Conservationist catches 14-foot stingray in Thailand

giant stingray

If you’ve ever had occasion to see a giant ray gliding gracefully through the water, you understand what stunning creatures they are.

Prehistoric in appearance, stingrays and other rays possess an elegance of movement that is rare on land or sea.

Most stingrays are relatively small, but nature conservationist Jeff Corwin caught a massive 14-foot-by-8-foot beast recently in Thailand.

The stingray weighed as much as 800 pounds and was caught on rod and reel, according to Corwin, host of Ocean Mysteries.

The catch may set a new world’s record for the largest freshwater fish ever caught. The current record holder is a Mekong giant catfish, according to Guinness World Records.

“It was an incredible moment of adventure and science,” Corwin told USA TODAY Network. “Multiple people were on the rod and reel trying to pull this monster in,” he said, adding that it took two hours to secure the fish.

The stingray, which was pregnant, was released after capture.

Corwin was on location filming an upcoming episode of Ocean Mysteries along with Nantarika Chansue, an expert on stingrays who has been studying them in the region.

An embedded microchip in the stingray revealed that Chansue had caught the same animal six years prior, according to Corwin.

(Top: Image of giant stingray caught by Jeff Corwin March 6, 2015, in Thailand.)

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California: Swimming pools, movie stars and an 8-foot gator

gator

Over the years, California’s San Fernando Valley has been known for its motion picture studios, aerospace technology and nuclear research.

One thing “The Valley,” located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was not recognized for was alligators. Until this week, that is.

Officers from the Los Angeles Animal Services Department discovered an 8-foot alligator Monday inside a wooden crate at a home in Van Nuys, where it is believed to have lived for nearly 40 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We tried to give him a good home,” said Ron Gorecki, 53, who was among those caring for the gator, named Jaxson, for the last two years. The alligator’s original owner was Gorecki’s brother-in-law, who died last year. “He loved him; it was his pride and joy.”

The alligator was purchased at a Los Angeles pet shop 37 years ago. At first, Jaxson lived inside the home, Gorecki said.

Once he grew, Jaxson became a decidedly “outdoor” pet.

The alligator’s presence was something of an open secret in the neighborhood: “Everybody knew Jaxson,” Gorecki said.

When investigators arrived at the home Monday, the crate housing Jaxson was covered in foliage and other debris, according to an official with Animal Services.

Along with the alligator, animal control officers found two cat carcasses inside the crate. One suspects that there weren’t a whole lot of strays in Jaxson’s neighborhood.

The alligator was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, with zoo staff helping with transportation. Once at the zoo, Jaxson underwent a health examination but results weren’t immediately available.

Animal Services is continuing a criminal investigation and anticipates forwarding the case to the city attorney for prosecution, according to a statement from the department.

Keeping wildlife without a permit is illegal in Los Angeles, and department Commander Mark Salazar said the home’s occupants lacked a permit for the alligator.

It’s unclear what species Jaxson is, but American Alligators typically live 65 to 80 years in captivity, the Times reported.

(Top: Jaxson, the 8-foot alligator found in a San Fernando Valley home earlier this week. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.)

‘Coming a cropper’ on a cranky camel along the River Nile

camel corps

While there’s no question that European colonization of Africa in the second half of the 19th century left permanent scars, it’s easy to forget that many of those who planted flags of various imperialist regimes had a variety of reasons for doing so, and not all were self-serving.

The so-called three “Cs” of colonialism – civilization, commerce, and Christianity – were the driving force, along with grabbing strategic lands to enable various European powers to be positioned in case they came into conflict with one another.

Thomas Pakenham’s sprawling work, The Scramble for Africa: The White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912, details how Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Portugal carved up Africa with little regard for its inhabitants.

The 738-page book has been out for more than 20 years, yet it remains one of the definitive descriptions of the colonization of Africa.

While Pakenham’s book is full of somber topics such as diplomatic squabbles, political maneuvering and bloody clashes between natives and Europeans, it also has its light moments, delivered in Pakenham’s Anglo-Irish style.

Among the best is his description of Gen. Garnet Wolseley’s effort to relieve Gen. Charles George Gordon, besieged beginning in March 1884 at Khartoum by forces led by a self-proclaimed messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith, Muhammad Ahmad.

Wolseley’s relief expedition consisted of 10,000 men, led by a picked force of 1,600 officers with 2,500 camels, the former described as “the flower of the British army led by the flower of London society – including eleven peers or peers’ sons.”

By mid-November 1884, the camel-borne soldiers were plodding along the banks of the Nile, strung out in groups of 150, stretching 240 miles from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.

