Newsletter 2019-10-10


Saving Aru: The epic battle to save the islands that inspired the theory of evolution by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [10/09/2019]

– In the mid-1800s, the extraordinary biodiversity of the Aru Islands helped inspire the theory of evolution by natural selection.
– Several years ago, however, a corrupt politician granted a single company permission to convert most of the islands’ rainforests into a vast sugar plantation.
– The people of Aru fought back. Today, the story of their grassroots campaign resonates across the world as a growing global movement seeks to force governments to act on climate change.

For India’s flood-hit rhinos, refuge depends increasingly on humans by Manon Verchot [10/09/2019]

– Kaziranga National Park in India’s Assam state is home to almost 70 percent of the world’s 3,500 greater one-horned rhinos.
– The park regularly floods during monsoon season. This natural phenomenon is essential to the ecosystem, but can be deadly for animals: 400 animals died in the 2017 floods, including more than 30 rhinos. This year, around 200 animals have died so far, including around a dozen rhinos.
– With increased infrastructure and tourism development around the park, animals’ natural paths to higher ground are often blocked.
– Authorities have responded by building artificial highlands within the park. Some criticize this approach, but park officials credit the highlands for reducing the death toll of this year’s floods.

Demand for charcoal threatens the forest of Madagascar’s last hunter-gatherers by Sam Friedberg [10/03/2019]

– The Mikea, who number around 1,000 people, are facing what many of them say is an existential environmental problem.
– Their ancestral forest in southwestern Madagascar is partly protected inside a national park.
– However, it is rapidly being chopped down to supply a growing demand for charcoal, the country’s primary source of cooking fuel.
– Some Mikea, having lived their entire lives hunting and gathering, are facing a shortage of game and other food and are now considering whether they must abandon the forest, and their way of life, for good.


Food is biggest stumbling block on zero-waste nature tour by JoAnna Haugen [10/10/2019]
– A week-long zero-waste trip led by Natural Habitat Adventures through Yellowstone National Park diverted 50.9 pounds of waste — 99% of all the on-trip waste.
– More than 100 million pounds of garbage is generated in the U.S. national parks every year; in 2018, Yellowstone sent 48% of its waste to a landfill.
– Food waste accounted for more than half of the trip’s collected waste, a particular problem in the travel industry.
– The tour company is now creating a best practices document to share with other tour operators so they can cut unnecessary waste from their operations as well.

Toxic river: mining, mercury and murder continue to plague Colombia’s Atrato by Frederick Gillingham, Melisa Valenzuela [10/10/2019]
– Snaking its way through Colombia’s northwestern department of Choco, for centuries the Atrato River has been the lifeblood for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities living along its banks. But decades of internal conflict have fueled an unprecedented surge in illegal mining, decimating the river basin and provoking an environmental and humanitarian crisis in one of the […]

Seven elephants found dead as Sri Lanka’s human-wildlife conflict escalates by Dennis Mombauer [10/10/2019]
– Authorities have launched an investigation into the suspected poisoning deaths of seven elephants last month in Sri Lanka.
– Human-elephant conflict caused by habitat loss has long been a problem on the country, with both the elephant and human death tolls climbing in recent years.
– Investigations into previous elephant deaths have failed to hold anyone liable, and conservationists say they fear the recent spate of deaths will also go unpunished.
– Conservationists say the root causes for human-elephant conflict need to be removed or mitigated, including through community-based electric fencing, increased manpower for the wildlife department, and conservation of elephant habitat.

Legal and illegal trade negatively impacting survival and wellbeing of Africa’s wildlife: Report by [10/09/2019]
– Released last week by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection to coincide with World Animal Day, the report looks at the “Big 5” and “Little 5” most-in-demand species and how trade in those animals impacts their wellbeing and conservation status.
– Between 2011 and 2015, some 1.2 million animal skins from the “Big 5” African wildlife species identified in the report as being most in-demand — the Nile crocodile, the Cape fur seal, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, the African elephant, and the common hippo — were legally sold.
– More than 1.5 million live animals belonging to one of the “Little 5” African species — the ball python, the African grey parrot, the emperor scorpion, the leopard tortoise, and the savannah monitor lizard — were exported for the exotic pet trade between 2011 and 2015, the report finds.

