A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia

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A photographer who snapped what could be the world’s only girl hunting with a golden eagle says watching her work was an amazing sight.

Most children, Asher Svidensky says, are a little intimidated by golden eagles. Kazakh boys in western Mongolia start learning how to use the huge birds to hunt for foxes and hares at the age of 13, when the eagles sit heavily on their undeveloped arms. Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill – and he also photographed Ashol-Pan.

“To see her with the eagle was amazing,” he recalls. She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country’s only apprentice huntress.

They hunt in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40C (-40F). A hunt begins with days of trekking on horseback through snow to a mountain or ridge giving an excellent view of prey for miles around. Hunters generally work in teams. After a fox is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.

The skill of hunting with eagles, Svidensky says, lies in harnessing an unpredictable force of nature. “You don’t really control the eagle. You can try and make her hunt an animal – and then it’s a matter of nature. What will the eagle do? Will she make it? How will you get her back afterwards?”

Read more, and see the full size photos

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Rome is older than thought

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Archeologists’ findings may prove Rome a century older than thought

As Italian capital approaches 2,767th birthday, excavation reveals wall built long before official founding year of 753BC

Rome may be older than its official birthday of 21 April 753BC when founded by Romulus and Remus. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

It is already known as the eternal city, and if new archeological findings prove correct Rome may turn out to be even more so than believed until now.

Next week, the city will celebrate its official, 2,767th birthday. According to a tradition going back to classic times, the brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city on 21 April in the year 753BC.

But on Sunday it was reported that evidence of infrastructure building had been found, dating from more than 100 years earlier. The daily Il Messagero quoted Patrizia Fortini, the archaeologist responsible for the Forum, as saying that a wall constructed well before the city’s traditional founding date had been unearthed.

The wall, made from blocks of volcanic tuff, appeared to have been built to channel water from an aquifer under the Capitoline hill that flows into the river Spino, a tributary of the Tiber. Around the wall, archaeologists found pieces of ceramic pottery and remains of food.

“The examination of the ceramic material was crucial, allowing us today to fix the wall chronologically between the 9th century and the beginning of the 8th century,” said Fortini.

It was already known that the settlement of Rome was a gradual process and that the traditional date for its foundation was invented by a later writer. There is evidence of people arriving on the Palatine hill as early as the 10th century BC.

The find would appear to show that construction in stone began earlier than previously established. The discovery was made close to the Lapis Niger (‘Black Stone’ in Latin): a shrine that later Romans associated with their city’s earliest days. The site includes a stone block that carries the earliest inscription found in Rome. Written in the 5th century BC, its meaning is not fully clear, but it is thought to place a curse on anyone who violates the site.


The Simpsons

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Radiation Creates Mutant Tomatoes

In a 1999 episode Homer creates a tomato/tobacco hybrid by planting his crop with radioactive waste. After the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, farmers throughout Japan began reporting mutant tomatoes as well as other crops.

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In a 1999 episode Homer creates a tomato/tobacco hybrid by planting his crop with radioactive waste. After the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, farmers throughout Japan began reporting mutant tomatoes as well as other crops. – See more at: http://www.teendayz.com/gallery/6850/15-times-when-the-simpsons-predicted-the-future#sthash.88fmUW58.dpuf
Radiation Creates Mutant Tomatoes
Radiation Creates Mutant Tomatoes
Radiation Creates Mutant Tomatoes

Satireday on Tomus

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Terribly Shrek-like

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Ophrys apifera

Ophrys apifera

The Bee orchid, terribly shrek-like…

Brazil football: Death of a street child

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The brutal killing of a promising teenage street footballer has concentrated minds in Brazil ahead of the World Cup this summer.

“Rodrigo was nurturing the dream of being a professional footballer. He had been born with a real talent and everyone in his family and his community knew that he was really good at football.”

The teenage boy described by outreach worker Antonio Carlos da Silva could be any of Brazil’s football-mad youngsters.

But Rodrigo Kelton had not just stood out in training sessions. At only 14, he had already overcome great odds to make it to that age alive.

Rodrigo was one of the thousands of children born into hardship in the north-eastern state of Ceara, where according to official figures more than 133,000 people live on less than 70 reais ($30; £18.50) a month.

Perilous existences

Born into deep poverty and drug addiction, Rodrigo was driven by severe social problems into a perilous existence on the streets of the state capital, Fortaleza.

