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Hyper-realistic robot dolphins may soon end captivity at theme parks and aquariums for good

A life-sized robotic dolphin could help finally put an end to animal captivity in aquariums for good by replacing real-life animals.

Elias Marat

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A life-sized robotic dolphin could help finally put an end to animal captivity in marine parks and aquariums for good by replacing real-life animals.

U.S.-based animatronics company Edge Innovations has designed a revolutionary mechanical mammal that appears nearly as playful as the real thing, and the company hopes that the robot will soon be used in aquatic theme parks and Hollywood films in place of actual living animals.

So far, the robot can nod, swim in aquariums, and interact closely with humans. Developers claim that the mechanical creature is nearly identical to the cetacean, and could even coexist with robotic versions of predators like great white sharks or even the massive reptiles that Jurassic-era seas teemed with millions of years ago.

However, the huge difference here is that despite the large price tag of $26 million, this robotic dolphin is a truly cruelty-free alternative to the capture and confinement of live animals for the sake of entertainment at amusement parks and aquatic zoos – and it will likely prove cheaper than the real thing, too.

The robot dolphin weighs in at 550 pounds and has medical-grade silicone skin, and offers a viable alternative to the once-profitable industry of capturing, breeding, and training live animals.

“It’s surprising there are 3,000 dolphins currently in captivity to generate several billion dollars just for dolphin experiences,” Edge Industry CEO and founder Walt Conti told Reuters.

“There’s obviously an appetite to love and learn about dolphins and so we want to use that appetite and offer different ways to fall in love with the dolphin.”

In recent decades, animal rights activists and casual animal lovers alike have turned their back on marine parks that are seen as subjecting dolphins and other intelligent, self-aware creatures to inhumane acts just for the sake of human amusement.

Feature films like Free Willy (1993) and the documentary Blackfish (2013) have helped educate viewers about the miserable living conditions faced by orcas and other cetaceans that have been deprived of their nature life and thrust into small enclosures at amusement parks like SeaWorld.

Increased outrage over the plight of cetaceans, or aquatic mammals, have led to countries like Canada and around 20 European countries to effectively placing a ban on whales, dolphins, and porpoises being bred, imported and exported, captured or or held in captivity for entertainment purposes.

Edge Industry hopes that with its extensive experience developing animatronics for major Hollywood features – including Free Willy, Deep Blue Sea, The Abyss, and other films – the robotic replacement can soon win over those who prefer a humane alternative to viewing creatures who naturally belong in the wild.

The company has worked closely with marine biologists to replicate the physiology of dolphins and nail their natural movements.

“Everyone wants to know if using an animatronic dolphin is different to using a real dolphin. The truth is in many ways they’re the same,” Holzberg said.

“If you want to design a show that uses real dolphins you have to capture real dolphins, train them and get them to do that show,” he continued. “With creating robots you have to do exactly the same thing. The difference is you don’t have to have breeding programs, worry about safety with human beings.”

Edge Industry has seen demand for its creations decrease as major film studios opted for computer-generated images rather than practical effects and animatronics. However, the company is now focusing on developing attractions for theme parks, and its robot dolphins will soon roll out at marine parks being built in China.

“The idea of this pilot is really to create a Sesame Street under water,” Holzberg said. “Those characters taught a generation how to feel about different kinds of aspects of humankind in ways that hadn’t been imagined before. And that’s what we dream of with this project.”

Animal rights activists have greeted this new development that could spell an end to animal captivity at marine theme parks.

“There is an end in sight to cruel ‘swim with dolphins’ programs, for which young dolphins are traumatically abducted from their ocean homes and frantic mothers, sometimes illegally,” said Katherine Sullivan of PETA.

Animals

World’s Only White Giraffe Gets GPS Tracker After Poachers Killed His Family

Elias Marat

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The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a tracking device to keep poachers away after its entire family was killed.

The unique creature has an extremely rare genetic trait known as leucism, which results in its white color. Unlike albinism, the loss of pigmentation is partial. However, the unusual coloration makes the animal desirable to unscrupulous poachers seeking a rare find in the wilderness.

The giraffe is currently staying at the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in southeast Kenya. Earlier this month, conservationists fitted one of his horns with a GPS tracking device to ensure its survival, reports the BBC.

Conservationists say that the giraffe is the last of its kind that exists in the world, and have expressed concern that poachers could come to kill him after his two family members were killed in March.

The two relatives, a female and a seven-month-old calf with similar white skin, were found dead in a conservation zone in Garissa County in northeast Kenya, a large unfenced area where the male giraffe resides.

The three white giraffes had been “an immense source of pride in the Ishaqbini community” and garnered international attention over the years, the trust said in a Tuesday statement.

“The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male,” said Mohammed Ahmednoor, the manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy.

The nonprofit group added that the tracking device would allow conservationists to see hourly updates on the whereabouts of the giraffe, granting rangers the ability to “keep the unique animal safe from poachers.”

The Kenya Wildlife Society, the main conservationist group overseeing the plight of wild animals in the eastern African nation, said that it was happy to assist any efforts on the ground to safeguard “unique wildlife like the only known white giraffe.”

The extremely rare creature was first spotted in March 2016, roughly two months after a reported sighting in neighboring Tanzania.

White giraffes appeared in world headlines one year later after the mother and her calf were caught on camera at the Garissa County conservancy.

Giraffes are native to over 15 African countries and are the world’s tallest mammals, reaching heights exceeding 18 feet. They primarily reside in savanna and woodland habitats, and subsist on a diet that includes flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems.

However, giraffes are coveted by poachers for their meat, skin, and body parts.

