Newsletter 2021-01-28



Invasion of the crayfish clones: Q&A with Ranja Andriantsoa by Rowan Moore Gerety [01/27/2021]

– An unusual invasive crayfish has been spreading in Madagascar, threatening aquatic biodiversity even as it helps nourish the country’s food-insecure population.
– The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) evolved only in recent decades as part of the German aquarium trade. It’s entirely female and reproduces clonally without males.
– Ranja Andriantsoa, a Malagasy biologist and epigenetics researcher, began studying marbled crayfish as a way to learn about cancerous tumors, which reproduce in a similar way.
– Andriantsoa’s ongoing research focuses on the social and health impacts of the marbled crayfish and aims to inform Madagascar’s strategy for managing the crayfish’s ecological impact.

Death by 1,000 cuts: Are major insect losses imperiling life on Earth? by Liz Kimbrough [01/25/2021]

– New studies, featured in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, assess insect declines around the planet.
– On average, the decline in insect abundance is thought to be around 1-2% per year or 10-20% per decade. These losses are being seen on nearly every continent, even within well-protected areas.
– Precipitous insect declines are being escalated by humanity as soaring population and advanced technology push us ever closer to overshooting several critical planetary boundaries including biodiversity, climate change, nitrification, and pollution. Planetary boundary overshoot could threaten the viability of life on Earth.
– Action on a large scale (international, national, and public/private policymaking), and on a small scale (replacing lawns with insect-friendly habitat, for example) are desperately needed to curb and reverse insect decline.

Podcast: With just 10 years left to save Sumatran elephants, what can be done now? by [01/22/2021]

– In Sumatra, elephants’ forested habitat has been replaced recently at a rapid pace for commercial activities like oil palm plantations, pulp and paper production, and other uses.
– The total Sumatran elephant population was estimated to be no more than 2,800 individuals in 2007, but they likely number about half that now.
– It’s been said that there’s just 10 years left to save this critically endangered species, and experts that Mongabay spoke with say that this is probably optimistic: however, taking the meaningful actions they suggest could succeed during that time and would have additional benefits for other wildlife plus human communities, too.
– This podcast is the latest in the Mongabay Explores series, taking a deep dive into the fascinating wildlife and complicated conservation issues of this giant Indonesian island.



Rarely seen Sumatran rhinos are now even more elusive as threats close in by Tri Purna Jaya [28 Jan 2021]
– The wild Sumatran rhinos of Way Kambas National Park in Indonesia are become even more elusive in response to changes to their habitat, according to rhino expert Arief Rubianto.
– Fires and poaching of other species for bushmeat pose a serious threat to the critically endangered rhinos.
– Way Kambas is believed to be one of the last strongholds of the Sumatran rhino, with estimates of 12 to 33 wild rhinos, out of a global population of less than 80.
– Indonesian officials and conservationists are carrying out a census to get a better idea of the species’ true population to help inform conservation strategies.

Podcast: Agroforestry, an ancient climate solution that boosts food production and biodiversity by Mike Gaworecki [27 Jan 2021]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with three different guests about why agroforestry is increasingly being implemented worldwide to address industrial agriculture’s contributions to the global environmental crises we’re facing as well as to create new livelihood opportunities and build food security for local communities.
– Agroforestry is the practice of incorporating woody perennials like trees and shrubs into a system with agricultural crops or livestock. It’s been practiced by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, and they are still perhaps the chief practitioners of it today.
– We speak with Mongabay’s own Erik Hoffner, who edits Mongabay’s ongoing coverage of agroforestry, as well as Sarah Lovell, who talks about agroforestry in the US, and Roger Leakey, who discusses agroforestry in the tropics.

France contributes to protection of Amazon stronghold, Yasuní National Park by Vincent Ricci [27 Jan 2021]
– France and Ecuador have announced a plan to curb deforestation in famed Amazonian national park, Yasuní, while promoting its improved administration.
– Peru, Colombia and Brazil are expected to see similar agreements with France as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s growing environmental initiatives in the region.
– The contentious EU-Mercosur trade agreement is still up for ratification, but EU members appear to be split over weak environmental regulation.

