Rarely seen: a baby bat

November 30th, 2010

Baby bat

A baby bat, referred to as a pup, in Brazil. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Click to see more photos of this bat pup.

Elephant pair at the Chobe River

November 29th, 2010

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) drinking in the Chobe River

As the day ends numerous herds of Africa elephants (Loxodonta africana) come down to the Chobe River to drink and socialize. African elephants are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. They are threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and human-elephant conflict. On the positive side, African elephant populations are viewed as increasing on the continent. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

Click to see more photos of Botswana.

Orphaned baby sloth

November 28th, 2010

Baby three-toed sloth hugging a stuffed panda in a Trio indigenous community

Orphaned baby three-toed sloth in the village of the Trio indigenous tribe in Suriname. The sloth was clinging to a stuffed panda bear. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Click to see more photos of the baby sloth.

Malaysia pushes for coal plant in paradise – conservation links of the day for Nov 28, 2010

November 28th, 2010

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2031862,00.html>Malaysia: A Coal Plant in Paradise Time.com
There are worse places to be than in the eco-paradise of Sabah, a state on the northeast tip of Malaysian Borneo. To one side is the Coral Triangle, home to the world’s richest ocean diversity; to the other is the Heart of Borneo, a 22-million-hectare rain forest. In the middle is a vast swath of 1,100 palm plantations. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Sabah to explore its marvels of biodiversity, hiking elephant paths, spotting shy orangutans and scuba diving with hammerhead sharks.

Oil palm and agricultural policy: Boom or ruin for Indonesian farmers? East Asia Forum
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely traded vegetable oil. As Indonesia is the centre of global production, palm oil is a priority for Indonesia’s economic planners. With millions of hectares either under oil palm or planned for development, a highly polarized debate surrounds the question of oil palm development in Indonesia. The underlying question here is: can a boom in agricultural commodities such as oil palm provide a pathway out of poverty? Or does it amount to an instrument of mass immiseration?

Another extreme drought hits the Amazon, raising climate change concerns Climate Progress
We know from simple on-the-ground knowledge that the 2010 drought was extreme, leading to record lows on some major rivers in the Amazon region and an upsurge in the number of forest fires. Preliminary analyses suggest that the 2010 drought was more widespread and severe than the 2005 event. The 2005 drought was identified as a 1-in-100 year type event.

Without oversight and safegaurds, REDD may be caught up in web of corruption

November 28th, 2010

By Angela Dewan

This post originally appeared at CIFOR’s blog as “Forest Crimes and Money Trails

The issue of measurement, reporting and verification of carbon levels is set for the agenda at COP 16 in Cancun next month. Experts warn, however, that more attention must be given to the monitoring and reporting of REDD+ financial flows, which stand to be caught up in complex webs of corruption.

There will be a lot at stake. In Copenhagen last year developed countries committed new and additional resources to forestry worth $30 billion for 2010-12, and set out to mobilise $100 billion annually from 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. If any of that money makes its way into bank accounts overseas, the money trail becomes difficult to follow.

“We need to focus on prevention, because once money is put into accounts abroad, they become very difficult to trace,” said Ajit Joy, Indonesian country manager of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. Joy was speaking at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok, joined by other experts in a session on forest crime, organised by CIFOR and Transparency International.

The panelists painted a grim picture of the current climate of corruption. CIFOR researcher Ahmad Dermawan reminded the audience that most of the countries that stood to receive financial REDD+ were among the most corrupt.

“Most of these countries rate very poorly on Transparency International’s corruption perception index. Many of them are close to the bottom,” he said.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s chief commissioner, Dat’o Sri Abu Kassim, pointed to projects where local officials in Malaysia were tested for bribe taking, showing a bribe acceptance rate of 100 percent.

“Every time we asked if forest had been destroyed, they would always say the forest is fine. And every time we saw it wasn’t and tried to enforce the law, they would attempt to pay a bribe,” he said.

But not all the news is bad. Some progress has been made in tackling corruption, and countries like Indonesia appear to be taking the potential benefits REDD+ could bring their country very seriously.

Director of CIFOR’s Forest Governance Program, Andrew Wardell, pointed to Indonesia’s appointment of Kuntoro Mangkusubroto as head of its REDD+ taskforce as a positive sign. Kuntoro earned widespread trust and respect for managing the millions of dollars that were poured into Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 180,000 in Aceh and Nias.

Wardell added that forest agencies alone could not effectively address many of the issues associated with forest crimes.

“The scale of these problems requires the involvement of multiple agencies and actors, and the application of sectoral and intersectoral instruments to curb corruption and fraud.”

