2 Kiwi Birds Removed from Endangered Species List Thanks to New Zealand Predator Police

By ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Two types of New Zealand kiwi birds are a rare bright spot in a mostly grim assessment of global species at risk of extinction.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the Okarito kiwi and the Northern Brown kiwi from endangered to vulnerable thanks to New Zealand's progress in controlling predators like stoats and cats.

But the conservation group's latest update of its Red List of endangered species, issued Tuesday, mostly reported grave threats to animals and plants due to loss of habitat and unsustainable farming and fisheries practices.

The group said the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise that roam coastlines of Southeast Asia are now designated as endangered, imperiled by entanglement in fishing nets and other human activities.

Gillnets used on the Mekong and in other major waterways "hang like curtains of death across the river and entrap everything in the stream," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the Red List's global species program.

Some 91,523 out of nearly 1.9 million described species have been assessed for the Red List, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. The IUCN describes 11,783 species as vulnerable, 8,455 as endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.

The IUCN is made up of government and non-government experts whose scientific assessments of the risks to species are subject to independent reviews and are provided to help guide decisions on conservation efforts. The Red List, which it calls a "Barometer of Life," identifies which local species are at risk of extinction.

The organization aims to increase the number of assessed species to 160,000, said Jane Smart, global director of its biodiversity conservation program.

The total number of species is unknown but is thought to be as many as 20 million, many of the microorganisms.

Behind the numbers are life-and-death struggles for survival as human populations grow and industrialize and habitats are transformed by global warming.

Australia's Western Ringtail possum has slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered, the

IUCN said, as its population plunged by 80 percent over the past decade.

Once widespread in peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, it now has only a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35 C (95 F) that are becoming increasingly common where it lives.

The group said three reptile species on Christmas Island, also in Australia, had gone extinct in the wild: the Whiptail skink, the Blue-tailed skink and Lister's gecko. The group said the as yet unexplained losses of reptiles could result from disease or infestations of the yellow crazy ant, which is listed by the IUCN and Global Invasive Species Database as one of the 100 worst invasive species. The creature has wreaked havoc on Christmas Island, devouring the famous endemic red crabs that were a key part of its ecosystem.

Apart from many animal species, the IUCN said many wild crops, such as wild wheat, rice and yam, face threats from overgrazing, use of herbicides and urbanization. Such wild plants are crucial food sources and also play a critical role in the genetic diversity of domesticated food crops.

Many conservationists view the current era as the "sixth extinction," after previous ones that wiped out the dinosaurs and other creatures. Much of today's losses of species stem from human factors, which also means that human efforts can help improve the situation.

The baiji, a kind of dolphin native to the Yangtze river in China, is thought to be extinct, but some findings have raised hopes it might not be. Experts are now surveying the river in hopes of a sighting.

The kiwi has gained ground thanks to a New Zealand campaign to rid its islands of predators such as rats, possums, and stoats that have helped kill off more than 40 unique species of New Zealand birds.

The number of Okarito kiwi has risen from 160 in 1995 to 400-450 now, and Northern Brown kiwi numbers are also climbing, the IUCN said.

The IUCN reported its findings in Tokyo to reflect support from Toyota Motor Corp., which helps fund species assessments. It said a third of 46 newly assessed endemic species of lizards and snakes in Japan were threatened by factors such as habitat loss, collection for pet stores and invasive species such as Indian peacocks.

Russia: Spike in Radioactivity Unrelated to Nuclear Plant


MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities denied Friday that a radioactivity spike in the air over Europe resulted from a nuclear fuel plant leak in the Urals, saying their probe has found no release of radioactivity there.

Andrei Ivanov of Russia's Rosatom state nuclear corporation said that an inspection of the Mayak plant has proven that it wasn't the source of Ruthenium-106, a radioactive isotope spotted in the air over Europe and Russia in late September and early October.

France's nuclear safety agency said last month that increased levels of Ruthenium-106 were recorded over most of Europe but posed no health or environmental risks.

The Russian panel that involved Rosatom experts has failed to identify where the isotope came from, but alleged that it could have come from a satellite that came down from orbit and disintegrated in the atmosphere.

Nuclear safety expert Rafael Arutyunian said Ruthenium-106 could be used in satellite power sources. He argued that the assumption that it came from a crashing satellite would explain its broad spread over Europe.

Arutynian, deputy head of the Institute for Safe Nuclear Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that a broader panel will continue investigating.

Last month, the Russian state meteorological office reported high levels of Ruthenium-106 in late September in areas close to Mayak, but Arutyunian and other experts emphasized that they were still thousands times less than the level that would pose health risks.

