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Photo credit: Parc Zoologique de Thoiry

Rhino Shot Dead by Poachers at French Zoo

A young white rhino was killed after being shot in the head three times by poachers who broke into the Thoiry Zoo in Paris Monday night. Poachers de-horned the 4-year-old rhino, named Vince, and left alive two other white rhinos, 37-year-old Gracie and 5-year-old Bruno. They left part of Vince's second horn, leading local police to believe they were ill-equipped or interrupted. The poachers are still at large.

"It is extremely shocking what just happened," Zoo Director Thierry Duguet said. "An act of such violence, never before seen in Europe."

White rhinos at the Parc Zoologique de Thoiry.Parc Zoologique de Thoiry / Facebook

Vince was discovered by his caretaker Tuesday morning. According to reports, the poachers forced open a gate and two doors to enter the rhinoceros building. They likely used a chainsaw to remove Vince's horns.

A trend of rhino horn thefts from private collections and museums in the past several years has led to increased concern among conservationists for captive rhinos, The Washington Post explained. These bold new attacks are a sign that "zoological facilities need to take serious measures to keep their rhinos safe," said Susie Ellis, executive director of International Rhino Foundation.

Crawford Allan, Senior Director of TRAFFIC North America, encourages zoos to immediately assess and increase their security and specifically recommended thermal imaging cameras and an increase in the number of security guards.

In other disturbing news, armed poachers in February 2017 attacked the staff of the Thula Rhino Orphanage in South Africa and killed two baby rhinos for their horns.

Rhinos at the Thula Thula Rhino OrphanageThula Thula Rhino Orphanage / Facebook

In 2016, 1,054 rhino killings were reported in South Africa. While this represents a modest decline from 1,175 in 2015, it is the fourth year in a row that more than 1,000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa.

Pope Goes Electric, Sets Example for World Leaders

Pope Francis, long known for his commitment to environmental stewardship, has taken his call for climate action one step further. He now owns an electric car, a Nissan LEAF.

The Pope sits in his Nissan Leaf.Wermuth Asset Management / Driwe

The LEAF was given to the Pope in late February by German asset manager and mathematician Jochen Wermuth. The Pope's Nissan LEAF can travel up to 107 miles with a 30 kilowatt-hour battery. Wermuth tried to give the Pope a Tesla Model S electric limousine but the Pope preferred a smaller vehicle. The two men took a small test drive through the Vatican. Wermuth drove and the Pope sat next to him in the front seat.

Pope Francis is "the last superstar of mankind," Wermuth said. He also described the Pope as an example for other heads of state as well as every man on Earth.

Wermuth's connection with the Vatican extends beyond this eco-friendly gift. Wermuth's asset management firm is working with the Vatican to update the Holy See's investment strategy in line with the Pope's climate views. They are using his 2015 encyclical, Laudato si': On Care for Our Common Home, as a guide.

"Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it," the Pope said in his encyclical.

Wermuth is known for giving the largest donation ever to the Greens, Germany's environmental party. The 47-year-old Protestant supported the Greens' election campaigns in Berlin, Baden-Württemberg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, donating around $630,000. Wermuth worked for Deutsche Bank in Russia in the 90s and is now a proponent of divesting from fossil fuels, Spiegel Online reported.

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Denmark Produced Enough Wind Energy in One Day to Power 10 Million Homes

Denmark generated 97 gigawatt-hours (GWh) from wind energy Feb. 22, enough to meet the entire country's electricity needs. According to Wind Europe, 70 GWh came from onshore wind and 27 GWh came from offshore wind, which is enough to power "the equivalent of 10 million average EU households."

WindEurope's daily wind tool shows that on the same day, 18.8 percent of European electricity demand was met by wind power. Germany was second behind Denmark, meeting 52 percent of its electricity demand from wind.

2015 was an extremely successful year for Denmark's wind power generation. Denmark produced 42 percent of its electricity from wind, breaking the world record and the country's 2014 record.

