|Indigenous communities, nat’l parks suffer as Malaysia razes its reserves|
- Forest loss appears to be accelerating in peninsular Malaysia in 2019. Much of this deforestation is happening in “permanent forest reserves,” which are supposed to be under official protection. However, Malaysian state governments have the authority to spontaneously degazette forest reserves for development. Sources say this has created a free-for-all, with loggers rushing to clear forest and sell timber.
- Satellite imagery shows logging happening right up to the border of Taman Negara National Park, which lacks the buffer zone typical around national parks in other countries. Researchers say this is likely to have detrimental impacts on the parks’ wildlife.
- Sources on the ground say deforestation is also affecting forest-dependent indigenous communities. Residents of one such community say mining – which often follows on the heels of logging in Malaysia – is also harming them.
- Earlier this year, 15 Batek residents of the village of Kuala Koh died and more than 100 others were hospitalized due to mysterious illnesses. The government claims the deaths were caused by a measles outbreak, but outside experts say extremely high and unhealthy levels of manganese in their drinking water due to nearby mining may also be to blame. Advocates say the loss of their forests make indigenous communities more vulnerable to disease and illness, referring to the deforestation of their homes as “structural genocide.”
|Bid to allow sale of ivory stockpiles rejected at wildlife trade summit|
- A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would have allowed them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected by 101 votes to 23 at the CITES wildlife trade summit taking place in Geneva.
- Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are placed in Appendix II of CITES, which allows commercial trade in registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits in place.
- But such sales are severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II, which Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal sought to amend.
- Several other African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the one-off sales permitted under the annotation in 1997 and 2008 had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy, negating the argument that flooding the market with legal ivory would drown out the illegal trade.
|Australia to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn|
- Australia has formally announced a plan to ban its domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn.
- Sussan Ley, the country’s environment minister, said she would meet with ministers in November to ensure that steps are taken to ban domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn all jurisdictions.
- At the ongoing CITES meeting, a coalition of 30 African elephant range countries tabled a proposal asking all domestic markets of ivory to be closed. But the proposal was voted down.
|The Pan Borneo Highway brings wildlife threats to nat’l park doorstep|
- The southern terminus of the Pan Borneo Highway in Malaysia extends to the edge of Tanjung Datu National Park in Sarawak.
- The highway’s proponents say the road is already bringing more tourists who are eager to see the park’s wildlife to the adjacent communities, helping to boost the local economy.
- But one of the world’s rarest primates, the Bornean banded langur, resides in the park, raising concerns in the conservation community that increased access could bring poachers into the park.
|Audio: The superb lyrebird’s song, dance and incredible vocal mimicry|
- On this special show, we replay one of our favorite Field Notes episodes, featuring recordings of a songbird known for its own ability to replay sounds, including elaborate vocal displays and amazing mimicry of other species’ songs and even of trees blowing in the wind.
- Male superb lyrebirds are extravagantly feathered creatures who clear patches of forest floor to prepare a stage on which they dance and sing their complex songs in order to attract a mate.
- Female superb lyrebirds also sing plus they mimic other species as well as sounds from their environment, such as the creaking of trees in the wind.
- Anastasia Dalziell discussed her study detailing findings on the vocal mimicry of male superb lyrebirds and the dances the birds use to accompany specific songs. She also discussed a previous study of hers looking at the mimetic vocal displays of female superb lyrebirds, which she said “highlights the hidden complexity of female vocalizations” in songbirds.
|Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway|
- The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway.
- The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway.
- Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo.
- But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.
|CITES 2019: What’s Conservation Got To Do With It? (commentary)|
- From August 17-28, the global community convenes in Geneva for the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- Species whose very future on this planet will be debated include the African elephant, Southern white rhino, giraffe, tiger, jaguar, cheetah, and mako shark.
- Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at WCS, argues governments must not let their decisions be swayed by the pressures of those more interested in trade than conservation.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Madagascar: What’s good for the forest is good for the native silk industry|
- People in the highlands of central Madagascar have long buried their loved ones in shrouds of thick wild silk, typically from the endemic silkworm known as landibe (Borocera cajani).
- With support from NGOs, traditional silk workers have widened their offerings to include scarves made of wild silk for sale to tourists and the country’s elites.
