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Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate change

This is where you can talk about every subject (previously it was called shout room)

Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Fri Sep 22, 2023 7:10 pm

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Rhino numbers up

Although poaching continues to be a worry, there has been a reduction in the number of rhinos killed in Africa during 2022 (551) compared to the previous year, marking an improvement

New data reveals a global rhinoceros resurgence, with their numbers reaching 27,000, despite poaching and habitat loss. Some species are rebounding for the first time in a decade.

In the 20th century, rhino populations, once around 500,000 in Africa and Asia, suffered severe declines. However, recent figures from the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group reveal a positive shift.

Southern white rhino numbers increased for the first time since 2012, from 15,942 to 16,803 by the end of 2022. Black rhino populations, despite poaching threats, rose by nearly 5% from 6,195 to 6,487 in the same period, partly due to conservation efforts.

While this is encouraging, Javan and Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered and dwindling. Officially, around 80 Sumatran rhinos remain, but experts fear as few as 34. The outlook is grim for these species.

While poaching remains a concern, the number of rhinos killed in Africa in 2022 (551) is an improvement from previous years, though still worrisome. Collaborative conservation efforts have contributed to these positive trends.

Greater one-horned rhino populations in India and Nepal are stable at about 4,000, but ongoing efforts are needed to combat poaching and habitat loss.

Javan rhinos, numbering approximately 76, face an uncertain future, with all of them being in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park, where illegal activities have been observed.

https://english.almayadeen.net/news/env ... vation-win
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Sep 24, 2023 11:59 pm

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Drought Conditions Worsen in Iraq

The US Consulate General in Erbil in a statement on Sunday warned that Iraq is one the countries most vulnerable to climate change, with its consequences visibly felt across the country

"Climate change is a pressing global challenge, particularly felt in Iraq, one of the most vulnerable nations. Desertification, drought, and shifting seasons are among its many consequences. The impact is evident in low river levels and expanding deserts," the US Consulate General said in a Facebook post today.

According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), thousands of Iraqi families have been compelled to leave their hometowns due to persistent drought conditions. These families used to rely on agriculture and farming for their livelihoods in their places of origin, where drought conditions have recently made agriculture impossible.

Iraq is grappling with the consequences of climate change, with an growing trend in displacement caused by drought. The country possesses a limited number of reservoirs and dams. Iraq is confronted with diminishing water supplies that are adversely affecting agriculture in its southern and central provinces.

https://www.basnews.com/en/babat/824538
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Thu Sep 28, 2023 1:46 am

Nature Crisis

One in six species at risk of extinction in Great Britain

The turtle dove is just one familiar species facing an uncertain future

Numbers of the UK's most precious animals and plants are still falling, as a countrywide nature-loss crisis continues.

Loss of nature is outpacing investment and effort to tackle it, conservation organisations say.

Their State of the Nature report found 16% of 10,000 mammals, plants, insects, birds and amphibians assessed were threatened.

They include UK wildlife icons such as the turtle dove and hazel dormouse.

The government has said it is committed to "increasing the amount of habitat for nature to thrive".

But conservation organisations say more investment and a shift to much more wildlife-friendly farming and fishing are urgently needed.

Busy roads often block migration paths for common toads, making it difficult for them to reach breeding ponds

The 203-page document was produced by more than 60 organisations, including wildlife conservation groups, government agencies and academics.

Its analysis of decades of research paints a grim picture - natural spaces and the wildlife that depends on them are in decline.

Nida al-Fulaij, from the People's Trust for Endangered Species, told BBC News: "The main takeaways from this report are alarming."

And she explained how thousands of studies used in the report examined the abundance or distribution of UK wildlife.

'Bleak outlook'

"Where we can, we count species year after year," Ms Fulaij said.

"Another way to measure how a plant or animal is faring is to repeatedly examine a site and ask, 'Is the species here or not?'"

Plants and animals monitored since the 1970s have declined in abundance by an average 19%.

And this trend suggests a bleak outlook for much of the country's native wildlife, conservation scientists say.

Pollinating insects are struggling in the UK

This should make everyone "sit up and listen", Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) chief executive Beccy Speight said.

Restoring nature would also help to tackle the climate crisis.

"We need to move far faster as a society towards nature-friendly land and sea use," Ms Speight said.

"Otherwise, the UK's nature and wider environment will continue to decline and degrade, with huge implications for our own way of life."

Responding to these calls for action, the government said it was investing in its "30-by-30" pledge, to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030.

"At the start of this year, I published our comprehensive Environmental Improvement Plan," Environment Secretary Therese Coffey said, "setting out how we will create and restore at least 500,000 hectares [2,000 sq miles] of new wildlife habitats."

The government also highlighted investments including:

    a £40m Species Survival Fund
    £750m for woodland and peatland restoration
But RSPB conservation-science head Prof Richard Gregory told BBC News: "We'd need more to achieve the goal of 30 by 30.

"The task ahead of us to recover nature in the UK is large and complex - we are really talking of billions of pounds and not millions to change systems and tackle the drives of decline.

"That investment would return a huge amount for society in time and save huge future costs if we allow the environment to continue to decline and degrade."

Since 1970, the report says, of the 2,890 species in Britain's "priority group":

    58% fell in number
    19% increased
Almost 1,500 UK native species of plants and animals are now threatened with extinction

Most of the important habitats for UK nature - including woodland, wetlands and wildflower meadows - are in poor condition

Only about 11% of UK land is within protected areas - and not all are well managed for nature and wildlife

None of the seafloor around the UK is in "good condition", because of damage from fishing gear

In the North Pennines, Nic and Paul Renison have transformed the way they farm, to create more space for nature, dividing their 400 acres (160 hectares) into small pastures and moving their cows into a new field each day.

"The idea is that it's like the buffalo on the plains - they move every day, then the pasture gets 60 days to recover," Nic said.

With the help of the Woodland Trust, they have also planted wildlife-friendly hedgerows to create wildlife "corridors" throughout their farm.

"The more you do, the more nature you attract - it gets addictive," Paul said.

All five of the UK's resident owl species can now be found on the Renisons' farm and 50 different bird species are breeding there, a recent survey revealed.

In England, an estimated 70% of land is farmed.

And studies suggest nature-friendly farming can boost production.

In one large-scale study in central England, turning over land from crops to wildlife habitat increased yields, probably by boosting the abundance of insects that pollinate those crops.

But the Nature Friendly Farming Network said more investment would be needed "to support all farmers in restoring nature and acting on climate change".

Many species of seabird have continued to decline in number

But the report also found "targeted conservation", concerted efforts to restore habitats and protect species, had worked well:

The number of species in a marine protected area (MPA) in Lyme Bay, Devon, had significantly increased since trawling was banned, in 2008

600 sq km (150,000 acres) of the Cairngorms, in the Highlands, had been restored for woodland-dependent wildlife

The RSPB's Hope Farm, in Cambridgeshire, had provided a research and demonstration site, showing how crop yields could been increased along with bird numbers

Report author and University of Sussex environmental-biology professor Fiona Matthews said: "We need a lot more investment [in nature].

"There is a belief in government that things can just magically happen for free."

But while she acknowledged the great work from thousands of volunteers, funded work was needed too.

"I often see a press release for £1m for this or that - but it is a drop in the ocean for what is actually required to tackle this issue," Prof Matthews said.

Link to Article - Photos:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-66923930
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Thu Sep 28, 2023 1:57 am

Starving to Death

Brown bear cubs fate in Japan amid salmon shortage

Acorns and pink salmon are a significant source of nutrition for nearly 500 brown bears that live on Hokkaido's Shiretoko peninsula, a Unesco World Heritage site.

According to experts, rising sea temperatures caused by the climate crisis have killed eight out of ten brown bear pups born this year in a remote section of northern Japan.

