Watching the World
While France’s forests were badly damaged by severe storms in December 1999, recent observations indicate that big game did not suffer as much as anticipated, reports the Paris newspaper Le Monde. Only 20 dead animals—10 stags, 5 roe deer, and 5 boars—were found in an area of 25,000 acres [10,000 ha] in the devastated forests of eastern France. Obeying “mechanisms that are still mysterious,” the animals found ways to escape, perhaps hiding under fallen trees or gathering together in the open. Jean-Paul Widmer of the French National Forest Office states: “We know less about the [behavior] of stags and boars than that of lions and other distant wild animals.”
Over the past eight years, 25 passengers arriving at Japan’s Narita Airport “have died of so-called economy-class syndrome,” reports the newspaper The Daily Yomiuri. Contrary to its name, “economy-class syndrome” can also affect first-class passengers. Sitting for several hours can restrict blood circulation in the legs and cause blood clots to form. If a clot moves to the lungs, it can cause breathing difficulties and even death. Annually, between 100 and 150 travelers arriving at Narita Airport suffer from some form of this problem, says Toshiro Makino, head of Nippon Medical School’s New Tokyo International Airport Clinic. “Passengers who fly more than seven or eight hours at a time should drink more water than usual and take some preventive measures, such as stretching and bending their legs,” he suggests.
Tokyo Warming Up
“The average number of days per year when the temperature in Tokyo fell below freezing decreased by 95 percent over the course of the 20th century,” reports The Daily Yomiuri. During the 1990’s, there were on average only 3.2 days per year with subfreezing temperatures in Tokyo, compared with 61.7 days for the first ten years of the century. One veteran meteorologist at Japan’s Meteorological Agency commented that global warming has prevented temperatures from falling as low as before, and he expressed concern that in Tokyo “a really cold winter” could soon become a thing of the past. According to the agency, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at present levels, a 2- to 6-degree Fahrenheit [1.0- to 3.5-degree C] rise in global temperature is predicted to occur during the 21st century. A rise of 6 degrees [3.5 degrees C] across Japan would result in Tokyo becoming as hot as present-day Nairobi.
Syphilis had been almost totally absent from France for decades. Last year, however, doctors noted a new epidemic of this sexually transmitted disease, primarily among homosexuals, reports the French daily Le Figaro. Similar outbreaks of syphilis were also noted in Britain and Ireland in 2000. Syphilis is a bacterial disease that causes skin lesions and rashes in its early stages and if not treated leads to neurological and cardiovascular damage. The resurgence of syphilis is worrisome, observes Le Figaro, as it is “totally unknown to new generations of doctors who have never examined a single case during their medical training.” Doctors may thus misdiagnose it, hindering effective treatment. Disease specialists suspect that dangerous sexual practices are responsible for the resurgence of syphilis. They fear, therefore, that this trend could be the harbinger of “a new explosion in the AIDS epidemic.”
Caution for Older Travelers
The number of older adults traveling to less-developed areas of the world is increasing, and many become ill because of ingesting bacteria-contaminated food or water, says the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. The resulting “traveler’s diarrhea” can lead to more serious health problems for people 60 or older. Unless you are dining in a first-class hotel or restaurant in a large, modern city, the Health & Nutrition Letter cautions:
□ Don’t drink tap water or brush your teeth in it. Use only bottled, boiled, or disinfected water. Don’t use ice in drinks unless you are certain it was made from safe water.
□ Don’t eat fish or meat unless it has been thoroughly cooked.
□ Don’t eat unpasteurized milk products or raw vegetables.
□ Don’t eat fruit unless you peel it yourself after washing it in clean water. After peeling it, wash your hands before eating.
□ Don’t eat food sold by street vendors, even though it may be served hot.
“Internally Displaced” Multitudes
“There are as many of them as there are people infected with HIV, twice as many as there are refugees. They are what the international aid community calls the ‘internally displaced,’” reports The Independent of London. Although forced by war to flee their homes, they remain in their own countries. The UN estimates that there are 25 to 30 million of such displaced persons worldwide. Most live, not in refugee camps, but with other families or on the streets. Dennis McNamara, UN special coordinator for the problem, says that rather than seek refuge in some other land, “many try to stay as close to home as they can: that’s where the land they farm is.” Relief agencies are sometimes denied access to such people. Up to 90 percent are women and children. “It is the men who make the wars,” adds McNamara. “The women and children are the victims. Displaced women are in constant danger of rape from the forces persecuting them.”
How can a chameleon catch other lizards and even birds that weigh up to 10 percent of its own weight? Until now, it was believed that prey got stuck to the rough and sticky surface of the chameleon’s tongue. But that did not explain how this creature can catch relatively heavy prey. To find out, scientists in Antwerp, Belgium, made high-speed video recordings of the chameleon’s lightning-fast tongue in action, reports the German science news service Bild der Wissenschaft-Online. The scientists found that when shooting out, the chameleon’s tongue forms a ball at its tip. Just before impact, two muscles in the tongue contract, forming the tip into a suction cup that adheres to the prey.
The Encroaching Desert
“The Sahara has crossed the Mediterranean,” reports The Guardian of London, “as a lethal combination of soil degradation and climate change turns parts of southern Europe into desert.” At a United Nations conference on combatting desertification held in December 2000, one expert put partial blame on global farming, which has made it hard for many small farmers to compete. Farmers therefore abandon land that had been preserved for thousands of years by means of terracing and careful irrigation, and the soil eventually washes away. The situation is acute in southern Italy, Spain, and Greece. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia, and China are also facing increased desertification. Klaus Töpfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, stated: “Soil is a natural resource that is no less important to human well-being and the environment than clean water and clean air.”
Source of the Amazon Identified
A 22-man team of explorers has confirmed “the source of the world’s largest river, ending decades of speculation and contradictory findings,” reports The Times of London. The Amazon starts as a trickle from the Nevado Mismi, an 18,000-foot-high [5,000 m] peak in the southern Peruvian Andes. From there it meanders through a valley of grass and moss, where it is joined by other streams and rivers before continuing its 4,000-mile [6,000 km] journey to the Atlantic Ocean. Describing the river’s source, Andrew Pietowski, the team’s leader, said: “It’s a pretty spot. You’re standing in a green valley at the base of an impressive, almost black, cliff about 130 feet [40 m] high. It’s very silent and serene.”