Blinding ‘em with science: how the March for Science silenced its critics.

The day after is always a day for taking stock. The March for Science should never have had to happen in the first place, not in 2017.
Then again, there’s a march for everything these days, it seems. And Earth Day — April 22nd — made an ideal companion date.
Much of the world has forgotten, you see, what entire generations took for granted ever since 1543 when Copernicus published his heretical idea, from his deathbed no less, that the sun is a motionless body at the centre of the solar system. The planets revolve around the sun, not the other way around.
Oh, and the world is round, not flat. And, as a general rule, gravity exists — not a sure thing until 1664, when Isaac Newton signed off on his law of Newtonian physics — and penicillin does in fact kill bacteria, which wasn’t a sure thing until 1928, when Alexander Fleming got a little jiggy in his lab while playing with mold and fungi.

©Getty Images/New York City

©Getty Images/New York City

Twenty years later, Donald John Trump would be born. And, 20 years after that, Scott Pruitt.
The arc of human evolution is marked by a steady upward curve in human knowledge and evolution, with just the occasional dip. Now, though, thanks the war on science, many scientists — and everyday, regular thinking folks — think we may no longer be looking at a dip but rather the beginning of a slow, steady dive into oblivion. The concept “mass extinction” was unheard of just 10 years ago. Now, it looks like the probably path to the future.
One-off protest marches have their place — just look at the examples below of some of the clever, creative turns-of-phrase on display just yesterday — but whether they have any tangible effect is another matter. Cumulatively, perhaps, but even then, it takes time.
The only thing that counts, at least now, is that last November, 62 million voters in the U.S. decided that climate change is a hoax. And any objection to that idea is tantamount to fake news. Evidence-based policymaking is for losers. The Obama administration’s signature Clean Power Plan was a thinly disguised conspiracy by media elites and kale-chip eating tofu lovers to kill the fossil-fuel industry. Coal is clean; freak weather events are the inevitable result of loose social morals on the U.S. West Coast and effete enclaves in Europe; and if wild tigers, polar bears and elephants tigers don’t make it to the next century, well, they just lost the evolutionary lottery, that’s all.

©EPA/Washington DC

©EPA/Washington DC

Godless, liberal weenies: Charles Darwin taught you this, if you believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest. If you believe in evolution, you can’t have it both ways, right?
You want expert opinion? During last summer’s Brexit referendum in Britain, no less an expert than former UK cabinet minister Michael Gove said that the public “have had enough of experts.”
The March for Science was an effort by experts to fight back, and in one sense it was a miracle. “You know you’re in trouble when scientists take to the streets,” one of those experts declared in The Guardian two weeks ago. Scientists are not, by nature, rabble rousers. By training and temperamentthey prefer to avoid the limelight, happy to stay in their lab, playing with their mold and fungi, testing and retesting results.

©AP/Denver  

©AP/Denver

 

They tended to do well in math in school — another reason to hate them — but, generally speaking, when you think of your dedicated, died-in-the-wool protesters, scientists don’t exactly jump to mind.
Before the March on Science, there were worries that protests are counterproductive and can have unintended consequences. They can play into the hands of the power brokers, by showing the proverbial silent majority what a bunch of immature crybabies the protestors are, and how worthless their issue-of-the-moment is as a result. There’s also the fear that, by painting a bleak portrait of a steadily eroding environment and the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems, ordinary, everyday thinking folks may decide that it’s too late, and give up on doing anything.

©Twitter

©Twitter

Some argued that the March for Science risked making science political. It already is, though. And it wasn’t the scientists themselves who did that. It was always political. And not addressing that is a problem.
As Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under Barack Obama John Holdren noted this past weekend in the Sunday Observer, science is evidence-based. Science is driven by our desire to learn more about ourselves, our world and our universe. Most if not all scientists want their discoveries and new understanding to be applied to advancing economic prosperity — more and bigger research grants, if you want to be cynical about it — public health, environmental sustainability, personal safety and security and good governance.
This is nothing to apologize for. It is something to be proud of. And that, in the end, was what the March for Science was really about. It wasn’t timed to coincide with Earth Day as much as it was a reminder that every day is earth day, if we want the planet to survive beyond next quarter’s profit statements.
Oh, and some of those signs were really clever.


©Getty Images/Paris

©Getty Images/Paris

©Getty Images/Amsterdam

©Getty Images/Amsterdam

©Getty Images/London

©Getty Images/London

©Getty Images/Washington DC

©Getty Images/Washington DC

©Reuters/New York City

©Reuters/New York City


Tsavo’s notorious man-eating lions — back in the news.

The notorious man-eating lions of Tsavo were the subject of two fine books, Lt.-Col. John Henry Patterson’s 1907 first-person account The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Philip Caputo’s 2002 memoir Ghosts of Tsavo, and one perfectly awful Hollywood movie, director Stephen Hopkins’ 1996 clinker The Ghost and the Darkness. The film featured a game but ultimately unconvincing Val Kilmer as Col. Patterson, and an over-the-top Michael Douglas in the completely fictional role of “Great White Hunter” Charles Remington. Remington never existed; the events depicted in the film involving his character never happened.
The film was made in Zimbabwe, not Kenya; the lions in the film sported large, lavish Hollywood manes, unlike the maneless lions of historical record; and the lions themselves in the film came not from the wild but from a zoo in Bowmanville, Ont. They were named not “Ghost” and “Darkness” but rather Caesar and Bongo.

©Paramount Pictures

©Paramount Pictures

Despite Hollywood’s finest efforts to ruin a perfectly good story — Kilmer earned a 1997 Golden Razzie nomination for worst supporting actor — the actual story, in which a pair of man-eating lions killed and devoured 28 railroad workers (according to official records kept at the time) during the building of the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1898, continues to have legs to this day.
Theories as to why the lions did what they did — debated openly and in absorbing, compulsively readable detail by Caputo in his book Ghosts of Tsavo— range from persistent drought and an outbreak of rinderpest at the time to Tsavo lying on the traditional slave-trade routes, which meant that lions in the area, being opportunistic hunters, were quick to dispose of any bodies that perished along the way.

A new theory, more scientifically detailed — and so less appealing to Hollywood moviemakers — has taken a different tack, and revealed some surprising results.
The fact that the Tsavo lions are still making the news in 2017 shows just how timeless the original history really is.
In a new study, Larisa DeSantis, a palaeo-ecologist at Nashville, Tenn.’s Vanderbilt University, used 3-D imaging technology to examine what remains of the Tsavo lions’ teeth, which have been preserved at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. (How the lions’ remains, including a pair of life-size, mounted specimens for exhibit, ended up at the Field Museum is a story in itself, and another reason why Caputo’s book makes such absorbing reading.)

©Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

©Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

The first surprise is that, despite the lions’ fearsome rep for ferocity, the teeth are not sharp fangs and molars worn down by crushing and chewing on bone but rather the smooth, polished teeth one has come to expect of zoo lions, fed a steady diet a soft food such as days-old beef.
That suggests the railroad workers, far from being the lions’ preferred food, were simply part of a diverse, well-rounded diet that may have included whatever the lions could find.
Lions, after all, like all cats, are opportunistic hunters.
“We often see ourselves as the top of the food chain,” DeSantis told National Geographic’s online site earlier this week, “where in reality we have been on the menu of lions and large cats in general for a long time.”
As the late, legendary — and quite real — Great White Hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick wrote in his 1978 memoir Death in the Long Grass, all you are to an apex predator like a lion, or a crocodile for that matter, is protein. (In his later years, Capstickwrote that his hair didn’t turn grey so much as decline and fall out in clumps, owing to the sheer stress of being hired to track down man-eating leopards and lions in the miombo thorn-scrub of upcountry Zambia.)

DeSantis also points to dental disease — about as unromantic and unlikely a subject for a Hollywood movie as you’re likely to get — being a major factor in the Tsavo lions’ misbehaviour. One of the Tsavo lions had a broken canine and an abscess that would’ve affected the surrounding teeth.
Healthy, wild lions rely on their jaws to grab a large prey animal, such as a buffalo, around the neck and suffocate it, while trying to wrestle it to the ground, so persistent dental pain would be a constant, potentially life-threatening problem.
DeSantis’ co-author in the study, Dr. Bruce Patterson, renowned lion researcher and author of the definitive book The Lions of Tsavo: Exploring the Legacy of Africa's Notorious Man-Eaters, first published in 2004, has said that as many as 40 percent of Africa’s lions have some kind of dental injury, owing to the daily wear-and-tear of hunting in the wild. (Even a seemingly benign-looking animal as a zebra is tougher than it looks; any wild animal needs to be wily and physically strong to survive. A zebra can break a lion’s back with just one well-timed strike of its hoof; a healthy buffalo normally requires four or more lions to bring it down, and that’s on a good day.)
What’s interesting, of course, is how the 120-year-old tale of the Tsavo lions continues to raise new questions.
“One hundred years ago, the technology needed to answer this question wasn’t available,” DeSantis told National Geographic. “A hundred years from now, there will probably be new technologies we can apply.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/man-eating-lions-teeth-kenya/?google_editors_picks=true


Back to nature: Why natural history should be taught in the schools.

Drop that screen, get outside and smell the flowers.
That, in a nutshell, is the gist of a new movement in the UK to wrest children and teenagers away from their screens and explore the great outdoors as part of their school education.

©Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock

©Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock

A number of educators and celebrities in the UK are lobbying for a GCSE in natural history that would focus on the outdoors — identifying trees and plants, examining eco-systems and studying ecology and conservation outside, not in the classroom, where natural history has traditionally been viewed as little more than a subset of biology.
The movement is a response to the growing worry that today’s children are already living in a world where nature has thinned out by 50% in just the past 40 years — this, according to the UK State of Nature Report for 2016(https://www.bto.org/research-data-services/publications/state-nature/2016/state-nature-report-2016/summary).
The proposal hopes to put nature back into the heart of the education system — no longer an eccentric hobby for those with the means to travel to exotic destinations but part of the mainstream curriculum,  and mainstream thinking.

©OpenColleges.edu.au

©OpenColleges.edu.au

The idea is to make future generations more attuned to the world around them, and more inclined to help save what little is left.
Traditional science classes are not up to the job of inspiring young minds, the proposal’s backers believe. Biology, as it’s taught in the schools, no longer has any real connection to nature the way most people experience it, young or old. Biology, as it’s taught in the schools, has more in common with chemistry than it does natural history. Zoology and botany are studied at the end of an electron microscope. There is no time for observing nature, let alone figuring out ways to save it.
Watching Planet Earth on TV can only go so far, and can reach only so many young people. A GCSE in natural history would make the outdoors part of the school curriculum, and could potentially reach everyone.
(For the uninitiated, a General Certificate of Secondary Education, or GCSE, is an academically structured, internationally recognized qualification, primarily used in the UK but also in some other Commonwealth countries, awarded in a specific subject. GCSEs are taken over a two- or three-year period. They replaced O-level and CSE exams in 1988 in England and Wales as the official certificate of graduation from secondary school.)

©U.S. Dept. of the Interior

©U.S. Dept. of the Interior

The cloistered, indoor life was never suited for human beings, some experts say, let alone being tethered night-and-day to a screen.
In his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, author and one-time San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Richard Louv argued that electronic screens, computer games and social media, when coupled with our growing alienation from the natural world, can lead to increased attention difficulties and growing rates of physical and emotional illnesses, while at the same time dulling our natural senses.
Getting kids outdoors as part of a fully rounded school education seems like a no-brainer.

Seeing, though, is not always believing.
The reality is that it’s an idea that may not see the light of day, despite some of the heavy hitters in education lining up behind it, owing to the usual suspects: Relentless cost-cutting in schools not funded by private foundations or tax-supported billionaires, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers and the ever-shrinking green space available to residents of the inner city.
When you throw in such factors as “stranger danger” — the not-unwarranted fear that it’s a bad idea to have kids running around in the great outdoors without close supervision — it’s hard to see a GCSE for natural history taking root in the real world.
Still, our growing distance from nature is an important — some might say critical — issue, and it needs to be talked about, outside, in the open and preferably outdoors.


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/01/studying-nature-children-planet-gcse

https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/nature/youth-programs-encourage-connection-nature


Out of Africa: plot thickens in story of early human migrations.

Everybody loves a good story. Even the best stories, though, can change in the telling.
Palaeontologists have argued for years — decades, in fact — that modern humans first emerged in Africa 200,000 years ago and migrated around the world some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
Exactly what route they took, though, where they left and where they arrived, is still the subject of much scientific conjecture and debate.
Now a recent study co-authored by the Department of Genetics at Harvard University Medical School in Cambridge, Mass. has brought scientists closer to understanding some of the finer details.

©BBC

©BBC

Humankind’s story begins in Africa with a group of hunter-gatherers, no more than a few hundred in all, who set out toward the distant horizon, for reasons known only to them. Today, 100, 000 years later, seven and a half billion of their descendants are spread throughout the Earth, “living in peace or at war,” as National Geographic geneticist Jamie Shreeve put it in a 2006 story for the magazine,  “believing in a thousand different deities or none at all . . . faces aglow in the light of campfires and computer screens.”
The unanswered questions, shaped in the silence of prehistory, include: Who were these first modern humans in Africa? What compelled a small band of their descendants to leave the safety and security of the home they knew to set out for the unknown of Eurasia? Did they mix and intermarry other, earlier members of the human family tree along the way? When and how did early humans first reach the Americas?

The Harvard study, reported earlier this year in New Scientist, traced early human migrations by contrasting and comparing previously existing studies of ‘out of Africa’ routes with new DNA techniques that continue to improve the way scientists identify and sequence genomes of our early ancestors. The secret, the scientists say, is to find more efficient ways to analyze and understand the data, and improve our understanding of human migrations.
It’s a work in progress, the paper’s lead author, Dr. Mark Lipson, stressed. There are no easy answers. The secrets of those early human migrations remain just that.
Still, over time, more blanks on the giant, blank canvas of human prehistory are being filled in with each passing day. Incomplete maps are always subject to interpretation. “Here there be dragons,” inscribed on an old map, is always assumed to be true — or possible — until someone proves it isn’t. The slow, painstaking work of scientific discovery is often just as much about proving a negative as it is proving a positive. (Pedants, as typified by The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer in a 2013 article, will point out that no old map, at least no early-modern European map, actually featured the inscription, Here there be dragons, but why spoil the beauty of a thing with an unprovable? All that means is that if there is a map with the words Here there be dragons or its Latin equivalent, Hic sunt dracones, inscribed on it, it hasn’t been found yet.)

©Khan Academy

©Khan Academy

Taking into consideration the possibility — likelihood, even — that early hominids interbred with other hominid species along the way, the Harvard study found that there was a definitive split between eastern and western populations once modern humans left Africa. This split happened as recently as 45,000 years ago, and explains how the early aboriginal inhabitants of Australia and New Guinea diverged genetically from their more northern cousins. Interestingly, unlike the closely studied migration of modern humans into Eurasia, the more southerly branch migration across Australia and the southern Pacific is less well understood.
What’s most relevant today about the study of early human migrations is whether any of these human movements were connected to climate change and, if so, how. Earlier research has suggested that humans spread across the globe in four waves, each one driven by climate change. The new findings suggest the picture may be more complicated than that, though. The Harvard study is a classic example of how, for every question answered, more doors open and more questions are asked.

©The Independent

©The Independent

Evolutionary scientists are naturally excited by the new findings, but Lipson urges caution. The process is slow and painstaking, as it should be. He urges against jumping to quick conclusions until more DNA evidence is found.
“There is some older archaeological evidence from Asia,” Lipson told New Scientist. “And while our results suggest the earliest human inhabitants probably would not have been closely related to Asian and Australian populations today, it would be interesting to see DNA from those sites.”
What we do know, based on DNA connected from 142 populations around the world, is that all non-Africans appear to be descended from a single group that split from the ancestors of African hunter-gatherers while, within Africa itself, humans formed isolated groups and then separated from each other.
The first migration did not end there. The study suggests that, subsequent to that first migration, there was a series of slow-paced migrations spread out over a period of thousands of years. Early Homo sapiens first arrived in southern Europe 80,000 years ago — far earlier than previously believed.
Question remain. Thanks to this new study and studies like it, the plot has thickened.


Reason for hope: Time to celebrate conservation’s successes, as well as challenges.

I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid stories of environmental woe and sturm und drang since starting this blog late last year. There’s enough of that going around.

Besides, those contrarians who don’t believe humans are affecting the environment — the small but noisy and politically influential minority who insist climate change is a fabrication intended to deep-six the coal and fossil fuel industry — are unlikely to change their minds now.

As for the rest, as Sir David Attenborough so aptly put it when defending his sunny-skies view in Planet Earth, no one sitting at home at the end of a long, hard day wants to be told the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that it’s all their fault.

Pessimists often depict conservation efforts — underfunded for the most part, and stretched thin — as a cry in the wilderness, and about as effective.

There are success stories, though.

©BBC

©BBC

And the Attenboroughs of the world — not to mention the conservationists themselves — prefer to focus on those stories, rather than warning yet again of imminent threat of a mass extinction. The planet has lost 58% of its birds, mammals, fish and reptiles since 1970 — this, according to a recent survey by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and London Zoological Society, but virtually anyone who can read already knows that.

The same survey found that the average yearly decrease in animal biodiversity is now 2%, “with no sign yet that this rate will slow down,” but again, this won’t come as a surprise to anyone watching the nightly news.

The success stories, rare as they might appear at times, are in the news now, though, thanks to a specially arranged meeting of conservationists, the Conservation Optimism Summit, later this month in London, with gatherings in other cities around the world, including Washington, DC and Hong Kong.

The summit is timed at least in part to Earth Day, which falls on April 22.

©DNP/Freeland

©DNP/Freeland

The implications extend beyond one day in April, though. People need to hear that all is not lost, that there’s reason for hope. One of the surprising conclusions to be drawn from the past 25 years of conservation is that it’s the smaller, grassroots efforts that have a more pronounced effect on the ground than the efforts of big, bloated conservation organizations that are often weighted down by their own bureaucracy and burgeoning operating costs.

Some of the more radical environmental activists say people ought to be told what they need to know, rather than what they want to hear.

The truth is that there’s room for both.

Polar bears are in serious trouble — the bears need pack ice on which to hunt and sustain themselves throughout winter hibernation, and the ice is melting across the Arctic — but the panda bear, the iconic symbol of the World Wildlife Fund, has recovered significantly throughout its former range.

Rhinos are facing a devastating surge in poaching throughout their range in Africa, but the saiga antelope, an oddly shaped grazing antelope endemic to the Eurasian steppe, has survived not one but two population crashes in recent years. The Siberian tiger has made a comeback in Russia, and a new population of rare Indonesian tigers was discovered in a national park in eastern Thailand just last month, even as conservationists warn that the lion — one of the most iconic, most easily recognized animals on the planet — faces a population crash throughout much of its range in Africa, due to habitat destruction, human population growth and the inevitable animal-human conflict that results.

