When you stand in the Chimanimani Mountains, it’s difficult to reconcile their present serenity with their beleaguered past. From the valleys below, enormous walls of gray stone rise above dense deciduous forests. Hidden among various crevices are ancient rock paintings, made in the late Stone Age by the San people, also known as Bushmen; they depict dancing men and women, and hunting parties chasing after elephants. There’s even a painting of a crocodile so enormous that it may forever deter you from the riverbank.
As you climb higher, toward Mount Binga, Mozambique’s highest peak, the forests flatten into expanses of montane grasslands. Wild, isolated, lost in time, it’s a place where rich local traditions live on, where people still talk about ancestral spirits and sacred rituals. A local guide there once told me about a sacred mountain, Nhamabombe, where rainmakers still go to make rain.
Gorongosa, Mozambique’s most famous national park, Chimanimani National Park marks the latest triumph in an environmental renaissance for a country where, just 30 years ago, armies were still funding wars with the blood of poached wildlife.
BIOFUND, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation, and Fauna & Flora International, an international wildlife conservation organization. The expeditions involved scientists from seven countries, including several from Mozambique.
As a doctoral student completing my field research in Gorongosa, I participated as the mammal expert on the annual biodiversity surveys. After finishing my Ph.D. in 2018, I shifted to a career in photojournalism. I went on my last two biodiversity surveys in 2018 and 2019 — first in Chimanimani’s buffer zone, then in the heart of Chimanimani — as the photographer.
These surveys are like biological treasure hunts. Scientists, each with a different specialty, are let loose in the landscape to unearth as many species as they can.
The mammalogists set camera traps for large mammals like antelope, live traps for small mammals like rodents, and mist nets for bats. The ornithologists arm themselves primarily with binoculars, their ears and an astonishing memory for bird songs. By day, the entomologists sweep their butterfly nets in the grassland and, by night, often stand at a light surrounded by clouds of insects, picking them out of their hair and waiting for something interesting to land.
The herpetologists, or reptile and amphibian specialists, shoot rubber bands to temporarily stun lizards, dive into knee-high water after agile frogs, and generally avoid being bitten by venomous snakes while far away from medical care.
By contrast, the botanists have a tranquil task: there’s something relaxing and almost elegant about strolling across the mountainside, inspecting beautiful flowers and pressing some in paper for posterity.
Biodiversity surveys are not for the faint of heart, and they cast more than a little doubt on the idea that scientists are all boring nerds in lab coats.
Through the years, I myself have been bitten by a tarantula, several bats, a mouse, countless insects and even a (nonvenomous) snake. Once, back in New Jersey after a survey, a doctor flushed my ears when I complained of muffled hearing. Out poured dozens of tiny, wax-entombed insects in various shapes and sizes. (The experts often wear plugs in their ears while standing at the insect light for this exact reason.)
There’s something about this change of pace that I’ve always found immensely appealing. In the cool Chimanimani mornings, the scientists who didn’t have to be up before dawn chasing their species would lounge, sipping instant coffee from plastic mugs and watching the clouds cast shadows onto the giant rock dome.
Featuring a diverse set of rare and endemic avian species, Chimanimani is a bird-watcher’s paradise. At Rio Nyahedzi, a camp some 4,000 feet above sea level, the survey’s ornithologists found the bokmakierie, a bird that was last seen in Mozambique in the 1970s. (Nyahedzi is close to Mount Binga, which lies directly on the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.)
As the park gets more attention, it will also attract hikers and rock climbers. Some of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls are 15 miles from the nearest road, and you can hike for days without seeing another human being. The park vibrates with solitude, adventure and discovery.
At the end of the two surveys, scientists in Chimanimani had found more than 1,400 species: 475 plants, 43 mammals, 260 birds, 67 amphibians and reptiles, and at least 582 species of insects. Some are new to science.
“It was amazingly productive as a rapid survey,” said Rob Harris, of Fauna & Flora International’s Mozambique program, emphasizing that the discoveries took place in a relatively short period of time.
