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Battle to save ghostly Balkan lynx from extinction

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In mountains overlooking an azure lake in southeast Albania, wildlife experts are tracking the Balkan lynx as part of last-gasp efforts to save the species from extinction.

The “forest ghost” which lives in tree-covered mountains straddling Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia, is now among the world’s most endangered mammals, scientists warn.

The victim of deforestation and poaching, there are less than 40 of these solitary wild cats in the three Balkan countries, analysis last year showed.

Albania is home to fewer than 10, down sharply from more than 200 in the 1980s.

“We are very much concerned that if we do not manage to raise its numbers and distribution very soon, we will lose it forever,” said Manuela von Arx of the Swiss foundation Kora, which is a part of the Balkan lynx recovery programme.

An aerial view taken on October 26, 2022, shows a truck loaded with wood logs rides near the village of Dardhe near Pogradec, southeastern Albania, where few Balkan lynx may live. Photo: AFP
An aerial view taken on October 26, 2022, shows a truck loaded with wood logs rides near the village of Dardhe near Pogradec, southeastern Albania, where few Balkan lynx may live. Photo: AFP

For the past 15 years, the NGO Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) has been trying to save the animal also known locally as the “Balkans tiger”.

Timid and elusive

On the Mali i Thate mountain overlooking Lake Prespa, two experts taking part in the Balkan lynx recovery programme carefully install automated cameras at lynx height on oak trees.

They hope to capture the images of the timid and elusive carnivore that sleeps during the day and hunts at night for deer, hare, chamois and rabbit.

“It is difficult to get a good image,” forest engineer Ilir Shyti said as he and colleague Melitjan Nezaj checked the cameras’ positions.

The camera must be positioned well to cover the path used by the lynx.

The elusive carnivore sleeps during the day and awakes at night to hunt /  Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA)/AFP
The elusive carnivore sleeps during the day and awakes at night to hunt / © Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA)/AFP

In November 2021, cameras in the area caught a lynx arriving from North Macedonia, which experts hailed as a good sign for the resilience of the species.

“We are hoping that it will pass through again this year and, if we are lucky, we will be able to take a photo of another lynx,” said Nezaj, a biologist.

Subtle differences on the animal’s spotted coat and tufts of hair on the tips of its ears enable experts to identify them individually.

The meticulous tracking of the lynx is a key part of its protection, said Blendi Hoxha, a coordinator of the PPNEA lynx project.

“You have to observe it and understand its movements,” he told AFP.

“Any documented evidence of the presence of the lynx is watched for since it gives hope for (its) survival.”

The almond-eyed animal is threatened by the degradation of its habitat and significant deforestation, which are depleting the game they feed on and fragmenting its population.

Although it is strictly protected, the lynx has been the victim of poaching despite a hunting ban in Albania since 2014.

At least 14 lynx have been killed in Albania since 2006, according to the PPNEA.

Forest engineer Ilir Shyti (L) and biologist Melitjan Nezaj (R) test a wildlife trail camera to capture images of Balkan lynx at the Prespa National Park, near Korce, southeastern Albania, on November 1, 2022. Photo: AFP
Forest engineer Ilir Shyti (L) and biologist Melitjan Nezaj (R) test a wildlife trail camera to capture images of Balkan lynx at the Prespa National Park, near Korce, southeastern Albania, on November 1, 2022. Photo: AFP

Stuffed trophies

The last one, shot in 2020, was stuffed and mounted in a bar in Elbasan, south of the capital Tirana, displayed alongside the stuffed skins of other wild animals.

Trade in poached animals is punishable by up to seven years in jail, but the justice system is completely uninterested in the problem, said PPNEA lawyer Gentian Rumano.

The NGO filed a complaint against the bar but the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence” despite what it said was a report proving that it was the same Balkan lynx killed in 2020.

But the PPNEA has carried on with the fight, filing a complaint against the prosecutors in a bid to have the investigation relaunched.

Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia have joined forces within the Balkan lynx recovery programme, funded by foreign foundations like Kora, Euronatur and Mava.

The three countries created “new zones of protection where the lynx is present and where it can breed,” PPNEA chief Aleksander Trajce said.

They also try to educate hunters and the general population about the threat of extinction.

