By Rhett A. Butler  Last updated Aug 14, 2020

The Tropical Rainforest - information on tropical forests, deforestation, and biodiversity




The Latest News on Rainforests

Critics see payback in Indonesia’s plan to grant mining permits to religious groups (May 21 2024)
- Indonesia’s investment minister, Bahlil Lahadalia, has presented a government plan to give mining licenses to the country’s religious communities.
- Civil society groups have responded to the proposal by highlighting the lack of relevant expertise, as well as legal clauses that would currently preclude such a policy shift.
- The policy idea follows a move in 2022 to revoke operating permits over millions of hectares of land that were originally awarded to companies, but had sat undeveloped for years.

A forest restoration project brings birdsong back to Angola’s highest mountain (May 20 2024)
- Fires and unsustainable wood harvesting have depleted the Afromontane forests on Mount Moco, Angola’s highest mountain.
- The forests are home to a diverse variety of birds, some found only in Angola.
- Since 2010, a conservation project has sought to regrow some of the forest patches and to protect them from wildfires.
- The work is promoting bird conservation, but also benefiting the local human community by ensuring a reliable flow of freshwater out of the forest.

Organized crime puts unprecedented pressure on Guatemala’s largest rainforest (May 20 2024)
- The Maya Biosphere Reserve, stretching 2.2 million hectares (5.3 million acres) across northern Guatemala, has seen a wave of land invasions this year in areas that have historically not faced threats of colonization, like Naachtún-Dos Lagunas Biotope and Mirador-Rio Azul National Park.
- Those arrested for the incursions are often more heavily armed than in the past, something that the unarmed park guards can’t always handle on their own.
- Observers say criminal groups want to take advantage of the government’s broad support for agrarian reform to gain access to the land, which can be used to launder money on cattle ranches and move drugs across the Mexican border.

Photos confirm narcotraffickers operating in Peru’s Kakataibo Indigenous Reserve (May 17 2024)
- During a flyover on March 15 this year, Indigenous organizations and Ministry of Culture officials observed evidence of drug production and trafficking activity inside the Kakataibo Indigenous Reserve.
- They found three clandestine landing strips, one of them located in the center of the reserve, as well as large patches of deforested areas in the middle of the rainforest, some of them planted with illegal coca crops.
- The reserve was established in 2021 to protect Indigenous groups living in isolation, but has already lost more than 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) through illegal deforestation since then.

Setback for Guinea mine that threatens World Heritage chimp reserve (May 15 2024)
- Liberian President Joseph Boakai is backing U.K.-Indian firm ArcelorMittal over access to a key railway in northern Liberia.
- U.S. firm HPX wants to use the rail line to ship ore from its own project in neighboring Guinea to the Liberian port at Buchanan.
- HPX’s plan to mine ore from Guinea’s Nimba Mountains has encountered fierce opposition from some environmentalists, who say it would imperil the area’s tool-using chimpanzees.
- HPX has said it will partner with South Africa’s Guma Group to build a new railway in Liberia that runs parallel to the existing one, but the plans are reportedly in jeopardy over financing.

On a Borneo mountainside, Indigenous Dayak women hold fire and defend forest (May 15 2024)
- Indigenous women in Indonesian Borneo often have to combine domestic responsibilities with food cultivation, known as behuma in the dialect of the Dayak Pitap community in South Kalimantan province.
- Swidden agriculture relies on burning off discarded biomass before planting land in order to fertilize soil and limit pest infestations. But a law enforcement campaign to tackle wildfires has seen criminal prosecutions of at least 11 Borneo women for using fire to grow small-scale food crops from 2018-2022.
- Dayak women and several fieldworkers say the practice of burning is safe owing to cultural safeguards against fires spreading that have been passed down families for centuries.
- Indonesia’s 2009 Environment Law included a stipulation that farmers cultivating food on less than 2 hectares (5 acres) were exempt from prosecution, but Mongabay analysis shows prosecutors and police have pressed charges against small farmers using other laws.

