Woman injured by polar bear on Norway’s Svalbard Islands

A polar bear stands on an ice floe near the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, June 13, 2008. (AP Photo)
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Updated 08 August 2022

Woman injured by polar bear on Norway’s Svalbard Islands

  • Svalbard is dotted with warnings about polar bears; visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms
  • Some residents in Svalbard, home to more than 2,500 people, want a round-the-clock polar bear watch, while others advocate killing all bears that get close to humans

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: A polar bear attacked a campsite Monday in Norway’s remote Arctic Svalbard Islands, injuring a French tourist, authorities said, adding that the wounds weren’t life-threatening. The bear was later killed.
The woman, who was not identified, was part of a tour group of 25 people camping at Sveasletta, in the central part of the Svalbard archipelago, which sits more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland. The campsite was located across a fjord from Longyearbyen, the main settlement in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
Authorities responded to the news of the attack, which came shortly before 8:30 a.m., by flying there in a helicopter, chief superintendent Stein Olav Bredli.
“The French woman suffered injuries to an arm. Shots were fired at the polar bear, which was scared away from the area,” he said. Further details on her injuries weren’t disclosed. She was flown by helicopter to the hospital in Longyearbyen.
The main newspaper on the Arctic archipelago, Svalbardposten, said the victim was a woman in her 40s, and quoted local hospital official Solveig Jacobsen as saying that the woman was slightly injured.
Bredil later told Svalbardposten that the animal has been “badly injured” and following “a professional assessment” it was put to sleep. It was unclear how it was killed.
Svalbard is dotted with warnings about polar bears. Visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms. At least five people have been killed by polar bears since the 1970s. In 2011, a British teenager was killed and the last time a fatal polar bear mauling was reported on Svalbard was in 2020, when a 38-year-old Dutchman was killed.
Following that attack, there was a debate as to whether people should be allowed to camp in tents but no ban has been decided.
Some residents in Svalbard, home to more than 2,500 people, want a round-the-clock polar bear watch, while others advocate killing all bears that get close to humans.
From 2009 to 2019, 14 polar bears were shot, Norwegian broadcaster NRK said. An estimated 20,000-25,000 polar bears live in the Arctic.
In 2015, a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent as he and others were camping north of Longyearbyen, clawing his back before being driven away by gunshots. The bear was later found and killed by authorities.


Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Updated 23 September 2022

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

  • Han Lay has been held at Bangkok's main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam
  • In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport

BANGKOK: A Myanmar beauty queen who spoke out against the military coup in her homeland appealed Friday for help after being refused entry to Thailand by immigration officials.
Thaw Nandar Aung, better known by her professional moniker Han Lay, has been held at Bangkok’s main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam.
She made headlines in March 2021 when she urged the world to “save” the people of Myanmar from the military, which had seized power a month earlier.
Thai immigration officials said she was denied entry to the kingdom because of a problem with her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
While in Bangkok competing in the Miss Grand International contest, the former psychology student spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told Thailand’s Khaosod English news outlet.
“So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military... Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.

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Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Updated 20 September 2022

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

  • The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012
  • Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers dating back to the 14th century BC

YEHUD, Israel: Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery pieces, providing evidence to support the theory that the hallucinogenic drug was used in ancient burial rituals.
The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012 when excavations in the central Israeli town of Yehud revealed a series of Late Bronze Age graves.
Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers — from which opium is derived — dating back to the 14th century BC.
They then examined whether they had served as containers for the drug, which earlier writing had suggested was used in burial rituals in Canaan, and found “opium residue in eight vessels,” the researchers said in a statement.
These were likely “placed in graves for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members,” said Ron Be’eri, an archaeologist with the antiquities authority.
During these ceremonies, “family members or a priest on their behalf” would “attempt to summon the spirit of their dead relatives... and enter an ecstatic state by using opium,” Be’eri said.
But he acknowledged that much remained unknown about its use in ancient times. “We can only speculate what was done with opium,” he said.

