Newsletter 2020-03-05



Fields of Gold: Commodities kingpin leaves a troubling legacy in Moldova by Jack Davies, Liuba Sevciuk [03/05/2020]

– A Mongabay investigation has traced the rise and fall of a billion-dollar commodities cartel in Eastern Europe, finding it relied on money laundering, tax avoidance and state capture.
– Over more than six months reporters reviewed hundreds of court filings, corporate and property records, and carried out interviews with those involved to reveal how the deals were done and where the money went.
– Despite mounting evidence of impropriety by the group, major development banks continued to fund its projects, lending legitimacy to its operations.

Painting with fire: Cerrado land managers learn from traditional peoples by Sarah Sax, Maurício Angelo [03/03/2020]

– Fire is a disturbance that has occurred naturally in Brazil’s tropical savanna — known as the Cerrado biome — for thousands of years. Indigenous and traditional people living in the Cerrado taught themselves to work successfully with fire, using it as an environment-enhancing land management tool.
– However, modern land managers, influenced by techniques practiced in European and U.S. forests, imposed a non-alteration “zero-fire” conservation policy for decades in the Cerrado.
– That practice allowed the steady buildup of combustible organic material, which frequently led to late dry season wildfires or even mega-fires, ecosystem harm, and conflicts with traditional peoples. But in fact, a new study shows prescribed burns in the Cerrado cause no net loss in species diversity, and even enhance some species.
– Starting in 2014, pilot projects launched by the government on conserved lands in the Cerrado have successfully utilized Integrated Fire Management (IFM), including prescribed burns — approaches learned in part from traditional communities. The result is a decrease in wildfire size, intensity and ecosystem damage.

A bloody January for Brazil’s indigenous Kaiowá spotlights persecution by Caio de Freitas Paes [03/02/2020]

– Attacks on indigenous Kaiowá communities in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul at the start of the year have highlighted a long-running campaign of persecution and growing violence against the group.
– A Jan. 2 arson attack on a house of worship in the Kaiowá community in Rio Brilhante municipality was the second of its kind in the region in less than six months; it’s still unclear whether the attack was committed by outsiders or was the result of an internal rift between villagers practicing traditional beliefs and those who have converted to Christianity.
– In Dourados municipality, security guards from private ranches mounted an attack on a community of some 100 Kaiowá families inside the Dourados Indigenous Reserve from Jan. 2-3, prompting the deployment of the National Public Security Force to Mato Grosso do Sul.
– The state has a homicide rate among indigenous people that is three times the national average. Land conflicts are seen as the key driver for the violence here, where indigenous territory is fast being lost to monoculture plantations and cattle ranches, and is also being subsumed by growing urban areas.

Fallout: Threatened species in Australia continue to struggle after fires by Nick Rodway [02/28/2020]

– A devastating bushfire season in Australia has led to significant forest loss in tropical and subtropical regions of Australia’s east coast.
– One of the areas most affected is the border region straddling the states of New South Wales and Queensland, which includes significant sections of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
– Early findings from the Queensland State Government’s Department of Environment and Science indicate the habitat of 648 threatened species in Queensland has been damaged to some extent by the fires.
– As ecologists travel back into the regions to determine the extent of the damage, questions are being raised about the status of affected species, and the additional threats posed by feral animals, weed infestation and sediment pollution.

Unsung Species: One of Earth’s rarest land mammals clings to a hopeful future (commentary) by Joel Berger with Alejandro Vila and Cristobal Briceño [02/28/2020]

– South America’s huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) is the Western Hemisphere’s most endangered large land mammal, a fleet-footed Patagonian deer. The species once enjoyed broad distribution, but its numbers have been fractured into roughly 100 small disconnected populations, with huemul totals likely less than 1500 individuals.
– Historically, the huemul was diminished by habitat destruction, poachers, livestock competition and alien predators (especially dogs). More recently climate change may be playing a role, hammering Patagonian coastal fisheries, so possibly causing local villagers to increase hunting pressure on the Andean mountain deer.
– The huemul also suffers from being an unsung species. Unlike the polar bear or rhino, it lacks a broad constituency. If it is to be saved, the species requires broad recognition and support beyond the scientific community. This story is the first in a series by biologist Joel Berger in an effort to make such animals far better known.



