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Brazil’s New President Claims Indigenous Lands

An admirer of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has suggested he will follow the U.S. president’s lead and pull out of the Paris climate change accord.

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Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro gestures after receiving the presidential sash from outgoing President Michel Temer at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued an executive order Wednesday making the Agriculture Ministry responsible for decisions concerning lands claimed by indigenous peoples, in a victory for agribusiness that will likely enrage environmentalists.

The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strips power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.

It says the Agriculture Ministry will now be responsible for “identification, delimitation, demarcation and registration of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people.”

The move stoked concern among environmentalists and rights groups that the far-right president, who took office Tuesday, will open up the vast Amazon rainforest and other ecologically sensitive areas of Brazil to greater commercial exploitation.

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Indigenous people from various tribes dance as they wait to deliver a letter to Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at a transitional government building in Brasilia, Brazil, Dec. 6, 2018. VOA

The executive order also moves the Brazilian Forestry Service, which promotes the sustainable use of forests and is linked to the Environment Ministry, under Agriculture Ministry control.

Additionally, the decree states that the Agriculture Ministry will be in charge of the management of public forests.

NGOs criticized

Bolsonaro, who enjoys strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, said during his campaign he was considering such a move, arguing that protected lands should be opened to commercial activities.

Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people make up less than 1 percent of the population, but live on lands that stretch for 106.7 million hectares (264 million acres), or 12.5 percent of the national territory.

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Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro arrives for a meeting in Brasilia. VOA

“Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, where they are exploited and manipulated by NGOs,” Bolsonaro tweeted, referring to non-profit groups. “Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”

Critics say Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reservations to commercial activity will destroy native cultures and languages by integrating the tribes into Brazilian society.

Environmentalists say the native peoples are the last custodians of the Amazon, which is the world’s largest rainforest and is vital for climate stability.

Adding to the gloom for NGOs, Bolsonaro also signed an executive order to give his government potentially far-reaching and restrictive powers over non-governmental organizations working in Brazil.

The temporary decree mandates that the office of the Government Secretary, Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory.”

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Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro talks to the media, in Brasilia, Brazil. VOA

Good news for farm lobby

After she was sworn in on Wednesday, new Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias defended the farm sector from accusations it has grown at the expense of the environment, adding that the strength of Brazil’s farmers had generated “unfounded accusations” from unnamed international groups.

Dias used to be the head of the farm caucus in Brazil’s Congress, which has long pushed for an end to land measures that it argues hold back the agricultural sector.

“Brazil is a country with extremely advanced environmental legislation and is more than able to preserve its native forests,” Dias said. “Our country is a model to be followed, never a transgressor to be punished.”

In comments to reporters after her speech, she said that decisions over land rights disputes were a new responsibility for the Agriculture Ministry. However, she indicated that in practice, the demarcation of land limits would fall to a council of ministries, without giving further details.

Bartolomeu Braz, the president of the national chapter of Aprosoja, a major grain growers association, cheered Wednesday’s move to transfer indigenous land demarcation to the Agriculture Ministry.

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Indigenous leader Kreta Kaingang stands in front of a sign that reads in Portuguese “For the Amazon. Urgent!” during a protest against right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, in front of the Ministry of Environment in Brasilia, Brazil, Oct. 19 VOA

“The new rules will be interesting to the farmers and the Indians, some of whom are already producing soybeans. The Indians want to be productive too,” he added.

Three-time presidential candidate and former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who was beaten by Bolsonaro in October’s election, reacted with horror to the move.

“Bolsonaro has begun his government in the worst possible way,” she wrote on Twitter.

Dinamã Tuxá, a member of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said many isolated communities viewed Bolsonaro’s administration with fear.

“We are very afraid because Bolsonaro is attacking indigenous policies, rolling back environmental protections, authorizing the invasion of indigenous territories and endorsing violence against indigenous peoples,” said Tuxá.

