Newsletter 2022-02-10


Politicized Indigenous affairs agency puts Brazil’s uncontacted groups at risk by Shanna Hanbury [02/09/2022]

– In January 2021, Funai, Brazil’s federal agency for Indigenous affairs, decided not to extend a Land Protection Order for the uncontacted Igarapé-Ipiaçava Indigenous group; following a public outcry and legal pressure, the land order was extended for six months.
– Confidential documents leaked to advocacy group Survival International, which Mongabay had access to, show top Funai officials attempting to debunk a technical report that gathered evidence of uncontacted Indigenous presence in November 2021.
– Leaked memos also show that Funai president Marcelo Xavier met with fellow Bolsonaro loyalist and senator Zequinha Marquinhos, who is openly against the Land Protection Order, to discuss the confidential report.
– Funai has reportedly ignored another report of a previously unidentified isolated Indigenous group, Isolados da Marmoré Grande, in the state of Amazonas for more than five months, according to an investigation by Brazilian news agency O Joio e O Trigo.

Ecuador’s top court rules for stronger land rights for Indigenous communities by Kimberley Brown [02/09/2022]

– Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has ruled that an Indigenous community’s right to free, prior and informed consultation was violated by oil projects, and called for stronger protections to guarantee Indigenous communities’ rights to decide over extractive projects in their territories.
– As part of the ruling, the judges said Indigenous communities must not only be consulted about extractive projects on or near their territory, but they must also give their consent to such projects.
– The ruling will immediately affect oil and mining projects across the country, as they must now seek the consent of Indigenous communities who might be affected by their activities.
– President Guillermo Lasso has not yet commented on the ruling, as he is currently in China trying to renegotiate part of the country’s massive debt — a debt he has sought to address with increased oil and mining projects across the country.

Journeying in biocultural diversity and conservation philanthropy: Q&A with Ken Wilson by Rhett A. Butler [02/08/2022]

– Ken Wilson has been working at the confluence of community rights, biocultural diversity, and philanthropy for the better part of 40 years as an academic, within foundations, and as an advisor and NGO leader.
– In those capacities, he has been a keen observer of a broad shift in conservation and conservation philanthropy toward more inclusive and community-oriented approaches beyond establishing strict protected areas.
– Wilson says the concept of biocultural diversity is being more widely embraced by these sectors because “it is a term that somehow invites attention to the connections – tangible and intangible – between local cultures, territorial governance systems, sustainable livelihood traditions and the experience of sacredness.”

How a ‘dirty gambling company’ may have set the standard for habitat destruction in Cambodia by Gerald Flynn & Andy Ball [02/08/2022]

– Union Development Group (UDG) is a Chinese company that was granted a 36,000-hectare concession in Cambodia’s Botum Sakor National Park in 2008, followed by an additional 9,100-hectare concession granted in 2011. Much of Botum Sakor National Park’s forests have been cleared by UDG and other companies.
– On Sep. 15, 2020, the United States Treasury Department, sanctioned UDG for “serious human rights abuses and corruption,” noting that UDG had enlisted the support of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to evict and harass residents, and also managed to skirt the 10,000-hectare limit on land concessions by “falsely registering as a Cambodian-owned entity.”
– In 2021, the Cambodian government signed into law Sub-decree No. 30, which transformed some 127,000 hectares of protected land in Koh Kong province into state-private land.- Conservationists, researchers and local residents interviewed by Mongabay worry that the sub-decree will mean that many other parts of Koh Kong province will follow in the destruction of Botum Sakor.

Preventing the next pandemic is vastly cheaper than reacting to it: Study by Sharon Guynup [02/04/2022]

– A new study emphasizes the need to stop pandemics before they start, stepping beyond the quest for new vaccines and treatments for zoonotic diseases to also aggressively fund interventions that prevent them from happening in the first place.
– Researchers estimated that based on Earth’s current population and on past pandemics, we can expect 3.3 million deaths from zoonotic diseases each year in future. COVID-19 pushed numbers in 2020-21 even higher. These outbreaks are now happening more frequently, and their cost is calculated in trillions of dollars.
– Addressing the main drivers — deforestation, the wildlife trade and burgeoning agriculture, especially in the tropics — could prevent future pandemics, save lives and catastrophic societal disruptions.


