Newsletter 2019-04-25


Stinging ants: Amazon indigenous group girds itself to hold ancestral lands by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [04/25/2019]

– The ancestral home of the Sateré-Mawé indigenous group is the Andirá-Marau Indigenous Reserve, an officially demarcated, heavily forested region covering 780,000 hectares (3,011 square miles) in Amazonas and Pará states, Brazil.
– The reserve itself — along with indigenous villages around it that were not included in the demarcated area — are increasingly under attack from illegal loggers and land grabbers.
– To steel themselves against the challenges posed by invading outsiders, and to create unity among their tribal groups, Sateré young men participate in a ritual known as Waumat, in which they endure the painful bites of stinging ants.
– They also renew their commitment to active resistance through dances and songs that celebrate myths, past wars, victories, losses, and terrible exploitation by the colonial Portuguese. The Sateré are feeling especially challenged today by the anti-indigenous rhetoric and policies of the rightist Bolsonaro administration.

Bolsonaro draws battle lines in fight over Amazon indigenous lands by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [04/24/2019]

– Parintins, site of Brazil’s big annual indigenous festival, is typical of towns in the Brazilian Amazon. The Sateré, and other indigenous groups living or working there, often endure discrimination and work analogous to slavery. Civil rights are few and indigenous populations inhabit the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
– Now more than ever, indigenous groups fear the loss of their cultural heritage and land rights as guaranteed under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. New president Jair Bolsonaro wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased.
– The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories. The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, and it supports Bolsonaro.
– The Sateré, along with other indigenous groups, have endured a long history marked by extermination and exploitation. Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people are increasingly joining together to fight the anti-indigenous policies proposed by the Bolsonaro administration and supported by the ruralists.

Can rice husk briquettes stem the tide of mangrove deforestation in Myanmar? by Wudan Yan [04/23/2019]

– Despite the knowledge about the role mangroves play to protect inland areas from storm swells, and a nationwide ban on logging, Myanmar continues to lose mangroves, particularly to communities in the Irrawaddy Delta where electricity is lacking and a reliance on mangroves as firewood and to make charcoal.
– An enterprising rice mill owner, U Zayar Myo, uses discarded rice husks to create compact briquettes that can be burned as an alternative fuel to mangrove wood or charcoal.
– These rice-husk briquettes are now being distributed to other businesses historically reliant on burning mangrove wood, and point to one way to reduce the rate of mangrove deforestation in Myanmar.

Video: Meet Indonesia’s go-to expert witness against haze-causing plantation firms by [04/23/2019]

– Bambang Hero Sahajaro is the Indonesian government’s chief expert witness against plantation firms accused of causing wildfires.
– Last year, Bambang was sued by a company whose practices he testified against in court. The lawsuit against him was eventually thrown out, though observers say it is part of a trend of companies fighting back against their prosecution by trying to silence environmental defenders.
– “I won’t back off, not even one step, because there are already many cases waiting for me,” he told Mongabay. “I will keep fighting for the people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.

On one island, a microcosm of Vietnam’s environmental challenges by Michael Tatarski [04/22/2019]

– It is also a popular tourist destination, and like many parts of the country faces the challenge of balancing development with environmental protection.
– Tenuous conservation success stories can be found here, but current and future developments in surrounding areas pose acute threats.

Jane Goodall on Leonardo DiCaprio, her 85th birthday, and the need for hope by Rhett A. Butler [04/21/2019]

– Primatologist Jane Goodall is arguably the world’s best known conservationist for her research on chimps and her efforts to raise awareness on environmental issues globally.
– On April 3rd, Jane turned 85 and was honored by the City of Los Angeles for her contributions to the planet. And actor Leonardo Dicaprio hosted a star-studded birthday dinner for her.
– For the occasion, Mongabay’s founder Rhett Butler interviewed Jane about some examples of why she remains optimistic for wildlife and wild places.
– Disclosure: Jane is a member of Mongabay’s advisory council.