Under the new plan, the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI will be moved into a new ministry for family, women and human rights.

A former army captain and longtime member of Congress, Bolsonaro said at his inauguration on Tuesday that he had freed the country from “socialism and political correctness.”

Also Read: Green Groups In Brazil Prepare A Climate Change Plan

An admirer of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has suggested he will follow the U.S. president’s lead and pull out of the Paris climate change accord.

In addition to the indigenous lands decree, the new administration issued decrees affecting the economy and society on Wednesday, while forging closer ties with the United States. (VOA)

Next Story

All you Need to Know About Animal Culture

Animal culture to conserve endangered species

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Animal culture
Animal culture - the learning of non-human species through socially transmitted behaviour - is being linked to conservation action. Pixabay

For the first time, animal culture – the learning of non-human species through socially transmitted behaviour – is being linked to conservation action, biologists said on Wednesday.

The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has been spearheading efforts to use scientific knowledge on animal culture, to better protect endangered wildlife.

Two such proposals were presented to delegates meeting this week in Gandhinagar to consider conservation measures for the eastern tropical pacific sperm whale and the nut-cracking chimpanzee.

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The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)is the only United Nations treaty that addresses migratory species and their habitats. Pixabay

There is evidence that whales, dolphins, elephants and primates acquire some of their knowledge and skills through social learning.

In addition to individual learning, some animals may learn socially from adults or peers about various behaviours, including optimal migration routes.

The concerted action of the sperm whale recognizes the complex social structure within four subspecies. They differ little from each other in their nuclear DNA, but their vocalizations vary considerably, and these can only be acquired through social interaction and learning.

Collecting data through acoustic and photographic records can help conservationists fully understand the social structure of all subspecies. The proposed conservation measures call for research and transboundary information exchange to close knowledge gaps.

The initiative for the nut-cracking chimpanzees highlights the species’ unique technological culture. The species can crack open different types of nut by using stones and pieces of wood as a hammer and anvil.

Despite nuts, stones and wood being commonly available, nut-cracking skills occur only in the most westerly parts of this subspecies’ range spanning Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Co’te d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and not in other populations across Africa.

Scientists say this cultural capacity enables these chimpanzees to survive dry seasons in their western habitats.

Such behaviour could enhance survival prospects of chimpanzees in areas showing climate induced changes to vegetation.

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The Convention on the Conservation on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has been spearheading efforts to use scientific knowledge to better protect endangered wildlife. Pixabay

Human activities that disrupt the social fabric of culturally developed species can have severe impacts. Once a species has vanished from an area, critical knowledge can also be lost.

For example, the southern right whales’ knowledge of migration routes around New Zealand’s coastline was lost to the species as a result of commercial whaling in the 1800s.

Nowadays, a handful of whales, however have again started to calve around New Zealand.

Recent evidence of genetic mixing among these whales suggests that the species may recolonize forgotten migration destinations once the population recovers from the impact of whaling.

Protecting cultural knowledge among peers and across generations may be vital for the survival and successful reproduction of certain species.

Supporting individuals that act as “repositories” of social knowledge such as elephant matriarchs, or groups of knowledgeable elders, may be just as important as conserving critical habitat.

Understanding how sperm whales pass on valuable information to their offspring or why some groups of chimpanzees have a culture of cracking nutritious nuts with stone tools while others do not, can be key to evaluating conservation challenges for such species.

Scientific research has made significant progress in animal culture. However, it is necessary to develop findings and recommendations that show how this complex issue can be further considered in conservation efforts under CMS.

Also Read- Health and Future of Every Child Under Threat Due to Climate Change: Report

CMS is the only United Nations treaty that addresses migratory species and their habitats.

Delegates at the ongoing 13th meeting of the CMS COP13, which India is hosting for the first time, will also consider the need for guidance and implementation tools to mitigate the impacts of linear infrastructure on migratory species. (IANS)