Newsletter 2021-01-14



Podcast: What are the tropical forest storylines to watch in 2021? by Mike Gaworecki [01/13/2021]

– Happy new year to all of our faithful Mongabay Newscast listeners! For our first episode of the year, we take stock of how the world’s rainforests fared in 2020 and look ahead to the major stories to watch in 2021.
– We’re joined by Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler, who discusses the impacts of the Covid pandemic on tropical forest conservation efforts, the most important issues likely to impact rainforests in 2021, and why he remains hopeful despite setbacks in recent years.
– We also speak with Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, who helps us dig deeper into the major issues and events that will affect Africa’s rainforests in the coming year.

Indigenous agroforestry revives profitable palm trees and the Atlantic Forest by Xavier Bartaburu [01/13/2021]

– Highly popular in Brazil because of its delicious heart, the jussara palm was eaten nearly to the brink of extinction.
– The Indigenous Guarani people from the São Paulo coast are traditional consumers of jussara palm hearts, and decided to reverse the loss by planting thousands of palm trees inside their reserve.
– With more than 100,000 jussara palms planted since 2008, the community now sells hearts and seedlings to tourists and beach house owners. The next step is to start extracting the pulp from jussara berries — similar to açaí berries, the popular superfood — which the group hopes will generate enough income to keep the palm trees standing.
– The palms grow among native trees in an ancient and increasingly popular agricultural technique called agroforestry, which combines woody trees with shrubs, vines, and annuals, in a system that benefits wildlife, builds water tables and soil, provides food, and sequesters carbon.

How to turn climate ambitions into reality: Q&A with Nigel Topping by Rhett A. Butler [01/12/2021]

– 2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for taking stock on climate and biodiversity commitments and determining how societies move forward to address the world’s most pressing problems. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, leading to the postponement or cancellation of many events, including the 26th United Nations climate conference (COP26).
– But while COP26’s delay may have stalled government to government negotiations at national levels, it didn’t prevent the parties from advancing efforts to address climate change, including the push to connect government targets with initiatives by sub-national governments, cities, companies, and civil society groups.
– To lead on this latter front, Gonzalo Munoz and Nigel Topping were appointed as High Level Climate Action Champions for the upcoming conference: “Our role is quite literally to champion the ambition and actions taken by non-state actors in addressing climate change. This means that Gonzalo and I work with partners across the world – cities, states and regions, businesses, investors, and civil society groups – to raise the awareness of, ambition for, and levels of action being taken to address climate change.”
– Topping spoke about these issues and more during a January 2020 conversation with Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler.

Award-winning Thai community continues the fight to save its wetland forest by Carolyn Cowan [01/11/2021]

– In 2018, community members in Ban Boon Rueang, in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province, successfully campaigned against plans to convert a wetland forest into a special economic zone.
– The wetland, which supports residents’ livelihoods as well as providing a haven for wildlife, remains under the customary management of villagers.
– However, it faces ongoing threats due to climate change and dam construction on the Mekong River. Local officials also cannot guarantee that future administrations won’t revive plans to convert the area for industrial use.

Investing in African wildlife: An interview with David Bonderman by Rhett A. Butler [01/07/2021]

– David Bonderman is one of the best known figures in private equity, having made his name by taking over undervalued companies and turning them around. His lifetime of investing has made him a billionaire.
– But Bonderman’s interests aren’t limited to the world of business — he’s also a philanthropist who has put tens of millions of dollars via his Wildcat Foundation into anti-poaching and wildlife conservation efforts in Africa. This support has gone to groups working to combat ivory and rhino horn trafficking, develop and deploy technologies to empower wildlife rangers, and create sustainable livelihoods for local people who are directly impacted by wildlife.
– Bonderman has also applied his interest in sustainability to his business strategy, seeking out investments that have “measurable positive impact” and working with portfolio companies reduce waste and improve water and energy efficiency.
– Bonderman spoke about these issues and more in a December 2020 conversation with Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler.



‘There is no vaccine for climate change,’ U.N. environment chief says by [14 Jan 2021]
– The planet is set to warm by 3°C (5.4°F) above pre-industrial levels just this century, but the world remains unprepared for climate change, a U.N. report says.
– More than a quarter of countries still don’t have a single national-level adaptation plan, and financing for adaptation measures falls far short of what is needed.
– By mid-century, adaptation costs could total up to $500 billion for developing countries, which will be disproportionately impacted by climate change despite contributing least to it.
– Less than 5% of adaptation projects have yielded any real benefits in terms of boosting resilience to date, according to a survey of 1,700 projects cited in the report.

