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Restaurant Helps Workers Learn a Second Language

So, what do you do with restaurant workers when they have to work but you have to close your restaurant for a renovation? A lot of businesses would just suspend work or lay people off. With Casa Bonita, however, they had a different approach. Instead, they decided to invest in their workers and train them to perform even better.

All 29 employees of Denver’s Casa Bonita finished this month a full language course in English and earned their certifications. The Lakewood employees were all native Spanish speakers, and with the down time they were instead given the opportunity to learn English at a working level over a typical sixteen-week learning program. The head chef was the chief instigator of the idea.

Dana Rodriguez is herself an immigrant, having transferred from Mexico to the U.S. in the late 1990s. Rejection was a familiar road for her, easily being denied work at Casa Bonita herself due to not having any professional serving experience or cooking background. Instead, she had to work as a dishwasher just to get a paycheck. However, that gave her an in, and Rodriguez started working her way up by proactively learning English herself. It was broken at first, and then she used an unlikely source to expand her vocabulary: Comedy Channel’s South Park. While not the first recommended source for English-learning, it worked. And the sassy cartoon mountain kids from Colorado became the foundation for Rodriguez’s adaption into an English-speaking world.

Once she knew how to maintain a working level of English, Rodriguez was moved to the kitchen. Now she could communicate and, more importantly, she could work with the cooking team. Since that time, she has been promoted, and Rodriguez today is Casa Bonita’s executive chef.

Denver-area restaurants have help too. Both the Hispanic Restaurant Association and the Colorado Restaurant Association support the value of bi-lingual workers, putting money where their voice is in helping restaurants pay for employee language training. It’s a solid community investment that pays dividends for years after the fact.

Even employees who knew basic English signed up for the program. One who had taken some English already in his native Nicaragua gained the benefit of advancing his knowledge by evolving his skill with verbs and complex sentences. It was one example of dozens where the staff have developed a far tighter synergy, learning how to communicate better together. No surprise, the divides that existed between the Spanish and English-speaking workers have just dissolved completely now.

Casa Bonita still has yet to set a date for a full re-opening, but folks expect it will come back pretty solid. The restaurant has been in business since 1968. It has three branches: Lakewood, Oklahoma City and a spot in Arkansas as well. And yes, it’s been profiled in South Park, and now the show’s creators own the business as well. Who would have known?

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Rare Short-Tailed Bats Heard in Wellington for the First Time in Years

Kelly Taylor

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In an exciting development for wildlife enthusiasts, the endangered short-tailed bats have been heard in Wellington, New Zealand, marking their first recorded presence in the area in seven years. This discovery has brought hope to conservationists who feared that these rare mammals might have vanished from the lower North Island.

Short-tailed bats are among New Zealand’s rarest mammals and play a vital role in the local ecosystem. They are known for their unique flying style and are crucial pollinators and seed dispersers, which helps maintain the health of their natural habitats. These bats are small, with a body size about the length of an adult human’s thumb, and have a distinctive tail that extends beyond their tail membrane, unlike many other bat species.

The recent detection occurred through acoustic monitoring near the Pākuratahi River, just south of the Remutaka Hill Road. This area’s lush environment provides a perfect backdrop for such a significant find. Jo Monk, a lecturer from the University of Otago, highlighted the importance of this discovery, stating, “It’s super exciting to have a known population of short-tailed bats in the lower North Island.”

Protecting these bats is challenging due to predators like rats and stoats, which are common threats to their survival. Effective conservation requires intensive control measures to manage these predators. “Our experience from the South Island is you need really intensive rat control in addition to quite intensive stoat control to protect these populations,” Monk explained.

Ben Paris, a senior conservation advisor from the Auckland Council, and affectionately known as the New Zealand Batman, expressed his surprise and excitement at this finding. “Wellington isn’t very well known for its bat fauna, so to see short-tailed bats, which are one of the more rare bats appear in Wellington, is really exciting,” he said. Paris is optimistic about the future of bat conservation in New Zealand, noting, “I think that it’s really amazing that we are finding these bats in places that we are not expecting, and I feel like we are going to find more of these bats across New Zealand as people get more aware.”