A picture taken on May 7, 2018 shows a Balkan lynx, classified as critically endangered, in a cage in a restaurant of the city of Shkodra, north of Albania. Photo: AFP
A picture taken on May 7, 2018 shows a Balkan lynx, classified as critically endangered, in a cage in a restaurant of the city of Shkodra, north of Albania. Photo: AFP

An information centre, which serves as a summer school for the region, was opened in 2020 in Gorica.

But the battle is far from being won, especially since the animal’s low population has left it with an impoverished genetic pool.

Their shrinking numbers and isolation undermine genetic diversity which leads to health and breeding problems, warned Hoxha from the PPNEA lynx project.

“Small population equals inbreeding,” echoed Dime Melovski, of the Macedonian Ecological Society.

One way to ease the problem, he said, could be to bring males from other lynx populations to breed in the Balkans.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20221119/battle-to-save-ghostly-balkan-lynx-from-extinction/70095.html

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Thai cadets break world record with mass martial arts ritual

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Thousands of Thai army cadets, university students and a handful of volunteers performed a record-breaking Muay Thai “wai khru” ceremony on Monday, all under the watchful eyes of six massive statues of former kings.

The sunset gathering in Hua Hin, part of a Muay Thai Festival in the seaside resort town, broke the previous Guinness World Record of 250 by having 3,660 participants simultaneously performing the traditional pre-match dance of respect for their coach.

The sun had baked the sheets of concrete hot as the barefoot performers — organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Royal Thai Army, and the culture and sport ministries — filed onto the parade ground at Rajabhakti Park in front of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

Dressed in red uniforms with white Mongkhon headbands, as well as white Muay Kard Chuek ropes — the hemp wrappings fighters wore before gloves — the phalanx of men moved in near perfect unison to the directions of famed Muay Thai fighter Sombat “Buakaw” Banchamek.

“Congratulations, you’re officially amazing,” said the official Guinness adjudicator, confirming the record had been broken.

“I feel really proud,” said 27-year-old performer Phukrit Purimchaithanat, adding he and his fellow-cadets were glad they had pulled it off after months of preparations.

A mix of bemused locals and tourists passing through the popular resort watched the spectacle from a few rickety metal bleachers, gathering around the sides of the fenced area as a loudspeaker blared.

“It’s stunning, it’s crazy, also in front of the kings and everything,” said Hua Hin resident Siena Cruz, 32, as she enjoyed the show with friends.

“The visual is something connected to the tradition,” she said, noting how integral the pre-match ritual was to the sport.

“To be part of another bit of history for Thailand, it’s bragging rights,” she said of the Guinness record.

“I like to watch, but boxing is scary,” said June Rubyung, who had taken her grandson to watch the performance.

The 50-year-old Hua Hin local, who lives close to the army grounds where they performed, said she knew the army cadets had been practising for a month.

“I think they’re good,” she said, “they do it the correct way.”

Thousands of Thai army cadets, university students and a handful of volunteers performed a record-breaking Muay Thai “wai khru” ceremony on Monday, all under the watchful eyes of six massive statues of former kings.

The sunset gathering in Hua Hin, part of a Muay Thai Festival in the seaside resort town, broke the previous Guinness World Record of 250 by having 3,660 participants simultaneously performing the traditional pre-match dance of respect for their coach.

The sun had baked the sheets of concrete hot as the barefoot performers — organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Royal Thai Army, and the culture and sport ministries — filed onto the parade ground at Rajabhakti Park in front of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

Dressed in red uniforms with white Mongkhon headbands, as well as white Muay Kard Chuek ropes — the hemp wrappings fighters wore before gloves — the phalanx of men moved in near perfect unison to the directions of famed Muay Thai fighter Sombat “Buakaw” Banchamek.

“Congratulations, you’re officially amazing,” said the official Guinness adjudicator, confirming the record had been broken.

“I feel really proud,” said 27-year-old performer Phukrit Purimchaithanat, adding he and his fellow-cadets were glad they had pulled it off after months of preparations.

A mix of bemused locals and tourists passing through the popular resort watched the spectacle from a few rickety metal bleachers, gathering around the sides of the fenced area as a loudspeaker blared.

