Hexbyte Glen Cove Richard Leakey, fossil hunter and defender of elephants, dies aged 77

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Legendary paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey remained energetic into his 70s despite health problems.

World-renowned Kenyan conservationist and fossil hunter Richard Leakey, whose groundbreaking discoveries helped prove that humankind evolved in Africa, died on Sunday at the age of 77, the country’s president said.

The legendary paleoanthropologist remained energetic into his 70s despite bouts of skin cancer, kidney and liver disease.

“I have this afternoon… received with deep sorrow the sad news of the passing away of Dr. Richard Erskine Frere Leakey,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement late Sunday.

Born on 19 December, 1944, Leakey was destined for palaeoanthropology—the study of the human fossil record—as the middle son of Louis and Mary Leakey, perhaps the world’s most famous discoverers of ancestral hominids.

Initially, Leakey tried his hand at safari guiding, but things changed when at 23 he won a research grant from the National Geographic Society to dig on the shores of northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, despite having no formal archaeological training.

In the 1970s he led expeditions that recalibrated scientific understanding of human evolution with the discovery of the skulls of Homo habilis (1.9 million years old) in 1972 and Homo erectus (1.6 million years old) in 1975.

A TIME magazine cover followed of Leakey posing with a Homo habilis mock-up under the headline “How Man Became Man”. Then in 1981, his fame grew further when he fronted “The Making of Mankind”, a seven-part BBC television series.

Yet the most famous fossil find was yet to come: the uncovering of an extraordinary, near-complete Homo erectus skeleton during one of his digs in 1984, which was nicknamed Turkana Boy.

At Kenya’s national museum in Nairobi, school children look at the nearly complete skeleton of “Turkana boy”, today 1.6 million years old but aged about eight when he died.

Battling ivory poachers

As the slaughter of African elephants reached a crescendo in the late 1980s, driven by insatiable demand for ivory, Leakey emerged as one of the world’s leading voices against the then legal global ivory trade.

President Daniel arap Moi in 1989 appointed Leakey to lead the national wildlife agency—soon to be named the Kenya Wildlife Service, or KWS.

That year he pioneered a spectacular publicity stunt by burning a pyre of ivory, setting fire to 12 tonnes of tusks to make the point that they have no value once removed from elephants.

He also held his nerve, without apology, when implementing a shoot-to-kill order against armed poachers.

In 1993, his small Cessna plane crashed in the Rift Valley where he had made his name. He survived but lost both legs.

“There were regular threats to me at the time and I lived with armed guards. But I made the decision not to be a dramatist and say: ‘They tried to kill me.’ I chose to get on with life,” he told the Financial Times.

Tonnes of ivory and rhino horn burn on a bonfire in Nairobi in 2016 in an anti-poaching stunt first made popular by Leakey.

Leakey was forced out of KWS a year later and began a third career as a prominent opposition politician, joining the chorus of voices against Moi’s corrupt regime.

His political career met with less success, however, and in 1998 he was back in the fold, appointed by Moi to head Kenya’s civil service, putting him in charge of fighting official corruption.

The task proved impossible, however, and he resigned after just two years.

In 2015, as another elephant poaching crisis gripped Africa, President Kenyatta asked Leakey to again take the helm at KWS, this time as chairman of the board, a position he would hold for three years.

Deputy President William Ruto said Leakey “fought bravely for a better country” and inspired Kenyans with his zeal for public service.

Softly-spoken and seemingly devoid of personal vanity, Leakey stubbornly refused to give in to health woes.

“Richard was a very good friend and a true loyal Kenyan. May he Rest In Peace,” Paula Kahumbu, the head of Wildlife Direct, a conservation group founded by Leakey, posted on Twitter.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Will Beijing’s ‘green Olympics’ really be green?

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A coal-powered power station at Zhangjiakou, one of the Winter Olympic areas.

China wants to use the Beijing Winter Olympics to showcase its green credentials but there are concerns over the environmental cost of a Games relying on artificial snow in one of the driest places in the country.

It is difficult to independently verify Beijing’s claims around the Games, which begin on February 4, and environmentalists told AFP they fear a backlash from authorities if they analyse Beijing’s green targets.

This is what we know:

What is China promising?

China has pledged to power the Games using only wind, hydro and —despite relying on coal to power nearly two-thirds of its economy.

The city of Zhangjiakou, one of the three Olympic hubs, has installed wind farms spanning hundreds of acres that can produce 14 million kilowatts of electricity—similar to the power Singapore can produce.

