On NYr's Eve 5000 birds dropped dead fr sky, 100000 fish found dead; Clinton takes vegan pledge; "You need to get off facebook"?
Times Square had the ball drop, and Brasstown, N.C., had its descending possum. But no place had a New Year’s Eve as unusual, or freakishly disturbing, as Beebe, Ark.
A worker with U.S. Environmental Services, a private contractor, picked up a dead bird on Saturday.
Around 11 that night, thousands of red-winged blackbirds began falling out of the sky over this small city about 35 miles northeast of Little Rock. They landed on roofs, roads, front lawns and backyards, turning the ground nearly black and terrifying anyone who happened to be outside.
"One of them almost hit my best friend in the head," said Christy Stephens, who was standing outside among the smoking crowd at a party. "We went inside after that."
The cause is still being determined, but preliminary lab results from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission revealed "acute physical trauma" in samples of the dead birds. There were no indications of disease, though tests were still being done for the presence of toxic chemicals.
Karen Rowe, the bird conservation program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the prevailing theory was that the birds had been startled by New Year’s Eve fireworks and suddenly dispersed, flying low enough to run into chimneys, houses and trees. Pyrotechnics are used to scatter blackbirds for bird control, though only during the day, given the birds’ poor vision.
Beebe (pronounced BE-be) is a congregating spot for blackbirds, and one witness told Ms. Rowe that he saw the birds roosting earlier in the day and heard them again at night just after the fireworks started.
"It was the right mix of things happening in a perfect time sequence," Ms. Rowe said.
At most recent count, up to 5,000 birds fell on the city. Sixty five samples were sent to labs, one of which is at the Livestock and Poultry Commission and the other in Madison, Wis.
Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the commission, said he was not aware of a case this large. "About nine years ago we had some ducks,” he said, “but that was only a couple of dozen."
The town contacted an environmental cleanup firm, which by Monday afternoon had picked up nearly all the birds, some of which were bagged and left at the end of driveways by residents.
"It just looked as if it had rained birds," said Tracy Lightfoot, a member of the City Council, declining to speculate on the reason. "There’s lots of theories running around. I have no idea. I just don’t have a clue."
State scientists believe one thing to be almost certain: that the bird deaths were not related to the roughly 85,000 fish that died a few days before near Ozark, in the western part of the state, the biggest fish kill in Arkansas that anyone can remember. They were spotted by anglers along the Arkansas River last week and reported to the Game and Fish Commission, which spent New Year’s Eve measuring and counting dead fish that had spread out for nearly 20 miles.
In that case, the victims were almost all drum, and almost all younger ones. That suggests the culprit was disease, said Mark Oliver, the chief of fisheries for the commission. He said fish kills were not uncommon, especially in winter when the fish are packed more closely, but he did not recall one of this size.
Meanwhile roughly 500 dead birds were found on Monday outside New Roads, La. Those birds were much more varied, with starlings and grackle in addition to blackbirds, and a few samples picked up by James LaCour, a wildlife veterinarian with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, did not show any signs of trauma, he said.
State officials on Monday were investigating why 80,000 to 100,000 fish washed up dead on the shores of the Arkansas River last week.
"The fish deaths will take about a month" to determine a cause, Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told msnbc.com.
Stephens also provided the estimate of 80,000 to 100,000 dead fish.
The fish were found Thursday by a tugboat operator along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near the city of Ozark.
The mass kill occurred just one day before thousands of blackbirds dropped dead from the sky in Beebe, Ark., which is 125 miles away.
Officials said 95 percent of the fish that died were drum fish — indicating that the likely cause of death was disease as only one species was affected.
"If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish," Stephens added.
Drum fish, which are bottom feeders, are not sought by fishermen, he added, and fishing was not banned as a precaution. "Right now it's fine to fish," KTHV quoted Stephens as saying. "If you go out there you can still fish for bass and crappie, catfish, it will be fine. Obviously don't eat the dead fish."
Fish were still floating on the same stretch of river as of Monday morning.
Stephens said that nature will be doing the cleanup. "We'll have raccoon and birds and things like that will take care of it so there is really no cleanup, it's really too big. It's contained along the river channel."
David Lyons, the head of a local chapter of the Sierra Club, told msnbc.com that he was "waiting for the results of the pathology and toxicology tests before I make any judgments about the bird and fish kills.
"So far, the evidence does not suggest that pollution contributed to either the bird or fish kill," he added. "If the test results indicate that contaminants were responsible, then local environmental groups will likely have several questions and concerns about the two events."
A mysterious illness is threatening the bat population in North America, and so far it has killed more than 1 million of the creatures. "The thing about [white nose syndrome] is it is an unprecedented disease," Emily Brunkhurst, a wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, told The Associated Press. "We have never seen a disease in wildlife that affects so many species and is so rapidly fatal and spread so incredibly rapidly." The bat death rate from white nose syndrome is so severe that it could cause one species to vanish within 16 years, Science Magazine reported.