The incredible diversity uncovered by the surveys is only a part of what’s known. As a whole, the Chimanimani Mountains are known to contain almost 1,000 plant species alone. Seventy-six plant and animal species are endemic to the Chimanimani Mountains, meaning they exist nowhere else on Earth.
Like all wild places, Chimanimani’s future is anything but certain. Endemic species are particularly threatened by climate change; because of their restricted range, they don’t have anywhere else to go as conditions become unsuitable. And human population growth will continue to jeopardize the fringes of the park. “The deforestation outside the park and in the buffer zone was alarming,” said Zak Pohlen, an ornithologist.
But as I reflect on these surveys and my time in Mozambique, I can’t help but feel full of hope. I am inspired every day by the passion of young Mozambican conservationists to safeguard their country’s disappearing wilderness. And most of all, I’m inspired by their optimism.
One of the goals of these surveys is to train young Mozambicans to take over leadership roles in conservation. Ana Gledis da Conceição, a Mozambican mammalogist, for example, spent several years assisting me in surveying mammals; by 2019, she was co-leading the mammal team with Mnqobi Mamba, a master’s student at the University of Eswatini.
Ms. da Conceição says she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be — a young scientist who fights for the conservation of biodiversity. “I want to invite young people like me to embrace this cause for the good of all of us,” she said.
“In spite of everything,” she added, “Mozambique has much to contribute to the future of conservation.”
After another dry winter that threatens to worsen water shortages across California, state officials have accused a water bottling company of diverting too much water from forests in the San Bernardino area.
The officials issued a draft cease-and-desist letter to the company last week — the latest development in a battle that has dragged on for years.
The company, BlueTriton, which was known as Nestlé Waters North America until it changed its name this month after being acquired by a private equity company, includes the bottled-water brands Poland Spring and Arrowhead.
In the letter, sent on April 23, the State Water Resources Control Board said that “Nestlé has 20 days from receipt of this notice” to respond. The process could lead to a formal cease-and-desist order, and possible monetary penalties, if it is formally approved by the board.
statement, referring to a waterway that runs through the San Bernardino area, east of Los Angeles.
It said the water diversion had led to “reduced downstream drinking water supply and impacts on sensitive environmental resources.”
In an emailed statement, a spokesman for BlueTriton said that the company was “disappointed” with the move and that it would pursue legal options to correct state officials’ “misinterpretation” of California law.
“For more than 125 years, BlueTriton Brands and its predecessors have sustainably collected water from Arrowhead Springs in Strawberry Canyon,” the company said. “We take pride in being good stewards of the environment, while providing an excellent product loved by Californians.”
Strawberry Creek is not the only place in California where the company collects water, but it has become a focal point for local organizations, residents and environmentalists — especially as California struggles with water shortages, deepening droughts and devastating wildfires.
Story of Stuff, an environmental advocacy group based in Berkeley, Calif., that has filed complaints against Nestlé. “It’s a poor use of our resources.”
The U.S. Forest Service charges the company an annual fee of $2,100 to maintain its infrastructure in the Strawberry Creek area, according to The Desert Sun, which investigated Nestlé’s activities in California in 2015 and reported that the Forest Service had been allowing the company to take water from the forest using a permit that had a 1988 expiration date.
Battles over the water diversion carried out by Nestlé — and, now, BlueTriton — have been brewing for years. State officials released a report on Nestlé’s water collection in 2017, and a revised report last week. Both said the company was diverting more water than had been permitted, which the company denies.
“This investigation has been a long time coming, and it’s taken several years due to its complexity, from both a technical and a legal standpoint,” said Robert Cervantes, a supervising engineer with the state’s water board.
“We just want BlueTriton to comply with California law,” he said, “especially now that we’re heading into another drought.”
The water board officials argue that BlueTriton is allowed to collect only about 2.4 million gallons of surface water in the area annually. That restriction applies to water in creeks and streams, as well as the springs that contribute to creeks and streams — not to water that percolates underground.
