Newsletter 2019-06-27


National parks: Serving humanity’s well-being as much as nature’s by Jeremy Hance [06/25/2019]

– A new study finds that living near a protected area in the developing world decreases poverty and increases childhood health.
– Parks with tourism or multi-use were the best at delivering benefits to local populations.
– There is an untold part of this story: conflict with wildlife was not incorporated into the study.

Mongabay investigative series helps confirm global insect decline by Jeremy Hance [06/24/2019]

– In a newly published four-part series, Mongabay takes a deep dive into the science behind the so-called “Insect Apocalypse,” recently reported in the mainstream media.
– To create the series, Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and other scientists on six continents and working in 12 nations, producing what is possibly the most in-depth reporting published to date by any news media outlet on the looming insect abundance crisis.
– While major peer-reviewed studies are few (with evidence resting primarily so far on findings in Germany and Puerto Rico), there is near consensus among the two dozen researchers surveyed: Insects are likely in serious global decline.
– The series is in four parts: an introduction and critical review of existing peer-reviewed data; a look at temperate insect declines; a survey of tropical declines; and solutions to the problem. Researchers agree: Conserving insects — imperative to preserving the world’s ecosystem services — is vital to humanity.

Fire, cattle, cocaine: Deforestation spikes in Guatemalan national park by Max Radwin [06/21/2019]

– Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala’s largest national park, provides habitat for an estimated 219 bird species, 97 butterflies, 38 reptiles and 120 mammals, and is also home to ancient Mayan ruins. But conservationists and archeologists say this biological and cultural wealth is threatened by high levels of deforestation in the park.
– Between 2001 and 2018, Laguna del Tigre lost nearly 30 percent of its tree cover, and preliminary data for 2019 indicate the rate of loss is set to rise dramatically this year. Fire is the dominant driver of deforestation in the park, and is used to clear the land of forest and make it more farmable. Satellite imagery shows vast swaths of recently burned land where old growth rainforest stood less than 20 years ago.
– Authorities blame residents within the park for much of the destruction, as well as industrial cattle operations and cocaine traffickers who set up airstrips on cleared land within the park. But community members have defended what they say is their right to live on the land and to use its resources, in some cases even resorting to violence.
– Wildlife Conservation Society, along with the National Council for Protected Areas, have begun working on peace-building initiatives for the area with the United Nation’s Commission for Refugees, the Social Pastoral of the Catholic Church and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, in hopes of bridging the gap between environmental protection and human rights. But a lot of work remains.


Southeast Asian countries pledge to tackle marine plastic waste crisis by Basten Gokkon [06/27/2019]
– Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including some of the biggest producers of the plastic waste in the oceans, have declared their commitment to addressing the trash crisis.
– Together with China, the ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand account for half of the 8 million tons of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans each year.
– Any meaningful action to tackle the problem should focus on reducing the production of plastic to begin with, rather than dealing with the waste after the fact, an environmental activist says.
– A growing refusal by Southeast Asian countries to take in plastic waste from developed countries for processing could provide the impetus for action by the global community to cut back on plastic production.

New film details wrenching impact of illegal rhino horn trade on families by John C. Cannon [06/27/2019]
– A new short film, titled Sides of a Horn, looks at the impacts of the illegal trade of rhino horn on a community in South Africa.
– The 17-minute film follows two brothers-in-law, one who is a wildlife ranger and another who contemplates poaching as a way to pay for his ailing wife’s medical care.
– A trip to South Africa in 2016 inspired British filmmaker Toby Wosskow to write and direct the short feature, which was publicly released June 25.

Documentary seeks to tip the scales against illegal pangolin trafficking by Erna Curry [06/27/2019]
– New film aims to raise awareness and strengthen protection and conservation of pangolins.
– Hunting and trafficking of these animals in Africa has sharply intensified to meet demand from Asia in recent years.
– Pangolins have historically been used for traditional medicine, decoration and gift-giving across Africa.

Food choice leaves some lemurs more vulnerable to loss of forest habitat by Malavika Vyawahare [06/26/2019]
– The gut microbes of some lemur species are specialized to help in digesting food found in their habitats, a new study has found.
– Lemurs are only found in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, and are one of the most threatened primate groups in the world.
– The study suggests the mostly leaf-eating group of lemurs known as sifakas, in the genus Propithecus, host gut microbes that are specialized for their diets and therefore less adaptable to food sources found in other habitats.
– Madagascar reports alarming rates of deforestation, losing 2 percent of its primary rainforest just last year, the highest rate of any country.

