A tug of war in the night

A leopard cub (Panthera pardus) with a fresh kill in Kruger National Park. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: For the next two weeks, Conservation International will publish stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. Here is a look at part two of that series.

Magic Mabunda was trekking home through the wildlife reserve that abuts his village when he suddenly felt a tug from behind. Having just hunted an antelope, Mabunda had the animal draped over his shoulders as he made his way through the dark bush. Turning around, he came face to face with a menacing figure: a leopard looking to steal his kill.

In Mabunda’s telling, he won the ensuing tug of war, sending the would-be thief back into the night.

Years later, poaching in and around South Africa’s Kruger National Park bears little resemblance to Mabunda’s days of hunting bush meat. Fueled by soaring prices for rhino horn and ivory, poachers now brandish advanced weapons and employ sophisticated tactics. The influx of cash from poaching makes assisting the illicit activity highly attractive for the poor communities that border the park.

Magic Mabunda, a former poacher of bush meat and current small-business owner near Kruger National Park. (© Trond Larsen)

But over the years, Mabunda too has changed his ways. With training from a nonprofit partnership in his village, he developed business skills to complement the hustle and determination he honed during his bush-trekking days. Now the owner of a small business that restores land for South African National Parks, Mabunda has become a leader in his village, creating jobs that serve as a much needed alternative to poaching.

Looking toward the future, Mabunda’s optimism springs from the land around him. “There is gold here lying around,” he said, gesturing to the bush.

“Everything is gold.”

Read part two: “Turning grass into gold”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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Globally, public sees climate change as a top security threat

A view of the island of Fernandina in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. © Will Turner/Conservation International

In countries on the front lines of climate change, public opinion appears to be catching up to reality.

Citizens in 13 countries ranked climate change the No. 1 threat to national security, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The 13 countries — out of 38 surveyed — were mostly in Africa and Latin America, where many populations are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly rising average temperatures and extreme weather events.

The findings came as little surprise to at least one expert.

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Update: What we’re learning about the world’s largest fish

Whale shark and snorkeler

A snorkeler swims with a whale shark in Cendrawasih Bay in the Bird’s Head Seascape, eastern Indonesia. Conservation International scientists have been satellite tracking the movements of Cendrawasih’s whale sharks since June 2015. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape is home to a large population of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish and, until recently, largely a mystery to science. In 2015, Conservation International (CI) scientists made headlines by launching the world’s first successful fin-mounted satellite tagging program for whale sharks. By directly attaching a satellite tag to the creatures’ dorsal fins, researchers have been able to receive near-real-time updates on the position of the sharks.

Here, CI’s vice president for Asia-Pacific marine programs, Mark Erdmann, reflects on the most interesting satellite tracks the team has recorded in the past two years.

It has been just over two years since we successfully deployed five fin-mounted satellite tags on whale sharks in in the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia. Since that initial expedition, we’ve managed to deploy the custom-made satellite tags on 27 whale sharks in West Papua’s Cendrawasih and Triton bays.

Perhaps the most surprising finding has been just how differently each of these sharks behaves. While we expected to see some “generalized tracks” of migrations of the sharks out of the Bird’s Head region, in reality every shark has largely acted independently. Some have remained close to home, while one traveled more than  5,100 kilometers (3,169 miles) from West Papua and each satellite track has revealed unique behaviors. Continue reading

An accidental ranger finds his calling

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

Editor’s note: For the next two weeks, Conservation International will publish stories from a new feature series, “South Africa side by side with nature.” In the series, we explore two South African landscapes where doing right by nature and doing right by people are the same. On World Ranger Day, here is a glimpse at part one of that series.

Mike Grover never intended to be an anti-poaching ranger. Taking a job at a private game reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa, the young scientist assumed that his days would be filled with wildlife surveys and report writing. The only firearm he had ever needed was a large-gauge rifle, the standard for protection against dangerous animals in the field. He never expected he would have to defend himself against poachers as well.

“The poaching epidemic came as a wave,” Grover remembers. “I started hating what I was doing because I was running around with a rifle and a flak jacket to chase after poachers, which was not really something I wanted to do.” Uneasy with his new anti-poaching duties, Grover wondered if there wasn’t a better way to conserve wildlife.

Mike Grover is Conservation South Africa’s landscape manager for the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere (© Trond Larsen)

“When you work on your day to day life on the inside and you’ve seen the carcasses, you really get into the idea that anyone outside of the fence is there to cause harm. But when you have to engage with the people outside, you suddenly recognize that they are just like you. They are parents just trying to keep their family alive.”

Grover began talking to community members about poaching and what could be done to stop the onslaught. The answer was simple: Value what we have, and we will value what you have.

The realization drove Grover to get to know the communities surrounding the wildlife reserve — and led him in search of a solution that would benefit both people and wildlife.

Read part one: Fenced out of nature.”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer for Conservation International.

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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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