Wild in the City

New Backyard Attractions:
El Jefe & the Lion King of L.A.

Behind the string of wild animal sightings roaming major urban centers is our destructive appetite for the land and resources of their natural habitats. Thus when a mountain lion takes residency in a public park, or a jaguar is caught on tape close to a highway, it’s urgent to study them before they disappear.
Seeing bears, coyotes, alligators, tigers, and many others is becoming common in American and world cities. But there’s something new about P-22, a puma who lives in L.A., and El Jefe, of Tucson and possibly the only jaguar living in the U.S.: the much we’ve already learned about their incredibly rich individual sagas.

No offense to the remarkable little tiger that roams your living room, but these magnificent cats’ ability to adapt and survive offers invaluable insights into our efforts to slow down the extinction their species and of so many others face. Even if, as it goes, their close proximity also shames us to no end.
The ongoing massive man-made extermination of wildlife, which took evolution millions of years to perfect, is not just a tragedy on a planetary scale; it may also turn out to be the gateway to our own quick demise. Good riddance, some of them would say if they could or were born for that sort of thing.
For too long, developed nations have blamed poor (our apologies, Africa) continents for being lax about natural resources and their native animals. But what the fate of P-22 and El Jefe brings home is the hypocrisy of such an attitude, as it exposes our own lack of commitment for protecting the planet.

CEO OF THE UNDOCUMENTED
The footage of El Jefe, whose name was chosen by students at a Tucson school, was is a highlight in a decades-long program to restore a clear path for jaguars between North and South America. So there was due credit given when a remote camera captured glances of the elusive cat for the first time.
But it also happens during a particular hard time for U.S. immigrants. As a misguided administration engages in mass deportations, it also plans to build a wall at the border with Mexico, which would be disastrous to that recover strategy. That is sad but fitting, though, as El Jefe is believed to be a Mexican by birth too.
How it’ll play out may determine whether current efforts to prevent the extinction of species is headed to success or failure. That’s because any effective preservation strategy has to allocate, and protect, large swaths of land, where they can thrive without human direct interference. And that’s tough.
By the way, tough is also the jaguar bite: 2000 pounds per square inch, which relative to its weight is the stronger than all other cats, and also bears, gorilas and hippos. It can crush a turtle shell and it’s no wonder the Amerindian word Yaguar means ‘he who kills with one leap.’

THE BOSS OF HOLLYWOOD
The case of P-22 is similar in what the cat’s endurance is also the result of a carefully laid out plan to drive up the numbers of a genetically diverse population in the U.S. That’s another component of a successful recovery strategy, as it increases their odds to survival.
Centuries of hunting, inbreeding, and the perils of navigating diminishing wilderness patches squeezed by miles and miles (more)
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Head & Tails

Who Is the Mad Dog 
Murdering English Cats?

Maybe it’s Internet envy. You know, people who hate you just because you’re all over the Web. And your name is Justin Bieber. The culprit is unlikely to be among cat’s biggest enemies (no, not dogs): bird lovers. But watch out: the U.K. has a serial kitty killer on the prowl.
Nothing cute about it, though. Someone is beheading cats in the South London Croydon neighborhood, and police has no clues, other than the killings are gruesome and ostensible: the psycho leaves mutilated bodies where their human companions can easily come across them.
Again, it may have to do with Internet access and its magnifying effect. For justAtop a Mountain, in Calp, Spain (Aleksandr Osipov:NatGeo)a few decades ago, serial killers were known mostly by law enforcement agents. Now, you need to ask your Uncle Bob to please, shut up already, when he babbles about them as if they were his pub buddies.
Their creepy habits, pathology, and biographies are a constant theme of family dinner conversations, and inspiration to countless movie plots; best seller books and even songs have been written about them, and everybody seems to have heard of that lonely soul who married one in jail.
That’s how most of us know of a particularly haunting trait they all seem to share: an early childhood taste for torturing and murdering small animals. Thus, the British press, not particularly known for nuanced coverage, sobriquet for the newest psychopath: Croydon Cat Ripper.

