Newsletter 2021-02-11


Brazil flower-gatherers win acclaim: ‘Efficient, long-lasting, resilient’ by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [02/08/2021]

– For three centuries communities of “flower-gatherers” have lived self-reliantly in the Serra do Espinhaço, a mountain range bordering Brazil’s Cerrado savanna on its east. Many are descended from former slaves, but they’ve mingled with Indigenous and descendants of Portuguese migrants.
– Their several hundred communities have long fostered a cooperative relationship with nature, using fire judiciously and a code of sustainable rules to keep their communal pastures and natural landscapes in balance.
– In 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized their way of life, designating the flower-gatherers’ traditional farming system as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. But encroaching mining and agriculture, and a national park all now put this unique culture at risk.
– “The struggle of the flower-gatherers is a profound struggle. It is a struggle for a way of life, a way of thinking the world, of relating with the Serra [mountain range], and constructing a future they want for their children,” says one academic.

With shared knowledge, ‘we could build a new world’: Q&A with Lisbet Rausing by Rhett A. Butler [02/08/2021]

– Historian and philanthropist Lisbet Rausing founded the Arcadia Fund with her husband, Peter Baldwin, 20 years ago with the aim of preserving endangered culture, protecting endangered nature, and promoting open access to knowledge.
– In that time, she has “watched winters warm unrecognizably” and “seen wildernesses shrink dramatically”; but she has also witnessed how the young become leaders and exemplars — through school strikes, or in protests against injustice and oppression in countries across the world.
– Rausing also makes the case for a sea change in how society functions, culturally and environmentally, and the need for the political courage to effect that change.
– As bleak as things look, Rausing tells Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, there’s reason for optimism: “Thanks to young people’s common sense and good hearts, I feel hope.”

Investigation: Dutch, Japanese pension funds pay for Amazon deforestation by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini from ((O))ECO [02/05/2021]

– Two pension funds in the Netherlands and one from Japan have invested a combined half a billion dollars in Brazil’s top three meatpackers.
– These investments in cattle ranching, an industry that’s the main driver of Amazon deforestation, contradict the environmental stances of the respective funds and their national governments.
– The fund managers and other experts say maintaining their stake is a more effective way of pushing for change in the companies than simply dumping the stock.
– But there’s also a growing realization that continued exposure to environmental risks over the long term will incur not just ethical and reputational harm for the funds, but even financial fallout.

Fewer than 100 of these giant whales make up a newly described species by Teresa L. Carey [02/04/2021]

– In January scientists announced the designation of a new whale species in the Gulf of Mexico they named Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei).
– The team previously collected genetic samples of the whales but didn’t confirm the new species until they had a complete skeleton.
– Only between 33 and 100 individual members of the species exist, researchers estimate. The species is listed as endangered in the U.S.
– The Gulf of Mexico is fraught with many human-made threats to the whales’ survival, including dense ship traffic, oil and gas exploration, and marine trash.



Agroforestry-grown coffee gives Amazon farmers a sustainable alternative by Sibélia Zanon [11 Feb 2021]
– Located in the southern part of Brazil’s Amazonas state, the municipality of Apuí has been producing the Amazon’s first agroecological coffee since 2012.
– The municipality has one of the highest rates of fire outbreaks in the region, and investing in social development is one way to combat land grabbing and deforestation for cattle pastures.
– Funded by the private sector, the agroforestry coffee project aims to integrate 200 family farms over the next three years.
– Studies show that agroforestry systems diminish the impacts of climate change on coffee production, improve yields, and allow farmers to cultivate additional plants for extra income.

Indonesia’s top palm oil deforesters are the usual shady suspects: Report by Hans Nicholas Jong [11 Feb 2021]
– Repeat offenders dominate the 2020 list of top 10 palm oil companies responsible for palm oil-linked deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, according to a new analysis.
– Some of the top deforesters are shrouded in secrecy, with scant information about them publicly available.
– Overall, 2020 saw the lowest amount of palm oil-driven deforestation in three years, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
– However, a resurgent domestic market in Indonesia, coupled with rallying palm oil prices, could fuel further deforestation in 2021.

