Newsletter 2021-03-04


The Possible Meat: A Brazilian farmer shows ranching can regenerate the Cerrado by Agostino Petroni [03/03/2021]

– Matheus Sborgia, a Brazilian chef, decided to bet on regenerative agriculture after inheriting his grandfather’s cattle ranch in the heart of the Cerrado.
– Sborgia embraced the idea of holistic management and rotational grazing preached by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist who became famous for his provocative idea that to save the planet from climate change, instead of reducing livestock farming, we would have to increase it.
– Instead of letting his 200 cows range freely, Sborgia lets them eat everything in a small plot of land before moving them on to another plot; by the time they cycle back the original plot has already regenerated.
– The Brazilian Cerrado is one of the country’s most overgrazed regions. It suffered one of its worst wildfire seasons ever during the past year, and while the ranches around Sborgia’s property were dry, his own land was green and full of life.


Video: Doomed or viable? Sumatran rhino captive breeding faces a dilemma by Isabel Esterman [03/03/2021]

– A new animated short film from Mongabay, illustrated by artist Roger Peet, depicts one of the most urgent questions facing experts trying to save the Sumatran rhino from extinction.
– With no more than 80 Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, many of them isolated into groups too small to be viable, the species’ natural birthrate is so low that experts have reached a consensus that human intervention is necessary to stave off extinction.
– The question now is which rhinos to capture: Isolated ones are less likely to be healthy and fertile, but removing rhinos from populations that are still breeding in the wild could risk the survival of these last few viable groups.

‘There are no silver bullets’ in conservation: Synchronicity Earth’s Jessica Sweidan by Rhett A. Butler [03/02/2021]

– Conservation is complex. If it were easy, problems like the extinction crisis, human-wildlife conflict, overexploitation of forests and oceans, and habitat degradation and loss would be resolved already.
– Conservation’s complexity arises from the need to address multiple, often conflicting, objectives that span disciplines from ecology to economics to human welfare. Synchronicity Earth, a U.K.-based charity, recognizes this and incorporates the idea of complexity into its strategy, looking to opportunities to build connections between disparate areas and seeking “overlooked and underfunded species, regions, and ecosystems.”
– Jessica Sweidan, who founded Synchronicity Earth with her husband, Adam, in 2009, says this approach emerged out of the understanding that “there were no silver bullets” in conservation.
– Sweidan talked about Synchronicity Earth and more during a February 2021 interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler.

Saving Africa’s biodiversity is a challenging but urgent necessity, says Rodger Schlickeisen by Rhett A. Butler [03/01/2021]

– Rodger Schlickeisen made a name for himself in conservation circles from the early 1990s thanks to his leadership at Defenders of Wildlife, which grew rapidly in membership and influence during his 20 years at the helm. The group became known as a staunch advocate for wildlife via its defense of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and conservation policies.
– Schlickeisen left Defenders in 2011 to embark on a second career in conservation as head of the Wildcat Foundation, the philanthropy funded by U.S. investor and businessman David Bonderman. The Wildcat Foundation supports efforts to protect wildlife in Africa, including place-based conservation projects and initiatives that aim to combat the wildlife trade.
– Having worked in conservation in both the U.S. and Africa, Schlickeisen sees similarities and sharp contrasts between the two geographies. Some of the key differences between the U.S. and Africa, he says, are the legal and institutional infrastructure that enable effective conservation.
– Schlickeisen discussed these issues and more in a February 2021 interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler.

‘The river will bleed red’: Indigenous Filipinos face down dam projects by Karlston Lapniten [02/26/2021]

– For more than five decades, Indigenous communities in the northern Philippines have pushed back against the planned construction of hydropower dams on the Chico River system.
– The river is of great importance to Indigenous communities in the provinces of Kalinga and Mountain Province, who call it their “river of life” and have depended on it for generations.
– The Upper Tabuk and Karayan dams have been proposed in some form or another since the 1970s, but are now backed by corporations created by Indigenous groups, causing divisions among communities.
– Critics of the dams have questioned the Indigenous consent process, a requirement for a project on tribal lands, alleging that some of the community support was obtained through bribery.

