The Tucuruí dam as seen from the air. Bruno Huberman courtesy of Repórter do Futuro / Wikimedia Commons
By Claire Salisbury
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By Claire Salisbury
By Michael Tatarski
Throughout the month of March, a unique graffiti campaign popped up on the walls of several streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the hyperactive commercial capital of Vietnam. The works differed from the usual tags and designs that adorn urban areas around the world. The graffiti pieces, 17 in all, carry a simple message: "Save the rhinos" or "Cứu tê giác" in Vietnamese.
By Shreya Dasgupta
Pangolin—the world's most trafficked mammal—continues to be killed in huge numbers.
On Wednesday, Chinese customs officials announced that they had seized more than three metric tons (3,000 kilograms or 6,600 pounds) of pangolin scales in Shanghai. This is the country's largest-ever smuggling case involving pangolin parts, officials reportedly said.
Customs officials discovered the massive amount of scales on Dec. 10, 2016. The scales had been packed in 101 bags concealed within a timber consignment imported from Africa. Some 5,000 to 7,500 wild pangolins are estimated to have been killed for these scales, officials told ShanghaiDaily.com.
Three people have been arrested so far, and the case is still under investigation according to South China Morning Post.
Pangolins use their scaly armor to protect themselves. Unfortunately, these protective scales have become the very reason for their population collapse.
Today, eight species of pangolins survive, four each in Asia and Africa. All four Asian species are on the verge of extinction, while the African species are moving towards a similar fate, thanks to rising demand for pangolin meat and scales in China.
Although pangolin scales are made of keratin, just like human fingernails and rhino horns, people (incorrectly) believe that they contain medicinal properties. Traders claim that pangolin scales can promote menstruation and lactation, and treat rheumatism and arthritis. But these claims remain unproven. Consumption of pangolins has also become a status symbol as supply becomes scarce and demand increases.
The three ton seizure is just the tip of an iceberg, officials say.
According to a new study published in Conservation Letters, more than 21,000 kilograms (~46,000 pounds) of scales and 23,109 individual pangolins were recorded in a total of 206 seizure reports between January 2008 and March 2016. This is equivalent to nearly 66,000 individuals, the researchers estimate.
Most seizures were made at three Chinese cities—Fangchenggang, Kunming and Guangzhou. This suggests that "Interventions in these cities could have a disproportionately strong impact on the entire illegal pangolin trade network," the authors write in the paper.
Vietnam appears to be the major source country for illegal pangolins seized in China, the study found, with Fangchenggang the major entry point. Myanmar, too, serves as an important source of pangolins and is fast emerging as a major transit hub for smuggled pangolins and their parts to meet China's demands.
Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) in central Democratic Republic of the Congo.Valerius Tygart / Wikimedia Commons
All eight species were recently up-listed to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This bans international trade in these animals and represents the highest level of protection available under international law.
But disrupting the illegal pangolin trade will require "significant cooperation and coordination between China's dispersed law enforcement parties: customs in screening cargo, urban administrative police in inspecting of markets, traffic police in checking private cars, People's Armed Police and forestry police in monitoring borders and remote areas," the researchers write.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Shreya Dasgupta
Discovering a new species is always exciting—it shows that much of our world remains to be explored and described. This year, too, scientists discovered and described several new species of animals and plants, including 13 new dancing peacock spiders, a new crab that was found in a pet market, a new species of whale, a tarantula that shoots balls of barbed hair at enemies and one bird that is now 13 distinct species.
Below are Mongabay's picks for top new species discovered in 2016 (in no particular order). Note: for each entry, the publication and author are listed in parentheses.
When a dead whale washed up in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands in 2014, people believed that it was a Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii). But subsequent DNA tests showed that the whale is very likely a new species of beaked whale, smaller and darker than its cousin, the Baird's, with a larger dorsal fin and a distinctly shaped skull. The whale appears to be rare, although Japanese whalers—who refer to the whale as karasu, or raven, due to its dark color—claim to have seen it in life. However, very little is known about the new beaked whale's behavior, and scientists are yet to give it a new name.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Baird's beaked whales are capable of diving to depths of 9,840 feet (3,000 meters).
In two separate studies, researchers announced the discovery of several new species of brilliantly colored peacock spiders—miniscule spiders with elaborate dance moves, known only from Australia. In one paper, biologist Jürgen C. Otto, and spider expert David Knowles described seven new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus vespa, a spider with a distinct pattern of wasp on its tail flap, and M. bubo, which seems to have the face of a horned owl inscribed on its back. In a second paper, researchers Barbara Baehr and Robert Whyte described six new species of peacock spiders, including Maratus lincunxin, named after Chinese-trained dancer and Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin.
The pattern on M. bubo's back resembles an owl.