Rescue of rare white tarsier raises fears of habitat loss, illegal pet trade by Basten Gokkon [10 Feb 2021]
– Conservation authorities in Indonesia have rescued a baby tarsier from a fruit garden in the island of Sulawesi.
– The Gursky’s spectral tarsier has been diagnosed with leucism, a condition similar to albinism, which gives it bright white fur.
– The discovery has prompted mounting calls from conservationists for the protection of the rescued tarsier against wildlife traffickers and its habitat against degradation.

Podcast: Are biomass and hydropower ‘false’ climate solutions? by Mike Gaworecki [10 Feb 2021]
– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we look at two energy-related technologies that are being promoted as climate solutions, biomass and hydropower, which might have unintended consequences that hamper their ability to supply clean energy and thus might not be sustainable solutions at all.
– Our first guest is Justin Catanoso, a professor at Wake Forest University and long-time Mongabay correspondent. Catanoso tells us about the loopholes in renewable energy policies that have allowed the biomass industry to flourish under the guise of “carbon neutrality,” even though the burning of biomass for energy releases more carbon emissions than burning coal.
– We also speak with Ana Colovic Lesoska, a biologist by training who founded the Eko-Svest Center For Environmental Research in North Macedonia. Colovic Lesoska was instrumental in shutting down two large hydropower projects in her country’s Mavrovo National Park, but there are still more than 3,000 new hydropower projects proposed in the Balkans. She tells us why hydropower is being adopted by Balkan countries and whether or not hydropower can be a climate solution at any scale.

Teachers create lasting change for people and other primates via clean cookstoves (commentary) by Corinne Kendall [10 Feb 2021]
– Kibale National Park has the highest diversity of primates in the world and 300+ species of birds, but wildlife are threatened by habitat degradation from activities like firewood collection.
– Fuel-efficient cookstoves can be used to reduce wood consumption, improve cook times, and mitigate smoke inhalation associated with cooking on open fires.
– Many such projects fail over time, but a new project involves the multiplicative effect of involving teachers in educating the community about their usefulness, since a single teacher can influence many students.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

As the Amazon unravels into savanna, its wildlife will also suffer by Luís Patriani [10 Feb 2021]
– The transformation of the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests into savanna-like environments will change the makeup of both the flora and the fauna of these biomes.
– A study by Brazilian researchers evaluated the impacts of climate change and deforestation on more than 300 mammal species under various scenarios of savannization.
– Species like primates, which depend on a dense canopy of trees to survive, could lose up to 50% of their range by the end of the 21st century.
– Meanwhile, species from the Cerrado scrubland, such as the maned wolf and the giant anteater, would be able to move into degraded areas of the Amazon even as their own native range is cleared by human activity.

Where does the name of the crab-eating fox come from? by Romina Castagnino [09 Feb 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.

For marine life, human noise pollution brings ‘death by a thousand cuts’ by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [09 Feb 2021]
– A new review critically examines the issue of human-made noise in the ocean, and how it can negatively impact the behavior, physiology and survival of marine animals.
– While most research on anthropogenic noise isn’t new, the problem has generally been ignored and not addressed in conservation policies, the authors say.
– Despite the severity of the issue, there are many practical solutions to mitigate anthropogenic noise in the ocean, according to the paper.

Fruit-eating, seed-pooping animals can help restore degraded forests by Emily Harwitz [09 Feb 2021]
– Restoring degraded forests can be expensive and complicated, but Brazilian researchers may have a simple technique to add to the restoration toolbox: enlisting fruit-eating animals to spread seeds.
– A new study shows that many species of mammals and birds will consume seeds inserted into fruits at feeders and then excrete the seeds over wide areas.
– This novel proof-of-concept study highlights the importance of plant and animal interactions to restore the natural ecology of forests people have destroyed or degraded.

As nature declines, so does human quality of life, study finds by Ashoka Mukpo [09 Feb 2021]
– Researchers working with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reviewed more than 2,000 studies to determine how environmental decline is affecting human well-being.
– The study found “unambiguous declines” in quality of life related to half of the IPBES categories of nature’s contributions to humanity.
– Where the results were mixed, negative impacts were often felt more acutely by low-income people and poorer countries.