South Korea’s POSCO vows zero deforestation in Papua palm oil operation by Hans Nicholas Jong [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– South Korean conglomerate POSCO International says it has committed to a policy of “No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation” (NDPE) in its palm oil operations in Indonesia’s Papua province.
– POSCO has long faced scrutiny over the actions of its local subsidiary, PT Bio Inti Agrindo (BIA), which cleared 270 square kilometers (104 square miles) of rainforest for an oil palm plantation between 2012 and 2018.
– The company has also been embroiled in disputes with indigenous communities claiming ancestral rights to the land, but now says it will protect and respect their rights.
– It has also pledged to compensate for the deforestation caused by its activities — a commitment that isn’t usually present in typical NDPE policies.

Mortgaging the future: Report details risks of resource-backed loans by [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– A recent report by the Natural Resource Governance Institute finds that billions of dollars in loans backed by the value of a country’s natural resources may be putting these often-developing economies at risk.
– China is a major player in providing such “resource-backed loans,” which can help countries finance critical infrastructure projects.
– But the terms of these loans are frequently unclear, potentially saddling the borrowing countries with untenable debt levels.
– The hasty push to extract resources could also sideline the input of local communities, and it may lead to harming the environment.

East Africa’s reefs being fished at unsustainable rates, study finds by Jim Tan [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– A new study shows that fish stocks in coral reefs along the coast of East Africa have been fished to worryingly low levels, with 70% of reefs below maximum yield and 38% below sustainable levels.
– The findings are a best-case scenario; computer models suggest stocks could be much lower.
– The study’s author calls for more careful regulation of fisheries in East Africa to allow stocks to recover — contrary to the current push for expansion of the fisheries sector.

Our 15 most popular conservation stories for February 2020 by [Wed, 04 Mar 2020]
– February 2020 set a record in terms of traffic across and, averaging 369,000 visitors per day.
– Below are the 15 stories that racked up the most traffic during the month.
– This list does not include stories from our Indonesia, Latam, India, or Brazil bureaus.

Climate fix? ‘Fertilizing’ oceans with iron unlikely to sequester more carbon by Monica Evans [Wed, 04 Mar 2020]
– Since the 1980s, scientists have studied whether adding iron to the oceans might represent a relatively simple and inexpensive solution to climate change.
– The idea is that adding iron would encourage the growth of carbon-munching marine phytoplankton that would pull carbon out of the atmosphere on a global scale.
– But a new study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that iron fertilization, as the process is called, is unlikely to work.

Where the logging ends in Indonesian Borneo, the forest clearing begins by Shreya Dasgupta [Wed, 04 Mar 2020]
– A recent study of timber concessions in the Indonesian Bornean provinces of East and North Kalimantan found that concessions that were not actively being logged showed higher rates of deforestation than active operations.
– Inactive concessions can be vulnerable to illegal forest clearing for farming and industrial agriculture — activities that result in greater and more permanent forest loss than selective logging.
– Some of the concessions found to be most vulnerable to deforestation are also important habitats for species like the Bornean orangutan and clouded leopard, highlighting the need for careful monitoring of inactive concessions.

Coronavirus outbreak may spur Southeast Asian action on wildlife trafficking by Imelda Abano [Wed, 04 Mar 2020]
– Illegal wildlife trafficking remains a perennial problem in Southeast Asia, but with the ongoing spread of the new coronavirus, there’s added impetus for governments in the region to clamp down on the illicit trade.
– The coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has infected more than 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000, according to the World Health Organization.
– Initial findings, though not conclusive, have linked the virus to pangolins, the most trafficked mammal on Earth and one of the mainstays of the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia that feeds the Chinese market.
– Despite having a regional cooperation framework designed to curb wildlife trafficking, Southeast Asian governments have yet to agree on and finance a sustainability plan to strengthen efforts against the illegal trade.

