Rapid deforestation of Brazilian Amazon could bring next pandemic: Experts by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [04/15/2020]

– Nearly 25,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Brazil, with 1,378 deaths as of April 15, though some experts say this is an underestimate. Those figures continue growing, even as President Jair Bolsonaro downplays the crisis, calling it “no worse than a mild flu,” and places the economy above public health.
– Scientists warn that the next emergent pandemic could originate in the Brazilian Amazon if Bolsonaro’s policies continue to drive Amazon deforestation rates ever higher. Researchers have long known that new diseases typically arise at the nexus between forest and agribusiness, mining, and other human development.
– One way deforestation leads to new disease emergence is through fire, like the Amazon blazes seen in 2019. In the aftermath of wildfires, altered habitat often offers less food, changing animal behavior, bringing foraging wildlife into contact with neighboring human communities, creating vectors for zoonotic bacteria, viruses and parasites.
– Now, Bolsonaro is pushing to open indigenous lands and conservation units to mining and agribusiness — policies which greatly benefit land grabbers. Escalating deforestation, worsened by climate change, growing drought and fire, heighten the risk of the emergence of new diseases, along with epidemics of existing ones, such as malaria.

Former U.S. envoy under scrutiny for links to sanctioned Moldovan oligarch, land baron by Jack Davies [04/14/2020]

– A former U.S. ambassador to Moldova who is employed by the country’s top commodities baron, Vaja Jhashi, has come under scrutiny for the firm’s links to a sanctioned oligarch.
– Last month, a Mongabay investigation revealed Jhashi’s firm, Trans-Oil, is allegedly over-exploiting its virtual monopoly on grain exports from the country and using offshore companies to transfer its profits overseas and avoid paying tax.
– The fugitive tycoon in question, Vladimir Plahotniuc, has reportedly been living in the United States, despite the sanctions, at a property linked to Jhashi.- A senior Trump administration official, acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, has also come under fire for working for the oligarch, raising fears he was vulnerable to blackmail.

For great apes at risk of infection, COVID-19 is also an economic threat by Heather Richardson [04/13/2020]

– With flights grounded, parks closed and countries on lockdown, COVID-19 has dealt a major blow to great ape-focused ecotourism operations in Africa and Asia.
– Many conservation activities rely directly on revenue from tourism, and the money tourism brings in also provides a financial incentive for governments and local communities to protect wildlife.
– If lockdowns persist for months, the consequences could be devastating for fragile ape populations and the communities that surround them.
– The situation has re-emphasized the need for conservation groups to diversify their fundraising strategies, experts say.

In Brazil, COVID-19 outbreak paves way for invasion of indigenous lands by Sam Cowie [04/10/2020]

– Reports of continuing land invasions, killings of indigenous leaders, and rising numbers of COVID-19 infections inside indigenous reserves has raise concerns about the increased vulnerability of indigenous communities to violence and infection by illegal extraction gangs as the pandemic rages.
– In Rondônia state, the epicenter of last year’s Amazon fires, members of the Karipuna indigenous people have submitted a complaint to the local Federal Prosecutor’s Office reporting non-indigenous people clearing forest inside their reserve, less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the village where the group lives.
– Fear of the spread of COVID-19 by non-indigenous invaders inside Brazil’s indigenous communities has grown in recent days following reports of the hospitalization and death of a Yanomami teenager.
– At least five indigenous people have been infected by the virus in Brazil so far, according to a map produced by an NGO advocating for indigenous rights, and at least two indigenous people living in cities have died after being infected.



Indonesia’s miners exploit loopholes to avoid restoring mining sites by Hans Nicholas Jong [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– Abandoned mining pits litter the landscape across Indonesia, posing both environmental and public health problems.
– Mining companies are required by law to rehabilitate their concessions after operations end, but loopholes and blind spots in the regulatory framework allow them to shirk this obligation.
– A new report by an environmental NGO identifies these loopholes and the specific ways they allow miners to get away without punishment for failing to restore their concessions.
– The problem could get worse with the impending passage of two bills in parliament that seek even further deregulation of the mining sector, including the dismantling of environmental protections.

Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 lockdown sets wildlife free but raises poaching threat by Malaka Rodrigo [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– A lockdown imposed a month ago to battle the COVID-19 pandemic has created greater freedom for wild animals in Sri Lanka’s popular national parks, generally stressed by over-visitation and unregulated feeding of wildlife.
– Park elephants thriving on food offered by visitors are now seen returning to their old diets and exploring for food more freely.
– As possibilities for poaching increase, the Department of Wildlife Conservation has enhanced its anti-poaching activities.
– Experts are urging the authorities to use the lockdown period to reset the country’s wildlife tourism practices by imposing better controls and management.

Indonesia’s new capital in the Bornean jungle on hold amid COVID-19 crisis by Basten Gokkon [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– Plans to kick off the construction of Indonesia’s new capital city in Borneo have been put on hold pending the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a top official says.
– The government had planned to begin building the infrastructure for the new city in the second half of this year, but has come under criticism for seeming to prioritize this project over its handling of the pandemic.
– Environmental experts who continue to oppose the project, citing its impact on the forests, people and wildlife of Borneo, have welcomed the news of its sidelining and say its funding should be reallocated to the COVID-19 fight.
– As of April 15, the Indonesian government has recorded 5,136 infections from the coronavirus and 469 deaths — the most of any Asian country outside China, where the outbreak began.

Study projects 30% more forest cover if wood biomass is managed right; critics call it a disaster by Lauren Crothers [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– Wood biomass is a controversial renewable fuel; the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) considers it carbon neutral, while critics say reforestation of areas takes too long to make up for carbon sink loss.
– For a recent study, researchers used a model to project forest cover if wood biomass is competitively priced and forest management is intensive.
– The result, according to the study, would be an increase of 1 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of forest by 2100, but critic says replacement tree farms are poor substitutes for existing natural forests.

Rescuing orangutans ‘doesn’t work’ for apes or forests, studies find by James Fair [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– New research suggests taking orangutans from degraded habitat and moving them to new areas is not good for the animals themselves and negatively affects forest conservation efforts.
– Orangutans have been found to survive in mixed areas of palm oil and forest and even better in selectively logged forests, scientists say.
– But NGOs argue that, in many situations, orangutans need to be moved to avoid conflict with fruit farmers, and risk being shot if they are left in situ.

In a Colombian wetland, oil woes deepen with the arrival of fracking by Mauricio Ochoa / Semana Sostenible [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– The wetlands around the Colombian city of Barrancabermeja have for a long time been battered by pollution, including from the region’s oil industry.
– Fishermen say the century of oil extraction here has failed to yield the promised social and economic dividends, while compromising local water resources.
– State oil company Ecopetrol now plans to carry out fracking in a series of pilot projects here, but many communities are skeptical that it will be done responsibly.

Land conflicts escalate with spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia by Hans Nicholas Jong [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– Companies embroiled in land disputes with rural communities in Indonesia appear to be using the lull in oversight during the COVID-19 outbreak to strengthen their claims, activists say.
– Since the first confirmed cases of the disease were reported in the country on March 2, two local land defenders have been killed and four arrested in connection with land disputes in Sumatra and Borneo.
– The national human rights commission has called on companies, including palm oil and mining firms, to cease their activities during this public health emergency.

Positive ways forward for chocolate industry tainted by deforestation and child labor (commentary) by Marianne Martinet [Wed, 15 Apr 2020]
– The world’s major chocolate companies have for years vowed to rid their supply chains of child labor and deforestation without much success.
– Marianne Martinet at the Earthworm Foundation argues that there are solutions to the issue.
– One way forward that also strengthens cocoa farmers’ resilience is agroforestry, the planting of useful trees and shrubs on, around, and among cocoa trees.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Philippine government flips local officials’ entry ban for mining ship by Mongabay.com [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– The central government in the Philippines has overturned a decision by local authorities to ban a foreign ship from docking and taking on chromite ore on the island of Homonhon.
– Local community officials had imposed the block as part of efforts to lock down the province in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The central government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, initially supported the move by suspending the export permit of miner Techiron Resources Inc., but later overturned its own decision and allowed the company to continue operations.
– The incident should push mining industries to suspend operations amid the pandemic, an anti-mining group says, as it endangers locals.

China releases list of animals to be farmed after COVID-19 by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– The Chinese government released a draft list of animals that can be farmed for meat and fur, including domesticated animals like pigs, cattle, and chickens, as well as “special livestock” like reindeer, alpacas and ostriches.
– The list also specified that dogs should be classified as companion animals, rather than livestock, which is a big victory for animal advocacy.
– The trade and consumption of wildlife animals has been banned in China since February, but experts worry the trade will continue in some capacity.