©University of Oxford

©University of Oxford

Despite its Pollyannaish and easy-to-ridicule name, the Conservation Optimism Summit has an important purpose, as Oxford University zoologist E.J. MIlner-Gulland, a summit cofounder, and Oxford professor of biodiversity, told the Sunday Observer this past weekend.

“We have to change our ways and celebrate our successes if we’re going to protect endangered species,” she told the newspaper. “If we’re too gloomy about saving wildlife, you people will think there’s nothing they can do and that would be tragic. And wrong.”


Ten wildlife attractions to avoid, and why.

Not every wildlife attraction is a good deal for the animals themselves, despite what slick marketing campaigns would have you believe.
Earlier this week, Australia’s International Traveller website did everyone a public service — travellers and animals alike — with a list of10 so-called animal attractions to avoid at all costs.
It sounds obvious, especially for the seasoned traveller and animal lover who wouldn’t be travelling to a wildlife destination in the first place if they hadn’t done some vetting first.
It may sound obvious, but in a lot of cases it isn’t. Many of the most visited attractions are cleverly — some might say cynically — promoted as environmentally friendly, pro-conservation eco projects, when in reality they’re anything but.
I’m not talking about anything as obvious as a big cat locked in a cage as part of a roadside attraction in southern Africa — take a selfie with the leopard! — but rather big operations with fancy advertising, slick promotional videos and, strangely, solid visitor testimonials on TripAdvisor and other sites.
Wherever there’s money to be made and animals to be exploited, it’s a safe bet that someone, somewhere has figured out an idea to part travellers from their money, and sell a fake conservation message while doing it.
“Swimming with dolphins,” for example, sounds fine and benevolent. One of the most expensive high-end hotel chains on the planet offers a dolphin-swimming excursion on its property, in a hotel pool, in Hawaii — one of the last places one needs to cavort with a captive dolphin, as there are so many free-roaming dolphins within yards of the beach, virtually anywhere in the Hawaiian Islands that’s away from a big city.

Swimming with dolphins is just one example of a cynical, money-making ploy based on keeping wild animals in captivity. One expects it from a cheap huckster’s idea of a low-end carnival, but not from one of the most prestigious hotel chains on the planet.
Another attraction to make the International Traveller must-avoid list is “Walking with Lions,” a popular tourist pastime in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where visitors are encouraged to walk with lion cubs and young lions as part of a program “to help conserve lions in the wild.”
In fact, no such thing is happening. Lions, like any apex predator, are unreleasable once they’ve become habituated to human contact. The argument that captive lions help bolster the gene pool of other captive lions is bogus, too: Many lion cubs raised for “walking with lions” programs end up being gunned down in so-called canned hunts, where wealthy “hunters” from overseas fly in to bag themselves a lion, claim a trophy and then brag to their friends back home about their “African adventure.”

The Walking with Lions sales pitch is slick and seductive; I know, because I was briefly tempted myself, during a tourist visit to Victoria Falls several years ago. It wasn’t until I did my due diligence — three cheers for the internet — until I realized what was really happening. The U.S. news program 60 Minutes did an exposé a couple of years ago, but not everyone watches 60 Minutes — or reads The Guardian, let alone the legitimate conservation periodicals. The Walking with Lions tourist office in Victoria Falls makes it seem as if walking with lions is no more unethical or detrimental to the environment than taking a helicopter ride over the falls or bungee jumping over the Zambezi Gorge.

Other wildlife attractions to make the International Traveller list of “don’t”s include:
• Riding elephants. Elephants are a social animal — obviously — but the hard truth is that elephants used for riding attractions are often taken from their mothers as babies and forced to endure a strict, often cruel training regiment.
• Visiting bear parks. Bears, unlike elephants, are not social animals. They tend to be solitary in the wild. In bear parks, found predominantly in Eastern Europe but also in China and throughout Asia, the bears are often kept in overcrowded concrete pits and are forced to perform circus tricks, often in silly costumes.
• Tiger selfies. The whole idea took a battering with the shutting down last year of Thailand’s “Tiger Temple,” which ostensibly operated for 20 years o raise funds for tiger conservation, but was in fact encouraging and supporting the illegal wildlife traffic trade. One recent year, the Tiger Temple was a challenge and pit stop on the long-running, award-winning U.S. outdoor-reality TV series The Amazing Race, such was the temple’s reputation. And then they found the dead tiger cubs, stuffed intorefrigerators. The issue is not dead yet — Al Jazeera news reported several weeks ago that the Tiger Temple may open again in the near future, “under new management,” as they say.

• Handling sea turtles. According to International Traveller, the world’s last sea turtle farm is in the Cayman Islands. It’s a bad idea, though, because being manhandled by people causes young turtles undue stress, and tourists have been known to drop them on the ground, all for the sake of taking a selfie.
• Snake charmers. No one is exactly hitting the streets to protest the treatment of venomous snakes in captivity, but the truth is the snakes are often defanged, their venom ducts pierced with needles and their mouth Al Jazeera's sewn shut in some cases. The practice is so cruel, International Traveller reports, that India banned it in 1972. I did not know that.

• Dancing monkeys. The hard truth is that monkeys are often kept in small cages when they’re not performing, or else kept on short chains that cause skin rashes and even infection. It seems silly to have to say it, but monkeys were never meant to dance.
Climb trees, yes. Dance, not so much.
• Crocodile farming. Again, protesters aren’t exactly filling the streets, banging on about the need for crocodiles’ rights, but the truth is that most if not allcrocodile farms that pitch themselves as tourist attractions are breeding crocs for meat and leather. Crocs may not play on our emotions the way monkeys, dolphins and lion cubs do but, even so, they are sentient, living beings too.


http://us.whales.org/issues/swimming-with-dolphins

https://africageographic.com/blog/walking-with-lions-good-conservation-probably-not/



 

 

 

 

Wildlife workers work to overcome wolves' bad PR.

Wolves have some of the worst PR in the animal world. That’s just one reason why the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives enacted legislation late last month lifting sanctions on the hunting of wolves in Alaska and other states where the predators still remain in the wild.
The legislation also allows the killing of wolves and grizzly bears while they’re hibernating — the North American equivalent basically, of South Africa’s controversial — and widely condemned — canned hunting industry, in which lions and other trophy animals are bred in wire enclosures specifically for wealthy visitors to “hunt” once they reach adulthood.

©CBC

©CBC

Natural history films and even big-budget Hollywood movies have done their part over the years to counter the prevailing notion that wolves are wanton killers that, left to their own devices, would wipe all livestock off the face of western Canada and the U.S.
Never Cry Wolf, filmmaker Carroll Ballard’s graceful 1983 adaptation of the first-hand account of living among wild wolves by the late Canadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat, and Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner’s period western about a disaffected Civil War vet who chooses to live what remains of his life among the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota — the film went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture for 1991 — while influential at the time, have done little to counter the time-worn view of wolves as nature’s marauders. Even in the 21st century, the prevailing public impression of the wolf is the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame and infamy, the villain of outdoor tales — fanciful or otherwise — stretching all the way back to the time when early humans gathered around the fire to complain about life in the great outdoors.

©Tig Productions

©Tig Productions

Wolves’ bad PR has made it possible for ranchers,  big-game hunters and other self-interested parties to do away with pesky regulations, even when previous administrations — under former U.S. President Barack Obama, for example — enacted legislation enshrining the survival of the world’s rapidly shrinking wild spaces, and the animals that live there.
Recent weeks have shown that there’s no legislation, particularly anything governing environmental protections, that can’t be dismissed with the stroke of a pen.

And yet, for all the criticism leveled against nature documentaries and how they can be crafted to manipulate or even deceive their audience into believing that what they’re seeing is real, films and TV programs can and occasionally do a lot to counter fear and ignorance.
A 2010 video of wolves cavorting with a worker at an animal refuge in Norway went viral on YouTube, and has since racked up more than 10 million views. A more recent video — from February of last year — of a wildlife-refuge worker in Colorado reunited with a timber wolf after a two-month absence, has racked up more than 800,000 views.

4. Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 11.36.07 AM.png

It’s a safe bet that few,  if any, of those viewers believe shooting wolves from helicopters qualifies as ethical hunting, let alone choose to do that in their spare time.

And then there is The Fable of the Wolf, an animated short from the environmental group Earthjustice, that gives an abbreviated history of the relationship between wolves and people, dating back some 33,000 years, when, recent research shows, early humans and wolves often worked together after a fashion, by tracking, isolating and running down large prey animals.
This early symbiotic relationship led to the domestication of some wolves, who would one day become “man’s best friend” — dogs.
Wild wolves and domesticated sheep, calves and goats don’t get along, though, and American government legislation sanctioning the extermination of wild wolves goes back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the occasional respite, during the Clinton and Obama years for example, wolves make an easy scapegoat, especially during hard economic times in the farming states.

©Thomas Harrison Anthony

©Thomas Harrison Anthony

Facts are unfashionable these days, but The Fable of the Wolf — which makes no secret of its agenda — is especially poignant for the fact that it happens to be true.
It’s not a wildlife film, in the traditional sense. It’s animated, so it can’t be. It has an interesting tale to tell, though. And only the most cold-hearted can watch it and then dismiss it as so much propaganda.
The PR war is heavily weighted the other way, in any event. Wolves will forever be the Big Bad Wolf in the public imagination. In its own small way — just 70,000 views on YouTube so far and counting — The Fable of the Wolf is an effort to counter centuries-old misconceptions. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeing.