Poaching and the problem with conservation in Africa (commentary) by Richard Fynn and Oluwatoyin Kolawole [Tue, 03 Mar 2020]
– Poaching is a complex topic that cannot be solved by myopic, top-down enforcement approaches. Crime syndicates may be fuelling the poaching of elephant and rhino but they are not the source of the problem. Rather than treat the symptoms by spending millions on weapons and anti-poaching forces, which experience has repeatedly shown does not stop poaching, there is a need to understand the underlying causes of the poaching problem if it is to be solved.
– Across Africa, state-led anti-poaching forces, no matter how well funded and equipped, have been unable to curtail the high levels of poaching currently observed.
– Devolving power and benefits to local communities will enable local communities to acquire full responsibility for anti-poaching operations, which they are much better positioned to do than external agencies who do not have the social networks and local knowledge needed to effectively perform oversight functions in the local area. As witnessed in the Luangwa Valley and Namibian conservancies, there is every likelihood that there will be a significant decline in poaching once community conservation is properly implemented.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mongabay’s new YouTube show: Candid Animal Cam by [Tue, 03 Mar 2020]
– Every Tuesday, Mongabay will bring you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our new show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.
– Camera traps bring you closer to the secretive natural world and are an important conservation tool to study wildlife.

For Mexico’s forgotten cloud forests, sustainability and protection are key by Thelma Gómez Durán [Tue, 03 Mar 2020]
– Secondary cloud forests are vital to hydrological cycles and the prevention of soil erosion.
– However, in Mexico, the expansion of livestock and agriculture has increased their vulnerability.
– Researchers from the Institute of Ecology at Mexico’s University of Veracruz suggest that encouraging sustainable forest management in these ecosystems will help ensure that they don’t disappear.

Predators disproportionately impacted by human land use changes, study finds by [Mon, 02 Mar 2020]
– New research looking at whether particular types of wildlife are more affected than others by habitat loss determined that predators are the most impacted, as was expected — but the study results held some surprises nonetheless.
– Because the loss of plant resources makes it harder for large predators to find sufficient food when land use changes occur within their range, researchers expected to find that these types of animals would be especially affected.
– The analysis showed that predators are indeed more affected by habitat loss than other groups — but that larger carnivores are not threatened with the largest declines. It was small invertebrates that were found to face the worst impacts.

Map reveals Canadian mining company’s environmental, social conflicts by John C. Cannon [Mon, 02 Mar 2020]
– The Environmental Justice Atlas released new maps March 2 alleging that Pan American Silver operates mines that don’t have the consent of local communities and that pollute local water supplies — assertions that the company denies.
– In Guatemala, the Canadian mining company gained control of a mine where operations had been suspended because the country’s supreme court ruled that a local indigenous community had not consented to the operation.
– The atlas uses information gathered from local communities to both raise the profile of their struggle and to connect disparate environmental justice groups doing similar work.
– The mine in Guatemala remains closed, pending a new consultation process.

Deregulation bill hurts Indonesia’s fishers, coastal communities, experts say by Basten Gokkon [Mon, 02 Mar 2020]
– The administration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo has proposed a sweeping slate of deregulation to boost investment, affecting laws on fisheries, maritime affairs, and coastal and small island development.
– Experts have warned that some of the proposed revisions will hurt small-scale and traditional fishers, who account for much of the country’s fishing fleet.
– Coastal communities will also stand to lose out to developers under zoning changes proposed in the bill of amendments, observers warn.
– Activists have called for fishing and coastal communities to reject the bill, and for the government and parliament to halt deliberations to pass it into law.

In Chile, scientists seek the cause of blue whales’ mystery skin lesions by Michelle Carrere [Mon, 02 Mar 2020]
– Blue whales in Chile have been plagued with serious skin lesions, blister-like sores that can cover their whole bodies.
– Following a study that confirmed the presence of persistent organic pollutants in the bodies of blue whales in southern Chile, a second study is underway to determine the cause of the lesions.
– Although the results of the second study have yet to be released, scientists believe the lesions could be linked to commercial salmon farming.

