Newsletter 2020-02-27



Call for prosecution of Indonesian politician who kept baby orangutan as pet by Ayat S. Karokaro [02/26/2020]

– Conservationists are calling for a district chief in Indonesia to face charges after he was found to have kept a baby Tapanuli orangutan as a pet and later released it into the wild unsupervised.
– Local media began reporting about the critically endangered ape at Nikson Nababan’s house on Jan. 26; the next day, he instructed his staff to release it in secret, ahead of an inspection by conservation officials.
– Orangutans are protected species under Indonesian law, and keeping one as a pet is punishable by up to five years in prison; however, there have never been any prosecutions of perpetrators, who tend to be influential figures such as politicians and military officers.
– Wildlife experts have also condemned the unregulated release of the baby orangutan: on its own, they say, it’s likely to die, and if it encounters wild orangutans, it could pass on human diseases picked up from its months in captivity.

Barrage of mining requests targets Brazil’s isolated indigenous peoples by Maurício Angelo [02/26/2020]

– Nearly 4,000 requests have been submitted for mining-related activities on 31 indigenous reserves and 17 protected areas in Brazil, according to recently obtained data from the nongovernmental Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) and the National Mining Agency.
– The targeted areas are home to 71 known isolated indigenous communities, a group whose population is already considered one of the most vulnerable in the country.
– The requests are part of a wave of sweeping measures led by President Jair Bolsonaro to clears the way for widespread exploitation of indigenous lands for mining, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric plants, ranching and more.
– While deforestation in the Amazon increased by an average of 25% last year, and by 80% on indigenous lands, deforestation rates in areas where isolated peoples are present rose by 114% last year compared with 2018; when compared with 2017, the rate of increase was 364%.

Amazon Tipping Point puts Brazil’s agribusiness, energy sector at risk: Top scientists by Shanna Hanbury [02/24/2020]

– Scientists are sounding the alarm: the Brazilian Amazon is dangerously close to, or may already be hitting, a disastrous rainforest-to-savanna tipping point, with heightened drought driven by regional and global climate change, rapidly rising deforestation and more numerous and intense wild fires.
– Overshooting the tipping point would not only be cataclysmic to Amazon biodiversity and release massive amounts of forest carbon destabilizing the planet’s climate further, it could also devastate Brazil’s economy by depriving agribusiness and hydroelectric energy production of water.
– Signs of deepening drought are already evident, as are serious repercussions. The $9.5 billion Belo Monte mega-dam for example, is already seeing greatly reduced seasonal flows in the Xingu River, a trend expected to worsen, potentially making the dam economically unviable, while also threatening the proposed Belo Sun goldmine.
– Reduced rainfall and a shorter growing season are also putting Brazilian agribusiness at risk. Even as scientists rush to develop heat and drought-resistant crops, many doubt new cultivars will keep pace with a changing climate.

Past and future tropical dams devastating to fish the world over: Study by Asher Elbein [02/21/2020]

– Most research on the ecological impacts of tropical dams does so one dam project at a time. But a new landmark study attempts to connect the dots globally by analyzing tropical dam impacts on freshwater river fish around the world.
– The research assembled data on the geographic range of 10,000 fish species, and checked those tropical species against the location of 40,000 existing dams and 3,700 dams that are either being built or planned for the near future.
– Scientists found that biodiversity hotspots including the Amazon, Congo, Salween and Mekong watersheds are likely to be hard hit, with river fragmentation potentially averaging between 25% and 40% due to hydropower expansion underway in the tropics.
– Dams harm fish ecology via river fragmentation, species migration prevention, reservoir and downstream deoxygenation, seasonal flow disruption, and blockage of nurturing sediments. Drastic sudden fish losses due to dams can also destroy the commercial and subsistence livelihoods of indigenous and traditional peoples.



Bolivia and Paraguay unite to protect critically endangered guanacos by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Wed, 26 Feb 2020]
– Guanacos (Lama guanicoe) are considered critically endangered in Bolivia and Paraguay. Fewer than 200 exist in Bolivia and as few as 20 in Paraguay.
– Guanacos in Bolivia and Paraguay are threatened by habitat loss and poaching. They live in the Chaco, a dry-forest ecoregion that’s one of the most heavily deforested areas on the planet.
– A camera trapping project spearheaded by Bolivian and Paraguayan NGOs uncovered a population of guanacos living in a national park in Paraguay.
– Meanwhile, across the border in Bolivia, an autonomous indigenous government is in the process of creating a new reserve, which, if established, would create an extensive habitat corridor for guanacos and other Chaco wildlife.

