Newsletter 2021-01-21


Papua tribe moves to block clearing of its ancestral forest for palm oil by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [01/21/2021]

– Members of the Auyu tribe of Papua, Indonesia, are demanding a halt to the operations of palm oil company PT Indo Asiana Lestari (IAL), which appears to be gearing up to clear their ancestral forests.
– They say that the company failed to obtain the community’s consent for the project, and that it’s not clear whether it even has the requisite permits to begin operations.
– IAL’s concession is part of the Tanah Merah megaproject that is already dogged by allegations that key operating permits have been falsified.
– The Papua region is home to the world’s third-largest contiguous swath of tropical rainforest, after the Amazon and the Congo Basin, but large areas may be cleared for plantations.

Pet trade relies on ‘disposable’ wild chameleons from Madagascar by Chris Scarffe [01/20/2021]

– Despite being difficult to keep alive and healthy, chameleons are among the most popular reptiles in the exotic pet trade.
– Each year hundreds of thousands of these slow-moving reptiles are taken from the wild, both legally and illegally, many of them from threatened species living in the forests of Madagascar.
– Observers say the international trade in chameleons must be changed to avoid harming wild populations and improve the well-being of animals during transit and captivity.
– They also point to the need to make the trade fairer and more transparent, so local people can benefit from it.

Big cat comeback: Jaguars prowl Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands after 70 years by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01/20/2021]

– Conservationists recently released three jaguars — a mother and two cubs — into Gran Iberá Park in northeastern Argentina’s Corrientes province in an attempt to rewild the local ecosystem.
– Jaguars haven’t been present in the Iberá Wetlands for the past 70 years, after hunting and habitat loss drove them to local extinction.
– The ultimate goal of the jaguar reintroduction program is to reestablish a healthy, genetically diverse population of jaguars in Gran Iberá Park, which has the capacity to hold about 100 jaguars, according to conservationists.

Protesters hold back military takeover of Balkans’ largest mountain pasture by John C. Cannon [01/18/2021]

– A 2019 decree by the government of Montenegro sets forth the country’s intention to set up a military training ground in the highland grasslands of Sinjajevina in the northern part of the country.
– But the pastures of Sinjajevina have supported herders for centuries, and scientists say that this sustainable use is responsible in part for the wide array of life that the mountain supports; activists say an incursion by the military would destroy livelihoods, biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.
– A new coalition now governs Montenegro, one that has promised to reevaluate the military’s use of Sinjajevina.
– But with the country’s politics and position in Europe in flux, the movement against the military is pushing for formal designation of a park that would permanently protect the region’s herders and the environment.

New orchid species from Guiana Highlands named by Indigenous group by Liz Kimbrough [01/15/2021]

– An orchid species new to science has been described from the Guiana Highlands in Venezuela and Brazil.
– Members of the Pemón Arekuna Indigenous community of Paruima named the species in their native language.
– The researcher who described the new orchid advocates for “de-colonizing science nomenclature and giving more representation to Indigenous [and] local languages.



Nigeria emerges as Africa’s primary export hub for ivory, pangolin scales by Ashoka Mukpo [21 Jan 2021]
– Increased political buy-in for law enforcement and interdiction efforts at ports in East Africa have pushed wildlife smuggling westward to Nigeria.
– Between 1998 and 2014, the top two countries associated with ivory seizures were Tanzania and Kenya. Since 2014, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo have overtaken them.
– Corruption at the ports, the involvement of influential politicians, and rural poverty make Nigeria an attractive waypoint for smugglers.

Well, hello there: Glass frogs ‘wave’ to communicate near noisy waterfalls by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [21 Jan 2021]
– A researcher discovered that an obscure species of nocturnal glass frog, Sachatamia orejuela, uses visual signaling as well as acoustical calls to communicate within their environment.
– Other frog species are known to communicate visually, although they are unrelated to S. orejuela and are found on different continents.
– A recent paper on the discovery also provides the first known description of the acoustical call of S. orejuela, endemic to Ecuador and Colombia.

