Newsletter 2020-06-25



The Consultant: Why did a palm oil conglomerate pay $22m to an unnamed ‘expert’ in Papua? by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [06/25/2020]

– In a year-long investigation with The Gecko Project, the Korean Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa and Al Jazeera, Mongabay traced a $22 million “consultancy” payment connected to a major land deal in Indonesia’s Papua province.
– It took us from South Korea and Singapore to the heart of the largest rainforest left in Asia, to find out what role the payment played in making the Korindo Group one of the largest oil palm producers in the region.

‘Betting on impunity’: Brazilian Amazon under attack despite logging crackdown by Ana Ionova [06/23/2020]

– In mid-May, government agents raided 700 hectares of land being deforested illegally in the Querência municipality of Mato Grosso. However, local sources say that deforestation resumed shortly after the intervention. Satellite imagery shows tree cover loss continuing between late May and early June.
– The affected area lies right across the river from the Wawi Indigenous Territory. Human rights advocates say the deforestation could have a big impact on communities inside the reserve by affecting water sources and introducing COVID-19 to vulnerable populations.
– Brazil’s Ministry of Defense touted what it described as the “extensive results” of the government’s various crackdowns around the Amazon during a one-month effort against illegal logging in May.
– However, critics say occasional interventions like the May raid in Querência aren’t an effective deterrent against illegal logging and that the Bolsonaro government’s stripping of environmental protections is making it easy for loggers to continue deforesting.

Illegal farms on indigenous lands get whitewashed under Bolsonaro administration by Bruno Fonseca and Rafael Oliveira from Agência Pública [06/23/2020]

– An exclusive study shows that 114 properties have been certified inside indigenous territories awaiting demarcation in the Brazilian Amazon, spurred in large part by a recent statute that leaves these reserves unprotected from such illegal land grabs.
– The certified lands span more than 250,000 hectares (620,000 acres) inside indigenous territories, some of them authorized before FUNAI, the agency for indigenous affairs, issued the statute allowing registry on unratified lands.- Landowners have already registered claims for more than 2,000 private properties in indigenous areas inside the Amazon, including areas that are home to isolated peoples.
– Indigenous groups, civil society organizations, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and state prosecutors have denounced the statute and are challenging it in various courts.

The fire prophet: Dolors Armenteras on saving the Amazon and fighting misogyny in science by Nicolas Bustamante Hernandez [06/23/2020]

– She helped create the first geographic information system for the Humboldt Institute, one of the most important environmental research centers in the country.
– She was also one of the first scientists to predict that, after the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, deforestation would increase rather than decrease in the country.
– She founded a research group in landscape ecology at the National University of Colombia, made up mainly of women who are inspired to overcome the obstacles imposed by the cultural of machismo that still prevails in academia.

World Rainforest Day: The world’s great rainforests by Rhett A. Butler [06/22/2020]

– June 22 is World Rainforest Day, which is a “collaborative effort to raise awareness and encourage action to protect the world’s rainforests”, according to Rainforest Partnership, which founded the event.
– In recognition of World Rainforest Day, this post highlights the world’s ten largest tropical rainforests: the Amazon, the Congo, New Guinea and Australia, Sundaland, Indo-Burma, Mesoamerica, Wallacea, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic forest, and the Choco.
– Tropical rainforests have an outsized role in the world, containing the highest concentration of species, storing more carbon in aggregate than any other terrestrial ecosystem, and supporting most of the planet’s “uncontacted” peoples.
– Despite their importance however, deforestation in the world’s tropical forests has remained persistently high since the 1980s. Primary tropical forests have been destroyed at a rate of 3.2 million hectares a year since 2002.

Mangrove collapse ‘inevitable’ unless emissions curbed by Lauren Crothers [06/18/2020]

– If carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced, mangroves will be unable to keep up with the resulting rise in sea levels and they could start drowning by 2050, according to new study in the journal Science.
– Researchers base their findings on the fate of mangroves from 10,000 years ago, when glacial melting made sea levels rise.