Also, during a particularly windy period in the summer of 2015, Denmark produced 140 percent of its country's electricity needs from wind power.

Denmark's accumulated wind energy capacity grew each year between 2006 and 2015.

In related news, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind unveiled a new 9-Megawatt (MW) turbine in January. When the prototype was tested at the Østerild Wind Turbine Test Field off the coast of Denmark in December 2016, it produced 215,999.1 kilowatt-hours and broke the 24-hour energy generation record for a commercially available offshore wind turbine.

With the continuing success and growth of its wind industry, Denmark may well meet its goal to generate 50 percent of its power with renewable energy by 2020.

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The Tijuana River has extensive water quality issues in both Mexico and the U.S. Photo credit: Surfrider Foundation

Large Sewage Spill in Mexico Flows North of the Border for 17 Days

A spill that originated in the Tijuana River in Mexico flowed north of the border, releasing 143 million gallons of sewage for 17 days. The spill was caused when a sewage pipe under rehabilitation ruptured at the juncture of Mexico's Tijuana and Alamar rivers. While three-quarters of the Tijuana River watershed is located in Mexico, it drains into the Pacific Ocean near Imperial Beach, California.

"It's horrible. Everybody is complaining about it. People are really upset with the smell," Imperial Beach resident Lidya Morales told FOX 5.

"This is the worst spill we've had in over a decade," Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina exclaimed.

After receiving complaints about the odor, Dedina sent a written inquiry to the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). The agency then provided him a report regarding the spill.

"It's a major communication failure. It's obviously something they knew for a very long time," Dedina said. "Border authorities charged with managing sewage infrastructure and reporting these spills must do better and be held accountable for this act," the mayor said as he called for the resignation of IBWC chief Edward Drusina for his poor management of cross-border wastewater issues.

"It's outrageous that we have sewage spills of this magnitude occurring under the watch of the IBWC, and it's equally outrageous there aren't proper procedures in place to notify the public when sewage releases occur," Matt O'Malley of the San Diego Coastkeeper told EcoWatch.

"This is not just an environmental failure—it's a failure to protect the public health of those who live, work and recreate along the Tijuana River, Imperial Beach and beyond. The circumstances surrounding this spill and the failure to timely release information related to it should be investigated and prevented from happening again. Officials on both sides of the border must make sewage infrastructure in the region a top priority."

Coincidentally, local South Bay beaches were already closed due to sewage run-off from the recent rainstorms. A 2012 sewage spill caused by a similar Tijuana pipe breakage, which spewed almost 3 million gallons of sewage into the Pacific, had closed Imperial Beach for several days.

A portion of the Tijuana River near the San Diego-Mexico border, full of trash and debris. Susan Murphy, KPBS

This highly polluted river has many sources and is a persistent issue, which has cost the U.S. and Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the 1990s, the U.S. and Mexico have created programs to cooperatively address the issue, including the Minute 320 accord, which established a "general framework for binational cooperation" between the countries "on transboundary issues in the Tijuana River Basin."

Some areas in Mexico, including Tijuana, currently lack sufficient sewage infrastructure and garbage collection, and some residences do not have any form of plumbing. Along with population growth, this "has resulted in large amounts of human and industrial sewage, plastics and other forms of garbage accumulating in the river," Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment explained. Factories in the Mexican state of Baja California also contribute to pollution in the Tijuana River, KCET reported.

The river is bisected by the current U.S.-Mexico border wall, which President Trump plans to expand. The 2008 reinforcement of this wall "razed entire mountaintops and used the earth to fill in gulches and canyons," increasing erosion and contamination issues, KCET said.

"Significant improvements in the arena of wastewater treatment in recent years have improved water quality on both sides of the border," the Surfrider Foundation said. Unfortunately, storm water still brings substantial amounts of pollution into the Tijuana River Watershed. Their "No Border Sewage Campaign," which started in 2008, seeks to address this issue through outreach, networking and education.

