A tiny animal known to thrive throughout Africa and Asia, pangolins are as fascinating as they are bizarre. Covered in scales from head to toe, the pangolin feeds on ants and termites which it catches through a prolonged tongue, eating nothing else from the environment. Due to their unusual bodies and beautiful scales, the pangolin has become one of the most trafficked mammals on the planet. Already critically endangered, pangolin smugglers often ship the animal’s scales into China for profit on the black market and use through traditional Asian medicine.
Setting his sights on helping such a critically endangered species, Thai Van Nguyen would score international honors from the Goldman Environmental Prize, a grassroots award offered to environmental activists from all over the world.
Earning the Goldman Environmental Prize
Established in 1989, the Goldman Environmental Frize was founded by Rhoda and Richard Goldman in the city of San Francisco. For more than 32 years, the Prize has been offered to grassroots activists working day and night to benefit and protect the planet. Environmental activists from every inhabited continental region in the world compete for the top honors, with more than 206 winners spread across 92 nations at the time of this writing.
Susie Gelman is the V.P. at the Goldman Environmental Foundation and it was through a press release that she honored past recipients of the prize. Focusing on the importance of the work they are advocating for Gelman stated, “The global community of leaders, thinkers, and philanthropists is only growing and becoming more sophisticated, united, and powerful.”
Gelman went on to describe how each prize winner has played an immeasurable role in helping the planet move forward, focusing on the “balance with nature” that Gelman believes is the key to survival.
Meet Thai Van Nguyen; International Eco-Activist
With a workmanlike dedication to fighting the good fight, Thai Van Nguyen has been working in pangolin conservation since 2015. The founder of Vietnam Wildlife, Thai, and his team have personally accounted for the rescue of at least 1,540+ pangolins since their work began.
In addition to saving many at-risk pangolins from international trade, Thai was integral to establishing Vietnam’s first-ever anti-poaching unit. This anti-poaching unit has helped to significantly address illegal activities that were prevalent throughout Pu Mat National Park. Thai’s efforts helped to lead his anti-poaching unit to destroy over 9,700 animal traps, 775 illegal camps, and 78 guns. The anti-poaching unit that was established would also help lead to the arrest of 558 poachers in 7 years.
Before he was an international icon and environmental hero, Thai Van Nguyen was just another child growing up near Cuc Phuong National Park. It was there that Thai saw a baby pangolin and its mother trapped and killed by poachers. Since then, his efforts have been entirely focused on putting an end to the practice. To accomplish this task, Nguyen decided to embark upon a multi-pronged campaign to educate the public of Vietnam while stressing the importance of conserving the pangolin population.
Nguyen would begin conservation efforts by deploying an education campaign, discussing how to rescue and treat pangolins while also contributing to peer-reviewed journals and international workshops. Eventually, Nguyen would help engineer the opening of the Carnivore and Pangolin Education Center, a true first-of-its-kind establishment in the region. Through the non-profit, Nguyen has helped to educate guards, rangers, students, locals, and customs officials on how to properly care for pangolins.
Despite Nguyen’s heroic efforts, the past decade has seen more than 1 million pangolins poached worldwide, with Vietnam a particularly notable hotbed for the activities.
Doctor Runs To Hospital To Perform Surgery After Being Stuck In Dead Stop Traffic
Doctors are trained to deal with the fact that the decisions and procedures they handle can, at times, literally be the difference between someone living longer or passing away. It is one of the primary reasons doctors swear to the Hippocratic Oath, to do all they can to help preserve life and never do anything to the opposite of that. So, for Dr. Govind Nandakumar, when he needed to make it timely to a surgery he was scheduled to handle, there wasn’t going to be any ambiguity about it. He was going to be there, period.
Unfortunately, Bengaluru traffic isn’t conducive to timeliness. In fact, most times the congested city’s main traffic routes are a plugged-up mess of scooters, cars, busses, trucks and cabs all trying to get somewhere but going nowhere fast. When Nandakumar found himself in the middle of one such traffic jam, the decision was simple: get out and run. He wasn’t worried about his car; Nandakumar had a dedicated driver with the vehicle, so it would be taken care of. The bigger issue that mattered was getting across the 3 kilometers between where he was at and where the surgery was going to be shortly.
Trying to get to Manipal Hospital, Nandakumar knew no amount of waiting was going to free up the car. What would normally take 10 minutes to travel by car was clearly going to be more than four times that, according to his phone and Google map. So, on the street Nandakumar went, and he began running. Fortunately, he was already in good shape; Nandakumar regularly exercised, so the 3 km distance wasn’t going to be a hassle or extreme challenge for him. He was just going to be a bit sweaty getting into the medical offices.
The decision was the right one. Not only did Nandakumar make it in time for the surgery, he successfully took care of an emergency gastric surgery that had the potential to be terminal for the patient had it not been addressed immediately. In the big scheme of things, Manipal Hospital had enough staff who could have stepped in and pinch-hit for Nandakumar had he been late. However, the doctor’s dedication to his patients was paramount. At other times, the surgery could be at far smaller hospitals, and in those situations Nandakumar would be the only doctor available.
