Newsletter 2020-03-12


Indonesia’s Lake Poso, an evolutionary ‘gem,’ threatened by dam by Ian Morse [03/12/2020]

– Around the turn of the century, the area around Lake Poso in Indonesia was wracked with communal conflict that left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced. In the wake of this violence, local leaders embraced a hydroelectric project they hoped would help unite vying religious communities for a brighter future.
– Fifteen years later, construction on the 515-megawatt dam is only half complete, and the company has informed the community it will need to reshape the mouth of the lake and dredge the river it feeds.
– Local fishers fear changes to the lake and river will bring an end to traditional fishing practices that sustain thousands of families, while conservationists fear disruption to a unique and ancient ecosystem brimming with endemic species.
– Activists have tried to mount a legal challenge to halt the project, but have been told by local authorities that they must first present scientific proof that the project will harm the ecosystem.

Brazil drastically reduces controls over suspicious Amazon timber exports by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [03/11/2020]

– Forest degradation nearly doubled in the Brazilian Amazon last year, rising from 4,946 square kilometers in 2018, to 9,167 square kilometers in 2019. Experts say this is likely due to soaring illegal timber harvesting and export under President Jair Bolsonaro.
– To facilitate illegal harvesting of rare and valuable timber, like that of the Ipê tree, whose wood can sell for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at Brazilian export terminals, Bolsonaro’s environment officials have reversed regulations that formerly outlawed suspicious timber shipments, making most such exports legal.
– Experts say that the relaxation of illegal export regulations not only protects the criminal syndicates cutting the trees in Amazonia, but also shields exporter Brazil, and importers in the EU, UK, US and elsewhere, preventing them from being accused of causing Amazon deforestation via their supply chains.
– Activists fear overturned timber export regulations will embolden illegal loggers, who will escalate invasions onto indigenous and traditional lands, as well as within conservation units. More than 300 people were assassinated over the past decade as the result of land and natural resource conflicts in the Brazilian Amazon.

Two identical road trips, a year apart, highlight PNG’s infrastructure woes by Mongabay [03/09/2020]

– Papua New Guinea’s government plans to build more than 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) of road in the five-year period leading up to 2022.
– Two Mongabay reporters traveled one such road-in-progress, from Kundiawa to Gembogl in the country’s mountainous interior, a year apart.
– In this interview, reporters John Cannon and Camilo Mejia Giraldo discuss what had changed, and what hadn’t, after a year of progress on the construction project.

NGOs charge Brazil’s Bolsonaro with risk of indigenous ‘genocide’ at UN by Sue Branford [03/05/2020]

– At a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 2 March indigenous people from Brazil along with NGOs told the international community that the policies of Jair Bolsonaro, in office since January 2019, are resulting in a dangerous escalation in invasions of indigenous reserves in the Amazon and across Brazil.
– They especially emphasized impacts on the Moxihatetea and other uncontacted and isolated groups whose territories are being rapidly deforested by illegal miners, loggers and other intruders of conserved indigenous lands — while the government stands by and simultaneously dismantles indigenous protections.
– Meanwhile, the Arns Commission, a human rights body, is sending a petition to the International Criminal Court demanding an investigation into Bolsonaro’s attacks on indigenous human rights. Deforestation in 115 of the worst-affected indigenous territories totaled 42,679 hectares from 2018 to 2019, an 80% increase over 2017-18.
– The Arns Commission, and a new report, assert that the Bolsonaro administration’s socio-environmental policies are putting indigenous peoples at risk of ethnocide (the destruction of an ethnic group’s culture), and putting isolated groups at risk of genocide.



Complaint alleges oil company left Peru communities’ environment in ruins by [Thu, 12 Mar 2020 ]
– Indigenous communities and human rights NGOs contend that Pluspetrol violated a set of business standards issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
– The complaint, delivered March 11 in the Netherlands, says the company has avoided paying taxes and has failed to address damage to the environment in the Peruvian Amazon caused by its oil-drilling activities through 2015.
– The groups allege that the release of toxic heavy metals into the water supply have caused numerous health problems for community members.

