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Florida Sanctuary Welcomes Former Circus Elephants, Promises New Life

There will never exist again a time quite like P.T. Barnum’s. The growth of circuses in America and their role in culture is hard to quantify. Once a traveling show that brought entertainment from one city to the next, we now recognize the harm that circuses can cause animals of all types and sizes. For that reason, this story is particularly heartwarming and more than slightly bittersweet.

The White Oak Conservation Center would announce in 2021 that they were welcoming female Asian elephants at their Yulee refuge, seated just north of Jacksonville. The expectation is that an additional 20 elephants are poised to arrive at the 2,500-acre space.

Newcomers to the White Oak Conservation Center

The White Oak Conservation Center is considered a one-of-a-kind location. Nestled in the heart of northeastern Florida, White Oak encompasses more than 17,000 acres of land with dedicated spaces to endangered species including rhinos, elephants, zebras, condors, and more.

White Oak recently made headlines when it was announced that they were acquiring up to 20 elephants that had previously traveled with circus acts such as Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The elephants were retired in 2016 and desperately in need of a home for care and attention.

Nick Newby is the team leader at the White Oak Conservation Center, and he took point on many of the questions surrounding the new additions. Newby said of the elephant’s arrival, “Watching them go out into the habitat was an incredible moment.” Newby would go on to describe how the elephants all gathered together to comfort and reassure one another before exploring the habitat as a unit.

There are nine fully interlinked areas throughout the White Oak Conservation Center that encompass wetlands, woods, meadows, and more. The Asian Elephants will eventually travel throughout all of these interlinking areas even while the center is continuing construction on future areas. While Oak hopes to have an additional 11 waterholes and a trio of barns installed before too long.

White Oak was established by Kimbra and Mark Walter, a pair of philanthropists with an animal-focused tilt. Already encompassing nearly 17,000 acres, White Oak seeks to become a home to endangered species far and wide.

Understanding the Asian Elephant

The Asian Elephant is sometimes referred to as the Asiatic Elephant. Traditionally found throughout Southeast Asia, the Asiatic Elephant is the largest living land animal on the continent. Endangered since 1986, the Asian Elephant has seen its population decline rather precipitously over the last three generations, entailing a total of 75 years.

Asian Elephants are primarily targeted by poachers, and they are impacted by habitat degradation, fragmentation, and habitat loss due to human encroachment. At the time of this writing, the wild population of Asian elephants sits around 48,000 on a global level.

Within the captive population, female elephants can live upwards of 60 years. Asian elephants don’t always prosper in zoos at a young age, however, which makes fostering their population growth an even tougher challenge due to early deaths.

In the wild, Asian Elephants are classified under the mantle of megaherbivore, consuming more than 330 lbs of plant matter every single day. As grazers and browsers, these giant creatures like to roam for their nutrition, ensuring the consumption of more than 200 liters of water a day in addition to their food stores.

Intelligent and elegant animals, restoring the Asiatic Elephant population is a goal that all conservationists should align on. With the White Oak Conservation Center providing a home for retired female Asian elephants, we can hope that there is more progress in the future.

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Mom Beats Up a Mountain Lion to Save Kid

Kevin Wells

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Ever heard the advice of never getting between a mother bear and her cubs? The same may very well apply to human mothers. In particular case, a mountain lion decides a 5-year-old was going to make a good target for its hunt and ends up making a huge mistake.

Located in Calabasas, the 5-year-old was playing around his house in the rural area when attacked by an adult mountain lion. The 65-lb cat with its aggressiveness overcame the child and dragged him almost a half football field before the mother could intervene. The boy was injured due to bite and scratch marks causing serious lacerations on his head and upper body, but the situation could have ended a lot worse.

Instead, the mother heard her son screaming and came running outside. Seeing her child being attacked and hauled off by the big cat, the mom kicked into high gear and went after the mountain lion with vengeance. With bare hands and feet, the woman attacked the cat and pummeled it until the mountain lion released the boy. Grabbing the boy, she then hauled him into a car, and by then her and her husband drove pell-mell to the nearest ER for treatment and the injuries.

