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The first photograph of the Bornean Rajah scops owl in the wild. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

During a bird evolution study on the island of Borneo in May of 2016, a research team discovered an owl that hadn't been seen in the wild since 1892. Quickly grabbing their cameras, the researchers captured the first-ever photos of the rare bird, identifying it as the rare Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, native to southeast Asia.

During a bird evolution study on the island of Borneo in May of 2016, a research team discovered an owl that hadn’t been seen in the wild since 1892. Quickly grabbing their cameras, the researchers captured the first-ever photos of the rare bird, identifying it as the rare Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, native to southeast Asia.


At the time of its re-discovery, the elusive owl was roosting just a meter above the ground. “It was a pretty rapid progression of emotions when I first saw the owl — absolute shock and excitement that we’d found this mythical bird, then pure anxiety that I had to document it as fast as I could,” Andy Boyce, an avian ecologist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, told the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

The island of Borneo, which is divided politically among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, is a hotspot for biodiversity — home to orangutans, clouded leopards and pygmy elephants, according to the UN Environment Programme. It’s also home to the Otus brookii brookii, one of the two sub-species and “far more elusive” Rajah scops owls, according to the Global Wildlife Conservation. The other sub-species, Otus brookii solokensis, is found in Sumatra and is well documented.

Researchers were able to identify the owl based on its distinct characteristics, such as its orange irises, small ear tufts and speckled brown and black crown, the GWC reported. But to their surprise, the researchers found that the feather colors and patterns of the O. brookii brookii varied from its Sumatran counterpart, meaning that the two owls may actually be entirely different species.

If the owl is endemic to only Borneo and is its own species, conservation action is more likely, Boyce explained. But researchers haven’t been able to find the owl since and reckon its one-time sighting could mean its numbers are low in the wild.

“Unfortunately, we are only good at conserving what we know and what we name,” Boyce said, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. “Our sole sighting during this intensive study confirms this owl lives in mature montane forests, likely above or below the survey area… To protect this bird, we need a firm understanding of its habitat and ecology.”

Only half of Bornean forest cover remains today, the UN Environment Programme reported. As climate change, deforestation and expansion of palm oil continue to threaten the owl’s habitat, researchers, with almost no data of the owl’s vocalizations, distribution, breeding biology and population size, are running out of time to shine a light on the mysterious species.

Additional studies on the owl “could have important conservation implications,” yet its rarity makes these studies “impossible,” the researchers wrote in their findings, published last week in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Finding another individual or population is necessary to learn more about the Bornean Rajah scops owl and protect them from increasing climate-related threats.

John Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, said the important thing about rediscovering lost birds “is the excitement and interest they generate,” according to the GWC. “The idea that there’s a mysterious species out there that no one can find at the moment should be a call to action for birdwatchers in the area, and it’s a way of getting people excited to search new areas and help make discoveries.”

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A new climate study finds that consuming "less-carbon polluting meats" like chicken may not be a sustainable replacement to beef. achayakorn lotongkum / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Curbing the world's appetite for meat is necessary to combat the climate crisis, but global meat consumption is on the rise.

Curbing the world’s appetite for meat is necessary to combat the climate crisis, but global meat consumption is on the rise.

Beef cattle have an outsized environmental impact because they belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In total, they account for 3.7 percent of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half of all agricultural emissions, Inside Climate News reported. To replace beef, some environmentalists and scientists have suggested choosing chicken instead, which produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.


But a new study finds that consuming “less-carbon polluting meats,” like chicken or fish, may not be a sustainable replacement to beef and instead may further add to its high emissions, The Academic Times reported.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, examined meat consumption data between 1961-2013 — a period when chicken consumption grew five-fold per capita and beef consumption almost stayed the same.

Richard York, a sociologist at the University of Oregon and the study’s lead author, said, “If you have increases in the production of poultry and fish, it doesn’t tend to compete with or suppress other meat source consumption,” according to the University of Oregon. “It would be great if more poultry and fish production and consumption would reduce that of beef, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

In a 2012 study, York found that expanding renewable energy did not reduce fossil fuel emissions, but increased overall energy consumption. He called this phenomenon the “displacement paradox” and wondered if it could be applied to meat consumption patterns, The Academic Times reported.

“Adding more wind doesn’t really result in using less coal. If we use more energy sources, we use more energy. Likewise, when additional meat choices are offered, that additional variety tends to, more simply, increase overall meat consumption,” York explained, according to the University of Oregon.

