Experts estimate that our planet is home to around 8.7 million species, more than 80% of which haven't yet been identified. The Amazon is the world's largest area of tropical rainforest, and it's home to the biggest collection of plants and animals. Now we've found 400 more new species there.
A place rich in magical new flora and fauna
We all know that rainforests are absolutely stuffed with magical flora and fauna, many of which are yet to be discovered. But nobody predicted that a two year study would deliver almost four hundred new species in the Amazon rainforest alone, hinting that the remarkable richness and diversity of the world's forests are probably even greater than anyone imagined.
The study, which ran between 2014 and 2015, revealed 381 new species in the Amazon region, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund and Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development. Apparently the researchers tracked down a new species every two days or so, finding in total 216 new plants, 93 fish, 32 amphibians, 20 mammals, 19 reptiles and one bird, all previously unknown. The discoveries were made across all nine countries covered by the Amazon's tropical forest.
At more risk than ever from human activity
It's amazing news. But the flip side is that these new species could so easily be lost forever, at constant risk from mining, logging, road building and climate change. All the new species were found in areas of the forest that are already at risk from human activity, and the sheer, unprecedented level of habitat change we're seeing right now means many species may go extinct before we discover their existence. That's terribly sad.
2000 new species found over three periods of research
The report is the third of its kind. The three research projects together discovered 2000 or so new species in the past 17 years. The report's authors are determined to continue research in the area to monitor and preserve biodiversity because the sheer wealth of biodiversity found there is unique and unparalleled.
Let's hope their work plays a part in protecting this absolute treasure of an environment.
‘There aren't enough good news stories in the world of environmentalism, which is why it's important to share them when they come along, because they show that we can make a difference and that things can get better.
This story celebrates the bouncing back of several animal species, which have been at risk of extinction, nit which are now starting to flourish, thanks to the fantastic work of conservationists around the globe.
You can find out more about the animals that are being brought back from the brink of extinction, which include the Arabian Oryx, the Giant Panda and the Stellar Sea Lion.
The British cosmetics company Body Shop was founded in Brighton, Sussex, in 1976 by Dame Anita Roddick, now deceased. Her good work carries on thanks to their collaboration with conservation schemes in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, designed to lend a helping hand to endangered species like orang-utans, tigers and monkeys.
The company has already worked closely with the World Land Trust on several bio-bridges. Now they've announced a new initiative to create ten new bridges to link areas of rainforest so animals can travel between pristine areas of forest safely.
Special corridors to link isolated animal and plant populations
These special corridors are designed to link wildlife hotspots together by the year 2020, connecting otherwise isolated and endangered flora and fauna so they can breed and thrive. The Body Shop is already committed to protect 75 million square metres of habitat within the same timescale, impressive stuff.
Bringing in local people and helping them live sustainably
A vital element of the Body Shop's World Bio-Bridges Mission involves engaging local people in protecting their rainforest habitats, at the same time supporting them in developing more sustainable ways of living. The organisation will also be scouring the rainforests for new natural ingredients to be used in their products, which represent sustainable sources of income for local people to replace logging and poaching. The Body Shop plans to raise funds and awareness by selling a range of different special edition products.
What the Body Shop says
As Christopher Davis, the retailer's international director of corporate responsibility and campaigns said, “Through protecting and regenerating land, working with local communities and seeking partnerships with civil and state organisation around the world, the World Bio-Bridges Mission can make a substantial difference to some of the planet's richest and most diverse areas.”
Why don't more household brands join in?
It's great to see Dame Roddick's dedication to conservation continuing, and really good news to hear about these initiatives, which bring the consumer world and conservations world together in the interest of the common good of humanity and our fellow creatures. It's a shame more large, influential companies don't do the same.
It's a great way to raise awareness and bring the plight of Malaysia's rainforests to the attention of more people. The first ever Rainforest Fringe Festival takes place in Kuching, Sarawak in July, a ten day extravaganza of art and craft, music, exhibitions, fashion, performance and more. It's on from 7th July and is the precursor to the Rainforest World Music Festival, an extremely popular two day day event held at the Sarawak Cultural Village, celebrating its 20th birthday this year.
The festival is designed to support the Rainforest World Music Festival, and has an interesting remit: to educate and inspire local people, giving them an understanding of the “huge treasure trove” that the region's forests offer, and about the funds that have been set aside for the development of arts and culture in the region.
