Conservation in the news: 12-18 December 2016

Conservation Watch’s round-up of the week’s news on national parks, protected areas and conservation in the Global South.

For regular updates, follow @conserwatch on Twitter.

Mexican Caribbean’s new biosphere does not address major threats in the region: NGOs
The Yucatan Times, December 2016
Civil organizations warn that the recent protected natural area Biosphere Reserve of the Mexican Caribbean decree left out the main threats the area is currently facing.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Greenpeace Mexico say that the initiative, signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto on December 5, did not address problems such as the high concentration of boats, tourists and scuba divers in reef areas.
Nor did it address the construction of coastal infrastructure, the extraction of ornate species, the stranding of boats and the mismanagement of oils and gasoline from recreational crafts.

12 December 2016

Planet at the Crossroads: Insights From IUCN’s World Conservation Congress
By Anam Ahmed, New Security Beat, 12 December 2016
At this year’s International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, more than 10,000 scientists, activists, and leaders from around the world committed to finding “nature-based solutions” to reversing environmental declines and securing a healthy, livable planet.
The Congress, which convened in Honolulu, Hawai’i, in September, was the largest ever, and the first held in the United States. The Obama administration was eager to “showcase and highlight…some of the real achievements that our administration has been able to make,” such as the creation of the world’s largest marine reserve, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, said Judith Garber, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, at the Wilson Center on November 9.

Humans are now the biggest threats to lions in the wild
By Léa Surugue, International Business Times, 12 December 2016
Uncontrolled, intense trophy hunting can have a very negative impact on lion populations, and represent one of the greatest threats to adult male lions. Only small, well-regulated hunting quotas may be compatible with the protection of these large carnivores.
A report published last week by Professor David Macdonald – the founding director of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit – created controversy as it concluded that when trophy hunting was well-regulated and transparent, it had the potential to contribute to lion conservation.
In two new studies co-authored by Macdonald and published in Biological Conservation and in the Journal of Applied Biology, scientists now present another, in-depth analysis of the threats posed to lions by human activity – including trophy hunting.

Planet Earth II Finale: Fantastic Beasts and How to Save Them
By Meg Shields, Film School Rejects, 12 December 2016
Planet Earth 2 concluded this past Sunday with a look at the species that have adapted to a distinctly un-natural habitat: cities.
We’re introduced to animals surviving in urban territory that have found a niche, become bold opportunists, and learned to live alongside human neighbors. Seeing raccoons, pigeons, and peregrine falcons in breath-taking 4k, shot with the gravity and grace that characterizes the series, is utterly surreal. These vignettes are captivating and charming: Mumbai’s leopard population — the largest in the world — stalks domestic pigs by night; spotted hyenas honor a 400 year-old friendship with Ethiopian butchers; and millions of starlings swarm above Rome like schools of fish.

PACT to award $2.28 million in grants to safeguard Belize’s protected areas
Breaking Belize News, 12 December 2016
The Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) will award a total of $2.28 million in grants to the co-managers and defenders of the largest protected area in Belize.
The Friends for Conservation and Development, Ya’axche Conservation Trust, the Belize Defense Force, and the Forest Department will be the recipients of these grants.
In August the Government of Belize revealed plans for an overall investment of $15.8 million in 5 contiguous protected areas in order to safeguard the natural and cultural patrimony as well as minimize threats and encroachments to Belize’s sovereign territorial borders.
The Chiquibul Forest Investment Initiative (CFII) is the Government of Belize’s financial initiative for the conservation and protection of the country’s natural resources.

Nepal’s extraordinary devotion to preserving its rhinos
By William H. Funk,, 12 December 2016
Rhinoceroses have become emblematic of the absolute horror of today’s poaching wars. Images of bloated corpses, their foreheads and horns viciously sawed off, epitomize the greed and malevolence that some people are capable of. When it comes to rhinos — and increasingly to elephants, lions, and even vultures — the news is almost consistently, demoralizing bad. As the wealthiest country in Africa and home to the great majority of the continent’s rhinos, South Africa’s rate of poaching is alarming, to say the least, with a crippling 1,175 killed last year alone.
But far away, in the misty hills and valleys of Nepal, the population of greater one-horned rhinos (more delightfully known in Latin as Rhinoceros unicornus) had suffered not a single poaching incident in the past two years, until one tragic incident in September. This is an astonishing success story, especially given Nepal’s comparative penury and its proximity to China, the world’s greatest market for wildlife traffickers.

