Empire State Building Pays Tribute To Endangered Animals, Remembers Cecil The Lion

Cecil the lion, a majestic black-maned beast who once roamed the woodlands of Zimbabwe’s Hwange, was found dead last month on the outskirts of the national park. He had been killed by an American dentist for tens of thousands of dollars, then skinned and beheaded for a hunting trophy.

Cecil’s death has sparked outrage worldwide, as people everywhere lament the damage that humans continue to inflict on the populations of not just lions, but the planet’s many endangered creatures. On Saturday night, the Empire State Building served as a timely, sky-high reminder of this devastating impact, as images and video of threatened animals were projected onto the façade of the iconic New York City skyscraper.

Cecil was one of the animals featured.

For three hours, “insects, sea creatures, mammals, and birds crawled, swam, and flew over” the Empire State Building “as spectators ‘oohed’ and ‘awed,’” said The Verge. Snow leopards, tigers, lemurs, and manta rays were among the creatures on display.

The spectacle, achieved with the help of 40 projectors, was organized by the Oceanic Preservation Society and the filmmakers of “Racing Extinction,” an upcoming documentary about humans’ impact on threatened species.

“I’m hoping with this film and this event, we can raise awareness and start a movement,” the film’s director Louie Psihoyos (of “The Cove” fame) told The Verge.

NBC New York says the projections were a first for the Empire State Building, which is typically lit up with colors or, on occasion, light shows.

In total, 160 species were featured on the skyscraper. The New York Times says the production cost $1 million.

Scroll down to see more pictures from the event:

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Alligator Bites ‘Chunk’ Off Man’s Leg At Forever Florida

A worker at a Central Florida tourist attraction was reportedly attacked by an alligator while on the job last week

Sergio Hernandez, 46, was bitten by the gator while removing hyacinths from a pond on Tuesday at Forever Florida, a zipline and “eco-tourism attraction” in St. Cloud. According to Click Orlando, the reptile bit “a chunk” out of Hernandez’s leg.  

Two alligators were later removed by trappers, including one measuring 8.5 feet long and one that was 11 feet long. 

Forever Florida has received largely positive reviews on Yelp, earning an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars, based on 48 reviews. Several reviewers mentioned seeing gators while there. 

One reviewer wrote in 2010: 

“Upon arriving, we had to of course sign this waiver that basically said: If you get injured, paralyzed, deathly ill, drop dead, get killed or eaten by a gator…they are NOT responsible.”

Along with zipline tours, Forever Florida offers horseback riding and coach tours through “nine distinct Florida ecosystems” with a chance to encounter alligators, black bears, white-tail deer and the Florida panther, among other wildlife.

Forever Florida was closed when The Huffington Post called, nor was there mention of the incident on the company’s social media accounts. The operators also did not respond to a request for comment from Click Orlando. 

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Wildfires Rage On Across California

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LOWER LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Wildfires blazing in several Western states Sunday chewed up forests and threatened homes but were most numerous in Northern California where dozens are raging and setting off evacuations.

Wildfires are also burning in Washington and Oregon.

The biggest California wildfire — raging in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco — spread overnight to cover even more drought-stricken ground, expanding more than 30 square miles in four or five hours, said California’s Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott.

The fast-moving blaze had charred 71 square miles by Sunday, an area much bigger than San Francisco’s 49 square miles.

The fire has destroyed 24 homes and 26 outbuildings and was threatening 5,000 homes.

Many of the California blazes were sparked by lightning and exacerbated by tinder dry trees and grass and erratic winds, Pimlott said.

“The biggest challenge is the extreme and explosive rates of spread of these fires,” he said.

More than 9,000 firefighters are working to quell the blazes. One firefighter was killed late last week at the scene of a fire at the Modoc National Forest, 100 miles south of the Oregon border.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for California and activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.

California on Sunday secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress the blaze burning in Lake County, said California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci.

The federal grant will assist local, state and tribal agencies responding to the fire to apply for 75 percent reimbursement of their eligible fire suppression costs, Ghilarducci said.

 

BURNING HILLS

 

The wildfire north of San Francisco has been raging in an area of hills covered in dense brush and oak trees since Wednesday. It is only 5 percent contained.

Cal Fire says an evacuation advisory has been issued affecting 12,000 people in a sweeping region of ranches and small rural communities. Several roads have been closed.

 

FIREFIGHTER KILLED

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Engine Capt. David Ruhl, from South Dakota, was killed battling a fast-moving blaze that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon.

