Newsletter 2019-03-14


Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land by Jan Rocha [03/13/2019]

– The Brazilian state of Roraima is currently dependent for 70 percent of its power on Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric dam. But socioeconomic chaos in Venezuela, and deteriorating political relations between the two nations, have caused Brazil to fast-track a 750-kilometer transmission line to replace the imported energy.
– General Otávio Rêgo de Barros, using a national security justification, has announced that construction will begin at the end of June on a powerline running between the cities of Manaus and Boa Vista, connecting Roraima with Brazil’s national electrical power grid.
– 125 kilometers of the planned transmission line will run through the Waimiri Atroari reserve, and the indigenous group has long resisted its construction. The Waimiri Atroari are concerned about detrimental impacts on the environment and on wildlife, as hunting is a primary way for their communities to obtain food.
– Roraima state has done viability studies showing that wind and solar power offer cheaper alternatives to the transmission line. But the Bolsonaro administration has ignored those alternatives. “The Indians will be consulted, but national interest must prevail,” said the general.


Local communities feared repression from WWF, investigation finds by Bart Crezee [03/14/2019]
– An investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed how for years, paramilitary anti-poaching forces funded and trained by WWF have killed and tortured indigenous villagers on the fringes of national parks.
– Even after the conservation nonprofit was made aware of the human rights abuses in 2015, it continued supporting armed eco-guards around the world and pushed for a new national park in the Republic of Congo.
– WWF was aware of concerns of violent repression raised by indigenous Baka communities in the Congo, but did not report this to the EU, one of the main funders of the new park.
– WWF confirmed to Mongabay that the new park would not go ahead if consent couldn’t be obtained from the Baka.

A plea to Botswana: Please rethink a “Not Enough Fences” approach (commentary) by Steve Osofsky [03/14/2019]
– The Government of Botswana is considering significant changes to the country’s approach to wildlife management.
– The proposed policy reflects a worrying lack of recognition of the habitat and migration route requirements that the future of southern Africa’s wildlife fundamentally depends upon.
– Now is not the time to cut-off migratory corridors or build new fences. Instead, it is time to make land-use decisions that will be socially, ecologically and economically sustainable for generations to come.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil to open indigenous reserves to mining without indigenous consent by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [03/14/2019]
– New Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque announced on 4 March that he plans to permit mining on indigenous lands in Brazil, including within the Amazon. He also said that he intends to allow mining right up to Brazil’s borders, abolishing the current ban along a 150-kilometer (93-mile)-wide swathe at the frontier.
– The Bolsonaro administration’s indigenous mining plan is in direct opposition to indigenous land rights as guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The indigenous mining initiative will likely be implemented via a presidential decree, which will almost surely be reviewed, and possibly be rejected, by Brazil’s Supreme Court.
– Mining companies stand ready to move into indigenous reserves, if the measure goes forward. Brazil’s mining ministry has received 4,073 requests from mining companies and individuals for mining-related activities on indigenous land. Indigenous groups are outraged and they plan to resist in the courts and by whatever means possible.
– Brazil’s mining industry has a very poor safety and environmental record. As recently as January, Brazil mega-mining company Vale saw a tailings dam collapse at Brumadinho which killed 193 and left another 115 missing. Public outcry is strong against the industry currently, but how the public will respond to the indigenous mining plan isn’t yet known.

‘Like seeing a dinosaur’: Scientists locate mystery killer whales by [03/14/2019]
– For years, there have been stories and photographs of “odd-looking” killer whales lurking in some of the roughest parts of the sub-Antarctic seas.
– Named Type D killer whales, these whales are quite different from regular killer whales: they’re smaller, their heads are more rounded, they have considerably smaller white eye patches, and their dorsal fins are narrower with sharp pointed tips.
– Now, researchers have finally located and filmed a group of these mysterious Type D killer whales off the tip of southern Chile.
– They have also collected tiny bits of tissues from the animals that they hope to use to analyze the whales’ DNA to see if they’re actually new to science.