Environmental watchdog group Greenpeace alleged that Mayak could have been the source of a Ruthenium-106 leak, but the panel insisted that a thorough check of the plant had found no safety breaches.

Vyacheslav Usoltsev of Rosatom's safety inspectorate said that a sophisticated system of monitoring at the plant would have spotted any release of radiation.

Mayak, in the Chelyabinsk region, saw one of the world's worst nuclear accidents on Sept. 29, 1957, when a waste tank exploded, contaminating 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) and prompting authorities to evacuate 10,000 residents from neighboring regions.

Police Dashcam Catches Meteor Streaking Through Sky


MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey police sergeant inadvertently captured footage of a large meteor streaking across the sky.

Hamilton Township police Sgt. Michael Virga tells NJ.com he was on patrol early Sunday when his vehicle dashcam captured footage of a fireball just after 3 a.m.

He says the fireball took him by surprise and "lit up the entire sky like a lime green streak." He wasn't sure he captured it until he checked the dashcam later.

The American Meteor Society confirms that the fireball was indeed a meteor. The society says it received multiple reports about it.

It was a bolide, which is a very large, very bright meteor that explodes in the atmosphere.

Just over a week earlier, almost 70 people reported seeing a fireball passing over the mid-Atlantic.


Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com

Bitcoin Mining Company Hacked! Over $70 Million Stolen



TOKYO (AP) — A bitcoin mining company in Slovenia has been hacked for the possible theft of tens of millions of dollars, just days before the virtual currency, which hit a record above $15,000 on Thursday, is due to start trading on major U.S. exchanges.

NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a security breach and will stop operating for 24 hours while it verifies how many bitcoins were taken.

Research company Coindesk said that a wallet address referred to by NiceHash users indicates that about 4,700 bitcoins had been stolen. At Thursday's record price of about $15,000, that puts the value at over $70 million.

There was no immediate response from NiceHash to an emailed request for more details.

"The incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency," it said. The statement urged users to change their online passwords.

Slovenian police are investigating the case together with authorities in other states, spokesman Bostjan Lindav said, without providing details.

The hack will put a spotlight on the security of bitcoin just as the trading community prepares for the currency to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on crosstown rival CME Group's platforms later in the month.

That has increased the sense among some investors that bitcoin is gaining in mainstream legitimacy after several countries, like China, tried to stifle the virtual currency.

As a result, the price of bitcoin has jumped in the past year, particularly so in recent weeks. On Thursday it surged to over $15,000, up $1,300 in less than a day, according to Coindesk. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.

Bitcoin is the world's most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.

A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.

Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.

Online security is a vital concern for such dealings.

In Japan, following the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers.


Ali Zerdin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this story.

UN Voices Alarm About Spread of HIV in Egypt


By NARIMAN EL-MOFTY, Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) — The U.N. is voicing alarm over the spread of HIV in Egypt, where the number of new cases is growing by up to 40 percent a year, and where efforts to combat the epidemic are hampered by social stigma and a lack of funding to address the crisis.

The virus that causes AIDS, U.N. officials say, is infecting more young and adolescent people than any other age group.

Egypt, home to some 95 million people, ranks behind only Iran, Sudan and Somalia in the Middle East for the rate at which the epidemic is spreading, according to U.N. figures. In Egypt, patients are often jailed on trumped up charges and ostracized by society. The disease is associated with homosexuality, which is not explicitly illegal but is widely seen as a transgression against religion and nature in the conservative, Muslim-majority country.

"There is a 25-30 percent increase in incidents every year... It's is alarming to us because the growth of the epidemic and the discontinuation of interest from donors in funding," Ahmed Khamis, of the U.N. AIDS agency, told The Associated Press.

Estimates of the number of people living with HIV in Egypt vary. UNAIDS says there are over 11,000 cases, while the country's Health Ministry estimates the figure to be around 7,000.

The rise in the number of new infections, however, is not in dispute.

"Most recently, we've been seeing people of a much younger age group infected with the virus. There is a higher risk now for adolescents and youths than in the past," said Khamis.

"We don't have exact numbers, but this is what the evidence we are seeing on the ground is suggesting," he added, explaining that the lack of funds is hampering Egypt's capacity to produce precise figures.

Patients who require surgical intervention are often unable to access basic health care at hospitals because of the associated stigma, UNAIDS officials said.

The virus can be spread through sexual contact, as well as contaminated needles or syringes, or blood transfusions. It can also be passed from infected women to their babies at birth or through breast-feeding. But in Egypt, the virus is widely associated with homosexuality, which is seen by many Egyptians as a lifestyle choice.

