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 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
A Dutch Effort to Form a Prostitute Cooperative Is Met With Hope and Skepticism

Sex Work in Amsterdam Is Legal, But Still Taboo

NY Times


AMSTERDAM — In this city, renowned for its openness and transparency, lots of windows have no curtains. Almost anyone can peek into someone’s living room from the street. Marijuana and hashish are sold out of regulated coffee shops, perfectly within the law.

In the city’s red light district, prostitutes can be seen behind large windows, their white tops glowing under black lights. Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 2000.

But despite all the free expression, the city has had to be vigilant about combating human trafficking and other exploitation within the prostitution industry, and in the last decade, the mayor’s office has focused on weeding out the red light district’s criminal elements.

This year, with the help of a progressive-minded mayor, a group of former and active prostitutes has embarked upon a new effort: setting up their own brothel, My Red Light, which they say is an ambitious experiment in empowering prostitutes.

My Red Light aims to become the Netherlands’ first official cooperative of prostitutes, where they have a say about their work schedule and the design of the rooms, and even train for managerial positions.
Continue reading the main story

“One of the things we have changed in recent years is that instead of talking about what is good for prostitutes, we have started to talk to them,” said Jasper Karman, spokesman for Amsterdam’s mayor, Eberhard van der Laan.

Not everyone likes the idea, among them some fellow prostitutes who are suspicious of the city’s involvement. But My Red Light has drawn support from unlikely quarters, including award-winning Dutch furniture and interior designers, who have helped outfit the rooms.

Sitting on a blue vinyl mattress on a stage, a glowing red bathtub in one corner and a Richard Hutten red leather stool by the window, Lyle Muns, a male prostitute who is on the board of My Red Light, explained recently that the project, which opened in May, was still a work in progress.

“I am really passionate about this project and I believe it could work, but it is also an experiment, right?” he said. “We haven’t succeeded until My Red Light is run mostly by sex workers and we are making a profit.”

The concept of My Red Light was first discussed in Amsterdam as far back as 2007, when the city tried to combat crime in the neighborhood through the 1012 Project, a reference to the central red light district’s postal code.

Authorities eventually shut down about 125 windows where prostitutes displayed themselves, leaving many feeling they were being pushed out so that the city could gentrify the historic area, which claims some of Amsterdam’s most valuable real estate.

Protests led to regular meetings between the city and activists, and then to a feasibility study that eventually gave birth to My Red Light. The city helped a social investment fund buy four buildings that it now rents to My Red Light.

As soon as the fund bought the buildings late last year, all ties to the city were cut. Currently, My Red Light officially operates as a foundation. “We hope in a year or two we’ll be run entirely by sex workers or ex-sex workers,” said Justine Le Clercq, a spokeswoman for My Red Light.

When My Red Light starts to turn a profit, she said, it plans to invest the money in workshops and other programs for the prostitutes, like business training and language classes.

The group has also been discussing investing in something like workers’ compensation insurance so that prostitutes who get sick or injured can get financial support.

When it came to the design of the interiors, My Red Light argued that prostitutes deserve the same quality of working environment as chief executives and celebrities. So they engaged the award-winning Dutch furniture company Lensvelt, which helped furnish the V.I.P. lounge at the Schiphol airport.

Lensvelt chose the interior design architect Janpaul Scholtmeijer, of Vens Architecten. His only strict directive was to make all the design decisions along with a group of about five prostitutes.

Left to his own devices, Mr. Scholtmeijer joked, he would have covered the rooms in velvet, but the prostitutes rolled their eyes at his impracticality.

“In the end, what was most important for the sex workers was that the spaces were easy to clean and hygienic,” Mr. Scholtmeijer said.

The prostitutes also requested that a small locker be built within the bed frame with a slit to insert cash. There was a lot of discussion as to where to place panic buttons.

Three months after its debut, My Red Light is slowly trying to gain the trust of the other brothels and build a community of prostitutes.

About 75 percent of all prostitutes are from Eastern or Central Europe, outside the European Union, with the remaining 25 percent Dutch, or from South or Central America, according to the mayor’s office. This complicates efforts toward cooperation.