Survey: Less coal, more solar, say citizens of Belt & Road countries by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/25/2019]
– Residents in countries where China has invested in infrastructure building under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would much rather prefer investments in renewable power projects than coal, a survey has found.
– Coal projects accounted for up to 42 percent of China’s overseas investment in 2018, making the country the world’s biggest funder of coal power development overseas, which threatens to scupper international climate goals.
– A draft communiqué of a BRI forum taking place this week in Beijing shows an increased focus on ensuring “green” development, although activists say this may just be lip service.
– The Indonesian delegation to the BRI forum plans to pitch for investments in a slate of projects, including four coal plants, despite being one of the countries where foreign investment in coal is viewed unfavorably.

Creating a high-tech island to save one of the world’s rarest birds by Hannah Thomasy [04/25/2019]
– Scientists in New Zealand are combining tracking, genomics, and drone technologies to save the kākāpō, the giant flightless parrot nearly eradicated by invasive predators, such as dogs, rats, and cats brought by human settlers.
– Data loggers on a predator-free island read information emitted by transmitters worn by each of the birds and send the data to the research team; the information tells researchers where birds are nesting, when birds are sick, and when (and with whom) a given bird mated.
– The team supplements natural kākāpō breeding with artificial insemination, including flying a sperm-carrying drone that can swiftly move sperm from a male to an appropriate female across the island, which the researchers believe helps keep the sperm more viable when it reaches the female.
– For this, scientists “match” male and female kākāpō using genetic analysis to determine how closely related the two birds are and choose mates that are most distantly related. The research team is reviewing genomic data from all adult kākāpō for clues about fertility and disease.

Indonesia electricity chief charged with bribery over coal-fired power plant by Basten Gokkon [04/25/2019]
– Indonesian anti-graft investigators have charged the head of state-owned power utility PLN, Sofyan Basir, with bribery in connection to a coal-fired plant on the island of Sumatra.
– Sofyan was responsible for awarding contracts for the $900 million Riau-1 plant, whose construction has been suspended following a raft of corruption allegations and arrests.
– Among those already tried and convicted in the case are a government minister, a member of parliament, and a shareholder in one of the companies awarded the Riau-1 contract; Sofyan himself faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
– Environmental activists have praised the anti-graft commission for pursuing the case, which they say should spur the government to move away from coal and shift toward renewable energy.

Killer whale vs. great white? No contest — the shark always flees by [04/25/2019]
– Both the great white shark and the killer whale or orca are fearsome top predators. But of the two massive animals, the killer whale may be the more formidable one, a new study has found.
– Researchers monitoring white sharks, lion seals and orcas around California’s Southeast Farallon Island have found that every time orcas pass through the area, the great white sharks vanish and don’t return to their hunting grounds until the next season.
– The researchers aren’t sure why the sharks move away as soon as orcas arrive. It could be because orcas may be targeting white sharks as prey, or the killer whales could be bullying their competition out of the way to gain access to the island’s elephant seals.

The world lost a Belgium-size area of old growth rainforest in 2018 by Morgan Erickson-Davis [04/25/2019]
– Newly released data indicate the tropics lost around 120,000 square kilometers (around 46,300 square miles) of tree cover last year – or an area of forest the size of Nicaragua.
– The data indicate 36,400 square kilometers of this loss – an area the size of Belgium – occurred in primary forest. This number is an increase over the annual average, and the third-highest amount since data collection began.
– Indonesia primary forest loss dropped to the lowest level recorded since 2002. Brazil’s numbers are also down compared to the last two years, but still higher than the 18-year average.
– Meanwhile, primary rainforest deforestation appears to be on the rise elsewhere. Colombia recorded the highest level since measurement began at the beginning of the century. Madagascar had the highest proportion of its tropical forest lost in 2018; Ghana experienced the biggest proportional change over 2017.

