Newsletter 2020-10-01



Brazil moves toward transfer of deforestation and fire monitoring to military by Jenny Gonzales [09/20/2020]

– In a recent announcement, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão defended the creation of a new agency that would have full authority over Amazon deforestation and fire monitoring satellite alerts. For three decades, INPE, Brazil’s civilian space agency, has held that role, making data publicly available.
– The VP claims INPE satellite monitoring is outdated and doesn’t see through clouds. Critics of the government note that the space institute’s Prodes and Deter systems continue to provide excellent data on Amazon fires and deforestation, usable for enforcement, while clouds matter little in the dry season when most fires occur.
– Critics contend that multiple moves by the government to disempower INPE are likely ways of denying transparency, ending INPE’s civil authority, and placing deforestation and fire monitoring satellites under secretive military control.
– So far, an effort to fund new military satellites has failed. Meanwhile, Norway has partnered with the companies Planet and Airbus to offer free satellite images for monitoring tropical forests including the Amazon. Such publicly available images from Planet, NASA and other sources could thwart Bolsonaro’s possible attempt at secrecy.

Exploring the history of the Amazon and its peoples: an interview with John Hemming by Rhett A. Butler [09/27/2020]

– Dr. John Hemming is a legendary author and historian who has spent the past six decades documenting the history of Indigenous cultures and exploration in the Amazon.
– Hemming has traveled in the remotest parts of the Amazon, visiting 45 tribes and being present with Brazilian ethnographers at the time of four first contacts. Of the course of his career Hemming has authored more than two dozen books from the definitive history of the Spanish conquistadors’ conquest of Peru to a 2,100-page, three-volume chronicle of 500 years of Indigenous peoples and exploration in the Amazon.
– Hemming’s latest book, People of the Rainforest: The Villas Boas Brothers, Explorers and Humanitarians of the Amazon, tells the remarkable story of the Villas Boas brothers, middle-class Brazilians from São Paulo who would go on to become arguably the largest driving force for the conservation of the Amazon rainforest and recognition of the rights of its Indigenous peoples.
– Hemming spoke about his work and the legacy of the Villas Boas brothers in a September 2020 interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Video: In this Philippine community, women guard a marine protected area by Sarah Trent; Rosa Amanda Tuirán [09/25/2020]

– Women in the central Philippines have banded together to protect their marine sanctuaries from poachers and illegal fishers.
– Armed with only paddles and kayaks, these women willingly risk their lives to manage their marine protected area.
– Philippine waters are teeming with rich coral reefs and fish diversity and abundance, but protecting the seascape is challenging due to illegal fishing and climate change.

As the Amazon burns, what happens to its biodiversity? by Liz Kimbrough [09/24/2020]

– More than 40% of fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year are burning in standing forests, with more than 4.6 million acres already impacted this year. While far from fully studied, such forest fires have major repercussions for flora and fauna.
– A study found, for example, that the abundance and types of dung beetle species alters in burned Amazon forests. Dung beetles play vital roles in nutrient cycling and seed dispersal. Other research detected declines in butterflies, specialist forest ant species and other litter-dwelling invertebrates, some birds, small mammals and snakes in newly burnt areas.
– Rainforest trees are especially vulnerable because fire is relatively new to the Amazon, and trees there have not developed fire resistance. A rainforest fire, burning through the forest for the first time, kills most small trees and seedlings and can kill 50% of large trees.
– Multiple fires over time continue reducing biodiversity. Some scientists fear that a combination of fires, increasing drought due to climate change, and deforestation could lead to a tipping point — with devastating impacts for the Amazon, which harbors 10% of the world’s biodiversity.

BlackRock’s $400m stake in Amazon meatpackers defies sustainability cred by Fernanda Wenzel, Pedro Papini and Naira Hofmeister [09/24/2020]

– BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, has $408 million invested, via various funds, in Brazil’s top three meatpackers operating in the Amazon.
– These holdings are at odds with BlackRock’s stated position of pursuing environmentally sustainable investments, given that the meatpackers — JBS, Marfrig and Minerva — are closely associated with deforestation in the Amazon.
– Experts say the sheer size of BlackRock’s stake in these companies could be decisive in forcing the meatpackers to adopt deforestation-free practices.

