Newsletter 2019-11-28


‘Everything is dying’: Q&A with Brazilian indigenous leader Alessandra Munduruku by Camila Nobrega [11/27/2019]

– I got off the mototaxi, a means of transportation that is part of everyday life in several cities in the Amazon, took off the helmet and looked for the two boys waiting for me at the front door of a house. They showed me a path in the backyard, between […]

Brazil investigates agribusiness bribes to judges for favorable land rulings by Maurício Angelo [11/27/2019]

– Brazil’s Federal Police have launched an investigation, dubbed “Operation Far West,” to crack down on an alleged massive land grab by an agribusiness collective in western Bahia, one of Brazil’s largest soy producing regions.
– The case centers on alleged corruption involving judges, lawyers and farmers, who stand accused of conspiring to secure favorable court rulings to legitimize the grabbing of some 800,000 hectares (2 million acres) of land from local communities.
– Sérgio Humberto Sampaio, one of the judges involved, was responsible for a ruling that benefitted the Estrondo megafarm collective over traditional communities, by reducing the area claimed by the communities from 43,000 to 9,000 hectares (106,000 to 22,000 acres) in 2018.
– Agribusiness mogul Walter Horita, one of Estrondo’s main tenants, is also cited in the investigation for allegedly paying millions in bribes and overseeing the movement of 22 billion reais ($5.2 billion) between 2013 and 2019, with 7.5 billion reais ($1.8 billion) unaccounted for.

In Indonesia, a project meant to boost livelihoods has left locals behind by Ian Morse [11/27/2019]

– In Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province, work is underway to develop a special economic zone (SEZ) that will connect this remote region to the global economy.
– Plans for the SEZ include a highway linking the port of Bitung to the provincial capital, Manado; a seaport expansion to rival Jakarta’s; an industrial zone; and an airport.
– The development risks fragmenting the habitat of endangered and endemic species like the black macaque. Hundreds of families have also been relocated without compensation to make way for the project.

Audio: How listening to individual gibbons can benefit conservation by Mike Gaworecki [11/26/2019]

– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we speak with Dena Clink, a scientist studying individuality and variation within Bornean gibbon calls. She’s here to play us some of the recordings of gibbons that she’s made in the course of her research.
– We’ve heard a wide variety of bioacoustic recordings here on the Mongabay Newscast, but they’re usually used to study wildlife at the population level, or even to study whole ecosystems. It turns out that studying how calls vary from gibbon to gibbon can not only help us learn about their behaviors but also to better protect them in the wild.
– On today’s episode, Dena Clink, a post-doctoral researcher with the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, tells us why it’s important to study the calls of individual gibbons, how she’s going about studying individuality and variation in gibbon calls, and how that can help inform conservation strategies for the primates.

Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino dies, leaving Indonesia as the final refuge by Basten Gokkon [11/25/2019]

– Iman, the last Sumatran rhino left in Malaysia, died over the weekend after a long battle with uterine tumors.
– Her death has sparked an outpouring of grief among wildlife conservationists, as it meant the species is now fully extinct in Malaysia, after being declared extinct in the wild in 2015.
– Named after a river near where she was captured in 2014 for a captive-breeding program, Iman was believed to be 25 years old when she died.
– The fate of this critically endangered species now lies with a tiny population of no more than 80 individuals in Indonesia, where captive breeding has yielded some success in recent years.



Beneficial and harmful fungi are at the root of forest diversity by Jack J. Lee [11/28/2019]
– If there are many trees of a given species in a tract of forest, a new tree of that same species has a harder time thriving in the same area.
– This “rare-species advantage” produces diversity in forests.
– In a Chinese subtropical forest, researchers showed that the balance between beneficial and harmful soil fungi controls the rare-species advantage.
– This study provides the first look into the mechanism behind the strength of the rare-species advantage and adds to an understanding of how all forests develop.

UK supermarkets criticized over pesticide use, lack of transparency by [11/28/2019]
– New research suggests UK supermarkets are not doing enough to protect human health and the environment from the most hazardous pesticides in their supply chain.
– An analysis of the top 10 retailers in the UK by the Pesticide Action Network UK criticized many supermarket chains for failing to be transparent about their use of pesticides.
– Pesticides found in supermarkets’ supply chains include carcinogens, reproductive toxins and endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones.

