Newsletter 2020-06-04


Loss, resilience and community amid an outbreak: Q&A with gorilla researcher Magdalena Bermejo by Heather Richardson [06/04/2020]

– Magdalena Bermejo, a prominent expert on western lowland gorillas, experienced the loss of thousands of the great apes to Ebola, including two groups she and her team were studying and had worked to habituate.
– Having remained in the Republic of Congo, Bermejo is now facing the arrival of a new epidemic that could potentially spread between humans and gorillas.
– In this interview, Bermejo discusses her ongoing work in the Congo, the importance of working with communities, parallels between Ebola and COVID-19, and how researchers can find the strength to persevere and rebuild in the aftermath of catastrophe.

Better wines among the pines: Agroforestry can climate-proof grapes, French researchers show by Erik Hoffner [06/03/2020]

– Climate change is affecting the growth of grapes used in winemaking worldwide, causing them to ripen too soon which changes the quality and character of the product; but new research in the global home of wine suggests that trees can help growers adapt.
– In southern France, long trellises of wine grapes are being grown among rows of trees that provide shading and other microclimate benefits that cause the grapes to ripen weeks later than in surrounding areas, leading to higher-quality wine.
– This agroforestry system, where crops are grown among woody perennials like trees, appears to have additional benefits in vineyards including increased tolerance of vines to heat and frost, and harboring populations of beneficial insects.
– Agroforestry also sequesters large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and is therefore recognized as a top solution to countering the effects of climate change.

Amazon deforestation gig economy booms despite COVID-19 (Photo Essay) by Fabio Nascimento (photos) and Gustavo Faleiros (text) [06/03/2020]

– Illegal deforestation has become an omnipresent part of economic activity in the Brazilian Amazon. Mongabay went to Rondônia state to meet some of the loggers who benefit from the dodgy market, then traces the path of logs going to “informal” sawmills, moved by river to ports, maybe to become decking in the U.S. or EU.
– Some experts hoped that COVID-19 would slow Amazon deforestation, but early indications are that the reverse is happening. From January to April 2020, the rate of Amazon deforestation alerts rose sharply by 55%. Deforestation is linked closely with fires, so a challenging fire season is expected this year.
– In this exclusive two part story and photo essay, we first follow the activities of Amazon loggers seeking highly-valued woods, and then trace the actions of miners scratching out a meager living seeking gold in the rivers of Rondônia state.

New data show world lost a Switzerland-size area of primary rainforest in 2019 by Morgan Erickson-Davis [06/02/2020]

– Last year the world lost around 119,000 square kilometers (45,946 square miles) of tree cover, according to satellite data collated by the University of Maryland (UMD) released today by World Resources Institute (WRI). Almost a third of that loss came from primary humid tropical forests.
– Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia took the top three spots in terms of absolute primary forest loss, followed by Bolivia, Peru and Malaysia. The data also show some success stories, with deforestation trending down in several countries, including Colombia, Madagascar, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
– In order to stop deforestation, researchers say emphasis must be placed on changing the incentives driving forest loss on a domestic, local level.
– Researchers are also worried about how the COVID-19 crisis could affect forests in 2020.

Communities on Brazil’s ‘River of Unity’ tested by dams, climate change by Sarah Sax [06/02/2020]

– The Pixaim Quilombo is one of many traditional communities made up mostly of Afro-Brazilian descendants of runaway slaves. It sits at the mouth of the São Francisco River, one of Brazil’s most important waterways.
– Once a thriving community, it has been struggling for decades due to the impacts of upriver dams which reduce the river’s flow and alter aquatic migrations. As a result, one of the community’s two chief livelihoods has been sharply curtailed — the river’s fishery is in steep decline.
– Now, climate change threatens to make those struggles even greater, further changing fish populations, reducing river flow even more, and dangerously elevating the salinity of the stream as seawater intrudes. Rice, which once provided Paixim’s second major livelihood, can no longer be grown in the delta’s saltier marshes.
– Pixaim is seeing a major outmigration as subsistence livelihoods becomes more difficult. Residents there count among 18 million people residing in the São Francisco River watershed, impacted by a steadily dwindling water resource.

