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The just concluded Wildlife Convention- CITES- Aims to Save Great, Small, Weird and Ugly threatened Species

The 2 week long Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) closed on Oct 4,2016 at Johannesburg, S Africa Pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal, desired for its reputed, and largely debunked, benefits in traditional medicine

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In this photo taken on September 20th, 2016, a Chinese pangolin rests on a tree branch at the Save Vietnam's Wildlife rescue center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Ninh Binh province, Vietnam. On Wednesday in Johannesburg, South Africa, delegates at a U.N. VOA

The pangolin is an unlikely candidate for the spotlight. For starters, the scaly, anteater-like creature is shy, smelly and mostly nocturnal.

Yet the humble pangolin has had a star turn this week, with the world’s largest wildlife convention recommending all eight pangolin species be banned from international trade. Despite its odd looks and weird habits, the mammal is the world’s most trafficked animal, desired for its reputed, and largely debunked, benefits in traditional medicine.

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The pangolin is just one of 500 threatened species up for discussion at this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference in Johannesburg, but many creatures live in the shadow of the big, majestic animals. It may be noted that the 2 week long Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) just closed on Oct 4,2016 at Johannesburg, S Africa.

Pangolin carrying its young. Scaly anteaters called endangered by conservation groups. “What attracts the most public attention is the mega-fauna, the elephants, the rhinos, the lions,” CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon told VOA.
Pangolin carrying its young. Scaly anteaters called endangered by conservation groups. “What attracts the most public attention is the mega-fauna, the elephants, the rhinos, the lions,” CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon told VOA.

“That’s why we’re pleased to see some smaller species like the pangolin also attract attention; but, we’ve got the snakes here, we’ve got the lizards here, we’ve got the frogs here. And some really interesting ones, the earless monitor [lizard], the Titicaca frog, the psychedelic rock gecko; there are some really interesting animals there that nobody’s paid much attention to.”

That’s because, says Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, it’s hard to build awareness for an animal with a weird name or an ugly face.

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For example, he’s proud that the United States last year made history by removing the Oregon chub from the federal list of endangered and threatened animals; but it took nearly two decades to do so. The Oregon chub, a small minnow, was the first fish to be taken off the list.

“A lot of times the things that we have the most trouble with are the things that are less identifiable or less iconic,” Ashe said.
“… We’re dealing with things like the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly or the Houston toad. These are things which often the public questions, ‘why is this important, why should we save this?’ And usually what I tell people is, ‘because we don’t understand.'”

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, says she’s never met an animal she didn’t like. Even the cockroach, she says, has “a strange sort of beauty.” Saving small, secretive creatures, however, is unusually hard, she says, because they avoid attention.

“With certain species, it takes time to realize that they’re in trouble,” she said. “But I do think that this is what CITES is about and CITES helps with, because it does give a forum where all of these issues can be raised for all of these animals.”

Scanlon says what these creatures often need is a popular, good-looking cheerleader.

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“We used to say the ‘lesser-known pangolin,’ but then we saw Prince William and others focus a lot of attention on the pangolin, and now I’d say it’s the well-known pangolin,” he said.

So far, no royal has stepped up for Peru’s Titicaca water frog, which is critically endangered by fungal disease and hungry trout. Scanlon says he holds hope, that someday, maybe, this frog’s prince will come. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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India’s Textile and Fashion Heritage now part of Google project

Google's project 'We Wear Culture' is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

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we wear culture
Google's new art project 'We wear Culture' digitizes fashion, Wikimedia
  • Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India
  • It intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures
  • Its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago

June 15, 2017: To a certain extent, a culture is defined by what is worn by its people. In a country as diverse as India, vast and varied spectrum of cultures and clothes is one of the specialties. Google’s latest virtual exhibition project now provides us the opportunity to explore and know more about it.

Google’s project ‘We Wear Culture’ is collaborating with 183 renowned cultural institutions from all around the world including India and its objective is to let people explore history of clothes dating as early as 3,000 years ago, from the ancient Silk Road to the unmatched elegance of the Indian Saree,  from the courtly fashion of Versailles, to the Victorian ballgowns with intricate thread work.

According to Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture,”We invite everyone to browse the exhibition on their phones or laptops and learn about the stories behind what you wear. You might be surprised to find out that your Saree, jeans or the black dress in your wardrobe have a centuries-old story. What you wear is true culture and more often than not a piece of art.”

Culture is defined by what is worn by its people. Click To Tweet

The company also mentioned that noteworthy collections from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and varied weaves from across India, from Gharchola to Patola to Temple to Ikat sarees will be included in the online project, as it intends to trace the story and importance of Indian textiles from ancient sculptures.

ALSO READ: New Google Project Digitizes World’s Top Fashion Archives.

According to PTI reports, the world fashion exhibit also includes designs from north-eastern India including the weaves of tribes such as the Nagas, Meitis. it will showcase the traditional attire from Meghalaya called ‘Dhara’ or ‘Nara’ worn by the Khasi women as well.

As a part of the exhibit, Sewa Hansiba Museum has brought the unique colorful and rich embroidery arts, applique and mirror work from different communities such as the Ahir, Rabari, Chaudhury Patel and many others from the western part of India online.

The exhibition conducted by Salar Jung Museum brings to light the Sherwani and its journey of becoming the royal fashion statement of the Nizams from 19th century Hyderabad. Fashion and textiles enthusiasts can revisit Colonial Indian attires with Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Over 400 online exhibitions and stories sharing a total of 50,000 photos, videos and other documents on world fashion are open to exploration as well.

The ‘We wear Culture’ initiative highlights significant events in the growth of the world fashion industry; the icons, the movements, the game changers and the trendsetters like Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Premature Babies Score Lower on Standardized Tests than Full-term Infants: Study

Very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible

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A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby
A nurse holds the hand of a premature baby, who was born at five months of pregnancy, at a hospital in Medellin, Colombia. VOA
  • Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The study found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time
  • The study also showed that almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school

June 14, 2017: A study following more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.

Such very prematurely born babies did score lower on standardized tests than full-term infants, but as the length of pregnancy increased, the differences in test scores became negligible, according to the study, conducted by Northwestern University and published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics medical journal.

“What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early,” Craig Garfield, the first author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics and medial social sciences at Northwestern Medicine, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the school performance of 1.3 million infants born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 who had a fetal development term of 23 to 41 weeks and who later entered the state’s public schools between 1995 and 2012.

They found that babies born at between 23 and 24 weeks tended to have normal cognitive functions later in life, with 1.8 percent of them even achieving gifted status in school.

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During the time period the study covered, 9.5 percent of children statewide were considered gifted.

Premature birth happens when a baby is born before at least 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A normal pregnancy term is around 40 weeks, and a preterm birth can lead to serious medical problems, underdevelopment in early childhood or death for the infant.

The study does not account for why these extremely premature infants later performed well in school, Garfield said in the statement, and did not look at whether their success could be related to extra support from family or schools, or the children’s biological make-up. (VOA)