Forests are a solution to global warming. They’re also vulnerable to it by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 25 Jun 2020]
– Forest-based solutions play an important role in addressing climate change, but the risks to forests from climate change also need to be calculated, according to a newly published paper in Science.
– For forests to be good carbon-removal investments, they need to be relatively permanent, meaning that the plants and soil in a forest will absorb carbon and keep it locked away for decades or centuries. Climate change threatens that permanence.
– The authors lay out a road map for assessing permanence, which includes forest plot data, remote sensing, and vegetation modeling.
– The authors urge policymakers to be sure forest-based, natural climate solutions are done with the best available science. Likewise, scientists are urged to improve tools for sharing information across different groups outside of science.

In Madagascar’s dry forests, COVID-19 sparks an intense, early fire season by Malavika Vyawahare [Thu, 25 Jun 2020]
– Though Madagascar officially has just under 1,800 reported infections and 16 deaths from COVID-19, the pandemic’s socioeconomic effects will be catastrophic for the country, the U.N. has warned.
– One tangible impact has been the fire season, which has started early and is likely to be fiercer this year as rural residents deprived of tourism revenue, employment opportunities and access to food markets turn to the forest to survive.
– The environment ministry registered 52,000 forest fire incidents from January until the start of June, with the western flank of the country, which hosts its unique dry forests, being the worst-affected.
– A reduction in NGOs’ and state agencies’ field activities has made forest patrols more challenging and affected the critical task of creating fire breaks.

Did China really ban the pangolin trade? Not quite, investigators say by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Wed, 24 Jun 2020]
– Investigators have cast doubt on a recent announcement that China had banned pangolin scales in traditional Chinese medicine, based on the discovery that pangolin scales are still in the ingredient lists of various patent medicines cataloged in China’s 2020 pharmacopoeia.
– At least eight of the listed patent medicines contain pangolin scales, including a blood circulation pill and a remedy for abdominal pain.
– Experts say pangolin scales are still being legally traded in China based on a loophole in the country’s Wildlife Protection Law, which allows the trade of protected species in special circumstances.
– There are also concerns about how the current stockpiles of pangolin scales will be used and managed to prevent laundering of illegal pangolin scales.

Podcast: Animals have culture, too, and for some it’s crucial to their survival and conservation by Mike Gaworecki [Wed, 24 Jun 2020]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we explore animal culture and social learning with author Carl Safina and whale researcher Hal Whitehead.
– Carl Safina examines the capacity of several animal species for social learning and transmitting knowledge across generations in his new book, Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace. Safina appears on the Mongabay Newscast today to explain how sperm whales, scarlet macaws, and chimpanzees are equipped to live in the world they live in as much by what they learn from other individuals in their social groups as by their genetic inheritance.
– Hal Whitehead, a professor at Canada’s Dalhousie University, was one of the first scientists to examine the complex social lives of sperm whales and the distinctive calls known as codas that they use to establish their group and personal identities. He appears on the podcast today to play us some recordings of sperm whale codas and tell us about sperm whale culture and social learning.

World’s top tapir expert prepares for unprecedented Amazon mission by Naira Hofmeister [Wed, 24 Jun 2020]
– Brazilian conservation biologist Patrícia Medici first won a Whitley Award, the “Green Oscars” for conservation science, in 2008; this year, she’s the recipient of the top tier of the prize, the Whitley Gold Award.
– She will use the $75,000 prize to fund the new stage of her studies, in which she plans for the first time to study the lowland tapir in the Amazon.
– Medici has already spent two decades studying the species, South America’s largest land mammal, in the Atlantic Forest, the Pantanal wetlands, and the Cerrado grassland.
– She hopes to use the next stage of the study, in the Amazon, to expand understanding of the species by seeing how it reacts to deforestation driven by mining, large-scale agriculture, and logging.