It’s Generation Climate (commentary) by Jeremy Hance [03/14/2019]
– Last year, Greta Thunberg kick-started a movement of youth striking on Fridays for climate action.
– The youth today, those born after 1995, are already telling us their generations name: Generation Climate.
– Generation Climate will experience the large-scale impact of global warming after 30 years of inaction.
– This post is part of “Saving Life on Earth: Words on the Wild”, a monthly column by Jeremy Hance, one of Mongabay’s first staff writers.

Defending the Amazon’s uncontacted peoples: Q&A with Julio Cusurichi by Dan Collyns [03/13/2019]
– Julio Cusurichi, a Shipibo-Conibo leader, has been working to protect the peoples and forests of his native Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru.
– Increasingly, illegal gold miners as well as illegal loggers and drug traffickers are proving to be an existential threat for the indigenous people of the region, which concentrates some of the Amazon’s greatest biodiversity.
– In recent years Cusurichi led a successful campaign to create a legally recognized indigenous territory and helped establish a network of indigenous forest monitors when the government abandoned the effort.
– Now, he is working to gain a greater role for indigenous peoples in governing their territories. “The goal is for indigenous people to be the protagonists,” he told Mongabay on a recent visit to Peru’s capital, Lima. “We have to administer the Amazon regions that are our ancestral territories and not just leave it to the government.”

Putting the Blue in the Green New Deal (commentary) by David HelvargJason Scorse [03/13/2019]
– The Green New Deal (GND) is a U.S. resolution that aims to address economic inequality and global warming through a set of proposed economic stimulus projects.
– As nearly half of the U.S. populace lives in or near coastal areas, the GND needs to prioritize the sustainable use and preservation of the marine environment – called the “blue economy.”
– David Helvarg of Blue Frontier and Jason Scorse of the International Environmental Policy Program and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies suggest a series of policy and investment priorities for incorporation of the blue economy into the GND.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Genetic test reveals Baltic flounder migration routes and a new species by Lakshmi Supriya [03/13/2019]
– Look-alike flounders in the Gulf of Finland are not one but two different species, and the predominant species about thirty years ago has now almost completely disappeared from there.
– Using flounder inner ear samples collected over the last 40 years, researchers used a genetic test to map the distribution of the two species over time.
– The disappearance of one species in the early ‘90s coincided with environmental change in the central Baltic Sea, the spawning grounds from where larvae or juveniles are thought to migrate to more northern waters off the Finnish coast.
– Real-time monitoring of catch data using the genetic test may help target individual conservation efforts for the two species.

In East Africa, spread of sickle bush drives conflict with wildlife by David Njagi [03/13/2019]
– The rapid spread of sickle bush is causing habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict in East Africa.
– Experts don’t yet know why this native plant is spreading, but animals from elephants to gazelles dislike it and seek food in farms like those neighboring Randilen Wildlife Management Area in Tanzania.
– Methods ranging from burning to chemicals have been suggested to deal with the issue.
– Until the bush’s spread is slowed, crude methods ranging from flashlights to fireworks will continue to be employed to keep wildlife clear of crops.

Wikipedia searches reveal how people’s interests in wildlife change by Shreya Dasgupta [03/13/2019]
– By analyzing Wikipedia pages corresponding to nearly 32,000 species across 245 Wikipedia language editions, researchers have found that pageviews for more than a quarter of the species show seasonal patterns. This suggests people are paying attention to the animals and plants around them, researchers say.
– The study also found that views for species-related pages showed a lot more seasonality than random, non-species-related pages, suggesting that people tend to interact with wildlife in a more seasonal way than other aspects of their lives.
– The study, while identifying some interesting patterns, does not dig into the potential causes driving those patterns.
– What it does uncover are patterns of when, where and how people interact with nature, which, researchers say, can help guide conservation education and marketing campaigns.

