While California communities await the worst, El Niño is already taking a toll on local wildlife
As West Coast communities brace for what many are calling “Godzilla” El Niño, scientists are looking beneath the waves to learn more about the upcoming storm season. And if this year’s wildlife anomalies are any indication, this El Niño could be the strongest in decades. In this America Tonight excerpt, Joie Chen looks at what could be the strongest El Niño on record.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. plans to phase out killer-whale shows at its San Diego park next year and launch a program in 2017 that would focus on conservation and keeping the animals in a more natural setting, company officials said Monday.
Hundreds of illegal hunters of the rhinoceros in South Africa’s Kruger national park have been shot dead by rangers in the past five years, but the temptation of a rich reward to end an impoverished life in Mozambique keeps them coming
The well-heeled tourists filing through the modest airport at Hoedspruit – Afrikaans for Hat Creek – look carefree and expectant. Guides are standing by to transport them to luxurious bush lodges offering spa treatments, campfire dinners and dawn and dusk game drives offering a potential glimpse of Africa’s “big five”.
But something is different from the safaris enjoyed by the privileged generations of the past. At the 36,000-acre Moditlo private game reserve near Kruger national park, for example, the rhinos do not have horns – they have been removed for their own safety. And during night safaris on dirt tracks under the majesty of a star-studded sky visitors are warned not to use torches, lest they be confused with poachers. When guests – usually affluent and white – gaze from air-conditioned bedrooms into the perfect darkness of the bush, few are likely to consider the murderous chase taking place there between poacher, ranger and rhino. For the poachers – usually poor and black – the risks are immense, but so are the rewards.
“When you look at the impoverished communities around us and the unemployment rate in South Africa, you’d have to be naive to think it’s not going to explode,” said Tim Parker, a warden managing Moditlo and Thornybush Nature Reserve, where anti-poaching costs have gone up 500% in the past three years. “Soon there are going to be gun battles. I can see it coming.”
South Africa has more than four-fifths of the world’s rhino population. Poaching is at an unprecedented level, driven by demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horns, used in traditional medicine or as a middle-class delicacy, fetch up to $65,000 (£42,000) a kilo, more expensive than gold. A record 1,215 rhinos were killed last year, almost treble the 448 lost in 2011. As of late August this year, 749 rhinos were known to have been poached – 544 of them in Kruger park, where officials estimate 6,000 well-armed poachers are at large.
But there is another, less reported death toll. Nearly 500 poachers from neighbouring Mozambique alone have been shot dead by rangers in Kruger park over the past five years, it was claimed recently. Joaquim Chissano, Mozambique’s former president, said 82 alleged poachers from the country were killed in the first half of this year, describing them as “destitute, poor people recruited by crime networks who make the real money … Each of these dead Mozambicans means more poverty for his family, because they can no longer count on him to fight for better living conditions,” Chissano noted.
SeaWorld has said it plans to challenge a ruling banning the company from breeding captive killer whales.
The announcement comes a week after the California Coastal Commission backed a $100m (£64.8m) expansion of SeaWorld’s orca tanks in San Diego.
However, the enclosure improvements also outlined a series of restrictions, including a ban on breeding the whales.
SeaWorld said it would “pursue legal action” over the ruling.
Company President Joel Manby said: “The Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld.
“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices.
“To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the Commission’s decision.”
Antibiotic resistance is now considered a catastrophic threat to public health, as more and more deadly, drug-resistant bacteria have been appearing in our cities, farms, and hospitals. In theory, the solution should be simple: We need to stop overusing antibiotics. Yet nearly every attempt to do so thus far has failed.
Now California is taking drastic measures. This weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signedthe toughest restrictions yet on antibiotic use in the United States, banning the state’s livestock producers from using certain antibiotics for routine disease prevention and growth promotion.
“The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of decades of lifesaving advances in medicine,” Brown said in a statement.
This is, potentially, a huge deal. Across the United States, more than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use in animals, so curbing overuse in this area has always been a priority for public health reformers. And California’s new law could push other states to follow suit.
Why curbing antibiotic use on farms is so controversial
The science behind drug resistance is straightforward enough. The more we use antibiotics to kill off disease-causing bacteria, the more likely those bacteria are to evolve resistance, developing random mutations to outwit our drugs. And overuse has become a huge problem. In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant infections are now associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses every year.
So public health experts have been looking for places to curtail misuse. It would help, for instance, if doctors stopped prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. But another key place to look is on farms, where the vast majority of medically important antibiotics are sold.
