Newsletter 2021-02-04



For border-crossing Thai tigers, the forest on the other side isn’t as green by Carolyn Cowan [02/03/2021]

– Straddling the Myanmar-Thai border, the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape (DTL) is the intersection of four different biogeographic zones and consequently supports rich species diversity.
– The ecosystem is particularly important for the survival of Southeast Asia’s big cats, including the Indochinese tiger.
– Large, wide-ranging species like tigers require connected networks of forests to move and disperse through; the species cannot thrive in isolated pockets of protected forest.
– Efforts to protect tigers in the DTL highlight the need for cross-border efforts to maintain ecosystem connectivity.

Podcast: Omens and optimism for Sumatran orangutans by [02/02/2021]

– The Sumatran orangutan is a lowland species that has adapted to life among this Indonesian island’s highlands, as it has lost its favored habitat to an array of forces.
– From forest degradation to new road projects, plus the trafficking of young ones to be sold as pets, this great ape is increasingly in trouble.
– On this episode of the podcast, Mongabay speaks with the founding director of Orangutan Information Centre in North Sumatra about these challenges and also some hopeful signs.
– The Centre is successfully involving local communities in this work: over 2,400 hectares of rainforest have been replanted by local women since 2008, creating key habitat for the orangutans which also provides villagers with useful agroforestry crops, for instance.

‘Race against time’: Saving the snakes and lizards of Brazil’s Cerrado by Sharon Guynup [02/02/2021]

– Brazil’s Cerrado is among the world’s most biodiverse savannas, covering two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), nearly a quarter of the country and half the size of Europe.
– Once thought of as a “wasteland,” scientists have counted 208 snake species, some 80 lizards, 40 worm lizards, seven turtles and four crocodile species — many recently logged in the biome’s grasslands, palm-covered riverscapes, lowland forests and dry plateaus.
– While researchers agree that there is an urgent need to protect large swathes of remaining savanna, there is also a vital requirement to preserve patches of unique habitat where diverse, niche-specialized reptilians make their homes.

‘Activists make the case that bigger is better to protect Galápagos reserve by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01/29/2021]

– A group of scientists, conservationists and NGOs are campaigning to expand the current Galápagos Marine Reserve to protect an additional 445,953 square kilometers (172,183 square miles) in the exclusive economic zone of the Galápagos Islands.
– According to a scientific proposal, the marine reserve expansion would help protect threatened migratory species, deter unsustainable and illegal fishing practices, and even bolster the legal Ecuadoran fishing industries.
– While the proposal has garnered both national and international support, Ecuador’s fishing sector is largely opposed to the expansion of the reserve.


Will new US EPA head continue his opposition to burning forests for energy? by Justin Catanoso [04 Feb 2021]
– Under President Donald Trump the U.S. made moves toward legally enshrining the burning of forest biomass to make energy on an industrial scale as a national policy. That same policy has been embraced by the United Kingdom and European Union, helping them move toward a target of zero carbon emissions — at least on paper.
– However, the carbon neutrality label given to the burning of woody biomass to make energy, first proclaimed under the Kyoto Protocol, then grandfathered into the Paris Climate Agreement, has been found by science over the last decade to be more accurately characterized as a risky carbon accounting loophole.
– Current science says that carbon neutrality achieved from burning wood pellets would take 50-100 years to achieve, time the world doesn’t have to slash its emissions. Further, burning woody biomass is inefficient, and dirtier than coal.
– Michael S. Regan, President Biden’s choice for EPA head, wrestled with the problem of producing wood pellets for use as energy while leading North Carolina’s environmental agency. Now he’ll be contending with the issue on a national and possibly global scale. His past views on the topic are laid out in this story in detail.

