Newsletter 2023-04-13


Where Indigenous land rights prevail in Brazil, so does nature, study finds by Luís Patriani — April 6, 2023

– A study that looked at changes in forest cover in 129 Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest between 1995 and 2016 has found that deforestation rates were lower and reforestation rates higher in those where land tenure had been formalized.
– Among the reasons for this, researchers suggest, is the fact that Indigenous peoples felt more encouraged to revive the forest, safe in the knowledge that they will be protected by the law.
– However, securing land tenure, a process known as demarcation, has proved difficult for many Indigenous communities, with former president Jair Bolsonaro refusing to sign off on any demarcation during his time in office from 2019-2022.
– Under the new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indigenous leaders say they’re more optimistic about having their land tenure formally recognized.

Scientists and fishers team up to protect Bolivian river dolphin by Rocío Lloret — April 12, 2023

– Hunting, fishing, pollution and degradation and loss of habitat are the main threats facing the Bolivian river dolphin, a species of river dolphin that is found in 10 protected areas in the country.
– For almost three decades, scientists have involved local commercial fishers in an effort to document and monitor the landlocked country’s sole cetacean.
– A team of reporters joined them in sailing 450 kilometers (280 miles) upriver during the most recent population census.

To build its ‘green’ capital city, Indonesia runs a road through a biodiverse forest by Basten Gokkon — April 10, 2023

– A new toll road in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province is under construction to improve access to the interior of Borneo, including to the nation’s new capital city, Nusantara.
– Construction of the road, however, poses immediate environmental risks, as the route cuts through a forested area with high conservation value that connects the Sungai Wain protected forest, coastal mangroves, and Balikpapan Bay.
– Prior to road construction, the integrated forest and coastal ecosystem supported populations of orangutans, sun bears, proboscis monkeys and Irrawaddy dolphins.
– Conservationists say the construction of this toll road belies the Indonesian government’s claims that the development of the new capital will be green and sustainable.

Roads, human activity take a toll on red pandas: Q&A with researcher Damber Bista by Abhaya Raj Joshi — April 10, 2023

– Damber Bista is a Nepali conservation scientist studying the country’s population of red pandas, an endangered species.
– He says there needs to be much more work done to protect the species, given that 70% of their habitat falls outside of protected areas.
– In an interview with Mongabay, Bista talks about the added stress that habitat fragmentation is putting on juvenile red pandas, the need for landscape-level conservation measures, and the importance of long-term studies.

Uterine implants and underwater ultrasounds aim to demystify shark births by Abhishyant Kidangoor — April 7, 2023

– For years, studying the reproductive biology of sharks has depended on capturing the animals and dissecting them.
– Scientists recently developed the Birth Alert Tag, an egg-shaped satellite transmitter that can be implanted in the uterus of pregnant sharks to document the location and timing of births.
– In another development, scientists took ultrasound readings of whale sharks and sampled their blood to detect if they were pregnant.
– The new methods aim to help researchers determine sharks’ pregnancy status and the location of shark births; one goal is to inform the establishment of corridors to protect the animals, which are among the most vulnerable vertebrates on Earth.


Is there a ‘lighter side’ to our possible environmental apocalypse? (commentary) by David Helvarg — April 12, 2023
– Ocean activist and author David Helvarg deals with dark thoughts about the state of the world environment with humor in a new op-ed.
– “As a professional ocean advocate, I try and see the bright side of environmental and climate impacts such as sea level rise. While the ocean today covers 71% of the planet, it could soon cover 75%. More ocean means more ocean to love,” he jokes.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Ecuador banned gas flaring over a year ago. Why is it still happening? by Maxwell Radwin — April 12, 2023
– In September 2021, a provincial court gave oil companies 18 months to eliminate gas flaring in the Amazon because of its role in spiking cancer rates among local residents.
– That deadline expired in March, but today oil companies continue to use gas flares more than ever. Before the court ruling, there were an estimated 447 gas flares in the country. Today, there are 475.
– Activists say they still have some legal avenues for pressuring the government to enforce the ban, including impeaching ministers that fail to comply with the court’s order.

Indigenous Amazon forests absorb noxious fumes and prevent diseases from wildfires, study suggests by Jenny Gonzales — April 11, 2023
– A new decade-long study estimates forests in Indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon can potentially prevent about 15 million cases of respiratory and cardiovascular infections each year by absorbing thousands of tons of dangerous pollutants emitted by forest fires.
– Forest fires are mainly caused by deforestation to clear the land, releasing noxious fumes which contain carbonaceous aerosol, the main component of fine particulate matter which enters the bloodstream and can cause heart disease and lung cancer.
– Health impacts from forest fires are not only restricted to nearby populations. Intense smoke can travel hundreds of kilometers away from the point of origin.
– The researchers say the study’s findings demonstrate the need for Brazil’s government to resume Indigenous territories’ demarcations and public policies.

