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Head of Afghan Red Crescent Society on Facebook censorship list

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(Last Updated On: May 23, 2022)

Facebook recently added the head of one of Afghanistan’s most important domestic aid groups to its Dangerous Individuals terror blacklist, The Intercept news organization reported.

The news organization reported that Matiul Haq Khalis — head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, or ARCS and a former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) negotiator — was added to the company’s censorship list in late April, joining a group of thousands of people and organizations deemed too dangerous to freely discuss or use the platform, including alleged terrorists, hate groups, drug cartels, and mass murderers.

But Facebook’s designation now means that the list, ostensibly created and enforced to stop offline harm, could disrupt the work of a globally recognized organization working to ease the immiseration of tens of millions of civilians, The Intercept reported.

After the collapse of the U.S.-backed government and withdrawal of American military forces, Khalis was named president of the organization, which helps provide health care, food, and other humanitarian aid to civilians there since its founding in 1934.

Following Khalis’s addition to the Dangerous Individuals list under its most restrictive “Tier 1” category for terrorists due to his IEA affiliation, the over two billion Facebook and Instagram users around the world are now barred from praising, supporting, or representing Khalis.

This means even a photo of him at an official ARCS event, quotation of remarks, or positive mention of him in the context of the organization’s aid work would risk deletion, as would any attempt on his part to use the company’s platform to communicate, either in Afghanistan or abroad.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch questioned the extent to which letting people speak freely of Khalis would endanger anyone or anything. “How is he ‘dangerous’? He’s like 65 years old. He has no militia. His father was a mujahedeen commander, but what is the problem here?”

Sifton pointed to groups that are actively using the platform to incite violence. “There are hate guys in India that are spreading toxic anti-Muslim violence across Facebook, Hindu nationalist groups, hateful Buddhist groups in Burma, that’s a real problem. Having Khalis online posting about how he cut the ribbon at a new hospital in Afghanistan, that’s not part of the problem.”

Facebook has at times defended the breadth of its blacklist by claiming, without evidence, that it’s legally required to censor discussion of certain entities in order to comply with U.S. sanctions law, though neither the ARCS nor Khalis are currently named in the Treasury or State Department’s counterterrorism sanctions lists, The Intercept reported.

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Rare ‘dinosaur bird’ patiently awaits mate to save their species

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(Last Updated On: July 2, 2022)

An extremely rare “dinosaur” bird, the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom, is patiently waiting for a lifelong mate to help save her entire species.

Abou, the female shoebill, recently arrived at Exmoor Zoo in Devon, England, as part of an international breeding program to save her species.

The unique-looking bird is just one of 11 shoebills in the world currently in captivity – and now the only one in the U.K, Newsweek reported.

Shoebills are monogamous and normally only rear one youngster, so combined with threats arising from climate change, they are a species said to be “massively under threat.”

Abou, 14 years old, was born and bred inside Pairi Daiza Zoo in Belgium and has been moved to the U.K. to wait while the breeding program produces a male bird, so the pair can be matched and produce much-needed offspring, Newsweek reported.

Also known as whale heads, shoebills are at home in the swamps and marsh lands of East Africa, where they hunt fish and small invertebrates.

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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.”

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Chinese spacecraft acquires images of entire Mars

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(Last Updated On: June 30, 2022)

An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft has acquired imagery data covering all of Mars, including visuals of its south pole, after circling the planet more than 1,300 times since early last year, it was reported on Wednesday.

China’s Tianwen-1 successfully reached the Red Planet in February 2021 on the country’s inaugural mission there. A robotic rover has since been deployed on the surface as an orbiter surveyed the planet from space.

Among the images taken from space were China’s first photographs of the Martian south pole, where almost all of the planet’s water resources are locked, Reuters reported.

In 2018, an orbiting probe operated by the European Space Agency discovered water under the ice of the planet’s south pole.

Locating subsurface water is key to determining the planet’s potential for life, as well as providing a permanent resource for any human exploration there.

Other Tianwen-1 images include photographs of the 4,000-kilometer (2,485-mile) long canyon Valles Marineris, and impact craters of highlands in the north of Mars known as Arabia Terra.

Tianwen-1 also sent back high-resolution imagery of the edge of the vast Maunder crater, as well as a top-down view of the 18,000-meter (59,055-foot) Ascraeus Mons, a large shield volcano first detected by NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft more than five decades ago.

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