Newsletter 2020-08-20



Rangers protecting Philippine tamaraws go hungry as pandemic bites by Mavic Conde [08/20/2020]

– Rangers tasked to protect the critically endangered Philippine tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) are facing a different kind of threat: hunger, as budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic bite into their already meager salaries.
– The tamaraw, also known as the dwarf buffalo, is a critically endangered species found only on the island of Mindoro, with an estimated population of just 480.
– The tamaraw’s island stronghold is Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park, which is protected by 24 rangers and Indigenous volunteers.
– But the tamaraw program has been chronically underfunded, and diversion of funds to help fight the pandemic has left some of the rangers unemployed and the rest going hungry, even as they continue to do their jobs.

Indigenous best Amazon stewards, but only when property rights assured: Study by Sue Branford [08/17/2020]

– New research provides statistical evidence confirming the claim by Indigenous peoples that that they are the more effective Amazon forest guardians in Brazil — but only if and when full property rights over their territories are recognized, and fully protected, by civil authorities in a process called homologation.
– Researchers looked at 245 Indigenous territories, homologated between 1982 and 2016. They concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation effectively within their ancestral territories after homologation had been completed, endowing full property rights.
– However, since the study was completed, the Temer and Bolsonaro governments have backpedaled on Indigenous land rights, failing to protect homologated reserves. Also, the homologation process has come to a standstill, failing its legal responsibility to recognize collective ownership pledged by Brazil’s Constitution.
– In another study, researchers suggest that a key to saving the Amazon involves reframing our view of it, giving up the old view of it as an untrammeled Eden assaulted by modern exploitation, and instead seeing it as a forest long influenced by humanity; now we need only restore balance to achieve sustainability.

China issues new sustainability rules for its notorious fishing fleet by Elizabeth Fitt [08/14/2020]

– China has made the first major revisions to regulations governing its distant-water fishing fleet in 17 years.
– The new rules aim to curb illegal activity, increase transparency and improve sustainability in commercial fishing.
– As dominant nation in the global fishing industry, yet ranked worst for fishing offenses, China could have a huge positive impact through the new rules — if it enforces them, experts say.

More than 260 major, mostly illegal Amazon fires detected since late May by Liz Kimbrough [08/13/2020]

– The Amazon fire season is building momentum, with 227 fires covering nearly 128,000 hectares, reported between May 28 and August 10. By today, that number rose to 266 fires.
– More than 220 of the May 28 to June 10 fires occurred in Brazil, with just six in Bolivia, and one in Peru. 95% of the Brazilian fires were illegal and in violation of the nation’s 120-day ban on fires. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has called the 2020 reports of deforestation and fires a “lie.”
– Most Amazon blazes are set, with land grabbers, ranchers and farmers using fire as a deforestation tool, and as a means of converting rainforest to pasture and croplands.
– Fourteen of the Brazilian fires were within protected areas. The most heavily impacted of these were Jamanxim and Altamira national forests in Pará state — areas long notorious for criminal land grabbing.



New road cutting into Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peruvian Amazon sparks debate, fears and a film by [Thu, 20 Aug 2020]
– A new documentary film about a road project in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru’s southeastern Amazon chronicles an Indigenous community’s debate about its future.
– With the road will likely come new opportunities and problems: the area is already beset by illegal logging and narco-trafficking.
– Some in the community fear the problems will worsen and their culture will erode further, others say it’s the only way for the community to survive.
– The Peruvian government has prioritized road building in this area, and just announced that this road will be connected to the Interoceanic Highway, which will perhaps magnify the problems inside Manu.

Madagascar minister calls protected areas a ‘failure,’ seeks people-centric approach by Rivonala Razafison and Malavika Vyawahare [Thu, 20 Aug 2020]
– Madagascar’s environment minister has criticized the way protected areas are managed in the country, setting the stage for a potential overhaul of the system to make conservation more people-centric.
– The stand has flustered some in the conservation community in Madagascar because it could mean reorienting their efforts in one of the planet’s most biodiverse countries, which is also extremely poor with high rates of environmental destruction.
– At a two-day meeting in late June, protected area managers, including a quasi-governmental agency and several international and local NGOs, shared details of their work, financial position, and challenges, with ministry officials.
– The ministry is expected to collate and analyze this information as a first step toward a broader evaluation and potential overhaul of the protected area system that could happen this year.