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57 Snow Monkeys Euthanized for Carrying 'Alien' Genes

The Takagoyama Nature Zoo in the city of Futtsu, Japan euthanized 57 snow monkeys who were found to have hybrid genetic make-ups. The zoo mistakenly believed all 164 of its resident primates were pure Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), which are endemic to Japan. When the zoo discovered through DNA testing that 57 of them were actually of a hybrid breed, rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), which is common throughout Southeast Asia, they culled the hybrid monkeys.

Macaques photographed in Japan.mari_sixx / Instagram

In 2013, Japan's environmental laws were revised to make holding or transporting invasive species including hybrids illegal, in an attempt to protect the indigenous environment and native species. Culling of rhesus macaque is allowed under this law, which designates them as an "invasive alien species."

An Office for Alien Species Management official said the culling was unavoidable because the hybrid species might escape and reproduce in the wild, BBC reported.

The monkeys were culled through lethal injection over the course of about a month, ending in early February. The zoo operator then held a memorial service for the hybrid monkeys at a local Buddhist temple.

Questions remain as to whether other steps could have been taken such as sterilization, IFL Science pointed out. Transplanting the common hybrids into another region may have also been a possibility; they are native to Burma, India, Thailand, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and China.

"There are many zoos in the country, which rear animals that became classified as invasive species after the law was created," an Environment Ministry official said, according to Phys.org. Zoos can apply for exceptions to keep the hybrid species.

"Preventing exposures to foreign animals is very important," said Tomoko Shimura of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan. The Chiba prefecture where the zoo is located has been culling the hybrids since 2005.

Japanese macaques are brown with white faces and are the only indigenous primate in Japan and most northern living nonhuman primate on Earth. They are also known as snow monkeys and have developed a hot tub culture by warming themselves in hot springs. The area around the zoo is designated as their wild habitat.

In the U.S., concerns over protecting native species' genes have arisen in relation to genetically engineered (GE) salmon produced by AquaBounty, Inc. and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015.

Fears relating to GE salmon include the possibility they will mate with native species, introduce new diseases and/or compete for resources and habitat.

Photo credit: Free Spirit Spheres

Ready to Escape Into This Magical Treetop Orb?

Free Spirit Spheres resort in British Columbia knows there's nothing quite like being in an orb in a tree canopy. They invite you to experience an enchanted rainforest vacation in a spherical suspended treehouse. The year-round, adult-only resort on Vancouver Island features three hanging handmade orbs, which you can rent for $175 per night.

The Eve sphere in winter. Free Spirit Spheres

"Normal buildings that we're in are all about separation ... when you step into a sphere there is no separation. There's only one wall," owner Tom Chudleigh told Arbutus RV Island Adventures. Chudleigh has a background in engineering and spends three years personally building each sphere.

The three rentable orbs are called Eve, Eryn and Melody and each is accessed by a spiraling staircase. Chudleigh also has his own office sphere, called Gwyn. The orbs weigh about 1,100 pounds and are each tied to three separate trees. A strong breeze or the movement of an inhabitant causes them to sway.

The sphere interiors hold drop-beds, workspaces, sinks and round windows, Curbed explained. Each has its own electric composting toilet outhouse and a shared bathhouse with a sauna. There are several restaurants within three to 15 miles from the resort.

Eve was the prototype and is 9 feet in diameter. Next came Eryn and then Melody, with 10.5-foot-diameters. Melody has scales from Beethoven's Ode to Joy painted on it. Eve is best suited for one occupant and Eryn and Melody can accommodate two adults.

"There's a magic about these spheres," that comes in part "from the love and intention Tom puts into each one," says Kait Burgan of Arbutus RV Island Adventures. Free Spirit Spheres is about 35 miles north of the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, between Qualicum Beach and what is locally known as "lighthouse country."

