African elephant in South Africa. (© Megan Seman)
Here in Bangkok, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) conference kicked off with some encouraging news: Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced that the Thai government will ban its domestic ivory trade. If this ban goes into effect in the near future, it will be a big step toward preventing the laundering of poached African ivory in Asian markets, as well as a sign of hope for wild elephants.
However, this positive step does not mask the dire position of the African elephant in the world today. On the second day of the CITES meeting, I attended a film screening of “White Gold,” a documentary produced by the African Environmental Film Foundation in Kenya telling sad stories of the terrible poaching for ivory in Africa and the unregulated ivory market in Asia. This film is truly heartbreaking.
Last week in New York City, I attended a GreenBiz event that brought together corporate executives and thought leaders in the realm of sustainable business. I listened in on an engaging session where several leading companies — including CI partners Coca-Cola and Darden Restaurants — discussed the business case for understanding and valuing natural capital.
A butterfly on a flower in the Philippines. Insect pollination is worth around US$ 190 billion per year, or around 8% of the planet’s total agricultural output. (© CI/photo by Haroldo Castro)
The phrase “natural capital” may be a fairly recent addition to business discussions, but what it represents is as old as the Earth itself: the air, water, land and living organisms that provide the goods and services critical for supporting all life on our planet, such as clean air, climate regulation, fertile soil, food and medicines.
Every year, our planet produces an astounding US$ 72 trillion worth of “free” goods and services. I put that word in quotations because as Pavan Sukhdev, an environmental economist and CI board member, has pointed out, “When has a bee ever sent you an invoice?” Insect pollination is worth around $190 billion per year, or around 8% of the planet’s total agricultural output.
Last Tuesday, Conservation South Africa (CSA) launched a new best practice guideline document for wind power developers called “Wind Energy and the Triple Bottom Line.” The document, developed in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the German government, is great news for wind energy developers as it turns a whirlwind of complicated legislation and regulations into a breeze, covering practices for all phases in the life of a wind farm.
Wind power station near Westerhever, Germany. The German government is supporting the development of wind energy infrastructure in South Africa. (© Laszlo Novak/Wild Wonders of Europe)
At present, South Africa is heavily reliant on coal to produce our electricity — a process that results in the release of carbon into the atmosphere. South Africa is currently ranked as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa.
I am so happy to be back in my hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a concrete jungle of 20 million people. It’s hot, crowded and chaotic, yet I love it. But this is not like the times I come home on vacation. This time is special. Last night I had the privilege of hearing CI’s vice chairman, Harrison Ford, give a speech about how my country is positioned to lead the world into a more sustainable future.
Harrison Ford speaking at CI’s gala dinner in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (© Cauê Diniz)
“From the Mata Atlantica [Atlantic Forest], which provides fresh water for Brazil’s great cities, to the magnificent Amazon rainforest with its role of providing fresh air and a balanced climate for the entire Earth, nowhere is it more evident that humanity needs nature,” Ford said to an audience of hundreds of the most prominent local businessmen, policymakers and CI supporters. “Our health, our security, our economies, our fundamental well-being rely on the gifts that nature gives us.”
Earlier this week, the regency government of West Papua’s Raja Ampat archipelago took the bold step of declaring its entire 46,000 square-kilometer (almost 18,000 square-mile) marine domain a shark sanctuary — Indonesia’s first. One of only a handful of such sanctuaries in existence globally, this latest news is further indication that the tide is turning for shark conservation.
Whale shark in Cendrawasih Bay in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. With the region’s new shark sanctuary, Raja Ampat’s marine life are the most protected in all of Indonesia. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)
With the EU adopting a total ban on shark finning back in November, and sale of fins now banned in several U.S. states, the global push for shark protection continues to gather momentum. I hope that Raja Ampat’s strong leadership will encourage others to follow suit. Indonesia remains the world’s largest supplier of shark fin products, with the trade primarily driven by China’s rapacious appetite for shark fin soup.
You may have noticed CI’s blog looks a little different today. Not only is it sleeker and easier to search, but most importantly it has a new name: Human Nature.
