Newsletter 2019-10-24


As 2019 Amazon fires die down, Brazilian deforestation roars ahead by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [10/23/2019]

– This year’s August Amazon fires grabbed headlines around the world. In response, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his administration accused the media of lying and exaggerating the disaster, then finally sent in the army to combat the blazes. As of October, many of the fires were under control.
– But experts note that the fires are only a symptom of a far greater problem: rampant and rising deforestation. Altogether, 7,604 square kilometers (2,970 square miles) of rainforest were felled during the first nine months of this year, an 85 percent increase over the same period last year.
– Unscrupulous land speculators are growing rich, say experts, as they mine, log and clear rainforest — operations often conducted illegally on protected lands. Typically, the speculators cut valuable trees, burn the remainder, and sell the cleared land at a heavily marked up price to cattle ranchers or agribusiness.
– So far, Bolsonaro has done little to inhibit these activities, while doing and saying much to encourage deforestation, mining and agribusiness. The government has de-toothed the nation’s environmental agencies and slashed their budgets, while hampering officials from enforcing environmental laws.

For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge by Ian Morse [10/23/2019]

– Sea turtles are protected species under Indonesian law, but continued to be caught and killed for food and ornaments in many parts of the country.
– Official wildlife conservation agencies are typically underfunded, and large-scale conservation programs run by NGOs are far from effective, a conservationist says.
– But in a fishing village on the island of Sulawesi, a lone fisherman is playing his part by buying live turtles accidentally caught by other fishers and usually injured, and caring for them until they heal and can be released back into the ocean.
– Conservationists have welcomed his initiative and intent, but raised questions about his expertise, with some of the more than 20 turtles he has cared for so far dying.

Why is Europe rewilding with water buffalo? by Jeremy Hance [10/21/2019]

– Conservationists have released 18 water buffalo onto Ermakov Island in the Danube, in the first ever such rewilding project in Ukraine.
– The water buffalo were gifted by a German-born naturalist-cum-farmer, Michel Jacobs, who has taken on a mission of saving the Carpathian’s distinct water buffalo.
– Researchers believe the water buffalo will bring new richness and diversity to the Danube by acting as ecosystem engineers.

Failure in conservation projects: Everyone experiences it, few record it by Shreya Dasgupta [10/17/2019]

– Analysis of failures of conservation projects are rarely published, a new study has found.
– Researchers who reviewed the available scientific literature found only 59 peer-reviewed articles that had analyzed failures of conservation projects.
– Some of the leading causes of project failures, according to the papers reviewed, were problematic interactions between people, lack of trust, negative experiences with past conservation initiatives, and inefficient communication.
– The finding that interpersonal relations, and not external factors like politics, was the largest cause of project failures, is hopeful, the researchers say, because it tells us that we need to work on things we can actually influence.



Research outlines ‘roadmap’ for land use to slow climate change by [10/24/2019]
– A new study finds that the land sector could account for nearly one-third of the climate mitigation necessary to keep global temperatures below a 1.5-degree-Celsius (2.7-degree-Fahrenheit) rise over pre-industrial levels as referenced in the 2015 Paris climate accords.
– The research, drawing on other studies looking at the potential for various reforms, puts forth a roadmap for carbon neutrality in the land sector by 2040.
– In addition to measures such as forest protection and restoration, the paper’s authors also call for human behavior change and investment in carbon capture technologies.

$85 million initiative to scale up agroforestry in Africa announced by Erik Hoffner [10/24/2019]
– A coalition of NGOs recently announced “the biggest land restoration project ever seen,” starting with an $85 million project to scale up agroforestry in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
– Agroforestry is the practice of growing trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables together in a group mimicking a forest, and is credited as a way to sequester climate-warming carbon while feeding people and providing habitat for biodiversity.
– “This may be the largest individual investment ever made in agroforestry,” one expert told Mongabay of the project.
– The Global EverGreening Alliance has a goal of capturing 20 billion tons of CO2 annually by 2050, and this first project is said to cover an area about the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey.

New grouper species discovered in Australian fish market by [10/23/2019]
– A newly discovered species of grouper almost became someone’s dinner before it could be described to science.
– Jeff Johnson, an ichthyologist with Australia’s Queensland Museum, had been asked about the fish before, 15 years ago. Over the intervening years, he would occasionally be sent pictures of the same type of grouper, one lacking distinctive features that struck him as a potential new species, but had never found a specimen to examine.
– Johnson’s big break came in 2017 when a fisherman got in touch and sent along a photo of a grouper, also known as rockcod, that the fisherman was hoping the fish expert could identify. Johnson recognized the fish in the photo as his mystery grouper and asked for the specimens so he could study them, only to be told that the fisherman had already sent the fish to be sold at a local market. But that didn’t stop Johnson from at last getting his hands on a specimen to prove this was an entirely new species.