- In recent years, the price of raw materials has shot up as the forests the landibe grows in succumb to fire and other threats, making it difficult for silk workers to continue their craft.
- However, where there are forest-management challenges, there is also opportunity: the silk business provides an incentive for local people to protect their trees. Some well-organized and well-supported community groups are cashing in on conservation, in spite of the broader silkworm recession.
|Asian elephant footprints serve as safe spaces for frog nurseries|
- Researchers have discovered that Asian elephant footprints can create stable, safe breeding grounds for frogs in Myanmar.
- The scientists believe these stable foot ponds can last for more than a year, and that a series of them provides connectivity for frog populations.
- While the ecosystems services of African savanna and forest elephants have been widely studied, the scientists say more research should be spent on Asian elephants and how they impact their ecosystems.
|Newly described giant extinct penguin and parrot once lived in New Zealand|
- Paleontologists have found fossils of two extinct giant birds in New Zealand: an enormous penguin that would have been nearly as tall as an average adult human, and the largest parrot ever known to have existed.
- The new species of extinct giant penguin, formally named Crossvallia waiparensis, was described from leg bones found at the Waipara Greensand fossil site in the North Canterbury region in 2018.
- The extinct parrot, Heracles inexpectatus, was likely double the size of the previously largest known parrot species, the kakapo. The fossils of the parrot were first recovered from near St. Bathans in Central Otago in 2008.
|Nigeria finds itself at the heart of the illegal pangolin trade|
- Pangolins have long been hunted for food and traditional medicine. They are traded openly in bushmeat markets in Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon.
- Strong demand from Asia has attracted organized criminal syndicates to set up trafficking networks in Nigeria, and the illegal trade in pangolin parts has gone deeper underground.
- Hunters and traders tell Mongabay that the impact of increased trafficking on pangolin populations is becoming clear as they are increasingly difficult to find in the forest.
- Chinese buyers will pay anywhere between $3 and $20 for a pangolin — a relative fortune for local bushmeat traders. Traffickers can then get as much as $250 for the scales from one pangolin in markets in Asia.
|Europe-bred rhinos join South African cousins to repopulate Rwanda park|
- Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos have been flown from Europe to Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
- Eastern black rhino populations across the region are small and isolated, with the risk of inbreeding damaging long-term genetic viability.
- The rhinos come from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding program and will add vitally needed fresh genetics into Rwanda’s fledgling population, made up of rhinos bred in South Africa.
|Big cat trade driven by demand for traditional Asian medicine, according to report|
- Bones, blood, and other body parts of big cats are made into products such as balms, capsules, gels, and wines that practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe to be able to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to meningitis, though in fact they’ve been found to have no provable health benefits.
- Even before farmed big cats are killed to feed the demand for traditional Asian medicine, however, they’re treated more like products than living, breathing creatures, according to a report released last month by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection.
- China and South Africa are the world’s biggest breeders of captive cats. China alone is estimated to have between 5,000 and 6,000 tigers in captive breeding facilities, while South African facilities are holding between 6,000 and 8,000 lions and another 300 tigers.
|World’s largest frog moves heavy rocks to build nests, study finds|
- The goliath frog, the world’s largest known frog species, sometimes moves large stones and rocks weighing more than half its weight to create dammed ponds on sandy riverbanks to serve as nesting sites, a new study has found.
- Digging out a large nest that is more than a meter wide by moving large rocks requires a lot of physical strength, which could be a potential explanation for why goliath frogs are among the largest frogs in the world, researchers say.
- The goliath frog is endangered, yet there’s still a lot that researchers do not understand about the frog’s behavior.
|Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one|
- Economist Adrian Lopes used data modeling to explore the links between rhino horn suppliers in India and South Africa.
- His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around.
- Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.
|Indigenous-managed lands found to harbor more biodiversity than protected areas|
- Researchers say they found that amphibian, bird, mammal, and reptile abundance in Australia, Brazil, and Canada is highest on lands managed or co-managed by indigenous communities — higher even than on protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, which were found to have the second highest levels of biodiversity.
- Both indigenous-managed lands and protected areas harbored more biodiversity than unprotected areas included in the study that the researchers selected at random. The researchers also determined that the size and geographical location of any particular area had no effect on levels of species diversity, suggesting that it’s the land-management practices of indigenous communities that are conserving biodiversity.