Authorities have also covered mountain-sides with solar panels that they say will generate another seven million kilowatts.

The Beijing Olympics organising committee told AFP that China built a “dedicated power plant that takes on power generated from renewable sources, stores it and transmits it to all venues”.

This should ensure uninterrupted power supply, it said.

But China’s economy has relied on decades of coal-fuelled growth and is still building more coal-fired power plants than the rest of the world combined.

A snowmaking machine at Genting Snow Park, a venue for the Beijing Olympics.

Will smog affect the Games?

In an attempt to clear Beijing’s notoriously smoggy skies before the Olympics, coal stoves in 25 million households in northern China were replaced with gas or electric. Tens of thousands of factories were also fined for exceeding emissions limits.

Steel plants around Beijing have also been ordered to cut production by half.

The number of heavily polluted days in the Chinese capital fell to 10 in 2020 compared to 43 in 2015, according to the environment ministry—but the city’s air quality still regularly exceeds World Health Organization standards.

A 2015 assessment by Greenpeace said that the “biggest lesson from the 2008 Olympic Games (also in Beijing)… has been the realisation that merely moving dirty industries from Beijing to neighbouring provinces does not bring lasting air-quality improvements”.

What about transport?

Some 655 hydrogen buses will be used to transport athletes and officials during the Winter Games, state news agency Xinhua said.

Organisers said 85 percent of vehicles used for the Games will run on either electricity or hydrogen.

Solar panels on hillsides in Zhangjiakou.

Given that only domestic spectators will be allowed to attend due to the pandemic—and even those numbers look like being very limited—flight emissions are likely to be lower than the average Olympics.

The coronavirus has also greatly reduced the number of international flights to China.

Where will snow come from?

The events in the parched mountains of Zhangjiakou and Yanqing, north of Beijing, will completely rely on man-made snow.

Artificial snow has been used to varying degrees since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

China estimates it will need around 49 million gallons of water to make artificial snow for events such as skiing and snowboarding, according to a 2019 blueprint by the country’s national economic planner.

The water would come from reservoirs in Zhanjiakou, “but would account for less than one percent of the water supply of the city”, a member of the Beijing Olympics organising committee told state-run Global Times.

So-called snow-makers say the water used to make snow contains no chemical additives and when it melts the water will naturally re-enter the soil.

Skiers take a ski lift at the Genting Snow Park.

How viable are winter sports?

The city of Beijing is extremely water-stressed, with 185 cubic metres of water per person per annum for its 21 million inhabitants—less than a fifth of the supply needed per UN standards.

When China won the bid to host the Olympics, one of the key propaganda lines was that it would help put “300 million people on the ice”.

But environmentalists say promoting that rely on artificial ice and snow could worsen the water woes.

Carmen de Jong, of the University of Strasbourg, said: “To have Games in a site or region without snow is unsustainable since it is water- and energy-intensive, damages soil health and causes erosion.

“To create events without the primary resource it depends on is not only unsustainable, it’s irresponsible.”

© 2022 AFP

Will Beijing’s ‘green Olympics’ really be green? (2022, January 3)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Gulf Arab countries on alert for heavy rains

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A bus is engulfed on a flooded road in Kuwait City following torrential rain.

Authorities in several Gulf countries renewed weather warnings on Sunday as several days of heavy rains batter the usually arid region.

Gulf countries usually experience , with the exception of rare and brief episodes of flooding rains between November and January.

Such weather is highly disruptive in the region, where authorities often do not install heavy drainage systems due to the rarity of such precipitation.

Torrential rainfall has hit the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with official WAM news agency saying the bad weather was expected to last until Thursday.

The rain has been exacerbated by cloud seeding, which authorities use to increase usually low and rare rainfall, the national centre of meteorology told AFP.

In the UAE emirate of Sharjah, pedestrians and vehicles were caught up in brown-coloured water. Authorities have not reported any casualties.

Heavy rain has been falling in the vast desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, impacting pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca.

The Saudi civil defence warned that moderate to heavy rain was expected to continue in several regions.

Oman on Saturday had announced “stormy rains of varying intensity” in several regions of the country, and state broadcaster Oman TV showed images of wet roads and rising waters.

Cars are seen in floodwaters in the emirate of Sharjah following heavy rains in the United Arab Emirates, on January 1, 2022.

Authorities in Qatar urged residents to remain vigilant and forecast “stormy rains” and strong winds in several parts of the country from Sunday.

