Watching the World

Rain Forests

In India, rain forests were known to exist only in the southern state of Kerala. Recently, however, environmentalist Saumyadeep Dutta discovered a 200-square-mile [500 sq km] area of rain forest bridging the northeastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, reports the New Delhi magazine Down to Earth. The forest supports a wide variety of wildlife—“32 species of mammals and 260 species of birds, including rare species of elephant, tiger and the clouded leopard, Chinese pangolin, sloth bear, sambar, hoolock gibbons, kalij pheasants, hornbills, and wood ducks.” Still, international demand for forest products threatens many rain forests, notes Down to Earth. Some naturalists fear that if such products become depleted through overharvesting, rain forests would no longer be conserved but would merely be converted to agricultural use.

The Roar of a Tiger

Why does the roar of a tiger seem to paralyze not only other animals but also some humans? Scientists from the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina, U.S.A., “have established that the tiger emits low-pitched ‘infrasound,’ a growl so deep that it is inaudible to humans,” reports The Sunday Telegraph of London. Humans can only hear sound frequencies above 20 hertz (Hz), but the tiger “mixes infrasound growls at 18 Hz and below with the roar that we can hear, and the result, according to Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, the president of the institute, is that humans can actually feel the tiger roar, a sensation that causes momentary paralysis,” explains the newspaper. Even longtime tiger trainers have experienced this phenomenon.

Tenderizing With Explosives

Cooks traditionally tenderize tough meat by beating it with a culinary hammer or by adding a tenderizing powder containing meat-softening enzymes. Researchers in Maryland, U.S.A., however, have been conducting experiments in tenderizing meat with powerful shock waves, reports New Scientist magazine. The researchers place the meat on a steel plate at the bottom of a plastic garbage can that is filled with water. They then set off the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite inside the can. “The water transmits the shock wave through the meat,” says the report, “but the unfortunate garbage can gets blown to smithereens.” Besides tenderizing the meat, the process also destroys bacteria, such as E. coli, that can cause food poisoning. Still, as Randy Huffman of the American Meat Institute notes: “The real challenge will be getting this implemented in a real-world solution.”

Ships Spread Disease

“Ballast water in ships is spreading disease around the world, threatening people, animals and plant life,” says The Daily Telegraph of London. Ships use ballast water as a stabilizer and discharge it at sea or at ports of call. In the United States, researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland found that the ballast water carried by ocean-going vessels contains high numbers of bacteria and viruses. The ballast plankton of all 15 ships tested in Chesapeake Bay contained the bacterium that causes cholera. Typically, one liter [1 quart] of ballast contained about 830 million bacteria and 7,400 million viruses—six to eight times the number of other organisms.

Too Many Toys

“Children are losing the ability to play properly because they are being given too many toys and games, according to new research,” reports The Sunday Times of London. The research was motivated in part by concern in Britain that “childhood is being irrevocably altered by parents substituting toys, computers and television for spending time with their children.” After studying 3,000 three- to five-year-olds, Professor Kathy Sylva of Oxford University concluded: “When they  have a large number of toys there seems to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted they do not learn or play well.”

Workplace Depression

“In the workplace . . . anxiety, burnout and depression are spiralling out of control,” reports The Guardian of London. According to the UN’s International Labour Organisation, up to 3 out of every 10 employees in the United Kingdom are experiencing mental-health problems, and 1 in 10 workers in the United States reportedly suffers from clinical depression. Nearly 7 percent of early retirements in Germany are due to depression. Over half of Finland’s work force suffers from stress-related symptoms. In Poland, anxiety resulting from soaring unemployment rates increased by 50 percent in 1999, while suicides also rose. The report predicts that with the continued shift to new technologies and management methods in the workplace, depression will grow dramatically. And it warns that “by 2020, stress and mental disorders will overtake road accidents, Aids and violence as the primary cause of lost working time.”

The Soaring Cost of Crime

“Crime in England and Wales is costing society £60bn [$85 billion] a year,” reports The Independent of London. This figure, described by the Home Office as conservative, represents 6.7 percent of the gross domestic product of the nation. Murder and manslaughter are by far the most expensive crimes, costing the country more than £1 million [$1.4 million] each on average, while other serious crimes of violence average £19,000 [$27,000] each. Fraud and forgery account for nearly a quarter of the total cost. These figures do not include “the cost of the fear of crime, the impact on the families of victims, the money spent by the Government on crime prevention, . . . or the cost of insurance claims,” adds the newspaper.

Weeds Better Than Pesticides

East African farmers are using weeds instead of pesticides to improve their crops of corn, reports New Scientist magazine. Corn farmers in East Africa encounter two serious pests. One is Striga, a parasitic plant that destroys $10 billion worth of corn crops yearly. Kenyan researcher Ziadin Khan discovered that Striga refused to grow if a weed called desmodium was planted between rows of corn. The other pest is the larvae of the stem borer insect, which most years devour a third of the corn crop. However, Khan has found that stem borers prefer eating a local weed called napier grass. By planting this weed in their fields, farmers lure the insects away from the corn. A sticky substance produced by the grass traps and kills the larvae. “It’s better than pesticides, and a lot cheaper,” says Khan. “And it has raised farm yields round here by 60 to 70 per cent.”

Archaeologist’s Fraud

One of Japan’s top archaeologists, who has been called the divine digger because of his seemingly amazing discoveries, has been recorded cheating. A video camera set up by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper caught the archaeologist burying stone artifacts at an archaeological site before the digging team arrived. Unable to deny the evidence, the archaeologist admitted burying items from his own collection. Now, all the results of his 30 years of work are under review. Book publishers expect to revise archaeological reference works and school textbooks on this account.

Childhood Accidents

Accidents are the primary cause of childhood deaths in the world’s richest nations, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study of 26 countries. “Injuries accounted for almost 40 percent of deaths of children ages 1 to 14 in the countries studied,” amounting to some 20,000 fatalities each year, reports Japan’s Mainichi Daily News. Factors that increase the likelihood of childhood injury include poverty, single parents bringing up children alone, large families, and substance abuse by parents. UNICEF urged that attention be given to “proven life-savers: helmets, speed limits in heavily populated areas, child-safety seats in cars, seat belts, child-safety caps on medicine, smoke detectors in homes, and playground safety standards.”