Madagascar: Opaque foreign fisheries deals leave empty nets at home by Edward Carver [10/09/2019]
– Malagasy fishers blame shrimp trawlers that ply coastal waters for their declining catches.
– However, the bulk of industrial fishing in Madagascar’s waters takes place far from shore and out of view. It’s conducted by foreign fishing fleets working under agreements that critics say lack transparency.
– Conservationists argue that these foreign vessels are also depleting the country’s fish stocks and marine ecosystems.
– With negotiations to renew a fisheries deal with the European Union having flopped late last month and uncertainty lingering over an enormous and controversial fisheries deal with a Chinese company, much is at stake for Madagascar’s small-scale fishers.

Philippines freezes climate studies loan over scrutiny of Duterte drug war by [10/09/2019]
– The Philippine government has suspended a $36 million loan from Germany to fund climate change studies in the Southeast Asian nation.
– The loan is one of several from foreign governments and agencies put on hold by the Philippines in retaliation over those countries’ support for a U.N. investigation into alleged human rights abuses in President Duterte’s war on drugs.
– The suspension of the climate studies loan comes at a critical time for the Philippines, which lacks such studies and is also one of the nations most at risk from climate change impacts.
– German grants from last year have not been affected; they fund, among other things, the creation of a National Climate Change Action Plan and assistance for local government units in developing climate-adaptive strategies and accessing climate financing facilities.

Suspicions of murder in death of Indonesian environmental activist by Ayat S. Karokaro [10/09/2019]
– Golfrid Siregar, an environmental activist at a local chapter of Indonesia’s largest green NGO, died this week under suspicious circumstances.
– His colleagues have questioned the police narrative of a motorcycle crash or a violent robbery, saying the evidence, including severe injuries to his head, indicate he was killed elsewhere and his body dumped to conceal the crime.
– Golfrid provided legal assistance for local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies. At the time of his death he was involved in a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over alleged forgery in the permitting process for a controversial hydropower project in an orangutan habitat.
– Golfrid’s death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia.

Settlers, soldiers and insurgents close in on Colombia’s indigenous Jiw by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [10/09/2019]
– Indigenous Jiw communities have lodged a complaint before Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit requesting the return of their territory that was slashed by more than half in 1975.
– The group says they have lost their self-sufficiency, and are identified by Colombia’s Constitutional Court as one of 34 ethnic groups at risk of extinction.
– The forests they once used have been turned into cattle pastures in Guaviare, north of Colombia’s Amazonian region, which is also one of the country’s main centers of deforestation.
– Mongabay Latam traveled to the Barrancón resguardo, or reserve, to learn about the pressures on the Jiw communities.

Companies’ solutions to global plastic crisis miss the mark: Report by [10/09/2019]
– A new report from Greenpeace contends that multinational consumer goods companies are addressing the global plastics crisis with “false solutions.”
– Some of those solutions, the group says, harm the environment, such as the replacement of plastic straws with paper ones.
– Others, such as bioplastics, amount to little more than greenwashing, the report’s author writes, as they don’t provide the purported benefits compared to conventional plastics.
– Greenpeace argues for the phaseout of single-use packaging and investments in developing reusable containers that would substantially cut down on plastic waste.

$750,000 prize seeks solutions to challenges from small-scale mining by [10/08/2019]
– While the devices we carry around in our pockets everyday provide us with unprecedented convenience and levels of access to information, the materials they contain are often linked to the destruction of some of the planet’s richest ecosystems.
– Yet small-scale mining is an important source of income more than 40 million people worldwide, generating livelihoods and, in some cases, creating paths to escape poverty.
– For these reasons, last week a broad coalition launched a $750,000 global competition to identify ways to make small-scale and artisanal mining less damaging to communities and the environment.
– The Artisanal Mining Grand Challenge is hosted by Conservation X Labs, a Washington, DC- and Seattle-based non-profit that has organized other prize-based competitions around difficult environmental problems.

