Newsletter 2019-02-21


New Species of orangutan threatened from moment of its discovery by Laurel Neme [02/20/2019]

– In a November 2017 article, an international team of scientists described a new species of great ape: the Tapanuli orangutan.
– The announcement was based on years of researched that demonstrated the species exhibited genetic, physical and behavioral differences that distinguished it from Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.
– Even as conservationists celebrated the description of a new species, they raised an alarm about the dangers facing the ape — notably, a hydropower dam planned for its sole remaining habitat.
– This is the second in a two-part series about the discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan.

Bolsonaro government takes aim at Vatican over Amazon meeting by Jan Rocha [02/20/2019]

– The Catholic Church has scheduled a Synod for October, a meeting at which bishops and priests (and one nun) from the nine Latin American Amazon countries will discuss environmental, indigenous and climate change issues.
– Members of the new rightist Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro are eyeing the event with suspicion, seeing it as an attack on national sovereignty by a progressive church.
– To show its opposition to the Amazon Synod, the Brazilian government plans to sponsor a rival symposium in Rome, just a month before the Pope’s meeting, to present examples of “Brazil’s concern and care for the Amazon.”
– At issue are two opposing viewpoints: the Catholic Church under Pope Francis sees itself and all nations as stewards of the Earth and of less privileged indigenous and traditional people. Bolsonaro, however, and many of his ruralist and evangelical allies see the Amazon as a resource to be used and developed freely by humans.

Illegal gold mining destroys wetland forest in Madagascar park by Rowan Moore Gerety [02/19/2019]

– Over the last two years, small crews of miners using rudimentary hand tools have made repeated incursions into Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar, to dig hundreds of shallow pit mines.
– The wave of mining coincides with a steadily worsening security situation in the area, complicating attempts at enforcement and limiting researchers’ ability to quantify the problem.
– In a new paper, authors used satellite imagery to analyze changes in forest cover and drone photography to survey the wetlands in the heart of Ranomafana.
– The area affected is still relatively small, but experts fear the problem could easily become much worse.

What does it take to discover a new great ape species? by Laurel Neme [02/19/2019]

– In a paper published November 2017, an international team of scientists described a new species of orangutan.
– The Tapanuli orangutan, the eighth known great ape, is distinct from its Sumatran and Bornean cousins in several key ways.
– The species is also highly threatened, with plans to develop a hydroelectric dam in its only known habitat raising alarm among conservationists.
– This is the first in a two-part series about the discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan. Part Two will be published Feb. 20.

The view from the bottleneck: Is nature poised for a big comeback? by Jeremy Hance [02/18/2019]

– A new theory, from bottleneck to breakthrough, posits that urbanization, falling fertility and the end of extreme poverty could result in a much greener world than the one we inherited.
– The scientists behind the idea believe that conservation must continue to “hold on” to species and places as nations make their way through the tightening bottleneck.
– If trends today persist, the global population could urbanize and fall dramatically in the next couple of centuries, turning conservation into restoration.
– This post is part of “Saving Life on Earth: Words on the Wild,” a monthly column by Jeremy Hance, one of Mongabay’s original staff writers.


Plastics found in dolphins, seals, and whales in UK waters by [02/21/2019]
– In a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports last month, a research team from the UK’s University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory detailed their findings after studying the digestive tracts of 50 individuals from 10 species of dolphins, seals, and whales that had been stranded on the coast of Britain.
– “Microplastics were ubiquitous with particles detected in every animal examined,” the authors of the study write.
– Just 5.5 microplastic particles were found in each animal, on average, which suggests that the particles might be simply passing through the marine mammals’ bodies, the researchers said. But the animals’ stomachs were found to contain more microplastics than their intestines, pointing to “a potential site of temporary retention,” they added.

