Newsletter 2020-02-20


Audio: Fred Swaniker on conservation as an economic growth opportunity for Africa by Mike Gaworecki [02/19/2020]

– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Fred Swaniker, the founder of the African Leadership University, which recently launched a School of Wildlife Conservation to help young Africans develop the skills and knowledge necessary to “own and drive” the conservation agenda on the African continent.

Making a thriller out of Belo Monte hydro dam: Q&A with filmmaker Sabrina McCormick by Débora Pinto [02/18/2020]

– The construction of the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon is the narrative engine that drives Sequestrada, the first full-length film by U.S. cinematographer and sociologist Sabrina McCormick.
– The film, which came out in December on various streaming platforms, tells the story of Kamudjara, an indigenous girl, amid the expectations about the profound social and environmental changes that the construction will bring.
– In this interview with Mongabay, the director speaks about her creative process, her experience filming in the Amazon and perceptions about the social and cultural aspects, as well as the indigenous people’s sense of belonging to the forest.
– A former climate and environmental adviser to the Obama administration, McCormick also stresses the importance of blocking the advance of power generation models based on projects like Belo Monte.

Video: Abraham Khouw, the professor who joined the Save Aru movement by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [02/18/2020]

– Professor Abraham Khouw is one of dozens of academics in the Indonesian city of Ambon who lent his expertise to the Save Aru movement in the mid-2010s.
– The movement formed after a company called the Menara Group got permits to clear nearly two-thirds of the Aru Islands’ rainforest for a giant sugar plantation.
– The academics lent extra firepower to the fight against the plantation, which was mainly driven by local indigenous communities.

Massacre in Nicaragua: Four indigenous community members killed for their land by Taran Volckhausen [02/14/2020]

– On Jan. 29, dozens of armed men stormed the indigenous Alal community. Four people are reported dead, two were injured, and 16 houses were burned. The UN Human Rights Office and indigenous advocacy organizations say the armed group was connected to land grabbers engaged in illegal logging and cattle ranching on protected indigenous land.
– Police have reportedly captured the leader of the group.
– Alal is located in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site in northern Nicaragua that hosts the largest remaining tract of rainforest in Central America. The deforestation rate in Bosawás is climbing as people migrate from southern Nicaragua and illegally clear forest for cropland, cattle pasture, and mining. Satellite imagery shows deforestation around Alal increased significantly between December and January.
– The Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua reports 40 people have been killed over land conflict in the region in the past five years. The UN condemned the Nicaraguan government for allowing impunity for crimes committed against Nicaragua’s indigenous communities.

Rare baby Chinese pangolin born to rescued mom makes surprise debut at Vietnam sanctuary [VIDEO] by Liz Kimbrough [02/14/2020]

– For the first time ever, a baby Chinese pangolin was born in a captive environment at the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) facility near Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
– SVW released a video of the pangolin mother and her son this week leading up to World Pangolin Day on Feb. 15.
– Chinese pangolins are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List; pangolins are the world’s most trafficked animals, a trade driven by demand from East Asia for their flesh and scales.
– The surprise baby is a huge win for SVW, indicating that its captive environment is suitable for its pangolins, rescued from traffickers, to have a healthy pregnancy, birth, and home to rear their young — all important steps for a successful breeding program.



Brazilian meat giant JBS expands its reach in China by [Thu, 20 Feb 2020]
– Brazilian meatpacker JBS has agreed to supply WH Group, a Hong Kong-based meat processor with access to retail outlets across China, with beef, pork and poultry products worth around $687 million a year beginning in 2020.
– Investigations have shown that JBS sources some of its beef from producers who have been fined for illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
– The push for cattle pasture drives most of the deforestation in the Amazon, while soybean plantations to supply pig and chicken feed have replaced large tracts of the wooded savannas of the Cerrado.

