Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world.
The story: Ten thousand critically endangered Titicaca water frogs — also known by their more colorful moniker, “scrotum frogs” — have been found dead in South America, National Geographic reported. The frog gets its nickname from its baggy skin, which helps it absorb more oxygen from the water and may have evolved from living at such high altitudes. Scientists are unsure of the cause behind the mysterious die-off, but they’re pointing their fingers at humans: specifically, sewage and illegal heavy metal pollution. Another possible culprit is the chytrid fungus, which has killed millions of amphibians around the world and may be responsible for what some are calling an impending “frog mass extinction.”
What’s next: According to National Geographic explorer and frog researcher Jonathan Kolby, “[E]ven in frogs that seem to do relatively well against chytrid, once you start adding additional stresses like pollution and habitat loss that can knock the system out of equilibrium.” By adding stressors to frog populations already weakened by disease, humans are wiping out species whose well-being can give us insight on the health of the ecosystems that we rely on for services like fresh water, food and medicine.
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The story: A seven-hour journey from Madagascar’s capital, the Bay of Assassins’ shores are home to some 3,000 residents that rely on mangrove forests for their homes, cooking fuel and food. Smithsonian Magazine reported that villagers — who are largely poor and isolated — are using the largest and oldest mangrove trees to turn seashells from the bay into lime clay for house construction. “Villagers like mangrove wood for limekilns because it’s dense and burns hot enough to fully cook the shells into lime. They use the oldest trees because large logs keep the fire going without refueling,” the article states. When mixed with water, the lime powder works as a serviceable — yet significantly cheaper — cement, fortifying homes against the cyclones that plague Madagascar.
What’s next: While the village’s use of the forest has been minimal to date, and focused primarily on small- and medium-sized trees, demand for limestone powder is growing. Global mangrove deforestation rates offer a cautionary tale: In the last decade, at least 35 percent of the world’s mangroves have been destroyed. Mangroves provide vital services to coastal communities, acting as powerful storm buffers, storing carbon and providing habitat for marine species that support fishers and their families.
The story: Twenty-six-year-old park ranger Munganga Nzonga Jacques was killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kahuzi Biega National Park while trying to protect a rare Grauer’s gorilla. Jacques was the second ranger killed in the park in the last six months, The Guardian reported. The Grauer’s gorilla is the largest ape in the world and is only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo; at grave risk for extinction, it is threatened primarily by illegal hunting and civil unrest. Andrew Plumptre of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa Program explained that the country’s civil war has created conservation issued by making weapons widely available and creating a “plethora of militia groups” with control over different territories.
What’s next: Armed militias that govern small mining sites inside the country’s forests rely primarily on bushmeat for food — and gorillas make for easy targets. Kahuzi Biega National Park may be the last stronghold of the Grauer’s gorilla, but the level of safety this and other parks can offer their iconic wildlife — and the rangers who protect them — is uncertain.
Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for Conservation International.
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- How an accidental forest saved a village from a storm for the ages