Former NBA player and Chinese superstar Yao Ming has a new gig as a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit organization WildAid, who recently brought him to Kenya to
make all of our photo dreams come true "document the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants, as a result of Asian demand for rhino horn and ivory." One unintended consequence of his visit was to make everything in the country appear comically small.
Above, he towers over a baby elephant named Kinango, whose mother was killed by ivory poachers. "He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength," Yao writes on his blog.
But Yao isn't just surrounded by tiny elephants. He's also accompanied by a number of diminuitive elderly men.
You can read more about Yao's adventures in Africa on his blog.
Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
Chinese state media reported today that the country has started its once-a-decade panda census, the fourth tallying of the endangered species since it first began in the 1970s. 70 panda trackers are being trained during a pilot survey in the Wanglang National Reserve, in the city of Mianyang, in Sichuan province. According to Yang Xuyu, a forestry official, that particular nature reserve is believed to have the largest number of wild pandas in the country.
Before you get so jealous of these panda trackers' jobs that you quit your own, know that much of panda tracking actually involves collecting panda droppings for DNA analysis. This allows zoologists to monitor individual pandas and then estimate the number of pandas living in the wild. According to Xinhua, the census will not only count pandas, but also determine their living conditions, age, and habitat state.
The last official census counted 1,596 wild pandas in China -- 1,206 living in Sichuan, including 230 in the Wanglang reserve and nearby areas. There are another 290 pandas living in captivity worldwide.
And yes, we'll take this excuse to post some more cute panda photos (most of these guys live at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Conservation Center):
Getty Images, LILIAN WU/AFP/Getty Images, STR/AFP/Getty Images
Zut alors! The EU's highest court has an announcement:
In 2008, France did not take adequate measures to protect the European Hamster in Alsace.
That's the verdict released by the Court of Justice in Luxembourg today in a lawsuit brought by the European Commission in 2009 about Western Europe's last wild hamster, the European Hamster, known also as the Great Hamster of Alsace. And the court is threatening fines to back the verdict up:
If France does not adjust its agricultural and urbanization policies sufficiently to protect [the European Hamster], the court said, the government will be subject to fines of as much as $24.6 million.
Not to cast doubt on the wisdom of the court, but it didn't hurt the Great Hamsters that they're all so darn cute. Research published in Human Ecology suggests that cute endangered animals -- excuse me, "charismatic megafauna" -- get more attention than, well, "uncharismatic" ones. That extra support has already paid dividends for the Hawaiian Monk Seal, and lawyers fighting for the American pika will no doubt also be counting on their client's stunning good looks.
The purple burrowing frog, on the other hand? Don't bet on it.
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is known for loving both cute things and adrenaline, so it's no surprise that he has taken to movie star Leonardo DiCaprio like a puppy to a new chew-toy. DiCaprio landed in St. Petersburg earlier this week to attend a tiger-conservation conference, but his journey to Russia was rife with excitement. His first Russia-bound plane was forced to make an emergency landing in New York after an engine failure. His second plane had to stop in Finland for unscheduled refueling because of strong headwinds.
According to the Telegraph, Putin spotted DiCaprio in the audience and deviated from his set speech to praise DiCaprio as a "real man" noting that "a person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign - that it was not worth going."
DiCaprio apparently was also feeling the love, telling Putin about his Russian heritage. (A Russian film producer, noting Leo's uncanny resemblence to Vladimir Lenin, is reportedly looking to cast the Inception star as a re-animated version of the Soviet revolutionary in an upcoming sci-fi film.)
With all this love in the air, the tigers were not left out. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the International Tiger Conservation Forum ended with the approval of the Global Tiger Recovery Program, which aims to double the number of tigers in the wild. DiCaprio personally donated $1 million for tiger conservation (which should also make Malia
Of course, Putin's feelings about tigers are already well-known.
Russia is one of 13 countries where tigers still exist in the wild, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.
It seems the very adorable Asiatic black bears of Kashmir are one group that is pleased by all the conflict there. Authorities estimate that their population has gone from 800 in 1990 to 3,000 now. They (and other endangered species in the area, presumably) are benefiting it seems from lingering fear of violence, which stops poachers and hunters, as well as the dearth of hunting rifles after the Indian authorities confiscated them as an attempt to quell the separatist revolt that started twenty years ago.
