April 9, 2014

Please don't call an exterminator on this one. Love, the world's farmers.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/SorJongAng

Bee Shortage Threatens Crops

The buzz and a few billion dollars

UK farmers have a fourth of the honeybees they need, according to a recent study published in PLOS ONE, but the gap represents more than a shortage in Britain. Bees are dying around the world, and pollination demand is growing nearly five times faster than the available honeybee population.

An unusually harsh winter explains most of the worldwide bee gap, but if the polar vortex had been the only force threatening these honeycombers, global mortality rates would not continue to trend upward—31 percent in the United States, 33.6 percent in Latvia (and that's compared to a 10 percent "acceptable" mortality rate published by the European Commission).

Colony collapse disorder hit the United States in 2013, costing farmers who rely on pollination to increase crop yield some $30 billion. In Northern Europe, the European Commission found a frightening predominance of varroa destructor—the parasite responsible for bee colony collapse disorder in Canada and Hawaii—in Latvia and Poland.

Thirty-nine of the world's 57 major crops yield more when bees pollinate them. For now, wild honeybees make up the difference.

Wild pollinators cover $3 billion of pollination costs in the UK, but they might face extinction. The European Commission recently found that almost a quarter of Europe's 68 bumblebee species are threatened with extinction.

So, please, don't call an exterminator.

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The town of Divide, Colorado, soon to be the domain of an animal king.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Colorado Town to Elect Animal Mayor

Hedgehog, donkey are candidates

Perhaps having tired of human leadership, the town of Divide, Colorado, a hamlet of 127 residents south of Denver, is holding a mayoral race consisting of 11 animals. The candidates are a hedgehog, a cat, a horse, a donkey, a wolf, and six dogs. The winner will take over for the current mayor, an orange tabby cat named Walter. 

Of course, whoever wins the race will not hold any actual power. Though the unincorporated mountain town of Divide doesn't actually have a human mayor, the race for Animayor remains nothing more than a simple fundraiser for the Teller County Animal Shelter. Each vote costs a dollar, with all money going to the shelter. 

Voting began in February and more than $9,000 has been raised as of Monday.

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Eat your burger now—before you can't afford one anymore.     Photo: Getty Images

Beef Prices Skyrocket

Hit all-time high since 1951

The retail value of "all-fresh" USDA choice-grade beef jumped to $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.91 a year ago. Back in 2008, the same grade of beef cost $3.97, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The spike in prices has had a drastic impact on ranchers, restaurateurs, and consumers. Small businesses are struggling to find affordable beef while slaughterhouses set aside their supplies for bigwig customers like McDonald's and Burger King.

"This whole thing now is being driven by hamburger," Jerry Haines, general manager of meat supplier R.C. Provision Inc., told the Los Angeles Times. "You take all the McDonald's and Burger Kings across the United States; the amount of meat needed to make those hamburgers is forcing the value of other cuts of meat to go up."

What does that leave for small delicatessens and mom-and-pop restaurants across America? A more expensive sandwich for their customers. Pork and chicken prices have also gone through the roof to remain competitive. Maybe it's time to try out that vegetarian diet you've been considering.

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Downward facing horse, literally, at the Doma India School.     Photo: Manpreet Sidhu/YouTube

This Horse Does Yoga

Practice calms equine nerves

If you thought coed naked yoga was a little out there, consider equine yoga, in which humans and horses practice the ancient tradition simultaneously (although it's not apparent how much the animal benefits from the exercise).

The Doma India School, a 50-year-old school of horsemanship in Argentina, uses yoga to heal abused or otherwise nervous equines. The school, established by father and son Oscar and Cristobal Scarpati Schmid, explains its holistic approach on its website: "The method is to tame the horse according to its nature, avoiding cause [sic] fear and pain, and by earning their trust and loyalty." 

In a YouTube video garnering more than 100,000 views, a skilled horseman rolls a horse onto its back and proceeds to handstand directly on top of the horse's girth. At one point, the two share an intimate moment while touching noses. 

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After being rescued from a German circus and then Belgian officials, a UK wildlife park seems to be the right fit for the tigers.     Photo: subinpumsom/Thinkstock

2 Tigers Granted Asylum

UK finally gives animals a home

Lincolnshire's Woodside Wildlife and Falconry Park welcomed two tigers into its family this month. After a widespread effort to save the animals from mistreatment in Germany and Belgium, the UK wildlife park was able to provide the tigers a sort of animal asylum and surely a better life. 

The two tigers, an 18-year-old male named Tango and an 8-year-old female named Julia, were traveling with a German circus and were treated horribly for much of their life. The condition and handling of the tigers was so poor that Belgian authorities seized the animals from the circus—but quickly sentenced the tigers to death.

Upon hearing the news, the wildlife community immediately began a campaign to raise money and find a home for the displaced tigers. Woodside Wildlife and Falconry Park agreed to take the tigers and has been preparing for their arrival for nearly six months.

Between the costs of rescue, transportation, and building the tigers a new home, the wildlife park spent around $345,000 to make it all happen.

Tango is no stranger to the spotlight. The male tiger was made famous after starring in 1990s TV commercials for Esso unleaded fuels.

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The rockfall occurred near Yosemite's Wapama Falls, shown here.     Photo: Inklein/Wikimedia Commons

Massive Rockfall Closes Yosemite Trail

16,000 tons of rock crash down

About 16,000 tons of rock crashed from a cliff and onto a hiking trail in Yosemite National Park last week.

Fortunately nobody was injured in the massive 500-foot rockfall, which occurred near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The rock, which broke into boulders when it hit the ground, smashed trees and kicked up a dust cloud. 

The debris destroyed about 400 feet of the Rancheria Falls Trail. Park officials say the trail will remain closed indefinitely, but hikers can still access Wapama Falls if they start at O’Shaughnessy Dam.

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Recently released Citi Bike NYC user data gives the public an inside look at how New Yorkers get around.     Photo: zefart/Thinkstock

Citi Bike NYC Pretty Much Crushing It

New data shows 7 million rides

Consumer data released by Citi Bike NYC might help New Yorkers plan their most efficient commutes yet.

In honor of reaching 100,000 annual members—who've already taken 7 million spins about town—the bike-share operation released eight months of trip history on March 31 for use by statisticians, developers, and graphic artists.

The data gives insight into how users have been navigating city streets as well as who's taking trips. The available information is basic, including stats on trip durations, distances, and routes, as well as rider gender and age. Data junkies have already synthesized trip histories into useful maps and distilled data sets.

Want to settle disputes between friends who insist they know the fastest way from Point A to Point B? Check out data visualizations showing when certain streets are most crowded, or how people change their route when it rains.

City planning experts are also excited about the data's potential to inform sustainable urban design. Rather than base building plans on limited decades-old census material, planners can mine Citi Bike data that shows how and why people get around.

Those interested in creating projects of their own with Citi Bike's information can download the data from its website.

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