With its mining boom past, Australia deals with the job of cleaning up by Manuela Callari [Thu, 20 Aug 2020]
– A slowdown in Australia’s decades-long mining boom has left companies and communities grappling with what to do about closed or abandoned mining sites.
– Australian law requires the mining companies to pay for and carry out the rehabilitation of their former sites, but the process is an internal one that doesn’t require the input of local communities.
– Some companies are taking a more open, collaborative approach, but difficulties remain as a result of communication and cultural differences between corporate visions and communal, often Aboriginal, wishes for the restoration of the land.
– Environmental problems also abound, with the failure to properly restore the topsoil resulting in the restoration of land that’s effectively sterile, although promising research is being carried out in this field.

The ‘Cougar Conundrum’: Q&A with author Mark Elbroch by John C. Cannon [Thu, 20 Aug 2020]
– In a new book, The Cougar Conundrum: Sharing the World with a Successful Predator, wildlife biologist Mark Elbroch explores the polarizing debate around mountain lions in the United States.
– Elbroch is the puma program director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.
– Mountain lion behavior has long been cloaked in mystery and mythology. Still, recent research has revealed a complex portrait of the mountain lion (Puma concolor) and its role in the landscape.
– Elbroch argues for moving past the entrenchment around how to manage mountain lions and for a more inclusive debate incorporating the views of a larger proportion of society.

Harvard’s half-billion land stake in Brazil marred by conflict and abuse by Maurício Angelo [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– Harvard University has plowed $450 million of its $40 billion endowment in Brazil, most of it to buying up at least 405,000 hectares (1 million acres) of land in the Cerrado.
– This is a region where major landowners have racked up human rights violations against smallholder farmers and crimes against the environment.
– Most investments in land in this region are purely speculative; while the land goes unused, locals are deprived of their water sources, farmland and other resources.
– Harvard would not comment on its Brazilian investments specifically, but said it is trying to divest from unsustainable ventures. But even as it has trouble finding buyers for the farms, it continues to profit from the appreciating value of the land.

Podcast: Singing and whistling cetaceans of southern Africa revealed by bioacoustics by Mike Gaworecki [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we’re taking a look at two examples of how bioacoustics studies have discovered things we never knew before about marine life.
– Dr. Tess Gridley joins us to talk about the recent discovery of singing humpback whales in South Africa’s False Bay. Gridley plays us some of the recordings she and her team made documenting humpback songs in False Bay for the first time ever, and discusses the African Bioacoustics Community’s upcoming conference, which she hopes will help inspire even more bioacoustic research focused on African wildlife.
– We’re also joined by Sasha Dines, a PhD student at the University of Stellenbosch who is studying humpback dolphins. Dines’ work is focused on determining whether or not Indian Ocean humpback dolphins make signature whistle calls, which could be used to monitor the dolphins’ via passive acoustic monitoring arrays. She plays us some whistle calls of a humpback dolphin named Herme, and explains how bioacoustic monitoring could help improve not just monitoring but also conservation efforts for these endangered dolphins.

Agrochemicals and industrial waste threaten Argentina’s Gran Chaco by Rodolfo Chisleanschi [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– Farmers in Argentina are using increasing amounts of herbicides and other agrochemicals to boost their crop yields.
– In the country’s Gran Chaco region, the unregulated use of agrochemicals has had devastating ecological effects, including the contamination of water sources that residents depend on.
– The Gran Chaco’s waterways are also under pressure from industrial pollution, heavy metals, oil spills, and arsenic found naturally in underground reservoirs.

Is Malaysia’s CIMB serious about addressing deforestation? by Gulzhan Musaeva [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– Gulzhan Musaeva, an independent financial analyst writes about CIMB’s sustainability commitments. CIMB is Malaysia’s second largest bank and a major leader to regional plantation companies.
– Musaeva argues that CIMB’s reluctance to address the issues associated with forest sector borrowers head-on casts doubt on its sustainability aspirations.
– “This means that, despite massive exposure to forest-risk sectors,” writes Musaeva, “CIMB, among other Malaysian banks, willfully overlooks its impact on SDG 15 ‘Life on Land’ through financing activities. Local communities who bear the brunt of impaired land use and environment are thus effectively dismissed as stakeholders in materiality assessments.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesia dam builder refuses new study to assess impact on orangutans by Hans Nicholas Jong [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– A dam developer in Indonesia has rebuffed calls for an independent study to assess the impact of the project on the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
– The species, numbering fewer than 800, is found only in the Batang Toru forest in Sumatra, which is also the site of a hydropower project that conservationists say threatens the survival of the great ape and livelihoods of local communities.
– The IUCN has led calls for an independent assessment, citing a litany of inaccurate and misleading claims stemming from the project developer’s various statements and publications.

