Animated Newscast: COMING SOON

Researchers urge sustainability as palm oil tightens its grip on Latin America
- Hindered by deforestation restrictions in Southeast Asia, palm oil producers are looking farther afield to West and Central Africa, and Latin America, where conditions are conducive to oil palm cultivation and land is easier to come by.
- Four Latin American countries already fill out the list of the world’s top 10 palm oil producers, with Colombia coming in at number four, and Ecuador, Brazil and Honduras placing seventh, ninth and tenth, respectively. Mexico may soon join the list, with a plan to cultivate an additional 100,000 hectares of the crop in the coming years.
- While these countries have vast areas of land that have previously been deforested for agriculture and are suitable for growing oil palm, plantation expansion is still coming at the expense of rainforest. Researchers and the residents of areas that have been turned into plantations also allege human rights violations at the hands of palm oil producers.
- Researchers and conservationists call for tighter regulation of the industry and more study of how oil palm production may impact the surrounding environment.


In Indonesian waters, filter feeders can ingest dozens to hundreds of microplastic particles every hour
- Researchers looked at plastic pollution in three coastal feeding grounds in Indonesia that are frequented by manta rays (Mobula alfredi) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus): Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area, Komodo National Park, and Pantai Bentar, East Java.
- After estimating the amount of microplastic particles that are present in the waters of their three study areas, the researchers were then able to determine how much of that plastic might find its way into the digestive tracts of reef manta rays and whale sharks.
- They found that reef manta rays may eat up to 63 pieces of plastic per hour when feeding in Nusa Penida and Komodo National Park, while whale sharks could be consuming up to 137 pieces per hour during seasonal aggregations in Java.


China’s wénwan drives a deadly mix-and-match of endangered wildlife
- A wide range of illegal wildlife products, from tiger claws to hornbill casques, are used to make baubles known as wénwan that are prized as status symbols among China’s burgeoning middle class.
- Domestic bans on the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn have not slowed the growing and underregulated online market for wénwan products, with traders increasingly targeting other species to meet demand for exotic materials.
- Without understanding the dynamics of the wénwan trade, including the cultural aspect, government and NGO efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade risk remaining ineffective.


Rabbit-sized, deer-like species of fanged ungulate rediscovered in Vietnam
- The silver-backed chevrotain is about the size of a rabbit and was first described to science in 1910 based on four specimens. A joint Vietnamese-Russian expedition to central Vietnam undertaken in 1990 collected a fifth specimen, which had been killed by a hunter. That was the last any scientist saw of the species.
- However, local villagers and government forest rangers reported seeing a gray chevrotain in the vicinity of Nha Trang, a city in southern Vietnam. The gray coloring was the key, because that’s what distinguishes the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor), also known as the Vietnamese mouse-deer, from the far more common lesser chevrotain (T. kanchil).
- Based on those survey results, a team of researchers set up three camera traps in the most promising locations and ended up recording the first evidence that a species not seen in nearly 30 years is still very much in existence.


Conserving wildlife is key to tropical forests’ carbon storage, study finds
- A new study shows that a decrease in the fruit-eating animals that disperse tree seeds leads to a reduction in carbon storage in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.
- The complete defaunation, or loss of these species, from a forest can result in the area’s carbon storage capacity dropping by up to 3 percent.
- It was previously believed that the carbon deficit from defaunation in Southeast Asia’s tropical forests wouldn’t be as significant as in the Amazon or the Congo Basin, but the study suggests otherwise.
- Wildlife is being hammered in the region by overhunting and a massive snaring crisis for bushmeat, traditional medicine and the illegal pet trade, and conservationists have called for more action and enforcement to combat poaching.


Feral horses gallop to the rescue of butterflies in distress
- A new study suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Czech Republic could increase populations of some threatened butterfly species.
- The research shows that the horses’ grazing creates and maintains short grasslands that some butterfly species thrive in.
- The research points to the importance of considering the impacts of species introductions on the restoration of natural ecosystems.


