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Lost Dogs and Nuclear Wastelands: The Companions of Chernobyl

There is a massive swathe of land surrounding the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Explosion. This area consists of the abandoned cities, villages, and natural areas adjacent to Chernobyl and within sight of its danger.

Enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Walking into the closest approximation of a post-apocalyptic setting on earth can be a jarring moment, especially for visitors to the region not really understanding what they are stepping into. For one group of people, the workers and security guards of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, this apocalyptic setting would transform into something akin to a home thanks to newfound friends of the furry sort, dogs.

Stray Dogs of Chernobyl and the Guards Who Love Them

Consider your day-to-day operations at the office. No matter what you feel about your day or your duties, you likely aren’t surrounded by the remains of a giant nuclear wasteland. Working in the Exclusion Zone surrounding the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is more than just a job, it’s a way of life and one that is being studied by the University of Cambridge.

Jonathon Turnbull is a PhD Candidate for the Department of Geography at Cambridge. For his project, he would give disposable cameras to checkpoint guards working throughout the Exclusion Zone, as well as various workers running shops and convenience stores in the area. Turnbull’s goal was simple, to allow these people to capture their daily life and to reflect upon it during an interview at a later date.

Turnbull lives in Kyiv where he operates as a geographer, studying human and animal relations emerging from the CEZ. Turnbull’s work would lead him to utilize photovoice and photo-elicitation techniques, inviting his subjects to tell their stories while photographs are carefully inserted into the conversation to evoke more information, deeper memories, and stronger feelings.

Meet the Chernobyl Puppies

In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, an area covering roughly,4200km2 between Ukraine and Belarus has been reclaimed by nature. A wildlife haven according to some researchers, this Exclusion Zone would become a haven for stray dogs known as the Chernobyl Puppies. These domestic animals were largely left behind by soldiers to prevent contamination during the initial event, instead left to their own devices to breed in the wild.

Chernobyl Puppies have an average lifespan of just five years and this is due to a few surprising consequences. First and foremost, hunger and thirst are the leading causes of death for these dogs followed by the harsh and cold winters of Ukraine. Radiation is last on the list. At the time of this writing, Turnbull’s study suggests that there are more than 500 dogs throughout the Zone, considered descendants of the dogs left behind on the infamous date in 1986.

While the dogs that can be found around the Power Plant are easy enough to label as strays, the guards of Chernobyl wouldn’t dare to call them as such. Turnbull noted that his interviews left him with the impression that the guards felt a sense of ‘ownership’ over the dogs, including feeling compelled to care for them with food, medicine, and human contact. In return, Turnbull suggests that the dogs provide entertainment, protection, and comfort of their own. One guard said, “We pull out ticks and even buy injections for rabies.”

As the guards and puppies of Chernobyl grow more comfortable with one another, they provide a stark counterpoint to the longevity of damage that Chernobyl has caused. While dogs and humans have begun to come together in the area, the land within the Zone will remain uninhabitable for more than 20,000 years.

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‘Trail Angel’ Leaves Behind Good Deeds For Other Hikers to Find

Kevin Wells

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A marked route stretching between the Eastern United States and into Maine, the Appalachian Trail offers hikers the chance to experience the longest hiking-only trail on the planet. As a one-of-a-kind destination, the Appalachian Trail brings in more than 2 million visitors every single year. Reaching heights of 6,643 feet and extending for more than 2,200 total miles, the Appalachian Trail is as challenging as it is inviting, a testament both to nature and those willing to overcome it.

Due to the intensity of the trail and its large coverage area, Trail Angels have begun to leave behind little gifts to help others follow in their path. Michele Staudenmaier had been hiking on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in March alongside her son, Zach. While walking the trail, Zach and Michele got to talking about gifts left behind for the hikers. Apparently, the hiking community has always appreciated donated gifts and drinks alongside trail markers, lovingly referring to these individuals as Trail Angels.

Understanding how important food and drink can be to a wilderness hike that ranges from easy to strenuous, Michel decided that she would become a Trail Angel herself alongside her husband, Dave.