In Argentina, sport fishers are reeling in threatened sharks to save them By: Rodolfo Chisleanschi [10 Feb 2022]
– Half of the shark species that inhabit the southwest Atlantic are threatened with extinction, due mostly to sport fishing and bycatch.
– In Argentina, a campaign is underway to get sport fishersn to tag and release any sharks they catch.
– The campaign, as well as a ban on the killing of captured sharks, is helping address the problem.

Indigenous community takes Guatemalan land rights fight to international court By: Sandra Cuffe [09 Feb 2022]
– The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is hearing the land rights case of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community Agua Caliente Lote 9 versus Guatemala on Feb. 9.
– The eventual ruling could be a landmark decision, establishing an international precedent on Indigenous collective rights over natural resources, such as nickel.
– The Fenix nickel mining license, suspended by court order, was reinstated last month following a controversial consultation process held during a period of Q’eqchi’ protests and crackdowns.

Amazon losing far more carbon from forest degradation than deforestation: Study By: Graycen Wheeler [09 Feb 2022]
– Forest degradation — due to human and environmental causes — was responsible for more carbon loss than deforestation between 2010 and 2019, researchers reported at the most recent American Geophysical Union meeting in December.
– Scientists found that the Brazilian Amazon saw more deforestation in 2019 than in 2015, but lost three times more carbon storage in 2015 than in 2019. The likely source of that additional carbon in 2015: forest degradation and biomass loss, possibly brought on by intense El Niño-related drought and storms during that year.
– More research is needed to determine precisely how much forest degradation is caused by human activities, including illegal logging and fragmentation, and set fires to make way for grazing and croplands, but also environmental factors, such as drought which has been significantly intensified by human-caused climate change.
– The large amount of carbon now being lost from degraded forests in the Brazilian Amazon should, researchers say, result in an evaluation of current conservation policies which almost exclusively focus on preventing deforestation rather than on curbing degradation.

Podcast: Kelp, condors and Indigenous conservation By: Mike Gaworecki [09 Feb 2022]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we take a deep dive into two ambitious Indigenous-led conservation initiatives on the U.S. West Coast.
– We speak with Dune Lankard, founder and president of The Native Conservancy, who tells us about kelp farming pilot projects in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and how the projects are intended to create a regenerative kelp economy based on conservation, restoration, and mitigation.
– We also speak with Tiana Williams-Claussen, director of the Yurok Tribe’s Wildlife Department, who tells us about efforts to bring condors back to her tribe’s territory in Northern California, which is set to culminate in the first four birds being released into the wild this April.

Is a European proposal on imported deforestation too punitive? (commentary) By: Alain Karsenty [09 Feb 2022]
– One third of global deforestation is linked to international trade, and the European Union plus the UK are estimated to account for 16% of global trade-related deforestation.
– A recent European Commission proposal would require companies to ensure that commodities placed on the European market are not linked to a territory that has been deforested after December 31, 2020.
– A senior scientist at CIRAD argues that as worded, the proposal could punish some countries unfairly while ignoring other useful certification schemes that protect forests.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Malaysia’s white-handed gibbons may be two subspecies, not one, study shows By: Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [09 Feb 2022]
– Scientists sequencing the genes of captive Malaysian white-handed gibbons, Hylobates lar lar, have discovered two separately evolving populations, in the north and south of Peninsular Malaysia.
– For the past thousands of years, the northern and southern groups have been geographically isolated and evolving independently, the scientists say.
– Now, their genetic distance is large enough that they could potentially be two distinct subspecies, according to the scientists, who sequenced a fast-evolving segment of mitochondrial DNA from the captive gibbons.
– For researchers looking to reintroduce captive gibbons back into the wild, focusing on that particular segment is a powerful method for pinpointing the population an animal originated from.

Can the little-known tamanu tree replace palm oil in Indonesia’s biofuel bid? By: Nuswantoro [09 Feb 2022]
– Government researchers in Indonesia believe oil from the tamanu tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) could serve an alternative feedstock for biofuel to palm oil.
– They say the plant has shown the ability to grow in burned areas and former mining sites, as well as in waterlogged peat soils.
– Oil from the tree, native to tropical Asia, has been used for centuries across the region as a salve for wounds and scars, and in lotions and balms.
– With the Indonesian government’s ambitious biodiesel program requiring the establishment of more oil palm plantations, alternative feedstocks like tamanu could help stave off the associated deforestation.