‘Timebomb’: Fires devastate tiger and elephant habitat in Sumatra
- Another heavy fire season in Indonesia has taken a toll on the country’s remaining forest. In Sembilang National Park, on the island of Sumatra, fires raged into primary forest that provides vital habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants.
- Satellite data and imagery indicate the fires may have had a big impact on tigers in the park. In total, around 30 percent of tiger habitat in Sembilang burned between August and September. The fires also encroached into the park’s elephant habitat.
- Fires have also reportedly ravaged elephant habitat in Padang Sugihan Sebokor Wildlife Reserve, which lies southeast of Sembilang and serves as a corridor for wild elephants in South Sumatra. One report estimates that half of the reserve has suffered fire damage.
- Researchers say slash-and-burn clearing techniques likely started most of fires in the area, which were then exacerbated by drier-than-usual conditions and underground peat stores left unprotected by policy rollbacks.s


Last of the belugas from Russia’s ‘whale jail’ released
- Late last year, drone footage revealed 87 belugas and 11 orcas packed in cramped, icy pens at Srednyaya Bay in Russia’s Far East.
- Following international outrage, Russian authorities began an investigation and started releasing the whales to the Sea of Okhotsk, the place the mammals had been originally captured from.
- On Nov. 10, Russian authorities announced that the last of the 50 beluga whales had been released to Uspeniya Bay, in the Primorsky Region, about 62 miles away from the holding facility. But it’s not the whales’ native habitat, conservationists say.
- Activists and conservationists have criticized the lack of transparency in the release effort and the manner in which the whales have been moved to the sea without a proper rehabilitation process in place.


Mexico plans huge increase in palm oil production in sensitive ecosystems
- The government seeks to plant an additional 100,000 hectares (almost 250,000 acres) in the state of Campeche, half of which is under conservation protection.
- Scientists, conservationists, and residents say existing oil palm plantations have already damaged important wildlife habitat and water sources, and worry what may come from an influx of many more.
- Local organizations have filed a complaint before the Latin American Water Tribunal, saying the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food is promoting the program to plant 100,000 hectares of oil palm, “without consideration for the researchers, academics, environmentalists, indigenous people, and communities who live in the area where they intend to impose this crop as a development alternative.”


Mussel species that invaded Southeast Asian waters now appears in India
- Indian marine researchers have confirmed the presence of the invasive American brackish water mussel (Mytella strigata) in the backwaters of Kochi, a port city in the southern state of Kerala in India.
- The species is native to Central and South America but in recent years has been found invading waters around Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.
- The latest study presents the first formal report of this invasive species from the Indian subcontinent and the fourth record from the Indo-Pacific, the researchers say.
- The researchers worry that the American brackish water mussel could soon outcompete the local green mussel and displace it completely, affecting livelihoods, since the green mussel fishery is a very lucrative industry along the Kochi coast.


Audio: Damian Aspinall on why he’s calling for zoos to be phased out within the next three decades
- On today’s episode, we speak with Damian Aspinall, chairman of the Aspinall Foundation, a UK charity that works to conserve endangered animals and return them to the wild.
- Back in June of this year we welcomed Jim Breheny onto the Mongabay Newscast. Breheny is director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and he told me that zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well, and for that reason are vital to wildlife conservation today.
- Aspinall does not agree that zoos are important for conservation of wild species. In fact, he argues that keeping animals in captivity in zoos is cruel, inhumane — and unnecessary. He appears on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast to discuss why he is calling for all zoos around the world to be closed down within the next 30 years, and how he says the work of preserving rare and endangered species could be better accomplished by in situ conservation interventions.


India’s Ganga River dolphins are being shouted down by noisy boats
- India’s Ganga River is getting noisier with increased ship traffic and dredging, and that’s stressing the river’s iconic dolphins and changing how they communicate, a new study has found.
- When fewer than five vessels moving on the river per hour, the dolphins seem to enhance their vocal activities to compensate for the high-frequency noise generated by the propellers.
- But as vessel traffic increases and water levels fall during the dry season, leading to more intense and sustained noise pollution, the dolphins don’t seem to alter their clicks much compared to baseline levels, the researchers found.
- This is likely because having to continuously emit clicks in a persistently noisy world can be physically taxing, forcing the endangered mammals to “either call at baseline levels or shut up,” according to the researchers.


New honeyeater species described from Indonesia’s Alor Island
- Scientists have described a new bird species found only on the island of Alor in eastern Indonesia.
- The Alor myzomela is easily distinguished from other known members of the Myzomela genus of honeyeater birds thanks to its unique call and paler upper wings.
- A growing human population on the island is already fragmenting the species’ only known habitat, prompting the researchers to recommend it be considered endangered on the IUCN Red List.
- The bird’s scientific name, Myzomela prawiradilagae, is a tribute to prominent ornithologist Dewi Malia Prawiradilaga from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).


Global trafficking threat catches up to Sri Lanka’s endangered pangolins
- Hunting for domestic meat consumption has long been the main threat to the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in Sri Lanka, but a new study identifies a growing threat from hunting for scales to feed demand from China.
- The researchers note an “established smuggling pathway” to India via fishing boat, which they say could explain why Sri Lanka isn’t highlighted as a trading or source country, as these stockpiles technically reach the global market through India.
- The new study also identifies an emerging trend of increasing pangolin rescues, but links this to the growing human presence in pangolin habitats.
- But the researchers also recorded pangolin sightings in areas and elevations they were previously not known to frequent, suggesting their ability to adapt to human and climate threats.