Environmental defenders paid the price during Panama’s historic mining protests – report (May 14 2024)
- Last year’s protests against a copper mine in Panama resulted in injuries, lost eyesight and several deaths, according to a new report from the Foundation for Integral Community Development and the Conservation of Ecosystems in Panama (FUNDICCEP) and Panamanian National Network in Defense of Water.
- The protests were in response to a new contract for the Cobre Panamá copper mine operated by Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals (FQM).
- Environmental defenders are concerned that another crackdown could take place should there be protests against renewed mining negotiations with the government of President-elect José Raúl Mulino, who takes office July 1.

Hold my ointment: Wild orangutan observed healing wound with medicinal plant (May 14 2024)
- Researchers observed a wild orangutan in Sumatra treating a facial wound with a plant known for its healing properties, marking the first documented case of such behavior in a wild animal.
- The adult male Sumatran orangutan was observed chewing on the plant Fibraurea tinctoria, which has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects, and rubbing the resultant ointment on the wound, which later healed without infection.
- This finding supports the idea that orangutans might self-medicate, demonstrating their cognitive abilities and drawing parallels to human practices.
- Conservationists have welcomed the finding, highlighting its significance for understanding forest biodiversity and the urgency of protecting orangutan habitat amid declining populations and persistent threats.

Latest palm oil deforester in Indonesia may also be operating illegally (May 13 2024)
- The biggest deforestation hotspot for palm oil in Indonesia is located on a small island off the southern Borneo coast, new data show.
- Up to 10,650 hectares (26,317 acres) of forest — one-sixth the size of Jakarta — were cleared from 2022-2023 inside the concession of PT Multi Sarana Agro Mandiri (MSAM), part of the influential Jhonlin Group.
- Activists say the company’s operations may be illegal, given the questionable process through which it obtained its permits.
- However, law enforcers have ignored calls to investigate, and previous efforts by journalists to expose the group’s business practices have led to their criminal prosecution on hate speech charges.

Despite drought, Amazon deforestation alerts hit five-year low (May 10 2024)
- The Brazilian Amazon experienced a 47% decrease in deforestation in April compared to last year, marking the lowest level in five years, and a 51% decrease over the past 12 months.
- Since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in January 2023, his administration has effectively curbed deforestation by reinstating conservation programs, strengthening environmental agencies, and supporting Indigenous rights.
- The decline in deforestation occurred despite a severe drought affecting the region, which includes record fires in the state of Roraima.

Desperation sets in for Indigenous Sumatrans who lost their forests to plantations (May 9 2024)
- The seminomadic Suku Anak Dalam Indigenous people have lived in two areas of what is now Jambi province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island for generations, but an influx of plantation interests has shrunk the customary territory available to their society.
- More than 2,000 Suku Anak Dalam have lost their land to oil palm and rubber plantations, which have also led to a loss of the native trees from which community members collect forest honey to sell.
- Several Suku Anak Dalam interviewees said state-owned rubber plantation company PT Alam Lestari Nusantara had failed to properly compensate them for their land.
- The company did not respond to several requests for comment.

Indonesian company defies order, still clearing peatlands in orangutan habitat (May 9 2024)
- Indonesian Pulpwood producer PT Mayawana Persada is continuing to clear peatlands on critical Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) habitat, despite a government order to stop clearing.
- An NGO coalition analysis found that 30,296 hectares (74,900 acres) of peatland, including 15,560 hectares (38,400 acres) of protected lands, had been converted as of March; 15,643 hectares (38,700 acres) of known Bornean orangutan habitat were cleared between 2016 and 2022.
- Conservationists are calling on the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to revoke the company’s permits.

