|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.
|Rare songbird recovers, moves off endangered species list|
- The Kirtland’s warbler, a species that was close to extinction five decades ago, is now thriving and has been removed from the U.S. federal list of endangered species.
- Where there were fewer than 200 breeding pairs of the warbler in the 1970s and 1980s, today there are more than 2,300.
- However, the warbler’s continued survival is conservation-reliant, which means it will still depend heavily on continued conservation efforts.
- Conservationists say the bird’s comeback is testament that the Endangered Species Act works, and warn that current attempts by the Trump administration to roll back conservation policies could lead to other protected species going extinct.
|‘Witnessing extinction in the flames’ as the Amazon burns for agribusiness|
- The vast and biodiverse Triunfo do Xingu protected area in the Brazilian Amazon lost 22 percent of its forest cover between 2007 and 2018, with figures this year indicating the rate of deforestation is accelerating.
- The surge in deforestation, driven largely by cattle ranching, is part of a wider trend of encroachment into protected areas across the Brazilian Amazon under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, according to conservationists.
- With the widespread clearing slicing up the larger protected area into smaller fragments of forest, human rights advocates worry that it will become increasingly difficult for forest-dependent indigenous communities to survive within it.
- The deforestation is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the biodiversity of the region, which is home to countless species of plants and animals not adapted to living in areas with higher temperatures and less vegetation.
|Legal and illegal trade negatively impacting survival and wellbeing of Africa’s wildlife: Report|
- Released last week by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection to coincide with World Animal Day, the report looks at the “Big 5” and “Little 5” most-in-demand species and how trade in those animals impacts their wellbeing and conservation status.
- Between 2011 and 2015, some 1.2 million animal skins from the “Big 5” African wildlife species identified in the report as being most in-demand — the Nile crocodile, the Cape fur seal, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, the African elephant, and the common hippo — were legally sold.
- More than 1.5 million live animals belonging to one of the “Little 5” African species — the ball python, the African grey parrot, the emperor scorpion, the leopard tortoise, and the savannah monitor lizard — were exported for the exotic pet trade between 2011 and 2015, the report finds.
|Saving Aru: The epic battle to save the islands that inspired the theory of evolution|
- In the mid-1800s, the extraordinary biodiversity of the Aru Islands helped inspire the theory of evolution by natural selection.
- Several years ago, however, a corrupt politician granted a single company permission to convert most of the islands’ rainforests into a vast sugar plantation.
- The people of Aru fought back. Today, the story of their grassroots campaign resonates across the world as a growing global movement seeks to force governments to act on climate change.
|For India’s flood-hit rhinos, refuge depends increasingly on humans|
- Kaziranga National Park in India’s Assam state is home to almost 70 percent of the world’s 3,500 greater one-horned rhinos.
- The park regularly floods during monsoon season. This natural phenomenon is essential to the ecosystem, but can be deadly for animals: 400 animals died in the 2017 floods, including more than 30 rhinos. This year, around 200 animals have died so far, including around a dozen rhinos.
- With increased infrastructure and tourism development around the park, animals’ natural paths to higher ground are often blocked.
- Authorities have responded by building artificial highlands within the park. Some criticize this approach, but park officials credit the highlands for reducing the death toll of this year’s floods.
|Eight species, including Tapanuli orangutan, make first appearance on list of most endangered primates|
- “Primates In Peril: The world’s 25 most endangered primates 2018-2020” is the tenth iteration of a report issued every two years documenting the primate species from across the globe that are facing the most severe threats of extinction.
- The report finds that the Tapanuli orangutan is one of the world’s most imperiled primates largely due to the impacts of human activities, and that it is hardly alone in that respect: Nearly 70 percent of the 704 known primate species and subspecies in the world are considered threatened; more than 40 percent are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered.
- Many species are, like the Tapanuli orangutan, down to just a few hundred individuals or less. The Skywalker hoolock gibbon, for instance, was only elevated to full species status by scientists in 2017 and makes it first appearance on the list of the 25 most endangered primates this year because there are less than 150 left in the wild.
|For Indonesia’s newest tarsier, a debut a quarter century in the making|
- Scientists first spotted a previously unknown type of tarsier on the Togean Islands off Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 1993, and it’s taken 25 years of further studies to describe the diminutive primate species as new to science.