Heleen Driessen, who has worked in Amsterdam as a counselor and advocate for prostitutes for the last two decades, said there were “often issues between the sex workers because they are different nationalities and don’t speak the same language, or still need to gain confidence in My Red Light or have the mentality of, ‘I just want to go home at six or go home to Ecuador in a few months and not get involved in these kinds of projects.’”

My Red Light has attracted criticism from some members of the city’s only official network of prostitutes, Proud, which offers everything from language workshops to pro bono lawyer consultations. Some members even threatened to sue My Red Light after not getting the management positions they said they were promised. My Red Light responded that the women had marks on their records, and that if it hired them, My Red Light would lose its license under municipal regulations.

“It’s just another brothel,” said Yvette Luhrs, a spokeswoman for Proud. “It isn’t really owned or run by sex workers. Also the media spectacle around it has been derogatory to other brothels.”

She said that what prostitutes really wanted was to be allowed to run their own business out of their own homes without being bothered by the police. The city says that in order to control human trafficking and protect the well-being of independent prostitutes, the police have to make regular checks.

“You lose grip on the whole scene if you allow sex workers to work out of homes, unregulated like that,” said Jolanda de Boer, a public prosecutor who has been involved in human trafficking cases in Amsterdam for the last decade.

She said she believed that the city truly wanted to help protect and support prostitutes, but that after 10 years of overseeing so many cases of abused prostitutes, she is skeptical that prostitution can be normalized.

“Stop saying that it’s the oldest profession in the world,” she said. “Women and the disadvantaged have always been exploited, and we should not accept that.”

Ms. Le Clercq, the My Red Light spokeswoman, said: “There are, of course, connections between human trafficking and prostitution, but there are also connections between crime and the flower industry and crime and building houses. There are really people who want to do this work, so just let them do it.”

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Pfau, 'Mother Teresa of Pakistan,' dies at age 87

New Europe

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Ruth Pfau, a German physician and nun who devoted her life to the eradication of leprosy in Pakistan, has died at age 87. In a statement, the office of Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced a state funeral for Pfau, known as "Pakistan's Mother Teresa."

Salwa Zainab, a spokeswoman at Pfau's office, said Friday a funeral service will be held Aug. 19 in Karachi, where Pfau died on Thursday. She said leprosy remained a problem in Pakistan from the 1950s until about 1996 and that Pfau played a key role in efforts by Pakistan and the World Health Organization to bring the disease under control.

Zainab said Pfau was a "beacon of hope for underprivileged" people.

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
'We are jobless because of fish poisoning': Vietnamese fishermen battle for justice

A year after Vietnam’s worst environmental disaster, lives remain ruined while the government cracks down on protesters seeking compensation

Angel L Martínez Cantera

“We used to eat the meat of the pig, but now all we have to eat is the skin” – the Vietnamese saying neatly encapsulates the predicament facing the country’s fishermen, says Nguyen Viet Thieu.

“Before the marine disaster happened, I could earn up to 15m Vietnamese dongs [£500],” reflects Nguyen. “But after, I didn’t sell any fish at all. I was sick of my profession.”

He moors and ties his small boat in the dock of Tan An village. Today, he has caught nothing.

This weekend, like every other, Nguyen and his neighbours will attend a protest vigil at the local church. It is their attempt to keep attention focused on the aftermath of the chemical spill that poisoned up to 125 miles of Vietnam’s central coastline last April. The disaster has damaged the regional economy of a country that earned $7bn (£5.4bn) from seafood exports in 2016.

Led by Catholic priests, prayers and marches have been held ever since. Despite reports of demonstrators being arrested and beaten by the authorities in Nghe An province, rallies calling for justice and government accountability have been spreading across this central region.

Families from Nghe An say their livelihoods have been destroyed by the toxic discharge from a steel plant in neighbouring Ha Tinh province. But compensation has been awarded only to people in Ha Tinh and three other adjacent provinces – Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

Anger has been growing over the government’s handling of what is thought to be the country’s worst environmental disaster – affecting 450 hectares (1,112 acres) of coral reefs, of which about half were totally destroyed.

Slow government response and denials of wrongdoing sparked angry protests not often seen in four decades of Communist party rule.

In April 2016, at least 70 tonnes of dead fish were washed ashore. In July, the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp, a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group, admitted responsibility, blaming an accidental release of chemicals – including cyanide – in waste water during a test run of the plant.