It takes a school, and a community, to save this rare Philippine hornbill by Leilani Chavez [11/28/2019]
– The rufous-headed hornbill, known locally as dulungan, is a critically endangered bird found only on the Philippine islands of Panay and Negros.
– The species is threatened by poaching and habitat loss, but a grassroots conservation campaign over the past decade has sought to put the community in Panay front and center of efforts to save the bird.
– The campaign has focused on schools; by raising awareness and understanding of the species among children, conservationists hope the message ripples out through the community.
– Researchers have also emphasized the need to further studies into the dulungan, given how little is known about it, including its flight range and the fruit species it prefers to eat.

How cities can lead the fight against climate change using urban forestry and trees (commentary) by Chad Papa and Lauren Cooper [11/27/2019]
– Comprehensive urban forestry planning can influence the everyday lives of citydwellers by reducing storm water runoff, decreasing wildfire risk and severity, reducing urban heat islands, decreasing utility costs, increasing economic growth, and providing clean drinking water.
– Urban trees also have the ability to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and serve as long-term carbon sinks. However, cities seem to be lacking in language and planning to link together various mitigation and adaptation strategies specifically to sequester and store CO2 within urban trees.
– While there are examples of cities incorporating forest carbon storage and sequestration policies into their planning, these are limited, and often only in our largest cities. Many cities have excellent programming to encourage tree plantings and green space but are not quite comfortable taking a leap into climate mitigation claims and calculations. Here’s a look at what cities are doing.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

$10M in prize money for mapping rainforest biodiversity by [11/27/2019]
– XPRIZE has established a $10 million prize to support the development of technology that enables rapid assessment of rainforest biodiversity.
– XPRIZE hopes the initiative will help address the perceived value gap between living and felled rainforest.
– Current efforts to survey rainforest biodiversity often employ a combination of technology — like camera traps, audio sensors, and remote sensing from drones to airplanes to satellites — and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground surveys.
– But approaches have been limited by the challenge of hot and humid conditions, dense canopy cover, remoteness, and the sheer diversity of species of tropical rainforests.

Indonesia’s new fisheries minister may go easy on trawl nets, poachers’ boats by M Ambari [11/27/2019]
– Edhy Prabowo, Indonesia’s new fisheries minister, has planned a revision on banning unsustainable fishing gear and sinking foreign poaching boats.
– Both policies were enacted in 2014-2015 by former fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti who said the efforts would recover Indonesia’s marine resources and protect the ecosystem.
– Edhy’s plans, however, have met backlash from maritime observers saying the move would only benefit large-scale fishery instead of small-scale fishers that make up much of Indonesian fisheries.
– Environmentalists also say relaxing these regulations could reintroduce the pressures of overfishing and foreign poaching to Indonesian waters.

Nearly extinct vaquita mothers with calves spotted in recent expeditions by [11/27/2019]
– The latest expeditions in the Gulf of California, Mexico, to survey the vaquita, the world’s smallest cetacean, have yielded sightings of both vaquita mothers and calves. This, researchers say, indicates that the mammals are still reproducing despite threats.
– In a survey carried out between August and September, researchers spotted what they say were likely six distinct individual vaquitas.
– During a subsequent expedition in October, researchers say they spotted vaquitas several times, including six different vaquitas in two groups, and three pairs of mothers and calves.
– This news is hopeful, but the mammal’s future is still perilous due to the continued use of illegal fishing nets in its habitat, experts say.

Nepal won its first climate grant; now comes the hard work of making it count by Abhaya Raj Joshi [11/27/2019]
– Nepal is set to receive its first grant under the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund, a mechanism established under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change.
– The funds will go to support the people of Nepal’s Churia region cope with and recover from the shocks and stresses of a changing climate; the area is particularly vulnerable to floods, landslides and soil erosion.
– The proposal focuses on agroforestry and was developed by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Local interest groups were consulted during the process, but some activists argue that some perspectives were sidelined in what was essentially a top-down process.