Scientists rediscover mammalian oddity in remote Vietnam
- Last seen in 1990, researchers have found a population of silver-backed chevrotains, a species of mouse-deer, surviving in Vietnam.
- This lost species is threatened by hunting, snaring and habitat destruction, and scientists don’t yet know how many survive.
- Mongabay columnist Jeremy Hance travels to Vietnam to attempt to see the animal himself and learn about its chances for a future.


Can a national management plan halt Madagascar’s shark decline?
- Sharks once were plentiful in Madagascar’s waters, but a spike in demand for shark fins dating to the 1980s has led to heavy exploitation and a reduction in the fishes’ abundance and size.
- Madagascar has no national laws that specifically protect sharks. In June, though, the country released a new national plan for the sustainable management of sharks and rays.
- The plan calls for a shark trade surveillance program, a crackdown on illegal industrial fishing, more “no-take” zones, and a concerted effort to collect better data.
- Conservationists welcomed the plan as an important step — provided the country can enforce its provisions.


Emperor penguins could disappear by 2100 if nations don’t cap emissions
- Researchers have combined a global climate model that projects where and when sea ice forms and a model of penguin populations to predict how penguin colonies would react to changing sea ice under future climate scenarios.
- The models found that under the business-as-usual scenario, where countries fail to halt climate change, emperor penguin numbers will decline by around 86 percent by 2100.
- However, if countries meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, then emperor penguin numbers would decline by about 31 percent, giving them a fighting chance at survival.


Colombian town faces earthquakes, pollution, water shortage as industry expands
- Residents of the town of Puerto Gaitán say their water sources are being used for the cultivation of oil palm plantations and the extraction of crude oil.
- Studies have found water quality near the town qualifies as “poor” and water reserves have dropped off for many areas, forcing residents to import water from elsewhere.
- Locals say seismic tremors induced for oil extraction have damaged houses and soil.
- Researchers say wildlife populations have been harmed by agricultural chemicals used for palm oil production and habitat loss caused by expanding plantations.


Mischaracterizing the conservation benefits of trade (commentary)
- The authors of a Science paper on global wildlife trade respond to an editorial published on Mongabay that criticized their methodology.
- Brett R. Scheffers of the University of Florida/IFAS; Brunno F. Oliveira of the University of Florida/IFAS and Auburn University at Montgomery; and Leuan Lamb and David P. Edwards of the University of Sheffield say their paper ‘uses a rigorously assembled database to make the first global assessment of traded species—both legal and illegal, and from national to international scales—and to identify the global hotspots of trade diversity.’
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.


Facebook and Instagram posts help locate pygmy seahorses in Taiwan
- By contacting underwater photographers and divers and searching for photos and posts on Facebook and Instagram, researchers have confirmed the presence of five species of pygmy seahorses in Taiwan.
- This makes Taiwan one of the world’s pygmy seahorse diversity hotspots, the researchers say.
- Green Island and Orchid Island, in particular, were hotspots for pygmy seahorse diversity, the researchers found, and they hope that these discoveries will help inform conservation planning.


New toads named from a Sumatran biodiversity trove that’s under threat
- Researchers have recently described three new species of toads belonging to the Sigalegalephrynus genus of puppet toads living in the highlands of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.
- The genus was first proposed in 2017 with the description of two species. Researchers believe there may be even more puppet toads left to discover.
- The discovery highlights the vast diversity of Sumatra’s herpetofauna, but also the immense threats the island’s wildlife faces, primarily from loss of habitat to deforestation and agriculture.
- The researchers say all of the newly described species should be listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.


Saving the Gran Chaco: Conservationists demand protection before it’s too late
- The Gran Chaco is South America’s second-largest forest biome, and is home to thousands of species.
- The Chaco has lost around 20 percent of its forest cover since 1985 as land is cleared for agriculture. The Argentine portion has lost 30 percent.
- In response, a project called the Argentine Gran Chaco 2030 Commitment was created to demand more be done to protect the Chaco. As of Nov. 7, 80 organizations and institutions around the world had signed on in support.


