Newsletter 2021-04-29



Sumatran rhinos show low inbreeding — but when it happens, collapse is quick by Carolyn Cowan [04/29/2021]

– Fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos are believed to remain on Earth, and the species faces dire threats due to a low birth rate, habitat loss and fragmentation, and poaching.
– A new study finds that, despite its small size, the population retains significant genetic diversity, and likely has the genomic “toolkit” necessary to survive threats like climate change or disease.
– The findings are good news for conservationists, but also come with a warning: an analysis of a recently extinct subpopulation revealed that a rapid spike in inbreeding preceded their extinction.
– The research highlights dilemmas currently facing conservationists working to breed Sumatran rhinos in captivity: Should subspecies be mixed? And, when no alternatives exist, should captive rhinos be bred with their relatives?

At Vietnam’s southern tip, mangroves defend the land from the encroaching sea by Michael Tatarski [04/28/2021]

– Bordered by the sea on two sides and exposed to typhoons and rising sea levels, Vietnam’s Ca Mau province is among the most vulnerable regions of a country expected to face some of the worst future impacts from climate change.
– In response, people there are working to restore and preserve mangroves like almost nowhere else in Vietnam in an attempt to protect the remaining coastal land from encroaching seas.
– In Cape Ca Mau National Park, an NGO is aiding the natural generation of a mangrove forest on an open mudflat.
– And the province, where shrimp farming is king, has kept mangrove forests growing amid aquaculture operations on a scale that is unique in the Mekong Delta.

Nuts about agroforestry in the U.S. Midwest: Can hazelnuts transform farming? by Sarah Derouin [04/28/2021]

– Monocultures of corn and soybeans carpet 75% of the U.S. Midwest, leading to soil erosion, water pollution, and massive greenhouse gas emissions.
– However, a new wave of farmers is breaking the monocrop monotony by growing these annuals between long rows of perennial shrubs like American hazelnuts, which keep soils intact while harboring beneficial bugs and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere.
– Hazelnuts are a huge market internationally and have big potential in the U.S. either as a snack or an oilseed, since the fatty acid profile is very similar to olive oil.
– Other kinds of perennial crops potentially useful in agroforestry—where annuals and perennials are grown together for mutual benefit—include chestnuts, blueberries, pawpaws and persimmons.

Indigenous in São Paulo: Erased by a colonial education curriculum by Sarah Derouin [04/28/2021]

– São Paulo, the biggest city in the western hemisphere, is home to two Indigenous reserves with vastly differing fates.
– The Jaraguá reserve is the smallest in Brazil, hemmed in by a controversial property development and highways that commemorate colonizers who enslaved and massacred the Indigenous population.
– On the much larger Tenondé Porã reserve, residents grow their own food and speak their own language.
– Despite these differences, Indigenous people in São Paulo, whether in the reserves or in the city, face the common problems of discrimination, an education system that refuses to acknowledge their presence, and the continued glorification of genocidal colonizers.

The Nature Conservancy’s Jennifer Morris is an ‘impatient optimist’ by Rhett A. Butler [04/27/2021]

– Jennifer Morris started her storied career in conservation working with communities in rural Namibia, before going on to eventually helm some of the leading international conservation NGOs.
– In that time, Morris, now the CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), has seen things change — though “not fast enough” — in terms of achieving equity and diversity in the conservation space.
– “For decades, protecting nature has come at the expense of the original stewards of land and waters — or prioritized over addressing environmental impacts that disproportionately hurt underserved communities,” she says.
– In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Morris talks about the conservation sector’s long-overdue reckoning, the way the pandemic has shifted thinking about humanity’s relationship with the environment, and being an “impatient optimist.”

We need more rewilding and connections to nature, says Enrique Ortiz by Rhett A. Butler [04/26/2021]

– Enrique Ortiz is a Peruvian biologist who has been working in conservation in Latin America since the 1970s. Today he works at the Andes Amazon Fund, a philanthropic initiative that has helped establish 79 protected areas and get 18 Indigenous territories titled.
– Ortiz says the pandemic has been “terrible and tragic” for both people and the environment, with a rise in poverty, violence against environmental defenders, and environmental crime and degradation.
– But he also notes surprising resilience where communities and local governments have continued protecting wilderness despite COVID-19.
– Ortiz spoke about these issues and more during an April 2021 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Governments, companies pledge $1 billion for tropical forests by Aurora Solá, Rhett A. Butler [04/23/2021]

– The U.S., U.K. and Norwegian governments, working with private companies, have launched a carbon credit program that they say will pay double the going rate over existing schemes.
– Others involved in the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) coalition include Amazon, pharmaceutical giants GSK and Bayer, and consumer goods multinationals Nestlé and Unilever.
– The scheme is built on the REDD+ program, which has allowed companies to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions generated in their operations by paying tropical forest countries to keep an equivalent volume of carbon locked up in their forests.
– Its proponents say it improves on REDD+ by working with larger units of land, thus addressing the issues of leakage (deforestation being displaced to a nearby forest patch), and other methods are meant to ensure additionality (avoiding credits being issued from forests that would have been conserved anyway).