But according to Mr Silva, the outreach worker who first met Rodrigo living on the streets and persuaded him to move into a shelter in 2009, he was on the brink of turning his life around.

“He was hoping to turn professional, so that he could help his mother get treatment for her drug addiction and buy her a house,” Mr Silva recalls.

Part of what helped him was being part of the Brazilian team competing in the Street Child World Cup, a global tournament that puts the spotlight on issues affecting street children.

The tournament currently under way in Rio is the second such event to be held uniting teams of street children from 19 countries, four years after the inaugural competition in Durban.

Bernardo Rosemeyer is the founder of O Pequeno Nazareno, a non-governmental organisation which runs the shelter into which Rodrigo moved aged nine. He says the prospect of competing in the Street Child World Cup instilled discipline in Rodrigo’s life.

“He had stopped taking drugs and was going to school as part of the conditions to play in the tournament,” Mr Rosemeyer explains. “Being in the team was a light in his life. He was even getting on better with his mother who came to all the training sessions.”

Bitter reality

But what happened to Team Brazil’s best striker shortly before he was due to take part in the Cup reflects the bitter reality of children at the bottom of Brazil’s society.

Rodrigo left the shelter and moved back with his family in a dangerous part of Fortaleza

In February, Rodrigo decided to move back to the favela, or shanty town, where his family lived.

He liked a girl there and dismissed warnings by social workers about the risks of returning to the dangerous neighbourhood.

As he left his home on the day of his 14th birthday with his older brother Raphael, the brothers were shot at by members of a drug gang in retaliation for an alleged robbery several years before.

Rodrigo was killed and Raphael only survived because the gun had jammed.

The news hit his team mates hard.

230 former street children from 19 countries gathered at the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue

“I told the players about his death when we all met up to take the bus to the training session,” recalls Mr Silva.

“At first, they did not believe me and thought I was lying. Then they all began to cry and to think about their strategies for survival in the communities where they live.”

At Rodrigo’s funeral, it was his team mates who carried his coffin.

On the day before their first match, they gathered in a small chapel to remember the teenager who could not make the journey with them from the streets of Fortaleza to Rio to represent their country.

Goalkeeper Pedro Levi, a 15-year-old who also lived on the streets of Fortaleza before moving into a shelter, says Rodrigo has left a gaping hole in the team: “He was a great player. The best thing about him was his leadership, he would bring the whole team together.

Pedro says the team is determined to bring the trophy home “for Rodrigo”.


Before their first match against Egypt, the players observed a minute’s silence in Rodrigo’s honour. Team mate Diego Rocha, 14, held a portrait of Rodrigo as Rio’s Archbishop, Dom Orani Tempesta, and a former captain of Brazil’s national team, Gilberto Silva, watched.

Rodrigo’s team went on to beat Egypt 4-0. But their victory felt bittersweet. “We dedicate this match to the memory of Rodrigo,” Diego said.

The team is determined that Rodrigo will not be forgotten and plan to keep displaying his portrait as they progress through the tournament to Sunday’s final.

But the reality for Brazil’s 23,000 street children is anything but rosy. Gang and drug violence remain endemic in poor communities.

In Rodrigo’s home state of Ceara alone, there were 4,462 murders in 2013.

Murders of street children routinely go unpunished and there has been no investigation into Rodrigo’s death.

Team mate Vinicius Marcos, 14, knows any of the 300 children believed to live on the streets of Fortaleza could easily run the same fate as Rodrigo.

So his hope for his former team mate is a simple one: “I hope God has him in a good place.”


‘Like a demon in a medieval book’

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Is this how the marsupial lion killed prey?

We knew this powerful carnivorous mammal ate kangaroos, but I now think we can speculate on how it caught them too

A marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex. Credit: Adrie &Amp Alfons Kennis/NG/Alamy

I’ve been thinking – as one does – about marsupial lions. Of all the species that became extinct after people first arrived in Australia, between 40 and 50,000 years ago, this is the one that intrigues me most.

Even more, that is, than the spiny anteater the size of a pig; a relative of the wombat the size of a rhinoceros; a marsupial tapir as big as a horse; a ten-foot kangaroo; a horned tortoise eight feet long and a monitor lizard bigger than the Nile crocodile. The lost Australian megafauna looks like a science fiction film directed by an acid casualty.