Ruhl was in a vehicle Thursday, looking for ways to fight the blaze, when officials lost contact with him, fire information officer Ken Sandusky said. His body was recovered Friday.

An autopsy to determine the cause of death will be conducted this week, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Ruhl, part of a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire had grown to about 4.5 acres by Sunday, and it was 4 percent contained.

 

LIGHTNING FIRES 

In Humboldt County, 600 firefighters were battling 18 small blazes Sunday that were sparked by lightning. At least 70 fires have been reported in the area since Thursday. Of those, 52 have been contained, Cal Fire said.

The blazes have charred 1,200 acres and destroyed two structures in steep, difficult to access terrain.

 

FOOTHILLS FIRES

 A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park.

The 200-acre fire, about 20 miles from the park’s entrance, was 80 percent contained Sunday. All evacuations were lifted Saturday and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested Thursday night on allegations of recklessly causing a fire. She was jailed on $100,000 bail, and it was not known if she has an attorney who could comment.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders were lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, destroyed two homes and burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles but was almost fully contained.

 

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Why Is Big-Game Hunting So Repulsive?

The pictures are sad and grotesque. An American dentist and his guide grinning over the remains of Cecil the Lion. Our sympathies run directly to the victim of the hunt, the lion. Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil, is not the first American to ignite disgust over the slaughter of some of the world’s great animals. A little more than a year ago, it was the Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones who posed, armed and in camouflage, her boot resting on top of a lifeless lion.

Big-game hunting has become repulsive. Why? It was not always so. I remember as a child — the middle-to-late 1960s — being taken by my parents to the Field Museum in Chicago. We viewed row upon row of glass cases containing big-game specimens shot dead in hunting expeditions. Teddy Roosevelt’s sons, as I recall, Theodore, Jr., and Kermit, contributed an especially large quantity of “trophies” to the Museum from their 1920’s expeditions across Asia. They even killed a giant panda.

They hunted their prey at a time when big-game hunting was considered sport. That it was ever considered sporting to track down and kill large animals is in need of explanation. For, when viewed in historical context, big-game hunting seems to be an outgrowth of all that was wrong and wicked and distorted about late-19th- and early-20th-century Western culture and society.

This was the era of social Darwinism, after all. Social Darwinism followed a strict creed dictated by the unfettered capitalism of the day: society was naturally competitive — “red in tooth and claw.” The winners were those who accumulated fortunes and controlled vast wealth. The losers, on this distorted ideology, were those who did not succeed and who struggled for their daily bread. Big-game hunting was an expression of this ideology, a way in which the rich and power could travel to distant lands, pantomime acts of conquest, and assert their might and power in ritualized killing.

But big-game hunting represented and reflected yet other noxious ideological currents of that era. Nature, a century ago, was conceived of as an implacable foe, a hostile power that had to confronted, combated, and tamed. Think of the polar explorers and the mountain-climbing expeditions of that day and age. For sure, they dared greatly and accomplished much. They expanded the horizons of human knowledge and inspired heroic acts of courage and will. I remember, again as a child, fairly weeping when I read of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed 1912 expedition to the South Pole. How he finished second in the race to the Pole behind Roald Amundsen, and how he and his crew died in their tents on the return journey, only a few miles from resupply.

While expeditions like Scott’s served the cause of science and even stirred the hearts of twelve-year-old boys, they were also fed and fueled by the ambition to subdue nature. Nature was an inhospitable force that had to be made to serve human needs. It was, it goes without saying, also a time of environmental catastrophe. One is reminded of the Salton Sea in southern California, formed in 1905 in the aftermath of a failed irrigation project. The era’s big-game hunting was just another aspect of the urge to bend nature to human will and to wring from it the wealth that was stored within.

And finally, course, big-game hunting was a manifestation of colonialism. White Americans and Europeans traveled to exotic lands and slaughtered the local wildlife because they wished to demonstrate their political dominance. They wanted to display their weaponry, their wealth, and their command of the instruments of power over lands and peoples for whom they had little respect.

We no longer live in the world of a century ago. Yes, to be sure, social Darwinism remains a force. It has its defenders, in business, in industry, and in the academy. And our world remains cursed with the effects of the maldistribution of wealth. Innocent children still die in large numbers from malaria, malnutrition, and a host of other problems associated with preventable poverty. On the other hand, great moral voices — secular and religious — have spoken against this state of affairs and social Darwinism can no longer be said to command the heights in quite the way it did a hundred and more years ago. We live in a world where many of us, at least, appreciate the values of collaboration, cooperation, and, yes, even sharing.