BLOOD SPREADING OR COPYCATS?
Cats have attracted extreme passion or fear throughout history, and the overstatement needs no emphasis. From ancient Egyptian adoration to Dark Ages‘ obscurantism to redemption through the Black Plague, the domestic feline trajectory with humans has been as vertigo-inducing as a roller coaster.
But once clichés are set aside, a richer picture emerge, of a creature with a rare appeal, both aloof and Zen-like tempered; independent, suffused with mystery, and yet, resolutely loyal to those who (more)
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* Suddenly, Last Caturday
* A Farewell to Furs

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Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. And the results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Or not.
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost aliens raised in Pluto for we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we even apply it to everything, and yes, to us, there is something wrong with that. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy trading their tusk for the ivory, or simply eating them, to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was ‘depravity,’ and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad ‘science’ journalism have ensued, of course. But the biggest recent news about the Adélie had nothing to do with sex. In February, it was reported that 150,000 penguins died, after being landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But it was a hoax, better researched stories have confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Rain (Forest) Check

The Amazon’s Skydiving
Spiders & Other Updates

Wonder what’s up with that other, more vital Amazon? Turns out, not nearly as grand as with its namesake commercial enterprise. In fact, weak regulations and public apathy have made its country host Brazil far from a safe harbor to the world’s largest rainforest.
Illegal logging continues rampant all over. Then there’s a just-established, and disturbing, link between its wildfires and Atlantic hurricanes; plus an expected ‘Godzilla’ El Niño season. But never mind climate change: worst of all are those pesky skydiving spiders falling all over the place.
Wonders are never in short supply, though. Take the research showing that the Amazon is way more diverse than originally thought, for instance. A recent study found a ‘hidden tapestry‘ of plant-based chemicals that determines growth and direction of its luscious species.
Or the Matsés, a tribe based in Brazil and Peru, that’s just compiled a 500-page encyclopedia summarizing its traditional medicine. Put together by five shamans, it’s likely the first treatise of its kind, with entries for therapies indicated to a massive variety of illnesses.
And then there are the efforts of forest activists who, despite mortal danger represented by armed gangs who roam the place on big landowners’ account, have been able to sustain an unsung but absolutely heroic battle to preserve what used to be called the ‘lungs of the world.’
To be fair, Brazil’s slowed down deforestation in the Amazon, albeit not nearly enough. Still its vastness, potential, and significance can’t be overstated. If we could only match its ability to wonder with a few miracles of our own, we’ll be in better shape now.

TIMBER TRACKING & NOT MUCH ELSE
In the past decade, Brazil has cut down greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country, which is commendable. But a recent visit by embattled President Dilma Rousseff to Washington failed to (more)
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Ailurophile, Caturally

Cats & Their Subtle Ways
of Taking Over Our World

The Internet may be the realm of cats. But Japan has been their unofficial land for 15 centuries. Out of its over 6,800 islands, 11 are felines-only places. There, as here or everywhere, an endless stream of news about cats seems to be always pouring. Our duty is to report them. Hey, it’s their world; we just work here.
For sure, they’ve been around way before catching rides on sixth century Chinese boats. And before Egypt and Tibet and New York City threaten to suit us for misrepresentation, they’ve occupied every pore of society, from houses to cafes, from offices to retirement homes, and the very social mores of our age.
The opening of Life of Cats, a two-part show of the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection‘s of cat woodblock prints by Edo-period artists at New York’s Japan Society, presents the perfect opportunity to jump at such an omnipresent, furry, and ever so gracious, subject. The heavy-handed commentary is ours, of course.
The exhibit of almost 200 prints, some popular, others very rare, covers the influential 17th-through-18th centuries period, through works by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Utagawa Yoshiiku, and many others, depicting cats in a variety of settings and situations, both playful and thought provoking.

