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Humans Have Already Killed 26 Panamanian Jaguars This Year

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Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) report that the number of jaguar killings by humans is on the rise, and warn that the situation will continue to worsen unless steps are taken soon. They presented their findings at the 20th Congress of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology Conservation in Belize.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) can fend for itself in just about every situation out there. They’re comfortable hunting in the trees, on the forest floor, and in the water. Unlike other cats, which kill with a bite to the throat, the jaguar uses its powerful jaws and strong canine teeth to crush its prey’s skull, puncturing the brain or spinal cord. It’s an incredibly effective strategy—but only against unarmed prey. Powerful jaws are not much help when your attacker can shoot from 30 feet away.

Jaguars and humans have never been friendly, but it was once possible for the two species to coexist with relatively little bloodshed. The jaguar’s expansive range included parts of both North and South America. There was room for everyone. Then, in 1914, everything changed, says STRI’s Ricardo Moreno. “The connection was broken 100 years ago by the building of the Panama Canal,” he said in a statement. “Continued development and deforestation of Central Panama is disrupting the flow of animals and their genes, so that now the jaguar is considered an endangered species.”

And what was once a boundless jungle is rapidly changing. Cattle and sheep ranchers are setting up shop in jaguar territory, which puts everyone in a pretty dangerous position. More than half of the forest in the Isthmus of Panama is already gone. The cats are running out of safe spaces to go. And on top of that, humans have moved in on their wild food supply. It’s no wonder they’ve begun preying on people’s cows, sheep, and dogs.

Moreno and his colleagues went out into local communities, asking for information about jaguar killings. They heard from ranchers and tour guides that most of the 26 killings so far this year were acts of retaliation.

In the years between 1989 and 2014, people killed at least 230 jaguars in Panama. “We have reason to think that the actual number may be two or three times higher,” Moreno said. In 2015, 23 jaguars were killed, and we’re up to 26 so far this year.

But it may be possible to reverse the trend. STRI’s Agua Salud Project, which explores the flow and effects of fresh water through the region, has determined that it may be possible to rehabilitate at least part of the jaguars’ range.

Moreno and his colleague Ninon Meyer have also outlined four strategies to help slow, if not mitigate, the damage. Writing in the International Union for Conservation’s “Cat News” newsletter, they called for four interventions on the human side:

  • Education, especially in areas where the number of jaguar killings is high.
  • Extension programs for cattle owners who have experienced jaguar predations.
  • Economic incentives for rural communities near jaguar habitat. In one community, residents overcame losses due to predation by selling plaster casts of jaguar tracks.
  • The creation of multi-institutional alliances to unite governmental and non-governmental institutions to intervene in key areas.

“Education is key because we all deserve to understand what is happening on our planet and in our countries,” Moreno said. “But education takes years and jaguars … don’t have years.”

He entreated policymakers and citizens to support the cause: “Jaguar conservation will take dedication on the part of governments, NGOs and passionate individuals united to conserve our natural heritage, which has no borders.”

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Animals
This Beach Bar for Dogs Has Chicken Beer and Doggie Paddle Races
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After a summer spent playing fetch, sniffing butts, and fulfilling his duty as man’s best friend, your dog could probably use a vacation. There are few places where he’ll feel more welcome than at Monty’s Dog Beach Bar in Croatia. As Reuters reports, this canine-friendly oasis is the only bar of its kind in the Eastern European country.

Monty’s opened a year ago in the coastal town of Crikvenica and has been drawing in four-legged patrons and their owners ever since. While lounging on a sun bed with views of the Adriatic Sea, dogs lap up special "beer" brewed from chicken and vegetables. If they’re in need of something more substantial, the menu also includes ice cream made from bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, and soy milk. Senior dogs even have the option to drink medicinal teas that are supposed to boost fur growth. And if their humans get hungry or thirsty, there’s a full selection of people drinks and snacks to choose from, too.

Earlier in August, Monty’s hosted a day full of beach games that dogs and their owners could take part in together. Fifteen human-canine pairs competed in an event that had them running down a pier, leaping into the water, and swimming 100 meters back to shore. The winner, a four-year-old Samoyed mix named Nimbus, was awarded 15 pounds of kibble and a weekend stay at a nearby hotel.

The day also featured beer, ice cream, and cake-eating contests for dogs who preferred consuming calories to burning them off.

Special menu items for dogs have become a more popular sight at mainstream restaurants in recent years. Non-alcoholic beer for dogs, made from everything from dandelion to beef flavoring, is also easy to find if owners know where to look for it. But for a dog-centric bar experience close to the ocean, you may have to book a trip to Croatia. (Fido will thank you.)

[h/t Reuters]

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Microsoft’s Autonomous Gliders Stay in the Air by Mimicking Birds of Prey
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When designing different ways for vehicles to move, engineers will often look to nature. Animals have had millions of years to evolve locomotion methods that get them where they’re going fast without burning a ton of energy. Now, researchers at Microsoft have chosen the hawk, a master of energy-efficient air travel, as the model for their new autonomous gliders.

As Co.Design reports, the tech company’s “infinite soaring machine” can move through the skies without generating its own propulsion. Instead, it seeks out warms streams of air to provide the upward push, much like a hawk does.

While riding air currents doesn't take up a lot of energy, it does require some sophisticated artificial intelligence. As a substitute for millennia of animal instinct, Microsoft “trained” its glider to fly by plugging it into a video game-like simulator that showed hawks in flight. By repeatedly subjecting the technology to these virtual experiments, researchers eventually developed algorithms capable of recreating the scenes in the real world.

Using onboard sensors, the sailplane can independently navigate the skies without a motor. The gliders are no more than a few feet long, which means they don’t serve much of a practical purpose outside of research. But the aircraft’s simple design is exactly what makes them appealing to engineers.

With less hardware to worry about, they can focus on refining AI software which can be used in different types of autonomous vehicles in the future. And by testing AI navigation in the air instead of on the road, Microsoft gives themselves a much bigger test track to work with.

You can watch the infinite soaring machine take to the skies in the video below.

[h/t Co.Design]

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