Newsletter 2020-09-03



Discovery of threatened species drives bid to protect Vietnam forest by Michael Tatarski [09/01/2020]

– The impoverished district faces the same threats as many of Vietnam’s natural areas, including poaching, deforestation and urban development.
– TFFI and GreenViet, the conservation NGOs that carried out the survey, are working to convince government officials to establish a nature reserve or national park in Kon Plong.
– More than 120 species of mammals and birds were recorded in Kon Plong, including the critically endangered gray-shanked douc langur, a monkey endemic to Vietnam, as well as the northern yellow-cheeked gibbon, Owston’s palm civet, pygmy slow loris — all endangered species — plus Asiatic black bear, otters, and forest cats.

Under cover of COVID-19, loggers plunder Cambodian wildlife sanctuary by Chris Humphrey [08/31/2020]

– Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia has lost almost a fifth of its forest cover since 2010, largely to agricultural expansion, illegal logging, and land grabbing.
– The sanctuary hosts some of the last known populations of threatened primates like the black-shanked douc langur and southern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon, and is also considered the ancestral home of the Bunong ethnic minority.
– Cambodia has laws in place to protect sanctuaries and crack down on violators, but environmental watchdogs say enforcement is lacking because the authorities are largely complicit in the plunder of natural resources.
– The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem by locking out international conservation NGOs that would otherwise maintain a presence on the ground.

Fishing for change: Local management of Amazon’s largest fish also empowers women by Claudia Geib [08/31/2020]

– High market demand led to declining numbers and a ban on arapaima fishing in the late 1990s, though illegal poaching for the black market continued.
– According to a recent paper, the co-management system that has helped these fish recover also provides new opportunities for women in fishing communities.
– Women working in co-management have newly independent incomes and receive previously unknown respect for their roles, though further work is needed to cement these gains.

Officials quash plan, for now, to develop Philippines’ biggest copper mine by Bong S. Sarmiento [08/30/2020]

– The Philippine municipality of Tampakan has canceled an agreement with Sagittarius Mines, Inc. to develop a $5.9 billion copper and gold mine on the island of Mindanao.
– Municipal councilors criticized the “lopsided” nature of the deal that they said had not been periodically reviewed as required and had sold the community short.
– The Tampakan project has faced opposition since mineral reserves were discovered there in the ’90s, with pushback coming from various levels of government, Indigenous communities, the Catholic church, environmentalists, and even communist rebels.
– An Indigenous group that has taken up arms against the project has warned of more bloodshed should the project go ahead on their ancestral lands.

Park rangers, the guardians of Ecuador’s biodiversity, face job insecurity by Domenica Montano [08/28/2020]

– For their part, the rangers say the change creates instability and deprives them of job security.
– Park rangers have been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even handing out assistance kits to communities.
– Protected areas account for a fifth of Ecuador’s territory, and include ecologically important areas like the Galápagos Islands and Yasuní National Park.



Europe’s richest countries importing Brazillian beef linked to millions of tons of emissions: report by [03 Sep 2020]
– Millions of tons of emissions are embedded in Europe’s Brazillian beef imports each year, equivalent to the annual footprint of between 300,000 and 2.4 million EU citizens, according to a new report by London-based NGO Earthsight.
– Though global emissions are expected to see a record fall this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil is set to defy the trend, with a predicted rise of between 10% and 20%. Deforestation and cattle ranching account for over half of the country’s emissions.
– Two companies, JBS and Silca, were found to be responsible for almost a quarter of the estimated emissions documented by Earthsight, while just eight farms were responsible for over half of all imported emissions.

Philippine wildlife reporting app promises to upgrade fight against trafficking by Rosy Mina [03 Sep 2020]
– The Philippines’ environment department plans a year-end rollout of an app, currently being tested, that should make it easier for citizens and enforcement officials to report wildlife crimes.
– Illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth-biggest transnational crime in the world, following the trafficking of drugs, people, and weapons; in the Philippines, the trade is estimated at $1 billion a year, and threatens the country’s unique wildlife, of which many species are found nowhere else.
– The WildALERT app is designed to overcome one of the main problems with reporting any kind of crime from remote areas — patchy internet reception — by using an offline mode that allows users to enter photographic and location data on-site and upload it when they get reception.
– The app also has a library feature, essentially a Facebook for endangered species, to allow users to quickly identify and report species they encounter; the lack of specialist knowledge is currently one of the big gaps in the existing campaign against the illegal wildlife trade.