Marijuana cultivation whittling away Madagascar’s largest connected forest by Edward Carver [05/29/2020]

– Northern Madagascar contains the largest block of connected forest left in the country.
– Tsaratanana Reserve is supposed to protect a large portion of this forest. However, satellite data and imagery show Tsaratanana is being cleared at a rapid rate.
– Local officials say slash-and-burn agriculture for marijuana cultivation is to blame. The Madagascar National Parks agency helped organize military deployments to the Tsaratanana area in 2014 and 2017, and is planning another intervention this year.
– Scientists say that if this deforestation continues, it will fragment the reserve’s well-connected forests and threaten the animals that live there — many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Taylor and Tate: Canine-human teams rescue Australia’s fire-ravaged koalas by Laurel Neme [05/28/2020]

– Specially-trained koala detection dogs joined rescue teams during and after the catastrophic Australian bushfires to help find the injured marsupials quickly and increase their chance of survival.
– Koalas had a hard time escaping the fires. Because they are slow moving and their first instinct is to climb into the canopy, curl into a ball, and wait, they were often killed or injured by the incredibly intense bushfires.
– Koalas numbers had already dropped significantly in New South Wales due to habitat loss, climate change, drought and disease. The fires exacerbated what was already a precarious situation.
– Eventually, surviving koalas will be released back into the wild, but it will take great care due to their specialized diets, need for social cohorts, and time required to recover from their burns.




After a century of mistaken identity, a Balinese gecko gets its own name by Fransisca N. Tirtaningtyas, Rahmadi Rahmad [Thu, 04 Jun 2020]
– A group of researchers has described as a new species a gecko endemic to the Indonesian island of Bali.
– Cyrtodactylus jatnai was for nearly a century thought to be Cyrtodactylus fumosus, a species found almost a thousand miles away in Sulawesi Island.
– In their newly published paper, the researchers identify distinctive physical characteristics that make the Bali species unique in its own right.
– They named the species in honor of Bali-born ecologist Jatna Supriatna, hailed by Conservation International as “the conservation warrior of Indonesia.”

Think you’ve seen a mermaid? This Sri Lankan scientist sets the record straight by Malaka Rodrigo [Thu, 04 Jun 2020]
– Sri Lankan herpetologist Ruchira Somaweera has launched a YouTube series where he aims to debunk myths about nature and wildlife that continue to hold sway in the Indian Ocean island.
– From his home in Australia, Somaweera hosts virtual discussions with fellow scientists in Sri Lanka, each an expert in their respective field, to tackle the myths in easy-to-understand language.
– He tells Mongabay he has long wanted to do something like this but was too busy for it, until the COVID-19 lockdown gave him the time and opportunity to finally get the project off the ground.
– Among the most misunderstood groups of animals in Sri Lanka are snakes, many of which are falsely believed to be venomous or aggressive, and as a result are often killed on sight.

Audio: Why are salamanders so diverse in North America? by [Wed, 03 Jun 2020]
– Another pandemic is currently on the march, and it’s got salamanders in its sights.
– The United States is home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamanders: we speak with Senior Editor Morgan Erickson-Davis about why this is, and therefore what we stand to lose.
– The disease ‘Bsal’ nearly wiped out a population of salamanders in Europe, and scientists worry it could make landfall in the U.S. via the pet trade.
– Listen here to episode two of our special edition podcast series exploring this topic.

Wildlife conservation needs a post-COVID recovery plan (commentary) by Razan Al Mubarak [Wed, 03 Jun 2020]
– Despite news stories about nature benefiting from the COVID-19 crisis, one funder of conservation projects worldwide is skeptical that there really are significant improvements in the status of wildlife.
– Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund recently surveyed its grantees and 67% said the pandemic negatively affected their organization, and 40% said it negatively affected their job or career.
– Conservationists are nature’s first responders, security detail, and scientists searching for a cure to the extinction crisis, but most are not afield now due to the pandemic. Support for their work needs heavy stimulus as soon as possible to recover ground lost so far this year.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Does Lucius Fox know? Tiny tech tracks bats (and more) by Liz Kimbrough [Wed, 03 Jun 2020]
– Small, social, fast-moving animals like bats are notoriously difficult to study. Where do they go? Who do they spend time with? Now, scientists have a new tool to answer questions like these: an ultra-light tracking device that fits like a tiny backpack.
– The newly developed wireless biologging network (WBN) device, described in PLOS Biology, is designed […].

Indonesian court jails indigenous farmer in conflict with paper giant APP by Hans Nicholas Jong [Tue, 02 Jun 2020]
– A member of an indigenous community mired in a long-standing land conflict with a subsidiary of paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has been sentenced to a year in prison.
– A court in Indonesia found Bongku, a farmer, guilty of cutting down 20 acacia and eucalyptus trees planted by the company in Sumatra’s Riau province.
– Activists have condemned the verdict, saying the charges didn’t fit the alleged crime and should have been thrown out.
– The case is the latest in a long-running spat between the company and the Sakai indigenous community, who occupied the land decades before the company obtained a permit for its plantation there.

