Newsletter 2019-08-15


Precision conservation: High tech to the rescue in the Peruvian Amazon by Lisa Palmer [08/15/2019]

– Peru’s Los Amigos Biological Station stands on a dividing line between the devastation caused by a gold rush centered on La Pampa, and a vast swath of conserved lands that includes Manú National Park — likely the most biologically important protected area in Latin America — plus its conserved buffers.
– Teaming up to defend these thriving forests and their biodiversity are conservationists and technologists — an innovative alliance that includes Conservación Amazónica (ACCA), Amazon Conservation (ACA), the Andes Amazon Fund, along with other organizations.
– Among the precision conservation tools they use to patrol against invading artisanal miners and illegal loggers are drones, acoustic monitoring, machine learning, lidar and thermal imaging — all applied to protecting one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth.
– Conservationists are hopeful not only that they’ll be able to protect Manú National Park and its buffers, but that they may be able to one day help remediate and restore the wrecked habitat of La Pampa. This integrative approach, they say, is vital to conserving the region’s biodiversity against the escalating climate crisis.

Indonesia forest-clearing ban is made permanent, but labeled ‘propaganda’ by Hans Nicholas Jong [08/14/2019]

– A temporary moratorium first issued in 2011 on granting permits to clear primary forests and peatlands for plantations or logging has been made permanent by Indonesia’s president.
– The government says the policy has been effective in slowing deforestation, but environmental activists blast those claims as “propaganda,” saying that forest loss and fires have actually increased in areas that qualify for the moratorium.
– They’ve highlighted several loopholes in the moratorium that allow developers to continue exploiting forest areas without consequence.
– Activists are also skeptical that a newer moratorium, on granting permits for oil palm cultivation, will do much to help slow the rate of deforestation.

Germany cuts $39.5 million in environmental funding to Brazil by Karla Mendes [08/13/2019]

– Germany has announced plans to withdraw some €35 million (US $39.5 million) to Brazil due to the country’s lack of commitment to curbing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest shown by the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
– The funding loss will impact environmental projects in the Amazon, Atlantic Forest and Cerrado biomes.
– The cut will not, however, impact the Amazon Fund — a pool of some $87 million provided to Brazil each year by developed nations, especially Norway and Germany — to finance a variety of programs aimed at halting deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
– Some experts have expressed concern that Germany’s $39.5 million cut could cause other developed nations to withdraw Brazil funding, and even threaten the Amazon Fund, or the ratification of the recently concluded EU/Mercosur Latin American trade agreement.

Gov’t takedown of illegal gold mining in Peru shows promise, but at a cost by Justin Catanoso [08/09/2019]

– Peru’s Madre de Dios region has become a global poster child for deforestation and environmental devastation from an unchecked gold rush. More than 1,000 square kilometers of lowland rainforest has been deforested since 1985, two-thirds of which — an area roughly the size of New York City — has been cleared since 2009. Much of that destruction and gold production has been centered in La Pampa, a makeshift city of more than 25,000 people and more than 6,000 miners.
– On Feb. 19, hundreds of army commandos and 1,200 police officers raided La Pampa, expelled most of the miners, arrested suspected criminals, and established three military bases to ensure, for now, that the miners don’t return. That said, illegal gold mining elsewhere in Madre de Dios continues as usual.
– Luis Hidalgo Okimura, the newly elected governor of Madre de Dios, has pledged his support to the continued battle against illegal gold mining in the region. His plan is to legalize and regulate mining to better control it, as well as incorporate its profits into the tax base. He said he also wants existing mining sites to be mined deeper for missed gold to reduce further tree loss.
– However, others say that focusing on reducing mining in the region is just shifting the problem to other areas. Walter Quertehuari Dariquebe, a leader with the indigenous Huachipaire tribe that resides within the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve just west of La Pampa. He told Mongabay that new gold mining and deforestation “have now shown up on our doorstep. The government has simply kicked an ants’ nest. Now ants are running all over, making trouble elsewhere — especially for us.”


Nigeria finds itself at the heart of the illegal pangolin trade by Orji Sunday [08/15/2019]
– Pangolins have long been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon.
– Strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in Nigeria, and the illegal trade in pangolin parts has gone deeper underground.
– Hunters and traders tell Mongabay that the impact of increased trafficking on pangolin populations is becoming clear as they are increasingly difficult to find in the forest.
– Chinese buyers will pay anywhere between $3 and $20 for a pangolin — a relative fortune for local bushmeat traders. Traffickers can then get as much as $250 for the scales from one pangolin in markets in Asia.

Europe-bred rhinos join South African cousins to repopulate Rwanda park by Jim Tan [08/14/2019]
– Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos have been flown from Europe to Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
– Eastern black rhino populations across the region are small and isolated, with the risk of inbreeding damaging long-term genetic viability.
– The rhinos come from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding program and will add vitally needed fresh genetics into Rwanda’s fledgling population, made up of rhinos bred in South Africa.

