Green Echoes #13 - From Pangolins to Porcupines

Elroi Yee on our Wildlife Study Group series, and a roundup of investigative stories, data sources and funding/training opportunities from across Asia.

Dear friends and supporters,

Welcome to Green Echoes, a newsletter from the Environmental Reporting Collective that highlights key investigative stories, data sources, funding, reporting and training opportunities and our projects from across Asia.

To start this week's issue, we have a Q&A from the team that brought you our Wildlife Study Group series, that we held in June and July. Hundreds participated in four sessions organized by Elroi Yee, Ian Yee, Claire Anthony, Satpal Kaler, Shanjeev Reddy and Samantha Chow that fostered communal discussions around topics including a live streamed meeting with Malaysia’s first captive-born pangolin and a conversation with its human handler, and intense discussions on demand for endangered species in Chinese traditional medicine, commercial pangolin farming, and indigenous hunting and wildlife conservation.

If you missed them, you can find recaps and recordings here.

Note: This Q&A has been shortened here for brevity, but the unedited full version is on our website.

Q&A with Elroi Yee

Why did you want to hold these conversations now?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the global wildlife trade came under the spotlight for increasing the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks. The public was keen to learn more, and the Environmental Reporting Collective had the relevant subject matter expertise through its earlier investigations into the pangolin trade.

Instead of producing more news reports, we decided to try something different by engaging our audiences in a weekly series of virtual conversations on the wildlife trade. 

Were you concerned about webinar fatigue due to the sheer quantity of them being organized during the pandemic?

We wanted this series to be different. They were not lectures, webinars or panels, but designed to be conversations among people with similar interest and experience in pangolin conservation and the wildlife trade. 

Every week, participants would get to “meet” and engage with fellow enthusiasts and a curated group of experts, including journalists, activists, authorities, indigenous leaders, and researchers. A large amount of time was allocated for questions and comments, and the experts freely engaged with the participants at all times, whether in the chat box or by answering verbally.

What did you learn from how the conversation series went? What went well, and what didn't?

Feedback from the audience showed that the sessions were engaging and interactive, and it wasn’t the typical “teaching” session like in most webinars. 

We learnt that people especially loved hearing from those who worked on the ground, such as Cosmos Ngau, who started the pangolin breeding project at Malaysia’s Wildlife Department, and indigenous community organizer Dayoung Shaniera Seliman.

Looking back, we regret not developing a stronger post-engagement strategy, where “activated” participants could be funneled towards deeper engagement. 

For example, each session could have had a call-to-action where participants could act on their learnings from the session by donating to a wildlife fund or signing up to volunteer at conservation activities.

From Pangolins to Porcupines - Resources for Reporting on Wildlife Trade

Pangolins are not the only species that is traded for its supposed medicinal properties. This just-published study in Global Ecology and Conservation analyzed e-commerce websites in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia to analyze the growing trade in old-world porcupines, sought after for bezoars. These tactics could be used to investigate other species, too.

Here are some more resources:

  • The Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime has been monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on illegal wildlife and other environmental crimes.

  • Oxpeckers launched #WildEye Asia earlier this year, a tool which tracks seizures, arrests, court cases & convictions relating to wildlife crime across the continent

  • TRAFFIC, WWF-UK and Arcadia have developed Trademapper, a platform in which you can input data and analyze trade routes.

Also, did you know we've made all our data from Pangolin Reports available for anyone to use? You can find it on our website here.

Best Reporting from Asia

For Mongabay, Leilani Chavez reports on how conservationists had to basically design an entire new system from scratch just to continue their work protecting the Philippine eagle, an endangered species, due to disruptions from the pandemic.

In Kashmir, India, Athar Parvaiz reports for The Third Pole on how companies are mining riverbeds illegally for sand. The Union Territory government, instead of taking action, is instead fast-tracking of environmental clearances

You might have seen that, last week, Vietnam announced it was tightening restrictions on wildlife trade. But what does that really mean? Ashley Lampard digs into the details for Southeast Asia Globe, finding that some conservationists have doubts about how much impact it will have.

Data, Resources and Training

Here's a useful guide from Ben Max, an investigative journalist, on how journalists can use open-source satellite data to investigate and fact-check illegally operating coal plants, water conflicts along major rivers, illegal gas flaring, and much more.

The Society for Environmental Journalists has updated their freelance library with links to funding opportunities, freelance tutorials, training, and much more, including several Covid-19 resources.

Webinar: The Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources is holding a two day Ocean + Climate Virtual Workshop for Journalists, on August 19-20. Note: Registration is limited to 25 participants on a first-come, first-served basis, starting on August 5.

Opportunities: The Google Podcasts creator program, a free, 12-week training program in partnership with PRX, is accepting applications from underrepresented voices in podcasting around the world. Apply here (Deadline August 9).

The Earth Journalism Network is accepting applications for 2020-21 Asia-Pacific Story Grants, looking for proposals that  investigate how and why governments, businesses and financial institutions are acting in ways that directly or indirectly exploit our land and natural resources, and then outline the repercussions. Apply here (Deadline August 29th).

National Geographic has extended the deadline for their Stories of Tropical Forests funding opportunity to Oct 21. Apply here.

Newsletters we recommend

Green Echoes is just one of many great newsletters that cover environmental journalism across the region, and globally. Here are a few of our favorites worth subscribing to.

  • Ian Morse has just launched Green Rocks, which focuses on reporting about the minerals driving the clean energy transition.

  • China Dialogue's weekly newsletter summarizes their latest reporting, along with a digest of environmental stories from China.

  • Two professional newsletters worth signing up for - the Global Investigative Journalism Network's weekly bulletin, offered in Bangla, Chinese and other languages, which has links to training, data sources, and a global events calendar, and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime's news list, which includes their #CovidCrimeWatch.

And a reminder, we also have a Chinese-language version of Green Echoes. Sign up here, and do share with your Chinese speaking colleagues.

That's all for this week. We'll be back in about two weeks with our next issue. If you have ideas for themes, have worked on an investigative story that was published, or have other feedback, please respond to this email and let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,

Nithin Coca

PS. Did you notice we have a new logo and newsletter illustration? It was designed by Nguyễn Hoàng Anh Thư, a Vietnam-based designer. Like it? Let us know!

The Environmental Reporting Collective is a group of reporters and editors across Asia and elsewhere, working together to rethink how environmental journalism is done. We support collaborative journalism projects that start new conversations on how our societies impact our planet. Such stories are complex and expensive. That’s why they require new approaches to research, reporting, editing and distribution.

To learn more about our work, check out our website, Investigative.Earth, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also let us know what you would like to see in this newsletter by responding to this email.