Albino pandas, deforestation in Brazil, explaining extinction: 3 big stories you might have missed

Giant panda

Giant panda at Bifengxia Panda Reserve, China. (© Martha de Jong-Lantink)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. White panda is spotted in China for the first time

An albino giant panda was captured on camera in a nature reserve in China this April.

The story: This is the first reported sighting of an albino panda, Tiffany May reported for The New York Times last week. Albinism, which causes a lack of melanin in the skin and eyes, can cause sensitivity to sunlight and make animals easier for predators to spot in the wild, but this panda seems to be doing well, researchers say.

The big picture: There are only around 1,900 giant pandas worldwide that live in the wild, but their status was recently upgraded from endangered to vulnerable, signaling that the population is starting to recover. Camera traps, such as the one that captured the albino panda, can help conservationists track where species are recovering or where they need to target protection strategies.

Read the story here.

  1. Monitoring group: Deforestation up 20% in Brazil’s Amazon

Over the past nine months, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest increased 20 percent.

The story: Satellite imagery shows that 2,169 square kilometers (837 square miles) were lost over the past nine months, compared to 1,807 (698 square miles) during the same time period last year, Associated Press reported last week. Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has made it widely known that he is favors agriculture and industrial mining over protecting nature.

The big picture: The Amazon provides 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, hosts 10 percent of Earth’s known species and stores massive amounts of carbon — by destroying it, people are destroying vital natural resources. A recent study found that protected areas within Brazil are also being affected by the new presidency — read more here.

Read the story here.

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  1. What is extinction? The answer is complicated

There are varying degrees of extinction, but just one black-and-white fact: Humans are causing extinctions to accelerate.

The story: Animals and plants are going extinct at a faster pace because of human activity, Liz Langley reported for National Geographic last week. Extinctions are categorized on a scale, from critically endangered, extinct in the wild, locally extinct and functionally extinct to just plain extinct, meaning a species no longer exists on Earth.

The big picture: Human activity, including agriculture, industrial expansion and greenhouse gas emissions are causing what scientists call “the sixth mass extinction,” matched in magnitude only by events such as the Permian-Triassic extinction, where more than 90 percent of all species disappeared. Today, one million species are threatened with extinction — many within only the next few decades.

Read the story here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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