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.
Pigs Have the Smarts to Play Video Games and Use Joysticks, Study Shows
For those of us who belong to the millennial or “zoomer” generations – basically anyone from teens to those in their early 40s – it’s safe to assume that we’ve had at least some experience with videogames, whether it was jumping on turtles in the original Super Mario Bros, grinding rails in Tony Hawk Pro Skater, capping zombies in Resident Evil, or dancing with mates in Fortnite.
Indeed, there’s a certain joy and sense of satisfaction we get after clearing a particularly tough level, opponent, or obstacle – which, in some cases, can make us feel pretty smart.
However, as it turns out, even a pig can play video games – and may actually enjoy them. (Although we can assume that pigs may wince at the sight of Angry Birds inflicting wanton destruction on the bad piggies and their fortresses.)
We’ve long known that swine are quite intelligent creatures. But as BBC reports, a scientific study has found that pigs do possess the mental capacity to play video games, and just a bit of training can equip them with the skills to do so.
In the new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by researchers from Purdue University and Comparitive Cognition Project, four hogs – Ebony, Hamlet, Ivory and Omelette – were trained to manipulate an arcade-style joystick to steer an on-screen cursor into walls with only their snouts.
Each time the pigs beat a “level,” they were then given a snack as a reward.
The paper notes that prior studies had already discovered that pigs “could solve multiple choice problems.” However, the discovery that the pigs understood the connection between the stick and the game “is no small feat” – especially because pigs are far-sighted and don’t have hands or thumbs.
Impressively, the pigs were even happy to play the game even when the food reward dispenser broke – largely because they enjoyed the social contact and encouraging words from the researchers.
The competency of the gaming pigs varied, with one pig proving to be a much keener gamer than the others.
While we can’t expect that the pigs will be able to beat the epic “A Quiet Exit” mission in Metal Gear Solid V or the infamous train scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the fact remains that pigs can play video games.
The findings weren’t a surprise to Kate Daniels of Willow Farms in Worcestershire, who told BBC: “I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone that works with pigs”.
“They’re not playing Minecraft – but that they can manipulate a situation to get a reward is no surprise at all,” she added.
“Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs look you right in the eye,” she noted, paraphrasing a Winston Churchill quote. “When you look a pig right in the eye, you can tell there’s intelligence there.”
Indeed, past studies have shown that pigs are intelligent enough to use mirrors to locate hidden food in an enclosure and can even be taught like dogs to “come” and “sit” using verbal commands.
“This sort of study is important because, as with any sentient beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them,” lead author and Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science director Candace Croney said.
“We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are capable of learning and remembering, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interactions with us and their environments,” she added.
Scientists Shocked After Discovering ‘Strange Creatures’ Nearly a Mile Under Antarctic Ice Shelf
The perplexing community of alien-like creatures wasn’t supposed to be there.
Roughly a mile beneath the icy surface of Antarctica in a remote region 160 miles from sunlight, scientists have accidentally discovered a perplexing set of bizarre creatures, perplexing the researchers who believed the area to be a wasteland wholly devoid of life.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey had drilled through 3,000 ft. of ice after melting 20 tons of snow to scoop up seafloor sediment before dropping a camera into the frigid ocean below. However, they soon realized that their tunnel had been dug right above a boulder at the bottom of the ocean, rendering it impossible to gather any sediment.
However, to the shock of the researchers, their camera was able to discover an ecosystem of life that left them confounded with what Wired described as “strange creatures” – two types of filter feeding sea sponges that had never been encountered, dwelling in the – 28.04°F (-2.2°C) water where researchers had believed that no life was possible.
The strange species dwelling in the pitch black waters are living over 200 miles from any known food source, but the creatures still appear to be prospering in spite of the treacherous conditions of the Antarctic sea floor.
The discovery of the strange sea sponges shows just how little we still know about one of the only unexplored regions of the world – and the forms of life that thrive there – where gigantic ice shelves that often rival the size of entire countries have prevented researchers from studying what lies below.
The team’s study laying out the jaw-dropping discovery was published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
“It’s not the most exciting-looking rock—if you don’t know where it is,” British Antarctic Survey biologist Dr. Huw Griffiths told Wired.
Indeed, on close inspection the rock wasn’t only home to the bizarre alien-like sponges – including some shaped like cylinders – but also a film of bacteria known as a microbial mat and a range of stalked organism. Their source of sustenance is what left the scientists befuddled.
Animals that live sessile (or stationary) lives typically rely on a stable supply of food known as “marine snow” – the detritus and remains, sometimes as small as particles, of decomposed sea creatures that sink to the depths of the ocean. Anyone with their own aquarium can imagine what this marine snow looks like.
However, while the source of food might not be apparent, the scientists are guessing that underwater currents are washing in miniscule bits of organic matter from ecosystems that could be as distant as 390 to 930 miles away.
This all still remains a matter of speculation until the next expedition can study this mysterious underwater community much closer. Yet the scientists are eager to find out what these bizarre creatures are and how they ended up in the region in such an inhospitable region in the first place.
“Are they all eating the same food source?” Griffiths asked. “Or are some of them kind of getting nutrients from each other? Or are there more mobile animals around somehow providing food for this community?”
“Tiger King” Joe Exotic, With Limo Waiting Outside Federal Prison, Fails to Receive Trump Pardon
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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