May 17, 2013 10:19 am
There are still some pretty annoying things about being left-handed. But in America, at least, we’ve mostly stopped forcing lefties to learn to use their right hand. That’s not the case everywhere, though. China, for example, claims that less than one percent of students are left-handed. If that were true, it would be strange: the global average of lefties comes in at 10-12 percent. A study in the journal Endeavor recently took on this question: Why are there no left-handers in China? The researchers also looked at India and Islamic countries and discovered that nearly two-thirds of the world’s lefty population faces discrimination.
There’s nothing special about the genetics of people living in China that makes them less likely to be lefties. Chinese-Americans are just as likely to be left handed as any other Americans. The lefties in China are actually switching their dominant hands. Why? Because it’s simply more difficult for them to stick with their naturally dominate hand than for people in Europe of the United States. Many Chinese characters require a right hand, says Discovery News.
Elsewhere, stigma against lefties still exists. Discovery News reports:
In many Muslim parts of the world, in parts of Africa as well as in India, the left hand is considered the dirty hand and it’s considered offensive to offer that hand to anyone, even to help. The discrimination against lefties goes back thousands of years in many cultures, including those of the West.
Even the word left comes from “lyft” which meant broken. The German words “linkisch” also means awkward. The Russian word “levja” is associated with being untrustworthy. Synonyms for left in Mandarin are things like weird, incorrect and wrong.
And for a long time there were all sorts of ways to “retrain” lefties. An article in The Lancet explains the “scientific” rationales used:
The methods used to obtain this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924 letter to the British Medical Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained, left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”.
While today in the United States and Europe, left handed kids aren’t punished and retrained, these same sorts of biases still exist in large parts of the world, proving that righties are just as capable as being sinister as lefties.
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May 2, 2013 3:34 pm
In Mozambique, it seems to be game over for rhinos. A wildlife warden in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier park—the only place where rhinos were still surviving in the southern African country—told AP that the last of the animals have been killed by poachers.
Elephants also could become extinct in Mozambique soon, the warden, Antonio Abacar, warns. He says game rangers have been aiding poachers, and 30 of the park’s 100 rangers will appear in court soon. “We caught some of them red-handed while directing poachers to a rhino area,” Abacar says.
In Asia, the hacked-off horns can fetch a price equivalent to more than their weight in gold. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the ground horns have curative properties. (Science holds that they do not.) In China and Vietnam, the horns are also used as decorations or as aphrodisiacs.
Mozambique’s rhinos have been living on the edge of extinction for more than a century, when big game hunters first arrived and decimated populations. Conservationists there have painstakingly built the population up over the last few years, but poachers—who often have significantly more funding, manpower and resources than wildlife wardens—seem to have finally stamped out the country’s rhinos for good. Mozambique’s conservation director remains hopeful that a few stray rhinos may still exist, however.
For many wildlife wardens, the lure of money and the lack of legal deterrents, often proves too much to resist. AP describes the typical case:
A game ranger arrested for helping poachers in Mozambique’s northern Niassa Game Reserve said on Mozambican Television TVM last week that he was paid about $80 to direct poachers to areas with elephants and rhinos. Game rangers are paid between $64 and $96 a month, and though the guilty ones will lose their jobs, the courts serve as little deterrent to the poachers: Killing wildlife and trading in illegal rhino horn and elephant tusks are only misdemeanors in Mozambique.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mozambique’s government is still working on legislation first drafted in 2009 which would impose mandatory prison sentences for people caught shooting wildlife.
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May 1, 2013 4:31 pm
Scientists in Taiwan threw in the towel this week on the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), a subspecies of big cat native to the island. For more than a decade, zoologists from Taiwan and the U.S. have been trying in vain to locate any evidence of the leopard’s presence in Taiwan, and they say there is little chance that Formosan clouded leopards still survive there. Focus Taiwan reports:
In the search for the leopard that typically weighs 10-20 kilograms, the researchers set up some 1,500 infrared cameras and scent traps in the mountains but no evidence was found to suggest that the endemic clouded leopard still exists, according to Chiang.
English naturalist Robert Swinhoe first described the Formosan clouded leopard in 1862. In just over one hundred years, however, the species had all but disappeared. Hunters reported the last confirmed sighting of the animal in the Taiwan’s mountainous region in 1983. In the 1990s, researchers got their hopes up when they saw territorial markings near a national park that could have been made by a clouded leopard, but the animal itself remained elusive. Illegal hunting and development on the island most likely led to the big cat’s demise, they concluded.
