Newsletter 2019-03-28


How land grabbers co-opt indigenous ritual traditions in Papua: Q&A with anthropologist Sophie Chao by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [03/28/2019]

– Industrial-scale agriculture poses considerable risk to the indigenous peoples of Papua, whose culture and livelihoods are closely linked to the region’s extensive rainforest.
– Last November, Mongabay and The Gecko Project published an investigative article exposing the murky dealings underpinning a mega-plantation project in Papua, as part of our series Indonesia for Sale.
– Anthropologist Sophie Chao has studied the often fraught relationship between Papuans and plantation firms, and the mechanisms through which indigenous people are compelled to give up their land.

In Indonesia, a company intimidates, evicts and plants oil palm without permits by Ian Morse [03/26/2019]

– A state-owned plantation company, PTPN XIV, is evicting farmers to make room for an oil palm estate on the eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
– In 1973, the company got a permit to raise cattle and farm tapioca on the now-disputed land, but it expired in 2003. After a long hiatus, the company has returned to claim the land. It says the government has promised to give it permits in the future, but has started operations anyway even as local communities resist.
– The case is one of thousands of land disputes simmering across Indonesia, as President Joko Widodo attempts to carry out an ambitious land reform program.
– The president has also ordered a freeze on the issuance of new oil palm plantation permits, but the level of enforcement remains to be seen.

Brazil fails to give adequate public access to Amazon land title data, study finds by Liz Kimbrough [03/25/2019]

– Brazil possesses vast tracts of public lands, especially in the Amazon, which exist in the public domain. Traditional peoples, landless movements, quilombolas (communities established more than a century ago by Afro-Brazilian slave descendants), and other homesteaders have the legal right to lay claim to these lands.
– It is the job of state land tenure agencies to keep track of these public lands, regulating the allocation of land and property rights to secure protection for individuals and communities against forcible evictions, and to monitor against illegal deforestation, large illegal land grabs and other illicit activities.
– However, a recent study found that none of eight Amazonian states met all the mandated transparency criteria. Active transparency indicators (data accessible on the internet or via public documents) were missing 56 percent of the time. Passive transparency indicators (data available on request) fared poorly as well.
– The inefficiency of land tenure agencies in providing land titling information contributes to numerous land conflicts, and increases insecurity in the countryside. The lack of transparency also enhances the possibility of fraud. When the poor are deprived of rightful land title data, the wealthy often have the upper hand if land disputes go to court.

Madeira River dams may spell doom for Amazon’s marathon catfish: Studies by Gustavo Faleiros and Marcio Isensee e Sá [03/25/2019]

– Independent monitoring of a giant Amazon catfish population in the Madeira River, a major tributary of the Amazon, confirms that two hydroelectric dams have virtually blocked the species’ homing migration upstream — the longest known freshwater fish migration in the world.
– Research completed in 2018 indicates a serious decline in catches of the gilded catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) and other key commercial species on the Madeira, both upstream and downstream of the two dams.
– New monitoring techniques show that the disruption of the migration route raises the risk of extinction for this species, for which researchers have recommended the conservation status be elevated from vulnerable to critically endangered.
– If the gilded catfish and other migratory species are to survive, mechanisms to assist their migration past the dams must be improved, researchers say.

Nepal reckons with the dark side of its rhino conservation success by Abhaya Raj Joshi [03/25/2019]

– A recent film glorifying rangers in Chitwan National Park, and a Buzzfeed investigation highlighting human rights abuses by those same rangers, have prompted debate over Nepal’s conservation practices.
– The country has achieved remarkable success in protecting species like the greater one-horned rhino, and conservationists say efforts to engage with and support communities around Chitwan have greatly increased since the 1990s.
– Rights activists say local people suffer due to a prevailing attitude that disregards the rights of historically marginalized people and denies them a genuine role in policymaking.