What if Indiana Jones was wrong? Scientists debate recent fossil findings.

Two recent fossil discoveries have prompted a radical change of thinking in scientific circles. That’s the fast headline, anyway. A closer examination of subsequent controversies — not every scientist holds the findings in the same esteem — suggests that, unlike say mathematics or physics, palaeontology is open to different interpretations. Nothing is exact. And that opens a whole other can of worms, metaphorically speaking: We may never know the answer to the big questions.

This past week, the journal Nature reported that a cat-sized fossil discovered in Scotland  (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7646/full/nature21700.html) could be the prime candidateas our common dinosaur ancestor. If true, that would fly in the face of a century of dinosaur classification.

Weeks earlier, fossilized remains discovered on the Hudson Bay coast of Quebec were judged to be the earliest findings of their kind ever found — proof, in other words, that life on Earth has been around a lot longer than anyone realized and that, furthermore, evolution happened in the blink of an eye.

A blink of an eye is about as long as it took for the doubters to weigh in — in part because no one, not the least palaeontologists who’ve devoted their entire careers to studying dinosaurs’ family tree, wants to be told that some of their most cherished beliefs about evolutionary history are dead wrong.

Huge plant-eating sauropods like the Brontosaurus have traditionally been classified with meat-eating theropods like the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex, even though there are key skeletal differences between the two groups — itself a sign that the entire classification system may be flawed.

©Field Museum, Chicago

©Field Museum, Chicago

The doubters are determined to have their say, though. The experts are divided, as the old expression goes.

The Scottish findings, these doubters say, amount to little more than fake news — at best an overreaction motivated by good but wrong-headed intentions, at worst a thinly disguised ploy to grab easy headlines and boost burgeoning careers.

The latest findings that the Scottish big-cat-sized creature, Saltopus, is the closest to what our hypothetical common ancestor might have looked like, are themselves little more than hypothesis, according to Max Langer, a palaeontologist at the University of Säo Paulo in Brazil who is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on dinosaur research.

At stake is the traditionally accepted notion that the oldest, most revealing fossils are to be found in the Southern Hemisphere, not the the Northern.

Matt Baron, a graduate student at Cambridge University who led the three-year dino project in the UK, said that while it will never be possible to pinpoint the origin of dinosaurs with any degree of certainty, his findings have raised new questions about the Northern Hemisphere possibly being the origin of humankind’s dinosaur ancestors.

“It may just be that dinosaurs originated in Scotland,” he told The Guardian newspaper.

Without getting too complicated about it — the earlier Quebec findings, for example, hint that life may have originated long before the break-up of the continents into northern and southern hemispheres, as depicted in Scottish geologist Iain Stewart’s 2011 BBC documentary series Rise of the Continents

(Recommended viewing, by the way; Stewart is the David Attenborough of geological filmmaking and a respected evolutionary thinker in his own right.)

For many palaeontologists, the idea that dinosaurs may have originated in Scotland has about as much veracity as the notion that Nessie is out their in Loch Ness somewhere, still terrorizing locals in small boats. 

Baron’s findings, coupled with similar studies sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum, suggests that scientists’ classification of dinosaur ancestors into two specific groups — a belief held since the 1880s — may need a major rethink. There are also suggestions that many of the earliest dinosaurs may have had feathers as well as scales, and that the original precursor of today’s mammals may have been an omnivore, not a carnivore.

©Iain Stewart, BBC

©Iain Stewart, BBC

Baron told The Guardian that he did not come by his conclusions lightly.

“We didn’t want to be these palaeontologists who told the world that Diplodocus and Brontosaurus weren’t dinosaurs,” he said. “We’d be like the guys who said Pluto isn’t a planet.”

For a more clinical take, follow the link to an informative piece by science writer Evan Gough at Universe Today:

http://www.universetoday.com/134625/new-study-wants-rip-t-rex-place-dino-tree/



How wild animals adapt to the big city, as told in Planet Earth’s stirring series finale.

Of all the hours that went into making Planet Earth II, it is the final episode “Cities” — which makes its North American debut this weekend on BBC America — which drew the most attention when it aired in the UK last December, and small wonder.

The finale is not just a summing-up of all that has come before. It takes on the thorny issue of where the planet goes from here, as wild animals evolve and adapt — with varying degrees of success — to the world’s sprawling and ever-growing urban areas.

No spoilers here. One of the special joys in watching Planet Earth is being surprised by those unexpected moments that evoke awe, majesty and, in many cases, an almost childlike sense of wonder. Nature is full of mysteries, after all. For every answer, new questions are almost certain to emerge.

©Steve Winter, National Geographic/NatGeo Wild

©Steve Winter, National Geographic/NatGeo Wild

The issue of how wildlife can adapt to big cities has been tackled before, most notably in National Geographic’s 2015 documentary program Urban Jungle. This is the first time the Planet Earth team have tackled it head-on, though, after almost 20 hours of often breath-taking filmmaking.

That’s worth noting because if Sir David Attenborough and his team of filmmakers have faced one criticism over the years, it’s that, for all Planet Earth’s celebration of nature at its most pure and pristine, it has pointedly avoided the ways in which human beings have affected what remains of the natural world, whether through climate change or unchecked population growth and our increasingly unsustainable lifestyles.

Evolution is not so much about survival of the fittest as it is about adaptability to ever-changing surroundings, so a close-up look at how wild animals find new ways to survive when living in close proximity to large numbers of people is ideally suited to a program with the ambition and scope of Planet Earth, and a fitting way to end the series.

©BBC Planet Earth II

©BBC Planet Earth II

Veteran National Geographic photographer Steve Winter, who followed leopards hunting by night in the centre of Mumbai and who has just concluded a multi-year photographic survey of wild jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal region (a National Geographic magazine feature and feature-length nature documentary are in the works), shared his experience of photographing leopards — an unpredictable and potentially deadly predator — withjournalists from the Television Critics Association at a gathering in Beverly Hills, Calif. several years ago, while promoting Urban Jungle.

Coincidentally, one of Winter’s most famous photographs — of a wild mountain lion, dubbed “P22” by local biologists, living in the Hollywood Hills, the giant “Hollywood” sign lit up in the background — was taken at night using a trap camera, just a short drive from the very Beverly Hills hotel where Winter was meeting journalists.

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“The leopards in Mumbai are absolutely incredible,” Winter recalled. “They come out when it gets dark. People live right on the edge of the park. I was there, and saw it with my own eyes. People would do their walking, exercising, walk their dogs like we do in parks, and, boom, the sun goes down, and the habitat changes. It's then the leopards' area, and they co-exist without really any major problems.

“The ecosystem changes once the sun goes down. People came up to us, wanted to know, ‘What are you doing here?’ I told them and showed them some of the footage and images we were getting. They had lived there for ten years and didn’t even know the leopards were there, as close as from me to you, and yet have zero problems with them. A guy got up in the middle of the night one night, looked out his windows, and for the first time in ten years, he sees this leopard on a bridge. They are happy about it, too.They want to live with these animals because they don’t find that there’s any conflict.”

©National Geographic/Steve Wimter

©National Geographic/Steve Wimter

There are more mountain lions in the coastal Los Angeles area than people might suppose, Winter added. “There’s a healthy population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Recreational Area, between, like, Sunset and a little further north. There are probably 15 or 20 cats in all.”

Mountain lions are just as secretive around people as leopards. P22 is native to Griffith Park, site of the famous Griffith Observatory.

©Steve Wimter/National Geographic

©Steve Wimter/National Geographic

 

“In all the months I spent in Griffith Park, I never met anybody who saw the mountain lion,” Winter said. “I never saw the mountain lion there. They don’t want to be seen, and they have plenty to eat there. So they’re comfortable.”

Wild animals getting along with people pre-supposes there aren’t any idiots — of the human kind — who will mess things up, Winter admitted.

“The mountain lion doesn’t want to be seen. That’s the bottom line. The leopard is the most adaptable cat in the world, as far as I’m concerned. They are secretive, and they don’t want any interaction. But as far as the idiot part goes, that’s, well . . . who knows?”


When nature docs go wild.

Scan YouTube for highlights of Planet Earth II, now nearing the end of its North American debut, and one can’t help but be struck by how many compilation fan videos are of the blood-’n-claws variety. If it bleeds, it leads, seems to be the thinking. And nothing sells like sex and violence. (No, I won’t insert a video link here; I won’t glorify compilation violence videos by making them easier to access than they already are. Suffice it to say that anyYouTube video titled “Huge jaguar vs. a caiman crocodile (insane fight)” — in full caps, no less —  tells you all you need to know.)

The bigger picture is that, with more people curious about nature every day but with little means to actually experience nature for themselves, wildlife filmmaking, nature documentaries and conservation photography have never been more meaningful, or influential to popular opinion.

Ethics in nature filmmaking are more topical now than at any point in the history of television and film, as the world’s few remaining green spots are shrinking at an ever-increasing pace.

This was brought into sharp relief recently by environmental-film producer Chris Palmer’s controversial book Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom

I say inspired in part because, like many viewers of Planet Earth, my early life was informed by a steady diet of nature films, from big-screen theatricals like Born Free, which I first saw when I was seven, to Disney nature docs like Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar and King of the Grizzlies.

