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Baby news? Calgary zoo hoping for giant panda pregnancy

Baby news? Calgary zoo hoping for giant panda pregnancy

Panda handlers are on baby watch at the Calgary zoo after Er Shun, a giant panda on loan from China, was inseminated on Tuesday.

Colleen Baird, manager of animal care for the zoo, says it could take several weeks to find out if Calgary will be the birthplace of any panda babies. 

The process is delicate. For the past few weeks, handlers have been carefully monitoring the female’s estrogen and progesterone levels to pinpoint the narrow window of opportunity for pregnancy, Baird told the Calgary Eyeopener. Giant pandas ovulate only once per year.

“There’s a certain point when she cycles that it’s time to inseminate, and those values are what we need to make sure we have the right timing,” Baird said.

“It’s about two to three days. We have a Chinese specialist here with us who does insemination. We consult with him and make sure that we’re on the right track. And he felt really good about where we were, and the way that the insemination was — we’re feeling pretty confident.”

Preparations involved “a lot of collecting urine” and keeping Er Shun happy and calm during the spring mating season.

“That can be tough when pandas are going through cycles, because she’s experiencing quite a change in hormones,” Baird said.

Zoo staff are hoping Er Shun, the adult female giant panda, will soon become pregnant. Er Shun is one of four giant pandas on loan from China. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Gestation usually takes between 95 and 160 days. 

“One thing is that we we use frozen sperm, and that’s dictated by China,” Baird said. “And so we’ll see how our chances are, which is never as good as fresh. But I got to see the samples through a microscope and there’s lots of swimmers in there. So we’re hoping.”

The father is not Da Mao, the male giant panda who is also at the Calgary Zoo, but a donor from China, which Baird says has to do with lineage. 

“This go around, Da Mao might not be the best genetic match,” she said. “As the population changes and more of his lineage or relatives are producing more cubs and pandas, his value decreases. So this year using Da Mao wasn’t really an option. The frozen ones had a better genetic match with Er Shun for this go around. We’re hoping that we get cubs.”

Baird says it could take a while to find out whether the panda has become pregnant. There’s no blood test, and giant pandas don’t necessarily show their pregnancies.

“Pandas are complicated because they’re delayed implanters. So if we were successful at fertilizing the egg, that egg can be floating around unattached to the uterus. And there’s a lot of environmental factors and hormonal factors that tell her when the right time is for that egg to implant, that says, ‘Hey, I can take care of this cub and I’m healthy enough, I’m safe enough to do so,'” she said. “So we don’t know when that moment happens. It’s kind of a mystery.”

Baird said the team will wait “several weeks” before checking via ultrasound.

“It could still be weeks and weeks before the egg will implant,” she said. “So it’s a guessing game, but we’ll start taking a peek probably in late May or early June.”

The Calgary Zoo welcomed four giant pandas last spring: Da Mao, Er Shun and her two cubs, Jia YueYue and Jia PanPan. The rare animals are on loan from China for five years, housed in an exhibit called Panda Passage.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Who cleans up? No requirements to fix environmental impacts from mining, auditor says

Who cleans up? No requirements to fix environmental impacts from mining, auditor says

Ottawa is keeping appropriate track of how Canada’s mining industry releases effluent into the country’s waterways, but nobody’s responsible for fixing problems when they are discovered, says the federal environment commissioner.

“When environmental effects were found, there was no requirement on anybody’s part to actually have to do anything,” Julie Gelfand said in an audit released Tuesday. “Nobody actually seems to have to deal with the issue.”

The audit found other gaps.

Environment Canada didn’t have adequate information for about one-third of Canada’s metal mines. The department completed only two-thirds of its planned inspections for non-metals operations, such as coal or oilsands mines.

As well, it only monitored about 60 per cent of company-filed plans to compensate for fish habitat lost to tailings ponds.

“As a result, the department did not always know whether the mining companies performed their planned actions to offset the loss of fish and their habitat,” the audit said.

Gelfand’s report said potash, coal and oilsands mines should be inspected more often. She also raised concerns about lower overall mine inspections in Ontario.

Charles Dumaresq of the Mining Association of Canada said the industry supports greater transparency.

“From a public credibility perspective, there’s seen to be value in doing inspections,” he said.

I don’t know why this is so difficult.– Ugo Lapointe

Industry has pushed Environment Canada to release more inspection data, including the names of individual mines, Dumaresq added.

But he was cautious about cleanup laws.

