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Big cats in urban jungle: LA mountain lions, Mumbai leopards

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(Last Updated On: June 30, 2022)

Los Angeles and Mumbai, India, are the world’s only megacities of 10 million-plus people where large felines — mountain lions in one, leopards in the other — thrive by breeding, hunting and maintaining territory within urban boundaries.

Long-term studies in both cities have examined how the big cats prowl through their urban jungles, and how people can best live alongside them — lessons that may be applicable to more places in coming decades, AP reported.

“In the future, there’s going to be more cities like this, as urban areas further encroach on natural habitats,” said biologist Audra Huffmeyer, who studies mountain lions at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If we want to keep these large carnivores around on the planet, we have to learn to live with them.”

Twenty years ago, scientists in Los Angeles placed a tracking collar on their first cat, a large male mountain lion dubbed P1, that defended a wide swath of the Santa Monica Mountains, a coastal range that lies within and adjacent to the city.

“P1 was as big as they get in southern California, about 150 pounds,” said Seth Riley, a National Park Service ecologist who was part of the effort. “These dominant males are the ones that breed — they won’t tolerate other adult males in their territory.”

With GPS tracking and camera traps, the scientists followed the rise and fall of P1’s dynasty for seven years, through multiple mates and litters of kittens. “2009 was the last time we knew anything about P1,” said Riley. “There must have been a fight. We found his collar, blood on a rock. And never saw him again. He was reasonably old.”

Since then, Riley has helped collar around 100 more mountain lions in Los Angeles, building a vast database of lion behavior that’s contributed to understanding how much territory the cats need, what they eat (mostly deer), how often they cross paths with people and what may imperil their future, AP reported.

In Mumbai, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, the leopards are packed in, too: about 50 have adapted to a space ideally suited for 20. And yet the nocturnal cats also keep mostly out of sight.

“Because these animals are so secretive, you don’t know much about them. You can’t just observe them,” said Vidya Athreya, director of Wildlife Conservation Society in India and part of a research team that recently fitted five leopards with tracking collars.

The leopards’ core range is centered around Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area boxed on three sides by an urbanized landscape, including a neighborhood that’s home to 100,000 people and nearly a dozen leopards, AP reported.

Researchers tackled specific questions from park managers, such as how the cats cross busy roads near the park.

To get the answer, they collared a big male dubbed Maharaja. They found that it walked mostly at night and traversed over 60 kilometers in about a week, from the park in Mumbai to another nearby. The leopard crossed a busy state highway, using the same spot to pass, on three occasions. It also crossed a railway track.

The path chosen by Maharaja is nearby a new highway and a freight corridor under construction. Researchers said that knowing the big cats’ highway crossing habits can help policy makers make informed decisions about where to build animal underpasses to reduce accidents.

But learning to live alongside cats is not only a matter of infrastructure decisions, but also human choices and education, AP reported.

In Mumbai, Purvi Lote saw her first leopard when she was 5, on the porch of a relative’s home. Terrified, she ran back inside to her mother. But now the 9-year-old says she isn’t as afraid of the big cats.

Like other children, she doesn’t step outdoors alone after dark. Children and even adults travel in groups at night, while blaring music from their telephones to ensure that leopards aren’t surprised. But the most fundamental rule, according to the youngster: “When you see a leopard, don’t bother it.”

Leopards in Mumbai adapted to mainly hunt feral dogs that frequent garbage dumps outside the forest and mostly attacked people when cornered or attacked. But in 2010, 20 people in Mumbai died in leopard attacks, said Jagannath Kamble, an official at Mumbai’s protected forest.

Officials roped in volunteers, nongovernmental groups and the media for a public education program in 2011. Since then, fatalities have dropped steadily and no one has been killed in an attack since 2017, AP reported.

In Los Angeles, there have been no human deaths attributed to mountain lions, but one nonfatal attack on a child occurred in 2021.

Both cities have learned that trying to capture, kill or relocate the cats isn’t the answer, AP reported.

“Relocation and killing makes conflict worse,” said Beth Pratt, California regional director at National Wildlife Federation. “It’s better to have a stable population, than one where hierarchies and territories are disrupted.”