The lost forests of the Argentine Gran Chaco by Rodolfo Chisleanschi [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– Data from Argentina’s environment ministry show that Argentina’s section of the Gran Chaco, a dry forest in South America that’s about twice the size of California, has lost around 5 million hectares (12.4 million acres) of native forest in the past two decades.
– Scientists and environmentalists say that administrative irregularities and noncompliance with regulations have allowed the constant expansion of the agricultural and livestock frontier into the Chaco.
– These incursions impact biodiversity, poverty and the frequency of droughts and floods.

‘We are losing’: Q&A with The Orangutan Project’s Leif Cocks on saving the great ape by Malavika Vyawahare [Wed, 19 Aug 2020]
– For International Orangutan Day, Mongabay spoke with Leif Cocks, founder and president of The Orangutan Project, which seeks to protect the endangered orange-haired primates and their rapidly disappearing habitats in Southeast Asia.
– All three species of orangutans — Sumatran (Pongo abelii), Bornean (P. pygmaeus) and Tapanuli (P. tapanuliensis) are one step away from extinction.
– Deforestation is the biggest threat the primates face, and at the moment most conservation efforts have only been able to slow forest loss, not turn the tide around, Leif told Mongabay.
– Oil palm plantations replacing primary rainforests is a major problem in Malaysia and Indonesia, but Cocks says simply banning these plantations is not the answer; instead, he advocates for replacing exploitative production systems with those that recognize the services that these forests provide to the local communities and building on that.

In Brazil, human action and climate change are drowning a community by Rafael Duarte [Tue, 18 Aug 2020]
– In the old seaside resort of Atafona on the coast of Rio de Janeiro, the Atlantic Ocean has been destroying streets, houses and businesses for more than 50 years, claiming at least 500 buildings.
– The damming of the Paraíba do Sul River and destruction of forests along its banks are seen as factors in the river’s silting and throttled water flow, which has allowed the sea to advance up the mouth of the river where Atafona is located.
– According to researchers, climate change is speeding up the rate of coastal erosion through increased frequency and intensity of extreme surges and storms; in Atafona, the sea advances 3 meters (10 feet) a year.
– According to the International Organization for Migration, environmental impacts displaced 295,000 people were in Brazil in 2019; worldwide, the figure exceeds that of displacements caused by internal conflicts.

Elephant shrew ‘lost’ to science for 52 years is ‘rediscovered’ in Africa by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 18 Aug 2020]
– After being lost to science for 52 years, the Somali sengi (Elephantulus revoilii), a small mammal related to the elephant, was recently “rediscovered” in Djibouti.
– A research team determined that Somali sengis were abundant in Djibouti and have no immediate threats, which led them to recommend that the IUCN change the species’ conservation status from data deficient to least concern.
– DNA analysis of the Somali sengi showed that the species is closely related to sengis in Morocco and South Africa, suggesting that it should belong to a new genus, Galegeeska, rather than its current genus, Elephantulus.

In the Scottish moorlands, plots planted with trees stored less carbon than untouched lands: Study by Liz Kimbrough [Tue, 18 Aug 2020]
– In the Scottish moorlands, experimental areas planted with native trees actually stored less carbon after several decades than untouched plots covered in heather.
– These results are of direct relevance to current policies that promote tree planting under the logic that trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and lock it in their biomass as they grow. This is true, but disregards the role of soil.
– Globally, more carbon is stored in soil than in all the Earth’s plants and the atmosphere combined.
– Planting trees in areas that have never been forested, a practice known as afforestation, can release these carbon stores, resulting in a net loss of carbon from the ecosystem.

Qaramta: Chronicle of a jaguar in love by Rodolfo Chisleanschi [Tue, 18 Aug 2020]
– For the last ten months, the first jaguar in Argentina’s Chaco province to be fitted with a tracking collar has been moving freely around El Impenetrable National Park.
– The big male’s days are spent walking, hunting, and patrolling the area where an enclosure containing a captive female jaguar is located.
– Park officials and allied conservationists hope to entice the pair to mate when the time is right, to increase the region’s jaguar population, but plans have been delayed due to the pandemic.