Wildlife conservation strategies must take animals’ social lives into account: Researchers by [03/13/2019]
– In a paper published in Science last month, an international team of researchers argues that the growing body of evidence on the importance of social learning and animal cultures must be taken more fully into account in order to improve wildlife conservation efforts.
– “Animal culture” consists of information and behaviors shared amongst members of a wildlife community, such as a flock of migratory birds, a herd of elephants, or a pod of whales. For whooping cranes to retain knowledge of migration routes across generations, for instance, this knowledge must be passed between members of the flock through what scientists call “social learning.”
– Despite the mounting evidence of the far-reaching implications of social learning for the preservation of wildlife, however, international policy forums that devise large-scale conservation strategies “have so far not engaged substantially with the challenges and opportunities presented by this new scientific perspective,” the researchers note.

For fisheries activists, Indonesian candidates offer little to work with by Basten GokkonJay FajarM Ambari [03/13/2019]
– Neither of Indonesia’s presidential candidates has articulated a strong position on boosting sustainable management of the country’s fisheries or empowering small-scale fishermen, activists say.
– The incumbent, Joko Widodo, has rolled out policies aimed at cracking down on illegal fishing by foreign vessels, but has fallen short on measures to empower local fishermen, according to the critics.
– His rival, Prabowo Subianto, has framed his fisheries policy in the context of resource nationalism, while his proposed programs to support fishing communities are a rehash of what’s already being done.
– Fishing communities also face threats to their livelihoods from coastal development projects for land reclamation, mining, and tourism.

Freshwater fishes and other threatened but overlooked biodiversity must be new flagships for conservation (commentary) by Mike Baltzer [03/12/2019]
– Today there are believed to be at least 15,000 species of freshwater fishes. Only 54 percent of them have been assessed under the IUCN Red List, and one-third of these species are considered to be under threat of extinction. For the many species that remain unassessed, or for which there is too little information to make an assessment, the situation is likely to be as bad or worse.
– While there is so much to do, there are only a handful of dedicated freshwater fish conservation organizations, and few have full-time staff. Trout and salmon have received large amounts of attention and, as a consequence, there are many stories of conservation success. There are fewer stories of success for species outside North America and northern Europe. And this is what we will change with Shoal.
– The call by leading conservation agencies for a “new deal for nature” at the next Conference of the Parties of the Convention for Biological Diversity in 2020 needs to be firmly founded on neglected species, particularly freshwater biodiversity. Shoal will engage thousands of people and businesses across the globe who share a love of and stake in the future of freshwater species and healthy, productive wetlands but until now have had little opportunity to engage in the more mainstream conservation movement.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Elephant in the room: Botswana deals with pachyderm population pressure by Johan Augustin [03/12/2019]
– The government of Botswana is considering measures to rein in its elephant population to address the problem of human-elephant conflicts.
– These proposed measures include a resumption of big-game hunting and culling of elephants, which number about 130,000 in Botswana — the biggest population of the pachyderm in Africa.
– An existing solution is a transboundary conservation area that straddles the borders between Botswana and Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola.
– Given that many of the elephants inside Botswana come from these other countries, officials say having wildlife corridors in the border areas could ease the population pressure inside the country.

Bank of China to review funding of dam in orangutan habitat in Sumatra by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/12/2019]
– A major Chinese state-owned bank has promised to evaluate a hydropower project that it’s helping fund in Sumatra, following criticism that it threatens the world’s rarest great ape species with extinction.
– Bank of China said it was “committed to supporting environmental protection globally,” but stopped short of saying what actions it would take in its review of the Batang Toru hydropower project.
– The project site is located in a forest that’s the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, a species only described last year. Conservationists estimate the population of the species at about 800.
– There has been a mixed response to BOC’s statement, with some conservationists welcoming it and others saying it rings hollow, while a senior Indonesian official has condemned foreign NGOs’ opposition to the project as a form of outside intervention.

