Newsletter 2021-06-24



Under assault at home, Indigenous leaders get a violent welcome in Brasília by Fernanda Wenzel [06/24/2021]

– Three Indigenous leaders were reportedly seriously injured after Brazilian police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protesters in the capital, Brasília.
– The incident comes as Indigenous groups from across Brazil gather in the capital to protest against violence and invasions that they face on their own lands; the Munduruku people had to have a police escort to travel to Brasília after being attacked by illegal miners in their reserve in Pará state.
– The Indigenous protesters are also in the capital to press Congress to halt deliberations of legislation that they call the “bill of death,” that would severely undermine Indigenous rights. On the day after the confrontation, it was approved by a congressional commission and will go to a vote in the lower house.
– Among other measures, the bill would make it harder to demarcate Indigenous reserves; override Indigenous territorial sovereignty for “public interest” projects; and dismantle the current policy of non-contact with isolated Indigenous people.

In Brazil’s most Indigenous city, prejudice and diversity go hand in hand by Ana Amelia Hamdan [06/22/2021]

– São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in northern Amazonas state, is recognized as Brazil’s most Indigenous municipality: an estimated 90% of its population is Indigenous, accounting for both its urban and rural areas; the urban area alone is 58% self-declared Indigenous.
– Spread across an area the size of Cuba, São Gabriel da Cachoeira has a history marked by the arrival of Brazilian military forces in 1760 and subsequently Catholic and Protestant missionaries, organized Indigenous social movements, as well as national and international NGOs focused on defending the environment and the Indigenous peoples.
– According to the census, there are 32 indigenous ethnic groups in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, many of them unknown in the rest of the country, such as the Koripako, Baniwa, Baré, Wanano, Piratapuya, Tukano, and Dãw people.
– The municipality is the only one in the country with four official languages, in addition to Portuguese: Baniwa, Tukano, Nheengatu and Yanomami. But despite its cultural and ethnic diversity, there are frequent reports of discrimination against Indigenous people.

In Scotland, the rewilding movement looks to the past to plan its future by Kieran Dodds [06/21/2021]

– Scotland, host of the COP26 climate summit this November, is the site of an ambitious rewilding project with a centuries-long timeline for restoring the forests that once blanketed the now-familiar landscape of barren moors.
– The effort brings together a patchwork of private landowners, government landholdings and conservation charities, all working to restore the habitat through tree planting.
– Scotland’s forests cover 19% of its land area, the highest proportion of the four nations that comprise the U.K.; but as a whole, the U.K. is one of the least forested countries in Europe, at 13% compared to the average 38% across the EU.
– Advocates of rewilding say it’s about “helping nature to manage itself”: “We kick-start this process by planting trees so in 30 to 50 years, we can walk away.”

With Indigenous rights at stake in Brasília, a territory is attacked in Paraty by Ana Ionova [06/18/2021]

– As lawmakers tussle over the future of Indigenous land rights in Brazil’s capital, Indigenous people in a municipality in Rio de Janeiro state are fending off attacks and threats by settlers who reject their ancestral land rights over the territory.
– Settlers opposed to the recognition of the Tekohá Dje’y Indigenous Reserve yanked off a new identification plaque marking the reserve, threatened Indigenous leaders and tried to run residents over with a vehicle, the community alleges.
– The Indigenous group in Paraty, a municipality a four-hour drive from Rio’s capital, blames farmers and land grabbers for the attacks and for not recognizing their rights to the land; the community says authorities are not doing enough to protect them from attacks.
– The attacks come amid ongoing violence in the Yanomami and Munduruku reserves, where illegal miners have invaded Indigenous lands in search of gold. Indigenous groups are protesting in Brasília this week against a host of anti-Indigenous bills that could weaken land rights and legalize the mining.



