Newsletter 2019-06-06


Congo’s hidden crisis: Snakebites and envenomation by Hugh Kinsella Cunningham [06/05/2019]

– Sub-Saharan and Central Africa are key case study areas for a health crisis now receiving international attention from health authorities.
– Lack of funding for an issue that isn’t immediately perceivable means relevant and potentially life-saving anti-venom programs aren’t present in vulnerable communities.
– Existing medical infrastructure and local health care teams could potentially be deployed to dispense anti-venoms. However, rural isolation and lack of funding for expensive and specialized anti-venoms are the two main factors that have created a crisis.
– The travel for this story was funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The Sateré-Mawé move to reclaim Amazon ancestral lands from invaders by Thais Borges; Mauricio Torres; and Sue Branford [06/04/2019]

– The Andirá-Marau Indigenous Reserve in Brazil’s Amazonas state — in a remote part of the Amazon basin — covers 7,885 square kilometers (3,044 square miles), and is occupied by 13,350 Sateré-Mawé indigenous people who live sustainably off the rainforest.
– However, an area of Sateré-Mawé ancestral land along the Mariaquã River lies outside the demarcated reserve. It was abandoned by the Sateré-Mawé due to an epidemic. The Indians have renewed their claim to the territory since 2002 but FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, has not yet sorted the situation out.
– But the Mariaquã lands are now in dispute, as illegal loggers and land grabbers invade and threaten the indigenous people living in the area around the village of Campo Branco. Dozens of outsiders have made land claims to CAR, Brazil’s Rural Environmental Registry, and allegedly threatened the Indians if they don’t vacate.
– Mongabay’s reporting team joined a small group of Sateré-Mawé as they travelled to Campo Branco to strengthen their indigenous land claim. The Sateré fear that President Bolsonaro’s pledge to pass a law allowing Brazilians with “official” land claims to use arms to evict indigenous “invaders” could be used against them.

‘We come from the earth’: Q&A with Goldman Prize winner Alfred Brownell by Ashoka Mukpo [06/03/2019]

– In the early 2000s, Liberia’s government signed contracts worth tens of billions of dollars with resource extraction companies from across the world.
– ‘There was nobody in the government who really understood what value the forest has to the communities there,’ Brownell told Mongabay
– He argues that it’s time to invest in innovation and business models created by communities, to engage in extractive processes in forests without destroying them.

The Great Insect Dying: A global look at a deepening crisis by Jeremy Hance[06/03/2019]

– Recent studies from Germany and Puerto Rico, and a global meta-study, all point to a serious, dramatic decline in insect abundance. Plummeting insect populations could deeply impact ecosystems and human civilization, as these tiny creatures form the base of the food chain, pollinate, dispose of waste, and enliven soils.
– However, limited baseline data makes it difficult for scientists to say with certainty just how deep the crisis may be, though anecdotal evidence is strong. To that end, Mongabay is launching a four-part series — likely the most in-depth, nuanced look at insect decline yet published by any media outlet.
– Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and researchers on six continents working in over a dozen nations to determine what we know regarding the “great insect dying,” including an overview article, and an in-depth story looking at temperate insects in the U.S. and the European Union — the best studied for their abundance.
– We also utilize Mongabay’s position as a leader in tropical reporting to focus solely on insect declines in the tropics and subtropics, where lack of baseline data is causing scientists to rush to create new, urgently needed survey study projects. The final story looks at what we can do to curb and reverse the loss of insect abundance.

Long-term ecological research threatened by short-term thinking by Taran Volckhausen [06/03/2019]

– Long-term ecological research (LTER) is carried out through a worldwide network of biological field stations and related monitoring programs.
– Information gathered by these programs helps scientists understand the present and make predictions for the future, which is especially important at this time of increasing global ecological change, researchers argue.
– However, funding to continue this research is continually threatened by short-term fiscal considerations: the U.S. president’s 2020 budget has proposed cuts that would affect the programs, for example.
– “If we want to know what we are doing to ourselves as well as the rest of life on Earth, we must engage in long term ecological research,” conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy told Mongabay.