South Korea funding coal plants overseas that would be banned at home by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/27/2019]
– South Korean government-owned financial institutions are funding the construction of coal-fired power plants across less-developed countries that wouldn’t meet the stringent pollution standards imposed domestically.
– That’s the finding of a new Greenpeace report, which also warns that pollution from these plants could lead to up to 150,000 premature deaths over the life cycle of the plants.
– Domestically, South Korea has banned the construction of new coal plants and is moving toward phasing out existing ones.
– The report’s authors have denounced the double standard and called on the governments in countries hosting these new plants to eschew coal altogether and invest in renewable energy.

Iran sentences eight conservationists convicted of spying by Kayleigh Long [11/26/2019]
– A court in Tehran last week delivered a guilty verdict in the case of eight Iranian conservationists accused of spying, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years.
– The eight were all affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a Tehran-based conservation organization that works to save the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and other species. The charges appear to be related to allegations that the conservationists used wildlife camera traps for the purpose of espionage.
– The eight conservationists have been imprisoned since their arrests in January 2018. A colleague arrested at the same time died in custody.
– Rights groups and conservation organizations have condemned the verdict, alleging serious flaws in the judicial process.

Elephant seal native to Antarctica spotted for first time in tropical Sri Lanka by Malaka Rodrigo [11/26/2019]
– A juvenile southern elephant seal from the Antarctic region was recently spotted off Sri Lanka’s southern coast.
– The seal appeared exhausted, and while there have been calls to capture it to assess its health and/or raise it in captivity, experts recommend leaving it alone and giving it time to find its way back home.
– The species has rarely been recorded venturing into tropical waters.
– In its native habitat, it’s threatened by the melting of the pack ice on which it breeds, as a result of global warming.

Watchdog denounces arrests of four anti-mining activists in Indonesia by Basten Gokkon [11/26/2019]
– Police in South Sulawesi province have arrested a resident of the island of Wawonii in connection to his opposition to plans to mine the island for nickel.
– The arrest comes just over a week after police detained and charged three university students over a protest against iron ore mining operations in Bima district, West Nusa Tenggara province.
– Environmental activists have called the recent arrests part of a pattern of systematic efforts to silence community-led opposition to destructive mining activities.
– Activists have called on the government and police to release the four protesters and investigate their allegations of violations by the mining companies in question.

Bringing back extinct plants to life: Q&A with ‘plant messiah’ Carlos Magdalena by Shreya Dasgupta [11/26/2019]
– Carlos Magdalena, a botanical horticulturalist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K., who’s been labeled the “plant messiah” by the media, has figured out how to get some of the world’s rarest plant species to grow.
– Magdalena travels around the world collecting seeds and cuttings of extremely rare plant species, then brings them back to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where, together with his colleagues, he sets about trying to propagate them.
– But the clock is ticking, he tells Mongabay. Tropical forests with high biodiversity are being razed around the world and plants are going extinct by the hour.
– Mongabay chatted with Magdalena over the phone about what it takes to save rare plants and what drives him.

Guyana refutes findings that deforestation skyrocketed after REDD+ payments stopped by Gabriel Popkin [11/25/2019]
– The South American country of Guyana is one of a handful of high-forest/low-deforestation countries, with around 85 percent of its biodiverse rainforest still intact.
– In 2010, Guyana entered into a partnership with Norway, which agreed to pay the heavily forested country $250 million if it kept deforestation low for five years. The project was part of a scheme called “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” (REDD+), which aims to curtail global warming by channeling funds from wealthy countries to tropical forest countries in exchange for lowering their deforestation rates.
– Guyana’s REDD+ project has been lauded as a success, with rates of forest loss between 2011 and 2015 registering below a 2010 benchmark. However, a new study analyzed satellite data between 2000 and 2017, finding tree cover loss more than doubled after Norway’s payments ended in 2015. The study’s authors say their findings point to a need for continuous forest protection payments.
– But Guyana’s government says the country’s higher levels of tree cover loss in 2016 and 2017 revealed in the study were likely due to tree death from El Nino climate events and not active deforestation. When the Guyana Forestry Commission conducted its own analysis using another, higher-resolution satellite dataset, it found instead that deforestation remained low in 2016 and 2017. Both datasets agree that deforestation stayed low in 2018.