“If you’re going to have a requirement, you’re going to have to have some enforcement mechanism to go with it,” he said.

“Every solution is going to be different. How do you enforce a law like that, when the solutions are unique to each site and the times it takes to implement the solutions are unique to each site?”

No problem, said Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada.

“At the very least, there should be a mandatory investigation of cause and a mandatory investigation of solution. I don’t know why this is so difficult.”

When fines are handed out, said Lapointe, they’re too small to be a deterrent.

“We’re urging the minister to put immediate resources into the hands of Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans to increase the inspection rates and … to be able to enforce the law. Corporate directors are not afraid of Canadian law.”

Effects of the audit’s recommendations could be far-reaching.

A 2017 report from Environment Canada found three-quarters of mines that studied the environmental consequences of their operations found at least one impact. Half those mines found effects on both fish and their habitat.

All the effects were considered strong enough to be environmentally risky.

The same report stated about 75 per cent of mines that checked found reduced biodiversity among bugs that fish eat. About half the mines in the report found impacts near the site and far afield.

Tailings ponds are also a growing concern.

In addition to the vast ponds at Alberta’s oilsands, the number of water bodies where effluent may be stored has grown almost tenfold since 2006 — to 46 from five.

Environment Canada has promised to develop options by next spring for how to clean up problems, including updating discharge limits.

A spokeswoman said in an email that the government is also looking at investigation and implementation requirements when impacts are found, as well as further enforcement measures. Caroline Theriault added that further enforcement measures are being considered.

Fisheries and Oceans acknowledged its efforts to keep track of tailings ponds have fallen short and said it would beef up monitoring by next April.

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Israeli spacecraft on track for scheduled moon landing

Israeli spacecraft on track for scheduled moon landing

The first Israeli spacecraft to journey to the moon passed its most crucial test yet on Thursday when it dropped into lunar orbit one week ahead of landing.

After travelling over 5.5 million kilometres around the Earth and drawing ever closer to the moon, the spacecraft finally swung into the moon’s elliptical orbit — keeping it on track for touchdown April 11.

“This was a milestone and it actually gives us a real shot at the moon,” said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit that built the spacecraft.

The lander, dubbed “Beresheet” — Hebrew for “Genesis” or “In the Beginning”  — is the smallest spacecraft in history to have entered the moon’s orbit.

From the control centre in Yehud, near Tel Aviv, a fleet of engineers tracked the spacecraft’s speed. In order to catapult away from the Earth and successfully “catch” the moon’s gravitational pull, Beresheet needed to slow down from 8,500 km/h to 7,500 km/h.

Spectators observed from behind glass, holding their breath as screens showed Beresheet’s engines kicking into gear.

After five minutes, Beresheet hit the perfect velocity, and the engineers burst into applause, congratulating each other with hugs and handshakes.

A failure to slow down would have brought the mission to an abrupt end.

Israel will be the fourth country to pull off a moon landing

“The price of a mistake here would have been infinite,” said Opher Doron, space division general manager at Israel Aerospace Industries, which worked with SpaceIL on the project. “We would have been spinning in space toward some sun orbit that no one wants to go into.”

Now drawn into lunar orbit, Beresheet will trace smaller and smaller loops around the moon before attempting to land.

“There is a significant chance we have a crash landing,” said Doron. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s difficult to predict we’ll succeed.”

But, he added, after completing Thursday’s challenge, the team was optimistic.

Unlike giant, powerful NASA rockets that hurtle directly toward moon, the humble four-legged landing craft, barely the size of a washing machine, has embarked on a risky and roundabout route.

The modest $100 million mission couldn’t afford its own rocket, so Beresheet hitched a ride on the SpaceX Falcon rocket, launched from Florida in February. Since then, the spacecraft has traversed 6.5 million kilometres (about 4 million miles) to get to the moon, among the longest distances ever travelled.

‘This is what’s going to propel our country forward’

If all goes according to plan, Beresheet will land on a plain of solidified lava, known as the Sea of Serenity. It will spend a couple days on the moon’s surface, measuring the magnetic field at the landing site, and send back data and pictures.

A successful mission would make Israel the fourth country to pull off a moon landing, after Russia, the U.S. and China.

SpaceIL hopes its feat will inspire the next generation of Israelis to study science and engineering.

Winetraub described how during the recent Jewish holiday of Purim, he saw many children dressed up as Beresheet and as astronauts. “It’s amazing to see the amount of excitement we’ve already generated,” he said. “That is what’s going to propel our country forward.”