Formosa Ha Tinh’s chairman, Chen Yuan-Cheng, apologised, saying: “Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologises to the Vietnamese people … for causing the environmental disaster that seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment.”

A government minister, Mai Tien Dung, told reporters Formosa Ha Tinh had pledged $500m for a cleanup and to pay compensation, which included helping fishermen find new jobs.

According to the ministry of labour, more than 40,000 workers in Vietnam who rely on fishing and tourism were directly affected and a quarter of a million people nationwide felt the repercussions of the toxic spill.

Activists and environmentalists questioned the agreement reached between the government and the company because there had been no independent evaluation of the true impact.

“It is critical to publish a chemical blacklist to be acted upon immediately,” says Hikmat Suriatanwijaya, of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “We urge factories to disclose chemical information to facilitate supply chain transparency and create a level playing field for the industry. The Formosa disaster has shown us exactly the impact of such irresponsible and unsustainable business practice.”

The Vietnamese government did not respond to a request for comment.

In April, on the first anniversary of the spill, thousands of people occupied beaches, roads and public offices demanding justice, ocean decontamination and the shutdown of the steel plant.

Blogger Tran Minh Nhat says: “At the beginning, the government neglected the disaster despite the evidence. Now, it uses all possible means to stop affected villagers from complaining. Five people have been arrested. They are stopping citizens from seeking justice.”

Tran is on probation from a prison sentence for conducting “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”. On his blog, he reported on February’s police attack on 700 peaceful marchers in Nghe An who were on their way to submit legal complaints against Formosa, claiming $20m in damages.

Organised by clergy and lawyers, the legal struggle between fishermen and one of Vietnam’s largest investors began as soon as Nghe An province was excluded from the government restitution agreement.

“We’ve given financial support to affected families and helped them file petitions,” says Dang Huu Nam, a priest whose church has become a haven for activists. “We managed to submit more than 600 individual lawsuits at the Qy Anh court in August 2016. But there are around 5,000 villagers harmed.”

His prominent role has attracted the attention of the authorities and in August he was arrested while in Hanoi for a medical checkup. “They interrogated me for four hours and told me to stop supporting demonstrators,” he says.

To counter state-run media allegations of disagreements over anti-Formosa protests, 18 priests signed a joint statement of support. “The church stands by the side of Formosa’s victims. We’ve raised around 1bn Vietnamese dongs [£34,000] for those in need,” says Father Nguyen Nam Phong, a priest at Tai Ha church in Hanoi.

The courts have rejected all lawsuits against Formosa, citing lack of evidence. “We are jobless, four people are dead because of fish poisoning and a whale was found dead on Cua Lo beach, only 50km from here. What other proof do they need?” asks Nguyen So Menh, a fisherman from Tan An village.

Despite no official data being published and concerns that it may take decades to restore the marine ecosystem, Hanoi has declared the national seawaters clean and safe for swimming and fishing.

But a recent explosion at Formosa’s steel mill in Ha Tinh has again put pressure on the government to scrutinise the activities of foreign companies.

The Formosa conglomerate, with its $10.6bn steel complex in Ha Tinh, wants to make the mill the biggest in south-east Asia.

“We don’t earn enough to provide milk for our children and we had to borrow money from the church to pay their school fees,” says Nguyen Tha Tran, a fish-sauce seller and mother of four, from Tan An.

“The government should give compensation to all regions so that families can restore our living conditions. It should also clean up the ocean and close Formosa.”

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Bolivia approves highway through Amazon biodiversity hotspot

National park which is home to thousands of indigenous people loses protected status to allow for construction of 190-mile road

Dan Collyns

Bolivia has given the go ahead to a controversial highway which would cut through an Amazon biodiversity hotspot almost the size of Jamaica and home to 14,000 mostly indigenous people.

President Evo Morales enacted the new law opening the way for the 190-mile (300km) road through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, known as Tipnis, its Spanish acronym . The road will divide the park in two and strip it of the protections won in 2011 when a national march by thousands of protesters ended in clashes with the police and forced the government to change its position.

Speaking to supporters of the road in the Amazon city of Trinidad, Morales accused developed countries of pushing “colonial environmentalism” in Bolivia.

“This so-called colonial environmentalism isn’t interested in the indigenous movement having schools, hospitals; they’re not interested in the indigenous movement having electricity or that we have highways,” he said. The law was backed by the majority of local authorities and the governor of Beni, Bolivia’s main Amazon region.