- Niemitz’s tarsier (Tarsius niemitzi) is named after Carsten Niemitz, one of the scientists on that initial visit to the Togean islands, whom the authors of the new paper call “the father of tarsier field biology.”
- There are now 12 known tarsier species found in Sulawesi and surrounding islands, but the paper’s authors say the region could be home to at least 16, with more research needed.
- They warn that loss of habitat makes it “quite plausible” that some tarsier species may go extinct before scientists have a chance to identify them.
|Bouncing back: The recovery of the tenkile tree kangaroo|
- The tenkile tree kangaroo population in Papua New Guinea’s Torricelli mountains has tripled since 1996 to more than 300 animals.
- The Tenkile Conservation Alliance has improved conditions for both the critically endangered species and the local communities.
- The tenkile is still imperiled by deforestation, illegal logging and climate change.
|International wildlife trade sweeps across ‘tree of life,’ study finds|
- About one in five land animals are caught up in the global wildlife trade, a new study has found.
- The research identified species traded as pets or for products they provide, and then mapped the animals’ home ranges, identifying “hotspots” around the world.
- The team also found that nearly 3,200 other species may be affected by the wildlife trade in the future.
- The study’s authors say they believe their work could help authorities protect species before trade drives their numbers down.
|Sumatra survey looks to identify at-risk rhinos for captive breeding|
- The Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra is home to as many as 50 Sumatran rhinos, out of no more than 80 believed to survive in the wild.
- Surveys in the area have identified some subpopulations large enough to breed naturally, as well as isolated individuals or small groups unlikely to find mates.
- Indonesia’s current plan calls for larger groups to be protected in situ, while more isolated rhinos are to be gathered into sanctuaries for a captive-breeding program.
- Both national and local officials back a plan to create a new sanctuary in the northern Sumatran province of Aceh.
|Study tracks first incursion of poachers into ‘pristine’ African forest|
- Researchers logged the first evidence of elephant poaching in a remote, pristine section of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the northern Republic of Congo.
- The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, also revealed unique behavior changes between gorillas and chimpanzees as a result of selective logging.
- The research highlights the need to incorporate the results of biodiversity surveys into plotting out the locations of areas set aside for conservation.
|Finally, Latin America is tackling wildlife trafficking (commentary)|
- On October 3-4, a High Level International Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Americas will take place in Lima, Peru. This is the first-ever such conference organized exclusively around wildlife trafficking in the Americas, with particular focus on South and Central America. Why has it taken so long, and why is it so important?
- Latin America is the single most biologically diverse region in the world, and trade in its wildlife, including illegal trade, is not a new issue. Latin America’s unique and precious wildlife has endured threats from illegal and unsustainable commercial trade, both domestic and international, for decades—and in some cases, even longer.
- There are still large intact forest and grassland habitats across the region, and populations of species that can either be maintained or restored, if strong action is taken today. Preventive measures can and must be taken now, to ensure that Latin America’s wildlife thrives, from Mexico to the tip of Patagonia.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Bid to breed Sumatran rhino is handicapped by bureaucratic ‘quibbling’|
- A group of international scientists working in Malaysia have successfully extracted an egg cell from the country’s last Sumatran rhino and injected sperm into it, in a last-ditch attempt at breeding the world’s most threatened rhino species.
- However, the scientists say the prospects of a successful fertilization are “not bright,” given the poor quality of the genetic samples they had to work with.
- They blame a bureaucratic impasse between Malaysia and Indonesia for depriving them of high-quality sperm from rhinos held in captivity in Indonesia, which they say would have given a better chance of fertilization.
- An Indonesian official says no exchange of genetic material, including sperm and eggs, can proceed until the requisite paperwork is signed, but conservationists say this is “quibbling” at a time when the species faces extinction.
|Audio: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway with Mongabay’s John Cannon|
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Mongabay staff writer John Cannon, who traveled the length of the Pan Borneo Highway in July and wrote a series of reports for Mongabay detailing what he discovered on the journey.