©Chris Palmer

©Chris Palmer

What we see at a young age informs us in our later years and shapes our opinions and outlooks on the world. Palmer’s book, as Jane Goodall writes in her introduction, is important and much-needed. It won’t change any preconceived notions about climate change, habitat loss or the increasingly evident man-made mass extinction, but it does raise meaningful questions about how these films are made, the motivations and ethics involved, and what the filmmakers’ responsibilities are to the viewer.

Palmer, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, was executive producer of the 2000 Oscar-nominated IMAX documentary Dolphins, so he knows something of what he speaks.

Without doubt, nature films have helped raise awareness of the wonders of the natural world and the need for conservation. How are these films made, though? Can we always believe everything the narrator tells us? Was that stunning sequence we just saw of a polar bear giving birth filmed in the wild, as implied in the film, or will telling viewers that it was actually filmed in a zoo in Germany make them less engaged and possibly less willing to help a conservation cause? Is it ethical to stage a fight between a leopard and a terrified baboon, in order to get a dramatic cover story for Life magazine, during Life’s heyday? (This actually happened.)

©John Dominis, Time-LIFE

©John Dominis, Time-LIFE

To what extent are animals otherwise living in the wild disturbed in their day-to-day activities during the making of a film?

Is it right to manipulate footage while editing, so that it appears two animals are interacting when in fact they were filmed on separate occasions in separate locations?

Where does artistic freedom and the need to tell a good story meet the obligation to tell the truth when making a documentary?

How much should the viewer be told, anyway? Disney’s early nature films were designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. They were made for children, but directed in such a way that they would appeal to parents, too — charming enough for kids to enjoy, but never boring or too tedious for the adults in the family.

That was the idea, anyway. Everyone likes a good story, and many of us like to watch a good fight. The reality is those early nature films had about as much in common with David Attenborough’s pioneering BBC documentaries as Bambi had to Racing Extinction.

©Jane Goodall Institute

©Jane Goodall Institute

Ethical questions surrounding nature filmmaking will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, of course, in the same way many conservation groups can’t even agree on the seemingly clearcut question of whether the legal sale of ivory stockpiles will help or hurt elephant conservation in the wild.

©Jane Goodall Institute

©Jane Goodall Institute

As Goodall writes in her introduction to Shooting in the Wild, though, it’s high time those questions were asked, and discussed openly.

“We owe this to the animals themselves,” Goodall says, “to the filmmakers who practice truly ethical behaviour, and to the viewing public.”

Amen to that.

Over the next several weeks and months, I hope to tackle some of these issues here. In depth.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zebras: white with black stripes, or the other way 'round?

Old question, familiar conundrum: Are zebras white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?
It’s not an entirely frivolous question, as the question of what makes animals the colours they are, and why, remains one that vexes field biologists and nature photographers alike.
That was thrown into sharp relief once again this past week in a Washington Post piece headed, Why are pandas black and white?
Again, it’s not a frivolous question. Bears, after all, tend to be monochromatic, whether grizzly, polar bear or the clue-is-in-the-name black bear and brown bear. Why is the panda different? Is the panda even a bear? The answer is similar, but not identical, to why the African plains zebra, which inhabits very different terrain from the Chinese panda, is also black and white.

©Getty Images/BBC

©Getty Images/BBC

Biologists with the University of California at Davis and California State University (Long Beach) published a paper in the nature journal Behavioral Ecology earlier this week that suggests panda colourationis for both camouflage and communication.
That mirrors similar findings with zebras.
Field studies in Africa have determined that while zebras might not seem to blend into yellow grasslands with their black and white stripes, predators have a hard time distinguishing one zebra from another when they’re pressed together in a herd.
Lions hunt mainly by sight, which is why they tend to pick off strays lagging behind the herd, rather than singling out an individual in the middle of a herd for special attention.

©Africa Wildlife

©Africa Wildlife

Along similar lines, a newborn zebra will recognize its mother by its stripe pattern; that’s why an infant, separated from its mother, may have a hard time finding her again in a large herd.
That can be a problem for infant zebras, because unlike many other mammals, female zebras will not attend to others’ young.
The panda study made similar findings, though with some marked differences.
The biologists studied pandas’ ears, eye patches, limbs and white bodies for clues as to their behaviour.
Tim Caro, a biologist with the University of California Davis’ Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology department, wrote that panda colouration has been a long-standing debate because virtually no other mammal, other than the zebra, has the same combination of colours, which makes analogies difficult.
The biologists reached their conclusions by combing through hundreds of photographs of 40 types of bears, in a bid to identify and isolate fur colour over different parts of the body — back, legs, ears and head. They then divided animals’ faces into separate, independent areas.
Animals that grow winter coats were found to have significantly lighter fur in cold-weather climes.
That’s key, because forest shade and snow appears to have played the major role in influencing the panda’s coat.

©Mohd Rasfan/AFP

©Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Unlike North American and Russian bears, pandas do not sleep through the winter, because there is little nutritional value in bamboo, the pandas’ primary dietary source. A steady diet of bamboo is insufficient to give them the fat reserves needed to hibernate through a long winter. That means they’re forced to forage for winter food in treed areas that change suddenly from light snow to dark forest shade.
As for that overarching question, asked on virtually every safari by every safari-goer — are zebras are white with black stripes, or the other way round — scientific consensus favours the latter.
We humans find this hard to believe at first because we tend to perceive shapes and colours as being against a white backdrop. A child draws on white paper, for example. We write in black ink, on a light surface.

©Science Now

©Science Now

There’s more scientific, evolutionary proof as to why zebras are, at their core, dark-coloured animals with light markings. The plains zebra (Equus quagga) evolved from the African wild ass (Equus africanus), which was coloured a solid brown, as with most horses and donkeys.
Zebras have white or grey stomachs — another reason we tend to think of them as having a white base with black stripes— but many darker coloured mammals have light or even white-coloured underbellies, including predators like lions and leopards that prey on zebras.
Black is the predominant pigmentation in the zebra’s coat; white contains very little pigmentation.

It’s believed white stripes may have evolved as a way to shield the zebra’s skin base against the harsh African sun, as suggested by the fact that zebras from more temperate, high-altitude regions, such as the Hartmann’s zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) and mountain zebra (Equus zebra), tend to be darker than their savannah cousins. Darker pigmentation in zebras shows itself as thin white stripes and larger, fatter black stripes. Not all zebras are alike, in other words, just as pandas are unlike other bears.

It’s believed white stripes may have evolved as a way to shield the zebra’s skin base against the harsh African sun, as suggested by the fact that zebras from more temperate, high-altitude regions, such as the Hartmann’s zebra (Equus zebra hartmannae) and mountain zebra (Equus zebra), tend to be darker than their savannah cousins.
Darker pigmentation in zebras shows itself as thin white stripes and larger, fatter black stripes.
Not all zebras are alike, in other words, just as pandas are unlike other bears.


Earliest yet signs of life-on-Earth found in Canada.

Scientists could have been forgiven for thinking when, six years ago, paleontologists examining rocks in Greenland found what they believed to be the oldest fossils on Earth. The remnants of life dated back to a time when scientists believe Earth’s skies were orange and the seas green, when massive tectonic plates splt apart in giant seas of molten lava.

©Laure Gauthiez/Australian National University via AP

©Laure Gauthiez/Australian National University via AP

That changed earlier this week with University College London’s revelation that an international team of researchers in Quebec unearthed the fossilized remains of a creature that lived some 3,7 million years ago. The remains could even be as old as 4.3 million years, researchers say.

One link between the two finds is climate change. The 2012 fossils were found in a newly melted part of Greenland, where a team of researchers examined terrain that had been unexposed to open air for tens of thousands of years.

The new findings were made in a northern clime as well: the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt in Quebec, on the eastern shores of Hudson Bay. There may well be more, similar finds as the polar ice caps melt and recede.

The newly discovered fossils aren’t easy to spot. These aren’t woolly mammoth tusks or the skeletal remains of one of humankind’s early ancestors, but rather microbes, microrganisms individually too small to be seen with the unaided eye. The Nuvvuagittuq fossils are tiny fialments and tubes formed by bacteria that live on iron. The researchers would have had to know what they were looking for, and some idea where to find them.

The fossils may be small, but they’re meaningful — especially in a time when global news events are most depressing than enlightening.

UCL PhD student Matthew Dodd, author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the fossils support the idea that life emerged from hot, sea-floor vents shortly after the Earth formed. The evidence fits with other evidence — the Greenland findings, for one — of microorganisms believed to have formed the foundation for early life forms.

©Matthew Dodd, University College London

©Matthew Dodd, University College London

The Nuvvuagittuq Belt, much like Africa’s Great Rift Valley, has proved a boon for paleontologists studying the originis of life. This part of Quebec is home to some of Earth’s oldest rock formations, dating back some 4.28 billion years. Earth is believed to have formed some 4.6 billion years ago. What are towering rock formations today once lay on the sea floor, when Earth and Mars would both have been covered by water.

Dodd said the find suggests there may have been life on Mars as well, some 4,000 million years ago.

If not, he wrote in Nature, it would suggest Earth was unique — an exception amond exceptions.

Dodd’s research for University College London was supported by NASA, Carnegie Canada and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The findings have since been reported by BBC and in the Washington Post, Wired and Chicago Tribune, among others.

©Brian Harig

©Brian Harig

Why does it matter? For one, the discovery shows life may have formed more quickly than once thought. Scientists originally believed it would take life nearly a billion years to gain a toehold once the molten Earth cooled enough to sustain life.

Now it appears life may have formed virtually overnight, in geological terms.

The study is likely to be contentious. Claims about early life often are. Either way, though, it’s one more potential piece in the puzzle of life on Earth. 