Planned coal-trucking road threatens a forest haven for Sumatran frogs by Elviza Diana, Hans Nicholas Jong [27 Jan 2021 14:55:34 +0000]
– The Harapan forest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is teeming with frog species, one of which was just described last year.
– These amphibians are threatened by a coal-trucking road that the government has approved to be built right through the forest.
– Environmental activists have pushed back against the project, calling on the government to either suspend the project or approve alternative routes that would bypass the forest altogether or cut through a less pristine portion of it.
– The local government has promised to study the project’s impact, but activists point out the final decision lies with the central government, which gave the approval and has still not addressed their concerns.

It’s not too late – yet – to save the Philippine pangolin, study finds by Leilani Chavez [27 Jan 2021]
– Philippine pangolins, found only in the island province of Palawan, are among the most heavily trafficked mammals in the world, with nearly 7,000 seized from traffickers between 2018 and 2019.
– But unlike some populations of other pangolin species, the Philippine pangolin might have a chance of bouncing back if the appropriate conservation measures are set up to protect the species.
– A new study, which uses locals’ sightings and knowledge of the species, shows the Philippine pangolin is widely distributed across its range and knowledge of the species is high. However, sightings were either rare or very rare and declines were reported across the survey areas.
– The survey also showed a high level of willingness among communities to protect the species, suggesting that local conservation efforts may work, researchers say.

Lasers find forest gaps to aid tree mortality studies in Brazilian Amazon by Liz Kimbrough [26 Jan 2021]
– Using airborne light detection and ranging technology, more commonly known as “lidar,” a team of researchers remotely studied tree death and canopy gaps across the Brazilian Amazon.
– Gaps in the forest, the researchers found, were mostly driven by water stress, soil fertility, floodplains and forest degradation. The data also pointed to strong correlations between the patterns of tree gaps and water deficit, a lack of water that can slow down photosynthesis.
– In the southeastern and western Amazon, a pattern of 20 to 35% higher gap dynamics emerged, meaning trees are dying and creating gaps more frequently there than in other regions.
– Aircraft lidar is helpful for studying remote areas of the Amazon and could be used effectively to monitor for illegal logging and deforestation, as well as for calibrating satellite technology.

Investment in Indigenous peoples’ knowledge can drive their economic growth (commentary) by Tatiana Botelho [26 Jan 2021]
– Three shifts in investment practices could yield more sustainable, organic outcomes while honoring and empowering Indigenous communities.
– From valuing traditional knowledge to creating learning networks and structural mechanisms, Indigenous communities can be empowered and improve their livelihoods.
– Initiatives that are not built upon existing Indigenous knowledge and connections in their regions are unlikely to succeed, as was the case with the Biotechnological Center in the Amazon.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesia remembers ‘irreplaceable’ Gunawan Wiradi, gentle giant of the countryside by Indra Nugraha [26 Jan 2021]
– Veteran Indonesian agrarian reform activist Gunawan Wiradi, a lifelong champion of the rights of farmers and rural communities, has died at the age of 88.
– Gunawan co-founded the Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), which documents and records conflicts and injustices in underreported regions of Indonesia.
– Colleagues remember him as a skilled organizer bringing together disparate environmental and agrarian reform movements, and uniting peasant and Indigenous groups.

Timber organization’s backing ‘one step’ toward ‘peace park’ in Borneo by John C. Cannon [26 Jan 2021]
– In December 2020, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) endorsed a proposal by the Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) for what’s come to be known as the Baram Peace Park, covering 2,835 square kilometers (1,095 square miles) on the island of Borneo.
– Proponents of the park say it will protect wildlife, forest-dependent livelihoods, and the last remaining primary forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
– But they also acknowledge that the ITTO’s announcement is only a step toward the park’s designation, and industrial logging continues to threaten the region’s forests.

What does a great argus pheasant sound like? Candid Animal Cam listens to birds by [26 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.

Smallholder agriculture cuts into key Sumatran tiger habitat by Rachel Fritts [26 Jan 2021]
– Satellite data show several surges in deforestation in Kerinci Seblat National Park in 2020.
– Kerinci Seblat provides vital habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers, as well as many other species.
– The primary driver of this deforestation appears to be the expansion of small farms.
– Initiatives in the area are attempting to reduce smallholder expansion by encouraging the adoption of more sustainable farming practices.