On Dec. 31, about 2,000 red-winged blackbirds fell dead from the sky in central Arkansas. The birds, which had used a wooded area near Beebe, Ark., as a roost for the past several years, reportedly showed signs of physical trauma. Although illness and poisoning have been ruled out, the cause of death is still unknown.
Arkansas was also the site of a large fish die-off last week. Some 100,000 dead drum fish suddenly washed up on a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near Ozark, CNN reported. Officials don't know what caused the die-off, but suspect disease or stress is to blame.
U.S. honeybees have been struggling to survive as well. In the last 50 years, the domesticated honeybee population has declined by 50 percent. In the past five years, mass disappearances has been reported in 24 states, an event that is now known as colony collapse disorder. Researchers haven't pinpointed the reason why commercially important honeybees decide to abandon their hives and disappear; however, a leaked memo recently showed how the Environmental Protection Agency ignored warnings about the use of clothianidin, a bee-toxic pesticide produced by Bayer that is used on canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, corn and wheat. Clothianidin has already been banned by Germany, France, Italy, and Slovenia for its toxic effects, Fast Company reported.
According to National Geographic, 1,050 species in the U.S. and its neighboring waters are listed as endangered and another 309 are listed as threatened, or likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Since the Endangered Species Act was first passed in 1973, only 39 species have been removed from the endangered and threatened list.
The life cycles of animals are gravely affected by changes in temperature, loss of habitat or food, the introduction of nonnative species, pollution, careless hunting practices and the appearance of new diseases. Yet these recent cases show how the march toward extinction is accelerating for some animals. Can something to be done to stop it? If so, are Americans willing to take the necessary steps to do so?
Arkansas' Wildlife takes Initiative! (satire)
Today in Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock, thousands of dead birds fell out of the sky leaving people confused as to the reason.
In a seemingly related story, an estimated 100,000 fish were found dead along a 20 mile stretch of the Arkansas River and experts have no real clue as to why.
All over the world, human settlements have been encroaching for years into animal habitats and pushing the animal populations to the brink of instability due to a lack of habitat and an imbalance in the ecosystem.
This, however, is not the case in Arkansas. Due to the lack of people in the state of Arkansas- hence, the lack of encroachment- the animal population seems to have taken it upon themselves to pick up the slack by killing themselves in huge numbers.
It is still unclear whether or not this recent initiative will stimulate Arkansas' population and community growth.
He was the president who famously couldn't jog past McDonald's without grabbing a snack, which makes Bill Clinton a most unlikely candidate for vegan hero. But that is exactly what swapping burgers for beans has done for the former fast-food fanatic, according to a leading animal rights campaign group.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has bestowed its Person of the Year award on Mr Clinton, in recognition of his rebirth as a paid-up member of the mung bean-munching fraternity. Mr Clinton opted for the ultimate in new year cleanses – a largely vegan diet – to purge his body after realising it had taken one burger battering too many. This is, after all, a man who ordered a double hamburger (and fries) to fuel up for an anti-obesity speech.
Peta's decision is not without controversy: Mr Clinton has admitted eating the odd piece of fish. But the organisation said it was "pleased" to name him as its 2010 Person of the Year "because he uses his influence to promote the benefits of following a vegan diet".
The former president recently revealed that he now lived on "beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit" but absolutely "no dairy". He was scared into making the switch after doctors followed up quadruple bypass surgery by inserting two stents – tubes that keep the coronary arteries open – in his heart last February. The prospect of waddling his vegan daughter, Chelsea, down the aisle last summer only hardened his resolve.
The upshot of his new vegan(ish) lifestyle has resulted in Mr Clinton losing 11 kilos (24lb), returning him to his high-school weight. "It changed my whole metabolism," he said. Mr Clinton added that he researched the past 25 years of medical evidence about the benefits of turning vegan and found that 82 per cent of those who switched to a plant-based diet had unclogged their arteries naturally: "I thought I'd become one of those who have a self-cleaning mechanism."
Mr Clinton's award has also earned him a nomination for Peta's Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity of 2011, to be announced this summer. Previous winners have included the singer Leona Lewis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis. The actress Alicia Silverstone, herself a former victor, said she was thrilled about Mr Clinton's conversion. "Yay Bill! I'm so excited for him!" she wrote on her blog.
While veganism remains a lifestyle choice for the ethically hardcore – even the Green MP Caroline Lucas has admitted she is still striving towards becoming vegan – the advent of campaigns such as Sir Paul McCartney's Meatless Monday initiative is inspiring millions worldwide to reduce the amount of meat they eat. More restaurateurs, including Aldo Zilli, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alain Passard, are making vegetables the stars rather than the accompaniments on their menus, even if less than 1 per cent of the UK population is actually vegan.
