Cuban scientists race to save one of the world’s rarest crocodiles

A Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) opens its jaws at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
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A Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) opens its jaws at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
A biologist poses with newly-hatched Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) as they are relocated at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 25, 2022. (REUTERS)
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A biologist poses with newly-hatched Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) as they are relocated at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 25, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 07 September 2022

Cuban scientists race to save one of the world’s rarest crocodiles

A Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) opens its jaws at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 24, 2022.
  • Cuban scientists estimate that around 4,000 Cuban crocodiles live in the wild. But because the area they prefer within the wetland is relatively small, a climate-related disaster — increasingly common now globally — could wipe out most of the population

CIENAGA DE ZAPATA, Cuba: Shirtless and waist-deep in the dark waters of Cuba’s palm-speckled Zapata Swamp, researcher Etiam Perez releases a baby crocodile confiscated from illegal hunters back into the wild.
It is a small victory, he says, in a bigger battle. Cuban crocs, an endemic species found only here and in a swamp on Cuba’s Isle of Youth, are critically endangered and have the smallest natural habitat left of any living crocodile species, scientists say. (Photo essay: https://reut.rs/3CUOr7q)
“We are trying to bring them back from the edge of extinction,” Perez told Reuters as the spotted reptile, mouth full of fine teeth, kicked its striped tail and disappeared.




Veterinarian Gustavo Sosa shows newly-hatched Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) to tourists at a hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 24, 2022. (REUTERS)

Illegal hunting and hybridization with American crocodiles — which muddles the species’ genetics — have for decades threatened populations here. A warming climate, which alters the sex ratio of newborn crocs, poses a new threat.
And despite the fact that the Cuban government has protected virtually all of the vast swamp — widely considered to be the best preserved in the Caribbean — that may still not be enough, scientists say.
“When you compare the Cuban crocodile with other species in the world, its house is very small,” said Gustavo Sosa, a Cuban veterinarian at Zapata.
Cuban scientists estimate that around 4,000 Cuban crocodiles live in the wild. But because the area they prefer within the wetland is relatively small, a climate-related disaster — increasingly common now globally — could wipe out most of the population.




A Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) has its measurements checked at a crocodile hatchery at Zapata Swamp, Cienaga de Zapata, Cuba, August 25, 2022. (REUTERS)

Those concerns decades ago prompted the Cuban government to underwrite a hatchery program that annually releases several hundred crocodiles into the wild. Researchers like Perez also liberate crocodiles confiscated from hunters as part of a program that has helped reduce poaching of the species.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which listed the species as critically endangered in 2008, says its assessment and population estimates need updating, but confirms long-standing concerns over the limited habitat of the species.
“With the hatchery we are trying to increase the historical range of the Cuban crocodile and of course increase the number of these individuals in the wild,” Perez said.
The sale of crocodile meat in Cuba is tightly controlled by the state, and only those crocodiles with physical defects or hybrid genetics, for example, are allowed in restaurants. An illegal market, however, can still be found in some areas, particularly around the swamp.
Fuel shortages, antiquated equipment and often inhospitable conditions are constant challenges in Cuba, a Caribbean island nation gripped by a dire economic crisis.
But at Zapata, those concerns feel distant as this year´s crop of freshly hatched crocs, still covered in mucus from their eggs, snap their jaws at pieces of fresh river fish, moving in unison as they discover their new world.
The newborns quickly become fierce and intimidating predators, scientists say, capable of reaching lengths of nearly five meters as adults. The Cuban crocodile, said veterinarian Sosa, is especially pugnacious, with little fear of humans. “It is a very curious critter,” said Sosa. “When you see one in nature...you know it is a Cuban crocodile because they come to you.”

 


‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested over sex trafficking and abuse raps

‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested over sex trafficking and abuse raps
Updated 02 February 2023

‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested over sex trafficking and abuse raps

‘Dances with Wolves’ actor arrested over sex trafficking and abuse raps
  • Police report says Nathan Chasing Horse is accused of leading a cult and sexually abusing women followers
  • He was also accused of instructing his wives to 'shoot it out' with police, and 'take suicide pills' as a last resort