Becoming a Trail Angel

When Michel and Zach had their discussion regarding trail angels, they were in the middle of a fun family trip. Michel’s husband, Dave, had already booked several Airbnb’s along their route through the A.T., with booked stops in Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Maine, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The trip was scheduled to take roughly six months, crossing through many significantly remote and rural places. Some of these rural areas end up featuring a small oasis of hikers, and finding these areas is known as stumbling upon Trail Magic.

Michel and her family ran into a group of Trail Angels during their work. Michele said, “I realized there was a massive community of volunteers that spend their time and money to support A.T. hikers.” Michele went on to say, “I had no idea!”

While an average hike will knock out nearly 600 calories per hour, it can be hard to normalize this average. Many hikers will carry packs weighing upwards of 30 to 50lbs, adding a tremendous amount of stress to their physical efforts. To help keep these folks fed and energized, Michele would cook and pack foods like hot dogs, chips, sweet treats, Gatorade, and even sodas. One such Trail Magic event saw Michele arrive with several buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, leading to more than 30 hikers eating well and sharing their stories.

One event showed Michele the true stakes pertaining to Trail Angels as well as the importance of her own work. Michele had fueled a trail marker with food when a hiker arrived. After talking to the weakened hiker, he revealed that he had run out of food completely. Had he not found Michele and her food, there is no telling what could have happened.

According to Michele and many of the hiking enthusiasts that she has met, it is rare to have any food leftover after a long hike. For that reason, unexpected hot meals waiting in the middle of the A.T. will always be seen and enjoyed as a magical moment!

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A Kitten Goes Through Nine Lives in One Day

Renee Yates

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There’s a bit of good news in animal land. A particular kitten who became famous for getting herself stuck on a highway sign situated in one of the busiest freeways in California has been adopted and now enjoys a new, safer home.

Gwyneth, managed to make big news when she was spotted yowling her heart out in a small highway nook next to San Francisco International Airport. The particular location was a highway sign base on an overpass leading to the airport off of Highway 101 South. The calico kitten was pretty much in a bad place, digging her claws into the patch of cement she found for safety on the edge of the overpass wall opposite the deadly traffic moving at full speed. The fact that the kitten was seen at all was amazing enough. How she got to that location in the first place without being runover is anyone’s guess in terms of the miracles she went through on the trip. Whatever it was, everyone agreed her nine lives were banked and charged in full by the time the kitten found herself in the nook overlooking the main highway below her.

An SFO airport worker with a keen eye was the first witness on the scene to realize what was going on, and that person made the call to the local SPCA chapter to get help for the small cat. Operating via the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA, response folks realized the location of the cat was deadly on description. The feline was stuck in a sign flare of the cement on the 380 connector with at least a 50 foot drop to the 101 South Highway below. Even if she survived the fall, the cat would likely have been instantly run over by the traffic below, and the same risk was present if she managed to jump and get back up on the overpass as well. The cat, it turned out, did the smartest thing it could do – stay still and scream for help.

Eventually, a crew was able to get to the location, block off traffic and rescue the kitten, which was clearly traumatized by the entire event. So, on June 10, 2021, Gwyneth, the name given to the errant cat, managed to save her 9th life with the help of the local SPCA and survived getting stuck on a highway and otherwise certain death.

After a full check, Gwyneth was estimated to be about three or four months old, hungry, but otherwise a healthy kitten. The PHS/SPCA put her up for adoption, along with the kitten’s crazy story, and now the cat has been thoroughly adopted into a safe, solid home far away from highways, overpasses and fast-moving cars. She’s also been micro-chipped just in case Gwyneth gets the wandering itch again to go exploring.

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Oldest Gorilla on Earth Celebrates Birthday at Atlanta Zoo

Kelly Taylor

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Founded in 1989, Zoo Atlanta has served residents and visitors to the area with a front-row view of black bears, raccoons, jaguars, hyenas, lions, and even gorillas. Recently, the Zoo Atlanta was in the news thanks to a very special birthday celebrated by a Western Lowland Gorilla named Ozzie. Ozzie celebrated his 60th birthday and in doing so he would become the oldest male living gorilla on record, at least according to Zoo Atlanta!