Nature, furthermore, is no longer viewed as an enemy that we must defeat. We have a century of tragic experience telling us that we must live with and not against the natural world. Scientists report that we are on the cusp of a sixth great mass extinction event — an extinction event brought about not by runaway volcanic eruptions or by an asteroid impact, but by environmental degradation. Similarly, we are faced with potentially catastrophic climate change, as polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise. We have learned the bitter lesson that a century’s worth of hostility to nature has truly baleful and world-altering effects. Big-game hunting as a sign and symbol of that old and discredited way of life seems entirely out of place in the world we now inhabit.

Finally, of course, there is colonialism. We still live with its deplorable effects. Racism, that poisonous fruit of colonialism, haunts us still, in this nation and across the world. People are still made to suffer and die because of their ethnicity. Big-game hunting reminds us, at least at a subliminal level, of those days when wealthy white hunters depleted the landscapes of foreign, distant locales merely to assert their ascendancy and control over other peoples.

Big-game hunting leaves us troubled, I surmise, because it summons us to think of this sordid past. Big-game hunting no longer serves any social utility. The hunters’ targets — lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, and other mega fauna — are all endangered species. Perhaps big-game hunting will vanish from the modern world, through the force of social criticism if not by positive legislative enactment. And, much more importantly, we should strive to make a better world — a more cooperative economy, a safer, cleaner environment, and a place where peoples of different ethnic and social and religious backgrounds can live and prosper as equals.

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Chicago Thunderstorm Storm Kills One Person After Tent Collapses

 

 WOOD DALE, Ill. (AP) — One person was killed and 20 injured on Sunday when a tent where people had sought shelter during a brief storm blew off its moorings and collapsed on some of the crowd at a festival in a Chicago suburb.

Mike Rivas, deputy police chief in the suburb of Wood Dale, said three people were seriously injured and 17 others had minor injuries and were either treated at the scene or transported to area hospitals.

He declined to give details of the fatality pending notification of family.

The incident happened at about 2:40 p.m. when a sudden storm brought high winds, hail and rain to the annual Prairie Fest, Rivas said.

“People sought shelter under the tent and then it hit,” he said of the storm.

The tent was ripped from its moorings and fell on some people, said Craig Celia, a spokesman for Wood Dale, which is about 25 miles northwest of Chicago. The remainder of the festival’s final day was canceled, he said.

Photos of the scene showed police and fire officials holding up a sheet over a body. Chairs, tables and other debris were strewn on the grass near where the tent collapsed.

Tracy Anderson, whose husband is a member of a band that was scheduled to perform there Sunday, said her husband witnessed the huge tent blow up in the air and land.

“The tarp landed on several people, and rescuers started cutting holes to get them out,” Anderson told the Chicago Tribune.

 

The annual celebration known as the Prairie Fest is a four-day event with food, live music, a carnival and fireworks. Thousands of people attend and there were around 5,000 there on Saturday night, said a city council member for the area, Art Woods.

Rivas said that luckily the festival was not yet too crowded on Sunday afternoon because the band was doing a sound check and had not started.

Parts of the Chicago area were hit by a brief, intense summer storm that brought high winds and left tree branches strewn on major roads, traffic lights out and snarled traffic.

The storm also prompted organizers to briefly shut down the popular music festival Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park on Sunday afternoon, although the music had resumed by late afternoon.

 

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70 Years After Hiroshima, Disarmament Is Still Vital

Co-authored by Ken Olum, research professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department, Tufts University.

A little over 70 years ago, our father, Paul Olum, stood with his colleagues in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico. They had spent the last two and a half years designing a new weapon, the first atomic bomb, and now they waited to see whether it would work. Then the explosion seemed to fill the sky, until it resolved into a huge mushroom-shaped cloud. The project had succeeded. They had designed and built the most powerful weapon ever seen on Earth.

Three weeks later, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and, three days after that, another bomb on Nagasaki. The two bombs together killed over 100,000 people instantly, and a similar number died later from radiation exposure. Paul had mixed feelings about the bombing of Hiroshima. It seemed clear it would end the war swiftly, but there had been a very high cost in civilian lives. However, he felt the bombing of Nagasaki was unconscionable, because three days had not been long enough for the surrender.

Six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan did announce its surrender. World War II was over, but the nuclear arms race had begun, and Paul Olum became a lifelong advocate of nuclear arms control and disarmament.

