Newsletter 2020-03-19



Bringing Christ and coronavirus: Evangelicals to contact Amazon indigenous by Sue Branford [03/17/2020]

– As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, with more than 300 known cases already in Brazil, and members of Pres. Jair Bolsonaro’s staff infected, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon.
– Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated Indians, having spread disease among the Zo’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted, the Zo’é, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population.
– Ethnos360 is planning its Christian conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. Their so-called “missionary aviation” contact plan may also violate Brazil’s 1988 Constitution and international treaties.
– Analysts worry Brazil may be about to overturn its “no contact” FUNAI policy. In February, Bolsonaro put Ricardo Lopez Dias in charge of The Coordination of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians (CGIIRC), a FUNAI department. Dias was a missionary for New Tribes Mission for over a decade, doing conversion work.

Brazil sets record for highly hazardous pesticide consumption: Report by Jenny Gonzales [03/12/2020]

– An NGO report finds that Brazil is the largest annual buyer of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs), a technical designation by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. HHPs contain active ingredients with extremely acute toxicity and having chronic negative impacts on human health and the environment.
– The report also found that high HHP sales are not only seen in Brazil but also in other low and middle income nations, while sales to many high income nations, especially in Western Europe, are far lower. The trend is seen in sales by Croplife International trade association corporate members Bayer, BASF, Corteva, FMC, and Syngenta.
– A pesticide industry representative claims that this disparity in sales between high and low income nations is due to variability in “farming conditions” between nations and regions. However, environmentalists say that the disparity is due to far weaker pesticide regulations in low income nations as compared to high income nations.
– HHP use will likely continue rising in Brazil. In 2019, the Jair Bolsonaro administration approved 474 new pesticides for use — the highest number in 14 years. Pesticide imports to Brazil also broke an all-time record, with almost 335,000 tons of pesticides purchased in 2019, an increase of 16% compared to 2018.



Qualified success: What’s next for Peru’s Operation Mercury? by John C. Cannon [Thu, 19 Mar 2020]
– The Peruvian government’s launch of Operation Mercury to crack down on illegal mining had a burst of initial success, cutting deforestation by 92% since its kickoff in February 2019.
– Concerns have surfaced that the operation would simply displace miners, forcing them to deforest new areas.
– However, satellite imagery analysis published in January 2020 revealed that, while deforestation due to mining continues to be a problem in southeastern Peru, Operation Mercury has not led to a surge in forest loss adjacent to the targeted area.
– The government is also investing in programs aimed at providing employment alternatives so that people don’t return to mining.

How to help koalas recover after Australia’s fires? Q&A with Rebecca Montague-Drake by Romina Castagnino [Thu, 19 Mar 2020]
– Mongabay spoke with Rebecca Montague-Drake from the Koala Recovery Partnership to discuss the road to recovery for koalas.
– She explained that Australia needs to address climate change to stop the drivers of impacts such as drought and bushfires as well as at the practical level of trying to mitigate the impacts of fire and drought for koalas, through improved fire management and habitat measures.
– The Koala Recovery Partnership, in association with the Koala Hospital, seek a philanthropic organization to partner with in purchasing high-quality koala habitat across the koala’s range.
– The NSW government’s Saving Our Species Program has identified a number of Areas of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS) that meet these criteria and Koala Recovery Partnership is working with them to deliver koala recovery strategies in line with this concept.

Study finds that sea turtles might be eating plastic because it smells like food by [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– In late 2018, researchers announced that they had found synthetic particles like microplastics in the intestinal tracts of every single sea turtle they’d studied in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediteranean Sea. New research might help to explain why turtles are consuming plastic in the first place.
– The way plastic looks might be one of its attractive features for marine species — for example, a plastic bag floating in the ocean might be mistaken for a tasty jellyfish by a hungry turtle.
– A study published in the journal Current Biology last week might point to another answer, at least when it comes to sea turtles: After just seven days in the ocean, plastic particles become so coated with algae and other microorganisms that they begin to smell like food.