- The Pan Borneo Highway is expected to make commerce and travel easier in a region that is notoriously difficult to navigate, and also to encourage tourists to see the states’ cultural treasures and rich wildlife. But from the outset, scientists and conservationists have warned that the highway is likely to harm that very same wildlife by dividing populations and degrading habitat.
- Cannon undertook his 3-week reporting trip down the Pan Borneo Highway in an attempt to understand both the positive and negative effects the road could have on local communities, wildlife, and ecosystems, and he’s here to tell us what he found.
|The climate crisis and the pain of losing what we love (commentary)|
- World leaders came to the UN last week to decisively tackle climate change again. “This is not a negotiation summit because we don’t negotiate with nature. This is a Climate Action Summit!” declared the UN Secretary-General. But again, global leaders failed and committed to carbon cuts that fall far short of curbing catastrophe.
- In doing so, our leaders committed us to an escalating global environmental crisis that is already unleashing vast changes across Earth’s ecosystems — with many sweeping alterations charted by our scientists, but many other local shifts and absences only noted by those who observe and cherish wild things.
- The loss of familiar weather patterns, plants and animals (from monarchs to native bees) and an invasion of opportunistic living things (Japanese knotweed to Asian longhorned ticks) can foster feelings of vertigo — of being a stranger in a strange land — emotions, so personal and rubbing so raw, they can be hard to describe.
- So I’ve tried to express my own feelings for one place, Vermont, my home, that is today seeing rapid change. At the end of this piece, Mongabay invites you to tally your own natural losses. We’ll share your responses in a later story. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Cheetahs, CITES, and illegal trade: Are consumer countries doing enough? (commentary)|
- The capacity of CITES to fairly balance the voices of countries that harbor source populations of endangered species subject to international trafficking with the voices of consumer countries is vital.
- Cheetahs are a case in point: Confined to less than 10 percent of their former distributional range with only 7,000 individuals left, the species is facing a significant threat from illegal trade in parts of its range. A demand for live animals as pets, primarily as cubs, is fueled by social media that glamorizes the keeping of these animals, with the Gulf States identified as a key market for this trade. All international trade in wild-caught cheetah cubs violates CITES and is illegal, and the trade in cubs is thought to be a key driver of decline in the cheetah population in the Horn of Africa.
- Yet at the recent CITES CoP, countries chose to ignore these threats and downgraded efforts to combat illegal trade in cheetahs despite concerns raised by many African range states and conservation organizations.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Restoring Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, one small farm at a time|
- An initiative in Indonesia’s Aceh province is engaging local farmers in restoring parts of the biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem by allowing them to farm and reforest tracts of land previously used for illegal oil palm plantations.
- The forest is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers all still exist in the wild, but is being lost to encroachment for illegal plantations.
- Under the initiative, farmers are trained to plant tropical hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetable crops from which they can make a sustainable living.
- Only long-degraded land from past encroachment qualifies, removing any incentive for someone to damage land then apply for a management license.
|‘Vulture restaurants’ provide lifeline for critically endangered species|
- After a crash in vulture populations in South Asia in the 1990s, several species are rebounding in Nepal thanks to a ban on the drug diclofenac along with community efforts.
- “Vulture restaurants” have been opened to save the birds from extinction by providing them with safe food and building awareness of their imperiled status.
- Conservationists say broader efforts, such as regular monitoring of the remaining population and conservation of their habitat, are needed to save vultures.
|Give it back to the gods: Reviving Māori tradition to protect marine life|
- Ra’ui is an ancient Polynesian form of resource management in which traditional leaders close designated areas to the harvest of key species.
- While the power of ra’ui remains strong in the outer Cook Islands, where local tradition often trumps national decree, the system fell into disuse on the largest and most populous island of Rarotonga half a century ago.
- There, traditional leaders briefly and successfully revived the ra’ui system two decades ago, only for it to falter again in recent years.
- Today, traditional leaders in the Cook Islands are cautiously optimistic that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire marine territory as a mixed-use protected area will help reinvigorate ra’ui across Rarotonga.
|Wildfires spread to planned site of new Indonesian capital|
- Fires raging across Indonesia have flared up in an area of Borneo where the government recently announced would be the site of the nation’s new capital.
- The location had been chosen in part because it was believed to be at low risk from fires and other disasters.