Brazil wants to legalize agribusiness leasing of indigenous lands by Jenny Gonzales [02/21/2019]
– It is currently illegal under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution for outside agricultural producers to lease land within indigenous reserves from indigenous groups in order to grow commercial commodities crops there. It is also illegal for indigenous groups to convert forests within their reserves to commercial commodities crop production.
– However, the Bolsonaro government, utilizing public events and public statements, has made it clear that it condones such activities. Brazil currently knows of 22 indigenous reserves in violation of the law, with areas illegally leased to agricultural producers totaling 3.1 million hectares (11,969 square miles).
– Bolsonaro’s Agriculture Minister stated last week that she wants to see Congress move forward with new measures to make commercial commodities growing legal within indigenous reserves, provided the indigenous people living there agree to the crops and make land leasing agreements with producers.
– Up until now, indigenous groups have been renowned as the best protectors of the Amazon rainforest. However, the Bolsonaro administration’s moves seem aimed at dividing indigenous groups into two camps, one that favors agribusiness conversion, and one that wants to protect reserve forests and indigenous traditions.

Video: Cerrado farmer shot amid escalating conflict with agribusiness by Flávia Milhorance [02/21/2019]
– Mongabay video exclusive: Long simmering land disputes between traditional communities and large-scale agribusiness in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna biome appear to be intensifying. In January, cellphone video showed a geraizeiro, a small-scale farmer, wounded by security agents at the Agronegocio Estrondo plantation in Bahia, Brazil.
– The shooting occurred when the farmer tried to recover a small herd of cattle that the plantation was holding inside a corral on what it claimed was its property. In recent years, Estrondo and other large plantations have laid claim to largely undeeded Cerrado uplands where traditional settlements had long legally grazed their livestock.
– Even more recently, Estrondo and other plantations have laid claim to lowlands near rivers in order to tap the streams for irrigation, again taking advantage of the lack of land deeds, and this time encroaching on traditional rural settlements whose land rights are protected under Brazilian law.
– Outrage against Estrondo by locals heightened after the grower allegedly destroyed a village cell tower; erected fences staffed with armed guards blocking roads to the local market town; and constructed deep ditches, high berms and even a watchtower to defend the lands the firm has claimed. Legal action is ongoing to diffuse the situation.

In a predator-infested forest, survival for baby birds comes by the road by John C. Cannon [02/21/2019]
– Fledglings of a common bird, the white-rumped shama, in a tropical forest in Thailand were more likely to survive if they came from nests near a roadway than if they fledged deeper in the forest, researchers have found.
– The scientists believe that predators’ preference for the forest’s interior at this study site led to the difference in survival rates.
– Still, they caution that the apparent benefits of one road for a small subset of a single species don’t necessarily extend to the broader bird community, and say that planners should avoid building roads through areas of high conservation value.
– More research is necessary to determine if this effect is specific just to this study site.

Cambodia’s fragile Prey Lang forest remains under threat by Lauren Crothers [02/21/2019]
– Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest has been under threat from illegal loggers for nearly 20 years, with deforestation spiking to 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) in 2016, the same year a wildlife sanctuary was declared.
– A grassroots group that seeks to protect the ecosystem says it continues to find “alarming” evidence of illegal logging in and around the forest and protected area.
– These activists say they fear loggers are able to escape because of a 2017 government regulation requiring them to seek permission before conducting any more patrols.

UN passes first ever declaration for peasant rights by Kimberley Brown [02/20/2019]
– A new UN Declaration protects peasant rights to land, seeds, and adequate incomes with an emphasis on civil and social rights.
– Peasants, which includes small-scale farmers, rural workers, fishing communities, pastoralists and landless agriculture workers, have been recognized as a vulnerable population with distinct needs for the first time ever.
– By protecting peasant rights, the new status aims to also help reduce climate change and protect biodiversity.

Madre de Dios: Seven Brazil nut concessions investigated for illegal timber extraction by Yvette Sierra Praeli [02/20/2019]
– A new report by environmental prosecutors in Peru alleges that loggers are using permits for Brazil nut concessions as cover for illegal timber harvesting.
– The Peruvian government has now taken action by seizing files on seven suspicious cases.

Audio: The sounds of a rare New Zealand bird reintroduced to its native habitat by Mike Gaworecki [02/20/2019]
– On today’s episode, we speak with Oliver Metcalf, lead author of a recent study that used bioacoustic recordings and machine learning to track birds in New Zealand after they’d been reintroduced into the wild.
– In this Field Notes segment, Metcalf plays some of the recordings of the hihi, also known as the stitchbird, that informed his research and explains how bioacoustic monitoring can help improve reintroduction programs.