China and EU appetite for soy drives Brazilian deforestation, climate change: Study by Chris Arsenault [Tue, 23 Jun 2020]
– A recent study highlights how demand for Brazilian soy by Europe and China is stoking deforestation, thereby increasing carbon emissions, especially in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna biome, followed by the Amazon rainforest.
– The extent to which Brazilian soy production and trade contribute to climate change depends largely on the location where soybeans are grown. Soy exported from some municipalities in Brazil’s Cerrado, for example, contributes 200 times more total greenhouse gas emissions than soy coming from other parts of the country.
– China was the world’s largest importer of Brazilian soy from 2010 to 2015 and responsible for 51% of associated carbon dioxide emissions, with the European Union responsible for about 30%. However, EU soy imports (sourced from the northern Cerrado) were linked to more recent deforestation than China’s imports.
– The study is the first to offer an estimate of carbon emissions across Brazil’s entire soy sector. The data obtained by analyzing 90,000 supply chain streams could help policymakers curb emissions by designing low-carbon supply chains, with more effective forest conservation, and making improvements in transport infrastructure.

Using photography and indigenous art to help Amazon communities during COVID by [Tue, 23 Jun 2020]
– Xapiri, a Cusco-based art gallery and media production studio, is working to raise awareness of the situation and funds to help indigenous peoples navigate the COVID crisis. In response to the pandemic, Xapiri has jettisoned its plans to visit indigenous partners in the field and instead focused on online fundraising campaigns.
– In a June 2020 interview with Mongabay, Jack Wheeler, Xapiri’s founder and director, spoke about his group’s work, the transition to a COVID world, and why now is a more important time than ever to support indigenous communities.

‘It’s a success’: Pangolins return to a region where they were once extinct by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 23 Jun 2020]
– Temminck’s pangolins have been “ecologically extinct” in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province Africa for the past 30 or 40 years, but a new program managed by the African Pangolin Working Group is reintroducing the scaly anteaters back into this region.
– Pangolins rescued from the illegal wildlife trade tend to be physically ill and mentally stressed, and need to go through a lengthy rehabilitation process before they can be released.
– Instead of simply releasing pangolins back into the wild, the African Pangolin Working Group puts the animals through a “soft release” program, and continues to closely monitor them through GPS satellite and VHF radio tracking tags.
– In 2019, seven pangolins were released at Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal; two died of natural causes, but the remaining five are doing well.

What is a Tasmanian devil? Candid Animal Cam meets the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world by [Tue, 23 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.

Indonesian court jails indigenous farmers for ‘stealing’ from land they claim by Hans Nicholas Jong [Tue, 23 Jun 2020]
– A court in Indonesia has sentenced two indigenous farmers to eight and 10 months in prison respectively for harvesting palm fruit from land whose ownership is contested by the community and a palm oil firm, PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada.
– The ruling appeared to ignore evidence showing that the villagers are the rightful owners of the land; the defendants say they will appeal and also file a lawsuit against the company.
– Activists have lambasted the verdict, saying the entire case is riddled with irregularities, such as the inability of the prosecutors and the company to present proof that the firm owns the contested land.
– A third defendant died in police custody in April after reportedly being denied medical care for his ill health.

British Columbia poised to lose ‘white rhino of old growth forests’ by Justin Catanoso [Mon, 22 Jun 2020]
– In the public imagination, British Columbia is swathed in green and famous for its towering old growth forests. But while the provincial government says 23% of BC’s forests are old growth, a new study finds that a mere 1% remains with tall trees.
– Intense pressure is now being put on the remaining trees by a forestry industry eager to capitalize on nations desperate for new “carbon neutral” sources of energy, including the revamping of coal-fired power plants to burn wood pellets.
– But while the UN says burning biomass in the form of wood pellets is carbon neutral, ten years-worth of new data says that burning trees to make electricity could help put the world on a glide path to climate catastrophe — exceeding the maximum 2 degree Celsius temperature increase target set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
– A recently elected progressive government in BC is weighing its policy options as it negotiates a new provincial forest plan, trying to satisfy the dire need for forestry jobs and a growing economy, while conserving old growth forests which store large amounts of carbon as a hedge against climate disaster. The outcome is uncertain.