The company said it collected 59 million gallons from the water system last year, of which about 40 million gallons of overflow were returned to the area.
Florida and Michigan.
Critics of the company say that its efforts to drain natural water supplies for bottling have been wasteful, and that the bottles themselves contribute to plastic waste. Since at least last year, the company has been considering selling most of its bottled water operations in the United States and Canada. The sale and renaming of Nestlé Waters North America is in line with that push.
The water being siphoned from California streams depletes the natural environment in an area that was already prone to water shortages and wildfires, Mr. O’Heaney said. The draft of the cease-and-desist letter sent to BlueTriton last week was a significant step, he said, even though it cannot yet be formally enforced.
“I hope it’s a wake-up call for them,” he said, “that the business they just bought is not being seen in a positive light by the communities in which it operates.”
HONG KONG — The most popular reward for hiking to the top of Fu Shan, a hill near Hong Kong’s westernmost point, is a selfie backed by the setting sun, the gleaming new bridge across the Pearl River or a flight landing at the nearby airport.
But for those who look more closely, there is the chance of a rarer prize: a glimpse of Chinese white dolphins swimming among fishing boats and cargo ships in the milky jade water.
“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.
On the water below, a half-dozen tourist boats from the nearby fishing village of Tai O surrounded a single white dolphin. People cheered as it breached.
a report by 15 conservation groups and regional universities, as pollution, marine traffic and large-scale land reclamation projects have made the environment increasingly hostile.
coronavirus pandemic, however, has spurred some hope that the dolphins could find respite. Regional travel restrictions led to the suspension of high-speed ferries that crossed the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macau, a few times each hour, curbing one key threat to the animals.
“All vessel traffic is an issue, but high-speed ferries are a particular issue,” said Laurence McCook, head of oceans conservation for the WWF-Hong Kong. “They move so fast there’s a risk of vessel strike, but they also just physically disturb the dolphins because the dolphins run away from them.”
With the ferry suspension, dolphins are getting a little peace in one of their most favored areas in the region.
“What we have documented fairly clearly is that dolphins are moving back out into the ferry zone,” Mr. McCook said. “That actually is their most prime habitat under current circumstances.”
Still, the increased visibility of the white dolphins in places like the waters off Fu Shan is most likely the result of them being freer to use parts of their preferred territory rather than a sign that their numbers are rebounding, researchers say.
established a marine park to compensate for the loss of habitat, but dolphins have been slow to return, most likely because work continues in the area on a new runway.
“Every time we have a project like the bridge,” Mr. Ho said, “they set up a marine park as some kind of compensation. But we think it’s too late.”
On one recent survey trip, the first dolphin the team identified was number WL79, which Mr. Ho quickly identified by the V-shaped notch near its tail, the result of getting tangled in a fishing line or net.
“If we identify individuals, we can follow their life history — where they like to hang around, whether they have calves,” he said. “This is important, because one of the worries is reproductive rate of dolphins is quite low. To keep the population healthy, we want to see calves. But that’s not happening in Hong Kong.”
Newborn dolphins are gray in color and gradually lighten as they get older, their darker parts becoming distinct spots. Some become completely unspotted. They stay with their mothers for three to four years, but sometimes as long as eight or nine years, and typically live into their 30s.
Soon after the team spots another adult, WL168, identified by a large scar on its back. This one has also been seen near Macau, another Chinese territory 15 miles to the southwest, an indication of how local populations are not bound by political boundaries.
The dolphins eat a variety of fish, including gray mullet and lion head fish, the same sort of food, notes Mr. Ho, that appears in markets around Hong Kong. The overfishing of such species adds to the threats to dolphins, as does pollution from various sources including agricultural and industrial waste, urban runoff, discharge from ships and marine plastics.
Researchers also worry that dolphin viewing boats further stress the mammals, particularly those that race out from Tai O for a 20-minute, $25 trip.
