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N.Korea fires salvo of missiles, including ICBM, hours after Biden leaves Asia

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(Last Updated On: May 25, 2022)

North Korea fired three missiles, including one thought to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday, after U.S. President Joe Biden left Asia following a trip in which he agreed to new measures to deter the nuclear-armed state.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the three missiles were fired in less than an hour from the Sunan area of the North’s capital, Pyongyang, where its international airport has become a hub of missile tests.

The first missile launched on Wednesday appeared to be an ICBM, while a second unidentified missile appears to have failed mid-flight, the JCS said. The third missile was a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), it said.

In response, the United States and South Korea held combined live-fire drills, including surface-to-surface missile tests involving the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) of the U.S. and the South’s Hyunmoo-2 SRBM, both militaries said.

“Our military’s show of force was intended to highlight our resolve to firmly respond to any North Korean provocations, including an ICBM launch, and our overwhelming capability and readiness to conduct a surgical strike on the origin of the provocation,” the JCS said in a statement.

North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile launches this year, from hypersonic weapons to test firing its largest ICBMs for the first time in nearly five years. It also appears to be preparing for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017.

U.S. and South Korean officials had recently warned that North Korea appeared ready for another weapons test, possibly during Biden’s visit, which was his first trip to Asia as president and included a summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul.

Yoon, who took office on May 10, convened his first meeting of the national security council, which strongly condemned the latest launch as a “grave provocation”, especially as it came before Biden returned home.

Yoon ordered the aides to strengthen the U.S. extended deterrence and combined defence posture as agreed with Biden, his office said.

“North Korea’s continued provocations will only result in even stronger, faster South Korea-U.S. deterrence, and bring deeper isolation upon itself,” Yoon’s government said in a separate statement.

A White House official said that Biden, who departed Japan on Tuesday evening, had been briefed on the launches and would continue to receive updates.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also agreed to step up diplomatic efforts to reinforce extended deterrence and facilitate a new U.N. sanctions resolution in a phone call, Seoul’s ministry said.

“We call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue,” a State Department spokesperson said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

SHOW OF FORCE

Pyongyang resumed ICBM testing in late March, ending its self-imposed 2017 moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing, amid stalled denuclearisation talks with Washington.

In Wednesday’s test, the suspected ICBM flew 360 km (223.7 miles) to a maximum altitude of 540 km, while the SRBM flew 760 km to a maximum altitude of 60 km, the JCS said.

Japan reported at least two launches, one of which flew about 300 km and reached a maximum altitude of 550 km, and the other to the distance of about 750 km (465 miles) and a maximum altitude of 50 km, Japan’s defence minister said.

Japanese broadcaster NHK said the missiles appeared to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the North could take more provocative actions, including a nuclear test.

The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of “multiple” launches. They highlighted the “destabilising impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons programme” but did not pose an immediate threat.

In Seoul over the weekend, Biden and Yoon agreed to hold bigger military drills and deploy more U.S. strategic assets if necessary to deter North Korea’s intensifying weapons tests.

But they also offered to send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea as the isolated country battles its first confirmed outbreak, and called on Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.

There had been no response from Pyongyang to the diplomatic overtures or offers of aid, Biden said at the time.

The waning hours of Biden’s visit to the region also saw Russian and Chinese bombers flying joint patrols near Japanese and South Korea air defence zones on Tuesday in a pointed farewell.

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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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Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

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(Last Updated On: June 26, 2022)

While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures, phys.org reported Sunday.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French non-governmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area, phys.org reported.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby, phys.org reported.

Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

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