Newsletter 2019-10-31


Controversial dam gets green light to flood a Philippine protected area by Leilani Chavez [10/30/2019]

– The environment department has issued an environmental compliance certificate that allows the contested Kaliwa Dam project in the Sierra Madre mountain range to go ahead, part of a wider push to secure water supplies for Manila and surrounding areas.
– The certificate is one of the last sets of documents required by the developers for the project being funded by a $238.3 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.
– Yet its issuance comes despite a government-conducted environmental impact assessment showing that the dam’s reservoir alone will endanger endemic wildlife and plants, drive massive species migration, and pose risks to lowland agricultural and fishing communities with a history of flash flooding.
– The site of the planned dam falls within the Kaliwa watershed forest reserve, which has been designated a natural wildlife park sanctuary and game refuge, and an IUCN Category V Protected Landscape/Seascape.

Indigenous and riverine communities unite to fight Amazon invaders by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [10/29/2019]

– The Brazilian Amazon basin, now under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, is increasingly a place of conflict, as loggers and land grabbers — many inspired by the government’s incendiary rhetoric — step up their invasions of indigenous and traditional lands.
– One example can be found along the Mamuru River in Pará state. There the Sateré indigenous group (now living mostly inside the Andirá Marau Indigenous Reserve), and non-indigenous traditional riverine communities (living in the Mamuru State Agro-extractivist Project, known as PEAEX Mamuru), are resisting incursions.
– Loggers and outsiders making dubious land claims are moving in on the disputed government-held common lands that lie between the indigenous reserve and PEAEX Mamuru, a cluster of 18 settlements. The Sateré say this land is part of their ancestral territory, but was mistakenly excluded from the Andirá Marau Reserve.
– Another threat to indigenous and traditional land claims: a new Pará state law that no longer requires that outsiders live currently on the lands they claim, making it far easier for land grabbers to legitimize those claims. In response, indigenous and traditional riverine communities are now forming a unified resistance.

10 takeaways from Indonesia’s grassroots #SaveAru success by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [10/28/2019]

– The Save Aru campaign is one of Indonesia’s most successful grassroots movements in recent years.
– The people of Indonesia’s Aru Islands managed to defeat a plan to turn more than half of their archipelago into a massive sugar plantation.
– This month, The Gecko Project and Mongabay published a narrative article about the movement. Here are 10 takeaways from how they did it.

How Laos lost its tigers by Jeremy Hance [10/28/2019]

– A new camera trap study finds that tigers vanished from Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area by 2014, their last stand in Laos.
– Leopards were killed off 10 years prior, making these big cats also extinct in Laos.
– Scientists believe it’s most likely that the last tigers and leopards of Laos succumbed to snares, which are proliferating in astounding numbers across Southeast Asian protected areas.
– The Indochinese tiger now only survives in Thailand and Myanmar, and may be on the edge of extinction.


Finding hope in ‘extreme conservation’ (Insider) by John C. Cannon [10/31/2019]
– A Mongabay staff writer shares an account of his trek to see mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
– From a low of 250 individuals in the 1980s, the mountain gorilla subspecies now numbers more than 1,000, making it the only great ape whose population is growing.
– Those gains have come thanks to the “extreme conservation” practiced by a dedicated group of people who have worked to ensure the survival of one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

China, EU are importing soybeans from unregistered Brazil farms: report by Shanna Hanburry [10/30/2019]
– Considered one of the main drivers of deforestation in the country, soybean is Brazil’s main commodity, with exports valued at more than $33 billion in 2018.
– Padding this figure, however, are soybean crops grown on unregistered farms skirting environmental regulations.
– Twelve percent of soybean farms in the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savanna lack land registration, but two-thirds of crops from the municipalities with the most blind spots are exported, mostly to China (39 percent) and Europe (12 percent), with 33 percent going to the domestic market.
– U.S. commodities traders ADM, Bunge and Cargill are the biggest exporters of crops from these areas, along with Brazil’s Amaggi, the world’s biggest private soybean producer.