‘Judas’ snakes lead scientists on a high-tech Easter egg hunt for pythons by Sue Palminteri [04/24/2019]
– Scientists are exploring various technologies to address the spread of highly invasive Burmese pythons, which have devastated native mammal and bird populations across much of southern Florida.
– Researchers who recently captured a large pregnant Burmese python did so using the “Judas” technique: the radio-tagging of adult pythons that will approach others of the opposite sex during the breeding season, “betraying” them to the research teams.
– More recently, separate research teams have trialed the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to determine the spatial distribution, range limits, and expansion rates of Burmese pythons in the region. They found python eDNA within a wildlife refuge, indicating that the invaded area extends further north than previously thought and that pythons are likely resident there.

Not in my backyard: Indonesian official fights corrupt palm concession by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/24/2019]
– A district chief in Indonesia is seeking to overturn a decision by the environment ministry to approve a request that would allow a palm oil company to clear forest for plantation in Buol district, on the island of Sulawesi.
– The case has been controversial since the start, with the company initially being awarded the concession after bribing the previous district chief for the permit.
– The recent approval also goes against a moratorium issued last year on the issuance of permits for new plantations.
– However, the environment minister exploited loopholes in a pair of regulations to push through the approval, despite the opposition of the Buol administration and residents.

In Indonesia, a paper giant shuffles a litany of land conflicts by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/24/2019]
– Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its suppliers are mired in more than a hundred land conflicts with communities in Indonesia, with a potential 600 additional disputes looming, activists say.
– Many of the conflicts center on the lack of clear boundaries between the company’s concessions and community lands.
– The company says it is working to resolve these disputes, but adds that the process is long and complicated.
– All sides agree that the government, in charge of demarcating village boundaries, needs to be more involved in the conflict-resolution process.

Indonesia trains its citizens to deal with sea-mammal strandings by Basten Gokkon [04/24/2019]
– The waters around Indonesia serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
– These cetaceans, however, are often found dead on Indonesian beaches, or alive but unable to return to deeper waters themselves.
– To prevent the deaths of marine mammals that strand themselves on its shores, the government has sought to establish a network of first responders equipped with the knowledge and training to deal with problem.
– Experts say what’s more important than providing an adequate response is to reduce the threats that lead to the strandings, including by improving the management of marine habitats and tackling pollution in the sea.

Bird flu in Namibia’s penguins wanes, after killing nearly 500 by John C. Cannon [04/24/2019]
– More than 450 African penguins, an IUCN-listed endangered animal, have died in an outbreak of bird flu on three islands off the coast of Namibia.
– The virus, H5N8, is thought to have been introduced to the colonies, which hold 96 percent of Namibia’s penguins, by another bird traveling from South Africa, where a similar outbreak occurred in 2018.
– The disease appears to be abating, and researchers are hopeful that the country’s penguins will recover.
– However, they continue to face threats from food shortages caused by overfishing and climate change.

Virus may have caused mysterious foot disease in Chile’s rare huemul deer by Shreya Dasgupta [04/24/2019]
– Researchers say they believe they have identified the potential cause of a foot disease that affected 24 huemul deer in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park between 2005 and 2010.
– Preliminary results from tests on tissue samples taken from an infected fawn suggest that a parapoxvirus, a group of viruses that commonly infect and cause lesions in livestock, could have been the main cause of the foot disease.
– If the pox virus is indeed the disease agent, then it’s an additional threat to the endangered species because these viruses are highly contagious, researchers say.
– The study’s authors say they suspect the parapoxvirus may have come from cattle that was illegally introduced in the national park in 1991.

Camera trap study finds a threatened high-elevation mammal community in Peru by Mike Gaworecki [04/23/2019]
– A new camera trap study, the results of which were published in the journal Oryx last week, seeks to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the Cerros del Sira’s mammalian inhabitants.
– An international team of scientists from Peru and the UK led by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, a biologist at Peru’s National University of Cusco, deployed 45 camera traps from 2015 to 2016 in the Sira Communal Reserve, part of the Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yánesha Biosphere Reserve.
– Aside from revealing the distribution of and threats to the Cerros del Sira’s mammal community, the results of the camera trap survey led to a number of other insights.