13 December 2016

10 countries with the most protected areas
By Melissa Breyer, Treehugger, 13 December 2016
The World Bank crunched the numbers and ranked the globe’s countries to see who has the most – and the least – amount of land designated as protected.
With almost 200 million square miles of land on this planet, you’d think there’d be enough room for us humans to share with all the other species. But alas, we seem to be pushing them out and otherwise harassing them, to the point that the latest IUCN Red List shows that 24,307 species are threatened with extinction.
“Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought. Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit in Cancun have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity.”

How forensics is boosting the battle against wildlife trade
By Heather Miller, Christian Science Monitor, 13 December 2016
Feisal Mohammed Ali, a prominent member of the Kenyan business community, was convicted last July of trafficking two tons of elephant ivory found in a Fuji Motors parking lot in Mombasa. The landmark ruling came after two years of drama: Feisal’s flight to Tanzania, his capture and repatriation, the disappearance of nine vehicles that were major evidence in the case, and accusations of evidence tampering.
The landmark wildlife crime verdict – and 20-year sentence for Feisal – in part came down to political will, courtroom monitoring by NGOs, and police work. Also key, experts say, was the ability to use genetic tests to tie the illegally trafficked elephant tusks from different shipments to the cartel headed by Feisal.

It’s time to stand tall for imperilled giraffes
By Bill Laurence, The Conversation, 13 December 2016
Pardon the pun, but it’s time to stick our necks out for giraffes. We have mistakenly taken the world’s tallest mammal for granted, fretting far more about other beloved animals such as rhinos, elephants and great apes.
But now it seems that all is not well in giraffe-land, with reports emerging that they may be staring extinction in the face.
Why? For starters, thanks to modern molecular genetics, we have just realised that what we thought was one species of giraffe is in fact four, split into between seven and nine distinct subspecies. That’s a lot more biodiversity to worry about.

Nigeria is planning a six-lane ‘superhighway’ through a remote rainforest. Environmentalists are not happy
By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, 13 December 2016
Pressure is mounting to stop construction of a proposed six-lane highway through a Nigerian rainforest that is home to hundreds of thousands of people and vulnerable wildlife.
The road, locally referred to as a superhighway, is planned in southeastern Nigeria’s Cross River state and would be 162 miles long with six miles of cleared land on either side.
Conservationists say the construction would displace at least 180 indigenous communities and slice through a national park and adjoining forest reserves that provide habitats for some of the country’s most beleaguered species, including the endangered Cross River gorilla, chimpanzees, forest elephants and pangolins — the world’s most poached mammal, whose scales are prized in traditional medicine.

[Philippines] Aurora, Nueva Ecija national parks get more funds
By Ferdie G. Domingo, The Standard, 13 December 2016
The national government has set aside P9 million for the development of eco-tourism facilities at the 5,000-hectare Aurora Memorial National Park in this town.
Arturo Salazar, assistant regional director for technical services of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the funding will be used to set up comfort rooms, an information center and a hiking area in the park, 40,000 hectares of which are in this province, with the rest in Nueva Ecija.
Salazar said next year, they are eyeing funding for the Dinadiawan River Protected Landscape in Dipaculao, Aurora, and the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve in Nueva Ecija.
Raizza Lico, chief of the protected areas management and biodiversity conservation section of the DENR in Region 3, said other protected areas in the region that received funding are the Bataan National Park (P5 million), the Biak-na-Bato National Park in Bulacan (P13 million), the Minalungao National Park in Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija (P13 million) and the Mt. Arayat National Park in Pampanga (P5 million).

14 December 2016

[Indonesia] $3.3m in new grants to protect Kalimantan forests
The Jakarta Post, 14 December 2016
The Tropical Forest Conservation Act Kalimantan (TFCA Kalimantan), a partnership program among the US government, the Indonesian government, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, has approved 14 new grants worth $3.3 million for local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Indonesia.
The US Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement on Wednesday that the NGOs would work with forest-dependent communities to conserve tropical forests, protect natural resources and wildlife and improve livelihoods.
“This is the third cycle of the $28.5 million planned investment in forest conservation efforts in Kalimantan under the TFCA. This debt-for-nature swap agreement, signed in 2011, promotes sustainable forest resource management, biodiversity conservation and community development,” it said.

