Castration Looms for Alpha Bear

The downside of sexual dominance

In the Pyrenees, an elderly brown bear named Pyros has been so sexually dominant that none of his rivals have had a chance to mate. In fact, local authorities are considering having him castrated to give other males in the colony a shot at fulfilling their biological purpose.

French and Spanish officials have long been trying to reintroduce the brown bear into the mountainous region that forms a natural border between the two nations. As the Guardian reports, there are only about 30 specimens of Ursus arctos active in the area, and Pyros is one of the oldest. He is the father, grandfather, or great-grandfather of nearly every cub born in the past two decades. Most brown bears begin to lose their potency after 19 years of age, but Pyros is still going strong at 26.

Sometimes there's an incestuous overlap. A recent cub proved to be both his daughter and his granddaughter, which prompted those monitoring the ursine population to consider more drastic measures.

The noncastration option for the insatiable Pyros is segregation. Ignasi Rodriguez, from the Catalan regional government, said authorities were considering capturing Pyros and "finding him a new home, perhaps in a sanctuary for bears."

Though this option would probably be preferable to Pyros, the cost of the alternate plan has yet to be determined. Not to mention the issue of how well this bear, who is so clearly in his element, would fare in a less wild environment.

Read More Outside Brown Bear Stories:


Another bear checks out the video camera our Beaufort Sea polar bear carried around. Scientists gathered about 40 hours of video from the bears.     Photo: U.S. Geological Survey/YouTube

Polar Bears Film from POV

Capture life in the Arctic

It's now possible to go to YouTube and watch a polar bear devour a seal, GoPro-style. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) attached video cameras to collars on four female polar bears living on Arctic sea ice and have released clips that give us an unprecedented view of polar bear life.

Even better (but also sadly), this footage will help scientists understand exactly how the bears are responding to sea-ice loss from climate change. Spring is a dicey time for researchers to study polar bears in person, because they have only about six weeks of sufficient light and stable ice in the Beaufort Sea area where these bears live. Now that the team has cameras strong enough for the Arctic temperatures, they can watch the bears dive under the ice, hunt for food, and interact with others.

That's already yielded some surprises. The scientists said they weren't expecting to see one of the bears and a potential mate playing around with a seal snack. "We're not sure what that means," USGS research leader Todd Atwood told the Associated Press. "It's all information that we wouldn't be able to get otherwise."

It will give scientists a more complete idea of how the polar bears' nutritional needs and energy exertion change alongside their habitat. Paired with other data, such as information from the collars on when the bears are hunting, swimming, resting, and walking, this will go into an upcoming Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan for the threatened species. Until then, it seems likely the scientists will collect more video from the bears after this successful test run—but we'll be getting mostly the female perspective. Male bears' necks are bigger than their heads, so their collars kept slipping off. Just another scientific discovery about the tough life of a polar bear.

Watch the clips for yourself—but be warned, polar bears don't have the steadiest handle on videography.


The "Mountain Man's" breaking and entering habit won't work so well in a jail cell.     Photo: Don Graham /Flickr

Utah's Mountain Man in Court

Faces 10 years in federal prison

UPDATE: James Knapp has been sentenced to 10.5 years behind bars in a federal prison. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart told Knapp that, "you are obviously a man of some intelligence and resourcefulness for you to survive how you have, and elude law enforcement as you did," during sentencing. Judge Stewart also suggested that Knapp uses his time of incarceration to write a book.

After eight years of running from the law, stealing cabin supplies, and firing bullets at a helicopter during a standoff-style capture, Troy Knapp is finally having his day before a judge. Knapp, known as Utah's "Mountain Man" burglar, will be sentenced to a stay in federal prison on Monday. Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of at least ten years.

Knapp pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to use of a firearm during a crime of violence, according to a Salt Lake Tribune story. Apart from federal sentences for firing upon law enforcement, Knapp is also expected to appear in state court to resolve the many cases of cabin break-ins that occurred over a six-year period. Seven Utah counties have filed 43 different felony and misdemeanor charges against Knapp. Now that the federal court case is resolved, state cases will be taken off hold. 