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India Reigns Supreme in Big Cat Conservation: Celebrating Success and Setting New Goals

Renee Yates

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India is now recognized as a global leader in the conservation of big cats, boasting control of 75% of the world’s wild tiger population, serving as the sole sanctuary for Asiatic lions, and celebrating the successful reintroduction of cheetahs. Additionally, populations of leopards and snow leopards in the country are witnessing promising growth. This impressive conservation narrative is getting a further boost with the formation of the International Big Cat Alliance (IBCA), which was officially launched by the Union Cabinet with a funding of Rs 150 crore till 2028. The IBCA secretariat will be headquartered in India, underlining the country’s pivotal role in global big cat conservation efforts.

The Genesis and Goals of the International Big Cat Alliance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the IBCA in April 2023 in Mysuru, marking the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger. The alliance aims to foster international collaboration for the preservation of seven key big cat species: lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, snow leopards, jaguars, and pumas. India houses five of these species, excluding only the jaguar and puma. This alliance encompasses 96 big cat range countries and various conservation and scientific organizations, demonstrating a robust international effort to protect these vulnerable and endangered species.

Asiatic Lion Conservation: A Beacon of Success

The only wild population of Asiatic lions resides in Gujarat’s Gir National Park and its surroundings, with the population reaching 674 in 2020, up from 523, marking an unprecedented growth rate of 28.87%. This species, once on the brink of extinction with numbers as low as 20, has seen remarkable recovery thanks to dedicated conservation efforts beginning well before India’s independence and formally initiated by the Indian Forest Service in 1965. Plans are now underway to relocate some lions to the Badra Wildlife Sanctuary to manage overpopulation risks in Gir.

Project Tiger: A Legacy of Triumph

India celebrates the resounding success of Project Tiger, initiated in 1973 to reverse the dire decline of tigers from around 40,000 at independence to below 2,000 by 1970 due to rampant hunting and poaching. Today, India hosts 3,682 tigers, a nearly 24% increase from 2018, spread across 53 reserves. This success story is a result of stringent anti-poaching laws, habitat conservation, and local community engagement, positioning India as a leader in tiger tourism and conservation compared to other Asian nations.

The Return of the Cheetah

India has reintroduced cheetahs to its fauna, with initial translocations from Namibia and South Africa to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park. This reintroduction project has faced challenges, but the recent birth of cubs and a survival rate meeting the project’s early goals highlight its potential success. The program aims to not only revive the cheetah population but also to foster ecological tourism and local economic development.

Leopard and Snow Leopard: Thriving Against Odds

Leopards, despite being the smallest of the large cats in India, are flourishing with a population increase from 12,852 in 2018 to 13,874 in 2022. This growth is credited to comprehensive conservation efforts across various states. Similarly, the elusive snow leopard, primarily found in high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, has been systematically surveyed, revealing a stable population that underscores India’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

India’s proactive and successful conservation initiatives for big cats not only enhance biodiversity but also bolster local communities and economies, reinforcing the nation’s commitment to maintaining the delicate balance between human progress and environmental stewardship.

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South Africa Plans to Stop Lion Breeding for Hunts

Renee Yates

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South Africa announced its plan on Wednesday to gradually stop the breeding of lions for hunting. This decision aims to end the business that has been criticized for a long time. This business involves raising big cats so that rich hunters, who pay a lot of money, can hunt them. These hunters often take parts of the lions, like their heads or skins, as trophies to keep.

The South African government had already shown its desire to stop lion breeding for hunts in 2021. A special group has been working on this matter for two years. Environment Minister Barabara Creecy, during a news conference in Cape Town, said that this group suggested shutting down the industry. This includes stopping the breeding of lions, keeping them captive, or selling anything obtained from captive lions.

Lion breeders have two years to stop their activities voluntarily and find a different business to do before this new rule is enforced. Even though this plan has met with resistance from the industry, which makes a lot of money, the government approved it recently. However, it’s not yet an official law.