Biogas project offers lifelines to Kenyan community, forest, and rare species by Shadrack Omuka — April 11, 2023
– For decades, forest reserves in Kenya’s central highlands have been under pressure from surrounding communities seeking firewood, timber and space for farmland.
– This pressure has left the Eburu Forest an isolated refuge for wildlife, including the critically endangered mountain bongo.
– Sustained efforts by Rhino Ark, an environmental NGO, have built local communities’ awareness of the importance of the forest, but with few alternatives for fuel in particular, encroachment into the reserve continues.
– The NGO says it hopes the installation of household biogas systems will reduce pressure on the forest for firewood, while improving health and producing organic fertilizer for participating households.

Report: Indonesia’s ‘food estate’ program repeating failures of past projects by Hans Nicholas Jong — April 11, 2023
– Some of the large-scale food plantations established by the Indonesian government under a “food estate” program have reportedly been abandoned.
– A field investigation in 2022 and 2023 found wild shrubs and abandoned excavators on plots of lands that had been cleared for cassava and rice in Central Kalimantan province.
– Activists say the program’s failings were apparent from the start, with a lack of proper impact assessments carried out prior to selecting sites and clearing forests for crops ill-suited to the soil.
– The program’s trajectory mirrors that of the Mega Rice Project from the mid-1990s, which failed spectacularly to boost yields, and left in its wake widespread destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

Brazilian gold miners get free rein in Venezuela’s Indigenous lands by Mie Hoejris Dahl — April 11, 2023
– In Southern Venezuela, Brazilian gold miners known as garimpeiros exploit Venezuelan Indigenous lands, leaving behind mass environmental destruction.
– Deforestation, sedimentation and contamination of water, soil and air are among the environmental consequences of garimpeiro-style mining.
– Skyrocketing gold prices and Venezuela’s political and economic crisis have fueled the gold rush in Venezuela; Brazilian garimpeiros and Venezuelans from the cities have flocked to the mines, where they face limited accountability as they dig for gold.
– There are ways to recover some of the nature degraded by gold mining, but this requires investments, the right expertise and careful planning. It’s not happening today.

Report sums up Bolsonaro’s destruction legacy and Amazon’s next critical steps by Sarah Brown — April 11, 2023
– A damning report confirms what many environmentalists already knew: that the destruction of nature in Brazil from 2019 to 2022 was a deliberate campaign of sabotage led by the government of the time.
– The report compiled four years of data to describe record levels of land invasions, illegal mining and Amazon deforestation under the administration of Jair Bolsonaro.
– Against this challenging scenario, experts have mostly praised President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s initial actions in his first 100 days, especially his efforts to address the health crisis in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory.
– However, key actions remain pending, they say, including the quashing of anti-environmental bills and an end to the plan to pave a controversial highway through the Amazon Rainforest.

CAPS, new gas megaproject, aims to power Central Africa, but at what cost, critics ask by Elodie Toto — April 11, 2023
– The Central Africa Business Energy Forum proposes to build 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) of pipelines linking oil and gas resources across 11 countries in Central Africa.
– The forum says gas in particular should play a key role in developing the region’s economy.
– Seven countries have so far signed a memorandum of understanding, and a feasibility study for a first phase is expected by the end of 2023
– Environmentalists say the project is a mistake that will exacerbate the climate crisis and fail to benefit local populations.

A Ramadan reflection on Islam and climate action (commentary) by Memona Hossain — April 11, 2023
– Muslims everywhere are currently observing Ramadan, a month of fasting and striving to grow their faith through prayer and acts of goodness.
– This month also marked the release of the new IPCC report on climate change, which provided the world with an urgent call to action.
– “The connection of the inner state of the heart with the outer state of physical action is the very point of intersection at which Ramadan and the new IPCC report meet. As Muslims focus on their worship…it is imperative that they make a very conscious commitment to connect their acts of worship towards the wellbeing of the Earth,” a new op-ed argues.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Ecuador project aims to protect Yasuní park borders & Indigenous peoples by Ana Cristina Alvarado — April 11, 2023
– The Yasuní Strip of Diversity and Life (Franja de Diversidad y Vida), on the western border of the Yasuní National Park, was created to protect the area’s Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation and to uphold the rights of Indigenous and farming communities in the region.
– The Terramaz project seeks to promote sustainable practices in order to fight against deforestation. These ideas, however, do not resonate with some inhabitants of the strip, where there is an urgent need for basic infrastructure and services: 82% of Indigenous inhabitants there live in extreme poverty.
– The undefined status of the western limits of the Yasuní National Park and the lack of land titles for the region’s inhabitants have provoked conflicts in the strip, which is also affected by oil drilling.

