Largest Rhino Airlift Planned

Trapping, blindfolding, and airlifting a Rhino may sound ridiculous–but what Rhinos Without Borders aims to do is anything but. The two-and-a-half ton animal’s plight has become desperate. Their numbers are dropping daily due to poachers and encroaching land development, among other pressures. Currently, there are 4,000 to 5,000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left in Africa. Their beautiful horns have proved to be their downfall in recent years; they’re prized on the black market and are sold as cure-alls in China and Vietnam. On the street, a rhino horn can sell for $65,000 per kilogram.

The plan is to move a hundred of these animals over the next two years from their current location in the high risk poaching area of South Africa, to a low risk area; a protected park in Botswana. The operation will cost $45,000 per animal, but the payoff of a rise in these endangered animals numbers would be worth it.

White-rhino-calf-in-front

Image via Londolozi

This is not the first desperate measure conservationists have taken to try and help the rhinos. Other methods that have been tested to slow down the effects of poaching include cutting off the horns of rhinos, flooding the black market with fake rhino horns, dying their horns pink, injecting rhino horns with toxins that–though safe for the animal–would cause illness in humans who consume any bit of the horn, and 24 hour a day observation of wild rhinos by guards. So far none of these methods have halted the killings, so that begs the question of how this new idea will pan out. Hopefully it will, but only studies long after these rhino’s move will tell. Wishing the team and this project all the best!

Will Self-Driving Vehicles Makes us want Fewer Cars?

The idea of self-driving cars might conjure up an image akin to The Jetsons or one of the many other variations of retro pop culture and futurism that’s lodged in our collective imagination. If you woke up in some such world, would you call it a dream? —A nightmare? This question sprouts a tree of others when we think about the cars of the future.

Let’s look at the positives. Self-driving cars would instantly free up time. You could be more productive on your way to your job, take a nap, or entertain yourself with the latest gadget. It could potentially eliminate the problem of drunk driving; it could reduce car crashes, and it could (if these cars were fueled by electricity or other alternative resources) reduce our carbon footprint and clean up our air. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But a little reflection may reveal some potential problems brewing under the surface.

One of the potential issues is the industry itself. Self-driving cars could take down the near century-long love affair with driving motor vehicles. With companies like Uber already chomping at the bit to bring in on demand self-driving cars, there may be a time where many car companies that currently exist just get phased out. In theory you could just call up, or locate a car (similar to the various Car-To-Go services that already exist) and pay to be on your way. Why have your own car if you could just pay a bit here and there when you need to be driven somewhere? The appeal seems widespread. A study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the average number of vehicles per American household is 2.1–and according to the study, that could dip as low as 1.2, a reduction of 43% if self-driving cars came into the market. We simply wouldn’t need as many cars. This is sure to ripple through related economies.

So what does the future have in store for us? It might be too soon to say, but the momentum toward developing these technologies makes it seem like an inevitable reality.

James Askew Listens for the Call of the Orangutan

A quick scroll through my blog makes it apparent that I care deeply about protecting orangutans. I recently shared a blog by James Askew about the struggles of an orangutan mother in Northern Sumatra. After a little more reading, I learned immediately that Askew and I are (somewhat) alike in our fascination with these remarkable animals.

Askew is so fascinated, in fact, that he’s spent the last year in South East Asia studying the primates in their natural habitats. He’s a PhD candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California Jane Goodall Research Center. At the moment, he’s running field experiments in the jungles of Sumatra. Askew’s overarching goal is to further our understanding of the orangutan’s long call and how it plays a role in intersexual relationships. Put differently, he’s researching how a specific kind of communication influences the social and reproductive relationships between males and females. What’s more, he’s been using some cool technology, like drones, to track the animals and has been charitable enough to share his experiences in a series of blogs.

Askew planned his expedition to span eighteen months and he left sunny Southern California in March last year. That means about six more months of fieldwork remain. His last post introduced some of his speculations about the importance of play for young orangutans. It’s a great read! You can find the complete list of his blogs here. I’m certainly curious to hear how the jungle will treat him over the course of the last leg of his research and I wish him the best of luck!

Getting around with Eater Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a food city. If you didn’t know, you do now. While the “Juicy Lucy” has a special place in everybody’s heart, there’s so, so much more. Where to begin? How about Eater MinneapolisEater 38”? Contested or not, I think the magazine has done a fine job of highlighting some of the best eats in the Twin Cities. Even better, this list is made up of restaurants suggested by the readers and then narrowed down by the editors. –It’s an interesting way to have glimpse through a local’s eyes. You’ll find obvious choices like Chef Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable, which became a hit the moment Kaysen announced he’d be heading home from NYC. However, the editors at Eater made sure gems like Al’s Breakfast make an appearance, too. Al’s is a tiny place sandwiched between two buildings in Dinkytown. It’s modest, simple, and delicious.

thing

Via Tholt.com

 The folks at Eater have synched up with the seasons, as well. Click over to their Heat Map for a curated list of restaurants that are warming up the local food scene. You may not find the classics here, but you’ll be sure to learn about up and coming operations like Betty Danger’s Country Club (which will defy expectations), Surly Brewing Company’s new location, or the eclectic Pilgrimage Café. And if you still haven’t found the perfect springtime fit, the magazine has been so kind as to create a list of restaurants ready to bloom any day now.