From science to reporting (Insider) by Ignacio Amigo [08/14/2019]
– Environmental journalist and Mongabay freelance contributor Ignacio Amigo started his career as a scientist.
– After realizing that he was reading science features and studies outside his area of expertise, he realized that he really wanted to be a reporter.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Rainforest destruction accelerates in Honduras UNESCO site by Taran Volckhausen [08/13/2019]
– Powerful drug-traffickers and landless farmers continue to push cattle ranching and illegal logging operations deeper into the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in eastern Honduras.
– Satellite data show the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve lost more than 10 percent of its tree cover between 2001 and 2017, more than a third of which happened within the last three years of that time period. Preliminary data for 2019 indicate Río Plátano is experiencing another heavy round of forest loss this year, with UMD recording around 160,000 deforestation alerts in the reserve between January and August, which appears to be an uptick from the same period in 2018.
– Local sources claim the government participates in drug trafficking, and those involved in the drug business are allegedly the same people who are involved in illegal exploitation of the land for cattle ranching and illegal logging of mahogany and cedar.
– Deforestation in Río Plátano means a loss of habitat for wildlife and a loss of forest resources for indigenous communities that depend on them. But another threat is emerging: water resources are becoming increasingly scarce as forests are converted into grasslands.

Sea Around Us: Global fisheries data and the goose that laid the golden egg (commentary) by Daniel Pauly [08/13/2019]
– How did we get into a situation where fisheries are allowed to destroy the fish populations from which, given prudent management, high catches could be extracted on a sustainable basis?
– Having more boats in the water doesn’t produce more fish, and neither do subsidies, which enable fishing operations to break even as they overexploit the populations upon which they depend. It is as if we encouraged hunters to kill more geese and replaced their golden eggs with a subsidy (a.k.a. tax money diverted from the funding of our schools and hospitals).
– Many of the major trends in fisheries, notably the massive increase of their capacity and their geographic expansion, which for a long time compensated for the international, subsidy-driven competition for the fish that are left, can be seen only when fisheries are studied globally. With the Sea Around Us data set, it becomes possible for fisheries scientists working in developing countries to perform stock assessments of their major exploited species, and thus for fisheries departments throughout the world to meet the requirements that politicians have with regard to fisheries.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Big cat trade driven by demand for traditional Asian medicine, according to report by [08/13/2019]
– Bones, blood, and other body parts of big cats are made into products such as balms, capsules, gels, and wines that practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe to be able to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to meningitis, though in fact they’ve been found to have no provable health benefits.
– Even before farmed big cats are killed to feed the demand for traditional Asian medicine, however, they’re treated more like products than living, breathing creatures, according to a report released last month by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection.
– China and South Africa are the world’s biggest breeders of captive cats. China alone is estimated to have between 5,000 and 6,000 tigers in captive breeding facilities, while South African facilities are holding between 6,000 and 8,000 lions and another 300 tigers.

World’s largest frog moves heavy rocks to build nests, study finds by [08/13/2019]
– The goliath frog, the world’s largest known frog species, sometimes moves large stones and rocks weighing more than half its weight to create dammed ponds on sandy riverbanks to serve as nesting sites, a new study has found.
– Digging out a large nest that is more than a meter wide by moving large rocks requires a lot of physical strength, which could be a potential explanation for why goliath frogs are among the largest frogs in the world, researchers say.
– The goliath frog is endangered, yet there’s still a lot that researchers do not understand about the frog’s behavior.

Campaigners push for reform of outdated CITES wildlife trade system by James Fair [08/12/2019]
– CITES, the international treaty that regulates the trade in wildlife products, dates back to 1975, but some of the systems it uses have not changed in that time.
– Campaigners say this lack of modernization has allowed the illegal wildlife trade to proliferate to the tune of more than $250 billion a year.
– Better regulation would reduce the scale of the illegal wildlife trade and ensure legal commerce is truly sustainable, they say.

