The Sad Story of Leuser, the Sumatran Orangutan

Think cats are the only creatures with nine lives? An orangutan named Leuser might disagree.

In February 2004, the 5-year-old Sumatran orangutan was en route to Jakarta—he was destined to be a gift—when a team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) rescued him. The group took him back to a site near Jambi’s Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra, where they helped to retrain him in the ways of wild orangutans. The primate did well—the team noted that he was an excellent nest builder and forager—and in December 2004, they released Leuser into the park to fend for himself as a wild orangutan.

SOCP had high hopes that Leuser would establish himself in the wild, and be a part of saving the species. Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. In 2004, it was reported that approximately 7400 Sumatran orangutans remained in the wild (most of the population inhabits the Leuser Ecosystem, so you know where our guy got his name!), but that the population was decreasing.

Unfortunately, being released might have been the worst thing that could have happened to Leuser. In 2006, he was captured and shot by villagers outside of the park.

Once again, SOCP came to the rescue. They managed to save Leuser before he was killed or sold, but by then, he had already been shot 62 times by air rifle pellets; he was even shot in both eyes, blinding him. While the villagers claim they shot him so they could catch him and sell him, officials from the rescue group claim they were really just doing it for "fun." Five of the villagers were prosecuted and sentenced to six months in jail.

After his ordeal, Leuser was given a permanent home with the SOCP. In 2010, the group introduced him to a female orangutan, Gober, who was also blind (this time due to natural causes: she had cataracts). Six months later, Gober gave birth to healthy twins—a boy and a girl. Even if Gober and Leuser can’t ever be released into the wild, they can still play an important role in the survival of their species. And hopefully now that he has a safe home, Leuser won’t have any use for his seven additional lives.

Kathrin Weiland
Cow Manure and Elephant Dung Could Be Used to Make the Paper of the Future
Kathrin Weiland
Kathrin Weiland

The average dairy cow produces 82 pounds of manure daily. For elephants, that number is up to 300 pounds. According to researchers at the University of Vienna, all that dung represents an untapped resource that has the potential to change the way we make paper.

The team of scientists presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 21. Waste from cows and elephants, they say, is rich in the same cellulose that's required to make paper products. What's more, the cellulose in manure has been broken down by digestion, making it easier for paper manufacturers to process.

"Animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure," researcher Alexander Bismarck said in a statement. "Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible."

Bismarck first got the idea to make paper from manure after seeing goats graze on dry grass in a small village in Crete. As he watched the plant matter go in, he wondered if that same matter wouldn't be suitable for making paper once it came out the other end. Today most paper is made by grinding down raw wood into nanocellulose, a process that takes a lot of power. The cellulose in dung has already been chewed and worn down by acid and enzymes in the animal's digestive system, cutting out the need for all that grinding.

Following Bismarck's goat manure–inspired revelation, he and his team began working with waste from horses, cows, and now elephants. Thanks to cattle farms and elephant parks around the world, this material is an abundant sustainable resource. The dung they collect is treated with a sodium hydroxide solution to remove lignin, the glue that holds cellulose fibers together (and can also be used as fuel). From there, they filter out other impurities like proteins and dead cells and bleach whatever's left with sodium hypochlorite to create a pure, white pulp that's ready to be made into paper.

The research team is currently exploring potential applications for the material. For now, they say it could be used as reinforcement for polymer composites or as filters for wastewater. It can also be made into paper for writing, though it may be a while until you see notebooks made from elephant dung at your local office supply store.

Palm Trees in Canada? It Could Happen, Thanks to Climate Change

Human-caused global warming has the potential to transform coastlines, weather patterns, and entire populations. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, the creep of palm trees into higher latitudes could be another sign that our planet is changing. If our climate continues to warm, the tropical flora could soon be spotted as far north as Canada.

In the new study, reported by Earther, researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and two Canadian institutions looked at the temperature tolerances of palm species best suited for chillier weather. Many varieties don't need a year-round tropical climate to thrive: As long as the average temperature for the coldest month of the year for the region is above 36°F, some palms can grow in northern latitudes. This is why you can see palm trees in Greenville, North Carolina, where average temperatures for January fall above 36°F, but not Washington D.C., where average January temperatures tend to dip below that number.

But that could soon change. As is the case with most northern states, average temperatures in D.C. are rising and winters are getting milder, which means it's shaping up to be an inviting habitat for palm trees. Not all palm species tolerate the same climatic conditions, and the effects of the species' competition with native and non-native plants in more northerly regions remains to be seen. But if the palms do migrate that far north in the coming years, the Northeast, Northwest, and even parts of Canada could be next.

A future of palm trees in Canada isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. Winters in these areas are already warm enough for people to plant palm trees in their gardens. In a controlled environment, these trees can flower and spread fruit, but average temperatures will need to climb a little higher before palm seedlings can survive in the wild.

[h/t Earther]


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