By the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union together had amassed about 27,000 “active” strategic nuclear bombs each hugely more powerful than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The arsenals of either nation were sufficient to destroy humanity many times over.

Paul had been only 24 years old when he and our mother Vivian went to Los Alamos in 1943. After the war was over, he went on to a distinguished career as a mathematics professor at Cornell and later as provost and then president of the University of Oregon. Yet, whatever else he was doing, he felt a responsibility to talk about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the importance of disarmament.

In 1983, Paul and Vivian received an invitation to a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bombs had been designed. They felt they did not want to celebrate the building of those bombs, which led to nuclear arsenals that could destroy the human race. Paul drafted a petition calling for an end to the nuclear arms race and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. It was signed by 70 scientists, including five Nobel Prize winners, and widely publicized. The scientists wrote that they were “profoundly frightened for the future of humanity.”

Paul’s efforts, and those of many others, brought a turning point in the arms race. Treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union and later Russia began to reduce the numbers of warheads and remove them from active status. When Paul died in 2001, the total number of active strategic nuclear warheads had been reduced to about 14,000. When the New START treaty of 2011 is fully implemented, the U.S. and Russia will have about 3,000 deployed strategic warheads in total, but this is still more than enough to destroy civilization.

Unfortunately, the threat of nuclear weapons seems to have faded from public consciousness, perhaps having been displaced by concerns over climate change. Climate change is a very serious threat, but it is a threat of a different character. Climate change could kill billions of people over the course of decades and render parts of the world uninhabitable. Nuclear war could kill billions of people immediately and might render the entire world uninhabitable as a result of radioactive fallout and nuclear winter (severe global cooling caused by soot propelled into the stratosphere from burning cities.)

So it is crucial that nuclear disarmament continue. Instead, the U.S. and Russia seem poised on the brink of a new nuclear arms race. Present U.S. plans involve new warheads with new missiles, bombers, and submarines to deliver them, at a total cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years. And this huge expense does not make America safer. Our current arsenal goes far beyond anything needed as a deterrent. Instead, it increases the risk that these weapons will someday be used, either intentionally, accidentally, or because they fall into the wrong hands.

Enough is enough. More than 30 years after Paul’s Los Alamos disarmament petition, nuclear weapons still pose a threat to the existence of the human race. The time has come to end this threat, so that that 30 years from now it will not be necessary for our children to begin an article, “One hundred years ago our grandfather stood in the desert near Alamogordo….”

Joyce Olum Galaski is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Westfield, Massachusetts, and Ken Olum is a research professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Tufts University. This year, they established the Paul Olum Grant Fund through Ploughshares Fund to support scientists working for nuclear disarmament.

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What Will Be Cecil the Lion’s Legacy? And Who Should Decide?

Outrage over the death of Cecil the lion has led to calls for a ban on trophy hunting, but would this have the desired results?

Cecil the lion, a magnificent and much loved senior male, was lured out of a safe haven in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last week and illegally shot, to endure a protracted and painful death.

Trophy hunting is the “high value” end of hunting, where people (often wealthy and mainly Westerners) pay top dollar to kill an animal. In southern Africa, an area close to twice the size of the region’s national parks is used for trophy hunting.

It arouses disgust and revulsion — animals are killed for sport and in some cases (as with lions) not even eaten. Even the millions of weekend recreational hunters filling their freezers are uncertain about trophy hunting.

It seems to have little place in the modern world, where humanity is moving toward an ethical position that increasingly grants animals more of the moral rights that humanity grants (in principle at least) to each other.

So let us move now through the thought bubble where the European Union and North America bans the import of trophies; Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others ban trophy hunting; the airlines and shipping lines refuse to carry trophies; and the industry dies a slow (or fast) death, ridding the world of this toxic stain on our collective conscience.

Would a Ban Save Lions?

We turn to survey southern Africa, proud of what we have achieved by signing online petitions, lobbying politicians, our Facebook shares and comments. Did we save lions? Have we safeguarded wildlife areas? Have we dealt a death blow to wildlife trafficking? Have we liberated local communities from imperialistic foreign hunters?

Let’s go back to Hwange National Park, the scene of Cecil’s demise. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, responsible for managing this park, derived most of its income for wildlife conservation across the country from trophy hunting. With minimal revenue from central government (not well known for its good governance and transparent resource allocation), it is now in trouble. Hwange staff have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope. The commonly used wire snares are indiscriminate, and capture lions and other predators, who die agonising and pointless deaths.