There’s clearly no shortage of choice here in Minneapolis, and never before has making a decision been so delicious. Bon Appetite!

The Plight of being Ugly and Endangered

The phrase “endangered animals” brings various images to mind. Tigers, pandas and the other endearing poster children for dwindling species likely spring up. We admire these animals for their attractive qualities and those traits are often used in campaigns for their benefit. Sleek cats and cute bears adorn fliers and other media that speak to the cause. What happens, however, when the endangered animal isn’t cute? Frankly, what happens when the endangered animal is just plain ugly? They’re certainly no less worthy of saving and no less important to our world, but they just don’t have the appeal of their majestic counterparts. How do we include them in our efforts to save animals on the brink of extinction?

In light of this issue, increasingly more campaigns and societies are coming forward to stop those not-so-cute creatures from disappearing. The World Wildlife Fund, a powerhouse in terms of raising funds for conservation, put this issue in perspective for Bluefin Tuna in their 2011 campaign. Fish might not be the first animal you think of when you consider endangered animals. Nevertheless, their numbers are quickly dropping as a result of overfishing. The campaign uses the face of popular endangered animals as masks on the Bluefins, asking the question, “Would you care more if I was a … ?”

wwf-tunapandaVia WWF

Is it true? Would we care more if these fish were cuter, or if they just weren’t fish? Who will stand up for the “ugly” creatures? There is someone:  Simon Watt and his Ugly Animal Preservation Society. The society was set up to shine a light on those less than attractive animals who need our help. You can find this community–and a book published under the same name–at uglyanimalsoc.com. By hosting gigs with comedians and otherwise spreading the word, they’re reaching out to speak for animals that just don’t strike the cute chord, like the Purple Pig Nosed Frog or the Blobfish. In their words, “we can’t all be pandas”.

We need to remember these less than cute creatures and their importance in the world. They deserve our attention, too.

 

 

Is Our Waiter a Robot?

Toddler-with-robot-waiter

Via muchies.vice.com

As technology improves and robots become more intelligent–and in many ways more human–the future seems to be slowly approaching Hollywood’s classic model of it. Picture robots serving us food, selling us clothes, and taking over the service industry we depend on. If you think about it, we might already be in our Hollywood-like future.  We have self checkouts, which eliminate the use of human tellers, automated phone receptionists, robotic assembly line workers, and so on. If the future is indeed here, the question isn’t whether or not robots will take our jobs, it’s whether they’ll come to dominate the these kinds of industries entirely. While that may sound terrifying and interesting at the same time, it’s not unreasonable to think that it might actually happen. The University of Oxford published a paper in 2013* that estimated in the next few decades there’s a 92% chance fast-food preparation and serving will be automated. Where will that leave those who fills those jobs now?

 The idea of humans facing off against robots has been around for some time. We’ve clearly benefitted from the machines, but we’ve struggled with them, too. What’s more, finding the middle ground is often easier said than done.  On one hand, we want to be the “masters” of technology and, on the other, we want to incorporate it into our lives such that or creations sweep away the tasks we don’t want or care to handle. –There’s no shortage of popular fiction that tries to grapple with this opposition.  We seem to always have had this push and pull of fearing and loving tech. It might just reside in the fear of change that the future promises. Will the benefits of these robots outweigh our fear? Time will tell.  However, seeing as tech has become so entrenched in our lives, we may very well be sipping on drinks delivered by apron-wearing androids.

How much would you tip a robot?

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http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/publications/view/1314

World’s oldest cave paintings could be in Indonesia (and not Europe)

A collection of primitive paintings in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may include the oldest cave art known as of yet. Last year, a group of researchers proposed that a hand stencil may date back 40 millenia. The team was lead by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. While the images were first discovered in the 1950s, they were considered to have been created only 10,000 years ago. Scientists assumed that humid conditions would have destroyed anything older. Aubert and her team reported, however, that it’s likely the paintings were crafted around the same time as their French counterparts in Chauvet Cave.* They used a method called uranium-thorium dating, where a thin layer of calcium carbonate—otherwise known as “cave popcorn”—is sampled and tested to determine the rate at which the uranium decayed into thorium. In other words, the researchers were able to test a piece of cave popcorn that covered some of the paintings and figure out how old it was. That, in turn, allowed them to estimate the age of the artwork underneath. It was really, really old.