Deforestation of orangutan habitat feeds global palm oil demand, report shows by Hans Nicholas Jong [24 Jun 2021]
– Palm oil giant Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) has allegedly sourced the commodity from a plantation responsible for deforesting prime orangutan habitat in Sumatra, which would constitute a violation of the group’s no deforestation and no peatland destruction policies.
– An investigation by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) detected deforestation within the plantation operator’s concession in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, home to some of the rarest species on Earth.
– According to the investigation, palm oil from the concession ended up in RGE’s supply chain, and subsequently the global market; RGE is a key supplier to major brands like Unilever, Kao, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive.
– RGE’s palm oil arm, APICAL, said it had put a monitoring system in place and carried out risk engagement and supplier engagement measures in its supply chain, but RAN said these efforts were not enough as deforestation-tainted palm oil from the Leuser Ecosystem was still ending up in its supply chain.

Private investors look to high-end tourism to fund conservation in Mozambique by Marlowe Starling [24 Jun 2021]
– Karingani Game Reserve is a 150,000-hectare (371,000-acre) private nature reserve being developed in southwestern Mozambique that intends to rehabilitate the landscape and boost wildlife populations inside its borders.
– Operators of Karingani say the reserve will finance itself by attracting high-end tourism and measures its progress through a novel set of conservation indicators.
– Attracting private capital into conservation projects has long been proposed as a way to cover shortfalls from public and philanthropic funding sources, with Karingani being a recent example of this approach.
– But local communities have complained in recent years that the land Karingani is being developed on was signed over to government officials under false pretenses, raising questions about power imbalances in the model.

Camera trap pics of rare species in Vietnam raise conservation hopes by Michael Tatarski [24 Jun 2021]
– Camera traps recently captured images of several different highly endangered species in Vietnam’s Phong Dien Nature Reserve.
– These include the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) and Owston’s palm civet (Chrotogale owstoni), which are only found in the Annamite Range of Laos and Vietnam.
– The sightings have confirmed the high biodiversity value of Phong Dien, and the importance of strengthening protection from threats such as snare hunting and hydropower development.

Not all rescued animals should be released back to the wild (commentary) by Gregg Tully [24 Jun 2021]
– Articles about animals released from captivity (or rehabilitation after injury) get clicks, likes and lots of shares, and it would be easy to assume that doing this is the top job for all wildlife sanctuaries.
– As appealing as this image is, sanctuaries must first determine what is in the best interest of the animal, like whether it can survive where it’s being released.
– How do they determine which animals should be returned to the wild, and which should remain at the sanctuary? It’s complicated, but sometimes the best move is to keep an animal in captivity.
– This article is a commentary, and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Demand for soy puts pressure on Pantanal, Brazil’s largest wild wetland by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini [23 Jun 2021]
– Global demand for soybean has seen annual production of the crop in Brazil soar from 30 million tons in 2000 to 125 million tons today. Most of the agrochemicals consumed in Brazil are used on this crop.
– Soybean farming also accounts for most of the agrochemicals used in Brazil, and the farming activity concentrated in the state of Mato Grosso is now seeing those chemicals washing downstream to the Pantanal wetlands.
– The planet’s largest floodplain, the Pantanal is relatively untouched by agriculture, with only 0.01% of its area occupied by soy farms.
– Scientists have shown that waterways feeding the Pantanal are contaminated and silted up, and that fish are growing scarce in certain locations.

Rights groups demand end to Cambodia’s persecution of green activists by Carolyn Cowan [23 Jun 2021]
– A court in Cambodia has charged three activists from the environmental NGO Mother Nature Cambodia after they documented waste dumping in a river near the Royal Palace.
– It’s the latest instance of authorities cracking down on environmental activists in the country, after three other Mother Nature Cambodia staff were convicted in May for planning a peaceful protest against the backfilling of a lake.
– Local and international rights groups have condemned the spate of arrests and called on the international and donor community to bring pressure to bear on the government.
– There’s already been some pushback, with the U.S. government ending its funding of a forest conservation program, and the U.S. ambassador calling on Cambodian authorities to “be responsive to its citizens, not to silence them.”