Photo credit: Jürgen C. Otto
Discovered in the forests of southern Colombia, the new species of reddish-violet orchid Telipogon diabolicus has a wine-red or maroon reproductive structure that resembles a devil's head. The new orchid is known only from a single population of 30 orchids found, and is already on the verge of extinction. The lone population is found in a vulnerable habitat close to the main road Pasto-Mocoa.
Close-up of the new orchid species Telipogon diabolicus showing its flower resembling a devil's head.
Photo credit: Marta Kolanowska
This year, scientists used genetic analysis to describe three new species of mouse lemurs that live in the South and East Madagascar: Microcebus boraha, Microcebus ganzhorni, and Microcebus manitatra. This brings the number of known mouse lemurs—the world's tiniest primates—to 24. All three mouse lemurs are small, nocturnal animals with brown fur and large eyes.
Microcebus ganzhorni is named in honor of the Hamburg ecologist Prof. Jörg Ganzhorn who has worked on ecology and conservation in Madagascar for more than thirty years.
Photo credit: G. Donati
At a depth of 150 meters in the West Pacific, off the coast of Batangas, Luzon, Philippine Islands, scientists have discovered a new species of strikingly colored fish that belongs to a group of fish called groppos. The fish was discovered without the use of submarines or other indirect methods, making it the deepest new fish discovery done by diving to date. The scientists have named the pink-and-yellow-hued fish Brianne's Groppo or Grammatonotus brianne.
Brianne's Groppo (Grammatonotus brianne).
Photo credit: Luiz Rocha
This new silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum) was found in a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago called the Conception Island Bank. It is a nonvenomous, constricting snake, and one of the most endangered boid snakes globally, a group that includes boa constrictors and anacondas. Scientists believe that it should be listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
The Bahamian silver boa or Conception Bank silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum).
Photo credit: Graham Reynolds / UNC-Ashville
Discovered in the remote upper reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, India, the cuddly new rabbit-like animal, Sikkim pika (Ochotona sikimeria), was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika (Ochotona thibetana). But the two species are not even closely related, scientists say. The new species was identified by analyzing genetic data sampled from its poop, and comparing it with the DNA of other related pikas. The new species seems to be abundant in Sikkim and may not be immediately threatened by extinction.
The new species—named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria—was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana.
Photo credit: Prasenjeet Yadav
Biologists discovered an entire new sub-group of plants in Central America and the Caribbean Islands that they have named Jamesbondia. The name does not honor the popular spy character James Bond. Instead, the group gets its name from notable American ornithologist James Bond (1900-1989), who was an expert in Caribbean birds and author of the book Birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming—also a keen birdwatcher—is believed to have used the ornithologist's name for his fictional spy series.
A new subgenus of plants has officially been called Jamesbondia.
Photo credit: Taylor & Francis
A new species of a giant arapaima—massive fish that breathe through primitive lungs—may be lurking in the backwaters of the Amazon. National Geographic explorer Donald J. Stewart and his colleagues claim to have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana. Stewart believes there may be more distinct species of arapaimas currently unknown to science. Arapaimas, which can grow up to 10 feet long and weight 440 pounds, are little-studied and highly endangered.
Scientists have found genetic evidence of at least one new species of arapaima in southwestern Guyana.
Photo credit: Jeff Kubina / Flickr
The new species of tarantula, Kankuamo marquezi, is a badass. Discovered in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria mountain range in Colombia, the tarantula subdues its enemies by shooting a ball of barbed hairs into the air that it releases by rubbing its hind legs against its belly vigorously. The hairs have sharp tips that can then penetrate into the enemy's skin or mucous membrane, causing irritation. The scientists have named the sspider, K. marquezi, after famous Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature for "One hundred years of solitude."
The new tarantula stabs its butt's bristled hairs into its enemy directly instead of releasing a flying cloud of sharp hairs into the air as many other tarantulas do.
Photo credit: Dirk Weinmann
Thanks to photographs on Arkive, a website that hosts thousands of pictures of flora and fauna, two naturalists could identify two previously unrecorded species of Magnolia, one of Earth's oldest flowering plants. Roberto Pedraza Ruiz had photographed several plants within eastern Mexico's Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in 2010 and uploaded it to Arkive. After seeing the photos, biologist José Antonio Vázquez, living 200 miles away, identified two of the plants as new species of Magnolia. One of the species, Magnolia rzedowskiana, was named after Jerzy Rzedoswski, a Mexican botanist, while the second species will be named Magnolia pedrazae, in honor of its photographer.It was this image that first raised questions. It is now identified as a Magnolia rzedowskiana flower.