Wildlife for sale: An illegal activity out of control in Peru?
By Can Collyns,, 14 December 2016
Peru is one of the most biodiverse nations on earth, home to one-tenth of the Amazon rainforest and other ecosystems. But its species are sought by collectors around the world and there is a thriving domestic trade in wildlife which together forms one of the country’s most profitable illicit economies running parallel to its impressively growing formal economy while pushing endangered species to the brink of extinction.
The country’s wealth of flora and fauna make it a hub, say experts, for wildlife trafficking, one of the largest transnational organized criminal activities, ranked fourth after drug trafficking, arms, and the trafficking of human beings.

SA man arrested in Moz national park on poaching charge
By Don Pinnock,, 14 December 2016
A South African man has been arrested on a charge of poaching inside the protected buffer zone of Mozambique’s Parque Nacional de Limpopo (PNL), which abuts the Kruger National Park.
Pieter Jansen van Rensberg, his wife, another family member and a guide from Massinger were held, the Conservation Action Trust reported on Tuesday.
They had two high-powered hunting rifles and were carrying a permit in the name of Dirk Abraham Swart, which was invalid.
He claimed the director of economic activities in Massinger had invited him to hunt, but he had no documentation to prove this.
All hunting in the PNL is forbidden.

15 December 2016

Resource wars: Brazilian gold miners go up against indigenous people
By Zoe Sullivan,, 15 December 2016
In the popular imagination, the Amazon is often seen as a wild, mostly unpopulated place. But, it’s not jaguars and piranhas that stand as the chief dangers here; it’s the lawlessness and human conflict that have given the region a reputation for brutal violence ­— often the result of aggressive resource extraction on lands long claimed by indigenous people.
Last year Brazil ranked first as the most dangerous nation for environmentalists in the world with 50 activists murdered, according to Global Witness. But it’s not just activists being hit; governmental officials have also been targeted. In October, the city of Altamira’s Secretary of the Environment, Luis Alberto Araújo, was assassinated with nine shots to the head and chest; a killing that took place in front of his family.

Cameroon Deploys More Troops to Protect Wildlife
By Moki Edwin Kindzeka, Voice of America, 15 December 2016
Cameroon is deploying more troops to protect the Lobeke National Park on its border with the Central African Republic (CAR) after a deadly attack earlier this month by armed poachers. The attackers fled back across the border into the CAR leaving behind carcasses of protected animals and tusks from at least 20 elephants.
Forest ranger Forgui Kabsia said armed poachers opened fire on him and other rangers as they patrolled the Lobeke National Park in southeastern Cameroon.
He said the park is being invaded by armed men from the neighboring CAR. According to him, the men were killing all animals they found and harvesting ivory from elephants.

NINETEEN “Pygmy” communities denounce conservationists over evictions and violence
Survival International, 15 December 2016
In an unprecedented protest, 19 “Pygmy” communities in central Africa have denounced conservation projects on their land. Eleven of the communities have urged conservationists to stop funding the anti-poaching squads who have abused them.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – two of the world’s biggest conservation organizations – have helped to create protected areas in the region from which tribal peoples have been illegally evicted.
The Baka and Bayaka “Pygmies” and their neighbors have endured years of violence, intimidation and abuse as a result of these conservation projects in Cameroon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. But the organizations behind them, such as WWF and WCS, have failed to change their approach, and continue to fund the squads.

16 December 2016

Indigenous peoples and local communities from Mexico, Central America and the Amazon join Greenpeace to demand the recognition of their role in the protection of biodiversity from leaders gathered at COP13
Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques, 16 December 2016
More than 50 indigenous leaders and local communities joined Greenpeace activists to carry out the Global Canoe action, with which they demand that their peoples and proposals are formally included and with full respect of their rights, in the biodiversity conservation strategies.
Indigenous and local communities are calling on governments and leaders gathered at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) urging them to go beyond declarations and words and to turn the protection of biodiversity into action, in which they have been protagonists since ancestral times.
Indigenous and local community leaders raise their voices about the increase in violence and criminalization they are living in protecting forests, jungles and biodiversity from the predatory development models of governments and private companies.