Eight species, including Tapanuli orangutan, make first appearance on list of most endangered primates by [10/08/2019]
– “Primates In Peril: The world’s 25 most endangered primates 2018-2020” is the tenth iteration of a report issued every two years documenting the primate species from across the globe that are facing the most severe threats of extinction.
– The report finds that the Tapanuli orangutan is one of the world’s most imperiled primates largely due to the impacts of human activities, and that it is hardly alone in that respect: Nearly 70 percent of the 704 known primate species and subspecies in the world are considered threatened; more than 40 percent are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered.
– Many species are, like the Tapanuli orangutan, down to just a few hundred individuals or less. The Skywalker hoolock gibbon, for instance, was only elevated to full species status by scientists in 2017 and makes it first appearance on the list of the 25 most endangered primates this year because there are less than 150 left in the wild.

Philippines races to save its increasingly endangered hornbills by [10/08/2019]
– The Philippines has 11 endemic hornbill species and nine are threatened, according to the country’s red list of threatened species, which was updated this year.
– The Visayan hornbill is the latest species to be identified as critically endangered, joining the rufous-headed hornbill and the Sulu hornbill.
– While conservation programs have strengthened the protection of the rufous-headed hornbill, the population of the Sulu hornbill continues to decline, with only 27 recorded individuals in the wild.
– The Philippines is working on a national hornbill conservation action plan, which will place all hornbill species under a stricter mantle of protection.

For Indonesia’s newest tarsier, a debut a quarter century in the making by Basten Gokkon [10/08/2019]
– Scientists first spotted a previously unknown type of tarsier on the Togean Islands off Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 1993, and it’s taken 25 years of further studies to describe the diminutive primate species as new to science.
– Niemitz’s tarsier (Tarsius niemitzi) is named after Carsten Niemitz, one of the scientists on that initial visit to the Togean islands, whom the authors of the new paper call “the father of tarsier field biology.”
– There are now 12 known tarsier species found in Sulawesi and surrounding islands, but the paper’s authors say the region could be home to at least 16, with more research needed.
– They warn that loss of habitat makes it “quite plausible” that some tarsier species may go extinct before scientists have a chance to identify them.

Bouncing back: The recovery of the tenkile tree kangaroo by Megan Stannard [10/08/2019]
– The tenkile tree kangaroo population in Papua New Guinea’s Torricelli mountains has tripled since 1996 to more than 300 animals.
– The Tenkile Conservation Alliance has improved conditions for both the critically endangered species and the local communities.
– The tenkile is still imperiled by deforestation, illegal logging and climate change.

CITES appeals to countries to watch out for trafficked Malagasy rosewood by Malavika Vyawahare [10/07/2019]
– International wildlife trade regulator CITES has issued an advisory warning that $50 million in Madagascar rosewood logs being held in Singapore could find its way back into the black market.
– The timber was seized in 2014 in Singapore, but a local court earlier this year acquitted the trader responsible for it on charges of trafficking, and ordered the release of the 30,000 logs.
– Trade in rosewood from Madagascar has been banned by CITES since 2013 and under Malagasy law since 2010, but enforcing the embargo has proved difficult.
– The Singapore case highlights the pitfalls in implementing the ban, with observers faulting the Malagasy government’s flip-flop during court proceedings as to whether the seized precious wood was legal.

International wildlife trade sweeps across ‘tree of life,’ study finds by [10/07/2019]
– About one in five land animals are caught up in the global wildlife trade, a new study has found.
– The research identified species traded as pets or for products they provide, and then mapped the animals’ home ranges, identifying “hotspots” around the world.
– The team also found that nearly 3,200 other species may be affected by the wildlife trade in the future.
– The study’s authors say they believe their work could help authorities protect species before trade drives their numbers down.