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Ancient four-legged whale from Peru walked on land, swam in sea

Ancient four-legged whale from Peru walked on land, swam in sea

Scientists have unearthed fossils in a coastal desert of southern Peru of a four-legged whale that thrived both in the sea and on land about 43 million years ago in a discovery that illuminates a pivotal stage in early cetacean evolution.

The four-meter-long mammal, named Peregocetus pacificus, represents a crucial intermediate step before whales became fully adapted to a marine existence, the scientists said on Thursday.

Its four limbs were capable of bearing its weight on land, meaning Peregocetus could return to the rocky coast to rest and perhaps give birth while spending much of its time at sea. Its feet and hands had small hooves and probably were webbed to aid in swimming. With long fingers and toes, and relatively slender limbs, moving around on land may not have been easy.

Its elongated snout and robust teeth — large grasping incisors and canines along with flesh-shearing molars — made Peregocetus adept at catching medium-size prey like fish.

“We think that it was feeding in the water, and that its underwater locomotion was easier than that on land,” said Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences paleontologist Olivier Lambert, who led the research published in the journal Current Biology.

“Some vertebrae of the tail region share strong similarities with semi-aquatic mammals like otters, indicating the tail was predominantly used for underwater locomotion,” Lambert added.

Evolutionary origins

Whale evolutionary origins were poorly understood until the 1990s when fossils of the earliest whales were found. Various fossils have shown that whales evolved a bit more than 50 million years ago in Pakistan and India from hoofed, land-dwelling mammals distantly related to hippos and about the size of a medium-sized dog. It took millions of years for them to spread around the world.

Peregocetus represents the most complete quadrupedal whale skeleton outside India and Pakistan, and the first known from the Pacific region and the Southern Hemisphere.

Its presence in Peru, Lambert said, suggests quadrupedal whales spread from South Asia to North Africa, then crossed the South Atlantic to reach the New World. Peregocetus shows that the first whales to reach the Americas still retained the ability to move on land.

Over time, cetacean front limbs evolved into flippers. The hind limbs eventually become mere vestiges. It was not until about 40 million years ago that the whale lineage evolved into completely marine animals, then split into the two cetacean groups alive today: filter-feeding baleen whales and toothed whales like dolphins and orcas.

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A voter's guide to climate change and the federal election

A voter’s guide to climate change and the federal election

The latest federal climate change report shows that Canada is warming faster than the global average which could mean more wildfires and more extreme weather.

With a federal election mere months away, what should Canadians demand from politicians to tackle this crisis?

Isabelle Turcotte, director of federal policy at the Pembina Institute environmental think-tank, spoke with On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko to offer her thoughts on what Canadians should look for when deciding who to vote for.

What sort of checklist should voters have when they’re trying to evaluate their political representatives?

Voters should look for strong climate platforms and leaders who will be dedicated to tackling this issue with concrete action and concrete policies that will reduce our emissions and transform every sector of our economy.

How does the average voter know what is a concrete policy?

Let’s get all of our leadership hopefuls on the record saying that they are committed to meeting our Paris Agreement target and that they are also committed to increasing that target because we know that that target is not quite enough

Look for policies that reduce emissions in the transport sector. Concrete things like increasing electric vehicles on the road. Look for policies that put more renewable energy on the grid, for policies that help our industrial sector decarbonize.

Really concrete things that make our economic sectors more efficient and more economically competitive.

Well, you can have concrete evidence for a government that’s in power, but what about parties that are out of government?

A very important element is policy certainty to make sure that those industries that are making investments in the current regulatory environment where we are putting in place our climate plans and guiding investments, that they know they can be confident that this regulatory environment will be sustained and dialed up because we know we need to do more.

So seeing some policy alignment between what’s being proposed is really valuable — between what’s being proposed by leadership hopefuls and what exists is a good indicator.  

Despite climate change being an issue that’s affecting all of us there are very clear partisan divides on it among provinces. Ontario and Saskatchewan are against the carbon tax vehemently. Why is this happening?