The legislation passed through Bolivia’s Senate last week where Morales’ governing Movement Toward Socialism party holds a two-thirds majority, and was enacted on Sunday. Rival political parties and the Catholic church opposed the law, joining activists and indigenous groups who marched in several cities across the country.

“This is the beginning of the destruction of protected areas in Bolivia and indigenous peoples’ territory,” Fernando Vargas, a Tipnis indigenous leader, told the Guardian. Tipnis, which stretches for more than 10,000km2, is home to the Moxeños, Yurakarés and Chimanes indigenous people.

“Evo Morales is not a defender of Mother Earth, or indigenous peoples. He’s in favour of extractivism and capitalism,” Vargas added, rejecting the leader’s assertion that the Tipnis movement was driven by foreign NGOs.

“We know that the road means the destruction of our territory, we don’t need anyone to tell us,” he said.

Opponents of the road say it will open up the park to mining and oil and gas exploration, as well as loggers and coca farmers, known as cocaleros, whom they accuse Morales, a former cocalero leader, of supporting. Illegal coca crops in Bolivia increased by 150% from 2015 to 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime .

Moira Birss of Amazon Watch said the law could lead to “severe deforestation in a key biodiversity hotspot and currently-protected area of the Bolivian Amazon.”

“The cultures of the three indigenous peoples that inhabit Tipnis are intrinsically tied to the rainforest. By failing to adequately consult with them and ensure their territorial rights, the Bolivian government is endangering their future and that of the whole of the Bolivian Amazon,” she added.

In 2012, the Bolivian government held a consultation process in Tipnis which was widely criticised by international and national monitors. Bolivia’s human rights ombudsman concluded that the government’s process had failed to allow free and informed consent.

A 2011 study by the Bolivian Institute for Strategic Research found that the road would accelerate deforestation by increasing access to the territory for illegal loggers and farmers. It predicted deforestation of 64% of the park within 15 years if the road was built, more than a projected 43% loss without the road.

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Why do beavers build dams? You asked Google – here’s the answer

Jules Howard

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Wednesday 16 August 2017 08.00 BST

Here is a beaver-based creation myth. It begins thus. God so loved the world that He seeded it with diligent rodents able to do the hard work of habitat creation – damming streams and creating ponds and lakes in which amphibian larvae thrived, providing food for water beetles and dragonfly nymphs and a host of other invertebrates which fed the fish that early humans consumed. God gave us beavers to make the landscapes upon which we depended – that’s the myth I want you to imagine for the sake of this piece.

It goes on. My creation myth believes that the wetlands that these early creatures created washed away and purified humanity’s poisons. And that these holy creatures, The Beavers, saved us from Biblical floods by slowing the flow rate of sudden aggregations of water. Again and again, The Beavers saved us, but in time, predictably, things changed. We humans came to turn our backs on them. We forgot about Beavers, and God was not pleased about humankind’s insolence.

    In less than 200 years, the North American beaver went from 90 million to between 10-15 million

Like all good creation myths, this one features a gruesome twist. Like the rosy apple that hung from the tree in the Garden of Eden, in my creation myth God put things on beavers to tempt those first people into sinning. He covered them with thick fur that they would desire as clothing. He put their testicles on the inside, rather than the outside, and gave these mystical and elusive gonads properties that may (or may not) have provided medicinal properties. And, lastly, there beneath their tails, God hung a pair of anal glands that produced a smelly substance that the early humans found irresistible. Those early humans made a choice. They couldn’t help themselves. They committed original sin.

Upon discovering their unusual glands and delightfully thick fur we humans slaughtered them in their millions to make top hats and well-known perfumes that still sell today courtesy of a deft hint of anal glands that makes them more appealing than the competition. (Also ice-cream flavouring, but that’s another story). The rest, as they say, is history.

In less than 200 years, the North American beaver went from 90 million to between 10-15 million. In Europe and Asia, just 1,200 beavers remained by 1900. The beavers died, almost totally exterminated. In time, we forgot that they had ever been here.

Like all creation myths, mine would become superseded in time by fact. For we discovered there was a better way to describe the patterns in nature that we see around us. We noticed evolution and we determined the mechanism through which it happened: natural selection. And so we must come back to reality and the crux of this Google question, posed above. The big question then, if you will, is this: if it wasn’t for humankind’s benefit, why exactly do beavers build dams?