Studies show that beef production creates about four to eight times the emissions of pork, chicken or egg production per gram of protein, according to The New York Times. Although emitting much less, chicken production still has a significant greenhouse gas impact.

Greenhouse gas emissions per serving of poultry, for example, are 11 times higher than those of one serving of beans, Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy For Animals wrote in Vox – “so swapping beef with chicken is akin to swapping a Hummer with a Ford F-150, not a Prius.” Global poultry production is also rising globally. Between 1990 and 2013, it increased by 165 percent, while global beef production only increased by 23 percent, Garcés wrote.

While scientists admit they don’t have a silver bullet solution to limiting global warming below the Paris agreement’s target of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, they say curbing emissions from food production is a necessary part of the equation, calling it a “dark horse of climate change,” The New York Times reported.

York suggests policymakers concentrate on supply chains, looking at the fossil fuel and meat industries side-by-side. “Rather than simply increasing renewable energy production, we need to actively suppress fossil fuel production instead of just giving more options,” York said. “With meats, we may need to address the level of subsidies given for meat consumption to realize a desired reduction in meat production.”

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Nestlé has been removing water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California. The Story of Stuff Project / YouTube

California water officials have accused Nestlé of draining more water out of southern California's Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest than permitted. The drafted cease-and-desist order, which was sent to the company on Friday, asked Nestlé to stop draining millions of gallons of water out of the forest every year and comes at the same time California's Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in two counties.

California water officials have accused Nestlé of draining more water out of southern California’s Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest than permitted. The drafted cease-and-desist order, which was sent to the company on Friday, asked Nestlé to stop draining millions of gallons of water out of the forest every year and comes at the same time California’s Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in two counties.


Nestlé, which sells its bottled water under the Arrowhead brand, maintains rights to California spring water that date back to 1865, The Guardian reported. But state officials say the company, which is based in Switzerland, has been taking more than its share, citing a 2017 investigation which found that Nestlé was illegally drawing from Strawberry Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana river, which supplies over 750,000 residents with clean drinking water.

“We have a limited amount of water,” said Julé Rizzardo, the assistant deputy director of the Division of Water Rights, according to The Guardian. “And as we face our second dry year in a row, it’s important that we use our authority to protect the municipal water supply and the environment.”

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service issues a ,100 permit to Nestlé per year to operate in the San Bernardino National Forest, but it does not charge for water, The San Joaquin Sun reported. Last year, Nestlé took 58 million gallons of California water — “far surpassing the 2.3m gallons per year it could validly claim,” The Guardian reported. So the company could be draining 25 times more water than it has the right to, The Story of Stuff Project, an environmental organization, pointed out.

“Paying next to nothing in royalties, Nestlé makes billions of dollars a year selling our water. In communities across North America, the pattern repeats itself: Nestlé enters a local town making promises of local job opportunities and the highest sustainability and environmental standards to its water bottling operations,” The Story of Stuff Project wrote in a statement, regarding its campaign aimed at taking back public control of water.

The draft cease-and-desist order, which still requires approval from the California Water Resources Control Board, is a product of years of organizing by grassroots campaigns.

“These are people who just want to make money, but they’ve already dried up the upper Strawberry Creek and they’ve done a lot of damage,” said Amanda Frye, an activist who has been protesting Nestlé’s pumping from Strawberry Creek for years, according to The Guardian. “They’re a foreign corporation taking our natural resources, which makes it even worse.”

Environmental groups say that as droughts and wildfires in California worsen, Nestlé’s water usage will impact both local communities and ecosystems. “In the context of a global pandemic and increasing droughts and wildfires across North America, it’s clearer than ever that water should be owned by and for the people,” The Story of Stuff Project wrote. “All too often over recent years, we’ve seen water being privatized and sold in plastic packaging that’s accelerating a waste crisis instead.”

Nestlé Waters North America, which has recently rebranded to BlueTriton Brands, has 20 days to appeal the draft order and request a hearing, according to The Guardian. But if California’s water board approves the cease-and-desist order, the company could be fined up to ,000 a day, dating back to 2017, which would retroactively accumulate to over million, The San Joaquin Sun reported.

“The state will use its enforcement authority to protect water and other natural resources as we step up our efforts to further build California’s drought resilience,” added Rizzardo.

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