Newsletter 2020-05-21


North America’s looming salamander pandemic: Is the U.S. ready? by [05/20/2020]

– Another pandemic is currently on the march, and it’s got salamanders in its sights.
– ‘Bsal’ nearly wiped out a population of salamanders in Europe, and scientists worry it could invade the United States–the home of the world’s greatest diversity of salamanders–next.
– Mongabay revisits this issue that the team recently covered in great depth for a special new series of its podcast, to find out what we know about the situation now.
– Is the U.S. ready for Bsal, and can a pandemic in this global salamander hotspot be prevented, unlike the one that’s currently crippling human societies globally? Listen here for answers to questions like this and more.

Ecuador’s Kichwa implement innovative approach to rainforest conservation by Matthew Wilburn King [05/20/2020]

– Through a unique combination of market-based approaches to conservation and traditional agroforestry practices they are diversifying their sources of income while protecting the Amazon rainforest.
– Innovative partnerships with the Aliados Foundation and Lush Cosmetics’ Charity Pot have allowed this Kichwa community to expand their efforts.

Indigenous COVID-19 cases top 500, danger mapped in Brazil agricultural hub by Sam Cowie [05/18/2020]

– 537 COVID-19 cases and 102 deaths are being reported by 38 indigenous groups in Brazil. Most of the cases are in the remote Brazilian Amazon, where communities are located far from medical assistance. Experts, citing the vulnerability of indigenous peoples to outside disease, worry the pandemic could result in a many more deaths.
– In response to the pandemic, indigenous groups in Mato Grosso state have partnered with an NGO to produce a daily updated map monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks in urban areas near indigenous villages. The website is meant to keep indigenous people informed, and put pressure on national and international groups to respond.
– Amid the pandemic, indigenous land rights in Mato Grosso are increasingly threatened by federal and state government policy shifts that critics say would encourage and legitimize land grabbing, illegal logging and mining inside indigenous territories.
– Particularly impacted by the policy changes, should they go into effect, are isolated indigenous groups, including the Kawahiva and Piripkura peoples who roam as yet federally unrecognized indigenous reserves near the city of Colniza, Mato Grosso.

Gender-based violence shakes communities in the wake of forest loss by John C. Cannon [05/14/2020]

– Women in the province of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea say they have faced increasing domestic violence, along with issues like teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, in their communities as logging and oil palm plantations have moved in.
– Traditionally, women have been the stewards of the land and passed it down to their children, but they say they’ve felt sidelined in discussions about this type of land “development.”
– Experts say that the loss of forest for large-scale agriculture and extractive industries goes hand in hand with violence against women globally, linked with the colonial and patriarchal paradigms associated with these uses of the land.
– In Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, women are working to protect themselves, their families and their forests from these changes.



Evidence that fish flourish in a community-managed marine area offers hope by Malavika Vyawahare [Thu, 21 May 2020]
– New research from Madagascar offers a glimmer of hope that locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), an alternative to conventional government-managed marine protected areas (MPAs), could help secure the richness of the seas.
– A study done in-house by Blue Ventures, a nonprofit that co-manages the Velondriake LMMA with local communities, found that the fish biomass was almost two times more in no-take zones than sites where fishing was allowed after six years.
– However, fish targeted by fishers did not increase in amount, which some experts point out would indicate that the LMMA is actually not effective.
– Study authors say local communities are able to enforce restrictions because they feel a sense of ownership, which is essential for a conservation project in poorer countries to succeed.

Community forest enterprises provide win for forests and people: Study by Thelma Gómez Durán [Thu, 21 May 2020]
– A new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) looked at community natural resource management in Mexico, Guatemala, Nepal and Namibia.
– The research highlights the importance of government recognition of communities’ rights to manage natural resources and promoting investment in these initiatives.
– The communities still struggle to obtain sustained government support in some cases, and rights to consultation are often sidelined in favor of large infrastructure projects.

As their land claim stalls, Brazil’s Munduruku face pressure from soybean farms by Caio de Freitas Paes [Thu, 21 May 2020]
– Indigenous Munduruku communities in Brazil’s Pará state have seen their crops die as agribusiness expands in the area, with soybean farmers spraying pesticides less than 10 meters (33 feet) from villages.
– The streams used by the Munduruku have also been damaged, if not dried up, and even the artesian wells the communities are digging to survive appear to be contaminated.
– Aside from pesticides, soybean farming has also brought fraudulent requests for land appropriation and violence against indigenous people.
– The Munduruku have for the past 12 years tried to get their land demarcated as an indigenous reserve, but the process has stalled under the Bolsonaro administration.