Survival of Indigenous communities at risk as Amazon fire season advances by Shanna Hanbury [02 Sep 2020]
– The number of major Amazon fires this year has more than doubled since August 13, with most of those fires being illegal. 674 major fires were detected between May 28 and September 2, with a sharp increase inside Indigenous territories in the last two weeks, raising concerns among Indigenous leaders.
– Indigenous groups are being left to fight the fires on their own, without support from government institutions. IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency has been largely stripped of funds and lacks adequate equipment to fight the blazes, while the Army, sent to the Amazon in May, is reportedly failing to suppress most fires.
– Combined with COVID-19, smoke from fires poses a serious threat to Indigenous health. Native peoples have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and have weaker immune systems for respiratory disease. A recent study shows that Indigenous hospitalizations for respiratory disease coincide with deforestation rates year-by-year.
– Isolated Indigenous groups are especially under threat as fires put their food sources at risk. Experts say that isolated and uncontacted groups, to fend off hunger, are sighted more often roaming during Amazon fires, potentially risking exposure to Western diseases.

Podcast: In the Amazon, women are key to forest conservation by Mike Gaworecki [02 Sep 2020]
– Women are a driving force in the movement to protect the Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world.
– Joining us on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast is environmental journalist Sarah Sax, who recently wrote about the Women Warriors of the Forest, an all-female Indigenous group that is employing new tactics and building new alliances to protect the forests they call home.
– We also interview Dr. Dolors Armenteras, who is a pioneer in the use of remote sensing to monitor Amazon forests and biodiversity, and has been named one of the most influential scientists studying forest fires.
– Despite her pedigree, Armenteras has faced discrimination as a woman scientist, and discusses how she is supporting the next generation of women scientists to help them overcome such biases.

Just half of major timber and pulp suppliers committed to zero deforestation: Report by Claire Asher [02 Sep 2020]
– The world’s 100 most significant timber and pulp companies score just 22.6%, on average, when assessed across 175 environmental, social, and governance indicators, according to the latest assessment by the Zoological Society of London using its Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT).
– 2020 is the first way-point towards the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests’ goal of eliminating natural forest loss by 2030, but 44% of companies still don’t have a robust commitment to halting the conversion of natural ecosystems.
– Climate change risk assessments, which are not a requirement of current forest management certification programs, are often viewed by companies as an “optional extra,” and only 4% of firms provided an assessment of their future climate risk.
– More than half of companies are committed to respecting the rights of local communities, but only 9% have published procedures for obtaining free, prior informed consent from local communities on all new developments. Just 11 firms provided evidence they’re paying all workers minimum wage.

Madagascar introduces stoves that burn rice husks instead of forests by Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy [02 Sep 2020]
– Madagascar’s dependence on fuelwood is contributing significantly to the island’s deforestation.
– To meet demand, charcoal suppliers even take wood from protected areas and dig up tree stumps.
– A program aimed at changing wood consumption habits to alleviate pressure on both forests and household budgets is distributing new stoves that burn rice husks instead of charcoal.
– One million tons of rice husks go to waste in Madagascar each year. The program aims to turn this surplus into a biofuel that is cheaper and more sustainable than wood.

Infrastructure plans imperil Latin America’s forests: Analysis by [02 Sep 2020]
– A recent analysis in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by social scientists, along with representatives of NGOs and funding organizations, warns of the danger to forests, communities and biodiversity as a result of planned infrastructure.
– The team writes that the planning process needs to be focused on projects that bring the most benefits to people and the environment.
– The authors advocate an approach that includes input from often-marginalized groups like Indigenous communities and looks to science to inform planning for large-scale projects.

State neglect means Indigenous Papuans’ victory over palm oil firm is shaky by Hans Nicholas Jong [02 Sep 2020]
– Local authorities in Indonesia’s West Papua province have revoked the permits for an 11,475-hectare (28,355-acre) oil palm concession because it includes a forest that’s sacred to the Indigenous Moi people.
– Activists have welcomed the move but note that the permits could have been scrapped much sooner for various other reasons, including a violation of plantation size limits.
– They also criticized the central government, specifically the environment ministry, for not reaffirming the district government’s recognition of the Moi people’s Indigenous land rights, which would have made the forest off-limits to commercial exploitation.
– Without this official recognition from the central government, the forest can still be licensed out for agriculture, activists point out.