Acorns and pink salmon are a significant source of nutrition for nearly 500 brown bears that live on Hokkaido's Shiretoko peninsula, a Unesco World Heritage site famed for its stunning coastline and wild creatures.

According to The Guardian, in July, the average daily surface temperature of the world's oceans reached a record high and is expected to continue to increase as a result of climate change brought on by burning fossil fuels.

The global average daily sea surface temperature broke the previous record of 20.95 degrees set in 2016, according to the newspaper, which also noted that the temperatures are anticipated to rise further because March is typically when the oceans are at their hottest.

Early this month, Katsuya Noda, a tour boat operator, discovered a malnourished bear cub urgently looking for food, turning over boulders and looking among mounds of seaweed on the peninsula's eastern shore, alarming local officials.

Pink salmon in the Hokkaido rivers usually stay in the sea during the winter until they lay their eggs between August and October in the Shiretoko streams. Usually, the bears wait to have the salmon as they swim upstream, but a lack of river fish has forced them to swim in the sea.

Noda told the Asahi Shimbun that “some bears have grown really thin,” adding that “they are having a tough time, because there are no fish in the rivers, just like last year.”

According to experts, sea surface temperatures off Hokkaido hovered above 20 degrees Celsius from mid-July to early August 2021, 5 degrees Celsius more than the usual for that time of year.

Hokkaido University researchers have warned that if global warming continues at its current rate, marine temperatures surrounding the island might climb by up to 10 degrees Celsius by the 2090s compared to 1980s levels.

Masami Yamanaka, a researcher at the Shiretoko Nature Foundation, told the Asahi that the lack of nutrition in the cubs was devastating and a "serious" issue, noting that 70% to 80% of those born this year are already dead.

According to the Hokkaido Salmon Propagation Association, fishermen captured 482,775 pink salmon in rivers in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost major island, compared to 23,298 last year at the same time.

More bear attacks on humans have also been happening due to the acorn shortage, as bears seek food in inhabited areas. A total of 1,056 brown bears were caught and killed in Hokkaido in the year up to April 2022. A total of 999 brown bears were killed for fear of damage to crops or because they were feared a danger to people.

https://english.almayadeen.net/news/env ... mid-salmon
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Oct 01, 2023 2:52 pm

World famous Sycamore tree cut down

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Sycamore Gap: Man in his 60s held after Hadrian's Wall tree cut down

A man in his 60s has been arrested by police investigating the cutting-down of the world-famous Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland.

The landmark, beside Hadrian's Wall, was cut down overnight on Wednesday.

Northumbria Police said the man was arrested on Friday evening and remains in custody assisting with inquiries.

A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage on Thursday and has since been released on bail, police said.

It is believed a chainsaw was used to fell the popular tree

    Det Ch Insp Rebecca Fenney-Menzies said: "The senseless destruction of what is undoubtedly a world-renowned landmark - and a local treasure - has quite rightly resulted in an outpouring of shock, horror and anger throughout the North East and further afield
"I hope this second arrest demonstrates just how seriously we're taking this situation, and our ongoing commitment to find those responsible and bring them to justice.

"Although another arrest has been made, this investigation is still in the early stages, and we would continue to encourage any members of the public with information which may assist to get in touch..

"If you've seen or heard anything suspicious that may be of interest to us - I'd implore you to contact us."

A police presence remained at the site on Friday, with forensics officers taking measurements and samples from the remains and photographing the area.

One was heard saying: "In 31 years of forensics I've never examined a tree."

The tree was featured in Kevin Costner's 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

The tree was believed to be about 300 years old, and was looked after by both the Park Authority and the National Trust.

It grew in a natural dip in the landscape near Hexham and featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner.

Northumberland National Park Authority officials said the tree was "part of England's identity" as it had been "a real inspiration" to artists, writers and photographers.

Chief executive Tony Gates said: "A lot of people have a deep connection to this place, and fond memories of this place, and to have lost that is a real shame."

National Trust manager Andrew Poad said the stump was "healthy" and experts might be able to coppice the tree, where new shoots grow from the trunk's base.

However, Mark Feather, estate manager at the Woodland Trust, said it would "take a few years to develop into even a small tree and around 150 to 200 years before it is anywhere close to what we have lost".

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-66966187
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Papillon2017 » Sun Oct 01, 2023 3:24 pm

Some people are really mad. Seriously, waht is the point tu cut an old tree ? For what ?
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Oct 03, 2023 11:58 am

Famine in the 21st Century

Famine is back and the threat is real. And not just in one or two countries, but in multiple regions. The good news is that we have the resources and skills to make famine a thing of the past. But past strategies won’t work

Until recently, success in the fight against global famine was one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Between 1990 and 2019, the rate of chronic malnutrition around the world dropped from 38% to 7.9%. However, It is now again rising rapidly with devastating consequences.

Today, over a quarter-billion people grapple with severe hunger and malnutrition, a 100% increase in just the past five years

As aid workers, we have worked with communities who are on the front lines of this crisis. From Haiti to Somalia, and Afghanistan to Yemen, we have heard from countless desperate mothers in too many nutrition wards and displacement camps.

Growing hunger is fueled by a toxic mix of climate change, armed conflict, and a global economic crisis that has exacerbated poverty and inequality, exhausting the ability of many families and communities to cope. The global food system, responsible for feeding billions of people, is under increased strain due to structural weaknesses, repeated shocks, and unsustainable use of the planet’s resources.

At a time when the world needs to come together to solve global challenges, we are seeing rising political tension and fragmentation. Current efforts are falling short, failing marginalized communities and lower-income countries.

As aid workers, we also see hope. Affected people and communities, when empowered with the right tools and knowledge, are innovating in the face of disasters. On a small scale, with tools and cooperation, the poorest and most impacted by climate change (and yet least responsible) are not waiting to be saved. These communities are fighting poverty, deprivation and drought through climate smart agriculture, feeding their families and building a brighter, greener future. But they need support.

First and foremost, we need to invest in climate adaptation, as well as mitigation, to help communities withstand the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Recent research shows that climate change was the leading factor behind the deadly drought that killed thousands of people in the Horn of Africa from 2020-2022.

By directly impacting food, water, and energy supplies, climate change also leads to increased competition over natural resources and displacement, fueling conflict and destitution. Should the global temperature rise two degrees Celsius by 2050, 80 million more people will face hunger.

Conversely, climate adaptation initiatives—through, for example, using drought-resistant crops or more efficient irrigation techniques prove remarkably effective—yielding high returns on investment. For example, the Haiti Takes Root project leverages Haitian farmers' knowledge to foster climate resilience strategies that adapt to changing weather patterns.

By planting fruit and hardwood trees alongside perennial food crops, the project boosts local agricultural production, improves food security and restores biodiversity, all of which strengthen the community by both supporting the economy and preparing for climate change. Such success stories need to be scaled up, shared, and replicated.

Secondly, we must address persistent poverty and inequality both within and between our countries. According to Oxfam, 10 people on the planet today own more wealth than 200 million African women. Similarly, our attention should extend to the global financial architecture, described by the United Nations Secretary-General as “outdated, dysfunctional and unjust.” It must be reformed.

External debt levels among low-income countries have more than doubled in the last decade, exacting a heavier toll on climate vulnerable nations. Some countries pay more to service public debt than for their education or health care systems, leaving limited resources to support their people in times of crisis. It is urgent to reform the global financial system and enable sustainable debt restructuring.

While the climate and economic crises are increasingly driving food crises, we cannot overlook the fact that conflict and insecurity remain key drivers of famine. Each of the seven countries – Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – where people faced famine-like conditions last year were affected by armed conflict or extreme levels of violence.

There is a moral imperative in redoubling our efforts to prevent, reduce and end conflict, while at the same time, mitigating its impacts. Programs such as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed the export of millions of tons of grain and contributed to bringing down global food prices, provides an example of how to mitigate the impacts of conflict even before peace is realized.