Land grabbing, cattle ranching ravage Colombian Amazon after FARC demobilization by Taran Volckhausen [05/30/2019]

– In 2017, the first year following the disarmament of the FARC rebel group, deforestation in the Colombian Amazon region exploded, more than doubling from 70,074 hectares (173,000 acres) the year before to 144,147 hectares (356,000 acres), according to climate monitoring agency IDEAM.
– The rampaging devastation shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Satellite data show nearly 267,000 deforestation alerts were recorded in the departments of Caquetá, Guaviare and Meta in a single week in February.
– Absent the threat of the FARC, land values have skyrocketed by as much as 300 percent in San Vicente del Caguán since the peace deal was signed. The capital infusion has helped to improve the economy, which is based primarily on cattle ranching for milk and cheese production, but has created a booming speculative market that rewards land grabbing. Colonizers are also displacing indigenous groups from their ancestral land.
– While Colombian authorities have targeted small farmers in and around national parks, large-scale deforesters have yet to face serious consequences.


You don’t find orchids; they find you’: Q&A with botanist Edicson Parra by Gianluca Cerullo [06/06/2019]
– Edicson Parra has not only discovered more than 20 new species of orchids in his home country of Colombia, but has also used his expertise in orchid diversity to help halt development, road and mining projects that would have otherwise threatened their forest habitats.
– But studying orchids can be a dangerous challenge in Colombia, due to drug traffickers and threats to environmentalists in the country.
– Parra says orchids could be “one of the most sensitive of all Earth’s taxa.” Orchids are particularly vulnerable and fragile to deforestation, including edge effects, making protecting large tracts of forests key to their survival.

Why more women should be included in the leadership of Virunga National Park (commentary) by Judith Verweijen | Janvier Murairi | Esther Marijnen[06/05/2019]
– Since 2014, the number of female park guards serving in Virunga National Park, located in war-ridden eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been gradually increasing. Today, 29 women serve in the ranks of this 731-strong force.
– There has been a flurry of international media attention to the women who chose the ranger profession. But so far, nobody has looked at how the presence of these women affects the functioning of the ranger force, and the relations between the park and the population living in its vicinity.
– While gender equality is not a guarantee for improving park-people relations, we believe the integration of women in Virunga’s administrative and security structures needs to be reinforced, in particular at the higher echelons. Gender equality is not only of inherent importance, but — as our research indicates — also corresponds to a strong demand among the population living around the park.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil’s Congress reverses Bolsonaro, restores Funai’s land demarcation powersby Karla Mendes [06/05/2019]
– On May 22, 2019, the lower house of Congress voted to maintain Funai, Brazil’s indigenous agency, under the Ministry of Justice, as well as affirm Funai’s land demarcation powers. The decision was endorsed by the Senate on May 28 and now the text has to be endorsed by President Jair Bolsonaro by June 14. According to rights groups and politicians, Bolsonaro is not likely to make changes regarding Funai
– Funai existed within the Ministry of Justice from 1967, but was placed under the new Ministry of Human Rights, Family and Women created by President Bolsonaro through a provisional measure, MP 870, on the first day of his presidency. Such measures must be approved within 120 days by Congress to become law or they become null.
– MP 870 transferred decision-making power over the demarcation of indigenous reserves from Funai to the Ministry of Agriculture.
– Changes to Funai’s decision-making authorities and position triggered outcry from rights groups and justices, who claimed conflicts of interest and said it was a strategy to weaken Funai.

For artisanal fishers, fish fences are an easy, but problematic, option by Basten Gokkon [06/05/2019]
– The widespread use of fish fences by fishing communities in tropical countries leads to extensive economic, social and environmental damage, a new study finds.
– The technique involves stringing a net along stakes typically set in an intertidal flat, where it traps fish as the tide goes out. But the practice results in the indiscriminate catch of juvenile fish, threatening the sustainability of fish stocks.
– In the area studied, in eastern Indonesia, the fences are also a source of social tension, where they’re the exclusive domain of the island-based ethnic group and denied to the seafaring Bajo community.
– The researchers have called for restrictions on the use of fish fences, but acknowledge that getting fishermen to start going out to sea to fish will be difficult, given the low risk and high convenience that fish fences afford.

No need to dam free-flowing rivers to meet world’s climate and energy targets by [06/04/2019]
– In a comment article published in the Nature last month, scientists argue that an “energy future in which both people and rivers thrive” is possible with better planning.
– The hydropower development projects now underway threaten the world’s last free-flowing rivers, posing severe threats to local human communities and the species that call rivers home. A recent study found that just one-third of the world’s 242 largest rivers remain free-flowing.
– The benefits of better planning to meet increasing energy demands could be huge: A report released by WWF and The Nature Conservancy ahead of the World Hydropower Congress, held in Paris last month, finds that accelerating the deployment of non-hydropower renewable energy could prevent the fragmentation of nearly 165,000 kilometers (more than 102,500 miles) of river channels.