caveart

Credit: Kinez Riza

What does this mean to us? First, it challenges a Euro-centric theory that the level of self-awareness needed to create art was achieved in France or Spain before anywhere else. This simply doesn’t bear out  if Aubert and her team’s findings hold up. It also suggests that our predecessors may have been equally as reflective before they migrated from Africa. Secondly, it speaks to the value of Indonesia as a region rich in invaluable artifacts that deserve to be protected. These artifacts not only promise to advance our understanding of human evolution, but also enrich our knowledge of Indonesian culture and how it came to be.

Click below** to read the about the story in Nature. 

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http://bit.ly/1cXeCLu

** http://bit.ly/1FcfZ3V

The Largest Single Marine Reserve Created

island

(Image via http://www.businessinsider.com/)

With its bright blue waters, some might consider the Pitcairn Islands to be one of the most pristine settings on Earth. It’s for good reason, then, that it’s on it’s way to becoming the largest single marine reserve on the planet. The islands are located squarely between South America’s west side and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. The new reserve will be larger than the state of California and is being funded by the UK government’s 2015 budget. The protected area will help over 80 species of aquatic life, and it will be illegal to fish or mine in the reserve around the Islands unless you belong to the local population. The latter will be permitted to fish the waters in accordance with their traditional practices.

 The reserve will be dependent on partnerships with non-governmental satellite monitoring.

 Our oceans have been subjected to harsh treatment the past few hundred years, from overfishing to pollution. They’ve been both neglected and overlooked. The Guardian’s Adam Vaughan summed up the importance of this new marine reserve and ocean conservation: “What has happened in our oceans is a biodiversity tragedy, but it is a humanitarian issue too. Nearly a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and nearly a quarter of a billion depend on fish for their livelihoods.”

 Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/18/pitcairn-islands-marine-reserve-budget-2015

The Como Zoo Welcomes a New Member

rilla

(Image via http://www.twincities.com/)

On February 22nd, a Western Lowland Gorilla named Dara gave birth to her first child, a beautiful baby girl, Arlene. She was named after the late Arlene Schenemann, a longtime zoo volunteer. The healthy baby was born weighing 5 pounds, and while nursing was a bit of a concern for this first time mother, Dara is now taken up the role of mother wonderfully. The Como Zoo continues to monitor the gorillas to ensure that the baby is fed regularly.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is the smallest of the two subspecies of Western Gorilla. But don’t let that fact fool you; males standing erect can be up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 600 pounds! However, little Arlene will probably only get to around 5 feet tall and weigh half as much as her male counterparts. For now, she’ll be carried around by her mother and Dara will continue to carry her until she’s about is 2 or 3. Childhood will last until she is 6 or 7 years old and she’ll reach sexual maturity around 8 years old. In the wild, these Gorillas live to be around 35 years old. Females usually remain with their family group for the duration of their lives and cultivate strong familial relationships within their group.

Her birth is a great step for the species, who have been in decline for decades due to human development encroaching on their range, illegal poaching for bushmeat and ebola. At this point, the Western Lowland Gorilla is listed by the WWF** as critically endangered.

Arlene and Dara will make their first public appearance in late March, so make sure you get out and say hi!

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http://m.comozooconservatory.org/LaunchPad.html

** https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/western-lowland-gorilla

Bengal Tiger Population Rebounds

tig

(Image via http://voices.nationalgeographic.com)

Amazing news to uplift the new year:  the population of wild Bengal tigers has increased 30% from 2001 to 2014; a census found 2,226 tigers in India last year compared with 1,706 in 2010. India is home to 70% of the world tiger population, so their numbers there spell out the future of the species. While this is being praised as a huge success, it’s important to remember that the future of all endangered species hinges on awareness.

In 1957 there were near 40,000 tigers in India, a far cry from the current population of 2,226. While conflicts with local villages and prey loss has not helped the species, their main threat for the past sixty years has been the illegal wildlife trade. From capturing and selling live tigers as status symbols, to the sale of skins and bones for furnishing or medicinal purposes, Bengal Tiger numbers have been dropping due to mankind’s interest in using them for one reason or another. Furthermore, as their numbers drop their body parts become more expensive and, unfortunately, poachers stand to profit more from the scarcity. This cycle must be stopped if we want Bengal Tigers to have a chance to bounce back to healthy numbers.

If you are interested in learning more or contributing to tiger conservation, look into World Wildlife Fund* and TRAFFIC** (wildlife trade monitoring network), where you can find places to donate or lend a helping hand.

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https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/bengal-tiger

** http://www.traffic.org/tigers/