Communities Pay the Price

In Namibia, more than half of the community-owned conservancies (covering 20 percent of the country) have collapsed because the loss of revenue from non-hunting sources (mainly tourism) is not enough to keep them viable.

Namibia’s innovative communal conservancies have been responsible for dramatic increases in wildlife outside of national parks, including elephant, lion and black rhino over the last 20 years, with income from trophy hunting and tourism encouraging communities to turn their land over to conservation.

Communities retain 100 percent of benefits from sustainable use of wildlife, including tourism, live sales and hunting — almost 18 million Namibian dollars in 2013.

This money was spent by communities on schools, health care, roads, training, and on employing 530 game guards to protect their wildlife. Now it is gone. A few conservancies have managed to find wealthy philanthropic donors — but they cross their fingers the generosity will continue to flow for decades to come.

Communities are angry — they were never asked by the outraged what they thought about this. Few journalists or social media activists ever reflected their side of the story. Their right to make decisions for themselves has been expropriated by foreign people, who are not accountable or responsible for living with wildlife.

Disappearing Wildlife

Where the conservancies have collapsed, wildlife has largely been wiped out. The bad old days have returned, and wildlife is worth more dead than alive.

Hungry bellies are fed with illegal bushmeat and the armed poaching gangs have moved in. Communities are no longer interested in helping police to protect wildlife, game guard programs have collapsed for lack of funds, and rhino horns, lion bone and ivory are being shipped illicitly to East Asia.

In South Africa, trophy hunting has stopped, including the small proportion that was “canned” (where the lion is effectively trapped). On the private game reserves that covered some 20 million hectares of the country, though, revenues from wildlife have collapsed.

Those with scenic landscapes that are easy to access and have adequate infrastructure can make enough from phototourism to be viable. But other landowners are returning to cattle, goats and crops in order to educate their children, run a car, pay their mortgages.

Wildlife on these lands has largely gone along with its habitat — back to the degraded agriculture landscapes from before the 1970s when wildlife use (including hunting) became legal here. Lions that were on these farmlands are long gone, and those that remain in national parks are shot as problem animals as soon as they leave the park.

Speculative? Yes, but a reasonable prediction. This has happened before.

Bans on trophy hunting in Tanzania (1973-78), Kenya (1977) and Zambia (2000-03) accelerated a rapid loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation. Early anecdotal reports suggest this may already be happening in Botswana, which banned all hunting last year.

Let us mourn Cecil, but be careful what we wish for.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of IUCN.

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NASA’s Latest Image Of The International Space Station Is Breathtaking

I spy with my little eye…

Continuing an epic summer of celestial photography, NASA released a stunning image of the International Space Station on Sunday. The shot, captured by agency photographer Bill Ingalls, shows the ISS flying across the face of the moon at a breakneck five miles per second.

There are currently six crew members on board the ISS, which orbits some 300 miles above Earth. The moon, meanwhile, is 238,900 miles away.

Ingalls has served as the senior contract photographer for the U.S. space agency for 27 years. You can see more of his stunning work on his personal website.

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Marco Rubio Slams Obama’s New Carbon Rules

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday slammed President Barack Obama’s forthcoming standards for power plant emissions, charging that they would do little for the climate at far too great an expense for American consumers.

“It will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans,” Rubio, a presidential candidate, said during an interview at a private gathering of wealthy donors in Dana Point, California, hosted by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The new rules, should they withstand legal scrutiny, would call for a 32 percent reduction of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, compared to 2005 levels. The plan would also increase the percent of power that states will be expected to draw from renewable sources like wind and solar.

In his remarks, which drew applause multiple times, Rubio took a veiled shot at billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has funded campaigns to fight climate change. In doing so, Rubio positioned himself, the son of an immigrant bartender, as the defender of the middle class.

“So if there’s some billionaire somewhere who is a pro-environmental, cap and trade person, yeah, they can probably afford for their electric bill to go up a couple of hundred dollars,” Rubio said. “But if you’re a single mom in Tampa, Florida, and your electric bill goes up by thirty dollars a month, that is catastrophic.”

The Florida Republican, who is a climate change skeptic, also argued that taking action to unilaterally curb emissions without similar reductions by other countries would be nearly pointless.

The new carbon regulations, he said, will “do nothing to address the underlying issue that they’re talking about. Because as far as I can see, China and India and other developing countries are going to continue to burn anything they can get their hands on.”

The climate deal reached between the United States and China last year, however, may kneecap that argument somewhat. Under the terms of the agreement, China would stop expanding its emissions by 2030, or earlier if possible.

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