Bouba the (Andean) bear joins the WCS Queen’s Zoo

November 21st, 2013

Bouba, WCS Queen’s Zoo’s newest Andean bear. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.

The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only endemic bear on the continent of South America.  The IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable to risk of extinction, with habitat loss and hunting as drivers behind its dwindling numbers.  This elegant species is sometimes referred to as the spectacled bear due to occasional markings around the eyes that resemble glasses.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo has welcomed an ambassador of the Andean bear, a 2 year-old male named Bouba. Hailing from a zoo in France, Bouba will share his new home with a female friend of the same species, Spangles.

WCS conducts research on Andean bears across multiple countries in South America and aims to develop local habitat conservation of the Andean bear and mitigate threats such as human-wildlife conflict. WCS works in tandem with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Cleveland Zoological Society, the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance, and other supporters to protect the future of the Andean bear. You can learn more about their efforts or donate to the projects by going to wcs.org.

A jungle day-trip: studying brazil nuts in the Peruvian Amazon

October 30th, 2013

By Eleanor Warren-Thomas

Ladybird, Amazon-style. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

The day begins at around 5 a.m., when the sounds of motorbikes revving, dogs barking, wood being chopped and shouting men start to permeate the room. I haven’t needed to set my alarm for weeks.

I am here to help run a project on Brazil nut harvesting from lowland rainforests in Madre de Dios, in the Peruvian Amazon. Brazil nut collection from these forests forms a huge part of many people’s livelihood in this area, and the project aims to improve knowledge about the variation in Brazil nut production, which changes among trees and between years for as-yet unknown reasons.

Brazil nut trees, known locally as castaña, take decades to mature and start producing nuts in the wild, so the majority of the productive trees in these concessions are enormous – at least a meter across at the base – and are some of the tallest trees in the forest. Brazil nut trees are protected by law, and in some areas they stand alone in areas cleared for pasture. In many other areas, they form part of standing intact forest within concessions owned by local people, who walk well-managed trails through the forest each year to collect the nuts by hand.

Today we are starting out from the only hospedaje in the little town of Alegria, and will travel about 20 km along a dirt road to visit a castañero who lives in his Brazil nut concession. My colleague and I load the rear pannier of the motorbike with two rucksacks full of tents, food and multiple pairs of socks. Calling in at our favorite breakfast spot, we find that there is ‘no quinoa in town’ so make do with sweet bread and strawberry yogurt from one of the grocery shops. Sitting outside the shop, we attract the attention of two kittens who attempt to scale our trousers, and a puppy who finds he doesn’t have the ability to climb, but is happy to make do with finishing off the yogurt pot.

Motorbike loaded and ready to go. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

Squeezed onto the motorbike, we head along the tarmac road out of town, and turn off onto a red dirt road. After rain, these roads take on the texture of butter and are perilous for motorbikes, but today it is dry and fine. The morning is cool and the clouds are low, rubbing out the tops of trees and swirling across the road. We fly along the road and the plastic bag full of eggs and bread that I am clutching flaps madly in the wind. The road is full ofhazards – soft rivulets of mud, hidden bumps, the occasional wooden bridge – requiring expert driving.

The red road. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

Forty minutes later we arrive, windblown, under an enormous mango tree dripping with fruit that guards the front of our host’s house. Set in a field of tough tropical grass are several wooden buildings that house grandparents, a daughter, a son and their spouses. Ducks and chickens roam about amongst the fallen fruit, and two dogs bark in cautious greeting. It is mango season here, and the soft thumps of fruits hitting the ground are frequent. We are invited into the kitchen, an airy building with a handmade thatched roof, where a neat three-ringed charcoal burner made of compacted mud is roaring. Two cups of hot “chapo” are handed to us as a welcome second breakfast – sweet plantain mashed with sugar and spices using a specially selected stem of a young “quillabordon” tree that naturally forms a whisk-like shape.

