September 12, 2013

    Photo: Paxson Woebler/Flickr

Mystery of Chris McCandless's Death Solved

Cause of starvation explained

In a blog post for The New Yorker, Jon Krakauer has verified the cause of death of one of the most vivid characters in Outside lore.

In 1993, Krakauer published an article on the death of Chris McCandless, a strong-willed 24-year-old who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness in search of a transcendental escape. The article subsequently became the book Into the Wild.

In it, Krakauer speculated that McCandless died due to toxic alkaloids in wild-potato seeds. (From his journal: "EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY.") Subsequent analysis of the seeds at the University of Alaska discredited that theory, finding no alkaloids at all in the plant.

The reason for his death has since been hotly contested. Until today.

Krakauer explains that he recently came across the research of a writer, Ronald Hamilton, who had concluded that a neurotoxin, known as ODAP, in the potato seed was responsible for a degenerative disease known as lathyrism.

Last month Krakauer sent a modest sample of the seeds for testing, discovering that they contained ".394 per cent beta-ODAP by weight, a concentration well within the levels known to cause lathyrism in humans."

Krakauer concludes:

Hamilton’s discovery that McCandless perished because he ate toxic seeds is unlikely to persuade many Alaskans to regard McCandless in a more sympathetic light, but it may prevent other backcountry foragers from accidentally poisoning themselves. Had McCandless’s guidebook to edible plants warned that Hedysarum alpinum seeds contain a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis, he probably would have walked out of the wild in late August with no more difficulty than when he walked into the wild in April, and would still be alive today. If that were the case, Chris McCandless would now be forty-five years old.

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Diseased Monkeys Great For Florida Tourism

Imported, escaped in the 1930s

Central Florida is infested with rhesus monkeys. Brought to the Sunshine State in the late 1930s by an enterprising tour operator named Colonal Tooey, the monkeys inhabit the 6,000-acre Silver Spring nature park, but have now been seen roaming as far away as Jacksonville and Sarasota.

Tooey was reportedly looking to capitalize on the success of the 1939 film, Tarzan Finds a Son, and imported the monkeys to promote his jungle tours. Not realizing that they could swim, Tooey placed them on an island and allowed them to breed. Today there are thought to be over 1,000 of them.

While Florida usually moves quickly (see: pythons) to try and contain invasive species, the monkeys have gotten a pass thanks to their popularity with tourists. Local tour operator Tom O’Lenick supports the presence of the rhesus monkeys and says they’ve had no obvious impact on the local environment and are even prey for foxes, owls, bobcats, and alligators. “Everybody who comes on the river for a tour wants to see the monkeys,” he told the Daily Mail.  “From my point of view, as a naturalist, I think the planet changes naturally and species do move around, whether that is by man or other means.”

The rhesus monkeys weren’t always so popular. In 1986, following at least 17 documented attacks on Silver Springs park visitors, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission attempted to have them all deported. However, the logistics of finding new homes for hundreds of monkeys got in the way and the Commission compromised, allowing a small population to remain on one side of the Silver River.

The monkeys, which have frequently tested positive for the potentially deadly herpes-b virus, are still considered a health hazard by some.

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    Photo: Roger costa morera/Shutterstock

Exercise Desk Use on the Rise

Companies reporting increased sales

A growing numbers of Americans are using stand-up desks, treadmill desks, and other moving workstations throughout the day, the Associated Press reports. Sales of exercise workstations have skyrocketed in recent years, with some companies seeing between a 25- and 300- percent increase.

Over the last decade, a number of studies have shown that sitting can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It appears that even exercising three times a week may not fully cancel out the harm done.

"There's a glob of information that sitting is killing us," Dr. James Levine, and endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic told the Associated Press. "You're basically sitting yourself into a coffin."

Treadmill desks can range from $800 to $5,000 or more, with desk cycles starting at $150, and stand-up desks starting around $250.

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Victims of the 2011 drought     Photo: Wikimedia/Oxfam East Africa

Giant Aquifer Discovered in Kenya

Enough drinking water to last 70 years

Scientists in Kenya have discovered an aquifer capable of meeting the country's water needs for up to 70 years. The aquifer is thought to hold more than 200 billion cubic meters of fresh water, and is roughly the size of Rhode Island. UNESCO and the Kenyan government announced the discovery on Wednesday.

The search for water was funded by the Japanese government and spearheaded by Alain Gachet, President and CEO of Radar Technologies International, a French company specializing in natural resource exploration. The team used a combination of radar and satellite imagery, climate maps, and seismic data to find the aquifer.

Kenya has faced several droughts in recent years, including one in 2011 that affected 9.5 million people, leaving many dead or malnourished. The region's inhabitants often walk up to 10 miles to find water.

"This is literally a jump from the neolithic to the modern age," Gachet told The Verge. "They want to be able to fertilize and grow their own food — to stop the survival economy and move to something more sustainable."

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