Third, we need to shift the way we work, by investing in local actors and putting women and girls front and centre of the response. It is clear that women are key to the solution. They are the ones doing the bulk of the agricultural work and putting food on the table. Yet, they are often excluded from ownership of land, or access to credit and productive assets.

By bridging the gender gap in agriculture alone, we could keep 100-150 million people from going hungry. This would benefit not only women, but their families, communities, and countries. We have seen proof in countless examples—in Niger, Kenya and elsewhere.

Finally, it is about prioritizing prevention and forward-looking risk management. That requires the involvement not only of humanitarian actors, but also development, finance and private sector partners. With a combination of improved early warning and early action, communities are able to safeguard their livelihoods, hunger is kept at bay, and lives are saved.

We cannot wait for another famine declaration before we take action. The challenge is monumental, but the good news is that we can turn this devastating trend around. In the 21st century, famine must be a red line for the world. The red line where we come together and act.

https://time.com/6318447/famine-21st-ce ... wtab-en-gb

A tiny percent of the money spent on armament could solve world hunger

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

By spending more money on developing countries, rather than using weapons to subjugate entire populations, education and business opportunities would improve, people would no longer be driven out of their countries in order to survive and provide for their families
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Oct 08, 2023 2:05 am

Japan releases 2nd batch of wastewater

The NPP's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, already started releasing part of the 1.34 million tonnes of the treated wastewater back in August which prompted local and international outrage

Reports indicate that Japan will start releasing the second load of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) into the ocean today.

    The NPP's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), already started releasing part of the 1.34 million tonnes of the treated wastewater back in August, which prompted local and international condemnation
In March 2011, Fukushima suffered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters since Chornobyl after a tsunami rocked the islands.

About 1.33 million cubic meters of groundwater, rainwater, and water that was used for cooling the three damaged reactors at the Fukushima site are now being released.

To remove the radioactive elements, plant operator TEPCO treated the water using its ALPS processing systems, which several neighboring countries have expressed skepticism regarding the system's reliability.

South Korean Vice Oceans Minister Park Sung-hoon confirmed during a briefing in August that radiation testing on farmed seafood will be toughened to ease domestic tension as a result of the release of a huge amount of treated radioactive water.

The water is made up of a combination of rainwater and groundwater, and the site has been filled up to 96% with radionuclide-filtered water as of February. The site produces 100,000 liters of contaminated water on a daily basis, which is the equivalent of 3,500 cubic feet.

Although almost all of the 62 radioactive elements, such as cesium and strontium, have been removed, tritium remains present, TEPCO experts say.

https://english.almayadeen.net/news/mis ... -into-ocea
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Oct 08, 2023 2:15 am

Tritium Facts

Tritium is also known as hydrogen-3 and has an element symbol T or 3H. The nucleus of a tritium atom is called a triton and consists of three particles: one proton and two neutrons. The word tritium comes from Greek the word "tritos", which means "third". The other two isotopes of hydrogen are protium (most common form) and deuterium.

Tritium has an atomic number of 1, like other hydrogen isotopes, but it has a mass of about 3 (3.016).

Tritium decays via beta particle emission, with a half-life of 12.3 years. The beta decay releases 18 keV of energy, where tritium decays into helium-3 and a beta particle. As the neutron changes into a proton, the hydrogen changes into helium. This is an example of the natural transmutation of one element into another.

Ernest Rutherford was the first person to produce tritium. Rutherford, Mark Oliphant, and Paul Harteck prepared tritium from deuterium in 1934 but were unable to isolate it. Luis Alvarez and Robert Cornog realized tritium was radioactive and successfully isolated the element.

Trace amounts of tritium occur naturally on Earth when cosmic rays interact with the atmosphere. Most tritium that is available is made via neutron activation of lithium-6 in a nuclear reactor. Tritium is also produced by nuclear fission of uranium-235, uranium-233, and polonium-239. In the United States, tritium is produced at a nuclear facility in Savannah, Georgia. At the time of a report issued in 1996, only 225 kilograms of tritium had been produced in the United States.

Tritium can exist as an odorless and colorless gas, like ordinary hydrogen, but the element is mainly found in liquid form as part of tritiated water or T2O, a form of heavy water.

A tritium atom has the same +1 net electrical charge as any other hydrogen atom, but tritium behaves differently from the other isotopes in chemical reactions because the neutrons produce a stronger attractive nuclear force when another atom is brought close. Consequently, tritium is better able to fuse with lighter atoms to form heavier ones.

External exposure to tritium gas or tritiated water is not very dangerous because tritium emits such a low energy beta particle that the radiation cannot penetrate the skin. Tritium does pose some health risks if it is ingested, inhaled, or enters the body through an open wound or injection. The biological half-life ranges from around 7 to 14 days, so bioaccumulation of tritium is not a significant concern.

    Because beta particles are a form of ionizing radiation, the expected health effect from internal exposure to tritium would be an elevated risk of developing cancer
Tritium has many uses, including self-powered lighting, as a component in nuclear weapons, as a radioactive label in chemistry lab work, as a tracer for biological and environmental studies, and for controlled nuclear fusion.

High levels of tritium were released into the environment from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Prior to the tests, it is estimated only 3 to 4 kilograms of tritium was present on the Earth's surface. After testing, the levels rose 200% to 300%. Much of this tritium combined with oxygen to form tritiated water. One interesting consequence is that the tritiated water could be traced and used as a tool to monitor the hydrologic cycle and to map ocean currents.

https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-tritium-607915

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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Oct 10, 2023 1:50 pm

Tires = 78% of ocean microplastics

A three-year study done in the UK finds that a car’s four tires churn out one trillion particles for every kilometer driven

While automakers and politicians scramble to transition to a zero-emissions sector in the coming years, the over two billion tires produced internationally may be a problem themselves.

The Yale School of the Environment discovered that tire dust — small particles that break down and wear off of a tire over time — accounts for 78% of the ocean's microplastics.

Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute told Yale that "extremely high levels of microplastics" were found in stormwater, adding that "our estimated annual discharge of microplastics into San Francisco Bay from stormwater was seven trillion particles, and half of that was suspected tire particles."

The latest Yale analysis describes a decades-long study to determine the effects of various chemicals on fish on the West Coast, for example, and how some of those compounds can become deadly during typical tire wear and tear.

Tires are made of a combination of natural and synthetic rubbers and polymers that are intended to reduce the natural breakdown of a tire as it rolls over pavement.

When tire particles inevitably make their way into road runoff and subsequently fish, some of them have unintentionally formed a hazardous cocktail. Researchers' determination to identify the culprits, such as a molecule called 6PPD, led them to discover how much tire dust is released when driving.

According to a three-year study done in the UK, a car’s four tires churn out one trillion particles for every kilometer driven. And while two billion tires are made each year now, the Yale University report points out that number is expected to reach 3.4 billion by the end of the decade.

Microplastics in clouds cause 'plastic rainfall', infect everything

According to a new study, clouds now include microscopic bits of plastic, which are generating "plastic rainfall".

Earlier, AFP reported that the UN's environment chief warned against relying solely on recycling and called for a fundamental reconsideration of plastic use, as plastic production surges globally and is leading to increased pollution.

Scientists are concerned that tiny particles, smaller than 5 mm, known as microplastics, would contaminate "nearly everything we eat and drink."

Microplastics are a byproduct of the plastic waste that has choked lands and oceans as plastic degrades into smaller fragments and makes its way into the environment, human bodies, and wildlife.

Previous studies have connected these particles to illnesses and ailments such as cancer, infertility, and hormone disturbances.