- The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of expanding the boundaries of traditional conservation strategies, which frequently rely on establishing protected areas to conserve critical habitat for biodiversity.
|Protecting the strange sea pangolin and other animals: Q&A with deep sea biologist Chong Chen|
- Creatures living in deep-sea hydrothermal vents lead a unique life that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Yet these animals are at risk of disappearing because of deep-sea mining before we even learn about them.
- A deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusk, the scaly-foot snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum), for example, debuted as endangered on the IUCN Red List this year because of threats from mining.
- Mongabay spoke with deep-sea biologist Chong Chen, who has been assessing deep-sea hydrothermal vent species for the IUCN Red List, about his work and why listing these species on the IUCN Red List matters.
|Indonesia agrees to attempt Sumatran rhino IVF with eggs from Malaysia|
- Conservationists have welcomed a long-awaited agreement by Indonesia and Malaysia to move ahead with assisted reproductive technology for the captive breeding of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino.
- Indonesia has long balked at sending rhino sperm to Malaysia for use in artificial insemination, but has now agreed to accept eggs from Malaysia to carry out in vitro fertilization.
- If successful, the program would give the species a much-needed boost in genetic diversity.
- Scientists in Germany last year used IVF to successfully produced embryos — though not a baby — of white rhinos, an African species.
|Hornbill heroes: A conversation with a top Indonesian bird conservation NGO|
- With their ostentatious bills, raucous calls, and unusual behavioral traits, hornbills are arguably one of the most charismatic groups of birds in the tropics. No country is home to more species than Indonesia, which has 13.
- Hornbills in Indonesia are particularly under threat due to habitat destruction. Some species are also targeted by the wildlife trade, including, most notably, the helmeted hornbill, whose dense casque is made up of “hornbill ivory” that’s highly sought in China.
- Until very recently, the decline in hornbill populations in Indonesia has been relatively under-appreciated. But that changed in 2013 when Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, founder of Rangkong Indonesia, published a report estimating that the wildlife trade killed 500 helmeted hornbills a month in West Kalimantan alone.
- In June 2019, Mongabay interviewed Yoki Hadiprakarsa and Dian Hardiyanti from Rangkong Indonesia about their work to protect hornbills in Indonesia.
|Stunning new wrasse species underlines need to protect deeper-lying reefs|
- A new species of wrasse discovered in mesophotic reefs off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, underlines how little is known about marine environments.
- Deeper-lying reefs are just as threatened by climate change and other human impacts as shallow reefs and need greater protection.
- Mesophotic reefs could be an important and under-recognised source of fish larvae that supports coastal fisheries.
|New toolkit identifies multiple species from environmental DNA|
- Researchers have developed a DNA analysis toolkit designed to speed the identification of the multiple species in a biological community by analyzing environmental DNA from a sample of water or soil.
- To confirm the presence of a species at a site, the tool compares its genetic barcode (short DNA sequence) to barcodes of known species in one of several reference databases.
- The toolkit’s advantage is its ability to quickly process many barcode sequences, at multiple analysis locations on the gene, that enable it to identify the species of the DNA sequences of many organisms at the same time.
|Africa’s largest reserve may lose half its area to oil development|
- The Termit and Tin Touma National Nature Reserve in Niger was Africa’s largest when it was established in 2012.
- Just seven years on, however, the government is considering redrawing its boundaries and slashing its size by nearly half.
- The move comes in response to a push by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which has exploration rights in a small section of the reserve, to expand its operations significantly.
- Conservation groups, including the NGO that manages the reserve, say the move would impact areas of high biodiversity, threatening species such as the critically endangered addax and dama gazelle.
|Some turtle embryos can influence their own sex, study finds|
- The sex of some turtle species is influenced not by genes but by the temperatures they experience in the nests. Embryos of the Chinese pond turtle, however, can move inside the eggs toward cooler or hotter spots and influence their own sex, at least to some extent, a new study has found.
- This is good news because it means that, at least in theory, the turtles might be able to buffer some of the predicted shifts in the sex ratio because of climate change.
- But while the embryos seem to be influencing their sex under ideal conditions, researchers say that it may not be enough to counter the rapidly changing climate brought about by human activities.
|Logging, mining companies lock eyes on a biodiverse island like no other|
- Woodlark Island sits far off the coast of Papua New Guinea and is swathed in old growth forests home to animals found nowhere else on the planet. However, the island and its unique inhabitants have an uncertain future. Lured by high-value timber, a logging company is planning to clear 40 percent of Woodlark’s forests. Researchers say this could drive many species to extinction.
