Newsletter 2021-12-23


Top 15 species discoveries from 2021 (Photos) by Liz Kimbrough [12/21/2021]

– Science has only just begun to find and describe all of the species on Earth; by some estimates, only 20% have been described.
– This year, Mongabay reported on newly described species from nearly every continent, including an Ecuadoran ant whose name broke the gender binary, an acrobatic North American skunk, an Australian “killer tobacco,” a fuzzy orange bat from West Africa, tiny screech owls from Brazil, and more.
– Though a species may be new to science, that doesn’t mean it has not yet been found and given a name by local and Indigenous communities.

Indigenous leader sues over Borneo natural capital deal by John C. Cannon [12/17/2021]

– An Indigenous leader in Sabah is suing the Malaysian state on the island of Borneo over an agreement signing away the rights to monetize the natural capital coming from the state’s forests to a foreign company.
– Civil society and Indigenous organizations say local communities were not consulted or asked to provide input prior to the agreement’s signing on Oct. 28.
– Further questions have arisen about whether the company, Hoch Standard, that secured the rights under the agreement has the required experience or expertise necessary to implement the terms of the agreement.

The past, present and future of the Congo peatlands: 10 takeaways from our series by John C. Cannon [12/16/2021]

– In the first half of December, Mongabay published a four-part series on the peatlands of the Congo Basin.
– Only in 2017 did a team of Congolese and British scientists discover that a sprawling wetland known as the Cuvette Centrale spanning the border between the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) actually contains a massive amount of peat.
– Their satellite mapping and ground truthing revealed that these peatlands cover an area the size of England and are the largest and most intact across the world’s tropics.


Wary welcome for Indonesia’s ‘green port’ initiative to clean up shipping By: Basten Gokkon [22 Dec 2021]
– Indonesia is launching a program to make the country’s ports more environmentally friendly in an effort to reduce its carbon emissions and protect the marine ecosystem.
– The so-called green port initiative will encourage greater use of clean energy and strengthen environmental protection, a top official says.
– Some marine observers in have welcomed the initiative, saying it’s a crucial step toward achieving Indonesia’s emissions reduction target.
– But others say the green port initiative will serve to cover up the environmental impacts of the government’s port-building spree, and will benefit private investors over the general public.

Podcast: In search of wild spectacles and river journeys By: Mike Gaworecki [21 Dec 2021]
– Looking for a gift for the environmentalist in your life? Or just looking for a great book for yourself? We’ve got a couple recommendations for you on today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast.
– We welcome to the show Janisse Ray, author of Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World beyond Humans. The book details Ray’s search for “heart-pounding flashes of wild spectacle.” Ray shares some stories of the places she traveled to for the book and explains why she did all that traveling without getting in an airplane.
– We also welcome Jordan Salama, whose first book is called Every Day the River Changes: Four Weeks Down the Magdalena. Salama tells us about the four weeks he spent traveling down the Magdalena River in Colombia, why Colombians speak of the Magdalena River with “an almost religious fervor,” and what he hopes people can take away from his book.

Deadly raids are latest case of abuse against Indigenous Batwa in DRC park, groups say By: Laurel Sutherland [21 Dec 2021]
– The number of attacks by security forces on Indigenous Batwa villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park has tripled in the past four weeks, according to the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP).
– DRC soldiers and park rangers are accused of burning several Batwa villages to the ground, killing one man and possibly a pregnant woman, and injuring at least two other women during raids that continued until mid-December.
– Indigenous rights groups have demanded a formal investigation into the reports, and called on park funders to pay attention to alleged crimes committed using their money.
– Park officials have denied that there are any Batwa communities officially living inside the park, and say the target of the raids is an armed man that carried out a deadly attack in the city of Bukavu.

Holy loach! Fish missing for decades rediscovered in Turkey’s Batman River By: [21 Dec 2021]
– Researchers in Turkey recently rediscovered the Batman River loach, a species that hadn’t been seen since 1974.
– There have been many prior unsuccessful attempts to find the species, leading to speculation that it may have gone extinct.
– While very little is known about the species, experts believe that it was impacted by the construction of the Batman dam.
– The scientists found the species in a part of the river that’s upstream of the dam.