During his "catch me if you can" years, Knapp became somewhat of a backcountry survivalist legend. Authorities said he would hole up in cabins during the snowbound season—sleeping in the owners' beds, leaving thank-you notes, stealing weapons, and listening to the radio for updates about his own manhunt. In the summer, he would head to the woods and camp out with doomsday-esque preparation, according to an AP story. Year-round, he was alone and on the run.

His loner ways didn't stop in a full courtroom, either. ABC News reports that he fired his defense attorney and told a judge that he would be representing himself against both the state and federal charges.


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The new face of the healthy food movement.     Photo: Maxcy/ThinkStock

Camel Milk: The Next Superfood

Fuel to get you through your hump days

Camel milk recently became the foundation of a burgeoning international skin care industry, but in the eyes of a few Midwestern and mid-Atlantic farmers, this low-cholesterol, high-protein product has a future well beyond the makeup aisles.

Although lower in vitamins A and B2 and higher in fatty acids than cow milk, camel milk offers 10 times as much iron, three times as much vitamin C, and wins by a mile in the mineral department. What makes it a strong makeup component—hardy antibody proteins—is also attractive to food producers.

Several farms in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are interrupting the region's steady networks of dairy farms to raise about 5,000 single-humped dromedaries and double-humped Bactrians, the world's most successful camel species. These vanguards are wellness- and organic-focused, and occasionally even Amish—they're all looking for the most natural way to boost our bodies' immunities and energy levels.

"Epigenetics suggest that we can actually change our genes by how we live. Right now in modern society, we are like polar bears released into a Death Valley environment," said Frank King, a North Carolina–based naturopathic doctor and farm owner, in an interview with USA Today. "When people connect with nature, they feel better, and wild is better."

Camel milking on these farms is calmer and in staunch contrast to the mechanized practices of Big Ag. King's 23 camels, for instance, wander his farm until a farmer needs to milk them by hand ("You can milk standing up," King adds), in which case a baby is placed with its mother to get about two gallons of milk flowing naturally. Unfortunately for U.S. farmers, they can't sell the milk in an entirely natural state; King flash pasteurizes his milk because federal law requires this of milk sold across state lines. The Food and Drug Administration approved camel milk for commercial sale in 2009, but standards testing is ongoing.

As promising as the dromedary dairy explosion seems, camel milking is only the first move in a search for more nutritious animal milks. King is researching the potential of at least four other ungulate species—African Watusi, white buffalo, bison, and Himalayan yak—through his Wild Food Foundation nonprofit. 

Although camel milk might be just taking off outside of the Middle East, the FAO estimates that the market could grow into a $10 billion industry that welcomes farmers of all kinds. But that market could be a niche one—camels don't produce much milk, and farmers expect they could charge up to $60 a liter.


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Damn your tricks, humans!     Photo: lculig/Getty Images

Animals Feel Regret

When it comes to food choices

Neuroscientists from the Redish Lab at the University of Minnesota claim that rats that move from one potential food reward to a less desirable but immediately gratifying snack look back on the original option with regret.

Researchers developed Restaurant Row, a wheel-spoke maze of food rewards that assessed how long rats would wait for the "good option," and considered the rats' decisions regret-induced. When the scrambling foodies decided not to wait on Restaurant Row and reached for an immediate reward, they often paused and looked back at the snack that didn't make them wait.

"You can wait at the Chinese restaurant and eat there," lead researcher David Redish told Wired, "or you can say, 'Forget it. This wait is too long,' and go to the Indian restaurant across the street."

Redish admits his findings do not represent the same regret-based synapse in humans and rats, but his team did identify and cater to each rat's preferred flavor palette, suggesting that rats feel something toward actions they do not take and that the subsequent change in behavior reflects rats' hasty appetites.