Novelizing wildlife crime investigations: Q&A with author Bryan Christy by Rhett A. Butler [04/23/2021]

– Since his breakthrough book, The Lizard King, and his National Geographic feature on “The Kingpin”, Bryan Christy has established himself as one of the best-known wildlife crime writers.
– Christy’s newest project builds on his wildlife crime expertise, but takes it in a more dramatic direction: He’s written a novel titled In the Company of Killers, which tells the story of Tom Klay, an investigative reporter leading a double life as a CIA spy, who travels to the same places where Christy did his investigative work.
– “After years investigating wildlife crimes around the world, I realized environmental crimes were only part of criminal ecosystems too large to fit into any magazine article or documentary,” Christy told Mongabay. “When power and corruption feel too big to do anything about, it’s the job of storytellers to reframe things in a way that makes sense.”
– Christy spoke with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler in April 2021.



Indigenous Dayak man jailed after Indonesian palm oil firm alleges theft by Hans Nicholas Jong [29 Apr 2021]
– An Indigenous Dayak man has been arrested for allegedly stealing oil palm fruit from a company’s plantation in Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province.
– The company is embroiled in a long-running conflict with five Dayak communities in the area as its concession overlaps with their ancestral lands.
– The arrest has triggered fear among the communities of further arrests if they keep trying to assert their land rights.

Female putty-nosed monkeys get their males to run defense against predators by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [29 Apr 2021]
– A new study found that female putty-nosed monkeys use alarm calls to recruit males to be their “hired guns” when a predator is detected, only stopping their vocalizations once males have been enlisted to ward off the threat.
– Recruited males will vocalize their participation with a “pyow” call, which may aid their reproductive chances in the future, according to the study.
– The researchers also observed that male putty-nosed monkeys emitted a newly described “kek” call when responding to a simulation of a leopard moving along the forest floor.
– The researchers say that this study, as well as related studies, can aid conservation efforts for the putty-nosed monkey, a near-threatened species, and broaden our understanding of communicative and cognitive capacities of non-human primate species.

Scientists warn of looming water crisis with millions of wells at risk by [29 Apr 2021]
– A recent study in Science has found that up to a fifth of wells worldwide are at risk of running dry.
– The researchers analyzed data about 39 million wells and estimated that between 6 and 20% of the wells were at risk of drying if the water table dipped a few meters.
– Digging deeper is not always feasible because water quality may be poorer and deeper wells are more expensive to build.
– As groundwater reserves diminish, wealthier sections of societies would be better positioned to access them, leading to deepening inequalities, a related commentary in the journal said.

Reversing warming quickly could prevent worst climate change effects: Study by Claire Asher [28 Apr 2021]
– Irreversible and catastrophic environmental tipping points could still be avoided, even if we exceed global emission reduction targets — provided the world is able to reverse overshoot quickly, according to researchers.
– Simple mathematical models of four earth system tipping elements reveal a lag between overshooting the threshold and irreversible change. “Slow-onset” elements like icecap melt operate on century-long timescales, while Amazon dieback could pass a point of no return in just decades.
– However, experts warn that the models fail to take interactions between different tipping elements into account, which could shorten the amount of time a threshold can be overshot. Many of these interactions are poorly understood, making them difficult to include in climate models.
– Researchers say these results show there is still good reason to take action to mitigate global warming, even if we do overshoot the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C. Some warn the study results could be used as an excuse to tolerate further delays on global climate action.

Hits and misses for a legal tool to protect the environment in Philippines by Purple Romero [28 Apr 2021]
– In 2010, the Philippines’ Supreme Court set the provisions for what it calls the “Writ of Kalikasan,” a landmark legal remedy that compels the government to act and halt environmental degradation that impacts more than one municipality.
– More than a decade since it was first defined and used in court, the writ has been invoked for various cases, from closing open dumpsites and illegal landfills, to prompting the government to protect important bodies of water like the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.
– While many petitions have been approved this way, the rulings haven’t always been implemented by local governments.
– In 2019, fishers deprived of access to a fishing site in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Beijing filed a petition for Writ of Kalikasan; however, they backed out of the case soon after, citing a lack of understanding of the legal complexities.