- Haze from the fires has affected local communities as well as a nearby orangutan rescue and rehabilitation center.
- Authorities have arrested two farmers for setting fires on their land, but activists say they were doing so in a controlled manner and with the permission of local officials.
|Wilderness cuts the risk of extinction for species in half|
- Wilderness areas buffer species against the risk of extinction, reducing it by more than half, a new study shows.
- Places with lots of unique species and wilderness with the last remaining sections of good habitat for certain species had a more pronounced impact on extinction risk.
- The authors contend that safeguarding the last wild places should be a conservation priority alongside the protection and restoration of heavily impacted “hotspots.”
|Notes from the road: 5 revelations from traveling the Pan Borneo Highway|
- Construction of the Pan Borneo Highway will add or expand more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of roadway in Malaysian Borneo.
- Mongabay staff writer John Cannon spent several weeks traveling the proposed route in July 2019 to understand the effects, both positive and negative, the road could have on communities, wildlife and ecosystems.
- The project is designed to energize the economies of the region, and though officials have responded to entreaties from NGOs to minimize the harmful impacts of the road, they remain singularly focused on the economic benefits that proponents say the highway will bring.
|Panthera: At least 500 jaguars lost their lives or habitat in Amazon fires|
- The fires in the Amazon forest in Brazil and Bolivia this year have burned key habitats of at least 500 adult, resident jaguars as of September 17, experts at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, estimate. The numbers will continue to increase until the rains come, researchers say.
- In Bolivia in particular, the fires have so far destroyed over 2 million hectares of forest in one of South America’s key “catscape”, a region that Panthera has identified as having the highest predicted density of cat species on the continent.
- Panthera researchers also predict that many more jaguars will also likely starve or turn to killing livestock in neighboring ranches as a consequence of the fires, likely increasing conflict with the ranchers.
|Nine new Fijian bees described, some restricted to a single mountaintop|
- From the island country of Fiji, researchers have described nine new, and four previously known, species of bees belong to the genus Homalictus, a group that’s not been taxonomically reviewed in Fiji for 40 years.
- Many Homalictus bee species either have very restricted distributions or are known only from single mountaintops, the researchers say, and could soon become extinct due to changes in climate and other environmental risks.
- The researchers underscore the need for repeated field surveys to document and describe species from Fiji before they are lost.
- One of the four previously described bee species may have already gone extinct, having not been recorded since 2010, despite extensive surveys in the area.
|Paradise, polluted: Cook Islands tries to clean up its tourism sector|
- Tourism accounts for almost 70 percent of the Cook Islands’ economy, but the industry is proving extremely damaging to its delicately balanced island ecosystem, and is contributing to islanders’ detachment from traditional ways of life.
- Now, though, some tourism players, activists and government officials are pushing the industry to change tack in hopes it can start to sustain the island’s people and culture while protecting its ecology, too.
- Tourism operators are being asked to live up to the sustainability street cred that the country’s 2017 decision to designate its entire exclusive economic zone as a multiple-use marine protected area has granted it on the international stage.
|On World Rhino Day, looking back on an eventful year|
- September 22 marks World Rhino Day, a global event established to celebrate the world’s five rhinoceros species, and to reflect on the challenges facing them.
- The year that has elapsed since World Rhino Day 2018 has been a eventful one for rhino conservation.
- Here, we look back at Mongabay’s coverage of some of the biggest stories from both Africa and Asia.
|As climate crisis deepens, wildlife adapts, maybe with lessons for us|
- Shifts in the timing of lifecycle events, like reproduction or migration, are widely thought to be the most common response of wildlife to global warming.
- In recent years, pikas have been observed modifying their foraging habits in ways that may be behavioral adaptations to a changing climate.
- A long-term study in Kutai National Park on the island of Borneo in Indonesia has shown how extreme weather, brought by the intensifying El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, is affecting the behavior, habitat requirements, feeding ecology and birth intervals of orangutans.
- Researchers have discovered that African penguins, may be falling into a sort of “ecological trap,” one that humans created through overfishing and climate change.
|‘Full-blown crisis’: North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970|
- Since 1970, bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada have suffered a net loss of 29 percent, or 2.9 billion birds.