Waseda University in Japan is the first to identify airborne microplastics in cloud water, as they conducted the first study to examine how microplastics affect cloud formation and their potential impact on the climate crisis and human health.

https://english.almayadeen.net/news/env ... roplastics
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Oct 14, 2023 9:23 am

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A Look Inside Wildlife Crime Scene Investigators

Tiger Remains

The illegal trade of wildlife may include animals or plants, or parts of them, such as roots, stems, skin, bones or antlers. Ryan Moehring / USFWS

Campbell’s death was as gruesome as the killers’ previous nine known crimes. Found mutilated in a pool of blood at his home in the district of Albany, South Africa, in June 2016, Campbell had been drugged but was likely in pain before he died from his injuries.

Campbell was a white rhinoceros living on a private reserve, and his killing would be the last hurrah of the now notorious Ndlovu Gang. The three poachers were arrested days later at the Makana Resort in Grahamstown, South Africa, caught red-handed with a bow saw, a tranquilizer dart gun and a freshly removed rhino horn. A variety of evidence, including cellphone records and ballistics analysis of the dart gun, would link them to the crime. But a key element was Campbell’s DNA, found in the horn and on the still-bloody saw.

Among the scientific techniques used to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking, DNA is king, says Cindy Harper, a veterinary geneticist at the University of Pretoria. Its application in animal investigations is small-scale but growing in a field with a huge volume of crime: The value of the illegal wildlife trade is as much as $20 billion per year, Interpol estimates.

“It’s not just a few people swapping animals around,” says Greta Frankham, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Australian Center for Wildlife Genomics in Sydney. “It’s got links to organized crime; it is an enormous amount of turnover on the black market.”

The problem is global. In the United States, the crime might be the illegal hunting of deer or black bears, the importing of protected-animal parts for food or medicinal use, the harvesting of protected cacti, or the trafficking of ivory trinkets. In Africa or Asia, it might be the poaching of pangolins, the globe’s most trafficked mammal for both its meat and its scales, which are used in traditional medicines and magic practices. In Australia, it might be the collection or export of the continent’s unique wildlife for the pet trade.

Techniques used in wildlife forensics are often direct descendants of tools from human crime investigations, and in recent years scientists have adapted and tailored them for use in animals. Harper and colleagues, for example, learned to extract DNA from rhinoceros horns, a task once thought impossible. And by building DNA databases—akin to the FBI’s CODIS database used for human crimes—forensic geneticists can identify a species and more: They might pinpoint a specimen’s geographic origin, family group, or even, in some cases, link a specific animal or animal part to a crime scene.

Adapting this science to animals has contributed to major crime busts, such as the 2021 arrests in an international poaching and wildlife trafficking ring. And scientists are further refining their techniques in the hopes of identifying more challenging evidence samples, such as hides that have been tanned or otherwise degraded.

“Wildlife trafficking investigations are difficult,” says Robert Hammer, a Seattle-based special agent-in-charge with Homeland Security Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security’s arm for investigating diverse crimes, including those involving smuggling, drugs and gang activity. He and his colleagues, he says, rely on DNA and other forensic evidence “to tell the stories of the animals that have been taken.”

First, identify

Wildlife forensics generally starts with a sample sent to a specialized lab by investigators like Hammer. Whereas people-crime investigators generally want to know “Who is it?” wildlife specialists are more often asked “What is this?”—as in, “What species?” That question could apply to anything from shark fins to wood to bear bile, a liver secretion used in traditional medicines.

“We get asked questions about everything from a live animal to a part or a product,” says Barry Baker, deputy laboratory director at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

Investigators might also ask whether an animal photographed at an airport is a species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, in which case import or export is illegal without a permit. They might want to know whether meat brought into the U.S. is from a protected species, such as a nonhuman primate. Or they might want to know if a carved knickknack is real ivory or fake, a difference special lighting can reveal.

Some Threatened And Endangered Species

A variety of threatened and endangered species are taken in the illegal wildlife trade, including elephants, alligators, white rhinoceroses and pangolins. Britaseifert, Officek, Gunter

While some identifications can be made visually, DNA or other chemical analyses may be required, especially when only part of the creature is available. To identify species, experts turn to the DNA in mitochondria, the cellular energy factories that populate nearly every cell, usually in multiple copies. DNA sequences therein are similar in all animals of the same species, but different between species. By reading those genes and comparing them to sequences in a database such as the Barcode of Life, forensic geneticists can identify a species.

To go further to try to link a specimen to a specific, individual animal, forensic geneticists use the same technique that’s used in human DNA forensics, in this case relying on the majority of DNA contained in the cell’s nucleus. Every genome contains repetitive sequences called microsatellites that vary in length from individual to individual. Measuring several microsatellites creates a DNA fingerprint that is rare, if not unique. In addition, some more advanced techniques use single-letter variations in DNA sequences for fingerprinting.

Comparing the DNA of two samples allows scientists to make a potential match, but it isn’t a clincher: That requires a database of DNA fingerprints from other members of the species to calculate how unlikely it is—say, a one-in-a-million chance—that the two samples came from different individuals. Depending on the species’ genetic diversity and its geographic distribution, a valid database could have as few as 50 individuals or it could require many more, says Ashley Spicer, a wildlife forensic scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Sacramento. Such databases don’t exist for all animals, and, indeed, obtaining DNA samples from even as few as 50 animals could be a challenge for rare or protected species, Spicer notes.

Investigators use these techniques in diverse ways: An animal may be the victim of a crime, the perpetrator or a witness. And if, say, dogs are used to hunt protected animals, investigators could find themselves with animal evidence related to both victim and suspect.

For witnesses, consider the case of a white cat named Snowball. When a woman disappeared in Richmond, on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, in 1994, a bloodstained leather jacket with 27 white cat hairs in the lining was found near her home. Her body was found in a shallow grave in 1995, and the prime suspect was her estranged common-law husband, who lived with his parents and Snowball, their pet. DNA from the root of one of the jacket hairs matched Snowball’s blood. Though the feline never took the stand, the cat’s evidence spoke volumes, helping to clinch a murder conviction in 1996.

A database for rhinos

The same kind of specific linking of individual animal to physical evidence was also a key element in the case of Campbell the white rhino. Rhino horn is prized: It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine and modern variants of the practice to treat conditions from colds to hangovers to cancer, and is also made into ornaments such as cups and beads. At the time of Campbell’s death, his horn, weighing north of 22 pounds, was probably worth more than $600,000—more than its weight in gold—on the black market.

The DNA forensics that helped nab the Ndlovu Gang started with experiments in the early 2000s, when rhino poaching was on the rise. Scientists once thought rhino horns were nothing but densely packed hair, lacking cells that would include DNA, but a 2006 study showed that cells, too, are present. A few years later, Harper’s group reported that even though these cells were dead, they contained viable DNA, and the researchers figured out how to access it by drilling into the horn’s core.

In 2010, a crime investigator from South Africa’s Kruger National Park dropped by Harper’s lab. He was so excited by the potential of her discovery to combat poaching that he ripped a poster describing her results off the wall, rolled it up and took it away with him. Soon after, Harper launched the Rhinoceros DNA Index System, or RhODIS. (The name is a play on the FBI’s CODIS database, for Combined DNA Index System.)

Today, thanks to 2012 legislation from the South African government, anyone in that nation who handles a rhino or its horn—for example, when dehorning animals for the rhinos’ own protection—must send Harper’s team a sample. RhODIS now contains about 100,000 DNA fingerprints, based on 23 microsatellites, from African rhinoceroses both black and white, alive and long dead, including most of the rhinos in South Africa and Namibia, as well as some from other nations.

RhODIS has assisted with numerous investigations, says Rod Potter, a private consultant and wildlife crime investigator who has worked with the South African Police Service for more than four decades. In one case, he recalls, investigators found a suspect with a horn in his possession and used RhODIS to identify the animal before the owner even knew the rhino was dead.