Conservations groups say they hope the benefits of the ferry suspension will encourage regional governments and ferry companies to reconsider routes across the Pearl River. By traveling somewhat farther south, they could bypass key areas of dolphin habitat along Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island. Such a move would only add a few minutes to the trip, they say.
It would, of course, ease just one of the many threats the dolphins are facing.
“Rerouting the ferries is not a magic cure-all,” Mr. McCook said. “But we think that can help us catalyze other actions and demonstrate it’s not a fait accompli that we lose the dolphins.”
Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.
It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. After traversing some of the highest and most dangerous roads in the world, including the Tanglang La mountain pass, I ventured off to see a traditional selection of endangered animals: Asian elephants, greater one-horned rhinos, western hoolock gibbons.
While en route to Guwahati, Assam’s capital, I saw a 5-foot-tall bird towering near the roadside. I was so taken by its appearance that I asked the driver to pull over so I could have a better look. It had piercing blue eyes, an elongated electric-yellow neck, a wobbly, inflatable neck pouch, long legs that moved with a stiff military gait, and spindly black hairs atop its (mostly bald) prehistoric-looking head. Little did I know that this outlandish animal — also endangered, though not famously so — would change the course of my professional life.
ecologically important water storage basin threatened by pollution and encroachment.
cattle egrets, were the spectacular greater adjutants, who were circling and stiffly marching alongside the other foragers.
rare and endangered scavengers.
taxonomic bias, since humans generally favor attractive mammals with forward-facing eyes. “The more people who see hargilas as a bad omen, disease-carrier and pest,” Dr. Barman told me, “the more I am obsessed.”
towel-like textile — with transfixing speed and expertise.
Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer who lives in the Catskills. You can follow her work on Instagram.
With a million species at risk of extinction, dozens of countries are pushing to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030. Their goal is to hammer out a global agreement at negotiations to be held in China later this year, designed to keep intact natural areas like old growth forests and wetlands that nurture biodiversity, store carbon and filter water.
But many people who have been protecting nature successfully for generations won’t be deciding on the deal: Indigenous communities and others who have kept room for animals, plants and their habitats, not by fencing off nature, but by making a small living from it. The key to their success, research shows, is not extracting too much.
In the Brazilian Amazon, Indigenous people put their bodies on the line to protect native lands threatened by loggers and ranchers. In Canada, a First Nations group created a huge park to block mining. In Papua New Guinea, fishing communities have set up no-fishing zones. And in Guatemala, people living in a sprawling nature reserve are harvesting high-value timber in small amounts. In fact, some of those logs could end up as new bike lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge.
several scientific studies. Indigenous-managed lands in Brazil, Canada and Australia have as much or more biodiversity than lands set aside for conservation by federal and other governments, researchers have found.
That is in stark contrast from the history of conservation, which has a troubled record of forcing people off their land. So, it is with a mixture of hope and worry that many Indigenous leaders view this latest global goal, known as 30×30, led by Britain, Costa Rica and France. Some want a higher target — more than 50 percent, according to Mr. Díaz Mirabal’s organization — while others fear that they may once again be pushed out in the name of conservation.
Defending Land, Protecting Vital Forests
In the Brazilian Amazon, Awapu Uru Eu Wau Wau puts his life on the line to protect the riches of his ancestral lands: jaguars, endangered brown woolly monkeys, and natural springs from which 17 important rivers flow. His people, the Indigenous Uru Eu Wau Wau, have legal right to the land, but must constantly defend it from armed intruders.
murdered last April, part of a chilling pattern among land defenders across the Amazon. In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, at least 46 were murdered across Latin America. Many were Indigenous.