- The company says logging will be followed by the planting of tree and cocoa plantations, and it has submitted to the government a permit application to clear forests as an agricultural development project. However, an independent investigation found this application process “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information” and that the company did not properly obtain the consent of landowners who have lived on the island for generations.
- It is unclear if the application has been approved, but there are signs that the company may be moving forward with its plans.
- Meanwhile, a mining company is pushing forward with its own plans to develop an open-pit gold mine on the island. The mine is expected to result in increased road construction and discharge nearly 13 metric tons of mining waste into a nearby bay.
|Forest loss threatens territorial gibbons in southern Borneo|
- Bornean southern gibbons have the largest territories of any species in their genus, a new study has found.
- These large home ranges, combined with the species’ intense territoriality, puts it at particular risk of habitat loss as a result of deforestation and fire.
- The findings of this research demonstrate that this endangered species needs large areas of unbroken forest.
|‘Extremely rare’ fossil tooth of hamster-sized monkey found in Peru|
- From the riverbed of the Río Alto Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, researchers have found an extremely small tooth that belonged to a species of tiny monkey that lived some 18 million years ago.
- Researchers have named the new species of extinct monkey Parvimico materdei, with parvimico meaning tiny monkey and the species name referring to the river where the fossil tooth was found.
- From the tooth, the researchers have deduced that the monkey was exceptionally small, in the size range of marmosets and tamarins, and likely ate a mix of insects and fruits.
- Given how the monkey fossil record for the period between 13 million and 31 million years ago from South America is extremely scarce, creating a gap in the understanding of the evolution of New World monkeys, the discovery of P. materdei is incredibly exciting, researchers say.
|Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests|
- A new study examines the health of reef fish populations in the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, a part of the Coral Triangle, which overlaps with Indonesian waters in the western Pacific.
- In remote areas far from large human populations, reef fish are generally doing well, the researchers found.
- The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.
|West Nile virus lingers longer in birds exposed to light pollution|
- House sparrows exposed to light at night had higher levels of West Nile virus in their blood for two days longer than sparrows that were exposed to darkness, according to a new study.
- The research sought to mimic the effects of light pollution common to urban environments on virus levels in a known reservoir of West Nile virus, which can cause a flu-like fever in humans.
- The team’s research suggests that an outbreak could be 41 percent more likely to happen as a result of the persistence of the virus in this host.
|Simba’s future depends on putting communities at the forefront of lion conservation (commentary)|
- While Simba and Mufasa’s return to the big screen is good news for Disney and summer movie fans, in the quarter-century since the original animated version of The Lion King was released, Africa’s lion population has declined by roughly half. With only about 20,000 lions remaining in Africa, and their historic range having contracted by over 80 percent, the lion’s future is increasingly uncertain.
- In the face of these challenges, lion conservation is becoming a more urgent priority, particularly given the important role that lions play in African economies through wildlife tourism. In Tanzania, for example, home to perhaps half of all the remaining wild lions left in the world, lions are a cornerstone of a national tourism industry that earns over $2 billion annually and accounts for roughly a quarter of all foreign exchange earnings.
- Fortunately, when conservation programs are able to provide people with reasons to support lion conservation, local communities can become key stewards of lions and other wildlife.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|Where did the birds go?: Q&A with river tern researcher Bosco Chan|
- The river tern, a bird species that nests on sandbars, seems to have gone missing in China. Once thought to be common in Yingjiang county, Yunnan province, its population there dropped to just five birds in 2018.
- Researchers at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG), a Hong Kong-based NGO, are trying to protect this tiny population of a handful of birds.
- Mongabay spoke with Bosco Chan, head of KFBG’s Kadoorie Conservation China, about his team’s plans to save the incredibly rare species in China.
|Small-scale farming is a big threat to biodiversity in the western Amazon: Study|
- Smallholder farming poses a significant threat to biodiversity in the western Amazonian forests of northeastern Peru, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, a study led by researchers at Princeton University has found.