In Argentina, a movement to save the Chaco forest hits the COVID-19 wall by Oscar Bermeo Ocaña [Tue, 18 Aug 2020]
– Civil society groups calling for better protection of the Chaco, the largest forest ecosystem in South America after the Amazon, say their efforts have been set back by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures.
– Reports show that deforestation in Argentina increased in the first six months of this year compared to last, and that most of the deforestation of the past 20 years occurred in the Chaco.
– Activists say a major obstacle is the lack of funding for enforcement of the forestry law; since it was enacted in 2007, it has received less than 10% of its prescribed budget.
– Argentina’s environment minister has acknowledged the need for revisions to the law, but activists and lawmakers say he must follow up the rhetoric with action.

What is a capybara? Candid Animal Cam meets the world’s largest rodent by [Tue, 18 Aug 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.

Peru gov’t needs to act on COVID-19 in Amazon Indigenous cases, NGOs say by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Mon, 17 Aug 2020]
– A group of organizations has sent a letter to Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra asking for urgent support for Indigenous communities, which have been overlooked during the COVID-19 crisis, according to activists.
– The demands in the letter include the deliverance of food, medicine and medical supplies, as well as the cessation of extractive activities that are carrying the virus into traditional territories.
– It’s estimated that 125 Indigenous people have died from COVID-19 in the Ucayali region of the Amazon since the start of the pandemic. However, it’s difficult to get accurate numbers due to a lack of testing.

Indonesia pushes rice estate project despite environmental red flags by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 17 Aug 2020]
– Planting will begin as soon as this October on a project that will eventually cover nearly a million hectares (2.47 million acres) of peatland in Indonesian Borneo.
– Experts have criticized the project, citing the spectacular failure in the mid-1990s of the identical Mega Rice Project that cleared and eventually abandoned vast swaths of peatlands, paving the way for fires nearly every year since.
– President Joko Widodo says the project is of strategic national importance and will be overseen by the Ministry of Defense.
– But questions remain over the suitability of growing rice in nutrient-poor peat soils, exacerbating the risk of fire by clearing more peatland, and destroying forests that are home to critically endangered orangutans.

Favoring ayahuasca over hospitals, Indigenous Kokama see COVID-19 deaths drop in the Amazon by Maria Fernanda Ribeiro [Mon, 17 Aug 2020]
– The Kokama were the first Indigenous group in Brazil to be infected with COVID-19, and to date there have been more than a thousand confirmed cases and 60 deaths within the community.
– Wary of Western medicine and of the prejudice and neglect they say they suffer at hospitals, the community decided to turn to traditional healing practices, administered by shamans. Their weapon in the fight against the coronavirus is the ayahuasca ritual, considered by the Kokama their most powerful cure.
– In the past six weeks, the community has recorded just four deaths from COVID-19, compared to 56 during the previous two months, when they were still seeking hospital treatment.
– The reduction in the death rate is the result they say they expected when they shunned regional hospitals, many of which have struggled to treat patients in the midst of the pandemic and where indigenous peoples have fared particularly poorly, in favor of their traditional medicines combined with hygiene practices and social distancing.

A genetic map hopes to trace rescued chimps back to their homes by Hannah Thomasy [Mon, 17 Aug 2020]
– There are four recognized chimpanzee subspecies, each with a distinct range and unique genetic makeup
– When chimpanzees are rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, it can be almost impossible for conservationists to identify where a chimpanzee originally came from.
– Scientists are working to create a genetic reference map for chimpanzees, with the aim of enabling conservationists and law enforcement to pinpoint a chimpanzee’s place of origin and identify poaching hotspots.