How many trees make a forest? (commentary) by Jon Fisher [02/20/2019]
– A common agreement on what constitutes a forest could help end deforestation and loss of habitat.
– The lack of clarity around defining forests generates difficulties in how we measure deforestation — and in turn, how we stop it. Does a patch of brand-new seedlings count as a “forest”? Should we count three trees or three hundred? What about woodlands with lots of open grassy clearings?
– The Accountability Framework initiative, a new global coalition composed of NGOs representing diverse perspectives, was formed to provide clear, robust, and consistent guidelines for corporate commitments to end deforestation and habitat conversion.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Chinese ‘Queen of Ivory’ sentenced to 15 years in jail for tusk trafficking by [02/20/2019]
– Tanzania has sentenced Yang Fenglan, a Chinese national dubbed the “Queen of Ivory,” to 15 years in prison for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 African elephants over several years.
– Yang, 69, was arrested in 2015, along with two Tanzanian men, and charged with trafficking 860 ivory pieces, which according to authorities were worth at least $5.6 million.
– On Feb. 19, a court convicted the three of organizing a criminal syndicate and sentenced them to 15 years each. It also ordered them to pay a fine double the market value of the ivory they were accused of smuggling, or face an additional two years in prison for failing to do so.
– Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press conference that China would support Tanzania’s investigation and handling of the case.

Indonesian candidates find common ground in support for palm oil by Basten Gokkon [02/20/2019]
– Indonesia’s two presidential candidates, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, have both pledged to increase the production and consumption of palm oil should they win the April 17 election.
– Environmental activists and experts have criticized the candidates for not addressing the negative aspects of palm oil production, which both are pushing as a feedstock for biodiesel, in what is seen as a voter-pleasing appeal to resource nationalism.
– Nearly 200 million people in Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest rainforest and also the biggest producer of palm oil, are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

Indonesia to get first payment from Norway under $1b REDD+ scheme by Hans Nicholas Jong [02/20/2019]
– Indonesia and Norway have agreed on a first payment from a $1 billion deal under which Indonesia preserves its rainforests to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
– The agreement comes nearly a decade since the deal was signed in 2010, with the delay attributed largely to the need for legislation and policy frameworks to be put in place, as well as a change in the Indonesian government since then.
– The amount of the first payment still needs to be negotiated by both sides, with Indonesia pushing for a higher valuation than the $5 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent that Norway paid Brazil under a similar deal.
– Indonesia still has work to do to ensure a consistent pace of progress and tackle the forest fires that account for much of the loss of its forests.

Brazil sees growing wave of anti-indigenous threats, reserve invasions by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [02/19/2019]
– At least 14 indigenous reserves have been invaded or threatened with invasion, according to Repórter Brasil, an online news service and Mongabay media partner. Threats and acts of violence against indigenous communities appear to have escalated significantly since President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office.
– Indigenous leaders say Bolsonaro’s incendiary language against indigenous people has helped incite that violence, though the government denies this, with one official saying the administration will “stop the illegality.” Indigenous leaders point out that, so far, the government has failed to provide significant law enforcement assistance in the crisis
– Among recent threats and attacks: a top indigenous leader, Rosivaldo Ferreira da Silva of the Tupinambá people, claims to have detected a plot by large-scale landowners and military and civilian police to murder him and his family. The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and Karipuna reserves in Rondônia state have been invaded by land grabbers and illegal loggers.
– Another five indigenous territories near the city of Altamira in Pará state have also reportedly been invaded.

In the Solomon Islands, making amends in the name of conservation by John C. Cannon [02/19/2019]
– The Kwaio people of the Solomon Islands have been working with scientists to protect their homeland from resource extraction and development.
– But violent clashes in 1927 between the Kwaio and the colonial government created a rift between members of this tribe and the outside world.
– To heal those old wounds and continue with their conservation work, a trio of scientists joined the Kwaio in a sacred reconciliation ceremony in July 2018.
– Kwaio leaders say that the ceremony opened the door to a more peaceful future for their people.

India-Nepal agreement to boost transborder conservation of rhinos, tigers by Mayank Aggarwal [02/19/2019]
– India and Nepal, which share a border running more than 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles), are set to sign an agreement strengthening transboundary conservation of species like the Indian rhino, Bengal tiger and Asian elephant.
– The memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed before India’s upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for April and May this year.
– The MOU is expected to put an emphasis on cooperation for the conservation and protection of tigers, whose population has increased in both countries over the past decade.