- Small-scale agricultural operations are generally considered to be much less harmful to wildlife than the wholesale clearance and conversion of forests to pasture or cropland, but the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology in May, shows that small-scale farmers’ activities are having a substantially negative impact on wildlife and plant life all the same.
- Plans to build more roads in the northern Peru could exacerbate the situation, but the researchers say their findings have important implications for conservation policy in the western Amazon region and could help point a way towards mitigating the impact of future development.
|New roads in Papua New Guinea may cause ‘quantum leap’ in forest loss|
- Papua New Guinea intends to nearly double its existing network of roads between now and 2022.
- A new study raises concerns about the impacts of building these roads through tropical forest environments on local communities, sensitive habitats and vulnerable species.
- The authors of the paper, published July 24 in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that the country would reap more benefits and avoid future debt by investing in existing roads, many of which are largely unusable because of flagging maintenance.
|Secretive and colorful dryas monkey isn’t as rare as once thought|
- In 2014, biologists discovered a population of critically endangered dryas monkeys (Cercopithecus dryas) living 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of their only known range in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Multi-level camera traps revealed that these stealthy monkeys are more common — and a lot weirder — than previously thought. They digest young leaves, snuggle up in impenetrable vine thickets, and sometimes boast an outrageous blue behind.
- In 2019, the IUCN downgraded their conservation status to endangered, and scientists are predicting a potentially positive future for the dryas.
|When it comes to captive breeding, not all Sumatran rhinos are equal|
- A new partnership called Sumatran Rhino Rescue aims to capture critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceroses to reinvigorate a captive-breeding program.
- Most experts agree that captive breeding is necessary to prevent extinction; with wild populations small and fragmented, too few baby rhinos are being born to keep the species alive.
- The current plan approved by the Indonesian government focuses on capturing “doomed” or “isolated” animals in populations too small to survive in the long term.
- However, female Sumatran rhinos living in isolation are particularly susceptible to reproductive problems, leading some experts to argue that it makes more sense to focus on capturing rhinos from healthier populations where rhinos are known to be breeding successfully — perhaps at the risk of harming the survival prospects of those populations.
|Newly described pocket shark likely glows in the dark|
- Researchers have described a new species of pocket shark, a small shark measuring just 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) long, that possibly glows in the dark.
- The shark has been named the American pocket shark, or Mollisquama mississippiensis, in recognition of the biologically rich region in which it was discovered.
- Only two pocket sharks have ever been caught from the ocean. The previous specimen, M. parini, was collected from the eastern Pacific Ocean in 1979.
- The discovery of a new pocket shark species shows there is much more to learn about the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say.
|Cocoa and gunshots: The struggle to save a threatened forest in Nigeria|
- Nigeria’s Omo Forest Reserve provides important habitat for animals such as forest elephants, as well as drinking water for the city of Lagos.
- But the reserve has been severely deforested, losing more than 7 percent of its tree cover over the past two decades. Satellite data indicate 2019 may be a particularly bad year for the reserve’s remaining primary forest.
- The primary cause of deforestation in Omo is cocoa farming. Seeking fertile soil and a respite from poverty, the reserve has attracted thousands of small farmers. They’re living in the reserve illegally, but the government is hesitant to evict them as doing so would disrupt their livelihoods and require a significant amount of funding.
- Instead, the focus is on preventing more farmers from invading Omo. This is the goal of rangers who patrol Omo’s remaining forests looking for footprints and listening for chainsaws and gunshots. While they’ve been successful at preventing some encroachment, the reserve is too big for the relatively small team to effectively monitor in its entirety.
|The ambitious plan to recover and rewild the feisty, dwarf cow|
- Although critically endangered, the population of tamaraw has stabilized and grown over the last two decades.
- Conservationists along with indigenous people are now planning on using the core population to rebuild and rewild other populations across the island of Mindoro.
- Conservationists say none of this would be possible without the active supoort of Mindoro’s indigenous tribal groups, who are leading efforts to restore the tamaraw.
|Congo government opens Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to oil exploration|
- In 2018, the government of the Republic of Congo opened up several blocks of land for oil exploration overlapping with important peatlands and a celebrated national park.
- According to a government website, the French oil company Total holds the exploration rights for those blocks.
- Conservationists were alarmed that the government would consider opening up parks and peatlands of international importance for oil exploration, while also trying to garner funds for their protection on the world stage.
|Indonesian officials foil attempt to smuggle hornbill casques to Hong Kong|
- Indonesian authorities have arrested a woman for allegedly attempting to smuggle 72 helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) casques to Hong Kong.