Indonesian police charge indigenous men in dispute over nutmeg plantation by Nurdin Tubaka [Thu, 12 Mar 2020]
– Police in Indonesia have charged two indigenous men with vandalizing heavy equipment after a confrontation with a company accused of illegally logging their ancestral land.
– The company, CV Sumber Berkat Makmur, has a concession to cultivate nutmeg trees in East Seram district, Maluku province, but it’s unclear whether the ancestral land of the Sabuai indigenous community falls within the concession.
– Activists and local lawmakers have called for a halt to the company’s activities while the uncertainty about its permit is cleared up.
– The case is just the latest in Indonesia in which local authorities have opted to pursue criminal charges against communities mired in land disputes with companies.

‘Fake market’: Red panda study finds no real demand behind rise in poaching by Liz Kimbrough [Wed, 11 Mar 2020]
– Red pandas are being increasingly poached and traded in their native Nepal, but researchers say there’s no evidence of sufficient market demand to meet this “unstoppable supply.”
– In a new paper, researchers suggest the hunting may ironically be driven by wildlife trade investigators pretending to be buyers and inadvertently driving more poaching.
– “Informing people about the market price of red panda body parts might have lured them toward easy money-making schemes that are further fueled by poverty and unemployment,” the paper says.
– A separate report on the red panda trade also concludes that the conservation of the endangered species is inextricably linked to the livelihood of local people.

Muduga leaping frog is first new member of its genus found in over a century by [Wed, 11 Mar 2020]
– A new species of frog endemic to the Western Ghats, a mountain range in India that is considered a global biodiversity hotspot, is the first new addition to the genus Walkerana in more than a century.
– There are three previously known Walkerana species: W. leptodactyla, W. diplosticta, and W. phrynoderma. The newly discovered Muduga leaping frog, Walkerana muduga, is now the fourth member of the genus.
– “After a span of 137 years, we have discovered a new frog species within the genus Walkerana,” K. P. Dinesh, a scientist at the Zoological Survey of India and lead author of the paper describing the new species, said in a statement. “The last few species descriptions within this genus date to 1876 and 1882.”

On the prowl: Jaguar population rises in Iguazú Falls region by Jenny Gonzales [Wed, 11 Mar 2020]
– After almost losing its jaguar population in the early 2000s, the Atlantic Forest area between Brazil and Argentina has seen the number of the big cats more than double to 105.
– It’s the only place in South America that has registered an increase in the jaguar population, thanks to joint law enforcement by Brazil and Argentina to tackle poaching, and planting of camera traps by researchers, which deter would-be poachers.
– Changing agricultural trends have also helped: livestock ranching used to be the predominant farming activity in the area, but the jaguars would prey on the cattle and sheep, prompting ranchers to kill them in retaliation.
– In the past decade, soybean and corn crops have taken the place of ranching, reducing conflicts between jaguars and farmers.

In Afghanistan, a new national park carries hopes for conservation and peace by Erich Orion [Wed, 11 Mar 2020]
– Afghanistan established its fifth national park last year, the massive Bamyan Plateau Protected Area.
– The site is home to the Persian leopard and ibex, and serves as a key breeding ground for the endemic Afghan snowfinch.
– Local inhabitants were crucial to developing the park and are set to have a voice in its management.
– In addition to conserving the landscape and its plants and wildlife, the protected area is expected to boost tourism and local livelihoods, and serve as a natural respite for a country weary of war.

PepsiCo renews sustainable palm oil policy to close supplier loophole by Hans Nicholas Jong [Wed, 11 Mar 2020]
– PepsiCo has updated its palm oil sustainability policy to require all its suppliers, not just direct ones, to commit to ending deforestation, conversion of pealands, and worker exploitation.
– The so-called NDPE policy previously didn’t apply to subsidiary or third-party suppliers, presenting a substantial loophole that meant PepsiCo couldn’t guarantee it wasn’t sourcing non-sustainably produced palm oil.
– The updated policy is expected to have a major impact on PepsiCo’s Indonesian joint-venture partner, Indofood, whose subsidiary IndoAgri withdrew from the certification body RSPO after labor rights violations were flagged at its plantation.
– PepsiCo is also expected to boost efforts to improve traceability of the palm oil it sources from suppliers in Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, where pristine forest has been razed to make way for oil palm plantations.