- Grassland birds seem to have been hit the hardest: there’s been a 53 percent reduction in grassland-bird populations since 1970; more than 700 million breeding individuals have been lost, and three-quarters of all examined grassland bird species are declining.
- The study did not look into the causes of the bird declines, but the researchers say the patterns of loss in North America are similar to those observed elsewhere in the world, and the causes, including habitat loss, are likely to be similar.
|Gravely injured orangutan rescued near site of controversial hydropower project|
- A severely injured and malnourished Tapanuli orangutan has been rescued from a plantation near the site of a controversial hydropower project in Sumatra.
- The animal was found to have deep, infected gashes on its head and under its arm, which rescuers say were likely inflicted by humans.
- The orangutan may have been fleeing forest-clearing activity near the project site, which is located in the Batang Toru forest, the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.
- This is not the first instance of orangutans apparently being driven out of their habitat by the project, which environmental activists and scientists say must be put on hold to protect the rarest great ape species in the world.
|Will a massive marine protected area safeguard Cook Islands’ ocean?|
- In 2017, the Cook Islands government passed the Marae Moana Act, which designated the country’s entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a multiple-use marine protected area (MPA).
- Spanning almost 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) — an area roughly the size of Mexico — the MPA is the biggest of its kind in the world.
- Now, as bureaucrats, NGOs and traditional leaders get to grips with implementing Marae Moana, many stakeholders are wondering what the act will mean in practice and whether it can meaningfully change the way the ocean is managed.
|Massive protected area around ‘Atlantic Galapagos’ one step closer to becoming reality|
- Bringing the protection of the “Atlantic Galapagos” one step closer to becoming a reality, the Governor of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, Philip Rushbrook, designated a large-sale Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the waters around Ascension Island last month.
- The MPA will cover the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. That means that an area of more than 440,000 square kilometers or 170,000 square miles will be included in the Ascension Island MPA, making it one of the largest in the world.
- While legislation and a management plan won’t be finalized until long-term funding has been secured for the MPA, it has been proposed that commercial fishing and mineral extraction be prohibited altogether within the waters around Ascension Island, which has been described as a “miniature Galapagos Islands” because of its rich biodiversity.
|Pan Borneo Highway development endangers the Heart of Borneo|
- The construction of the Pan Borneo Highway in the Malaysian state of Sabah could disrupt the connections between wildlife populations and appears to run counter to the state’s conservation commitments, according to a new study.
- Passages under the highway and the rehabilitation of key forest corridors could lessen the impacts of the road, but the authors of the study caution that these interventions are expensive and may not be effective.
- They argue that planners should consider canceling certain sections of the road with the greatest potential for damaging the surrounding forest.
|Gran Chaco: South America’s second-largest forest at risk of collapsing|
- Distributed between Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, the Gran Chaco is a collection of more than 50 different ecosystems typified by dry forest.
- The Gran Chaco is one of the most deforested areas on the planet. Every month, an area twice the size of Buenos Aires is cut down.
- Chaco deforestation is driven by the expansion of the agricultural frontier and hunting, as well as climate change.
|Indigenous communities, wildlife under threat as farms invade Nicaraguan reserve|
- Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve straddles the country’s border with Honduras and was declared a UNESCO site in 1997. It comprises one of the largest contiguous rainforest regions in Latin America north of the Amazon Basin and includes 21 ecosystems and six types of forest that are home to a multitude of species, several of which are threatened with extinction.
- According to a report by the Nicaraguan environmental agency MARENA, a little more than 15 percent of the Bosawás reserve had been cleared and converted for agricultural use in 2000. But today, that number stands at nearly 31 percent. Satellite data show deforestation reached the heart of the reserve’s core zone earlier this year.
- Deforestation in Bosawás stems mainly from migration, as people in other parts of the country move to the region looking for fertile land and space to raise cattle and grow crops.
- Indigenous communities are allowed to own land within Bosawás. But sources say land traffickers are selling plots of land to non-indigenous farmers and ranchers, creating conflicts that have caused death on both sides.
|Audio: Humpback whales across the Pacific Ocean are singing the same song|
- On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jim Darling, a marine biologist who is here to play us some recordings of remarkably similar humpback whale songs from around the world.
