On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope

On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope
An adult female Mountain Bongo feeds from a trough in a breeding pen at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy where five of the antelopes were released into protected sanctuary. (Tony Karumba/AFP)
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Updated 10 March 2022

On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope

On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope
  • A combination of disease, poaching and loss of forest habitat from illegal logging and agriculture have left fewer than 100 mountain bongos in the wild

MAWINGU, Kenya: Still dizzy from the transquilizer, a mountain bongo made its first uncertain steps outside captivity as conservationists in Kenya opened a sanctuary they hope can bring the endemic forest antelope back from the brink of extinction.
A combination of disease, poaching and loss of forest habitat from illegal logging and agriculture have left fewer than 100 mountain bongos in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But this week conservationists released five of the large chestnut-colored antelopes, which is native to the equatorial forests of Kenya, into the 776 acre (3.1 square kilometer) Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in the foothills of Mount Kenya.
“The mountain bongo is one of Kenya’s most important iconic animals,” said Najib Balala, minister of tourism and wildlife, after cutting the ribbon at the sanctuary’s opening ceremony on Wednesday.
The bongo’s release is the culmination of a breeding and rewilding program that began in 2004, which aims to have 50-70 fully rewilded bongos in the sanctuary by 2025, and 750 by 2050, according to the government.
“This is like the first step in the recovery,” said Isaac Lekolool, head of veterinary services at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Mountain bongos once roamed widely in large numbers, but the few remaining animals, whose coats are streaked with distinctive thin white stripes, live in isolated pockets of forest scattered around Kenya.
Among the threats, the IUCN says there has been an increase in hunting of mountain bongo by local people, including hunting with dogs.
“This species is being driven to extinction in the wild unless something is done quickly,” said Robert Aruho, head of vetinary services at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC), a charity.
MKWC has set up community conservation, education, and empowerment programs to raise awareness and help reduce human threats to the animal.
MKWC has also involved local communities in planting over 35,000 indigenous tree species around Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak, to restore the degraded forest ecosystem.
To help maintain genetic diversity in the breeding program, approval has been given to import bongos from Europe and America, Aruho said.


NASA’s Orion spaceship slingshots around Moon, heads for home

NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
Updated 06 December 2022

NASA’s Orion spaceship slingshots around Moon, heads for home

NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP)
  • The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home

WASHINGTON: NASA’s Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back toward Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.
At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.
Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon — an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn’t land there.
The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home.
“We couldn’t be more pleased about how the spacecraft is performing,” Debbie Korth, Orion Program deputy manager, said later.
As spectacular footage flashed on their screens once communication was restored, she told a news conference, “everybody in the room, we just kind of had to stop and pause, and just really look — Wow, we’re saying goodbye to the moon.”
Monday’s was the last major maneuver of the mission, which began when NASA’s mega Moon rocket SLS blasted off from Florida on November 16. From start to finish, the journey should last 25 and a half days.
Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 9:40 am local time (1740 GMT). It will then be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.
Earlier in the mission, Orion spent about six days in “distant retrograde orbit” around the Moon, meaning at high altitude and traveling opposite the direction the Moon revolves around Earth.
A week ago, Orion broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from our planet.
Once it returns to Earth, Orion will have traveled more than 1.4 million miles, said Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager.
Re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere will present a harsh test for the spacecraft’s heat shield, which will need to withstand temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800degrees Celsius) — or about half the surface of the Sun.
Under the Artemis program — named for the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — the United States is seeking to build a lasting presence on the Moon in preparation for an onward voyage to Mars.
Artemis 2 will involve a crewed journey to the Moon, once again without landing.
The first woman and next man are to land on the lunar south pole during Artemis 3, which is set for no sooner than 2025, though likely significantly later given timeline delays.

 


England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar
Updated 06 December 2022

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar

England fan shouts ‘free Palestine’ during live Israeli TV broadcast from World Cup in Qatar
  • He grabbed the microphone while the reporter was interviewing a group of supporters following England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday
  • A video clip of the incident spread rapidly on social media, with many people commending the fan for his support for the Palestinian people

LONDON: An England football fan shouted “Free Palestine” during a live Israeli TV broadcast from the World Cup in Qatar, shocking the journalist who was interviewing him after England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday.