Crackdown after Sri Lanka bombings may help in fight against blast fishing by Malaka Rodrigo [06/26/2019]
– Sri Lanka’s fight against the destructive practice of blast fishing may be boosted by a nationwide security crackdown on explosives, instated in the wake of the April 21 Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that killed 259 people.
– The frequent use of dynamite to stun and kill fish is destroying Sri Lanka’s marine ecosystems, particularly its coral reefs, conservationists say.
– Experts say the crackdown shouldn’t focus only on the fishermen who use explosives, but also on the parties that sell the material to them.

Thousands of endangered snails raised in captivity returned to natural habitat in Bermuda by [06/26/2019]
– Due mostly to predation by invasive species of carnivorous snails and flatworms, greater Bermuda land snails (Poecilozonites bermudensis) were driven nearly to extinction in their native habitat on the oceanic islands of Bermuda over the past several decades. In fact, the snails were believed to have disappeared altogether until 2014, when a small population was discovered.
– It’s believed that there are less than 200 of the snails remaining in the wild, but that population has now been joined by 4,000 individuals bred in captivity in the UK and reintroduced on Bermuda’s Nonsuch Island — a nature reserve with strict quarantine protocols designed to ensure that alien species detrimental to the snails will not be introduced to the island.
– Following the 2014 rediscovery of the greater Bermuda land snail, scientists at the UK’s Chester Zoo and the Zoological Society of London launched a collaborative captive breeding program for the snails at the request of the Bermudian government. Over the past three years, the breeding program has built up a population of the snails with sufficient numbers to begin reintroductions in the wild.

Sponges supply DNA for new method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity by Lakshmi Supriya [06/26/2019]
– Tracking environmental DNA (eDNA) is fast becoming a popular method of monitoring aquatic biodiversity, but current methods are expensive and cumbersome.
– Filter-feeding sponges can act as natural sieves to collect and concentrate eDNA from seawater.
– Using sponge samples collected from the Antarctic and the Mediterranean Sea, researchers identified 31 organisms, including fish, penguins, and seals, clearly separated by location.
– Although the method is still a proof of concept, it may lead to the development of simpler, less expensive technologies for aquatic eDNA collection.

Customary land map, a first for Indonesia, launches to mixed reception by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/26/2019]
– Indonesia has published its first ever map of customary forests, in a move it says is aimed at demarcating indigenous lands to prevent land grabs by businesses and developers and resolve existing conflicts.
– The government says it expects the publication of the map to help speed up the process of legal recognition of indigenous communities, which in turn is needed to establish their land rights.
– But indigenous rights activists are unconvinced, saying the land recognition process for local communities continues to be hampered by onerous bureaucratic requirements.
– They’ve called on the president to issue an executive order that would abolish those requirements and speed up the process of legal recognition for indigenous communities and their land rights.

Keeping stray rhinos safe is a challenge on fringes of Nepal park by Abhaya Raj Joshi [06/26/2019]
– Since 2018, two rhinos have fallen into septic tanks in settlements near Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, one of which died.
– These incidents highlight the difficulties in keeping wandering rhinos safe amid a building boom in the park’s buffer zones.
– Park authorities and municipal officials have traded blame over who should be responsible for developing and enforcing wildlife-friendly building codes.
– Adding to the problem, many residents lack the resources to plan buildings according to existing codes, much less the more stringent standards of wildlife-friendly codes, and enforcement is already a challenge

Nigeria plans 8-fold increase in palm oil production by[06/25/2019]
– Nigeria plans to invest 180 billion naira ($500 million) to increase its palm oil production from around 600,000 tons a year to 5 million tons a year by 2027.
– The policy, which would double oil palm acreage from 3 million to 6 million hectares, aims to meet all of the country’s domestic palm oil demand by 2027.
– Last year Nigeria spent about $500 million importing 600,000 tons of palm oil.
– Nigeria ranks third in the world in terms of land area planted with oil palm, but it is only the fifth largest palm oil producer due to low yields.

Satellite data suggests deforestation on the rise in Brazil by[06/25/2019]
– Newly released data based on analysis of satellite imagery suggests that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen relative to last year.
– On June 21, the Brazil-based research NGO Imazon published its May 2019 deforestation report, showing the area of forest cleared in the Brazilian Amazon over the past 12-months is 43 percent higher than a year ago, according to short-term alert data.
– However, data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE shows a much-smaller increase of 1 percent for the period.
– Brazil is now entering the peak deforestation season so environmentalists are closely watching to see whether the recent trend continues or accelerates.

