Newsletter 2019-08-22


Colombia: Indigenous Yukpa besieged by deforestation and armed conflict by Julián Sáenz/Semana Sostenible [08/19/2019]

– Mongabay Latam and Semana Sostenible travelled to two of their reserves. The forests of the Serranía del Perijá Regional Nature Park are being burned and indigenous peoples are living in difficult health conditions.
– They are asking for urgent attention from the state, and amid shortages are also having to deal with the arrival of indigenous Yukpa migrants from Venezuela.
– This article is a collaboration between Mongabay Latam and Semana Sostenible from Colombia.

Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway by John C. Cannon [08/19/2019]

– The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway.
– The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway.
– Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo.
– But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.

Madagascar: What’s good for the forest is good for the native silk industry by Edward Carver [08/16/2019]

– People in the highlands of central Madagascar have long buried their loved ones in shrouds of thick wild silk, typically from the endemic silkworm known as landibe (Borocera cajani).
– With support from NGOs, traditional silk workers have widened their offerings to include scarves made of wild silk for sale to tourists and the country’s elites.
– In recent years, the price of raw materials has shot up as the forests the landibe grows in succumb to fire and other threats, making it difficult for silk workers to continue their craft.
– However, where there are forest-management challenges, there is also opportunity: the silk business provides an incentive for local people to protect their trees. Some well-organized and well-supported community groups are cashing in on conservation, in spite of the broader silkworm recession.


Discovery of a metallic-blue tarantula bolsters case for trade protection by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [08/22/2019]
– A shiny, metallic-blue tarantula is Sri Lanka’s latest addition to the Indian Ocean island’s list of spiders, a new study reveals.
– The discovery comes as a global summit on wildlife trade takes place in Geneva, where Sri Lanka is calling for enhanced protection of tarantulas from the exotic pet trade.
– Researchers identify habitat loss and the pet trade as the biggest threats to tarantulas in the wild, and call for strict enforcement of laws against smuggling of species.

The Pan Borneo Highway brings wildlife threats to nat’l park doorstep by John C. Cannon [08/21/2019]
– The southern terminus of the Pan Borneo Highway in Malaysia extends to the edge of Tanjung Datu National Park in Sarawak.
– The highway’s proponents say the road is already bringing more tourists who are eager to see the park’s wildlife to the adjacent communities, helping to boost the local economy.
– But one of the world’s rarest primates, the Bornean banded langur, resides in the park, raising concerns in the conservation community that increased access could bring poachers into the park.

Amazon rainforest fires leave São Paulo in the dark by Ignacio Amigo [08/21/2019]
– The number of forest fires in Brazil soared 85 percent between January 1 and August 20 compared to a year ago, according to data from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). Roughly half of fire occurrences of this year were registered in the last 20 days, INPE data showed.
– * In a technical note released in the evening of August 20, the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia) said the occurrences are directly connected to deforestation as it didn’t find any evidence to argue that the fires could be a consequence of a lack of rain.
– Fires in Brazil came to spotlight since the afternoon of August 19, when São Paulo’s skies suddenly turned black, spurring discussion about the linkage between the fires and the phenomenon. Since then, “Amazon Fires” are trending on Twitter under the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas.
– Far-right President Bolsonaro reacted on August 21, raising suspicion that members of NGOs could be behind the fires in retaliation against the government for having caused the suspension of a $33.2 million payment from Norway to the Amazon Fund.

Wild orchid trade in China is huge, overlooked and ‘devastating,’ study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [08/21/2019]
– In just one year of survey, researchers recorded more than 400 species of wild-caught orchids, involving 1.2 million individual plants worth potentially more than $14.6 million, being traded at markets in southern China.
– At least some of the trade is illegal and in breach of CITES regulations, the study found.
– Traders frequently sell non-native species of orchids. Moreover, native species that either have very small populations or have probably gone extinct in China also appear in the markets, suggesting they are likely being sourced from neighboring countries.

Japan builds coal plants abroad that wouldn’t be allowed at home: Report by Hans Nicholas Jong [08/21/2019]
– Japan is investing heavily in building coal-fired power plants overseas that would fall short of its own domestic emissions standards, according to a Greenpeace report.
– Pollution from these plants, in places such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh, could potentially lead to 410,000 premature deaths over the 30-year lifetime of the plants.
– Japan is the only country in the G7 group of wealthiest nations still actively building coal-fired plants domestically and overseas, which threatens international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and stall global warning.
– Activists say by building on its own renewable energy potential, Japan can set a positive example for the countries in which it’s investing in energy infrastructure.

Audio: The superb lyrebird’s song, dance and incredible vocal mimicry by Mike Gaworecki [08/20/2019]
– On this special show, we replay one of our favorite Field Notes episodes, featuring recordings of a songbird known for its own ability to replay sounds, including elaborate vocal displays and amazing mimicry of other species’ songs and even of trees blowing in the wind.
– Male superb lyrebirds are extravagantly feathered creatures who clear patches of forest floor to prepare a stage on which they dance and sing their complex songs in order to attract a mate.
– Female superb lyrebirds also sing plus they mimic other species as well as sounds from their environment, such as the creaking of trees in the wind.
– Anastasia Dalziell discussed her study detailing findings on the vocal mimicry of male superb lyrebirds and the dances the birds use to accompany specific songs. She also discussed a previous study of hers looking at the mimetic vocal displays of female superb lyrebirds, which she said “highlights the hidden complexity of female vocalizations” in songbirds.