The Western Lowland Gorilla

Ozzie belongs to a subspecies of the Western Gorilla, known as the Lowland Western Gorilla. This subspecies is the only known Gorilla subspecies to be kept in zoo enclosures. The most finite subspecies of gorilla, Ozzie, is considered a member of one of the stronger and larger subspecies. With jet black skin and no fur, it is easy to see how similar their hands are to humans.

Gorillas like Ozzie often walk erect and can stand up to 5’11 while weighing in at 600lbs. The male western lowland gorilla will typically weigh more while standing taller. Western Lowland gorillas can be social creatures and they often make bonds with members of both genders, across differing groups. Western lowland gorillas aren’t territorial and they tend to follow the lead of at least one adult male.

Thanks to their large hands and advanced thumbs, gorillas like Ozzie can work with tools while exhibiting real intelligence. Gorillas have been tracked using sticks to measure water depth, buckets to fill water, and tools to drink beverages while in captivity.

A Special Birthday Bash

As the oldest male gorilla on record, Ozzie was more than ready to celebrate in style with his friends, caretakers, and fellow animals at the Zoo Atlanta. To celebrate the occasion while marking a special moment for Ozzie, the staff at Zoo Atlanta would provide him with a multi-tiered cake filled with frozen fruits that had been carefully colored for decorative purposes.

According to Zoo Atlanta, Ozzie has enjoyed prolific success as a mate. Ozzie has 20 descendants spanning three generations, with many of those animals still living with Ozzie at the Zoo Atlanta. The gorillas that have been removed from captivity have been sent to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Ozzie presently lives in a habitat made specifically for senior gorillas. His roommates include females, Machi, Kuchi, and Choomba – ranging between 36 and 58 years old. According to most researchers, a gorilla is considered geriatric after they surpass the age of 40.

The Species on the Brink

While conservationists are doing their best to foster new growth within the western lowland gorilla species, they are facing an uphill battle. Primarily living in forests, brush, and lowland tropical forests, these gorillas are watching as their habitats face imminent destruction. Along with disease and hunting, multiple factors have coincided to push the western lowland gorillas to the brink of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the western lowland gorilla as critically endangered.

A 1980 census of Africa found gorilla populations roughly equal to 100,000. Continued studies following the Ebola outbreak, bushmeat hunting, and famine, have all merged to create a potentially insurmountable barrier to recovery.

At the time of this writing, zoos around the world have 550 western lowland gorillas in captivity.

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Sweet Elderly Man Joins Makeup Class To Help Wife With Makeup, Quickly Goes Viral!

Renee Yates

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Carrie Hannah is the director at Delmar College of Hair and Esthetics, located in Alberta, Canada. A haircare professional with years of experience under her belt as an instructor, Hannah had grown accustomed to teaching even the most unusual of students the skills they would need to succeed in the hair, makeup, and beauty world. With that being said, even Carrie was surprised when she met with an elderly man at her school who had wished to learn a few things in the field. His reasoning? Well, that’s the reason for today’s story.

Let’s leap into one of the most touching beauty school stories you’ll ever read!

Helping Hands For Those We Love

There are few things in life more important than taking care of and providing care to the ones that we love. When we stand before our significant other and bind ourselves together in marriage, we truly hope to embrace ‘TIl Death Do Us Part’ in the same way that our story’s subject has.

Carrie Hannah had been preparing for classes with her students as if it were any other day when she was approached by a white-haired, elderly man. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, would introduce himself to Carrie before getting into the reason for their meeting — the elderly man had wanted to help his wife with her makeup.

According to Carrie, the elderly man explained that his wife had been struggling with her vision as she grew older. As she struggled to see, her beauty routine became more of a chore. His wife was struggling to curl her hair and had even burned herself in the process. Her husband wanted to help, but he didn’t know exactly how, and that’s where our two protagonists came together.

Carrie would go on to say that the man “genuinely cared” about his wife and her process. Carrie would continue, “His wife always cared about her appearance, and he wanted to help.”