Audio: New CITES head on next COP, reining in online wildlife trafficking, and more by Mike Gaworecki [06/25/2019]
– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we speak with Ivonne Higuero, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora — better known by its acronym, CITES.
– Signatories to CITES will meet later this summer for the eighteenth meeting of the Congress of the Parties (or COP). The meeting was originally to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka last May, but a series of terrorist bombings in the South Asian country during Easter services in April forced CITES officials to postpone the meeting until August and move it to Geneva, Switzerland.
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Huigero, the first woman to ever serve as CITES secretary general, discusses how her background as an environmental economist informs her approach to the job, how CITES can tackle challenges like lack of enforcement of CITES statutes at the national level and the online wildlife trade, and what she expects to accomplish at the eighteenth congress of the parties to CITES.

Great Indian bustard eggs being collected to kick-start captive breeding by Shreya Dasgupta [06/25/2019]
– The critically endangered great Indian bustard is now down to just 160-odd individuals, most of them surviving in the Thar Desert in India’s Rajasthan state.
– In a last-ditch effort, wildlife researchers along with the forest department have started a hunt for the birds’ eggs to begin the process of captive breeding of the species. Last week, they managed to collect two bustard eggs from the wild; they have permission to collect up to six a year.
– Two captive breeding facilities for the bustard are being built: a main, bigger facility in the south of Rajasthan, and a second, smaller facility in the west, close to where many of the wild birds breed.
– This is the first time that great Indian bustard eggs have ever been collected from the wild for the purpose of captive breeding, and protocols are still being figured out, says Rajasthan’s chief wildlife warden.

Brazil’s Roraima state at mercy of 2019 wildfires as federal funds dry up by Caio Freitas Paes [06/25/2019]
– Brazil, and particularly the Amazonian state of Roraima, have seen large numbers of forest fires so far this year. From January through May, Brazil recorded 17,913 blazes nationwide, with 11,804 occurring in the nine Amazonian states. Only 2016 saw more harm in the Brazilian Amazon, when 13,663 wildfires burned over the same period.
– From January to May, Roraima registered 4,600 fires, the most numerous of any state for that period (Roraima saw just 1,970 fires during all of last year). The previous annual record for a Brazilian state was set by Mato Grosso, which suffered 4,927 forest fires in all of 2016.
– The uptick in fires is being blamed on a number of factors, including worsening Amazon drought brought by climate change, land theft and illegal deforestation (fire is typically used as a tool to clear rainforest in preparation for use by cattle ranchers and large-scale agribusiness).
– Another contributing factor: federal deforestation and firefighting policies. Since March, the Bolsonaro government has cut $7.3 million slated for fire prevention and environmental inspections to Ibama and ICMBio, Brazil’s two federal environmental agencies.

Having taken a toll in Chile, salmon industry arrives in Argentina by Michelle Carrere [06/25/2019]
– Argentina’s National Aquaculture Project, signed with Norway in March 2018, aims to spur the development of the salmon industry in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southern tip of South America.
– Environmentalists and scientists fear that errors committed on the Chilean side of Patagonia will be repeated, to the detriment of the environment on the Argentinian side.
– Among the environmental impacts of the Chilean salmon industry are escapee fish that become established as introduced species, pollution from farms’ waste food and feces, and the overuse of antibiotics.

No environmental permit for Bali bay reclamation plan amid opposition by Basten Gokkon [06/25/2019]
– The Indonesian government says it won’t issue a key permit for a plan to build artificial islands in Bali’s Benoa Bay as long as locals remain strongly opposed to the project.
– The plan is to build artificial islands for a multibillion-dollar complex featuring hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and a convention center.
– The project appeared to die last August when another permit, the location permit, expired without the government renewing it. The fisheries ministry later issued a new location permit.
– With the developer now seeking to obtain an environmental permit, local communities are gearing up for another fight against a project they say could damage the mangrove-rich area on which their livelihoods depend.

Angola pledges $60m to fund landmine clearance in national parks by Jim Tan[06/25/2019]
– The Angolan government has announced a $60 million commitment to clear landmines in Luengue-Luiana and Mavinga national parks in the country’s southeast.
– The region is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area — home to incredible natural biodiversity, but also one of the most heavily mined regions of Angola.
– International funding for landmine clearance has fallen by 80 percent over the last 10 years, and without new funding Angola will miss its target of clearing all landmines by 2025.
– The HALO Trust, a demining NGO, and the Angolan government hope that clearance of landmines will stimulate conservation in southeastern Angola and provide alternative livelihoods such as ecotourism to alleviate poverty and diversify the country’s economy away from oil.