The rich heritage of Sarawak will be portrayed by a concert featuring local talent: the pop singers Dayang Nurfaizah and Pete Kallang, the Indie musician Noh Salleh, the actor-singer Tony Eusoff, and the highly respected sape player and artist Mathew Ngau. There will be plenty of art exhibitions, including paintings, sculpture, installations and photography, providing a fascinating insight into the region's people and traditions.
Some of the major highlights of the ten day festival
- Sarawak photographer K.F Wong’s 1940s-50s photos of the many ancient tribes in Sarawak, including the Dayak people
- Photojournalist Jimmy Nelson’s images of indigenous communities
- Photographer and botanist Ch’ien Lee’s stunning wildlife and nature photography
- Sarawakian artist Kendy Mitot combines the traditional arts and culture with innovative mixed media works
- Alena Murang, the musician, dancer and artist looks back at into the past at the nature and people of Borneo
- Spencer Byles presents an outdoor exhibition of natural sculptures, using the rainforest as his canvas
- A craft and vintage market selling vintage and contemporary artisan items
- Daily film screenings
- A colourful fashion show
- Fascinating talks about British explorers and naturalists Charles Hose and Alfred Wallace
If you are fortunate enough to be in the area when the festival kicks off you are in for a treat. The Rainforest Fringe Festival takes place in the Old Court House, Kuching Amphitheatre, Waterfront Hotel and Culture Club. It has been organised thanks to a collaboration by Joe Sidek Productions, the local Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sport, Sarawak Tourism, and the Rainforest World Music Festival.
To help protect some of the worlds most vulnerable rainforest, please consider making a donation to the Rainforest Foundation.
For some animal species, time on planet Earth is running out. There have been five mass extinctions in the planet’s history, and animal populations so far suggest that we may have entered what will be the sixth great extinction wave. Since the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the idea of saving many of the world’s animals was first recognised, scientists have strived to save dwindling animal numbers. But, despite efforts, the list of endangered species has more than doubled in the past two decades according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). More than 23,000 plant and animal species are listed on the IUCN, including corals, birds, mammals and amphibians.
What classes an animal as endangered?
The IUCN accounts for all of the endangered species, classifying them on a spectrum that ranges from “near threatened” to “extinct”; with “endangered” species in the middle. Factors that are examined to determine the level of extinction include a vulnerability analysis of a species’ habitat, an indication of a shrinking population, and observing issues that prevent reproduction.
As it stands, 3,406 mammal species are categorised as threatened. In 2015 the number stood at 1,201. Extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago, and this is mainly because of air and water pollution, forest clearing, loss of wetlands, and other man-induced environmental changes. As human beings, we are responsible for being the biggest threat to endangered species. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to wildlife globally, affecting over 2,000 mammals.
How losing species could create a butterfly effect.
Species loss threatens to reduce biodiversity and ultimately the collapse of ecosystems across the world. One of the biggest examples of this are endangered bees. The rusty patched bumblebee’s population has plummeted nearly 90% since the 1990’s in the United States. Bees play a vital role in pollination for agriculture, globally honey bees are the world's most important pollinator of food crops. It is estimated that one-third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees.
The Countries with the most threatened mammal species.
For World Environment Day on 5th June, Eco2Greetings have used World Bank data to highlight where in the world mammals are most in need of protection and conservation. The map reveals the top 10 countries with the most threatened mammals.
The number of mammals in Eco2Greeting’s top 10 list who are on the brink of extinction is 898, and they are struggling to survive in all corners of the world; from Australia and Malaysia to Mexico and Brazil. Indonesia is the country taking the top spot of the most threatened mammal list. A gargantuan 188 species of mammal are classified as endangered here and will be wiped out completely if more is not done to conserve them in their corner of the world. Madagascar, home to the favourable Lemur is next with 120 of their national mammal species under threat.
Find the full interactive map here.
The Amazon rainforest already faces devastation thanks to climate change and deforestation. Now politics is set to make things a whole lot worse thanks to the Brazilian former President, Dilma Rousseff, being impeached.
How come? It looks like a subset of the National Congress of Brazil, which represents agribusinesses and big landowners, is using the political uncertainty to force through legislation designed to reverse various legal protections that have kept the forest relatively safe until now.
Greed sits at the heart of the initiative
This greedy group is keen to make more cash from the rainforest, and wants to open up former conservation areas to mining and agriculture in a horribly short-sighted initiative. Michel Temer, the ex-President's successor, isn't helping matters. He has decided to fast-track a handful of huge infrastructure development projects that require large-scale deforestation, including the hotly contested Cuiaba-Santarem road, set to cut the Amazon in half with devastating results. At the same time the Brazilian Ministry of Environment's budget has just been cut by more than 40% and science budgets have plummeted by 44%, mirroring a post-truth cut in similar budgets in other countries.
