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Mass Die-Off of Birds in U.S. Southwest Caused by Severe Starvation

Hundreds of thousands of birds mysteriously dropped dead out of the sky.

Elias Marat

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Photograph: Jenna McCullough/University of New Mexico

When hundreds of thousands of songbirds mysteriously began “falling out of the sky” in September across Western states in the U.S., wildlife researchers were aghast over what possibly could have caused the mass die-off.

Various bird species were discovered to have been injured or simply perished en masse across hiking paths, backyards, and roadsides in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Nebraka, New Mexico and Texas. These included flycatchers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, loons, swallows and warblers. Many of the birds were also bird and insect eaters migrating from the northern tundra in Alaska and Canada to winter in Central and South America.

Biologists sent the results to the federal laboratories of the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that some 80 percent of specimens were victims of severe starvation – with carcasses displaying such tell-tale signs as emaciated wings, empty stomachs, dehydration, and depleted fat stores, reports Audobon Society.

However, the starvation itself was the result of unseasonably frigid weather conditions linked to the erratic and fast-changing climate conditions caused by humans, according to researchers.

“It looks like the immediate cause of death in these birds was emaciation as a result of starvation,” Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, told the Guardian. “It’s really hard to attribute direct causation, but given the close correlation of the weather event with the death of these birds, we think that either the weather event forced these birds to migrate prior to being ready, or maybe impacted their access to food sources during their migration.”

The climate crisis was already a top culprit in the mass die-off, with experts speculating that the birds perished as a result of a brutal cold front, droughts, or even the tremendous amount of smoke being pumped out of the unprecedented wildfires raging across western states at the time.

While lab results ruled out physical damage from smoke as a factor in most bird deaths, however, many of the migratory birds were likely pushed off-course by the wildfires and into the windy and freezing southwestern snowstorms raging around Sept. 9 or 10, causing them to freeze to death, collide into buildings and cars while in a disoriented state, and die from either the impact or from being consumed by predators.

The birds were also ravaged by the effects of the mega-drought ravaging the U.S. Southwest, which left them vulnerable to the coinciding extreme weather events.

“We’re not talking about short-term starvation – this is a longer-term starvation,” said Prof. Martha Desmond of New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology. “They became so emaciated they actually had to turn to wasting their major flight muscles. This means that this isn’t something that happened overnight.”

“Here in New Mexico we’ve seen a very dry year, and we’re forecast to have more of those dry years,” Desmond added. “And in turn I would say it appears that a change in climate is playing a role in this, and that we can expect to see more of this in the future.”

“I think it’s just very sad … Especially the thought that we are seeing some long-term starvation in some of these birds.”

Desmond, who worked with experts at the Bureau of Land Management and White Sands Missile Range to collect bird carcasses and assess the extent of the losses, had described the losses as a national tragedy.

Those who also worked with the massive influx of carcasses were chilled by the experience of working with such a huge volume of bird carcasses.

“The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming,” commented NMSU grad student Allison Salas.

Since 1970, bird populations in North America have plummeted by 29 percent, or three billion birds. According to a 2019 study, rampant high temperatures resulting from climate change are drastically altering the migration patterns of bird species. Likewise, the conversion of pastures and grasslands into large crops has thinned out nesting places, while an accompanying mass die-off of insects eliminated by pesticides has deprived birds of their natural food sources.

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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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