Nandakumar knows, despite his quick action in the latest scenario, the story doesn’t always work out so well. Patients are oftentimes trapped in ambulances stuck in traffic, close enough to know they are near, but the distance might as well be across the Grand Canyon for the patient sitting in the vehicle. In those instances, the doctor knows some cases have not ended so well; the traffic remains the curse of the modern world as a result.
Teen Builds a Better Poacher Trap￼￼
When traveling, people continue to be shocked by how prevalent poaching actually is, even in this day and age. That was the case for Anika Puri when she first saw widespread poaching product selling in black markets in India in the 2020s. The teenager was well aware that ivory was illegal and only came from illegally killing elephants, but there it was, plain as day, in the market stalls of what was Bombay at the time. Coming from Chappaqua, NY, the teen was going through a bit of a wakeup call by immersion in terms of what she was seeing and trying to reconcile with the ethics she had been taught at home about animal protection.
The sight triggered something in Anika, and she kept thinking about what was going on. Clearly, poachers were still successful doing their trade if the markets remained as full as they were in India. So, with the Internet and a bit of persistence, Anika was digging into the truth of the situation – elephant populations were continuing to drop in the 2000s instead of growing again, despite all the protection.
Anika was already a student of technology, and she realized there was a possible marriage between drones and technology, particularly in how animals versus humans moved across the landscape. They were vividly different in movement patterns as well as nuances. That made the traffic patterns identifiable, which gave Anika a functional idea. She began putting effort into building a software program that could both detect poachers as well as anticipate their movement patterns. Creating EISa, a software acronym for the program’s name, Elephant Savior, Anika built a prototype that tracked and spotted infrared signatures of humans versus elephants. And, with her research and field application, she was able to prove it could boost detection of poachers by 400 percent over other methods being used.
Even better, Anika’s solution was cost-effective. Normally, high-detail cameras cost thousands, with a lot of risk being put on a drone and potentially being lost on every flight. Instead, Anika’s prototype could be installed on a $250 FLIR camera, operated and run on the drone with a basic iPhone 6 mobile device. In essence, the teen built a low-cost poacher tracker that could fly, spot, and reliably perform in the field.
The development and prototype was so effective and impressive, Anika won the Peggy Scripps Award, as well as a $10,000 prize for her invention, competing against other high schoolers. She also scored the top title in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, in its category for environmental science and earth sciences.
Where did the idea come from? A lot of it was generated from a catalyst associated with a summer program at Stanford University when Anika had just finished her freshman year. There she got exposed to artificial intelligence, and the door in her mind opened up exponentially. She also realized the possibilities of data bias inherent in how technology works when designed by humans, and that gave her the edge in developing her poacher tracker program. One thing leads to another, and just the small movement of a pebble can create an avalanche of change. In Anika’s case, that pebble was her first visit to India and seeing the negative impacts of poaching. From there, the story is history now.
An Eagle Surrogate Mother for a Falcon￼￼
When eagles snap up something small, there is a 99.999% chance it’s going to be dinner. The raptor is an agile, winged predator, focused on either finding a mate, finding a meal, or raising eagle chicks. So, when an eagle scooped up an errant baby falcon, there was no question from observers, as the prey was dropped in the eagle’s nest, it was being observed that it was going to be the next meal for the resident baby eagles, torn apart by the mother and fed to the chicks. However, something weird happened next.
For a moment, the mother eagle hesitated. And in that moment, the grown predator decided to adopt the baby falcon as its own instead of having it for dinner. This Canadian miracle was literally caught on camera because the eagle’s nest was being observed with a positioned camera and live streaming on the Internet. As a result, a slew of observers watched an event happen that never should have occurred.
The whole crazy matter was confirmed by Pam MacCartney, a long-term volunteer in conservation who helped with the eagle nest observation and protection of the eagles on Gabriola Island. She herself watched the event play out during one of her shifts, shocked as it turned out to be a positive versus the predictable natural end for the prey. Researchers suspect that the recent immediate loss of one of the eagle chicks right after being born may have had something to do with the eagle mother’s change of heart. When the baby falcon scuttled about, the mother eagle watched, and so did her other chick. There was no attack from her or the pair of eagle chicks in the nest already. Within a half day, all of them were acting as if everything was normal and the falcon was just another eagle chick.
The eagle family has been studied for weeks, acting in every other aspect as a regular eagle’s nest without an exception.
Researchers have confirmed this odd adoption isn’t the first of its kind. In fact, it has been seen previously by researchers who’ve been in ornithology science for decades. Occasionally, eagles adopt other raptors, but it is extremely rare. The chicks have continued to grow as a complete family, and now they are all learning how to fly. Eventually, they will all separate, but the adopted falcon will definitely be unique. And it might even find an eagle for a mate.