Mexican firm profits from reforestation, empowers Indigenous people By: Maxwell Radwin [21 Dec 2021]
– The Ejido Verde company, organized in 2009, grants interest-free loans to local communities in Michoacán state, Mexico, to plant and tend pine trees for the tapping of resin, a multibillion-dollar global industry.
– The firm’s innovative business model improves degraded agricultural landscapes by cultivating plantations, while providing traditional communities with long-term sustainable income.
– The company says it has already sequestered more than 200,000 tons of carbon through 2021; it has hopes of cultivating 12,000 hectares (nearly 30,000 acres) of pine on 3,000 family farms by 2030.
– But questions remain about whether the firm’s efforts do enough to repair deforested land in a part of Mexico seeing a boom in commodity agriculture; the company emphasizes that its reforestation efforts — which have increased biodiversity and watershed conservation somewhat — are not equivalent to native forest restoration.

In Guyana, saving an Indigenous language from dying out with its last speakers By: Alva Solomon [21 Dec 2021]
– There are only about 2,000 speakers of the Indigenous Carib language left in Guyana, most of them elderly, raising concerns that the language could soon die out.
– But in the remote village of Kwebana, a young primary school teacher and a community health worker are spearheading a project to save the language with the help of its remaining speakers.
– They’re working with Indigenous women as part of an empowerment program that’s taking on the challenge of not just preserving the language, but embedding it in the lives of the younger generation.

New flavor of vanilla farming aims to stop deforestation in Madagascar By: Rivonala Razafison [21 Dec 2021]
– Madagascar is the world’s biggest producer of vanilla, with the plant grown in agroforestry systems established in forests or on fallow lands.
– Conservationist Andriamanana Rabearivelo introduced a new technique of vanilla cultivation with promising early results.
– His goal is to develop new agricultural methods to help the impoverished rural community near his farm in eastern Madagascar improve its conditions so it can reduce its reliance on the area’s natural forests.
– These forests are subject to runaway deforestation from the illegal harvest of timber and conversion to agricultural land.

Lockdown underscores Uganda’s overreliance on tourism to fund conservation By: Nangayi Guyson [21 Dec 2021]
– When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, Uganda quickly shut down parks like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to protect the gorillas and chimpanzees from getting infected.
– Tourism provides up to 60% of the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s operating revenue and is also an important source of income for communities living around Bwindi.
– Poaching in Bwindi rose sharply during lockdown in 2020 as some villagers entered the park to hunt for food or an income.
– One NGO reinforced its programs supporting public health and livelihoods in an attempt to reduce this pressure.

Decline of threatened bird highlights planning importance of bison releases By: John C. Cannon [21 Dec 2021]
– In a recent study, a team of biologists found that the release of American bison (Bison bison) on a small section of North American grassland led to declines in a species of bird called the bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), likely because the density of the bison in the fenced-in study area was too high.
– Bison once numbered in the tens of millions on the Great Plains, but hunting drove the population down to around a thousand by the end of the 1800s.
– Concerted efforts to protect remaining wild populations and reintroduce the animal to parts of the Plains has resulted in a resurgence, and the species is no longer in danger of imminent extinction.
– However, the results of the bobolink study reveals that bison releases and reintroductions must be done carefully to avoid negative impacts on the broader ecosystem.

Illegal roads pierce Indigenous reserve, national parks in Colombian Amazon By: Santiago Luque Pérez [20 Dec 2021]
– A series of roads in the Colombian Amazon are cutting through national parks and an Indigenous reserve, satellite imagery shows.
– Residents of the reserve and environmental experts say the authorities have done little to stop the expansion of the road network, which has been accompanied by extensive deforestation.
– Experts and anonymous sources say well-funded operators are behind this pattern of deforestation and the land grabbing that follows.
– Residents of the Yaguará II Indigenous Reserve, already facing violence from ex-guerrillas who once controlled this region, say they’re worried about the roads bringing in more settlers occupying their territory.