Deforestation spurred by road project creeps closer to Sumatra wildlife haven by Hans Nicholas Jong [14 Jan 2021]
– A road in Sumatra that cuts through the only habitat on Earth that houses rhinos, tigers, elephants and orangutans has recently been upgraded, stoking fears of greater human incursion into the rainforest.
– Already the upgrades have seen a proliferation of human settlements along a section of the road in a forest adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park, resulting in the loss of 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of forest.
– Environmentalists say it’s only a matter of time before the encroachment spreads into the national park, triggering fears that it will fragment the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.
– The road upgrade was carried out despite calls against it from UNESCO, which lists the national park as part of a World Heritage Site and has identified infrastructure projects as a threat to the ecosystem.

Sumatran rhino conservation inspires a thriving creative economy by Agus Susanto [14 Jan 2021]
– Local communities in a Sumatran rhino stronghold are benefiting from a creative economy built up around the conservation of the critically endangered species.
– From collecting leaves to feed the rhinos, to selling wood carvings and wildlife-themed batik clothes, communities living around Way Kambas National Park are developing new income streams.
– Way Kambas is home to a captive-breeding center that is trying to shore up the flagging wild population.
– Indonesia is the last place on Earth with Sumatran rhinos, whose total population is estimated at fewer than 80 individuals.

Whale shark stranding points to silting of Indonesia’s Kendari Bay by Ian Morse [13 Jan 2021]
– Volunteers and officials successfully pushed a whale shark back out to sea after it got stranded in shallow water in Indonesia’s Kendari Bay.
– The incident, which one rescuer said was a first, has highlighted the consequences of the rapid silting of the bay amid a spate of development projects in the area.
– The clearing of land allows dirt to run into waterways, with the accumulated sediment halving the depth of Kendari Bay and making flood prevention more difficult.
– Amid the silting, fishing catches have declined and there are indications of heavy-metal contamination of the water.

Patches of Amazon untouched by humans still feel impact of climate change by Dimas Marques/Fauna News [13 Jan 2021]
– Researchers looking at the abundance of insect-eating birds in a pristine patch of forest deep in the Brazilian Amazon have seen populations of dozens of species decline over the past 35 years.
– The remoteness of the site and the still-intact tree cover rule out direct human activity as a factor for the population declines, with researchers attributing the phenomenon to the warmer and more intense droughts caused by climate change, which in turn puts stress on the birds and their food sources.
– The finding calls into question the idea that an area protected from human activity is sufficient to guarantee the conservation of its biodiversity.
– A similar phenomenon has been observed in the Caatinga shrubland ecosystem of northeastern Brazil, where rising temperatures, severe droughts, and irregular rainfall may lead to the extinction of birds and mammals over the next 60 years, even inside national parks.

Deregulation law ‘raises corruption risk’ in Indonesia’s forestry sector by Hans Nicholas Jong [13 Jan 2021]
– Experts have warned that a controversial deregulation act will serve as a springboard for greater corruption in Indonesia’s forestry sector.
– They say a pervasive lack of transparency will allow companies such as plantation operators to whitewash their illegal occupation of forests or take control of larger swaths of land than permitted, among other risks.
– The experts have called for greater transparency, especially on the beneficial ownership of companies, and more detailed guidelines on how to implement the deregulation law.

California-sized area of forest lost in just 14 years by [13 Jan 2021]
– An area of forest roughly the size of California was cleared across the tropics and subtropics between 2004 and 2017 largely for commercial agriculture, finds a new assessment published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
– The report looks at the state of forests and causes of deforestation in 24 “active deforestation fronts”, which account for over half of all tropical and subtropical deforestation that occurred over the 14-year period. These include nine forest areas in Latin America, eight in Africa, and seven in Asia and Oceania.
– Using five satellite-based datasets, the report finds 43 million hectares (166,000 square miles) of deforestation during the period. Nearly two-thirds of that loss occurred in Latin America.
– The report lays out a series of actions to address deforestation, include policy measures by governments and companies. These range from commodity sourcing policies to recognizing Indigenous and local communities’ land rights.

How endangered are monk seals? Candid Animal Cam meets these underwater mammals by [12 Jan 2021]
– 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.

Fisheries need to make gender inclusion a norm, not just ‘reach’ women, says Pacific study by Carinya Sharples [12 Jan 2021]
– A study into gender-inclusion approaches on Fiji, Vanatu and Solomon Islands finds most focus on women while overlooking the role of men and gender relations.
– Respondents report confusion over what gender means, lack of capacity, and cultural and traditional barriers.
– Researchers call on fishing practitioners and managers to partner with gender and development organizations, and see gender as “cross-cutting” — interwoven, like climate change, “into every single thing that we do.”