Photo credit: Roberto Pedraza Ruiz
Scientists have discovered a new species of Scops owl on Príncipe, one of the two major islands that make up the country of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Central Africa. The owl had been long rumored to exist by researchers. But Belgian ornithologist Philippe Verbelen confirmed the presence of the owl during an expedition in the forests of Príncipe, during which he photographed at least two different individuals. The owl is yet to be formally described.
A photo of the previously undiscovered Scops owl (Otus) discovered in the forests of Príncipe Island (Gulf of Guinea).
Photo credit: Philippe Verbelen
The new plant—named Gastrodia kuroshimensis—was discovered on the Japanese island of Kuroshima. It occurs in the dark understory of forests where little light penetrates. So instead of using sunlight or photosynthesis to generate nutrients, the plant parasitizes the fungi in the forest soil for its daily dose of nutrition. The new plant also produces dark greenish-brown flowers that remain closed throughout the entire flowering period, relying completely on self-pollination within closed buds.
Photo credit: Kenji Suetsugu
Gryffindor! The biologists who discovered this new spider in a forest in central Western Ghats, India, are big fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Surprised by how closely the spider resembles the magical sorting hat, they chose to name it Eriovixia gryffindori after the hat's owner Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The tiny spider is an excellent mimic, and is adept at resembling dried foliage.
Eriovixia gryffindor, a new species of spider was discovered in Karnataka. India.
Photo credit: Sumukha J. N.
Around hydrothermal vents in Longqi ('Dragon's Breath'), 1,242 miles southeast of Madagascar, a research team has discovered six new species of deep-sea animals that are nourished by hot fluids gushing out of the vent chimneys. The new species include a hairy-chested 'Hoff' crab, closely related to 'Hoff' crabs at Antarctic vents; two species of snail and a species of limpet, and two species of deep-sea worms.
A group of hairy-chested 'Hoff crabs'.
Photo credit: University of Southampton
Scientists have described three new species of miniature salamanders, occurring in the remote mountains of Oaxaca in Mexico, that are smaller than a matchstick. These tiny creatures belong to the elusive genus Thorius, members of which are the smallest four-legged animals on Earth. The group is also one of the most endangered genus of amphibians in the world, and the three newly discovered species are already on the verge of extinction, researchers say. The new salamanders have been named the pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola), the long-tailed minute salamander (Thorius longicaudus) and the heroic minute salamander (Thorius tlaxiacus).
A pine-dwelling minute salamander (Thorius pinicola)—one of the newly described species of minute salamander.
Photo credit: Mario García-París
Colorful freshwater crabs are being increasingly traded in South China's pet markets. At one such ornamental fish market in northern Guandong, China, researchers collected a new species of maroon-brown crab with reddish-purple claws and legs, which belongs to both a new species and a new genus. The scientists have named the newly described crab Yuebeipotamon calciatile, its species name "calciatile" referring to the pools of limestone hill streams where the crabs are found.
Close-up of a male individual of the new crab species and genus Yuebeipotamon calciatile.
Photo credit: Hsi-Te Shih
Scientists have discovered a new species of a very "leggy" millipede inside a dark, marble cavern in Sequoia National Park, California. The tiny thread-like millipede has 414 legs, and is cousin to the 750-legged Illacme plenipes, the leggiest known millipede on earth, researchers say. It has some other odd features: its 20 millimeters-long body is covered in spines, tubercles, and silk-secreting hairs, and four of its legs are modified into penises or gonopods that it uses to transfer sperm into the female. Researchers have named the new species Illacme tobini after Ben Tobin, a cave specialist and hydrologist at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
The new species (Illacme tobini) of extremely leggy millipede from a Sequoia National Park cave.
Photo credit: Paul Marek / Virginia Tech
The parasitic plant, Rafflesia or corpse flower, produces the world's largest flowers. Now, on Luzon Island in the Phillipines, a team of scientists have discovered the smallest of these giant flowers. Some Rafflesia flowers can grow up to a meter and a half in diameter. But the newly discovered flower has an average diameter of 9.73 cm when fully expanded, making it a "dwarf" among all known Rafflesia species. The discovery was serendipitous — researchers tripped on the flower while walking in a forest on Luzon Island. Only two populations of R. consueloae are known from two mountain sites, Mt Balukbok and Mt Pantaburon, and the species may be Critically Endangered.
The newly described Rafflesia consueloae.
Photo credit: Edwino S. Fernando
For a long time, scientists believed that a single bird, the red bellied pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) that lives in the Philippines, was also found on a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, on Indonesia's Banggai and Sula Islands, and in Buru, Ambon and Seram in the south Moluccas. But a detailed genetic analysis and taxonomic review of the species revealed that the birds lumped under red-bellied pitta are actually 13 distinct species found around southeast Asia. This splitting of the species has important conservation implications, researchers say. The original red bellied pitta was classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. But a review of the population status of the new species shows that at least three are threatened and at risk of extinction.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.