Arctic permafrost moving toward crisis, abrupt thaw a growing risk: Studies by Gloria Dickie [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– An estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon is currently embedded in the world’s permafrost, mostly in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. By comparison, the atmosphere presently contains just 850 gigatons. Should a major proportion of existing permafrost thaw, the Earth could experience dramatic and very dangerous warming.
– Scientists are already seeing an escalation of permafrost thawing. Worse may lie ahead: one study found that for every 1 degree C rise in Earth’s average temperature, permafrost may release the equivalent of 4-6 years-worth of fossil fuel emissions — likely requiring adjustments in Paris Accord national carbon reduction targets.
– Knowing the rate and amount of gradual permafrost thaw will aid researchers in understanding just how quickly we need to cut human-caused emissions. But researchers are also deeply concerned about the possibility of abrupt permafrost thaws, over large areas.
– Abrupt thaws could shock the landscape into releasing far more carbon than if thawed slowly. Abrupt releases may trigger a feedback loop whereby permafrost emissions would warm the atmosphere, leading to more thaw and release. By not accounting for abrupt thaws, we may be underestimating permafrost carbon release impacts by 50 percent.

Vietnam considers wildlife trade ban in response to coronavirus pandemic by Michael Tatarski [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– Last month, conservation organizations sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister recommending action against the wildlife trade as a means of preventing future outbreaks of disease, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
– In response, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc tasked the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development with drafting a ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife by April 1.
– The COVID-19 outbreak has been relatively contained in Vietnam, with 75 confirmed infections at the time of writing, but the economic impact is severe.
– Conservationists hope to see strong enforcement on both the supply and demand sides of the wildlife trade.

Why did Ecuador’s tallest waterfall suddenly disappear? by Antonio José Paz Cardona [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– The iconic San Rafael waterfall near the Chinese-built Coca Codo Sinclair dam stopped flowing on February 2, what happened?
– Experts hypothesize that the hydroelectric plant located upstream is indirectly related to the waterfall’s demise.
– The plant was constructed by Sinohydro and financed by China EximBank, and has had problems with cost overruns, worker strikes, and accidents such as the 2014 collapse of a pressure well that claimed the lives of 14 workers.
– The discussion about what happened with this celebrated waterfall on February 2 promises to occupy scientists for a long time.

Madagascar off pace to meet Aichi targets, which is bad news for the world by Malavika Vyawahare [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– The unique biodiversity of the world’s oldest island, including its 110 lemur species, remains as imperiled as ever.
– Though the country has tripled the terrestrial area under protection since 2003, the quality of the protection is inadequate.
– Madagascar is lagging in the creation of marine protected areas with less than 1% of its total marine area of 1.2 million km2 (433,000 mi2) currently safeguarded under national law.
– Tourism could boost conservation efforts in important biodiversity areas, but it calls for greater investment from the government and private players.

Lack of farmer training worsens Sri Lanka’s growing human-wildlife conflict by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [Wed, 18 Mar 2020]
– Farmers in Sri Lanka aren’t receiving training on how to deal with wild animals raiding their crops, despite human-wildlife conflicts growing more frequent as farms expand into wildlife habitats, according to a study.
– The study authors say it’s vital for farming communities to be able to protect their fields from crop-foraging animals, just as they do from smaller pests and weeds, for which there is already plenty of training.
– The study highlights non-lethal deterrence methods that farmers can use, ranging from decoys to scare off birds, to fences and hormonal secretions to keep elephants at bay.

Audio: Songs and sounds of Bering Sea whales and seals reveal a story of change by Mike Gaworecki [Tue, 17 Mar 2020]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we listen to recordings of marine mammals in the Arctic with Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program.
– Rosenbaum co-authored a recent study that used bioacoustics to better understand how seasonal variation in sea surface temperatures and sea ice extent affect populations of five species of endemic Arctic marine mammals: bearded seals, beluga whales, bowhead whales, ribbon seals, and walrus.
– We listen to recordings of marine mammals used in the study as well as recordings of ships: Rosenbaum joins us to discuss how those ship sounds can affect Arctic wildlife and how the results of the study will help scientists track the impacts of climate change on Arctic ecosystems.