Bringing color to conservation: a conversation with wildlife artist Morgan Richardson by Dave Martin, Rhett A. Butler [12 Jan 2021]
– Many of the visuals we’re used to seeing in conservation are ones of despair: forests being torn down for palm oil production, pangolins and rhinos being slaughtered for the scales and horns, blue glaciers calving into the ocean, fires destroying majestic trees, and vigils to environmental defenders slain for their efforts to protect the planet.
– Morgan Lee Richardson, a Los Angeles-based artist, takes a different approach. He creates images of wildlife with shockingly bold colors. Richardson — whose artwork has appeared widely from Disney to Nickelodeon to Thundershirts — uses his “kick in the face” style to “introduce people to the amazing biodiversity of our planet.”
– Richardson says new approaches are needed to reach and engage the next generation since it is they who will determine the fate of the species with which we share the planet. He also believes that wildlife conservation needs to become more inclusive if it hopes to thrive into the future.
– Richardson shared his thoughts during a January 2021 interview with Mongabay’s Dave Martin.

Monitoring tropical deforestation is now free and easy by Liz Kimbrough [12 Jan 2021]
– Thanks to Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment and the satellite monitoring group Planet, anyone with an internet connection can now view monthly updates of high-resolution satellite imagery of tropical forests for free.
– At 5-meter (16-foot) resolution, the imagery allows users to see the removal of individual trees and makes it easier to determine the causes of deforestation.
– The high-resolution, high-frequency imagery is especially powerful when combined with early-warning forest loss alerts such as the GLAD alerts visualized on the Global Forest Watch platform.
– The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) plans to use this new imagery to enhance its real-time monitoring program, quickly detecting and confirming deforestation in the Amazon to inform its partners in the field. MAAP provides several examples of the new technology in action.

Seeking a sanctuary for Peru’s sea life: Q&A with Yuri Hooker by Michelle Carrere [12 Jan 2021]
– More than 1,000 species of fish, 1,018 mollusks and crustaceans and 215 echinoderms are known to live in Peruvian waters, and many species remain to be discovered and cataloged.
– Yet despite its rich biodiversity, Peru has no marine protected areas.
– Nearly 10 years ago, a movement began to urge the government to declare one in the tropical north of the country, home to more than 70% of Peru’s fish and invertebrate species.
– Mongabay spoke to Yuri Hooker, a marine scientist who has been pushing for the creation of the Grau Tropical Marine National Reserve.

First COVID-19 cases in zoo gorillas raise alarm about wild populations by [12 Jan 2021]
– Gorillas at San Diego Zoo in California have tested positive for COVID-19, the first cases of the novel coronavirus infecting great apes.
– Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans share more than 95% of the human genome and are known to be at risk from certain human diseases.
– Zoo authorities said an asymptomatic staff member might have infected the gorillas.
– The news is likely to send alarm bells ringing, especially in Africa, home to the only wild populations of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

Six rangers killed in deadly militia attack in DRC’s Virunga National Park by Ashoka Mukpo [11 Jan 2021]
– The incident is the latest in a series of deadly attacks against rangers working inside the park.
– The Congolese agency that supervises ranger operations said the attack was likely carried out by members of a local militia.
– Land pressures and instability in eastern DRC have increasingly brought rangers from Virunga into conflict with armed groups in the region.

Paper giant APP failing its own sustainability goals, report alleges by Hans Nicholas Jong [11 Jan 2021]
– A new report urges bank and buyers to stop doing business with Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest paper producers, for its alleged failure to uphold its own sustainability commitments.
– The report, by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a coalition of NGOs, lists a litany of violations — from destruction of tropical peat ecosystems to the prevalence of burning to persistent community conflicts — associated with APP’s operations in Indonesia.
– The company has denied the allegations, saying it continues to make strides in restoring peat areas of its concessions and resolving land disputes with local and Indigenous communities.
– However, the EPN points to a lack of transparency and verifiable progress in both APP’s sustainability commitments and resolution of conflicts.

A good year for the Philippine eagle in 2020, but not for its supporters by Bong S. Sarmiento [08 Jan 2021]
– The country’s pandemic lockdown, among the longest and strictest in the world, curtailed field expeditions in the southern Mindanao region, impacting the conservation of the critically endangered Philippine eagles (Phitecopaga jefferyi).
– Despite the limitations, Philippine eagle conservationists and their partner agencies rescued seven eagles and sighted two new eagle families.
– Conservationists note that more eagles have been seen in the wild in Mindanao, among the last remaining bastions of the species, which means that conservation drives to educate communities are working.
– While 2020 was a productive year for eagle conservation, the pandemic crippled the steady stream of revenue coming from tourists visiting the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City.