Poachers kill two rare white giraffes by [Tue, 10 Mar 2020]
– Poachers have killed two rare white giraffes in Kenya according to a group that worked to protect them and their habitat.
– On Tuesday, the Hirola Conservation Programme reported that the mother giraffe and her calf were found dead after a long absence. Wildlife officials said the state of their remains indicate the giraffes have been dead at least four months.
– The white giraffes are leucistic — not albino — meaning they have a genetic condition that inhibits pigmentation in skin cells. Albinos lack melanin throughout their bodies.
– The population of wild giraffes in Africa is in deep decline due to hunting and habitat loss.

Record-high global tree cover loss driven by agriculture by Liz Kimbrough [Tue, 10 Mar 2020]
– The new data reveals record-breaking global tree cover loss for 2016 through 2018.
– In 2018 alone, the area of tree cover loss was larger than the UK.
– Agriculture continues to drive tree cover loss globally and in the tropics while forestry and wildfires drive forest loss in North America.

US economy will take biggest hit if we continue with business as usual: report by [Tue, 10 Mar 2020]
– New research finds that if humans carry on with business as usual and the environmental degradation that results, we will pay a steep price — quite literally.
– Researchers found that if we simply continue under the status quo, the global economy will lose at least $479 billion a year, adding up to nearly $10 trillion in losses by 2050, as compared to the “baseline” scenario in which there is no change in ecosystem services over the next 30 years.
– Of the 140 countries included in the study, the United States stands to take the biggest economic hit, losing $83 billion per year by 2050 under this “business as usual” scenario that includes intense consumption of energy and raw materials, widespread land-use change, ongoing rises in greenhouse gas emissions, and continued loss of biodiversity.

Activists win reprieve, for now, for Dominican coastline eyed by developers by Elizabeth Fitt [Tue, 10 Mar 2020]
– A Spanish hotel developer plans to build a new resort on protected coastal land in the Dominican Republic.
– Opposition by environmentalists prompted the government to order a temporary halt to the project in February pending the outcome of an assessment due later in March.
– Environmentalists say they fear that allowing the resort development to go ahead in what was once part of Cotubanamá National Park could open the door to more developments along the pristine beachfront.
– With elections due in May, one of the presidential candidates has backed the opposition and called for the dismissal of the environment minister for permitting the project in the first place.

What is a spectacled bear? Candid Animal Cam takes us to the Andes by [Tue, 10 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.

Conservationists cautiously optimistic after Bolivian government changes hands by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– Forest fires burned across more than 5 million hectares of Bolivia’s forests and savannas last year.
– Sources say policy changes that encouraged more burning and clearing for agriculture contributed to the 2019 surge in fire activity.
– Following a contentious election, Evo Morales resigned the presidency in November.
– Conservationists say the new interim government has reversed some of the Morales administration’s decisions – but cautions there’s more left to do.

Some lions adapted to hunting in water, and that’s important for conservationists to understand (commentary) by Simon Dures [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– A discovery of two genetically distinct African lion populations adapted to habitat, not humans.
– Sometimes the patterns we see in populations of conservation concern may not be caused by people. Instead, they may in fact be a result of evolutionary adaptation helping one group of animals improve their chances of survival in a particular habitat type. It is crucial that we are aware of such adaptations.
– If we dilute this unique adaptation through haphazardly moving animals to mitigate what we erroneously think is human-caused fragmentation, we may inadvertently reduce a species ability to survive in a changing climate.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The fight goes on for opponents of a Philippine mine given a new lease on life by Leilani Chavez [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– A permit to establish the largest copper mine in the Philippines was to have expired on March 12 this year, but will instead remain valid for another 12 years, thanks to an “under-the-radar” extension granted by the government in 2016.
– Anti-mining groups and local communities who have long opposed the project only found out last October about the secretly granted extension, which the government never consulted them on.
– They say the Tampakan project will displace some 4,000 indigenous people who have ancestral claims to the land, as well as pollute local rivers and raze thousands of hectares of forest and farmland.
– The project still faces an obstacle in the form of a provincial environmental code that bans open-pit mining.