New assessment finds dragonflies and damselflies in trouble worldwide By: Spoorthy Raman [09 Feb 2022]
– A global assessment of more than 6,000 dragonfly and damselfly species shows that 16% are at risk of extinction.
– The main threats to these insects are the human destruction of their wetland habitats, water pollution, and climate change.
– There are more dragonfly and damselfly species than there are mammals, yet they remain so understudied that the assessment failed to come up with enough data to determine a conservation status for more than 1,700 species.
– Researchers say better protecting the world’s wetlands would not only save the thousands of dragonflies and damselflies, but innumerable other species too, and provide us with better water quality and more carbon sequestration.

In Indonesia, a ‘devious’ policy silences opposition to mining, activists say By: Hans Nicholas Jong [09 Feb 2022]
– Activists in Indonesia have highlighted what they say is an increase in arrests of people protesting against mining activity since the passage of a controversial mining law in 2020.
– They’ve singled out the law’s Article 162 as “a devious policy” that’s meant to quash all opposition to mining activity, even at the expense of communities and the environment.
– Of the 53 people subjected to criminal charges for opposing mining companies in 2021, at least 10 were charged with violating Article 162, according to one group.
– Groups have filed a legal challenge against the law, seeking to strike down Article 162 and eight other contentious provisions on constitutional grounds.

Gates Foundation among investors backing troubled DRC palm plantation By: Ashoka Mukpo [08 Feb 2022]
– The Oakland Institute has named the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with the endowments of the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and Washington University in St. Louis as among the top investors in Kuramo Capital Management (KCM).
– KCM is the majority owner of Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC), which operates three oil palm plantations in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo.
– According to the Oakland Institute, Congolese police and PHC security forces have been repeatedly accused of violence against local villagers over the past year.

‘We should be pretty concerned’: Study shows only 15% of coastal regions still intact By: Elizabeth Claire Alberts [08 Feb 2022]
– A new study has found that only 15.5% of the world’s coastal regions remain intact, while the majority of coastal areas are either highly or extremely impacted by human activities such as fishing, agriculture and development.
– The nations with the largest swaths of undamaged coastlines included Canada, Russia and Greenland.
– The researchers only had access to data up to 2013, so their findings are likely to be an underestimation.
– The study also did not factor in the impacts of climate change, which would place additional pressure on coastal regions.

In Colombia, Escobar’s hippos spawn another problem: Wildlife trafficking By: Diana María Pachón [08 Feb 2022]
– An attack on a man in rural Colombia last October has highlighted the little-known trafficking of Colombia’s notorious, and non-native, hippos.
– The roughly 70 hippos in the wild in Colombia today all originate from four animals brought over by the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
– The town of Doradal near Escobar’s fabled ranch is a center of the hippo-trafficking trade, which targets calves and sells them to wealthy ranch owners as a status symbol.
– Mongabay Latam investigated how the illegal sale of hippo calves works from the inside.

Can ecotourism save Cambodia’s ‘ghost parks’? By: Gerald Flynn & Andy Ball [08 Feb 2022]
– Cambodia’s 2021 signing into law of Sub-decree No. 30, which removed official protection from some 127,000 hectares of land formerly included in national parks, reserves and wildlife sanctuaries in Koh Kong province, has conservationists concerned about the ecological integrity of southern Cambodia.
– But experts caution that other protected areas in the country are hardly faring better, claiming that “a lack of commitment and vision, systemic corruption at varies levels and competing interests by state and private actors” is contributing to the rapid degradation of Cambodia’s remaining protected forest.
– There is some agreement between conservationists and government officials that the country does not have the resources to effectively manage its protected areas.
– As a solution, some point to Africa, where public-private ecotourism partnerships have been successful at preserving habitat. But others disagree.

Endangered wildlife face perilous future as vital habitat loses protection in Cambodia By: Gerald Flynn & Andy Ball [08 Feb 2022]
– In March 2021, this imbalance has widened into a chasm as Cambodia’s government signed Sub-decree No. 30 into law, effectively revoking protection from some 127,000 hectares of land in reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in the southern province of Koh Kong province.
– One of the protected areas affected is Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, which lost almost a third of its total land area to the sub-decree — meaning these habitats are now for sale.
– Peam Krasop is home to species threatened with extinction, such as the hairy-nosed otter — the world’s rarest otter species — and the fishing cat.
– Researchers say the degradation of these habitats could result in “trophic cascades“ in which the loss of key species destabilizes entire ecosystems , which in turn may lead to further loss.