Free Spirit Sphere's hopes this floating oasis in the canopy of the coastal forest will "provide a venue for people to enjoy exceptional experiences while dwelling in a natural forest environment." Chudleigh also wants to build new spheres and is seeking new spaces and potential partners that can enable him to do so.

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Photo credit: Rae Allen / Flickr

Wind Power Sets New Record: Briefly Provides Majority of Electricity for 14-State Grid

On the morning of Feb. 12, wind power provided 52.1 percent of the electricity for the 14-state grid known as the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). This is a significant milestone for wind, which has never before provided a majority of power for any U.S. grid, according to SPP.

SPP is responsible for 60,000 miles of power lines running from North Dakota and Montana to Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana. Wind generates about 15 percent of the electricity in the SPP region and is third behind coal and natural gas.

The February 52.1 percent wind-penetration beat the April 2016 record of 49.2 percent. Wind-penetration is a measure of the grid's electrical total load served by wind.

"Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability," Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said in an SPP statement. Rew explained SPP can now reliably manage more than 50 percent wind-penetration and that they have not yet reached their "ceiling."

American Wind Energy Association's Greg Alvarez celebrated the news in a blog post. "Records like these resonate, because they demonstrate wind energy can play a key role in an affordable, reliable, diversified energy mix," he said. "That creates a stronger system, and helps keep more money in the pockets of families and businesses."

In the early 2000s, SPP wind power provided less than 400 megawatts (MW) and now provides 16,000 MW. A single MW is usually able to power around 1,000 homes, Climate Central explained.

SPP has achieved this wind power milestone because of its enormous power generation footprint, which covers nearly 550,000 square miles. If the upper Great Plains is not windy one day, SPP "can deploy resources waiting in the Midwest and Southwest to make up any sudden deficits," Rew said.

Since 2007, SPP has spent more than $10 billion on high-voltage transmission infrastructure with a focus on connecting "rural, isolated wind farms to population centers hundreds of miles away," the organization said.

In 2015, 39 states harnessed electricity from utility-scale wind projects, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and California produced the most wind energy and about 50 percent of the total for U.S. wind production.

In 2016, wind power was the largest U.S. source of renewable electric capacity and is now the country's fourth-largest energy source.

Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Manhattan-Sized Iceberg Breaks off Antarctica

Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier lost another large chunk of ice at the end of January. The section of ice that broke off the glacier on the western coast of Antarctica was roughly the size of Manhattan. It was 10 times smaller than the piece the same glacier sloughed in July 2015.

After the enormous piece of ice broke off The Pine Island Glacier in 2015, cracks were spotted during a late 2016 flyover, Climate Central reported. The recent smaller, though still substantial, ice breakage is considered an "after-shock" event, Ohio State glaciologist Ian Howat told NASA. NASA's Operational Land Imager captured a series of images documenting the ice loss.

The Pine Island Glacier is known as a fast stream glacier because it moves quickly and commonly sheds ice. It is already responsible for 25 percent of Antarctica's ice loss, according to Digital Journal.

The phenomenon of rapid glacial calving or ice loss "fits into the larger picture of basal crevasses in the center of the ice shelf being eroded by warm ocean water, causing the ice shelf to break from the inside out," Howatt said. Basal crevasses are cracks that extend upward from the base of the body of ice.

Sometimes, basal ice cracks are not visible. Small rifts of this nature exist about six miles into the Pine Island Glacier and are expected to result in further calving.

Also in Antarctica, a crack longer than 80 miles in the Larsen C ice shelf is currently being monitored. As the rift grows, the shelf gets closer to shedding a more than 3,000 square mile iceberg.

In March 2016, a study, Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise, in the journal Nature explained how ocean warming was driving rising sea levels and the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet.

"Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a meter of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 meters by 2500, if emissions continue unabated. In this case atmospheric warming will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss, but prolonged ocean warming will delay its recovery for thousands of years," the study states.

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