Avoidance is the safest strategy, she said. “These big cats are shy — they tend to avoid human contact as much as they can. They’re really extreme introverts of the animal kingdom.”

Science & Technology

European drought dries up rivers, kills fish, shrivels crops

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(Last Updated On: August 14, 2022)

Once, a river ran through it. Now, white dust and thousands of dead fish cover the wide trench that winds amid rows of trees in France’s Burgundy region in what was the Tille River in the village of Lux.

From dry and cracked reservoirs in Spain to falling water levels on major arteries like the Danube, the Rhine and the Po, an unprecedented drought is afflicting nearly half of Europe. It is damaging farm economies, forcing water restrictions, causing wildfires and threatening aquatic species, AP reported.

There has been no significant rainfall for almost two months in the continent’s western, central and southern regions. In typically rainy Britain, the government officially declared a drought across southern and central England on Friday amid one of the hottest and driest summers on record.

And Europe’s dry period is expected to continue in what experts say could be the worst drought in 500 years.

Climate change is exacerbating conditions as hotter temperatures speed up evaporation, thirsty plants take in more moisture and reduced snowfall in the winter limits supplies of fresh water available for irrigation in the summer. Europe isn’t alone in the crisis, with drought conditions also reported in East Africa, the western United States and northern Mexico.

As he walked in the 15-meter wide riverbed in Lux, Jean-Philippe Couasné, chief technician at the local Federation for Fishing and Protection of the Aquatic Environment, listed the species of fish that had died in the Tille.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “On average, about 8,000 liters per second are flowing. … And now, zero liters.”

In areas upstream, some trout and other freshwater species can take shelter in pools via fish ladders. But such systems aren’t available everywhere.

Without rain, the river “will continue to empty. And yes, all fish will die. … They are trapped upstream and downstream, there’s no water coming in, so the oxygen level will keep decreasing as the (water) volume goes down,” Couasné said. “These are species that will gradually disappear.”

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Elon Musk sells $7 billion in Tesla shares ahead of Twitter fight

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(Last Updated On: August 13, 2022)

Elon Musk has sold nearly $7 billion worth of shares in Tesla as the billionaire gets his finances in order ahead of his court battle with Twitter.

Musk disclosed in a series of regulatory filings that he unloaded about 8 million shares of his company Tesla Inc. in recent days, AP reported.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close and some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk tweeted.

Musk is by far the largest individual shareholder in both Tesla and Twitter.

Shares of Tesla rose 4% to close Wednesday at $883.07. Shares of Twitter Inc. jumped 3.7% to close at $44.43, and are up 36% since July 11, with most believing Musk faces long-shot odds of success in court.

Musk countersued Twitter last week, accusing the company of fraud over his aborted $44 billion acquisition. He claimed that Twitter held back critical information and misled his team about the size of its user base.

Musk alleges that Twitter committed fraud, breach of contract and violation of a securities law in Texas, where Musk lives.

Musk offered to buy Twitter earlier this year, then tried to back out of the deal claiming the social platform was infested with a larger numbers of “spam bots” and fake accounts than Twitter had disclosed.

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Australian court orders Google to pay $43 mln for misleading users

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2022)

Australia’s competition watchdog said on Friday that Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google unit was ordered by the country’s Federal Court to pay A$60 million ($42.7 million) in penalties for misleading users on collection of their personal location data.

The court found Google misled some customers about personal location data collected through their Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018, Reuters reported on Friday. 

Google misled users into believing “location history” setting on their android phones was the only way location data could be collected by it, when a feature to monitor web and applications activity also allowed local data collection and storage, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) said.

The watchdog, which estimates that 1.3 million Google account users in Australia may have been affected, had started the proceedings against the company and its local unit in October 2019.

Google took remedial measures in 2018, the regulator said.

In an emailed statement, Google said it had settled the matter and added it has made location information simple to manage and easy to understand.

The search engine giant has been embroiled in legal action in Australia over the past year as the government mulled and passed a law to make Google and Meta Platforms’ (META.O) Facebook pay media companies for content on their platforms.

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