Indonesia plans IVF for recently captured Sumatran rhino
- In a bid to save the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino, Indonesia will attempt to harvest and fertilize an egg cell from a lone female at a captive-breeding center in Borneo.
- The sperm for the in vitro fertilization attempt will come from a male at a captive-breeding center in Sumatra; combining the Sumatran and Bornean lineages is expected to help boost the gene pool for an animal whose global population may be as low as 40.
- Conservationists anticipate obstacles, however: Pahu, the female, is quite old at about 25, and is possibly too small to be able to carry a regular-sized offspring to term.
- The planned attempt by Indonesia comes after conservationists in Malaysia tried and failed to carry out an IVF treatment there, with both the age of the female rhino and lack of access to quality sperm cited for the failure.


‘Fantastic grandmothers’ snorkel, help uncover large sea snake population
- A group of seven women in their 60s and 70s, who call themselves the “fantastic grandmothers,” have helped uncover a surprisingly large population of the venomous greater sea snake in the waters surrounding Nouméa, the capital of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
- By November 2018, the women, all Nouméa residents and expert swimmers and snorkelers, and the researchers had collectively taken nearly 300 photographs of more than 140 individual greater sea snakes — much more than researchers had long believed to occur in the area.
- The citizen science project isn’t just revealing numbers, it’s also helping uncover detailed information on the ecology of greater sea snakes, such as their breeding patterns and changes in population structure over seasons.


There’s a new fin whale subspecies in the North Pacific
- The northern fin whale subspecies was previously believed to include populations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, but a recent genetic analysis of more than 150 fin whale samples from both ocean basins and the Southern Hemisphere showed that the two populations actually qualify as two separate subspecies.
- By comparing DNA from fin whales in the North Pacific and the North Atlantic, researchers determined that the populations have been genetically distinct for hundreds of thousands of years.
- Improving our understanding of fin whale taxonomy can have important implications for the conservation of the species, which is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


Less force, more kindness as Sri Lanka tries to defuse human-elephant conflict
- Several different methods attempted over the past 70 years to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka have proved ineffective, experts say.
- With more than 300 elephants and 70 people killed in 2018 alone, and a third of the island effectively elephant country, Sri Lanka is mired in an escalating crisis trying to balance its developmental and conservation needs.
- Conservationists have called for designing development programs that account for elephant impact assessments, and abandoning translocations and other control methods in favor of electric fencing that has proven more effective.


New species of shrimp-like creature found in a whale shark’s mouth
- Japanese scientists found a new-to-science species of shrimp-like creature from the gills of a female whale shark that lived in a fish preserve off the island of Okinawa.
- The newly described species is a type of amphipod, a group of shell-less crustaceans that usually feed on decaying plant and animal matter and can be found in a wide variety of environments, from freshwater to some of the deepest parts of the ocean.
- The researchers have named the amphipod Podocerus jinbe, after the Japanese word jinbe for whale sharks.
- It unlikely that the amphipods were feeding directly on the whale shark, the researchers say, and may have been inhabiting the whale shark’s mouth because it provided a good habitat with fresh seawater and food and shelter from predators.


Finding hope in ‘extreme conservation’ (Insider)
- A Mongabay staff writer shares an account of his trek to see mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- From a low of 250 individuals in the 1980s, the mountain gorilla subspecies now numbers more than 1,000, making it the only great ape whose population is growing.
- Those gains have come thanks to the “extreme conservation” practiced by a dedicated group of people who have worked to ensure the survival of one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.
- This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.


Ayahuasca tourism an overlooked driver of trade in jaguar body parts, researchers say
- According to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice earlier this month, the booming ayahuasca tourism industry may be an overlooked threat facing jaguars, a most iconic species that is listed as Nearly Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
- Through discussions with street vendors, shamans, and individuals working in the tourism industry, researchers found that jaguar canine pendants, jaguar skin bracelets, and other jaguar products are being sold to tourists under the pretense that they somehow enhance the ayahuasca experience.
- The researchers suggest that one way to effectively halt this growing illicit trade is to more formally regulate ayahuasca tourism and educate both tourists and tour operators.


Can camera traps diagnose the severity of a mystery giraffe skin disease?
- Giraffe skin disease, a mystery condition that inflicts crusty lesions on the world’s tallest animal, has been recorded in 13 giraffe populations in seven African countries. It is particularly widespread in Tanzania.
- Researchers used camera trap images to quantify how severe the disease was among giraffe populations in Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ruaha national parks.
- They found that most cases of the infections that the camera traps detected were “mild” or “moderate” according to a scale they devised, suggesting that the disease, although widespread, is likely not life-threatening at the moment.
- The researchers have, however, observed that giraffes with more severe infections tend to move with difficulty, which could make them more vulnerable to lion predation — a hypothesis they are now investigating with data from Ruaha National Park.