To those who oppose this measure, which we know is the lowest-cost measure to reduce our emissions, to those who oppose that approach, put forward your alternatives and let’s debate it. I think that’s what Canadians need to demand of their leaders.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. Listen to the complete interview:

The latest federal climate change report shows that Canada is warming faster than the global average which could mean more wildfires and more extreme weather So, with a federal election mere months away, what should Canadians demand from politicians to tackle this crisis? 6:39

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Satellite images show building of first Saudi nuclear reactor

Satellite images show building of first Saudi nuclear reactor

Saudi Arabia is about a year away from completing the building of its first nuclear reactor, according to Google satellite images identified by a nuclear expert who said Thursday the construction so far appears to be very small in size and intended for research and training purposes.

Still, Robert Kelley said before the kingdom can insert nuclear fuel into the reactor, it would have to abide by an agreement that requires inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kelley, a veteran of the U.S. Department of Energy and a former director of nuclear inspections at the IAEA who is now based in Vienna, was first to identify the images of the reactor site in Riyadh at the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST).

The Associated Press could not immediately reach spokespeople at the Energy Ministry or KACST for comment.

Kelley said it’s been surprising to him “how non-transparent” the kingdom has been in the process of building the reactor and “how they seem very cavalier about modifying their arrangements with the IAEA.”

Kelley was referring to agreements the kingdom has signed. The kingdom agreed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty three decades ago. In 2005, it signed an agreement with the IAEA known as the “small quantities protocol” that allows countries with negligible nuclear programs to be exempt from regular inspections or nuclear monitoring.

However, once nuclear fuel is brought into the country to operate this small reactor, inspections by the IAEA would be required, Kelley said.

Saudi Prince has not ruled out developing a nuclear weapon

“It’s simply that they’re crossing a threshold in terms of their requirements,” Kelley said, explaining the significance of the construction of the reactor, which is much smaller than the ones the kingdom has said it wants to build for energy purposes.

The type of reactor being built now, according to the satellite images Kelley identified, is used by technicians for learning and training purposes.

“The reactor is at the bottom of an open tank filled with water 10 metres high. It’s very, very small,” Kelley said, adding that the core of the reactor is about the size of a gallon-sized paint can.

He said the Saudi reactor is being built by the Argentinian government-owned company INVAP. Before Argentina brings nuclear fuel to Saudi Arabia for the reactor, the IAEA agreement in place that exempts Saudi Arabia from inspections would need to be rescinded, Kelley said.

“I think it’s a 100 per cent certainty that Argentina is not going to supply uranium fuel to a country that doesn’t have a safeguards agreement in force,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration last week said it approved seven applications for U.S. companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, however, have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. technology is transferred without proper safeguards.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also not ruled out developing a nuclear weapon. He told CBS last year, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

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How B.C. brought in Canada's 1st carbon tax and avoided economic disaster

How B.C. brought in Canada’s 1st carbon tax and avoided economic disaster

Eleven years ago, Jock Finlayson and his colleagues at the Business Council of B.C. were mildly alarmed by how quickly Gordon Campbell’s provincial government implemented North America’s first carbon tax.

“We were concerned, to be candid, about what the implications of this would be for our members and for the business community generally,” Finlayson, the council’s chief policy officer told CBC.

Today, after watching the tax in action for more than a decade, he still doesn’t love it, but he’s also seen the advantages of putting a price on pollution.

“I’d say in macro [economic] terms, because of the way the policy was designed, it’s probably been a wash. In other words, I don’t think it’s either helped or hurt overall growth in the provincial economy,” he said.

As the last four provinces to resist carbon pricing are dragged into a new federal tax scheme, the country’s oldest carbon tax might serve as a good example of what to expect.

‘Good for the environment and the economy’

To be clear, not everyone is happy with the tax. The right-leaning Fraser Institute argues it makes B.C. less attractive for investors.

“The end result is less investment, lower rates of job-creation, and fewer opportunities for British Columbians to prosper,” the institute’s Niels Veldhuis and Charles Lammam wrote in a 2017 op-ed opposing increases to the tax.

And Finlayson said he’s still concerned that businesses in industries like pulp and paper, mining and food processing can’t compete with rivals in other provinces because of the high price of energy in B.C.

But the economists who spoke to CBC for this story suggest B.C.’s tax is working as it should. By making pollution more expensive to reflect the environmental costs, the tax appears to have changed the behaviour of British Columbians and led to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, while sectors of B.C. economy that consume a lot of energy have suffered from the higher cost of fuel, others, apparently spurred by corporate tax cuts, are thriving.

“This carbon tax is a model for the world that well-designed carbon pricing can be good for the environment and the economy. In the 11 years since B.C. brought in its carbon tax, it’s outpaced the rest of Canada both on emission reduction and GDP growth,” said Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa.