In Campbell’s case, in 2019 the three poachers were convicted, to cheers from observers in the courtroom, of charges related to ten incidents. Each gang member was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Today, as rhino poaching has rebounded after a pandemic-induced lull, the RhODIS database remains important. And even when RhODIS can’t link evidence to a specific animal, Potter says, the genetics are often enough to point investigators to the creature’s approximate geographic origin, because genetic markers vary by location and population. And that can help illuminate illegal trade routes.

Elephants also benefit

DNA can make a big impact on investigations into elephant poaching, too. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, for example, measured DNA microsatellites from roving African elephants as well as seized ivory, then built a database and a geographical map of where different genetic markers occur among elephants. The map helps to determine the geographic source of poached, trafficked tusks seized by law enforcement officials.

Genetic Poaching Hotspots

Researchers used elephant DNA from animals in different locations (orange crosses) to create a database mapping where different gene markers are likely to occur. This information allows them to pinpoint the elephant populations where seized ivory originated (blue circles). Analyses of ivory confiscated in the Philippines (left) and in Singapore (right) indicated that the poaching occurred primarily in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, respectively. Adapted from S.K. Wasser et al. / Science 2015

Elephants travel in matriarchal herds, and DNA markers also run in families, allowing the researchers to determine the relatedness of different tusks, be they from parents, offspring, siblings or half-siblings. When they find tusks from the same elephant or clan in different shipments with a common port, it suggests that the shipments were sent from the same criminal network—which is useful information for law enforcement officials.

This kind of information came in handy during a recent international investigation, called Operation Kuluna, led by Hammer and colleagues at Homeland Security Investigations. It started with a sting: Undercover U.S. investigators purchased African ivory that was advertised online. In 2020, the team spent $14,500 on 49 pounds of elephant ivory that was cut up, painted black, mixed with ebony and shipped to the United States with the label “wood.” The following year, the investigators purchased about five pounds of rhino horn for $18,000. The undercover buyers then expressed interest in lots more inventory, including additional ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales.

The promise of such a huge score lured two sellers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to come to the United States, expecting to seal the $3.5 million deal. Instead, they were arrested near Seattle and eventually sentenced for their crimes. But the pair were not working alone: Operations like these are complex, says Hammer, “and behind complex conspiracies come money, organizers.” And so the investigators took advantage of elephant genetic and clan data that helped to link the tusks to other seizures. It was like playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” says Hammer.

Shortly after the U.S. arrests, Hammer’s counterparts in Africa raided warehouses in Congo to seize more than 2,000 pounds of ivory and 75 pounds of pangolin scales, worth more than $1 million.

Elephant Ivory

Following arrests of smugglers in Washington state, law enforcement officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo raided warehouses, recovering elephant ivory, rhinoceros horns and pangolin scales. Homeland Security Investigations Pacific Northwest

Despite these successes, wildlife forensics remains a small field: The Society for Wildlife Forensic Science has fewer than 200 members across more than 20 countries. And while DNA analysis is powerful, the ability to identify species or individuals is only as good as the genetic databases researchers can compare their samples to. In addition, many samples contain degraded DNA that simply can’t be analyzed—at least, not yet.

Today, in fact, a substantial portion of wildlife trade crimes may go unprosecuted because researchers don’t know what they’re looking at. The situation leaves scientists stymied by that very basic question: “What is this?”

For example, forensic scientists can be flummoxed by animal parts that have been heavily processed. Cooked meat is generally traceable; leather is not. “We have literally never been able to get a DNA sequence out of a tanned product,” says Harper, who wrote about the forensics of poaching in the 2023 Annual Review of Animal Biosciences. In time, that may change: Several researchers are working to improve identification of degraded samples. They might work out ways to do so based on the proteins therein, says Spicer, since these are more resistant than DNA is to destruction by heat or chemistry.

Success, stresses Spicer, will require the cooperation of wildlife forensic scientists around the world. “Anywhere that somebody can get a profit or exploit an animal, they’re going to do it—it happens in every single country,” she says. “And so it’s really essential that we all work together.”

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science- ... wtab-en-gb
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Oct 16, 2023 7:11 pm

Amazon water level lowest in 121 years

The water level at a major river port in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has hit its lowest point in at least 121 years, as a historic drought upends the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and damages the jungle ecosystem

Rapidly drying tributaries to the mighty Amazon river have left boats stranded, cutting off food and water supplies to remote jungle villages, while high water temperatures are suspected of killing more than 100 endangered river dolphins.

The port in Manaus, the region’s most populous city located where the Negro river meets the Amazon river, recorded a water level of 13.59 meters (44.6ft) on Monday, according to its website. That is the lowest level since records began in 1902, passing a previous all-time low set in 2010.

After months without rain, Pedro Mendonça, an Amazon rainforest villager, was relieved when a Brazilian NGO delivered supplies to his riverside community near Manaus late last week.

“We have gone three months without rain here in our community,” said Mendonça, who lives in Santa Helena do Inglês, west of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state. “It is much hotter than past droughts.”

Some areas of the Amazon have seen the lowest rain levels from July to September since 1980, according to the Brazilian government disaster alert center Cemaden.

Brazil’s science ministry blames the drought on this year’s onset of the climate phenomenon El Niño, which is driving extreme weather patterns globally. In a statement earlier this month, the ministry said it expected the drought will last until at least December, when El Niño’s effects are forecast to peak.

The drought has affected 481,000 people as of Monday, according to the civil defense agency in the state of Amazonas, where Manaus is located.

Late last week, workers from the Brazilian NGO Fundação Amazônia Sustentáve (FAS) fanned out across the parched region near Manaus to deliver food and other supplies to vulnerable village communities. The drought has threatened their access to food, drinking water and medicines, which are usually transported by river.

Nelson Mendonça, a leader in Santa Helena do Inglês, said although some areas were still reachable by canoe, many boats had not been able to travel on the river to bring supplies, and goods were being transported by tractors or on foot.

“It’s not very good for us, because we’re practically isolated,” he said.

Luciana Valentin, who also lives in Santa Helena do Inglês, said she was concerned about the cleanliness of the local water supply after the drought reduced water levels.

“Our children are getting diarrhea, vomiting, and often having fever because of the water,” she said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/ ... ater-level
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Oct 17, 2023 11:01 pm

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What Do We Owe the Octopus?

Consider the octopus. Smart and sophisticated, it has a brain larger than that of any other invertebrate. With 500 million or so neurons, its nervous system is more typical of animals with a backbone. In lab experiments, the octopus can solve mazes, open jars, and complete tricky tasks to get food rewards. In the wild, they’ve been observed using tools—a benchmark of higher cognition

Researchers have long been awed by their ability to camouflage, regenerate lost limbs, and release ink as a defense mechanism. They have been used for studies on how psychedelics affect brains, and they may even dream. Importantly, research shows that they also seem to experience pain. Almost all animals have a reflex for responding to noxious stimuli, called nociception, but not all are aware that the sensation is bad or unpleasant—an awareness scientists now think octopuses and other cephalopods have. Some scientists say this is proof of sentience, the capacity to experience feelings and sensations.

The state of cephalopod science has prompted the United States National Institutes of Health to consider whether these animals—which also include squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses—deserve the same research protections as vertebrates. “A growing body of evidence demonstrates that cephalopods possess many of the requisite biological mechanisms for the perception of pain,” the NIH wrote on its website. The agency is soliciting feedback from scientists and the public online through the end of December.

Currently, invertebrate animals are not regulated under the Animal Welfare Act in the US, nor are they included in national standards for laboratory animals in federally funded studies. Under these rules, scientists must seek approval from their institutions’ ethics boards for experiments involving animals such as mice and monkeys. These boards ensure that proposed experiments comply with federal laws and minimize pain and distress to the animals. The research must also produce benefits for human or animal health or otherwise advance knowledge.