Liberia’s new land rights law hailed as victory, but critics say it’s not enough by Jennifer O’Mahony [03/22/2019]

– Areas allocated to rubber, oil palm and logging concessions cover around a quarter of Liberia’s total land mass.
– Liberian activists and the international community have warned that land disputes on oil palm concessions were becoming a time bomb for conflict in the country, and urging lawmakers to give indigenous communities full rights to land the government had handed out as its own.
– In September 2018, President George Weah signed the Land Rights Act into law. The law is ambitious and clearly asserts the right to what is known as “customary land,” territory that can be claimed through oral testimony and community agreement.
– However, locked within the legislation is a flaw for those living on the quarter of the country’s land set aside for concessions: it is not retroactive. The law will not apply to those already living close to oil palm concessions, a difficult truth that is only just beginning to permeate thousands of villages in Liberia.


Meet Mini mum, Mini ature, Mini scule: Tiny new frogs from Madagascar by [03/28/2019]
– Researchers have named three previously undescribed, extremely small species of frogs from Madagascar Mini mum, Mini ature, and Mini scule. All of them belong to Mini, a genus that is entirely new to science.
– The new study describes two more species of tiny frogs, Rhombophryne proportionali, and Anodonthyla eximia, both smaller than thumbnails, just like the Minis.
– The newly described frogs from Madagascar are, however, known only from a handful of locations. While the researchers recommend placing three of the species in a threatened category of the IUCN Red List, two species are data deficient.

Fishery on the brink: The fight to save the Nassau grouper by Ashley Stumvoll [03/28/2019]
– The Nassau grouper, a commercially valuable reef fish found in the Caribbean, is now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.
– Nassau groupers migrate yearly to breed at massive gatherings known as spawning aggregations, where they are an easy target for fishers.
– Fisheries management officials say they often lack the resources to enforce fishing regulations, leaving the Nassau grouper’s spawning aggregations vulnerable to illegal harvest in Belize and throughout the region.

New report lays out low-carbon development path for Indonesia by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/28/2019]
– The Indonesian government published a report showing how the country could reap tremendous economic benefits by transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
– According to the report, a low-carbon development path could deliver an average of 6 percent GDP growth per year until 2045, with continued gains in employment, income growth and poverty reduction.
– This strategy would also cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions nearly 43 percent by 2030, exceeding Indonesia’s international climate target.
– The low-carbon model would require Indonesia to cut its reliance on coal, whereas the government’s current plan is to build more coal-fired power plants.

Better than sex? For hard-to-breed rhinos, technology strives for a solution by Jim Tan [03/28/2019]
– Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are being developed to improve the outcomes of captive-breeding programs for rhinos.
– If successful, these efforts could help create a self-sustaining reserve population and help diversify the gene pool of wild populations.
– ARTs have been successfully used in both humans and livestock since the 1970s, but have not been as effective in wildlife species such as rhinos.
– Experts say they believe ART could play an important role in rhino conservation, but caution that these technologies are only one part of the solution.

New research teases apart complex effects of naval sonar on whales by [03/28/2019]
– A pair of recent studies shows the unique responses of different whales to sonar, typically used by navies to detect submarines.
– Sonar sounds have been linked to hearing loss, deadly mass strandings and interference with whales’ communication with each other.
– One of the studies found that the distance the whales were from sonar sounds didn’t matter — they generally fled whether they were close to or far from it.
– Another study showed that sonar affected the feeding patterns of deep-diving blue whales, but not those that were feasting on krill at the surface.

Ocean acidification could impact Atlantic cod populations more severely than previously thought by [03/27/2019]
– A 2016 study determined that, at the ocean acidification levels expected by the end of the century if we do nothing to draw down CO2 emissions, twice as many cod larvae will die within their first 25 days, causing the number of cod who reach maturity and reproduce to drop by 8 and 24 percent for the Western Baltic and Barents Sea populations, respectively.
– Scientists hoped that those cod who managed to reach maturity might be helping the species adapt to the conditions brought on by global climate change. But new research appears to have dashed those hopes.
– The new study, which was published in the journal Global Change Biology last month, found that surviving cod larvae suffer significant organ damage and developmental delays that could cause problems throughout their lifetimes.

