In the news: Degraded land spurs conflict in Kenya

Herders lead their livestock to water in the dry Kenyan savanna. A recent increase in conflict between herders and landowners points to a growing challenge for conservation and development in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

A growing demand for land, coupled with climate change and unsustainable farming practices, is driving conflict in northern Kenya’s rangelands, according to Jeffrey Gettleman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the New York Times’ outgoing East Africa bureau chief. In a new report, Gettleman explores the sometimes deadly struggles between landowners and herders near some of Kenya’s largest wildlife reserves.

“Kenya has a land problem,” he writes. “Population swells, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, poaching, global food prices and even the benefits of affluence are exerting incredible pressure on African land.” Gettleman writes that the situation could represent “one of the gravest challenges Africa faces.”

Earlier this week in an interview broadcast on Facebook Live, Conservation International (CI) CEO M. Sanjayan asked Gettleman about his insights for conservation in East Africa.

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New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.?

Ivory crush

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee assembles confiscated ivory tusks on a tower for display before crushing. (© Ivy Allen/USFWS)

The seat of power in the United States appears to be the new hub of the country’s ivory trade, according to a report released Wednesday.

Washington, D.C., had three times more ivory items for sale than 10 years earlier, the report found, and more than any of the six major U.S. cities and six U.S. states surveyed.

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What on Earth is a ‘carbon offset’?

The Chyulu Hills in Kenya

One beneficiary of your carbon offsets: the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “blue carbon,” from “landscape approach” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?

In this installment, we break down carbon offsets, a way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

So: What is a ‘carbon offset’?

Put simply, it’s a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for emissions made somewhere else. Purchasing a carbon offset enables people and businesses, then, to reduce their carbon footprints.  

What exactly is my ‘carbon footprint’ again?

Your daily actions — from heating and cooling your home to binge-watching Netflix to sending text messages and email attachments — consume energy and produce greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions also derive from the energy and materials used to source and produce the products you buy.

Add in transit — including driving a car, flying, even using public transportation — and you have your carbon footprint: an estimated sum of your annual greenhouse gas emissions. (Use Conservation International’s calculator to measure your carbon footprint.)

Okay, I calculated my footprint. What do I have to do to offset it?

It’s pretty simple: Numerous online platforms make it as easy as a few clicks. Let’s say you determine your annual greenhouse gas emissions are 17.62 metric tons (the average per person in the U.S.). You can balance your impact out by offsetting the equivalent amount — or even more, to go “negative” — through an online service. Do your research, though, and choose a trusted, transparent entity — such as Conservation International (CI) — that only tenders offsets verified to have met rigorous standards by an independent third party.

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On World Mangrove Day, a new strategy to protect the world’s most important ecosystem

young mangroves

Young mangrove at sunset. (© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Mangrove forests are the world’s most productive and important ecosystem, but they’re being wiped out by unsustainable agriculture and other threats. The Global Mangrove Alliance, a new collaboration between Conservation International (CI),and partners, is working to reverse the destruction of these forests.

As coastal communities face the effects of overfishing and sea-level rise, restoring mangroves has never been more important. On World Mangrove Day, CI’s manager for oceans and climate, Jorge Ramos, unveils the Alliance’s strategy to protect them. 

Why mangroves matter

Mangrove forests are amazing ecosystems that grow along tropical coasts, where they thrive in saltwater and tidal conditions. Mangrove ecosystems are some of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet: They serve as important habitats for fish, sharks, manatees, crabs and other important species; provide food, jobs and other resources to communities around the world; and protect some of the most vulnerable coastal communities from the devastating impacts of climate change. Lastly, although mangrove forests cover just 0.1 percent of our planet’s land surface, they store more carbon than any other type of forest and are therefore an important part of the solution to climate change.

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In Kenya’s storied hills, traditional ways confront a modern problem: climate change

Maasai guides

Muli and Matasha, Maasai guides who works with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, make their way toward a cloud forest high in the Chyulu Hills. (© Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International)

Editor’s note: Tomorrow, Conservation International (CI) launches its Carbon Footprint Calculator, a tool to calculate your carbon footprint and reduce it by purchasing what’s called an “offset.” One beneficiary of these offsets is a forest-protection project in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, home to 140,000 indigenous people and an incredibly effective carbon sink. The project will prevent an estimated 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 30 years.