Ancient Sri Lankans built canals. Their legacy today? A new type of forest by Malaka Rodrigo [Mon, 22 Jun 2020]
– A new type of forest ecology has been discovered from the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa in north-central Sri Lanka, centered around the irrigation canals abandoned there more than 700 years ago.
– The unique new forest type closely resembles the riverine forests that are found alongside rivers and other bodies of water, but has a different species composition and vegetation structure.
– Sri Lanka boasts a legacy of extensive ancient irrigation systems scattered within the island’s dry zone, raising the prospect of the discovery of more of these “dry canal-associated evergreen forests.”

Indonesia resumes release of captive wildlife amid COVID-19 by Basten Gokkon [Mon, 22 Jun 2020]
– Indonesia has allowed the release of captive animals back in to the wild to continue, after freezing the activity to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to wildlife populations.
– Orangutan rescue centers in Indonesia have welcomed the decision as they struggle with crowded facilities and rising operational costs.
– But the centers say they won’t release any orangutans anytime soon, as the great apes are likely vulnerable to the coronavirus.
– Experts have recommended that the apes also undergo COVID-19 testing prior to being released back into the wild.

Mercury with that? Shark fins served with illegal doses of heavy metals by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– A new study has found that most processed shark fins have mercury and methyl-mercury levels five to 10 times higher than the legal maximum amount of 0.5 parts per million, as specified by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in Hong Kong.
– The research team tested shark fins from nine of the most common species used in shark fin soup, including blue sharks, silky sharks and great hammerheads.
– While little is known about the impacts of mercury on sharks themselves, humans can suffer serious health problems when they consume mercury-rich foods over a long period of time.
– The research team say they hope the Hong Kong government will begin its own testing processes and generate accurate warnings about the mercury levels in shark fins.

Marcellus Adi Riyanto: The Indonesian vet who lived for the Sumatran rhino by Julia John [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– Trained as a veterinarian, Indonesian conservationist Marcellus Adi Riyanto devoted his career to the study and preservation of Indonesia’s rhinos.
– Marcellus spent a decade working at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park before founding a community-oriented conservation group known as ALeRT. He continued his work with rhinos at ALeRT, which was recently charged with managing a newly established rhino sanctuary in Indonesian Borneo.
– Marcellus fell gravely ill in April 2020, dying just five days after his 55th birthday.
– Conservationists in Indonesia recall Marcellus as a dedicated, determined and creative colleague and mentor.

Sri Lanka reopens national parks post-lockdown with strict guidelines by Malaka Rodrigo [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– After a three-month-long closure, Sri Lanka opened its key national parks to the public on June 15 under strict health guidelines.
– Vehicle numbers entering parks have been restricted to prevent overcrowding of popular wilderness areas, and e-ticketing has been introduced to reduce physical contact.
– Experts have also called for urgent revision in visitation procedures to improve visitor behavior and limit numbers to minimize disturbances to park animals.

Palm oil from Indonesian grower that burned forest is still being sold by Hans Nicholas Jong [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– An investigation by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) shows that palm oil from PT Kallista Alam, a company in Sumatra, entered the global supply chain and may have ended up in products made by Nestlé and Mars.
– The company was largely blackballed by buyers with sustainability commitments after a 2012 fire on its concession razed 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of pristine lowland rainforest that’s home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.
– An “oversight” in the second half of 2019 led to its crude palm oil being bought by a refinery run by the Permata Hijau Group, a top Indonesian palm oil processor that supplies commodities giant Cargill.
– Cargill, in turn, sells palm oil to multinational brands including Nestlé and Mars; RAN has called on the latter two companies to explicitly issue a no-buy order to their suppliers for Kallista Alam’s palm oil.