Leading Amazon dam rights activist, spouse and friend murdered in Brazil by Jenny Gonzales [03/27/2019]
– Dilma Ferreira Silva, long time regional coordinator of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in the Tucuruí region of Pará state, was brutally murdered last Friday at her home, along with her husband, Claudionor Costa da Silva, and Hilton Lopes, a friend.
– Silva was one of 32,000 people displaced during the construction of the Tucuruí mega-dam. The internationally recognized activist has in recent years been pushing the Brazilian government to adopt legislation establishing the rights of those displaced by dams, providing them with compensation; the government has so far done little to create such laws.
– The killers of public officials, environmentalists, landless movement and indigenous activists in the Amazon are rarely found or brought to justice. However, in this case, Civil Police have arrested a large landowner, farmer and businessman, Fernando Ferreira Rosa Filho, known as Fernando Shalom.
– While the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and deputies in the Brazilian Congress, have condemned the killing of dam activist Silva, her husband and friend, the Bolsonaro administration has failed to issue a statement of any kind.

Ascension, the Atlantic ‘Galápagos,’ to get massive marine reserve by Sophie Manson [03/27/2019]
– The British government has announced the creation of a fully protected “no-take” marine protected area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
– The MPA will cover 443,000 square kilometers (171,000 square miles), making it one of the largest MPAs in the Atlantic.
– The British government has joined calls for the protection of 30 percent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

No more fires in Indonesia? Blazes on Sumatran peatland say otherwise by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/27/2019]
– Forest fires have flared up in Sumatra again this dry season, belying the government’s claims that it has brought the annual problem under control.
– All of the fires recorded so far have been on peat forests, a carbon-rich terrain that a slew of government policies have specifically targeted for restoration and protection since the disastrous fire season of 2015.
– Environmental activists say there’s no transparency to gauge how well peat restoration efforts are progressing, and little engagement with NGOs on the ground.
– They warn of a continuation of the “business-as-usual” approach that sees the government typically only respond to fires after they’ve broken out.

EU customers warned over possible illegal timber from the Congo by Ashoka Mukpo [03/27/2019]
– In a briefing paper released March 14, Global Witness accused ten companies from the EU of importing timber harvested illegally from the DRC.
– Industrie Forestiere du Congo (IFCO) logged outside of its approved operational area in a remote DRC forest, the watchdog group said.
– According to Global Witness, the IFCO acquired the concession from company owners or shareholders whose identities have not yet been confirmed.

How digital technologies can transform nature conservation engagement (commentary) by Julio Corredor [03/26/2019]
– At this crucial time, a digital leap can provide an opportunity to drastically improve individuals’ engagement in nature conservation by addressing the gaps in the current customer experience preventing more people from getting involved.
– Our market research indicates that 82 percent of donors do not fully know where their money is going or whether is having an impact. Donors get frustrated by their inability to track the impact of their donation and select the specific location, project, or wildlife they would like to support. This limited user experience lags behind digital norms and makes it particularly challenging to compel more people to get involved.
– People should not have to sacrifice transparency and ease-of-use to reap the benefits of supporting nature conservation. With advanced consumer demands and technology trends, there is an opportunity for improved engagement models that address the current gaps.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Malaysian state chief: Highway construction must not destroy forest by [03/26/2019]
– The chief minister of Sabah, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, said that the Pan Borneo Highway project should expand existing roads where possible to minimize environmental impact.
– A coalition of local NGOs and scientific organizations applauded the announcement, saying that it could usher in a new era of collaboration between the government and civil society to look out for Sabah’s people and forests.
– These groups have raised concerns about the impacts on wildlife and communities of the proposed path of the highway, which will cover some 5,300 kilometers (3,300 miles) in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Sergio Rojas Ortiz, leader of Costa Rica’s indigenous Bribri, slain by gunmen by [03/26/2019]
– Sergio Rojas Ortiz, leader of the Bribri indigenous people, was murdered at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre in Costa Rica on the night of March 18.
– Rojas, who was a coordinator of the Frente Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas, or the National Front of Indigenous People (FRENAPI), was leading a movement to reclaim indigenous land from non-indigenous settlers — a fight that had resulted in numerous death threats to him and others in the past.
– In a statement, FRENAPI said it placed full responsibility for Rojas’s murder on the government of President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, and demanded “an immediate explanation of this latest incident of blood and violence against the Indigenous people of Costa Rica.”

