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Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. sarote pruksachat / Moment / Getty Images

A national park in Thailand has come up with an innovative way to make sure guests clean up their own trash: mail it back to them.

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A Botswana elephant stands in a body of water. Geschenkpanda / Pixabay

Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.

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A palm tree plantation in Malaysia. Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Getty Images Plus

Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.

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Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. JOAO LAET / AFP via Getty Images

In 2010, representatives of 196 countries met in Japan and agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's imperiled biodiversity by 2020.

That year has come, and not a single target has been met, according to a major UN assessment released Tuesday, as CNN reported.

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New calf J57 swims vigorously alongside its mother J35, giving researchers and whale enthusiasts hope. Katie Jones / Center for Whale Research

Two years ago, J35, a Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) nicknamed Tahlequah, broke hearts around the world when she carried her dead calf over 1,000 miles over 17 days of apparent mourning. Now, she's given birth to a "robust and lively" calf that researchers are calling a ray of hope for the endangered population, reported The New York Times.

The killer whales, also called orcas, stay off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, near Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia. According to the Marine Mammal Commission, the SRKW population may have historically numbered more than 200 animals prior to the 20th century. Their numbers plummeted due to loss of prey, opportunistic hunting prior to the 1960s and the live capture of nearly 70 Resident and Transient killer whales for marine parks from 1967 to 1971, the commission found. There were only 88 of the iconic whales left when they were listed as endangered in 2005, The New York Times reported, and the population has continued to dwindle since. The birth of the newest orca, called J57, brings the population to 73.

"It's a bit of a nail-biter right now," whale researcher Dr. Deborah Giles from the Center for Conservation Biology told The New York Times. "I can't help but be thrilled that she had this baby and this baby didn't die right away. Everybody is worried and on pins and needles, wondering if this calf is going to make it."

"With such a small population … every successful birth is hugely important for recovery," said a blog post from SR3, the marine conservation group that used drone footage to confirm J35's pregnancy in July and monitor her condition.

Several factors have hurt the population's chances of rebounding, including food scarcity, toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate, and noise pollution, the news report said.

The whales are "essentially starving," reported Smithsonian Magazine. Eighty percent of the SRKW's diet consists of Chinook salmon, the Center for Whale Research wrote. The salmon have declined "significantly" due to commercial fishing and widespread habitat destruction, according to the Marine Mammal Commission.

Government reports also found that agricultural pesticides jeopardize the survival of the salmon. Then, when the orcas eat polluted fish, the chemicals and pesticides eventually end up stored in the whales' fat, suppressing their immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to disease and affecting females' ability to reproduce, reported Smithsonian Magazine.

Additionally, according to the Georgia Straight Alliance, noise disrupts the whales' echolocation and prevents them from hunting, navigating and communicating.

"Both the physical presence of vessels and associated underwater noise hinders Southern Residents' ability to perform basic life activities," the Alliance reported.

To make matters worse, many of the population's pregnancies fail, and around 40% of calves die within their first year, The New York Times reported. Recent scientific findings suggest that these reproductive failures and high calf mortality rates are linked to malnutrition and lack of their preferred salmon prey, reported the Marine Mammal Commission.

With nothing to eat and nowhere to live, the Southern Resident orcas have thus become a symbol for animals on the brink of extinction. J35 became the poster child for her population during her 17-day "tour of grief," catalyzing many groups to call for new protections for the endangered whales.

According to the Center for Whale Research, J52, another two-and-a-half-year-old calf from the J-pod, died presumably from malnutrition one ear earlier.

After the 2018 loss of J35's previous calf, Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, estimated that the SRKW population only had about five years to rebound or face irreversible decline.

"We've got at most five more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen"— meaning, to have viable offspring — "but if we don't do it in those five years it isn't going to happen," he told National Geographic in 2018.

That's why, with the birth of J57, researchers are cautiously optimistic.

The encounter report from the Center for Whale Research announcing J57's birth said, "Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life … We hope this calf is a success story."

Balcom said, "The baby looked very robust and lively, so I have good expectations for this one surviving," reported The New York Times.

He told The New York Times he hoped that recent efforts such as the removal of a dam on the Elwah River would bring back more robust runs of Chinook salmon and issue a turning point for the orcas.

"This new birth brings new hope – for Tahlequah and for all of us," wildlife photographer Alena Ebeling-Schuld told The Guardian. "I am wishing Tahlequah and her new little one the very best with all of my being."

The Iberian lynx is one of the species saved from extinction due to conservation efforts, a new study shows. http://www.lynxexsitu.es / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0
A study published in Conservation Letters Wednesday found that efforts to protect endangered species of birds and mammals had saved at least 28 of them from extinction since 1993.
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An elephant in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. James Morgan / WWF-US

Human consumption has led to an unprecedented rate of decline in the world's wildlife populations, according to the Living Planet Report 2020, a biennial paper put out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London.

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Trump looks on as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during an event to unveil changes to the National Environmental Policy Act on Jan. 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The Trump administration announced that it would roll back a rule from 2015 that was put in place to limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are in the wastewater of coal plants, according to The Washington Post.

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Polar bears playing in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Cheryl Strahl / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Scott L. Montgomery

The Trump administration has announced that it is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development – the latest twist in a decades-long battle over the fate of this remote area. Its timing is truly terrible.

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"There's evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies," said Charles Rolksy, a scientist at Arizona State University. asuresearch / YouTube

By Krissy Waite

Bolstering activists' demands to reduce plastic pollution worldwide, Arizona State University scientists on Monday presented their research on finding micro- and nanoplastics in human organs to the American Chemical Society.

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A polar bear with cubs at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in North Slope, Alaska in 2014. Steven Kazlowski / Barcroft Medi via Getty Images

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to protections put in place 60 years ago, has remained a pristine oasis in the most remote section of Alaska. Now, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to end those protections and to lease the federal lands to oil and gas exploration, according to The New York Times.

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Pexels

By Rachael Bonoan and Phil Starks

As many states and cities across the U.S. struggle to control COVID-19 transmission, one challenge is curbing the spread among people living in close quarters. Social distancing can be difficult in places such as nursing homes, apartments, college dormitories and migrant worker housing.

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Papua New Guinea. Photo: Ambroise Brenier/WCS

By Jonathan Booth

"We saw two swimming past our canoe the other day as we came to shore!"

"Yes, we saw one over towards the mangroves not so long ago…"

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