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California Set to Build World’s Largest Animal Bridge Over Major Highway Near L.A.

The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing will be the world’s largest animal bridge.

Elias Marat

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California Animal Bridge

(TMU) — When people typically imagine Southern California, a few things come to mind: vast freeways, heavy traffic, the storied SoCal car culture, and a huge urban expanse surrounded by suburbia and covered in pavement.

Lost in outsiders’ popular perception of the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area is the vast wildlife that once resided where suburban towns have been built. To this day, the Santa Monica Mountains looming above the region’s communities still teem with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes—but their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years.

Now, transportation officials and conservationists hope that they can prevent the extinction of the region’s endemic species with an ambitious plan to build a massive animal overpass above Southern California’s massive freeway, the U.S. 101.

The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing along the 101, slated to stretch 200 feet above 10 lanes of busy highway, will lie just 35 miles northwest of downtown L.A. in Agoura Hills, a town near the border dividing Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and will be both the world’s largest animal overpass and the very first of its kind lying near a major city.

Officials and experts hope that it will not only preserve the shrinking biodiversity of the region but will also prevent creatures like famous local mountain lions P-22 and P-61 from being kept in isolation, afraid of roaming their natural habitat and meeting mates or worse, risking becoming roadkill just to cross the massive thoroughfares.

Since 2002, the National Park Service has been studying over 50 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, which run along the Ventura County and the Malibu Coast through the middle of Los Angeles to Hollywood’s Griffith Park, where P-22 now lives. Scientists who’ve tracked the big cats via GPS have expressed alarm over how the animals are being trapped in the increasingly urbanized, fragmented mountain region.

Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation told the Associated Press:

“When the freeway went in, it cut off an ecosystem. We’re just now seeing impacts of that.

“They can’t get out of here to get dates, and cats can’t get in to get dates. … For those of us in L.A., having a romance prospect quashed by traffic is something we can all relate to.”

On the Save LA Cougars website run by the federation, “P-22”—whom Pratt calls “the Brad Pitt of the cougar world”—explains:

“I want a family of my own and the #SaveLACougars campaign seems to be my only hope. I don’t want to be a downer, but my whole species could go extinct if the Wildlife Crossing isn’t built soon and it would be huge shame if our devilishly handsome tribe totally disappeared. I’m asking for help because us cougars really need it.”

As a result of the isolation faced by the big cats, their genetic collapse is becoming imminent. Thanks to habitat loss, the mountain lions could be extinct within 15 years due to inbreeding, according to a study by the National Park Service, UCLA, and UC Davis. And while P-22 is confined to Griffith Park, which lies dozens of miles from the envisioned bridge, his relatives would greatly benefit from it, Pratt explained.

Sad news:A month after mountain lion P-39 was killed when she was struck on an LA freeway, her kitten P-52 met the same fate on the same freeway. http://4.nbcla.com/KXW1ajn

Posted by NBC LA on Thursday, January 5, 2017

The $87 million bridge entered its final design phase last month and is set for groundbreaking within two years and completion by 2023, according to California Department of Transportation engineer Sheik Moinuddin. Construction will mainly take place at night, preventing commuters the nightmarish prospect of bumper-to-bumper traffic jams along other highways.

Over $13.5 million in private funding has also been raised for the project, with officials offering naming rights to any local individuals or entities who can give a major donation. The remaining 20 percent of funds will come from public funds slated toward conservation projects, officials said.

Architect Clark Stevens hopes that despite the 300,000 cars that traverse that particular stretch of the 101 every day, the animal will be completely shielded from the noise and lights from the traffic below. Stevens is working alongside engineers and biologists who are designing berms and hollows with high-edges specifically for that purpose.

Stevens explained:

“Ideally the animals will never know they’re on a bridge … It’s landscape flowing over a freeway. It’s putting back a piece of the ecosystem that was lost.

Every hole in the freeway ought to be exploited. It’s a game of odds. The more options animals have, the better off they’ll be.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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“Tiger King” Joe Exotic, With Limo Waiting Outside Federal Prison, Fails to Receive Trump Pardon

Elias Marat

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Donald Trump ended his scandal tinged presidency by pardoning 73 criminals and commuting the sentences of 70 others at 1:00 a.m. ET Wednesday, but he failed to pardon Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic.”