Brazil’s collapsing health service, new COVID variant, raise Indigenous risk by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [20 Jan 2021]
– The city of Manaus made world headlines last April when a first wave of the coronavirus swept through the city. Now that city, and the entire state of Amazonas, is being swept by a second wave of the pandemic, which is shaping up to be far worse than the first.
– Indigenous people are especially vulnerable, with their mortality rate from COVID-19 at least 16% higher than the Brazilian average. Now, São Gabriel da Cachoeira, located 852 kilometers (529 miles) from Manaus, near the Colombia-Venezuela frontier, is being heavily impacted.
– São Gabriel has a large Indigenous population, and while it escaped the worst of the first wave of the pandemic, its meagre health system resources are now being overwhelmed. The state of Amazonas lacks sufficient hospital beds, its ICUs are overrun, and medical facilities lack sufficient oxygen.
– Of extreme concern is a new Brazilian coronavirus variant called P.1, which recently appeared in Amazonas state. While more research is needed, one possibility is that P.I. is bypassing the human immune response triggered by the initial coronavirus lineage that ravaged Manaus last year. This means people could be reinfected.

Environmental assassinations bad for business, new research shows by Genevieve Belmaker [20 Jan 2021]
– After years of research, economics experts say they can prove that financial markets respond swiftly and definitively when multinationals are publicly named in connection with the assassination of an environmental defender.
– The researchers analyzed 354 assassinations over two decades connected to mining and extractive minerals projects around the world, noting particularly significant violent action in the Philippines and Peru.
– Once a company is named, the data show that within 10 days the markets respond, hitting the company with a median loss in market capitalization of more than $100 million.

Video: Romania’s deadly fight against illegal logging by Frederick Gillingham [20 Jan 2021]
– Romania’s rich and ancient forests are in peril. Since joining the European Union in 2007, the country has seen its forest cover depleted at record levels.
– Rangers and environmentalists who investigate and document these crimes face violence, intimidation and even murder from agents of an extensive criminal network that supplies multinational corporations with timber.
– New technology has become one of the most effective ways for activists to investigate and document environmental crimes.
– In late 2020, activists teamed up with technologists to monitor illegal logging using bio-acoustic devices hidden in treetops. The devices record sound patterns in the forest, sending instant alerts to rangers who can intervene to stop the theft in its tracks.

Palm oil plantations, coal mines linked to deadly Indonesia flood by Hans Nicholas Jong [20 Jan 2021]
– Environmentalists have attributed recent heavy floods in southern Indonesian Borneo to widespread deforestation for oil palm plantations and coal mines.
– An analysis by Indonesia’s space agency shows an area of forest twice the size of London was cleared in the past decade in the watershed area of the Barito River in South Kalimantan province.
– During the same period, plantations spanning twice the size of Los Angeles have been established in the watershed area.
– Activists have called for a sweeping review of licenses as well as rehabilitation of degraded areas in the region.

Nature-based solutions needed to enhance climate resilience in Southeast Asia (commentary) by John Leo Algo [19 Jan 2021]
– Developing nature-based solutions (NBS) is necessary to address the climate emergency and enhance resilience of biodiversity, ecosystems, and communities.
– This has been recognized globally, with NBS being one of the five primary themes of focus on the road to the 2021 UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
– Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change, and would enjoy an outsized benefit from robust investments in nature-based solutions.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mozambique’s new fisheries law expands protections but old problems persist by Malavika Vyawahare [19 Jan 2021]
– Conservationists are praising a new fisheries law enacted by Mozambique this month for granting protection to an array of marine species, including whale sharks, manta rays and dolphins, and for empowering fishing communities.
– With a coastline of 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles), and more than two-thirds of people living within 150 km (93 mi) of the coast, enabling communities appears to be the only way for Mozambique to manage its coastal riches sustainably.
– The new law clarifies the path for community fisheries councils (CCPs) to become legal entities, which will allow them to designate community management areas and better implement rules regulating access to marine resources.
– Experts caution that entrenched problems like growing pressure on fisheries, lack of enforcement capabilities and financial independence, will not be resolved by laws alone.