All this means Brazil’s long standing environmental licensing process could be under threat, with environmental law enforcement at an all-time low. Constitutional amendment 65 is the culprit, a piece of legislation that will force government agencies to agree all proposed infrastructure projects no matter how seriously they affect the forest. All that's needed is a three-fifths majority vote and amendment 65 will become law.
Goodbye to hard-won rainforest stability in the region
It's terrible news since the Brazilian Amazon had been relatively stable for a decade or so until three years ago, when we saw a sudden and dramatic hike in new deforestation. 2016 saw a rise of just under 30% compared to 2015, something that conservationists are laying at the feet of global price hikes on soya beans and beef, both frequently grown on deforested land.
Indigenous landowners to the rescue
The best hope of positive action comes from the forests' indigenous people, who have enjoyed considerable success protecting their own land. In these areas deforestation is just 10% of that in non-indigenous owned areas. Around 3000 indigenous people are about to join an encampment in Brasilia to protest about the cuts in funding. As one commentator said in New Scientist magazine, (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129024-amazon-rainforest-under-threat-as-brazil-tears-up-protections/) “Indigenous people across the country are outraged at the failure to safeguard their land, without which they cannot survive.”
Add your voice to the protest
Can you help by protesting direct to the Brazilian government? Yes, you can. All you need to do is click here to see how you can help.
Dig beneath the surface of many a deforestation disaster and you'll find greed lurking. Madagascar is no different thanks to a recent sapphire rush that has generated worldwide interest from gem hunters, who are being blinded by the undoubted beauty and rarity of the country's brilliant blue, enormously precious stones.
Pressure groups are hoping for military intervention
Apparently tens of thousands of prospectors have already arrived in Madagascar's remote eastern rainforests in search of the costly gemstones, and they're busy disfiguring a region that is supposed to be officially protected, an environmental no-go area. The situation is so bad that officials in the country are threatening military intervention.
The problem is the sheer, magical quality of the gemstones being found in the incredibly biodiverse area called the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena. More have been dug up there during the past six months than have been found in the whole of the country in the past two decades, making this a gold rush-type event of legendary proportions. In fact it is being labelled the most important gemstone discovery in Madagascar for the past thirty years.
Thousands of acres of forest are being felled
The tiny village of Bemainty, once remote and quiet, is now teeming with miners and gem traders, who are busy felling thousands of acres of forest in the protected area. The environmental group Conservation International helps manage the region and they are horrified by the destruction of the forest, which is widely known as one of the island nation's most precious resources.
Madagascar already produces about half of the planet's high-end sapphires, around $150 million worth every year. But the latest rush is without precedent, a chaotic six month-long environmental tragedy that has already led the government over there to declare the protection of the region a national priority.
Officials are unable to control the sapphire rush
Sadly, so far local officials have been completely unable to control the ongoing rush, and have had very little help despite making numerous requests for military support. Some say it's because ‘too many influential people' are involved in trading the stones, another testament – as if one was needed – that human greed and short sightedness still holds sway over environmental concerns.
It's tempting to see the Amazon's rainforests as pristine environments mostly unaffected by mankind. It's equally tempting to see indigenous people as having very little impact on the natural forest environment. But new research reveals humans have an awful lot to do with the way Amazon forests have developed over the 8000 years or so that people have lived there.
Proof that Pre-Colombians colonised the Amazon and thrived there
New research reveals that the area's powerful Pre-Colombian civilisation changed the region profoundly. A team from Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Amazon Tree Diversity Network compared the distribution of 85 tree species, cross-referencing them with known archaeological sites. What they found was a surprise. It looks like the trees that were once domesticated by the pre-Columbians still dominate the forest, being five times more likely to grow around ruined cities and settlements than non-domesticated trees.
Out with the old, in with the new
The finding is already generating heated debate amongst scientists, challenging the old view that somehow, thousands of years of human occupation didn't really impact today's levels of diversity. And it's interesting to see which trees these ancient people valued most. They cultivated Brazil nuts and cacao, rubber, acai palm, cashew, caimito and tucuma palm, all species that are widely found to this day around the ruins of their cities. It looks like the Amazon is not as untouched as everyone assumed.
Why does it matter?