Indonesia to push for mine rehab, reforestation after deadly floods by Hans Nicholas Jong [09 Feb 2021]
– The Indonesian government plans to reforest watershed areas in the Bornean province of South Kalimantan and compel coal-mining companies to rehabilitate their concessions there in response to recent deadly floods.
– Pit mines have degraded large swaths of the region’s watershed, undermining the ability of the land and rivers to absorb heavy rainwater runoff, which activists say exacerbated the scale of the floods.
– While the environment minister initially denied this, her office has now indicated it was aware of the problem at least five years earlier and will do more to get companies to rehabilitate their abandoned mining sites.
– Even if it succeeds, however, experts agree that, given the current state of technology, restoring forests from abandoned mining sites is unrealistic in any tangible time frame.

Myanmar’s troubled forestry sector seeks global endorsement after coup by [08 Feb 2021]
– Two days after the military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1, the nationally privatized Myanmar Forest Products and Timber Merchants Association (MFPTMA) released a statement claiming its timber trade is fully in compliance with legal and official deforestation guidelines intended govern international exports.
– The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has publicly countered the letter, saying that Myanmar’s timber trade is highly corrupt and does not comply with international policies such as the EU’s Timber Regulation.
– Expert critics say the letter was motivated by money, and that any subsequent timber trade would directly benefit the ongoing military coup, which has been promised to last for at least a year.
– The EIA has called for placing economic sanctions on Myanmar, particularly in regard to the timber trade, until power is handed back to the democratically elected government.

Brazil timber imports ‘may have breached US flooring giant’s probation’ by Jack Davies [08 Feb 2021]
– A new report examines serious irregularities in Brazilian timber exporter Indusparquet’s supply chains, revealing the unusual clemency shown to the company since President Jair Bolsonaro came to power, and the American and European importers that have continued to buy from the firm in spite of its troubling sourcing practices.
– In May 2018, Indusparquet’s main warehouse was raided with 1,818 cubic meters of hardwood seized and the company fined $171,473 and issued a temporary ban on trading. The raid was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Brazilian Environment Ministry’s anti-deforestation agency, Ibama, and the Federal Police.
– But at least one company, LL Flooring, may have violated the terms of its probation by continuing to import Indusparquet products following the seizures, Earthsight found.

The queen sets the tone: Deciphering the dialects of naked mole-rats by Romina Castagnino [08 Feb 2021]
– Naked mole-rats have their own dialects that differ between colonies of the rodents, researchers have found.
– The virtually blind animals communicate underground through squeaks, grunts and chirps, and have an “accent” that is determined by the queen of each colony.
– This shared dialect “strengthens cohesion and a sense of belonging among the naked mole-rats of a specific colony,” says Alison Barker, lead author of the new study.
– The finding has important implications for the understanding of our own history, by potentially shedding light into how human linguistic culture evolved.

Pandemic fails to slow agribusiness’s thirst for Cerrado’s water by Caio de Freitas Paes [08 Feb 2021]
– Between April and November last year, the government of the Brazilian state of Bahia authorized agribusinesses to collect nearly 2 billion liters (528 million gallons) of water a day.
– The spread of giant soybean plantations in the state’s west threatens tributaries, floodplains and sources of essential rivers such as the Corrente and the São Francisco.
– The large-scale irrigation poses a major threat to traditional communities, whose own communal farming practices have long protected the Cerrado’s water resources.
– Tensions over water management sparked a popular movement by small farmers in 2017, known as the “Water Uprising” and aimed at protecting the Cerrado’s water resources.

Indigenous leaders killed in Philippines were ‘red-tagged’ over dam opposition by Jun N. Aguirre [08 Feb 2021]
– The killing of nine Indigenous leaders by police during an operation in the central Philippines on Dec. 30, 2020, has drawn widespread condemnation from environmental and human rights groups, politicians, lawyers, and Catholic bishops.
– Police allege that those killed, and another 16 arrested, were supporters of the NPA, the armed wing of the banned communist party.
– But supporters of the Indigenous Tumandok community on Panay Island say they were targeted for their opposition to two dam projects in their ancestral domain.
– One of the projects, on the Jalaur River, is largely funded through a $208 million loan from the South Korean government.