Secrets from the rainforest’s past uncovered in Amazonian backyards (May 8 2024)
- Riverbank communities in Amazonas and Rondônia are helping to piece together the puzzle of human presence in the rainforest over the last 10,000 years with archaeological remains found in their backyards and nearby their homes.
- Preserved in household museums, pottery fragments compose a collective project drawing together scientists and communities seeking to understand Amazonia’s past.
- Ancestral soils known as Amazonian Dark Earths with remains of farming and food preparation are offering clues about how humans transformed the forest over time

New illegal logging threatens Liberia’s forests amid vague ban (May 2 2024)
- Large-scale commercial operators are evading Liberian forestry regulations by illegally processing wood destined for export on-site in forests.
- Timber milled in forests with chainsaws is legally restricted to the production of boards by artisanal loggers for sale on the domestic market, but reporting by Liberian newspaper The Daylight and research by U.S.-based NGO Forest Trends has found large-scale operators producing thicker blocks of high-value wood for export.
- Chainsaw-milled timber isn’t entered into the country’s timber-tracking system, meaning producers can evade sustainable forestry regulations as well as taxes and benefits due to local communities.
- The country’s Forestry Development Authority says it has banned production of this type of timber, but campaigners say it has done little to publicize the ban or prevent traffickers from exploiting this loophole.

What’s at stake for the environment in Panama’s upcoming election? (Apr 30 2024)
- Panama holds elections Sunday, May 5 for president, vice president and all 71 seats in its national assembly.
- Several presidential candidates have a chance to win, including José Raúl Mulino, Romulo Roux, Ricardo Lombana and Martín Torrijos.
- They will have to address the country’s recent closure of a controversial mine, water shortages and an out-of-date waste management system that has led to pollution and public health concerns.

Borneo and Sumatra megaprojects are carving up clouded leopard forests (Apr 29 2024)
- Massive infrastructure projects currently underway on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra are set to severely erode forest connectivity across key habitats of the Sunda clouded leopard.
- Two major highway networks and the relocation of Indonesia’s capital city to Borneo will further fragment the domain of the arboreal predator that has already experienced steep population declines in recent decades due to the expansion of oil palm and poaching.
- Experts say the findings will help to target conservation actions, but they add that road design standards and development planning processes remain woefully inadequate in the region.
- The authors call for improved development strategies that seriously consider sustainability and include data-based environmental assessments and mitigation measures, such as wildlife crossings and avoidance of sensitive ecosystems.

Women weave a culture of resistance and agroecology in Ecuador’s Intag Valley (Apr 25 2024)
- In Ecuador’s Intag Valley, the women’s artisan collective Mujer y Medio Ambiente (Women and the Environment) has developed an innovative way to dye and stitch fibers from the cabuya plant, an agave-like shrub.
- The women use environmentally friendly techniques, such as natural dyes from native plants and insects, and agroecological farming practices to cultivate cabuya as a complementary crop to their primary harvests.
- Being part of the collective has empowered the women economically and personally, enabling them to contribute to their children’s education, gain autonomy, and become community leaders in the nearly 30-year struggle to keep mining companies out of their forests.
- In March 2023, the community’s resistance paid off when a provincial court recognized that mining companies had violated the communities’ constitutional rights and canceled their permits, setting an important precedent for protecting constitutional and environmental rights in Ecuador.

Deforestation haunts top Peruvian reserve and its Indigenous communities (Apr 24 2024)
- Peru’s Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, considered one of the best-protected nature reserves in the world, has seen a spike in deforestation on its fringes from the expansion of illegal coca cultivation and mining, and new road construction.
- The forest loss appears to be affecting the ancestral lands of several Indigenous communities, including the Harakbut, Yine and Matsiguenka peoples, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).
- The report found that 19,978 hectares (49,367 acres) of forest have been cleared in the buffer of the reserve over the past two decades.
- According to Indigenous leaders, the state is doing “practically nothing” to address deforestation drivers in the buffer zone, and they warn that if left unchecked, the activity will spread into the protected area itself.

A web of front people conceals environmental offenders in the Amazon (Apr 22 2024)
- A paper trail left by a notorious land grabber reveals how he used relatives and an employee as fronts to evade environmental fines and lawsuits, shedding light on this widespread practice in the Brazilian Amazon.
- Fronts prevent the real criminals from having their assets seized to pay for environmental fines, besides consuming time and resources from the authorities, who spend years trying to prove who the real financier of the deforestation is.
- Experts say it’s best to go after environmental offenders where it hurts the most, by seizing their assets, rather than to chase down their true identity.
- This investigation is part of a partnership between Mongabay and Repórter Brasil.