Climate change threatens to water down Cerrado’s rich biodiversity: Study by Sarah Sax [06/04/2019]
– The new study by researchers in Brazil shows that climate change will lead to local extinctions of several mammal species throughout the Cerrado, the vast tropical savanna biome.
– Immigration of species from other biomes, including the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest, will be higher than regional extinctions. But because these species are commonly found, it will still lead to an overall loss in biodiversity in most regions of the Cerrado.
– The widespread erosion of differences between ecological communities is one of the main drivers of loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
– Future distributions of species based on climate change must be considered in conservation decisions and the development of protected areas in the Cerrado, the researchers say.

Colombia’s El Paujil Reserve expands in dying Magdalena Valley by Kimberley Brown [06/04/2019]
– The U.S.-based Rainforest Trust and its Colombian partner, Fundación ProAves, bought 477 hectares (1,178 acres) of land around El Paujil Nature Reserve, expanding the protected area to 3,983 hectares (9,843 acres).
– El Paujil Nature Reserve in Colombia’s Magdalena Valley is one of the last bits of remaining lowland rainforest in the region.
– The Magdalena Valley, sandwiched between the Chocó and Amazon rainforests, is rich in biodiversity and home to several endemic species, many of which are endangered.
– It has lost almost 98 percent of its forest area over the years, due to logging, coca production, cattle ranching and other agriculture activities. These threats have only increased since the end of a decades-long insurgency in 2016.

Study reveals a fragile web of knowledge linking plants to people by Liz Kimbrough [06/04/2019]
– To understand how indigenous knowledge is structured, researchers chose to focus on communities’ use of palm plants, which are used across the world for a range of economically important needs — from medicine to rituals, roofing to flooring, hair products to handy tote bags.
– The primary goal of the research was not to document the uses of the palms, but to study how knowledge is held in communities and how it might change.
– The team concluded that cultural heritage is just as important as the plants themselves in our realization of nature’s services.

Lemur yoga: Fueling the capture of wild lemurs? (commentary) by Kim Reuter and Marni LaFleur [06/03/2019]
– In April, the BBC published a fawning article about an English hotel that is offering lemur yoga classes featuring endangered ring-tailed lemurs. Knowing full well that this media coverage would negatively impact lemurs living in the wild, we contacted the BBC, hoping to mitigate the damage.
– In today’s digital age, every lemur kept in captivity, either in Madagascar or abroad, is fueling — directly and indirectly — the illegal extraction of lemurs from the wild.
– Not a week goes by without more news of the precipitous decline of Madagascar’s biodiversity. And while it will take tens of millions of dollars to protect what is left, refusing to engage in exploitative encounters and sharing your lemur selfie online is a good place to start.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Gold, wood, religion: Threats to Colombia’s isolated indigenous peoples by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [06/03/2019]
– The Yurí and the Passé are the two indigenous tribes identified as living in a natural state in the Colombian Amazon. There are indications that some 15 other such tribes exist in the region.
– Mercury from illegal gold mining contaminates the rivers surrounding the protected area where the Yurí and the Passé live in isolation.
– In addition to the contamination, mafia groups and attempts by evangelists at making contact threaten the isolated tribes.

Small-scale women seaweed farmers ride the rough tides of climate change by Imelda Abano [06/03/2019]
– The decline in fish catches in Palawan has spurred an interesting shift in society as the community’s women, previously reliant on their husbands’ income, play a greater role as breadwinners.
– Men hold most of the jobs in fishing, but more than half of the seaweed farmers in the province are women.
– Despite the growing demand for seaweed and the increasing participation of women in the industry, warming sea temperatures attributed to climate change are threatening seaweed farming.

In Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa, Gullele Botanical Garden captivates city dwellers by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese [06/03/2019]
– Gullele Botanic Garden (GBG) is the first of its kind located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
– Officially inaugurated and opened to the public in January 2019, it has become increasingly popular among the city’s residents and educators.
– On a smaller scale, similar initiatives such as Shashemene Botanical Garden are being undertaken elsewhere in the country.