’Rampant’ fishing continues as vaquita numbers dwindle
- An expedition surveying the Gulf of California for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise has reported seeing more than 70 fishing boats in a protected refuge.
- Vaquita numbers have been decimated in the past decade as a result of gillnet fishing for another critically endgangered species, the totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000 per kilogram ($9,000 per pound) in Asian markets.
- Local fishing organizations in the region say that the government has stopped compensating them after a gillnet ban, aimed at protecting the vaquita from extinction, went into effect in 2015.


Indigenous communities ‘robbed’ as land grabbers lay waste to Brazilian rainforest
- Terra Indígena Ituna/Itatá in northern Brazil is home to several groups of uncontacted peoples who are dependent on the surrounding forest for survival.
- But outsiders have been increasingly moving in and clearing land for agriculture and mining. Brazilian authorities estimate that about 10 percent of the territory has been illegally invaded and destroyed this year alone, and satellite data show deforestation is still ramping up. Because of the scale of these incursions, Ituna/Itatá is now believed to be the most deforested indigenous territory in Brazil.
- While assaults on indigenous territories in Brazil have been happening for decades, activists say the sharp rise in deforestation and land-grabbing in Ituna/Itatá this year has been closely linked to the country’s controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has also launched an open attack on Funai, the government agency tasked with protecting indigenous interests in Brazil. The president signed a decree curbing Funai’s powers earlier this year, dealing a further blow to an agency already weakened by the previous government’s move to slash its funding in half.
- Ibama, Brazil’s environment agency, has responded to the assault on Ituna/Itatá with at least five operations in the area in 2018 and 2019. Yet the long-term impact appears to be limited: just weeks after the latest crackdown, activists and local sources report that land-grabbers have gone back to clearing the forest.


10 takeaways from Indonesia’s grassroots #SaveAru success
- The Save Aru campaign is one of Indonesia’s most successful grassroots movements in recent years.
- The people of Indonesia’s Aru Islands managed to defeat a plan to turn more than half of their archipelago into a massive sugar plantation.
- This month, The Gecko Project and Mongabay published a narrative article about the movement. Here are 10 takeaways from how they did it.


How Laos lost its tigers
- A new camera trap study finds that tigers vanished from Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area by 2014, their last stand in Laos.
- Leopards were killed off 10 years prior, making these big cats also extinct in Laos.
- Scientists believe it’s most likely that the last tigers and leopards of Laos succumbed to snares, which are proliferating in astounding numbers across Southeast Asian protected areas.
- The Indochinese tiger now only survives in Thailand and Myanmar, and may be on the edge of extinction.


Holding social media companies accountable for facilitating illegal wildlife trade (commentary)
- For traffickers engaging in some of the world’s biggest black-market trades, Facebook Inc. is the enabler. The company serves as a vehicle for thousands of traffickers who sell illegal goods using Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram to market their goods, connect with and negotiate sales with buyers, and even receive payments.
- Facebook, and other social media firms, mainly rely on algorithms and artificial intelligence to moderate harmful content. But investigations by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) show time and again how these algorithms actually connect traffickers faster than moderators can remove them. They suggest friends and recommend groups, putting illicit actors in touch with one another, continually expanding networks of users engaging in similar illegal activities.
- When it comes to crime on social media, the enabler always walks free. It’s time for regulators to take steps to hold online platforms accountable for facilitating the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


New species of orange-red praying mantis mimics a wasp
- From the Peruvian Amazon, researchers have described a new-to-science species of bright orange-red praying mantis that conspicuously mimics a wasp.
- The mantis mimics not only the bright coloration of many wasps, but also a wasp’s short, jerky movements. Such conspicuous mimicry of wasps is rare among mantises, which usually tend to resemble leaves or tree trunks, the researchers say in a new study.
- The researchers have named the praying mantis Vespamantoida wherleyi.


Satellite collars to help boost protection for Nigeria’s largest remaining elephant herd
- Six elephants in Yankari Game Reserve have been fitted with satellite collars.
- The collars are the latest steps to better monitor and protect elephants and other wildlife in the park.
- Fewer than 500 elephants remain in Nigeria, survivors of poaching and the steady loss of habitat.


As birds winter in Sri Lanka, one enthusiast makes sure their memory stays
- As migratory birds of all shapes and shades start flocking to Sri Lanka for the northern hemisphere winter, prominent local environmental lawyer and naturalist Jagath Gunawardena prepares to once again go bird-watching and sketching.
- Sri Lanka is home to 439 bird species, 33 of them found nowhere else on Earth, including breeding residents and migratory species.
- The island offers varying microclimates and habitats that provide a temporary refuge for the roughly 200 visiting species, though over the years, declining forest cover has impacted the distribution pattern of both resident and migratory species.
- Gunawardena, who has been recognized by the state for his contributions to wildlife conservation and even had a new frog species named after him, has called for greater research and conservation efforts for some of the migratory birds that call Sri Lanka home.