Indonesia’s point man for palm oil says no more plantations in Papua by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 02 Mar 2020]
– The Indonesian minister in charge of investments has declared there will be no new permits approved for oil palm plantations in the country’s Papua region, and that crops such as nutmeg and coffee will instead be prioritized.
– Luhut Pandjaitan, who owns several palm oil companies, said control of existing concessions in Papua was concentrated in the hands of foreign companies and wealthy domestic conglomerates and that their investments hadn’t always benefited the locals.
– Activists are skeptical about the minister’s U-turn, given that Luhut has been the government’s most vocal defender of the palm oil industry amid the growing international backlash against the commodity and its associated environmental damage.
– They also warn that the move might simply replace large-scale deforestation for palm oil with large-scale deforestation for other crops.

Bid to get ‘aquatic wild meat’ off the menu and under protection by Edward Carver [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– The term “aquatic wild meat,” or “marine bushmeat,” refers to the hunting of marine mammals, reptiles, seabirds and now some sharks and rays.
– The hunting takes place all over the world and has increased in recent years as small-scale fishers have lost access to fish and other marine resources.
– Last week, delegates representing more than 80 countries took steps to address the issue of aquatic wild meat at the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals conference in Gandhinagar, India.
– Other outcomes of the conference included adding 10 new species to the convention’s protected lists, including the jaguar and Asian elephant, recognizing the culture of wild animals, and calling for migratory species to be considered in national climate and energy policies.

Fire in Australia is a symptom of a degraded ecosystem (commentary) by Shane Emanuelle [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– Ancient, human-induced climate change in Australia precipitated an ecological catastrophe, turning a rainforest continent into desert.
– A compromised ecosystem where biological decomposition of plant matter is insufficient renders an imbalance between photosynthesis and respiration, leaving fire as the only way to balance the carbon equation.
– Steps towards ecological regeneration will have far-reaching and exponential benefits to environment and society and provide natural fire mitigation.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Plastic trash kills half a million hermit crabs on remote islands each year by Grace Dungey [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– An estimated 570,000 hermit crabs become trapped and die in plastic containers on the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Henderson Island each year, according to a new study.
– Accumulated plastics on beaches could cause a serious decline in hermit crab populations, the study’s authors say.
– Hermit crabs are at risk on beaches globally where crabs and plastic pollution overlap.

Marginalized voices from resource conflicts enter the mainstream via video by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– The “Seeing Conflicts at the Margins” project lets communities embroiled in resource conflicts in Kenya and Madagascar share their experiences by shooting videos.
– A national launch for the videos produced under the project, funded by the U.K. government, took place at the residence of the U.K. ambassador to Madagascar on Feb. 18 in Antananarivo.
– One of the videos, shot in Antsotso village, deals with the effects of a local forest being protected by a mining company owned by mining giant Rio Tinto.
– All the videos had been screened for members of the participating communities before the national launch.

Raze here, save there: Do biodiversity offsets work for people or ecosystems? by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– The Bemangidy-Ivohibe biodiversity offset was created in southeastern Madagascar by QMM, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, to make up for the destruction of highly threatened littoral forests as a result of mining activity.
– While the rights of people directly displaced by development projects like mines are recognized to some degree, those of communities affected by biodiversity offsets, of which there are more than 13,000 worldwide, remain unclear.
– Critics say QMM fortified the forest and restricted villagers’ access to essential resources, pushing them toward starvation. The company says it has saved the forest from certain destruction at the hands of local people.
– The justification for offsets — biodiversity gains — are also hard to document, especially in the case of Bemangidy-Ivohibe which is a lowland humid forest, a different landscape from the littoral forest being razed by QMM.

Companies leave communities to grapple with mining’s persistent legacy by John C. Cannon [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– The destructive legacy of mining often lingers for communities and ecosystems long after the operating companies leave.
– Several large, multinational mining corporations have scrubbed their images — touting their commitments to sustainability, community development and action on climate change — but continue to deny accountability for the persistent impacts of mining that took place on their watch.
– A new report from the London Mining Network, an alliance of environmental and human rights organizations, contends that these companies should be held responsible for restoring ecosystems and the services that once supported communities.