In the Arctic, Indigenous Sámi keep life centered on reindeer herding By: Liz Kimbrough [20 Dec 2021]
– In Finland’s northern Arctic landscape, the Indigenous Inari Sámi community practice a unique form of reindeer herding and fishing based on traditional knowledge of the region’s climate, winds, ecosystem structure and species behavior.
– The destruction of some of Europe’s last primary forests, along with mining claims and climate change have impacted herding routes, lakes and the availability of important winter foods.
– The community’s food system is also threatened by the loss of language and youth out-migration, disintegrating traditional knowledge of the forests and waters.
– This article is one of an eight-part series showcasing Indigenous food systems covered in the most comprehensive FAO report on the topic to date.

To end illegal deforestation, Brazil may legalize it entirely, experts warn By: Meghie Rodrigues [20 Dec 2021]
– Governmental actions have fueled skepticism about Brazil’s real commitment to its climate goals and pledges the country embraced at the COP26 U.N. climate summit.
– In 2021, the Brazilian Amazon experienced the highest deforestation rates in 15 years, almost all of it illegal, amid a weakening of environmental protections.
– Bills currently before Brazil’s parliament threaten to undermine these protections even further and incentivize logging and land grabbing.

Death threats and friction with military force Guatemalan rangers to flee By: Maxwell Radwin [20 Dec 2021]
– A special task force of park rangers has spent the last six years patrolling some of the hardest-to-reach parts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala.
– Known as the Genesis Group, the seven-member task force travels through the rainforest on ATVs combating drug traffickers, illegal loggers and poachers.
– Guatemala’s weak prosecution of environmental crimes has put the Genesis Group in danger because many repeat offenders target rangers and their families.
– After enduring years of threats, and following an altercation with the military, many members of the Genesis Group are applying for asylum abroad, leaving the future of the task force in question.

Want a wild bird on the hush-hush in Singapore? There’s a Facebook group for that By: Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [20 Dec 2021]
– Singapore’s live bird trade is thriving on Facebook, where it is largely unlicensed, according to a new report from wildlife watchdog group TRAFFIC, which tracked 44 Singapore-based Facebook groups over five months.
– Researchers found hundreds of online sellers, most of them unlicensed and therefore acting illegally, and thousands of birds offered for sale, some of them smuggled from abroad or poached locally.
– Singapore’s efforts to target the illicit wildlife pet trade have so far focused on monitoring and enforcement actions at the trader level instead of imposing licensing requirements at the consumer level, the researchers said.
– They recommend implementing a compulsory wildlife-pet registration system, under which owners must prove they obtained their wildlife pets from licensed sources.

Meet the fishing jaguars that have made this patch of the Pantanal their own By: Dimas Marques/Fauna News [20 Dec 2021]
– The big cats here feed mostly on fish and caimans, a small crocodilian, unlike jaguars elsewhere that prey on land mammals.
– The abundance of aquatic and semi-aquatic animals in the Taiamã Ecological Station in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands has enabled jaguars here to thrive in surprising ways, a new study shows.
– Camera trap images and movement data also show that the Taiamã jaguars are highly social, hunting and even playing together, with no territorial disputes despite the area having the highest jaguar density in the world.
– In addition to the abundant food supply, the small variation in water levels at the reserve also contributes to the large jaguar population, since it allows them to live in the area during the wet and dry seasons.

‘Everyone is capable’ of climate action, say Kevin Patel and Julia Jackson By: Rhett A. Butler [17 Dec 2021]
– Earlier this week climate activists Kevin J. Patel and Julia Jackson published a commentary in Newsweek that effectively accused the Biden Administration of betraying their climate commitment at last month’s U.N. Climate Change Conference by proceeding with an auction of 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling.
– Patel and Jackson have personal reasons for their climate activism: Patel has suffered life-long heart issues due to poor air quality in Los Angeles, while Jackson lost her home in Sonoma to a wildfire in 2019. Both run non-profits focused on rallying young people around climate action.
– Patel founded OneUpAction International in 2019 to empower traditionally marginalized youth communities with resources to press for change. Jackson, whose parents created a global wine company that emphasizes sustainability, founded Grounded in 2017 to identify and amplify solutions to planetary problems.
– Patel and Jackson spoke about their activism, their recent Newsweek commentary, and other issues in a December 2021 exchange with Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler.