Study finds new population of rare deer — but in Brazil’s Arc of Deforestation by Aimee Gabay [Wed, 19 Feb 2020]
– Scientists have discovered new populations of Pampas deer in the savanna region along the southern edge of the Brazilian Amazon, hundreds of miles away from the species’ historical range.
– The findings illustrate the need for more detailed studies to assess the deer’s conservation status and that of other unrecorded species.
– While finding new populations is good news, it’s tempered by the fact that the largest of those groups is in an area known as Brazil’s Arc of Deforestation, where the land is fast being taken over for agriculture.

Indonesia probes suspected nuclear waste dumping at housing estate by Barita News Lumbanbatu, Basten Gokkon [Wed, 19 Feb 2020]
– Indonesian authorities have launched an investigation into radioactive contamination at a housing estate near a nuclear research reactor outside Jakarta.
– Officials first discovered elevated radiation levels at the site in late January during a routine check, and suspect the caesium-137 was dumped there from the nearby reactor.
– Authorities say a cleanup of soil and vegetation from the site has brought radiation levels down; they are also carrying out medical exams of residents living in the area.
– Environmental activists have renewed their calls for the Indonesian government to refrain from developing nuclear power in the country, given the inability of regulators to police even a research facility.

In Bali, young people lead the fight as a plastic plague threatens paradise by Johan Augustin [Wed, 19 Feb 2020]
– The lack of a centralized waste management system in Bali, as in much of Indonesia, has led to most trash being dumped on land, rivers, and in the sea.
– Indonesia is the world’s No. 2 contributor to the plastic waste in the oceans, behind only China.
– In Bali, the fight against plastic waste is being spearheaded by local organizations, communities and youth groups, who have already convinced the local government to ban single-use plastics.
– The groups are pushing for a greater role by the government, particularly to centralize the waste collection and processing system.

Burning and bullets: Forest fires push Bornean orangutans into harm’s way by Aseanty Pahlevi [Tue, 18 Feb 2020]
– Last year, a female orangutan in Indonesian Borneo was rescued after leaving her burned habitat.
– Experts later found signs of a recent pregnancy and also injuries to the animal.
– Wildfires in Indonesian Borneo last year led to an increase in the number of human-orangutan conflicts and wildlife rescues.
– Conservationists have called for stronger efforts to end forest fires and protect orangutan habitats.

When disinformation is a bigger threat than the coronavirus (commentary) by Nalaka Gunawardene [Tue, 18 Feb 2020]
– With the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the world is experiencing a parallel outbreak of an “infodemic,” with misinformation adding to global panic and fueling conspiracy theories.
– Some conservationists have speculatively linked environmental concerns to the new virus, raising a serious risk of hurting the environmental cause by straying into speculation without evidence.
– Countering the disinformation requires concerted efforts by governments, academia, civil society and all others keen to sustain evidence-based public discourse and action.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Pope makes impassioned plea to save the Amazon — will the world listen? by Justin Catanoso [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– In a 94-page document entitled “Querida Amazonia” (Dear Amazon), Pope Francis has made an impassioned plea for world leaders, transnational companies, and people everywhere to step up and protect the Amazon rainforest along with the indigenous people who live there and are its best stewards.
– The Amazon is seeing rapid deforestation in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, while violence against indigenous people is rising. Scientists say climate change and deforestation are forcing a forest-to-savanna tipping point, which could lead to a massive tree die-off, the release of huge amounts of CO2, and global climate catastrophe.
– “We are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God,” Pope Francis writes in Dear Amazon. “For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth.”
– Faith leaders applauded the pope: “Care for creation and… social justice for indigenous peoples and forest communities are part of one moral fabric,” said Joe Corcoran of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. But most media ignored the pope’s message, focusing instead on his verdict disallowing Amazon priests from marrying.

Jeff Bezos establishes $10 billion ‘Earth Fund’ to combat climate change by [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– Today Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced he will commit $10 billion of his personal wealth to combat climate change.
– The Bezos Earth Fund will support “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world”, according to his post at Instagram.
– Bezos is worth an estimated $130 billion, making him the world’s richest person.
– Bezos says the fund will start to issue grants this summer.