Divided in five sections – Cats and People, as People, and versus People, Transformed, and at Play – the selections, from the most extensive collection of ukiyo-e prints in the world, offer a journey through pre-industrial and pre-urban Japan through the mid 1800s and beyond. It’s complemented with modern artwork.
In surprising, evocative scenery, the felines are shown as companions, stand-ins for humans, threatening, and just plain child-friendly playful. The technique allows to exquisite detailing and implied hidden contexts, expertly told as stories by the shows’s curator, and Japan Society Gallery’s director, Miwako Tezuka.

HOME & OFFICE PET COMFORT
Back to contemporary times, Japan’s arguably where the cat cafes first sprouted, but it’s in no way the sole sanctuary Continue reading

The Whale Report

An Albino, Granny & the
Lonely One, Plus an Arabian Pod

For residents of a planet covered by water, we know little about the sea, and arguably, even less about the creatures that live in it. Not even whales, the biggest of them, – a mammal like us, and a former land animal – we know much about. We should hurry up, though.
Centuries of whaling have cut down their population. Pollution and human habits may finish them off. Before that happens, though, you must learn about three unique individuals, and a very odd pod, still swimming the oceans and challenging all assumptions about them.
To be sure, it’s not easy to study animals who live in another element, plus, there are species so secluded and hard to observe in natura that our only hope to gather insights about them is when their carcasses wash ashore. We’re still to catch a live giant squid, for instance.
In fact, we’re so desperate to know more about whales that we’ve been studying everything we can grab from them: their songs, their breath, their earwax, their vomit, even their poop. Each has shed some light on their behavior, history, even their perception about our presence.
We know now that they can live up to 110 years, possibly more, and that they’re sociable beings. Thus many may have stored somewhere within their giant brains, the memory passed along from previous generations, of how we used to hunt and slaughter them mercilessly.
But even without that memory, they have plenty of reasons to fear and mistrust us. Right now, nine companies are lobbying to use seismic air blasts to look for oil and gas off the Eastern Seaboard, a practice that’s been found to be harmful to Cetaceans and marine life.
We can’t list here all the wrong things about that. But it does make the more urgent to introduce our guests today: a rare Albino humpback; an 103-year-young grandmother Orca; the world’s loneliest whale, and a group that’s been genetically isolated from all others for 70,000 years.

THE BIG ALBINO FELLA
When Herman Melville wrote about the white whale that became Capt. Ahab’s obsession and ruin, he echoed centuries of fear about these giants. It also helped that Moby Dick was loosely based on a terrible event, the 1820 wreck of the Whaleship Essex by a sperm whale.
But Migaloo, a rare white whale that’s been pictured frolicking (and singing) around, is a humpback and has done nothing to inspire fear. Not the sole Albino out there, he’s the only one with no spots, though, and his gregarious personality has delighted those who’ve observed it.
Scientists know that it’s a male because it sings, and his name, the Aboriginal word for ‘white fellow,’ does him justice: at the estimated ripe age rage of 22-25, he’s still growing and may survive another half century. That is, if pollution, human presence, air blasts, etc, etc.

GRANNY DID IT AGAIN
Marine biologists only realized Granny, a matriarch of a pod of Orcas that live in the Pacific, is the oldest known of her species because they’ve followed her, and her calf, Ruffles, since the 1970s, helped by her distinctive patches. She must have been in her 60s, then, they say.
To determine age is not an exact science (rings formed in their earwax offer a more precise picture), and it’s silly to link her to human events (oh, she was born before the Titanic sank, some said). Still, Orcas, also known as killer whales, have had a troubled history with humans.
Organizations such as SeaWorld insist in apprehend them for profit and entertainment, and ignore that they need the vastness of the ocean to thrive. Granny was spotted on an 800-mile trek within just a few days. Thank goodness she was born as free as she should be.

THE LONELIEST SONG
We’ve told you about 52 Herz, the whale who may never find a mate because her songs are sung in a much higher frequency of all other whales. We’ve known about this mysterious creature since 1989 but so far, have failed to capture her on camera.
Judging by her migration patterns, she seems to be a baleem whale, a species to which belong the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the fin whale. But because

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