Calls for end to business with paper giant APP over Sumatra land disputes by Hans Nicholas Jong [Thu, 21 May 2020]
– A coalition of 90 NGOs has published an open letter urging investors and buyers to stop doing business with Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest paper producers, in light of its ongoing disputes with communities in Sumatra.
– The letter was precipitated specifically by allegations that an APP subsidiary used a drone to spray herbicide on farms belonging to a community with which it’s locked in a land dispute.
– APP has denied wrongdoing in the incident, but activists say the move is just the latest in a campaign of intimidation mounted by the company.
– Another APP affiliate is involved in a similar dispute in another part of Sumatra, which led to the recent jailing of an indigenous farmer for planting food crops on land claimed by both parties.

Kafka in the Amazon: Volunteer forest fire fighter charged with arson still in limbo by Peter Speetjens [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– Alter do Châo, a small resort town within Santarém municipality in Pará state, welcomed some 200,000 tourists last year, causing real estate prices to soar, and putting increasing pressure on the Amazon resort’s surrounding forests.
– Following the 2019 Amazon wildfire season, Brazilian police arrested four volunteer firefighters, accusing them of arson in the Alter do Châo Reserve. The firefighters allegedly set the fires to receive money from international environmental groups, according to the authorities. But no evidence has been presented as yet.
– The investigation has dragged on for months, with one suspect still under house arrest. However, many locals believe land speculators and/or land thieves are far more likely to be responsible for last year’s blazes.
– The fear expressed by many in Alter do Châo, is that lawlessness is becoming sanctioned in Amazonia due to the failure of the Bolsonaro government to prosecute socio-environmental crimes. Meanwhile, the volunteer fire brigade members continue awaiting the slow turning of Brazil’s wheels of justice.

Projeto Harpia: Saving the Amazon’s largest raptor for more than 20 years by Suzana Camargo/Conexão Planeta [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– Created in 1997, Projeto Harpia has surveyed 120 harpy eagle nests in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon, but also in the Pantanal and the Atlantic Forest.
– Projeto Harpia also carries out environmental education, raising awareness in the surrounding communities and collecting scientific data, and emphasizes the importance of engaging local and indigenous communities for both nest spotting and conservation.
– There are an estimated 5,000 harpy eagles in the Amazon and 300 in the Atlantic Forest, with deforestation the main threat to their survival.
– Like all predators at the top of the food chain, the species is vital in maintaining the balance of its ecosystem.

Historic agreement gives monarch butterflies the ‘right-of-way’ by Liz Kimbrough [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– More than 45 transportation and energy companies, as well as dozens of private landowners, have agreed to create or maintain monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) habitat along “rights-of-way” corridors across the United States.
– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have signed a historic agreement that allows participant landholders to dedicate some portion of their lands to monarch conservation management.
– In the agreement, the USFWS provides assurance that the participant landowners will not be required to take additional conservation measures on their total enrolled lands (including land outside of the dedicated conservation areas) if the monarch butterfly later becomes listed as an endangered species.
– The USFWS is set to decide in December 2020 if the monarch butterfly will be classified as a federally endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

Indonesia may bar citizens from working on foreign fishing boats after spate of deaths by Basten Gokkon [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– Indonesia may issue a ban next month preventing its citizens from working on board foreign fishing vessels, citing lack of protection of their rights and safety abroad.
– The announcement comes as the foreign ministry says it is looking into a new report that a Chinese-flagged boat dumped the body of a dead Indonesian crew member into the waters off Somalia on Jan. 16.
– Earlier this month, three other Chinese vessels were exposed for dumping the bodies of three Indonesian workers into the sea after they died on board amid reports of inhumane working conditions.
– The planned moratorium would last six months, with the government looking to use that time to improve the recruitment and placement process for migrant fishermen.