A family’s commitment: 30 years of the Goldman Environmental Prize (commentary) by Jackie Krentzman [08/12/2019]
– On Earth Day in 1990, the Goldman Environmental Prize was launched to honor grassroots environmental activists from each of the world’s six inhabited continents, celebrating sustained leadership, persistence, courage, and success in protecting our natural world. The grassroots nature of the work was critical to the concept and its uniqueness.
– Some recipients have used the visibility of the Prize to launch political careers. Many more have leveraged the Prize as a springboard to continue and double down on their environmental work. One Prize winner even won the Nobel Peace Prize.
– Today, as the Prize enters its fourth decade, the Goldman family is acutely aware that its ability to continue to make a meaningful impact may require some creative and hard thinking about its role in a world that is changing at a rapid pace. That includes evaluating how the Prize addresses major environmental issues head-on, especially when it comes to climate change.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bolsonaro administration approves 290 new pesticide products for use by Jenny Gonzales [08/12/2019]
– In just seven months, the Bolsonaro government has approved 290 new pesticide products for use, at the rate of nearly 1.4 per day. Some of the approved chemicals are banned in the EU, US, and elsewhere. Brazil is one of the largest users of pesticides in the world, with utilization on its vast soy crop especially intensive.
– Most of the pesticides approved are not new individual chemicals, but toxic cocktails that combine a variety of pesticides blended for various uses. However, these combinations have rarely been tested to determine their interactions or impacts on human health or nature.
– In addition to the new products, a new regulatory framework to assess pesticide health risks was established in July that will reduce restrictiveness of toxicological classifications. Under Bolsonaro, 1,942 registered pesticides were quickly reevaluated, with the number considered extremely toxic dropped from 702 to just 43.
– Pesticide poisoning is common in Brazil, and on the rise. The full impacts of chemical toxins on wildlife, plants, waterways and ecosystems are not known. Agribusiness typically sprays from the air, a process that if not conducted properly can result in wind drift of toxins into natural areas and human communities.

Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one by Abhaya Raj Joshi [08/12/2019]
– Economist Adrian Lopes used data modeling to explore the links between rhino horn suppliers in India and South Africa.
– His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around.
– Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.

Sri Lanka pushes for protection of sea cucumbers amid overexploitation by Malaka Rodrigo [08/10/2019]
– With fewer species of sea cucumbers being recorded in catches, Sri Lanka stands to benefit from a proposal that is calling for increased protection of threatened species under CITES Appendix II.
– Experts say there’s good precedent for believing that the listing will raise awareness and spur action to protect the sea cucumbers, citing the example of various shark species that received greater attention after being listed.

Tests show multi-rotor UAVs can improve cetacean behavioral studies by Sue Palminteri [08/09/2019]
– Researchers assessing the utility of small, multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey and study humpback whales found that video data collected from a UAV improved upon data recorded by an expert observer from a research vessel, a standard technique.
– The observer mischaracterized certain behaviors, primarily socializing and nurturing, as other activities, such as traveling or resting, that the aerial viewpoint of the UAV captured clearly, even when the animals were below the surface.
– The whales did not show changes in behavior when the UAV approached or remained present at 30 meters above them.
– Their results suggest that small UAVs add value to cetacean behavioral research as a non-invasive research tool that can capture information that is otherwise difficult to detect from the angle and distance of a ship or shore observer.

Indigenous-managed lands found to harbor more biodiversity than protected areas by [08/09/2019]
– Researchers say they found that amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile abundance in Australia, Brazil, and Canada is highest on lands managed or co-managed by indigenous communities — higher even than on protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, which were found to have the second highest levels of biodiversity.
– Both indigenous-managed lands and protected areas harbored more biodiversity than unprotected areas included in the study that the researchers selected at random. The researchers also determined that the size and geographical location of any particular area had no effect on levels of species diversity, suggesting that it’s the land-management practices of indigenous communities that are conserving biodiversity.
– The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of expanding the boundaries of traditional conservation strategies, which frequently rely on establishing protected areas to conserve critical habitat for biodiversity.

Peru: Invaders claim their first victim at the Macuya Forest Investigation Center by Yvette Sierra Praeli [08/09/2019]
– On June 13, forest defender Julio Crisanto López was wounded by two gunshots as he was leaving the Macuya Forest, and died several days later.
– Since 2017, deforestation in the protected area has destroyed more than 500 hectares of forest according to satellite images.
– Though protected and dedicated to biological research, land traffickers have invaded portions of it, cutting trees and preparing the way for farmers to begin raising crops or cattle.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 9, 2019 by [08/09/2019]
– 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.

Forests: A key piece of the land and climate puzzle (commentary) by Pablo Pacheco [08/08/2019]
– Scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have published a new report examining the interactions between climate change and land use. Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses are responsible for nearly a quarter of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But forests are also one of our planet’s biggest carbon sinks and can contribute to carbon removal, thus constituting a key piece of the land and climate puzzle.
– The report provides a comprehensive look at the forest-related solutions we have, among other land-based responses, that could help us mitigate and adapt to climate change and the possible synergies and trade-offs with other critical land-related issues, including land degradation and desertification and food security.
– We now need the political will and action from governments, the private sector, and consumers to change the way society values forests, to stimulate forest protection, and to embrace sustainable forest management and forest restoration while reversing the pressure on forests. And we need to do so without displacing that pressure to other ecosystems.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Indonesian flooding disaster bears the hallmarks of agriculture and mining impacts by Ian Morse [08/07/2019]
Photo essay: Madagascar’s disappearing dry forests (insider) by Rhett A. Butler [08/07/2019]
Amazon indigenous groups feel deserted by Brazil’s public health service by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [08/05/2019]
Life on the Amazon oil frontier: From exploration to ecotourism by Kimberley Brown [08/02/2019]