Sunday, 10 May 2015

The next mass extinction is coming. Can zoos save the world?

Today, many zoos promote the protection of biodiversity as a significant part of their mission. As conservation "arks" for endangered species and, increasingly, as leaders in field conservation projects such as the reintroduction of captive-born animals to the wild, zoos are preparing to play an even more significant role in the effort to save species in this century.

It's a task that's never been more urgent. The recent Living Planet Index report authored by the World Wildlife Fund and the London Zoological Society paints a disturbing picture: Globally, on average, vertebrate species populations have declined 52 percent since 1970. Over-exploitation, habitat destruction and alteration, global climate change, and other pressures have created conditions that scientists now suggest signal a sixth mass extinction episode for our planet. It's an event rivaling the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The embrace of conservation by zoos, though, doesn't always sit well with their own history. The modern American zoo that emerged in the late 19th century fancied itself as a center of natural history, education, and conservation, but zoos have also always been in the entertainment business. This priority has led many skeptics to question the idea that zoos can play a helpful conservation role in the coming decades.

Zoos provide succor for species having a tough time of it in the wild. | (Ben A. Minteer/The Conversation US)

Zoos also face a formidable set of practical constraints — namely space, capacity, resources, and in some cases, expertise — that will continue to bedevil their ability to make a dent in the extinction crisis. It's also true that some of the most endangered animals are not the highly charismatic and exotic species that reliably attract zoo visitors. It's a challenge that might pit zoos' conservation priorities against their entertainment goals, and perhaps even their financial bottom line.

At the same time, wildlife protection does run deep in the history of zoos. The Bronx Zoo in New York, for example, led one of the earliest captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, helping to save the American bison from fading into oblivion more than a century ago. In the 1960s and 1970s, zoo conservation was energized by a burst of U.S. federal policy-making focused on endangered species, especially the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Many zoos went on to develop Species Survival Plans beginning in the 1980s, which coordinate breeding and population management programs for threatened and endangered animals among zoos worldwide. The goal is to create healthy and genetically diverse animal populations of these species across the zoo community, an effort that can ultimately aid the conservation of the species in the wild.

Reintroduction is a dicey business given the many biological and social factors that determine the viability of a population over time. Zoos' track records here are mixed — but the successes are real. In addition to the bison, the California condor, the Arabian oryx, and the black-footed ferret have been saved due in part to the efforts of zoos.

For animal rights critics, however, these outcomes don't offset what is seen as the basic injustice of keeping captive animals for human amusement. Earlier this year, the case of Marius the giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo reignited the smoldering international debate over the ethics of zoos. A young and healthy giraffe considered a so-called surplus animal by the zoo managers, Marius was shot and his body was dissected before a public audience. The zoo argued that the decision was made on scientific grounds: Marius's genes were well-represented in the zoo system and so he was said to have no remaining conservation value. Animal advocates countered that zoos' noble conservation rhetoric masks a callousness toward the well-being of individual animals.

The bison survives today partly because of the Bronx Zoo's efforts in the early 20th century. | (Jack Dykinga/USDA)

Whatever you think about the Copenhagen case — and it's worth noting that the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums disagreed with it — debates about the ethics of zoos shouldn't take place today without a serious discussion of our obligation to address global biodiversity decline. That includes thinking about how we influence the future of animals and ecosystems outside zoo walls with a thousand lifestyle decisions, from our consumer habits and energy consumption, to our transportation choices and what we put on our dinner plates. Take just one example, the mass production of palm oil. Widely used for cooking and commercial food production, its cultivation has resulted in severe habitat destruction and fragmentation in Indonesia. This in turn threatens the survival of orangutans in the wild.

There is a further challenge. As zoos become more engaged in conservation in the coming decades, the natural world will be further pressured and degraded by human activities. In many cases, nature preserves will likely require more human control than they have in the past in order to deliver the same conservation benefits. As a result, the boundary separating nature and zoo, the wild and the walled, will get even thinner. As it does, our understanding of what zoos are and what we want them to be — entertainment destinations, science centers, conservation arks, sustainability leaders — will also change. So will our idealized views of the wild as those places in nature that are independent of meaningful human influence and design.

Saying all this doesn't let zoos off the hook when it comes to caring properly for animals in their charge. We should also expect them to actually deliver on the swelling conservation rhetoric, especially when their entertainment and recreation interests run up against their expanding vision for biodiversity protection. But it reminds us of the scope of the challenge.

To paraphrase Dr Seuss, we all run the zoo.

The Conversation

Ben Minteer receives funding from The National Science Foundation.