In a recent conference on AIDS, Islamic scholar and cleric Ali al-Jifri spoke about the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS patients. "A person diagnosed with HIV is a human. We should never question their diagnosis," he told the conference.

A Christian priest, Bolous Soror, told the conference that Egyptians should accept others, regardless of their HIV status.

Shunned by society, it is not uncommon for patients to contemplate suicide.

Ahmed, 40, is one of them. He has been trying to gain asylum status in the U.S. because, he says, he has lost hope in a future in Egypt.

"I do not want to be living a life always feeling strapped down and imprisoned," he told his therapist during a session attended by an AP reporter. Fearing further stigma, he asked that he be identified only by his first name.

In an anonymous testimony given to UNAIDS and seen by the AP, one woman said she was infected by her late husband and later found it hard to live in a society that rejects people carrying the virus. She was beaten and denied by her family an inheritance she and her children were legally entitled to when her husband died. When she attempted to start a new life with her children in a different neighborhood, her in-laws made sure her new neighbors learned about her condition.

First baby from a uterus transplant in the US born in Dallas

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Chief  Medical Writer

The first birth as a result of a womb transplant in the United States has occurred in Texas, a milestone for the U.S. but one achieved several years ago in Sweden.

A woman who had been born without a uterus gave birth to the baby at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

Hospital spokesman Craig Civale confirmed Friday that the birth had taken place, but said no other details are available. The hospital did not identify the woman, citing her privacy.

Baylor has had a study underway for several years to enroll up to 10 women for uterus transplants. In October 2016, the hospital said four women had received transplants but that three of the wombs had to be removed because of poor blood flow.

The hospital would give no further information on how many transplants have been performed since then. But Time magazine, which first reported the U.S. baby's birth, says eight have been done in all, and that another woman is currently pregnant as a result.

A news conference was scheduled Monday to discuss the Dallas baby's birth.

A doctor in Sweden, Mats Brannstrom, is the first in the world to deliver a baby as a result of a uterus transplant. As of last year, he had delivered five babies from women with donated wombs.

There have been at least 16 uterus transplants worldwide, including one in Cleveland from a deceased donor that had to be removed because of complications. Last month, Penn Medicine in Philadelphia announced that it also would start offering womb transplants.

Womb donors can be dead or alive, and the Baylor study aims to use some of both. The first four cases involved "altruistic" donors — unrelated and unknown to the recipients. The ones done in Sweden were from live donors, mostly from the recipients' mother or a sister.

Doctors hope that womb transplants will enable as many as several thousand women born without a uterus to bear children. To be eligible for the Baylor study, women must be 20 to 35 years old and have healthy, normal ovaries. They will first have in vitro fertilization to retrieve and fertilize their eggs and produce embryos that can be frozen until they are ready to attempt pregnancy.

After the uterus transplant, the embryos can be thawed and implanted, at least a year after the transplant to make sure the womb is working well. A baby resulting from a uterine transplant would be delivered by cesarean section. The wombs are not intended to be permanent.  Having one means a woman must take powerful drugs to prevent organ rejection, and the drugs pose long-term health risks, so the uterus would be removed after one or two successful pregnancies.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a statement Friday calling the Dallas birth "another important milestone in the history of reproductive medicine."

For women born without a functioning uterus, "transplantation represents the only way they can carry a pregnancy," the statement said. The group is convening experts to develop guidelines for programs that want to offer this service.


Marilynn Marchione can be followed at @MMarchioneAP

World's Largest Battery Built in Australian Outback by Tesla

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — The world's biggest lithium-ion battery has plugged into an Australian state grid, an official said Friday, easily delivering on Tesla Inc. chief executive Elon Musk's 100-day guarantee.

Musk promised to build the 100-megawatt battery within 100 days of the contracts being signed at the end of September or hand it over to the South Australia state government for free.

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill announced Friday the battery began dispatching power into the state grid on Thursday afternoon, providing 70 megawatts as temperatures rose above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

"South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy, delivered to homes and businesses 24/7," Weatherill said.


The official launch came a little over 60 days after the deal was signed. But crucially, it came on the first day of the Australian summer — the season when power usage soars due to air conditioning use.

Tesla says the battery has the capacity to power 30,000 homes for up to an hour in the event of a severe blackout, but is more likely to be called into action to boost supply during peak demand periods.

The battery power packs are installed near the Outback town of Jamestown, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of the state capital Adelaide. They store energy generated by the neighboring Hornsdale Wind Farm, owned by French renewable energy company Neoen, to bring added reliability and stability to the state grid.