Bonobo conservation stymied by deforestation, human rights abuses
- The bonobo is a relative of the chimpanzee, and is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) south of the Congo River. They are endangered, with habitat loss and the bushmeat trade their primary threats. The Sankuru Nature Reserve is the DRC’s largest nature reserve that is focused on bonobo conservation. However, deforestation rates have only increased in Sankuru since it was created in 2007. Meanwhile nearby Lomami National Park is experiencing almost no deforestation.
- Researchers attribute the disparity in deforestation rates between Sankuru Nature Reserve and Lomami National Park to the lack of human settlements and clearer managerial strategy in the latter. They claim that Sankuru lacked buy-in from the local communities, and that conflicting land claims made conservation efforts more difficult to achieve.
- However, there may be a dark side to Lomami’s success. Sources claim that the military, which is tasked with protecting DRC’s national parks, have engaged in torture of people suspected of poaching. There are also reports that a community within Lomami was displaced without proper consultation or a suitable alternative location.
- Researchers say that to ensure effective engagement, indigenous forest-dwelling communities should be granted proper security of tenure over their lands, and community-managed forests should be set up and funded around the perimeter of the park.


This toad from central Africa impersonates a deadly viper to avoid predators
- The Congolese giant toad (Sclerophrys channingi) is the first toad found to mimic a harmful snake, in this case the highly venomous Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), which has longer fangs and produces more venom than any other known snake species.
- A team of researchers who spent ten years in the field observing the Congolese giant toad and its mimicry behavior published their findings in the Journal of Natural History this week.
- The triangular shape of the toad’s body, its particularly smooth skin for a toad, and its patterns of colors cause the amphibian to look like the viper’s head. In other words, the two are visually similar enough that any predators looking for a meal might certainly be wise to skip right past the Congolese giant toad rather than risk a lethal bite from a Gaboon viper. But just for a little extra insurance, the Congolese giant toad goes even further than mere visual mimicry.


New grouper species discovered in Australian fish market
- A newly discovered species of grouper almost became someone’s dinner before it could be described to science.
- Jeff Johnson, an ichthyologist with Australia’s Queensland Museum, had been asked about the fish before, 15 years ago. Over the intervening years, he would occasionally be sent pictures of the same type of grouper, one lacking distinctive features that struck him as a potential new species, but had never found a specimen to examine.
- Johnson’s big break came in 2017 when a fisherman got in touch and sent along a photo of a grouper, also known as rockcod, that the fisherman was hoping the fish expert could identify. Johnson recognized the fish in the photo as his mystery grouper and asked for the specimens so he could study them, only to be told that the fisherman had already sent the fish to be sold at a local market. But that didn’t stop Johnson from at last getting his hands on a specimen to prove this was an entirely new species.


For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge
- Sea turtles are protected species under Indonesian law, but continue to be caught and killed for food and ornaments in many parts of the country.
- Official wildlife conservation agencies are typically underfunded, and large-scale conservation programs run by NGOs are far from effective, a conservationist says.
- But in a fishing village on the island of Sulawesi, a lone fisherman is playing his part by buying live turtles accidentally caught by other fishers and usually injured, and caring for them until they heal and can be released back into the ocean.
- Conservationists have welcomed his initiative and intent, but raised questions about his expertise, with some of the more than 20 turtles he has cared for so far dying.


Amazon’s male white bellbird has the loudest recorded call
- The call of the male white bellbird (Procnias albus) is the loudest bird call recorded in the world.
- The bellbird’s call can reach 125 decibels, almost as loud as a very loud rock concert, and more than 9 decibels higher than the loudest recorded call of the screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), which held the previous record of being the world’s loudest bird.
- The male could be producing its chainsaw-like calls to attract a potential mate, the researchers say, but why the female sits so close to the male when it screams, risking hearing damage, is unclear.


A ‘sly’ species of leaf-tailed gecko uncovered from Madagascar
- Scientists have described a new species of leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus fetsy, believed to be found only in Madagascar’s Ankarana Special Reserve.
- All Uroplatus species are endemic to Madagascar and are best known for their leaf-like tails and coloration that allow them to blend into the foliage.
- Though newly described, U. fetsy may already be at risk: the dry deciduous forests of the reserve are severely threatened by illegal logging, cattle grazing, fires, and artisanal mining.
- The authors of the paper describing the new species say it could warrant endangered status on the IUCN Red List because of these threats to its habitat.


