By Melissa Kravitz
10 foods that could disappear because of #climate change https://t.co/sXQgtoDDbd via @ecowatch https://t.co/fNMr4Byekk— Climate Nexus (@Climate Nexus)1451156289.0
In January 2015, the Washington Post demonstrated how this once rare, seasonal and regional treat has become a supermarket and fast-food mainstay, with American avocado consumption doubling in the past five years, to about 4.25 billion avocados consumed annually in 2015. And with average avocado prices exceeding $1 per avocado in the colder months, it's easy to see why this multibillion-dollar industry has inspired some criminal activity—especially as avocados are now considered a luxury item.
"When it comes to growing avocados, getting them to fruition on a tree and having them ready to pick, literally those are dollar bills hanging on a tree," said Ken Beckstead, who grew up on an avocado ranch in San Diego and later worked for Texas' Henry Avocado Corporation. "Fruit thefts are a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry."
Money may not grow on trees, but for farmers without proper security or fences, Haas avocados growing openly are an easy target for criminals.
"You're on such a fine profit margin," said Beckstead, noting that the outsides and edges of avocado groves and a few rows in are most susceptible to avocado theft. Not only are these profits being stolen from the growers, but improperly cut avocados or avocados broken at the stem and left to ripen on trees are not sellable.
Growing an avocado is no easy task. An avocado tree needs 40-50 inches of rainwater per year to thrive. Thanks to the ongoing drought and summer heatwaves in California and negative effects of climate change in Mexico and the American Southwest, avocado farming has become more difficult.
California drought enters its 6th year https://t.co/hBssQk9D9r via @ClimateNexus @EcoWatch #climate #globalwarming… https://t.co/EKnKJzwfrz— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1475524861.0
While demand for avocados increases, so does the potential for theft. "What everything centers around is water," Beckstead said. "There's such a drought in California, the water rates are so high that literally if you don't have a well and you're not pulling water up out of the ground, you can't afford to grow avocados anymore."
He also noted that other countries don't filter their water to the same standards as American growers, making it cheaper to irrigate their crops.
Worse yet, those who want to profit from avocado sales will do whatever it takes to grow the profitable fruits. In Chile, the second-biggest avocado growing region after Mexico, a river in the Ligua Valley was drained by 2014 to feed thirsty avocado plants.
"Because they're overexploiting the water by throwing it at the hills, the river has dried up," Ricardo Sangüesa, an avocado farmer in the region told Civil Eats. Water smuggling can deprive small farmers and local communities of the water they need to live, just to grow the "green gold."
Some in the avocado industry, however, claim there is no connection between crime and avocados. Perhaps regionally, that's true. Ramon Paz-Vega, strategic adviser to the Mexican Avocado Producers and Packer-Exporters Association, believes there is "no definitive link" between the two.
"The facts are that avocados have become a U.S. staple and a global cultural phenomenon. This popularity has created a more profitable business, which has led to job opportunities for thousands of people in the Mexican state of Michoacán," Paz-Vega said. "Now, citizens of Michoacán have an opportunity to make a decent, productive and honest living. Without this crop, many of those small farmers and workers would be migrants or recruits of organized crime who want to capitalize on the success of others."
APEAM works with communities of growers and Mexican and U.S. officials to ensure "we are protecting our farmers, their livelihoods, and the integrity of their work," Paz-Vega explained.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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