So where humans die (47,000 in this case) animals win? Not precisely. It was only a few months ago that press reports worried about the impact the army and paramilitary troops deployed in the area has on endangered species such as the Snow Leopard. And others are talking about a "man-animal conflict" across the region, with some articles talking about 5 deaths and 80 humans injured this year. One bear even joined the human conflict and killed a couple of militants earlier this month. Not that the humans are staying above the fray, as one bear found out when he was burnt to death by a frenzied Kashmir mob in 2006.
It looks like conflict itself is terrible for wildlife, and happens disproportionately in biodiversity hotspots. One study found that 80 percent of the armed conflicts between 1950-2000 took place in these areas important to maintaining plant and animal diversity. Detrimental effects on population and habitat, such as those suffered by the DRC's gorilla population are well known.
The bright side, looking at the Kashmir bear evidence and the Korean DMZ, seems to be that when conflict pauses, the animals benefit as well as the humans.
ROB ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
Iraqi supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr step on U.S. flags after Friday prayer services on Feb. 6 in the Sadr City district of Baghdad. At the time, preliminary results of Iraq's Jan. 31 provincial elections showed that the Sadrists received only 9 percent of the vote in Baghdad.
Related content: FP's photo essay, "Election Time in Iraq"
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images
Attention D.C. residents: You know that bamboo plant livening up your office? It's needed for panda food.
The National Zoo has run critically low on bamboo and might run out before the winter ends. The zoo harvests bamboo on its premises and at other locations in the area, but for unknown reasons, the stands aren't regrowing normally.
The three furry balls of cuteness are on loan from China. Let's hope this bamboo shortage doesn't adversely affect U.S.-China relations. Fortunately, there are some promising signs: The zoo has received many offers since issuing its appeal. However, for the bamboo to be accepted, it must meet specific criteria:
By the way, check out the panda cam.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
If you'll be traveling on Tokyo's subway this week, prepare for a simian encounter. This morning, a wild monkey scampered around ticket machines and perched itself on top of the electronic departures-and-arrivals board at Shibuya station, one of the city's busiest.
About 30 police officers tried to coax the creature down (no word on whether bananas were used as a lure), while commuters recorded videos on their cellphones. In the end, the monkey got away, bolting out of the station with TV crews hot on its tail.
It was one of several recent sightings of wild monkeys in Tokyo. The simians normally live in mountains far outside the city. In rural areas, they are considered a crop-ravaging menace, a problem also encountered in India, where earlier this year one state announced a plan to train youths to sterilize monkeys with lasers.
In other animal news:
Here's some lunchtime fun for you.
Sumo wrestlers coaxed 80 babies, all less than a year old, to cry at last Sunday's annual baby-crying contest at Sensoji temple in Tokyo. The tiny winners are determined by who cries first and who wails the loudest. Participating Japanese parents apparently believe the sumo-induced cries are beneficial, with the babies crying out a wish for good health. At the very least, it probably exercises the lungs.
Some babies reportedly refused to cooperate and stayed silent or even dared to laugh in the wrestlers' faces. Or, at least, that was the case until the wrestlers resorted to slipping on their scary masks.
Earlier this month, the documentary version of FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím's bestselling book Illicit aired on the TV channel PBS in the United States. The film and book documents how -- as the book's subtitle says -- "smugglers, traffickers, and copycats are hijacking the global economy."
Those copycats who profit off pirated DVDs had better be careful, though. The doggy duo of Lucky and Flo are out to get them. The black Labs are the first canines to have been trained to sniff out the polycarbonates found in DVDs and CDs. Although they can't differentiate between legit and pirated discs, their noses lead human investigators to discs that are hidden in cargo that has been declared as having other items, such as clothing. Lucky and Flo have been so successful that they've even received death threats from crime syndicates.
Check out a video of the furry crime fighters here:
BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM: Helen Park, an avid collector, adjusts her My Little Ponies as they are displayed at the International My Little Pony Convention at the Redwood Hotel and Country Club near Bristol on October 26, 2007, in England. Fans of the toys were in the city to celebrate 25 years Of My Little Pony (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
There's a convention for everything these days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is known for bringing out in public his beloved dog Koni, a black Labrador retriever. In fact, he has even used his large dog to intimidate German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is reportedly scared of dogs due to a childhood biting incident.