In Indonesia, a village held hostage by coal pleads for change by Della Syahni [04 Feb 2021]
– Two new coal-fired power plants, PLTU 9 and 10, are being constructed in northwestern Java to provide an additional 2,000 MW of installed electricity capacity in Indonesia.
– Residents complain the cluster of eight existing coal plants in the area have already caused problems with public health, agriculture and water pollution.
– Analysts question the logic of constructing new plants in the Java-Bali grid, where supply already exceeds demand, and in light of the state utility’s mounting debts.

A wet Amazon may be more resilient to a drying climate than thought: Study by Claire Asher [03 Feb 2021]
– As a strategy to retain water, plants are thought to close their leaf pores in response to dry air, thereby also slowing their rate of photosynthesis. But a study that used machine learning to analyze satellite data found that in some of the wettest areas of the Amazon basin, photosynthesis rates actually increase in dry air.
– The authors suggest that leaf ageing during the dry season may explain this unexpected result, but independent experts question the reliability of methods used to estimate photosynthesis rates, and suggest alternative explanations for the results, such as plentiful soil water and the effect of light availability.
– The findings could have massive ramifications for existing climate change models, which must accurately represent photosynthetic processes in the Amazon if they are to produce meaningful results, given the widespread impact of these vast forests on climate and weather patterns.
– The Amazon Rainforest is one of Earth’s major carbon sinks, and it releases enough water into the atmosphere through transpiration to produce 50% of regional rainfall, making it a major influence on climate and weather patterns across South America and beyond.

Trader Cargill, pension fund TIAA linked to land grabs in Brazil’s Cerrado by Caio de Freitas Paes [03 Feb 2021]
– Global commodities giant Cargill continues to buy soybeans from a farm in Brazil that cultivates on illegally acquired and deforested land.
– The Parceiro farm in Bahia state, owned by SLC Agrícola, has been implicated in a $200 million land-grabbing scheme being investigated by Brazilian authorities.
– Also implicated in the case is the U.S. teachers’ pension fund TIAA, an investor in one of the parcels of illegally acquired land that effectively overlaps with SLC’s farm.
– Cargill, which has a zero-deforestation commitment for its supply chain from the Cerrado, says it placed no restrictions on soybean purchases from SLC in 2020; it bought more than a quarter of the grower’s crop the previous year.

New approaches needed to protect biodiversity as Aichi Targets go unmet by Liz Kimbrough [03 Feb 2021]
– The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are an ambitious set of global goals aimed at protecting and conserving global biodiversity.
– In a recently published paper, a team of international researchers offer suggestions for how the newest version of the Aichi targets, referred to as the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, can be implemented effectively.
– The authors suggest strengthened accountability for parties participating in the Aichi targets similar to the Paris Agreement.
– Researchers also point to the need for greater resources directed toward biodiversity, more research about biodiversity and how to protect it, and better review mechanisms for Aichi commitments at the national level.

Newly described chameleon from Madagascar may be world’s smallest reptile by Malavika Vyawahare [03 Feb 2021]
– A newly described chameleon from Madagascar is the world’s tiniest chameleon, and possibly the smallest reptile.
– A male specimen of Brookesia nana measured a mere 14 mm (0.55 inches), small enough to perch on an aspirin tablet.
– Madagascar hosts more than 100 species of chameleons, and 30 species belonging to the Brookesia genus alone.
– Many of the chameleons, including B. nana, are only found in tiny patches of forest that are severely threatened by deforestation and degradation.

Study reveals how species once extinct in the wild have bounced back by Suzana Camargo [03 Feb 2021]
– Researchers studying the impact of conservation actions since the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit say that at least 21 species of birds and seven mammals have been saved from extinction through direct human intervention.
– In Brazil, these include five species of endemic birds, among them the Alagoas curassow (Pauxi mitu), the Lear’s macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) and the Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), all of which were at one point extinct in the wild.
– While some species have returned to nature, others have gone extinct during the last two decades, despite conservationists’ best efforts.
– The study identifies control of invasive species, protection of natural areas, and ex-situ (or off-site) conservation, including captive-breeding programs, as among the most effective interventions in preventing species extinctions.