China offers buyouts to wildlife farmers in response to pandemic by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– Wildlife farmers in several Chinese provinces, including Hunan and Jiangxi, are being offered a government buyout for at least 14 species, including bamboo rats, palm civets and ratsnakes.
– The Chinese government will also help farmers transition to other agricultural practices, such as growing vegetables, fruits and herbs for Chinese medicine, or to start farming domesticated animals like pigs and chickens.
– Farmers will no longer be able to breed and raise certain wild animals for consumption, but they may be able to farm them for traditional Chinese medicine, fur, and entertainment purposes.
– Conservationists see this buyout as an important step in China’s move to phase out wildlife consumption following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From crisis to solutions for communities and African conservation (commentary) by Dickson Kaelo; Daniel Sopia; Damian Bell; Richard Diggle and Fred Nelson [Wed, 20 May 2020]
– The COVID-19 pandemic has created a profound crisis for conservation efforts in eastern and southern Africa as a result of the sudden cessation of all international travel in a region where nature-based tourism and conservation are closely interdependent.
– Conservation leaders Dickson Kaelo, Daniel Sopia, Damian Bell, Richard Diggle, and Fred Nelson argue that the way that conservationists respond to both the near-term crisis and the longer term implications of the unfolding pandemic will be pivotal for the future of Africa’s wildlife.
– The crisis, they write, is also an opportunity to question inherited assumptions, refine existing models, and improve conservation practices.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Tech made to find galaxies sets its sights on wildfires by Rachael Meyer [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– Satellite technology used to hunt the night skies for exploding supernovae will be turning inwards to search for wildfires on earth.
– A geosynchronous satellite can compare large areas of land with previous images to detect minuscule changes in light that might signal a new fire, moments after its ignition.
– The full project utilizes multiple layers of technology to improve early detection, response, and monitoring of wildfires. Cameras, drones, air tankers, low earth orbit satellites, and geosynchronous satellites make up the entire system, called FUEGO.
– A wildfire detection company, Fireball International, is aiming to bring the FUEGO system to Australia as soon as possible to help reduce the chances of another destructive bushfire season.

Siberia experiences hottest spring on record, fueling wildfires by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– In April, many parts of Asia, including Siberia, experienced record heat, which led to wildfires in Russia’s northernmost region.
– Experts are concerned about the early start of the fire season in Siberia, especially after the mass devastation caused by the 2019 Siberian wildfires.
– The fires, which are likely fueled by climate change, could release more carbon dioxide into the air, which generates further warming, experts say.
– The more immediate threat is the health risk that the smoke from the fires pose to people, particularly when combined with the COVID-19 pandemic.

How a changing climate threatens Sri Lanka’s dragonflies and damselflies (commentary) by Amila Prasanna Sumanapala [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– The rate of global warming has made thousands of species highly vulnerable, and in Sri Lanka, among the most vulnerable are the odonates: dragonflies and damselflies.
– Increasingly unfavorable climate conditions mean that in their short life span of just a few weeks, they stand a lower chance of successful reproduction and higher odds of mortality, research has shown.
– A 2017 preliminary study in Sri Lanka using climate modeling of current and predicted climate data shows how the distribution ranges of threatened and endemic odonates will shrink by 2050, leading to local or even global extinctions.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

For Indonesia’s captive wildlife, lockdown measures may prove deadly by Basten Gokkon [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– Zoos have been shuttered and wildlife rehabilitation centers barred from releasing animals into the wild as a result of measures imposed in Indonesia to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Without revenue from visitor fees, zoos in the country, long notorious for the egregious conditions in which they keep the animals, are looking at the possibility of killing some of their animals to feed the others.
– Wildlife rehab centers, which mostly care for orangutans and other apes, have been ordered to keep taking in rescued animals but not to release them for fear of spreading the virus to wild populations.
– This has raised concerns about overcrowding at rescue centers, many of which are also under financial pressure as donations decline.

Land scarcity and disease threaten a multifaceted indigenous crop in Ethiopia by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– Although varieties of the plant are found in many sub-Saharan countries, only in Ethiopia has it been domesticated.
– Land scarcity means farmers are turning to growing more lucrative cash crops, such as the stimulant khat or maize, with the number of enset farms declining in recent decades.
– The plant is also threatened by blight, leading researchers to develop a genetically modified variety that’s now being tested — amid controversy — for disease resistance.

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund drops major Brazil miner, utility from its portfolio by Ashoka Mukpo [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has put Brazilian mining titan Vale and the utility giant Eletrobras on its exclusion list.
– The decision is a major blow to the two companies and a signal that European investors are taking a hard line against Brazil’s backsliding on environmental protections.
– Vale was excluded for “serious environmental damage” and Eletrobras for contributing to “serious or systematic human rights violations.”

For Freedom the gorilla, a months-long journey back to the wilds of Cameroon by Tina Deines [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– In August 2019, a lone male gorilla wandered into a primate sanctuary in Cameroon, likely in search of a mate.
– Because the sanctuary is in a heavily populated area, Ape Action Africa, which operates the Mefou Park, felt an immediate release would not be safe for the gorilla or the surrounding communities.
– After a painstaking search for a suitable release site, the ape, named Freedom, became the first rescued gorilla to be returned to the wild in Cameroon.