The results matter because they can be used to examine the agricultural history of the region. The Amazon is unbelievably vast, which usually makes research tricky, but the sheer quantity of new archaeological sites found recently, partly thanks to good quality satellite imagery, reveal the pre-Columbians' powerful ecological legacy.
No longer can we claim that the Amazon rainforest was only sparsely populated before Europeans arrived on the scene. The pre-Columbians lived and thrived in the Amazon region, just as they did across the rest of South America.
There's some very good news too – interestingly, the domesticated tree species are tipped to re-colonise deforested areas more readily than non-domesticated species, and they can do it without help from humans.
Think peat and you might picture Ireland, where vast tracts of the stuff were systematically dug up over hundreds if not thousands of years, leaving huge black scars marring the landscape. Or you might find yourself picturing a garden centre with stacks of peat-based potting compost. It's unlikely the Congo Basin would spring to mind, but a vast peatland in the Congo Basin has just been mapped for the first time, and it turns out it's the biggest in the tropics.
Stashing 30 billion tonnes of carbon safely
It's called the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, it's located in the central Congo Basin, and as little as five years ago nobody had a clue it existed. But it covers a whopping 145,500 square kilometres, a chunk of land bigger than England. Importantly, this huge tract of land sucks up and locks in an awesome 30 billion tonnes of carbon, and it's one of the richest carbon ecosystems on the planet, stashing an amount the same as three years' worth of the planet's total fossil fuel emissions.
Understanding what makes the peatlands tick
Professor Simon Lewis and Dr Greta Dargie, from University of Leeds and University College London, discovered the peatlands on a 2012 field trip to the region. They contain almost a third of the world's tropical peatland carbon, equalling around two decades' worth of fossil fuel emissions given off in the USA, and the resulting peatland map created by the team marks an important first step in understanding exactly what makes this remarkable ecosystem tick.
A vital resource in the fight against climate change
Peat is made from partly-rotted down plants, and it tends to be made in cooler areas of the world. Peat acts as a powerful carbon sink, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere via plant growth. Because it's waterlogged, the plant matter doesn't completely decompose, locking carbon in. If peatlands dry out, the decomposition process kicks off again and CO2 gets released back into the atmosphere. As you can imagine, intact peatlands are a vital resource in the fight against climate change, and it's important to maintain them.
An urgent need to consider peatlands in conservation plans
Carbon has been steadily building up in the Congo Basin's peatlands for almost eleven thousand years. Destroy it and billions of tonnes of CO2 would be released into the earth's atmosphere. The Congolese peatlands are such a new discovery they aren't taken into account in conservation plans, which puts them at serious risk.
Guest post by The Rainforest Foundation.
Rainforest conservation hits the headlines regularly for the most important global reasons, things like climate change, habitat destruction, oil pipelines and deforestation. Now the ‘Lost City of the Monkey God' has been uncovered in the rainforests of Honduras, one of the last great unexplored areas on earth.
The city's original inhabitants fled some time during the 1500s, believing their city to be cursed with disease and bad luck. In fact the natives were suffering from illnesses brought in by invading and settling Europeans, who also enslaved them.
An American author, one Douglas Preston, and a team of explorers set off to explore the dense Honduran and Nicaraguan rainforests and find the ancient city. The journey was exceptionally hazardous, studded with threats from poisonous snakes and involving fighting their way through incredibly thick vegetation.
The secrets of the massive Mosquitia rainforest revealed
The team's journey kicked off in the stunning Mosquitia rainforest, which covers a massive 20,000 square miles of Central America. The city was thought to be a legend, sometimes called the White City, other times the City of the Monkey God, and rumours have tantalized adventurers since the 1600s. One explorer, Steve Elkins, had been hunting for the city since the 1990s without success when he brought Preston in to document his latest expedition.
They are just two of many adventurers who have entered the jungle in search of the city. People have been looking for the ancient metropolis for hundreds of years, coveting the potentially precious objects left behind by its fleeing citizens.
High tech equipment reveals the lost city
This time around Elkins and Preston used contemporary technology to locate the ruined city, namely clever laser imaging equipment designed to scan hundreds of miles of jungle in just a few days, ‘seeing' through the trees with ease to map the ground remarkably accurately. On locating the city they soon uncovered a fascinating treasure trove of artefacts, including personal belongings.
See the documentary, read the book
A documentary about the expedition is currently being produced and there's a book too, just out, called The Lost City of the Monkey God and published by Grand Central. If you fancy a real, old-fashioned adventure full of thrills, it's a great read.