PNG politicians push coal as Pacific islanders rail against climate change by Catherine Wilson [03/12/2019]
– Politicians in Papua New Guinea have thrown their support behind a plan to power the country’s development through coal.
– The plan to establish coal mines and power plants gained prominence following a publicity tour hosted by rugby stars and sponsored by Australian mining and energy firm Mayur.
– Mayur’s proposal for a project combining coal, solar and biomass energy remains stalled, pending approval by the country’s newly restructured energy utility.
– The project faces opposition both locally and in other Pacific island states, where climate change-driven sea level rises pose a serious threat.

Combined effects of fire, fragmentation, and windstorms leave Amazonian trees particularly vulnerable by [03/11/2019]
– Recent research finds that Amazonian trees in fragmented forest landscapes remain especially vulnerable to windstorms for several years after being impacted by fire — and that, in particular, larger trees that store more carbon are most at risk.
– The research, the results of which were detailed in the Journal of Ecology last September, builds on the findings of a 2014 study that was based on data gathered during a decade-long field experiment involving three 50-hectare rainforest plots on the edge of agricultural fields in southeastern Amazonia — one plot was burned every year, another was burned every three years, and one control site was left unburned.
– The researchers found that trees in the burned plots were not only more likely to be uprooted or to have snapped off, usually at the same height as the fire damage the tree had sustained in the past, but that those fire-and-windstorm-damaged trees were much more likely to die in ensuing years.

Study uncovers 135 species of land snails in Belize, including 17 new ones by Shreya Dasgupta [03/11/2019]
– Only 24 species of land snails were previously known from Belize, but a decade-long study that started in 2006 has uncovered 135 more, including 17 that are new to science.
– Researchers and Belizean biological field technicians dug through leaf litter, went deep inside caves and sinkholes, and explored some of the remotest parts of Maya Mountains to look for land snails, naming some of the new ones after celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Jeff Corwin.
– While the biggest threat to the country’s land snails is habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture and settlements, chemical drift from banana and orange farms also poses a danger to the animals’ survival, researchers say.

European Parliament to vote on timber legality agreement with Vietnam by John C. Cannon [03/11/2019]
– The European Parliament begins debate March 11 on a resolution to consent to the recently signed Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with Vietnam on the trade of timber and timber products from the Southeast Asian country.
– The VPA is the result of nearly eight years of negotiations aimed at stopping the flow of illegally harvested timber into the EU.
– Members of parliament are expected to vote in favor of the resolution on March 12, though officials in the EU and outside observers have voiced concerns about the legality of the wood imported into Vietnam from other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Encounters with the Javan rhino (commentary) by Haerudin R. Sadjudin [03/11/2019]
– Relatively little is known about the behavior of the Javan rhinoceros, a famously elusive species with a global population of less than 70 individuals.
– Understanding the rhinos’ behavior and how they interact with their environment is key to conservation efforts.
– In this commentary, researcher Haeruddin Sadjudin looks back on four decades of work with rhinos to compile anecdotes that shed light on some characteristics of the species.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latam Eco Review: Scandal rocks famed Easter Island park and a freshwater crab discovery by [03/09/2019]
Scandal surrounds indigenous management of a major Easter Island protected area, a newly described freshwater crab species in Colombia, declines in Central America’s peccaries, and a man who can recognize more than 3,000 birdsongs were among the recent top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Nepotism in Easter Island: Fraud scandal rocks famous park […]