The community’s efforts have outsized benefits for the world’s 7.75 billion people: The Amazon, which accounts for half the remaining tropical rainforest in the world, helps to regulate Earth’s climate and nurtures invaluable genetic diversity. Research shows Indigenous property rights are crucial to reducing illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
A Collapse of Nature
Nature is under assault because humans gobble up land to grow food, harvest timber and dig for minerals, while also overfishing the oceans. Making matters worse, the combustion of fossil fuels is warming up the planet and making it harder for animals and plants to survive.
conservationists, has been taken up by a coalition of countries. It will be part of diplomatic negotiations to be held in Kunming, China, this fall, under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. The United States is the only country, apart from the Vatican, that has not joined the convention, though President Biden has ordered up a plan to protect 30 percent of American waters and lands.
Indigenous communities are not recognized as parties to the international agreement. They can come as observers to the talks, but can’t vote on the outcome. Practically though, success is impossible without their support.
They already protect much of the world’s land and water, as David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the United Nations agency for biodiversity, pointed out. “People live in these places,” he said. “They need to be engaged and their rights respected.”
agreement to protect at least half of the planet. Scientific research backs them up, finding that saving a third of the planet is simply not enough to preserve biodiversity and to store enough planet-warming carbon dioxide to slow down global warming.
Creating a New Kind of Park
A half century ago, where boreal forest meets tundra in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Łutsël K’é’ Dene, one of the area’s Indigenous groups, opposed Canada’s efforts to set up a national park in and around its homeland.
“At that time, Canada’s national parks policies were very negative to Indigenous people’s ways of life,” said Steven Nitah, a former tribal chief. “They used to create national parks — fortress parks, I call it — and they kicked people out.”
But in the 1990s, the Łutsël K’é’ Dene faced a new threat: Diamonds were found nearby. They feared their lands would be gutted by mining companies. So they went back to the Canadian government to revisit the idea of a national park — one that enshrined their rights to manage the land, hunt and fish.
The park opened in 2019. Its name, Thaidene Nëné, means “Land of the Ancestors.”
Collaboration among conservationists, Indigenous nations and governments holds a key to protecting biodiversity, according to research.
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Without local support, creating protected areas can be useless. They often fail to conserve animals and plants, becoming so-called “paper parks.”
Making a Living From Nature
Researchers have found that biodiversity protection often works best when local communities have a stake.
On islands in Papua New Guinea, for example, where fish is a staple, stocks had dwindled in recent decades. Fishers ventured farther from shore and spent more time at sea, but came back with smaller catches. So they partnered with local and international nonprofit groups to try something new. They changed their nets to let smaller fish escape. They reduced their use of a poison that brings fish to the surface. Most critically, they closed some waters to fishing altogether.
Meksen Darius, the head of one of the clans using these measures, said people were open to the idea because they hoped it would improve their livelihoods.
“The volume, the kinds of species of fish and other marine life, they’ve multiplied,” Mr. Darius, a retired lawyer, said.
Recent research from around the world shows that marine protected areas increase fish stocks, ultimately allowing fishing communities to catch more fish on the edges of the reserves.
To Iliana Monterroso, an environmental scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research in Lima, Peru, what matters is that people who live in areas of high biodiversity have a right to manage those areas. She pointed to the example of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, a territory of two million hectares in Guatemala, where local communities have managed the forest for 30 years.
Under temporary contracts with the national government, they began harvesting limited quantities of timber and allspice, selling ornamental palms and running tourism agencies. They had an investment to protect. “The forest became the source of livelihood,” Dr. Monterroso said. “They were able to gain tangible benefits.”
Jaguars, spider monkeys and 535 species of butterflies thrive there. So does the white-lipped peccary, a shy pig that tends to disappear quickly when there’s hunting pressure. Community-managed forests have fewer forest fires, and there is almost zero rate of deforestation, according to researchers.
Erwin Maas is among the hundreds of Guatemalans who live there, too. He and his neighbors run a community-owned business in the village of Uaxactún. Mahogany is plentiful, but they can take only so much. Often, it’s one or two trees per hectare per year, Mr. Maas said. Seed-producing trees are left alone.
“Our goal is to sustain ourselves with a small amount and always take care of the forest,” he said.