A variety of vegans
The former leader of the free world will mix in glamorous company if he chooses to throw a vegan dinner party. The nerdy nut-loaf eating image has been long banished and the some of the world's most glamorous people have embraced a lifestyle which eschews the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.
Fellow guests could include Batgirl actor Alicia Silverstone who was voted Peta's sexiest vegan in 2004. Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix is also a fellow Peta fan. Other thespian vegans include Daryl Hannah, Demi Moore and Natalie Portman while Spiderman star Tobey Maguire, Scottish actor Alan Cumming, and "Hobbit" Elijah Wood are all committed vegans. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, together with musicians Morrissey, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins and singers Alanis Morissette and Sinead O'Connor could provide a musical accompaniment.
Olympic athlete Carl Lewis and NBA professional basketball player John Salley both provide proof that a vegan lifestyle is no bar to physical excellence while fellow US Democrat Dennis Kucinich can keep him political company and comedian Ellen DeGeneres is on hand to supply some laughs if conversation flags.
More than a decade has passed since Time Warner (TWX) and America Online (AOL) merged in a $180 billion deal, marking the peak of the Internet bubble and beginning a long drought for technology stocks—a drought that has arguably been broken only by Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). Now Facebook seems to be taking the lead in the next wave of tech-stock enthusiasm, with Goldman Sachs (GS) reportedly investing $450 million in the social network, giving the company a theoretical market value of $50 billion and positioning it for what seems like an inevitable initial public offering. That may be good for Facebook and Goldman, but will it be good for investors?
Although it's leading the charge, Facebook isn't the only company generating interest in tech stocks that have yet to go public. Zynga has been pouring gasoline on that fire as well, with investments by Mail.ru, formerly known as Digital Sky Technologies (also an investor in Facebook, including in the latest round with Goldman) and others. Groupon is also a player in this growing frenzy, raising money privately after turning down a reported $6 billion acquisition offer from Google. And Twitter is another star of the private investment market, with funds set up specifically to invest in shares of it and other tech startups via the secondary market for its privately held shares.
All these deals reinforce the notion that the current tech-investing bubble—if there is one—is different from the one that popped so spectacularly in the late 1990s, because the current version exists (for the moment, at least) in the private sector. Apart from Google and a couple of other companies, most of the activity is occurring in secondary markets such as SecondMarket.com, or through private investment funds and financing rounds such as the one Twitter recently closed, which valued the company at almost $4 billion. There have been no moon-shot public IPOs that flamed out within days or weeks, no Pets.com or similar issues to raise warning flags.
In other words, the only ones who would arguably suffer from the popping of a tech bubble are the so-called "sophisticated investors" who take part in secondary-market trades—the kind who will be invited to join the special vehicle that Goldman Sachs is setting up to invest in Facebook, a vehicle it says will be restricted to high net-worth individuals and could raise as much as $1.5 billion. If nothing else, the Facebook deal is likely to increase the SEC's interest in looking at the behavior of such private investment vehicles.
While the action in Facebook and others is focused on private and secondary markets right now, Goldman's involvement virtually guarantees this will soon spill out into the public markets—if not this year, then in 2012, when Facebook is expected to do an IPO. Will Facebook be the new star of the technology sector, as Google has been for the past half a decade or so? Or will it become a symbol of how overinflated expectations have become for social networking? The company has annual revenue estimated to be in the $2 billion range, but $50 billion is still a hefty valuation to try to live up to—and going public would only increase that pressure.
*Update Oct 23, 2011*
Dead birds litter Georgian Bay in the thousands
As many as 6,000 dead birds have washed up on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario. Provincial Police Const. Peter Leon said the number of dead waterfowl is estimated to be between 5,000 and 6,000. Officials will be collecting more of the carcasses on Sunday for examination. The dead birds are scattered along a nearly three-kilometre stretch north of the community of Wasaga Beach, said Leon.
*Update Dec. 14, 2011*
Thousands of Migrating Birds Crash Land in Utah
Thousands of birds migrating to the Gulf of Mexico crashed throughout Southern Utah: the first reports of the crash came from a Walmart in St. George, Utah, on Monday, Dec. 12, around 11:30 p.m. The birds, called Eared Grebe, were migrating south to spend the winter in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials say the birds were found everywhere from 30 miles south to 10 miles north of Cedar City. "They seem to come down in areas with lots of light," said Chamberlain. "You’ve got the cloud cover, the lights of the city coming up, the snow on the ground, everything smooths it out and it looks like a lake to them."
Photos courtesy of Stephen B. Thornton / The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, via Associated Press, and Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
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