An eye in the sky on deforestation: Q&A with Jean Jardeleza and Kim Carlson by Claudia Geib [18 Jan 2021]
– With fires and deforestation driving land use change around the world, Mongabay held a three-way Q&A with Kim Carlson of New York University and Jean Jardeleza of Ateneo de Manila University on the technology of studying land use change.
– Carlson’s research focuses primarily on how the palm oil industry drives deforestation in Indonesia, and how nongovernmental commitments can help reduce their impact.
– Jardeleza’s recent research focused on finding models that can accurately model deforestation in the Philippines, and is using them to evaluate the impact of the country’s National Greening Program.

Indigenous Cacataibo of Peru threatened by land grabbing and drug trade by Enrique Vera [15 Jan 2021]
– The Santa Martha Indigenous territory is one of the nine Indigenous Cacataibo communities between Huánuco and Ucayali in Peru.
– Increasing numbers of outsiders are invading the territory and deforesting large swaths of Indigenous land, largely to grow coca which is used to make cocaine.
– Residents report they are often subject to intimidation, threats and even murder attempts if they speak out about the incursions.
– Already under-monitored due to their remoteness, these areas have gotten even less government attention during the COVID-19 pandemic due to movement restrictions put in place to reduce the infection rate.

Brazil elections boost environmental violators to high office in Amazon by Aline Maciel, Bianca Muniz, Bruno Fonseca, Ciro Barros from Agência Pública [15 Jan 2021]
– Fifty-one of the candidates were sitting office holders, 28 of whom ran for reelection.
– Many of these candidates are former illegal loggers and ranchers, and continue to hold a stake in agribusiness companies operating on deforested land.
– In addition to the environmental violations, some of the candidates are implicated in other serious crimes, including one accused of using slave labor on his farm, and another who owns a ranch where police uncovered 583 kilograms (1,285 pounds) of cocaine.
– By the end of the election, 85 municipalities across Brazil had elected mayors or deputy mayors fined by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, for committing infractions in the past decade; a quarter of these politicians triumphed in Amazonian municipalities.

Humanity’s ‘ecological Ponzi scheme’ sets up bleak future, scientists warn by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [14 Jan 2021]
– In a recently published perspective piece, 17 leading scientists say the world is facing a “ghastly future” due to ongoing environmental degradation, including biodiversity loss, climate change, and human overpopulation and overconsumption.
– The authors say their message is meant to give a “cold shower” to leaders who can help make positive changes for the planet.
– While other scientists agree with some of the report’s messages, they point out several issues with the argument’s framework, including its possible misidentification of migration and population growth in places like sub-Saharan Africa as driving environmental problems.

Rare beaked whale sighting could be a world first for the species by Cypress Hansen [14 Jan 2021]
– Researchers looking for elusive beaked whales in the South China Sea believe they spotted a pair of either the ginkgo-toothed or Deraniyagala’s beaked whale.
– Although they collected extensive observational data, they could not confirm the whales’ species without DNA samples.
– The sighting is nevertheless important: Knowledge of both beaked whale species has been limited to what researchers have learned from a handful of stranded whale carcasses and unconfirmed sightings.
– The encounter likely represents either the first ever live sighting of the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens), or the first live sighting of the nearly identical Deraniyagala’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula) in the western Pacific Ocean.



Podcast: What are the tropical forest storylines to watch in 2021? by Mike Gaworecki [01/13/2021]
Indigenous agroforestry revives profitable palm trees and the Atlantic Forest by Xavier Bartaburu [01/13/2021]
How to turn climate ambitions into reality: Q&A with Nigel Topping by Rhett A. Butler [01/12/2021]
Award-winning Thai community continues the fight to save its wetland forest by Carolyn Cowan [01/11/2021]
Investing in African wildlife: An interview with David Bonderman by Rhett A. Butler [01/07/2021]