Ayahuasca tourism an overlooked driver of trade in jaguar body parts, researchers say by [10/30/2019]
– According to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice earlier this month, the booming ayahuasca tourism industry may be an overlooked threat facing jaguars, a most iconic species that is listed as Nearly Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
– Through discussions with street vendors, shamans, and individuals working in the tourism industry, researchers found that jaguar canine pendants, jaguar skin bracelets, and other jaguar products are being sold to tourists under the pretense that they somehow enhance the ayahuasca experience.
– The researchers suggest that one way to effectively halt this growing illicit trade is to more formally regulate ayahuasca tourism and educate both tourists and tour operators.

Can camera traps diagnose the severity of a mystery giraffe skin disease? by Shreya Dasgupta [10/30/2019]
– Giraffe skin disease, a mystery condition that inflicts crusty lesions on the world’s tallest animal, has been recorded in 13 giraffe populations in seven African countries. It is particularly widespread in Tanzania.
– Researchers used camera trap images to quantify how severe the disease was among giraffe populations in Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ruaha national parks.
– They found that most cases of the infections that the camera traps detected were “mild” or “moderate” according to a scale they devised, suggesting that the disease, although widespread, is likely not life-threatening at the moment.
– The researchers have, however, observed that giraffes with more severe infections tend to move with difficulty, which could make them more vulnerable to lion predation — a hypothesis they are now investigating with data from Ruaha National Park.

Audio: Reporter Katie Baker details Buzzfeed’s explosive investigation of WWF by Mike Gaworecki [10/29/2019]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Katie Baker, a reporter for Buzzfeed News investigating allegations of human rights violations and other abuses committed against local indigenous communities by park rangers in Asia and Africa who receive funding from conservation organization WWF.
– Baker and her colleague Tom Warren have written a series of articles detailing the allegations and WWF’s response. In the latest installment, the journalists report that the director and board of WWF were made aware of the abuses by one of their own internal reports more than a year before Buzzfeed broke the story.
– In this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Baker discusses the findings of her investigative reports, what it took to chase this story down, and the impacts she’s seen so far from her reporting.

A Sumatran forest community braces for battle against a planned coal mine by Suryadi [10/29/2019]
– The Pangkalan Kapas forest on the eastern coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island is important both to local communities and to the endangered wildlife of a nearby nature reserve.
– But it faces what conservationists fear is an existential threat from a planned coal mine that has been granted a 3,000-hectare (7,400-acre) concession for open-pit mining there.
– The project has met with resistance from local communities and environmental activists, including an online petition calling for it to be scrapped.
– The company that holds the concession was also mired in a fraud and corruption case involving one of its owners — a common problem in Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt mining sector.

The tragedy of the fishermen of Ventanas, ‘the Chilean Chernobyl’ by Michelle Carrere [10/29/2019]
– The sea near Ventanas, Chile, was generous in the 1980s. There were urchins, limpets, clams and fish. Tourists summered there and fishermen thrived.
– That all changed as the local industrial park grew. In 2000 the National Health Service discovered serious heavy-metal and fecal-bacteria contamination of local shellfish, and prohibited their sale, effectively shuttering the local seafood industry.
– Fishermen attempted to revive their aquaculture operations, despite a series of oil spills. But poisoning episodes in 2018 quashed that initiative.
– “Could they have seen us as a dumpsite? Like their backyard? … I don’t know how the government saw us,” said Carlos Vega, a longtime Ventanas fisherman.

’Rampant’ fishing continues as vaquita numbers dwindle by [10/29/2019]
– An expedition surveying the Gulf of California for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise has reported seeing more than 70 fishing boats in a protected refuge.
– Vaquita numbers have been decimated in the past decade as a result of gillnet fishing for another critically endgangered species, the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000 per kilogram ($9,000 per pound) in Asian markets.
– Local fishing organizations in the region say that the government has stopped compensating them after a gillnet ban, aimed at protecting the vaquita from extinction, went into effect in 2015.