Are Mexico’s new nature reserves a real conservation effort or empty political gesture?
By Adán Echeverría-García, The Conversation, 16 December 2016
At the UN’s Biodiversity Conference in Cancún (COP13) in early December 2016, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that his government was creating four new nature reserves. This adds 181 protected natural environments – a total of 91 million hectares (70 million at sea and 21 million on land) – to Mexico’s existing 25 million hectares of reserves and biospheres.
Many greeted the announcement with enthusiasm. Protected natural areas are one of the most important and effective tools for safeguarding biodiversity and preventing habitat loss.
When done correctly, they also serve as a model for how humanity can live in harmony with nature, rather than destroying it. But Mexico faces many challenges to effectively implement its plan. Complicating factors in the newly protected areas include mass tourism, organised crime, current indigenous inhabitants and general profiteering.

Uganda: Government to Open Mt Elgon National Park Boundary
By Yahudu Kitunzi, The Monitor, 16 December 2016
The government has finalised plans to reopen Mountain Elgon National Park boundary to streamline ownership in an exercise that will end the long standing conflicts between Uganda Wildlife Authority and neighbouring communities.
Leaders in the Elgon sub-region have petitioned the government on several occasions calling for its intervention in the unending clashes that have led to loss of lives, property and trust.
For long, residents neighbouring the park have accused UWA of harassment and unlawful destruction of their crops grown around the park.

[USA] Pamela Anderson visits Kremlin to promote wildlife conservation
Reuters, 16 December 2016
American actress and activist Pamela Anderson on Friday (December 16) met in the Kremlin with the Special Presidential Representative for environmental protection, ecology and trabsport Sergei Ivanov. Anderson is a PETA board member and is on the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Russian Council. “We fully support your work, our aim is a very close, concrete and fruitful cooperation. We believe that the potential for development of our relations is very big,” Ivanov said in a welcoming speech. “We humans are not crew members. We are passengers having a great time entertaining ourselves and gorging at the buffet,” said Anderson. IFAW said topics of discussion during Anderson’s visit include; marine mammals and orca trade, rehabilitation and release of endangered Amur (Siberian) tigers and rare falcons, blue whale conservation and youth education. It is not the first time Ivanov and Anderson have discussed the issue of wildlife conservation in Russia.

17 December 2016

Burning ivory, waging war: world battles poaching in 2016
AFP, 17 December 2016
It was one of the most momentous events in the battle against poaching: 11 giant pyres of elephant tusks going up in flames in Kenya as the world looked on.
The largest-ever destruction of ivory, which took place in April, was the pinnacle of efforts to jolt mankind into stopping the slaughter of wildlife, while sending a powerful message to poachers.
As 2016 draws to an end, awareness of the devastation of poaching is greater than ever and countries have turned to high-tech warfare — drones, night-goggles and automatic weapons — to stop increasingly armed poachers.
“We obviously still have a very long way to go, but the level of political awareness we have reached is remarkable compared to 6 years ago,” said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the International Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Top Guatemalan beauty spot mired in indigenous rights conflict
By David Hill, The Guardian, 17 December 2016
“There’s, like, 50 people on the way up, so take your photos,” said a young American man, shirtless, his face daubed with paint, as he came striding through the forest towards the look-out. The view was spectacular: lush tropical foliage clinging to the sheer rock-face of a canyon plunging several 100 feet to a series of stunning turquoisey pools where tourists could be spotted swimming.
This was Semuc Champey, a must-visit on the Central American backpacker circuit and increasingly one of Guatemala’s most well-known tourist destinations. “Hidden”, “unique” and “natural paradise” are all thrown around to describe it. Lonely Planet calls Semuc “arguably the loveliest spot in the country”, while CNN dubbed the River Cahabón, which flows under the pools, the world’s “third best river for travellers” after the Amazon and Zambezi.
But how many of the tens of 1000s of tourists who visit every year are aware of the years-long social conflict over Semuc? This includes violations of indigenous people’s land rights, severe division among indigenous communities, allegations of politically-motivated arrests and criminalisation of indigenous authorities, 1000s protesting, fighting with riot police, a recent appeal by the local mayor to the president to install the army in the region, and a general climate of fear, intimidation and suspicion.

[India] More trouble for tigers? Their territories in Maharashtra are shrinking
By Ashwin Aghor, Catch News, 17 December 2016
Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region is known as a hub for wildlife tourism. Home to more than 150 tigers, it houses wildlife reserves such as the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, the Umrer Karahandla Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary and Pench Tiger Reserve attract tourists from across the globe.
Tadoba Andhari, in fact, generates an annual revenue of about Rs 3 crore, while Umrer Karhandla was where Jai – Asia’s largest tiger – lived, attracting thousands of tourists, till he went missing in April this year.
But now, tigers in the state are facing a threat to their very existence. Over the last decade, tiger territory has reduced by 40%, and estimates say that all the tigers are found within just 7% of the total territory.