New study warns that sea levels will rise faster than expected by [02 Feb 2021]
– A new study has found that sea level rise may happen faster than current models project.
– The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the sea level will rise about a meter (39 inches) by the century’s end, but this study finds that estimate to be conservative.
– The results suggest that sea levels will rise about 25 centimeters (10 in) more per century if carbon emissions are not curbed and the Earth continues to heat up.

Legal failings leave illegal loggers unpunished and certified in Indonesia by Hans Nicholas Jong [02 Feb 2021]
– Illegal loggers in Indonesia continue to go largely unpunished because of a weak judicial system and loopholes in timber regulations, according to a new report.
– The report by investigative NGOs EIA and Kaoem Telapak looked at law enforcement actions against more than 50 companies, most of them found to be trading in illegally logged merbau, a prized tropical hardwood, but evading prosecution.
– The few companies and individuals prosecuted and found guilty in court were still allowed to operate and even retain their certificates of timber legality — a stamp of approval that allows them to export the illegally logged wood.
– In one case, Indonesia’s highest court overturned a lower court’s judgment against a convicted merbau trafficker, ordering the authorities to give him back the stockpile of illegal timber they had seized from him.

Mob killing of Malagasy officer spotlights risks faced by forest guardians by Malavika Vyawahare and Rivonala Razafison [02 Feb 2021]
– A law enforcement officer was fatally wounded and two civilians killed on Jan. 20 when a mob accosted him and three others as they tried to apprehend suspected illegal loggers in a village in northeastern Madagascar.
– The confrontation was exacerbated by the presence of trained mercenaries who villagers sometimes enlist to protect them against cattle raiders, local media reported.
– Madagascar, a megadiverse island off Africa’s eastern coast has suffered dramatic forest loss in recent years, but reliance on community-led conservation is fraught, given their lack of power and resources.
– At the front line of the fight to preserve its natural riches but at the lowest rung of the enforcement apparatus are Madagascar’s forest guards and law enforcement officers like Lahatra Rahajaharison, who died in the attack.

Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson wins courage in journalism award by [01 Feb 2021]
– Philip Jacobson, a contributing editor at Mongabay, has won the Oktovianus Pogau Award for Courage in Journalism.
– The award was given by the Jakarta-based Pantau foundation, which highlighted Jacobson’s role in Mongabay’s collaboration with The Gecko Project to investigate corruption linked to palm oil and other industrial agriculture in Indonesia.
– The foundation also cited Jacobson’s dedication to his work despite being imprisoned and deported by Indonesian authorities last year.

Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam: Greenwashing contested (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside [01 Feb 2021]
– The company responsible for Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam claimed in a letter to the New York Times that the company respects Indigenous peoples, the environment and international conventions.
– The Arara Indigenous people contest the company’s claims and call attention to a series of broken promises.
– The Belo Monte Dam is notorious for having violated international conventions and Brazilian laws regarding consultation of Indigenous peoples, and for its massive environmental and social impacts.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The climate crisis needs feminism (commentary) by Belguun Bat-Erdene [01 Feb 2021]
– Democrats now control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well as the White House, creating real momentum to advance campaign-promised actions on climate change.
– Women-led groups are affecting real change globally on issues like the climate. Unfortunately, many are under-funded by philanthropy and underrepresented in decision-making on such topics.
– If the Biden/Harris Administration is truly committed to taking bold actions, they must prioritize women’s leadership and adopt a feminist climate justice agenda that offers transformative, expansive, and holistic solutions.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil guts agencies, ‘sabotaging environmental protection’ in Amazon: Report by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [01 Feb 2021]
– A new report documents draconian budget cuts to Brazilian environmental monitoring and firefighting of 9.8% in 2020, and 27.4% in 2021 — reductions, analysts say that were inflicted by the Bolsonaro administration in “a clear policy for dismantling national environmental policies.”
– Brazil’s environmental agencies under Bolsonaro have also been subjected to nearly 600 administrative and rules changes, invoked by presidential executive order and resulting in massive environmental deregulation.
– Under Bolsonaro, deforestation has soared, with an increase of 34% in the last two years, even as capacity to punish environmental criminals fell sharply due to funding shortages. Fines imposed for illegal deforestation, instead of rising during this Amazon environmental crime wave, fell by 42% from 2019 to 2020.
– Faced with Bolsonaro’s gutting of environmental agencies and protections, two Indigenous leaders — Kayapo Chief Raoni Metuktire, and Paiter Surui Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui — have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to investigate President Bolsonaro for “crimes against humanity.”