Once close to extinction, western South Atlantic humpback population close to full recovery
- According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science last week, there were nearly 27,000 western South Atlantic humpbacks as of 1830, but the population was reduced by some 95 percent, to just 450 whales, by the mid-1950s. In the 12 years between 1904 and 1916 alone, the population lost approximately 25,000 individuals.
- Protection measures for humpbacks adopted in the 1960s and the broader moratorium on all commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the 1980s appear to have reversed that downward trajectory, however. There has been no hunting of the species since 1972, the report states, which is when the recovery really took off.
- “Once protected, [western South Atlantic] humpback whales have recovered strongly, and their current abundance is close to 25,000 whales,” the authors of the study write. That means that the current population is estimated to be at 93 percent of its numbers prior to the exploitation by whalers that nearly extirpated the entire population.


New maps show where giraffes live — mostly outside protected areas
- By combining the latest data from on ground and aerial surveys, following movements of GPS-tagged animals, consultation with experts, and reviewing the scientific literature, researchers have produced a series of maps that they say represent the most comprehensive and accurate picture of where giraffes live in Africa.
- While the IUCN recognizes only one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, the study’s authors decided to use the taxonomy suggested by recent studies that recognize the giraffe as not one but four distinct species — northern, southern, reticulated, and Masai giraffe — and five subspecies.
- The new range maps will serve as a baseline from which conservationists can now start monitoring changes in giraffe distribution in the future, the researchers say.
- The range maps show that around 70 percent of the giraffe’s range occurs outside government-managed protected areas.


Study finds massive reorganization of life across Earth’s ecosystems
- A new study pulls together data from 239 studies that looked at more than 50,000 biodiversity time series.
- The research reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years.
- The scientists found that the reorganization and loss of species are happening much more quickly in some environments than in others, a finding that could help inform future conservation.


DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve gets new management partner in WCS
- The Okapi Wildlife Reserve in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will now be run under a new management partnership agreement between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the DRC government’s Nature Conservation Agency (ICCN).
- Through the new management partnership agreement, WCS and ICCN hope to restore stability in the reserve and surrounding forests, improve the welfare and operations of its rangers, and enhance the social well-being of its resident communities.
- The local communities are not part of the official agreement structure, but they will be consulted as management details become clearer, John Lukas of the Okapi Conservation Project said.


Why is Europe rewilding with water buffalo?
- Conservationists have released 18 water buffalo onto Ermakov Island in the Danube, in the first ever such rewilding project in Ukraine.
- The water buffalo were gifted by a German-born naturalist-cum-farmer, Michel Jacobs, who has taken on a mission of saving the Carpathian’s distinct water buffalo.
- Researchers believe the water buffalo will bring new richness and diversity to the Danube by acting as ecosystem engineers.


New flowerpecker species discovered in imperiled lowland forests of Borneo
- The Spectacled Flowerpecker wasn’t entirely unknown up until now. Scientists and birdwatchers have spotted the small, gray bird in the lowland tropical forests of Borneo in the past, with the first sighting appearing to have occurred in Sabah, Malaysia’s Danum Valley in 2009.
- A team led by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. collected a specimen and studied the species for the first time earlier this year. The researchers formally described the Spectacled Flowerpecker to science in a study published in the journal Zootaxa yesterday.
- The researchers say that it’s likely the bird’s current distribution has “become increasingly fragmented and diminished” thanks to human impacts on Borneo’s forests. They hope that by formally describing the new species of flowerpecker, they can help call attention to the importance of Borneo’s lowland forests.


These rare pigs can dig it. With a tool, that is. And moonwalk too
- A viral video shows a family of Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) using a piece of tree bark or branch to build a nest at a zoo in Paris.
- Tool use has been widely reported among vertebrates, particularly primates, but this is the first published study and first recorded video of pigs using tools.
- The study suggests that using a stick is a socially learned behavior, and expands the possibility of tool use and social learning among pig species.
- There are limited studies on the Visayan warty pig, a critically endangered species in its native Philippines, due to its dwindling population in the wild.


Peru: Gold mine operating without license destroys primary forest in protected area
- A recent inspection conducted by the regional forest authority of Huánuco found a large area of forest has been cleared by gold mining in Puerto Inca Province in Peru.
- The mine is located in the buffer zone around the El Sira Communal Reserve, affecting indigenous land and the basins of the Pintuyacu and Quimpichari rivers.
- In response to these issues, the Regional Directorate of Energy and Mines ordered the suspension of activities in the Inca Dorado 2 mining concession in August. However, those who live nearby claim that the miners continue to mine gold at night.