This step is taken as more people, especially in Western countries, are against trophy hunting. Efforts to stop trophy imports are gaining support in the United States, Australia, and some European countries. Kamalasen Chetty, who leads the special group, mentioned that the lion breeding industry is big and complicated. It has a long history but doesn’t fit with the latest international trends or changes in local conservation policies.

Animal rights organizations estimate that there are between 8,000 and 12,000 lions on around 350 farms in South Africa. These groups often criticize the way these animals are kept. In contrast, there are only about 3,500 wild lions, as reported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, an organization based in South Africa.

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Research Finds That Birds Can Be Polite

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Did you know that birds can be polite, just like humans? Researchers have found that the Japanese tit, a small bird found in Japan, has a unique way of showing politeness through its wing gestures. This fascinating discovery gives us a glimpse into the complex world of bird communication.

At the University of Tokyo, Professor Toshitaka Suzuki and his team studied these birds and made some amazing discoveries. They noticed that when a pair of Japanese tits arrives at their nest box with food, they don’t rush in. Instead, they wait on nearby perches. What happens next is intriguing: one bird flutters its wings toward the other, as if to say, “After you.” This gesture is like holding the door open for someone, showing respect and care.

The Japanese tit, scientifically known as Parus minor, is not just any bird; it’s known for its intelligence and complex behaviors. Professor Suzuki, who has been studying these birds for over 17 years, found that they use specific calls and even combine these calls into phrases, much like how we form sentences. This shows how advanced their communication skills are.

In their study, published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers observed that these wing-fluttering gestures happened mainly between mates and were a clear sign for one to enter the nest before the other. Interestingly, it was usually the female that made the gesture, inviting the male to go first.

This behavior has led scientists to think about how gestures evolved in the animal kingdom. Just like humans developed gestures by using their hands more when they started walking on two legs, birds might have developed gestures by using their wings while perching.

The research on the Japanese tit is part of a larger effort to understand how animals communicate, not just with sounds but also with physical movements. This could help us learn more about how language and communication developed, even in humans.

So, the next time you see birds, think about the complex and polite ways they might be communicating right in front of your eyes!

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Volunteers and Camels Team Up to Restore Mojave Desert’s Joshua Trees

Kevin Wells

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The Mojave Desert, with its vast, arid landscape, is home to the iconic Joshua tree. These unique trees have a fascinating history, once coexisting with Giant Ground Sloths during the ice age and now relying on rodents for their slow dispersal. However, a devastating wildfire in 2020 burned a significant portion of the desert, including many Joshua trees, posing a challenge for their restoration.

“Joshua trees seeds don’t spread very quickly,” explained Debra Hughson, deputy superintendent at the Mojave National Preserve. “They don’t move very fast or they don’t move very far with just small mammals around.” Despite these challenges, scientists were determined to help the Joshua trees recover, especially in areas like Cima Dome, where their survival could be crucial in the face of climate change.

To accelerate the recovery process, Hughson and her colleagues decided to plant Joshua tree seedlings in a more spaced-out pattern in the Dome’s burn scar. This approach aimed to distribute seed sources and promote the recovery of the entire area. However, the rugged terrain made it difficult for volunteers to reach the designated planting spots, requiring hours of hiking.

To address this challenge, the team came up with a unique solution — using camels to transport the seedlings and water into the wilderness. “Prehistoric camels were in the Mojave Desert, and the camels came through in 1857,” explained one of the volunteers, highlighting the historical connection between camels and the region. The camels, led by Herbie, Sully, and Chico, have been instrumental in carrying out these restoration efforts since 2021.

“Our goal is to protect natural systems and natural ecosystems — all the plants, all the animals, but then some animals and some plants wind up being just a little bit more ‘charismatic’ than other ones,” said Hughson, emphasizing the importance of charismatic species like the Joshua tree in garnering support for conservation efforts.

Through the dedication of volunteers and the help of these remarkable camels, the Mojave Desert’s Joshua trees are slowly making a comeback, offering hope for their future in this challenging environment.

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