The Israeli reporter had asked a group of England fans whether they thought football was coming home, a reference to the chant popular among the country’s supporters during World Cup campaigns.

“Of course, it is,” they replied before, according to the Daily Mail, Harry Hatton, 23, grabbed the microphone and yelled: “But more importantly, free Palestine.”

Many Twitter users retweeted the video clip and commended Hatton for his support for the Palestinian people.

Several videos have gone viral on social media showing football fans refusing to speak with the Israeli media during the World Cup in Qatar.


Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’
Updated 05 December 2022

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’

Stars at Red Sea Film Festival praise Saudi’s ‘history and beauty’
  • Actress Jessica Alba found people in Saudi to be "warm and lovely."
  • Filmmaker Oliver Stone highlighted the importance of open-mindedness in the industry.

JEDDAH: Celebrities in Jeddah for the Red Sea Film Festival, held from Dec. 1 to 10, expressed their delight to be exploring Saudi Arabia’s heritage and beauty.

American actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, who donned an Elie Saab design, described Saudi Arabia as “a really, really beautiful country,” and said: “The history here is insane, and the people are just warm and lovely.

“I’ve had a great time, and I hope to come back,” added the “Fantastic Four” star.

Actress Sharon Stone, who gave an impassioned speech about women’s empowerment during one of the festival’s talks, said that it’s “really great and smart” that Netflix was making a deal in Saudi Arabia.

“We need to see every aspect of the world — all of the world,” she explained, “so that other people do not get to tell us how the world is in their opinion, (so) that we actually get to see how the world is.”

In an interview on Sunday, filmmaker and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who said during the event’s opening ceremony that Saudi Arabia was misrepresented by Western media, emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind.

“If I close my mind, I would become as ignorant as many of our politicians are,” he said.

The three-time Oscar winner added: “The problem in the United States is that we have two oceans, and we are huge; we have everything we think we need, and we do not have much interest in going to other countries and living what they are living.

“I think, as a result, we become arrogant and aloof, and we tend to dictate orders. Because of the power that we think we have, we tend to tell other countries what to do, or lecture them on human rights and stuff like that, whereas, meanwhile, we are (punishing) people like Julian Assange…for revealing war crimes.”

Citing what he referred to as the “hypocrisy” of the US position internationally, he continued:

“The rest of the world…(doesn’t) buy the American ‘We are better than you; we are telling you how to live your lives.’ They don’t buy it, and a lot of people do not like America for that reason.”

In his speech during the Red Sea Film Festival opening ceremony on Thursday night, the director and producer pointed out that Saudi Arabia was “misunderstood in the present world” and said: “You see the changes that are coming here, the reforms. I think people who judge too harshly should come and visit this place and see for themselves.”


As chatbot sophistication grows, AI debate intensifies

Twitter (@OpenAI)
Twitter (@OpenAI)
Updated 05 December 2022

As chatbot sophistication grows, AI debate intensifies

Twitter (@OpenAI)
  • OpenAI, cofounded in 2015 in San Francisco by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, who left the business in 2018, received $1 billion from Microsoft in 2019

SAN FRANCISCO: California start-up OpenAI has released a chatbot capable of answering a variety of questions, but its impressive performance has reopened the debate on the risks linked to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
The conversations with ChatGPT, posted on Twitter by fascinated users, show a kind of omniscient machine, capable of explaining scientific concepts and writing scenes for a play, university dissertations or even functional lines of computer code.
“Its answer to the question ‘what to do if someone has a heart attack’ was incredibly clear and relevant,” Claude de Loupy, head of Syllabs, a French company specialized in automatic text generation, told AFP.
“When you start asking very specific questions, ChatGPT’s response can be off the mark,” but its overall performance remains “really impressive,” with a “high linguistic level,” he said.
OpenAI, cofounded in 2015 in San Francisco by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, who left the business in 2018, received $1 billion from Microsoft in 2019.
The start-up is best known for its automated creation software: GPT-3 for text generation and DALL- E for image generation.
ChatGPT is able to ask its interlocutor for details, and has fewer strange responses than GPT-3, which, in spite of its prowess, sometimes spits out absurd results, said De Loupy.