“It’s stunning, it’s crazy, also in front of the kings and everything,” said Hua Hin resident Siena Cruz, 32, as she enjoyed the show with friends.

“The visual is something connected to the tradition,” she said, noting how integral the pre-match ritual was to the sport.

“To be part of another bit of history for Thailand, it’s bragging rights,” she said of the Guinness record.

“I like to watch, but boxing is scary,” said June Rubyung, who had taken her grandson to watch the performance.

The 50-year-old Hua Hin local, who lives close to the army grounds where they performed, said she knew the army cadets had been practising for a month.

“I think they’re good,” she said, “they do it the correct way.”

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20230207/thai-cadets-break-world-record-with-mass-martial-arts-ritual/71375.html

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2 Vietnamese fishermen missing off S.Korean coast after shipwreck

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The South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced that a fishing boat capsized off the coast of Sinan County in Jeonnam Province, leaving nine out of its 12 crew members missing, including two Vietnamese citizens, according to the Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea.

The South Korean side discovered four bodies whose nationalities were unidentified on Monday, two days after the incident happened. 

The search is still ongoing.

The Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea contacted the families of the two missing Vietnamese citizens to inform them of the situation.

The embassy is actively working with competent South Korean agencies to promptly conduct necessary citizen protection measures.

Local authorities are currently providing assistance to the missing fishermen’s families.

Earlier, Yonhap news agency reported that the shipwreck occurred at 11:19 pm on Saturday. 

Authorities said the 24-metric-ton fishing boat capsized off the southwestern coast of South Korea, 16.6km from the uninhabited island of Daebichi that lies some 20km from the southwestern county of Sinan.

The sinking left nine of the 12 people, including three foreign nationals, on board the ship missing, while the other three were rescued by another boat at the scene.

The cause of the accident has not been announced.

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The South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced that a fishing boat capsized off the coast of Sinan County in Jeonnam Province, leaving nine out of its 12 crew members missing, including two Vietnamese citizens, according to the Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea.

The South Korean side discovered four bodies whose nationalities were unidentified on Monday, two days after the incident happened. 

The search is still ongoing.

The Vietnamese Embassy in South Korea contacted the families of the two missing Vietnamese citizens to inform them of the situation.

The embassy is actively working with competent South Korean agencies to promptly conduct necessary citizen protection measures.

Local authorities are currently providing assistance to the missing fishermen’s families.

Earlier, Yonhap news agency reported that the shipwreck occurred at 11:19 pm on Saturday. 

Authorities said the 24-metric-ton fishing boat capsized off the southwestern coast of South Korea, 16.6km from the uninhabited island of Daebichi that lies some 20km from the southwestern county of Sinan.

The sinking left nine of the 12 people, including three foreign nationals, on board the ship missing, while the other three were rescued by another boat at the scene.

The cause of the accident has not been announced.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news about Vietnam!

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20230207/2-vietnamese-fishermen-missing-off-skorean-coast-after-shipwreck/71372.html

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Derailed train cars in Ohio drained of toxic chemical amid mass evacuation

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Nearly 2,000 residents of eastern Ohio remained under evacuation orders on Monday as railroad crews drained and burned off a toxic chemical from five tanker cars of a freight train that derailed in a fiery wreck three days earlier, officials said.

The venting of pressurized vinyl chloride, a highly flammable and carcinogenic gas, began with a single explosion, as was anticipated, followed by a steady incineration of the remaining cargo, said Sandy Mackey, a spokesperson for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

“That controlled release was the one explosion,” she told Reuters by telephone. “It went as planned. It seemed to be a successful incident.”

No injuries were reported, either from Monday’s operation or the accident on Friday night, authorities said.

Live video on Monday showed a towering column of thick, black smoke rising from the accident site in East Palestine, Ohio, a town close to the Pennsylvania border northwest of Pittsburgh.

The train, operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad and consisting of three locomotives and 150 freight cars, was headed from Illinois to Pennsylvania when it derailed shortly before 9 p.m. EST on Friday, setting off a massive fire that forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the immediate vicinity.

