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Animals
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.

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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.

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Renewable Energy

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."

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Health
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.

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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.

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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.

Renewable Energy
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.

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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.

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This City Is Giving Residents $1,200 Toward Buying an Electric Bike

The city of Oslo, Norway is offering grants to help its citizens partially pay for electric cargo bikes through its Climate and Energy Fund. Each grant covers up to $1,200 or 25 percent of an electric cargo bike purchase, which can cost from $2,400 to $6,000.

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