In Philippines’ bid to abandon plastic, incentives are needed, experts say by Purple Romero [06/25/2019]
– The Philippines should consider providing incentives, both fiscal and non-fiscal, to propel the shift to sustainable packaging, development experts say.
– Reports show that the Philippines’ “sachet economy” involves the use of hundreds of millions of pieces of single-use plastic packaging and shopping bags on a daily basis.
– The waste sector in the Philippines contributed 7 percent to the country’s total carbon emissions in 2012, making the shift to a minimal-waste consumption model a key part of the country’s emissions reduction goal.

Belize to protect critical wildlife corridor that’s home to jaguars and more by Shreya Dasgupta [06/24/2019]
– The government of Belize has approved a proposal to protect the Maya Forest Corridor, a key stretch of jungle linking some of the region’s largest wilderness areas.
– Once the corridor is secured, it will create the largest contiguous block of forest in Central America, experts say.
– The Maya Forest Corridor is home to iconic animals like the jaguar; the critically endangered Central American river turtle; the endangered Central American spider monkey or Geoffroy’s spider monkey; and the endangered Baird’s tapir.
– There is, however, a lot of work to be done before the Maya Forest Corridor gains official legal protection, including securing key privately owned patches of forest in the area.

Venezuela’s isolated indigenous groups under siege from miners, disease and guerrillas by Lorena Meléndez G. [06/24/2019]
– The Hoti, Yanomami and Piaroa, isolated indigenous groups in Venezuela, are under threat on several fronts.
– Mining, legal and illegal, is disturbing their lands. Some have been forced to labor in the mining industry and others have decided to leave their territories and go deeper into the forest.
– The measles epidemic that has erupted in Venezuela has decimated the Yanomami, and the government has failed to set up health services in their territories.
– The arrival of guerrilla groups like the ELN and FARC dissidents are a constant threat to isolated indigenous peoples.

Logging road construction has surged in the Congo Basin since 2003 by John C. Cannon [06/24/2019]
– Logging road networks have expanded widely in the Congo Basin since 2003, according to a new study.
– The authors calculated that the length of logging roads doubled within concessions and rose by 40 percent outside of concessions in that time period, growing by 87,000 kilometers (54,000 miles).
– Combined with rising deforestation in the region since 2000, the increase in roads is concerning because road building is often followed by a pulse of settlement leading to deforestation, hunting and mining in forest ecosystems.

Science community rallies support to save Madagascar’s natural riches by Malavika Vyawahare [06/24/2019]
– Madagascar is set to host the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation’s 56th annual meeting in July.
– The organizers have launched a petition to garner support for urgent actions that must be taken to preserve the island nation’s unique biodiversity.
– The petition will be presented to the country’s president, who has been invited to sign it and recognize it as the Declaration of Ivato, after the site where the meeting will take place.
– The document, available in four languages, can be accessed online until Aug. 2.

From flaming to free-flowing: The full lesson of the recovery of the Cuyahoga River (commentary) by Jeff Opperman [06/21/2019]
– As we approach the 50th anniversary of the fire on the Cuyahoga River, it’s heartening to see my hometown flip the script and the national media focus on the river’s remarkable recovery as a testament to how restored nature can spark urban revitalization.
– The river’s recovery from pollution is an important story. But as someone who works in international river conservation, I see the Cuyahoga as demonstrating a lesson that is even more remarkable, and equally needed, today: There is great value in protecting a river, not just protecting the quality of the water within it.
– The future could be much brighter for rivers and the people that depend on them. Due to the renewable revolution — the dramatically dropping costs for electricity from wind and solar — the world can indeed power its future with systems that are low-carbon, low-cost, and low-conflict with rivers and communities.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Chinese nationals arrested in US after smuggling totoaba swim bladders worth $3.7 million from Mexico by [06/21/2019]
– According to a report this week by Quartz, two Chinese nationals were arrested last month in the state of California with $3.7-million-worth of totoaba swim bladders that they had smuggled from Mexico.
– More than 800 totoaba maws were confiscated by Mexican authorities last year in two separate busts of Chinese nationals who were attempting to smuggle the swim bladders out of the country. Also last year, Chinese customs officials confiscated 980 pounds of totoaba maws, estimated to be worth as much as $26 million.
– These enforcement actions are welcome news, Andrea Crosta, executive director of wildlife trade watchdog group Elephant Action League wrote in a commentary for Mongabay earlier this year. But he added that, without further action to directly disrupt the totoaba maw supply chain and the operations of the wildlife crime networks involved in the illegal trade, there is “absolutely no chance” to save the vaquita.