Bornean farmers and fishers brace as a new port opens in their midst by Aseanty Pahlevi [Tue, 02 Jun 2020]
– Suma Ruslian is one of many Indonesian farmers in western Borneo bracing for a major impact to his livelihood from a port project and special economic zone slated to open later this year.
– The port of Kijing is being touted by the government as the biggest in West Kalimantan province, with a strategic location between the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, two of the world’s busiest waterways.
– Locals in the area who depend on farming and fishing say they worry about the impacts from increasing ship traffic and land-use change for industry.
– Suma and experts are calling on the government to provide long-term support for the farmers and fishermen in adapting to the changes.

What is a sambar deer? Candid Animal Cam meets the vulnerable deer by [Tue, 02 Jun 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.

New to science, Tanzania’s Manyara monkey is already threatened by human activity by Ed Holt [Mon, 01 Jun 2020]
– Researchers have identified a new-to-science subspecies of diademed monkey in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara region.
– Much of the animal’s known range falls inside protected areas including Lake Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but researchers assess it as endangered.
– The Manyara monkey (Cercopithecus mitis manyaraensis) faces the same human-driven threats as other primates in Tanzania, including the degradation, loss and fragmentation of their forest habitat; poaching; loss of wildlife corridors; fires; invasion of exotic plants; and climate change.
– Researchers say it’s important to catalog the region’s various animal and plant species to conserve them against these threats, and that recognizing the Manyara monkey as endangered will likely draw more attention and research to the subspecies.

Brazil’s native bees are vital for agriculture, but are being killed by it by Sibélia Zanon [Mon, 01 Jun 2020]
– Native Brazilian bees provide several environmental services, the most important being pollination of plants, including agricultural crops.
– Stingless beekeeping also helps to keep the forest standing, as honey farmers tend to preserve the environment and restore areas used in their activity.
– But food production based on monoculture and heavy on pesticide use is threatening native bee populations.
– The western honey bee (Apis mellifera), an imported species, dominates Brazil’s beekeeping and its research into the harmful effects of pesticides; but studies show that pesticides affect stingless bees more intensely.

Offensive against the Amazon: An incontrollable pandemic (commentary) by Marcos Colón; Luís de Camões Lima Boaventura; and Erik Jennings [Mon, 01 Jun 2020]
– The acceleration of Amazonian deforestation and environmental degradation — powered by the Bolsonaro government’s successive blows to environmental protection policies — is directly related to the precarious state of public healthcare in the region, amplifying the lethality of diseases like Covid-19.
– This commentary is being published at a time when Brazil is suffering from the worst deforestation in a decade, and is second only to the United States in the number of Covid-19 cases (515,000 in Brazil today) and fourth in the world regarding the number of Coronavirus deaths (topping 29,000).
– The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

How coffee growers can adapt to a precipitous industry: Q&A with Dean’s Beans founder Dean Cycon by Justin Catanoso [Mon, 01 Jun 2020]
– Climate change is making traditional coffee-growing areas in the tropics less suitable for the crop, forcing farmers to look for new land at higher elevations and higher latitudes.
– Scientists are trying to tackle the problem by developing climate-resistant coffee plants, but solutions already exist from arid regions in Africa that can be adapted by farmers in Latin America.
– “This is something the scientific community is completely ignoring,” says Dean Cycon, founder of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee and a longtime advocate of social justice for the millions of coffee farmers in the global south.
– In an interview with Mongabay, Cycon offers his unique insights into one of the world’s favorite beverages, the challenges of climate change, the plight of tropical farmers, and the solutions he sees as still within reach.

In Sri Lanka, bushmeat poachers haven’t let up during lockdown by Malaka Rodrigo [Sat, 30 May 2020]
– The killing of a 25-year-old ranger by poachers during Sri Lanka’s lockdown period has prompted calls for greater efforts to tackle the illegal bushmeat trade.
– Demand for bushmeat traditionally comes from domestic tourists visiting areas near national parks and reserves, but this market dried up with the lockdown.
– Since then, demand has been driven largely by local communities, and has persisted even as authorities ramp up the number of patrols with a limited number of rangers.
– The recent killing has prompted calls for the armed forces to be deployed in anti-poaching efforts, while others have called for the demand side of the bushmeat trade to also be addressed.

