Launch of three astronauts

to ISS postponed

MOSCOW (AFP): The launch next month of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station has been postponed by 48 hours, Russia’s space agency said Friday, reportedly to ensure better docking conditions. The delay came after the previous manned launch to the ISS set for September was postponed for almost a month due to technical issues. The Soyuz space capsule carrying astronauts from Russia, France and the United States is set to blast off for the orbiting space lab from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 2020 GMT on November 17, the Roscosmos agency said in a statement.  It had initially been scheduled for 2105 GMT on November 15. “The reason for the postponement has been given as better ballistic conditions for the spacecraft to draw close to the ISS and dock,” a source at Baikonur told the Interfax news agency.

The crew heading to the ISS is composed of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson - who became the first ever female commander of the ISS in 2007 - as well as French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who will be on his second space voyage.




Bangladesh arrests 900

in bid to save favourite fish

DHAKA (AFP): Bangladesh has arrested more than 900 fishermen and deployed the army to patrol its waterways after introducing a temporary ban on catching hilsa in an effort to save the hugely popular fish. Some 60 percent of the world’s hilsa are caught in Bangladesh, but indiscriminate fishing has depleted much of the stock, driving up prices and putting the fish beyond the reach of the poor. Anyone caught catching hilsa faces at least a year in jail under a 22-day ban that began on October 12, the start of the breeding season. Armed forces have been deployed to patrol 7,000 square kilometres of rivers, estuaries and sea declared a breeding sanctuary. “We are patrolling the rivers day and night. It’s like a curfew,” fisheries department official Iqbal Hossain said from the coastal river district of Patuakhali. “One mother (hilsa) can lay two million eggs per year.

So one can easily understand how big the production will be if the protection drive is successful,” said Hossain.

Hilsa is the most sought-after delicacy for 160 million Bangladeshis and another 90 million Bengalis who live in eastern India.

Bangladesh has introduced temporary bans on catching it before, but they have never been enforced this thoroughly.

“A war is ongoing to keep the mother hilsa safe,” said Jahid Habib, who is campaigning to save the fish.

Bangladesh has already banned fishermen from catching young hilsa at certain times of the year. Five years ago it banned the export of the fish to India.

Some critics said the drive will hit fishermen in the impoverished country. But Hossain said authorities were giving free rice to 32,000 fishermen during the ban to make up for the financial loss.





Major environmental changes

seen for Mediterranean

MIAMI (AFP): Global warming is likely to change the environment of the Mediterranean region in ways unseen in the past 10,000 years, reshaping forests and turning parts of Europe into desert, researchers warned Thursday. The Mediterranean is known as a hotspot for biodiversity, and it is warming up fast. Already its regional temperatures are 1.3 degrees Celsius higher than the period 1880-1920, said the study in the journal Science. The rest of the world is about 0.85 C warmer than pre-industrial times, the period scientists use for comparison because it was before widespread fossil-fuel burning led to an outpouring of greenhouses gasses that trap heat around Earth. World leaders agreed in Paris last year to hold the increase in the global average temperature to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels and to work to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C.


To study what the future might look like in the Mediterranean region, scientists analyzed pollen cores from sediments, which tell the story of climate and ecosystem changes over the past 10,000 years.

They projected vast landscape changes under a “business as usual” scenario by century’s end, with fossil-fuel use and its associated warming continuing unabated.

“All of southern Spain turns into desert,” said the study led by Wolfgang Cramer and Joel Guiot of Aix-Marseille University in France.

Trees with falling leaves, known as deciduous forests, would “invade most of the mountains,” while shrubland vegetation would replace most of the Mediterranean’s deciduous forests.

These shifts would “vastly exceed” what Earth has experienced in the last 10,000 years.

“Only under the scenario where the global warming is limited to 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures do ecosystem shifts remain inside the limits experienced during the last 10,000 years,” the authors said.

But even then, the situation could be far worse than projected, because the current analysis did not account for other human impacts on ecosystems, like urbanization, soil degradation and changes in land use.




Pets dress up for Halloween

at Florida festival

KEY WEST (Reuters): Festively dressed pets, including one dog styled to look like US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, took centre stage at the “Fantasy Fest Pet Masquerade” in Florida this week. The golden Labrador wore a large blonde wig and an American flag wrapped around his neck, complete with two accompanying canines in dark sunglasses as his security detail. Other colourfully dressed cats and dogs sported a range of Halloween costumes, including a dog painted as a white tiger and a puppy wearing a tiny sombrero complete with toy pistols. The event, where pet owners also dress up, is part of the island’s costume festival ahead of Halloween celebrations on Oct 31.




Video of world’s ‘saddest polar

bear’ in China sparks outrage

HONG KONG (AFP): A global campaign to free the world’s “saddest polar bear” from a Chinese shopping centre has gathered one million signatures, rights groups said, as a new video of the wretched-looking creature sparked fresh outrage. The bear named Pizza is one of 500 species kept in a zoo inside the mall in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and activists have been lobbying for the animals to be rehomed and the exhibition closed. Letters signed by 50 Chinese animal rights groups were sent to the governor of Guangdong province and the shopping centre this week calling for the zoo’s closure on the grounds it is illegal. Animals, including an arctic fox, wolf and walrus, are kept in “small rooms with no window and environmental enrichment”, said a copy of the letter sent to Governor Zhu Xiaodan and seen by AFP. “Such conditions are far from their natural habitat and would cause inevitable harm to their mental and physical health.” Two petitions that had gathered a total of one million signatures from around the world were also sent to Zhu. Qin Xiaona, director of the Beijing-based Capital Animal Welfare Association and one of the signatories of the letters, told AFP on Friday they were still waiting for a response.  The general manager of the atraction, a man surnamed Fan, declined to immediately comment when AFP contacted him by telephone on Friday.

Fan said previously that the zoo was “legally compliant” but pledged to “strengthen the protection of animal rights and welfare”.

But a video released by Humane Society International this week shows Pizza pacing around his glass-fronted enclosure measuring 40 square metres (430 square feet) and shaking his head as onlookers take photos on their cell phones.

At one point the forlorn-looking bear lies on the floor in front of an air vent, which HSI director of international media Wendy Higgins told AFP suggested he was trying to get a “rush of fresh air”.

Pizza’s behaviour - head swaying and repetitive pacing - had been induced by “frustration and poor welfare”, Professor Alastair Macmillan, a veterinary adviser to HSI, said after viewing the footage.

“The conditions in which he is being kept are completely unsuitable, vastly removed from anything approaching his natural habitat, and if something is not done then he will likely slip further and further into mental decline,” Macmillan said in a statement.

An earlier offer from the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England to adopt Pizza on the condition that he was not replaced by another polar bear was not taken up by the shopping mall, which said it had “no need” for foreign interference.

Higgins said the Grandview zoo was part of a trend among Chinese retailers to use animals to entice customers back to bricks-and-mortar stores instead of shopping online.

“Over the past decade there has been a huge campaign to build mega malls in China but the success of e-commerce in the country has seen a drop off in shoppers going to them,” she said.