Palm oil firm has farmers jailed for harvesting from land it stole from them by Indra NugrahaYusy Marie [Tue, 17 Mar 2020]
– A palm oil company found to be operating illegally outside its concession has filed a criminal complaint of theft against indigenous farmers who harvested palm fruit from that land.
– Local officials and rights groups have since 2010 declared that PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun has been operating illegally on community lands in Central Kalimantan province.
– The company has still not acted on an order to cede back to the community up to 1,800 hectares (4,450 acres) of illegally cultivated land.
– Instead, it has accused three indigenous farmers of stealing palm fruit from the land, in a case that activists say is emblematic of how corporations can weaponize law enforcement against communities over land disputes.

Critics push back as cable car project for Indonesia’s Rinjani is revived by Fathul Rakhman [Tue, 17 Mar 2020]
– Authorities on the Indonesian island of Lombok say they want to build a cable car to Mount Rinjani to allow more non-hikers to visit the national park.
– The proposed cable car line would be built outside the park boundaries, but critics say the impact to the environment will ripple into the park itself.
– The government says it plans to complete the project before Lombok hosts the Indonesian leg of next year’s MotoGP racing championship, but a host of studies and permits will be required.
– Rinjani is also part of a global network of UNESCO geoparks, and the cable car project could affect that status when it comes up for evaluation next year.

What is a lowland tapir? Candid Animal Cam takes us to the South American forests by Romina Castagnino [Tue, 17 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.

How are koalas doing in the aftermath of the Australian fires? Q&A with Cheyne Flanagan by Romina Castagnino [Tue, 17 Mar 2020]
– Mongabay spoke with Cheyne Flanagan from the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to discuss the marsupial’s current status in the aftermath of the Australian bushfires.
– Around 50 koalas have been hospitalized in New South Wales due to this season’s fires. It is estimated that thousands of koalas have been killed by bush fires.
– Port Macquarie Koala Hospital’s wild koala breeding program is critical. But unless they have good quality habitat that is well managed and cannot be developed, then breeding koalas go out and struggle with logging operations, removal of trees for human development, housing, mining and agriculture.

Smaller fragments of forest at risk of greater levels of deforestation, study finds by Lauren Crothers [Mon, 16 Mar 2020]
– Tropical forest areas made smaller by land use and roads lost more than 11% tree cover every year over an 18-year period
– Larger blocks of forest lost about 2% of their trees per year over the same time period
– Researchers fear further losses are likely unless efforts are made to reforest larger areas and limit future fragmentation

‘Just incredible’ reptiles and amphibians of South Africa: Q&A with Tyrone Ping by [Mon, 16 Mar 2020]
– Growing up in the suburbs of the sub-tropical city of Durban in South Africa brought Tyrone Ping into daily contact with reptiles and amphibians, spurring a lifelong interest.
– Ping now travels around Southern Africa photographing and documenting the diversity of herps, i.e. reptiles and amphibians for a range of educational uses.
– Many species in the region are cryptic and yet to be properly described – species that have been known about for 20 years still don’t have names, he reports.
– Mongabay spoke with him via email to learn more about the region’s herpetofauna.

This solar-powered device aims to clean 1,000 rivers. Will it work? by Rachael Meyer and Basten Gokkon [Mon, 16 Mar 2020]
– In October, Dutch nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup (TOC) unveiled a solar-powered river-cleaning device called the Interceptor.
– The organization plans to deploy the devices in 1,000 of the world’s most polluting rivers in just five years to stem the flood of plastic entering the ocean.
– Mongabay visited the prototype operating in Jakarta’s heavily polluted Cengkareng drain in February and found it stalled after a heavy rain.
– The designer of a similar device says TOC copied his company’s design and is attempting to interfere with its partnerships. A TOC representative denied the allegations and said lessons learned from the Jakarta prototype have led to adjustments to the second generation of Interceptors.