- The distinctive-looking bird is critically endangered, its precipitous decline driven by poaching for its casque — a solid, ivory-like protuberance on its head that’s highly prized in East Asia for use as ornamental carvings.
- Tackling the hornbill trade will be on the agenda at next month’s CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
|Information is key – but lacking for sharks and rays in the Western Indian Ocean (commentary)|
- Due to overexploitation, at least 27 percent of the 222 different shark and ray species found in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) are considered threatened, meaning that they are classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. These species face a high risk of extinction and need urgent conservation intervention.
- Although the majority of sharks and rays pose no threat to humans, we pose a major threat to them, primarily through fisheries. Shark fisheries have existed for many decades, although historically they were primarily caught as unwanted bycatch. However, they are now increasingly being targeted due to the high demand for meat for local consumption and export, and for their fins for the global shark (and ray) fin trade.
- Ensuring that sharks and rays are sustainably managed is important not only because they provide an important source of food and income for many coastal communities, but also because they serve an important function in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems through their roles as apex and meso predators, and as food for other, larger marine species. However, information needed to sustainably manage shark and ray populations is sorely lacking in the WIO.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
|From over 100,000 species assessments in IUCN update, zero improvements|
- The latest IUCN Red List update, which includes assessments of 105,732 species, lists more than 28,000 species as threatened with extinction.
- The declines of many of these species can be attributed to human overexploitation, according to the IUCN. The red-capped mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus), for example, has moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019, largely because of threats from illegal hunting for bushmeat and conversion of much of the monkey’s Atlantic coast forest habitat in West Africa to agriculture.
- More than 5,000 trees from 180 countries, and 500 deep-sea bony fish species like the bioluminescent lanternfishes, were also added to the Red List this year.
- No species was assessed as having genuinely improved in status enough to earn it a place in a lower threat category, according to the IUCN.
|Orangutan habitats being cleared in areas near palm oil mills, report finds|
- A new study identifies the palm oil mills in Indonesia with the most clearance of orangutan habitat happening around them.
- The top 10 mills are all on the island of Borneo and are producing palm oil that makes its way into the supply chains of consumer goods giants such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Avon, Mars, Mondelēz and more — companies that promised long ago to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation.
- Just because deforestation is happening around a palm oil mill does not mean it is being done by an entity supplying that mill with palm fruits. But it is a strong red flag that this may be the case.
- Several of the consumer goods giants contacted by Mongabay said they were either actively investigating the deforestation or suspending trading with the mills. Others were more vague in their responses.
|Thousands of sharks and rays are likely entangled in plastic polluting Earth’s oceans|
- Scientists at the UK’s University of Exeter examined existing scientific literature and took to Twitter to find documented instances of shark and ray entanglements.
- They ended up finding reports of more than 1,000 entangled animals — and they say the actual number of sharks and rays snarled in plastic is likely to be far higher, as few studies have focused specifically on the issue.
- “Entanglement in marine debris is symptomatic of a degraded marine environment and is a clear animal welfare issue,” the authors write in the study. But they add that entanglement is “likely a far lesser threat” to shark and ray populations than the threat posed by commercial fishing.
|Study finds lemurs in degraded Madagascar forest skinny and stunted|
- In Madagascar’s Tsinjoarivo rainforest, adults of the critically endangered diademed sifakas living in the most degraded of forest fragments tend to be skinnier, and young individuals show stunting, compared to individuals living in more intact parts of the forest, according to a new study.
- Skinny bodies in adults could mean that their nutritional intake is compromised in the disturbed areas, researchers say, while young sifakas could be growing more slowly in the most disturbed areas in response to reduced nutrition in the diet.
- Sifakas living in less-disturbed forest fragments, however, don’t appear to be in poorer health than those in continuous, intact forests. This could be because the long-lived sifakas are likely resilient to moderate habitat changes, the researchers say.
- But threats could add up and cause local populations to disappear, the researchers add.
|Study examines how the Atlantic surfclam is successfully adapting to climate change|
- Global climate change poses a severe threat to marine life, but scientists have found at least one species that appears to be successfully adapting to warmer ocean waters.