[India] Mumbai: Borivli national park to take up restoration of meadows to balance food chain
By Rohit Alok, The Indian Express, 17 December 2016
Authorities at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park have embarked on a drive to restore meadows, whose depletion had severely impacted the park’s food chain. The disturbance of the park’s food chain is being cited as one of the reasons for animals to leave the confines of the Borivli-based park and stray into the city in search of food. According to officials, the amount of non-fodder grass in SGNP has risen to 40%, which is seriously affecting herbivores.
An official pointed out that though there is no exact count of herbivores at the national park, the sizes of the herds have considerably reduced over the past decade.
Grassland ecologists have also been roped in to study the grass cover. They said the grasslands in SGNP, which should be at 6 per cent, is currently at 2.4 per cent and the national park is mainly covered with woodlands.

18 December 2016

The global road-building explosion is shattering nature
By Bill Laurence, The Conversation, 18 December 2016
If you asked a friend to name the worst human threat to nature, what would they say? Global warming? Overhunting? Habitat fragmentation?
A new study suggests it is in fact road-building.
“Road-building” might sound innocuous, like “house maintenance” – or even positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth. Many of us have been trained to think so.
But an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now, with around 25 million kilometres of new paved roads expected by 2050. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

[India] ‘Sustained livelihood to locals key to conservation of species’
By Vijay Pinjarkar, Times of India, 18 December 2016
Atul Deokar (31) is a range forest officer (RFO) in East Pench (Sillari). He was recently bestowed with the Sanctuary-Asia wildlife award for his extensive study on the elusive wild buffaloes, a critically endangered mammal on the verge of extinction. Its genetically pure breed is only found in Kolamarka Conservation Reserve in Kamlapur range in Naxal-infested Gadchiroli. Deokar, who hails from an obscure Shelgaon (R) village in Solapur district, did his post-graduation in horticulture from College of Agriculture, Nagpur, and mass communication degree from CP & Berar College. He has written two books — ‘Treasure of Kolamarka’ & ‘Butterflies of Pench Tiger Reserve’. Deokar’s research on vultures has appeared in well-known journals. He has also identified and photographed some rare butterflies and added three new species to the checklist of Central India.

[India] “Immediate action needed to curb further elephant deaths in Assam”
Eastern Today, 18 December 2016
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has called for an immediate action to curb further elephant deaths in Assam. Four days after the Indian Railways instructed its officials to reduce train speeds to 30 km per hour when crossing elephant corridors, a train engine killed three more elephants including a calf, yesterday. The incident occurred at about 5 am between Kampur and Jamunamukh stations near Nagaon in Assam. This is the seventh elephant death on the railway tracks of Assam this month. Just about two weeks ago, three elephants, including two pregnant elephants and a juvenile, were killed at Hojai in the Nagaon district of Assam on 4 December. A day later, another elephant died after being hit by a train in Goalpara district.
The continuing apathy of various authorities towards this increasing death toll of elephants is hard to fathom. This alarming rise in the number of elephant deaths in the state should be a wake-up call for the Indian Railways, the Forest Department and the District Administration in the state, requiring immediate action to put an end to this continuous horror, now playing out in Assam at a regular pace. The Assam government, Northeast Frontier Railways-Indian Railways, Project Elephant, and District Administrations need to make a concerted effort to immediately stop the tragic deaths.

Recovering from war, Mozambican park again faces conflict
AP, 18 December 2016
A fragment of a bullet-pocked wall in this Mozambique wildlife reserve is a reminder of a civil war that ended in 1992. Today, an ambitious revival of Gorongosa National Park is underway, but trouble looms again from the conflict’s old foes.
One of Africa’s richest ecosystems, Gorongosa historically has been a stronghold of the country’s main opposition group, whose rivalry with the ruling party has spiraled into ambushes, tit-for-tat assassinations and other attacks in the last few years.
The two sides have been negotiating, and a return to war is unlikely. But the Gorongosa Restoration Project, which is pushing ahead with a 2017 budget of more than $8 million, is treading a delicate line between adversaries. Some funds go to aid for poor communities in contested areas around the park.

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