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Care home mix-up sees Slovenian family bury wrong man

Updated 18 September 2022

Care home mix-up sees Slovenian family bury wrong man

LJUBLJANA: An identity mix-up in Slovenia plunged one family into mourning, only to discover after their grandfather’s alleged funeral that they had buried another man from his care home.
Authorities were left so red-faced on Thursday that the health minister offered to resign after the two men, both the same age and both confined to wheelchairs were taken to the same hospital from the same care home in Slovenia’s eastern town of Zidani Most.
“Somebody buried their father yesterday and today found out he was alive, while another family realized today that it was their father who died,” Health Minister Danijel Besic Loredan told a news conference.
The two residents, one of whom had advanced dementia, were taken to hospital last week suffering from different health problems.
One of them died two days later, only for the wrong family to be informed. After a mandatory forensic check, the family organized a cremation and held a funeral on Wednesday.
The mistake was only discovered after the second man recovered from his illness and returned to his care home, where staff realized that he had the wrong identity tag on his wrist.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Besic Loredan told reporters. His offer of resignation was not accepted by the prime minister. Instead, an investigation into the case of mistaken identity has been ordered.
 

 

 


Cheetahs return to India 70 years after local extinction

One of the Cheetahs released in Kuno National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, India on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2022

Cheetahs return to India 70 years after local extinction

  • Wildlife experts say park in India intended to be cheetahs’ new
  • Critics have warned the creatures may struggle to adapt to the Indian habitat

NEW DELHI: Eight Namibian cheetahs arrived in India on Saturday, part of an ambitious project to reintroduce the world’s fastest land animal to the South Asian country where it has been extinct for over 70 years.

Cheetahs, once found in great numbers across Africa and Asia, are facing the threat of global extinction, with their population estimated to be fewer than 8,000 in the wild, down by 50 percent over the last four decades.
In India, local extinction was officially declared in 1952 following years of extensive hunting and habitat loss. Project Cheetah — launched on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday, Sept. 17 — is expected to cost $11 million over five years. The Indian Oil Corporation is offering financial support.
“Decades ago, the age-old link of biodiversity was broken and had become extinct. Today, we have a chance to reconnect it,” Modi said after releasing the wild cats into a soft enclosure in Kuno National Park. “Twenty-first-century India is giving a message to the whole world that economy and ecology are not conflicting fields.”

FASTFACT

Cheetahs, once found in great numbers across Africa and Asia, are facing the threat of global extinction, with their population estimated to be fewer than 8,000 in the wild, down by 50 percent over the last four decades.

The plan is to relocate batches of cheetahs from southern Africa into India, until the country has a cheetah population of around 40. On Saturday, the first batch arrived on a Boeing 747 from Namibia and were taken to their new home in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Dr. Satya Prakash Yadav, director of Wildlife Institute of India, which will oversee the project, told Arab News that this is the first intercontinental relocation of cheetahs that will be released into the wild.
“The plan is to have 20 cheetahs in the first year and after that, depending on adaptability, their survival, their conservation, their breeding and behavior, we will supplement the population every year for the next five years, unless a viable better population is established,” Yadav said. At Kuno, the cheetahs will share 5,000 square kilometers of forest and grassland with other wildlife, including leopards. But experts say that is not enough space for the newly arrived cats to thrive.
The ambitious experiment should provide a habitat of at least 10,000 square kilometers and include a population of wild prey for the cheetahs, according to Ullas Karanth, a wildlife expert at the Center for Wildlife Studies in the southern city of Bangalore. Kuno is too small to sustain a cheetah population, he said.
“That habitat should have been created first before bringing these African cheetahs,” Karanth told Arab News. “The present project puts the cart before the horse, bringing cheetahs before the habitat is suitably prepared.
“This is not a scientific conservation goal, more of a public relations effort which will end up as just another large tourist zoo.”
“The key question that needs to be asked is: What is the purpose of this exercise?” Avijit Sarkhel, a Delhi-based wildlife activist, told Arab News, as he raised concerns about India’s ability to protect the cheetahs.
“I am not sure if this is a wise decision. To me, it is more about reclaiming India’s spot as the largest pool of wild cats in the world,” Sarkhel said. “We need to see how we can manage this.”
Kuno National Park was intended to become home to some of the last remaining Asiatic lions — and experts say that the area is more suitable for those animals. Residents of some two dozen villages were relocated for that project, which promised tourism development for the region.
But the project stalled after the government of the state of Gujarat, where all the Asiatic lions live, opposed the move. Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a plan to bring in cheetahs from Namibia, imported on an experimental basis.
“We should remember that the villages which were evacuated suffer from extreme poverty, malnutrition and backwardness and these problems would have been addressed had tourism been allowed to develop around Kuno National Park,” Ajay Dubey, a wildlife and social activist from Bhopal city in Madhya Pradesh, told Arab News.
With the cheetahs now brought in for the purpose of restoring their population, the “villagers have lost all hopes of improvement in their livelihoods,” Dubey claimed.