New nets make shrimp trawling more sustainable in Latin America and Caribbeanby Michelle Carrere [06/03/2019]
– When fishers accidentally catch non-target species, they either sell the so-called bycatch or throw it back into the ocean, almost always dead.
– Newly invented nets have allowed shrimp trawlers to reduce bycatch by 20 percent.
– Globally, almost 10 million tons of potentially usable fish are thrown back into the ocean every year.

Mass die-offs of puffins in Alaska may be linked to climate change by [05/31/2019]
– Between October 2016 and January 2017, the carcasses of hundreds of severely emaciated seabirds, mostly tufted puffins, washed onto the beaches of St. Paul Island, off Alaska.
– Not all birds that die wash up on a beach and are discovered. So the researchers ran an analysis and estimated that between 2,740 to 7,600 tufted puffins died during that time.
– Upon examining the carcasses, the researchers found that the birds had most likely died of starvation linked to shortage in prey triggered by climate change and a warming ocean.

Brazil green-lights oil prospecting near important marine park by Thais Borges[05/31/2019]
– In April, the president of Brazil’s environmental regulatory agency authorized the auction of seven offshore oil blocks located in highly sensitive marine regions.
– In doing so, he ignored technical recommendations made by his own environmental team — a first in the team’s 11-year history.
– The environmental team argued that if there were to be an oil spill, the contamination could affect the coasts of two Brazilian states, including the Abrolhos Marine National Park, which is considered the most biodiverse area in the South Atlantic.
– More broadly, the Brazilian Congress is also considering a bill that would profoundly change the way environmental authorizations are issued, abolishing the need for licenses for most farming and infrastructure activities and accelerating the procedure for other ventures.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, May 31, 2019 by [05/31/2019]
– 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.

For Sri Lanka villagers, monkey business feeds off human actions by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/31/2019]
– The feeding of monkeys on religious and cultural grounds by communities in north central Sri Lanka is turning the animals into pests that raid kitchens and farms.
– Where human-sourced food is available to monkeys, their populations have swelled, as opposed to those groups of monkeys reliant on a more natural diet.
– Proposed long-term solutions involve creating exclusive habitats supporting all biota, and creating public awareness, researchers say.

Chile pledges to make its fishing vessel tracking data public by Marianne Messina[05/31/2019]
– In mid-May Chile finalized an agreement to publicly share proprietary data from its satellite system for monitoring fishing boats via Global Fishing Watch (GFW), an online interactive mapping platform that tracks ship movements across the globe.
– The country joins Indonesia and Peru, whose data already appear on the GFW platform, as well as Namibia, Panama and Costa Rica, which have pledged to do so.
– Countries are motivated to go public by the prospect of enhancing their ability to enforce fishing regulations, keep an eye on foreign fishing fleets operating outside or transiting through their waters, and, in Chile’s case, prevent the spread of disease in its salmon aquaculture industry.

Chinese banks risk supporting soy-related deforestation, report finds by John C. Cannon [05/30/2019]
– Chinese financial institutions have little awareness about the risks of deforestation in the soy supply chain, according to a report released May 31 from the nonprofit disclosure platform CDP.
– China imports more than 60 percent of the world’s soy, meaning that the country could play a major role in halting deforestation and slowing climate change if companies and banks focus on stopping deforestation to grow the crop.
– Around 490 square kilometers (189 square miles) of land in Brazil was cleared for soy headed for China in 2017 — about 40 percent of all “converted” land in Brazil that year.
– As the trade war between the U.S. and China continues, China may increasingly look to Latin America for its soy, potentially increasing the chances that land will be cleared to make way for the crop.

Tiny tracking tags help decode how echolocating bats navigate by Lakshmi Supriya [05/30/2019]
– Although navigation in echolocating bats has been studied for a long time, questions remain on how bats differentiate among echoes from different objects.
– Researchers designed a small, lightweight tag that can capture movement and sound information in three dimensions to create a map of a bat’s sensory environment.
– The data helped researchers pinpoint the movements of bats during flight and while catching prey, as well as how echoes from various objects differ.
– One-third of bat species are threatened with extinction or lack basic ecological data, so such information can help scientists and wildlife managers understand bats’ foraging behavior and develop better measures for their conservation.


The world’s biggest reptile fair is also a hub for traffickers by Denise Hruby[05/30/2019]
What is magic without ape parts? Inside the illicit trade devastating Nigeria’s apesby Orji Sunday [05/29/2019]