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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April 22, 2013 10:34 am
If all goes to plan, a new deal inked by two of the world’s biggest companies could give rise to a sustainability advocate’s paradise: a resort near the South China Sea that gets all of its power from the heat of the water nearby through a new type of renewable energy.
The deal, says a news release issued by Lockheed Martin, will see the defense giant partner with the Reignwood Group—a massive company that does everything from selling Red Bull in China to operate hotels and golf courses, managing properties and operating a private aircraft service—to develop the first commercial plant for a new type of renewable energy generation system known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
Ocean thermal energy conversion draws on the natural temperature gradient that forms in tropical oceans worldwide. The surface of the ocean, heated by the Sun, is much warmer than the water deeper down. OTEC plants use the warm surface water to boil a liquid with a really low boiling point in a low-pressure container to form steam. This steam then drives a turbine, generating electricity. Colder water from deeper down is pulled up in a pipe, and by having this cold water pass by the pipe containing the steam, the steam is condensed back into a liquid. The liquid flows around, is heated by the warm surface water, and turns into steam once more—on and on, generating electricity from the temperature gradient in the ocean.
The idea for ocean thermal energy conversaion has been around for a really, really long time. “The concept of deriving energy from ocean thermal gradients was a French idea, suggested in 1881 by Jacques d’Arsonval, and French engineers have been active in developing the requisite technology,” says Marine Energy Times.
While Lockheed has been working on this for four decades, one of the first in-depth discussions of the concept came from Nikola Tesla, who at the age of 75 outlined how such a plant might be built in the December 1931 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics journal. Tesla spent considerable time devising a way to improve the efficiencies of such a power plant, but he determined that it was too great an engineering challenge at the time. “I have studied this plan of power production from all angles and have devised apparatus for bringing down all losses to what I might call the irreducible minimum and still I find the performance too small to enable successful competition with the present methods,” he wrote, though still expressing hope that new methods would eventually make it possible to economically tap the thermal energy in oceans.
So the idea is old, but recent technological developments have driven ocean thermal energy conversion into the realm of possibility. Interestingly, some of the most troubling issues facing OTEC were solved by the oil industry, says the Marine Energy Times:
Ocean thermal is the only remaining vast, untapped source of renewable energy, and is now ripe for commercialization. The near market-readiness of this technology is largely attributable to the remarkable ocean-engineering innovations and successful experience of the offshore oil industry during the past thirty years in developing, investing in, and introducing mammoth floating platforms. That achievement has inadvertently satisfied ocean thermal’s key operational requirement, for a large, stable, reliable ocean platform capable of operating in storms, hurricanes and typhoons.
Consequently, adaptations of those offshore-ocean-platform designs can be spun-off to supply the proven ocean-engineering framework on which to mount the specialized ocean thermal plant and plantship heat exchangers, turbomachinery, cold water pipe (CWP) system, and other components and subsystems.Those offshore engineering achievements have greatly reduced the real and perceived risks of investing in ocean thermal plants.
Lockheed Martin has been working on the technology behind OTEC, too, and the deal with the Reignwood Group will see them build a test plant. If they manage to pull it off, the work could open the door to increased investment in this new form of renewable energy.
According to Green Tech Media, there are some potential environmental issues to look out for: if the cold water brought up from depth is pumped out into the surface waters, you could trigger a huge algae bloom that is really bad for the local ecosystem. But, if you release the cold water further down, around 70 meters depth, you should be able to avoid this dilemma. Having a small-scale test plant will give researchers a way to learn about any other unforeseen issues before moves are made to implement this new type of renewable energy on a larger scale.
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April 11, 2013 11:00 am
A paleontological treasure trove unearthed in southern China has yielded a dazzling find: a field of fossilized eggs and embryonic dinosaurs of what is thought to be Lufengosaurus, a long-lost sauropod-style dinosaur. This “bone bed,” say the scientists in a recently published study, is tied with another field from South Africa for the distinction of being the world’s oldest collection of fossilized dinosaur eggs. What’s more, says Nature, research on the eggs and embryos turned up something spectacular:
[I]t is not just the age of the fossils that is notable, the researchers say. Spectroscopic analysis of bone-tissue samples from the Chinese nesting site revealed the oldest organic material ever seen in a terrestrial vertebrate.
The team found more than two hundred bones. They also found collagen—“a common protein found in connective tissues such as bones and tendons”—trapped within many of those bones, says the CBC.
“If this is collagen, then the potential for extracting collagen and comparing to those of living animals really opens a new area of research,” Reisz said.