Unfortunately, the “flower of the British army” and their beasts of burden weren’t particularly well suited for one another, according to Pakenham:

What confirmed the air of a charade was the outlandish uniform of the new Camel Corps, a hybrid of the seventeenth century and a circus: red jumpers, breeches and bandoliers, sun goggles and white helmets. ‘Fancy a Life Guardsman clothed like a scarecrow with blue goggles on, mounted on a camel, over which he has little control. What a picture!’ was Wolseley’s comment. The camels, too, were a strange collection, raked up at the last minute from as far away as Aden, beasts of all colours and sizes, from the great brown baggagers, each as large as a rhinoceros, to the elegant fawn-coloured racing camels from Arabia. The men found that mounting a frisky camel was exciting work, and they often came a cropper. Wolseley himself fell off, painfully hard, on a piece of gravelly sand, in front of his army. He hated camels. ‘They are so stupid; they begin to howl the moment you put a saddle on them and they smell abominably … ‘

Perhaps not surprisingly, Wolseley’s force arrived too late to save Gordon, who was killed and beheaded by Ahmad’s men in January 1885 amid a general massacre of Khartoum.

(Top: Photograph of two Sikh members of Camel Corps, taken during Nile Expedition to relieve Khartoum in either 1884 or 1885. Source: National Archives, United Kingdom.)

Future Einsteins disappointed man not eaten by snake

anaconda

It’s not too much of a stretch to assert that the Discovery channel has declined in quality in recent years. Like many cable channels, Discovery has shifted its focus toward more reality-based programming in an effort to compete with networks and keep down costs.

Just how far the intellectual curiosity of some of Discovery’s viewers has slipped along with the channel was made evident when a recent program, titled Eaten Alive, purported to highlight an individual being swallowed by an anaconda – albeit one in a specially designed suit – apparently didn’t meet their “rigorous” entertainment standards.

When adventurer Paul Rosolie said “no mas” after the large snake had gotten halfway through his human meal, some Discovery viewers took umbrage, voicing their displeasure via social media that they’d been cheated out of seeing a man be wholly consumed by a reptile.

One individual commented on Twitter that, “The eaten alive guy didn’t get eaten alive,” followed by the hashtag : “Disappointed”; while another tweeted,  “This dude just wasted my life away.”

Newsflash for the above commenters: Methinks you two have been doing a fine job of being disappointing and wasting your lives all on your own.

For those who had the good fortune to miss the two-hour program, viewers saw a 20-foot anaconda attack Rosolie, coil around him, then start to eat his helmet.

“That’s when Rosolie opted to call in his team to rescue him, saying his arm was being crushed,” according to Time magazine. “’I started to feel the blood drain out of my hand and I felt the bone flex, and when I got to the point where I felt like it was going to snap I had to tap out.’”

Discovery has refused to say how far the snake got before Rosolie was rescued.

Rosolie said he spent months recovering from the encounter.

So, what was originally a program slammed by animal activists for animal cruelty is now being mocked on social media for not allowing the animal to go far enough in consuming a human being.

And the bread and circuses continue on.

(Top: Filmmaker Paul Rosolie with an anaconda.)

Loss of food cited as cause of woolly mammoths’ demise

wooly_mammoth-rbc

A major decline in plant diversity resulted in the extinction of the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and many other large animals following the last Ice Age, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Relying on DNA-based research, the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark has found that the flowering plants that mammoths and other large creatures depended on for survival disappeared from North American and northern Asia during the last glacial period, eliminating a major food source for the animals.

Prior the that period, the landscapes of the Northern hemisphere were far more diverse and stable than today’s steppes, with megafauna like woolly rhinos and mammoths feeding on grasses and protein-rich flowering plants, or forbs.

But at the height of the last Ice Age – 25,000-15,000 years ago, at a time when the climate was at its coldest and driest – a major loss of plant diversity occurred, the study’s authors wrote.

As a result, the giant animals barely survived.

Once the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago the climate warmed again. However, the protein-rich forbs did not recover to their former abundance and were replaced with different kinds of vegetation, including grasses prevalent on today’s plains and steppes.

“This likely proved fatal for species like woolly rhino, mammoth, and horse in Asia and North America,” according to the University of Copenhagen. “Even though it became warmer again after the end of the Ice Age the old landscapes did not return.”

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Puppies and kittens and rainbows …

puppies

Apparently, big black rat snakes aren’t everyone’s favorite creatures. Hence, the above photo of adorable puppies.

They’re not my puppies, mind you, as I have no puppies, nor even a dog.

It’s simply a way to put something on this blog so that yesterday’s image of a large black rat snake – which I personally found fascinating – would no longer be the first thing folks saw when they clicked on this site.

I sensed a tiny bit of negativity toward snakes after posting the image of a five-foot reptile (see comments in yesterday’s post) that I caught in Newberry County, SC.

Or perhaps it was Mrs. Cotton Boll’s reaction, via email: “You are nuts! I hope you put that yellow jacket and all clothing directly in the washing machine. This freaked me out!”

Of course, I had failed to inform Mrs. Cotton Boll of my success in the snake-catching department the previous day, knowing that she is deathly afraid of our no-legged friends.

She is a regular reader of this blog, but I had failed to anticipate her response to a seeing a large constricting snake, particularly one wrapped around her husband’s wrist and hand.

Needless to say, a Hazmat team was dispatched to decontaminate all clothing that may have come into contact with said black rat snake, and I was politely but firmly admonished.

Actually, Mrs. Cotton Boll is a pretty good sport, given my proclivity for capturing odd wild beasts and her distaste of same. Of course, she did know what she was getting herself into when she said “I do.”