“This discovery answers the biggest questions mankind has asked itself,” Dodd told the BBC. “It’s very humbling to have the oldest known lifefroms and your hands and be able to look at them and analyze them.”


Skating on thin ice: Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf.

Winter is coming — not here, perhaps, but in Antarctica. For those increasingly worried about climate change, the Antarctic winter can’t come a moment too soon.

Earlier this month, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey released new aerial video showing the widening crack in the Larsen C ice shelf — a chasm so deep and so long it stretches to the horizon.

February is high season for scientistswho monitor the ecosystem of the planet’s coldest, windiest, most remote continent, so this is the time of year when the most important, telling scientific findings are made.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

In all, the Larsen C crack is 160 kilometres (100 miles) long and some 460 metres (1,500 feet) wide at its widest point. Left unchecked, the rift will cleave off a monster iceberg the size of Wales — or Delaware, if you’re thinking in U.S. terms — in the foreseeable future.

If, or more likely when, it happens, the iceberg will represent 10 percent of the entire ice shelf. As recent findings in the Arctic have shown, ice melts increase more rapidly in pace once they begin. Today’s 10 percent will be tomorrow’s 25 percent, and so on.

There is precedent, even in Antarctica. The Larsen A and B ice shelves collapsed in 1995 and 2002 respectively. The Antarctic research group that monitored the Larsen B collapse at the time noted that the event followed a sudden and unsustainable band of warm air in one of the world’s fastest warming places.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

Ice shelves play an important role in Antarctica’s ecosystem, scientists say, because they act like bookends, holding together massive stores of loose ice on the continent.

If those bookends collapse, it will cause land ice to melt and glaciers to split off into the ocean, boosting sea levels. Since the Larsen B shelf’s break upglaciers behind it have flowed into the sea at a rate six times faster than before the shelf’s collapse.

Satellite imagery shows the western edge of Antarctica is also developing cracks, including the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf. 

Not all ice melt can be spotted from the surface. Massive meltwater lakes deep inside ice fields can flow out to sea through tunnels deep under the ice, making them harder to spot. 

Ice breakup in the Arctic has been measured more closely than in the southern continent, for obvious reasons.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

©Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice.

The Arctic is closer to major population centres, and more exposed to warming air in the more populated Northern Hemisphere. Melting ice has given rise to the real possibility that the Northwest Passge will be ice-free during the summer in just a matter of years. That will open the entire region to shipping, not to mention oil drilling. Before long, the Northwest Passage will a realistic geographical and economic alternative to the Panama Canal. International shipping lanes will be affected, and along with them the economic prospects of Panama, Russia and Canada, among other countries.

The recent findings in Antarctica have prompted renewed interest in the work of nature photographer James Balog and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski’s 2012 documentary Chasing Ice, in no small part because Balog photographed a massive ice calving in the Arctic while on assignment for National Geographic.

Video footage of an ice shelf the size of a small city cleaving off into the sea off  Greenland's coast went viral. A four-minute excerpt of the largest glacier calving ever filmed has 46 million views on YouTube.

What makes Chasing Ice particularly relevant today is that Balog was initially a climate-change skeptic when, more than 10 years ago now, he took on his first National Geographic assignment in the far north.

©James Balog, National Geographic.

©James Balog, National Geographic.

It wasn’t long, however, before he became convinced of the impact humans are having on the planet. He has been working ever since to get the message out.

This past November, the Arctic was 20 degrees warmer than average, warmer even than the most liberal projections had predicted.

No one can predict with any degree of certainty, of course, what effect melting sea ice will have in the immediate, short-term future, let alone future generations.

One thing is immediately clear, though: The planet is skating on thin ice.



Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

Judging competitions is subjective. And nothing is as subjective, it seems, as photography. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve sized up the winner of a major photo competition and been struck by how much better — more emotional, more trenchant, relevant and eye-catching — one of the honourable mentions is, when compared to the chosen winner.
Everyone has an opinion, and no two opinions are likely to be the same.
Sometimes, though, as in the case of the recent World Press Photo of the Year award, the argument is about more than mere semantics. In a break from protocol, World Press Photo head judge Stuart Franklin penned a passionate, persuasive and, for me, telling essay in The Guardian newspaper about how he disagreed with his fellow jurors’ final selection.
The winning photo, by Turkey-based Associated Press photographer Burhan Özbilici, showed the assassin of the Russian ambassador to Turkey standing over his victim at an Ankara art gallery and shouting in triumph.

©Burhan Özbilici/The Associated Press/World Press Photo handout

©Burhan Özbilici/The Associated Press/World Press Photo handout

Franklin, a London, England-born photographer former president of the Magnum Photos agency (2006-’09), is himself a past winner of the World Press Photo award, having won for his image of “the Tank Man” for Time magazine during the uprising at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Franklin was narrowly outvoted by his fellow jury members, he told The Guardian, even though he argued in favour of Özbilici’s winning the spot news prize, which Özbilici, also won.
Franklin’s reasons for arguing against its winning the top prize, though, raise important questions for any serious photographer aiming to get that one image that, without meaning to sound precious or pretentious about it, can change the world.
Özbilici showed composure, bravery and skill to take the photo, Franklin said, because what happened was so unexpected — a split-second of violence at a tedious, done-it-a-hundred-times-before press conference at an art gallery — followed by utter chaos and mayhem.
A split-second image of an assassination has won the World Press Photo of the Year Award three times, Franklin pointed out, most notably Eddie Adams’ classic 1968 image of Saigon national police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s summary execution of a Vietcong sympathizer.
Adams’ photograph was one of several that would turn popular opinion against the Vietnam War, in a time when a still photo really could shape the public’s perception of a divisive, complicated moral issue.
Unlike the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo — an event many historians say touched off the First World War — the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara had thankfully limited political consequences, Franklin said. There’s no question Özbilici’s has real impact, but there were more worthy candidates for Photo of the Year, Franklin suggested.
“It’s a photograph of a murder, the killer and the slain, both seen in the same picture, and morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading,” Franklin wrote in the Guardian.
Franklin argued that giving Özbilici’s photo the spotlight of Photo of the Year is a tacit invitation to other would-be crazies to stage similar stunts.
“It reaffirms the compact between martyrdom and publicity,” he argued.
That said, he added, chairing a jury — any jury — is all about recognizing divergent views and accepting the outcome.
Here’s the part every serious photographer can agree with:
Photography is capable of real service to humanity, by prompting empathy and striving to initiate real change. Franklin looks for “an empathetic eye,” mindful that photographers go to great lengths — “often putting their own lives at risk” — to break the silence, speak truth to power and enlighten us, all of us, through pictures on the off-chance that “they might, just might, inspire change.”
Franklin said that by writing about the issue in the Guardian, he hoped to celebrate and draw attention to some of the other photographs from the past year to win World Press prizes.
I’ve included some of them here, so you can judge for yourself.

©Vadim Ghirda/AP

©Vadim Ghirda/AP

Migrants attempt to reach Macedonia from Greece.
‘Vadim Ghirda’s empathetic photograph lends pathos to a challenging event,’ Franklin said.
©Vadim Ghirda/AP

©Ameer Alhalbi/AFP  

©Ameer Alhalbi/AFP

 

Syrian men carry babies through the rebel-held Salihin neighbourhood of Aleppo.
‘Ameer al-Halbi [not his real name] deserves respect for his courage in documenting the relentless bombing of Aleppo.’
©Ameer Alhalbi/AFP

©Jonathan Bachman/Reuters-EPA

©Jonathan Bachman/Reuters-EPA

Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge by Jonathan Bachman. The image captures what became for many the defining image of the Black Lives Matter rallies that swept the US last year.
©Jonathan Bachman/Reuters-EPA

©Brent Stirton/National Geographic  

©Brent Stirton/National Geographic

 

Brent Stirton won first prize in the nature stories category for his image of a dead black rhino, poached for its horns less than eight hours earlier at Hluhluwe Umfolozi game reserve, South Africa.
©Brent Stirton/National Geographic

 

©Tom Jenkins/The Guardian  

©Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

 

Tom Jenkins topped the sports singles category for his picture of jockey Nina Carberry flying off her horse during the Grand National steeplechase.
©Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

© Matthieu Paley/Reuters  

© Matthieu Paley/Reuters

 

China’s Wild West, shows a Uighur woman carrying money in her stockings, a common practice.
© Matthieu Paley/Reuters


Where the buffalo roam again.

And now a feel-good story for a change. For the first time since the 19th century, when wild bison were hunted to near extinction, Parks Canada, Canada’s federal national parks agency, has released 16 adult bison, mostly pregnant females, into Banff National Park.
Banff is Canada’s oldest national park, having been established in the Rocky Mountains in 1885.

©2017 Parks Canada

©2017 Parks Canada

At 2,500 square miles (6,600 square kilometres), it remains one of the world’s most pristine wildlife areas close to a major city, just70 miles (110 kms) west of Calgary, Alberta. The terrain glaciers, ice fields, coniferous forest and — most importantly for the bison — seasonal grasslands. Resident mammals include grizzly bears, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep.

This isn’t an empty-headed exercise in wishful thinking. Nor is it a rush job, the result of little forethought and next to no planning.

©2017 Parks Canada

©2017 Parks Canada

Despite Banff’s range and relative wildness, the park remains a sensitive ecosystem. Banff’s mountain passes and crested valleys experience harsh winters. Not every species survives, even with good intentions and modern-day science and technology. Just seven years ago, an avalanche is believed to have wiped out the then last-remaining family group of wild caribou.