Malaria surges in deforested parts of the Amazon, study finds by John C. Cannon [10/23/2019]
– A recent study found that deforestation significantly increases the transmission of malaria, about three times more than previously thought.
– The analysis showed that a 10 percent increase in deforestation caused a 3.3 percent rise in malaria cases.
– The study’s authors analyzed more than a decade of data showing the occurrences of malaria in nearly 800 villages, towns and cities across the Brazilian Amazon.
– They also controlled for the “feedback” from malaria, by which a rise in the incidence of the disease actually slows deforestation down.

Amazon’s male white bellbird has the loudest recorded call by [10/23/2019]
– The call of the male white bellbird (Procnias albus) is the loudest bird call recorded in the world.
– The bellbird’s call can reach 125 decibels, almost as loud as a very loud rock concert, and more than 9 decibels higher than the loudest recorded call of the screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), which held the previous record of being the world’s loudest bird.
– The male could be producing its chainsaw-like calls to attract a potential mate, the researchers say, but why the female sits so close to the male when it screams, risking hearing damage, is unclear.

Indonesia’s new cabinet a ‘marriage of oligarchs,’ environmentalists say by Basten Gokkon [10/23/2019]
– Environmental activists have expressed disappointment with the new cabinet unveiled by President Joko Widodo for his second and final term in office.
– Among those staying on are the environment minister, widely criticized for failing to crack down on companies violating environmental laws, and the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, who has extensive business interests in the mining industry.
– The popular and effective fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, was replaced in favor of an aide to Widodo’s election rival, while the new energy minister has a record of championing fossil fuel and palm biodiesel projects.
– Activists warn that the new cabinet consolidates power in the hands of oligarchs, political elites, and military and police generals, making it likely that environmental protections will be unraveled and violations more common in the name of investment and growth.

Companies ‘disregard responsibility’ over conflict minerals: Report by [10/23/2019]
– An analysis of 215 companies’ mineral supply chains has found many have fallen short of their obligations under the Conflict Minerals Rule.
– In a report published this month by the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), the group analysed corporate compliance under the legislation, which requires public companies in the United States to disclose the use of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG).
– While some companies increased participation in efforts to address the conflict minerals issue, most indicators studied by RSN showed a decline in long-term engagement and “deplorable” levels of risk.
– In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to suspend Section 1502 and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission subsequently decided not to enforce the law.

Uganda’s eco-feminists are taking on mining and plantation industries by Thomas Lewton [10/23/2019]
– Like other protected areas in Uganda, Bugoma Forest has been threatened by encroachment for decades; now up to a fifth of what remains could be cleared to plant sugar cane.
– Women, generally responsible for growing food, and collecting water and firewood, feel the impacts of forest degradation acutely.
– Despite many obstacles, they are taking up a leading role in defending the environment, particularly against increasing pressure from extractive industries.

Area the size of Puerto Rico burned in Indonesia’s fire crisis by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/23/2019]
– A spike in fires in September has contributed to the razing of 8,578 square kilometers (3,304 square miles) of land across Indonesia this year, or an area the size of Puerto Rico.
– More areas are expected to continue burning through to the end of the year, but the fire season this year isn’t expected to be as bad as in 2015, when 26,000 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) of land was burned.
– The onset of rains has also reduced the incidence of transboundary haze that previously sparked protests from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.
– Almost all the fires this year occurred on deforested land that had previously been burned, where the vegetation has not had sufficient time to regenerate after the last fires.

A ‘sly’ species of leaf-tailed gecko uncovered from Madagascar by Malavika Vyawahare [10/23/2019]
– Scientists have described a new species of leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus fetsy, believed to be found only in Madagascar’s Ankarana Special Reserve.
– All Uroplatus species are endemic to Madagascar and are best known for their leaf-like tails and coloration that allow them to blend into the foliage.
– Though newly described, U. fetsy may already be at risk: the dry deciduous forests of the reserve are severely threatened by illegal logging, cattle grazing, fires, and artisanal mining.
– The authors of the paper describing the new species say it could warrant endangered status on the IUCN Red List because of these threats to its habitat.