Audio: Celebrating the 50th Earth Day amidst a global pandemic by Mike Gaworecki [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we discuss what it means to be celebrating the 50th Earth Day amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
– How have Earth Day celebrations changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? How do we keep attention focused on environmental issues during such a widespread health crisis — a health crisis born of our mistreatment of the environment? How do we push back on attempts to use the crisis as cover for pushing through environmentally damaging projects and policies?
– To help answer these questions, we’re bringing two guests onto the show today. Trammell Crow is a Dallas, Texas-based businessman and the founder of EarthX, which is billed as the largest Earth Day event in the world. We also welcome to the program Ginger Cassady, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental advocacy group that targets the companies driving deforestation and the climate crisis.

For Brazilian agribusiness, leaving the Amazon forested is ‘a problem’ by Fernanda Wenzel/oeco [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– Agribusiness proponents in the Brazilian states of Rondônia, Acre and Amazonas plan to create a joint agricultural area, Amacro, inspired by the successful multi-state Matopiba region that is now the country’s grain-growing heartland.
– But studies show that the development of the Cerrado biome in Matopiba has resulted in massive deforestation — forest area 12 times the size of New York City was lost from 2013-2015 alone — and critics warn that this will be repeated in the Amazon with Amacro.
– That’s been confirmed by the project’s founder, Assuero Doca Veronez, who says “deforestation is a synonym for progress,” and that “all the areas within the legal limits will definitely be cleared.”
– Veronez also says that Acre state has “some of the best land in Brazil. But this land has one problem: it’s covered in forest.”

South American indigenous peoples close territories in response to COVID-19 by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– Last month, indigenous leaders in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador began to restrict access of non-residents to their communities.
– Also in March, Colombia confirmed the first two COVID-19 cases from among members of indigenous communities. The two individuals belong to the Yukpa tribe, a community of about 250 people in the north of Santander, on Venezuela’s border.
– An indigenous leader in Peru who tested positive for COVID-19 has been the target of attacks on social networks.
– The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) has asked the authorities to provide support to the community, which has been forced into crowded conditions and cordoned off by the police.

Indonesia won’t ‘sacrifice economy’ for more ambitious emissions cuts by Hans Nicholas Jong [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– Indonesia won’t make the deeper emissions cuts needed to stave off catastrophic climate change because it wants to pursue economic growth, officials say.
– The country is one of the world’s biggest emitters, largely through deforestation, and is on track to increase its absolute volume of emissions by 2030 while still achieving its targeted reductions as a proportion of its baseline.
– That increase will be driven mostly by coal-fired power plants, as the government looks to boost economic growth.
– Officials and experts say there’s more room for ambitious emissions cuts in Indonesia’s energy sector than in its forestry and land-use sector.

Have you ever seen a maned wolf? Candid Animal Cam Ep 7 introduces you to the fox on stilts by Mongabay.com [Tue, 14 Apr 2020]
– Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Coronavirus is a crisis for South Africa’s captive lions, campaigners warn by James Fair [Mon, 13 Apr 2020]
– Captive lions in South Africa could face starvation or euthanization as tourist revenues disappear amid the COVD-19 pandemic, according to animal welfare groups.
– Conservationists argue that the pandemic illustrates why exploitation of wildlife is risky: in the case of lions, the big cats can carry both tuberculosis and the feline equivalent of HIV.
– Industry representatives say animal rights groups have destabilized the lion-breeding business by misrepresenting it.

Using satellites to alert an Amazonian indigenous community of coca encroachment (insider) by Rhett A. Butler [Mon, 13 Apr 2020]
– In early March 2020, Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler visited the tri-border area of Peru, Colombia and Brazil and used the opportunity to explore a cluster of potential deforestation hotspots detected by Global Forest Watch’s GLAD alert system.
– According to Global Forest Watch, the patches were small and dispersed. Therefore Butler expected to find small-scale clearing for subsistence or local agriculture. But he was in for a bit of a surprise: forest within an indigenous reserve was being cleared for coca, unbeknown to the local community.
– Given the sensitivity and the potential security implications of the issue, Mongabay won’t be disclosing the name of the community or the location of the coca fields.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Amazonian leader takes indigenous pepper to the Brazilian market and teaches how to live a good life by Débora Menezes [Mon, 13 Apr 2020]
– André Baniwa is one of the oldest indigenous leaders working in the Upper Rio Negro region of the state of Amazonas. He spoke with Mongabay about school education, generation of income, indigenous people in public life and his people’s concept of “good living” based in interculturality.
– One of his victories is the large-scale production of the Jiquitaia Baniwa Pepper, used traditionally in his culture and which made it to supermarket shelves in São Paulo this year. It was the first indigenous brand to be released in Brazil.
– André Baniwa has been Vice Mayor of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, the most indigenous city in Brazil, and helped to create a community school that was recognized in 2016 as a standard for creativity and innovation by the Brazilian Ministry of Education. “To me, schooling is a weapon for battle. A way of defending yourself.”