Around 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the last 30 years, with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) blaming poaching and wildlife tracking for the precipitous decline. Fortunately, many giraffe populations enjoy various degrees of legal protection and are the focus of conservation efforts in their range states.

There are over 68,000 giraffes across the world, according to the foundation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List classifies the species as vulnerable, with one of the main threats to the animal coming from poaching as well as habitat loss due to uncontrolled mining and land conversion.

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Animals

Playful Baby Elephant Caught Eating Sugarcane, Innocently Tries Hiding Behind Narrow Pole

Elias Marat

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An adorable baby elephant has been captured in photos while trying its best to hide behind a narrow light pole after being caught red-handed feasting upon sugar cane in a farm in Thailand.

The super-cute calf was caught on camera in Chiang Mai, large city in the mountainous north of the country where sugar cane is widely cultivated.

The playful baby elephant apparently believed that it could hide behind the slender light pole after humans approached it, in spite of its body being significantly wider and obviously noticeable.

When locals entered the farmer’s field with flashlights and approached the elephant, the innocent calf apparently attempted to stand perfectly still in the vain hope that it wouldn’t be detected.

The baby elephant’s hijinks, captured perfectly in photos, soon became the source of uproarious laughter for locals, Thai citizens, and countless people online as it made its rounds through social networks.

Some 7,000 elephants live in Thailand, with about half of the creatures living in captivity. The wild mammals live in the deep jungle and legal protections in national parks, but there is also significant friction with humans who gather and cultivate food in rural zones.

As a result, poor people including older rural folk and agricultural workers tend to have a negative outlook about the large mammals and see them as pests, according to a study by Thai foundation Bring the Elephant Home (BTEH). About 70 percent of the plantation owners working for sugar industry giants even wish that elephants would be totally eradicated, compared to 34 percent of households.

Elephants are a protected species in Thailand, and the killing of elephants carries a maximum prison term of up to three years and a 1,000 baht (USD $33) fine.

The elephant is a national animal of the country, and is seen as representing strength, resilience, and loyalty. The creature has held an important place in Thai and Buddhist culture and has been the basis of folklore in the Southeast Asian nation throughout its modern history. Elephants can be found in the clothing, popular culture, and even beer bottles of the country, and were even featured on the national flag until 1917.

Until 1989, elephants played a crucial role as laborers in the country’s commercial logging industries. When the country suspended logging, unemployed elephants could be found meandering across farmland or seeking shelter in highway underpasses.

Modern urban Thai architecture also features the huge mammal, with one example being the iconic Elephant Building, a high-rise that was built in 1997 in Bangkok and is shaped like an elephant.

Elephants in Thailand belong to the Indian elephant subspecies and the family of Asian elephants, which can be distinguished from their African counterparts by their noticeably smaller ears.

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Animals

Indigenous Community in Canada Mourns After Poachers Kill Sacred White “Spirit Moose”

Elias Marat

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First Nation communities in Canada are in a state of shock and anger after a rare white moose, seen as a “spirit” animal to indigenous people, was killed by suspected poachers.

The rare white moose, seen as a sacred creature by the native culture, was killed by poachers near the city of Timmins, Ontario, leaving locals in a state of mourning.

The corpses of two female moose, including a majestic white cow, were discovered shot and discarded along a service road with their entire bodies intact, including the head, reports The Guardian.

Local residents have traditionally revered the white moose population – as wel as white animals including bison, ravens, and grizzly bears – who have a ghostly pallor due to a recessive gene, and have been sighted moving quietly among the aspen and pine forests of the region.

Community leaders are perplexed about the seemingly needless execution of the creature.

“Everybody is outraged and sad. Why would you shoot it? No one needs one that bad,” remarked Chief Murray Ray of the Flying Post First Nation. “If you have a license to shoot a cow moose, you could shoot another one. Just leave the white ones alone.”

The incident is now under investigation by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Signs around the area warn against killing the creatures, which are now under legal protection under laws that locals fought hard for.

“I really hope they find the people that are responsible for this and they’re charged,” Murray added.

Troy Woodhouse, a fellow member of the Flying Post First Nation community, noted that anyone who sees the moose in person would likely realize “how much of a sacred animal it is and rare and majestic to see.”

“It saddens me that somebody would take such a beautiful animal,” Woodhouse added. “Nobody knows exactly how many are in the area, so the loss of a single spirit moose is one too many.”

Woodhouse fondly remembers the first time that he saw a young white bull moose alongside his wife near the home of his grandfather’s home, which is also in the region.

“It was a sign that he’s watching over us on the land. It was very special to me,” he said.

Woodhouse has personally volunteered to give CAD $1,000 to anyone who volunteers any information that leads to the hunters’ arrest, or for them if the killing was a mistake and they decide to turn themselves in. Others, including animal rights activists and a drilling company, have contributed CAD $8,000 (USD $6,121) for a pool that will go to anyone who can help find the culprit.

“Maybe hunters tried to get one moose and got the other by accident,” he added. “If a person does come forward and admit what they did, I would put my portion towards any of their legal fees. There’s so much negativity in the world today. It’s nice to just see some people banding together and trying to turn this into something positive.”

The creatures are extremely rare in the region. Wildlife photographer Mark Clement, who says that he has seen at least four over the years, estimates that only 30 of the white moose reside in the area.

This isn’t the first time that the slaying of the creatures has outraged indigenous communities in Canada.

In 2013, three hunters killed a white moose in Nova Scotia and faced charges by the Mi’kmaq people. They were eventually forced to return the animal’s pelt to Mi’kmaq authorities so that a days-long mourning ceremony could be held to honor the rare and majestic creatures.

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