Today, two clouded leopards do live in the Taipei zoo, but they are both straight-up Neofelis nebulosa, a species that hails from the Himalayas. The only know specimen of Formosan clouded leopard, which has a tail about half the length of its mainland relatives, sits on a shelf at the National Taiwan Museum.
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April 29, 2013 12:20 pm
In 2010 alone, malaria infected 219 million people, largely in tropical regions in Africa, South and Central America, Asia and the Philippines. That year, the disease, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitos, killed 660,000 people. Objectively, that’s a high number of deaths, but compared to the number of infections, it’s relatively low. Right now, powerful anti-malarial medication protects those millions of infected people. But, says the BBC, a new strain of the parasite has been found in Cambodia that resists the leading class of anti-malarial drugs.
The new strain, first identified in 2008, is resistant to artemisinin, a “frontline drug in the fight against malaria,” the BBC writes. Since it was first discovered, the resistant version of malaria has spread around Southeast Asia. Health organizations are working hard to contain the spread of the drug-resistant variety: if the drugs are rendered ineffective, the consequences could be dire for millions of people.
This isn’t the first anti-malarial to be rendered useless, either. “The history of antimalarial medicine,” says the Mayo Clinic, “has been marked by a constant struggle between evolving drug-resistant parasites and the search for new drug formulations.”
Modern political history is already intertwined with the history of anti-malarial medications, and if drug-resistant strains of malaria continue to spread, they could prompt far-reaching changes. The advent of the first anti-malarial, says Glencoe World History, enabled European imperialism into tropical regions worldwide.
“Before 1850, the fear of disease was a major factor in keeping Europeans from moving into Africa. Especially frightening was malaria, an often fatal disease spread by parasites. …By 1850, European doctors had learned how to treat malaria with quinine, a drug that greatly reduced the death rate from the disease. Quinine is a bitter drug obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree, which is native to the slopes of the Andes in South America.”
Cinchona trees were transplanted from South America to India, and a steady supply of the drug enabled Europeans to move across Africa.
“By the beginning of the twentieth century, more than 90 percent of African lands were under the control of the European powers. A drug found in the bark of Latin American trees, which were then grown in Asia, had been used by Europeans to make possible their conquest of Africa.”
Since then, multiple generations of anti-malarial medication have come and gone (and researchers are still announcing promising new leads). But any time a drug-resistant strain like the one in Cambodia develops, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
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April 23, 2013 1:15 pm
In South Africa, lion bones are selling for around $165 per kilo (2.2 pounds). That’s about $5,000 for a full skeleton. The skull is worth another $1,100, according to the Guardian.
Over the past several months, officials in South Africa have noticed a steady increase in the number of permits they’re issuing for export of lion bones from certified trophy dealers. Such establishments breed lions for the express purpose of allowing wealthy tourists to engage in a controlled lion hunt. After killing the animal, if the patron does not want its body or bones, the breeders can then turn a large profit by stripping the lion down and selling its parts to Chinese and Southeast Asian dealers. The Guardian explains:
In 2012 more than 600 lions were killed by trophy hunters. The most recent official figures date from 2009, certifying export of 92 carcasses to Laos and Vietnam. At about that time breeders started digging up the lion bones they had buried here and there, for lack of an outlet.
In China, Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian nations, lion bones serve as a stand-in for tiger bones. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe the bones help with allergies, cramps, ulcers, stomach aches, malaria and a host of other ailments. As with many other purported traditional Chinese medicine “cures,” tiger bones ground into a powder and mixed with wind is also said to boost a man’s sexual prowess.
Despite the lack of scientific proof this potion is very popular, so with tiger bones increasingly scarce, vendors are replacing them with the remains of lions. Traders soon realised that South Africa could be a promising source. It is home to 4,000 to 5,000 captive lions, with a further 2,000 roaming freely in protected reserves such as the Kruger national park. Furthermore such trade is perfectly legal.
But just because trade in legally-sourced lion bones is given the green light from the South African government does not mean illicit activities are not underway. One investigator told the Guardian that he estimates that the legal market only contributes half of the lion bones currently leaving the country. That means poaching is responsible for the rest.
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