Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
As a deadly zoonotic disease spreads across the globe, China is temporarily banning its wild animal trade.
The Story: China recently announced a temporary ban on its wild animal trade following the rapid spread of the coronavirus, which has already infected 9,800 people and killed more than 200 people worldwide, reported Natasha Daly for National Geographic. The disease is thought to have originated in bats, though the current outbreak can be sourced to a live animal and fish market in Wuhan, in central China. Declared a “global health emergency” by the World Health Organization, the virus’s animal origins have propelled conservationists and Chinese citizens to call for a permanent ban on the wild animal trade, to prevent future outbreaks of this and other deadly zoonotic diseases.
The Big Picture: Described as “cauldrons of contagion” by scientists, wildlife markets in Asia often house as many as 40 different species, which can carry a range of diseases that humans would otherwise not have come in contact with. As a major driver of global illegal wildlife trafficking, China and the country’s ban on the wildlife trade could help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases, while protecting species around the world.
Indigenous peoples in Africa’s Congo Basin are battling for their land against massive logging companies.
The Story: As deforestation from logging increases in the Congo Basin of Africa, indigenous peoples in the region are fighting for their land and working with the government to establish indigenous-managed “community forests,” reported Jack Losh for The New York Times. Early in 2019, the Central African Republic legally established its first community forest, where Bayaka indigenous peoples monitored poachers to protect wildlife and generated revenue for their community by selling sustainable non-timber forest products such as honey and cocoa. After intense opposition from the logging industry, however, the government shut down this community forest at the end of 2019.
The Big Picture: “There’s so much evidence now that indigenous peoples manage their environment better than anyone else,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, a global indigenous rights group. Though they account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples use or manage more than a quarter of Earth’s surface — and indigenous-managed land is proven to show less species decline and pollution. By giving indigenous peoples legal rights over their land, governments can ensure the protection of their country’s forests, which can help reduce carbon emissions and forestall climate breakdown.
A radar-equipped seabird patrol is helping to track illegal fishing vessels across the high seas.
The Story: After outfitting 169 albatrosses — large seabirds — with radar detectors to monitor illegal fishing, scientists discovered that more than 37 percent of fishing vessels in the international waters of the Southern Indian Ocean were not broadcasting their locations, reported Katherine Kornei for The New York Times. For 17 months, the seabirds’ radar detectors transmitted data to the scientists and showed that more than a third of fishing vessels in these waters had illegally turned off their transponders, which report their location, speed, identity and more to maritime authorities.
The Big Picture: “A lot of boats prefer not to be located,” said Henri Weimerskirch, marine ecologist and lead scientist on this project. Hiding their boats’ locations enables illegal fishers to engage in human trafficking and illegal fishing practices without fear of punishment from authorities. Monitoring systems — such as the seabird radar detectors — are critical to tracking illicit activities on the high seas, though broader regulations and stricter enforcement by governments, businesses and NGOs are necessary across the entire seafood industry to address human rights abuses at a larger scale.
Cover image: An albatross flying in Ecuador. (© Conservation International/Will Turner)