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Myanmar’s Smiling Turtles Survive Near Extinction

Sarrah M

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A species of giant Asian river turtle previously thought to be extinct about 20 years ago has been saved as scientists breed a population of a few surviving members to almost 1,000. The Burmese roofed turtle are endemic to Myanmar, and are quite famous for a comical grin on their faces- a physical feature that has earned them the name “smiling turtles.”

Initially grown in captivity, some of Myanmar’s smiling turtles have been released into the wild over the past 5 years. 

“We came so close to losing them,” said Steven G. Platt, a herpetologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “If we didn’t intervene when we did, this turtle would have just been gone.”

The Burmese roofed turtle is one of many turtle species that face a high risk of extinction, and the scientists in Myanmar may have just scored a very vital point in keeping them around. In ancient times, hundreds of these special turtles were always found cooling off at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River south of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. However, due to an increase in fishing and indiscriminate trapping techniques, Burmese roofed turtles faced extinction since as early as the mid-20th century. To make it worse, reckless harvesting of their eggs hindered the natural cycle of population growth and propagation of the species which further escalated extinction.

For many years, researchers, scientists, and tourists believed the species to be extinct. There were no traces or indications of Burmese turtles, so it was only right to assume the worst. 

But surprisingly, a live specimen surfaced in a market in Hong Kong in the 90’s and subsequently found its way to an American collector, who still has it in his possession.

“When the species showed up in a pet shop in Hong Kong, it raised a lot of eyebrows,” said Rick Hudson, president of the Turtle Survival Alliance. “There were a number of local dealers smuggling star tortoises out of Burma at that time, so we just assumed it had been smuggled out by the same traders.”

Sights of the smiling turtles in the region sparked a glimmer of hope, and it motivated Gerald Kuchling, a biologist now at the University of Western Australia, to obtain permission to coordinate a joint expedition with the Myanmar Forest Department to study and examine the upper Chindwin River- a region where an American expedition in the 1930’s had collected Burmese roofed turtles.

During one of his visits to a turtle pond at a Buddhist temple in Mandalay, he discovered three creatures with a striking resemblance to old photos of Burmese roofed turtles in ancient journals. 

He was able to satisfy his curiosity the following day and confirmed his theory by luring the turtles to the edge of the pond with grass, just before he was cautioned by guards to stay away from the rare animals.  “I was very excited, and definitely flabbergasted,” he said.

Dr. Kuchling and his Burmese colleagues were granted permission by the temple’s board to transfer the rare reptiles- a male and two females, to the Mandalay Zoo. But that was just the beginning. Dr. Kuchling further discovered many more survivors in the Dokhtawady River, a tributary of the Irrawaddy, and arranged their transfer to the Mandalay Zoo. 

On getting to the upper Chindwin River, Dr. Kuchling in his discussion with fishermen from the Shan ethnic group confirmed that a handful of females still nested there every dry season. In this case, Dr. Kuchling worked with the Forest Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society to set up a program to hire nearby villagers to fence off the beach, watch for nesting females and carefully excavate the eggs each year. 

Over the years, the dwindling numbers of the Burmese roofed turtles has risen exponentially to about 1,000, and they all live healthy lives at three facilities in Myanmar.  Some of them were hatched from eggs laid in the wild, while others were bred in captivity. Five wild females also continue to visit the upper Chindwin beach to lay eggs.

As a result of Dr. Kuchling’s heroics, the species is safe from total extinction, and their chances of survival are far better than what they used to be. However, Dr. Platt warned that irregular and inappropriate fishing practices will continue to pose a threat to the survival and propagation of the turtles in the future.

The biology and ecology of Myanmar’s smiling turtles is quite complex, and as such, scientists don’t quite understand it. This lack of knowledge complicates the process of regulating the desired environment for the growth and survival of the species in the wild.

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This Dog Poop- Sniffing Ability Is Helping To Rescue At-Risk Killer Whales

Amanda J

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It’s a thing of surprise to hear or actually see that a dog is saving aquatic lives.

Well, it’s something that’s happening at the coast of Washington State as a dog named Eba is rescuing killer whales.

It’s interesting to know that when Eba was young, she was mysteriously dropped off outside of a Sacramento animal shelter in California. At that time, Eba weighed 3.5 pounds and had to be warmed up on a heating pad before her temperature could be taken. She was so cold.

