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Myanmar’s Smiling Turtles Survive Near Extinction

Sarrah M




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.



Meet Sparrow – The Incredible Service Dog with a Sixth Sense

Danielle S



Service dogs are truly remarkable creatures. They are not just loyal companions; they are also trained to assist people with disabilities, helping them with everyday tasks and even alerting them to potential medical issues. These specially trained pups are like superheroes, always ready to lend a paw when needed.

Sparrow, a Golden Retriever service dog, is a prime example of the extraordinary abilities that these dogs possess. Service dogs are known for their keen sense of awareness and their ability to detect changes in their owner’s health. These furry friends can sense things that might be undetectable to humans, thanks to their heightened senses and training.

One heartwarming story revolves around Sparrow and his owner, Libbi. Libbi was filming a playful moment with Sparrow when something incredible happened. Despite being off-duty and in the midst of playtime, Sparrow suddenly stopped playing and became alert. He sensed that something was amiss. Without hesitation, Sparrow turned his attention to Libbi and alerted her to a medical issue. It’s a reminder that these dogs are always on duty, even when they seem to be having fun.

The heartwarming video of Sparrow’s quick response garnered widespread attention and garnered numerous positive comments. One commenter added a touch of humor to the situation, asking, “Does this count as overtime?” It’s moments like these that showcase not only the incredible bond between service dogs and their owners but also the astounding abilities these dogs possess. Sparrow’s actions remind us that service dogs are not only highly trained companions but also devoted protectors, ready to leap into action whenever their owners need them.

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Accidental Discovery: Turning Humid Air into Renewable Power

Sarrah M



In May 2023, an exciting article published by UMass Amherst shed light on a remarkable scientific breakthrough. A team of researchers successfully generated a continuous electric current from the humidity present in the air. This unexpected achievement has the potential to open new avenues for renewable power generation. The study’s lead author, Professor Jun Yao, described the discovery as an accidental find during their investigation into creating a simple air humidity sensor.

“To be frank, it was an accident,” Prof. Yao shared. “We were actually interested in making a simple sensor for humidity in the air. But for whatever reason, the student who was working on that forgot to plug in the power.” Much to their surprise, the UMass Amherst team discovered that their device, consisting of an array of microscopic tubes called nanowires, produced an electrical signal despite the absence of an external power source.

Each nanowire was incredibly tiny, less than one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. This size allowed airborne water molecules to enter the tubes, where they would bounce around inside. Remarkably, each bounce created a small charge within the material. As the frequency of these bounces increased, one end of the nanowire became differently charged from the other, similar to the positive and negative terminals of a battery.

Prof. Yao explained the phenomenon, stating, “So it’s really like a battery. You have a positive pull and a negative pull, and when you connect them, the charge is going to flow.” The beauty of this discovery lies in the fact that air is ubiquitous. Even though a thin sheet of the device generates a tiny amount of electricity, it is possible to stack multiple layers vertically to increase the power output.

The potential applications of this accidental discovery are vast. Harnessing the humidity in the air to generate renewable power could pave the way for a more sustainable future. Although the current output is relatively small, with further research and development, this technology could be optimized to provide a significant and reliable source of energy.

The UMass Amherst team’s accidental breakthrough emphasizes the importance of being open to unexpected discoveries in the realm of science. It serves as a reminder that some of the most significant advancements can arise from unexpected events and mistakes. As scientists continue to explore and refine this innovative technology, we can look forward to a future where the air we breathe contributes to our growing renewable energy needs, reducing our reliance on traditional power sources.

This accidental discovery highlights the ingenuity and potential of scientific research. It is a testament to the wonders of nature and the boundless possibilities that lie within the world around us. With continued exploration and development, the conversion of humid air into renewable power could be a game-changer, leading us towards a greener and more sustainable future.

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Teacher Finds Affordable Way To Create E-bikes: Old Laptop Batteries

Danielle S



In the bustling city of Nairobi, Kenya, a high school physics teacher named Paul Waweru has found a creative solution to one of the city’s biggest problems – transportation. With the use of old laptop batteries and a little ingenuity, he has started a company called Ecomobilus that is dedicated to creating electric motorbikes out of recycled materials.

Paul’s journey into electric bike production started with a personal experience. When his electric bike’s lead acid batteries stopped working after a few months, he found himself grounded and unable to get to work. Frustrated by the lack of affordable replacement options, he turned to his physics background and started tinkering with old laptop batteries. After sorting them into working and non-working cells, he began using them to power a motor and attached them to an old bike frame. And thus, the first Ecomobilus electric bike was born.

Since then, Paul has been perfecting his design and creating a company that is dedicated to creating sustainable and affordable transportation options. The frames of the bikes are made from old motorbikes with the engine removed, while the laptop batteries power the motor. A fully charged bike battery can travel up to 100 kilometers, making them a great option for commuters.

One of the biggest advantages of the Ecomobilus electric bike is its cost-effectiveness. A fully charged battery costs less than $3, while traditional gasoline-powered motorbikes can cost upwards of $7 per day to run. Additionally, the electric bikes require no maintenance, as there are no mechanical parts that need to be repaired or replaced. This makes them a more affordable and sustainable option for people living in Nairobi.

The Ecomobilus electric bikes have been met with great success in Nairobi, with many people using them for daily commutes and even as taxis. Not only do they provide a more sustainable option for transportation, but they also help to reduce air pollution in the city. With Nairobi being one of the most polluted cities in Africa, this is a much-needed solution.