Combining negotiation, legal backing and orchids to create ecotourism reserve by Sarah Foster [10/22/2019]
– In Ecuador, the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation has worked with local landowners to create conservation agreements and sustainable ecotourism ventures in areas otherwise fragmented by intensive human activity.
– After nearly 20 years, the impacts of two small, family-based initiatives are rippling outwards into the rest of the Andean cloud forest and coastal dry forest.
– Negotiation, relationship-building, and transparency helped Ceiba earn the landowners’ trust and enable the success of the initiatives.

Once close to extinction, western South Atlantic humpback population close to full recovery by [10/22/2019]
– According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science last week, there were nearly 27,000 western South Atlantic humpbacks as of 1830, but the population was reduced by some 95 percent, to just 450 whales, by the mid-1950s. In the 12 years between 1904 and 1916 alone, the population lost approximately 25,000 individuals.
– Protection measures for humpbacks adopted in the 1960s and the broader moratorium on all commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the 1980s appear to have reversed that downward trajectory, however. There has been no hunting of the species since 1972, the report states, which is when the recovery really took off.
– “Once protected, [western South Atlantic] humpback whales have recovered strongly, and their current abundance is close to 25,000 whales,” the authors of the study write. That means that the current population is estimated to be at 93 percent of its numbers prior to the exploitation by whalers that nearly extirpated the entire population.

Indonesian villagers fighting planned mine garner national support by Ian Morse [10/22/2019]
– Indonesia’s national human rights commission and the national ombudsman have weighed in on a dispute over plans to mine nickel on the remote island of Wawonii.
– Residents have protested over the plans, which they say threaten their fishing grounds and freshwater sources.
– Local authorities have sent out mixed messages on whether the project will proceed, while the company involved has continued clearing villagers’ land.
– The rights commission has called for a halt to criminal investigations of the land defenders, while the ombudsman has called for all the permits to be scrapped.

New maps show where giraffes live — mostly outside protected areas by Shreya Dasgupta [10/22/2019]
– By combining the latest data from on ground and aerial surveys, following movements of GPS-tagged animals, consultation with experts, and reviewing the scientific literature, researchers have produced a series of maps that they say represent the most comprehensive and accurate picture of where giraffes live in Africa.
– While the IUCN recognizes only one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, the study’s authors decided to use the taxonomy suggested by recent studies that recognize the giraffe as not one but four distinct species — northern, southern, reticulated, and Masai giraffe — and five subspecies.
– The new range maps will serve as a baseline from which conservationists can now start monitoring changes in giraffe distribution in the future, the researchers say.
– The range maps show that around 70 percent of the giraffe’s range occurs outside government-managed protected areas.

Avoiding climate apartheid in East Africa (commentary) by Andrew Bogrand [10/21/2019]
– This summer, the United Nations Human Rights Council published a warning about a not-so-distant dystopia: the rich will pay to dodge the worst impacts of climate change, and the poor will be left to deal with overheating, resource scarcity, and rising rights violations.
– In the east of Africa, the continent most susceptible to a changing climate, an oil boom offers an uncomfortable glimpse into this future shaped by a class-based climate apartheid. Hundreds of families — mainly subsistence farmers — have been forced, sometimes violently, from their land to make room for the access roads and feeder pipelines that now zig-zag around the Albertine basin.
– Companies, governments, and investors should reconsider their approach, especially if new oil projects come online.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Study finds massive reorganization of life across Earth’s ecosystems by John C. Cannon [10/21/2019]
– A new study pulls together data from 239 studies that looked at more than 50,000 biodiversity time series.
– The research reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years.
– The scientists found that the reorganization and loss of species are happening much more quickly in some environments than in others, a finding that could help inform future conservation.

DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve gets new management partner in WCS by Shreya Dasgupta [10/21/2019]
– The Okapi Wildlife Reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will now be run under a new management partnership agreement between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the DRC government’s Nature Conservation Agency (ICCN).
– Through the new management partnership agreement, WCS and ICCN hope to restore stability in the reserve and surrounding forests, improve the welfare and operations of its rangers, and enhance the social well-being of its resident communities.
– The local communities are not part of the official agreement structure, but they will be consulted as management details become clearer, John Lukas of the Okapi Conservation Project said.

Activists call for stronger environmental laws in Widodo’s second term by Basten Gokkon [10/21/2019]
– Indonesian President Joko Widodo has kicked off his second and final term in office with a pledge to boost investment and economic growth, largely through deregulation.
– Environmental activists say they fear this focus on investment at all costs will strip away the already scant environmental protections in the country.
– They say that, if anything, the government must strengthen regulations protecting the environment and vulnerable groups.
– Doing so will ultimately also benefit the economy, they argue, by ensuring that the country attracts high-quality investments.