Chile’s biosphere reserves get supersized, but protection isn’t a given by Michelle Carrere [Mon, 16 Mar 2020]
– Three biosphere reserves in Chile were expanded last year to include buffer zones and transition areas.
– Biosphere reserves are not included in Chilean legislation, so their protection is not guaranteed under the law.
– Experts say that referencing the reserves and their buffer and transition zones in future laws will help ensure their preservation.

Costa Rica caterpillar decline spells trouble for ecosystems by Aimee Gabay [Mon, 16 Mar 2020]
– A new study in Scientific Reports suggests declines in caterpillar richness in a protected Costa Rican tropical rainforest, as well as in the parasite species that live off them.
– Researchers examined data from 1997 to 2018 to identify long-term patterns of extreme weather events and the impact these have on insect diversity.
– More than 40% of the 64 common caterpillar genera decreased, suggesting the decline of entire groups of caterpillars.

Conservationists set the record straight on COVID-19’s wildlife links by Liz Kimbrough [Fri, 13 Mar 2020]
– The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been characterized by the World Health Organization as a pandemic. As the virus spreads, so too does misinformation about its origins.
– Rumors that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab or that we know with full certainty which animal host passed the disease to humans are unfounded.
– Given the clear risks to animals as well as to human health, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Global Wildlife Conservation are calling for a permanent ban on wildlife trafficking and live animal markets.

Averting an agricultural and ecological crisis in the Philippines’ salad bowl by Karlston Lapniten [Fri, 13 Mar 2020]
– Centuries of growing highland vegetables to sustain the Philippines’ food supply has taken a toll on the farms in the Cordilleras, a mountainous region in the country’s north, which supplies 80% of vegetables in the whole archipelago.
– Farms have expanded into forest areas and affected water supply. Soil quality has likewise declined over the decades because of heavy chemical use by farms gunning for high yields.
– Government agencies have proposed solutions including agroforestry, crop programming and organic farming aimed at limiting the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides and preventing encroachment into forested areas.
– These interventions have yet to gain momentum, but the upswing of local tourism, and the success of a local coffee farmer, have motivated some farmers to diversify their crops and plant crops alongside trees.

Vietnam’s new conservation plan prioritizes trees and people. Emissions? Not so much by Carol J. Clouse [Fri, 13 Mar 2020]
– Under Vietnam’s proposed carbon for forest ecosystems services (C-PFES) program, the country’s 100 largest emitters, primarily cement manufacturers and coal-fired power plants, would pay forest communities and landowners to protect and expand forests.
– C-PFES, which appears to be the first national plan that puts a price on carbon and funnels those dollars specifically to forest conservation, is modeled on Vietnam’s existing PFES program, under which hundreds of hydropower plants, as well as some municipal water and ecotourism companies, have paid more than $500 million to thousands of rural households since 2011.
– Under C-PFES, cement manufacturers would pay $1.35 per ton of CO2, and coal plants would pay $2 per ton, well below the price called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of $40 to $80 per ton by the end of this year.
– Coal continues to provide nearly 40% of Vietnam’s energy generation. Under current plans, the country ranks third in the world, behind only China and India, in scheduled additional capacity.

Extreme El Niño drought, fires contribute to Amazon insect collapse: Study by Taran Volckhausen [Fri, 13 Mar 2020]
– A recent study found that dung beetle species experienced significant diversity and population declines in human-modified tropical Brazilian ecosystems in the aftermath of droughts and fires exacerbated after the 2015-2016 El Niño climate event.
– Forests that burned during the El Niño lost, on average, 64% of their dung beetle species while those affected only by drought showed an average decline of 20%. Dung beetles provide vital ecoservices, processing waste and dispersing seeds and soil nutrients.
– For roughly the past three years, entomologists have been sounding alarms over a possible global collapse of insect abundance. In the tropics, climate change, habitat destruction and pesticide use are having clear impacts on insect abundance and diversity. However, a lack of funds and institutional interest is holding back urgently needed research.