Scientists often use rats, mice, monkeys, worms, and zebrafish as models to mimic aspects of human diseases and study biological processes. But there’s growing interest in studying cephalopods to investigate movement, behavior, learning, and nervous system development, which means more researchers than ever are doing experiments on cephalopods.

Robyn Crook, a leading cephalopod researcher and an assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University, says studying cephalopods may provide important insight into how the brain works. “If we want to understand fundamental organizing principles of nervous systems, we need to look beyond brains that are all of the same evolutionary kind, and cephalopods are the only independently evolved, really complex brain,” she says.

Crook authored a study in 2021 showing that octopuses experience the emotional component of pain—like mammals do—rather than simply having a reflexive reaction to it. Her experiment involved putting octopuses in a three-chambered box with different patterned walls. After letting the animals swim freely between the chambers, Crook injected them with a stinging substance called acetic acid and noticed that the octopuses avoided the chamber in which they received the shot. A control group injected with saline showed no such effect.

She then gave a painkiller to the octopuses that received the stinging shot and observed that they tended to prefer the chamber in which they got the pain relief. The saline group, meanwhile, didn’t show a preference. The results, she concluded, are evidence that octopuses experience a negative emotional state when exposed to pain.

The move toward treating cephalopods used in research more humanely started in 1991, when Canada became the first country to adopt protections for them. In 2010, the European Union passed a directive to extend protections already in use for vertebrate lab animals to include cephalopods. Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Norway have also adopted regulations. Last year, after an independent report concluded that cephalopods and crustaceans have the capacity to feel pain and distress, the United Kingdom passed an amendment recognizing them as sentient beings.

In the US, a group of petitioners led by Harvard University’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic sent a letter to the NIH in 2020 asking the agency to amend the definition of “animal” in its policy on laboratory animal welfare to include cephalopods. The letter made its way to Congress, and last October, 19 lawmakers requested that the US Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the NIH, adopt humane care handling standards for them. “In recent years, there has been a wealth of research demonstrating that cephalopods are sensitive, intelligent creatures who, like other animals used in biomedical research, deserve to be treated humanely,” they wrote.

Jennifer Mather, a professor of psychology at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, also welcomes this action. Mather, who has been studying octopuses for 40 years, was a signatory on the 2020 Harvard letter. “As we expand the populations of species that we use for research, we have to also expand our thinking of what matters to them, and how we can take care of them,” she says.

To that end, she says researchers need to think about how to raise and house cephalopods. These animals require shelter or dens, and they need regular enrichment so that they can express their normal behavior. And she notes that because many octopuses and squid are cannibalistic, they should be kept in separate tanks.

Another consideration is the water quality of their tanks, says Clifton Ragsdale, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago who studies octopuses. Poor water quality can make the animals stressed or even kill them. He thinks the NIH’s proposal is very reasonable and welcomes new rules. “I’m hopeful that these regulations won’t be onerous and will improve the quality and kind of research that’s done,” he says.

Frans de Waal, a biologist and primatologist at Emory University, says new regulations could help reduce invasive experiments on cephalopods, such as ones that involve detaching their arms. “I think there are going to be questions about: Is this really necessary?” says de Waal, who also directs the Living Links Center, which studies ethical and policy issues related to animal sentience. “I would love for scientists to start thinking in alternative ways.”

De Waal thinks research guidelines should also extend to other invertebrates, such as crustaceans. He points to a 2013 study in which researchers from the University of Belfast showed that crabs in tanks learned to avoid electric shocks and sought out areas in the tank where they could escape them. The authors argued that this was evidence the crabs experience some form of pain, rather than just a reflex.

“Basically, every animal that has a brain—I’m going to assume that they are sentient for the moment because the evidence is going in that direction,” De Waal says. It’s thought that animals without brains, such as starfish, jellyfish, and sea cucumbers, do not feel pain in the same way humans do.

Crook is in favor of regulations for cephalopod research, but she says it’s not as simple as including them in current policies that apply to vertebrates. “Because these are a fundamentally different evolutionary branch of animals, it’s really hard to know whether a drug that you would give to enhance welfare in a vertebrate animal is at all effective in a cephalopod,” she says.

For example, the opioid buprenorphine is often given to lab rodents and monkeys as a painkiller. Its effects on cephalopods, however, is unknown. “How do you look at a cephalopod and say, ‘That one’s in pain and that one’s not?’” Crook asks. “There’s no point regulating if we have no idea whether or not we’re actually enhancing the welfare of the animal.” She thinks more research is needed on anesthetics and pain relievers to learn how to best carry out experiments that may cause pain to these animals.

For now, the NIH is only considering changes, and the agency hasn’t yet set a date on when those revisions would be implemented. As scientists learn more about how invertebrates experience pain, research protections may one day extend to much more of the animal kingdom.

https://www.wired.com/story/what-do-we-owe-the-octopus/
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Thu Oct 19, 2023 8:58 pm

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Pangolin Wildlife Trafficking Fight

On Monday, Nigerian authorities set fire to a vast collection of seized wildlife products, including pangolin scales and leopard, python and crocodile skins, as part of a crackdown on trafficking in the country

During a destruction exercise in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, the Minister of State for Environment Iziaq Salako stated that the action demonstrated a powerful statement on the government's resolve to protect the environment and conserve the country's wildlife by strengthening and enforcing anti-trafficking laws to discourage the cruel and destructive trade.

    "We are here to bear witness to a critical moment in the battle to protect our planet's precious biodiversity. We gather to send a clear message: Our wildlife is not for sale, and we will protect it at all costs," Salako said
The illegal pangolin trade, driven by the demand for their scales and meat, has been a pressing concern for local and international conservationists.

Many local conservationists and wildlife advocates who witnessed the destruction exercise in Abuja welcomed the move, emphasizing that it is a step in the right direction. They also said that this demonstration would inspire other countries in the region to take similar actions and contribute to the global effort to protect pangolins and other endangered species.

According to official data, the pangolins are highly sought after in Nigeria and are falsely believed to have medicinal properties, and their meat is considered a delicacy in some parts of the country.

Salako also said that the seized items represent "the past we leave behind, but the destruction signifies the future we are determined to build for our planet," while echoing the government's pledge to protect the environment, conserve wildlife, and combat the illegal trade that drives species to the brink of extinction.

"We pledge to strengthen our enforcement efforts, enhance our conservation programs, and raise public awareness about wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking has no place in our nation," he added.

https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Nig ... -0020.html
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Re: Updates: polution; hunting; animal slaughter; climate ch

PostAuthor: Anthea » Fri Oct 20, 2023 9:08 am

The Truth About Golden Retrievers

In the early 1970s, Michael Lappin fell in love with a dog Americans had steadily embraced over the 20th century: the golden retriever. As a young veterinarian working in small-town Massachusetts, he saw many of the fair-coated dogs come through the practice, and like so many others, he couldn’t resist them. There’s a reason they’re now one of the most popular breeds in the country

“They’re always in love mode; they always do things to please you,” Lappin told me. In his early days as a vet, golden retrievers were also, he remembered, notably long-lived for large dogs: He’d see them thrive well into their teens, up to 17 years of age. They could be with families for nearly a generation at a time.

But somewhere along Lappin’s long career, he said something changed: Goldens were not living as long. He started seeing many of his golden retriever patients die of cancer before they hit 13. Many succumbed to the disease when they were even younger.

Years of anecdotal reports from other golden lovers as well as scattershot studies seemed to support the idea that something was wrong: Were the big, sweet dogs now perishing earlier than their forebears? Why?