What one of the world’s most active volcanoes tells us about missing trees by Malavika Vyawahare [Mon, 13 Apr 2020]
– Lava flows from the Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, are helping scientists study the long-term impacts of human settlement on forests on La Réunion, an island off the eastern coast of Africa.
– The disappearance of large frugivores like giant tortoises and flying foxes from the island by the end of the 18th century after humans settled permanently on the island has shaped its plant communities as well.
– A group of researchers at the University of La Réunion looked at eruptions dated between 1401 and 1956, to study how plant recovery differed following lava flows that took place before human settlement and after.
– They found that large-fruited trees faded away from the landscape after the animals that were capable of dispersing their seeds were lost because of overhunting, habitat loss and introduction of invasive species by human settlers.

As COVID-19 rages, Sri Lankans find solace in traditional practices by Malaka Rodrigo [Mon, 13 Apr 2020]
– Self-isolation measures being adopted around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are nothing new for Sri Lanka’s indigenous communities, who have over generations developed a system of quarantine against infectious diseases.
– Before the scientific discovery of bacteria and viruses, indigenous communities attributed infections and diseases to the power of evil spirits, and relied on herbal remedies and rituals seeking blessings from deities to prevent illness.
– The country’s national greeting, a variant of the clasped-palms stance practiced widely across Asia, is also now being adopted in the West as a non-contact alternative to shaking hands, hugging, and kissing on the cheek.
– Communities are being reminded of the need to align traditional practices with new scientific knowledge to fight outbreaks such as COVID-19.

Despite COVID, Amazon deforestation races higher by Rhett A. Butler [Sat, 11 Apr 2020]
– Despite the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to rise, reaching the highest level recorded since April 2008, according to official data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
– Data from INPE’s deforestation monitoring system DETER shows that forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon amounted to 327 square kilometers in March, pushing the total area of deforestation detected by the system during the past year to 9,152 sq km, the highest level for a 12-month period since May 2008 when 9,190 sq km were lost.
– The new figures come amid rising fears that illegal loggers and speculators are using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to invade indigenous lands and protected areas in Brazil.
– However the rise in Amazon deforestation predates the emergence of COVID-19. Deforestation has been trending upward in the Brazilian Amazon since 2012, but increased sharply once President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.

The frog that wasn’t there: Survey shines a light on Uganda’s amphibians by Fredrick Mugira [Sat, 11 Apr 2020]
– A field survey by herpetologists has failed to find any signs of the Mt. Elgon torrent frog in its native Uganda, raising concerns about the degradation of wetland habitats.
– There are 80 to 100 amphibian species in Uganda, but their habitats are being drained to create farmland and livestock pasture, or to build residential areas and industrial parks.
– Many of the country’s wetlands are also affected by water pollution caused by fertilizer and pesticide runoff from both large- and small-scale farming, as well as industrial effluent and sewage from growing urban centers.
– Scientists say it’s important to keep tabs on frogs and other amphibians because their presence — or absence — serves as a key indicator of ecosystem health.

Green groups target South Korea’s bailout of coal power plant builder by Basten Gokkon [Fri, 10 Apr 2020]
– Environmental groups are seeking an injunction against a 1 trillion won ($825 million) bailout by the South Korean government for Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co., a builder of coal-fired power plants.
– They say the company’s financial woes predate the COVID-19 crisis that the bailout is meant to address, and also that the rescue goes against South Korea’s climate and public health commitments.
– Eighty percent of Doosan’s revenue comes from building coal power plants, including highly polluting ones in South and Southeast Asia, where it is subject to less stringent air pollution standards than in South Korea.
– The injunction seeks to force the government to condition the bailout on Doosan transitioning away from coal and toward renewable energy technologies; but at a shareholder meeting days after the bailout decision, the company said it wanted to maximize revenue from its core business — coal — before expanding into new activities.