In Indonesia’s new rice plan, experts see the blueprint of an epic past failure by Hans Nicholas Jong [Tue, 19 May 2020]
– The Indonesian government plans to establish 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of rice fields in the peatlands of Borneo, in what experts say is a worrying repeat of a near-identical project in the 1990s that failed.
– The earlier mega rice project (MRP) resulted in vast swaths of peat forests being drained and eventually abandoned as it became clear that the soil wasn’t suited for growing rice.
– The MRP left behind a wasteland of drained and degraded peat that has since burned during the annual dry season, spewing out a choking haze and large volumes of carbon emissions.
– The government says the new rice project will learn from past mistakes, but experts say it would still be unfeasible at that scale and would risk the clearing of even more peat forests.

What is a jaguarundi? Candid Animal Cam is back with the wild cats of the Amazon by [Tue, 19 May 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.

A Philippine island locked down, but its mine didn’t — and infections mounted by Jun N. Aguirre [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Activists, clergy and politicians have demanded an investigation into the continued coal-mining activity on the Philippine island of Semirara while the region was supposed to be under strict quarantine.
– The first case on the island, and in the province of Antique, came from mine operator SMPC’s hospital and was confirmed on April 7; as of May 12, there are nine cases believed to have come from Semirara.
– Between the first case and May 15, when Semirara was under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and mining activity was therefore not permitted, SMPC reportedly continued operating, including loading a foreign vessel with coal for export.
– The company says it acted in accordance with the government’s COVID-19 protocols and in coordination with the relevant agencies.

It’s time to implement solutions that make the bushmeat trade unnecessary (commentary) by Cate Twining-Ward, Colin A. Chapman [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Since the coronavirus emerged, there has been public outcry demanding the closure of wildlife markets that seem likely to have caused the global health crisis.
– So far, though, the highly destructive and ongoing mass trade of wildlife by bushmeat hunters in rural communities has stayed largely outside of the debate.
– There is an opportunity now to address the health and environmental issues the bushmeat trade presents, and to put forward solutions that will relegate it to the history file.
– This article is a commentary and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mongabay.

Economists put a price tag on living whales in Brazil: $82 billion by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Last year, a team of four economists published a report suggesting that living whales have a high market value for the services they provide in terms of ecotourism, carbon sequestration, and fishery enhancement. Each whale is worth about $2 million USD, they estimated.
– The economists, in collaboration with two conservation organizations, Instituto Baleia Jubarte and the Great Whale Conservancy, estimated that Brazil’s whale population is worth $82 billion.
– The team says it hopes the notion of valuing whales in Brazil, as well as in other coastal nations, can help protect whales from common fatalities like ship strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and deliberate hunting.

Amazon fires may be worse in 2020 as deforestation and land grabbing spikes by Caio de Freitas Paes [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Nearly 800 square kilometers of forest were cut down during the first three months of this year — 51% more than during the same period in 2019. Those who cleared the rainforest will need to burn the downed trees during the upcoming dry season in order to make way for cattle pastures and croplands.
– A third of the devastation occurred on public lands, which are the preferred target for land grabbers. Recent firings at IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and a loosening of regulations for wood exports have paved the way for even more illegal public land thefts this year.
– After one of the driest rainy seasons in recent years, the soil in Amazonia is drier and the temperatures higher than normal — perfect conditions for fires to spread easily.
– More fires, should they occur in August and September of this year, could be problematic for the hard-pressed public healthcare system, as airborne soot adds to increased hospitalizations for respiratory complications. This scenario is especially worrisome as Amazonia’s health system is in collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In South Korea, centuries of farming point to the future for sustainable agriculture by Latoya Abulu [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Agriculture in South Korea is a blend of centuries-old traditions and contemporary techniques adapted to a variety of environmental conditions, making it a model to adopt in the effort to future-proof food production against climate change.
– With its emphasis on making the most of local conditions, prioritizing native crops, maximizing the use of organic inputs while minimizing waste, South Korea offers templates for nature-based solutions.
– State and local support of farmer’s livelihoods, revitalizing rural areas and incentivizing youth to enter farming are also ongoing efforts to help guarantee the generational sustainability of agriculture.

