News of the Week
Good news for the saiga antelope. Using cell phones to save the rainforest. Zebras and buffalos in Zambia. Rights for a Peruvian river.
Brief synopses of environmental news from this last week. For more information click the links.
Eurasian antelope rebounds
Once ranging from the Great Hungarian Plains to China, the saiga antelope is now largely confined to Kazakhstan, with a few populations living in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia. But there is much good news for this curious-looking creature.
Over centuries the antelope’s numbers have decreased due to habitat loss and human infringement upon the antelope’s migration routes. The animals are also the object of incessant poaching. The males are targeted because their horns are used to make traditional medicines. Disease has also taken its toll. In 2015, in something of an animal kingdom Black Death, a mysterious bacterium wiped out 200,000 of the antelope and reduced their number to their lowest point in over a decade.
But there is a lot of good news. The small and threatened population that lives in the Ustyurt Plateau had its largest mass calving in recent years. In June 2019, it was reported that the Kazakhstan saiga population had doubled within two years, and a recent aerial census estimated their numbers have grown to 842,000 within Kazakhstan, over a half-million more than recorded in 2019.
Recent anti-poaching efforts by a coalition that includes Fauna and Flora International, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and the Kazakh government are credited with the species rebound. As previously reported in The Green Dispatch, the saiga antelope are also benefiting from recent mapping of ungulate migration routes. (Fauna and Flora International)
Using smartphones to stop deforestation
A peer-reviewed study determined that forest communities in the Peruvian Amazon that could use smartphones to monitor satellite data on deforestation were able to dramatically reduce deforestation compared to communities that did not have the devices.
Each community elected monitors who patrolled their communities’ territories for illegal clearing and logging. To enhance their patrols, the monitors relied on satellite deforestation maps that they could access with their cell phones. A total of 36 communities were given cell phones compared with 37 communities that did not have the phones or satellite data.
The study was conducted over a two-year period. In the first year, the cell phone communities saw 52 percent less deforestation than the control communities. The second year saw 21 percent less deforestation.
Just as weather satellite data are refreshed daily, so are data from satellites used to monitor deforestation. Any change in forest cover prompts an alert that can be accessed online or through a cell phone app. The data for the study came from the World Resources Institute.
Scientists and policy advisers estimate that if this cell phone alert system were spread throughout the Amazon, 4,400 square miles of rainforest, an area more than twice the size of Delaware, could be saved over the next decade.
Development of the cell phone app and the rainforest monitoring model was a joint effort of the Rainforest Foundation US and the Organization of the Indigenous People of the Eastern Amazon, along with the indigenous Peruvian Amazon communities of Patria Nueva and Nuevo Saposoa. The study was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Sates of America. (Rainforest Foundation US)
Zebras and buffaloes restocked in Zambia’s Nsumbu National Park
The fourth and final convoy of animals arrived at the Nsumbu National Park at the end of June, bringing 48 zebras and 200 buffaloes to the nature preserve. Zebras had not been part of the local ecosystem for decades.
This shipment of megafauna is a restocking/rewilding effort to restore the entire Nsumbu ecosystem and is a partnership between the Nsumbu Tanganyika Conservation Program (NTCP), a program of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).
The Nsumbu ecosystem straddles Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru Wantipa in the northeastern section of Zambia. Within the ecosystem, the 800 square miles of the Nsumbu National Park protect about 50 miles of Tanganyika’s most pristine shoreline and fish spawning grounds. The park is home to an isolated population of elephants and the Sumbu-Itigi forest, an endangered ecosystem found only in this part of Africa.
Until recently the NTCP had taken a “hands off” approach, letting animal populations recover naturally in the ecosystem, but it is now working at repopulating species that have been extirpated or whose populations have diminished to dangerously low numbers. The organization is trying to make the restoration of the ecosystem as complete as possible. They plan to soon reintroduce other endangered species, such as the black rhino and lion. (Frankfurt Zoological Society)
Coalition files brief to grant rights to a Peruvian river
Noted for its rich biodiversity and being a significant tributary of the Amazon, Peru’s Maranon River provides fish and a transportation route to the Kukama Kukamiria, Awajún, Wampis, and other indigenous people.
Now, International Rivers, along with a coalition of organizations has filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the Civil Court of the Celendin Court of Justice in Peru. The brief requests the recognition of the inherent rights of the river in association with the biocultural rights of the indigenous communities that live within the river’s watershed.
Prompting the brief is the Chadín II Hydroelectric Project and more than 20 other hydroelectric projects planned for the Maranon. The Chadin II was declared a project of national interest by the Peruvian government in 2011. It was cleared for its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in 2014 by Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines.
The brief claims that there are deficiencies, omissions, and errors in the EIA and that Peru is bound, constitutionally and by international treaties, to protect, conserve, and restore the Maranon River. The brief cites the 2020 case (Lhaka Honhat v. Argentina) in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights interpreted Article 21 of the American Convention of Human Rights—which recognizes the right of indigenous people to their indigenous lands—as extending beyond ownership and control of land to include the waters that flow on the land and the foods that the people may gather from the land.
The coalition calls on the government of Peru to declare the hydroelectric project null and void. (International Rivers)
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