COVID-19 forces Sea Shepherd to suspend patrols to protect last vaquitas by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 10 Apr 2020]
– Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd has made the difficult decision to suspend its campaign to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. “We haven’t had much choice because we’re dependent upon getting fuel from the Mexican government to do the patrols, and we weren’t able to get the fuel,” Captain […].

Colombian indigenous groups rush to protect elders, leaders from COVID-19 by Taran Volckhausen [Fri, 10 Apr 2020]
– To lower the risk of COVID-19 infection, indigenous communities in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the world’s highest coastal mountain range – have decided to temporarily close off the area to outsiders until the threat subsides.
– However, sources say this means that it will be more difficult for communities to obtain basic goods and services. A crowdfunding campaign is underway to help support 2,000 families in isolation.
– The pandemic adds another layer of stress to communities that have been beset with violence and hardship for decades. A brief reprieve in 2016 when the FARC rebel group demobilized looks to be ending as locals report a heightened presence of armed groups in the Santa Marta region since late 2019.
– Indigenous leaders say the outside world should consider the COVID-19 crisis to be an opportunity for humanity to change direction and be less destructive to the surrounding world.

Reproductive woes spell need for more viable females in Sumatran rhino program by Basten Gokkon [Fri, 10 Apr 2020]
– A captive-breeding program for Sumatran rhinos should focus on trapping fertile females from the wild, scientists say in a new paper.
– The study looked at the high prevalence of reproductive diseases among captured female rhinos and determined that those in the wild were also susceptible to these conditions.
– The recommendation is markedly different from the Indonesian government’s current focus on capturing so-called doomed rhinos — those defined as living alone or in groups too small to sustain natural breeding in the wild.
– Even if more fertile females are captured, there’s no guarantee that they will go on to produce calves, according to the scientist who pioneered the captive-breeding process for the species.

80 percent of conservation careers negatively affected by COVID pandemic (commentary) by Kristi Foster [Thu, 09 Apr 2020]
– A survey of 330 conservationists and 67 conservation employers in March/April 2020 shows that nearly 80% of conservationists have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, while about nine in ten employers have been impacted.
– Despite these challenges, COVID-19 could create new opportunities to re-write our planet’s future if we heed warnings, remain optimistic, and focus our efforts as a conservation community.
– COVID-19 also shows the speed and scale of changes governments around the globe can take to tackle threats. Conservation Careers argues issues such as biodiversity loss and climate change should be taken as seriously.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Field research, interrupted: How the COVID-19 crisis is stalling science by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 09 Apr 2020]
– Travel, social and funding restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on scientific research worldwide.
– Graduate students and early-career scientists have seen their plans for field research and projects thrown into uncertainty, while science conferences on issues from climate change to conservation have been postponed.
– Researchers working with live organisms are having to make the tough decision of which ones to keep alive amid a shortage of resources.
– Long-term research projects, some going back decades, face an unprecedented break in data gathering, and there’s widespread uncertainty about how long grants and other funding sources will be available.

A tale of two Nigerian reserves underscores importance of community by Orji Sunday [Thu, 09 Apr 2020]
– Differing levels of deforestation in two neighboring forest reserves in Nigeria, Ekenwan and Gele-Gele, have highlighted the importance of a community-led conservation approach.
– The Ekenwan reserve is managed by the government, but illegal activities such as farming, logging and hunting are rampant.
– In Gele-Gele, local communities working with NGOs and funded by an oil company are in charge of ensuring sustainable forest use and wildlife protection, resulting in a much lower rate of deforestation.
– However, community leaders say they’re under-resourced to tackle incursions by outsiders, while some community members complain they haven’t seen the benefits of the conservation program.



Hanging with Romi: Get to know our camera trap expert and host of Candid Animal Cam by Erik Hoffner [04/08/2020]
Indigenous group wins unprecedented right of reply to Bolsonaro’s racist invective by Shanna Hanbury [04/07/2020]
Defining ‘development’ in the Aru Islands: Q&A with anthropologist Chris Chancellor by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [04/07/2020]
In Madagascar, revived environmental crime hotline leads to tortoise bust by Edward Carver [04/06/2020]

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