Still, bison are tough and resilient.

The move is a throwback to a time when — it’s said — plains buffalo, as they’re more commonly known in the U.S., were so thick on the ground, they turned the plains black.

©2017 Parks Canada

©2017 Parks Canada

That’s hard to believe, of course, but hopes are high that with time and patience, a viable population may establish itself again. In their heyday, plains buffalo numbered some 30 million across the continent. The Alberta herds were long gone, though, by the time Banff was gazetted in 1885.

Reintroducing bison is liable to be less controversial to ranchers in the surrounding area than, say, reintroducing gray wolves to Yellowstone. 

The conservation team moved the bison from a protected herd in central Alberta, and transported them by truck and helicopter to the snowy passes that bisect Alberta and its western neighbour province, BC. The bison were tested for bacterial infection and have been cleared of any communicable diseases.

©2017 Parks Canada

©2017 Parks Canada

For now, they’re penned in a sprawling enclosure in Banff’s remote Panther Valley, far from the main tourist routes. The plan is to release them into the true wild by the summer of 2018, when they’ll be free to roam the 460 square miles (1,200 square kms) that encompass the Red Deer and Cascade River valleys.

If successful, project manager Karsten Heuer said, the Banff herd will be one of only four plains buffalo herds in North America that compete with other herbivores and their predators for survival.

The animals are not tame, or idle: The conservation team taped rubber hoses to the bisons’ horns to prevent them from injuring each other while in transit to their new home.

Fasten your seatbelts — this is about to get real.

 


Dangerous Planet: The places most likely to kill you.

The diverting survival handbook The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook offers useful pointers on how to deal with runaway camels, UFO abductions, high-rise hotel fires and leeches — human and animal. There’s only so much use one can get, though, out of learning the phrase May I borrow a towel to wipe up the blood? in German (“Darf ich ein Tuch borgen, um das blut abzuwischen?)”) or this useful bit of advice for travelling to dangerous regions: “Check beforehand.” (No kidding.)

While your chances of being snatched by a UFO might not seem as likely as some other scenarios outlined in a section headed “People Skills” — not as likely as, say, “How to survive a riot,” “how to pass a bribe” or “how to foil a scam artist,” there are useful pointers nonetheless on how to find your way in unfamiliar territory in a section called “Getting Around,” which includes bonus advice on “how to jump from rooftop to rooftop,” “How to ram a barricade” (too many viewings of The Year of Living Dangerously, no doubt) and “How to escape from the trunk of a car.” You never know when that last one may come in handy, whether you took a wrong turn into Vila Cruzeiro in Rio de Janeiro or decided to windowshop at the corner of W. Mulberry and N. Fremont in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nature and the natural world poses its own risks, as a more sober — and grounded — article recently noted on BBC World News’ main website. The piece, headed “The places on Earth where nature is most likely to kill you,” doubled a kind of anti-Planet Earth. Sure, the world is full of natural hazards, writer Ella Davies noted, from volcanoes to floods and storms. But where is the risk to human life greatest?

Don’t laugh. This is every bit as topical and relevant as knowing what to do if you’re buzzed by a UFO while driving a lonely strecth of highway at night. And if you live the life of a nature photographer, it’s much more likely to, um, bite you in the ass.

Hurricane Isaac nears Haiti. ©NASA

Hurricane Isaac nears Haiti. ©NASA

The piece breaks the subject into four basic elements, a subliminal nod, perhaps, to the ‘70s R&B soul-funk band Earth, Wind & Fire: water, air, earth and fire, in that order. 

So, while little more than 1,000 deaths were recorded at sea in the year 2012, according to the International Maritime Organziation, water on dry land is a much greater force to be reckoned with, whether from rising sea levels and storm surges (the Maldives, Kiribati) or spring flooding on inland rivers. The survey found that the most likely place forcasualties are the flood plains adjacent to China’s biggest rivers. The summer flood on China’s Yangtze River in 1931 is believed to have killed countless people — literally countless, as official records at the time were incomplete. It’s believed to have been in the millions, though, in large part because of heavy concentrations of inhabitants along the river banks and unseasonally heavy snows that year, followed by sudden thawing and catastrophic rainfall.

China's Liujiang River floods in July, 2016  ©AFP

China's Liujiang River floods in July, 2016  ©AFP

In terms of air — hurricanes, mostly — Haiti is considered to be one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet, in part because of its geographical location in the tropical Caribbean and in part because the island nation lacks the resources to properly prepare, even when given advance warning. The most intense storms are not necessarily the deadliest: Haiti is unusually vulnerable, too, because natural barriers like forests have been stripped of their natural cover and many settlements have either been built on floodplains or in coastline areas vulnerable to storm surge.

In terms of the Earth — namely, earthquakes and other kinds of land-locked seismic activity — Los Angeles gets a lot of attention for being at risk, in part because it’s the media capital of the world and in part because of its population density and the suspicion that “the Big One” hasn’t struck yet, a concern echoed in the coastal Pacific Northwest, along the I-5 Seattle-Vancouver corridor. What the two have in common is the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an active volcanic and tectonic belt that rings the entire Pacific Ocean.

As the BBC article notes, though, the real risk of loss-of-life lies in the less affluent parts of the Ring of Fire — not Japan, the U.S. Canada or New Zealand but rather the Philippines. 

Some 81% of the world’s worst earthquakes strike along the Ring of Fire, according to the 2015 Natural Hazard Risks Atlas. Digging deeper, though, those same risk analysts found that eight of the world’s 10 cities most at risk to natural disaster are in the Philippines, in no small part because the Ring of Fire intersects and crosses over with the Pacific’s major cyclone belt. The Philippines is at risk to both earthquakes and hurricanes, in other words. 

Flooding in Sunrise Village, Philippines. ©2012 OM International

Flooding in Sunrise Village, Philippines. ©2012 OM International

In terms of fire — namely, volcanoes — Indonesia ranks near the top, in terms of both incidents and loss of life. The World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO.org) recently determined that, in all, more than 200,000 people have died as a direct result of volcanoes during the past 400 years. Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa killed some 70,000 people in 1815, leading to a “year without summer” throughout the northern hemisphere.

Haet wave in Dubai, UAE  ©Getty Images

Haet wave in Dubai, UAE  ©Getty Images

Interestingly, in terms of fire and air combined, climate scientists are now warning that heat waves — whether or notthey’re connected to climate change — pose the largest hazard, and possibly the greatest threat to humankind yet. Call it what you will, global warming or a global warning, the result is the same.

 

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170202-the-places-on-earth-where-nature-is-most-likely-to-kill-you

 


©2017 NASA International Space Station (ISS)

©2017 NASA International Space Station (ISS)

Making Planet Earth II, by the numbers.

Mike Gunton might not be the household name David Attenborough is but if there is to be a third series of Planet Earth, Gunton is likely the person who will sign off on it — just as Alastair Fothergill, a former director of the BBC’s Natural HIstory Unit, signed off on the original Planet Earth in 2003.

Gunton, the Natural History Unit’s present-day creative director and a co-producer of Planet Earth II, told UK media last December that while they would be crazy to rule out a third series, the decision is not as easy as, say, greenlightinga new sitcom or shoot-‘em-up police procedural.

Planet Earth II was timed to coincide with the original Planet Earth’s 10th anniversary, but as Gunton conceded, it was five years in the making.

©BBC One

©BBC One

If there is to be a Planet Earth III, in other words, the decision will need to be made soon. Even with new camera technology that would’ve proved impossible in 2006, filming wild animals in their natural habitat and — more importantly,  from the BBC’s point of view — capturing behaviour never seen on camera before, takes time.

Planet Earth II makes its North American debut on Feb. 18, after a successful run in the UK.

ildlife documentaries are a dime a dozen; the whole point of Planet Earth is that it be seen to be unique, something special, to stand out from the crowd.

©BBC One

©BBC One

Few wildlife programs come under such scrutiny, from casual viewers aksing themselves, ‘How did they do that?’ to dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists and animal-rights campaigners keen to spot any potential abuses and audience manipulation.

Making Planet Earth II wasn’t easy, no matter how spiffy new camera technology has become. As North American audiences prepare to see what all the fuss is about, here are half-a-dozen gee-whiz facts about the making of a documentary series some are calling the finest of its kind ever made.

1. David Attenborough doesn’t venture to far-flung locations that much anymore — he’s 90, after all — but he’s not just a mouthpiece. He phoned field producers on a regular basis throughout filming and insisted they prove his narration to be accurate, while also telling a good story.

©BBC One

©BBC One

2. Planet Earth II employed 42 camera operators, and is the first series BBC produced in ultra high-definition 4K. Filming crews had to lug 30 to 40 cases of equipment halfway around the world, but were allowed just one personal bag each.

©BBC One

©BBC One

3. Shades of Steve Irwin: During the filming of the episode “Islands,” one crew member was stung by a stingray. The team was stranded two hours from the mainland and sorequired on-site medical attention before getting the crew member to safety. On the episode “Mountains,” another crew member narrowly avoided falling into a rock crevasse while filming in the Himalayas.

4. Misadventure dogged the “Islands” team from the outset. Returning to camp after one shoot, the crew found a boa constrictor eating their supply of eggs.

5. The “Islands” episode alone was three and a half years in the making; it required 12 separate location shoots, which ranged from two to six weeks at a time. Planning and preparation alone took a full year, before a single camera was powered up.

6. Although crews filming in the tropics were bitten by mosquitoes by day and centipedes by night, they were restricted from using insect repellent as animals might smell it and avoid the camera positions. One producer of the “Islands” episode lived in the same clothes for two weeks, despite being pooped on by one penguin and vomited on by another.

