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Daniel Davies/Woburn Safari Park via Zooborns

11 Endangered or Threatened Animals Just Born at Zoos

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Daniel Davies/Woburn Safari Park via Zooborns

Being an animal lover isn’t all sharable viral videos of cats in boxes and memes involving terrified red pandas. It also entails being reminded (often in heartbreaking fashion) just how many species we’re losing on an annual basis. The World Wildlife Fund reports that “the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate,” which means that even on the low end of things, there are between 200 and 2000 extinctions that occur every year (a number that could go as high as 100,000 per year, if we consider “upper estimates” that there are 100 million different species on the planet).

But despite disheartening facts and figures, the news isn’t all bad (we promise!)—in fact, there are plenty of endangered and threatened species slowly getting their bearings back, thanks to the effort of various wildlife reserves and zoos. In need of some extremely cute proof? We can provide that, in the form of 16 newborns from 11 very different species, all of which have recently entered a world desperate for more of their special brand of unique adorableness! 

1. Northern White-cheeked Gibbon


Though the Northern White-cheeked Gibbon is extinct in China, nearly extinct in northern Vietnam (a large portion of their estimated 450-strong population can be found there), and is listed as Critically Endangered in Laos, the primate species is getting a big boost from various captive breeding programs, including the Gibbon Conservation Center in California. Their newest infant, Dennis, arrived late last month, joining five other baby gibbons born at the center in the last 18 months. Though Dennis is buff-colored now, his fur will soon turn darker like all other gibbon males. Dennis’s parents, Ricky and Vok, have already proven to be successful gibbon parents over the years—Dennis is their sixth child in a 26-year period.   

2. Pygmy Slow Loris


Another rare primate that’s recently added to its all-important numbers is the Pygmy Slow Loris, perhaps the “highly threatened primate” most adept at staring into people’s souls. This little guy was born back in August at the Akron Zoo as part of their specialized Pygmy Loris Specialized Survival Plan. The species is indigenous to Vietnam, Laos, China, Thailand, and Cambodia (though they’re nearly impossible to spot in the wild) and it’s estimated that there are around 175 currently living in captive breeding programs, including Akron’s stellar set-up.

3. African Hunting Dog


Late last month, the Edinburgh Zoo welcomed their first newborn African Hunting Dog, an adorable ball of sass that is currently unnamed and unsexed (he or she could be named anything!). The new pup was born to the zoo’s dog pack’s non-dominant female, Jet, and its father is presumed to be dominant dog Blade (while it’s rare for non-dominant females to give birth, it’s not unheard of, and it certainly gives the zoo’s breeding program an auspicious start). There are less than 5500 hunting dogs in the wild, and their numbers are consistently threatened by diminishing habitats and farmers who kill them, despite the fact that the dogs rarely attack livestock. The zoo’s first pup is a crucial kickstart to breeding efforts both at Edinburgh and across the world.  

4. Asiatic Lion

Parken Zoo via Zooborns

Sweden’s Parken Zoo had a summer worth celebrating when they got no less than three brand new Asiatic Lion cubs, born to mom Ishara and dad Kaja, back in July. The cubs are all thriving and were recently introduced to their older siblings, two-year-olds Khana and Gir (who had been in the care of other members of their pride while the triplets were getting raised up by Ishara). While Asiatic Lions once populated large portions of southern Asia and the Middle East, the majority of their slim 400-strong population now lives principally in India’s Gir Forest. Despite their small numbers, their population has nearly doubled over the past four decades, giving hope to the species.

5. Somali Wild Ass

Daniel Davies / Woburn Safari Park via Zooborns

Go ahead, laugh it up, we can wait. The Somali Wild Ass certainly has a silly name, but the critically endangered African natives are getting serious about their breeding efforts. Over at England’s wonderful Woburn Safari Park, the species is in the middle of a well-deserved baby boom, with three (currently unnamed) foals born over the last few months. The herd’s proud (and apparently virile) stallion Simon sired all three bouncing babies. The trio joins a sparsely populated breed (estimates hold that there are as few as 280 left in the wild), and with only two other zoos in the UK currently breeding the species, each baby is a serious gift to the population.