Photos: Caged orangutan found in Indonesian politician’s home By: Ayat S. Karokaro & Sri Wahyuni [07 Feb 2022]
– The head of Langkat district had an illegal pet orangutan, authorities say.
– The politician is only the latest in a long line of public officials found to be keeping protected species.
– Authorities also found dozens of people in iron-barred cells in the home who were allegedly forced to work on the politician’s oil palm plantation, prompting calls for an investigation into whether they were subject to “modern slavery.”

Fires threaten vital peatland in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego By: Maxwell Radwin [07 Feb 2022]
– Fires that started in mid-January continue to burn through forest, peatland and grassland near Chile’s Karukinka Natural Park on the island of Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the Americas.
– Conservationists are especially worried about the damage being done to the peatlands, an ecosystem that sequesters twice as much carbon as the Earth’s entire forest cover.
– Members of the Selk’nam Indigenous group, which was expelled from the area more than a century ago and is now attempting to return, say they’re concerned about the preservation of their ancestral territory.
– Due to the logistical difficulties of combating fires in such a remote area, rangers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) say they’re hoping for international assistance from Argentina and the United States.

Demand for sea cucumbers turns India-Sri Lanka waters into trafficking hotspot By: Malaka Rodrigo & Pragati Prava Bai [07 Feb 2022]
– From 2015 to 2020, authorities in Sri Lanka and India seized nearly 65 metric tons of sea cucumbers worth more than $2.8 million and arrested 502 people in connection with the attempted trafficking.
– The sea cucumber fishery is banned in India and restricted under a licensing system in Sri Lanka, but growing demand for the animals in East Asia has turned the waters between these South Asian countries into a hotspot for the illegal trade.
– The presence of the legal trade in Sri Lanka means Indian fishers can smuggle their catches into the country and launder them into the legal market for export.
– The overharvesting of sea cucumbers has severely depleted their populations; from 21 species of sea cucumber deemed commercially viable for fishing in 2008, there were only nine by 2015, according to surveys.

Two storms in two weeks carve trail of death and destruction in Madagascar By: [07 Feb 2022]
– Batsirai, a category 4 cyclone, struck Madagascar’s eastern coast on Feb. 5, leaving 10 people dead.
– The island nation is still recovering from another tropical storm, Ana, which made landfall on Jan. 22 and left dozens dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
– Data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that 12 storms of category 4 or 5, the highest level, made landfall on Madagascar between 1911; of these 12, eight occurred since 2000.

Even degraded forests are more ecologically valuable than none, study shows By: Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [07 Feb 2022]
– From providing clean air and water to temperature regulation, degraded tropical forests provide ecosystem services valued by Indigenous communities in Malaysia, according to new research.
– Researchers found the ecosystem services most highly prioritized by communities also tended to be ecologically valuable ones, highlighting common interests between Indigenous groups and conservation that can be tapped through community-based projects.
– The study comes amid a government-led push to convert hundreds of thousands of hectares of degraded forests in Sabah into timber plantations.
– Forests, even logged ones, provide unique services tied to Indigenous culture, such as hunting activities, that cannot be replaced by timber plantations, researchers said.

‘There’s not much hope’: Mediterranean corals collapse under relentless heat By: Elizabeth Claire Alberts [04 Feb 2022]
– In 2003, a marine heat wave devastated coral reef communities in the Mediterranean Sea, including the reefs in the Scandola Marine Reserve, a protected region off the coast of Corsica.
– More than 15 years later, the coral reef communities in Scandola still have not recovered.
– Researchers determined that persistent marine heat waves, which are now happening every year in the Mediterranean, are preventing Scandola’s slow-growing coral reefs from recuperating.
– Human-induced climate change is the culprit; persistent rising temperatures in the ocean have normalized marine heat waves, not only in the Mediterranean, but in the global oceans.