The simple answer is that beavers build dams to deepen watercourses, so that they can create “lodges” that can be better defended from modern predators including bears, wildcats, otters and other mammalian forebears with whom the beavers shared prehistory. It seems that deep water is particularly important to beavers. Lakes and ponds allow for a kind of floating structure of sticks and branches that can be accessed from a secret hole beneath, a key real-estate feature that reduces the need for terrestrial entrances through which land-based predators can climb. Upon finding shallow watercourses, colonising beavers immediately begin damming, creating canals along which trunks and branches can be dragged along to add to this, their anti-predator superstructure. In these lodges, beavers rear their young and see out winter, safe and sound.

Why and how they hit upon this behaviour is of interest to those who study beavers and their family members, the Castoridae (nearly all of whom are now extinct). It may be an example of a behavioural trait that has “piggy-backed” upon an appetite for bark-gnawing. One imagines that their semi-aquatic ancestors were tree-gnawers that used their spoils for building riverside burrows, with some accidentally hitting upon damming rivers. The truth is we don’t yet know. The creation myth eroded, now a new mystery is being gradually exposed based by those that study comparative anatomy, fossils and DNA.

One thing is clear. Our original sins now washed away by rushing floodwaters, we have an opportunity to bring beavers back into our lives. In recent years, almost every European country has made steps to re-introduce and restore their wild beaver populations. In Scotland, an introduced population of beavers is doing well – indeed, it is now considered a protected native species. There is a good chance that a small breeding population in England may be granted the same status.

After almost killing them off entirely, we may yet redeem ourselves from the sins of our ancestors. How delicious, therefore, that we should free ourselves from damnation by becoming, once more, a dam-nation.

• Jules Howard is a zoologist and author

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Rare Canadian oriole to fly thousands of miles back home – on passenger jet

    Bullock’s oriole who ended up in Ottawa to fly home on Air Canada flight
    Small orange-plumed female first spotted in capital in late 2015

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto

Nearly two years ago, she was spotted perched on an apple tree in Ontario – thousands of miles from her natural habitat – capturing the attention of birdwatchers across Canada.

Now a Bullock’s oriole who ended up in the Ottawa area is set to finally fly home to western North America – in the passenger cabin of an Air Canada flight.

The small orange-plumed female was first spotted near the country’s capital in late 2015, prompting speculation that she had been blown off her migration route. “It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s been mind-boggling,” Ray Holland, who first noticed the oriole, told the CBC, as hundreds of birdwatchers travelled to the area to catch a glimpse.

Weeks later Holland found the bird lying in the snow, seemingly weakened by a bout of freezing temperatures. The bird was brought to the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre, where vets found the female had lost a toenail to frostbite and was battling dehydration and hypothermia.

As the bird recuperated, the centre began looking into how best to return her to her habitat. Transporting the bird to the US – its main range – seemed incredibly difficult, given federal laws and the export and import permits required.

The decision was made to send her to British Columbia, the northernmost point of the Bullock’s oriole’s habitat. Doing so would still require special import permits allowing the migratory bird to cross provincial borders, leaving the bird’s return mired in a process that could take up to six weeks.

“These laws are there to protect our birds, so people aren’t collecting them or keeping them,” the centre’s Patty McLaughlin explained to the CBC. “It takes a lot of coordination from a lot of different people to move a bird like this across the country.”

After nearly two years away from home, the bird has been booked on to an Air Canada flight leaving Ottawa airport on Wednesday morning, according to the Canadian Press. She’ll be accompanied by an employee of the airline, which arranged for a federal transport exemption to allow the bird to make the 2,700-mile journey.

Upon arrival, the bird will be taken to the Wildlife Rescue Association of British Columbia, who plans to place her in an outdoor cage that will allow the bird to acclimatise to the outdoors.

It’s hoped that the bird can be released in a week or so and that she’ll eventually undertake the journey that was impeded by red tape at the ground level – flying herself to the bird’s native wintering grounds in the southern US or northern Mexico.