Flawed count puts ‘glorified’ Javan rhinos on path to extinction, report says by Basten Gokkon — April 11, 2023
– Javan rhinos, a critically endangered species found only in a single park in Indonesia, may be on a population decline that could see the species go extinct within a decade, a new report warns.
– The report highlights questionable practices in the Indonesian government’s official population count, which has shown a steady increase in rhino numbers since 2011.
– Notably, the official count includes rhinos that haven’t been spotted or recorded on camera traps in years; at least three of these animals are known to have died since 2019.
– The report, by environmental NGO Auriga Nusantara, also highlights an increase in reported poaching activity in Ujung Kulon National Park, and a general lack of official transparency that’s common to conservation programs for other iconic species such as Sumatran rhinos and orangutans.

Community conservation benefits Sulawesi flying foxes, but more is needed, experts say by Sean Mowbray — April 11, 2023
– Flying foxes play a vital role in maintaining forest health. As pollinators and seed dispersers they are also invaluable to the economic and social well-being of communities.
– In Indonesia’s Sulawesi, conservation groups are working to protect flying foxes, which face threats including hunting for food and habitat loss.
– Community-led approaches are showing success, but conservationists say greater protection and an expansion of projects is needed to protect more bat roosts.

15 community-based conservation opportunities to help people and the planet by Jana McPherson and Nafeesa Esmail — April 10, 2023
– A recently published horizon scan on community-based conservation identified 15 topics that offer opportunities to yield positive change for people and the planet, as well as provide insights on avoiding pitfalls in achieving 2030 global policy targets.
– These resulted from work undertaken over the past two years by a group of 39 conservation practitioners from around the globe, including staff at Mongabay.
– Community-based conservation has for decades tried to tackle these interrelated challenges with mixed success and, at times, counter-productive results, but has arisen as a promising and popular approach on global agendas.

Indonesian Indigenous group AMAN wins Skoll Award for defending land rights by Hans Nicholas Jong — April 10, 2023
– Indonesia’s main Indigenous alliance, AMAN, has won a 2023 Skoll Award for Social Innovation for its work in advocating for Indigenous rights.
– The group’s work includes mapping Indigenous territories and lobbying for legislation that supports and protects Indigenous rights to their lands.
– AMAN says the award fuels its spirit to work even harder, as there’s still much work to be done, with many Indigenous communities still lacking legal recognition of their land rights and an Indigenous rights bill being stalled in Parliament.
– Four other organizations have won this year’s award, including Conexsus, a Brazilian NGO that promotes sustainable forest management and forest-based economies by centering community-led efforts and Indigenous ecological knowledge.

Floating solar project on Philippines natural lake brings hope — and questions by Jewel S. Cabrera — April 10, 2023
– Laguna Lake in the Philippines is home to a pilot project for a floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) installation that could provide energy to surrounding communities as the country faces pressure to transition away from fossil fuels.
– “Floatovoltaic” installations already exist in other parts of Asia, but none are currently on natural lakes like Laguna; researchers say further research is needed to determine the long-term effects on the environment and local communities.
– In Laguna, local fishing communities hope their voices are heard as the project develops, especially since their livelihoods could be affected by the FPV installations; however, the project could also bring new jobs to the area.

Indonesia’s Just Energy Transition Partnership must increase transparency (commentary) by Firdaus Cahyadi — April 7, 2023
– Last year, Indonesia obtained a $20 billion international financing commitment to fund the country’s transition to clean energy via the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP).
– This year, Transparency International reported Indonesia’s susceptibility to corruption increased from the previous year, which could affect the JETP scheme as well.
– A new op-ed argues that the JETP should increase transparency and public inclusion in its planning processes to avoid falling victim to corruption which would slow the country’s transition to a renewable energy future.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Study: Women, youths can be more effective at driving sustainable farming changes by Basten Gokkon — April 7, 2023
– A study in a farming community on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island shows that women and younger farmers can be more influential than older men in persuading peers to adopt new technologies and practices.
– The findings could have significant implications for conservation organizations trying to implement sustainable agriculture programs within communities.
– The study looked at two groups — one made up of older men perceived as “opinion leaders,” and the other of mostly women and younger men — and how effective they were at convincing fellow farmers to try out a new pair of cacao pruning scissors.
– Experts say the findings don’t mean older men no longer carry any weight when it comes to influencing community members, and that they should still be consulted and engaged with when introducing development initiatives.