Wildlife death toll from 2020 Pantanal fires tops 17 million, study finds By: [17 Dec 2021]
– A new study has found that nearly 17 million animals died in the Pantanal fires in 2020.
– The researchers came to this estimate by conducting distance sampling surveys, walking tracts of the Pantanal shortly after the fires and counting the number of dead vertebrates they encountered.
– However, the researchers say this is likely to be an underestimate since animals may have died underground or may have died later from burn injuries.
– The 2020 fires burned 4.5 million hectares (11 million acres) of the Pantanal, which is about 30% of the entire biome.

As climate-driven drought slams farms in U.S. West, water solutions loomBy: Saul Elbein [17 Dec 2021]
– Drought in the U.S. West has been deepening for two decades, with no end in sight. Unfortunately for farmers, water use policies established in the early 20th century (a time of more plentiful rainfall), have left regulators struggling with their hands tied as they confront climate change challenges — especially intensifying drought.
– However, there is hope, as officials, communities and farmers strive to find innovative ways to save and more fairly share water. In Kansas and California, for example, new legislation has been passed to stave off dangerous groundwater declines threatening these states’ vital agricultural economies.
– Experts say that while an overhaul of the water allocation system in the West is needed, along with a coherent national water policy, extreme measures could be disruptive. But there are opportunities to realize incremental solutions now. Key among them is bridging a gap between federal water programs and farmers.
– A major concern is the trend toward single crop industrial agribusiness in semi-arid regions and the growing of water-intensive crops for export, such as corn and rice, which severely depletes groundwater. Ultimately, 20th century U.S. farm policies will need to yield to flexible 21st century policies that deal with unfolding climate change.

Scientists on a quest to map worldwide web of fungi beneath our feet By: Carolyn Cowan [17 Dec 2021]
– Interconnected bodies of fungi form vast underground networks through the Earth’s soils, transporting nutrients and water across ecosystems and sequestering vast amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.
– Experts agree that protecting fungi and focusing conservation efforts belowground could help to mitigate global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, land use change and pollution.
– A new initiative is embarking on the first global effort to document and map the world’s network-forming fungi, using eDNA and machine learning to identify and protect global hotspots of fungal biodiversity.
– Fungi are increasingly viewed as a nature-based solution to manage global carbon budgets, restore degraded ecosystems, remediate contaminated soils and speed the transition toward sustainable agriculture.

Deep-sea mining regulator’s latest meeting on rules only muddies the water By: Elizabeth Claire Alberts [17 Dec 2021]
– Delegates of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the multilateral body in charge of deep-sea mining in international waters, met recently in Kingston, Jamaica, and discussed whether to adopt a set of rules — or mining code — to allow deep-sea mining to commence in as little as 18 months.
– Deep-sea mining is a controversial activity that was pushed closer to the horizon when Nauru triggered a “two-year rule” that would theoretically require the ISA to grant an exploitation license within two years, no matter what mining regulations are in place.
– Most ISA member states appeared to be in favor of pushing forward with the mining code, but others questioned the feasibility of this approach, according to observers who attended the meetings.
– The ISA has a dual mandate to give nations equal opportunity and access to mine the seabed as well as to protect the ocean from mining’s harmful effects, but some experts say the ISA’s leadership holds favorable views of mining.

How wildlife crossings in Canada are inspiring safer roads for global species By: Shannon Kelleher [17 Dec 2021]
– The stretch of Trans-Canada highway that runs through Banff National Park was once incredibly dangerous for animals and motorists alike, but today the park has more wildlife crossing structures than anywhere else in the world and the data to support their effectiveness.
– The crossing structures at Banff inspired a project on I-90 in the U.S. state of Washington with its own location-specific twists.
– Tribal efforts also led to a Banff-informed development project on US-93 in the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana that respects local people and wildlife.
– Lessons from Banff are informing projects beyond North America: In Costa Rica, emerging crossing structure projects protect jaguars and canopy-dwelling creatures.