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Edinburgh zoo: leaked CCTV image shows keeper fleeing giant panda

Staff warn managers in email about safety concerns and ‘very serious near miss’ when animal was let into enclosure prematurely

Damien Gayle

Staff at Edinburgh zoo have told managers in a leaked email that their colleague could have died when she was forced to flee an enclosure into which a giant panda had been allowed back prematurely.

Unidentified workers issued a warning about the “very serious near miss” and wider safety concerns in the email alongside a leaked CCTV still, showing the employee leaving the enclosure with the panda close behind her.

In the image, a discarded brush can be seen next to a bin, supporting claims that the keeper was cleaning the enclosure when she was surprised by the bear. In the email, staff suggest that the animal could have escaped into public areas of the zoo during the incident last year.

The email said: “Are we going to wait for a disaster to happen before things change at the zoo? There has been no proper health and safety training on safety or evacuation for years. Who is responsible for health and safety?”

Despite their appearance, adult giant pandas are said to be as dangerous as black bears. Three visitors to Beijing zoo were mauled between 2006 and 2009 after falling or jumping into giant panda enclosures. In 2011, a giant panda bit a worker at San Diego zoo.

The email, which was sent to senior management, claimed that the zoo was in crisis and staff had lost confidence in their bosses, several of whom are mentioned by name. It points out that visitor numbers are declining, new initiatives including Zoo Nights events and a ferris wheel on the site have not been well received, and the morale of workers is “the lowest we have ever known it”.

The email added: “It has got to the point where many of us fear about the future of the zoo and we can’t afford to lose our jobs.

“Things are getting really bad and many good people are leaving or looking for jobs somewhere else.”

The City of Edinburgh council, which licenses the zoo, Scotland’s second-most popular paid attraction, confirmed that the incident had taken place and said the zoo had revised its procedures.

A spokesman for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland told the BBC: “Staff reported a near miss last year which was fully investigated and Edinburgh council were kept informed throughout the process. No staff or animals were harmed during the incident.

“While we never comment on speculation or accusatory comments from anonymous sources, should any staff grievances be raised, they are handled by our well-established employee consultative board. We can confirm this has not occurred in this instance.”

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
There's a way to save hedgehogs – and all of us can help

Hugh Warwick

By taking part in projects such as counting hedgehog homes, ordinary people enable scientists to understand and protect Britain’s much-loved wildlife


Today sees the launch of the “hedgehog housing census”. All over the country, thousands of people are going to the trouble and expense of building or buying hedgehog homes. We want to know how important this is to the lives of one of our most loved animals – and how we can improve the way we help hedgehogs in the future.

For a hedgehog scientist – and believe me, there are such things – gathering the volume of information required to make this a meaningful study cannot be done alone. They would need to get into thousands of gardens, assess the structures, what they are made of, where they are situated. They would also need to see what other features the garden had that might encourage hedgehogs, such as access. One of the key messages from our Hedgehog Street campaign is the necessity to make small holes, around the size of a CD case, at the bottom of fences and walls to allow the animals to roam.

    Science is seen as something only specialists can do, but this idea is being challenged. This census is not the first

So how do we get the information? How do we find out what style of house works best? Well, we do that by recognising the real capacity members of the public have to provide valuable data. Science is seen by many as something that only specialists can do, but this idea is being challenged with many “citizen science” projects. This housing census is not the first.

Hedgehog research lends itself very well to citizen science. The animal is impossible to confuse with any other species, people love them, and they share our gardens. Add to this the very real problem of dramatic population decline – down by about a third in urban areas and more than half in rural areas since the turn of the century – and we have motivation to act.

We started using citizen scientists for hedgehogs over 10 years ago, when the British Hedgehog Preservation Society joined forces with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and recruited more than 20,000 people to take part in our “hogwatch” survey. PTES runs Living with Mammals – a survey of urban wildlife that provides clear evidence of hedgehog population decline. They also run Mammals on Roads – surveying rural areas through the rather gruesome count of road casualties. Again, this shows that hedgehogs are being squashed less frequently, not because they are getting faster or more clever, but because there are less of them.

The contributions of thousands of people are vital to increasing our understanding of what is happening. And it is not just hedgehogs that benefit from members of the public becoming engaged in research; ornithologists got there long before us. Our understanding of the lives of birds has been transformed by the small unique rings applied to the legs of individuals through the work coordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology. Most of the people trained to do this are not “scientists” – but are part of the largest research department we have in the University of Life.