Months passed by and Eba became healthy and strong due to intensive care and treatment. This wasn’t without some occurrences that included Eba wandering away from her foster home.

Eventually she was adopted by Dr. Deborah Giles, who does research on Killer Whales at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology.

“I had no idea when I kept her that she was going to become a conservation canine,” Giles told TODAY.

Conservation Canines is an initiative of the Center for Conservation Biology which helps save dogs from shelters and adapts them to rigorous training. This helps the dogs discern wildlife scat otherwise called poop. The dogs possess a strong toy drive and high energy levels that can land them in shelters. These are abilities that makes them fit for detection work. If they detect a scat, they are rewarded with playing with a toy.

Giles had that impression Eba could be something more than being a family pet. She noticed that the dog tried putting a ball into the hands of a colleague urging him to play with her. Seeing that, she sought permission from Dr. Samuel Wasser if Eba could accompany her on a trip to Salish Sea, a place she conducts research on Southern Resident killer whales off the Canadian Gulf Islands and Washington state’s San Juan Islands.

Eba didn’t disappoint. Wielding a low center of gravity as a 30-pound dog, she was able to navigate on water. It took a few weeks to acclimatize to the the odor of Southern Resident orca scat. After being taught how to recognize the odor using a toy, she was prepared.

“By Eba’s second day on the water — July 6, 2019 — she found her first wild whale scat by herself, which was amazing,” Giles said.

People in the line of Giles’ profession can get a lot of information about a whale analyzing their feces alone. They can determine stress levels, know when a whale is pregnant and ascertain the age of pregnancy and also identify the presence of chemicals and harmful substances.

Right now, there are about 74 Southern Resident killer whales and that also includes two infant killer whales. Therefore, locating feces and gathering scientific data is useful in notifying the public and policy makers.

Feces of Southern Resident killer whales is very tiny and can’t be seen from afar off. And while carrying out their investigation, researchers try to stay away from whales to avoid stressing the aquatic animals.

“That’s where the dog comes in because they can smell these things from a mile away — literally a mile away,” she said.

Eba is useful here as immediately she notices a scent, Giles is aware.

“The dog is on the front of the boat just kind of hanging out and sniffing, and then when she gets a hit, she has a pretty massive behavior change,” she said.

The dog makes some movements to alert Giles and other workers. She will start whining, licking her lips and sometimes points towards the direction of the odor.

As Eba makes these movements to give a clue on where the scat could be, Giles uses her hand to signal to the boat’s driver who might alter the direction of the boat since the scat moves along with the water.

“As we pass through the center of scent cone, which is the strongest portion of that smell, she’ll whip around to the side of the boat to tell us, ‘Hey, wait a minute — you’ve passed it.’ That’s when we turn into the wind. Then it might be a series of zigzags back and forth,” she said. “It’s amazing the dogs can do this work.”

Eba’s impact is incredibly being noticed as he’s been scheduled to feature on the upcoming PBS series “The Age of Nature”. Uma Thurman will spearhead as the narrator and will feature scenes from all seven continents. The three-part documentary will start airing from Oct. 14 and it surveys humanity’s relationship with nature and wildlife 

Regardless, Eba is unbothered by the fame she’s getting. Despite the fact that she has her own social media pages and has been featured on television programs, she derives happiness by doing her job. Finding scat.

“She’s really the perfect dog for this work,” Giles said. “She’s helping answer questions that will go to recovering an endangered species of beloved animals.”

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Dave Grohl Stands Up to the President, Rallies Support for Teachers In Moving Letter.

Danielle S

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When you hear about Dave Grohl, you don’t instantly think of teachers and politics. Dave Grohl rose to fame as a rockstar in the early 90s as the drummer for Nirvana. Now a decorated musician in his own right, selling millions of records as the singer of the Foo Fighters, Grohl is coming to the support of teachers everywhere. As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to put people at risk, President Donald Trump has been pushing for schools around the country to reopen. Out of all the folks who could stand up to President Trump, it was Dave Grohl who seemed to make the largest impact.

Dave Grohl was like many other Americans when he read that President Trump was pushing for schools to reopen during a deadly pandemic. Dave was shocked, taken aback, and disbelieving of what he was seeing. Not only had President Trump been pushing for in-school sessions, he had also been attacking schools that decided to follow remote learning practices, as well! Remote learning is a viable educational tool that has become increasingly important during the pandemic. Apparently, this latest attack on education was a bridge too far for Foo Fighter singer, Dave Grohl.. but why?