A New Set of Skills

With his motive explained and a spot available to him, Carrie would quickly get her new student into a class. At 79 years old, he was certainly going to be one of her most experienced students. The story would get picked up by Hair Design by Birtney and photos from the class would quickly go viral. Thousands of users would share the images and hundreds of thousands of views would quickly follow.

According to Hair Design by Britney, the man learned how to use a curler while also teaching him how to perform volume curls on shorter hair. Another point of emphasis that the teacher was sure to go over would involve the application of mascara. Of course, all of these lessons were combined with a hefty dose of safety training as they did not want to have any more burn incidents at home.

Commenters on the story would go crazy for the elderly man looking to support his wife. Comments ranged from compliments over his heart and attention to respect for his ambition to learn new skills outside his comfort zone. Another user recalled that their father had done something similar for their mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

According to Hannah, working with the man to help his wife would become a highlight of her more than 31-year-career in the beauty industry. Hannah says, “We needed some cheering up and he sure did it.”

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Toronto Zoo Welcomes Endangered Cubs After Touching Experience

Kevin Wells

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There are few things in life quite as exciting as seeing a tiger up close and for the first time. Now if you are like most people, you’d rather see a tiger in a safe setting (No thank you, Joe Exotic!) and that is exactly what the Toronto Zoo offers its clients throughout the year.

The largest zoo in all of Canada, the Toronto Zoo features more than 5,000 animals across 460 different species. With millions of visitors every single year, all eyes were on the facility when the zoo announced that an endangered tiger had become pregnant.

Meet Mazy the Amur Tiger

Most major zoos around the world are focused in some respect on the idea of conservation. The Toronto Zoo has been trying to rehabilitate Siberian Tigers, also known as Amur tigers, for years. When the zoo was visited by a male tiger named Vasili, as part of a larger conservation program, the Toronto Zoo staff held their breath.

With fewer than 500 Amur Tigers in the wild, the endangered species is still very much on the brink of extinction. Still, that doesn’t mean that things aren’t looking up. Mazy’s successful pairing with the male tiger Vasili would lead to the birth of three happy and healthy cubs. The successful birth would mark the next chapter in what has been a successful effort to bring Amur tigers back from the brink. As recently as the 1930s, there were only 20 or 30 Amur Tigers in the wild!

Rehabilitation: Back from the Brink

Dolf DeJong is the Chief Executive Officer at the Toronto Zoo. DeJong gave a statement following the successful birth of Mazy’s cubs. DeJong would say, “This birth is an important contribution to a genetically healthy (Amur) tiger population.”

DeJong would go on to explain that Amur tigers have been facing increased pressure due in large part to illegal poaching and destructive habitat loss. These two metics combined have created a very real concern for the end of the population, despite positive population growth in recent years. DeJong believes that the most important step going forward is to educate the public on the plight of these creatures while mitigating whatever physical threats they may face.

All About the Amur Tiger

Siberian Tigers are native to Korea, Northeast China, and throughout the far east of Russia. These big cats are considered a close relation to Caspian Tigers and their large size reinforces this connection. Throughout the ’80s, the average wild male Siberian tiger would weigh between 400lbs and 675lbs with even larger cats becoming targets for poachers.

What makes the Amur Tiger particularly fascinating is that it has far-ranging travel capabilities with ranges up to 620 miles. Due to their far-ranging nature and low population, it has been exceedingly difficult to maintain an accurate count of the Amur tiger population. Thankfully, there are some signs in the wild that nature is recovering. Early in 2014, the World Wild Fund For Nature would capture on video a wild tigress with her cubs.

As far as mating is concerned, Siberian tigers will spend between five and six days with their mate. Gestation lasts nearly 3.5 months with litter sizes rarely exceeding six cubs. Cubs are originally born blind and t hey are sheltered within a den while the tigress hunts for food. The average lifespan of these gorgeous big cats ranges between 10 and 18 years depending on habitat and captivity. Captive Amur Tigers may live upwards of 25 years.

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