Putting policy into practice to clean up South Asia’s dirty air (commentary) by Nalaka Gunawardene [03/26/2019]
– South Asia is home to 18 of the 20 cities with the world’s worst air pollution; 15 of them are in India.
– A decade ago, Chinese cities were ranked among world’s worst, but India is now more impacted by deteriorating air quality, according to a recent study on global air pollution levels.
– In cities where air quality showed improvement, such as in China, policies and practices to combat the pollution have played a significant role.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Widespread tool-using chimp culture discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo by Mike Gaworecki [03/25/2019]
– Researchers spent 12 years documenting the behaviors exhibited by a population of Eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) whose range extends across more than 50,000 square kilometers (over 19,300 square miles) of northern Democratic Republic of Congo.
– The paper published this month in the journal Folia Primatologica detailing the team’s findings includes a description of an entirely new chimpanzee tool kit featuring four different kinds of tools: a long ant probe, a short probe, a thin wand, and a digging stick.
– These tools are used to harvest five different food types, including a variety of driver and ponerine ant species as well as honey from the nests of ground-dwelling and arboreal bees. And they’re not the only evidence of unique behaviors discovered among this chimp population.

Days of darkness: Venezuelan national emergency is also environmental crisis by Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres [03/25/2019]
– Venezuela, once a shining star of economic prosperity in Latin America, continues its plummet into chaos — a cauldron of human suffering in which the environment is also a victim.
– This month’s nationwide blackout, according to eyewitness accounts, saw courageous Venezuelans coming together to help each other as their government failed to respond effectively. It was the nation’s most recent crisis, though likely not its last.
– News reports from inside the country remain sketchy. But with the lights back on, his Internet connection restored, Venezuelan contributor Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres offers Mongabay readers an exclusive firsthand account of Venezuela’s days of darkness.

Study maps where tunas, sharks and fishing ships meet by Shreya Dasgupta [03/25/2019]
– By analyzing the trails of 933 fishing vessels and more than 800 sharks and tunas in the northeast Pacific, researchers have identified regions where the two tend to overlap in a new study.
– While the ships could be traced back to 12 countries, most that operated within the high seas part of the study region belonged to just five countries: Taiwan, China, Japan, Mexico and the United States.
– The study found that 4 to 35 percent of all the species’ core habitats overlapped with commercial fishing ships. But where they overlapped differed: for species like the salmon shark, most of the overlap occurred within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or domestic waters of the U.S. and Canada, while 87 percent of blue shark overlap with fishing occurred in the high seas
– Such fish-fishing overlap maps would be particularly useful for guiding fisheries management in the high seas, researchers say.

Latam Eco Review: Pumas hate disco and Ecuador’s newly described glass frog by [03/23/2019]
Ecuador’s most recently described glass frogs, a model plan for coastal management in Colombia, and using lights to scare away pumas in Chile were among the top recent stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Colombia: Integrated coastal management protects local species and culture A fisheries zoning plan is protecting both local species and artisanal fishing […]

World’s fastest shark, and many others, edge toward extinction by [03/23/2019]
– Seventeen species of sharks and rays have joined the list of those threatened with extinction, according to the latest updates from the Shark Specialist Group (SSG) of the IUCN, which recently assessed the population trends of 58 shark and ray species.
– Among them is the shortfin mako, the world’s fastest known shark, whose threat status has been uplisted from vulnerable to endangered, as well as its cousin, the longfin mako.
– Three shark species — the Argentine angelshark, whitefin swellshark and smoothback angelshark — have been uplisted to critically endangered from lower threat categories.