In 2007, B.C.’s premier at the time, Gordon Campbell (left), signed an agreement with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, pledging to fight global warming. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Looking back, the origin story for B.C.’s carbon tax sounds counterintuitive.

The tax, first set at $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, was brought in by a B.C. Liberal government — the equivalent of a conservative administration in most parts of the country.

But that was July 2008, before the true onset of the global financial crisis. Al Gore’s climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was still fuelling a wave of concern about greenhouse gas emissions.

“It was a very popular tax. I think it caught both the NDP and the Greens provincially off guard,” said pollster Mario Canseco, president of Vancouver’s Research Co.

The NDP launched an “axe the tax” campaign, arguing it would kill jobs, and leader Carole James promised she’d dump it if she were elected premier in the 2008 election.

She wasn’t, and the Liberals helped ease British Columbians into the idea of a carbon tax by making it revenue neutral. Taxpayers received rebates, and the province lowered corporate and personal income taxes.

NDP embrace the tax

Since then, the provincial NDP has come around on the tax. When the party came into power two years ago, James was named finance minister, and she’s overseen a thaw of the carbon tax rate, which had been frozen since 2012.

As of April 1, B.C.’s rate is $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, which translates to 8.89 cents per litre of gasoline. It’s set to top out at $50 a tonne in 2021.

In the meantime, numerous researchers have tried to determine the impact of the tax. According to a 2015 paper, B.C.’s emissions had dropped by between five and 15 per cent since the tax was implemented, and it had a “negligible impact” on the overall economy.

Elgie, of the University of Ottawa, was part of a wide-ranging 2013 study that showed a 19 per cent drop in B.C.’s per capita fuel consumption in the first four years of the tax, while the province’s economy slightly outperformed the rest of the country.

“The other side of the carbon price is that it creates an incentive for innovation,” Elgie said. “B.C. has now become a leader in clean technology.”

He pointed to Squamish’s Carbon Engineering, which has developed technology that it says can suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into fuel.

Sumeet Gulati, a professor in food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia, has studied the impact of the carbon tax on consumer choices — particularly, the choices of drivers.

B.C.’s carbon tax currently amounts to 8.89 cents per litre of gas. (Dave Will/CBC)

A 2016 research paper he co-wrote suggests the carbon tax has pushed B.C. drivers to choose cars that are more fuel efficient.

“If we didn’t have it … we’d be at least emitting on average seven per cent more per person in B.C. in terms of carbon emissions while driving, and cars would be about four per cent less fuel efficient,” Gulati told CBC.

Room for improvement

In recent years, the province has abandoned the idea of keeping the tax revenue neutral, and is now using some of the proceeds to encourage development of green technologies.

The folks at the Fraser Institute say that’s a mistake.

“Firms in British Columbia now not only face the highest carbon tax in North America, but they no longer enjoy any of the offsetting benefits that briefly existed as a result of lower [corporate income tax] rates,” the authors of a January report wrote.

Gulati also believes a return to revenue neutrality is essential.

“It’s important to make it politically resilient, despite who comes into power,” he said.

On the other hand, he’d like to see the rate keep rising, up to $75 or even $100 per tonne of emissions.

As for Finlayson at the Business Council of B.C., he’d like to see more support for businesses that have been hurt by the tax, including exporters, manufacturers and pulp and paper mills.

He’d also like to see a true Canada-wide carbon pricing scheme that would put businesses on an even playing field while tackling emissions.

“It’s unfortunate that the whole national climate change policy framework is in disarray at the moment because of all the opposition that we’re seeing from some provinces and some political parties,” he said.

“If we’re going to deal with this climate change issue and do so through a sensible carbon pricing regime, the logic is very powerful to try and do that in a coordinated, pan-Canadian way.”

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Study finds cats distinguish their own names from other sounds

Study finds cats distinguish their own names from other sounds

A new study suggests household cats can respond to the sound of their own names.

While the results will come as no surprise to most cat owners, Japanese scientists said Thursday that they’ve provided the first experimental evidence that cats can distinguish between words that people say.

So you’re kind of like dogs, whose communication with people has been studied a lot more, and who’ve been shown to recognize hundreds of words if they’re highly trained.