Eye in the Sky: Tech makes satellite imagery increasingly attractive for wildlife surveys by Jim Tan [01 Feb 2021]
– An interdisciplinary team of zoologists and conservationists from the University of Oxford and the University of Bath have used machine learning to identify African elephants in high-resolution satellite imagery.
– Satellite imagery does not yet have good enough resolution to compete with more traditional on-the-ground methods, such as Save the Elephants’ oblique camera count approach.
– Satellite surveying still offers many advantages such as being unobtrusive for wildlife and the ability to survey inaccessible areas.
– As satellite imagery and machine learning continue to improve, satellite surveying may become an increasingly useful tool for conservationists.

Bipartisan group recommends how Joe Biden can help save the Amazon by [29 Jan 2021]
– A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials have joined forces to propose a set of policy recommendations to help the Biden Administration deliver on its campaign pledge to put $20 billion toward the protection of the Amazon rainforest.
– The group, which calls itself the Climate Principals, today delivered its Amazon Protection Plan to the administration’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
– The Amazon Protection Plan has four main pillars: mobilizing funding for conservation from private and public sources, building forest-friendly policies into trade agreements, requiring companies disclose and manage deforestation risk in their supply chains and portfolio investments, and strengthening international diplomacy around forest conservation.

European farmed salmon sector to use only deforestation-free Brazilian soy by Genevieve Belmaker [29 Jan 2021]
– Three Brazilian salmon-feed supply growers CJ Selecta, Caramuru and Imcopa/Cervejaria Petrópolis will produce and harvest only deforestation- and conversion-free soybean supply chain products.
– The change is a result of the first large-scale, protein-producing sector that’s eliminated links to tropical deforestation throughout the supply chain.
– Under the international agreement, no soybean crops produced on land converted after August 2020 will be allowed into supply chains, and the new standards will apply to future purchase contracts.

Boat strikes in Maldives put pressure on whale sharks’ survival odds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [29 Jan 2021]
– A new study found that whale sharks are frequently struck by tourist vessels in the South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area (SAMPA) in the Maldives.
– When injuries are major, they could reduce a whale shark’s chances of survival and its ability to breed.
– The prevalence of boat strike injuries raises concerns with the ecotourism industry, especially when regulations meant to protect whale sharks are not properly enforced.

Current protected areas not enough to save parrots from extinction: Study by Liz Kimbrough [29 Jan 2021]
– Nearly one-third of parrot species are threatened with extinction, and a new study concludes that current protected areas are not sufficient to protect parrot diversity, overlapping with only 10% of the geographic range of all parrot species.
– Agriculture is the main threat to parrots and is especially relevant in the Neotropics, where parrot species richness is highest.
– The northeastern Andes and southeastern Australia are highlighted as two important hotspots for parrot conservation.
– The fate of parrots is largely tied to the fate of forests, as 70% of parrots are forest-dependent. The study concludes that the future of parrots relies on policymaking in specific countries.

Seven financial firms key to rooting out deforestation, report finds by John C. Cannon [29 Jan 2021]
– Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and index funds are some of the most popular investment tools available, popular among individual and institutional investors alike.
– Just a handful of asset management firms control between 60% and 70% of these funds, according to a recent report from the financial think tank Planet Tracker.
– Planet Tracker’s analysis found that $9.3 billion from ETFs is invested in a set of 26 companies engaged in the soybean trade and linked to deforestation.
– The report concludes that the financial firms in which ETFs and index funds are concentrated are critical in addressing financial support for deforestation.