Fighting Africa’s fall armyworm invasion with radio shows and phone apps by Stephanie Parker [10/28/2019]
– The invasive fall armyworm is native to the Americas and was first found in Africa in early 2016. It has since spread to nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa.
– Fall armyworm is a voracious pest of over 80 plant species including maize, millet, rice, and sorghum and has been causing food insecurity among smallholder African farmers.
– Due to a lack of extension agents and the rural locations of many farmers, international organizations and governments are looking toward other avenues for communicating with farmers, such as radio programs and phone apps.

Indigenous communities ‘robbed’ as land grabbers lay waste to Brazilian rainforest by Ana Ionova [10/28/2019]
– Terra Indígena Ituna/Itatá in northern Brazil is home to several groups of uncontacted peoples who are dependent on the surrounding forest for survival.
– But outsiders have been increasingly moving in and clearing land for agriculture and mining. Brazilian authorities estimate that about 10 percent of the territory has been illegally invaded and destroyed this year alone, and satellite data show deforestation is still ramping up. Because of the scale of these incursions, Ituna/Itatá is now believed to be the most deforested indigenous territory in Brazil.
– While assaults on indigenous territories in Brazil have been happening for decades, activists say the sharp rise in deforestation and land-grabbing in Ituna/Itatá this year has been closely linked to the country’s controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has also launched an open attack on Funai, the government agency tasked with protecting indigenous interests in Brazil. The president signed a decree curbing Funai’s powers earlier this year, dealing a further blow to an agency already weakened by the previous government’s move to slash its funding in half.
– Ibama, Brazil’s environment agency, has responded to the assault on Ituna/Itatá with at least five operations in the area in 2018 and 2019. Yet the long-term impact appears to be limited: just weeks after the latest crackdown, activists and local sources report that land-grabbers have gone back to clearing the forest.

Commitments worth $63 billion pledged for ocean protection by Monica Evans [10/28/2019]
– The sixth annual Our Ocean conference took place in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 23 and 24.
– Governments, businesses, organizations and research institutions made 370 commitments toward improving marine health and productivity that were worth more than $63 billion.
– The commitments, a considerable boost from the $10 billion committed last year, reflect a new level of urgency around ocean protection as its role in mitigating climate change becomes ever clearer.
– Focus areas of the conference included building the sustainability of the global fishing industry and reducing plastic pollution.

As Bolsonaro meets with Xi, China silent on Brazil environmental crisis by Shanna Hanbury [10/28/2019]
– China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner, so it is uniquely positioned to influence the Brazilian agribusiness sector and to help limit the drastic reductions in environmental protections being carried out by the Jair Bolsonaro administration.
– However, when Brazil’s Bolsonaro visited with China General Secretary Xi Jinping last week, the environment appeared to hold no place in their high-level talks which centered on trade and commerce agreements.
– Bolsonaro has caused international concern over his anti-environmental policies with the EU and with international investors. Germany and Norway, in particular, have slashed their aid to Brazil for its deforestation programs.
– Some conservationists hope that China, which has recently become vocal on the topics of sustainability and climate change, will move to brake Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policy excesses, but other analysts believe China will maintain its primary focus on Brazilian trade.

The Ocean Cleanup successfully collects ocean plastic, aims to scale design by Rachael Meyer [10/28/2019]
– The Ocean Cleanup announced that it has created a device that successfully captures plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
– The device has undergone many design iterations, each stage facing criticism from oceanographers, environmentalists, and plastic pollution specialists for its feasibility, durability, safety, and allocation of funding.
– The group now plans to increase the size and quantity of their devices with the goal of one day ridding the ocean of most of its plastic debris.

Coal power plants flourish in the Philippines despite ‘climate emergency’ by Leilani Chavez [10/28/2019]
– Coal has long been the primary power source in the Philippines, and large-scale power plants act as a safety crutch in the country’s quest for energy security.
– But the advent of cost-efficient renewable energy technologies is challenging coal’s dominance as the go-to energy source.
– President Rodrigo Duterte has voiced support for renewables but has yet to release an executive mandate that could propel the energy department to change its coal-dependent roadmap.
– Any meaningful shift to renewables would require drastic changes in priorities and perspective, according to an energy think tank.