Earth tipping points could destabilize each other in domino effect: Study by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [23 Jun 2021]
– A new risk analysis has found that the tipping points of five of Earth’s subsystems — the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Greenland Ice Sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Amazon rainforest — could interact with each other in a destabilizing manner.
– It suggests that these changes could occur even before temperatures reach 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, which is the upper limit of the Paris Agreement.
– The interactions between the different tipping elements could also lower critical temperature thresholds, essentially allowing tipping cascades to occur earlier than expected, according to the research.
– Experts not involved in the study say the findings are a significant contribution to the field, but do not adequately address the timescales over which these changes could occur.

Amazon dams: No clean water, fish dying, then the pandemic came by Tiffany Higgins [23 Jun 2021]
– Villagers living near the Teles Pires and São Manoel dams in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state — including the Apiaká, Kayabí and Munduruku peoples — attest to poor water quality, lack of potable water, increased malaria and rashes since the dams were built on their river. They also say there has been little response from the dam companies.
– Indigenous peoples say the Brazilian hydroelectric projects have altered river ecology along with thousands of years of cultural practice, especially their fishing livelihood. Migratory fish and other game fish have been greatly diminished, so residents must now resort to fishing at night.
– Once the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the region, lack of clean water for bathing became even more urgent, while disappearing fish in daily diets made it harder to get food or isolate in riverside villages. Only under judicial order did dam companies recently improve water supply infrastructure.
– Experts trace these adverse impacts back to the dams’ planning stages: with the construction companies skipping legally mandated steps, not consulting Indigenous peoples as required, and failing to calculate cumulative impacts of multiple dam projects. Villagers are now monitoring impacts — and some are studying the law.

Lear’s macaws threatened by planned wind farm in Brazil, experts warn by Suzana Camargo [23 Jun 2021]
– French renewable energy developer Voltalia plans to install 81 wind turbines in Brazil’s Bahia state, in an area that’s also the main refuge of the endangered Lear’s macaw (Anodorhynchus leari).
– Conservationists warn that the birds may collide with the turbines, especially because they fly at dawn and dusk, when visibility is poor.
– Fewer than 1,500 Lear’s macaws remain in the area; the species also suffers as a result of trafficking for the illegal pet trade.
– Voltalia says it is taking measures to reduce any impacts on the bird, and has also committed to its conservation; but critics say more complete impact assessments are needed before construction should be allowed to begin.

Do we love elephants enough to let them live free? (commentary) by Merrill Sapp [22 Jun 2021]
– A prime attraction for zoos and circuses, elephants make an impression with their playfulness, intelligence, and docile nature despite extraordinary strength.
– But a reluctance to retire elephants to sanctuaries, plus captive breeding efforts and importation of wild animals to places like the U.S. all reveal an industry devoted to keeping elephants captive permanently.
– At a time when the world has watched a herd of wild elephants wander across China looking for a new home, the question of whether we love elephants enough to let them live free gains added meaning.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Farmers in the Amazon could earn 9 times more and prevent ecosystem collapse by Jonah Wittkamper; Alexander Borges Rose; and Denis Minev [22 Jun 2021]
– In this opinion piece, Jonah Wittkamper, Alexander Borges Rose, and Denis Minev argue that agroforestry in the Amazon “can replace cattle, generate new wealth, create jobs and develop new economic zones that insulate pristine forest from deforestation risk.”
– “The opportunity is huge and the needs are urgent,” they write. “If landowners switched from producing soy to a polyculture of fruit and horticultural products, their income would more than triple.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New survey nearly doubles Grauer’s gorilla population, but threats remain by Ed Holt [22 Jun 2021]
– A recent survey led by the Wildlife Conservation Society has revised the population estimate for Grauer’s gorillas to 6,800, up from a 2016 estimate of 3,800.
– The survey includes data from the Oku community forests in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which could not be surveyed in 2016 due to security issues.
– Endemic to the eastern DRC, Grauer’s gorillas are still classed as critically endangered, and face threats due to mining and bushmeat hunting.
– The large numbers of gorillas observed in the community forests surrounding Kahuzi-Biéga National Park underscore the importance of engaging local communities in conservation.

