue Palminteri [02/08/2019]
– Researchers in New Zealand combined sound data from acoustic monitoring devices with species occupancy models to assess the success of translocating an endangered New Zealand bird, the hihi, to invasive species-free locations.
– The scientists say in their paper that advances in acoustic monitoring and statistical techniques have made it possible to infer spatial and temporal changes in population dynamics without needing to track individual animals.
– As wildlife managers increasingly release animals back to their historic ranges, cost-effective, non-invasive data collection, automated pattern recognition, and analysis techniques that predict the likelihood of species occupying a given location over time could improve the success of the reintroduction process.

Latam Eco Review: ‘Andean ostrich’ gets some bling and Patagonia pumas protected by [02/08/2019]
The most recent top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, followed Romeo, the incredibly rare Bolivian frog who’s finally found a mate; puma protection in Patagonia National Park; and the “Andean ostrich” that now features on a Peruvian coin. Love over extinction: Bolivia’s ‘Romeo’ frog finds his Juliet After a decade of solitude, Romeo, […]

EU action plan on tropical deforestation must be beefed up, or it will fail (commentary) by Sam Lawson [02/08/2019]
– Through its insatiable consumption of agro-commodities like soy, palm oil, and beef, the EU is contributing to a global deforestation crisis. After stalling for years while it carried out study after study, 2019 is crunch time.
– The first signs are far from good, suggesting a toothless, pro-corporate, ‘more of the same’ approach — which the available evidence indicates is doomed to failure — in marked contrast to the EU’s action on illegal timber.
– To have any chance of having an impact, the EU’s action plan on deforestation must be strengthened to include plans for legally binding regulation.
– 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, February 8, 2019 by [02/08/2019]
– 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.

Colombia’s disaster-ridden hydropower project runs second largest river dry by Taran Volckhausen [02/07/2019]
– Colombia’s largest hydroelectric project, Hidroituango, has created an ecological disaster after emergency measures reduced water flow from a normal dry-season 450 to 500 cubic meters per second (m3/s) to only 35 m3/s, according to climate monitoring authority IDEAM.
– One prominent environmental activist released a video filmed beside the once powerful river that now more closely resembles a slow-moving creek.
– In the video, the activist denounced Hidroituango for perpetrating “the greatest environmental crime that has ever happened in Colombia.”
– Medellin public utility company EPM, who is behind the mega-project that received Inter-American Development Bank financing, is under investigation for corruption-related charges tied to a 2012 consortium process with Brazilian company Camargo Correa.


New appointments, new policies don’t bode well for Brazilian Amazon by Jenny Gonzales [02/04/2019]