Cats deposit about 1.2 million metric tons of feces into the U.S. environment every year, roughly equivalent to 12 aircraft carriers, a new study finds, and all that poop may pose a public health hazard.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal Trends in Parasitology, two Maryland researchers studied an infectious parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.
A new analysis by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey and Dr. Robert H. Yolken, scientists at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, found that the parasite eggs, known as oocysts, may be more common than previously once known – perhaps between three and 434 oocysts per square foot of soil, according to samples taken from places as diverse as California, China, Brazil, Panama and Poland.
“It may be a much bigger problem than we realize,” said Torrey, a psychiatrist who heads the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.
“There’s increased awareness now that Toxoplasma gondii is a very clever parasite, and does strange things to the brain,” added Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. “That’s prompted us to re-evaluate it. It may be capable of doing more than we thought.”
Torrey and study co-author, Dr. Robert Yolken, a neurovirologist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, write that “accumulating T. gondii oocysts in the environment pose a significant public health hazard, especially in the sandboxes of children, gardens and other places favored by cats for defecation.”
“It should be assumed that the play areas of children, especially sandboxes, are highly infectious unless they have been covered at all times when not in use, or … are not accessible to cats,” the authors wrote. “It should also be assumed that gardens to which cats have access are infectious, and gardeners should wear gloves and wash their hands after completing gardening…. Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed.”
With the population of cats increasing in the United States, growing from 55 million to 80 million from 1989 to 2006, and the number of feral cats is estimated at between 25 million and 60 million. Studies show that approximately 1 percent of cats shed the infectious oocysts at any given time. These oocysts can survive for at least 18 months, and only a single one is needed to cause an infection, according to past research.
Researchers urge cat owners to keep their pets indoors and take precautions when it comes to kids’ sandboxes and backyard gardens. Also, they want you to dispose cat litter properly. Meaning, don’t flush it down the toliet and don’t throw it outside. Simply bag it, and dispose of it as you would the rest of your trash.
More research is needed to understand the risks posed by the Toxoplasma parasite. In the meantime, Torrey advocated controlling cat populations, especially feral ones.
Facial Recognition To Be Used In Panda Conservation
While facial recognition technology is widely frowned upon when used against humans, it could be an ally for conservators of giant pandas in China.
A group of researchers from the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas have developed an app that could recognize individual pandas using facial recognition technology. The app will draw from more than 120,000 images and video clips of giant pandas to identify the animals that are living in the wild.
According to a census conducted last 2004 by the Chinese government, there are approximately 1,864 pandas live in the wild. That’s a 16.8% increase since the last survey released in 2003. The country has taken a proactive role in conservation efforts, announcing last year that it would build a 10,476-square-mile panda reserve called the Giant Panda National Park at the cost of at least 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion).
“The latest rise in the estimate is particularly encouraging, as the 2004 increase was in large part down to researchers using better techniques and surveying a wider area. The new figures show that the hard work of the Chinese government, local communities, nature reserve staff, and WWF is paying off,” wrote WWF.
Camera traps in China have captured images and video footage of giant pandas that are often difficult to see in the wild. The photographs and video are some of the most amazing photos ever of pandas and other species in their remote habitat, which were caught on film as part of long-term wildlife monitoring projects set up in panda nature reserves by the Chinese government and WWF.
“These photos offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of giant pandas, as well as other animals, which are difficult to see in the wild,” says Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, managing director of WWF’s species program. “They demonstrate that by saving the iconic giant panda, we secure a vibrant future for other incredible wildlife, wild places, and people – it’s the best kind of win-win proposition.”
The development of the new facial recognition app will presumably help conservationist monitor their programs by keeping track of how many pandas are left. It will also provide significant insight regarding the breeding program that conservationist has been implementing to encourage an increase in the panda population.
“he app and database will help us gather more precise and well-rounded data on the population, distribution, ages, gender ratio, birth and deaths of wild pandas, who live in deep mountains and are hard to track,” Chen Peng, a researcher at the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas, said.
This is not the first time that facial recognition technology has been used against animals. According to several reports, facial technology has been used in Italy as part of an app that can match photos of lost pets from those that are in shelters and to determine a cat apart from other feline species.
Nonetheless, the use of facial technology in China is a complicated issue. Many nations have been vocal in their accusations that the Chinese government and Xi Jinping is using the technology against people’s consent for the government to spy on its citizens.
Meanwhile, facial recognition technology is also something frowned upon in Western governments. Last week, San Francisco, one of the technology capitals of the world, has voted to ban the police and city agencies from using facial recognition technologies against their people. The groundbreaking vote aims to become a model in other city and states as San Francisco recognizes the harms that an unregulated technology can have over people’s privacy.
The science and tech community has not failed to become wary over facial recognition technology and has urged companies to stop selling their versions of the technology to law enforcement agencies. Recently, a study from the Georgetown Law School has revealed that police have been feeding images of celebrities and composite and computer-generated suspect sketches to the facial recognition system to generate possible matches.
While using the technology on animals does not necessarily have direct harms, many experts have argued that governments can use the camera set up for animal facial recognition systems against humans and could be exploited. Nevertheless, the possible use of facial recognition by conservators might be the hope of the giant panda population.