Tiger on the highway: Sighting in Sumatra causes a stir, but is no surprise by Suryadi [Fri, 13 Mar 2020]
– A picture of a tiger near an under-construction highway in Sumatra’s Riau province has gone viral on the messaging application WhatsApp.
– The toll road is part of a longer highway project running the length of Sumatra that conservationists have warned to poses threat to the island’s dwindling forests and endangered wildlife species such as tigers.
– Wildlife experts are calling on authorities to improve protection for the endangered animals, particularly those that live near the highway project.

A new mantis species rises from the ashes of Brazil’s National Museum by Suzana Camargo/Conexão Planeta [Thu, 12 Mar 2020]
– Researchers have described a new species of praying mantis from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, adding to the 250 known mantis species native to the country.
– The new species, Vates phoenix, belongs to a genus previously only known to occur in the Amazon.
– The researchers named it in honor of the National Museum of Brazil, which caught fire in September of 2018, leading to the destruction of 20 million items, including part of the entomological collection.
– Months earlier, the researchers had borrowed mantis specimens from that very collection to help them confirm that they indeed had a new species.

Turning the tide for an endangered crab species in the Philippines by Jen Chan [Thu, 12 Mar 2020]
– The tourism boom that swept through the province of Batanes, a group of islands at the northernmost tip of the Philippines, from 2014 has driven a decline in coconut crabs there.
– Coconut crabs are hunted by locals to serve for tourists, the majority of whom come to the province to sample the rare delicacy.
– Overharvesting of coconut crabs has become the norm in the province, even after the species was placed on the IUCN Red List and despite measures to preserve the remaining population in the wild.
– Slow to mature, coconut crabs can live up to 60 years and propagate in very specific environments.

Peruvian women unite against toxic metals pollution (commentary) by Cecilia Niezen and Gloria Alvitres [Thu, 12 Mar 2020]
– In Peru, communities in the Andes and the Amazon have come together to defend the health of people and families affected by pollution from toxic metals. To achieve this, they have formed the National Platform of People Affected by Toxic Metals, which was recently awarded Peru’s National Human Rights Prize.
– Indigenous, rural and urban women are especially affected by this daily struggle and are now determined to end the contamination affecting their bodies, their rivers, and their land. They demand that the state determine responsibility and provide immediate solutions.
– The National Platform of People Affected by Toxic Metals represents affected people from 12 regions of Peru and demands effective implementation of a national policy and plan to address human and environmental health problems caused by toxic metals. The Platform also urgently demands the creation of a high-level multisector commission that prioritizes this serious problem.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Western lowland gorillas may be territorial, a new study finds by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 12 Mar 2020]
– A new study presents evidence of territoriality among western lowland gorilla groups in the Republic of Congo.
– Camera trap images revealed that groups avoided one another and also stayed away from the central area of each other’s home ranges — evidence that the species may be more territorial than previously thought.
– An estimated 80% of western lowland gorillas live outside of protected areas, where shrinking territory due to forest loss and habitat fragmentation is a big problem.
– This new information on their territoriality, combined with their shrinking habitat, means gorillas may experience increased competition for food as well as for the limited space.



Indonesia’s Lake Poso, an evolutionary ‘gem,’ threatened by dam by Ian Morse [03/12/2020]
Brazil drastically reduces controls over suspicious Amazon timber exports by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [03/11/2020]
Two identical road trips, a year apart, highlight PNG’s infrastructure woes by Mongabay [03/09/2020]
NGOs charge Brazil’s Bolsonaro with risk of indigenous ‘genocide’ at UN by Sue Branford [03/05/2020]