In Kuwait, “generally average intensity” rain was expected through Sunday evening, the official KUNA news agency reported meteorological authorities as saying.

School classes and exams across the country would be suspended on Monday due to the weather, it added.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Mexican fish extinct in wild successfully reintroduced

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In this undated photo provided by The Chester Zoo shows two “tequila splitfin” fish in an aquarium at the Chester Zoo in Chester, England. This fish that swam in the spring-fed waters of west-central Mexico disappeared toward the end of the 20th century, however scientists and local residents have achieved the unthinkable: the return of a species extinct in nature, but conserved in captivity, to its native habitat. Credit: The Chester Zoo via AP

There once was a small fish called “tequila splitfin” or “zoogoneticus tequila” that swam in a river in western Mexico, but disappeared in the 1990s. Scientists and residents, however, have achieved the return of a species extinct in nature—but conserved in captivity—to its native habitat.

Its success is now intertwined with the community’s identity and being touted internationally.

It began more than two decades ago in Teuchitlán, a town near the Tequila volcano. A half-dozen students, among them Omar Domínguez, began to worry about the little that fit in the palm of a hand and had only ever been seen in the Teuchitlán river. It had vanished from local waters, apparently due to pollution, human activities and the introduction of non-native species.

Domínguez, now a 47-year-old researcher at the University of Michoacán, says that then only the elderly remembered the fish called “gallito” or “little rooster” because of its orange tail.

In 1998, conservationists from the Chester Zoo in England and other European institutions arrived to help set up a laboratory for conserving Mexican fish. They brought several pairs of tequila splitfin fish from the aquariums of collectors, Domínguez said.

The fish began reproducing in aquariums and within a few years Domínguez and his colleagues gambled on reintroducing them to the Teuchitlán river. “They told us it was impossible, (that) when we returned them they were going to die.”

So they looked for options. They built an artificial pond for a semi-captivity stage and in 2012 they put 40 pairs there.

Two years later, there were some 10,000 fish. The result guaranteed funding, not only from the Chester Zoo but also a dozen organizations from Europe, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, to move the experiment to the river.

There they studied parasites, microorganisms in the water, the interaction with predators, competition with other fish, and then introduced the fish in floating cages.

The goal was to re-establish the fragile equilibrium. For that part, the key was not so much the scientists as the local residents.

“When I started the environmental education program I thought they were going to turn a deaf ear to us … and at first that happened,” Domínguez said.

But the conservationists succeeded with patience and years of puppet shows, games and explanations about the ecological and health value of “zoogoneticus tequila”—the fish help control mosquitos that spread dengue.

Some residents made up a nickname for the little fish: “Zoogy.” They made caricatures and formed the “River Guardians,” a group mostly of children. They collect garbage, clean the river and remove invasive plants.

Domínguez said it is difficult to say if water quality is better because there is no previous data to compare, but the entire ecosystem has improved. The river is cleaner, there are fewer non- and cattle are no longer permitted to drink in some areas.

The fish rapidly multiplied inside their floating cages. Then they were marked so they could be followed and set free. It was late 2017 and in six months the population increased 55%. Last month, the fish had expanded to another part of the river.

The reintroduction into nature of species that were extinct in the wild is complex and time-consuming. Przewalski’s horse and the Arabian oryx are among successful examples. The Chester Zoo said Dec. 29 that the tequila splitfin had joined that small group.

“The project has been cited as an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for successful global reintroductions – with recent scientific studies confirming the fish are thriving and already breeding in the river,” the zoo said in a statement.

“This is an important moment in the battle for species conservation,” said Gerardo García, the zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates.

The IUCN’s red list of threatened species lists the tequila splitfin as endangered. Mexico’s freshwater ecosystems are under pressure from pollution, over-extraction of water resources and other factors. More than one-third of 536 species of freshwater fish that were assessed in the country are threatened with extinction, according to a 2020 report led by the IUCN and and the ABQ BioPark in the United States.

Still, in Mexico, Domínguez and his team are already beginning work on another fish that is considered extinct in the wild: the “skiffia francesae.” The Golden Skiffia could some day join “Zoogy” in the Teuchitlán river.

© 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Three people missing in Colorado wildfire

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On Dec 31, 2021 firefighters walk near a home destroyed by a wildfire in Boulder County, Colorado.

Three people are missing after a wildfire tore through several Colorado towns, quickly destroying nearly 1,000 homes as part of the latest in a string of US natural disasters.