Indonesian court fines palm oil firm $18.5m over forest fires in 2015 by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/28/2019]
– An Indonesian court has fined a palm oil company $18.5 million for fires that destroyed 970 hectares (2,400 acres) of forest on its concession in Borneo in 2015.
– The judgment is the latest in a growing number of cases where courts have taken a zero-tolerance approach that makes concession holders liable for any fires that occur on their land, regardless of whether or not they can be proven to have started the fires.
– Observers have welcomed the verdict, but say the challenge now will be to compel the company to pay up. Since 2015 the government has won $223 million in judgments in similar cases, but collected just $5.5 million.
– The company in the latest case, PT Arjuna Utama Sawit, is a supplier to Singapore-based Musim Mas Group, a major oil palm trader whose customers include consumer brands such Unilever. Musim Mas said it was seeking an explanation from PT Arjuna Utama Sawit.

Beach clean-ups, community visits, and compensation to fishers build environmental awareness in Nigeria by Linus Unah [10/25/2019]
– Children visit the Kids’ Beach Garden in Lagos, Nigeria, every week to learn about aquatic creatures, oceans, plastic pollution, recycling, and the environment while they help clean the beach.
– The project staff and volunteers bring families to join the beach clean-ups; they also visit schools and communities and introduce these themes using demonstrations, activities, and dance and drama presentations.
– In addition, the team works with fishers to reduce sea turtle hunting and bycatch and build awareness of the importance of turtles to fish lifecycles and the local ecosystem.

Holding social media companies accountable for facilitating illegal wildlife trade (commentary) by Daniel Stiles [10/25/2019]
– For traffickers engaging in some of the world’s biggest black-market trades, Facebook Inc. is the enabler. The company serves as a vehicle for thousands of traffickers who sell illegal goods using Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to market their goods, connect with and negotiate sales with buyers, and even receive payments.
– Facebook, and other social media firms, mainly rely on algorithms and artificial intelligence to moderate harmful content. But investigations by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) show time and again how these algorithms actually connect traffickers faster than moderators can remove them. They suggest friends and recommend groups, putting illicit actors in touch with one another, continually expanding networks of users engaging in similar illegal activities.
– When it comes to crime on social media, the enabler always walks free. It’s time for regulators to take steps to hold online platforms accountable for facilitating the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New species of orange-red praying mantis mimics a wasp by [10/25/2019]
– From the Peruvian Amazon, researchers have described a new-to-science species of bright orange-red praying mantis that conspicuously mimics a wasp.
– The mantis mimics not only the bright coloration of many wasps, but also a wasp’s short, jerky movements. Such conspicuous mimicry of wasps is rare among mantises, which usually tend to resemble leaves or tree trunks, the researchers say in a new study.
– The researchers have named the praying mantis Vespamantoida wherleyi.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 25, 2019 by [10/25/2019]
– 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.

Satellite collars to help boost protection for Nigeria’s largest remaining elephant herd by Linus Unah [10/25/2019]
– Six elephants in Yankari Game Reserve have been fitted with satellite collars.
– The collars are the latest steps to better monitor and protect elephants and other wildlife in the park.
– Fewer than 500 elephants remain in Nigeria, survivors of poaching and the steady loss of habitat.

What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, location by Rowan Moore Gerety [10/25/2019]
– For the past two decades, donors and international NGOs have worked with the Malagasy government to create thousands of local associations to manage and conserve parcels of forest.
– Ecotourism ventures, along with farming support, are often presented as an important way to overcome the loss of income that usually accompanies new restrictions on how local people can use their land.
– Successful ecotourism ventures are few and far between, but a common factor is also something that’s hard to replicate: proximity to highways and other tourist destinations.

As birds winter in Sri Lanka, one enthusiast makes sure their memory stays by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [10/25/2019]
– As migratory birds of all shapes and shades start flocking to Sri Lanka for the northern hemisphere winter, prominent local environmental lawyer and naturalist Jagath Gunawardena prepares to once again go bird-watching and sketching.
– Sri Lanka is home to 439 bird species, 33 of them found nowhere else on Earth, including breeding residents and migratory species.
– The island offers varying microclimates and habitats that provide a temporary refuge for the roughly 200 visiting species, though over the years, declining forest cover has impacted the distribution pattern of both resident and migratory species.
– Gunawardena, who has been recognized by the state for his contributions to wildlife conservation and even had a new frog species named after him, has called for greater research and conservation efforts for some of the migratory birds that call Sri Lanka home.