“A few years ago chatbots had the vocabulary of a dictionary and the memory of a goldfish,” said Sean McGregor, a researcher who runs a database of AI-related incidents.
“Chatbots are getting much better at the ‘history problem’ where they act in a manner consistent with the history of queries and responses. The chatbots have graduated from goldfish status.”
Like other programs relying on deep learning, mimicking neural activity, ChatGPT has one major weakness: “it does not have access to meaning,” says De Loupy.
The software cannot justify its choices, such as explain why its picked the words that make up its responses.
AI technologies able to communicate are, nevertheless, increasingly able to give an impression of thought.
Researchers at Facebook-parent Meta recently developed a computer program dubbed Cicero, after the Roman statesman.
The software has proven proficient at the board game Diplomacy, which requires negotiation skills.
“If it doesn’t talk like a real person — showing empathy, building relationships, and speaking knowledgeably about the game — it won’t find other players willing to work with it,” Meta said in research findings.
In October, Character.ai, a start-up founded by former Google engineers, put an experimental chatbot online that can adopt any personality.
Users create characters based on a brief description and can then “chat” with a fake Sherlock Holmes, Socrates or Donald Trump.

This level of sophistication both fascinates and worries some observers, who voice concern these technologies could be misused to trick people, by spreading false information or by creating increasingly credible scams.
What does ChatGPT think of these hazards?
“There are potential dangers in building highly sophisticated chatbots, particularly if they are designed to be indistinguishable from humans in their language and behavior,” the chatbot told AFP.
Some businesses are putting safeguards in place to avoid abuse of their technologies.
On its welcome page, OpenAI lays out disclaimers, saying the chatbot “may occasionally generate incorrect information” or “produce harmful instructions or biased content.”
And ChatGPT refuses to take sides.
“OpenAI made it incredibly difficult to get the model to express opinions on things,” McGregor said.
Once, McGregor asked the chatbot to write a poem about an ethical issue.
“I am just a machine, A tool for you to use, I do not have the power to choose, or to refuse. I cannot weigh the options, I cannot judge what’s right, I cannot make a decision On this fateful night,” it replied.
On Saturday, OpenAI cofounder and CEO Sam Altman took to Twitter, musing on the debates surrounding AI.
“Interesting watching people start to debate whether powerful AI systems should behave in the way users want or their creators intend,” he wrote.
“The question of whose values we align these systems to will be one of the most important debates society ever has.”

 


World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party
Updated 03 December 2022

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party

World’s oldest recorded tortoise Jonathan prepares for 190th birthday party
  • Despite his advanced years, he is also partial to a female tortoise called Emma, who is merely in her 50s

LONDON: He was born not long after Napoleon died, and is now officially the planet’s oldest known living land animal.
Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise is celebrating his 190th birthday — more or less — on St. Helena in the remote South Atlantic, where the defeated French emperor died in exile in 1821.
Jonathan, it is believed based on shell measurements, was hatched around 1832, and he was brought to the UK overseas territory from the Seychelles 50 years later.

In this file photo taken on October 20, 2017, Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, believed to be the oldest reptile living on earth, crawls through the lawn of the Plantation House, the United Kingdom Governor official residence in Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. (AFP)

He lives out a comfortable retirement in Plantation House, the official residence of the St. Helena governor, where his birthday is being marked with events all weekend including the issuance of a special stamp.
The celebration climaxes Sunday with a “birthday cake” made out of Jonathan’s favorite foods.
He is particularly partial to carrots, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pears, according to his handlers interviewed by AFP in 2017.
Despite his advanced years, he is also partial to a female tortoise called Emma, who is merely in her 50s.
“He still enjoys the ladies and I have heard him quite regularly in the paddock with Emma and he grunts,” then-governor Lisa Phillips said at the time.
“I have to keep an eye on him when he is doing that — it was not in the job description when I became governor.”
At the start of this year, Jonathan was given the Guinness World Records title as the world’s oldest living land animal, and this month was also named as the oldest tortoise ever.
“When you think, if he was hatched in 1832 — the Georgian era — my goodness, the changes in the world,” said Joe Hollins, a retired veterinarian who is Jonathan’s main carer today.
“The world wars, the rise and fall of the British Empire, the many governors, kings and queens that have passed, it’s quite extraordinary,” he said.
“And he’s just been here, enjoying himself.”
While they hope for many more years, St. Helena authorities have already made plans for the venerable chelonian’s eventual demise: his shell will be preserved for posterity.