Study challenges use of charismatic wildlife as umbrella species for conservation (Apr 20 2024)
- A new study from Indonesia’s Leuser forests challenges the traditional use of charismatic “umbrella species” like tigers and rhinos to represent ecosystem biodiversity.
- Researchers found that focusing on these well-known species neglects other important wildlife and may not accurately represent overall biodiversity.
- Instead, the study proposes a data-driven approach using camera-trap data to identify the most suitable umbrella species based on their association with higher levels of community occupancy and diversity.
- The study identified the sambar deer and Sunda clouded leopard as better umbrella species than tigers and rhinos in the Leuser Ecosystem, highlighting the need for a more comprehensive approach to wildlife conservation that includes multiple species, not just the most charismatic ones.

Indonesian capital project finally gets guidelines to avoid harm to biodiversity (Apr 19 2024)
- Beset by criticism over its environmental and social impacts, the controversial project of building Indonesia’s new capital city in the Bornean jungle has finally come out with guidelines for biodiversity management.
- The country’s president has hailed the Nusantara project as a “green forest city,” but just 16% of its total area is currently intact rainforest.
- The new biodiversity master plan outlines a four-point mitigation policy of avoiding harm, minimizing any inevitable impacts, restoring damaged landscapes, and compensating for residual impacts.
- The master plan considered input from experts, but several didn’t make it into the final document, including a call for the mitigation policy to extend to a wider area beyond the Nusantara site.

Deforestation alerts in the Brazilian Amazon fall to a 5-year low (Apr 18 2024)
- Forest clearing detected by Brazil’s deforestation alert system fell to the lowest level in nearly five years.
- According to data released last week by the country’s space agency, INPE, deforestation registered over the past twelve months amounts to 4,816 square kilometers, 53% below the level this time last year.
- The drop in deforestation has occurred despite a severe drought affecting much of the Amazon basin.

Sierra Leone cacao project boosts livelihoods and buffers biodiversity (Apr 18 2024)
- The Gola rainforest in West Africa, a biodiversity hotspot, is home to more than 400 species of wildlife, including endemic and threatened species, and more than 100 forest-dependent communities living just outside the protected Gola Rainforest National Park and dependent on the forest for their livelihoods.
- In the last few decades, logging, mining, poaching and expanding agriculture have driven up deforestation rates and habitat loss for rainforest-dependent species, prompting a voluntary REDD+ carbon credit program in 2015 to incentivize conservation and provide alternative livelihoods.
- One activity under the REDD+ project is shade-grown cacao plantations, which provide a wildlife refuge while generating income for cacao farmers in the region.
- Independent evaluations have found that the REDD+ program has slowed deforestation, increased household incomes, and avoided 340,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually — all while enjoying support from local communities.

Protected areas bear the brunt as forest loss continues across Cambodia (Apr 17 2024)
- In 2023, Cambodia lost forest cover the size of the city of Los Angeles, or 121,000 hectares (300,000 acres), according to new data published by the University of Maryland.
- The majority of this loss occurred inside protected areas, with the beleaguered Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary recording the highest rate of forest loss in what was one of its worst years on record.
- A leading conservation activist says illegal logging inside protected areas is driven in part by demand for luxury timber exports, “but the authorities don’t seem to care about protecting these forests.”
- Despite the worrying trend highlighted by the data, the Cambodian government has set an ambitious target of increasing the country’s forest cover to 60% by 2050.

On the trail of Borneo’s bay cat, one of the world’s most mysterious felines (Apr 15 2024)
- The bay cat, named for its brownish-red coat, is arguably the most elusive of all the world’s wildcats. And among the most endangered.
- The bay cat is the only feline endemic to Borneo. Researchers — some of whom have never seen the cat in the wild — say it is potentially threatened by habitat loss and killings by locals, with accidental snaring another possible major cause of loss.
- But the biggest threat may be ignorance. In order to better protect this species, researchers urgently need to figure out: Why is it so rare? And why is it vanishing?
- Jim Sanderson, the world’s leading expert on wildcats, suggests research on the bay cat should focus on why it’s so uncommon, what is causing its decline, and how to reduce those threats. Then conservationists can make a viable plan to protect it.