Coronavirus caused by ‘unbalancing’ of nature: Q&A with Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero by Francesca Edralin [02 Sep 2020]
– The COVID-19 pandemic has been disproportionately hard on Indigenous communities around the world, most of which suffered even before the pandemic from lack of access to health care and from the destruction of their natural ecosystems.
– Levi Sucre Romero, a leader of the Bribri Indigenous group in Costa Rica, says the pandemic is one of many consequences of the mismanagement of natural resources.
– With government aid largely lacking, Indigenous communities are pulling through the crisis in the ways that they know best, Romero says, including a return to traditional means of sustainable production and sharing.
– He calls for governments to allow more room for Indigenous knowledge in policies affecting natural resource management, and for greater solidarity between Indigenous communities globally in their shared struggle.

Greenpeace photos illuminate illegal Amazon fires by [01 Sep 2020]
– The aerial images — captured by photographer Christian Braga over the states of Rondonia, Amazonas, and Mato Grosso from August 16-18, 2020 — show fires burning through recently deforested areas, agricultural areas, degraded forests, and on the edges of dense tropical forests.
– Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a 120-day ban on fires July 15th, 2020, but satellite data shows the decree is being widely ignored.
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has sharply increased since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.

For Brazil’s most trafficked parrot, the poaching is relentless by Dimas Marques [01 Sep 2020]
– Every year between August and September, poachers in the Brazilian Cerrado steal turquoise-fronted parrot hatchlings from their nests to supply the exotic pet market.
– The main destination is the São Paulo metropolitan area, where at least 12,000 baby birds are taken every year, usually packed in boxes without water or ventilation.
– The species is the most widely traded of Brazil’s parrots, sought after because it’s relatively easy to train to “talk.”
– Conservationists say law enforcement efforts to tackle the trafficking have failed, and warn that the dwindling wild population of the bird will have ripple effects within its ecosystem.

Friday night follies: Brazil cuts deforestation funding, then restores it by Jenny Gonzales [01 Sep 2020]
– More than 500 major fires were reported in the Amazon as of last week, most of them illegal. Which is why it seemed a strange moment for Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro administration to announce it was defunding all deforestation and firefighting efforts by government agencies in the Amazon forest and Pantanal wetlands biomes.
– The cuts, totaling R $60 million (US $11.1 million), would have come from the budgets of IBAMA, the nation’s environmental agency, and ICMBio, its national parks agency. Within hours of the funding reduction announcement, the government reversed itself and restored the money taken away.
– Since then experts have argued theories as to the reason for the government’s erratic actions. Some say it is a means of making a show of the anti-environmental policy the administration would truly like to put forward, but cannot for fear of international censure. Others see it as political maneuvering with the Bolsonaro administration.
– Analysts point out that the budget cuts made no fiscal sense, since IBAMA’s most expensive contracts for helicopter and vehicle rentals to curb deforestation and do firefighting are paid up through April 2021 by the Amazon Fund, money mostly provided by Norway and Germany, with more than R $60 million available.

Mauritians take to the street over oil spill and dolphin and whale deaths by Malavika Vyawahare [01 Sep 2020]
– People gathered in the thousands in Mauritius’s capital, Port Louis, to protest the government’s response to a recent oil spill.
– The Japanese-owned freighter M.V. Wakashio crashed into the coral reef barrier off the island’s southeastern coast on July 25 and leaked about 1,000 tons of fuel oil into the sea near ecologically sensitive areas, before breaking in half a few weeks later.
– The stranding of at least 39 dolphins and whales near the site has sparked an outcry, though a link between the Wakashio shipwreck and the beachings has not yet been established.
– In a controversial move, the Mauritian government decided to sink the front half of the ship several kilometers away from the crash site in open waters, which some experts say could have impacted the dolphin and whale populations.

Paper giant APP linked to Indonesia peat clearing despite sustainability vow by Hans Nicholas Jong [01 Sep 2020]
– Greenpeace Southeast Asia has identified nearly 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of peatland clearing in pulpwood plantations in Sumatra supplying Asian Pulp & Paper.
– Analysis of satellite imagery showed the clearing began in August 2018 and continued through June this year, despite APP having a “no peatland” and “no burning” policy that it also imposes on its suppliers.
– Greenpeace and local NGO Jikalahari also found evidence of fires in the concessions in question, which appeared to have been set deliberately to clear the land for planting.
– APP has denied clearing the peatland or setting the fires, calling into question the accuracy of the maps used and saying the fires spread from neighboring farms.