Under the mango tree. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

As the day starts to heat up, our 77-year-old host dons his canvas shoes, picks up his machete and leads us into the forest. We quickly leave the strong sun behind on the open road and enter a perfect green corridor as we follow a narrow logging road into the forest. The huge tire tracks have formed long-lasting puddles in the soft clay soil, that are filled with tadpoles. This part of the forest feels special – we walk for about half an hour without encountering any logged trees, and the forest seems particularly dark green. Hidden birds shout from all around us, and the soft mud reveals the presence of deer, peccary and agouti. The soft ground after rain tells all sort of secrets – in other forests we have seen fresh tapir tracks only hours old, and even ocelot prints.

Ocelot prints. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

We veer off the road onto a carefully cleared path, the ground cloaked in big brown leaves from the towering castaña trees. As we crunch along, I have the odd impression of being on a walk through an English woodland on a summer’s day, until my eye is caught by a 6-inch electric blue butterfly floating along the path. Blue morpho butterflies seem to be found everywhere here, often in what seem to be leks of male butterflies flashing their wings at each other in clearings and on paths.

Blue morpho butterfly wing. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

Brazil nut trees tower over us at regular intervals, some more than an arm-span in diameter and 40 meters high. The carefully maintained paths lead from tree to tree, each trunk cleaned of lianas and giving the appearance of columns holding up the green canopy. Piles of emptied “cocos” – the hard outer shells that contain sets of individual brazil nuts – lie at intervals along the paths, partially hidden under leaves and ready to twist the ankles of unwary walkers.

A castañero makes a temporary shelter from the rain. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

High-pitched squeaking from the trees betrays the presence of saddle-backed tamarins which peer inquisitively at us as we respond with our own squeaky noises. They seem reasonably confident around people despite the fact that they are often taken from the wild as pets here. In the past week howler monkeys, titi monkeys and spider monkeys have all also come within earshot, or even partially into view.

The presence of so many animals despite so much human activity in the forest is wonderful, and seems to demonstrate how fundamental the economic value of brazil nut trees is for the health of these forests. Although selective logging and hunting of local wildlife continues, the presence of producing castaña trees preserves patches of forest where its structure is undisturbed and the shade is deep and cool. Wildlife is persisting well into disturbed areas, but for me the dark green patches feel like safe havens.

After five hours of walking along forest trails our host leads us back to his house in time for lunch, where we are served rice, beans and fried plantain washed down with sweet tea. His wife and daughter spend the day in the house, preparing food for us strangers along with the family without a thought. At 77-years-old, our host understandably prefers to spend the afternoons napping on a bench in the shade of his mango tree, leaving us free to visit the stream that runs past the house and bathe in the sandy bottomed pool they have created through clever use of a log dam. Tiny fish swim about, palm trees provide shade overhead and the musical song of oropendulas drips from the trees. More tamarins swing past to peer at us, as we nibble on mangos and cool our feet in the water. I can’t help but smile as I think back on the day and hope to myself, long may the dark green persist.

Brazil nut flowers. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.

Last chance for the Xingu River and its people? (video)

June 7th, 2011

Brazil recently announced it was going ahead with building the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam, although the construction is set to flood rainforest, change the character of the Xingu River, and displace at least 16,000 people, although transforming the lives of many tens-of-thousands more. Indigenous people along the Xingu have been fighting the dam for decades.

Mongabay.com has been following the Belo Monte dam closely:

Brazil’s shame

(06/03/2011) As an American I know a lot about shame — the U.S. government and American companies have wrought appalling amounts of damage the world over. But as an admirer of Brazil’s recent progress toward an economy that recognizes the contributions of culture and the environment, this week’s decision to move forward on the Belo Monte dam came as a shock. Belo Monte undermines Brazil’s standing as a global leader on the environment. Recent gains in demarcating indigenous lands, reducing deforestation, developing Earth monitoring technologies, and enforcing environmental laws look more tenuous with a project that runs over indigenous rights and the environment.