Bobcat caught on camera trap | Candid Animal Cam By: Romina Castagnino [17 Dec 2021 01:37:51 +0000]
– Every month, 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.

Indonesians protesting against mines run growing risk of ‘criminalization’ By: Agus MawanNuswantoro [17 Dec 2021]
– Indonesians defending their lands against mining operations are frequently met with criminal persecution on dubious charges, observers say.
– The people of Jomboran village on the island of Java are the latest example, with police questioning them for staging a protest at a mining site near the village.
– In 2020, 69 Indonesians were “criminalized” in with cases involving disputes with mining companies, according to data from the watchdog NGO Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam).

European supermarkets say Brazilian beef is off the menu By: Ashoka Mukpo [16 Dec 2021]
– A group of European supermarkets said they would stop carrying beef imported from Brazil after a new report by Mighty Earth and Repórter Brasil linked it to deforestation in the Amazon and other critical biospheres.
– Sainsbury’s in the U.K., Lidl in the Netherlands, and the Dutch retailer Alhold Delhaize were among the companies saying they would move away from stocking Brazilian beef or products manufactured by meatpacking giant JBS.
– Last year, deforestation in the Amazon spiked to its highest level since 2005, largely due to the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
– Campaigners say the Bolsonaro administration’s refusal to crack down on environmental destruction is spurring a commercial backlash in Europe.

Can a new wave of climate fiction inspire climate action? (commentary) By: Ryan Mizzen [16 Dec 2021]
– Storytelling about the climate crisis–called climate fiction or ‘cli-fi’–has generally focused on end-of-the-world stories that serve as a warning. But can they inspire change?
– Research has found that the majority of cli-fi is associated with negative emotions which can lead to apathy, which is the enemy of action. But stories can get through to us in ways that facts aren’t able to.
– Could this mean that we need different types of cli-fi stories to inspire change? A new op-ed argues that it may be time to add new stories to this potentially world-changing genre.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Conservation projects in Mesoamerica make the case for Indigenous climate funding By: Dimitri Selibas [16 Dec 2021]
– Research shows that national governments, investors and development organizations consider direct funding to Indigenous-led organizations as too risky, though a new report shows that Indigenous communities with good project management skills exist.
– The report from El Salvador-based nonprofit PRISMA showcases examples of how Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in Mesoamerica have successfully managed limited financial resources to conserve forests, revive traditional nature-based solutions and respond to rising sea levels.
– In light of growing recognition of the role of IPLCs in mitigating and adapting to climate change, a Mesoamerican Territorial Fund is providing a mechanism for climate funding to be directly received by Indigenous organizations and rapidly allocated to organizations on the ground.

2019 fires in Indonesia were twice as bad as the government claimed, study shows By: Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Dec 2021]
– Independent researchers have identified 3.11 million hectares (7.68 million acres) of areas that were burned during Indonesia’s 2019 fires, nearly double the official government estimate.
– The new analysis used satellite imagery that was less constrained by cloud cover and smoke, and the Google Earth Engine to more efficiently identify burn scars.
– Activists have welcomed the new methodology to more accurately map burned areas, but say that government officials are likely to push back against findings that contradict the official narrative.
– David Gaveau, a co-author of the new study, was deported from Indonesia last year after publishing preliminary findings of a larger burned area than the government claimed, although officials denied the deportation was linked to the findings.

Where does the Greater Mekong’s illegal timber go? By: Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [16 Dec 2021]
– Not all lumber is created equal; within the Greater Mekong region, high-quality hardwoods such as Burmese teak and rosewood are particularly valuable and have been logged almost to commercial extinction.
– Burmese rosewood is highly sought after in China for furniture, while Burmese teak is popular in the European shipbuilding sector as decking for superyachts.
– Recognizing their role in Myanmar’s illegal timber trade, European Union member states developed a common position in 2017 acknowledging imports of Myanmar timber into the EU to be against the law due to their high risk of illegality.
– However, shipments continue to leak into the region through countries where enforcement is weaker, including Italy and Croatia.