In the Chinese baby bone bed, the researchers found that the fossilized baby dinosaur bones were scattered about, rather than preserved whole with the baby dinosaurs still encased in their eggs. The bones represented dinosaurs at different stages of development, which gives the researchers clues about how, exactly, the baby dinos grew.
The scientists are sure that these baby dinosaurs were still embryos developing in eggs (and not just little hatchlings), because these embryos were not as far along as fossilized baby dinosaurs found still trapped within their eggs at other research sites. Other signs made it obvious that the babies were still growing, too: they had teeth that that didn’t yet protrude from the bone, and their bones were not yet fully developed.
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April 2, 2013 9:04 am
Thieves are plundering Europe’s museums of their rhino horns and elephant tusks. First it was Haslemere Educational Museum and Norwich Castle Museum in England, then the Florence Museum of Natural History. Overall, the Guardian reports, more than twenty museums and auction houses in Britain, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Belgium have lost tusks and horns to poachers looking to turn a quick profit. Last weekend, Paris’ Museum of Natural History came close to becoming the latest member to join this growing list. The Guardian reports:
Police were called to the museum in the early hours of Saturday morning where they found a chainsaw still whirring after a man in his 20s escaped over a wall with a tusk over his shoulder.
The thief, startled by the museum’s alarm system, tried to make a quick break for it but wound up fracturing his ankle.
The elephant in question once belonged to King Louis XIV. The animal was a gift from the Portuguese king in 1668 and was much beloved by Louis XIV and his visitors.
It lived for 13 years in the royal menagerie in the grounds of the opulent palace of Versailles where it became the star attraction. When it died, its skeleton was transferred to the natural history collection in Paris, one of the biggest in the world alongside London’s Natural History Museum.
The tusks, in fact, were added to the skeleton in the 19th century. The wildlife black market isn’t paying for historical value, though; buyers are purportedly interested in the value of animal parts in traditional Chinese medicinal. Elephant tusks currently fetch hundreds of dollars per pound while rhino horns go for much higher prices.
The Parisien museum curators say they’ll restore the sawed off horn to its rightful place. Curators at other institutions, such as London’s Natural History Museum, are not taking any chances, however. They replaced their horns two years ago with fakes.
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March 29, 2013 9:30 am
This week, the Supreme Court of the United States has been hearing arguments for and against the legalization of gay marriage, and the hearings have rekindled the debate among American people, outside the courthouse, in the news, on Facebook. But the U.S. isn’t the only nation struggling with the gay marriage issue. Here are where the debate stands in other countries around the world:
There are a few places where gay marriage is legal. Denmark began allowing couples to marry last year. Argentina did three years ago. It’s also legal in Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Spain legalized gay marriage eight years ago and ever since has been hearing counterarguments in court. It wasn’t until November of last year that the highest court in Spain rejected an appeal presented by conservatives, perhaps closing the case for good.
Other places are debating the issue much like we are. France in many ways seems like a mirror to the United States. The senate there will make a final vote on a bill that would legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples in April. Riot police were called to an anti-gay marriage protest on Sunday, where most estimate there were about 300,000 protestors (although conservatives who organized it claim there were 1.4 million). France’s president, much like our own, supports the bill.
Colombia is debating the issue now, and Uruguay will vote in April. Taiwan started hearing arguments on gay marriage this year, and if they legalize it they’d become the first nation in Asia to do so. India decriminalized homosexuality in 2009 but has yet to broach the marriage subject.
In China, the gay marriage question is a little different. The Los Angeles Times explains:
Women who unwittingly married gay men, dubbed “gay wives,” have pleaded to be able to annull their unions and then be labeled as “single” rather than “divorced,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported in January. Gay rights advocates countered the real solution was to allow same-sex marriage.
Sixty percent of U.N. countries have abolished laws that ban same-sex couples, but two-thirds of African countries still have laws banning homosexuality. Five countries still punish homosexuality with death: Sudan, Mauritiania, Nigeria, Somaliland and Afghanistan. In Russia, a huge proportion of the citizens are opposed to gay marriage—85 percent according to one poll. Five percent of the people polled said that gays should be “eradicated.”
The tides are turning elsewhere. In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill has been in the works since 2009, but protests against it have kept it from becoming law. Malawi no longer enforces its anti-gay laws. And even in Russia, things might be changing. The country’s first lesbian-only magazine was just published earlier this month.
So the U.S. isn’t alone in tackling the gay marriage question, and they’re certainly not the only citizenry up in arms on either side.
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