The empowerment that comes with being involved in these research projects is tangible. The first step might be small, such as marking a sighting on the Big Hedgehog Map, but it is a gateway to a deeper connection with our wider environment.

This step is also a way into the virtuous circle that citizen science creates. Engagement with research generates data that improves our ability to guide people into taking action to help hedgehogs. Seeing the return of hedgehogs to a garden is such a thrill, and will encourage more attention to be paid to the research, generating more data and refining our advice.

Once you have seen how important your contribution can be to hedgehogs, you should have the confidence to look wider. We can all make a difference if we get engaged. So start now. Join the hedgehog housing census, help hedgehogs and maybe surprise yourself with where the journey takes you.

• Hugh Warwick is a writer and ecologist

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
America Is Running Out of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

AUG. 16, 2017
NY Times

SAN ANTONIO — If within the past few years you received a package, roamed a shopping mall, boarded a plane, train, ferry or cruise ship, went to a major sporting event, ran a marathon, attended a concert, gambled at a casino or visited a tourist attraction, chances are a dog made sure it was safe for you to do so.

With terrorists increasingly attacking so-called soft targets, the demand for detection dogs that can sweep large areas for explosives has soared. So have prices, which can exceed $25,000 for a single dog. Security experts warn that the supply of these dogs is dwindling worldwide and that the United States is especially vulnerable because it relies primarily on brokers who source dogs from Eastern Europe.

Technological alternatives have so far proven inadequate. Despite decades of trying, researchers have yet to develop a machine as exquisitely sensitive and discerning as a dog’s nose. Nor can a robot rove with the agility and ease of a dog.

Spend time at the Transportation Security Administration’s sprawling National Canine Training Center here at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and you’ll be struck by the intensity and intelligence of the four-legged students. Rushing around mock airport terminals and train cars, the dogs abruptly sit, eerily still, when they pick up a whiff of explosives planted on one of the actors pretending to be passengers or secreted in an abandoned suitcase. And all the dogs want in return is a tennis ball or squeaky toy.

The T.S.A. has 1,000 dogs (German shorthaired pointers, German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labradors, golden retrievers and vizslas) in its work force and needs to acquire 350 new dogs annually to replace those that age out at around 8 to 10 years. To do that, T.S.A. agents make quarterly buying trips to Europe along with buyers for the United States military, which has around 1,600 dogs deployed worldwide.

They are competing with buyers from Customs and Border Protection, the State Department, various federal and local law enforcement entities, private security companies, agencies requiring search and rescue dogs, companies in the hospitality industry that need dogs to sniff out bed bugs, health care providers that use dogs to sniff breath, blood and biopsies to make medical diagnoses — and, of course, foreign governments.

“The top dogs bred globally go to whoever has the most money, and that’s likely the Chinese and Saudis,” said Scott Thomas, who resigned from the T.S.A. last month after 15 years. For 10 of those years, he oversaw the agency’s breeding program, which was eliminated for budgetary reasons in 2012. The remaining five years, he worked with vendors to procure dogs. He is now starting his own detection-dog breeding and training consulting business.

According to the T.S.A. and the Department of Defense, the transactions occur mainly in Germany and the Netherlands, but the dogs come predominantly from former Eastern Bloc countries like Croatia and Romania. The region has a long history of breeding and training working dogs. Competitions that test dogs’ obedience, tracking and protection (bite and hold) capabilities are popular weekend sporting events there, and the furthest thing from the American notion of a dog show characterized by poofy purebreds prancing around a ring.

“The supply of working dogs in Europe is strained from all the demand,” said Erik Wilsson, an animal behaviorist who retired in June from his job managing dog breeding for the Swedish Armed Forces. “The U.S. is buying a lot of dogs and, for sure, you’re not getting the best ones. It’s not about finding the dogs you need — it’s finding the good dogs,” which countries like Germany, he said, are keeping for themselves and breeders in less prosperous countries sell to the highest bidder.

It’s why, Dr. Wilsson said, Sweden in 2005 reinstated its military dog-breeding program, which had been disbanded in the ’90s. “The program was brought down because decision makers thought private breeders could do it, but after a couple of years the military and police had huge problems finding high-quality dogs,” he said.