As Ethiopia’s war rages, a 400-year-old conservation site is scarred by battle By: Kako [16 Dec 2021]
– A major fire has burned more than 1,000 hectares (nearly 2,500 acres) of grassland in the Guassa Community Conservation Area in Ethiopia’s central highlands.
– The area is among the oldest examples of community-managed conservation in Africa, centered on preserving the Festuca grass that is used for thatching roofs.
– The grasslands are also home to endangered Ethiopian wolves and gelada baboons, and more recently have become a favored ecotourism site.
– It’s still unclear what triggered the blaze, but the area was the site of a battle in Ethiopia’s ongoing civil war in late November.

Oil highway bears down on uncontacted Indigenous groups in Ecuador’s Yasuní By: Kimberley Brown [15 Dec 2021]
– The construction of a controversial oil road in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park has expanded rapidly during the pandemic, and has now reached the buffer area of a core zone that’s home to uncontacted Indigenous peoples.
– The groups are the last two Indigenous nations living in voluntary isolation in Ecuador, and the oil project puts them in imminent danger, activists warn.
– They’re concerned about state-owned PetroEcuador’s plans to continue building the road and other oil platforms within the buffer zone, something that was made legal under a 2019 executive order.
– Conservationists say this order violates the rights of the two nations in voluntary isolation, and the Constitutional Court is now reviewing a challenge filed against it.

Unique Indigenous Maya food system blends cropping techniques in Guatemala By: Sandra Cuffe [15 Dec 2021]
– Members of the Maya Ch’orti’ Indigenous communities in Guatemala practice a unique agroforestry system and an intercropping technique seen as one of the best methods in the world of maximizing the different intensities of sunlight and complementing soil fertility.
– The communities’ traditional food system also includes home patio gardens, living fences and communal forest areas to cultivate and gather local plant species used in traditional medicine, woven handicrafts and edible food dye production.
– The resilient food system is increasingly affected by climate change, out-migration, extractive industries and COVID-19 economic impacts driving up prices of household goods that families need to purchase.
– This article is one of an eight-part series showcasing Indigenous food systems covered in the most comprehensive FAO report on the topic to date.

Brazil’s Suzano boasts its pulpwood plantations are green; critics disagree By: Sue Branford [15 Dec 2021]
– Suzano, the world’s largest pulp exporter, is strongly promoting a new green agenda. Its plantations, now being grown in association with native forests, could help curb the global climate crisis, the company says.
– Some conservation groups agree, and are working with the firm to ensure it gets greener.
– But other environmentalists say that the expansion of eucalyptus monoculture is causing widespread environmental damage in Brazil. Plantation carbon sequestration is minimal, they argue, while pulpwood factories are highly polluting and eucalyptus forests lack the biodiversity of rainforests.
– Moreover, they say, eucalyptus plantation expansion is resulting in the usurpation of natural lands and the expulsion of traditional and Indigenous communities who have much more to offer in the fight against climate change and efforts to protect intact forests.

Barrage of droughts weakens Amazon’s capacity to bounce back, study finds By: Elizabeth Oliveira [15 Dec 2021]
– In the last two decades, the Amazon Rainforest has been impacted by increasingly intense and frequent droughts, the most severe occurring in 2005, 2010 and 2015.
– A new study shows that stretches of forest affected by drought have taken between one and three years to recover their growth rate.
– With droughts expected to worsen because of global warming, scientists warn that the Amazon’s capacity for carbon absorption will be increasingly compromised.
– They highlight that efforts to stabilize the climate will depend on combating deforestation in the Amazon.


Madagascar gemstone rush puts a wetland and its community under pressure by Rivonala Razafison [12/14/2021]
Carbon and communities: The future of the Congo Basin peatlands by John C. Cannon [12/14/2021]
Climate efforts won’t succeed without secure community rights, says Nonette Royo by Rhett A. Butler [12/13/2021]
Mongabay reporter sued in what appears to be a pattern of legal intimidation by Peruvian cacao company by [12/10/2021]
Holding agriculture and logging at bay in the Congo peatlands by John C. Cannon [12/09/2021]
‘Collaboration is key’ to address big environmental challenges, says Daniel Katz by Rhett A. Butler [12/08/2021]