Indonesia’s $300m geothermal play risks being undercut by cheap coal by Basten Gokkon [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– The Asian Development Bank has granted Indonesian power developer PT Geo Dipa Energi (GDE) a $300 million loan to expand two geothermal plants in Java.
– But the plants will be supplying the Java-Bali grid that is already 40% overcapacity,thanks to a glut of cheap power from coal-fired power plants.
– Clean-energy observers also say the expansion of the plants carries the risk of environmental damage, including land subsidence from groundwater extraction, and deforestation to build new wells.
– Indonesia plans to generate 23% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2025, but growth in renewables is far outstripped by existing and new coal-fired plants, 10 of which came online last year alone.

As lockdown ends, Manila’s dirty air is back. It doesn’t have to stay by Mavic Conde [Fri, 19 Jun 2020]
– It’s still possible to maintain improved air quality even as lockdown eases in Metro Manila, a newly released report says.
– The air quality in the Philippine capital region improved after the start of the lockdown on March 15, but began deteriorating in May, when authorities started easing the measures.
– The report recommends adapting many of the measures implemented during the lockdown, including maintaining limited work arrangements and coming up with “people-centric” urban planning designs.
– Local governments should shift to technologies that depend less on fossil fuels and encourage this transition by providing incentives to both private citizens and companies, the report suggests.

38 endangered Brazilian tree species legally traded, poorly tracked: Study by Jenny Gonzales [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– A recent study found that 38 tree species officially listed by Brazil as threatened with extinction were traded between 2012 and 2016. Though prohibited from being harvested, the timber of the threatened trees was traded within Brazil and exported.
– Of the 38 threatened tree species traded, 17 were classified as Vulnerable, 18 as Endangered, and three as Critically Endangered.
– To end this exploitation, scientists urge that the timber no longer be tracked only at the genus level, but at the species level. They also recommend better coordination between IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, which designates threat levels, and the Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) which tracks wood products.
– Another systemic problem: of the 38 threatened species, some are not included on the IUCN Red List or on the CITES species checklist. The study urged IUCN and CITES update their lists to include all 38 of the species found to be threatened by IBAMA.

COVID-19 and rainforest fires set up potential public health crisis by John C. Cannon [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– Peaking fires in the world’s rainforests combined with the global COVID-19 pandemic threaten to create a devastating public health crisis, experts warn.
– The fires typically follow recent deforestation, as farmers and ranchers burn brush and trees to make way for crops and livestock.
– Soot from the fires causes severe respiratory problems and exacerbates existing conditions, health researchers say. The uptick in the need for treatment could overwhelm already-strained hospitals in the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
– Researchers say that solutions exist, involving government enforcement, consumer demand for deforestation-free products, and company commitments to halt the destruction of forests. Now what’s needed is political will.

‘Rafiki’s trust was betrayed’: Q&A with conservationist Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– In early June, rangers discovered the mutilated body of Rafiki, an endangered silverback mountain gorilla living at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda; four men have since been arrested on suspicion of poaching.
– Rafiki led the Nkuringo gorilla group for the past 12 years, and he’d become a well-known individual to tourists visiting the park.
– Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, one of the leading conservationists working to protect endangered mountain gorillas, says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an upsurge of poaching in Bwindi, which helped pave the way to Rafiki’s death.
– Rafiki and his group were also “habituated,” meaning they’d become accustomed to people. While this may have made it easier for poachers to kill him, gorilla habituation has allowed tourism to thrive in Uganda.



Will U.S. scientists find a silent salamander killer in time? by [06/17/2020]
Deep-sea mining: An environmental solution or impending catastrophe? by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [06/16/2020]
14 straight months of rising Amazon deforestation in Brazil by Rhett A. Butler [06/12/2020]