On Peru’s border, the Tikuna tribe takes on illegal coca growers by Alexa VélezVanessa Romo [08/20/2019]
– Members of the Tikuna indigenous people in Peru’s border region with Colombia and Brazil have chosen to guard their forests against the rapid expansion of illegal coca crops, the plant from which cocaine is derived.
– Equipped with GPS-enabled cellphones and satellite maps, they confront loggers and drug traffickers who have threatened them with death.
– The community wants the government to do more to help them, including assisting in their transition to growing food crops from which they can make a legitimate living.

Philippine bill seeks to grant nature the same legal rights as humans by Leilani Chavez [08/20/2019]
– A coalition in the Philippines is pushing for legislation of a “right of nature” bill, which would confer legal personhood on nature.
– The bill, should it pass into law, will create a paradigm shift in existing human-centered environmental laws and make individuals, governments and corporations more responsible and accountable when dealing with nature.
– The bill, currently in the drafting, adequately represents the connectedness between indigenous peoples and their ancestral domains, an indigenous women’s rights activist says.
– The bill is part of a growing movement around the world to recognize ecosystems and species as legal entities, as a way of boosting their protection amid intensifying threats.

2019 in line for second lowest Arctic sea ice extent record by Gloria Dickie [08/19/2019]
– 2019 has seen constant heat and melt conditioning of the Arctic sea ice, resulting in record, and near record, daily and monthly extent and volume stats over much of the melt season. The average volume for July, for example, fell to 8,800 cubic kilometers (2,111 cubic miles), a new record low.
– Whether 2019 will set a new all-time extent or volume record at the September sea ice minimum remains to be seen, with ice extent shrinking less quickly since mid-August, possibly putting this year in second place, though certainly among the top five record lowest minimums.
– The big news this year was the relentless heat in the Arctic, with record heat waves over Alaska, Scandinavia and Greenland, resulting in massive glacial runoff into the sea. Wildfires were rampant, with reindeer and fish including salmon possibly adversely impacted by very hot air and water temperatures.
– Whether or not 2019 sets a new sea ice extent or volume low record this September is incidental. What this year dramatically showed is that the climate crisis has anchored itself firmly in the Arctic, and shows no signs of easing over the long-haul.

Mysterious plants that thrive in darkness, steal food: Q&A with botanist Kenji Suetsugu by Shreya Dasgupta [08/19/2019]
– On Japan’s forest floors, there are plants that stay hidden and have given up on photosynthesis. These mycoheterotrophic plants are instead parasitic, drawing nutrition from the network of fungi running under the forest floor.
– For the past 10 years, Kenji Suetsugu, a botanist and associate professor at Japan’s Kobe University, has been on a mission to identify and document mycoheterotrophic plants across the country’s. His surveys have uncovered 10 previously undescribed species of these elusive plants.
– In a brief chat, Mongabay spoke with Suetsugu about the strange world of mycoheterotrophic plants, why it fascinates him, and why it’s an important indicator of ecosystem health.

Philippine eco-warrior Gina Lopez, who battled mines, dies at 65 by [08/19/2019]
– Gina Lopez, a former environment secretary of the Philippines and ardent activist against destructive mining practices, has died at the age of 65.
– Working with civil society groups, Lopez led a grassroots movement that spurred an executive order from the president to ban new mining permits.
– She continued this work during her brief time in office, leading a massive audit of all mining operations in the country, canceling scores of contracts and closing nearly two dozen mines.
– A longtime chair of the ABS-CBN Foundation, she also established a helpline to rescue abused children and provided financial assistance and training to rural communities in developing ecotourism initiatives.

Travel: A charmed encounter with birds-of-paradise in Papua’s Arfak Mountains by Een Irawan Putra [08/19/2019]
– The provinces of West Papua and Papua have pinned their hopes for economic growth on ecotourism and sustainable development.
– The Arfak Mountains in West Papua have become a hotspot for bird-watching, thanks to forests teeming with spectacular birds-of-paradise.
– Mongabay Indonesia recently traveled to the village of Minggrei for a bird-watching trip to see what makes the experience so special that tours are booked out until 2021.