Colombian and Ecuadorian Indigenous communities live in fear as drug traffickers invade by Ana Cristina Basantes [08 Jan 2021]
– The Siona Indigenous group inhabits communities in two Indigenous territories: Buenavista in Colombia and the smaller Wisuyá in Ecuador.
– Both territories have seen increasing deforestation in recent years, which sources attribute to oil extraction, logging and the clearing of land for illicit crops – mainly coca, which is used to make cocaine.
– Armed groups control the trade and processing of coca and sources say those who oppose them face violent reprisal.

Lack of protection leaves Spain-size swath of Brazilian Amazon up for grabs by Jenny Gonzales [08 Jan 2021]
– Fifty million hectares (124 million acres) of undesignated forest in the Brazilian Amazon, an area the size of Spain, is under growing threat of illegal occupation and deforestation facilitated by a controversial government land registry.
– A Greenpeace Brazil study shows 62% of undesignated forest along a stretch of the BR-163 Highway has been illegally invaded and then registered by the occupiers with the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).
– CAR, a self-declaratory system, was created in 2012 to help identify those responsible for rural plots, however, combined with the current weakening of environmental agencies and of field actions against deforestation, it’s helping legitimize land grabbing.
– The problem of land grabbing in the Amazon, often by speculators looking to sell to cattle ranchers and crop growers, is not new, but the situation has intensified under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. The Greenpeace researchers say there’s little prospect of a crackdown on land grabbing under the present political scenario.

How can Southeast Asia benefit from the new U.S. policy on illegal fishing? (commentary) by Aristyo Rizka Darmawan [08 Jan 2021]
– The U.S. Coast Guard recently issued its strategic outlook on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF), which it estimates costs tens of billions of dollars of lost revenue for legal fishers every year.
– While the outlook doesn’t identify any particular region as a priority, it appears likely that the South China Sea will be an area of focus, building on wider U.S. policy to contain China’s growing clout in the region.
– South China Sea nations such as Indonesia will welcome the effort to tackle IUUF, but will not want to see a militaristic approach by the U.S. that risks escalating tensions with China, the author argues.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Cat fight: Jaguar ambushes ocelot in rare camera trap footage by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [08 Jan 2021]
– Camera trap footage revealed a jaguar killing an ocelot at a waterhole in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of northern Guatemala.
– While this kind of killing event is considered rare, it can occur when two predator species are competing with each other over resources such as water.
– Prolonged drought, compounded by climate change, may have influenced this event by making water scarcer than usual, according to the researchers who documented the incident.
– However, other experts say that climate change wouldn’t have necessarily influenced this behavior since ocelots and jaguars have lived together for a long time.

Cocaine production driving deforestation into Colombian national park by René Mora [07 Jan 2021]
– Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park protects unique, remote rainforest in northeastern Colombia.
– Satellite data show the park lost 6.2% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2019, with several months of unusually high deforestation in 2020.
– Sources say illegal coca cultivation is rapidly expanding in and around Catatumbo Barí and is driving deforestation as farmers move in and clear forest to grow the illicit crop, which is used to make cocaine.
– Area residents say armed groups are controlling the trade of coca in and out of the region, and are largely operating in an atmosphere of impunity.

For Latin America’s environmental defenders, Escazú Agreement is a voice and a shield by Genevieve Glatsky [07 Jan 2021]
– The Escazú Agreement is an unprecedented regional treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean that provides access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and measures to protect environmental activists.
– The treaty’s ratification by 11 countries is the final step for the agreement to enter into force, the end of an eight-year process that has been marked throughout by the deep involvement of civil society groups.
– Experts say the success of the treaty will depend on the political will of the signatory countries, and on the continued efforts of civil society actors to hold those governments accountable.
– The agreement still faces heavy opposition within many countries in the region, from groups who claim that it will compromise state sovereignty, threaten business interests, and open up internal affairs to international interference.



We’re approaching critical climate tipping points: Q&A with Tim Lenton by Rhett A. Butler [01/06/2021]
How to transform systems: Q&A with WRI’s Andrew Steer by Rhett A. Butler [01/05/2021]
Rainforests: 11 things to watch in 2021 by Rhett A. Butler [01/01/2021]