Before the pandemic stole the limelight last year, the eccentric and openly gay Joe Exotic dominated the public consciousness as the star of Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary, which enthralled U.S. audiences with its zany reality-TV tales of “murder, mayhem and madness.”

Exotic is currently serving a 22-year sentence in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, on 17 counts of animal abuse and a murder-for-hire plot against his mortal enemy, the big-cats rights activist Carole Baskin.

Stating the obvious, one Twitter user joked that it should be common knowledge that Exotic would blame Baskin for the omission from Trump’s pardon list.

“You already know who Joe Exotic gonna blame for not getting pardoned,” the user posted alongside a photo of Exotic carrying the subtitle “Carole F*ckin’ Baskin.”

“It is the President’s Constitutional right to Pardon and we have to accept and respect his use of discretion. Our mission is just and continues,” Exotic’s attorney, Francisco Hernandez, said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

“Score remains 0:0 at the end of the first quarter. After an aggressive first quarter Hail Mary, team tiger didn’t score. Three quarters to go. #freejoeexotic,” Hernandez added.  

In September, Joe Exotic submitted a handwritten letter to then-President Trump, calling the former reality television-star-turned-head-of-state his hero while echoing Trump’s scathing criticism of the feds.

“I have seen what they do to you,” he wrote at the time to Mr. Trump, adding that he had voted for the former Apprentice host in 2016 despite also briefly launching his own longshot presidential run that same year.

Continuing, the Netflix superstar argued that the legal basis for such a pardon was that he was “just some gay, gun-toting redneck in Oklahoma” rather than a flagrant abuser of federal wildlife protections who had an obsession with taking down his rival, Baskin.

“My parents and my life and everything we ever worked for was stolen by criminals who got everything,” the letter added, in reference to the fact that his infamous Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, eventually ended up in the hands of his rivals, Jeffery and Lauren Lowe.

The campaign to liberate Joe Exotic was spearheaded by private investigator Eric Love, who had been on standby outside of the Fort Worth Federal Medical Facility all day Tuesday in a stretch Dodge limousine while dozens of supporters also eagerly awaited the release of the eccentric big-cat afficionado.

“I’m out here, I’m excited,” Beatrice Salazar told CBS DFW. “My daughter wants to get his autograph. I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’re just out here watching and waiting.”

Trump’s failure to pardon the notorious zookeeper comes after the new owners of the Oklahoma zoo were ordered by a federal judge to hand over all lion and tiger cubs in their possession, along with their respective mothers, to federal authorities.

Last week, U.S. District Judge John F. Heil III ordered that the Lowes cede their big cats to the government based on persistent violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act.

“The Lowes have showed a shocking disregard for both the health and welfare of their animals, as well as the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Former President Trump also left supporters of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden disappointed after he failed to pardon the WikiLeaks founder and NSA whistleblower prior to exiting office, in spite of broadly misplaced hopes that the far-right president would do so in a final act of defiance against the Beltway establishment and so-called “deep state.”

However, political associates Steve Bannon and high-profile Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy were included in the eclectic list, which also included rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black.

Christine Assange, the Wikileaks founder’s mother, noted that she was “not shocked, just disappointed” by Trump’s decision.

“My private prediction was right,” she tweeted. “Courage is not always contagious.”

Joe Exotic’s fan’s were similarly disappointed, with some expressing emotions ranging from lividity to annoyance over the failure to pardon him.

“Absolutely livid that I’ve woken up to find Donald Trump didn’t pardon Joe Exotic on his last day,” one user said. 

“Well annoyed trump didn’t pardon Joe Exotic,” another noted. 

While a different account observed: “Sad that Joe Exotic didn’t get a pardon, just because I wanted to be able to tell my kids about it someday, but Lil Wayne is almost as good.”

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Surfing Sea Lions Have a Blast as They Ride and Flip Through Gnarly California Waves in Video

Elias Marat

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Surfers know that in terms of the best places to catch the best breaks and surf zones, few regions can compete with California’s central coast. From Malibu through Ventura to Santa Barbara County, up through SLO to the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz, the Gold Coast arguably has no rivals in the U.S. in terms of its natural beauty and spectacular waves.

But while California’s beaches have long been synonymous with the surfing world, it would appear that actual sea lions from the regional are also enjoying the gnarly wakesurfs and sick swells on offer throughout the central coast.