Within seconds, the mountain lion involved decided it wasn’t going to have a huge banquet after all and took off from the immediate area. Later, animal control officers arrived and scouted the area for signs of the cat. It didn’t take long to locate the animal; it was still hunting in the area and looking for prey. As the officers approached the mountain lion hiding in nearby bushes, it went into defensive mode, hissing and pulling its ears back. All of the details, the attack, and the behavior gave officers enough of what they needed to shoot and kill the mountain lion on sight.

The cat was then examined, both for the potential of rabies infection as well as to confirm it was the one who attacked the boy. Positive ID was confirmed based on the DNA evidence the cat still had on its body as well as the angle of the teeth sets and claws.

Interestingly, a second mountain lion was also found in the neighborhood, potentially a mate or part of a roving pack. The officers captured that animal and then moved it safely to a far more remote location to break any growing cycle of getting closer to humans.

In the meantime, the boy was stitched up and recovered, but law enforcement involved were very much impressed at the capacity of the mom involved. By their estimate, she was the critical factor in saving the boy’s life from the attack.

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Twins Whose Lemonade Stand Was Robbed Gets Surprised By Community

Kevin Wells

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Being robbed is bad by every means; however, when it’s a child or children who the criminals prey on, this draws the wrath of everyone.

When two innocent young girls are trying their hands at entrepreneurship, it is a sign that they have great plans ahead and believe that the world awaits them with open arms.

However, for a pair of nine-year-old twins, they saw the bitter side of life way too early, and the community decided to chime in and help remove or at least soften the scars in their minds of what the world represents.

After a robber decided to steal from a lemonade stand operated by the two 9-year-olds, the Ames community reacted.

Katelyn and Elias, twins, had a lemonade business on Monday, but things rapidly went south.

“We were simply selling lemonade when a car pulled up, and a girl got out, so I asked if she wanted lemonade,” Katelyn explained. “She answered ‘sure,’ then took the tip jar, climbed into the passenger seat, and drove away.”

When the family phoned the cops, they said the response was better than they could have ever imagined.

Officer Celena Rohland stated, “I started texting some of the folks I work with, asking them to get together and maybe visit the lemonade stand so that we could make a difference in Katelyn and Elias’ day.”

The twins reopened their stand, deciding that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.

The cops had no intention of taking the matter lightly. Four different law enforcement agencies arrived to assist them in recovering the money that the culprit stole.

“It makes me so glad to see these youngsters so happy right now. It’s all about that. Taking care of our neighborhood,” said one community member, Kyle Dirks. It is a sentiment shared by scores of other residents there.

Katelyn and Elias’ mother commented that this life lesson makes it all worthwhile.

“There was one terrible apple,” Karen Smidt explained, “but they got to experience the goodness of so many more people, and one bad apple will not spoil it for us.” “We’re going to keep going.”

According to the family, they have now raised more than $750. They intend to donate the entire sum to the Shop with a Cop program, and they are thrilled to be able to give back to the community that has helped them.

What happened to these young entrepreneurs might be a lesson to many criminals who have the money but not the people’s hearts.

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British Boy on His Way to Earning a £1 million for Hospice, Camping Outdoors

Kevin Wells

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Many children have been developing the art of giving from a very young age. Some give because they saw their family members don’t, while others, like Max Woosey, an 11-year-old boy in the United Kingdom, give because someone he cared about died. He does not want anyone else to endure the pain and suffering or do so in a comfortable setting.

His friend was an elderly neighbor with a terminal illness who chose to remain home instead of getting professional care at the hospice. The pandemic impacted funding for the hospice, and it broke Max’s heart. What he did next was mind-blowing. Read the heartwarming story of love, bravery, and community below.