Putin has also revealed a macho "my dog is bigger than yours" mentality in ridiculing U.S. President George W. Bush's Scottish terrier, Barney. When Bush once visited Putin's summer home, Koni came running out, and Putin said to Bush, "Bigger, tougher, stronger, faster, meaner—than Barney."
But Putin's little secret is that he has a special place in his heart for the most unmacho of dogs, his poodle Tosya. Putin has tried to keep his fondness for Tosya hidden, ever since news of the poodle made some Russian men perceive him as a wimp. (Today, Tosya is conveniently described as belonging to Putin's wife Lyudmila.) And the poodle is pampered. A 2005 interview with Tosya's hairdresser revealed that the poodle's fur is trimmed "in lion's style" once or twice a month for 150 euros ($213 at today's exchange rate) per trim.
Photos of Tosya have been extremely difficult to come by, but Scottish Terrier and Dog News, the authoritative source for news on Scotties and other canine-related matters, which has been following the story closely, recently announced that a photo has finally emerged. The photo, included here, shows Putin in the throes of affection with Tosya. So much for ridiculing Barney!
Yesterday, Indian students dressed as members of India's independence movement for a program marking the 138th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth. Earlier this year, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 2, Gandhi's birthday, as the International Day of Non-Violence (I guess they didn't get the memo in Iraq and Burma).
Interestingly, in a survey published last year by the Economic Times newspaper, 37 percent of Indian management students and young business leaders said today's biggest icon was Bill Gates. Gandhi trailed at 30 percent. Seventy-four percent of the young business leaders and 61 percent of the students said people of their generation could not relate to the father of the nation. Fifty-six percent said it was time to reinvent Gandhi.
On the right: A young boy in a traditional Bavarian costume Oktober-rests in a cart during the Costume and Rifleman's Parade Sunday in Munich, Germany. The procession, which features oompah bands and people in Bavarian costumes, takes place annually on the first Sunday of Munich's Oktoberfest beer festival, which this year began on Saturday and lasts until Oct. 7.
Other highlights from the opening weekend include:
The idea of monarchies may seen quaint and anachronistic, and a recent FP List, "King for a Day or Two" even examines some of the royal families whose time may be coming to an end.
But it seems the public's fascination with royalty will never die. All the pageantry, intrigue, and fairy-tale qualities associated with kings, queens, princes, and princesses infatuates us. For many, a world without monarchies just wouldn't be as fun. (And it would probably put Hello magazine out of business.)
Following the 10-year anniversary of Princess Diana's death, the most recent example of the public's obsession with royalty is today's celebration of Japanese Prince Hisahito's first birthday. Last year, he was the first male heir to be born in more than four decades, relieving a succession crisis in a country where only males can ascend to the throne. Today, photos of His Cuteness were splashed across newspapers' front pages. Articles about the royal birthday detail the 30-inch, 20.4-pound prince's impressive skills, which include crawling on stairs, playing the xylophone, and turning pages of picture books all by himself.
Of course, the attraction changes from cuteness to romance once royal children hit adulthood. Forbes magazine, famous for its ranking of the world's richest people, just produced a list of the "world's most eligible royals," complete with a slide show.
We just don't want the fairy tales to ever end, leaving the royals to live happily ever after.
Question: How do you discipline bad cops who litter, arrive late, park where they aren't supposed to, and commit other misdemeanors?
Answer: Make them wear Hello Kitty armbands as punishment.
In Thailand, police officers who behave badly will now have to wear a hot pink armband—picturing Hello Kitty sitting on two hearts—as a mark of shame. A police official explained the rationale by saying: "[Hello] Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It's not something macho police officers want covering their biceps."
The only concession is that officers receiving the armband punishment will have to stay in the division office all day. They won't have to wear Hello Kitty in public.
President Bush has kept his dance moves mostly under wraps for six years, preferring, it seems, to let subordinates step into the limelight when the music comes on. At a recent White House event on combating malaria, though, the president just couldn't help himself. His rhythmic stylings are today's Thursday Video. Personally, I think he's got Karl Rove's moves beat.