TIME’s list of 100 most influential people in 2020 includes Indigenous Waorani leader by Kimberley Brown [09/24/2020]

– Nenquimo is the only female Indigenous leader on the Time 100 list this year, and the second Ecuadoran ever to be named on the list.
– In 2019, Nenquimo and the Waorani community won a lawsuit against the government of Ecuador for fraudulently getting the communities to consent to selling their territory in an international oil auction.
– The Waorani victory set an important legal precedent for other Indigenous communities in the rainforest, and put in motion a movement to redefine national community consent laws.



Podcast: Does mining fit into a clean energy future? by Mike Gaworecki [30 Sep 2020]
– Combating climate change will require rapidly deploying renewable energy while reducing our use of fossil fuels. But renewable energy technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles require large amounts of mined metals and minerals.
– That poses a problem, because the mining process creates significant environmental impacts, from air and water pollution to deforestation, and has led to numerous conflicts with local communities. And now, there’s a concerted effort underway by the mining industry to open up vast areas of the ocean floor to minerals mining. If we’re not careful about how we meet the growing demand for minerals, it could actually imperil the promises of the transition to clean energy.
– To help us dive into all of this, we speak with Ian Morse, a journalist who follows the minerals mining and clean energy beat closely. We also speak with Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, who discusses the threats posed by deep sea mining and tells us why more mining may not be the best way to meet the demand for minerals.

Could disruptions in meat supply relieve pressure on the Amazon? (commentary) by Nikolas Kozloff [30 Sep 2020]
– Ranching and beef production have put great pressure on the Brazilian Amazon, resulting in significant deforestation which harms biodiversity, could add to the destabilization of the global climate, and even lead to future pandemics. While much Brazilian meat is consumed domestically, a large portion is exported to China.
– With the pandemic raging out of control in Brazil, meat plants have become viral “hot spots” and helped to spread COVID-19 in several places around the country. Meanwhile, the global pandemic has, for a variety of reasons, now reduced meat consumption in both Brazil and China.
– Meat and dairy are responsible for public health problems and for 18% of global greenhouse emissions, so any reduction in consumption could be good for the health of the planet. Though the pandemic has led to untold human suffering, could cratering demand for meat lead to a new environmental consciousness?
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Study finds a Mexico-sized swath of intact land lost to human pressure by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [30 Sep 2020]
– A new study has found that human activities contributed to the loss of 1.9 million square kilometers (734,000 square miles) of intact land between 2000 and 2013, and that more than half of the world is under moderate or intense pressure from humanity.
– The most substantial losses occurred in tropical and subtropical grassland, savanna, and shrublands, while the most intact regions were tundras, boreal and taiga forests, deserts and xeric shrublands.
– The team is currently working on an update to produce near real-time results of land degradation for the past seven years.
– These findings can help inform policies and aid conservation monitoring efforts, according to the researchers.

In Sumatra, forest edge communities must be at the center of conservation efforts (commentary) by Roderick T.J. Buiskool [30 Sep 2020]
– Forest-edge communities in North Sumatra, Indonesia, are on the front lines when it comes to nature conservation efforts, and require greater support and social protection from the government and NGOs.
– With the failure of ecotourism in the wake of COVID-19, safeguarding community well-being requires more focus on diversification of sustainable livelihoods, and a sound strategy for the prevention of human-wildlife conflict.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Vietnam creates new nature reserve, possible home to elusive ‘Asian unicorn’ by Michael Tatarski [29 Sep 2020]
– Conservationists have hailed the establishment of the new Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong Nature Reserve as a major step for the protection of Vietnam’s wildlife.
– The new reserve is home to a number of threatened species, including two species of muntjac deer (Muntiacus vuquangensis and M. truongsonensis), the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi), the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), the southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki), the red-shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus), and the crested argus (Rheinardia ocellata), which resembles a peacock.
– Conservationists debate whether it may also shelter the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), a mysterious antelope-like bovine so rare it has been called the “Asian unicorn.”
– Critical threats such as poaching and deforestation remain, however, and conservationists say enforcement of new protective measures will be key to the reserve’s success.