Tesla partnered with Neoen to build the battery, which is more than three times larger than the previous record-holder at Mira Loma, California.

South Australia, which relies heavily on solar and wind-generated energy, has been scrambling to find a way to bolster its fragile power grid since the entire state suffered a blackout during a storm last year. Further blackouts plagued the state over the next few months.

The battery farm is part of a 550 million Australian dollar ($420 million) plan announced in March by Weatherill to make the state independent of the nation's power grid. The cost of the battery has not been made public.

The Australian grid operator has warned of potential shortages of gas-fired electricity across southeast Australia by late next year. The shortage is looming as Australia is expected to soon overtake Qatar as the world's biggest exporter of liquid natural gas. Australia is also a major exporter of coal, which fires much of its electricity generation and makes the country one of the world's worst greenhouse gas polluters on a per capita basis.

6.1 Earthquake Hits Southeastern Hojedk, Iran Injuring 42

131122017_EQ Dec 1.jpg

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A magnitude 6.1 earthquake injured dozens of people after it jolted a sparsely populated area in Iran's southeast, media reported Friday.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.

Iranian media said most of the 42 injuries were minor and happened when people rushed to seek shelter.

The quake also damaged scores of buildings in remote mountainous villages near the epicenter, the town of Hojedk, about 1,100 kilometers (683 miles) southeast of the capital Tehran, the reports said.

The town has a population of 3,000 and is frequently hit by quakes. It is home to farms and coal mines.

Rescue workers were at the site.

In November, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck western Iran, killing 530 people and injuring more than 9,000. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake flattened the historic southern city of Bam, killing 26,000.

Iran is located on major seismic faults and averages a quake per day.

North Korean 'Ghost Ships' with Skeletons Turning Up on Japanese Shores


'Ghost Ships' with human skeletons have been landing on Japanese shores since the beginning of November with only a few clues to their origins. 

The most recent was a 23-foot long wooden boat found with eight skeletons on board that washed up in Oga, Akita Prefecture shore (facing North Korea), according to the Japan Coast Guard. Investigators found a North Korean cigarette pack and unused life jackets with Korean lettering. For the bodies to have decomposed down to skeletons means they've been drifting around at sea for a long time. 

This one was first spotted by a 68-year-old woman who reported the strange old boat to authorities.

“I was surprised to see the boat in such a bad condition. I watched authorities use stretchers to carry bodies off the boat," she said.

Two other boats had some people found still alive among other dead bodies aboard. Another vessel carrying eight fishermen landed in the same prefecture on Friday last week, while two more ships were found adrift on November 19 and 13 in the ocean further north. Two capsized boats were found on November 15 and 17 off the coast of the Noto Penninsula by Japanese coast guard. 


Eleven survivors were sent back to North Korea after they supposedly said they wanted to return, authorities said. Eight of them were North Korean squid fishermen and told Japanese authorities their engine lost power leaving them stranded for a month. 

A Japanese expert on North Korea, Satoru Miyamoto, told CNN these 'ghost ships' may be from Kim Jong Un expanding fisheries to provide more money for the army.

'They are using old boats manned by the military, by people who have no knowledge about fishing. It will continue,' he said.

International sanctions were placed on North Korea by various countries for pursuing it's nuclear missile advancement and threatening neighboring countries and the United States with nuclear strikes. North Korea's communist dictator's policies have caused their citizens to suffer even more during these poor times.

President Trump announced that many North Koreans don't have plumbing or electricity with some even starving to death. 

In 2015, more such boats were found on Japanese shores with both living and dead people on board. They were said to be desperate fishermen that explored too far looking for food during the famine. Others believe they were refugees escaping the grim and fearful life living under North Korean tyranny. 


North Korean Capital, Pyongyang, denies any of its fishermen were trying to flee the country, saying all deaths were due to navigational errors. 


Escaping North Korea

During North Korea's terrible famine of the mid-1990's, 30,000 North Koreans have escaped to China, South Korea, and Japan and tell stories of violent punishments for honest political speech, being sent to forced labor camps for watching American movies, and simple starvation. Many don't even survive their escape attempt and those who are captured are severely punished.

According to Vice, “the North Korean penal code states that defectors face two years of hard labor if they are caught crossing the border,” though punishments can vary.

Radio Free Asia reported that North Korean officials warn citizens near the Chinese border that if they help people escape, they would be put to death and their family will be imprisoned or exiled to remote regions.

Despite all these threats and dangers, North Koreans flee by the hundreds.


Earlier this month, a North Korean soldier made an epic escape like out of an action movie. He raced a jeep towards the border then sprinting on foot through the border while being chased and shot at by his former comrades. Hit with 5 bullets he was rescued by South Korean soldiers who flew him in a helicopter to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery. It was a miracle he survived. 