New flowerpecker species discovered in imperiled lowland forests of Borneo by [10/18/2019]
– The Spectacled Flowerpecker wasn’t entirely unknown up until now. Scientists and birdwatchers have spotted the small, gray bird in the lowland tropical forests of Borneo in the past, with the first sighting appearing to have occurred in Sabah, Malaysia’s Danum Valley in 2009.
– A team led by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. collected a specimen and studied the species for the first time earlier this year. The researchers formally described the Spectacled Flowerpecker to science in a study published in the journal Zootaxa yesterday.
– The researchers say that it’s likely the bird’s current distribution has “become increasingly fragmented and diminished” thanks to human impacts on Borneo’s forests. They hope that by formally describing the new species of flowerpecker, they can help call attention to the importance of Borneo’s lowland forests.

Photos: Meet the surprisingly diverse day geckos of Sri Lanka by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [10/18/2019]
– The number of geckos in the genus Cnemaspis has grown rapidly as new species are described, with Sri Lanka the epicenter of new discoveries.
– The island is today home to 33 known species of day geckos, none of them occurring anywhere else on Earth, and it’s possible there may be 44 by 2020, a leading herpetologist says.
– As new species continue to emerge, researchers are calling for urgent conservation efforts and ecological studies to ensure that the remaining microhabitats are not lost and that these unique species are not driven toward extinction.

Scientists emphasize disease control in booming aquaculture sector by Michelle Carrere [10/18/2019]
– The World Organisation for Animal Health held a conference in Santiago, Chile, focused on aquatic animals
– Compared with land animals, little is known about diseases of aquatic animals.
– Yet experts are looking to aquaculture to support human food security in the coming years.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 18, 2019 by [10/18/2019]
– 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.

Indonesian official at center of licensing scandal charged in new case by Indra Nugraha [10/18/2019]
– Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency has charged a former district head from Borneo in connection with a port development project.
– Darwan Ali, who was the head of Seruyan district in Central Kalimantan province from 2003 to 2013, is accused of conspiring to inflate the budget to build the Segintung seaport, allegedly causing losses to the state of $1.48 million.
– Investigators also allege that Darwan steered the contract for the project to a developer in exchange for the company’s support for his election campaign.
– Environmental activists say they hope the investigation will lead the way to probing other, more serious allegations against Darwan, who was the subject of a 2017 investigative report by Mongabay and The Gecko Project into a massive scheme to flip permits for oil palm plantations to multinational firms.

These rare pigs can dig it. With a tool, that is. And moonwalk too by [10/18/2019]
– A viral video shows a family of Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) using a piece of tree bark or branch to build a nest at a zoo in Paris.
– Tool use has been widely reported among vertebrates, particularly primates, but this is the first published study and first recorded video of pigs using tools.
– The study suggests that using a stick is a socially learned behavior, and expands the possibility of tool use and social learning among pig species.
– There are limited studies on the Visayan warty pig, a critically endangered species in its native Philippines, due to its dwindling population in the wild.

Peru: Gold mine operating without license destroys primary forest in protected area by Yvette Sierra Praeli [10/17/2019]
– A recent inspection conducted by the regional forest authority of Huánuco found a large area of forest has been cleared by gold mining in Puerto Inca Province in Peru.
– The mine is located in the buffer zone around the El Sira Communal Reserve, affecting indigenous land and the basins of the Pintuyacu and Quimpichari rivers.
– In response to these issues, the Regional Directorate of Energy and Mines ordered the suspension of activities in the Inca Dorado 2 mining concession in August. However, those who live nearby claim that the miners continue to mine gold at night.

Reforesting a village in Indonesia, one batch of gourmet beans at a time by Donny Iqbal [10/17/2019]
– Deforestation in the village of Cibulao on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, left it prone to droughts in the dry season and landslides in the rainy season.
– That changed in the early 2000s when a local tea plantation worker named Kiryono began replanting the slopes with seeds foraged from the nearby forest.
– Among those seeds were coffee seeds taken from wild coffee trees, and with training and the help of his family, Kiryono today produces some of the most prized coffee in Indonesia.
– The village is also greener now, thanks to Kiryono’s replanting efforts, and the local farmers’ cooperative hopes to expand on that work by applying for the right to manage a larger area of land.



Venezuelan crisis: Government censors environmental and scientific data by Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres [10/16/2019]
At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/16/2019]
‘Witnessing extinction in the flames’ as the Amazon burns for agribusiness by Ana Ionova [10/10/2019]