Transforming conservation in times of crisis and opportunity (Commentary) by Fred Nelson; Alasdair Harris; Leela Hazzah; and Lúcia G. Lohmann [25 Jan 2021]
– 2020 was envisioned as a potential turning point for global conservation efforts, but over the past nine months COVID-19 has created an unprecedented social, economic, and public health crisis on a global scale.
– Fred Nelson of Maliasili, Alasdair Harris of Blue Ventures, Leela Hazzah of Lion Guardians, and Lúcia G. Lohmann of the University of São Paulo (Brazil) and the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) write that the extraordinary circumstances brought by the pandemic create new, unique opportunities for systemic change.
– “As societies respond and adapt, opportunities emerge for changing how conservation is conceptualized, practiced, and funded,” they write. “The conservation field now has a unique opportunity to accelerate efforts to build a stronger, more dynamic, more resilient field – one that can truly face up to the challenges of the present global ecological crisis.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Amazon is on the brink of turning into a carbon source, study warns by [25 Jan 2021]
– Forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, but their ability to lock carbon is weakening.
– In the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net carbon emitters, and the Amazon threatens to go the same way.
– Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net carbon source, a new study has found.
– What is especially worrying is the loss of pristine swaths of forests in countries like Madagascar that have kept carbon out of the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries.

Canadian First Nation deploys ROV in push for stronger marine protection by Claudia Geib [25 Jan 2021]
– The Songhees Nation, a First Nations people of British Columbia, Canada, completed the first marine survey of culturally important species around the Tl’ches archipelago using a small underwater drone.
– By establishing a baseline for these animals, the Songhees Nation has taken the first steps toward establishing stronger protections for the culturally and ecologically rich site.
– Their work also demonstrated that the drone, a relatively low-cost commercial product, offered a reasonable alternative to more expensive survey methods, such as scuba diving.
– The survey has also been hailed as emblematic of an overdue but growing trend: scientists and conservationists using Indigenous knowledge alongside Western thinking.

6% of Earth’s protected land is used to grow crops, study finds by Morgan Erickson-Davis [23 Jan 2021]
– Protected areas are intended safeguard the planet’s vulnerable inhabitants – including 83% of its endangered species.
– A new study reveals that cropland takes up 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface area and overlaps with 6% of its protected areas.
– While some species are at home in agricultural fields, many are not – particularly the endangered species many protected areas were created to safeguard.
– The study’s authors call for national and international sustainability goals to implement a more holistic, data-driven approach when it comes to improving food security and preserving habitat.

Ivory by any other name: Illegal trade thrives on eBay, study finds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [22 Jan 2021]
– A new study finds that ivory is still being regularly traded on eBay, despite the e-commerce site prohibiting this kind of trade.
– The study focused on the online trade of miniature Japanese sculptures called netsuke, which are traditionally made from ivory.
– While the study suggests that eBay isn’t doing enough to deter and stop the illegal online trade of ivory, eBay and its NGO partners say they are jointly committed to combating these illicit activities.

Indigenous groups blast Amazon state’s plan to legalize wildcat mining by Sam Cowie [22 Jan 2021]
– Brazilian legislators in the Amazon state of Roraima have passed a bill legalizing garimpo wildcat mining on state lands without studies. Amendments would also legalize the use of toxic mercury in gold processing, and greatly expand the legal size of mining claims.
– Indigenous groups say the law was passed without adequate consultation, and will invite gold miner invasions of Indigenous reserves in the state, including that of the Yanomami, the largest reserve in Brazil. Since the election of President Jair Bolsonaro more than 20,000 illegal miners have been reported on Yanomami lands.
– Wildcat mining is already legal in some Brazilian Amazon states. Based on that experience, experts say that legalization in Roraima will enable fraud, with gold illegally mined in Indigenous reserves “laundered” to become “legal” gold, and illicit “conflict gold” trafficked from neighboring Venezuela laundered in Roraima.
– The Roraima garimpo mining bill now awaits the state governor’s signature.

Plantations, mines didn’t worsen flood, Indonesia says. The data begs to differ by Hans Nicholas Jong [22 Jan 2021]
– Indonesia’s environment minister claims deforestation for oil palm plantations and coal mines had nothing to do with a recent deadly flood in southern Borneo.
– But the ministry’s own data, and statements by a senior minister, attribute the intensity of the flooding on the massive loss of forest cover across the Barito River’s watershed.
– Environmental activists say the deforestation has compromised the natural function of the watershed to absorb the heavy rains that caused the Barito and its tributaries to overflow following heavy rains.
– The coordinating minister for human development has called for a more sustainable management of natural resources in the region, warning against unbridled exploitation.