Madagascar giant frog is a new species, but also a deep-fried delicacy by Rivonala Razafison [01 Sep 2020]
– Two species of giant frog in the genus Mantidactylus from Madagascar have attracted researchers’ attention for their very large size, reaching body lengths of more than 10 centimeters, or 4 inches.
– A new genetic study has revealed the existence of a third species unknown until now: Mantidactylus radaka.
– The number of scientifically accepted Madagascan frog species now stands at 362 and many other species remain to be discovered.
– Scientists recommend further studies to evaluate the conservation status of giant frog habitats and species.

What is a kinkajou? Candid Animal Cam meets the animal that is neither a bear nor an ape by [01 Sep 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.

Are forests the new coal? Global alarm sounds as biomass burning surges by Justin Catanoso [31 Aug 2020]
– As climate change rapidly escalates with worsening impacts, and with standing forests vital to achieving global warming solutions, the forest biomass industry is booming. While the industry does utilize wood scraps, it also frequently cuts standing forests to supply wood pellets to be burned in converted coal power plants.
– Though current science has shown that burning the world’s forests to make electricity is disastrous for biodiversity, generates more emissions than coal, and isn’t carbon neutral, a UN policy established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol erroneously counts energy produced from forest biomass as carbon neutral.
– As a result, nations pay power companies huge subsidies to burn wood pellets, propelling industry growth. While the industry does utilize tree residue, forests are being cut in the US, Canada, Russia, Eastern Europe and Vietnam to supply pellets to the UK, EU and other nations who can claim the energy creates zero emissions.
– So far, the UN has turned a blind eye to closing the climate destabilizing carbon accounting loophole. The Netherlands, which now gets 61% of its renewable energy from biomass, is being urged to wean itself off biomass for energy and heat. If the Dutch do so, advocates hope it could portend closure of Europe’s carbon loophole.

Ex-Wall Street ‘quant’ wields data to replant charred Madagascar rainforests by Erica Tennenhouse [31 Aug 2020]
– After retiring early from a career as a quantitative analyst for stock portfolios worth billions of dollars, Matt Hill started a nonprofit to restore rainforest in eastern Madagascar.
– Applying the data skills he honed in his former career, Hill is working out better ways to regrow rainforest burned accidentally or for agriculture.
– Although few projects have adopted that kind of approach, it is gaining approval among reforestation experts internationally.
– They say reforestation can have far greater success if practitioners develop an evidence base to guide which tree species to plant, where and when to plant them, and how to grow them.

Communities, conservation, and development in the age of COVID: Time for rethinking approaches (commentary) by M.I. Brown; B. Allgood; J. Waugh; R. Martino; S. Cheng; C.C. Kelman; & A.L. Porzecanski [31 Aug 2020]
– In this commentary, Michael Brown of Satya Development International, Beth Allgood of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and a number of co-authors (see the full list at bottom) argue that the Covid-19 pandemic affords an opportunity for conservation to evolve away from underperforming business-as-usual approaches.
– Such a shift, they write, should “focus on careful situational analysis and addressing underlying causes, rather than proposing reactionary solutions that are oversimplified, overgeneralized, and infeasible.”
– For example, they argue that an overzealous focus on crime can exacerbate existing social inequities and undermine conservation outcomes. “The ongoing reckoning in the United States on systemic racism is especially pertinent for conservation given its uncomfortable history embedded in systems of colonialism and oppression,” they write. “In parallel with the environmental justice and intersectional environmental movement, conservation must also recognize that achieving sustainability will require centering frontline communities as equal and meaningful leaders in developing and implementing conservation actions.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Despite expanding fires, Brazil suspends operations to combat Amazon deforestation by [28 Aug 2020]
– Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment announced it will suspend all operations to combat illegal deforestation and fire in the Amazon and Pantanal on Monday, August 31, 2020.
– In a statement published on its official web site, the ministry said it would demobilize staff and resources across two agencies: the environmental protection agency IBAMA and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. The suspension affects 1,805 firefighters, 401 inspectors, six helicopters, 144 vehicles, and ten aircraft.
– The ministry said the decision is the result of a federal budget cut of 60.6 million Brazilian reais.
– The cut comes as fires are currently burning widely across the Amazon.

Back from the brink, baby Burmese roofed turtles make their debut by Liz Kimbrough [28 Aug 2020]
– Once considered extinct, the Burmese roofed turtle was brought back from the brink by an ambitious conservation program.
– The captive population is now approaching 1,000 turtles, and the species appears to be in little danger of biological extinction.
– Scientists have now published descriptions and photos of the hatchlings of this little-known river turtle.