Even though Dave Grohl famously dropped out of high school to pursue music, he knows how important education is to the children of America. Dave would pen an open letter to the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as well as President Trump. In the letter, Grohl would lay bare his feelings for school. Dave would discuss how his mother worked as a public school teacher and the impact she had on generations of children. Grohl said, “Though I was never her student, she will forever be my favorite teacher.” 

Exploring the letter further, Dave would go on to outline how difficult and thankless a job that teaching can be. Grohl pointed to a list of considerations that have to be dealt with before teaching can be undertaken in a manner that is safe for students, teachers, and faculty workers alike. Dave’s mother would tell her son over the phone, “There’s so much more to be addressed than just opening the doors…” 

As the letter continued, Dave laid bare the inadequacies of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, Grohl took a shot at Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos has no teaching background nor has any member of her family ever attended public school. Dave wisely pointed out that he would not take drumming lessons from a person who had never drummed. Why then should Betsy DeVos and President Trump ignore the advice of professionals in the educational world?

Whether or not Dave Grohl’s words have any impact remains to be seen. What we do know and understand is that teachers and faculty members are particularly at risk should schools rush to reopen. The vast majority of staff members in the school system are older and increasingly more vulnerable to the virus. Children on the other hand are resilient to COVID-19, though they are excellent carriers of the sickness. 

At the end of the day, no matter what side of the aisle you fall on, Dave’s words are particularly poignant. The drummer of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ would go on to say, “Teachers want to teach and not die. We should support and protect them like the national treasures that they are.”

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Masked Piano Player Gifted Antique Piano After WOWING Shoppers!

Danielle S

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the work operates, to put it mildly. As the coronavirus continues to cause upheaval around the world, citizens of every country are finding new ways to adapt. For residents of Norwood, Massachusetts, acclimating to COVID means getting used to wearing a mask while out and about. While masks can be annoying to wear, they also provide a host of health benefits that can stem the spread of COVID-19. When one masked shopper visited the ReMARKable Cleanouts antique shop, he asked to sit down and play the only piano in the shop. What happened next, well, that’s what you are here to find out!

It was a regular weekend like any other during COVID-19 when John Thomas Archer visited the ReMARKable Cleanouts second-hand shop in Norwood, MA. Wearing a mask and ready to look at instruments, John approached the owner of the shop to inquire after an antique piano. The piano looked gorgeous but a sign read, “Do Not Touch.” Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, John made his polite request and the piano owner quickly acquiesced! With both parties wearing masks, it would be hard for either party to recognize the other and you’ll soon find out why this is important!

It was July 11th when John sat down at the piano with his mask firmly around his face. The young architecture student would look around the room before settling on a song. Within the blink of an eye, Archer was hammering out a gorgeous and uplifting version of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey. The antique store quickly filled with singing and jovial laughter as everyone got in on the action. A random onlooker would film the performance and once shared the video would quickly go viral! 

John would leave the shop behind without the piano, not knowing that he would quickly go viral. The only problem was that John had been masked while in the store, thus making sure to follow COVID procedures. The owner of ReMARKable Cleanouts was stunned by the community reaction to John’s playing and decided there and then that he would gift the antique piano to the mysterious masked player. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t know how to reach John or even who he was. The mask had left the man anonymous! Fortunately, the video on Facebook would go viral before catching the attention of John’s significant other. John’s girlfriend would tell him that the owner of ReMARKable Cleanouts was looking for him!

After announcing that they had located John, ReMARKable Cleanouts would invite the man to come to the store to take the piano. John said, “I didn’t know so many people would be affected by watching me play.” John would return to the store after finding out about the offer, only this time he would gift the audience with a rendition of ‘All of Me’ by John Legend.

In these trying times when tensions are high and the future unknown, it is important to find comfort in familiar places. Sometimes all we need to hear is a good song by a good person to feel a little better. Hopefully, John gets to play the piano after COVID-19 for a real concert with ReMARKable Cleanouts!

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Friends at Birth Given Just 2% Chance to Live, Graduate High School Together In Moving Story.

Danielle S

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It is hard to look at young children when you know that they are suffering. For that reason, it can be hard to read stories about children who were born with limitations. This profoundly unfair situation happens daily to children all around the world. While there is enough in the world to be ‘down on’, we feel like we should point to a silver lining instead. This stunning true story is about a pair of lifelong friends that overcame all odds to survive not only their physical limitations, but also to overcome all hurdles placed in their way.