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Hotel Starts Housing Their Employees To Keep Them As Workers





Leave it to a pandemic to practically change the way people live and work for years to come. While in some locations companies and businesses are scrambling to find enough workers to staff tables and cook food, the town of Westport in Ireland is struggling to find enough people to staff its hotels. The local industry normally depended on university students out of school to take on the seasonal demand. Coupled with key long-term employees, the hotels in the area kept things running. However, once the pandemic hit, the students stopped showing up and regular employees started reassessing their life path. Long story short, the Westport hotels are scrambling to keep things covered at a minimum level, and tourism hasn’t waned.

Given the loss of expected staffing resources, Westport hotels have instead had to lean on teenagers as well as foreign visa workers to close the gaps in labor needs. Even more interesting, the same hotels have been moving into the real estate market to provide dedicated housing for their staff to make sure that they have their primary needs taken care of and can focus on work even more. The last thing any of the hotel management teams want is to see a new staff-person disappear or not stay on board due to struggling to find a place to rent or similar. Westport is not the exception; seasonal tourist towns all over Ireland are in the same boat and competing for the same worker population.

Restaurants in bigger cities have been just as challenged. Galway, for example, can barely keep the staff in the food-serving industry. Every restaurant owner is fretting because they can’t even stay fully staffed through the normal business week, midday. A restaurant having to skip lunch hours is literally a nightmare in the food business.

Finding enough to hire is bad enough for Irish hospitality, but holding onto experienced help is even worse. At the same time that companies are strapped for new hires, they are losing the ones who know their work their best and have the highest productivity on average. Experienced workers have been reassessing their hospitality careers in droves, no longer willing to work the long hours of a typical shift or taking on evening and graveyard assignments. That leaves the extended hours over-staffed with rookies and new recruits and one or two burnt-out managers trying to keep a lid on things.

Add to the complexity, the number of employees with prior hospitality experience is dwindling as well. Driving competition, bar owners, restaurant owners and hotel owners are shifting to becoming landlords, providing free residence to attract foreign workers to stay during the heavy season. Yet even then, with the added bonus of living accommodations covered, these businesses still find it challenging to attract help to their Irish towns, even with aggressive advertising. It’s a wicked curse; many food businesses cut their hours due to social distancing restrictions, but now they are still cutting hours due to a lack of staff.

As for hospitality in Westport, the local commerce membership is pushing for far more creative thinking. That includes a better, overall strategy on how to attract seasonal workers with support, residence and coordination, benefitting both the employers as well as making it attractive for workers. Many of the owners are comparing notes to similar approaches they’ve seen elsewhere in Europe. At a minimum, Irish local governments are being pressured to get a handle on short-term rentals like AirBnBs and similar. Safety requirements need to be complied with to a business level, not residential, and the residence demand needs to be contained rather than the havoc being seen in Westport and elsewhere currently.

In the short run, locals are hoping the spike wears off and things get back to some level of normalcy. However, the pandemic fundamentally changed how work is provided in Westport and elsewhere in Ireland. And that change is going to be felt for at least a decade forward.

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Rescuers Use Excavation Machine To Rescue Injured Croc From Trench

Amanda J



Many people are so afraid of crocodiles or reptiles as a whole that at the mere mention of their names or the fact that one could be nearby, they begin to get anxious.

No surprise there, since these reptiles can grow up to 17 feet long and run up to twenty-two miles per hour.

So what happens when these creatures, which are natural predators, require the assistance of human beings?

Well, we have to muster up the energy and gather a team to do whatever it takes to bring the creature to safety, whether they are big or small.

This was the case for several hundred-kilogram crocodiles that ended up in a ditch recently and had to be saved by humans. The crocodile, estimated to weigh nearly half a ton, was removed using a hydraulic excavator system.

This is a device that utilizes energy from hydraulic cylinders to haul a bucket at the edge of a boom back to the machine via earth or rock, then to lift up the bucket, allowing removal of the dug up away from the excavation.

Here is how that story played out:

There was construction underway in the Vadodara community vicinity, and somehow, the crocodile ventured into the deep drainage line of the construction project. Luckily, several residents spotted the reptile and alerted officials immediately with the hope that it could be rescued in time.

A team of rescuers took out the 12-foot-long crocodile from the 25-foot-deep trench in Asoj village near Vadodara that Saturday.

This was after the local residents alerted the forest officials to the mugger stuck in the under-construction drainage line. The crocodile, estimated to weigh 400 kg, was removed using a hydraulic excavator system, an idea that the quick-thinking rescuers came up with.

Hemant Vadhwana, who headed the team which went to free the crocodile, knew that traditional rescue methods would highly likely have done more harm than good.

He said the team knew that if they were to attempt to pull it out with the ropes, they might have harmed the creature or possibly cause strangulation. With that in mind, they huddled and decided that the best option would be to utilize the hydraulic machine that was already available to them.

At that point, the crocodile had already been injured since it had broken its snout, which they believe transpired when it toppled over into the deep trench.

Vadhwana went on to say that since it is the migration season of crocodiles ahead of their mating and nesting periods in the summer, crocodiles are normal.

Residents know that now and are therefore on the lookout for more crocodiles for more reasons than one. They are concerned about the safety of the creatures passing through the community as well as their own.

The reptile is presently recovering in the Department of Social Forestry of Vadodara.

In the meantime, while the crocodile population has been seriously diminished due to human activity, there are many people who still treasure them for multiple reasons.

One main reason is that they are believed to be the only creatures in existence from the time that dinosaurs roamed the world.

Meanwhile, crocodiles are extremely quick swimmers, which enables them to catch their prey. They are capable of swimming up to twenty miles per hour with the impressive capability of holding their breath for nearly 60 minutes beneath the water.

On land, crocodiles are much slower, running just over ten miles an hour for a very short distance.

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