Kassim of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission agrees, saying that a new “joint-venture” approach adopted by the commission to tackle corruption in the forestry sector was proving successful.

“We have used a new approach, where we’ve used people on the ground as informants and undertaken undercover operations,” he said.

The approach has resulted in the prosecution of a number of top forestry officials.

Another sector that could be better utilised to help follow the money trail, panelists said, is the banking sector. Julie Walters from the Australian Institute of Criminology said that Indonesia banks had a legal obligation to collect information about account holders, identify “political exposes people” and report any unusual activity in their accounts.

“For a small bank, it probably won’t have the skills or capacity to identify a political exposed person, someone who is in a local government or a judge,” she said.

CIFOR’s Dermawan said that without an improvement in the capacity of all relevant agencies to monitor the money trail, Indonesia could stand to lose REDD+ benefits.

“If Indonesia does not manage funds better, donors will go to other countries to start REDD+ projects. Anti-corruption is key to making REDD+ work.”

Photo: stunning yellow-headed fly

November 28th, 2010

yellow-headed fly

Yellow-headed Soldier Fly in Bosque Jequitibás, Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Brazilian photographer Guillermo Gimenez.

Wild ginger

November 24th, 2010

Pink and red ginger flower

Wild ginger flower on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Click to see more photos of wild ginger.

Will forest conservation deal increase palm oil prices?

November 24th, 2010

Bloomberg is reporting palm oil companies will be big winners should any forest conservation deal arise out of next week’s climate talks in Cancun, Mexico. The article quotes members of the palm oil industry, who argue that “any UN-led accord that restricts clearing rainforest for planting more palm trees would limit the supply of the edible oil crushed from their fruit and be a boon to prices for growers.”

“It’s a no-brainer that such exercises are bullish for prices,” Dorab Mistry, a director at oil trader Godrej International Ltd., is quoted as saying.

While it is certainly a possibility that forest conservation will trigger a rise in palm oil prices, the article completely omits mentions of two important factors that could impact global palm oil production: conversion of non-forest land for plantations and expansion in regions outside Indonesia and Malaysia, which currently account for 85% of palm oil production.

Plantations on non-forest land

Under its national forest plan and the billion dollar agreement with Norway, Indonesia is already talking about shifting new plantation development from forest lands to grasslands. Indonesia has millions of hectares of non-forest land that, provided the right incentives and reforms, could be suitable for oil palm.

Brazil: the next palm oil power?

Meanwhile Brazil is looking to scale-up palm oil production on a never-before-seen scale under its Program for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil, which will provide $60 million to promote cultivation of oil palm in abandoned and degraded agricultural areas, including long-ago deforested lands used for sugar cane and pasture. In support of the initiative, Brazil is considering oil palm as a reforestation option for ranchers and farmers to meet their legal forest reserve requirements.

While ramping up production will take several years at minimum, Brazil’s move into palm oil could prove quite a shock to Asian producers, beyond increasing the supply of the edible oil. Brazil plans to mandate standards that would make its palm oil compliant with standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an eco-certification initiative. Few Malaysian and Indonesian producers currently meet RSPO standards.

Further reading

Could forest conservation payments undermine organic agriculture?
(09/07/2010) Forest carbon payment programs like the proposed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism could put pressure on wildlife-friendly farming techniques by increasing the need to intensify agricultural production, warns a paper published this June in Conservation Biology. The paper, written by Jaboury Ghazoul and Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich and myself in September 2009, posits that by increasing the opportunity cost of conversion of forest land for agriculture, REDD will potentially constrain the amount of land available to meet growing demand for food. Because organic agriculture and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices generally have lower yields than industrial agriculture, REDD will therefore encourage a shift toward from more productive forms of food production.

Brazil launches major push for sustainable palm oil in the Amazon
(05/07/2010) Brazilian President Lula da Silva on Thursday laid out plans to expand palm oil production in the Amazon while minimizing risk to Earth’s largest rainforest. The plan, called the Program for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil (O Programa de Produção Sustentável de Óleo de Palma), will provide $60 million to promote cultivation of oil palm in abandoned and degraded agricultural areas, including long-ago deforested lands used for sugar cane and pasture. Brazilian officials claim up to 50 million hectares of such land exist in the country.

UK to fund efforts to shift towards greener palm oil production
(01/31/2010) Britain will contribute £50m ($80m) towards efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, including a project that aims to encourage palm oil producers to establish plantations on degraded lands instead of in place of rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, reports BBC News.