Book Review: Cottongrass Summer – the book every eco-anxious conservationist should read by Erik Meijaard [Mon, 17 Aug 2020]
– This book review is written by Erik Meijaard, a biologist with Borneo Futures.
– Cottongrass Summer, a new book by the British author Roy Dennis is a breath of fresh air among the mountains of doom and gloom reads about the environment, the climate and wildlife. Without skirting the problems he has faced in his long wildlife conservation career, Roy manages to leave you with a sense of hope. If we all work hard enough, despite the many set-backs, we can turn things around, and make wildlife thrive once again, even in the ecologically degraded British Isles.
– One reason why you may want to read Cottongrass Summer is that it was written by an 80-year old ‘diehard’ conservation expert who has, throughout his entire life, done what he thought worked best in conservation, even when some ‘experts’ called him bonkers.
– This book review is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Scientists urge reassessment of threatened species after Australian bushfires by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 14 Aug 2020]
– A new paper suggests that the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires impacted critical habitats of more than 800 native species, with 70 species losing more than 30% of their natural range.
– The bushfires may have led to a 14% increase in threatened species, according to the study.
– The researchers recommend an urgent assessment of threatened species via the Australian government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which classifies threatened species and provides legal protection for them.
– Other actions may be needed to help preserve native wildlife populations, such as invasive species management, captive-breeding programs, and the protection of fire-burned regions to aid recovery, the researchers suggest.

Cameroon halts logging plans in Ebo Forest, home to tool-using chimps by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 14 Aug 2020]
– The Cameroon government announced that a logging concession for Ebo Forest, which was approved three weeks ago, has been cancelled.
– Ebo Forest is a large, intact forest system in southwestern Cameroon that is a refuge for a number of endangered and critically endangered species, including a population of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees with a unique repertoire of tool use.
– While conservationists are optimistic about this news, they are also concerned that the future of the forest still remains uncertain.

FSC slammed for slow probe into deforestation by firms linked to Indonesia’s richest man by Hans Nicholas Jong [Fri, 14 Aug 2020]
– An environmental NGO that flagged deforestation by two pulpwood companies linked to a Forest Stewardship Council member says the FSC has dragged its feet on carrying out a proper investigation.
– The companies and the FSC member, a paper mill, are all controlled directly or indirectly by Robert Budi Hartono, Indonesia’s richest person.
– The complaint was filed last December, but the investigation only began in February this year, and has been put on hold since June because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FSC says.
– The NGO has questioned the FSC’s delayed response, its non-standard investigation process, and its apparent failure to link the pulpwood companies to the certified paper mill earlier.

Is that ivory from an elephant or a nut? A new guide shows how to tell by Ashoka Mukpo [Thu, 13 Aug 2020]
– The guide was produced by WWF, TRAFFIC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the CITES Secretariat.
– The last update was in 1999, with this version including high-resolution, detailed photographs that show the differences between various forms of ivory and other substitutes.
– A section examines online marketplaces and auctions, a growing branch of the illegal ivory trade.
– Translations will be made into English, Spanish, and French, with CITES-compliant governments tasked with distributing it to law enforcement and customs officials.

All talk, no walk: ‘Green’ financiers still support Amazon beef industry by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini and Juliana Lopes from ((o))eco [Thu, 13 Aug 2020]
– Regulatory initiatives to promote responsible investment are falling short, even in Europe, where the most rigid rules haven’t been able to prevent investors continuing to pump money into the Brazilian beef industry.
– In the U.S., similarly, financial giants like BlackRock tout their green investment credentials while still investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the top three meatpackers buying cattle from the Amazon.
– In Brazil, investment guides, manuals and recommendations by various market groups, along with rules issued by the central bank, have had little effect on the flow of investments into meatpackers JBS, Marfrig and Minerva.

Pioneer study maps regions of Amazon tree flora and may help in future efforts at species conservation by Jenny Gonzales [Thu, 13 Aug 2020]
– More than 5,000 plants from different stretches of Amazon Forest were analyzed by two Brazilian biologists.
– It was the first spatial division of flora based on species composition. The researchers compiled data on 301 plant communities distributed all over the Amazon.
– The work also indicates the major potential impact of climate change on Amazonian vegetation.
– Knowing the spatial distribution of flora is essential to protect the Amazon, since the subregions allow targeting conservation efforts.



Ecuador races for emergency infrastructure as river’s collapse threatens dam by Antonio Jose Paz Cardona [08/11/2020]
Though forests burn, trees retake farmland globally as agroforestry advances by Patrick Worms [08/10/2020]
Life among the turtles: Traditional people struggle inside an Amazon reserve by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [08/10/2020]
Brazilian Amazon protected areas ‘in flames’ as land-grabbers invade by Ana Ionova [08/07/2020]
Deforestation in the Amazon is drying up the rest of Brazil: Report by Sibélia Zanon [08/07/2020]
Fires in the Pantanal: ‘We are facing a scenario now that is catastrophic’ by Ana Ionova [08/06/2020]