Atsuko Saito of Sophia University in Tokyo says there’s no evidence cats actually attach meaning to our words, not even their own names. Instead, they’ve learned that when they hear their names they often get rewards like food or play, or something bad like a trip to the vet. And they hear their names a lot. So the sound of it becomes special, even if they don’t really understand it refers to their identity.

Cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learning from it.– Monique Udell, animal behaviour scientist, Oregon State

Saito and colleagues describe the results of their research in the journal Scientific Reports. In four experiments with 16 to 34 animals, each cat heard a recording of its owner’s voice, or another person’s voice, that slowly recited a list of four nouns or other cat’s names, followed by the cat’s own name.

Many cats initially reacted — such as by moving their heads, ears or tails — but gradually lost interest as the words were read. The crucial question was whether they’d respond more to their name.

Sure enough, on average, these cats perked up when they heard their own name.

Kristyn Vitale, who studies cat behavior and the cat-human bond at Oregon State University in Corvallis but didn’t participate in the new work, said the results “make complete sense to me.”

Vitale, who said she has trained cats to respond to verbal commands, agreed that the new results don’t mean that cats assign a sense of self to their names. It’s more like being trained to recognize a sound, she said.

Monique Udell, who also studies animal behavior at Oregon State, said the study shows “cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learning from it.”

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'Deadliest disease in all time' wipes out 90 species of frogs and toads

‘Deadliest disease in all time’ wipes out 90 species of frogs and toads

It’s the plague of your worst sci-fi nightmares — caused by a deadly pathogen that spreads not just through contact, but in the water, literally swimming after new victims to infect.

It eats away at their skin, eventually causing heart failure and mass die-offs. It doesn’t just jump from one species to another, but among hundreds. And it has spread into the zoological equivalent of a global pandemic, thanks to humans.

Unfortunately, this is neither science fiction nor a dream. It’s a very real disease called chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans, that affects a wide range of amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.

This disease has caused more harm to more species than any other disease in the history of science.– Wendy Palen , Simon Fraser University

Scientists have just tallied the “unprecedented lethality” it has caused worldwide in the past 50 years:

  • The complete extinction of 90 species, from the golden toad of Costa Rica to the Mount Glorious torrent frog of Australia to Baxter’s toad in the U.S. state of Wyoming.

  • Dramatic population declines in 411 other species, especially in Australia and Central and South America.

The international team of researchers, led by Ben Scheele and Claire Foster at the Australian National University, published their results last week in the journal Science.

We have records of pathogens since the time of the dinosaurs, and without question, this is the deadliest disease that has ever struck wildlife in all time,” Luis Felipe Toledo, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Biology Institute in Brazil and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

A mountain yellow-legged frog showing signs of severe chytridiomycosis including abnormal posture (left) and dead frogs following a chytridiomycosis outbreak in Milestone Basin, Calif. (Jamie Voyles et al./PLoS ONE 7(4): e35374/licensed under CC BY)

Scientists had already linked the disease with amphibian declines and extinctions around the world, but exact figures had been hard to get due to a lack of data. The researchers compiled decades’ worth of studies and unpublished research from experts around the world to come up with what they consider to be a conservative estimate of the disease’s toll.

As Foster compiled the results from different researchers in different countries, she recalled in an email, “the overwhelming feeling was probably sadness.”

Many of the species reported to be driven to extinction by the disease were ones she hadn’t heard of them before, so she Googled them as she went.

So many amazing and beautiful species have been lost,” she wrote, “and for many we know hardly anything about how they lived.”

Native to Central America, this Mossy Red-eyed Frog (Duellmanohyla soralia) is one of hundreds of species negatively impacted by chytrid fungus and now threatened with extinction. (Jonathan E. Kolby/Honduras Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Center)

The study found that population declines caused by the disease peaked in the 1980s — at least a decade before the 1998 discovery of the diseases. But only 12 per cent of affected species show signs of recovering. Four in 10 affected species are still declining.

Pet trade blamed

Evidence suggests that the disease originated in Asia, and was spread around the world by humans importing and exporting amphibians as pets.

Foster said governments and other agencies need to start taking biosecurity and the illegal wildlife trade far more seriously to prevent the spread of diseases.

Wendy Palen is a biology professor at Simon Fraser University who does research on freshwater ecosystems, including amphibian populations. She co-authored a commentary published with the new paper that described the fungus as having the “perfect recipe to drive its hosts to extinction.”

It’s very transmissible through water, where it can reach many different kinds of amphibians. It has a wide variety of hosts, and can infect some species without causing symptoms, allowing them to spread it more widely.