In brilliant video captured last week off Santa Barbara Island, within the Channel Islands National Park just west of Los Angeles, sea lions can be seen surfing the massive waves with the sort of natural skill that only evolutionary forces can mold.

In the footage, the nimble pinnipeds can be seen riding and flipping about while taking huge leaps through the giant swells. The video was captured via high-speed photography, far too fast for sound to be recorded.

So Ryan Lawler, who runs Pacific Offshore Expeditions, paired the footage to the iconic hit from the Surfaris, “Wipeout.”

The energetic footage was captured by a documentary crew that included a National Geographic cameraman during a Jan. 7 outing with Pacific Offshore Expeditions.

 “Our trip to Santa Barbara Island was bumpy and dive conditions questionable,” the company wrote on its Instagram post of the video. “But what we found in light of this was a wonderful surprise: surfing sea lions! None of us had ever seen such sustained and enthusiastic wave riding from pinnipeds before. It was a joy to watch!”

The scene was so remarkable that the crew eagerly returned to Santa Barbara Island for more footage after checking out the footage that they shot.

“On the exposed side of the island the swell was huge but we found some sun,” Lawler told For The Win Outdoors. “As we rounded the southern portion of the island, which has an islet called Sutil Island, we noticed sea lions flying out of the back of the waves. It was an awesome moment.”

Like most priceless moments in the majestic Channel Islands, however, the session was all too brief – and was totally skunked by the thick, foggy marine layer of an unseasonably hot January.

“I had never seen that before at this island, which is well known for its sea lions,” Lawler continued. “So we stayed there for 20 minutes, observing and waiting for the sun to break up the fog. Then we dove for about 90 minutes and came back, but all the sea lions had disappeared.”

Sea lions have long been known to be powerful and agile swimmers who are even known to body surf on occasion, but scenes such as these are very difficult to capture.

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Federal Investigation Launched For Florida Manatee Found With ‘TRUMP’ Scraped on Its Back

Elias Marat

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While the United States remains caught in the throes of the fallout of last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol Building by pro-Trump rioters, authorities are seeking the details of a far different type of political crime far from Washington.

Last Sunday, an endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) was discovered by a boat captain in the waters of the Homosassa River with the word “TRUMP” written on its back. The case of animal abuse was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.

The sad assault on wildlife would seem shocking until recent years, but it’s only the latest in a disturbing trend of animals being branded with the names of politicians, with a black bear in Asheville, North Carolina, also being found last year with a Trump 2020 sticker affixed to its collar.

However, officials with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are taking this latest incident very seriously and have launched a full investigation of the harassment of a federally protected marine mammal. Anyone found responsible for this latest crime could find themselves liable to pay up to $100,000 while also facing up to a year in federal prisons.

Fortunately, early reports that the word was “carved” into the manatee’s back proved to be inaccurate, so it appears that the manatee hasn’t been injured. According to a statement by USFWS quoted by the Miami Herald, “it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”

“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a press release. “However, this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”

Florida manatees enjoy a range of special protections due to their unfortunate position as a threatened and very slow-moving animal. Any interference with the gentle giants carries heavy penalties under the 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Even President Trump himself signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in 2019, which makes intentional acts of cruelty to animals a crime punishable by federal law that could result in seven years in prison and heavy fines.

Regardless of whether the creature sustained a serious injury, authorities are keen on bringing the vandal to justice, with the CBD offering a $5,000 reward for any information that can lead to apprehending the culprit of the crime.

“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Lopez told the Herald. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”

The specific animal is a West Indian manatee, which is a species known to congregate in secluded, spring-fed waters of Citrus County during this time of the year.

“This is very out of character for this community,” said Craig Cavanna, a senior federal wildlife officer and current investigating officer. “Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”

Manatees are lovingly known as “sea cows” due to their placid, bovine disposition and penchant for munching on water grasses, weeds and algae. In addition to being the Sunshine State’s marine mammal, the manatee is also one of the most strange and charismatic aquatic creatures in the United States. Its gassy diet means that it retains a large amount of methane in its gut, which it uses to regulate its buoyancy and reach the surface easily. Whenever it wants to sink back to the depths, it simply farts to release its gas.

Such a gentle and unique creature hardly deserves to have the name of America’s outgoing president scrawled onto its skin, so anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or the USFWS wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 and email at [email protected]

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