No safe space for Philippines’ Indigenous youth as military allowed on campus by [22 Jan 2021]
– The Philippines’ Department of National Defense has unilaterally terminated an accord that ensured the 17 campuses of the University of the Philippines were off-limits to the military and police.
– The defense secretary justified the move by alleging that insurgents from the banned communist party and its armed wing are using the campuses’ sanctuary status as cover for their recruitment and propaganda purposes.
– The decision has alarmed displaced Indigenous students who are harboring at UP’s Quezon City campus after the military bombed or took over their schools in a counter-insurgency campaign that began in 2018.
– Critics say the move is the latest blow to human rights and environmental activists in the Philippines, following the recent enactment of an anti-terrorism law seen as giving the armed forces free rein to perpetuate abuses in a country already rated as the most dangerous in Asia for environmental and land defenders.

Signs, but no sightings: The phantom rhinos of Sumatra’s Bukit Barisan Selatan by Dian Wahyu Kusuma [22 Jan 2021]
– Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra’s Lampung province is believed to be one of the last homes of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhinoceros.
– But the little evidence showing the existence of rhinos at the park has sparked concerns among some experts that the species may have already gone extinct there.
– While some Indonesian experts still believe Bukit Barisan Selatan holds a rhino population, the loss of forest to farms, roads and illegal encroachment inside the park makes that scenario increasingly unlikely.
– Indonesia is the last place on Earth with Sumatran rhinos, whose total population is estimated at fewer than 80 individuals.

In ‘dire’ plea, Brazil’s Amazonas state appeals for global COVID assistance by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [21 Jan 2021]
– In a letter describing pandemic conditions as “dire,” the government of Brazil’s Amazonas state is pleading for urgent medical assistance from the international community. The authenticated letter apparently bypassed the Bolsonaro administration which critics say has been ineffectual in dealing with COVID-19.
– Manaus, the Amazonas state capital, was overwhelmed by the coronavirus last April, but this second wave, according to state authorities is far worse, impacting not only the city, but increasingly, the state’s rainforest interior. The soaring number of cases and deaths statewide is yet to be fully tallied.
– According to authorities, medical facilities in Manaus and Amazonas are presently being utterly overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, with hospitals and clinics lacking beds, oxygen and other vital resources, resulting in deaths. The disease’s rapid spread may be the result of the P.I. viral lineage variant newly detected in Brazil.
– “The situation is dire, and our fear is that the same situation we are seeing in the capital Manaus will reach the inland of Amazonas, the traditional and indigenous populations that are in situation of greater vulnerability,” said the letter sent to international NGOs. The international response isn’t yet known.

‘Spectacular’ orange-furred bat described from West African mountain by Liz Kimbrough [21 Jan 2021]
– An orange-furred bat has been described from the caves and mining tunnels of the Nimba Mountains in Guinea.
– Researchers say the bat had such a distinctive look that they quickly recognized it was a species new to science.
– The newly described species, which they named Myotis nimbaensis, meaning “from Nimba,” may also be critically endangered and found only in this particular mountain range.
– This discovery, the authors say, speaks to the importance of the Nimba peaks, known as “sky islands,” to bat diversity.

Fears for rosewood as Guinea-Bissau prepares to lift six-year logging ban by Ricci Shryock [21 Jan 2021]
– The Guinea-Bissau government is poised to lift a moratorium on logging that came into force in 2015.
– Forestry officials and conservationists say they fear a return to rampant overharvesting of rosewood and other valuable species.
– Those defending an end to the ban say illegal logging has continued anyway and the decree ending the moratorium will put better monitoring in place and allow locals to benefit.
– Conservationists say that without better data about the current state of the country’s forests, it will be impossible to monitor or sustainably manage a resumption of logging.

Papua tribe moves to block clearing of its ancestral forest for palm oil by Hans Nicholas Jong [21 Jan 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.



Papua tribe moves to block clearing of its ancestral forest for palm oil by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [01/21/2021]
Pet trade relies on ‘disposable’ wild chameleons from Madagascar by Chris Scarffe [01/20/2021]
Big cat comeback: Jaguars prowl Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands after 70 years by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01/20/2021]
Protesters hold back military takeover of Balkans’ largest mountain pasture by John C. Cannon [01/18/2021]
New orchid species from Guiana Highlands named by Indigenous group by Liz Kimbrough [01/15/2021]