Frog in Suriname. Among other benefits they provide for humans, amphibians help regulate populations of insects that destroy crops and spread disease. (© Cristina Mittermeier)
In our increasingly urbanized, wired world, many people have become dangerously disconnected from the natural gifts that sustain us. As CI works to expand global understanding of all of the ways that people need nature — not only to thrive, but survive — we wanted our blog to have a name that reflects the inextricable connections between ourselves and our planet.
A village in the Brazilian Amazon, as seen from the air. (© Luana Luna)
Urban and suburban residents usually have little or no contact with rural forest cultures. For example, 84% of Brazilians live in urban areas and rarely travel to places without tourism infrastructure. As a Brazilian who has visited an indigenous tribe in one of the world’s most precious sources of natural wealth —the Amazon — I am unfortunately an exception in my country.
Back in December, my husband and I traveled to Xingu National Park and spent a week in a Kamaiurá aldeia (indigenous village). We got this opportunity through a friend who works with the Kamaiurá, an indigenous group numbering fewer than 500 people.
This visit was a bigger gift than I was expecting; it gave me an understanding of what life should be about. In many ways, these people’s lives are calmer, slower and healthier than what we are used to in the cities. Rather than trying to control their environment, they respect and understand its power. I am not an anthropologist or a specialist in indigenous culture; this story is based purely on my observations.
Elephant photographed at TEAM’s site in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. (Photos courtesy of the TEAM Network)
For more than five years, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has been collecting camera-trap images of animals in tropical forests. TEAM started in Brazil and has now collected data on trees, terrestrial vertebrates and climate in 16 tropical forests in 14 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. This year, TEAM reached an exciting milestone: its millionth camera-trap image!
A gigantic African elephant, a family of chimpanzees, an elusive jaguar — these make for beautiful photographs, but what else can we learn from these images?
China recently reformed its collective forest policy, allowing forest owners to grant management rights to outside enterprises. In a letter published last week in the journal Science, Li (Aster) Zhang and other CI scientists propose that “eco-compensation” would bring more income to local communities while protecting habitat for the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
Camera trap photo of wild giant panda in Changqing National Nature Reserve. Thanks largely to efforts of the Chinese government, the wild panda populations have increased from fewer than 1,000 in the late 1980s to nearly 1,600 today. (© CI/ Changqing National Nature Reserve)
In early spring of 2010, my colleagues Russ Mittermeier, Biao Yang and I visited Changqing National Nature Reserve, one of the famous panda protected areas in Shanxi Province. There, we saw a young male panda in the wild. He was so shy, just showing his black-and-white coat for a couple of seconds before disappearing into the dense bamboo forest in front of us.
Beloved by the world for centuries, the panda once lived across large areas of China as well as parts of Vietnam and Myanmar. However, this magnificent creature is now confined to just 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) in a few isolated mountain forests in southwest China — an area smaller than El Salvador or the state of New Hampshire.
Today, the government of Timor-Leste announced the establishment of seven no-take zones in the country’s coastal waters. This development follows the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey carried out by CI and partner scientists last year, which confirmed the community-identified zones as being biologically significant. Coral scientist and guest blogger Dr. Lyndon DeVantier shares his experience.
This beautiful wrasse (Cirrhilabrus tonozukai) was previously known from Palau and Indonesian localities, including Raja Ampat, eastern Sulawesi, and Halmahera. A single male individual was photographed at Timor-Leste’s Atauro Island, which represents a significant southerly extension of the geographic range.(© Gerald Allen)
In August of last year, I joined Mark Erdmann, Gerry Allen, Emre Turak and local scientists in Timor-Leste to participate in a CI RAP marine survey. At the request of the government, we set out to record the marine biodiversity of corals and fishes and assess the overall health of the reefs to help identify areas of importance for conservation and marine tourism.
To their great credit, the Timor-Leste government has already established a large national park on the eastern tip of the country, covering both land and sea. The park was established in 2007 — after the country had spent only five years as an independent nation — and named in honour of Nino Konis Santana, a Timorese freedom fighter in the 1990s.