©BBC One

©BBC One

7. The new series’ signature theme was composed by noted film composer Hans Zimmer. That fact is well known. Less well known is that the Icelandic alt-rock band Sigur Ros recorded a new version of their single Hoppipolla, which was first used in the original Planet Earth. It took some doing but after rummaging through their old recordings, Sigur Ros managed to find the original track stems and crafted a new version for Planet Earth II.

8. In all, Planet Earth II took six years to film. The trap cameras used to capture rare footage of snow leopards in the wild in the Himalayas were set up for a year before they achieved the desired result. The lions-vs.-buffalo sequence in the episode “Grasslands” took three months to achieve.

Attaining a legal permit for the peregrine falcon sequence in New York City, for the final episode “Cities,” alone took nine months.

9. The widely seen — and much talked-about —  iguana-vs.-snakes sequence, which took two weeks of sunrise-to-sunset monitoring of a tropical beach, has clocked more than seven million views on YouTube.

©BBC One

©BBC One

10. Planet Earth II filmed in 40 countries, and required 117 separate filming expeditions. In all, the production recorded 400 terabytes of material, enough to fill 82,000 DVDs. Now you know.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1KQms2z3Gnk8ZLfYMPHxfBg/planet-earth-ii-in-numbers


How satellite technology is helping save the chimpanzee.

Fewer than 350,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild, down sharply from the two million believed to have roamed the rainforests of central Africa only a century ago.

These are estimates only, of course, but one doesn’t need a degree in earth science — or statistics — to know that habitat loss, illegal logging and the bushmeat trade are a continuing threat to one of humankind’s closest genetic relatives.

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

What is less known — until now — is that a recent, unique collaboration between the Jane Goodall Institute and NASA is boosting knowledge of what’s happening and, more importantly, how and where it’s happening.

Behavioural scientists with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other groups have being doing a credible job of tracking known family groups of chimpanzees, ever since Jane Goodall made her first visit to Tanzania’s Gombe region in 1960. Conservationists have mapped both chimpanzees’ territories — a family group’s immediate neighbhourhood — and their home ranges, the area chimpanzees roam outside their territories in their search for food, potential mates and other family groups.

In orbit, meanwhile, NASA has recorded the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute changes to the earth’s surface for the past 44 years. Some of the most technologically advanced satellites have been placed in orbit in just the past two years.

Until recently, conservation groups and NASA worked at cross purproses. Information was gathered, but not shared. Thanks to the Goodall Institute, a new program of cooperation now makes it possible for primate researchers to monitor the environmental effects of habitat loss on individual family groups on a day-by-day basis.

©NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

©NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

This is important to chimpanzees’ future survival in the wild because behavioural scientists can now predict with a degree of certainty which family groups will be affected by proposed development projects, and how. The shared information can also be used as evidence in court cases brought against illegal loggers and rogue mining operations.

©NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

©NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

The bad news is that habitat loss is visible from space. The good news is that, by knowing how, when and where and environmental destruction is taking place, law-enforcement agencies and regulators now have real, tangible information on which to act.

The Landsat series of satellites, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has been providing a continuous record of earth’s land use for more than four decades now. Images taken from orbit have been made available cost-free to the public: the Landsat program is a truly democratic, people-driven program.

“NASA satellite data helps us understand what it means to be a chimp by overlaying distribution of the habitat with chimpanzee behaviuor and ranging data," Lilian Pintea, vice-president of conservation science for the Goodall Institute, said in a statement for the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center.

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

Chimpanzees once lived in an uninterrupted belt of woodland rain forests from Lake Tanganyika westward through Uganda and the Congo Basin.

In the 1970s, little more than a decade after Goodall first arrived in the region, the forest started to be cut down.

Increased population growth, driven in part by rural poverty, has exacerbated forest clearing for farmland and charcoal production.

The Goodall Institute is using the Landsat images to convince villagers in the area that conservation is in their best interests.

Goodall, now in her 80s, is still active with her namesake institute, though her primary role is now focused on education, fundraising and lecture tours around the world. She still tries to return to Gombe once a year, though. She’s noticed a direct effect the Landsat program has had on local opinion.

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

©Michael "Nick" Nichols for National Geographic

“It was exciting to see the impact of these images on the villagers,” Goodall said in a statement for the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center.

Villagers could identify landmarks and sacred places in the satellite imagery, she added.

“It was like a piece of reality dropped magically from the sky.”

If the chimpanzee is to be saved in the wild, it will require concerted efforts on the ground, not just from space.

For now, though, the satellite images are proving to be a game changer for improving local conservation efforts.

A time travel tour through a forgotten era.

The Hungarian explorer Lászlo Almásy was the first European traveller to find the Cave of Swimmers cave paintings, made famous in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Almásy found the cave on the Gilf Kebir limsetone plateau of southwestern Egyot, some 960 kilometres south of the Mediterranean and 720 kilometres east of the Nile, in 1933.

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

That makes the recent discovery of extraordinary images of 19th century North Africa buried deep within the archives of the U.S. Library of Congress all the more remarkable. Not photographs exactly and not lithographs but something in between, the faded colour impressions of everyday life in a land of neo-classical columns, rococo arches and desert-scorched minarets date from roughly 1899. some 25 years before Almásy, played by Ralph Fiennes in the film, made his discovery of the ages.

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

The authors are unknown. The photocroms, as the images are called, are a form of photolithography that has long fallen out of fashion. They were the Kodachromes of their time. The Library of Congress images provide a unique and evocative record of life in colonial North Africa — as London-based CNN writer-producer Thomas Page described them recently, “a time travel tour through a forgotten era . . . and not always the innocent postcards they may seem.”

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

The photocrom process was originally developed in Switzerland, in 1890, following 10 years of often painstaking trial and error. Photocroms stood out because they were some of the earliest known images in colour; nearly all photography at the time was black and white.

The process involves taking a negative from a camera and exposing it on a flat surface of stone or zinc which has been treated with a coating of light-sensitive chemicals. The chemicals harden as light is filtered through the negative, creating a print.

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

Photocrom images are distinctive, even today, because each print required up to 24 separate colour plates. Each plate was ascribed with a different colour; printed on top of one another, the ink would bleed and create the photocroms’ distinctive earth-tone effect. 

The North African photocroms appear to be designed for a captive audience in Europe, an early form of marketing Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Morocco to would-be travelers — the 19th century equivalent of a tourist brochure, rather than a way for local people to record history at the time.

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

Inadvertently, the photocroms recorded the end of an era. The First World War changed photography as it changed society, even in regions as far-flung as the outer edges of the Sahara Desert. “These images,” Page wrote, “nostalgic but containing a rich and sometimes dark subtext, were now objects of a past epoch.”

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress


Cats v. dogs: Which is smarter? The ages-old question answered — sort of.

Science has spoken, after a fashion. Cats are just as proficient on certain memory tests as dogs, according to a new study by scientists in Japan.

That’s telling because, a number of years back,  when I asked noted dog expert Stanley Coren the ages-old question  — are dogs smarter than cats? — he gave a cagey but nonetheless accurate answer.

© BBC 2017

© BBC 2017

Dogs perform better on those tests we humans have devised to measure intelligence, he said. Dogs are not necessarily smarter, in other words; they simply think differently from cats.

The new study from Japan’s Koyoto University was based on a control group of 49 cats, if “control” is the right word.

Kyoto psychologist Saho Takagi found that cats, like dogs, often rely on memories from a single past expertience to modify their behaviour. That suggests they have episodic memory similar to that of humans, and dogs.

Dogs may or may not be smarter overall, but their social skills make them seem to be the personable companions, Coren said. Cats tend to be more aloof, which doesn’t go over well with most people. Dogs are more needy, but that implies a certain intelligence, too, Coren said: Dogs understand that any relationship is based on mutual trust and reciprocity.

© Stanley Coren

© Stanley Coren

Coren is not just another dog fancier and canine know-it-all. He earned a doctorate in psychology from Stanford University. He served as a professor of psychology and a neuropsychological researcher at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) until retiring in 2007, and was director of the school’s Human Neuropsychology and Perception Laboratory for several years. He continues to lecture and conduct occasional research as a professor emeritus at UBC, and moonlights as an instructor at Vancouver’s Dog Obedience Training Club.

So far, no one has had a burning desire to establish a Cat Obedience Training Club, but that doesn’t mean cats are hopeless.

It’s just that, on a fundamental, personal level, they probably perceive obedience training as being beneath them.

Of cats, Coren did say — and this says as much about us and our own biases about our fellow creatures — that because cats have a lithe, lissome way of moving and are supple, graceful and physically adept, they may appear to some onlookers as being brighter than they really are. Pre-judging intelligence by the way an animal moves is a very human concept, Coren said.

Coren has little doubt that cats are very, very smart. It’s just that we haven’t yet figured them out the way we have dogs.

The Japan study isn’t just another an exercise in alternative facts: BBC News reports that the original research has been published in the peer journal Behavioural Processes.

Cats are the Kate Moss pf the animal world, UK Daily Mirror writer Polly Hudson insisted — “aloof, laid-back, nonchalant. They never complain or explain, as they couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of them.”

Then again, dog boosters would argue that caring what your benefactor thinks about you is a mark of intelligence in itself.

Either way, one thing is now certain, thanks to the research. Cats have been proven to have just as long memories as dogs.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38665057

https://www.journals.elsevier.com/behavioural-processes/