Namibian cheetahs head for India, 70 years after local extinction

Updated 16 September 2022

Namibian cheetahs head for India, 70 years after local extinction

  • The wild cheetahs were moved by road from a game park north of the Namibian capital Windhoek
  • They will be personally welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, his 72nd birthday

WINDHOEK, Namibia: Eight Namibian cheetahs were on Friday airlifted to India, part of an ambitious project to reintroduce the big cats after they were driven to extinction there decades ago, officials and vets said.
The wild cheetahs were moved by road from a game park north of the Namibian capital Windhoek to board a chartered Boeing 747 dubbed “Cat plane” for an 11-hour flight.
They will be personally welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, his 72nd birthday.
He will swing open the gates of Kuno National Park, a new sanctuary created for the cats, 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Delhi.
The 750-square-kilometer (290-square-mile) protected park was selected as a home because of its abundant prey and grasslands.
The project is the world’s first inter-continental translocation of cheetahs, the world’s fastest land animal, according to the Indian high commissioner to Namibia, Prashant Agrawal.
“This is historic, global first. Game-changing,” he told AFP. “We are all the more excited because it is happening in the 75th year of Indian independence.”
Critics have warned that the Namibian cheetahs may struggle to adapt to the Indian habitat and may clash with the significant number of leopards already present.
But organizers are unfazed.
“Cheetahs are very adaptable and (I’m) assuming that they will adapt well into this environment. So I don’t have a lot of worries,” said Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Namibia-based charity Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which has been central to the project logistics.
The project has been in the making for more than a decade. Initial discussion started in the 1990s, she told AFP.
India was once home to the Asiatic cheetah but it was declared extinct there by 1952. The critically endangered subspecies, which once roamed across the Middle East, Central Asia and India, are now only found, in very small numbers, in Iran.
New Delhi has since 2020 been working to reintroduce the animals after the Supreme Court announced that African cheetahs, a different subspecies, could be settled in a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis.
The five females and three males, aged between two and five and a half, will each be fitted with a satellite collar.
They are a donation from the government of Namibia, one of a tiny handful of countries in Africa where the magnificent creature survives in the wild.
Negotiations are ongoing for similar translocation from South Africa, a government official told AFP on Friday, with vets suggesting 12 cats could be moved.
Cheetahs became extinct in India primarily because of habitat loss and hunting for their distinctive spotted coats.
An Indian prince, the Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, is widely believed to have killed the last three recorded cheetahs in India in the late 1940s.
One of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors dating back about 8.5 million years, cheetahs once roamed widely throughout Asia and Africa in great numbers, said CCF.
But today only around 7,000 remain, primarily in the African savannas.
The cheetah is listed globally as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
In North Africa and Asia it is “Critically Endangered.”
Their survival is threatened primarily by dwindling natural habitat and loss of prey due to human hunting, the development of land for other purposes and climate change.