- Darling and colleagues found that North Pacific humpback whale songs can be incredibly similar to each other — nearly identical, in fact. That means that our view of the whales as living in distinct groups might very well be wrong. And that view dictates a lot of the conservation measures we’ve designed to protect imperiled populations of humpbacks.
- Darling joins us today to talk about his humpback research and play us some of those recordings so you can hear the similarity for yourself.
|Newly described Chinese giant salamander may be world’s largest amphibian|
- The critically endangered Chinese giant salamander is not just one, but three distinct species, researchers have now confirmed in a new study.
- One of the newly recognized species, the South China giant salamander (Andrias sligoi), could be largest amphibian on the planet, the researchers say.
- The researchers say they hope the recognition of the Chinese giant salamanders as three species will help the amphibians’ conservation by triggering separate management plans for the species.
|Mexican officials battle a tide of fire eating away at a protected reserve|
- Fires raged in the Mexican state of Campeche this summer, with NASA satellites picking up nearly 10,000 fire alerts the state so far this year — around twice the number recorded in 2018. This puts 2019 in third place (behind 2003 and barely behind 2013) for the highest incidence of fires in the state since data collection began in 2001.
- Of these fires, 15 percent occurred in protected areas. Several afflicted Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of which burned through 3,087 hectares (7,628 acres) before being extinguished.
- Stretching across the central Yucatan Peninsula to the Guatemalan border, the Calakmul Reserve, as well as the Balamku and Balamkin state reserves that sit contiguous with it, comprise more than 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of jungle. The reserves are home to some of the country’s most impressive biodiversity and provide vital habitat to threatened animals and plants.
- The main driver of fires in Campeche is slash-and-burn agriculture. Officials worry that fire seasons will only intensify as more people set up farms in the region, and as state funding to fight fires continues to dwindle.
|Popular pesticide linked to weight loss and delayed migration in songbird|
- In a new study, wild white-crowned sparrows that were exposed to seeds treated with imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, suffered considerable weight loss and delayed the timing of their migration.
- The delayed migration could in turn be affecting the birds’ survival and reproduction, the researchers say.
- The findings suggest that neonicotinoids could have partly contributed to the decline of several farmland-dependent bird species in North America as seen in the past few decades, the researchers add.
|Video: Pango-Cam offers amazing and unique view of pangolin behavior|
- The Pango-Cam is a first-of-its-kind camera setup attached to a black-bellied pangolin’s back to provide unique footage of the animal’s behavior.
- A collaboration between filmmaker Katie Schuler, pangolin biologist Matthew Shirley, and National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab, the team recently recorded excellent footage in Nigeria, as seen in the video below.
- Pangolins are poorly understood and are also under grave threat from the illegal wildlife trade, so it’s hoped the Pango-Cam can improve awareness and knowledge of the secretive animals.
- Pango-Cam footage is featured in Schuler’s new film that’s appearing at Jackson Wild, a conservation event and film festival running in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from Sept. 21-27.
|‘A green desert’: Mammals take a hit in Colombia’s oil palm plantations|
- Researchers studying oil palm plantations in Colombia found that mammal diversity dropped compared to nearby savanna.
- Some mammals used plantations for hunting and foraging, but none stayed permanently.
- With the Colombian government’s pledge to drastically increase its cropland, scientists fear savannas and wetlands could be at threat.
|Shocking news: There are actually three species of electric eel in the Amazon, not one|
- A mostly nocturnal species found in freshwater habitats in Mexico and South America, the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) belongs to the knifefish family and is more closely related to catfish and carp than other eels. It was first described more than 250 years ago by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.
- But now a team of scientists led by Carlos David de Santana, an associate researcher at the US Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, has determined that E. electricus is in fact three distinct species.
- During their work in the field, the researchers used a voltmeter to record a member of one of the newly described species, E. voltai, discharging 860 volts, the highest discharge ever recorded for any animal (the previous record was 650 volts).
|Nepal to conduct, self-fund, rhino census in March 2020|
- In 2019 a planned rhino census in Nepal was called off after wildlife officials failed to raise the necessary funds from donors.
- The country’s finance ministry recently announced that will support a new rhino census, to be held in March 2020. The government has allocated 11 million rupees of the total 16 million rupees ($140,000) the census is estimated to cost.