$10 million XPRIZE Rainforest contest announces 33 qualifying teams by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [22 Jun 2021]
– Thirty-three teams spanning 16 countries from Brazil to India have qualified for the next stage of the XPRIZE Rainforest competition, the organizers announced on World Rainforest Day.
– The $10 million contest, which launched in 2019 and concludes in 2024, aims to develop scalable and affordable technologies for rainforest preservation.
– Over the next three years, competing teams will leverage existing and emerging technologies including robotics, remote sensing, data analysis and artificial intelligence to develop new biodiversity survey tools and produce real-time insights on rainforest health and value.

Cleaning up Cambodia’s kitchens could curb deforestation, climate change by Marissa Carruthers [22 Jun 2021]
– NGOs and companies across Cambodia are taking action in response to the mass use of charcoal and forest biomass in household and restaurant kitchens countrywide. The shift away from these polluting fuel sources to cleaner energy alternatives is being sparked by health and environmental concerns.
– Education is a key strategy for implementing the shift away from charcoal and wood, as their use is ingrained in the culture, with many Cambodians saying food doesn’t taste as good when cooked with other fuels.
– One innovative solution is turning the country’s coconut husks into “green charcoal,” which is already earning the nation recognition for being a global leader within the sustainable charcoal sector.
– Cambodia’s farmers are also moving away from using forest biomass for energy, and are instead utilizing biodigesters to turn household and farm waste into biogas for cooking and to make organic fertilizer.

When it comes to carbon capture, tree invasions can do more harm than good by Liz Kimbrough [21 Jun 2021]
– Trees are a logical solution to climate change, but allowing or encouraging trees to move into areas where they don’t typically grow, such as tundras and grasslands, can actually do more harm than good.
– Invasive trees may capture less carbon than the treeless ecosystem they overrun due to soil disturbance, increased risk of fires, and changes in light absorption, a recent review paper shows.
– These results have implications for policies and initiatives, particularly in places where carbon credits have been used to discourage the removal of invasive, non-native trees.
– Land managers need to consider much more than aboveground carbon, according to the paper’s authors, who say that, “Trees are not always the answer.”

China’s efforts to accommodate ‘wandering elephants’ is overshadowed by its conflict with elephants elsewhere (commentary) by William F. Laurance [21 Jun 2021]
– William F. Laurance, distinguished research professor and Australian laureate at James Cook University, provides his take on a herd of 15 Asian elephants that is making headlines as it moves northward from China’s border with Myanmar and Laos.
– “No one knows exactly where the elephants are going, or why,” Laurance writes. “But two things are clear: the elephants were probably struggling to survive in their native habitat, and Chinese efforts to save the elephants clash with the nation’s aggressive strategies of investment and global development.”
– Laurance argues that while China’s efforts to accommodate this particular herd of elephants is notable, its activities beyond its borders are jeopardizing the continued survival of the species. He cites habitat destruction at home, large-scale infrastructure projects abroad, and fueling demand for the ivory trade as examples.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In fight against wildlife trafficking, Brazil police turn to nuclear science by Dimas Marques/Fauna News [21 Jun 2021]
– New technology can tell if an animal sold in the legal wildlife trade was bred in captivity or captured illegally from the wild.
– Through analysis of stable isotopes in claw and fur samples, police in Brazil’s Amazonas state can now identify an animal’s geographic origin, as well as trace the provenance of timber.
– The new technology helps to uncover wildlife “warming,” the practice by breeders of trying to pass off wild-caught animals as captive-bred.
– Experts say it should also be used to identify catch sites to allow for seized animals to be released in their home locations.