The unrecognized cost of Indonesia’s fires (commentary) by Rhett A. Butler [10/07/2019]
– As Indonesia’s forests go up in smoke, the world may be losing a lot more than we currently understand, argues Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler in this commentary that was originally published in Singapore’s Straits Times on September 30, 2019.
– In one instance, deforestation in Borneo nearly eradicated a potential anti-HIV drug before it was discovered. The near-miss with the drug, Calanolide A, provides one vivid illustration of what is at risk of being lost as Indonesia’s forests are cleared and burned.
– Other local and regional impacts from continued large-scale destruction of Indonesia’s forests may include hotter temperatures, more prolonged droughts, and increased incidence of fires.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

EU market a factor as Sri Lanka pulls its punches on protection for lizards by Malaka Rodrigo [10/06/2019]
– Conservationists say they suspect Sri Lanka came under pressure from the European Union to water down its proposals for increased protection for several rare and endemic lizards from the international pet trade.
– Sri Lanka had proposed the measures to protect 10 lizard species ahead of the CITES wildlife trade summit in August, but at the last moment amended some of the proposals and withdrew one.
– Europe is already a major marketplace for exotic lizards smuggled out of Sri Lanka, where specimens identified as having been bred in captivity are more likely to have been caught in the wild, experts say.
– They warn that the protections afforded to the Sri Lankan lizards following the CITES summit could leave them susceptible to this trafficking mechanism.

Expedition finds new humpback breeding ground and sends first deep divers to Amazon Reef by [10/04/2019]
– A number of marine species, from whales and dolphins to sea turtles and sharks, are known to migrate through the waters off the coast of French Guiana, the same biodiversity-rich waters that harbor the Amazon Reef, which was discovered in 2016.
– Scientists with the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza discovered and documented humpbacks as well as tropical whale species feeding and breeding in the area, which they say is a first.
– As part of the same expedition, the first dives down to the Amazon Reef were undertaken in order to document the reef ecosystem via high-resolution photography and collect biological samples.

Vatican calls landmark meeting to conserve Amazon, protect indigenous peoples by Justin Catanoso [10/04/2019]
– From October 6-27 Catholic Church bishops from nine Amazon nations, indigenous leaders and environmental activists will convene in Rome at the Vatican to develop a unified strategy for preserving the Amazon rainforest and protecting the region’s indigenous peoples.
– The event is an outgrowth of Pope Francis’ 2015 teaching document known as Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home — an indictment of capitalism’s excesses, global extraction industries, industrial agribusiness, and our consumer society, which the pope mostly holds responsible for climate change, deforestation and endangerment of indigenous cultures.
– The Vatican meeting to discuss the Amazon is seen as a direct threat to national sovereignty by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose spokesperson earlier this year said of the Amazon synod that “it’s worrying and we want to neutralize it.”
– In a conference call this week, a few of those who will participate in the Amazon synod took a more positive view, saying that: “People are afraid that they’re going to have to change their own interests. But change has to come and the time is now.”

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 4, 2019 by [10/04/2019]
– 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.

Hundreds protest pollution from coal-fired power plant in Java by L. Darmawan [10/04/2019]
– Hundreds of people in central Java earlier this week staged a protest demanding a resolution over waste mismanagement at a coal-fired power plant that has polluted their village.
– Residents of the village of Winong have since 2016 blamed the Cilacap plant and its Jakarta-based operator for polluting their air and depleting the water table.
– The local environment agency had carried out an investigation last year and ordered the operator to take measures to remedy the problem.
– However, the results of that investigation were not released untilthis week, and then only after protests from the villagers. The evaluation of the remedial measures has still not been published.

Sumatra survey looks to identify at-risk rhinos for captive breeding by Junaidi Hanafiah [10/04/2019]
– The Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra is home to as many as 50 Sumatran rhinos, out of no more than 80 believed to survive in the wild.
– Surveys in the area have identified some subpopulations large enough to breed naturally, as well as isolated individuals or small groups unlikely to find mates.
– Indonesia’s current plan calls for larger groups to be protected in situ, while more isolated rhinos are to be gathered into sanctuaries for a captive-breeding program.
– Both national and local officials back a plan to create a new sanctuary in the northern Sumatran province of Aceh.