Beyond strikes: For these youths, climate activism starts at home by Nanticha Ocharoenchai [11/25/2019]
– In Asia, environmental youth activism has expanded beyond climate strikes and into action, advocacy and education.
– In Thailand, Pornchita Fahpratanprai and her community are battling to stop the construction of a new coal mine project.
– In Malaysia, Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar is improving climate literacy among the public, while Pradeep Karuturi is educating schoolchildren across India about climate change.

Why you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary) by Gianluca Serra [11/25/2019]
– The extinction crisis we are witnessing is only the beginning of a wave of mass ecocide of non-human life on Earth, a process that could wipe out a million species of plants and ani-mals from our planet in the short term (read: decades). About 15 thousand scientific studies (!) support this terrifying conclusion, as it can be read in the assessment report produced by the independent UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosy-stem Services (IPBES).
– Certainly this is not what I dreamed of as a child in love with nature and wildlife. But how could I have ever imagined back then, in the 1970s, that during my first 50 years of life the global human population would literally double? That the global economy would increase four-fold, and that in parallel — and not by coincidence — wildlife populations would drop by a staggering 60 percent globally? How could I have ever imagined back then that I would personally witness and document, as a field conservationist, actual extinctions on the ground?
– In order to create a critical mass of awareness globally, there is still an important question to answer: Why should we care to conserve what is left of wild ecosystems and species of our planet? This is a question we should be ready to answer clearly, especially considering that most of the world population currently lives in urban centers, remains quite unaware of eco-logical matters, and is disconnected from nature — and therefore can’t fully appreciate how much our survival as a species is still deeply dependent on ecosystems and nature.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Female gorillas recognize and respond to contagious disease by Lara Streiff [11/25/2019]
– An infectious skin disease causing bright red facial lesions affects how female gorillas decide to change social groups, researchers have shown.
– Decade-long observations of nearly 600 gorillas in the Republic of the Congo revealed females are more likely to leave groups with severely diseased females or an infected silverback male.
– By reducing contact with sick individuals, females can decrease the risk of being contaminated and prevent further spread of the infection in the population.

Rapid genetic test traces spread of fungus that kills frogs, reveals new strain in Southeast Asia by Jonathan Wosen [11/25/2019]
– The chytrid fungus has devastated frog populations worldwide, but some variants are especially dangerous.
– Researchers collected 222 frog skin swabs from six continents to map the global distribution of these strains.
– A new and targeted genetic screen uncovered an unknown lineage in Southeast Asia and regions where co-existing variants could combine into deadly hybrids.
– Rapid skin swabs could help scientists unravel how the fungus became so deadly in recent decades, leading to tighter laws restricting the international transport of frogs.

Brazil sugarcane growth can meet biofuel need and not drive deforestation: study by Claire Asher [11/25/2019]
– Sugarcane crop production in Brazil may need to expand by up to 5 million hectares by 2030 to meet a rising demand for ethanol biofuels, according to computer models that compared the impact of different economic, social, and policy scenarios on increased ethanol production.
– The recent study found that sugarcane ethanol demand by 2030 would increase by between 17.5 and 34.4 million metric tonnes. This demand could be met without new deforestation by intensifying ranching practices and converting existing Brazilian cattle pastures to sugarcane.
– However, in a move that surprised many experts, President Jair Bolsonaro this month revoked a decree limiting sugarcane cultivation in the Amazon and Pantanal biomes, leaving the decision about how to meet rising ethanol demand in the hands of the sugarcane industry.
– Experts say that even with the end of state regulation, sugarcane expansion into the Amazon and Pantanal is unlikely due to poor agricultural conditions and lack of infrastructure there, along with the industry’s need to maintain its positive environmental reputation in international markets.