- A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, even without factoring in the impacts of fishing, global animal biomass in Earth’s oceans is expected to decrease by as much as 17 percent by 2100 under a “high emissions” scenario that leads to 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming.
- However, a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that, as ocean temperatures rise, Atlantic surfclams, a large saltwater clam found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, are capably shifting their range into waters that would have previously been inhospitable to their survival.
|More than 10,000 animals and plants seized in massive global operation|
- A 26-day worldwide effort in June termed Operation Thunderball, coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO), led to seizures of thousands of protected animals and plants.
- Confiscated items included more than 2,600 plants, nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, more than 4,300 birds, 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusks, nearly 10,000 marine wildlife animals and their products, and 74 truckloads of timber.
- Based on intelligence gathered before the operation was launched, the authorities identified wildlife trafficking routes and smuggling hotspots, which then led to seizures and almost 600 people being identified as suspects.
|Let there be lights, to help migratory cranes avoid power lines|
- A test of a new system deploying ultraviolet (UV) lights on power lines greatly reduced potentially deadly collisions with the lines by migrating sandhill cranes.
- Developers of the Avian Collision Avoidance System, or ACAS, randomly assigned the system to be on or off each night of a four-month testing period.
- Turning on the lighting system reduced crane collisions by 98 percent and enabled crane flocks to more quickly and calmly avoid the power lines while in flight.
- Many birds can detect UV light, though humans cannot, so the system has potential to reduce a major threat to a range of migratory species without affecting the visibility of structures to humans.
|Eat the insects, spare the lemurs|
- To solve the twin challenges of malnutrition and biodiversity loss in Madagascar, new efforts are promoting edible insects as a way to take pressure off wildlife that people hunt for meat when food is scarce.
- Insects are widely eaten in Madagascar. They are also incredibly nutritious and one of the “greenest” forms of animal proteins in terms of their land, water and food requirements and their greenhouse gas emissions.
- One program is testing the farming of sakondry, a little-known hopping insect that tastes a lot like bacon. Another is setting up a network of cricket farms.
- Other attempts to reduce reliance on forest protein include improving chicken husbandry in rural areas.
|‘Let us trade’: Debate over ivory sales rages ahead of CITES summit|
- Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe want to sell off their ivory stocks to raise money for conservation.
- Growing human and elephant populations in these southern African countries have provoked increased human-wildlife conflict, and the governments see legal ivory sales as a way to generate revenue for conservation and development funding.
- Other countries, most notably Kenya, oppose the proposal, on the grounds that previous legal sales stimulated demand for ivory and coincided with a sharp increase in poaching.
|Asian elephants gang up in a bid to survive an increasingly human world|
- Adolescent elephants in south India are adapting to human-dominated landscapes, probably to learn from older bulls how not to get killed by people.
- These unusual associations, which can last for several years, were not recorded 20 years ago.
- Researchers say it’s important to use this information to mitigate human-elephant conflict, including by not removing old bulls that don’t raid crops, which can pass down this behavior to young elephants.
|Snowy owl summer: Raptor rehabilitation center releases Arctic visitor|
- A snowy owl injured on its Massachusetts wintering grounds was brought to Tufts Wildlife Clinic this spring.
- In nature, wildlife must heal fast or perish if they can’t find food or defend themselves from predators, but the lucky ones are brought to a clinic specializing in injured animals.
- Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University is one such place.
- Mongabay interviewed the clinic’s assistant director about the healing path of “snowy 397” before his eventual successful release.
|Vaquita habitat now listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’|
- The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided to list the Sea of Cortez and its islands in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only place where the critically endangered vaquita is known to occur, on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
- The porpoise’s numbers have dropped drastically, from around 300 in the mid-2000s to just 10 individuals, according to the latest estimate, mostly as a result of getting entangled in gillnets used in the poaching of totoaba fish.
- The continuing illegal totoaba trade poses a threat to the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee said, recommending that the site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
|Chimps in Sierra Leone adapt to human-impacted habitats, but threats remain|
- Western chimpanzees are adapting to survive in severely degraded habitat, a new study says.
- However, the study also finds the abundance of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone is impacted by even secondary roads.
- Ensuring the long-term survival of western chimps calls for changes in agriculture, roads and other development, researchers say.
|After a lengthy delay, still no green light for Sri Lanka’s red list|
- The rediscovery in recent years of species long thought to be extinct has sparked calls by scientists for an update of Sri Lanka’s red list of threatened species.