But it’s the marsupial lion (which was unrelated to the placental lions that remain alive today) that intrigues me most. It was big but, by Pleistocene standards, not huge: probably halfway between a leopard and an African lion.

Morphologically, in some respects it more closely resembles the bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs than any mammalian predator. It could walk and run on four legs, but it also seems to have possessed the ability to stand, with great stability, on two. We know this because, like the kangaroos and some of the heavier dinosaurs, it had chevron bones in its tail. These turned the tail into a stout prop, the third arm of a tripod when the animal stood up.

But unlike, say, tyrannosaurs and velociraptors, marsupial lion species (the biggest of which was Thylacoleo carnifex) also possessed enormous, highly muscled forelimbs. These were equipped with vast hooked claws. It seems to have been the only marsupial with the ability to retract its claws, which allows them to remain sharp. (Think of the difference between a cat’s claw and a dog’s, which is blunted as it scrapes on the ground). It had an extraordinary dentition – huge fused teeth like knife blades – and, the musculature suggests, the strongest bite for its size of any known mammal.

All this we know from the fossil bones. There’s also a suggestion that it was striped. That, at least, is what the one ghostly image of this beast in an ancient rock painting, discovered in 2008, suggests.

Adaptations like this don’t happened by accident. This was a specialised predator, which seems to have been equipped for a strategy unlike that of any carnivore alive today. But what was the strategy?

Skeleton of an extinct marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) casts a large shadow on the cave wall at an archaeological dig in Naracoorte Caves National Park, Australia. Photograph: Frans Lanting/Corbis

There are, I admit, more pressing matters. But once I started thinking about this, it was not easy to stop. So I spent a few hours in an academic library, reading all the available papers on Thylacoleo carnifex. The first thing I noticed was how few there are. While the dinosaurs have been studied from every imaginable angle, and their habits and strategies endlessly debated, the extinct giant mammals (which, being much more recent, tend to be better represented in the fossil record) have been, by comparison, neglected.

For example, a couple of years ago I spent three days in the library looking for papers which mention the ecological legacy of elephants in Europe. The legacy looks pretty obvious to me. Trees which can coppice and hedge, understorey trees (box, yew, holly) which – though they carry less weight and are subject to lower shear forces from the wind – are stronger and tougher than the big canopy trees. The black and white reticulations of birch bark look as if they might have evolved to confuse a bark-stripping beast with limited colour vision.

But though our forests were recently inhabited by a creature so monstrous that it made the African elephant look like a ballet dancer (the straight-tusked elephant, Elephas antiquus) all I could find was a throwaway sentence in one scientific paper. Look up trees and elephants in Africa, by contrast, and you’ll encounter a large and interesting literature on their co-evolution.

There was once a lively academic discussion about marsupial lions, but it stopped at the end of the 19th century, long before modern analytical methods were available. More recently, a couple of sources have proposed that this beast might have been arboreal (living and hunting in trees). But an analysis of its scapula suggests “walking and trotting, rather than climbing … the pelvis similarly agrees with that of ambulators and cursors [walkers and runners]“.

These bones indicate that Thylacoleo was a slow- to medium-paced runner, which is likely to mean it was an ambush predator. That fits with the stripes: camouflage of the kind you need for stalking and hiding in a largely forested habitat (like tigers) rather than chasing across open spaces (like lions).

But that still doesn’t get us very far. Sure, tigers have big forearms, but nothing (in comparison to their hindquarters) like those of Thylacoleo. Or such remarkable claws or – formidable as they are – such a terrifying bite. And they are top-heavy and unable to stand on their hindlegs for long. The marsupial lion did something that no living predator did, and nowhere in the papers I’ve read is a full explanation attempted.

I found one study, published in 1985, which takes us halfway there. It notes that the bones of the marsupial lion are most frequently associated with two genera of kangaroos, Macropus and Sthenurus, including giant kangaroos. The bones of extinct giant kangaroos bearing marsupial lion toothmarks, found in the Lancefield Swamp in Victoria, suggest that, like the sabretooth cats of the northern hemisphere, it fed largely on the internal organs of its prey.

But all this tells us is that kangaroos featured in its diet. I believe we might be able to go further, and speculate that Thylacoleo carnifex was a highly specialised kangaroo hunter.

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