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Conservationist Recruits RC Cars to Protect the Desert Tortoise

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Urbanization has proven to be a rough deal for the desert tortoise. Its natural habitat in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of California continues to shrink as development spreads. Meanwhile, the population of one their most fearsome predators, the raven, has flourished in light of the abundant sources of food and shelter provided by humans. As Motherboard reports, a tortoise conservationist now hopes to defend the species using some unconventional bodyguards.

The Guardian Angel is a remote-controlled vehicle drivers can navigate online using live-video streaming from a camera onboard. It’s the brainchild of Hardshell Labs, a corporation founded by desert biologist Tim Shields. Shields has devoted decades of his life to studying the desert tortoise, and now he’s using RC cars to protect them from predators.

Ravens can’t seem to stand the rovers—by driving them among tortoises the team can prevent the birds from attacking vulnerable juveniles. Unlike the ravens, the tortoises apparently aren’t bothered by the Guardian Angels. The vehicles are close in speed and size to a tortoise, and, as Tim Shields describes on the project website, the animals get used to the devices once they’ve had a chance to check them out. According to Shields there “comes a moment when curiosity overcomes caution and the tortoise approaches the rover for a sniff. Always a sniff test and always one of the tires. After that, the tortoise loses almost all interest in the rover.”

The team at Hardshell Labs is investigating another raven-repelling tactic. Because ravens' eyes are acutely sensitive to a certain wavelength of green light, lasers can be used to ward them off. The tests so far don’t indicate any permanent damage done to their eyes, and the birds seem to flee before becoming accustomed to the lights.

If using lasers to protect tortoises from ravens sounds like your idea of a good time, Shields could use your help. His team at Hardshell Labs is developing an augmented reality app that allows players to direct lasers and keep predators at bay. Hardshell Labs is one of many groups gamifying conservation to get the public involved. As Tim Shields says, “saving the world should be fun.”

[h/t Motherboard]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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