Combining artificial intelligence and citizen science to improve wildlife surveys by Sue Palminteri [03/22/2019]
– Migratory species play a key role in the health of the Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa, but monitoring their populations is a time- and labor-intensive task.
– Scientists studying these wildebeest populations compared expert observer counts of aerial imagery to corresponding counts by both volunteer citizen scientists and deep learning algorithms.
– Both novel methods were able to produce accurate wildebeest counts from the images with minor modifications, the algorithms doing so faster than humans.
– Use of automated object detection algorithms requires prior “training” with specific data sets, which in this case came from the volunteer counts, suggesting that the two methods are both useful and complementary.

‘Managed resilience’ not a successful strategy for conserving coral reefs, researchers find by [03/22/2019]
– Coral reefs in protected areas that regulate fishing and pollution have declined to the same extent as reef systems in unprotected areas, according to recent research.
– The study, published in the Annual Review of Marine Science in January, determined that ocean warming is the primary cause of the global decline of reef-building corals.
– The researchers behind the study say their findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence that shows so-called “managed resilience” efforts, such as controls on fishing and pollution, don’t help coral reefs cope with the impacts of climate change.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, March 22, 2019 by [03/22/2019]
– 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.

West Bengal’s rhino population hits a record high by Gurvinder Singh [03/22/2019]
– A census carried out in February in India’s West Bengal state counted 231 rhinos in Jaldapara National Park and 52 in Gorumara National Park, up from 204 and 49, respectively, in 2015.
– Both figures are the highest recorded since authorities began taking official rhino counts in the 1920s.
– While encouraged by the rising rhino numbers, conservationists have raised concerns about the skewed sex ratios in both parks, a scarcity of grazing land, and the ever-present threat of poaching.

Indonesia investigates mass shark deaths at captive-breeding facility by Jay FajarM Ambari [03/22/2019]
– An investigation is underway after 127 sharks died at a captive-breeding facility in a marine national park in Indonesia.
– Experts suspect poor water quality may have triggered the die-off.
– The breeding facility, operating since 1960 and a key attraction inside Karimunjawa National Park, was shut in June 2018 after a visitor swimming in one of the floating cages was bitten by a shark.

Sri Lanka’s biodiversity on show: Q & A with tourism and wildlife minister John Amaratunga by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [03/22/2019]
– In May, Sri Lanka will host the latest CITES conference, which is expected to give a strong boost to the island’s tourism industry, including wildlife tourism, a key revenue generator.
– Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism development and wildlife, John Amaratunga, tells Mongabay there are multiple benefits of playing host to the conference, as a country re-emerging as a tourism hub and rated the top destination in 2019 by Lonely Planet.
– The host country, known globally for its biodiversity, intends leveraging the international wildlife trade summit to draw global attention to its wildlife tourism and conservation efforts.
– The conference is expected to strengthen sustainable wildlife tourism initiatives that will both promote and protect the island’s fauna, flora and other cultural assets.

With the legal rights to their forest secure, an indigenous community plans for the future by Donny Iqbal [03/21/2019]
– The indigenous Kasepuhan community in Lebak, Indonesia, is one of the lucky few for whom the government has recognized their rights to the lands they have occupied for generations.
– Now, local youths are hoping to attract visitors from nearby Jakarta and boost coffee production as a means of creating jobs at home.
– “Now we have this clarity,” says Engkos Kosasih, a young Karang man who hopes to put the Karang forest here on the map for ecotourism. “It’s easy to start making plans for the next five or 10 years.”



In Ethiopia, women and faith drive effort to restore biodiversity by Christopher Lett [03/20/2019]
Bid to protect Borneo’s wild cattle hinges on whether it’s a new species by Budi Baskoro [03/18/2019]
Super variable California salamander is ‘an evolutionist’s dream’ by Shreya Dasgupta [03/18/2019]
Invasive plants a fast-growing threat to India’s rhinos by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [03/18/2019]
‘It is open season right now’: Martial law intensifies in the Philippines by Brad Miller [03/14/2019]