Bonobo conservation stymied by deforestation, human rights abuses by Taran Volckhausen [10/24/2019]
– The bonobo is a relative of the chimpanzee, and is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) south of the Congo River. They are endangered, with habitat loss and the bushmeat trade their primary threats. The Sankuru Nature Reserve is the DRC’s largest nature reserve that is focused on bonobo conservation. However, deforestation rates have only increased in Sankuru since it was created in 2007. Meanwhile nearby Lomami National Park is experiencing almost no deforestation.
– Researchers attribute the disparity in deforestation rates between Sankuru Nature Reserve and Lomami National Park to the lack of human settlements and clearer managerial strategy in the latter. They claim that Sankuru lacked buy-in from the local communities, and that conflicting land claims made conservation efforts more difficult to achieve.
– However, there may be a dark side to Lomami’s success. Sources claim that the military, which is tasked with protecting DRC’s national parks, have engaged in torture of people suspected of poaching. There are also reports that a community within Lomami was displaced without proper consultation or a suitable alternative location.
– Researchers say that to ensure effective engagement, indigenous forest-dwelling communities should be granted proper security of tenure over their lands, and community-managed forests should be set up and funded around the perimeter of the park.

A scramble for solutions as fall armyworm infestation sweeps Africa by Gilbert Nakweya [10/24/2019]
– An infestation of fall armyworm has spread rapidly across Africa since it first appeared on the continent in 2016; it’s now been reported in 44 countries, with 80 different types of crops affected.
– For farmers and policymakers, the go-to solution has been to spray crops with pesticides, but researchers have warned of harm to farmers from unsafe use of the pesticides, as well as impacts on other insects that would otherwise keep the pests in check.
– Researchers have suggested a biocontrol solution — releasing large numbers of a wasp species known to infest fall armyworm eggs — but doubts remain about how effective it will be in a region with small farms and high crop diversity.
– There are also calls for better agronomic practices, such as more regular weeding of farms and crop rotation, to deny the pest a year-round supply of its preferred food.

This toad from central Africa impersonates a deadly viper to avoid predators by [10/24/2019]
– The Congolese giant toad (Sclerophrys channingi) is the first toad found to mimic a harmful snake, in this case the highly venomous Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), which has longer fangs and produces more venom than any other known snake species.
– A team of researchers who spent ten years in the field observing the Congolese giant toad and its mimicry behavior published their findings in the Journal of Natural History this week.
– The triangular shape of the toad’s body, its particularly smooth skin for a toad, and its patterns of colors cause the amphibian to look like the viper’s head. In other words, the two are visually similar enough that any predators looking for a meal might certainly be wise to skip right past the Congolese giant toad rather than risk a lethal bite from a Gaboon viper. But just for a little extra insurance, the Congolese giant toad goes even further than mere visual mimicry.

Indonesia’s ex-fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti leaves big shoes to fill by Basten Gokkon [10/24/2019]
– Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s popular and highly regarded fisheries minister, has been replaced in the new cabinet unveiled by President Joko Widodo for his second and final term in office.
– Maritime and fisheries observers have criticized the move to drop Susi, who has a proven track record in the sector, in favor of a transparently political appointee with only tangential exposure to fisheries.
– The move signals a loosening of protections for coastal and marine ecosystems and fishing communities as the president seeks to ramp up investments and development projects, the observers warn.
– Susi has called on her successor, Edhy Prabowo, to maintain the pace of reforms already achieved and to ensure the protection of the environment and coastal communities from extractive industries.


As 2019 Amazon fires die down, Brazilian deforestation roars ahead by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [10/23/2019]
For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge by Ian Morse [10/23/2019]
Why is Europe rewilding with water buffalo? by Jeremy Hance [10/21/2019]
Failure in conservation projects: Everyone experiences it, few record it by Shreya Dasgupta [10/17/2019]