Marine microplastics are now invading the atmosphere, study finds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [27 Apr 2021]
– A new study has found that microplastics are being emitted into the atmosphere, mainly from roads, the ocean, and agricultural practices.
– Annual plastic production actually contributes a lesser amount of atmospheric microplastic than plastic discharge from the marine environment, which highlights the role of legacy pollution, according to the study.
– It’s estimated that about 10 million metric tons of microplastics are emitted into the atmosphere each year, which is similar to the annual amount of anthropogenic black carbon emissions.
– The potential impacts of atmospheric microplastics on human health and ecosystems are largely unknown, and experts are calling for further research and urgent action to address the issue.

Bolsonaro abandons enhanced Amazon commitment same day he makes it by Sue Branford [27 Apr 2021]
– Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro offered up Amazon conservation promises during the April 22 virtual Climate Leaders Summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden and attended by heads of state from more than forty nations.
– That same day, Bolsonaro approved Brazil’s 2021 budget that includes a R$240 million ($44 million) annual reduction for the Ministry of the Environment. Conservationists say that the cuts will be utterly devastating for the nation’s deforestation monitoring program.
– The reductions will also impact the monitoring of pollution levels, pesticide contamination (Brazil under Bolsonaro is the biggest user of pesticides in the world), illegal mining, and wildlife trafficking. ICMbio, which oversees 334 of Brazil’s protected areas, also saw cuts.
– While environmentalists were enraged by the slashed ministry budget, the agricultural sector remains largely happy with Bolsonaro whose policies continue to benefit them. However, if Brazil continues along an anti-environmental path, it risks global boycotts of its commodities.

Mining and logging threaten a wildlife wonderland on a Philippine mountain by Bong S. Sarmiento [27 Apr 2021]
– Mount Busa on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao is among the most biodiverse and most threatened ecological areas in the country.
– It’s a key biodiversity area and a known bird conservation area, considered one of the last remaining strongholds of the critically endangered and nationally important Philippine eagle (Phitecophaga jefferyi).
– Despite its ecological importance, the mountain has enjoyed little protection, with only the topmost slopes falling under a local conservation zone.
– To protect the area, environmentalists and local officials are pushing to legalize and strengthen the mountain’s protection by including it in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Systems (E-NIPAS).

Researchers take up the cause of the mysterious and maligned Chaco eagle by Rodolfo Chisleanschi [27 Apr 2021]
– The distribution of the Chaco eagle, or crowned eagle, spans from southern Brazil to central Argentina.
– Fewer than 1,000 mature birds are thought to exist in the wild, where they face threats from drowning, electrocution, shooting, poisoning, and habitat loss.
– For the past 20 years, researchers in Argentina have dedicated their efforts to saving the species, primarily by trying to understand its behavior and biology.
– Their efforts have led to some notable successes, including reductions in shooting and drowning incidents, but they say there’s still much work left to do.

Deforestation ramps up in Cambodia’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary by Morgan Erickson-Davis [26 Apr 2021]
– The forests of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary boast a plethora of wildlife – including several endangered and recently described species.
– But the habitat these animals depend on is disappearing, with 32% of Keo Seima’s primary forest cleared over past 20 years.
– Recent satellite data suggest 2021 is not starting out well for Keo Seima, with higher numbers of deforestation alerts detected than in years past.
– Major drivers of forest loss in Keo Seima include illegal logging and agriculture.

Gas fields and jihad: Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado becomes a resource-rich war zone by Ashoka Mukpo [26 Apr 2021]
– In the early 2010s, the fossil fuel industry discovered Africa’s largest natural gas deposits off the remote northern coastline of Mozambique.
– The discovery led to a massive wave of investment — and almost immediately, a corruption scandal involving Credit Suisse.
– The development of the gas field and LNG plant has been criticized for evicting locals and destroying livelihoods, while failing to deliver on promises of jobs and welfare.
– In late March, the town of Palma near the oil facility came under attack from a jihadist group, and on Monday French energy giant Total declared force majeure on its operations.