Giant pines a tourist draw, cash cow for Yogyakarta farmers by Nuswantoro [02/19/2019]
– The Mangunan Pine Forest, near the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, has become a major draw for visitors to the region. Local farmers, switching to ecotourism, are cashing in.
– More than 2 million people visited the site in 2017, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, according to a local cooperative that stewards the area.
– “For those who pioneered this, who struggled the most, their income has quadrupled,” says the head of the cooperative.

Report: Turkish carrier is ‘poacher’s airline of choice’ for parrot trade by Shreya Dasgupta [02/18/2019]
– In a recent report, the U.K.-based charity World Animal Protection (WAP) identified Turkish Airlines as one of the main airlines enabling the illegal trade in African grey parrots.
– Calling the carrier the “poacher’s airline of choice,” the report published Feb. 4 noted that smugglers were using Turkish Airlines to illegally move a large number of African grey parrots on flights from the Democratic Republic of Congo to countries in the Middle East and western and southern Asia.
– WAP also started an online campaign, “Wildlife. Not pets.”, demanding that Turkish Airlines stop transporting all birds “until it’s sure African grey parrots and other protected species aren’t being flown on its planes.”
– In response, Turkish Airlines on Feb. 13 issued a global embargo on the transportation of African grey parrots on any of its planes, according to a press release from WAP.

Corruption-riddled caviar trade pushes fish closer to extinction by [02/18/2019]
– TRAFFIC, WWF and several other organizations and institutions have published a report demonstrating that corruption drives the illegal trade of caviar around the world.
– Many of the species of fish, including those that produce the highest-priced caviar, are critically endangered.
– The report’s authors surfaced evidence of bribery, conflicts of interest, poaching and improper labeling in the industry, all of which are putting further pressure on the resource.

Guyana: The school where indigenous youth learn about their land by Carinya Sharples [02/15/2019]
– The Bina Hill Institute’s Youth Learning Centre is the only tertiary educational institution in Guyana’s hinterland.
– Started in 2002, the center was set up to be an incubator for future indigenous leaders who can return to and help develop their communities.
– Studies at the center focus on areas relevant to life in Guyana’s interior: agriculture, natural resource management, forestry, tourism, traditional crafts, and one of the local indigenous languages, Makushi.
– Despite challenges such as sparse funding and its remote location, the center has made a name for itself in Guyana’s conservation field and surrounding communities.

10 reasons U.S. must hold Peru to trade deal and protect Amazon (commentary) by David Hill [02/15/2019]
– Peru’s pioneering forest inspection agency OSINFOR has taken the lead in exposing the rampant illegalities that have dominated Peru’s timber trade for decades, but it has done so only because it has been independent of other government ministries.
– In December 2018, Peru moved OSINFOR into the Ministry of Environment, effectively stripping it of its independence, a decision that could gravely compromise OSINFOR’s effectiveness in the future.
– This move also arguably violates the Trade Promotion Agreement between Peru and the United States, which entered into force 10 years ago and stipulates that OSINFOR must be “independent.”
– The U.S., a top importer of Peruvian timber, has a major responsibility for ensuring that it is produced legally and therefore must insist Peru respect the Trade Promotion Agreement by making OSINFOR independent again. – This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latam Eco Review: Twilight for Darwin’s foxes, nightlife for jaguarundis by [02/15/2019]
Jaguarundis caught on camera in Peru, hydropower choking Colombia’s Cauca River, and Darwin’s foxes on the brink of extinction were among the recent top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Caught on camera: Unexpected nightlife of jaguarundi in Peru They were following spectacled bears in northern Peru, but at night camera traps caught species […]

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, February 15, 2019 by [02/15/2019]
– 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.

Nepal court blocks road construction in rhino stronghold of Chitwan Park by Abhaya Raj Joshi [02/15/2019]
– Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the second-largest population of greater one-horned rhinos, as well as Bengal tigers and hundreds of other species.
– Plans to construct road and rail links through the park alarmed conservationists and landed Nepal with a formal warning from UNESCO.
– On Feb. 13, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government not to build new roads inside Chitwan without approval from UNESCO, the park management and other stakeholders.