Explore life in the Chyulu Hills in the photo essay below.

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Conservation science tackles a perplexing subject: people

© William Crosse

A fisherman on Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. (© William Crosse)

Editor’s note: This week, the Society for Conservation Biology — the pre-eminent professional society for conservation science — is hosting its biennial International Congress for Conservation Biology in Cartagena, Colombia. As the newly elected president of the society and the first social scientist to lead the network in its 32-year history, Mike Mascia of Conservation International (CI) represents an evolution for a discipline that has long focused on the natural sciences. In this Q&A, Mascia — senior director for social science at CI — talks to Human Nature about why conservation science still matters and what role scientists can play in a time of political upheaval.

Question: What does conservation science look like on the ground? Why should we care about it?

Answer: Conservation science takes many forms, from interviewing local subsistence hunters in remote forests, to running high-tech analyses of global satellite data, to volunteer bird counts. Conservation science is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon ecology and anthropology, psychology and political science, economics and hydrology, information science and genetics, and more.

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Teeth to tail: 6 stories about sharks this week

A Blacktip reef shark cruises the shallow reefs of a tropical lagoon. (© Kydd Pollock/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Shark Week 2017 kicks off in a couple of days, featuring everything from an Olympian racing a great white to our very own scientist’s exploration of “alien” species. Before you dive in, take a look at six of Human Nature’s most popular shark stories — and scroll down to the end to see our Shark Week Photo Gallery.

shark in Fiji

1. 5 things you didn’t know sharks do for you

Did you know? Sharks help move carbon through the ocean — and they just might be the key to helping scientists cure certain diseases.

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4 ways climate change is making life harder for tigers

Indochinese tigers

Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Editor’s note:  In the past century, 97 percent of the world’s tiger population has vanished, leaving only about 3,900 individuals left in the wild. Poaching, deforestation and development have driven this sharp decline. Now, from the pine forests of Russia to the rainforests of Indonesia, a new threat looms for these remaining tigers: climate change.

1. Rising sea levels

In India and neighboring Bangladesh, rising sea levels are shrinking coastal habitat for hundreds of endangered Bengal tigers that rely on the area’s mangrove forest, the largest in the world. Higher waters erode this patchwork of islands, called the Sundarbans, and cause salt water to migrate into fresh water, polluting the tigers’ drinking source. Tigers must find new freshwater sources and move to higher ground, escalating conflicts with communities living there.

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U.S. Congress nips move to stop military from studying climate change

Corn farmer Kela Gelo

Corn farmer Kela Gelo in the village of Buya near Yabello, Southern Ethiopia. He only got a few ears this year because of the drought. (© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos)

In a surprising move, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives last week joined with Democrats to defeat a measure that would have prevented the U.S. Department of Defense from studying the effects of climate change on the military.

The measure, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — the law that spells out the U.S. military’s policies and programs — would have blocked a study into climate impacts and removed language from the act calling climate change a “direct threat” to U.S. national security. Forty-six Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the amendment.

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In the news: Escaped lions highlight plight of park neighbors

© Trond Larsen

A lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: A recent case of escaped lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park illustrates the tension that can exist between people and wildlife around protected areas. In the coming weeks, Human Nature will feature a series of stories from the communities surrounding Kruger, exploring the challenges — and opportunities — they face in living next to one of Africa’s most famous wildlife reserves.

Three lions that escaped from Kruger National Park earlier this week have been killed, according to multiple news reports.

The tragic conclusion follows a days-long search by park rangers in the villages surrounding Kruger. Residents were warned by park officials to “exercise extreme caution” in going about their daily lives. This week’s search is the second time this year that lions have escaped Kruger into nearby communities.

According to Keith Roberts, Conservation International’s executive director for wildlife trafficking, escaped animals represent just one example of how difficult it can be to live near a wildlife area.

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