‘A disgrace’: Luxury housing plans threaten Cambodia’s Bokor National Park by Karlston Lapniten [02/25/2021]

– Bokor National Park, also known as Preah Monivong Bokor National Park, sits on the southern coast of Cambodia and is a refuge for many threatened plants and animals, as well as a popular tourist site.
– But conservationists warn Bokor’s habitat is under threat from the development of luxury residential estates that are planned to occupy 19,000 hectares inside the park.
– The park gained official protected status in 1993, yet was awarded to Cambodian tycoon Sok Kong in 2007 as a 99-year concession for $1 billion. In the intervening years, Kong’s company has developed an access road, luxury hotels and condominiums in Bokor.
– Meanwhile sources say international and local NGOs, which ordinarily play a meaningful role in preventing widespread forest loss in Cambodia, have been muzzled in the country.



Conservation would be more effective with more Indigenous leadership, says Patrick Gonzales-Rogers by Rhett A. Butler [04 Mar 2021]
– In the past year there’s been a lot more talk about stakeholder inclusivity in the conservation sector. But how would conservation actually transform its practices?
– Patrick Gonzales-Rogers, the Executive Director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, says increasing the representation of Indigenous peoples in the leadership of conservation institutions would be a good place to start addressing structural issues in the conservation sector as well as improve conservation outcomes.
– Gonzales-Rogers’s views are borne out of a long career working at the intersection of Indigenous rights and natural resources. He ended up as the Executive Director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a consortium of Indigenous nations — the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe — that formed in 2015 to conserve 770,000-hectare (1.9 million-acre) Bears Ears cultural landscape in southeastern Utah.
– Gonzales-Rogers talked about Bears Ears, Indigenous rights, the conservation movement, and more during a February 2021 interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Podcast: Restoration for peat’s sake by [04 Mar 2021]
– Once drained for palm oil or other agricultural uses, Indonesia’s peatlands become very fire prone, putting its people and rich flora and fauna – from orchids to orangutans – at risk.
– Over a million hectares of carbon-rich peatlands burned in Indonesia in 2019, creating a public health crisis not seen since 2015 when the nation’s peatland restoration agency was formed to address the issue.
– To understand what is being done to restore peatlands, we speak with the Deputy Head of the National Peatland Restoration Agency, Budi Wardhana, and with Dyah Puspitaloka, a researcher on the value chain, finance and investment team at CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research.
– Restoration through agroforestry that benefits both people and planet is one positive avenue forward, which Dyah discusses in her remarks.

Persistence of slave labor exposes lawlessness of Amazon gold mines by Maurício Angelo [04 Mar 2021]
– A notorious mining family continued to be awarded permits and lay claims to land in the Brazilian Amazon after being busted for enslavement of workers in a 2018 raid.
– The gold mining operations overseen by Raimunda Oliveira Nunes were raided in 2018 and 2020 by labor inspectors, who rescued 77 workers from slave-labor conditions. Nunes was convicted last year in court but remains free pending an appeal.
– An investigation by Mongabay shows that, even after the first raid and Nunes’s inclusion on a blacklist of known enslavers, she and her children were still able to apply for and obtain permits from the National Mining Agency (ANM).
– Mongabay also found that they staked claims to land under the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), which is often exploited by land grabbers trying to legitimize illegal activities such as mining, cattle ranching or farming.

Indonesian governor’s arrest in road project points to more tainted contracts by Wahyu Chandra [04 Mar 2021]
– Indonesian anti-graft investigators last week arrested Nurdin Abdullah, the governor of South Sulawesi province, for alleged corruption in an upcoming road project in the province.
– They have charged him with taking at least 2 billion rupiah ($140,000) in bribes to grant the contract to a local developer, and another 3.4 billion rupiah ($238,000) from other companies awarded other contracts.
– Environmental activists are calling on the agency to expand the investigation to include other infrastructure projects approved by Nurdin.
– Corruption in infrastructure projects is common in Indonesia, with local leaders like governors and district chiefs channeling the money back to their parties or using it to fund their re-election campaigns.

Facebook enabling Amazon land grabbing, deforestation, finds investigation by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [03 Mar 2021]
– BBC Brasil, in a new TV documentary, penetrated deep within criminal networks illegally selling and deforesting conserved lands — even within an Indigenous reserve. In a new twist, some land grabbers are posting the plots they’re selling on Facebook, a practice likely to bring international attention and outrage.
– The sellers may have moved to utilizing Facebook ads because the lawbreakers say they have virtually no fear of prosecution from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Since 2019, his administration has largely gutted and defunded the nation’s environmental regulatory, protection and enforcement agencies.
– When contacted by the BBC about allowing the ads to be placed on its platform, Facebook said that it was “ready to work with the local authorities” to investigate the alleged crimes but that it would not be taking independent action on its own to halt the land trade. While some ads were pulled, others remain on Facebook.

