Newsletter 2020-12-10



Hope and peace: Bison return to the Rosebud reservation by John C. Cannon [12/10/2020]

– The Sicangu Lakota Oyate, the Native nation living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota, released 100 American bison onto part of an 11,300-hectare (28,000-acre) pasture.
– The project is a collaboration between the Sicangu Oyate’s economic arm, REDCO, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and WWF.
– Over the next five years, the leaders of the Wolakota Buffalo Range project hope to expand the herd to 1,500 buffalo, which would make it the largest owned by a Native nation.

Is Brazil’s biodiverse savanna getting the attention it deserves, finally? by Mike Gaworecki [12/09/2020]

– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we look at how the largest and most biodiverse tropical savanna on Earth, Brazil’s Cerrado, may finally be getting the conservation attention it needs.
– We’re joined by Mariana Siqueira, a landscape architect who’s helping to find and propagate the Cerrado’s natural plant life, and is collaborating with ecologists researching the best way to restore the savanna habitat.
– Also appearing on the show is Arnaud Desbiez, founder and president of Brazilian NGO ICAS, who describes the Cerrado as an important part of the Brazilian range for the giant armadillo, a species whose conservation could play an important role in protecting what’s left of the Cerrado’s vast biodiversity.

Colombian environmental official assassinated in southern Meta department by Antonio Jose Paz Cardona [12/07/2020]

– Historically, this is a zone of armed conflict in the Amazon with frequent issues related to deforestation and land grabbing.
– Parra was coordinator of the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the La Macarena Special Management Area (Cormacarena). He was a 20-year veteran of the environmental authority.
– Between January 1 and December 6, 2020, a jaw-dropping 284 environmental leaders and defenders have been assassinated in Colombia.

Planned road to bisect pristine, biodiverse Brazilian Amazon national park by Ana Ionova [12/03/2020]

– The BR-364 highway stretches for 4,325 kilometers across Brazil, ending in Acre state. Now authorities, backed by Acre’s state government and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, want to extend it with a 152-kilometer branch road through Serra do Divisor National Park, near demarcated Indigenous reserves, and to the Peru border.
– Meanwhile, the Brazilian Congress is moving a bill forward to fast track the branch road’s approval by degrading the conservation status of the national park and reclassifying it as an APA, an Área de Proteção Ambiental, which would allow timber harvesting, ranching, agriculture and mining.
– Environmentalists and Indigenous communities warn that the planned road and the reduction in protections for Serra do Divisor National Park would open up the conservation unit and a pristine portion of the Brazilian Amazon, providing access to loggers, cattle ranchers and landgrabbers.
– Though the road is still not approved, local sources say as much as 30 kilometers of forest along the route have already been cleared to the park’s border. “With each day, each year that passes, the deforestation advances further. The destruction of humans is relentless… And for us, it’s really difficult to witness,” said one Indigenous leader.



Brazilians impacted by mining assert: ‘Genocide legalized by the state’ by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [10 Dec 2020]
– Residents of traditional communities in the Brazilian Amazon municipality of Barcarena, near the mouth of the Amazon River, say that their subsistence and commercial livelihoods, and their health, have been destroyed by an invasion of mining companies which began in the mid-1980’s.
– Among the gigantic companies moving into the region were Brazil’s Vale, Norwegian-Japanese Albrás, Norway’s Norsk Hydro, and France’s Imerys Rio Capim Caulim. Community complaints say that the firms allegedly stole community land and polluted land, water and air.
– Meanwhile, according to residents, the government rewarded the companies with subsidies, looked the other way when community lands were appropriated and pollution occurred, and paid for mining firm infrastructure, including the Tucurui mega-dam; port of Vila do Conde, and a network of new roads.
– Also, a string of mining disasters punctuated the years, with the worst by Norsk Hydro in 2018 at the Hydro Alunorte facility. Though local waters, blood and hair have proven to be contaminated with mining-related toxins, the companies defend themselves by saying no particular firm can be pinpointed with the harm.

Only 40% of world’s forests have high ecological integrity, a new index reveals by Liz Kimbrough [10 Dec 2020]
– Of the world’s remaining forests, only 40% are intact, with high ecological integrity, according to data from a newly developed index that’s the first of its kind to measure forest conditions on a global scale.
– The Forest Landscape Integrity Index, an open-source tool created by 47 global conservation and forests experts, is a measure of human impact on forests.
– High-integrity forests are found mostly in Canada, Russia, the Amazon, Central Africa, and New Guinea; of the remaining high-integrity forests, only 27% are currently in nationally designated protected areas.
– Conserving forests is a critical part of achieving the international Sustainable Development Goals, and understanding where high-quality, intact forests remain may inform conservation planning.

Herd opportunity: Hundreds of elephants return to DRC’s Virunga by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [10 Dec 2020]
– A group of about 580 savanna elephants recently returned to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after crossing over from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
– The reappearance of the elephants brings hope to a park that’s been beset with civil unrest, violence, and poaching for decades.
– In May, Virunga National Park closed due to the spread of COVID-19, which caused serious financial damage to the park.

