The rare and magnificent white rhino, hunted and killed for its horn. (Image: South African tourism)Janine ErasmusWith only four northern white rhinos left in the wild, the fight is on to save one of the world’s rarest animals from dying out. Now a special cloning technique may provide the answer to this desperate situation.The northern white or northern square-lipped rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is one of two subspecies of white rhino – the other one is the southern white rhino. The handful of remaining animals is located in the Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.The region’s instability has hampered efforts to protect the animals and poaching, mainly from Sudan, has taken a severe toll. Sudanese poachers are responsible for the decimation of much of the wildlife in this region, as well as in Central African Republic and Chad.Data from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) reveals that even as late as the 1960s there were about 2 000 northern white rhino. Poaching reduced the population to about 15, according to a count in 1984. Thanks to intervention from various sources the population doubled but poaching has again intensified to the point where the species now stands on the brink of extinction.There are also 10 northern white rhinos in zoos, many in Eastern Europe, exchanged by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin for arms in the 1970s. Only two of these, however, are fertile females capable of breeding.Protecting animals and their habitatsThe cloning technique is not the same as that which created Dolly the sheep over ten years ago. On the contrary, many scientists believe that conventional cloning is inefficient, and takes attention away from the more realistic problem of preserving wildlife habitats. This is a major threat to many species.Professor Robert Millar, director of Edinburgh University’s Reproductive Sciences Unit, who is leading the study, says, “There are a lot of African animals under the threat of extinction. We want to protect their genomes, but you have to protect their habitats as well.“This is one of the ways of dealing with the problem, especially when the animals get to such low numbers in the wild. It is a method we need to start to get into place as an insurance policy – it’s clearly do-able according to the laboratory work.”Millar has enlisted the services of Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, a renowned conservation scientist from the Berlin Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, as well as those of Sir Ian Wilmut and Dr Paul de Sousa of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh.Hildebrandt is a world authority on elephant artificial reproduction who has done extensive field research in South Africa’s Kruger Park. He perfected his technique through autopsies on elephants culled from overpopulated South African herds. Wilmut is the leader of the team that produced the cloned sheep Dolly in 1996.The method, tested successfully on rodents in the laboratory, is based on a Japanese technique that uses genetic engineering to re-programme adult cells back into an embryonic state. From here the cells can develop into any of the body’s specialised tissues – including sperm and eggs. The fertilised northern white rhino egg can then be nurtured in a surrogate mother, in this case a southern white rhino.The rhino’s skin cells will be used for this purpose and mixed in vitro with embryos of its close relative the southern white rhino. The offspring, strictly speaking, will not be clones but rather chimeras – the medical definition of this term is a creature composed of two genetically distinct types of cells.The chimeras will then hopefully breed in captivity, producing both northern and southern white rhinos, which can then be released back into the African wild.However, cautions Swiss-based conservation organisation WWF International, it is equally important to ensure that the habitat of the northern white rhino is made safe for the new arrivals – otherwise the poaching will simply continue. Most experts feel that a dual approach, using both strategies, will produce the best results.If the technique succeeds with the white rhino it will be used on other endangered species such as the African wild dog, the Ethiopian wolf and the pygmy hippo. These are three of the projects currently underway at the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals. The Lapalala Wilderness nature reserve in Limpopo province is one of the partners in this initiative.Illegal trade in rhino hornOver the years rhinos have been prime targets for poachers – killed almost exclusively for their horns. The illegal trade in rhino horn is driven by medicinal and cultural factors. It is used as an ingredient in eastern medicine, especially in China, where people believe it can cure fever.In Yemen and Oman the curved dagger known as jambia is worn by males over the age of 14 as an accessory – it signifies manhood. The most significant part of this weapon is the hilt, which determines its value. The saifani handle, made of rhino horn, is the most sought after.In Southern Africa it is Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa that have been hardest hit since they hold 93% of Africa’s black and white rhinos. The penalty for poaching in South Africa is R100 000 or 10 years in prison, or both.Garamba national park, established in 1938 and now a Unesco World Heritage Site, is under intense fire from poachers. There are reports of staff losing their lives in anti-poaching operations, and the rhino population has declined sharply. The site is also on the World Heritage in Danger list.According to a National Geographic report, conservationists have for some time been arguing for international government intervention in this matter. They say the criminals, and the Sudanese government, should be taken to task over the rampant poaching. There is no apparent evidence that the Sudanese government is involved, but experts believe that some of the trade in rhino horn may be encouraged by individuals in the regime.By contrast, the southern white rhino is something of a conservation success story. More than 100 years ago it was thought to be extinct, until the discovery in 1895 of a herd of fewer than 100 individuals.Conservation efforts have now resulted in the southern white rhino being classed as “near threatened” – as opposed to critically endangered. It is the only non-endangered rhino species. More than 11 000 animals exist, mostly in South Africa, where legislation and efficient conservation management protect them.Useful linksInstitute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African MammalsThe African Rhino ProgrammeInternational Rhino FoundationCitesInstitute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, BerlinGaramba National ParkLapalalaNational GeographicUnesco
New York electric utility Con Edison is using a mix of efficiency programs, neighborhood solar, and other non-traditional approaches to relieve looming power shortages in parts of New York City and to avoid spending $1.2 billion on a new substation. According to an article posted at Inside Climate News, ConEd realized two years ago that parts of two New York City boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, would be demanding more electricity than the current grid could provide within a few years. The problem would be particularly acute on hot summer days, when air conditioning in the city is running at full tilt.Typically, the answer would be to build a new substation, but the $1.2 billion price tag helped convince ConEd to look for a different solution. ConEd asked for suggestions and to date has received more than 80, which have been bundled into the Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management program, or BQDM. It employs a mix of efficiency and conservation measures as well as distributed power sources such as fuel cells and small-scale solar to meet 52 megawatts of an expected shortfall of 69 megawatts of electricity in 2018, the website reported. The rest of the power, 17 MW, would come from traditional utility infrastructure projects.The cost? About $200 million, less than 20% of what ConEd would have spent on a new substation.“This could be a harbinger of similar types of pilots that could happen elsewhere,” Omar Siddiqui, a senior technical executive at the utility funded nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, told Inside Climate News. “Other utilities are certainly paying attention to what’s happening here.”New York energy chief Richard Kauffman said that ConEd’s plan is something that could be replicated all over the country. “It’s not only an evolution of processes, thinking, and culture,” he said, “it’s also a gradual change in business models, evolving away from ‘programs’ to these activities being integral to the business itself.”Some details are still being worked out, such as how new sources of electricity and conservation can be integrated with its existing grid, and how commercial and residential consumers can buy or sell electricity, the website said.The ConEd service area covered by the plan includes about 310,000 customers, including 29,000 public housing apartments. Renters are the norm, the report said, and they are one of the “hardest markets to crack with incentives for energy efficiency.”
