June 19, 2013 10:00 am
Last year, Gabon made international headlines when the country held a giant bonfire of 10,000 pounds of elephant ivory worth around $1.3 million. The stunt, National Geographic reported, was intended to ensure those tusks never made their way to black markets and to deter would-be poachers.
This month, the Philippines – where many illegal wildlife products pass through or end up – decided to hold its own tusk-burning demonstration of a cache of confiscated ivory worth around $10 million. But almost immediately, Scientific American reports, environmental groups began to protest on the grounds of clean air.
Objections emerged almost immediately after Page’s announcement. The EcoWaste Coalition and other environmental groups filed a complaint that burning the ivory would be illegal under the country’s Clean Air Act and that the event would send a message that open burning of trash is acceptable. Secretary Page accommodated that request.
As for the 5 tons of tusks, they’re scheduled to be crushed by road rollers on June 21. But now, yet another protest is in motion. A governmental representative argues that the tusks’ shouldn’t be destroyed but instead donated to schools, museums and other educational institutions, Inquirer News reports.
According to the lawmaker, ivory tusks should not be likened to other contraband such as illegal drugs and pirated CDs, since the latter bring no benefit to the public and could not be used for educational purposes.
“These are priceless treasures that will be put to waste if we destroy them,” he said.
With the recent rampant theft of ivory and rhino horns carried out by professional criminals throughout Europe’s museums, however, it is unlikely that the elephant tusks would remain in elementary schools’ show-and-tell boxes for long before they wound up back on the black market.
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June 11, 2013 10:20 am
You might not see so much of a similarity between your dog and a majestic tiger (and if you do, you’re probably just kidding yourself) but the two animals do share one important threat: distemper virus. Canine distemper virus (CDV) is incurable and causes high fever, watery eyes, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, progressing to seizures, paralysis and death. For a long time, CDV was limited to canines, but in recent years it has jumped from dogs to other pets and even wildlife.
Today, CDV can infect ferrets, foxes, raccoons and even tigers. Some think that the virus contributed to the decline and extinction of the thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian wolf). In the 1990s, 30 percent of the lions who died in the Serengeti had succumbed to CDV. And in the past few years, it seems like the disease has jumped to tigers.
Reports of tigers behaving strangely was the first tip off, but a diagnosis of CDV requires brain tissue for analysis. In 2011, a confused and tired Amur tiger wandered into a town in Russia and had to be put down. She was the fourth radio-collared Siberian tiger in less than a year to be found confused, wandering into towns and villages, displaying strange behavior. An analysis of her brain tissue confirmed everyone’s fears: CDV had left her too weak to hunt, disoriented and willing to risk a human village to look for food.
“Since 2000, in the Russian Far East, there have been a few cats reported as behaving strangely and coming into villages, apparently not showing much fear towards people,” John Lewis, the director of Wildlife Vets International, told the BBC. “In the past few years, tissue from at least a couple of those cats have now been confirmed as showing the presence of CDV infection.”
These tigers are probably getting CDV directly from dogs, as tigers often will prey on the canines that stray too far from villages. And Lewis says it’s not just death from CDV that they’re worried about. Tigers infected with CDV show strange behaviors, like losing their fear of people. This puts them at greater risk of hunting from poachers and being hit by cars on roadways. And there’s not a ton people can do to stop it, says John Platt of Scientific American:
Now that canine distemper has been identified, the next step, according to WCS Chief Pathologist Denise McAloose, is to identify the source of the infection, which could be coming from domesticated dogs or other local carnivores such as wolves, badgers, red foxes or raccoon dogs. “From a vaccination perspective, vaccinating dogs would be a good first step,” she says. “If this were to be a recommended strategy, decisions about the safest vaccine for dogs and tigers that might eat the dogs would need to be made.” Distemper vaccinations are required for most pet dogs in the U.S., but not in Russia.
But even before that, Lewis says, researchers need to understand how to figure out the scale of the problem. He’s bringing together vets from all over the world who deal with tigers to try and nail down a strategy for understanding just how bad CDV is, what tests need to be done, and how. “We need to work out where we can send these samples for laboratory testing. We need to work out how we are going to store and move these samples. Once we have got that nailed down then we start work and try to design some sort of mitigation strategy, and that won’t be easy.”
The question is whether or not the scientists can keep up with the virus before it’s too late.
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June 10, 2013 1:17 pm
Re-entering normal life after a stint with the legendary Japanese Yakuzas can be tough. And while gangsters can cover huge tattoos with business suits, one sign of yakuza life is harder to cover up: missing pinkies.
In the yakuza world, those who commit an offense are often required to chop off a finger. The pinky is usually the first to go. And while many things are easy to hide, a missing pinky isn’t. Since everybody in Japan knows what a missing pinky means, many pinky-less former yakuza find that they have trouble getting jobs as soon as a potential employer notices their absent digit.