Biodiversity ‘not just an environmental issue’: Q&A with IPBES ex-chair Robert Watson
- The World Bank and IMF meetings from Oct. 14-20 will include discussions on protecting biodiversity and the importance of investing in nature.
- A recent U.N. report found that more than 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.
- In a conversation with Mongabay, Robert Watson, who chaired the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report, discusses the economic value of biodiversity.


Extreme snowfall led to reproductive collapse in some Arctic wildlife in 2018
- In 2018, while the Arctic continued to see warmer summers and retreating snow cover in general because of rising global temperatures, there was also very heavy snowfall that kept several areas covered in “unusually large amounts of snow” even in late summer, when much of it should have melted.
- In northeast Greenland, one of the regions affected by the excessive snowfall, most animals and plants, including Arctic foxes and migratory shorebirds, failed to reproduce, researchers found.
- While one non-breeding year may not spell doom for Arctic wildlife, frequent extreme weather events like the one in 2018 could make it harder for Arctic species to bounce back and survive, the researchers warn.


Biodiversity boosts crop pollinators and pest controllers, study finds
- A new study looks at the reliance on biodiversity of ecosystem services provided by pollinating and pest-controlling insects.
- Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the “landscape simplification” that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects.
- The scientists found that the reduction in ecosystem services provided by these insects tended to lead to lower crop yields.


Audio: Exploring the deep sea with biologist Diva Amon
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with deep sea biologist Diva Amon about what we do and don’t know about biodiversity at the bottom of the ocean.
- Plans to mine the ocean floor are moving forward around the world, especially around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea that create deposits of valuable metals. But given the fact that humans have explored less than 1 percent of the deep sea, it’s fair to say that we really have no idea what’s at risk.
- Amon is here to talk about the findings of a recent study she co-authored about biodiversity and research effort at deep sea vents, what got her into studying the bottom of the ocean in the first place, and two of her favorite deep sea creatures: the Dumbo octopus and the headless chicken monster.


Malaysian attempt at Sumatran rhino IVF fails on low quality of sperm
- A recent effort to produce a Sumatran rhino embryo from egg and sperm samples taken from the last of the species in Malaysia has failed, officials said.
- The low quality of the sperm, extracted in 2015 and 2016 from an aging rhino that has since died, was cited as the main cause of the failure to fertilize the egg.
- Malaysian officials say they will continue to improve and attempt their in vitro fertilization attempts, and have called on Indonesia to send sperm samples from younger rhinos held in Sumatra.
- Indonesia has refused to send any samples, citing the need for a formal agreement, but conservationists say that captive-breeding of Sumatran rhinos is the only feasible solution to protect the species from extinction.


At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success
- Assam State Zoo in northeastern India has been breeding greater one-horned rhinos in captivity since the 1960s.
- However, until 2011 the country lacked a formal, nationally coordinated program dedicated to maintaining a viable captive population of the species, which is considered by the IUCN to be vulnerable to extinction due to poaching.
- India launched an official captive-breeding initiative in 2011. One calf has already been born at the Assam Zoo as part of the program, and another is on the way. An additional six have been born in the Patna Zoo in India’s Bihar state.


Cook Islands MPA leader fired after supporting seabed mining freeze
- Last month the Cook Islands government dismissed the director of the world’s biggest mixed-use marine protected area (MPA), which is called Marae Moana.
- Jacqueline Evans, a marine scientist, had played a key leadership role in the seven-year campaign to establish Marae Moana and served as its director since the MPA was enshrined into law in 2017.
- Her firing came after she expressed support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining across the Pacific Ocean. Seabed mining has been a sticking point throughout the history of Marae Moana, with some environmentalists hoping to prohibit it outright and other parties wanting to explore it as a potential source of revenue.
- Evans was a 2019 winner of the prestigious international Goldman Prize for grassroots environmentalists in recognition of her work to make Marae Moana a reality.


Misuse of wildlife trade data jeopardizes efforts to protect species and combat trafficking (commentary)
- Oversimplification of the interpretation of wildlife trade data jeopardizes the ability of policy makers to prioritize aiming limited resources towards those species that truly require protection from unsustainable trade and wildlife trafficking, which threaten species with extinction.
- In a recent study published in Science, the authors expressed a series of conclusions that are based on a gross misinterpretation of wildlife trade data.
- Wildlife conservation policy decisions should rely on the best available analyses of threats in order to respond most efficiently. The interpretation of data presented in this study show numerous flaws that may interfere with perceptions about where unsustainable and illegal trade is actually occurring and where limited resources should be directed to prevent wildlife extinction.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.




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