Experts blame Bolsonaro for surge in deforestation, warn of worse to come by Liz Kimbrough [11/25/2019]
– Between August 2018 and July 2019, an area of 9,762 square kilometers (3,769 square miles) of primary forest was cleared, according to data released by the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE) last week.
– The area, roughly the size of Hawaii’s Big Island, represents the highest deforestation rate in 11 years.
– Experts contacted for this story told Mongabay that the 30 percent surge of forest loss over the past year could be even higher for the coming months amid lack of enforcement and large cleared areas preceding fires in August and September 2019.
– The spike in deforestation is a direct result of the actions of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dismantling environmental agencies and environmental legislation to pave the way to open up Amazon protected areas to agribusiness and mining, experts said.

Indonesia fires emitted double the carbon of Amazon fires, research shows by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/25/2019]
– Forest fires that swept across Indonesia this year emitted nearly twice the amount of greenhouse gases as the fires that razed parts of the Brazilian Amazon, new research shows.
– The Indonesian fires pumped at least 708 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in the atmosphere, largely as a result of burning of carbon-rich peatlands.
– The fires were the most intense since 2015 and threaten to set back Indonesia’s commitments to reduce its carbon emissions and contribute to global efforts to slow climate change.

Amazonian tree with human-sized leaves finally gets ID’d as new species by Shreya Dasgupta [11/22/2019]
– More than 35 years after it was first seen, researchers have described Coccoloba gigantifolia, a tree species from the Brazilian Amazon with gigantic leaves that can reach 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length.
– Although C. gigantifolia has been known to the public and the scientific community for a long time, describing it formally and giving it an official name was essential to be able to assess its conservation status and design conservation strategies to protect it, the researchers say.
– The species is rare and likely has disjointed populations occurring in a rapidly changing landscape, and the researchers recommended listing it as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Tanker identified as possible Brazil oil spill perpetrator by Zoe Sullivan [11/22/2019]
– The disastrous oil spill on Brazil’s northeast coast began August 30, with 116 municipalities already impacted and 6,000 tons of crude recovered so far. The oil continues to move southward and is now threatening Rio de Janeiro state. However, almost three months into the spill, the debate over its origin continues.
– Yesterday, an expert from the Federal University of Alagoas reported to Congress that the tanker responsible for the spill may be the Voyager I, which he said was off the coast of Brazil with its location transponder turned off during the period the spill would have occurred. Satellite detection of two slicks seem to implicate Voyager I.
– But other experts disagree, saying transponder evidence puts Voyager I near India during the critical late July period when the spill occurred. Since this story’s publication, Voyager I representatives have also provided evidence of the India location at the time of the spill (see box and links at end of this story).
– More than 100 ships passed through the seas near the eastern tip of Brazil between July 19 and 24. As a result, debate over the source of the oil spill is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, November 22, 2019 by [11/22/2019]
– 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.

Coal spill bedevils Indonesian beach more than a year later by Junaidi Hanafiah [11/22/2019]
– Coal from a barge that spilled onto a beach in Indonesia’s Aceh province in July 2018 still hasn’t been fully cleaned up.
– Lampuuk Beach, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is hosting a surfing championship this weekend, but participants and residents say that coal continues to litter and contaminate the site.
– The coal was destined for a power plant run by a cement producer, which had experienced an identical spill in 2016 at a nearby beach.
– While authorities hamarkets has brought pangolin species in Asia — and now in Africa as well — to the brink of extinction.
– Stronger wildlife monitoring and trafficking enforcement are essential in an African country filled with invaluable species and political conflict

Rare fish-eating crocodile confirmed nesting in southwest Nepal after 37 years by [11/21/2019]
– In Nepal, fewer than 100 mature adult gharials are estimated to remain, with only one population in the Narayani and Rapti Rivers of Chitwan National Park known to be breeding until recently.
– Now, researchers have recorded nesting sites and more than 100 gharial babies in yet another site, in Bardia National Park in southwest Nepal.
– The last time gharials were recorded breeding in Bardia was in 1982.



Brazil works behind scene to greenlight Manaus-Boa Vista transmission line by Caio de Freitas Paes [11/20/2019]
‘Timebomb’: Fires devastate tiger and elephant habitat in Sumatra by Michael Standaert [11/15/2019]