CISARUA, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 26: Dema (male) the 26-day-old endangered Sumatran Tiger cub cuddles up to 5-month-old female Orangutan, Irma at the 'Taman Safari Indonesia' Animal Hospital, on February 26, 2007 in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java, Indonesia. Irma and another orangutan have been rejected by their mothers while two Sumatran tiger-cubs (including Dema) also born in the hospital, have also been rejected by their mother Cicis and are being looked after by staff at the Animal Hospital.
Meet Prince Pickles, the new face of Japan's increasingly active military, known as the Self-Defense Forces for constitutional reasons.
The cute, manga-like cartoon character is intended to construct a non-threatening image of Japan's military. For the past few years, the Japanese military has been seeking a more assertive global role, and will be the platform from which Japan can become a "normal" country in the wake of its strict postwar pacifism.
Prince Pickles is our image character because he's very endearing, which is what Japan's military stands for," said Defense Ministry official Shotaro Yanagi. "He's our mascot and appears in our pamphlets and stationery."
Not surprisingly, the military's efforts to adopt innocuous-looking symbols has raised suspicions that Japan is cloaking darker ambitions, but the government insists that such imaging serves to create cultural understanding and help Japan's efforts in the military theater. In Japan's Iraq mission (where it deployed 600 noncombatant troops in its first military mission since the Second World War), water trucks were decorated with Japan's globally popular cartoon characters, and "everybody loved it," according to Foreign Ministry official Aki Tsuda. Not a single truck was attacked in the two and half year mission, which Japanese officials attribute to the cartoons rather than the fact that the deployment area was largely free of violence.
Well, we have an update now: Eighteen of the fuzzy balls of cuteness have been given names at a special ceremony. The most popular names were Tao Tao ("playful" in Mandarin) and Huan Huan ("happiness").
To see more photos of how China is just crawling with pandas, check out this slideshow and brace yourself for an overload of cuteness.
Women following the Chinese lunar calendar may hear their biological clocks ticking a whole lot louder: February 18 marks the beginning of what is widely believed to be the Year of the Golden Pig. What's so special about the Year of the Golden Pig, you ask?
Babies born in the "year of the golden pig" are believed to have good fortune and will lead a comfortable and wealthy life. [...]
People who believe in the year of the golden pig say the special year comes every 600 years. They came to this conclusion through calculations, using a combination of the Chinese zodiac and the yin and yang theory.
Chinese culture has had an enormous influence on Korea over the centuries. So this year promises to be a boon for both Chinese and Korean wedding planners and obstetricians as they handle an influx of potentially lucky infants. Regardless of whether it's just superstition or not, the impact on Korean society has been enormous. The birthrate is expected to rise 10 percent from the previous average, fueling a baby boom not seen since, well, the millennium birthing frenzy of 2000.
Call it the Panda, Inc. phenomenon: Threatened species attract attention, but not in direct proportion to the threat they face. The World Wildlife Fund didn't choose the panda over the Hispaniolan solenodon for its logo by way of scientific method. Pandas are big business, because everyone loves the cuddly black-and-white furballs. Just ask the China National Tourist Office, and closer to home for me, the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
For those of us concerned with biodiversity—which should be everyone, given the stark implications of a worldwide ecosystem collapse—this presents a problem. How can we attract scarce dollars and attention to lower-profile animals like, say, the cave snail, who may not be cute, but is a key player in the global food chain? Here are my top four suggestions:
The 2006 Robot Awards have just been handed out in Tokyo and this year, aids for the elderly took top prizes. Paro, this furry little robotic seal used for therapy in nursing homes, took the service prize at the Japanese government-sponsored awards. I supposed Paro is meant to be a friend for the lonely, much like a real pet, since it responds to its name, coos, and reacts to petting. A feeding machine was also honored, another sign that Japan is hoping robots will help care for its rapidly aging population. Forty percent of Japan will be 65 or older by 2055.
But robot innovations this year weren't simply geared toward the elderly. There was also the giant vacuum:
Other robots to be honoured at the ceremony included a huge autonomous vacuum cleaner that moves around Tokyo skyscrapers at night, clearing up after office workers.
And the robot salesgirl (she's on the right, folks):
We're not quite sure if these photos qualify as FP-related, but we couldn't resist. Meet Thumbelina, the world's tiniest horse, who made a brief appearance at the Big Apple Circus in NYC yesterday. Seriously, people. Look at that face. Doesn't it look like it's capable of inspiring world peace?
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