LAS VEGAS: Nathan Chasing Horse trained his wives to use firearms, instructing them to “shoot it out” with police officers if they ever tried to “break their family apart,” according to records obtained by The Associated Press. If that failed, the wives were to take “suicide pills.”
The abuse that authorities said spanned two decades led Tuesday to the arrest of Chasing Horse following a monthslong investigation by Las Vegas police. He was taken into custody as he left the home he shares with his five wives in North Las Vegas. SWAT officers were seen outside the two-story home in the evening as detectives searched the property.
Known for his role as the young Sioux tribe member Smiles a Lot in the Oscar-winning Kevin Costner film “Dances With Wolves,” Chasing Horse gained a reputation among tribes across the United States and in Canada as a so-called medicine man who performed healing ceremonies. But police said he abused his position, physically and sexually assaulting Indigenous girls and women, taking underage wives and leading a cult.
Chasing Horse, 46, will be charged with at least two counts of sex trafficking and one count each of sexual assault of a child younger than 16, child abuse or neglect and sexual assault, according to court records. Authorities have not said when he will be formally charged.
He was booked before midnight into Clark County’s jail, where he remained held without bail on the sexual assault charges as he awaits his first court appearance, expected Thursday in North Las Vegas. There was no lawyer listed in court records for Chasing Horse who could comment on his behalf, and Las Vegas police said he was “unable” to give a jailhouse interview Wednesday.
According to a 50-page search warrant obtained by the AP, Chasing Horse is believed to be the leader of a cult known as The Circle.
At least two women told police that Chasing Horse had shown his wives a stash of “small white pills” that he called “suicide pills” sometime in 2019 or 2020, years before his arrest.
The women were instructed to “take a pill to kill themselves in the event he dies or law enforcement tries to break their family apart,” according to the warrant.
One of Chasing Horse’s former wives also told police that she believed his current wives would “carry out the instructions” to take the pills and open fire on law enforcement if officers came to the home to arrest Chasing Horse.
Police noted in the warrant that Chasing Horse was believed to have long rifles and handguns inside his home, including a loaded rifle in the home’s entry way, and a handgun in his vehicle.
Las Vegas police said in the document they have identified at least six sexual assault victims, some who were as young as 14 when they say they were abused, and traced the sexual allegations against Chasing Horse to the early 2000s in multiple states, including Nevada, where he has lived for about a decade, and South Dakota and Montana.
“Nathan Chasing Horse used spiritual traditions and their belief system as a tool to sexually assault young girls on numerous occasions,” detectives wrote in the warrant, adding that his followers referred to him as “Medicine Man” or “Holy Person” because they believed he could communicate with higher beings.
One of Chasing Horse’s wives was offered to him as a “gift” when she was 15, according to police, while another became a wife after turning 16.
Chasing Horse also is accused of recording sexual assaults and arranging sex with the victims for other men who paid him.
He was arrested nearly a decade after he was banished from the Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, amid allegations of human trafficking.
Fort Peck tribal leaders had voted 7-0 to ban Chasing Horse from stepping foot again on the reservation, citing the trafficking allegations in addition to accusations of drug dealing, spiritual abuse and intimidation of tribal members, Indian County Today reported.
State attorneys general and lawmakers around the US are looking into creating specialized units to handle cases involving Native American women.
In South Dakota, where police said Chasing Horse committed some of his crimes, the attorney general’s office has put a new focus on crimes against Native American people, including human trafficking and killings.
Chasing Horse was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, which is home to the Sicangu Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Lakota nation.


Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly
Updated 30 January 2023

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

LAGOS: A Nigerian artist is using artificial intelligence to re-imagine life for African elderly people by showcasing near real-life pictures and videos of them walking down the fashion ramp and on the beach.
Malik Afegbua, who is also a film maker, said because many elderly people were marginalized in society, especially in the fashion world, he began to imagine how they would look if they were models.
Afegbua started posting some of his work on social media and it went viral.
He came up with “Elders Series,” a catalogue of pictures and videos showing white-haired women and bearded men strutting the runway for a virtual fashion show in Afrocentric attire, including ornamental neck and arm bands.
“So I wanted to ... imagine the elderly people in a place that is not either in a sad space or in a suppressed state,” Afegbua told Reuters.
“However, when I was making it, I kind of knew there was something there. I was like this is dope. I’m loving what I’m seeing.”
Afegbua was not always an artist. He studied business in university but stepped into the world of filming after a friend bought him a camera in 2011.
He said the idea to explore a different world for old people came when his elderly mother fell ill. Using an artificial intelligence app, he started creating content showing a brighter side of old age.


Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
Updated 28 January 2023

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
  • The defendant was made to pay the claimant over $2,000 in compensation

LONDON: A laughing emoji at the end of a Facebook comment amounted to defamation, Italy’s supreme court has ruled.

The country’s top judges sent a case back to court for the offense to be reassessed.

Phrases mocking a person’s physical disability, when combined with laughing face emojis, amounted to defamation, the supreme court judges said.

The court reconsidered a dispute that started on Facebook in the northern town of Luino, The Times reported.

A user openly criticized the poor eyesight of another person in a chat, ending his statement with several laughing emojis.

The defendant was convicted of defamation by a court in Varese, northern Italy, fined about $870 and ordered to pay around $2,175 in compensation to the claimant, a local businessman.

The verdict was then overturned by an appeal court in Milan, which ruled that the online conflict amounted to the use of insulting language, but did not constitute a crime.

However, the supreme court in Italy eventually ruled that the phrases, punctuated with the emojis, amounted to defamation, sending the case back for reassessment of the offense.

The defendant’s lawyers, during the earlier appeal hearing, argued that “a sight deficit doesn’t diminish the value of a person,” highlighting that their client had merely “shown himself in a bad light.”

After further studying the legal distinction between an insult and defamation, the supreme court deemed the Facebook exchange defamatory.

Francesco Micozzi, a lawyer and professor at Perugia University, said the use of the emoji in this case emphasized the defendant’s intended mockery.

The use of emojis in online correspondence is becoming increasingly subject to legal analysis. A US study revealed that emojis had been cited in court about 50 times a year between 2004 and 2019.


Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
  • Instead, Ghashghavi placed his hand on his chest and bowed slightly

LONDON: Iranian Ambassador to Spain Hassan Ghashghavi refrained from shaking hands with Queen Letizia during a reception on Wednesday for Madrid’s diplomatic corps at Zarzuela Palace.

In footage shared on Twitter, Ghashghavi shook hands with King Felipe VI but not Queen Letizia, who was standing beside him.

Royal fans, according to The Daily Mail, believe the Iranian ambassador’s gesture to be “disrespectful” and “awkward.”

Social media commentators, however, highlighted that his placing his right hand on his chest and slightly bowing to the queen instead showed he was following Iranian customs.

Others speculated that the queen’s lack of movement toward the Iranian diplomat suggested that she had been advised by her staff about her guest’s protocol.

In several Islamic cultures, physical contact with the opposite sex, including handshakes, is often discouraged or even prohibited.


US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
Updated 25 January 2023

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
  • A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the US military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The US space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is $110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.