This is an endangered Australian corroboree frog with chytridiomycosis, which attacks the animal’s skin and eventually causes breathing problems, cardiac arrest and death. (Image courtesy of Jamie Voyles, Alex Hyatt and Frank Fillipi)

Palen said the study confirmed that the disease was to blame for many amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide, as many scientists in the field expected. “But it is also larger than anyone has quantified before.”

She added that its destructive effect on biodiversity has been much worse than that of other deadly wildlife diseases, such as white-nose syndrome in bats and avian malaria in birds.

This disease has caused more harm to more species than any other disease in the history of science,” she said.

While none of the worst-affected species are in Canada, Palen said, the disease does exist here and has caused problems for some of our amphibians.

“It’s really global in scale,” she said in an interview.

But she noted it can still get worse, as it hasn’t yet reached some parts of the world that are particularly rich in amphibian diversity, such as Papua New Guinea

This is a microscope image of the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis. It can spread through the water and even swim after potential hosts. (Christian Martin)

Her commentary adds that Image chytridiomycosis may also be “a harbinger of other disease outbreaks to come” as humans “inadvertently spread pathogens around the world.”

That, I think, is a cautionary note,” she said. “And it does immediately sort of demand that we think carefully about policies regarding the import of especially live amphibians.”

However, she noted that disease is not the only or even biggest threat to amphibians around the world..

“We know that climate change and habitat destruction and the draining of wetlands and changes to terrestrial ecosystems are causing an equal or large number of amphibian declines,” she added.

The disease is “another nail in the coffin,” she said. “And it compels us as a society and our communities to do something about it.”

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Boeing anti-stall software engaged repeatedly before Ethiopian Airlines crash: sources

Boeing anti-stall software engaged repeatedly before Ethiopian Airlines crash: sources

Boeing anti-stall software repeatedly forced down the nose of a doomed Ethiopian jet after pilots had turned it off, sources told Reuters, as investigators scrutinize the role played by technology and crew in the fatal March 10 crash.

A preliminary Ethiopian report into the disaster, expected soon, may include evidence the software system kicked in as many as four times before the 737 Max dived into the ground, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The software known as MCAS is at the centre of accident probes in both the crash of Ethiopian flight 302 and a Lion Air accident in Indonesia five months earlier that together killed 346 people.

It was not immediately clear whether the Ethiopian crew chose to re-deploy the system, which pushes the Boeing 737 Max downward to avoid stalling. But one of the sources said investigators were studying the possibility that the software started working again without human intervention.

A Boeing spokesperson declined to comment. Ethiopian investigators were not available for comment.

The Ethiopian crash led to a global grounding of 737 Max jets and scrutiny of its certification process. Initial results of the accident investigation are due within days.

The stakes are high. The 737 Max is Boeing’s top-selling jet with almost 5,000 on order. Ethiopian Airlines is also in the midst of an expansion drive, while other 737 Max customers and victims’ families want answers, and potentially compensation.

Erroneous ‘angle of attack’ data

Getting the planes flying again depends partly on the role that Boeing design features are found to have played in the crash, though investigators are also paying attention to airline operations, crew actions and regulatory measures.

Boeing is upgrading the MCAS software and training while stressing that existing cockpit procedures enable safe flight.

People familiar with the investigation have already said the anti-stall software was activated by erroneous “angle of attack” data from a key aircraft sensor.

Now, the investigation has turned toward how MCAS was initially disabled by pilots following a checklist procedure, but then appeared to start working again repeatedly before the jet plunged to the ground, the two sources said.

Boeing issued guidelines to pilots on how to disable the anti-stall system after the Indonesian crash, reminding pilots to use cut-out switches in the console to shut off the system in the event of problems.

Cockpit procedures call for pilots to leave the MCAS system off for the rest of the flight once it has been disengaged.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the pilots had initially followed Boeing’s emergency procedures but later deviated from them as they tried to regain control of the plane.

Disabling the system does not shut down the MCAS system completely but severs an electrical link between the software’s attempts to give orders to push the plane lower and the actual controls, a person familiar with the aircraft system said.

Investigators are studying whether there are any conditions under which MCAS could reactivate itself automatically, without the pilots intentionally reversing the cut-out manoeuvre.

Safety experts stress the investigation is far from complete and most aviation disasters are caused by a unique combination of human and technical factors.

None of the parties involved in the investigation was available for comment.

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