“We’re very fortunate that we don’t have a list of 100 missing. But unfortunately we do have three confirmed missing people,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle told a press conference.

At least 991 homes are thought to have been destroyed as the blaze raced through the towns of Superior and Louisville on Thursday, just outside the state’s biggest city Denver, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee with little notice.

Shocking aerial footage showed whole streets as little more than piles of smoking ash, destruction that appeared almost total but somehow left a few homes oddly untouched.

Pelle said the search for the missing had been hampered by the destruction and snow.

“The structures where these folks would be are completely destroyed and covered with about eight inches (20 centimeters) of snow right now.”

Investigators found no credible evidence to back earlier reports that downed may have caused the , with Pelle stating that some residents may have been confused by downed telecom lines.

However, investigators have “executed a in one particular location” as part of an ongoing investigation that Pelle described as “very active” and comprising federal and state partners.

Louie Delaware embraces his wife Judy as his daughter Elise embraces her fiance McGregor Ritter after returning to the remains of their home in Louisville, Colorado on December, 31, 2021.

The fire, which was sparked in a tinder-dry landscape, was then fanned by winds gusting at more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour on Thursday.

“This was a disaster in fast motion… over the course of half a day. Many families having minutes to get whatever they could—their pets, their kids—into the car and leave,” Governor Jared Polis said, “just as in the blink of an eye.”

At least 33,000 people in Superior and Louisville were told to flee, many doing so with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Pelle said he spoke to the granddaughter of one of the missing on Saturday morning.

“They’re trying to find grandma. And we’re trying to find grandma for her,” he said. “But the conditions right now don’t make that possible to do quickly.”

While snowfall had helped extinguish the fire, it was a “hard thing for , and recovery efforts and damage assessments,” Pelle said.

Debris lies scattered in the basement of a home destroyed by wildfire in unincorporated Boulder County, Colorado on December, 31, 2021.

The fire, which occurred just before the New Year’s holiday, follows mid-December tornadoes in the state of Kentucky that left dozens dead and thousands of families in crisis mode ahead of Christmas.

Although fires are a natural part of the climate cycle and help to clear dead brush, their scale and intensity are increasing.

Scientists say a warming climate, chiefly caused by human activities such as the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, is altering weather patterns.

© 2022 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove France bans plastic packaging for fruit and veg

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No more plastic bags and packaging for many fruits and veg in France.

A ban on the use of plastic to package a range of fruit and vegetables came into force in France on Saturday, to the dismay of the sector’s packaging industry.

Environmentalists have long campaigned against as pollution worsens globally while President Emmanuel Macron has backed the move defending a “pragmatic” approach.

The October decree covers for example the sale of under 1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs) of apples.

However, the full legislation will not be applied until 2026, allowing firms to adapt, including on the sale of red fruits considered fragile.

Six months has also been granted to use up existing plastic packaging stocks.

“We were never consulted,” complained Laurent Grandin, head of the fruit and vegetable sector’s Interfel association.

He told AFP the costs were “insurmountable” for small companies who would have to keep using plastic to protect exports, notably to Britain, a major client for apples.

Pomanjou produces up to 40,000 tonnes of apples annually in the Loire valley and has over the last three years introduced 100 percent cardboard packing.

However packing costs have as a result soared 20 to30 percent, said company representative Arnaud de Puineuf.

Big supermarket group Casino said it will now sell tomatoes in cardboard packaging and provide customers with paper or cellulose bags.

The packaging companies say the October 8 decree caught them by surprise, particularly the ban on recycled plastics.

“We have client firms … who will have to stop their fruit and vegetable packing activity, even though they have been working on alternatives using less plastic or recycled plastic for several years,” said a statement from the Elipso association that represents manufacturers.

‘Market distortion’

Elipso and Polyvia, a union covering 3,500 firms making packaging, have appealed to France’s State Council, which has jurisdiction over administrative disputes, against what they say is a distortion of European markets as the ban applies solely to France.

But Armand Chaigne, director of industrial markets at packaging firm DS Smith, sees the benefits, notably for cardboard manufacturers.

“It is estimated that in Europe, out of the eight million tonnes of plastic produced per year for single-use packaging, 1.5 million tonnes could already be removed,” he said.

“That represents about 70 billion units of single-use “, or “about seven billion euros ($7.9 billion) of additional turnover potential for cardboard.”

© 2022 AFP

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