- Nepal has succeeded in virtually eliminating rhino poaching, but large numbers of rhinos have died of unknown or natural causes in the country’s sanctuaries, adding urgency to calls for a new census to be held.
- The decision to self-fund the census comes as the government is promoting a variety of populist, nationalist projects.
|A lifeline for the last leopards (commentary)|
- From being extinct in the wild, the Arabian oryx was reclassified in 1986 as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species after its reintroduction to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, with its global numbers increased to thousands, the Arabian oryx was the first animal ever to revert to “Vulnerable” status after having previously been listed as extinct in the wild.
- Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) aims to replicate this miraculous turnaround for the Arabian leopard – a little-studied, desert-dwelling subspecies listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List – and for leopard populations everywhere with a new $20 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Wild Cats.
- The Arabian Leopard Initiatives will support a holistic and urgent program to rigorously monitor the Arabian leopard’s population and distribution, as well as halt its decline through community conservation projects. The cornerstone will be a captive breeding program dedicated to shoring up Arabian leopard populations and reintroducing them into their former habitats.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Camera trap study reveals Amazon ocelot’s survival strategies|
- Ocelots suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 70s due to hunting, but populations have rebounded since the international fur trade was banned. Now, heavy deforestation and increasing human activity across their range threaten to put this elegant creature back on the endangered list.
- Researchers collected images from hundreds of camera traps set across the Amazon basin and analyzed the effect of different habitat characteristics on the presence of ocelots. Statistical modeling revealed the cat’s preference for dense forests and a dislike of roads and human settlements.
- Experts say ocelots may also be responding to human activity and forest degradation in ways that camera traps cannot easily detect, such as changing how and when they use a particular habitat. The study looked at ocelot behavior in protected and forested habitat, not in degraded landscapes.
- Ocelots are considered ambassador species for their forest ecosystem, and studies like this give support to maintaining protected areas, which are increasingly under threat from agricultural expansion and other human activities.
|Malawi sentences pangolin smugglers, cracks down on wildlife crime|
- Two Malawian nationals arrested in May and suspected of being part of one of Africa’s largest transnational wildlife trafficking syndicates have now been sentenced to three years in prison by a Malawian court.
- The suspected kingpin of the trafficking network, a Chinese national named Yunhua Lin, was arrested in August this year following a three-month manhunt and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 11.
- Lin’s wife, Qin Hua Zhang, and eight others who had been arrested during the May raids are due in court on Sept. 12, and further hearings have been scheduled throughout the month.
|Nail paint helps researchers estimate numbers of rare Cuban bat species|
- Very little is known about the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus), an extremely rare species known from just a single remote cave in western Cuba.
- Now, following a survey that involved bright nail paints to mark individual bats, researchers have estimated that there are fewer than 750 Cuban greater funnel-eared bats in the the cave locally known as Cueva la Barca.
- What the population number means for the species is, however, hard to say at the moment because of the lack of any previous estimates, researchers say.
|Disaster strikes in Bolivia as fires lay waste to unique forests|
- Fires are raging in Bolivia, hitting particularly hard the Chiquitano dry forests of the country’s southern Santa Cruz region.
- Officials say the fires are largely the result of intentional burning to convert forest to farmland. Sources say this practice has recently intensified after Bolivian president Evo Morales signed a decree in July expanding land demarcated for livestock production and the agribusiness sector to include Permanent Forest Production Lands in the regions of Beni and Santa Cruz.
- Satellite data indicate 2019 may be a banner year for forest loss, with tree cover loss alerts spiking in late August to levels more than double the average of previous years. Most of these alerts are occurring in areas with high fire activity, with data from NASA showing August fire activity in Santa Cruz was around three times higher than in years past.
- Human communities are suffering due to the fires, with reports of smoke-caused illnesses and drinking water shortages. Meanwhile, biologists are worried about the plants and animals of the Chiquitano dry forests, many of which are unique, isolated and found nowhere else in the world.
|Asian otters gain protection from the pet trade|
- The smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter are now on the CITES list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade.
- Asian small-clawed otters are particularly sought after as domestic pets and for ‘otter cafés,’ where wild otters are forced to interact with paying customers.
- Conservationists say that a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.