Enter Shintaro Hayashi, a prosthetics maker who builds silicone body parts. He never planned to get into the pinky business, but about 10 years ago, according to ABC, he noticed a sharp uptick in people ordering custom pinkies. Here’s ABC:
Hayashi sums up his clientele in three categories: Those who are dragged into his office by girlfriends worried about their reputations, ex-members who are eager to move up the corporate ladder but worried about the repercussions of their past being exposed, longtime yakuza who have no intention of getting out, but need to cover up for a child’s wedding or grandchild’s sporting event.
The pinkies Hayashi makes cost his patients about $3,000 each. They’re paying for a custom finger, painted to look just like the rest of the hand. And he says that former yakuza often have a few different fingers for different occasions and visit Hayashi every so often for touchups on the painting of the prosthetic.
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June 10, 2013 11:21 am
There are less than 350 Siberian tigers still alive in the wild. The beast has only been caught in fleeting footage, a tail here, a nose there. The BBC Natural History Unit, the department of the BBC that films documentaries like Planet Earth and other famous programs mostly hosted by David Attenborough, has never caught one on camera. Until now.
To put the situation of the Siberian tiger into perspective, here’s an oft-quoted statistic: more people have been in space than have seen a Siberian tiger in the wild. But whether or not that’s true is hard to say.
To date, about 530 people have been in space. That’s certainly more than the number of living people who have seen a Siberian tiger. In the 1940s, the population of these tigers dropped to about 40 animals living in the wild.
But these tigers didn’t used to be so rare. The Global Tiger Forum estimates that in 1840 there were about 1,000 Siberian tigers in Russia. And there are all sorts of stories about tigers, who probably hunted people before people learned to hunt them. They feature prominently in the myths of the Chinese, the Tungusic peoples and the Manchu. The book Tigers in the Snow covers some of this mythology:
These Tungus peoples considered it a near-deity and sometimes addressed it as “Grandfather” or “Old Man.” The indigenous Udege and Nanai tribes referred to it as “Amba” or “tiger” (it was only the white strangers—the Russians—who translated that word as “devil”). To the Manchurians, the tiger was Hu Lin, the king, since the head and nape stripes on certain mythic individuals resembled the character Wan-da—the great sovereign or prince. “On a tree nearby fluttered a red flag,” Arseniev wrote, “with the inscription: `San men dshen vei Si-zhi-tsi-go vei da suay Tsin tsan da tsin chezhen shan-lin,’ which means `To the True Spirit of the Mountains: in antiquity in the dynasty of Tsi he was commander-in-chief for the dynasty Da Tsin, but now he guards the forests and mountains.’”
No one knows just how many people have seen a Siberian tiger in the wild before, but chances are, back when there were a thousands of them roaming about, it wasn’t nearly as uncommon as it is today. Of course, back then, no one had been in space, so this statistic didn’t make sense at all. Whether or not it’s true that more people have been in space than seen a Siberian tiger in the wild isn’t really all that important. Conservationists are simply trying to point out that if we do nothing to save the tiger, they will be extinct far before we reach Mars.
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May 29, 2013 12:01 pm
Consumption of whale in countries like Japan and Iceland was already a contentious issue, before a coalition of NGOs revealed that a Tokyo-based company is selling endangered whale meat marketed as doggie treats. The meat, supplied by a whaling company in Iceland, comes from North Atlantic fin whales, an endangered species, according to Japanese environmental group IKAN. IKAN reports:
Icelandic fin whale has been sold in Japan for human consumption since 2008, but its use in pet food suggests that new markets are being explored. As Iceland prepares to hunt over 180 fin whales in 2013 for this export market, NGOs question the environmental and economic logic of using meat from an endangered species for the manufacture of dog treats.
The dog food company, Michinoku, sells packages of dried whale fins starting at around $6 for 2.1 ounces, up to about $37 for 17.6 ounces. The labeling clearly identifies the treats as belonging to fin whales from Iceland.
Japan insists that it whales only for scientific purposes, The Age points out, while Iceland is more transparent about its activities and openly defies an international ban on whaling.
While whale meat is declining in popularity in Japan, many Japanese see the campaign against whaling as a symbol of cultural imperialism from the West and argue that it is a long-standing tradition.
But as IKAN writes, feeding endangered whale meat to rich people’s dogs can hardly be argued as preserving age-old cultural traditions. “The most likely reason for shops to sell the whale meat dog treat is to target affluent Japanese who want to show off their wealth with something different,” IKAN’s executive director, Nanami Kurasawa, commented in the release. ”Similarly, there are also pet foods with shark fins and foie gras available in Japan. Buying such pet food is purely human-centric and hardly considers the animals’ point of view.”
Luckily, it seems many Tokyoites aren’t buying into the endangered treats. According to IKAN, one Tokyo pet store put their fin whale snacks on sale as “bargain articles,” and the large e-commerce site Rakuten also followed suite and discounted the pet treats in April.
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