Antibiotics on farms are typically used in three ways: to treat sick animals, to prevent infections, and to fatten up animals. The first use is uncontroversial: Everyone agrees that it’s okay to use antibiotics to treat animals that come down with disease. But public health experts have criticized the latter two uses. They argue that many livestock producers needlessly overuse antibiotics to prevent infections and promote growth — essentially relying on them as an alternative to hygiene and good nutrition. These are considered “nontherapeutic” uses.
And experts argue this overuse has real consequences. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told Congress that there’s a link between the routine, nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on farms and the superbug crisis in humans.
Ken (left) and Henry were created using DNA plucked from a skin cell of Melvin, the beloved pet of Paula and Phillip Dupont of Lafayette, La.
It’s a typical morning at the Dupont Veterinary Clinic in Lafayette, La. Dr. Phillip Dupont is caring for cats and dogs in the examining room while his wife, Paula, answers the phone and pet owners’ questions. Their two dogs are sleeping on the floor behind her desk.
“That’s Ken and Henry,” Paula says, pointing to the slim, midsize dogs with floppy ears and long snouts. Both dogs are tan, gray and white, with similar markings. “I put a red collar on Ken and a black collar on Henry so I can tell who’s who.”
Ken and Henry are genetically identical, though not exact replicas. They’re clones of the Duponts’ last dog, Melvin — created when scientists injected one of Melvin’s skin cells, which contained all of his DNA, into a donor egg that had been emptied of its original DNA.
Ken and Henry are two of only about 600 dogs that have been cloned since scientists at Sooam Biotech, a suburban company near Seoul, South Korea, developed the technology to create cloned canines.
The Duponts sat down with Shots to explain why they decided to clone Melvin.
Two years ago, Paula and Phillip Dupont paid $100,000 to have their mutt Melvin cloned by a laboratory in South Korea. They are so pleased with the results they may do it again.
“He was different,” says Phillip Dupont. “Of all the dogs I had, he was completely different.”
In his first interview since public outcry over his killing of the beloved Cecil the Lion, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer insisted that he had done nothing wrong and said he will now return to work.
“Everything was done properly,” attorney Joe Friedberg told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “This was a legal hunt for a lion in Zimbabwe. And because of the professionalism of the people who had to help him, a lion was taken.”
The dentist said he would be returning to work on Tuesday. “I have a lot of staff members, and I’m a little heartbroken at the disruption in their lives … And I’m a health professional. I need to get back to my staff and my patients, and they want me back. That’s why I’m back.”
Local police said they would not be dedicating resources to protect Palmer’s staff or office as he returns.
Palmer also said the whole ordeal had been particularly difficult for his wife and daughter, who he said had been threatened on social media. “I don’t understand that level of humanity to come after people not involved at all,” he said.
Zimbabwe officials still demand that Palmer be extradited back to the country to face charges for the suspected crime against protected wildlife, but many doubt this will happen.
The death of the lion over the summer caused outrage on social media, and many said more people were upset over the lion than people who had died at the hands of police. It has also inspired some dark humor, including a Walter Palmer-inspired Halloween costume.
Honey bees are being rustled.
Katie Hayward, owner of Felin Honeybees, lifts out a honeycomb on her honeybee farm. Thieves have made off with some 45,000 honeybees from the farm in recent months. Courtesy of Felin Honeybees
Thieves are hijacking hives and renting the bees and their queens out to farmers to pollinate their crops. With the global collapse of the bee population, the crime is becoming even more lucrative.
It’s an issue in the U.S., in California’s Central Valley, but most recently, another bee theft caught our attention. On the tiny island of Angelsey, off the coast of North Wales, Felin Honeybees, a farm and education center, has been hit twice in the last month.
The bee burglars used a small box, called a nucleus, which is used for starting new hives, Felin owner Katie Hayward tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer.
“They’ve done what’s called a ‘bee shake,’ which is where you hold the frames over the box and you shake the bees in,” she explains. “So they can be stored in the boot of any car, I’m afraid.”
They were able to make off with some 45,000 bees, including four queens, she says.
The bee bandits took bees that the center had bred for calmness, to be used for teaching. Hayward says the pilferers must have had some expertise.
“They knew exactly what they were taking,” Hayward says. “There’s been a huge surge in beekeeping as a hobby, and the demand for new nucleuses has risen over 75 percent in the last five years.”