When Chinook salmon is off the menu, other prey will do for endangered orcas by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [03 Mar 2021]
– A new study has found that endangered southern resident killer whales mainly consume endangered Chinook salmon, but will broaden their diet when this species isn’t available.
– The researchers obtained data through prey and fecal waste collected from resident killer whales over a 13-year period.
– Efforts to reinstate Chinook salmon populations through hatchery efforts can play an important role in supporting resident killer whale populations, although these programs need to be carefully managed to ensure that stocks are diverse, the study suggests.

Colombia’s national parks at a crossroads as new director installed by Aurora Solá [03 Mar 2021]
– As Colombia’s parks face brutal deforestation, a firestorm of criticism has erupted over the country’s newly appointed director of national parks, Orlando Molano, who has no experience in environmental affairs.
– During the 17-year tenure of outgoing director Julia Miranda, eight new parks were established and Chiribiquete National Natural Park was expanded to become the world’s largest tropical rainforest park.
– Environmentalists worry that under Molano’s oversight the development of recreational infrastructure in parks could take precedence over the conservation of nature in a country where corruption is rampant.
– Colombia’s national parks intersect critically with the fight against deforestation, although responsibility for controlling deforestation lies directly with President Iván Duque, not the national parks administration.

Review finds palm oil firm Golden Veroleum cleared carbon-rich Liberian forests by Ashoka Mukpo [03 Mar 2021]
– The largest investor in Golden Veroleum is Singapore-based Golden Agri-Resources, itself a branch of the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas.
– In 2018, a Liberian civil society group joined with the U.S. and Netherlands chapters of Friends of the Earth in submitting a complaint to the High Carbon Stock Approach alleging that Golden Veroleum cleared high carbon stock forests in Liberia.
– The investigation was the first of its kind by the High Carbon Stock Approach, and found that Golden Veroleum cleared more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of carbon-rich forests in Liberia’s remote southeast.

The singing apes of Sumatra need rescuing, too (commentary) by Sinan Serhadli [03 Mar 2021]
– Gibbons are the singing acrobats of Sumatra’s forest canopy, and they are crucial for the health of the forest ecosystem due to their role as seed dispersers.
– But the illegal trade in gibbons for pets across Sumatra has to be taken as seriously as the trade in orangutans is.
– A new alliance of NGOs is advocating for better law enforcement, assessment of the illegal trade, and is campaigning against keeping gibbons as pets. They are also building a new gibbon rehabilitation center to appropriately rehabilitate confiscated gibbons.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

We can now see through clouds to detect deforestation in near real-time by [03 Mar 2021]
– World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch can now track deforestation shortly after it occurs despite being obscured by cloud cover. The functionality will greatly improve efforts to monitor tropical deforestation and degradation.
– Radar for Detecting Deforestation (RADD) alerts use radar data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites, which cover the tropics every 6 to 12 days.
– The long wavelength radio waves can also penetrate smoke and haze, providing insight on forest loss that is occurring in areas that are otherwise shrouded.
– Radar additionally provides a more detailed picture on forest disturbance than Landsat imagery, enabling detection at an earlier stage.

How technology can help us achieve at least 30% ocean protection (commentary) by Simon Cripps [03 Mar 2021]
– A growing number of countries are pledging to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.
– Securing such a vast area requires new cutting-edge technology to monitor illegal activities and movements of species. Luckily, this field has been developing fast with new inventions and tech collaborations.
– The goal can be achieved by combining data from a range of sources, connecting the data to existing systems that rangers use, and engaging the people, communities, and sectors that work closely with the sea.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Over half of global environmental defender murders in 2020 in Colombia: report by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [02 Mar 2021]
– A recent report from Front Line Defenders revealed that in 2020, at least 331 environmental defenders were killed globally.
– The majority of those deaths were among people who worked in the defense of land and environment rights, and the rights of Indigenous peoples.
– Of the 331 murders registered last year, Colombia had the most murders at 177.

Corals are struggling, but they’re too abundant to go extinct, study says by Malavika Vyawahare [02 Mar 2021]
– A study has found that most reef-building coral species are not in imminent danger of being wiped off the planet because they are abundant and occupy vast ranges.
– It looked at 318 species across 900 reefs in the Pacific Ocean, from Indonesia to French Polynesia, and found half a trillion coral colonies in the region.
– The study authors are calling for a revision of the IUCN Red List, according to which a third of all reef-building corals face some degree of extinction risk.
– At the same time the new research underlines the fact that local extinctions and the loss of ecological function are real and present threats.

