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Julian Herzog via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

U.S. Government (Finally) Makes It Illegal to Sell Tigers Without a Permit

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Julian Herzog via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

After years of discussion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has finally made it illegal for Americans to buy, sell, and own tigers without a permit.

It's true: before now you could legally keep one of those enormous, beautiful, endangered (and yes, violent) cats in your backyard. Kind of. You see, just like prescription drugs or cereal, there are legally two types of tigers: brand name and generic. The lineage of brand-name (or pedigreed) tigers is clear; each individual belongs to a single subspecies, all of which are endangered. As a result, all pedigreed tigers fell under the Endangered Species Act, and their transport and welfare were strictly regulated. Generic tigers, on the other hand, are the result of cross-breeding between at least two subspecies. Because their mixed genes make them technically outside the purview of conservation programs, they were not considered endangered, and therefore were legal to buy, sell, and own without a permit. 

This may seem like a minor technicality to you, who presumably have never tried to buy a tiger, but to exotic animal traders, this loophole was more like a large tunnel. Conservationists say there are about 3200 tigers remaining in the wild. But at last count, Americans were keeping as many as 5000 captive in their backyards, roadside zoos, and breeding operations.

And what was bad for generic tigers was bad for tigers everywhere. Tigers are endangered for many reasons, one of which is the black-market value of their bones, pelts, and organs. But buyers on the black market don’t know the pedigree of the animals they’re purchasing, and some conservationists say it’s possible that American breeders have been selling generic tigers for parts.

“We have no idea if their bones go into the trade or not,” wildlife investigator J.A. Mills said in Scientific American. “If their bones go into the trade, then that’s stimulating demand for wild tigers just as much as the products from tiger farms in China.” 

The USFWS announced the loophole closure earlier this week. “Removing the loophole that enabled some tigers to be sold for purposes that do not benefit tigers in the wild will strengthen protections for these magnificent creatures and help reduce the trade in tigers that is so detrimental to wild populations,” USFWS director Dan Ashe said in a press statement. “This will be a positive driver for tiger conservation.”

The same day the ruling was made public, the USDA announced a tightening of regulations around the treatment and exhibition of tiger cubs. 

World Wildlife Fund senior policy advisor Leigh Henry told Scientific American that these policies represent progress, not a solution. 

“The U.S. must continue to improve its regulation of the estimated 5000 tigers within its borders and work with other countries with large captive tiger populations, most notably China, to map a way forward so that these animals aren't a threat to the conservation of tigers in the wild. The U.S. and China recently stepped up with joint commitments to end the trade of elephant ivory. This collaboration should serve as a model for protecting other threatened wildlife, and with only a few thousand left in the wild, tigers should be among the highest priorities.”

 [h/t Scientific American]

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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Focus Features

If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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iStock

Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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