About 50 cars actually left the tracks, 20 of which carried hazardous materials, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Public safety concerns deepened after the railroad said pressure-relief devices on some tankers were found on Sunday to have stopped working, which the company said could “result in a catastrophic failure.”

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said in a statement the chemical contents of the five rail cars in question were “unstable and could potentially explode, causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes.”

Working with state and local emergency officials, Norfolk Southern said on Monday it devised a plan to manually vent the cars, allowing the contents to “be drained in a controlled fashion” under supervision of “experts and first responders.”

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. Photo: NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. Photo: NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS

As part of the plan, DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro ordered evacuations expanded on Monday to encompass all homes within a 1- to 2-mile area around the derailment site on both sides of the state line.

Peggy Clark, a spokesperson for the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency, said the mandatory evacuation covered an estimated 1,900 people on the Ohio side alone.

DeWine’s office warned that fumes released into the air from the venting operation could be deadly if inhaled, while also posing the risk of skin burns and serious lung damage.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless, industrially produced gas that burns easily and is used primarily in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and other products, according to the National Cancer Institute. It also is a byproduct of cigarette smoke.

The precise means by which crews vented the gas was not explained. But the railroad said workers had prepared drainage pits and embankments, apparently to contain residue from the release. State environmental officials monitored air quality, it said.

Nearly two hours after the operation began, the company said the “controlled breach” had been “completed successfully.”

The cause of the derailment was under investigation by the NTSB, but board member Michael Graham said on Sunday that video footage of the accident pointed to possible “mechanical issues on one of the rail car axles.”

Nearly 2,000 residents of eastern Ohio remained under evacuation orders on Monday as railroad crews drained and burned off a toxic chemical from five tanker cars of a freight train that derailed in a fiery wreck three days earlier, officials said.

The venting of pressurized vinyl chloride, a highly flammable and carcinogenic gas, began with a single explosion, as was anticipated, followed by a steady incineration of the remaining cargo, said Sandy Mackey, a spokesperson for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

“That controlled release was the one explosion,” she told Reuters by telephone. “It went as planned. It seemed to be a successful incident.”

No injuries were reported, either from Monday’s operation or the accident on Friday night, authorities said.

Live video on Monday showed a towering column of thick, black smoke rising from the accident site in East Palestine, Ohio, a town close to the Pennsylvania border northwest of Pittsburgh.

The train, operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad and consisting of three locomotives and 150 freight cars, was headed from Illinois to Pennsylvania when it derailed shortly before 9 p.m. EST on Friday, setting off a massive fire that forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the immediate vicinity.

About 50 cars actually left the tracks, 20 of which carried hazardous materials, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Public safety concerns deepened after the railroad said pressure-relief devices on some tankers were found on Sunday to have stopped working, which the company said could “result in a catastrophic failure.”

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said in a statement the chemical contents of the five rail cars in question were “unstable and could potentially explode, causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes.”

Working with state and local emergency officials, Norfolk Southern said on Monday it devised a plan to manually vent the cars, allowing the contents to “be drained in a controlled fashion” under supervision of “experts and first responders.”

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. Photo: NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. Photo: NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS

As part of the plan, DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro ordered evacuations expanded on Monday to encompass all homes within a 1- to 2-mile area around the derailment site on both sides of the state line.

Peggy Clark, a spokesperson for the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency, said the mandatory evacuation covered an estimated 1,900 people on the Ohio side alone.

DeWine’s office warned that fumes released into the air from the venting operation could be deadly if inhaled, while also posing the risk of skin burns and serious lung damage.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless, industrially produced gas that burns easily and is used primarily in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and other products, according to the National Cancer Institute. It also is a byproduct of cigarette smoke.

The precise means by which crews vented the gas was not explained. But the railroad said workers had prepared drainage pits and embankments, apparently to contain residue from the release. State environmental officials monitored air quality, it said.

Nearly two hours after the operation began, the company said the “controlled breach” had been “completed successfully.”

The cause of the derailment was under investigation by the NTSB, but board member Michael Graham said on Sunday that video footage of the accident pointed to possible “mechanical issues on one of the rail car axles.”

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20230207/derailed-train-cars-in-ohio-drained-of-toxic-chemical-amid-mass-evacuation/71371.html

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