‘We attack,’ Indonesia declares in joint bid with Malaysia to shield palm oil by Hans Nicholas Jong [02 Mar 2021]
– Indonesia and Malaysia plan to mount a joint offensive to shore up the palm oil industry against criticism of the deforestation and conflicts associated with the production of the commodity.
– The leaders of the two countries allege that the EU, which plans to phase out palm-based biodiesel as a renewable energy, is discriminating to protect its own vegetable oil producers.
– Top government and industry leaders in Indonesia have declared a “black campaign” against their European competitors and against Indonesian NGOs calling for a more sustainable palm oil industry.
– Activists have expressed dismay at the prospect of a PR war, saying the money and effort would be better spent on bringing actual reforms aimed at sustainability.

Reforested areas rival mature forests in securing water, study finds by Malavika Vyawahare [02 Mar 2021]
– New research from Madagascar shows that young scrubby forests can in some ways be better at retaining water than older mature forests.
– They provide similar benefits in preventing runoff but use up lesser water, according to a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
– However, some hydrologists say the effects of evapotranspiration, water released back into the atmosphere by trees, on rainfall in areas farther afield must not be ignored.
– If scrubby forests are as efficient as older ones in retaining water, it means reforestation boosts water resources available to communities who take part in reforestation drives.

Chinese triads target Bolivia’s jaguars in search of ‘American tiger’ parts by Vanessa Romo [02 Mar 2021]
– An intelligence-gathering investigation by Earth League International and the Dutch national committee to the IUCN has revealed that Chinese-controlled trafficking syndicates are responsible for smuggling jaguar body parts out of Bolivia.
– These groups hide behind legitimate businesses like restaurants and shops, which also serve as fronts for the transit of other wildlife and illegal drugs, the investigation found.
– An influx of Chinese investment into infrastructure projects in Bolivia in recent years has coincided with a rise in poaching, with traffickers targeting jaguars as a replacement for nearly depleted tiger populations back in Asia.
– Some Bolivian officials are pushing for legal reforms that will impose heavier sentences for wildlife, but the country’s political crises has held up those efforts for now.

Amazon ‘Tribes on the Edge’: Q&A with documentary filmmaker Céline Cousteau by Shanna Hanbury [01 Mar 2021]
– Céline Cousteau, granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, spent three years filming the lives of the inhabitants of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The filming took place before the COVID-19 pandemic and before Jair Bolsonaro became president, but the issues it highlights are as relevant as ever, Cousteau says, from the state’s neglect of Indigenous health, to the exploitative policies pushed by successive governments.
– “Indigenous peoples and the Javari are the protectors of an ecosystem on which we depend,” she says. “Supporting their survival helps us survive forever.”
– One of the subjects of the film, Indigenous leader Beto Marubo, says there are no immediate solutions: “This problem didn’t happen overnight, and you by yourself will not solve it overnight. You need to be here for the long run.”

Organizations aim to block funds for East African oil pipeline by [01 Mar 2021]
– On March 1, more than 260 organizations issued an open letter to the banks identified as financial advisers for the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, as well as to 25 others reportedly considering offering loans to fund its construction.
– The pipeline would carry oil from fields in western Uganda to a port on the northern coast of Tanzania.
– The human rights and environmental organizations that sent the letter say the pipeline’s construction poses “unacceptable” risks to communities and the environment in Uganda and Tanzania and beyond.
– They are encouraging the banks not to fund the $3.5 billion project, and are asking government leaders to shift funding away from infrastructure for climate-warming fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Papua deforestation highlights eastward shift of Indonesia forest clearing by Hans Nicholas Jong [01 Mar 2021]
– Deforestation is increasing in forest-rich regions in Indonesia, even as the government claims the national average has gone down, a new report shows.
– The NGOs behind the report attribute the decline in the national deforestation rate to the fact that there’s virtually no forest left to clear in parts of Sumatra and Borneo.
– Instead, deforestation has moved east, largely to the Papua region, home to nearly two-fifths of Indonesia’s remaining rainforest — an area the size of Florida — where companies are clearing land for oil palm and pulpwood plantations and mines.
– Another key driver of the deforestation in Papua is infrastructure development, which the government claims is meant to connect remote villages and communities, but which really serve mines, plantations and logging concessions, the report shows.