Philippine fruit bats may be entirely new species of their own, DNA suggests by [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– A recently published genetic study on fruit bats found in the Philippines revealed high genetic difference among island groups and compared to the Southeast Asian region, which could mean they either need to be reclassified as subspecies or be elevated as new species.
– The study covered 19 of the 27 fruit bat species native to the Philippines, which were assessed using a DNA barcoding technology in a six-year study.
– Five of the species were revealed to have 6 to 7% genetic distance from specimens elsewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly justifying the need to name them distinct populations of their own, the researchers say.
– DNA barcoding is part of a growing international effort to create a genetic database to improve wildlife forensics, aid in curbing wildlife trafficking and help implement more efficient species-focused conservation efforts.

Two deaths trigger alarm at Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve by Agustín del Castillo [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– The body of Homero Gómez González, passionate defender the monarch butterfly and a Mexican reserve designed to protect it, was found on Jan. 29, two weeks after his disappearance was reported.
– Three days later, Raúl Hernández Romero, a tourist guide in the area, was also found dead, with evidence of violence.
– Homero Gómez, like other land-collective members in the area, collaborated in the creation of a model that seeks to help communities make sustainable use of forests.

Family seeks justice as probe into Indonesian activist’s death stalls by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– The widow and colleagues of environmental activist Golfrid Siregar have called on national authorities in Indonesia to take over the investigation into his death from the provincial police.
– The provincial police concluded that Golfrid died in a drunken-driving motorbike crash last October, but his family and supporters say the circumstances around his death remain highly suspicious.
– His wife says Golfrid received multiple death threats related to his advocacy against a controversial hydropower plant, and a supervisor says other activists critical of that project were also harassed and threatened.
– The project developer has denied any involvement in the death and says it also wants the case resolved to clear its reputation.

Mining could topple community-managed forests in Mexico: New film by [Mon, 17 Feb 2020]
– Community residents in the state of Puebla in southeastern Mexico are concerned about the exploration for gold currently underway in their region.
– Mining concessions currently cover around 30% of the state.
– Opponents of the project say it will sap vital water sources and destroy the local economy, which is currently based on sustainable management of forests for timber, farming and ecotourism.

For Sri Lanka’s pangolins, forests are ideal — but rubber farms will do too by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [Sat, 15 Feb 2020]
– Identifying the feeding habits and foraging preferences of pangolins is key to informing Sri Lanka’s pangolin conservation efforts, a new study says.
– It shows that forests are the preferred foraging sites for the island’s endangered Indian pangolins, and that rubber plantations come second.
– With forests shrinking, policymakers should consider maintaining rubber plantations and similar preferred foraging habitats for long-term pangolin conservation, the study’s authors say.
– The study also identifies termites rather than ants as pangolins’ favorite food — a finding with lessons for rescue and captive-breeding centers that currently serve pangolins an artificial diet short on natural feeds.