After a dying man gave him a tent, a fortunate set of circumstances transformed Max into a staunch hero. His parents were helping to care for an elderly neighbor, Rick Abbott, who had terminal cancer just before the epidemic hit the UK last year.

They realized how critical it was that their neighbor’s final wish, to remain in his own house, was granted by the local hospice in North Devon. Abbott presented a special present to Max just before his passing. Max said Rick gave him a tent and had made him promise to utilize it for an expedition.

Because a large number of the hospice’s fundraising had been canceled and services had halted due to COVID-19, Max began camping in his new tent in the garden on March 29th, 2020, in the hopes of generating £100 for the hospice.

While waiting for the pandemic to end, he updated his fundraising page with updates from his plush toy animals. Max refused to come in from the outside as the lockdown restrictions drew on, and pleasant summer nights changed into harsh fall frost—and donations poured in.

“Thank you so much for all the donations,” he wrote on October 12. I can’t believe how much money I’ve managed to raise. I’ve decided to live in a tent for a year to see if I can save up enough money to reach £20,000.”

The boy flew beyond that target, reaching milestones of 100 days, 200 days, and 300 days in a row. Digby, his dog, was more than welcome to stay the night with him and keep this Cub Scout warm.

His tent blew over during a December storm, but he re-pitched it, so he could check another day off his calendar. During Storm Bella’s 70 mph winds, his father kept him company.

When the first tent sprung a leak, he had to acquire a new one. When the Christmas season arrived, his family decked out his tent with lights and Santa decorations. Perhaps he hoped to catch a glimpse of the red-suited man when his sleigh passed by while sleeping outside.

Max’s mission drew nationwide and worldwide attention, and people asked him to camp in the vicinity of the London Zoo lion’s den and the garden on Downing Street.

Recently, the kid from Braunton spent his 500th continuous night on an expedition that stemmed from a tragedy but resulted in more than $770,000 in donations from strangers all over the world for the life-saving treatment.

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How Embark Veterinary Will Use Its $75M Venture Capital Funding to Help Dogs

Kevin Wells

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Dogs and people have a unique relationship that goes beyond friendship. And some animal researchers believe that a mutually beneficial bond between the two species is rare in the animal kingdom. And a new Dog DNA startup is hoping to help understand our canine friends better by using $75M in venture funding to study the unique genetic makeup of dog breeds.

Understanding Dog Breeds

Dog breeds are fascinating because people artificially create them to highlight specific visual appearances and traits. For example, breeders created dachshunds by continually breeding dogs with long and round bodies, focusing these genetic traits into one breed. So, while breeds are quite different, their DNA is essentially the same, allowing for continued breeding.

However, thousands of years of this type of careful artificial selection have caused issues with many breeds. For example, dachshunds often have bad back problems that shorten their lifespans. And short-faced dogs like pugs struggle to breathe properly. So, unfortunately, what appeared to be cute or advantageous to humans isn’t always great for dogs.

Even worse, some traits and diseases are common in breeds due to one breeding mistake. For example, many spaniel breeds have a seizure disorder in which they may black out and lash out at others. This behavior is due to one trendy stud dog possessing this trait, which was passed on to many other generations. However, Embark Veterinary, Inc hopes to understand these problems better.

Who is Embark Veterinary?

Embark Veterinary is a canine genetics startup company that split from Cornell’s McGovern Business center in 2017 to focus on mapping canine genetic code and tracking differences throughout species. The startup’s goal has been to identify common genetic problems with various breeds and find solutions for these issues that help dogs live better lives.

Founded by Adam and Ryan Boyko, the firm has been examining dog genetics for over a decade. Adam Boyko has stated that it is a “labor of love,” and their goal is to “understand the origins of dogs” by using their DNA. In addition, by tracking the similarities and differences between various breeds, they believe it should be easier to understand dog behavior and follow “predisposition to illness.”