They survived centuries of elephant onslaught. Now climate change is killing these iconic baobabs by Tristen Taylor and Nathalie Bertrams [Fri, 29 May 2020]
– A years-long drought across Southern Africa, exacerbated by climate change and over-use of water by industry, has driven elephants into South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park.
– Here, they tear into the park’s centuries-old babobab trees to get at the moist interior.
– While the babobabs have evolved to tolerate occasional elephant damage and benefit from elephants eating their fruit and dispersing the seeds, the damage done during times of drought is extensive and often deadly for the trees.
– The elephants, for their part, no longer have room to maneuver: they’re trapped between climate change, habitat destruction and poaching.

Prized as pets, are ball pythons being traded out of wild existence? by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 29 May 2020]
– The ball python is the most commonly traded African species under CITES, with more than 3 million of these reptiles exported since 1975, mainly from Togo, Ghana and Benin.
– Listed under CITES Appendix II, ball pythons can be legally traded, but exporters require special permits and need to meet certain welfare requirements.
– Some experts say that wild ball python populations are in rapid decline, and that the trade needs to be better regulated or completely stopped; others say that ball pythons are not currently threatened, and that the trade can be maintained with the proper management and captive breeding programs.
– There is a growing body of evidence purporting that reptiles are sentient beings capable of emotions, and animal welfare advocates believe this is more reason to stop the trade.

Indonesia to receive $56m payment from Norway for reducing deforestation by Hans Nicholas Jong [Fri, 29 May 2020]
– Indonesia is set to receive $56 million from Norway as the result of the Southeast Asian country’s efforts to preserve its vast tropical rainforests to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
– The payment is for Indonesia preventing the emission of 11.23 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) through reducing its rate of deforestation in 2017.
– Indonesia will be the latest country to receive a results-based payment from Norway, a decade after Norway pledged to disburse $1 billion for Indonesia’s emission reduction from deforestation and forest degradation.
– Both countries have agreed to continue their partnership after the initial agreement expires this year.

Poaching in Indonesia’s biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem on the rise amid COVID-19 by Junaidi Hanafiah [Thu, 28 May 2020]
– Poaching is on the rise in the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, the last place on Earth that’s home to rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants.
– Conservationists say the illegal hunting appears to be by locals targeting wildlife for food, and not for the trade in animal parts or pets that typically target the more exotic species.
– They attribute the increase to economic hardship faced by local communities amid shutdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The pandemic response has also halted patrols in Leuser, with ranger teams unable to mobilize as normal.

Mug shots and public pics join the dots of whale sharks’ Southeast Asian trips by [Thu, 28 May 2020]
– A study blending old and new techniques has recorded young whale sharks returning to the same spot in the Philippines after visiting Malaysia and Indonesia.
– Scientists recorded the second-biggest aggregation of whale sharks in the Philippines in Honda Bay in the province of Palawan.
– Compared to other whale shark groups in the Philippines, the one in Honda Bay is made up mostly of juvenile males that feed on small fish and krill.
– The discovery underscores the need for stronger collaboration between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, all part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape Project under the Coral Triangle Initiative.

When the world’s rarest primate couples up, it’s a win for the species by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Thu, 28 May 2020]
– The Hainan gibbon, the rarest primate in the world, nearly went extinct in the 1970s, but the species is slowly rebounding, with a population of about 30 individuals in Hainan, an island off southern China.
– Conservationists recently discovered that a male and female formed a new “family” unit that’s living outside the species’ current range in the Hainan Bawangling National Nature Reserve, with a baby potentially due later this year.
– The species’ recovery is attributed to conservation efforts, which have included local monitoring teams, a tree-planting program, and community education.
– One of the biggest concerns over the Hainan gibbon is lack of genetic diversity, given the small gene pool, which can lead to poor health and fertility problems.

Harrowing video shows indigenous Colombians fleeing gunfire by Ashoka Mukpo [Thu, 28 May 2020]
– While Colombia went into national lockdown on March 25, fighting between armed paramilitary groups in the northwest has continued unabated.
– A video shared with Mongabay by If Not Us Then Who? shows indigenous Emberá running from fighting in their town.
– The incident follows a series of murders and displacements of indigenous people in northwest Colombia since the pandemic began.



In the Ecuadoran Andes, protectors of the páramos guard their water source by Sandra Weiss [05/27/2020]
Contentious Guatemala nickel mine ‘ignores coronavirus lockdown’ by Anna-Catherine Brigida [05/27/2020]
A new sanctuary for the Sumatran rhino is delayed amid COVID-19 measures by Junaidi Hanafiah [05/27/2020]
For the western chimpanzee, sanctuaries are more than just a last resort by Mark Hillsdon [05/26/2020]
Slow and steady: Sea turtles mount a long-term recovery by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [05/22/2020]
Coronavirus puts Brazil’s quilombos at risk; will assistance come? by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [05/21/2020]