Leopard lens: Looking for Sri Lanka’s charismatic big cat (commentary) by Nishantha Kothalawala [Fri, 14 Feb 2020]
– Among Sri Lanka’s charismatic species, the native subspecies of the leopard, Panthera pardus kotiya, is a favorite among wildlife enthusiasts and specialist photographers.
– Since 2018, there have been a spate of killings of leopards, including inside nature reserves, sparking concerns about the fate of a big cat population that has dwindled to an estimated 1,000 today.
– The leopard’s popularity among tourists and photographers has also led to disruptions in its habitat by large groups of visitors who cause traffic jams and noise in the midst of the wilderness.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Extinction of a megafish: Can this spark action to save other migratory freshwater species? (commentary) by William Darwall [Fri, 14 Feb 2020]
– The Chinese paddlefish, recently declared extinct by researchers, was likely the world’s longest freshwater fish – as well as one of the oldest, swimming the earth’s rivers since the time of the dinosaurs.
– It’s too late for this species, but there’s still time to save many of the world’s remaining migratory fish.
– Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species – who will meet in Gandhinagar, India, from February 15 to 22 – must address the growing threats to migratory freshwater fish, argues William Darwall, Head of the Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, IUCN Global Species Programme.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesia targets pulpwood, palm oil firms in civil suits over 2019 fires by Hans Nicholas Jong [Fri, 14 Feb 2020]
– Indonesia’s environment ministry will file civil lawsuits against five companies in connection with fires that razed their concessions last year.
– The fire season in 2019 burned an area half the size of Belgium and released double the amount of carbon dioxide as the fires in the Amazon.
– Officials say they are preparing both civil lawsuits — seeking fines against the pulpwood and oil palm firms blamed for the fires — and criminal charges.
– However, a spate of recent cases suggests the government will have a hard time getting the money, with only a tiny fraction paid out of the $231 million awarded from nine companies in similar lawsuits.

In Indonesian renewables bill, activists see chance to move away from coal by Basten Gokkon [Fri, 14 Feb 2020]
– Indonesia’s parliament is drafting a bill on renewable energy that will be included in its docket of priority legislation for passage this year.
– Energy industry observers and activists have welcomed the move and called for policies to transition the country away from its heavy reliance on coal.
– Coal accounts for the majority of Indonesia’s energy mix, and looks to remain that way through to at least 2025, even though the country has vast untapped potential to generate power from geothermal, solar, wind and wave.
– Observers are also wary of the government’s definition of what constitutes new and renewable energy, which includes nuclear, gasified and liquefied coal, hydrogen, and even palm oil biodiesel.

Economists, conservationists, political leaders urge adoption of carbon tax to halt tropical deforestation by [Thu, 13 Feb 2020]
– A comment piece published in Nature yesterday urges tropical countries to adopt a tax on carbon emissions in order to halt global warming, species loss, and deforestation.
– The authors of the piece include Edward B. Barbier, a distinguished professor of economics at Colorado State University in the US; Ricardo Lozano, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development; Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy; and Sebastian Troëng, executive vice-president of US-based NGO Conservation International.
– “Tropical deforestation and land-use change must be halted to safeguard the climate and global biodiversity,” the authors write in Nature. “The widespread adoption of a tropical carbon tax is a practical way forward.”

The ‘blue acceleration’: Study shows humans’ surging incursions into the sea by Grace Dungey [Thu, 13 Feb 2020]
– Population growth and demand for diminishing terrestrial resources are placing increasing pressure on the ocean.
– A new study highlights a sharp uptick in marine activity and defines the “blue acceleration” as the unprecedented rush for food, material and space taking place in the ocean.
– “[T]he ocean is not only crucial for sustaining global development trajectories but is being fundamentally changed in the process,” the study authors write.

For tiger moms, the work-life balance struggle is real, study finds by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 13 Feb 2020]
– For the first time ever, scientists were able to document the behavior of a GPS-collared Amur tiger in the wild for the four months before and four months after the birth of her cubs.
– The study, published in the journal Mammal Research, reveals that the new tiger mom made time for her cubs by abandoning defense of her territory, traveling more rapidly from kills, making fewer but larger kills, and resting less.
– The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), sometimes referred to as the Siberian tiger, is currently listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.
– Poaching is now the biggest threat to the wild Amur tigers, as tiger parts continue to be in high demand throughout Asia for use as ornaments, in traditional medicine, and as a status symbol.



Cerrado in crisis: One Brazilian farm family commits to sustainable soy by Sarah Sax [02/10/2020]
Video: Mika Ganobal, the civil servant who risked his job to save his homeland by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [02/07/2020]
Lucky ducks: Once thought extinct, rare pochards take steps toward recovery by Edward Carver [02/06/2020]