March 21, 2014

A giraffe, kissing his terminally ill caretaker goodbye.     Photo: Courtesy of Stichting Ambulance Wens

Final Wish: A Kiss From a Giraffe

Zoo employee says goodbye

This story is NSFW, but for a different reason than usual: You will burst into tears in front of your coworkers and have to go home for the day. Are you ready? Are you alone?

Mario, a 54-year-old maintenance worker at Rotterdam’s Diergaarde Blijdorp Zoo in Holland, is suffering from terminal cancer. His last wish was to say goodbye to the animals. With the help of a charity organization called the Ambulance Wish Foundation, Mario was wheeled into the giraffe’s habitat—the place he cleaned every day for his entire career—and one of the animals, almost knowingly, gave him a kiss.

“These animals recognized him, and felt that things weren’t going well with him,” says Kees Veldboer, the charity's founder. “It was a very special moment. You saw him beaming.”

What? Crying? I’m not crying! It’s allergies!

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Bethany Hamilton surfing at the Surf n Sea Pipeline Women’s Pro competition last week.     Photo: Aaron Lieber

Watch: Bethany Hamilton Back on the Board

Shark-attack survivor wins Surf n Sea Pipeline Women's Pro

Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, best known for her inspirational shark-attack survival story featured in the 2011 film Soul Surfer, has made quite the splash recently.

Today she claimed her first event title in 10 years when she took the top spot at the 2014 Surf n Sea Pipeline Women's Pro at the Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) 1-Star event took place March 11 to 21 in 3-to-5-foot surf.

"It was fun; it wasn't exactly Pipe but better than most spots around the world that I surf in heats," Hamilton said after her win. "I usually lose, so this was great. In my first heat, I got a little barrel and I wasn't even expecting it, but I always keep my eye out because you never know out here. I kind of tucked in and I made it out, and that was a pleasant surprise."

The Kuai native was in the mainstream media spotlight earlier this month with the release of the EPIX documentary The Current, which follows athletes with disabilities as they explore newfound freedom through water sports. Hamilton, who lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark in 2003, has been the subject of many films and documentaries since the accident and now aims to show people that she's actually a good surfer—not just a surfer with a disability.

This year she's teamed up with filmmaker Aaron Lieber on a new project that will highlight her surfing ability. "I've known [Bethany's] brother for a few years and went on a trip with Bethany and Carissa Moore a few years ago," Lieber said. "Then last year I was on a trip with Lakey Peterson and Bethany filming for Lakey's movie, Zero to 100. I knew Bethany was good, but after spending 10 days with her, I was just blown away, and we started discussing the project."

Hamilton's Friday win at the Pipeline Women's Pro should help the project gain momentum, because, as she puts it, "A lot of people just don't know I can surf."

In this exclusive clip, Hamilton opens up for the first time about exactly how she's able to surf with only one arm and how she's had to change her surfing style since her infamous accident.

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Milkweed might be more violent than you'd expect.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The New Frontier of Plant Violence

Barbed pollen sacs are "weapons"

Plants have always been harbingers of peace in our violent world. From towering redwoods to peaceful begonias, flora tends to be far more tranquil than fauna. But this characterization might be inaccurate, if we're to believe new research published in the journal New Phytologist.

Male animals famously fight over mates, but now scientists have discovered similar mechanisms in some male plants. It might sound like science fiction, but when botanists studied the South American milkweed, they discovered the species had evolved "weaponry" to improve its chances of passing on its genes.

If you know anything about plant physiology and reproduction, you're probably shaking your head. "Male animals duke it out for superiority, but plants are quite literally rooted to where they stand," you may think. "What gives?"

The answer is fairly subtle. Milkweed, like many other plants, reproduces by hooking pollinia—sacs of pollen grains—to the bodies of pollinators, such as birds. These animals move about to other plants, distributing the pollinia and completing the fertilization process.

Sometimes pollinators pick up multiple pollinia, and that's where the violence comes in. Researchers discovered horn-like structures on the plants that appear to serve no biological purpose besides preventing pollinators from acquiring other pollen sacs that would otherwise hook on to one another. The horns assert the dominance of the male plant whose pollinia is picked up first by a pollinator.

A mating fight between bears or lions may be far more dangerous—but this new research proves violence may be truly universal.

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Cuchares Ranches subdivision is on tumbleweed lockdown this week     Photo: Courtesy of KCNC

Attack of the Tumbleweeds!

Colorado swarmed by shrubs

A tumbleweed invasion has hit much of southeastern Colorado. Recent high winds and drought conditions across most of the west have resulted in a nearly unmanageable flurry of tumbleweeds, blocking homes and burying neighborhoods.

"I don't think [members of the homeowners association] understand the gravity of the situation,” explains Colorado Springs resident Melissa Walker. “It's not just a few tumbleweeds. It really is a block full of tumbleweeds. We can't drive. We can't walk. We can't get out of our homes. The fact that they've pretty much abandoned us at this point is really disheartening.”

People are using rakes and ATVs to move piles of tumbleweed away from their homes. While moving the giant balls of kindling a safe distance away, Coloradans are also hoping for another strong period of wind to help clean out the neighborhood. 

The tumbleweeds have hit the Cuchares Ranches subdivision near Colorado Springs the hardest, but developers knew this would be a possibility when building the neighborhood. 

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SeaWorld faces pressure to end its killer whale shows even as the company turns 50 years old.     Photo: friedgreenbeans/Getty Images

SeaWorld Turns 50

Still dogged by controversy

Despite public pressure to end its famous killer-whale shows, SeaWorld kicked off its 50th anniversary today with "Sea of Surprises," an 18-month campain that includes new attractions and experiences for each of the three marine parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio. 

SeaWorld has battled bad publicity since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The film took Outside's Killer in the Pool to the big screen, uncovering facts about the mistreatment of orcas in captivity.

You’d think that the backlash would have hurt the company’s profits, but the opposite happened. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. announced earlier this year that it brought in a record-breaking $1.46 billion in 2013. Attendance was also at an all-time high, the company reported.  

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Common raven     Photo: Diliff/Wikimedia

To Kill a Black Bird

Idaho raven cull will help grouse

Although ravens are protected by federal law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently granted Idaho a permit to "conduct lethal control actions" on 4,000 ravens in the southern part of the state during the next two years.

Because ravens have an appetite for sage-grouse eggs and chicks, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to cull the state's ravens in three areas during the sage-grouse nesting season (mid-March through mid-June). The ground-dwelling sage-grouse is currently a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection.

If these birds become protected, oil and gas developers, utility companies, and even wind farms could face development restrictions. Even ranchers with permits to graze livestock on public land could be affected.

But some are critical of Idaho's appraoch. As Reuters reports, Idaho wildlife officials cite human-caused habitat destruction and fragmentation as the greatest threats to the sage-grouse, with predation ranking 12 among 19 factors that contribute to the birds' decline.

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