Tiny subterranean Texas salamanders could be extinct in 100 years by Morgan Erickson-Davis [03/08/2019]
– A recent study has revealed the existence of three previously undescribed species living underground within an aquifer system in Central Texas.
– The authors say one of these species is critically endangered due to human over-use of the aquifer. In all, they say that this unsustainable use could mean the extinction of all aquifer salamanders in the next century.
– The researchers urge the creation of policies that would regulate groundwater usage, as well as greater protection of particularly at-risk species through the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Iran’s endangered cheetahs and imperiled conservationists (commentary) by Luke Hunter | Christine Breitenmoser | Urs Breitenmoser | Sarah Durant | Laurie Marker | Stephane Ostrowski | Christian Walzer [03/08/2019]
– Eight Iranian wildlife conservationists have been imprisoned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps since January 2018, facing charges of espionage. All those in detention — Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Sam Radjabi and Morad Tahbaz — are among the most knowledgeable, experienced, and capable conservationists working in Iran.
– All are accused of spying under the guise of conducting cheetah surveys by using camera traps to collect sensitive information. But camera-traps are an extremely poor tool for spying. They are indispensable for monitoring shy species like Asiatic cheetahs, but the cat must pass within the sensor’s very limited range — around 5-10 meters — to trigger the unit.
– We hope that their body of excellent work is presented during the trials. We also hope that the Iranian authorities consider their profound contribution to conserving Iran’s magnificent natural heritage, and that these authorities agree with us that the future of the cheetah and of conservation in Iran relies on these very people being able to continue their vital work.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Flip-flop-clad boat brings plastic recycling message to East African coast by Anthony Langat [03/08/2019]
– In January, the Flipflopi, a boat built of recycled plastic, set sail on a 500-kilometer (310-mile) voyage along the East African coast.
– The purpose? To raise awareness about ocean pollution and call for the repurposing of, and a possible ban on, single-use plastics.
– Globally, research on and attention to marine plastic pollution is mounting, showing that microplastics travel up the food chain, and that marine life and people alike are being exposed to microplastics through their food.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, March 8, 2019 by [03/08/2019]
– 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.

Wildlife traffickers thrive on Guatemala’s murky border with Belize by Rodrigo Soberanes [03/08/2019]
– Guatemala’s environmental prosecutor has revealed the existence of “criminal structures” involving farmers, intermediaries from Guatemala and Belize, public officials, and financiers from Asia.
– According to experts and authorities, the long-running border conflict between the two countries has led to the unchecked extraction of natural resources.
– Scarlet macaws and parrots are smuggled across the border and sold on the local black market and in Mexico. Rosewood, a precious tree species that is often shipped to Asia, is also a target for illegal harvest and trade.

Seahorse trade continues despite export bans, study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [03/08/2019]
– Many countries with export bans on seahorses are still trading in the tiny animals, a new study has found.
– Traders in Hong Kong, the world’s largest importer of dried seahorses, told researchers that their stocks of dried seahorses for 2016-17 had mostly come from Thailand, the Philippines, mainland China, Australia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam — most of these countries have export bans in place.
– Much of the seahorse trade seems to persist despite the bans largely because of indiscriminate fishing practices like trawling that catch millions of seahorses every year while targeting other fish species.
– This suggests that both outright bans on the seahorse trade as well as trade restrictions under CITES aren’t being enforced effectively.

Something smells fishy: Scientists uncover illegal fishing using shark tracking devices by Sophie Manson [03/07/2019]
– Sharks become unlikely detectives as marine ecologists discover a link between their acoustic telemetry data and the presence of illegal fishing vessels.
– Researchers acoustically tagged 95 silvertip and grey reef sharks to assess whether the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Area was helping to protect these species.
– Detailed in a recently released paper, the almost simultaneous loss of 15 acoustic tags coincided with the capture of two illegal fishing vessels, arrested for having 359 sharks on board.
– While helping to map sharks’ movements around the reef, scientists expect that they will be able to use data collected from the acoustic tags to predict the presence of illegal fishing vessels.


Can jaguar tourism save Bolivia’s fast dwindling forests? by Rhett A. Butler [03/07/2019]
EU sued to stop burning trees for energy; it’s not carbon neutral: plaintiffs by Justin Catanoso [03/06/2019]
In Nigeria, hunters turn into guardians of the rarest gorilla on Earth by Linus Unah [03/04/2019]
Brazil to receive first-ever results-based REDD+ payment, but concerns remain by Sarah Sax [03/01/2019]
In the Congo Basin, a road cuts through once-untouched ape wilderness by Eugene N. Nforngwa [03/01/2019]
Kenya: Maasai herders work to keep themselves and wildlife roaming free by Michael Parks [02/28/2019]