‘Unless impunity is fought, we will not get anywhere’: Q&A with community forestry expert Lucía Madrid by Thelma Gómez Durán [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– Lucía Madrid works with communities in Mexico to implement and improve natural resource management programs.
– Madrid says community-led forest management programs have the power to both reduce deforestation and promote rural development on communal land.
– However, she says environmental law and enforcement must also be strengthened to effectively tackle the illegal deforestation plaguing the country.

Activists skeptical of win as court orders Papua plantation maps published by Hans Nicholas Jong [Fri, 28 Feb 2020]
– Indonesia’s agrarian ministry must release plantation maps and data about concession holders for the country’s Papua region, a court has ruled.
– The region is home to the largest remaining undisturbed swath of tropical rainforest in Indonesia, and is increasingly being targeted by the plantation and logging companies that have already depleted the forests of Sumatra and Borneo.
– Environmental and indigenous rights activists have welcomed the court ruling, which they say will help address land grabs and other illegal practices, but add they’re skeptical the agrarian ministry will comply.
– The ministry is already subject to previous rulings, including from the Supreme Court, to release plantation data for other regions of the country, but continues to stonewall with a variety of excuses.

‘Out of control’: Unprecedented fires ravage Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands by Ana Ionova [Thu, 27 Feb 2020]
– Stretching 210,000 sq km across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. In Brazil, it stretches across the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The Pantanal is home to many different species of plants and animals, some of them threatened with extinction.
– Fueled by a toxic combination of searing temperatures and high winds, the Brazilian Pantanal was hit by unprecedented fires that engulfed at least 2.4 million hectares across the region in October and November 2019.
– Then in January, just two months after the first bout and during what is supposed to be the rainy season, fires erupted once again. Both times, fires invaded well into Pantanal Matogrossense National Park.
– Local sources say the fires were primarily the result of burning by farmers that spread out of control over an El Niño-dried landscape. Firefighters were caught largely unprepared for the unseasonal fires, as the state normally disassembles its response forces in December and enters a phase of planning for the next fire season. After burning for over a month, the fires were extinguished when rains finally fell in mid-February.

‘Intense’ human pressure is widespread among terrestrial vertebrates, study finds by [Thu, 27 Feb 2020]
– A new study assessing the cumulative impacts of human activities on wildlife found that the vast majority of terrestrial species are facing “intense” pressure due to humanity’s footprint across the globe.
– Researchers looked at human pressures across the ranges of 20,529 terrestrial vertebrates and found that 85 percent of the animals included in the study, or some 17,517 species, are exposed to “intense human pressures” in half of their range. About 16 percent, or 3,328 species, are exposed to these pressures throughout their entire range.
– The researchers say that their results could help improve assessments of species’ vulnerability to extinction.

On anniversary of nun’s murder Amazon land rights activists at high risk by Sam Cowie [Thu, 27 Feb 2020]
– Fifteen years ago this month, land rights activist and Catholic nun Dorothy Stang, “Sister Dorothy,” was brutally assassinated in Anapu municipality, Pará state, Brazil. While her death caused a loud international public outcry, and resulted in Brazil cracking down on such violence, those corrections didn’t last.
– Less than 5% of the more than 550 killings that have occurred since Stang’s murder having gone to court, according to data collected by Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) and analyzed by Mongabay. In Pará, the state where Stang was murdered, just 6 of more than 190 land conflict murders have been judged in court.
– Experts say the majority of such killings are plotted by land grabbers and powerful land owners trying to intimidate peasant farmers seeking land reform, or trying to protect their small land holdings. Local corruption in government, law enforcement and in the courts leads to few prosecutions.
– Analysts fear President Jair Bolsonaro’s polices will worsen the problem. In December, he issued executive order MP 910, which critics say effectively legalizes land grabbing. The decree, supposedly benefiting smallholders, provides a pardon for past large-scale land grabbers and could embolden land grabbing in future.



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]