The mine that promised to protect the environment: A cautionary tale by Malavika Vyawahare [06/21/2019]
– In 2004, mining behemoth Rio Tinto made a bold commitment not just to protect but to “improve” the environment at its mining sites in ecologically sensitive areas around the world, through a strategy it called “net positive impact.”
– A site in southeastern Madagascar where it was opening an ilmenite mine amid a gravely threatened coastal forest that’s home to unique species found nowhere else on the planet seemed like a good place to start.
– A little more than a decade later, however, the initiative was dead: facing financial headwinds and falling behind on its pledges, Rio Tinto abandoned the NPI strategy in 2016.
– In an article in the July issue of Scientific American, Mongabay contributor Rowan Moore Gerety tells how Rio Tinto came to make that promise and then to renege on it — and describes the result for Madagascar’s coastal forest and the people who live there.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, June 21, 2019 by [06/21/2019]
– 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.

“Part of something bigger”: the social movement around New Zealand’s Predator-Free 2050 goal by Monica Evans [06/20/2019]
– Trapping for invasive mammals that prey on New Zealand’s endemic, often flightless, native birds has been part of the country’s rural life for a long time.
– Through the national Predator-Free 2050 program, which aims to wipe out three particularly troublesome predators from the country by 2050, multiple projects are ramping up protective activities to rid areas of these predators and encourage people’s participation in enabling bird populations to recover.
– Apps and other technological developments have already made trapping easier and more efficient, allowed over 1,500 community trapping groups to record and share trap and bait station information with others, and record birdsong to monitor impacts of pest control efforts.
– Support for the Predator-Free 2050 goal isn’t universal, so involving indigenous Māori tribes, who now hunt the invasive predators instead of native birds, and other communities — through technologies and other means of engagement — will remain integral to the ambitious program’s success.

Deadlier than guns: Explosive bait haunts Sri Lanka’s elephants by Malaka Rodrigo [06/20/2019]
– Explosive devices concealed in bait for bushmeat hunting have overtaken gunshot injuries as the primary cause of elephant deaths in Sri Lanka since last year.
– These devices, known as “jaw exploders,” are aimed primarily at wild boar, but are increasingly maiming and killing elephants, particularly in the island’s northcentral and eastern regions.
– The explosives cause horrific injuries, shattering the jaw and destroying soft tissue inside the mouth, leading ultimately to a slow and painful death from infection.
– One in five recorded elephant deaths last year were due to these devices, with most of the victims juvenile elephants under the age of 10.

Himalayan glaciers melting twice as fast in recent years, study shows by Malavika Vyawahare [06/20/2019]
– Records from 650 of the largest glaciers in the Himalayan range show that rate of ice loss from 2000 to 2016 is double that from the period 1975 to 2000.
– The annual glacial melt has accelerated from an average 10 inches (25 centimeters) to 20 inches (50 centimeters) and has been linked to rising average temperatures.
– The researchers constructed a 40-year record with 3D modeling, using declassified Cold War-era spy satellite images and more recent satellite photos.
– An estimated 800 million people depend on runoff from the Himalayan glaciers for irrigation, hydropower and drinking water, and could be impacted as the glacial melting accelerates and then tapers off.

All that glitters: Cameras spot Asian golden cat in more than one shade by Shreya Dasgupta [06/20/2019]
– Cameras placed across the Dibang Valley in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh have captured Asian golden cats with six different coat colors.
– These include five colors previously described from different parts of the cat’s distribution across Asia — golden, gray, cinnamon, melanistic (black) and ocelot (spotted) — as well as a previously unrecorded dark pattern of tightly spaced rosettes.
– The study’s authors suspect that the different forms allow the Asian golden cat to be extremely adaptable, especially because the species occupies diverse habitats in the Dibang Valley, where competing predators such as tigers and snow leopards also occur.
– Other researchers say the colors may be more of a continuum rather than clear-cut distinct forms, and that further study is needed to test the possible influence of other factors on the coat colors and patterns, including climatic conditions such as light exposure and temperature.


The Great Insect Dying: How to save insects and ourselves by Jeremy Hance[06/13/2019]
Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo by Nina Finley[06/12/2019]
Regreening a barren refugee landscape on Myanmar’s border by Kaamil Ahmed[06/11/2019]
Inside an ambitious project to rewild trafficked bonobos in the Congo Basin by Christopher Clark [06/11/2019]
The Great Insect Dying: The tropics in trouble and some hope by Jeremy Hance[06/10/2019]
The Great Insect Dying: Vanishing act in Europe and North America by Jeremy Hance [06/06/2019]