Dusty winds exacerbate looming famine in Madagascar’s deep south by Rivonala Razafison [29 Jan 2021]
– At least 1.27 million people need humanitarian assistance in Madagascar’s drought-hit deep south, according to a Jan. 18 request by the U.N. and the Malagasy government for $75.9 million in international aid to cope with the crisis.
– The area is also experiencing dust and sand storms, a natural phenomenon known as a tiomena that is exacerbating the crisis by smothering crops, forests, buildings and roads.
– Tiomenas may be increasingly common as southern Madagascar undergoes a long-term drying trend.
– Experts say upgrading the area’s water supply system is an urgent priority and recommend massive tree planting to provide wind breaks, protect soils from erosion and create more humidity.

Namibia to sell off wild elephants in controversial auction by Michael Schwartz [29 Jan 2021]
– Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism (MEFT) plans to finalize an auction of 170 of its wild elephants on Friday, January 29.
– The auction has been met with sharp criticism by conservationists who have questioned the population data and claims of human-elephant conflict that are being used to justify the sale.
– MEFT has argued that the auction is necessitated by a tripling in the country’s elephant population from about 7,500 in 1995 to about 24,000 individuals today, which the ministry asserts is damaging ecosystems, increasing the incidence of conflict between pachyderms and farmers, and heightening the risk of poaching.
– Conservationists however dispute that data.

Ambitious return to carbon markets to conserve Africa’s forests by Mongabay [28 Jan 2021]
– Growth of voluntary carbon market and new investor interest in natural climate solutions in Africa prompts The Nature Conservancy to launch effort to help local enterprises raise $300 million for forest conservation.
– The Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst will initially identify existing projects with potential to protect 100,000 hectares of natural forest or sequester three million tonnes of CO2 over 10 years.
– Clarifying and securing the rights, involvement, and benefits for local communities is a key challenge.

The Amazon lost an area of primary forest larger than Israel in 2020, new analysis finds by Morgan Erickson-Davis [28 Jan 2021]
– The Amazon basin lost more than 2 million hectares of primary forest cover in 2020, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).
– This number is higher than the area lost in 2019 and the authors say it may be an underestimation.
– Brazil lost the most primary forest, with Bolivia experiencing high levels of fire-related deforestation of its unique Chiquitano dry forests.
– While Peru saw continuing deforestation in its midsection, MAAP found reductions in forest loss in the southern part of the country.

In sweeping executive orders, Biden brings climate to the forefront of U.S. policy by Ashoka Mukpo [28 Jan 2021]
– On Wednesday, the Biden administration issued a series of executive orders on climate change, proposing an expansive plan that it says is the most ambitious in U.S. history.
– The orders formalized promises made by Biden during his presidential campaign.
– Included in the orders are a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands as well as a proposal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and oceans.

Eyes on the future: An open letter to President Biden on Indigenous Peoples by 18 concerned people [28 Jan 2021]
– This is an open letter to President Joe Biden from a group of Indigenous Peoples and advocates.
– The letter calls for a series of actions from the Biden Administration in support Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the U.S. and abroad.
– “Internationally, the United States must become a champion for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and, in our foreign policy and foreign assistance, engage Indigenous Peoples as partners — through their own social, political, and legal institutions — in addressing the world’s most urgent challenges and in advancing security, prosperity, sustainability, and peace,” the authors write.



Invasion of the crayfish clones: Q&A with Ranja Andriantsoa by Rowan Moore Gerety [01/27/2021]
Death by 1,000 cuts: Are major insect losses imperiling life on Earth? by Liz Kimbrough [01/25/2021]
Podcast: With just 10 years left to save Sumatran elephants, what can be done now? by [01/22/2021]