When Odin Frost and Jordan Granberry were born, they each had been given just a few years to live. Odin Frost had been born prematurely due to stress during his mother’s pregnancy caused by preeclampsia. As a result of her struggles, Odin would be born with brain bleeding as well as a clubbed foot. Odin spent the first years of his life going in and out of hospitals as doctors did their best to treat him. For Jordan, life had been difficult as well. Jordan would be born with brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. His parents were told at his birth that he would likely live in a vegetative state that he’d never break free from.  In a best-case scenario, doctors believed that Jordan might live until he was ten years of age.

Odin and Jordan would meet while they were both attending preschool. Odin had made friends with Jordan after biting his ear, an action that resulted in Jordan pinching Odin back. Since that moment, the two kids have reportedly been inseparable. Odin’s father, Tim, told reporters that despite being mostly non-verbal, a connection can clearly be sensed between the two kids whenever they are in the same room. Tim would go on to say that the boys enjoy ‘long car rides’, ‘loud music’, and ‘pinching each other’ as much as possible. Tim went on to add that Jordan and Odin had invented their own sort of secret language where they trade jokes and laugh the entire time.

According to Tim, the Frost family had been close to Jordan’s family for the better part of the last 15 years. Tim had to overcome his own struggles in life to give Odin the childhood he deserved. Tim had to overcome homelessness as a teenager after dropping out of high school. For Tim, walking Odin across the stage at his high school graduation was a touching moment that he will never forget. On the other side of the equation, Jordan’s mother worked as a hairdresser and someone whom Tim lauded for being “The only one quick and brave enough to cut Odin’s hair.”

While the two boys have struggled throughout their life, they have also shown the ability to overcome and succeed against all odds. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Tim was proud to watch both children receive their high-school diploma. Tim would go on to say, “They are joy bringers.” 

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Flexible MMA Fighter Stands Up To Maskless Riders, Performs Stunning Feat on Train!

Liz L

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When you think of the world of mixed martial arts, what comes to mind? Do you instantly see flashes of Conor McGregor knocking out Jose Aldo? Do you think of Brock Lesnar bearing down on some poor heavyweight? Maybe you think of Khabib ragdolling his opponents! No matter what fighter comes to mind when we discuss MMA, you probably don’t think of public transport. Alain ‘The Panther’ Ngalani is a professional mixed martial artist from Cameroon currently fighting out of Hong Kong with ONE Championship. Known for his striking and grappling, Ngalani would put his skills on display in an entirely new way due to the COVID-19 pandemic!

Alain ‘The Panther’ Ngalani understands that wearing a mask can prevent the spread of the coronavirus. What’s more, Ngalani understands that if even one person skips wearing a mask while on public transit, they can end up infecting the entire train. So, what do you think Ngalani did when a maskless passenger attempted to sit next to him on the Hong Kong train? Ngalani wasn’t about to let any maskless rider put his life or career in jeopardy. In the video that has since gone viral through Alain’s Instagram account, a maskless rider approaches an empty seat next to Ngalani. The MMA fighter quickly springs into action, performing the splits to completely block the bench off from the maskless individual. Needless to say, Ngalani is definitely taking his social distancing duties seriously when masks aren’t around!

Ngalani would go viral for his Instagram post with the caption as such, “If you are not wearing a mask in public transport, keep your distance. Don’t argue with me.” Masks have been a point of contention throughout the United States due to President Trump’s open animosity toward the protective equipment. Dean Blumberg is the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and he had this to say, “People who don’t wear a mask increase the risk of transmission to everyone.” A study by UC Davis revealed that wearing a mask can decrease your chances of contracting COVID-19 by nearly 65%.

Outside of his work as a mask advocate, Alain Ngalani has experienced a celebratory career in the MMA world. Ngalani has won four kickboxing championships as well as a Muay Thai World Championship. An experienced combat athlete, The Panther would transition to the world of mixed martial arts in 2013 after being signed by ONE CHAMPIONSHIP. Since getting signed to the mixed martial arts promotion, Ngalani has compiled a 4 – 5 record with victories over Ariunbold Tur-Ochir, Hideki Sekine, Igor Subora, and Mahmoud Hassan.

Whether you want to listen to a doctor or a mixed martial artist in Hong Kong, make sure to wear your masks when out in public. When we work together, we can beat the coronavirus pandemic!

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