Drones in the canopy: Project aims to save the Amazon with technology by Sibélia Zanon [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– In seeking an alternative to the develop-or-conserve dichotomy that governs policymaking over the Amazon, Brazilian scientists have come up with the Amazonia Third Way, a plan to preserve the region’s biodiversity by supercharging sustainable forestry practices with technology.
– In the second half of this year, three communities in Pará state will receive the first creative laboratories — mobile units that will bring technologies such as blockchain and drones to the cocoa and cupuaçu production processes. Future laboratories will focus on Brazil nuts, acai berries, essential oils and other products.
– The project will also rely on the help of business accelerators and the Rainforest Business School to support so-called bioeconomy start-ups and offer training courses for forest communities under this new development paradigm.

Oil and gas project threatens Brazil’s last great block of Amazon forest (commentary) by Philip Fearnside [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– The eastern part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is already heavily deforested and degraded, but the western portion of the region (covering roughly 740,000 square kilometers; 285,000 square miles) is almost entirely intact due to the lack of road access.
– The huge block of forest to the west of Highway BR-319 (a road stretching between Amazonas and Rondônia states) is essential to maintaining the region’s biodiversity, its indigenous peoples, its huge forest carbon stocks, and its role in water recycling that supplies rainfall to places like São Paulo.
– Planned roads branching off Highway BR-319 would open the northern part of this vast forest block to entry by deforesters. Now a new threat is rapidly advancing: the Solimões oil and gas project that would implant thousands of wells spread over the central and southern portions of this forest block. Although not part of the official development’s preliminary environmental impact statement, future roads linking the drilling areas to the BR-319 are likely to give deforesters access to the entire area.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

As Guinea-Bissau records mass vulture deaths, poisoning is main suspect by Ed Holt [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– Around 1,000 vultures have been found dead at multiple locations in Guinea-Bissau in the past two weeks.
– The birds, mostly critically endangered hooded vultures, may have eaten poisoned carcasses aimed at killing feral dogs or other predators.
– Africa’s vulture populations have declined steeply in recent decades, and this incident underscores the dangers of indiscriminate use of poison, responsible for nearly two-thirds of African vulture deaths.

Indonesian indigenous land defenders jailed in fight with pulpwood giant by Ayat S. Karokaro [Mon, 09 Mar 2020]
– A court in Indonesia has sentenced two indigenous farmers to nine months in jail in the latest legal battle over land claimed by both the community and pulp and paper company PT Toba Pulp Lestari.
– The two sides have been locked in dispute over the land in North Sumatra’s North Tapanuli district since 1992, with the Sihaporas indigenous community claiming ancestral rights to some 40,000 hectares (98,800 acres) inside the concession granted to PT TPL.
– Tribal elders Jonny and Thomson Ambarita are the latest members of the community to be jailed following charges brought by the company, which itself stands accused of an assault against the community. Authorities have not pursued the Sihaporas complaints against the company.
– Indigenous and land rights activists have criticized what they say was a flawed trial, and called for greater recognition by the Indonesian government of indigenous land rights.

Leaders on the cutting edge of conservation recognized on International Women’s Day by Genevieve Belmaker [Fri, 06 Mar 2020]
– The Global Landscapes Forum has named 16 leaders in global climate change work ahead of International Women’s Day.
– The conservation leaders come from various backgrounds – from finance and technology to public figures and industry founders and CEOs.
– All of those recognized have long been working to protect and restore the planet, and are actively involved in efforts all over the world.

Conservation nation: How Palau protects its reefs and waters (commentary) by Ed Warner [Fri, 06 Mar 2020]
– Author Ed Warner once spent 3 weeks in Palau as part of the ‘Micronesia Challenge’ to document how corals were rebounding after a bleaching event.
– Warner recently returned to dive in Palau and writes that corals there continue to show strong recruitment and recovery, and that a strong conservation ethic has also taken hold in the human population.
– The world’s coral reefs are under threat, both from increased ocean temperatures and from acidification due to the burning of fossil fuels.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not Mongabay.