Deforestation, climate crisis could crash Amazon tree diversity: study by Jenny Gonzales [08/18/2019]
– New research finds that when climate change and deforestation impacts are taken together, up to 58 percent of Amazon tree species richness could be lost by 2050, of which 49 percent would have some degree of risk for extinction.
– Under the deforestation/climate change scenario, half the Amazon (the north, central and west) could be reduced to 53 percent of the original forest. The other half (the east, south and southeast, where agribusiness occurs), could become extremely fragmented, with only 30 percent of forest remaining.
– Studies rarely take both climate change and deforestation into account. But the new study’s results bolster the findings of other scientists who have modeled results showing that when the Amazon is 20-25 percent deforested, it could cross a rainforest to savanna conversion tipping point, a disaster for biodiversity.
– Scientists warn that Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policies could result in a worst-case scenario, with severe damage to the Amazon rainforest and to its ecological services, including the loss of the sequestration of vast amounts of stored carbon, leading to a regional and global intensification of climate change.

CITES 2019: What’s Conservation Got To Do With It? (commentary) by Susan Lieberman [08/16/2019]
– From August 17-28, the global community convenes in Geneva for the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
– Species whose very future on this planet will be debated include the African elephant, Southern white rhino, giraffe, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, and mako shark.
– Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at WCS, argues governments must not let their decisions be swayed by the pressures of those more interested in trade than conservation.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bid for greater protection of star tortoise, a trafficking mainstay by Dennis Mombauer [08/16/2019]
– The illegal trafficking of the Indian star tortoise, an IUCN-listed vulnerable species, is thriving despite its trade being restricted under CITES Appendix II and domestic legislation in all three range states.
– To fight this, range states Sri Lanka and India, along with other countries, have submitted a proposal for the upcoming CITES summit to move the star tortoise from Appendix II to Appendix I.
– The CITES Secretariat has recommended rejecting the proposal, saying that adding the star tortoise to Appendix I provides no clear benefit for its protection, but proponents say the alarming scale of the trade should be reason enough, and hope to convince the CITES parties of the value of uplisting the tortoise.

Norway freezes support for Amazon Fund; EU/Brazil trade deal at risk? by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [08/16/2019]
– On Thursday, Norway announced a freeze on US$33.2 million, Amazon Fund donations slated for projects aimed at curbing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The REDD+ Amazon Fund was launched in 2008, and was expected to continue indefinitely.
– However, the anti-environmental policies of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro have put the Fund’s future in grave doubt. Norway’s freeze came as the direct result of the Bolsonaro administration’s unilateral action to drastically alter the rules for administering the fund, even as monthly deforestation rates shot up in Brazil.
– Bolsonaro seems not to care about the loss of funding. However, some analysts warn that Norway’s decision could lead to a refusal by the European Union to ratify the recently concluded EU/Mercosur Latin American trading bloc agreement. Brazil’s troubled economy badly needs the pact to be activated.
– Other Bolsonaro critics have raised the prospect that the Amazon Fund freeze could be a first step toward a global consumer boycott of Brazilian commodities. Meanwhile, state governments in Brazil are scrambling to step up and accept deforestation reduction funding from international donors.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, August 16, 2019 by [08/16/2019]
– 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.

Asian elephant footprints serve as safe spaces for frog nurseries by Nanticha Ocharoenchai [08/16/2019]
– Researchers have discovered that Asian elephant footprints can create stable, safe breeding grounds for frogs in Myanmar.
– The scientists believe these stable foot ponds can last for more than a year, and that a series of them provides connectivity for frog populations.
– While the ecosystems services of African savanna and forest elephants have been widely studied, the scientists say more research should be spent on Asian elephants and how they impact their ecosystems.

Newly described giant extinct penguin and parrot once lived in New Zealand by [08/16/2019]
– Paleontologists have found fossils of two extinct giant birds in New Zealand: an enormous penguin that would have been nearly as tall as an average adult human, and the largest parrot ever known to have existed.
– The new species of extinct giant penguin, formally named Crossvallia waiparensis, was described from leg bones found at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in the North Canterbury region in 2018.
– The extinct parrot, Heracles inexpectatus, was likely double the size of the previously largest known parrot species, the kakapo. The fossils of the parrot were first recovered from near St. Bathans in Central Otago in 2008.

Ekuri Initiative: Inside a Nigerian community’s battle to keep its forest by Linus Unah [08/15/2019]
– The Ekuri Community in southeastern Nigeria started an initiative in the early 1990’s to manage their community forest adjacent to the Cross River National Park, home to the critically-endangered Cross River gorilla and a suite of other unique and threatened species.
– Formalized through the Ekuri Initiative, planned community forest management has helped to drive local development, conservation, sustainable forest management and address poverty by improving access to sustainable livelihoods.
– The Initiative has resisted threats from logging companies and more recently attempts by state authorities to build a 260-km superhighway that would have destroyed much of the community forest.
– However, community leaders worry that if state and national governments continue to ignore their efforts, villagers might think conservation efforts do not respect their rights to survival.


Precision conservation: High tech to the rescue in the Peruvian Amazon by Lisa Palmer [08/15/2019]
Indonesia forest-clearing ban is made permanent, but labeled ‘propaganda’ by Hans Nicholas Jong [08/14/2019]
Germany cuts $39.5 million in environmental funding to Brazil by Karla Mendes[08/13/2019]
Gov’t takedown of illegal gold mining in Peru shows promise, but at a cost by Justin Catanoso [08/09/2019]