Less rainforest, less rain: A cautionary tale from Borneo by Jeremy Hance [04/23/2019]
– A recent study finds that massive deforestation across Borneo, in large part for oil palm plantations, has led to higher temperatures and less precipitation over the past 60 years.
– Forests not only provide shade, but create their own rainfall, essentially recycling the freshwater in the soil and vegetation.
– The local changes in climate could spell trouble for the very crop driving them, and one of Indonesia and Malaysia’s most lucrative commodities: palm oil.
– 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.

Report finds World Bank’s coal divestment pledge not stringent enough by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/23/2019]
– Six Indonesian coal miners received funding from banks that were in turn funded by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.
– The World Bank pledged in 2013 to end direct financing for coal, and while these instances highlighted in a new report constitute a form of indirect financing, watchdogs say the institution needs to do more.
– The IFC’s Green Equity Strategy is seen a good start toward ending the lender’s coal exposure, both direct and indirect, but the report identifies what it says are loopholes that could render the strategy ineffective.

Community buy-in stamps out elephant poaching in Zambian park by John C. Cannon [04/22/2019]
– No elephants were poached in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park in 2018, and the surrounding area had a 50 percent decrease in poached carcasses found.
– The North Luangwa Conservation Programme, a partnership between the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the country’s Department of Parks and Wildlife, has been around since the late 1980s and has focused its efforts on community involvement in stopping poachers from going after elephants, rhinos and other wildlife in the park.
– Staff of the program say the participation of the communities living near the park’s borders is critical to protecting the elephants of North Luangwa.
– The broader Luangwa ecosystem is home to more than 63 percent of Zambia’s elephants.

The extinction clock ticks for the little-known Philippine pangolin by Imelda Abano [04/22/2019]
– With the Palawan pangolin’s population decimated by poaching and its habitat lost to urban creep, scientists and conservationists are in a race against time to save and document everything about this forest dweller.
– From 2001 to 2017, the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC recorded 38 seizure incidents in which the Philippines was the country of origin, transit point or end destination for pangolin shipments. A total of 667 pangolins were seized in these busts

Sage spending to save species (commentary) by Fred Launay [04/22/2019]
– As we unite to celebrate the 49th Earth Day today, let us also unite to shift the conservation paradigm from intervention to prevention. If we can make the necessary investments to save species of “Least Concern” today, we’ll forego hiring armed guards to save the last of their kind in the future.
– The architecture of the current conservation funding structure is in need of an overhaul to allow greater distribution of resources across all species, regardless of their conservation status, in order to strategically and wisely allocate the life-saving dollars bestowed upon the environmental community.
– Procrastination has a hefty price tag, both in what we stand to lose financially and intrinsically for our planet. While species protection is costly, recovery of the survivors is exponentially greater.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Peat protection rule may be a double-edged sword for Indonesia’s forests by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/22/2019]
– A government regulation issued in 2016 requires logging companies to restore peat with protected status in their concessions, mostly in Sumatra, and prohibits them from developing on it.
– But activists say this prohibition threatens a massive supply shortfall for two of the world’s biggest paper producers, which they warn could push the companies to source wood from unprotected forests in other parts of Indonesia.
– Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) face a supply crunch of up to 30 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to an analysis by NGOs.
– Both companies dispute this finding, saying their supplies remain secure even as they seek to boost their output.

New paper proposes a science-based ‘Global Deal for Nature’ by [04/19/2019]
– A paper published in Science today outlines a new “Global Deal for Nature,” officially launching an effort to establish science-based conservation targets covering all of planet Earth, including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.
– The Global Deal for Nature proposes a target of 30 percent of the planet to be fully protected under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity by 2030. But because much more of Earth’s natural ecosystems need to be preserved or restored in order to avert the worst impacts of runaway global warming, another 20 percent of the planet would be protected under the GDN as Climate Stabilization Areas (CSAs).
– Conservation scientists, environmental NGOs, and indigenous groups are urging governments to adopt the GDN as a companion commitment alongside the Paris Climate Agreement approved by nearly 200 countries in 2015.