Researchers look to locals to fill knowledge gap on Philippine tarsier by Carolyn Cowan [21 Jun 2021]
– Philippine tarsiers (Carlito syrichta) are the poster child of the country’s burgeoning ecotourism industry, but little is known about their taxonomy, population size and conservation status.
– The findings of a new study suggest that tarsiers are being captured from the wild to supply tourism venues and the local pet trade, presenting a major threat to the species’ survival.
– Researchers say they hope educational programs that focus on changing local people’s perceptions of tarsiers and encouraging ecotourism in tarsiers’ natural habitat could help protect them.

Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam: Struggle for the Volta Grande enters a new phase (Commentary) by Philip Fearnside [21 Jun 2021]
– A June 17th judicial decision suspends the permission granted on February 8th by Brazil’s environmental agency to allow even more water to be diverted from the Xingu River.
– Even without the additional diversion of water, the 130-km “Volta Grande” stretch receives insufficient water for its unique ecosystems and for its indigenous and traditional river-dwelling inhabitants.
– The new decision is at high risk of being overturned by means of Brazil’s “security suspension” laws that allow any ruling that would “damage” the economy to be reversed.
– The new decision could also be neutralized by the Bolsonaro government after technical studies are completed in December. It could also be overridden by a new interministerial group that is about to be decreed. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Sri Lankans find a digital helping hand for baby birds fallen from nests by Malaka Rodrigo [20 Jun 2021]
– Nesting season for Sri Lanka’s birds, which runs from February to May and coincides with the start of the monsoon, often sees chicks falling out of nests, being orphaned, or attacked.
– Sri Lanka also has a long and strong tradition of goodwill toward birds, with many households setting up feeders and bird boxes in their gardens.
– This year’s nesting season has seen people locked down at home by the COVID-19 pandemic turning to online sources for help caring for fallen, injured or displaced chicks.
– Bird-watching has also increased in popularity, aided by digital platforms and apps such as eBird and Merlin that help register bird sightings and identify different species.

Slick caught on satellite image around sunken ship not fuel oil, Sri Lanka says by Malaka Rodrigo [19 Jun 2021]
– Satellite images show a silvery trail originating from a cargo ship that sank off western Sri Lanka in early June, raising fears of an oil spill.
– Authorities say the nearly 350 metric tons of fuel carried by the X-Press Pearl hasn’t leaked, but have activated contingency plans in the event of a spill.
– Experts say the consistency of the slick appears to rule out fuel oil, but say tests need to be carried out to confirm the source.
– A likely algal bloom has also sprung up around the wreck, attributed to the leak of the ship’s cargo of nitric acid, and operations are ongoing to clean up the tons of plastic beads that spilled from the ship and have washed up on shore.

It’s Juneteenth, but these American companies are still profiting from slavery (commentary) by Samuel Mawutor [18 Jun 2021]
– Samuel Mawutor, forest campaign group Mighty Earth’s Senior Advisor for Africa, argues that while June 19th marks the official end of slavery in the Confederacy, American agribusiness companies are still engaging in practices analogous to slavery in their commodity supply chains.
– Mawutor specifically calls out Cargill, which he says isn’t doing enough to address labor abuses in its cocoa supply chain.
– “The cocoa sector is notorious for its widespread use of child labor and other abuses– so much so that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, groups from both cocoa producing and consuming countries signed an open letter on racial injustice in the cocoa sector,” Mawutor writes. “It is estimated that 1.56 million children work in the cocoa industry; many are forced to use dangerous tools and chemicals and carry enormous weights, in direct violation of international labor standards, the UN convention on child labor, and domestic laws.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Deforestation spikes in Virunga National Park, DRC by Morgan Erickson-Davis [18 Jun 2021]
– Satellite data has detected several dramatic spikes in deforestation activity in Virunga National Park in 2021.
– Virunga National Park is situated in the northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), right over its border with Uganda.
– Virunga is home to many endangered species and subspecies, including mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).
– The park’s major threats include logging for charcoal production and clearing for agriculture, both of which are driven by poverty.