Palm oil, coca and gangs close in on Colombia’s Indigenous Nukak Makú by Tatiana Pardo Ibarra [10 Dec 2020]
– Satellite and aerial images show the advance of extensive cattle ranching and mechanized agriculture of plantain, pineapple, yucca, oil palm and eucalyptus in the rainforests of Colombia’s Guaviare department.
– Law enforcement efforts have not been enough to stop the expansion of illegal palm oil plantations that surround the Nukak Indigenous reservation.
– The Indigenous tribe, which had no contact with the outside world until 32 years ago, is also losing its forest home to coca cultivation and cattle ranching.

Our most popular conservation news stories in November 2020 by [09 Dec 2020]
– November was the second straight month where regular multi-day suspensions of Mongabay’s Facebook accounts significantly reduced traffic to the site. Despite these repeated bans, which were consistently reversed on appeal for human review, Mongabay’s traffic in November was 3% higher than a year ago, amounting to 8.9 million pageviews.
– The most popular story of the month was a write up on rare camera trap footage of a the Amazon’s short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis).
– Below are the 20 articles with the most traffic on during the month of November.

In China, public support grows to rein in the wildlife trade in the wake of the pandemic by Emily Harwitz [09 Dec 2020]
– After the December 2019 outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese researchers surveyed the Chinese public on their opinions of wildlife consumption and trade.
– An overwhelming majority supported stricter policies and legislation to protect wildlife.
– NGOs based in China report parallel findings that public awareness and support of wildlife conservation has increased dramatically. They see the pandemic as a promising opportunity to make substantial changes.

Dogs in Brazil are being trained to sniff out COVID-19 in humans by Matheus Lopes Quirino [09 Dec 2020]
– A Brazilian study turns dogs into advanced students in training to identify people infected with the coronavirus.

Sri Lanka to the U.K.: Here’s your waste back. And there’s more to come by Malaka Rodrigo [09 Dec 2020]
– Sri Lanka has sent back the first batch of 21 containers out of a total of 263 containers of waste imported from the U.K. in 2019.
– The waste was labeled for recycling, but a customs inspection uncovered suspected medical waste, which constitutes a violation of the Basel Convention that regulates the global movement of hazardous waste.
– A growing number of countries in the Global South have begun refusing to accept waste from the West and sending it back because of violations of regulations on hazardous and electronic waste.
– Experts say Sri Lanka still has to upgrade its domestic waste-processing industry, given that much of the country’s industrial waste is incinerated.

Report: WWF knew about rights abuses by park rangers, but didn’t respond effectively by Ashoka Mukpo [08 Dec 2020]
– In 2019, Buzzfeed News published a series of articles alleging that WWF was providing support to park rangers in Central Africa and South Asia who were committing severe human rights abuses against people living near protected areas.
– The reports were largely based on investigations by human rights activists, who presented WWF with evidence of torture, rape and murder carried out by rangers beginning in 2014.
– An independent panel commissioned by WWF to investigate its response found that staff members heard stories of abuse beginning in 2008 and did little to address them until recently.
– In response to the panel’s 160-page report, WWF promised to set up systems for victims to make complaints and push host governments to impose codes of conduct on rangers.

Through war, wildfire and pandemic, the world’s seed vaults hold strong by Liz Kimbrough [08 Dec 2020]
– The global network of plant gene banks has shown resilience and cooperation, growing in importance as an estimated 40% of plant species are threatened with extinction and the crops used to feed the world become less diverse.
– A newly published paper documents the rescue mission of seeds from a gene bank in Syria to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, and discusses the extensive global system for conserving crop diversity and why it is imperative to do so.
– While Svalbard’s vaults store crop seeds, the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is the world’s largest wild seed conservation project, now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
– Gene banks are an important part of conservation, but they are not sufficient on their own, one expert says; the wild places and agro-ecosystems these plants come from must also be protected.

Illegal mining sparks malaria outbreak in Indigenous territories in Brazil by Eduardo Goulart de AndradeFábio BispoHyury Potter [08 Dec 2020]
– Authorities in the Brazilian municipality of Jacareacanga have requested assistance from the Ministry of Health to deal with an outbreak of malaria in Indigenous territories.
– The municipality is home to the Munduruku, Kayabi and Sai Cinza Indigenous territories, which are the targets of illegal gold miners.
– The Jacareacanga mayor’s office has blamed the outbreak on the illegal miners; this region of the Amazon is the only part of Pará state that has seen an increase in malaria cases since last year, according to state public health data.
– Satellite images and other data show that mining is both ongoing and planned inside Indigenous territories and national parks in Jacareacanga, despite Brazil’s Constitution banning all types of mining on Indigenous lands.

What is a white-faced capuchin? Candid Animal Cam meets monkeys by [08 Dec 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.