Indonesia’s new intelligence hub wields data in the war on illegal fishing by Julia John [29 Sep 2020]
– The Indonesian Maritime Information Center (IMIC), launched in July, aims to tackle illegal fishing and other maritime violations in the country’s waters by drawing on data and analysis from various ministries and agencies.
– Its proponents say it will enhance and expedite coordination among the many agencies involved and offer a public-facing data-sharing outlet.
– Indonesia’s waters are frequently plundered by foreign fishing vessels, and some areas are disputed by other countries, including China.

Don’t cross this tiger mom: Close encounter in Russia’s Far East by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [29 Sep 2020]
– A researcher working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Russia had a close encounter with an Amur tiger and her cub in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve in mid-September.
– Amur tigers are considered to be endangered species, with fewer than 600 believed to be living in China and Russia.
– The biggest threat to Amur tigers is poaching, although conservationists say that recent changes in Russian law have made is easier to convict hunters and traffickers.

World leaders endorse ‘Pledge for Nature’ to address planetary emergency by Liz Kimbrough [29 Sep 2020]
– In the midst of a planetary emergency, 71 world leaders have endorsed a 10 point pledge to accelerate action to reverse nature loss by 2030 and tackle global warming.
– Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Prince Charles and Boris Johnson are among those who signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, stating the world is in a “state of planetary emergency.”
– The pledge addresses sustainable food systems and supply chains, eliminating unregulated fishing, reducing air pollution, integrating a “One-Health” approach, and the participation of Indigenous peoples in decision-making.
– News of the leaders’ participation, announced Sept. 28, comes ahead of the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity this week.

A Philippine stingless bee helps boost coconut yields and empower women by Mavic Conde [29 Sep 2020]
– Tetragonula biroi, a stingless bee native to the Philippines, is being cultivated on a farm to both produce honey and pollinate coconut trees.
– The farm, owned by Luz-Gamba Catindig and employing local women, has seen an increase of up to 50% in its coconut yields; researchers say the presence of these pollinators, known as kiwot bees, can boost yields by up to 80%.
– Key to these improvements in productivity are upgrades to the common beehive, developed by local bee experts working with university researchers.
– Although kiwot bees produce less honey than the more common western honey bee (Apis mellifera), they produce more propolis, a resin-like substance with high medicinal and therapeutic potential.

How loud are howler monkeys? Candid Animal Cam is in the trees this week by [29 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.

Protect Indigenous People’s rights to avoid a sixth extinction (commentary) by David Wilkie; Susan Lieberman; and James Watson [29 Sep 2020]
– In this commentary, David Wilkie, Susan Lieberman, and James Watson from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) argue that protecting Indigenous Peoples’ traditional land rights is one of the most effective strategies for preventing the Sixth Mass Extinction.
– “Most of humanity have been grossly negligent in our use of the Earth,” they write. “Wise stewardship of natural resources by Indigenous Peoples within their traditional territories has had a profoundly positive impact on the conservation of plant and animal species on land and in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.”
– “The decisions Indigenous Peoples have made over generations have done more to protect the planet’s species and ecological systems than all the protected areas established and managed by individual countries combined. The majority of our planet’s last wild, ecologically intact places on land exist because Indigenous Peoples rely on them for their wellbeing and cultural sense of self.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Spots of hope: Some good news for South Africa’s cheetahs by Tony Carnie [28 Sep 2020]
– Cheetahs have vanished from 90% of their historical range in Africa.
– A metapopulation project in South Africa has almost doubled the population of cheetahs in this project in less than nine years.
– The program works by nurturing several populations of the cat in mostly private game reserves, and swapping cheetahs between these sites to boost the gene pool.
– South Africa is now the only country in the world with a significantly increasing population of wild cheetahs, and has begun translocating the cats beyond its borders.