Sri Lanka gets its first data-based elephant distribution map by Shreya Dasgupta [02/15/2019]
– Researchers have produced the first ever data-based distribution map of Asian elephants for Sri Lanka. This is also the first evidence-based distribution map of Asian elephants for any of the 13 range countries, the researchers say.
– The study found that elephants currently occur in 60 percent of Sri Lanka, a figure that’s higher than previous estimates based on expert opinions, and also higher than that for any other range state.
– The majority of the elephants occur outside protected areas, sharing space with humans, the study found. So trying to confine the animals to the limits of protected areas is not a sound conservation strategy, the researchers say.
– Instead, they recommend a “human–elephant coexistence model,” one that aims to reduce conflict by protecting villages and cultivations with barriers.

For Indonesian presidential hopefuls, burning coal is business as usual by Hans Nicholas Jong [02/15/2019]
– Indonesia relies for more than half of its electricity on coal-fired power plants, and has plans to build dozens more in the coming years, bucking a worldwide shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.
– Activists have called on President Joko Widodo and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, to address the issue at their presidential debate on Feb. 17.
– Neither camp, however, has made any meaningful policy gestures on environmental issues, with a Widodo campaign spokesman even disputing the science on coal’s central role in climate change as merely “an opinion.”
– Instead, the incumbent, who enjoys a solid lead on his challenger, looks set to deepen Indonesia’s reliance on coal as the primary energy source.

Few eco commitments and suspect funding for Indonesia presidential hopefuls by Basten Gokkon [02/15/2019]
– The second debate in Indonesia’s presidential campaign, scheduled for Feb. 17, will address environmental issues.
– Activists say that both President Joko Widodo and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, have shown little commitment to tackling pressing issues such as reining in oil palm expansion, ending deforestation, or fully recognizing indigenous rights.
– In addition, both campaigns are heavily funded by donations linked to the mining and palm oil industries, while top campaign officials also have business holdings in these sectors.

Invaded Uru-eu-wau-wau indigenous reserve awaits relief by Brazil’s new government by Gustavo Faleiros [02/14/2019]
– On January 12, Brazil’s Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reserve in Rondônia state, which covers 1.8 million hectares (6,950 square miles) and includes significant intact rainforest, was invaded by 40 land grabbers, some of them armed, who began cutting down trees, cut 15.5 miles of trails, and started subdividing cleared land into lots.
– Detected, challenged and videotaped by indigenous men, the invaders said they came from “outside” and that 200 more invaders would be coming soon. Indigenous inhabitants made an immediate appeal to the new Bolsonaro administration for significant law enforcement assistance to repel the invaders.
– While federal police in high numbers have not been deployed as requested, the federal and state governments did send in a high level official delegation to investigate the situation including new FUNAI National Indian Foundation president General Franklimberg de Freitas.
– The government says the situation is being watched closely, but is under control for now, and that the administration will “stop illegality.” But indigenous leaders fear “the invaders believe they have support” from the Bolsonaro government. The incident is ongoing. There have been two arrests, but to date the invaders have not been completely expelled.

A snapshot of camera traps reveals user frustrations and hopes by Sue Palminteri [02/14/2019]
– A team of camera trapping experts surveyed researchers and conservation professionals to identify limitations to their successful use of remote cameras, assess their wish list of technological developments, and predict what next-generation camera trapping will look like.
– Their recently published study revealed that cost, theft, vulnerability of the cameras to environmental conditions, and several ongoing technical issues may be limiting the effectiveness of this popular technology in providing the utility the users seek.
– The survey respondents offered numerous predictions for next-generation camera trapping, including solar and lithium-ion power sources, a wider range of sensors, and software-driven automation.

Peru: Report reveals high rates of illegality in timber extraction by Yvette Sierra Praeli [02/14/2019]
– According to Global Witness, over 60 percent of the timber inspected by Peru’s Agency for the Supervision of Forest Resources and Wildlife (OSINFOR) in the Loreto and Ucayali regions has illegal origins.
– A variety of logging permits have been used to launder about $112 million in timber.


Graphic anti-wildlife-trafficking campaign tackles Vietnam’s pangolin problem by Michael Tatarski [02/14/2019]
Dam déjà vu: 2 Brazil mining waste disasters in 3 years raise alarms by Zoe Sullivan and Caio de Freitas Paes [02/11/2019]