Upon examining him, his doctors discovered some symptoms of his horrible life in communist North Korea. He had hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and parasitic worms nearly a foot long in his intestines. These are evidence of the poor health conditions people suffer through over there.

This story of a young North Korean girl is heartbreaking. Please share:




10 DELICIOUS Foods That Can Actually KILL You

In this day in age of convenient grocery stores and restaurants, most people only care how good the food tastes and don't even consider if it's poisonous or not. Maybe we should not take our food safety for granted because a lot of the foods we all love to eat could kill us.


1. Cherries

These innocent, delicious berries can be used in a lot of ways. You can eat them raw, bake them, cook them, make juice out of them, but whatever you do, do not suck or bite down on a cherry pit. That’s because if you damage the pit even a little, it will produce hydrogen cyanide which in large enough quantities can cause headaches, vomiting, breathing difficulties, and even kidney failure.


2. Apples


Like cherries, apple seeds also contain cyanide. So if you eat enough apple seeds, you may end up like Snow White... without the dwarfs and the prince and the whole coming back to life thing.


3. Mushrooms


Mushrooms are nutritious and delicious, but out the world's 38,000 different types of fungi, about 5% (1,900) are actually poisonous. 

While some toxic mushrooms are easy to spot because of their bright colors, most of the deadliest mushrooms appear very unassuming and the most deadly of them all the Death Cap even looks just like common edible mushrooms and if you eat it, it will begin killing you before you even realize something is wrong. It's poisonous symptoms typically won’t manifest for hours when you eventually experience abdominal pain, severe dehydration, and diarrhea.
The Death Cap mushroom will destroy your liver and, without treatment, you can experience rapid organ failure, coma, and death.


4. Nutmeg


Remember the whole cinnamon challenge? Well, just be glad there’s no nutmeg challenge because nutmeg is a hallucinogen and just a teaspoon can lead to convulsion, seizures, and vomiting that can last for days. And if you eat an entire nutmeg, then you'll enter what's called “nutmeg psychosis,” which can lead to death.


5. Potatoes


If you ever looked at a potato and noticed that it’s a bit green, that isn't because it's not ripe yet, it’s because of the naturally occurring toxin found in the leaves and stems that can build up in potatoes when left out too long. This glycoalkaloid poison acts as natural pesticide and fungicide to defend against animals, insects, and fungi.

Eating green potatoes can cause cramps, diarrhea, and even death so make sure to discard any potatoes with green sprouts or greenish skin.


6. Almonds


Did you know almonds are not nuts but are actually seeds? Almonds are one of the most popular ingredients in the kitchen and come in both sweet and bitter varieties, with the bitter ones being the most aromatic and flavorful... and poisonous.

If left untreated, bitter almonds are full of, again, cyanide. Eating 7-10 raw bitter almonds could kill a child and eating around 20 could kill an adult!


7. Rhubarb


Rhubard is very versatile. It can be made into jams, drinks, and baked in pies but its leaves contain oxalic acid which can form kidney stones. Eating about 10 pounds of rhubarb could kill you.


8. Lima Beans


Raw lima beans contain high levels of that pesky cyanide again so it should always be cooked for at least 10 minutes without a lid so the poison can escape as a gas. The water cooking the beans should be thrown away because just a handful of raw Lima beans can make someone violently ill.


9. Cassava

Cassava is also known as tapioca, yup, that’s the stuff in your bubble tea. Cassava is widely consumed in South America and Africa and is the third largest source of carbohydrates in the world. Just like almonds, there are two varieties of cassava: sweet and bitter. The bitter kind is up to 8 times more toxic because cassava’s cyanide content is very high. Just two cassava roots contain enough poison to kill an adult, and a pound could drop a cow.


10. Puffer Fish of Fugu

This fish is so poisonous chefs who want to prepare it,  must go through years of rigorous training and at the end, there is a test where the chef must prepare the fish and eat it. But as dramatic as that sounds, the chefs who fail the test (about 70% of them) don’t die.  They could fail even before the eating part of the test and, even if they ate the unsuccessfully prepared fugu, they are only eating the flesh that is less poisonous.

If the fish is prepared correctly, you can even eat some of the organs which are the most toxic parts of the fish but the most lethal organ, the liver, cannot be sold. This puffer fish is even banned in Europe.  

Some people actually want a little poison on their fish because they would get a tingling sensation on their lips. Umm, not judging here but if you want a tingling sensation on your lips, go eat a peppercorn, not a poisonous fish!