Warming Oceans Threaten Global Fisheries, Study Reveals
People have depended on fish and other seafood for sustenance since the prehistoric people learned how to fish. Early civilizations are built in river banks and coastal regions because fishing is much sustainable the hunting. However, as society progress, the more than fishes and other marine animals become at risk. Thanks to climate change.
This reality was revealed by the extensive analysis of recent trends in marine biodiversity. The increasing temperatures in seas have reduced the productivity of some fisheries by 15% to 35% over the last eight decades, although there are fish species that are thriving in warm waters.
According to the study, the net effect is that the world’s oceans cannot produce as much sustainable seafood as before. It also warns that the situation is likely to worsen as the problem is quickly accelerating in the oceans.
However, the study also suggests that well-managed fisheries are thriving and have become more resilient to the rising water temperature, says Rainer Froese, a marine ecologist with the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, who was not involved in the work. “We have to stop overfishing to let the gene pool survive, so that [the fish] can adapt to climate change,” he says. “We have to give them a break.”
As cold-blooded animals, fish mirror the temperature of the water they swim in. When the water gets too warm, the enzymes they use for digestion and other functions are less efficient, impairing growth and reproduction. Also, warm water contains less oxygen, a further stressor.
Despite these well-known problems, only a few scientists have looked into the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans in terms of fishery production.
Chris Free, a fisheries scientist, dove into the topic for his dissertation at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He created a computer model of the way fish populations respond to temperature, relying on a large database of scientific assessments of stocks that represent roughly a third of the fish caught around the world. Free, now a postdoc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, looked for patterns of how these stocks had responded to changes in sea surface temperature.
“Managing a stock of fish, in simple terms, is like withdrawing cash from a bank account that earns interest. Each year, a certain amount can be caught by fishing boats without depleting the stock—that portion is known as the maximum sustainable yield. A more productive fishery—where the water temperature is optimal and food plentiful, for example—is like a bank account with a higher interest rate, which means more fish can be sustainably caught.” said Erik Stokstad in an article published in ScienceMag.
The study of Free and his colleagues revealed that: “Out of 235 stocks, Free and his colleagues found a few winners. Nine stocks had become on average 4% more productive. These stocks are in places where rising temperatures have made too-cold water more suitable for fish, such as far north and south of the equator. Off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, for example, the maximum sustainable yield has increased by 14% since 1930. And fishing there could get even better. According to the new research, the productivity of Greenland halibut will increase 51% with each degree Celsius of warming. That’s like getting a big, fat boost to the interest rate on your saving account.”
“This local good news is outweighed by 19 stocks elsewhere that are on average 8% less productive than before. Many of these are around northern Europe and Japan, and they will likely continue to decline as their environment continues to heat up. Boats chasing Atlantic cod in the Irish Sea face a particularly grim future: The maximum sustainable yield of this stock will shrink by 54% for each additional degree of warming, the team reports today in Science.”
According to Free, the overall decline will most likely to steepen. Since 1930, average sea surface temperatures have risen by about 0.5°C. By the end of this century, more than three times that amount of warming will likely happen, and marine heat waves will become more frequent. Although temperatures will become more favorable to fish in higher latitude waters, “those benefits can’t last forever,” Free says. “There probably is a tipping point.”
Fishes, however, are not the only animals that are being threatened by climate change. Scientists have also said that because of a killer fungi, frogs are starting to become extinct. The rapid increase in rainforest temperature even more empowered the killer fungi. Insects are also in fast decline due to climate change. This serves as a scary reminder of the future we reap if we continue our path to unsustainable tomorrow.
11-Meter-Long Dead Whale Found In Brazilian Jungle
On February 22, an 11-meter-long and 6-meters wide humpback whale was found dead in the middle of the undergrowth of the forest of Pará, a Brazilian municipality located on the island of Marajó, at the mouth of the Amazon River.
Yes, a whale was found in the jungle, away from its natural habitat.
The discovery of the dead whale caused the Municipal Secretariat of Health, Sanitation, and Environment to launch an investigation to determine why the marine animal was found in an ecosystem away from its own and in the winter season.
The colossal animal reportedly had no visible wounds and biologists Bicho D’agua, a marine protection NGO, said that an autopsy is required to determine the cause of death.
Humpback whales are fed seasonally; it is possible that not finding food will migrate to the beach and swallowing large amounts of water will suffocate with plastics , being later his body pushed by the waves of the sea into the jungle.
“We only found the whale because of the presence of scavenging birds of prey,” said Dirlene Silva from the Department of Health, Sanitation, and Environment.
‘The vultures were spotted circling above the carcass which was found hidden in the bush some distance from the sea.’
A team of ten biologists struggled to reach the body of the whale at the first attempt and were only able to reach it at the second try.
Biologists from the Bicho D’agua Institute have been called in to collect forensic samples to determine the cause of death.
The gigantic animal was believed to be already dead when it was carried by the waves to the jungle.
‘Along with this astonishing feat, we are baffled as to what a humpback whale is doing on the north coast of Brazil during February because this is a very unusual occurrence.’ the team announced.
According to the expert, humpback whales are typically seen in Bahia on the northeast coast between August to November.
‘We are collecting as much information as we can get and identifying marks and wounds on its body to see if it was caught in a net or hit by a boat.’
For now, there are no plans to remove the hulk due to the size, weight, and location. Instead, researchers intend to bury much of carcass, and the skeleton will be sent to the Goeldi Natural History Museum in Belem for future studies. /apr
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