‘Profound ignorance’: Microbes, a missing piece in the biodiversity puzzle by Ian Morse [26 Apr 2021]
– Researchers are certain that human activity has resulted in a decline in plant and animal species. But a huge unknown remains: what impacts have human actions —ranging from climate change, to ocean acidification, deforestation and land use change, nitrogen pollution, and more — had on the Earth’s microbes?
– A new paper poses this significant question, and offers a troubling answer: Science suffers from “profound ignorance” about the ways in which microbial biodiversity is being influenced by rapid environmental changes now happening on our planet.
– Researchers are supremely challenged by the microbial biodiversity question, finding it difficult to even define what a microbe species is, and uncertain how to effectively identify, analyze and track the behaviors of microbes on Earth —microorganisms estimated to be more numerous than stars in the known universe.
– We do know microbes play crucial roles — helping grow our food, aiding in the sequestering and release of soil carbon, curing and causing disease, and more. One thing researchers do agree on: knowing how human activities are influencing the microbial world could be very important to the future of humanity and our planet.

Companies and officials flout forest-clearing moratorium in Papua, report finds by Hans Nicholas Jong [26 Apr 2021]
– A new Greenpeace report has identified a litany of loopholes and violations in Indonesia’s forest and palm oil moratoriums as well as other forest protection regulations.
– The report alleges that government officials routinely flout their own regulations to continue issuing licenses to plantation companies in the country’s eastern Papua region.
– Among the alleged violations are the constant changes to maps of forest that should be off-limits for plantations, and forest-clearing permits granted to companies that don’t meet the requirements.

Large-scale deforesters emboldened under Brazil’s Bolsonaro, data indicate by Suzana Camargo [26 Apr 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased and the size of individual patches of cleared land has also grown, pointing to organized efforts at deforestation, according to a new paper.
– Under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, the average size of deforested areas increased by 61%, with patches larger than 100 hectares (250 acres) now the norm.
– “Nobody cuts down 100 hectares with a chainsaw. It involves giant machines,” says paper author and deforestation policy expert Ralph Trancoso.
– Trancoso has called for a reinstatement of deforestation-control policies that Bolsonaro abandoned when he came into office.

Podcast: Two tunas and a tale of managed extinction by Mike Gaworecki [23 Apr 2021]
– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we take a look at the tales of two tuna: yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean, and bluefin tuna in the Atlantic.
– Mongabay staff writer Malavika Vyawahare tells us about the series of articles she wrote looking at how EU-controlled fleets dominate the annual yellowfin tuna haul in the Indian Ocean, and how that impacts developing island nations like Seychelles.
– We also speak with author Jen Telesca about her recent book Red Gold: The Managed Extinction of Giant Bluefin Tuna, which details how, under the watch of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the Atlantic bluefin tuna has become such a prized catch that it’s being driven to extinction.

Leaders make bold climate pledges, but is it ‘all just smoke and mirrors?’: Critics by Justin Catanoso [23 Apr 2021]
– Forty nations — producers of 80% of annual carbon emissions — made pledges of heightened climate ambition this week at U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate. But as each head of state took to the podium, climate activists responded by pointing to the abysmal lack of action by those nations.
– As the U.S. promised to halve its emissions by 2030, advocates noted the lack of policies in place to achieve that goal, and the likelihood of intense Republican political resistance. China promised at the summit to eliminate coal plants, but 247 gigawatts of coal power is currently in planning or development stages there.
– The UK, EU, Japan, and South Korea all pledged to do more, but all are committed to burning forest biomass to replace coal — a solution relying on a longstanding carbon accounting error that counts forest biomass as carbon neutral, though scientists say it produces more emissions than coal per unit of electricity made.
– “This summit could be a critical turning point in our fight against climate change, but we have seen ambitious goals before and we have seen them fall flat. Today’s commitments must be followed with effective implementation, and with transparent reporting and accurate carbon accounting,” said one environmental advocate.

Fear not the bobcat (Commentary) by Mark Elbroch [23 Apr 2021]
– In recent days, a video of a rabid bobcat that attacked a couple in North Carolina has been picked up by global news outlets including The New York Times and amassed more than 12 million views online.
– Mark Elbroch, Puma Program Director at Panthera, a wildcat conservation group, writes that while the attack was “frightening”, such behavior is “abnormal.”
– Accordingly, Elbroch writes, we shouldn’t “allow unnecessary fear of our wild neighbors mar our connection with nature and wild cats.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

COVID-19 compounds a poaching problem targeting the Amazon’s pirarucu by Matheus Lopes Quirino [23 Apr 2021]
– There’s been a reported surge in illegal fishing of pirarucu, also known as arapaima, a massive Amazonian fish, in the Brazilian city of Manaus.
– The fishing season is supposed to be closed from November to March, under a policy imposed in 2005 to protect fish populations and the income of traditional fishers.
– The policy has been criticized for effectively subsidizing fishers, prompting an increase in their numbers, along with frequent violations of the close season.
– The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of enforcement due to lockdowns have compounded the problem, pushing more people into illegal fishing to earn money.