How bioacoustics can transform conservation – Wildtech event in Palo Alto by [10/03/2019]
– On October 17th Mongabay is holding a WildTech discussion panel on the potential for bioacoustic monitoring to transform conservation. The event is being hosted by the Patagonia store in Palo Alto, CA.
– Panel participants include University of Wisconsin ecologist Zuzana Burivalova, Conservation Metrics CEO Matthew McKown, and Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler.
– Doors open at 6:30 pm for snacks, beverages, and networking. The panel discussion begins at 7:15 pm.
– Admission is free but space is limited, so please RSVP.

Brazil land reform head fired amid push to legalize cleared Amazon land by Shanna Hanbury [10/03/2019]
– Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has fired army general João Carlos de Jesus Corrêa as the head of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), a position he held since February of this year.
– Critics say the move yields to pressure from the powerful farm lobby to push legalization of cleared land in the Amazon, which could lead to increased deforestation in the region.
– According to news reports, Corrêa’s removal is tied to disagreements regarding the Bolsonaro administration’s plan to ease the process to regularize about 750,000 land deeds through the end of the year.

Study tracks first incursion of poachers into ‘pristine’ African forest by John C. Cannon [10/03/2019]
– Researchers logged the first evidence of elephant poaching in a remote, pristine section of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the northern Republic of Congo.
– The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, also revealed unique behavior changes between gorillas and chimpanzees as a result of selective logging.
– The research highlights the need to incorporate the results of biodiversity surveys into plotting out the locations of areas set aside for conservation.

Brazilian beef industry plays outsized role in tropical carbon emissions: report by Zoe Sullivan [10/03/2019]
– Roughly 2.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide were released annually between 2010 and 2014 due to growth in tropical agriculture and tree plantations, say researchers; 40 percent of those deforestation-related emissions stem from Brazil and Indonesia, with oilseeds — especially palm oil and soy — accounting for most emissions in Indonesia.
– The research shows that cattle ranching in Brazil is the leading driver of deforestation emissions across Latin America. Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS presents the highest deforestation risk of the nation’s leading companies, followed by other major firms including Minerva and Marfrig. Most beef raised in Brazil is consumed domestically.
– The deforestation problem arises because monitoring linked to ranches is only done with the final slaughterhouse supplier, while most forest loss is taking place at the ranch where the animals originate, or at other ranches to which animals are sold, before being “laundered” at a last ranch.
– The solution: barcode tag animals from birth, so livestock can be traced from source, through multiple sales, to the slaughterhouse, tracking deforestation along the way. But political will has been lacking, say analysts, under past administration and especially under President Jair Bolsonaro.

As wildfires roil Sumatra, some villages have abandoned the burning by Taufik Wijaya [10/03/2019]
– Devastating fires and haze in 2015, as well as the threat of arrest, have prompted some villages in Sumatra to end the tradition of burning the land for planting.
– The villages of Upang Ceria and Gelebak Dalam also been fire-free since then, even as large swaths of forest elsewhere in Sumatra continue to burn.
– Village officials have plans to develop ecotourism as another source of revenue, as well as restore mangroves and invest in agricultural equipment that makes the farmers’ work easier.

Indonesian enforcement questioned as fires flare up on the same concessions by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/03/2019]
– Indonesia says it plans to impose stricter punishment for plantation companies with recurring instances of fire on their concessions, including permanently revoking their permits.
– Several of the companies whose concessions have been burning this year were also at the heart of the 2015 fires.
– Activists say the fact that the problem is recurring on the same concessions highlights the government’s failure to adequately punish the companies.
– A Greenpeace report has found no meaningful action taken against palm oil companies guilty of burning since 2015, and inconsistent enforcement against pulpwood companies during that same period.


Indonesian enforcement questioned as fires flare up on the same concessions by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/03/2019]
A newborn dies amid Indonesia fire crisis, as parents fear for their kids’ health by Suryadi [09/27/2019]