As Spain huffed and puffed to 1-0 victory over Iran credit a fortuitous second half goal by Diego Costa, it was a pitch intruder in the first half that stole the show.A small bird had found itself in the middle of the pitch, Gerard Pique saved the little creature from meeting a nasty end from someone’s boot.After being saved by Pique, who was playing his 100th international, the small confused bird found itself again on the pitch and this time Isco came to its rescue.2018 FIFA WORLD CUP: FULL COVERAGEThe Spanish stars became heroes for the internet as they graciously escorted the bird off to the relative safety of the touchline.Pique & Isco saving little birds is officially the cutest thing that ever happened on a football field pic.twitter.com/Mpyy1n9lgmsarah (@woodyinha9) June 21, 2018So Pique just picked up a bird today before the match… Nbd pic.twitter.com/9wuq7qjjZ5CommandoBandit (@Champeyon) June 21, 2018Gerard Pique helps a little bird#_ pic.twitter.com/ey8sZWXjvqEGY (@essam3rab_UA07) June 20, 2018Piqué lifting that little bird off the ground and letting it fly away… as if he wasnt perfect enough #WorldCup18 #spainvsiran pic.twitter.com/sSalb3dKLpNALLY (@SMcNallyMusic1) June 20, 2018As for the match itself, Costa claimed his third goal of the tournament in the 54th minute at Kazan Arena but the striker hardly knew about it, the ball deflecting off his knee from an attempted clearance by hapless Iran defender Ramin Rezaeian.FIFA WORLD CUP: FIXTURES | POINTS TABLEadvertisementThe result put Spain joint top of Group B with Iberian rivals Portugal on four points ahead of their last match against the already eliminated Morocco.Spain’s Costa furious with Iran’s play-acting and time-wasting tacticsIran remain on three points and can reach the knockout rounds for the first time with victory over Portugal.After a match played out to a deafening blare from vuvuzelas blown by a huge army of Iranian fans, Spain will feel relieved to have emerged with the points and content that they played the better football against Carlos Queiroz’s stingy side.”We were not lying yesterday when we said in the press conference Iran is a tough team,” said Spain coach Fernando Hierro, who replaced the sacked Julen Lopetegui only two days before their opening match against Portugal.”It is very hard to score against them… We are very happy with three points.”(With Reuters inputs)
Story Highlights Farmers in Accompong, St. Elizabeth, who are part of the Government’s cannabis cultivation pilot project are expected to commence harvesting the plant within four months. “The Accompong (farmers) already got their seedlings and they are about to move them out of the greenhouse and into the open field. We have already had 10 acres prepared, and those 10 acres are going to be planted with legal marijuana. We are hoping that we will be reaping within another three to four months,” the Minister informed. This is according to Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. J.C. Hutchinson. Farmers in Accompong, St. Elizabeth, who are part of the Government’s cannabis cultivation pilot project are expected to commence harvesting the plant within four months.This is according to Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. J.C. Hutchinson.“The Accompong (farmers) already got their seedlings and they are about to move them out of the greenhouse and into the open field. We have already had 10 acres prepared, and those 10 acres are going to be planted with legal marijuana. We are hoping that we will be reaping within another three to four months,” the Minister informed.Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. J.C. Hutchinson (left), greets young patrons at the Montpelier Agricultural and Industrial Show, which was held at the Montpelier Showground in St. James on Monday (April 22). He was addressing patrons and participants attending the Montpelier Agricultural and Industrial Show, which was held at the Montpelier Showground in St. James on Monday (April 22).As part of the project, the Government is looking to cultivate 50 acres of the plant for use as raw material in a variety of commercial products, including oils and animal feed.The programme complements the Alternative Development Programme (ADP) that was implemented in Accompong and other communities in March, to provide small-scale farmers with a channel through which to benefit from the cannabis (ganja) industry.The ADP aims to prevent and eliminate illicit ganja cultivation and channel the process through legal streams.The pilot has been initiated in Accompong, St. Elizabeth and Orange Hill, Westmoreland.“We are (also) going to be moving into other areas where we are going to ask the traditional ganja planters to get themselves into groups so we can come and provide you with all the necessary information, so that you can be growing cannabis legally,” Mr. Hutchinson further highlighted.The Montpelier Agricultural and Industrial Show was organised by the St. James Association of Branch Societies of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).It is staged annually to promote the work of farmers in western Jamaica.