And they also hope to understand better dog aging and why some breeds live longer than others. For example, canine aging is faster than in other similar sub-species, like wolves and coyotes, which may sometimes live twice as long as shorter-lived breeds. By tracking how canine aging develops, they hope to find solutions that provide dogs with happier and longer lives.

The Venture Capital Funding

Over the years, Embark has created a unique Dog DNA Kit that has helped test and determine between 350 breeds and tracks over 200,000 genetic markers to point out potentially 200 different genetic health risks for a dog. Their success has caused many to become interested in funding their continued operation, and their most recent round of funding may be its biggest yet.

Led primarily by Lydia Jett of SoftBank Vision Fund 2, investors as diverse as F-Prime Capital, Slow Ventures, SV Angel, Third Kind Venture Capital, and Freestyle Capital have raised $75M in cash to invest in the company. They were especially impressed by the company’s ability to process around 1 million tests over the years and how well they’ve tracked various genetic issues.

This investment will help keep Embark Veterinary operating for many years and allow them to expand its genetic testing facilities in many ways. As a result, they are likely to come closer to their goal of extending canine lifespans and minimizing or even eliminating many common genetic disorders.

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One-Eyed Weed Sniffing Dog Gets a New Important Job

Jess

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When most people think about dogs being trained to recognize certain smells, they are probably thinking about drug-sniffing dogs or cadaver dogs. Dogs also play an important role in other important jobs, like sniffing for explosives, scat from endangered species, and trafficked ivory. Some dogs are even sniffing out weeds to help with conservation efforts.

Conservation dogs have already had a great deal of success in helping with various kinds of conservation jobs. One important task is to learn to locate different kinds of plants, especially ones that are growing in places where they don’t belong. Wink is one particularly smart dog who has successfully learned to recognize different kinds of weeds.

Wink, the Unlikely Conservation Dog

By the time he was 4 years old, Wink had proven himself adept at different tasks. He had an unlikely, beginning, though, that makes his success even more remarkable. At the tender age of 5 months, Wink developed an ulcer that caused him to lose an eye. Losing an eye never held him back, though. Wink lives in New Zealand and goes where he needs to when he gets the call for help.

How Do Conservation Dogs Do Training?

Unlike humans, dogs can’t sit in a classroom and learn instructions. They work on a rewards system instead. Wink will spend 3 months learning to identify one specific plant. At first, Wink learned that he would get a reward if he sat after sniffing the right plant. Then Wink had to find the weed in other places, such as in a jar with a hole in the lid. As it got harder and harder to find the target, Wink learned that he now had to bark when he smelled the target plant

Invasive Species

Why do we even need conservation dogs? Dogs like Wink help to find where an invasive species has taken hold so it can be removed. An invasive species is any plant or animal that moves into a new area and causes ecological harm. The new species competes with the native species for limited resources, sometimes causing the extinction of native plants and/or animals and changing the entire habitat.

Sometimes an invasive species enters a new area by accident, such as when ocean waves carry it to another area. Sometimes humans bring the invasive species themselves without realizing the consequences. People brought Kudzu to the U.S. from Asia because they thought it was pretty, and it has taken over the southern states and is threatening others. Kudzu can a foot every day, so it gets out-of-control quickly.

Wink’s Different Jobs

Wink doesn’t realize he has a job because he’s having fun. For detection dogs, their important work is a game.Wink helped to sniff out Spartina grass in the past. Spartina grass was originally brought to New Zealand on purpose to help stabilize estuaries and river banks. Unfortunately, it grows so fast it can change estuaries into grasslands in just a few years. Wink found over a hundred patches of Spatrina grass that the conservation officers were able to dig up.

Now Wink is going to tackle African love grass. African love grass is a hearty weed that can tolerate terrible conditions, even droughts and frosts. Wink spent three months in training so that he can set out with his conservation team on his new task. If they are successful, they will head off another invasive species and then go focus on another.

Wink isn’t the only canine hero helping to save the environment. There are others with their own stories.

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