As climate summit unfolds, no Biden-Bolsonaro Amazon deal forthcoming by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [22 Apr 2021]
– The United States and Brazil have been conducting closed door negotiations to broker an Amazon rainforest protection agreement — with the U.S. and other nations tentatively to provide significant funding, and Brazil possibly agreeing to pragmatic measures to end deforestation.
– However, as the global Climate Leaders Summit progressed today, it became apparent that those talks are likely stalemated, with no deal announced, nor likely anytime soon.
– Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made it clear that Amazon conservation is dependent on a big financial investment by the United States. However, Amazon deforestation continued soaring through March, even as critics offered substantial proof Brazil is insincere in its environmental commitments.
– For example, new federal rules make it nearly impossible to collect fines for environmental crimes. Also, Brazil has made suspect adjustments to its Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction targets, allowing it to meet its goals on paper, even as it continues cutting down forests and releasing greenhouse gases.

Humanity’s dysfunctional relationship with Earth can still be fixed, report says by [22 Apr 2021]
– A new report released in the leadup to the “Our Planet, Our Future” Nobel Prize Summit, provides an overview of the numerous challenges facing our planet due to human pressures, including the transgression of several planetary boundaries that help regulate and stabilize the Earth.
– However, it also considers ways in which global sustainability can be achieved through transformative change.
– The authors say that emerging technologies, social innovations, shifts in cultural repertoires, and different approaches to biosphere stewardship can all play a part in paving the way for a more sustainable future.
– The Nobel Prize Summit, which will be the first of its kind, will take place between April 26 and 28, and will discuss what can be learned from the global pandemic we’re currently experiencing, and the changes that can be made in this decade to help achieve global sustainability.

Saving our ‘Beloved Beasts’: Q&A with environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis by John C. Cannon [22 Apr 2021]
– Environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis explores the history of the conservation movement in her new book, “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.”
– The book traces the successes and missteps of conservation through the people who influenced the movement.
– Along the way, Nijhuis shares a guarded sense of optimism that humans can positively influence the future of all life on Earth.

The political economy of the Pan-Amazon (book excerpt) by Timothy J. Killeen [22 Apr 2021]
– Tim Killeen provides an update on the state of the Amazon in his new book “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon Wilderness – Success and Failure in the Fight to save an Ecosystem of Critical Importance to the Planet.”
– The book provides an overview of the topics most relevant to the conservation of the Amazon’s biodiversity, ecosystem services and Indigenous cultures, as well as a description of the conventional and sustainable development models vying for space within the regional economy.
– Mongabay will publish excerpts from the Killeen’s book, which will be released by The White Horse Press in serial format over the course of the next year. In this first installment, we provide a section from Chapter One: The State of The Amazon.
– This post is an except from a book. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Jamaican Climate Change Youth Council seizes opportunity to continue advocacy amidst pandemic by Gladstone Taylor [22 Apr 2021]
– The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC) is active and effective in its climate change advocacy mission for several reasons, says executive director Eleanor Terrelonge.
– It’s targeting the more engaged youth demographic in the region through the digital media that they’re most familiar with.
– It also has a full slate of events for the week leading up to Earth Day, through which it hopes to raise awareness, encourage discussion, and promote engagement.
– Terrelonge says the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on a lot of issues linked to climate change, and serves as a preview of the long-term impact of climate change.



Nature is no longer “a nice to have,” it’s “a must-have”: Q&A with André Hoffmann by Rhett A. Butler [04/21/2021]
Momentum is building for a ‘robust’ biodiversity framework: Q&A with Elizabeth Mrema by Rhett A. Butler [04/20/2021]
Deploying art to care for nature: Q&A with Tom Eddington by Dave Martin [04/19/2021]
Cattle-driven clearing continues in Brazil’s Triunfo do Xingu protected area by Liz Kimbrough [04/16/2021]
As COP26 looms and tropical deforestation soars, REDD+ debate roars on by Peter Yeung [04/16/2021]
South Korea faces a public reckoning for financing coal plants in Indonesia by Seulki Lee [04/15/2021]