Today, there is a consensus among veterinarians that golden retrievers have some of the highest rates of cancer of any dog breed. Perhaps, according to data spanning from the ’80s into the 2000s, the highest. But Lappin’s other observation—that golden retrievers’ lifespans have collectively and perhaps dramatically dipped—remains more contentious, years after he first started voicing his belief on a bigger stage. Across the country, veterinarians and researchers are puzzling over the question of how long these dogs live and why they die the way they do. Multiple long-term and retrospective research studies are now devoted to finding answers, including one led by the owner of a golden retriever who lived into her late teens. Lappin, now known to many as “the golden retriever guy,” has entered his own goldens into one study that has invested millions into the cause.

At stake in understanding if—and why—these dogs are dying younger is more than the health of just one beloved breed. It turns out researching the lifespan of golden retrievers can tell us a lot about our complicated relationship with dogs in general. What’s really happening may unlock a different future in how we think about our canine partners and their lives.

The first golden retrievers weren’t “fur babies.” They were hunting dogs, bred to fetch ducks and other waterfowl for the British social elite of the late 1800s. An affinity for water and enthusiasm for pleasing their owners made them particularly good at such tasks. Then, after the first World War and its border-crossing influence, the dogs began booming in popularity, and their mellow, sweet disposition was written into the “breed standard”—a set of criteria upon which judges at dog shows evaluate contestants. Later in the century, movies and shows like Homeward Bound, Air Bud, and Full House encouraged their popularity. Golden retrievers assumed their status as a member of the family.

Quality of life improved for dogs in general, said Audrey Ruple, a canine epidemiologist at the Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Dogs moved from dog houses, where they were vulnerable to the elements, to the indoors. Preventative veterinary care, from vaccines to flea-and-tick medication, became the norm. Diagnostic care improved. “We now use the same equipment at veterinary hospitals as human hospitals,” Ruple said, which would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago. Today, you can buy your pooch health insurance, microchip them so they don’t get lost, or even outfit them with a doggy Fitbit. (It is unclear, let’s say, whether that last one provides measurable health benefits.)

Given these changes, Ruple is skeptical that golden retrievers are dying younger than they once were, though she has heard the claim time and again. “I say, ‘Show me the money, because I don’t believe that one tiny, eensy, little bit,’ ” she said.

Indeed, scant data exists on how long most dogs live. “There’s no canine census,” said Adam Boyko, a canine population geneticist at Cornell University. One study, published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 1982, does seem to suggest that Lappin is looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. Its authors analyzed the lifespans of 2,002 dogs treated between 1962 and 1976 in Boston at a referral hospital, which is where a vet sends a dog that needs additional or specialized care. Out of 33 golden retrievers in the study population, the average age at which death occurred was a mere 6.7 years of age. There’s a caveat: Referral hospitals, which are where most of the longevity data on dogs comes from, tend to treat the sickest of pets.

But unlike Ruple, Boyko does think it’s possible that golden retrievers are living shorter lives—even if those lives are comparatively plush in contrast to those of the dogs of yore. No study that he’s aware of has compared changes in the breed’s longevity over time, but declines have been documented in other breeds, like Irish wolfhounds and Doberman pinschers. According to one biologist’s analysis of owner-reported data on Doberman longevity in Russia, this breed appears to have dropped in lifespan since the early 1980s, from an average of 14 years to less than 10 years. And Boyko has an idea of what might be going on with those dogs, and by extension, golden retrievers.

To understand how dogs, with all their modern comforts and access to health care, could possibly be dying younger, it’s important to understand why dogs are prone to illnesses like cancer in the first place.

Golden retrievers emerged around the same time as the practice of modern dog breeding took hold. Humans had been shaping dog genetics since the first wolves joined us by the fireside—by raising and breeding only the most formidable pups, or those with the keenest intellect, or simply the cutest faces, we’d created different general dispositions of dogs: guard dogs, hunting dogs, lap dogs. Then, in the mid-19th century, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in Victorian England, where preoccupation with social class and “good breeding” was already a societal fixture among humans. The tome inspired the idea that breeds of dogs could be “perfected.”

Dog breeding became a fashionable hobby among Britain’s aristocracy, with dog enthusiasts gathering at shows to have their progeny evaluated for their looks, skills, and temperament. (At the same time, the dog owners were tacitly evaluated for their own social standing.) Kennel clubs formed to establish rules and regulations for these dog shows, including breed standards.

For golden retrievers, the defining characteristic was their beautiful coats (which went with the gorgeous ensembles worn by the hunting elite). The first litter of golden puppies was born after a wealthy banker’s son, Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, First Baron Tweedmouth, came across a mutt with long, yellow fur. He bred the dog, named Nous, with his own russet-colored spaniel, Belle. He gifted the puppies to other members of the aristocracy, who continued tinkering with the new line of golden dogs. One dog was bred to an Irish setter, and its pups were bred to their canine aunts, uncles, and cousins. Later, a few dogs were sent over to Canada and the United States, and those dogs were, once again, bred with one another. This process, called line-breeding (which is really a nice way of saying “inbreeding”), ensured that the future generations of puppies all had the same distinctive characteristics.

Line-breeding dogs is very common, and it carries hazards. All living beings carry genes with harmful mutations, which they pass to their offspring. Most of the time, the descendant will inherit a working copy of the same gene from the other parent; that working gene takes over so that the harmful mutation never presents itself. But when two closely related individuals are bred together, their offspring are likelier to inherit two copies of the same mutation—say, a mutation that predisposes them to cancer—leaving them with no functional gene to step in. With selective breeding, in which dogs sharing desirable features are paired up, genetics gets even more complicated. Some genes come attached to one another, even though they code for completely different systems in the body. A boxy head, big brown eyes, or a long golden coat may be sneakily attached to a gene that regulates some aspect of cell growth. If two dogs that share the same physical trait mate, they may each be sending the same harmful mutation along for the ride in a process known as genetic hitchhiking.

When scientists study inbreeding, they use a statistic called the inbreeding coefficient, which measures the likelihood that the same variant of a particular gene—for instance, a gene that increases vulnerability to cancer—will be inherited from both sets of parents. Siblings have an inbreeding coefficient of 25 percent; this is why it would be disastrous, genetically, for siblings to have kids together. Inbreeding coefficients are commonly used by biologists to assess the health of an entire population of creatures. In human populations, an average inbreeding coefficient of 3 to 5 percent is considered unhealthy.

Studies suggest that in golden retrievers, that value, on average, hovers around 8 percent—not great. When Boyko and an international team of researchers analyzed the effects of inbreeding on longevity in golden retrievers, they found that dogs whose parents shared identical copies of the same genes lived shorter lives, on average, than those whose parents’ genes included less overlap.

The genetic mutations that erode dog lifespans can pop up seemingly out of nowhere, then spread rapidly through a population, like a spark exploding into a wildfire. Bernese mountain dogs, for instance, are plagued by a form of blood cancer called histiocytosis, said Ruple, the canine epidemiologist. In both humans and dogs, this cancer is associated with a mutation on one particular gene. While this cancer is incredibly rare in humans, 1 in 7 of these dogs dies of it. That wasn’t always the case: These gentle giants have existed for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first case of histiocytosis was described in a Bernese mountain dog. According to Ruple, it’s likely that the mutation happened in just one dog, was passed down to all of its puppies, then began causing cancer once those dogs were bred to one another.

In dogs, that can happen quickly. The average breeding-purebred male dog, called a sire, will father more than 100 puppies. That number can be much higher for particularly prolific sires—for instance, a male dog that wins a show. The tendency of one sire to spread a harmful mutation among its descendants even has a name, “the popular sire effect.” As it turns out, golden retrievers have the highest proportion of popular sires of any dog breed.

If many, many, many of the puppies are fathered by a relatively small concentration of male parents, then there is potential for a faulty gene to spread rapidly into a generation of offspring. Golden retrievers are “genetically lined up like a series of dominoes,” Lappin said.

So that’s the mechanism that could explain a precipitous drop in how long your cuddliest family member could live. But it’s not proof that the time the average golden will spend on this planet really has gotten shorter. Lappin and a cadre of canine study subjects are working on that part.