The Return of Luigi the Wayward Dog￼
Sitting on the northern border of the U.S. with Canada is a zone called the Boundary Waters. It’s wilderness, pure and simple. Huge forests span large geographic areas, and it’s very, very easy for a person to get lost. If involving a dog, a search might have better luck looking for a needle in a haystack, as the saying goes.
Luigi, a big black fun ball of canine at six years, managed to become the subject of a search that lasted almost a month. The doofy dog somehow figured out how to survive and not get seriously hurt or attacked during that whole time, as well as finding his way back to his owner, one Zane Brunette. How Luigi ended up in the forests in the first place started with a camping trip.
Brunette brought his dog along with him for a bit of exposure to the wilderness. Unfortunately, the dog’s curiosity got the better of the canine during the stay, and Luigi got separated within the first day. Brunette thinks the trigger was actually caused by some characters they came across on the Sawbill Trail who seemed a bit fishy to begin with. Chocking up the possibility of a potential dognapping motive, Luigi was probably lured, and Brunette never had enough time to figure out what happened before Luigi was gone.
Brunette spent hours the first day hollering and looking for the dog. Logically, the owner knew his dog had disappeared, but emotionally, he just kept going until becoming exhausted looking for Luigi. The initial search went on for a number of days, with fliers posted, and asking questions of anyone in the area who might have seen the canine. Unfortunately, there was no hint or sign of Luigi. Ultimately, Brunette had to leave.
At one point, a resort owner thought he saw the dog and called Brunette. That location was at least 45 miles distant from where the campsite had been. Clearly, the dog had traveled or been moved. However, the owner turned out to actually have the dog, as Brunette answered and got details, and he hopped in his vehicle to go see. At the resort, Brunette immediately called out to Luigi, and the dog responded. There was no question who his owner was.
Looking the dog over after the initial excitement, Brunette was amazed how Luigi had stayed in such good condition. There was no sign of ticks, serious injuries, scratches, animal fights or anything to show the stay in the wilderness had been hard except for weight loss. The dog had clearly not eaten during the time he was gone, losing a solid 15 pounds of mass. Now, Luigi is busy recuperating and putting those pounds back on, but the whole event still has Brunette a bit jittered.
Suspecting the dog thieves realized the dog was older than they thought, Luigi was probably dumped after a while and left on his own. Given the canine’s disposition to being around people, Luigi made his way to whoever seemed friendly enough to give him water and food. Someone made the connection to Brunette’s lost dog fliers, and Luigi got found again.
A Blood-Clotting Gel Created from Deadly Snake Venom￼
Biology has advanced well beyond just the study of nature and its huge portfolio of animals and plants. Now, another driving demand for research involves finding ways to utilize natural products for medicine and body care as well. One of the latest products now starting to come through development is a natural gel that helps stop serious bleeding, a serious cure for folks who are anemic or badly injured.
Researchers based in programs of study in Australia created a new gel that literally helps blood clot in under 60 seconds. The University of Queensland research has ground-breaking promise, especially in the world of trauma, where paramedics have to act quickly to help prevent a patient from bleeding out on the way to the hospital from serious injuries. The key ingredient for the new gel comes from Australia’s own biological contribution, the eastern brown snake. This particular creature is unique to the southern hemisphere. However, the product also needs the venom from the saw-scaled viper, found in Africa as well as Asia. Mixed together correctly, the snake venom protein elements work together on blood, creating a bonding sealant.
The creation of the blood-clotting gel is a game-changer. More than one out of three bad trauma cases that end in mortality happen due to bleeding out. There simply isn’t enough time to stop the wound before the patient expires. In combat zones, the need is extreme. Tourniquets slow things partially to minutes, but patients are still lost at a high rate from blood loss and shock. Bandages do nothing to help blood clots to stop the flow. They just absorb it and block the flow until saturated. The body itself is the primary blockage if it can have enough leverage to clot. If the body can get the valuable time, it can form a fibrous clot at the point of loss, and healing can begin within hours.
The pairing of the snake venoms is both amazing as well as intentional. One helps the blood clot and plug up when applied. The other bonds and strengthens the clot material, making it stronger and able to withstand internal pressure versus breaking again. Both are critical to stopping a massive blood loss wound like that in an artery.
Normally, such snake venom injected into the body by a snake would be harmful, even deadly. Local tissue starts to immediately starve and swell from clotting and blood circulation loss, which can become critical with a snake bite. The difference between the gel versus a snakebit is the degree of application. The gel is a far smaller amount of both snakes’ venoms, which doesn’t inhibit the patient’s circulation.
The speed of assistance is amazing. In tests on lab animals, gel-assisted clots formed solid in about a minute. Normal blood clotting could take as long as eight minutes. Most people will bleed out in less than three for comparison. More notably, the gel worked even when being applied to blood that had common blood thinner chemicals mixed in.
While not available on the direct market due to required medical product testing, many expect that Queensland’s creation will be a huge help in the medical world, and its approval is just a matter of time. The application potential is multiple, ranging from lacerations to serious burns and bodily trauma, and the publication of the tests so far is raising eyebrows and interest worldwide.
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