To fight climate change, save the whales, some scientists say by Michelle Carrere [01 Mar 2021]
– In death, whales carry the tons of carbon stored in their massive bodies down to rest on the seafloor, where it can remain for centuries.
– Whale excrement fertilizes the ocean, producing large phytoplankton blooms that absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.
– Scientists point out that helping whale populations recover from past overharvesting can help reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

An economic case for competing in the XPRIZE Rainforest contest (commentary) by Jonah Wittkamper [01 Mar 2021]
– In 2019, XPRIZE Rainforest opened its doors and challenged the world to develop new biodiversity assessment technologies by offering a $10 million prize for the best one.
– In this commentary, Jonah Wittkamper, President of the Global Governance Philanthropy Network and co-founder of NEXUS, makes an economic argument for participating in the contest.
– Wittkamper says a great deal of value could be unlocked with the ability to rapidly assess rainforest biodiversity.
– This post is a commentary and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mongabay.

One-hit wonder frog makes a comeback in the southern Philippines by Leilani Chavez [01 Mar 2021]
– A pair of Filipino biologists have rediscovered Pulcharana guttmani, a rare Philippine stream frog first collected by biologists in 1993 and never seen again until now.
– Experts consider the blue-bellied frog among the rarest in the Philippines; the sole specimen was only described as a new species in 2015, more than 20 years after its collection.
– Its close resemblance to the more common granducola has hidden P. guttmani from science, eluding even herpetologists and Indigenous guides.
– Very little is known about guttmani, but its rediscovery emphasizes the need to protect its habitat, the Allah Valley Watershed Forest Reserve, a biodiverse yet rarely surveyed area in Mindanao that is threatened by security and illegal logging issues.

Sri Lanka replanting bid begins after minister is held liable for deforestation by Malaka Rodrigo [28 Feb 2021]
– Sri Lanka’s Forest Department has begun a 1 billion rupee ($5 million) program to reforest part of the Wilpattu Forest Complex, following a court ruling that ordered a top government official to pay for the effort.
– The government had declared the area a protected forest reserve in 2012, but the following year approved the development there of settlements for people displaced by the country’s civil war.
– Environmental groups said the process, and subsequent forest clearing, was illegal and took the issue to court in 2015; the ruling was handed down in November 2020, with the minister responsible for the resettlement program, found liable.
– In its judgment, the court cited the “polluter pays” principle from the Rio Declaration, as well as the government’s moral and legal obligations to protect the environment.

Declaring key ocean habitats off-limits to human activities protects biodiversity and guards against climate change (commentary) by Kelsey Lamp [26 Feb 2021]
– Oceans around the world face a litany of threats, from climate change to overfishing to pollution and more.
– Marine protected areas (MPAs), when well-sited, well-managed and durable, provide ocean ecosystems with the capacity to restore damaged marine populations, protect endangered species and recover faster from climate-caused disasters.
– MPA policies need to be implemented more widely, writes Kelsey Lamp from Environment America’s ocean campaigns, starting by protecting 30% of our oceans with MPAs by 2030.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Jaguars in Suriname’s protected parks remain vulnerable to poaching by Vanessa Romo [26 Feb 2021]
– Brownsberg Nature Park and Central Suriname Nature Reserve are protected areas in the South American nation of Suriname where poaching of jaguars is rife.
– Poachers and opportunistic actors such as illegal miners and loggers kill the animals, strip them of their skin, bones and teeth, and boil the rest of the carcass down into a paste that’s then trafficked to Chinese buyers.
– The poachers have long acted with impunity amid a general lack of monitoring and law enforcement by authorities, but conservationists say the COVID-19 pandemic has made this situation worse.
– Conservationists are working with other NGOs, universities and Chinese representatives on an awareness campaign to end the poaching and trafficking.

Forest patches amid agriculture are key to orangutan survival: Study by John C. Cannon [26 Feb 2021]
– A recent study highlights the importance of small fragments of forest amid landscapes dominated by agriculture for the survival of orangutans in Southeast Asia.
– The research, drawing on several decades of ground and aerial surveys in Borneo, found that orangutans are adapting to the presence of oil palm plantations — if they have access to nearby patches of forest.
– The authors say agricultural plantations could serve as corridors allowing for better connectivity and gene flow within the broader orangutan population.

The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world (commentary) by Simon Pollock [25 Feb 2021]
– Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
– Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
– Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.



The Kalunga digitally map traditional lands to save Cerrado way of life by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [02/24/2021]
In Malaysian Borneo’s rainforests, powerful state governments set their own rules by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [02/18/2021]
A tale of two seas: Closed season is a mixed bag for Philippine sardines industry by Bong S. Sarmiento [02/18/2021]