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Salty groundwater supports life in Antarctica’s extreme Dry Valleys

It’s easy to forget that Antarctica is a desert, given that very nearly the entire continent is covered by a thick sheet of ice. But snowfall is very slow to add to that white mantle, as the cold air and ocean around Antarctica aren't exactly going to provide prodigious production of atmospheric moisture.

As its name implies, one of the driest and weirdest locales in a very weird continent is the McMurdo Dry Valleys. This area near the coast is the biggest chunk of Antarctica not covered by ice. Bare rock is found there, and not a whole lot else.

There is, however, an unusual feature known as Blood Falls. At the end of Taylor Glacier, which spills into one of the Dry Valleys (Taylor Valley, actually), a mysterious red trickle of salty, iron-rich water periodically stains the ice as it spills out like blood from a wound. It’s a good thing that it isn’t a paranormal message from ghosts warning researchers to leave the valley, because it has had the opposite effect—it draws them in. In 2012, for example, biologists looking for signs of life eking out an existence in the Dry Valleys discovered that Blood Falls contained an impressive community of microbial life.

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Malan Breton Brides & Grooms 2016

malan breton fashion show
malan breton menswear

The young couples of Malan Breton always have a nostalgic quality to them. They silhouettes are like an optimistic prom from the 1950's, but with contemporary color palettes and a lot more diversity.

The brides did not stick with traditional white, but soft colors and romantic patterns. There were even some beautifully tailored suits fit for the feminine body for brides who prefer to wear the pants or ladies who serve as the best man at a wedding. The grooms had a range of hues to choose from as well. In addition to the classic black and white, there were rich blues, champagne, pewter to a stunning fuschia.

I love Breton's use of color and luxurious fabrics in this and his main collection. He shows you can dress with a classic esthetic but without being stuffy or bland.

He's one of the biggest cheerleaders for his home country of Taiwan. In the same month as presenting this bride and groom's fashion show simultaneously on the Empire Hotel Rooftop, he is also debuting his film (didn't you know he was a film director too?) at the Director's Guild of America. Everyone from Daniel Craig, Michael Buble to Kerry Washington and Ariana Grande count themselves as fans.

Update 4/30/2015: 
I just returned from a screening of Malan Breton and Bonnie Bien's film debut of The Journey to Taiwan. I have to say it was an absolutely beautiful love letter to Breton's home country. The colors, his visual storytelling, along with his own narration of his journey really captured the soul of what inspires a fashion designer.

Both in the film and an emotional Q & A afterwards, he spoke of his grandmother as the most beautiful and stylish woman he had ever encountered. She was a fan of French Haute Couture, but also re-made her favorite European silhouettes with traditional Chinese fabrics. You can definitely see how this aesthetic imprinted onto Malan Breton's own design work. His recent NY Fashion Week shows have all included elegant western styling blended with the most beautiful Chinese silks and Chinese details.

I can't wait to see the next step in Malan Breton's beautiful journey!
photos by Mariana Leung
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Sweeping Lace Patterns Cut into Dense Collages of Newspaper Covers by Myriam Dion

Vendredi 24 janvier, Tragédie de Isle-Verte, 2014. Newspapers cut with x-acto knife, collage. 57 x 56 in. (144.78 x 142.24 cm). Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.

Starting with daily covers of the Financial Times, the Gazette, or the New York Times, Montreal-based paper artist Myriam Dion (previously) cuts sweeping lace-like patterns into collages of newsprint. In earlier artworks Dion left newspaper covers intact while delicately cutting her patterns with an X-ACTO knife, but in recent pieces she’s also incorporated collage. Sometimes multiple covers are cut to create repeating patterns or text is overlaid with photographs. The fragile collages are usually titled after each individual newspaper’s date and primary subject, a strange juxtaposition given the beauty conveyed in her patterns can be at odds with the content: “Thursday April 17, South Korean Ferry Disaster“. Via Division Gallery:

At a period in history where printed news faces extinction, Myriam Dion’s intricate newspaper cut-outs explore the intersection between folk traditions and popular culture. Crafting thoughtful mosaics out of world events, she questions our appetite for sound-bite news and sensational art, showing us the quiet power of a patient hand and an inquisitive eye.

Dion had her first solo exhibition at Division Gallery earlier this year which also represented the final project of her master’s degree from the Université du Québec à Montréal. You can see more in her portfolio and at Division Gallery.


Monday October 20, Blessed Pope, 2015. Newspapers cut with x-acto knife, collage. 19 5/8 x 11 3/8 in. (50 x 29 cm). Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.

Thursday April 17, South Korean Ferry Disaster, 2015. Newspapers cut with x-acto knife, collage. 36 1/4 x 22 7/8 in. (92 x 58 cm). Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.