Amazon mega-dam gets final approval

(06/01/2011) Brazilian authorities gave final approval to the controversial Belo Monte dam, reports AFP.

Controversial Brazilian mega-dam receives investment of $1.4 billion

(05/02/2011) Brazil’s most controversial mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is moving full steam ahead against massive opposition, has received an extra infusion of cash from Vale, a Brazilian-run mining company.

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe

(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.

Judge suspends Brazil’s monster dam: contractor ‘imposing’ its interests

(02/27/2011) Construction on Brazil’s planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam’s contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.

T-rex leech discovered in a person’s nose just one of the top ten new species of 2010 (photos)

May 23rd, 2011

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has selected its top ten new species from 2010. While all the species are extraordinary, one was discovered in a most baffling--one may say painful--manner: taken from the nasal mucous membrane of a person in a Peruvian clinic. This 2-inch leech is named Tyrannobdella rex, which means 'tyrant leech king', because of a resemblance to the extinct T-Rex: both share a massive jaw and gigantic teeth. Imagine having that up your nose! The image above shows  the Tyrannobdella rex's anterior sucker exhibiting velar mouth and longitudinal slit through which the dorsal jaw protrudes when feeding. Scale bar is 1 mm.
The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University has selected its top ten new species from 2010. While all the species are extraordinary, one was discovered in a most baffling, manner: taken from the nasal mucous membrane of a person in a Peruvian clinic. This 2-inch leech is named Tyrannobdella rex, which means ‘tyrant leech king’, because of a resemblance to the extinct T-Rex: both share a massive jaw and gigantic teeth. Imagine having that up your nose! The image above shows the Tyrannobdella rex’s anterior sucker exhibiting velar mouth and longitudinal slit through which the dorsal jaw protrudes when feeding. Scale bar is 1 mm. .

The T-rex nose-embedding leech is not the only species though. There’s also the Mozart glowing mushroom, the fruit-eating giant lizard, the spider that weaves the strongest silk, the antediluvian cockroach, among other biological marvels!

To read more and see photos:

Photos: the top ten new species discovered in 2010

(05/23/2011) If we had to characterize our understanding of life on Earth as either ignorant or knowledgeable, the former would be most correct. In 250 years of rigorous taxonomic work researchers have cataloged nearly two million species, however scientists estimate the total number of species on Earth is at least five million and perhaps up to a hundred million. This means every year thousands of new species are discovered by researchers, and from these thousands, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University selects ten especially notable new species.

Activism: save the cerrado, starting at your supermarket

May 9th, 2011

Note: mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Save the Cerrado from WWF-UK on Vimeo.

South America’s great savanna the cerrado is under siege by agriculture and cattle ranching. Half of the ecosystem has vanished in the last 50 years. Now the first ‘green’ soy is being released by the International Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) a multi-stakeholder initiative that has set environmental standards for the soya industry. WWF is asking UK consumers to push their supermarkets to carry RTRS produced foods.

WWF UK action: Your supermarket can help save the Cerrado.

According to WWF: “The Cerrado isn’t as high-profile as the Amazon, but this vast Brazilian savannah is being destroyed even faster than that famous rainforest. Yet the Cerrado is rich with thousands of wild plants and unique animals, on its own responsible for 5% of the world’s biodiversity. And right now, you and your supermarket can help save the Cerrado and other places like it. ”

For more information on the cerrado:

Conversion of Brazil’s cerrado slows

(04/08/2011) Destruction of Brazil’s cerrado, a woody savanna that covers 20 percent of the country, slowed during the 2008-2009, reports Brazil’s Ministry of Environment.

Brazil’s largest national bank signs zero deforestation pact for Amazon soy

(12/03/2010) Banco do Brasil, Brazil’s largest state-owned bank, announced it has joined a zero deforestation pact for soy grown in the Amazon. The bank will now require farmers applying for credit to certify the origin of their soybeans.

Brazil’s cerrado wins protection, but will it be enough to save the wildlife-rich grassland?