Indeed, T.S.A. agents and United States Army officers who go on overseas buying trips say they are lucky if they look at 110 dogs and have 50 pass their preliminary behavioral and medical screenings. Of those dogs, another 15 to 20 percent don’t make it through training in the United States to be put into service. The ones that wash out are shopped to other agencies or put up for adoption.

“We are looking for the SEAL team of dogs,” Mr. Thomas said, referring to the Navy’s elite special forces unit.

Contributing to the high failure rate is the fact that the dogs aren’t purchased until they are around 1 or 2 years old, when they are mature enough for the rigorous training. While they may come from fine stock, there’s no telling how they were raised or what neuroses they may have developed. According to Karen Overall, a veterinarian and senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied canine behavior for the Department of Defense, early life experience can make or break a dog, “just as it can for a human being.”

“We are supporting a giant puppy mill industry in Europe, which is producing less than optimal dogs,” Dr. Overall said. “What you’re getting is a dog that has probably been fairly roughly handled, certainly is scared and, our data shows, can be fairly hyper-reactive, and those aren’t going to be the best dogs.”

The American Kennel Club convened a conference this year to discuss the possibility of creating a cooperative of private dog breeders in the United States to provide the military and law enforcement agencies with high-quality dogs. Another idea that is gaining traction is to have a large federally funded breeding program, akin to those run by nonprofit service dog organizations like Canine Companions for Independence and the Seeing Eye, which annually produce 900 and 500 dogs, respectively. Those puppies are raised for the first year or so by volunteers, to make sure the dogs have good early life experiences and exposures.

Senate hearings were held last year about this issue. Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama, has been critical of the T.S.A. for shuttering its breeding program and thinks he can get funding for an even larger program that will make the United States self-sufficient when it comes to detection dogs. “We are not going to have a choice as a country,” he said. “We are going to have to find a way to provide canines for the evolving terrorist threat.”

Talk to those who work with or study detection dogs and they express a kind of awe for the dogs’ capabilities. “These dogs save lives. That’s the reality of it,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Enroth, an Army veterinarian who for the past four years has screened and cared for detection dogs at Lackland Air Force Base. “People go home at night because of these dogs, and people have parts of their bodies that they might not have if these dogs didn’t exist.

 on: Aug 16, 2017, 05:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Escalating Use of Pesticides Harms Already Imperiled Aquatic Invertebrates


A new analysis published this month by U.S. Geological Survey scientists found pesticides at high enough concentrations to harm already imperiled aquatic invertebrates in more than half of 100 streams studied in the Midwest and Great Plains. The pesticide levels threaten species like the Hine's emerald dragonfly and the sheepnose mussel.

The U.S. Geological Survey study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found an average of 54 pesticides in each stream in both agricultural and urban areas, spotlighting the ever-broadening contamination of waterways caused by the nation's escalating use of pesticides.

"This study exposes the hidden harm of our increasing addiction to pesticides," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "When we see pesticides doing this kind of widespread harm to aquatic animals, we can be sure it has dangerous cascading effects on the entire web of life, including humans."

The analysis of 228 pesticide compounds in 100 streams over a 14-week period in 2013 documented the most complex pesticide mixtures yet reported in U.S. water samples. The waterways included in the study are in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Surprising among the findings was that the concentrations and incidences of some pesticides, including glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—imidacloprid and 2,4-D, were higher in urban waterways than in agricultural settings.

At least one pesticide in more than half of the 100 streams sampled in the Midwest exceeded a toxicity threshold predicted to cause harm to aquatic insects and other stream organisms, ranging from acute effects in 12 streams to chronic effects in 41 streams.

"The finding that many of these pesticides are more prevalent in urban waterways than in rural streams shows the escalating risks of dumping millions of pounds of chemicals on the landscape every year," said Donley. "We simply can't keep pretending it's safe to spray more and more poisons on our fields, gardens and waterways."

The analysis comes as a federal court in California is considering a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, urging common-sense measures to prevent dangerous pesticides from harming endangered species like California condors, black-footed ferrets, arroyo toads, Indiana bats and Alabama sturgeon. Evaluations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clearly show that imperiled wildlife continue to be threatened by pesticides.

The study is the first of five regional assessments by U.S. Geological Survey scientists of pesticide pollution of streams. The others regions are the Southeast, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and California.

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