Vendredi 24 janvier, Tragédie de Isle-Verte, 2014. Newspapers cut with x-acto knife, collage. 57 x 56 in. (144.78 x 142.24 cm). Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.



Saturday, May 31st, Slow Down, 2014, 31″ × 31″, Newspapers cut with exacto knife. Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.

dion-11Le Parisien, 1945 / Le Devoir, 100 ans après, 2014, 26″ × 24″, Newspapers cut with exacto knife. Photo courtesy the artist and Division Gallery.

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Three students to reinvent the TV antenna

Over the coming 20 weeks, DTU student Zaland Bahramzy will be teaming up with Sohia Huzelius and Paulina

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Hey fellow Zazzlers, this would be so cool! I wonder if Zazzle is watching?

Hey fellow Zazzlers, this would be so cool! I wonder if Zazzle is watching?

Laston Kirkland originally shared:

An impressive technique. It just got a LOT less expensive to complex complex objects with detailed paint jobs
attached video

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NASA bids farewell to MESSENGER, its Mercury orbiter

A bit over 3,900 days ago, NASA sent a probe on a meandering course through the inner Solar System. After seven years of gravitational maneuvering, MESSENGER finally arrived at its destination: Mercury, which it became the first spacecraft to visit since 1975's Mariner 10 flyby. Since then, it's been gathering data without much fuss, and without the attention-grabbing surroundings that Cassini benefits from while orbiting Saturn. But its time there has come to an end; out of fuel, the probe is expected to crash into the planet's surface tomorrow.

Mercury's lack of glamor hasn't meant for lack of interesting science. MESSENGER stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, which gives you some sense of the extensive suite of instruments it carries.

We've covered a number of its findings. Despite its proximity to the Sun, MESSENGER found hints of water and other volatile chemicals in the shadows of crater rims at the planet's poles. Researchers had also suggested the planet had shrunk as it cooled off after its formation, but MESSENGER was able to put some numbers on the shrinkage: its radius went down by somewhere between five and seven kilometers.

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Helping Nepal, A Plea from Prabal Gurung

Nepal's devastating Earthquake has claimed the lives of almost 5000 people (could be more in time). Their nation's heritage, homes, sacred cultural places have all mostly been lost. While the fashion industry is usually very good about coming together to help other communities when in need, this particular tragedy was very personal for fashion designer Prabal Gurung.

Gurung is a Nepalese native. While he now calls New York home, this is the country of his heart. As a CFDA board member, he traveled with designer Diane Von Furstenburg a few years back to show her the wonderful people and rich culture there.

Nepal is in immediate need of shelters, food, water, medical support. Gurung started the Shikshya Foundation to raise funds to get his homeland some of the help it needs. The CFDA, which previously raised funds to have on hand for emergencies had pledged \$10 000 to the project and have helped him promote it to others. You can also donate to Nepal Earthquake Relief here.

If you don't choose to contribute to Prabal Gurung's organization, you can also help Nepal earthquake victims through this list of vetted, reputable organizations.
photo from
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Installation Artist Chiharu Shiota Casts a Tangled Web of Thread and Keys at This Year’s Venice Art Biennale

The Key in the Hand, 2015, red wool, old boats, old keys. All photos by Sunhi Mang.

The 2015 Venice Art Biennale is home to Chiharu Shiota‘s ‘The Key in the Hand,’ an elaborate entanglement of red wool and keys that dangle above two ancient looking boats. Living within the biennale’s Japan pavilion, the installation nearly blocks out the ceiling with its mass of crossing strings, and includes a collection of more than 50,000 keys.

The piece points towards memory through its composition of materials as the keys were collected from thousands of people around the world. Each key holds memories of the individual through their previous daily use, and now hangs amongst the many other memory-tied talismans above the heads of passing visitors. “Keys are familiar and very valuable things that protect important people and spaces in our lives,” said Shiota. “They also inspire us to open the door to unknown worlds… I would like to use keys provided by the general public that are imbued with various recollections and memories that have accumulated over a long period of daily use.”

The Japanese performance and installation artist often employs the use of everyday objects like beds, windows, and shoes within her work to explore the relationship between living and dying and to access memories found within these objects. Often Shiota’s installations fill an entire room, yet hold a delicate and poetic composition. Recent solo exhibitions include “Follow the Line” at the Japan Foundation in Cologne, Germany, “Chiharu Shiota: Works on Paper” at Hadrien de Montferrand Gallery in Beijing, China, and “Seven Dresses” at Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken in Saarbrücken. Shiota was born in 1972 in Osaka, and has been living and working in Berlin for the past two decades. (via designboom)









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Detector at the South Pole explores the mysterious neutrinos

Neutrinos are a type of particle that pass through just about everything in their path from even the

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