Western monarch butterfly numbers critically low for second straight year by Liz Kimbrough [Wed, 26 Feb 2020]
– The latest annual count of western monarch butterfly numbers at their overwintering sites on California’s Pacific coast has revealed a second consecutive tally of less than the critical threshold of 30,000.
– The group behind the count says that figure may be the tipping point for the species, below which the population decline would accelerate into a downward spiral.
– A major threat to the butterflies is the loss of suitable habitat; 20 of their overwintering sites have been damaged by human activity in the past five years, and the vast majority of the remaining 400 sites lack protection.
– Scientists are calling on farmers to minimize pesticide use and plant climate-adapted hedgerows; land managers to restore habitat by growing monarch-suited vegetation; and ordinary citizens to make their own small yet meaningful contributions.

BlackRock’s commitment to responsible investing must include human rights (commentary) by Gaurav Madan [Wed, 26 Feb 2020]
– As the financial world wakes up to the climate crisis, it should understand that addressing the crisis is as much a human rights issue as an environmental one.
– Following sustained pressure from activists, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink announced last month that his firm would place climate at the center of its investment strategy. The declaration, which included a decision to divest from coal in $1.8 trillion of actively managed funds, sent shockwaves through the investment world. The move conveys a clear message that business as usual is no longer viable.
– But climate justice is as much about defending basic human rights as it is about protecting the planet — and BlackRock’s record on either isn’t very convincing.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

China beefs up wildlife trade ban as COVID-19 outbreak intensifies by Malavika Vyawahare [Wed, 26 Feb 2020]
– China’s legislative committee has passed a comprehensive ban on not just trade but consumption of wildlife, in response to growing indications that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a coronavirus found in wildlife sold for consumption.
– The ban extends not just to endangered species that are recognized under CITES and Chinese wildlife laws, but all wild animals that are traded for human consumption.
– The step lays the groundwork for a possible permanent ban on wildlife trade in a country that is a major destination for wildlife contraband.
– Conservationists say they believe such a move by China could be a big boost in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade, but also called for better enforcement of current laws.

Camera traps confirm presence of lowland gorillas in central mainland Equatorial Guinea for first time in over a decade by [Tue, 25 Feb 2020]
– Images of wild western lowland gorillas have been captured by camera traps deep in the jungles of central mainland Equatorial Guinea, marking the first time that the region’s gorillas have been caught on film in more than a decade.
– Camera traps deployed by conservationists with the Bristol Zoological Society (BZS) and the University of West of England (UWE) took the photos in Monte Alén National Park, which is located in central Rio Muni, the mainland region of Equatorial Guinea. Local communities had reported gorilla sightings in the region, but conservationists hadn’t seen the animals for themselves until now.
– The photographs were taken in Monte Alén National Park and are significant because they confirm the gorillas’ continued existence despite heavy hunting pressure.

Coronavirus, trawls take a toll on shrimp fishery in Indonesia’s Jambi by Elviza Diana [Tue, 25 Feb 2020]
– The Indonesian government has temporarily restricted trade with China in the wake of the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease,
– The move has hit the shrimp-fishing community in Sumatra’s Jambi province, which is highly reliant on the Chinese market.
– The fishermen say they’ll need government assistance to switch to other fisheries, having already invested heavily in shrimping gear.
– They’ve also called for a crackdown on trawl fishers operating in their waters.

Listening to marine mammals is helping scientists understand Arctic impacts of climate change by [Mon, 24 Feb 2020]
– A 4-year bioacoustic study of marine mammals in the northern Bering Sea will help scientists track the impacts of global climate change on Arctic ecosystems.
– A team of researchers studied how seasonal variation in sea surface temperatures and sea ice affect populations of five species of endemic Arctic marine mammals: bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata), and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus).
– The researchers captured more than 33,000 individual vocalizations from whales, walruses, and seals over the course of the study, which was conducted between 2012 and 2016. They say that their findings showed consistent seasonal distribution and movement patterns for most of the studied species, supporting previous scientific and traditional knowledge about the distribution of marine mammals in the northern Bering Sea, while providing more precise data than was previously available.

Small steps aim to make a large ocean safer for rays by Marianne Messina [Mon, 24 Feb 2020]
– New rules that apply to a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean aim to improve manta and devil rays’ chances of surviving encounters with tuna fishing boats.
– The measure prohibits fishers from targeting the rays or keeping the ones they catch accidentally. It also mandates that fishers release rays that survive being caught in a manner “that will result in the least possible harm.”
– Growth in demand for manta and devil ray gill plates and anecdotal reports of decreasing populations have raised concerns about the effects of overfishing, both intentional and accidental.

California lawmakers introduce legislation to fight tropical deforestation by Ashoka Mukpo [Mon, 24 Feb 2020]
– California’s AB 2002 bill would require any contractors supplying the state to comply with strict rules against tropical deforestation.
– It would apply to a wide range of products, including palm oil, beef, soybeans, and timber.
– A similar bill stalled and died last year, but its sponsors are optimistic that this time around it will fare better.