Rare hispid hares feel the heat from Nepal’s tiger conservation measures by Abhaya Raj Joshi — April 7, 2023
– The deliberate burning of grasslands in Nepal to maintain tiger habitat poses a threat to another endangered species: the elusive and little-known hispid hare.
– The burning is meant to promote the growth of fresh grass shoots for tiger prey, and to prevent grasslands from turning into forests.
– However, intact grasslands are important habitat for hispid hares, which need dense ground cover for resting, feeding and mating.
– Researchers say the annual grassland burning should be done selectively and outside of the hare’s breeding season to save the species.

Jatropha: The biofuel that bombed seeks a path to redemption by Sean Mowbray — April 6, 2023
– Earlier this century, jatropha was hailed as a “miracle” biofuel. An unassuming shrubby tree native to Central America, it was wildly promoted as a high-yielding, drought-tolerant biofuel feedstock that could grow on degraded lands across Latin America, Africa and Asia.
– A jatropha rush ensued, with more than 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) planted by 2008. But the bubble burst. Low yields led to plantation failures nearly everywhere. The aftermath of the jatropha crash was tainted by accusations of land grabbing, mismanagement, and overblown carbon reduction claims.
– Today, some researchers continue pursuing the evasive promise of high-yielding jatropha. A comeback, they say, is dependent on cracking the yield problem and addressing the harmful land-use issues intertwined with its original failure.
– The sole remaining large jatropha plantation is in Ghana. The plantation owner claims high-yield domesticated varieties have been achieved and a new boom is at hand. But even if this comeback falters, the world’s experience of jatropha holds important lessons for any promising up-and-coming biofuel.

‘Gold library’ helps Brazil crack down on Amazon’s illegal mining by Ignacio AmigoSam Cowie and Avener Prado — April 6, 2023
– Launched in 2019, the Ouro Alvo program is creating a gold database with samples obtained from different parts of Brazil.
– The information is allowing the Federal Police to create a chemical fingerprint of each sample, which they can then use to cross-reference the origin of seized or suspicious gold.
– This strategy could be complemented with other methods, including physically tagging the gold and tracking transactions using blockchain.
– While technology can be a great ally to fight the illegal gold trade, experts say the country still needs stricter regulations governing the industry.

National corridor project aims to save Chile’s endangered huemul deer by Sean Mowbray — April 6, 2023
– Endemic to Chile and Argentina, the huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) is an endangered species, threatened by habitat loss, poaching, diseases and climate change.
– With only about 1,500 individuals still left in the wild, the huemul population has been reduced to only a small fraction (as little as 1%) of what it once was.
– In Chile, the National Huemul Corridor is a recently launched project that aims to save the species by reducing threats to its survival and restoring areas of its natural habitat.
– The species could act as a flagship for recovering the natural habitats for a range of other species, according to conservation organization Rewilding Chile.

Libreville’s shrinking mangroves leave Gabon’s capital prone to floods by Elodie Toto — April 6, 2023
– Gabon’s capital, Libreville, has lost more than 3% of its mangroves in three years.
– Most of this loss is due to uncontrolled urbanization, with inhabitants of this fast-growing city clearing swaths of mangrove forest to build their homes.
– Conservationists and scientists warn this leaves the city increasingly vulnerable to floods and landslides.
– While the country has laws in place to protect mangroves, conservationists say poor enforcement and widespread corruption mean they’re largely toothless.

Peru national park sees deforestation spike despite carbon credit program: report by Maxwell Radwin — April 6, 2023
– A March report from the Associated Press revealed that the carbon credit program in Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park has been financially profitable but ineffective as a means of conservation.
– Despite that more than 28 million credits have been sold since the program’s launch in 2008, average annual deforestation has risen significantly.
– One source of the problem is that officials inflated the benefits of the program and the threats facing the park.


Ecuador court upholds ‘rights of nature,’ blocks Intag Valley copper mine by Liz Kimbrough — March 31, 2023
As conservation technology grows, so does Mongabay’s coverage by Mike DiGirolamo — April 4, 2023
Expansion of Mennonite farmland in Bolivia encroaches on Indigenous land by Iván Paredes Tamayo — April 3, 2023
Guinea’s crab-fishing chimps are in good health, study shows, but threats loom by Ryan Truscott — April 3, 2023
Indigenous Pataxó demand land demarcation amid rising violence and murders by Sarah Sax and Hanna Wallis — March 31, 2023
Reconnecting ‘island habitat’ with wild corridors in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest by Jeremy Hance — March 30, 2023
Robust river governance key to restoring Mekong River vitality in face of dams by Carolyn Cowan — March 30, 2023