Cities may save some species from extinction, but they don’t save species’ ecological functions by Mike Gaworecki [04/19/2019]
– Some species are not only able to adapt to life in urban areas but actually thrive and grow more abundant than they might have in their natural surroundings.
– Thus some cities have been declared urban conservation hotspots — but research published last year shows that while those cities might help preserve robust populations of otherwise threatened species, they do not help preserve the crucial ecological functions of those species.
– If species and the ecological functions they provide are allowed to disappear altogether from natural habitats and only continue to persist in urban areas, that could have “long-term, unexpected effects on ecosystems,” researchers say.

New ancient, giant carnivore described from bones in museum drawer by [04/19/2019]
– From fossils kept in a drawer at Nairobi National Museum for several decades, researchers have described a new species of a giant carnivore that walked the Earth some 22 million years ago.
– The extinct carnivore was larger than any big cat that lives today, with a skull the size of a rhinoceros’s and massive canine teeth, the researchers say.
– The meat-eating mammal has been dubbed Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, or “big lion from Africa” in Swahili.
– Despite the name, the animal wasn’t a big cat or related to one. Instead, it belonged to a now-extinct group of carnivores called hyaenodonts that were once the top predators across Africa.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, April 19, 2019 by [04/19/2019]
– 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.

Singapore acquits trader in world’s biggest rosewood bust, worth $50m by Edward Carver [04/19/2019]
– On April 8, Singapore’s highest court acquitted a businessman who brought Malagasy rosewood valued at $50 million into the city-state in 2014, one of the largest wildlife seizures in the history of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
– The move reversed the ruling of a lower court that had sentenced the businessman to jail time and imposed $1 million in fines for importing protected wildlife.
– The court ordered Singapore authorities to return the rosewood to the businessman and his firm “as soon as practicable.”
– Environmental groups have been looking on anxiously as the case wound its way through Singapore’s courts for nearly five years, only to be disappointed by the final verdict.

Peru’s first autonomous indigenous gov’t strikes back against deforestation by Marcio Pimenta [04/18/2019]
– The Wampis is an indigenous group comprised of thousands of members whose ancestors have lived in the Amazon rainforest of northern Peru for centuries.
– Mounting incursions by loggers, miners and oil prospectors, as well as governance changes that favored industrial exploitation, left the Wampis increasingly worried about the future of their home. Representatives said they realized that only by developing a strong, legal organizational structure would they have a voice to defend their people and the survival of their forest.
– After numerous meetings among their leaders, representatives of 27 Wampis communities, with a combined population of 15,000 people, came together in 2015. They invoked international recognition of the rights of indigenous people and on Nov. 29 declared the creation of an autonomous territorial government called the Wampis Nation to defend its territory and resources from the growing pressures of extractive industries.
– Wampis Nation territory covers an area of rainforest one-third the size of the Netherlands along northern Peru’s border with Ecuador. Leaders say their newfound autonomy and authority has allowed them to directly expel illegal deforestation activities from their land.

Lift-off for thermal-imaging system to estimate wildlife populations by James Fair [04/18/2019]
– A research team hailed a breakthrough in their imaging system’s ability to detect and identify orangutans in tropical rainforest.
– They now plan for computer algorithms to report back what a thermal camera has seen in real time.
– The researchers believe the system could also be used to spot poachers targeting rare species.


Illegal charcoal trade threatens Myanmar’s remaining mangroves by Wudan Yan [04/18/2019]
Conservation may offer common ground in Afghan conflict by Rhett A. Butler [04/15/2019]
‘It’s getting worse’: National parks in Honduras hit hard by palm oil by Max Radwin [04/11/2019]