Gulf of Thailand oil pipeline leak threatens reef-rich marine park By: Carolyn Cowan [04 Feb 2022]
– An oil spill in the Gulf of Thailand that began in late January threatens to impact coral reefs, seagrass beds and local livelihoods in a nearby marine park.
– The spill, reported late on Jan. 25, originated from an underwater pipeline owned and operated by Thailand-based Star Petroleum Refining PLC, which said between 20,000 and 50,000 liters (5,300-13,200 gallons) of oil leaked into the ocean.
– Cleanup efforts are underway to deal with the crude oil slick at sea and along beaches on the mainland where parts of the slick have washed up.
– More than 200 oil spills have occurred in Thailand’s waters over the last century; environmental groups have called on Thailand’s government to transition the country away from fossil fuels, and on the oil and gas industry to better implement preventative measures to avoid future disasters.

Polluting with impunity: Palm oil companies flout regulations in Ecuador By: Alianza periodística tras las huellas de la palma [04 Feb 2022]
– Community residents and researchers alike decry what they say is dangerous pollution leaching into soil and waterways from oil palm plantations and palm oil extraction mills in Ecuador.
– In July 2020, Ecuador’s government passed a law to strengthen and develop the production, commercialization, extraction, export and industrialization of palm oil and its derivatives.
– The law also prohibits oil palm plantations from being established within zones where communities’ water sources are located, and requires the existence of native vegetation buffers between plantations and water bodies.
– But critics say the regulatory portion of the law has been largely toothless and that the government has turned a blind eye to the social and environmental costs of the country’s rapid plantation expansion.

Community in Ecuador punished for trying to stop alleged palm oil pollution By: Alianza periodística tras las huellas de la palma [04 Feb 2022]
– A legal loophole allowed palm oil companies in Ecuador to establish plantations on ancestral land that belongs to small communities.
– Community residents say that agricultural chemicals and waste from plantations and palm oil processing mills is polluting the water sources on which they depend.
– In an effort to stop the contamination of their water and the degradation of their land, residents of the community of Barranquilla spent three months occupying the access road to plantations surrounding their village in 2020.
– In retaliation, the company that owns and operates the plantations, Energy & Palma, sued four members of the community for lost profits; in Sep. 2021, courts ruled in the company’s favor and ordered the four to pay $151,000 to the company.

Paraguay’s drought hits biodiversity, Indigenous communities the hardest By: Maxwell Radwin [03 Feb 2022]
– Record-breaking heat waves in Paraguay have led to water shortages and forest fires that threaten local biodiversity and many of the Indigenous communities who steward it.
– Indigenous groups like the Aché and Ava Guaraní have lost their crops and likely face food insecurity should the drought continue throughout 2022.
– Turtles, aquatic mammals and fish that usually occupy now-dried-up wetlands have been forced into the major rivers, where they face a greater threat from overfishing.

Mongabay’s What-To-Watch list for February 2022 By: [03 Feb 2022]
– In January, Mongabay videos explored agroforestry, sustainable solutions, a conservation project that affects local population, wildlife in the city, and more.
– Watch how a new species of penguins were discovered in Antarctica, and what an African civet does in its natural habitat.
– Get a peak into the various segments of the environment across the globe. Add these videos to your watchlist for the month and watch them for free on YouTube.

Zimbabwe’s forests go up in smoke to feed its tobacco habit By: Tonderayi Mukeredzi [03 Feb 2022]
– Tobacco farmers are responsible for a fifth of the total annual deforestation in Zimbabwe, cutting down trees to burn in their curing barns.
– While the practice is not permitted, enforcement remains lax, and solutions such as establishing woodlots have not proved fast or scalable enough to address the problem.
– With Zimbabwe expected to produce 300,000 metric tons of tobacco by 2025, which will require burning 10 times as much wood, the current situation is unsustainable, officials warn.


Standing Rock withdraws from ongoing environmental assessment of Dakota Access Pipeline by Laurel Sutherland [02/02/2022]
As world drowns in plastic waste, U.N. to hammer out global treaty by Charles Pekow [02/02/2022]
‘A bigger deal than it sounds’: Coconut crabs are vanishing, island by island by Cassie Freund [02/01/2022]
Ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin: Indigenous knowledge serves as a ‘connective tissue’ between nature and human well-being by Rhett A. Butler [01/31/2022]
Sixty of one, half a dozen of the other: Rare magnolias get a new start in Ecuador’s Chocó by Liz Kimbrough and Maxwell Radwin [01/31/2022]
California redwood forest returned to Indigenous guardianship, conservation by Laurel Sutherland [01/28/2022]