When it comes to human health, there are certain tenets that we take for granted: smoking causes lung cancer, high blood pressure puts strain on our hearts, regular exercise helps prevent a myriad of ailments. But these observations weren’t always common knowledge. In fact, we can trace them back to one decadeslong research endeavor: the Framingham Heart Study. This study, which is still ongoing, got its start in 1948 when it enrolled more than 5,000 adults in a small Massachusetts town, then followed them throughout their lives. The researchers regularly asked the participants questions about their lifestyles and tracked which participants went on to develop heart disease and which did not. Later, the study enrolled adult children of the original cohort.

Around the same time the grandchildren of the original Framingham cohort were enrolling in the study, a group of scientists and veterinarians at the Morris Animal Foundation had an idea: Why not run a similar study for dogs? They would follow thousands of pooches throughout their lives, gathering a wealth of data along the way: on their genes, on the residues of toxins in their urine, on the toys they chewed on and bowls they ate from, and even GPS data to track where dogs go.

They chose to focus on a single breed: golden retrievers. The relatively homogenous population would allow the scientists to more easily isolate lifestyle factors from genetic ones.

Starting in 2012, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study (GRLS), as it came to be called, eventually enrolled more than 3,000 dogs. Kelly Diehl, a former veterinarian who is now a science communications officer at the Morris Animal Foundation, helped with enrollment. Again and again, devoted golden owners told her the same thing: They swore their dogs were dying sooner than they used to. “Their perception is a big driver for them to put their dogs into the study,” Diehl said. “Maybe they’re on to something, but we don’t know. That’s why we need research.”

The GRLS wouldn’t be possible without a contingent of enthusiastic veterinarians across the country who helped find and enroll participants and continue to diligently collect data. Lappin is one of those vets. When he caught wind of the GRLS, he immediately got on board, signing up 17 of his patients, including a golden retriever of his own, Isaac. (In total, Lappin owns four golden retrievers: Isaac, Emma, Lucy, and Otis.)

Each year, the owners of participating dogs each complete a questionnaire which digs into every possible factor in a pet’s health. For example: the foods the dogs eat on a regular basis (carrots are surprisingly popular), nearby sources of pollution such as highways and landfills, where dogs like to swim, sun exposure, and even how often they play fetch. Veterinarians collect samples of various sorts and send them to a lab. Both vets and owners submit reports on the pets’ behavioral and physical health, from new diagnoses to instances of aggression.

And, of course, the study records how long the pets live. While two-thirds of dogs in the study are still happily paddling around in ponds and snuggling with their owners, 804 have died. Some of those dogs were very young—the youngest only 9 months. Some died of fire, heat stroke, and being hit by cars. Others died of heart disease and infectious illness. But the overwhelming majority passed away due to cancer: a total of 600 participants.

Veterinarians and scientists collaborating on the study hope that by collecting as much data as possible on participants, researchers will discover risk factors for cancer and early death, and maybe even factors associated with longevity. So far, some trends have emerged. Preliminary data suggests there’s a link between exposure to pollution sources and certain types of lymphoma. However, it will be hard to assess patterns in longevity until all the participants have died. Then we’ll have some real answers. When the study launched, its estimated end date was 2024. The remaining participants are doing so well, it could take longer than that—potentially close to 20 years, Diehl said.

A lot of golden retrievers do die of cancer—that is clear. And that’s the primary concern of Robert Rebhun, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and a cancer biologist. Rebhun was raised around goldens growing up, and lost two of them—Bourbon and Rum—to the disease when they were each around 10 years old. When he started a family of his own, it included a golden named Jessica. “Our four girls, she was their childhood dog,” Rebhun said. “She was very mischievous in her early years, loved to dig up any and all plants, counter-surf for food, and sneak out for an unsupervised run through the neighborhood when given the chance.”

He had a sense of what to expect with her lifespan—it would, he thought, be relatively short, if very sweet, the bargain most of us make when we adopt pets. But at 16, Jessica was still lively and cheerful, if a little bit more of a couch potato than she’d once been. Watching Jessica age with such pizazz made Rebhun wonder: Why do some goldens succumb to cancer so young, while others, like Jessica, continue to go on walks and chase tennis balls well into their teens? So when Jessica was 14 years old, Rebhun looked at her DNA, along with that of 300 other goldens, half of which lived more than 14 years, and half of which died before they reached 12.

His results, which are preliminary and haven’t yet been published, offer a peek into what the future of dog breeding may look like, after the tools of DNA analysis are coupled with the population-level data offered by the big studies. Rebhun said his findings suggest there’s one section of DNA that’s associated with longevity. That section has three different gene variants: “One variant appears to be associated with a longer lifespan and one associated with a shorter lifespan,” Rebhun said. Dogs that had two copies of the “bad” variant—one from each parent—were the most likely to die at a younger age. Dogs that had two copies of the “good” variant were the most likely to live into their teens. Rebhun, who told me he doesn’t fall one way or another on the question of whether goldens are really dying younger, said his next step is to replicate his work with genetic data from the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

Last year, at nearly 17, Jessica finally died of cancer, likely multiple different types. (Rebhun didn’t do much testing—he just recognized it was time.) Her decline was rapid, and though the cancer had been slowly growing for years, it didn’t impact her quality of life until the very end. As it turned out, she was one of the lucky goldens—she’d inherited two of the “good” variants of the gene Rebhun and his colleagues discovered.

Alas, it’s unlikely that in the future breeders will be able to produce pups that live long lives simply by selecting dogs that have the “good” variant of this gene. Longevity is much more complicated than that, Rebhun said. It’s a combination of many different genes, environmental exposures, and lifestyle factors like weight.

But Boyko and Rebhun are both hopeful that the plethora of new data on dog longevity could push dog breeding in a healthier direction. Right now, the best breeders play a kind of genetic “whack-a-mole,” Boyko said: While they do test for known genetic problems, unknown harmful genes invariably slip in whenever we select for those desirable superficial characteristics. In the future, Boyko expects that health will become a higher priority, thanks to advances in dog science. In 2018 came the Dog Aging Project, a groundbreaking study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers on the project are gathering data, including full genetic sequences, from nearly 30,000 large-breed dogs. “I feel like it’s important to participate in these studies,” said Diehl, who enrolled her own 10-year-old Labrador retriever. “It makes you think about what you’re doing with your dog.”

And maybe the results will help breeders become less laser-focused on the perfect boxy head, big brown eyes, or fluffy coat. Instead, armed with data, they may start opening up their genetic pool to other breeds or dogs that have less archetypal features—a golden retriever with a deep red coat or long narrow snout, for instance—in order to water down those harmful genes. They may even be able to select for genes associated with longevity, and against genes associated with certain kinds of cancer—hardly a guarantee of a certain outcome for a given dog, but stacking the deck in their favor.

Imagine this: You bring home your golden retriever puppy. She doesn’t look exactly like the dogs that once won prizes in the ring. Maybe she has a slight curl in her tail and a large white patch on her chest. But she’s positively adorable, and you have assurances from the breeder that she has tested negative for a long list of genetic variants associated with canine cancer—knowledge we possess, in this future scenario, thanks to the studies in longevity that are currently underway. You carefully pick her food, toys, and bedding based on new veterinary recommendations from the research. As she grows older, you follow a set of exercise guidelines shown to improve life expectancy. When she gets old and develops a heart issue, your vet confidently lays out your treatment options and how likely each one is to improve her lifespan and quality of life.

She might not look exactly like the dogs your parents or grandparents had, the perfect golden hue or velvety tail. But that’s a tradeoff that recent generations of anguished dog lovers should not—and hopefully will not—hesitate to make.

https://slate.com/technology/2023/10/go ... ealth.html
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