Coronavirus outbreak hits Vietnam’s timber sector by Michael Tatarski [Mon, 24 Feb 2020]
– Vietnam exported nearly $1 billion worth of timber products to China in 2019, but the trade faces a steep decline as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
– There were 93 Chinese-owned companies operating in Vietnam’s timber product export sector in 2019.
– Only 16 confirmed COVID-19 infections have been reported in Vietnam, but the economic fallout of the outbreak will be immense.

Deregulation in Indonesia: Economy first, environment later. Maybe by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 24 Feb 2020]
– Sweeping changes being proposed under the Indonesian government’s deregulation bill could prove more disastrous for the environment than previously thought, experts say.
– The bill calls for stripping local governments of the power to issue permits for environmentally sensitive projects and handing that authority to the central government — effectively a return to the power structure of the authoritarian New Order era, critics say.
– The bill also prescribes lighter penalties for environmental violators, including an end to criminal charges for plantation companies that set fire to their concessions to clear the land for planting.

New parasitoid wasp species discovered in Amazon manipulate host behavior in ‘complex way’ by [Fri, 21 Feb 2020]
– Researchers have discovered 15 new wasp species in lowland Amazon rainforests and Andean cloud forests that parasitize spiders in a “complex way.”
– Female Acrotaphus wasps are known to attack spiders in their webs, temporarily paralyzing the arachnids with a venomous sting so they can lay a single egg on a spider. The wasp larva then hatches from the egg and gradually eats the spider before it pupates.
– According to study co-author Ilari E. Sääksjärvi, a professor of biodiversity research at the University of Turku, the 15 newly discovered species of Acrotaphus wasps control host spiders’ behavior in very particular ways in order to ensure the survival of their offspring.

Iran upholds heavy sentences for conservationists convicted of spying by Kayleigh Long [Fri, 21 Feb 2020]
– A court in Tehran this week upheld its guilty verdict for eight Iranian conservationists accused of spying, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years.
– The eight are 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 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 including credible reports of torture and forced confessions.

Investors drop demands after Tyson Foods commits to no deforestation by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 20 Feb 2020]
– Impact investment group Green Century Capital Management has withdrawn a shareholder proposal compelling Tyson Foods Inc. to address sustainability in its supply chain.
– The withdrawal comes after Tyson, the world’s No. 2 meat processor, announced last October that it would commit to a policy of “No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation,” or NDPE.
– Investors are increasingly pressing companies to adopt sustainable practices; though while many companies have done so, few are on track to meet their self-imposed deadlines.

Let’s take the fight to social media giants and protect endangered monkeys and apes (commentary) by Gregg Tully [Thu, 20 Feb 2020]
– Every year, thousands of apes and monkeys are cruelly bought and sold as part of the illegal wildlife trade. The illegal sale of wild animals must end.
– In 2015, the value of the primate trade was estimated at $138M, up from $98M just three years before. These animals are sold as pets, sold to zoos, or slaughtered and sold in markets as bushmeat. This at a time when African primate populations are shockingly decimated, putting entire species at risk of extinction.
– It’s difficult to track illegal activity and bring perpetrators to justice because wildlife dealers exploit the anonymity of social media platforms to conduct their business. Silicon Valley giants are quick to point out that they have policies in place that prohibit the sale of wildlife, and we commend them for that. However, these policies are no match for savvy traders who exploit the features of platforms to make money selling endangered wildlife.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

For Indonesia’s Javan deer, non-protected areas play key conservation role by Basten Gokkon [Thu, 20 Feb 2020]
– Nearly a quarter of the native population of Javan deer, and two-fifths of introduced populations, occur outside protected areas in Indonesia, according to a recent study.
– These non-protected areas include pulpwood and oil palm plantations and logging concessions, and are therefore at much higher risk of being deforested than protected zones.
– The study’s authors have called for have called for those non-protected areas to be be considered in conservation policymaking for the Javan deer.



Audio: Fred Swaniker on conservation as an economic growth opportunity for Africa by Mike Gaworecki [02/19/2020]
Making a thriller out of Belo Monte hydro dam: Q&A with filmmaker Sabrina McCormick by Débora Pinto [02/18/2020]
Video: Abraham Khouw, the professor who joined the Save Aru movement by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [02/18/2020]
Massacre in Nicaragua: Four indigenous community members killed for their land by Taran Volckhausen [02/14/2020]
Rare baby Chinese pangolin born to rescued mom makes surprise debut at Vietnam sanctuary [VIDEO] by Liz Kimbrough [02/14/2020]