Brazil’s BR-319: Politicians capitalize on the Manaus oxygen crisis to promote a disastrous highway (Commentary) by Philip Fearnside; Maryane Andrade; and Lucas Ferrante [07 Feb 2021]
– Brazil’s proposed reconstruction of the formerly abandoned BR-319 highway is notorious for its potential impact on Amazonian deforestation and indigenous peoples.
– The highway would connect Manaus, in the center of the Amazon, to the “arc of deforestation” in the southern part of the region, opening vast areas of forest to invasion.
– The current oxygen crisis in Manaus has been a windfall for politicians promoting the highway project, using the false argument that BR-319 is needed to supply oxygen to the city.
– This text is translated and expanded from the first author’s column on the Amazônia Real website. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Cambodian environmental activists reportedly arrested by Mongabay [05 Feb 2021]
– Kratie provincial environment officers have reportedly arrested prominent environmental activist Ouch Leng along with Heng Sros, Men Math, Heng Run and Choup Cheang.
– In 2016 Ouch was chosen as a recipient of the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize for his work exposing corruption-enabled illegal logging in Cambodia’s forests.
– This is a developing story and will be updated as we learn more.

Ending tropical deforestation is vital to public health, scientists say by Liz Kimbrough [05 Feb 2021]
– Deforestation in the tropics, mostly caused by agriculture, is driving an increased rate of pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans.
– Tropical deforestation is affecting not only the health of plants and animals that depend on the forest directly, but also of people worldwide through increased disease transmission, loss of ecosystem services, and accelerated climate change.
– The majority of global forest loss is caused by just four commodities — beef, soy, palm oil, and wood products — so the demand and incentives for these products needs to be addressed.
– Slowing deforestation will require major reforms of global agricultural and financial systems, as well as policies and commitments directly aimed at conserving ecosystems.

This Mediterranean seagrass filters plastic waste — but it’s also under threat by Basten Gokkon [05 Feb 2021]
– Posidonia oceanica, a species of seagrass that grows in meadows in the Mediterranean Sea, has been found to trap plastic waste particles at much higher concentrations than previously thought.
– Researchers in Spain found that balled-up clumps of this fibrous plant were trapping up to 1,500 plastic particles per kilogram of seagrass.
– They estimate that the total extent of P. oceanica may be capable of trapping nearly 900 million pieces of plastic debris each year.
– However, the seagrass meadows are receding across their range, due to threats from climate change, the spread of invasive species, pollution, erosion, and loss of coastal habitats from dredging, trawling and boat anchoring.

Study suggests the Tasmanian tiger survived into the 21st century by James Fair [04 Feb 2021]
– The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, most likely went extinct in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and could still persist in the most remote parts of the island, according to new research that is still undergoing peer review.
– More than 1,200 records of sightings and physical evidence from 1910 up to 2019 were collected and collated by scientists at the University of Tasmania and used to model where and when the thylacine is likely to have persisted.
– This study challenges the accepted consensus that the thylacine went extinct in the decade or two after the last known individual died in Hobart Zoo in 1936.
– The authors say they believe their novel method for using citizen science could be applied to help find other species either believed to be extinct or known to be extremely rare.

First the savior, now the villain: Fire suppression is often overhyped in the American west (commentary) by Paul C. Rogers [04 Feb 2021]
– In this commentary, Dr. Paul C. Rogers, a forest ecologist and Director of the Western Aspen Alliance at Utah State University, argues that forest managers’ “goal should not be to stop wildfire but to reduce conflicts with it.”
– “Recent history has not yet shown us mega-droughts surpassing individual decades or mega-fires scorching tens of millions of acres, but without reversal of humanity’s fossil fuel habits future use of those hyper-monikers may be well placed.”
– “When vegetation is dry and winds are high, no amount of money, retardant, water, human fodder, or forest thinning is going to stop them. In the end, our best strategy is to understand, and then practice, living with inevitable fire and not continuing to think we are masters of forests or flames.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.



For border-crossing Thai tigers, the forest on the other side isn’t as green by Carolyn Cowan [02/03/2021]
Podcast: Omens and optimism for Sumatran orangutans by [02/02/2021]
‘Race against time’: Saving the snakes and lizards of Brazil’s Cerrado by Sharon Guynup [02/02/2021]
‘Activists make the case that bigger is better to protect Galápagos reserve by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01/29/2021]