Myanmar junta’s growing reliance on extractives for cash raises concerns by Carolyn Cowan [18 Jun 2021]
– Following the military coup on Feb. 1 and a forceful crackdown on protesters, activists are calling on companies that operate in Myanmar to sever links with the military junta.
– As the U.S., U.K., EU and Canada impose increasingly tough sanctions on the junta, future sanctions targeting revenues from the oil and gas sector are likely to have the greatest impact.
– Alongside the humanitarian crisis, advocates say they fear a return to direct military rule could also lead to a backslide in environmental protections.
– Further concerns include a surge in illegal rare earth mining in northern regions and the potential for the military to resume issuing permits for gemstone mining.

From common to captive, Javan pied starlings succumb to songbird trade by Anna Nordseth [18 Jun 2021]
– The Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla) was once common across the Indonesian island of Java, but has now disappeared from the wild, thanks in large part to the songbird trade.
– A new study that chronicles the bird’s decline points to historically unsustainable rates of harvest of starlings from the wild, including fledglings.
– The study authors recommend captive breeding to reestablish genetic diversity in the species for eventual reintroduction of starlings into the wild.
– Keeping songbirds is a culturally ingrained pastime in Indonesia, with even the country’s president partaking, which activists say must be addressed with awareness building.

Rush to turn ‘black diamonds’ into cash eats up Uganda’s forests, fruits by Alex Tumuhimbise [17 Jun 2021]
– As recently as 2018, only a little over 42% of Ugandans had access to electricity — many were too poor to afford it. As of 2016-17, 90% of all households burned wood fuel for cooking, with just 15.5% using charcoal in rural areas, but 66.4% of urban households using it.
– Those using charcoal account for roughly 23% of the country’s total population, which means that some 10.7 million citizens in a nation of 46.8 million rely on charcoal to cook their meals, based on recent U.N. data.
– Charcoal producers are working hard to meet this exploding demand, degrading and depleting the nation’s forest reserves, and now buying up fruit trees on private lands to make into briquettes. Many charcoal producers lack the licenses required by the government, so are cutting trees and making charcoal illegally.
– The surging charcoal industry is destroying Uganda’s forests and biodiversity, while briquette burning is also causing respiratory and other health problems, and its carbon emissions are adding significantly to global climate change.

Bigger is badder when it comes to climate impact of farms in the Amazon by Claire Asher [17 Jun 2021]
– A 20-year analysis of satellite data shows significant temperature differences in agricultural lands in southern Amazonia, depending on farm size.
– Extensively deforested commercial farms are up to 3 °C (5.4 °F) warmer than adjacent forests, while on smaller farms this difference is 1.85 °C (3.3 °F).
– Management practices that try to balance productivity with the maintenance of essential ecosystem services, such as the water cycle, will be crucial to preserving the Amazon’s remaining forests, the study’s authors say.

Never too late to save Earth: Q&A with Leuser forest guardian Rudi Putra by Junaidi Hanafiah [17 Jun 2021]
– The Leuser Ecosystem is a protected tropical rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, boasting 10,000 species of plants and 200 species of mammals, dozens of them found nowhere else on Earth.
– For 20 years, Rudi Putra has been working on saving this ecosystem which covers nearly 23,000 square kilometers (8,880 square miles) and is home to the Sumatran rhino, tiger, elephant and orangutan.
– Rudi’s efforts to save Leuser includes reforestation of illegal oil palm plantations, for which he was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014.



Tanzania’s “Ivory Queen” denied release after appeal by Lucy Taylor [06/17/2021]
It’s an ‘incredibly exciting’ time for the field of bioacoustics by Mike Gaworecki [06/16/2021]
Illegal logging in Philippines’ Palawan stokes fears of a mining resurgence by Keith Anthony Fabro [06/15/2021]
Paid in Blood: Standing up to private interests often turns deadly in Brazil by Yessenia Funes [06/14/2021]
Conservation solutions in paradise: Jamaica’s Oracabessa Bay Fishing Sanctuary by Gladstone Taylor [06/10/2021]