Palm oil giant Wilmar unfazed as watchdogs cry foul over Papua deforestation by Hans Nicholas Jong [08 Dec 2020]
– Forest-monitoring groups have independently flagged the recent cutting down of natural forests inside an oil palm concession in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua.
– The concession is managed by PT Medcopapua Hijau Selaras (MPHS), a supplier to Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, whose customers include Unilever, Kellogg’s and Nestlé.
– Wilmar’s investigation into the reports concluded that the actual deforestation is much smaller than alleged and was done by smallholder farmers and not MPHS.
– The watchdogs dispute this, however, saying the clearing occurred in areas that should have been off-limits under Wilmar’s own stated commitments to sourcing only sustainable palm oil.

EU renewable energy policy subsidizes surge in logging of Estonia’s protected areas (commentary) by Siim Kuresoo [07 Dec 2020]
– European Union renewable energy subsidies are fueling a dramatic surge in the logging of protected forests in Estonia.
– The Estonian government has issued logging permits for 82,000 hectares of forest – the equivalent to 115,000 football fields – which have been designated protected habitats under Natura 2000.
– “As a result, intolerable pressure is being exerted on the forests that cover half our country, with even protected forests being clear-cut,” writes the vice-chairman of the Estonian Fund for Nature.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Worker feared dead as landslide hits quake-prone dam in orangutan habitat by Hans Nicholas Jong [07 Dec 2020]
– A North Sumatra resident has gone missing and is feared dead after a landslide struck the site of a hydropower plant located in the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
– Afuan Ritonga, 38, was swept into the Batang Toru River by a torrent of mud on Dec. 4, during an operation to clear away debris from a landslide that struck the previous day following heavy rains.
– The excavator that Afuan was operating was later reportedly discovered downstream, but he remains missing.
– The government has identified the area as having a medium to high risk of landslides, while environmental activists and scientists say the region is also prone to earthquakes because it sits near a tectonic fault line.

Norway bumps rate to protect rainforests amid anticipated U.S. climate return by Vincent Ricci [04 Dec 2020]
– Through partnerships with different forest-rich countries, Norway has doubled the price it pays for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions through avoided deforestation.
– Recent successes have come from Gabon and Indonesia, but more action is necessary as a 2020 report suggests rainforests are losing their ability to naturally absorb carbon dioxide emissions.
– Other countries are following Norway’s example: through the Central African Forest Initiative, President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo signed a letter of intent for $65 million to protect Congo’s forests.
– In the U.S., president-elect Joe Biden has named former secretary of state John Kerry as his climate czar, in a sign of the incoming administration’s recommitment to and seriousness about climate action, following a four-year leadership vacuum under Donald Trump.

As Amazon deforestation hits 12 year high, France rejects Brazilian soy by Jenny Gonzales [04 Dec 2020]
– As Brazil continues deforesting and burning the Amazon at an alarming rate, France has announced plans to drastically reduce its dependency on Brazilian soy flour and “stop importing deforestation.”
– France currently is the EU’s largest importer of Brazilian soy flour, buying 1.9 million tons annually. “Our target today is [cutting] soybean imports coming from the American continent,” said the French Minister of Agriculture and Food this week.
– While the loss of its soy sales to France is of concern to Brazilian soy producers and commodities companies, agribusiness has expressed greater anxiety over whether Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s continued anti-environmental rhetoric and policies will provoke a largescale international boycott of Brazilian commodities.
– They especially fear the president’s hardline could risk ratification of the Mercosur trade agreement between the EU and South American nations, including Brazil. This week the EU ambassador to Brazil said that the agreement is now in standby, awaiting the country’s concrete actions to combat deforestation and Amazon fires.

Humanity’s construction footprint in the seas amounts to 32,000 square kilometers by Allison Gasparini [04 Dec 2020]
– A new study puts the physical footprint of marine structures globally into numbers for the first time.
– Researchers conservatively estimate that 32,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) of the global seafloor is covered by human-made structures.
– The map provides a jumping-off point for spatial planning to minimize the negative impacts of marine construction on local ecology.

Can whales and dolphins catch COVID-19 from wastewater? It’s murky by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [03 Dec 2020]
– A new study identifies 15 marine mammal species, including whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters, that could be susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus through contact with wastewater.
– According to the researchers, vulnerable populations of marine animals that congregate near wastewater discharge sites face elevated risks.
– To minimize these risks, the researchers suggest closely monitoring vulnerable populations for possible infection and vaccinating if necessary, and also restricting access to at-risk captive marine mammals.
– However, other experts say it is implausible for marine animals to get sick through contact with wastewater since virus transmission through water is unlikely.



Dolphins face growing pressure as development eats into Borneo’s interior by Carolyn Cowan [12/02/2020]
‘Turning fear into strength’: One woman’s struggle for justice and land rights in Sulawesi by Febriana Firdaus [12/01/2020]
‘Nature is next’: Q&A with Finance for Biodiversity’s Simon Zadek by Rhett A. Butler [11/27/2020]