(09/15/2010) Brazil announced a plan to protect the cerrado, the vast woody savanna that covers 20 percent of the country but has become the nation’s biggest single source of carbon emissions due to conversion for agriculture and cattle pasture, reports Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment.

Pictures of baby animals with their mothers for Mother’s Day

May 8th, 2011

Mother tarsier and baby on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother tarsier and baby on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother and baby orangutan in tree in Sumatra. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother and baby orangutan in tree in Sumatra. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother Panamanian golden frog with green baby. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother Panamanian golden frog with green baby. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

 Southern Tree Hyrax with baby in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Southern Tree Hyrax with baby in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

 Baby crowned lemur clinging to its mother in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Baby crowned lemur clinging to its mother in Madagascar. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) with babies in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) with babies in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother lion sleeping with cubs in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother lion sleeping with cubs in Kenya. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother and baby Matschie's Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus matschiei). Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother and baby Matschie’s Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus matschiei). Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother ringtail lemur with baby on stomach. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother ringtail lemur with baby on stomach. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mother capybara with baby in Brazil. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mother capybara with baby in Brazil. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

African elephant (Loxodonta africana) mom and juvenile drinking in the Chobe River . Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
African elephant (Loxodonta africana) mom and juvenile drinking in the Chobe River . Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

Smiling mothers with babies on their backs in the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo outside of Cuzco, Peru. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
And people too! Smiling mothers with babies on their backs in the Sacred Valley near Ollantaytambo outside of Cuzco, Peru. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Bizarre: tadpoles seen wiggling inside daddy’s vocal sac (video)

April 28th, 2011

Males gobbling babies. Wiggly tadpoles bulging beneath the skin. Yeah, okay, that’s bizarre, but it’s also the lifestyle of Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), an endangered species that was found by Charles Darwin himself. While the females carry the eggs, the male Dawin frogs carry the young tadpoles in its vocal sac (of all places!) for a fortnight. The footage was filmed and produced by EDGE Fellow Claudio Soto-Azat.

To read more about Darwin’s frog, see the EDGE blog: Life Within a Vocal Sac.

Photo: caiman eye

April 7th, 2011


A flashlight catches a camian’s eye in Brazil. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Trailer: When Two World’s Collide (video)

April 5th, 2011

When Two Worlds Collide (trailer) from Yachaywasi Films on Vimeo.

The film follows the struggle of indigenous people to save their Amazonian home from the Peruvian government and industrial corporations, especially focusing on the role of Alberto Pizango, hero and leader to indigenous people, who was arrested last year in Peru for sedition and rebellion.

According to the film’s website: “The hazardous journey of an Amazonian leader confronting rules of the globalization game created by developed countries in order to protect corporate interests. With the rainforest in jeopardy, this apocalyptic story presents two colliding visions that shape the climate future of our world.”

For more information see the film’s website: When Two World’s Collide

The film is currently listed as ‘in production’.

Green dams in the Amazon? (video)

April 3rd, 2011

Video looks at how to save the Amazon in midst of rising pressure to build massive hydroelectric power in the region.

WWF (with aid from Nature Conservancy) looks at what rivers must be preserved from hydroelectric power in order to keep the Amazon ecosystem thriving using ecosystem-wide modeling.

For more information on dam projects in the Amazon:

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe

(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.

Rivers worldwide in peril: society treats symptoms, ignores causes

(09/29/2010) Dams, agricultural runoff, pesticides, sewage, mercury pollution from coal plants, invasive species, overconsumption, irrigation, erosion from deforestation, wetland destruction, overfishing, aquaculture: it’s clear that the world’s rivers are facing a barrage of unprecedented impacts from humans, but just how bad is the situation? A new global analysis of the world’s rivers is not comforting: the comprehensive report, published in Nature, finds that our waterways are in a deep crisis which bridges the gap between developing nations and the wealthy west. According to the study, while societies spend billions treating the symptoms of widespread river degradation, they are still failing to address the causes, imperiling both human populations and freshwater biodiversity.