Indonesian miners eyeing EV nickel boom seek to dump waste into the sea by Ian Morse [Mon, 18 May 2020]
– Nickel-mining companies in Indonesia have pitched the government to allow them to dump their waste, or tailings, into the sea.
– The country is the world’s biggest producer of nickel, one of the key elements in the rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and energy storage systems.
– Indonesia already has a copper and gold mine that practices deep-sea tailings disposal, or DSTD, with devastating impacts on the local ecosystem, activists say.
– Indonesia and neighboring Papua New Guinea are home to four of the 16 mines around the world that practice DSTD, but account for 91% of the estimated 227 million tons of tailings dumped into the ocean.

Disaster interrupted: How you can help save the insects by Liz Kimbrough [Fri, 15 May 2020]
– In a new paper, a group of 30 scientists offers suggestions for industry, land managers, governments and individuals to protect insects in the face of a global decline.
– Noting that invertebrates lack the “charisma” of larger species like pandas and elephants, the scientists call for spreading “the message that appreciation and conservation of insects is now essential for our future survival.”
– They suggest a list of actions that individuals can take to help, including planting native plants, going organic and avoiding pesticides, and reducing carbon footprint.
– “As insects are braided into ecosystems, their plight is essentially integrated with more expansive movements such as global biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and in an alliance with them,” the scientists say.

Legendary entomologist Terry Erwin passes away at age 79 by Liz Kimbrough [Fri, 15 May 2020]
– The famed entomologist Terry L. Erwin died on May 11, 2020, at the age of 79.
– Erwin was a prolific scholar and is perhaps best known for his estimate of the number of species on the planet.
– At the time of his death, Erwin was serving as a researcher as well as the curator of the Coleoptera beetle collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
– Erwin is remembered by those who knew him as a passionate scientist with “a wonderfully generous spirit.”

A Philippine village on lockdown delivers nearly 300 turtle hatchlings to sea by Erwin M. Mascariñas [Fri, 15 May 2020]
– A village in the southern Philippines known as a nesting haven for critically endangered hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) has managed to protect and oversee the successful hatching of hundreds of eggs amid a community lockdown.
– The community released 299 hatchlings into the sea in the first two weeks of May and anticipate another 100 to be hatched before the end of the month, making it their most successful month in recent years.
– It’s a welcome resurgence for the town of Magsaysay, where the number of hatchlings has decreased significantly over the past few years, in part due to rising sea levels causing the eggs buried on the beach to spoil.
– The town has been under lockdown, known locally as a community quarantine, since March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid lockdown, Sri Lankans nurture their own oases through home gardening by Malaka Rodrigo [Fri, 15 May 2020]
– Home gardening has boomed in Sri Lanka as residents under lockdown look to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables.
– The government, which has championed home gardening in the past, launched a program to support a million home gardens by issuing 2 million seed packs and offering technical advice to the public to undertake home gardening.
– With the country now easing out of lockdown, the government says it will take some prodding to keep people interested in home gardening, including by emphasizing the benefits of growing food at home instead of importing it from abroad.
– While the main benefit of home gardens is to ensure people are food secure at the individual and family level, gardening is also a useful stress buster that supports outdoor family time.

As COVID-19 pandemic deepens, global wildlife treaty faces an identity crisis by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 15 May 2020]
– The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a global environmental agreement of great consequence: it regulates the global trade in some of the most threatened species on Earth.
– While many conservation groups jumped at the chance the COVID-19 pandemic offered to highlight the link between pandemics and wildlife exploitation, the CITES Secretariat appeared to distance itself from the crisis, drawing criticism and scrutiny.
– The treaty, one of the few binding environmental conventions, should be part of the solution, many believe, but it would need to expanded and strengthened to respond to new challenges like COVID-19.
– Doing this and tackling larger issues of biodiversity and habitat loss would require leadership from the countries that are party to this and similar conventions, experts say.



Audio: What can we expect from tropical fire season 2020? by Mike Gaworecki [05/13/2020]
‘They never intended to conserve it’: Outcry as loggers gut Cambodian reserve by Andrew Nachemson [05/13/2020]
Cambodian firm accused of creating a ‘monopoly in the timber business’ by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [05/13/2020]
In Colombia’s La Guajira, the native Wayuu are forgotten in the dust by Nicolo Filippo Rosso [05/13/2020]
Yehimi Fajardo: A voice for the birds of Putumayo by Nicolas Bustamante Hernandez [05/11/2020]
Brazil opens 38,000 square miles of indigenous lands to outsiders by Mauricio Torres and Sue Branford [05/08/2020]
‘It was like a church’: Ecuador’s Kichwa community mourns death of sacred tree by Johnny Magdaleno [05/08/2020]