Songbirds to eat

November 23rd, 2010

Coloful songbirds for sale as food in the Luang Prabang morning market

While attention in the bushmeat trade is often given to mammals, birds–such as these songbirds for sale as food in Laos–are also eaten in many parts of the world. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Click to see more photos of the wildlife trade in Laos.

Related Article: Laos Emerges as Key Source in Asia’s Illicit Wildlife Trade.

Fear and conformity in conservation

November 22nd, 2010

Conservation is like guerrilla warfare. But are the similarities flattering for conservationists?

No matter how big, conventional and entwined with power conservation organizations get, they still have the posture of guerrilla groups. While conventional warfare seeks to reduce an opponent’s capability through head-on confrontation, guerrillas seek to undermine the opponents’ strength and their public support. Guerrillas often also have popular backing and are financed through outside supporters.

Conservation works similarly through strategically picked battles (our conservation projects). Public and outside support is crucial to conservation’s success. And our “armies” are so much smaller than those employed by “the enemy.”

You might be encouraged by these comparisons. But conservation and guerrilla organizations have other, less comforting similarities: the way they communicate, their near-religious underpinnings, and their penchant for groupthink.

Guerrilla fighters are dispersed and their organizations need strong internal communication to ensure that everyone is in line. External communication through propaganda is vital to ensure public support. Strict loyalty to the group is also crucial. You are either in or out, although “out” is not really an option once you are “in.”

Judged by the hundreds of daily emails, frequent meetings and many papers to sign and forms to fill in that plague our business, conservation workers encounter similar views of communication and a devotion to (if not obsession with) process. Process and groupthink bring coherence to an organization, but they also control its individuals. Holding alternative views and speaking your mind about the direction of conservation, or criticizing management, are generally frowned upon within a conservation organization as harmful to its unity.

This impulse to police makes sense: Conservation and guerrillas are strongly mission-driven. And even if the practical implications of that mission are often unclear, the organizational principles that follow it have quasi-religious powers. Stepping outside that framework and being openly critical are often seen as heretical. Also, those who control and administer the process — the priests or apparatchiks, if you will — become focused on and defenders of process to the exclusion of substantive goals, because that is how they defend their position of power and authority.

As with conservation, the success rate for guerrilla war is mixed. Some guerrillas fail in their mission and either fade away or join regular, established governments. Those that succeed often stay in power for decades, rarely if ever through democratic means. Somewhere along the line, they pass a tipping point in growth, stop being flexible and creative, and become sclerotic.

This is where I see conservation now — as a collection of aging guerrillas, holding on to an old vision, old ways of organizing and communicating, and an aging constituency as we slide toward irrelevance. We’ve forgotten the guerrilla’s ability to improvise under difficult conditions and strategically pick the battles that will lead to the biggest net gain. Do we still have that entrepreneurial spirit in conservation? Does conservation generate enough creativity and reward it appropriately? And can individuals still have a major impact on conservation, or has the agenda been hijacked by conservation organizations that have become too big and cumbersome to function effectively?

Where I hope conservation can differentiate itself from guerrilla fighters is in the nature of our wars, and what we consider success or failure. Our wars are not black and white; this is not about winning the mother of all conservation battles, after which we can rest on our laurels or sleep in our graves. Our battle is never over. Conservation is not about right and wrong, either. There are no religious conservation principles to adhere to; there is only muddling through.

Conservation will forever be a struggle to defend the wildlife and environments of this planet against human greed and indifference. Once we realize that the struggle is truly endless — that we will never “win” the war — we can step away out of our internal straitjacket and become the smart, nimble, flexible, adaptable, compromise-seeking and solutions-focused movement that we need to be. Unfortunately, these are characteristics I rarely encounter in conservation organizations, which tend to be conformist, bureaucratic, internally-focused, opaque, unaccountable, and often in competition with other conservation organizations.

All this leaves me a bit uneasy. I seem to be preaching some neoliberal agenda where conservation is driven by individuals and small groups in some meritocratic framework. While I think this is what conservation needs, there is definitely some personal irony here. Because while promoting that agenda, I realize at the same time that conservation success requires broad-level societal support and a social agenda. This puts me back on the left side of politics. No wonder I feel a bit torn these days.

Maybe I confuse practical needs now with ideal solutions in the long term. In the short term, conservation should become an accepted societal goal with practical solutions to everyday problems. Ideally, it should become a way of life, with individual people building their ethical systems on a basis of respect for nature. The key to either model is the dedication of individuals to set examples about how things can be done better. When choosing between the three spirited fighters depicted above this piece, we might want to be a bit less like Che, stop acting like Don Quixote, and walk and talk more like Nelson Mandela.


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