A mysterious heart bone in chimps points to cardiac disease by Julia John [28 Aug 2020]
– Chimpanzees and other great apes are widely afflicted by heart disease; three-quarters of chimps that die in captivity have been found to suffer from heart disease, and up to 90% of captive chimps could have it.
– Using high-resolution 3D imaging, a team of researchers discovered that some chimp hearts contain a tiny bone known as an os cordis.
– Researchers do not yet know how, or why, the bone forms in chimps, but it appears to be more prevalent in those with heart disease.
– Researchers hope this finding will help conservationists keep captive chimps healthy, and increase broader knowledge of chimpanzee pathology.

Indonesian fishers opposed to dredging project hit by ‘criminalization’ bid by Basten Gokkon, Wahyu Chandra [28 Aug 2020]
– Police have arrested four fishermen and charged them with defacing the Indonesian currency, following their protests against dredging for a new port in Makassar, eastern Indonesia.
– Environmental activists and supporters of the fishing community say the charge, for which the fishermen could face up to five years in prison, is a spurious one meant to silence opposition to the $6.2 billion project.
– The fishing community says the dredging activity has disrupted their traditional fishing areas, leading to catches dropping by up to two-thirds since dredging began in February this year.
– The four fishermen arrested on Aug. 14 were charged after one of them, out of protest, tore a money-filled envelope given to them by the dredging company.

The other Corona: Rescued pangolin is a rehabilitation success story by [28 Aug 2020]
– In February, a 2-year-old female pangolin named Cory was rescued in a sting operation led by the African Pangolin Working Group.
– Cory was in poor condition immediately after her rescue, but she responded well to rehabilitation, likely due to her young age.
– She was released on Manyoni Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, where pangolins have been ecologically extinct for the past 30 to 40 years.

Brazil green recovery plan could boost economy, add jobs, cut emissions: Report by Shanna Hanbury [27 Aug 2020]
– If Brazil shifts to a low carbon economy, carbon emissions would be cut by a third while also creating jobs, benefiting economic growth and infrastructure, according to a recent report by the World Resources Institute.
– Brazil’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery plan could provide an opportunity to implement long-term solutions across multiple sectors that could reduce carbon emissions and Amazon deforestation.
– Study authors hope that the economic benefits of the plan will push the current Jair Bolsonaro administration to adopt a green agenda, even if conservation is not a priority.
– “Climate denial is at a peak, but cost-benefit will be the leading decision-maker, whether or not it benefits the environment.… Due to post-COVID-19 economic recovery plans, we have a window of opportunity that will close in a year and a half or less.” — World Resources Institute Climate Policy Director Carolina Genin.

Protecting African wildlife: A defense of conservation territories (commentary) by Leif Brottem [27 Aug 2020]
– W National Park, so named for its shape, spans Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and has been called a ‘paper park.’
– Along with the adjacent Pendjari National Park, it represents one of the last best refuges for wildlife in western Africa.
– African Parks Network recently announced it would formally take over the management of the Benin side of W. To succeed, it must learn from the past and consider deploying fences and fines.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latin America unites to fight global inequalities in new regional pact by Kimberley Brown [27 Aug 2020]
– More than 2,800 environmentalists, academics, lawyers, activists, and community leaders from Mexico to Argentina have already signed the pact.
– The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequality in Latin America, where five of the top 10 countries with the highest transmission rates in the world are located. The ILO estimates more than 41 million people will lose their jobs in the region, while the U.N. has warned that extreme poverty will surpass 83 million people, and deforestation has increased, putting ecosystems and Indigenous communities in jeopardy.
– Some of the proposals in the pact include cancellation of external debt, offering universal basic income, creating solidarity-based tax reform, building post-extractivist economies, and prioritizing food sovereignty and local health care systems, among others.



Latin America unites to fight global inequalities in new regional pact by Kimberley Brown [08/27/2020]
Bleak milestone: 500 major fires detected in Brazilian Amazon this year by Liz Kimbrough [08/26/2020]
In Cambodia, a sweeping new environment code languishes in legal limbo by Andrew Nachemson [08/26/2020]
Study revealing New Guinea’s plant life ‘first step’ toward protection by John C. Cannon [08/25/2020]
Amazon ‘women warriors’ show gender equality, forest conservation go hand in hand by Rosamaria Loures and Sarah Sax [08/21/2020]