6. Giant Otter

Wildlife Reserves Singapore via Zooborns

Singapore’s Wildlife Reserve might have a bit of a leg up when it comes to Giant Otter breeding – their River Safari is the only zoo in all of Asia that houses the big guys, making it pretty easy for them to tout some cool facts, like that they welcomed the first pup to be born in all of Asia back in August. Jumps on the competition aside, the River Safari provides a wonderful home for their Giant Otters, which are some of the most endangered otters on the planet. This little guy weighed about three pounds at birth, but he’ll eventually grow to weigh a staggering 75 pounds (and he could be six feet long!). It’s estimated that there are only about 5,000 Giant Otters in the wild, and they are still rare finds even in captivity.

7. Pampas Deer

M’Bopicuá via Zooborns

In late September, Uruguay’s own Estación de Cría de Fauna M'Bopicuá welcomed a tiny Pampas Deer female fawn, a special birth for their breeding station, considering the species’ threatened status in the country and the station’s dedication to protecting and repopulating native species. Once easily found across South America, the species’ population has been threatened over the years by hunters, habitat conversion, and feral dogs. Despite their heavily reduced habitat area, they continue to live in small areas in Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and they are legally protected in Argentina (where they have homes on both private and federal reserves).

8. Red Panda

Patrick Bolger / Dublin Zoo via Zooborns

If there is any species poised to usurp the Internet throne from felines, it is the beloved Red Panda and, fortunately for the species’ many fans, their population is continuing to grow. The Dublin Zoo welcomed twin cubs back in July, marking the third litter born to their parents Angelina and Chota (who the pair, one boy and one girl, have reportedly bonded with quite strongly). Though Red Pandas are listed as a “Vulnerable” species, they are protected in a number of areas, including parts of China, India, and Nepal. There are currently an estimated 10,000 adult Red Pandas in the wild, but the breeding efforts of zoos (and all that Internet love) are an attempt to help the species' numbers grow larger.

9. Eastern Black Rhinoceros

Todd Rosenberg / Lincoln Park Zoo via Zooborns

Loyal subjects, please meet King. King, please meet your loyal subjects. Lincoln Park Zoo’s baby King (the Eastern Black Rhinoceros was named after the zoo’s longtime patron, King Harris) was born back in August at the Illinois zoo, and he’s been busy winning hearts ever since. The zoo has housed rhinos for over three decades, and they also contribute to helping the species (a Critically Endangered one) by way of their breeding program and extensive fieldwork in South Africa. King’s species is a subspecies of the Black Rhino, and one that was almost declared extinct back in the '90s. It’s currently estimated that there are about 5000 rhinos out in the wild. Heartbreakingly enough, the Western Black Rhino subspecies has officially been declared extinct, making the birth of baby King more important to rhinos than ever before.

10. Western Lowland Gorilla

Belfast Zoo via Zooborns

While the birth of any endangered or threatened animal can be marketed as a miracle, the birth of baby Western Lowland Gorilla Baako is actually quite strangely miraculous. Baako’s wild-born dad, Gugas, was long considered to be infertile, so when Baako’s mom Kwanza ended up pregnant, it was a joyful surprise for the team at the Belfast Zoo. Even better? Baako is the first gorilla of his kind to be born at the zoo in 16 years, and the little guy (born in August) is already thriving. Western Lowland Gorillas are considered Critically Endangered, despite being the most numerous subspecies of gorilla, because of threats from poaching, habitat loss, and the Ebola virus. While the exact number of wild gorillas is unknown, there are currently about 550 in zoos and reserves around the world. 

11. Rothschild’s Giraffe

Budapest Zoo via Zooborns

The Budapest Zoo added to their Rothschild’s Giraffe herd back in August with the birth of the very charming Sempala. The calf is reportedly already a “fan favorite” and has kept busy hamming it up for her many visitors. Of the nine African giraffe subspecies, Rothschild’s are the most rare, and they are currently classified as an endangered species. While there are only about 700 Rothschild’s Giraffes in the wild (and only in Kenya and Uganda), there are a hefty number of breeding programs in place for the subspecies, mainly dedicated to keeping its gene pool pure (not mingled with other subspecies of giraffe). 

For more photos of these adorable animals—and many more—head over to Zooborns!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”