Shark fin trafficking ring busted as trade ban comes into effect in Florida by Ashoka Mukpo [28 Sep 2020]
– Federal prosecutors unveiled an indictment Sept. 4 against 12 people who they allege were involved in a conspiracy to illegally ship shark fins to Hong Kong, among other crimes.
– The indictments came just weeks before Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that bans the sale and possession of shark fins in the state.
– Conservationists are divided over the effectiveness of the ban, with some saying tough federal legislation is needed and others pointing to sustainable fishery management as a better solution for shark populations.

The vanishing trails of Sri Lanka’s sloth bears (Commentary) by Ranil P. Nanayakkara [26 Sep 2020]
– In Sri Lanka, the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus inoratus) is on the decline, its population dropping drastically over the years.
– It’s among the most feared and misunderstood creatures on the island, and this fear often results in humans attacking these animals first, leading to bear deaths but also grievous injury or death to humans.
– A threatened species, there are fewer than 1,000 sloth bears in Sri Lanka.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New study shows where we should grow more forest to fight climate change by Morgan Erickson-Davis [25 Sep 2020]
– In a new study published this week in Nature, researchers found that, globally, rates of potential forest carbon sequestration presumed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were underestimated by 32%. When considering just tropical regions, that number went up to 53%.
– Conversely, the study found that the maximum climate mitigation potential from reforestation – 2.43 billion metric tons – is 11% lower than previously reported. This is because the study took a more nuanced look at potential reforestation areas whereas the IPCC applied estimates more evenly across the planet.
– The study reveals that China, Brazil, and Indonesia have the greatest potential for aboveground carbon sequestration in potential restoration areas, with Russia, the U.S., India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo falling closely behind.

Rangers on the run: Half-marathon aims to raise funding for front-liners by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [25 Sep 2020]
– Wildlife ranger groups across Africa are struggling to maintain operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic drying up funding sources, which has resulted in ranger redundancies and salary reductions.
– Tusk, a U.K. nonprofit, is spearheading the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, a race and fundraiser that aims to help keep wildlife rangers employed.
– $2 million has already been distributed as emergency funding to several wildlife ranger groups.

New partnership brings high-resolution satellite imagery of the tropics to all by Liz Kimbrough [25 Sep 2020]
– Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment entered into a US $43.5 million contract, announced this week, with three well-established satellite monitoring technology groups: Kongsberg Satellite Services, Planet and Airbus.
– This new partnership will give the world free access to high-resolution satellite imagery of the tropics.
– The contract was awarded under Norway’s International Climate and Forests Initiative, an effort to mitigate climate change by protecting rainforests.

Watch: Rare wildlife caught on camera in a remote Liberian rainforest by Ashoka Mukpo [25 Sep 2020]
– Camera traps laid by WCF captured video of 23 species, including western chimpanzees and a pygmy hippopotamus.
– WCF worked with local authorities and communities to place camera traps in 500 locations throughout the park.
– Grebo-Krahn National Park was established in 2017 as part of an effort to turn 30% of Liberia’s forests into protected areas.

Ikea faces Swiss complaint over wood believed to have been illegally logged by Victoria Schneider [25 Sep 2020]
– A Swiss foundation has filed a complaint against furniture giant Ikea for failing to properly declare the origin of the wood used in two of its best-selling chairs.
– Under Swiss laws, the company is required to declare to consumers the country of origin of all the wood used in its products.
– The complaint stems from a report issued in June that found Ikea’s timber suppliers in Romania and Ukraine were engaged in illegal logging.
– Swiss authorities are aware of 166 declaration infringements by Ikea, but have not penalized the company for any of them, saying it has “always corrected any deficiencies identified.”



Flip-flops, fishing gear pile up at Aldabra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site by Malavika Vyawahare [09/23/2020]
On World Rhino Day, ‘real work’ is still needed to save Sumatran rhinos by Basten Gokkon [09/22/2020]
Solomon Islands environmental defender faces life sentence for arson charge by Louise Hunt [09/18/2020]
In Brazil’s Pantanal, a desperate struggle to save a hyacinth macaw refuge from fire by Jennifer Ann Thomas [09/17/2020]