- The current list is based on assessments from 2012, and a scheduled update in 2017 was missed because of procedural delays and resource constraints.
- Conservationists have also called for the red-listing criteria used in Sri Lanka to be consistent with the global guidelines set out by the IUCN, in order to ensure consistency in conservation efforts.
- They also want more species recovery initiatives based on the national red list, to make better use of the data to optimize conservation efforts.
|Deadly virus detected in wild frog populations in Brazil|
- Researchers have detected the first case of ranavirus infection in both native frog species as well as the invasive American bullfrog in the wild in Brazil.
- While the study cannot attribute ranavirus as the cause of death for the observed American bullfrog tadpoles, the findings suggest that ranavirus is spread in the wild, the researchers say.
- Ranavirus infections could be far more widespread in Brazil, and may have simply gone unnoticed until now, the researchers add.
|In Nigeria, a highway threatens community and conservation interests|
- Activists and affected communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state continue to protest plans to build a major highway cutting through farmland and forest that’s home to threatened species such as the Cross River gorilla.
- The federal government ordered a slew of measures to minimize the impact of the project, but two years later it remains unclear whether the developers have complied, even as they resume work.
- Environmentalists warn of a “Pandora’s box” of problems ushered in by the construction of the highway, including illegal deforestation, poaching, land grabs, micro-climate change, erosion, biodiversity loss and encroachment into protected areas.
- They’ve called on the state government to pursue alternatives to the new highway, including investing in upgrading existing road networks.
|Film that fish: Stereo-video speeds surveys of marine fish communities|
- Researchers use underwater visual surveys to assess the sizes of fish in marine communities and their associated habitats, but diver-based data collection is time-consuming and requires expertise, and results may vary among different data collectors.
- A multinational research team recently published the first guide to help researchers using diver-operated stereo-video methods (stereo-DOVs) to standardize surveys of fish assemblages (species and their abundances) and their associated habitat.
- The video provides a permanent, shareable record of each survey transect, including the species and numbers of fish seen, while the stereo option allows researchers to measure fish using overlapping images.
- The guide provides information on appropriate equipment; designing a stereo‐DOV if needed; operating it during underwater studies; processing the video data after collection; and analyzing fish behavior, population features and habitat in the resulting video.
|Chance rescue turns out to be first record of elusive tortoise species in India|
- Two tortoises that a range officer in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India rescued from a group of boys turned out to be the impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), an elusive species that has never been recorded in India before.
- Researchers who have studied the reptile in Myanmar say the high-elevation habitat in Arunachal Pradesh where the tortoises were found is quite similar to that in Myanmar.
- Very little is known about impressed tortoises, and researchers and the range officer hope that a long-term survey will be launched to find more individuals of the species in India.
- For now, the two rescued individuals have been sent to a zoo in the state’s capital.
|Stylish jumping spider named after late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld|
- Researchers have named a previously undescribed species of black-and-white jumping spider Jotus karllagerfeldi, after the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, known for his signature black-and-white style.
- In addition to Karl Lagerfeld’s jumping spider, researchers have described four more new-to-science species of jumping spiders in the new paper, including J. albimanus, J. fortiniae, J. moonensis and J. newtoni.
- All five newly described species belong to a group of miniscule spiders called the brushed jumping spiders, males of which can be extremely colorful and are known to perform elaborate mating dances using a brush of long, colorful bristles on their legs to wave to the females.
- Despite being colorful and charismatic, very little is known about brushed jumping spiders, researchers say, urging amateurs who photograph these spiders to lodge their specimens with museums so that more new species can be described.
|Zambia halts plans to dam the Luangwa River|
- WWF reports that the Zambian government has cancelled a pre-feasibility study for a dam on the Luangwa River, the Ndevu Gorge Power Project, which would have cost $1.26 billion and generated between 235 and 240 megawatts of power if completed.
- More than 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the river. Critics of the dam project argued that fragmentation of the Luangwa would threaten wildlife and freshwater fish stocks, as well as the agriculture and tourism that local communities rely on.
- A study recently published in Nature found that two-thirds of the world’s 242 longest rivers are no longer free-flowing, mainly because so many of them have been fragmented by dams.