New right whale protection measures announced by Canadian government by Mike Gaworecki [Fri, 06 Mar 2020]
– Canada has announced new protection measures for North Atlantic right whales, which face severe threats to their survival due to human activities off the Atlantic Coast of North America.
– Most recent right whale deaths have occurred in Canadian waters, which scientists attribute, at least partly, to the fact that the whales have moved into areas where there were no regulations in place to address threats like ship strikes and entanglement.
– Scientists say the new regulations proposed by the Canadian government are encouraging. Meanwhile, if the Trump Administration gets its way, the United States will be moving in the exact opposite direction on protections for whales in its waters.

The commons, community and conservation: Q&A with anthropologist Leticia Merino by Thelma Gómez Durán [Fri, 06 Mar 2020]
– Leticia Merino began studying community forestry 30 years ago, a management approach developed in Mexico that involves communities organizing to conserve their forests and at the same time generating income from it.
– The best way to conserve and regenerate these ecosystems is not reforestation, says Merino, now a renowned anthropologist.
– Community forest management has been proven to be an effective and non-exclusionary method of maintaining biodiversity, she says.
– Merino spoke with Mongabay Latam about her life and her award-winning work in the field of community forestry.

As temperatures rise, meerkat pups feel the heat by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) pups are gaining less body mass and surviving in fewer numbers as the daily maximum air temperature has risen in the Kalahari, according to a new study.
– When exposed to hot air and soil, the pups may be losing water from their bodies faster than they can replenish it.
– Researchers guessed that the cooperative child-rearing strategy of meerkat groups could buffer the effects of high temperatures, but pup growth and survival declined independently of group size.

Audio: Shah Selbe on how open source technology is creating new opportunities for conservation by Mike Gaworecki [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Shah Selbe, an engineer and technologist who founded Conservify, a conservation tech lab that uses open-source technologies to empower local communities and solve some of the most pressing conservation challenges of our time.
– Selbe is literally a rocket scientist who spent a decade building and launching satellites with Boeing before getting into conservation tech. These days he’s helping deploy technologies like drones, sensor networks, smartphone apps, and acoustic monitoring buoys to stop illegal poaching, monitor protected areas, and protect biodiversity.
– Selbe joins us today to talk about his journey from rocket science to conservation science, the open-source hardware and online platform Conservify is developing called FieldKit, and the conservation tech he’s most excited about.

Versace, Amazon, Samsonite among companies listed as deforestation ‘laggards’ by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– In its annual Forest 500 report, the environmental organization Global Canopy reports on the most influential companies and financial institutions that deal in key commodities linked to deforestation.
– The six commodities that drive deforestation worldwide are leather, beef, palm oil, soybeans, timber, and pulp and paper.
– The report identifies 140 companies as having made no public commitments to ending deforestation, and 100 as having done so but not reporting on the implementation or progress of these commitments.
– It also finds that 68% of 150 financial institutions assessed have zero commitments to deforestation.

Tropical forests may flip into carbon sources sooner than feared, study finds by [Thu, 05 Mar 2020]
– An expansive study traced the growth of 300,000 trees over three decades in Africa and the Amazon and compared how forests on the two continents were faring.
– The researchers estimate that intact tropical forests absorbed 46 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the 1990s, but this figure plummeted to 25 billion tons in the 2010s.
– If these tropical forests turn into net carbon sources, it will accelerate climate change, which in turn will be detrimental to the health of these forests, kicking off a downward spiral.
– The study also found that forests in the Amazon are weakening as a carbon sink faster than those in Africa.



Fields of Gold: Commodities kingpin leaves a troubling legacy in Moldova by Jack Davies, Liuba Sevciuk [03/05/2020]
Painting with fire: Cerrado land managers learn from traditional peoples by Sarah Sax, Maurício Angelo [03/03/2020]
A bloody January for Brazil’s indigenous Kaiowá spotlights persecution by Caio de Freitas Paes [03/02/2020]
Fallout: Threatened species in Australia continue to struggle after fires by Nick Rodway [02/28/2020]
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]