A Snake Needs a Name: Your Ex’s

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The brown snake of Australia is among the most poisonous in the world, which is apparently why a zoo Down Under has decided to let you name one of them after your ex. That is, if you win Wild Life Sydney’s Valentine’s Day contest, which is giving competitors the chance to explain why their former paramour deserves to have his or her name permanently attached to one of its resident venom-spewers, per Mashable.

All you have to do is briefly (you only get 25 words) explain why your ex deserves the “prize,“ donate at least $1 to the zoo’s wildlife conservation fund, and get your application in by next Wednesday (the day before V-Day). Sweet passive-aggressive revenge won’t be the only spoils if you win: The zoo will also throw in an annual pass to visit your ex’s namesake. The winning name will be announced on Valentine’s Day.

NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

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A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out. Here are the real facts:


CLAIM: Food aid for Venezuela being held in Colombian border town is contaminated

THE FACTS: Food aid for Venezuela warehoused at the Colombian border town of Cucuta is not contaminated, despite false claims circulating on social media. In one instance, a webpage made to look like La Opinion, a daily newspaper in Cucuta, Colombia, falsely claimed that 14 people had been sickened from the emergency food. La Opinion said on its website that the webpage was fabricated. Venezuelan state media also suggested that U.S. food delivered as aid contained harmful preservatives, including sulfur dioxide, which is a commonly used preservative for dried fruits. Cathy Davies, chief executive officer of The Food Industry Employment Program, a for-profit organization that focuses on food safety compliance, told The Associated Press that it has rarely made anyone ill and is not known to cause cancer or have carcinogenic effects. Officials in the U.S. and Colombia told the AP that there have been no reports of contamination in the aid shipments and no reports of illness. Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called the U.S. aid a “rotten gift” and a ploy by the U.S. to remove him from power. The Trump administration along with dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president of the country, which has been struggling with hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine for years.


CLAIM: U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez took a $10 million payout from Netflix

THE FACTS: Netflix did not pay Ocasio-Cortez $10 million for a documentary about her run for Congress, despite posts circulating widely online. The posts followed the streaming giant’s reported $10 million purchase earlier this month of worldwide rights to “Knock Down the House,” a documentary featuring Ocasio-Cortez and three other candidates who ran against incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections. Rachel Lear, director of the documentary, told The Associated Press in an email that “none of our film subjects received or will receive any payment for participating in this project.” Lear added that only producers, financiers and filmmakers receive payment from the sale of the documentary to Netflix. The documentary chronicles the campaigns of Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Amy Vilela of Nevada and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia. It recently won the Festival Favorite Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.


CLAIM: Democrat shoots neighbor’s dog because it was named Donald Trump

THE FACTS: A 3-year-old Alaskan Malamute named Donald Trump was not killed in Minnesota over politics, despite misleading social media posts that suggested a Democratic neighbor intentionally shot the dog out of spite. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in rural southern Minnesota concluded the person who shot the dog Sunday was “legally protecting their livestock” on private property. A GoFundMe page to raise money for the dog’s owner, Randall Thom, said the dog was shot to death “because he’s named ‘Donald Trump.’” False social media claims that a political feud caused the dog’s death spurred “violent threats” against some county residents, the sheriff’s office said. Thom told The Associated Press he’s exchanged words “about some political stuff” with the neighbor he believes shot the dog but did not think that motivated him to kill his pet. Thom, 59, has attended 46 of President Donald Trump’s political rallies. The sheriff’s office has not released the identity of the person involved in the shooting.


CLAIM: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s father was Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo under Hitler.

THE FACTS: False facts about the identity of Mueller’s father resurfaced on social media recently after acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announced that the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is close to completion. The special counsel and former FBI director is the son of Robert Mueller Jr., a 1938 graduate of Princeton University, who served in the Navy during World War II and worked for DuPont until his retirement, according to the Princeton Alumni Weekly. The 1938 Nassau Herald, the Princeton University yearbook, shows that Robert Mueller Jr. was born in Pennsylvania in 1916. The Office of the Special Counsel confirmed the details. In October 2013, The Associated Press reported that a German researcher claimed to have found evidence that Heinrich Mueller, the highest-ranking Nazi never to have been captured or located, died in the final days of the war in 1945, a few hundred yards from Hitler’s bunker.

Iraq to Trump: Leave Us Out of ‘Your Own Issues’

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Iraq’s president on Monday criticized President Trump for saying he wants to keep US troops in Iraq “to watch Iran,“ saying the US leader didn’t ask Iraq’s permission to do so. “We find these comments strange,“ said Barham Salih, speaking at a forum in Baghdad. Salih said US troops were in Iraq as part of an agreement between the two countries and with a specific mission of assisting in the fight against ISIS and combating “terrorism.“ He said the Iraqi Constitution forbids the use of Iraq as a base to threaten the interests or security of neighboring countries, reports the AP. “Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,“ he added.

Salih was responding to Trump’s comments in an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation, during which Trump said the US has an “incredible base” in Iraq that he intends to keep “because I want to be able to watch Iran.“ “We spent a fortune on building this incredible base,“ Trump said. “We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.“ He said the US base in Iraq is “perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East.“

Drivers Race for Their Lives in Video of Dam Bursting

Two terrifying videos have emerged of a Brazil dam collapsing at a mine last month and killing at least 115 people, the New York Times reports. One video, apparently shot by the Vale mining company, shows a dust cloud coming up just before the red-mud avalanche pours in, burying vehicles as they race around trying to escape. Another video, seen on local Brazilian TV, shows the dam wall sprouting cracks before it gives way to 2.5 billion gallons of red iron ore waste. The video release coincided with a ceremony held at the site of the devastation Friday afternoon, the AP reports.

At the ceremony, civil and police workers stopped their search for survivors as helicopters dropped flower petals from above and a priest gave a mass in front of a makeshift cross. “It is totally devastated; it looks like there has been a war,“ said a 23-year-old man who had lost friends in the collapse. Besides the known death toll, 248 remain missing, and environmental damage includes the Paraopeba River turning a dark orange; villagers say they can no longer bathe or fish in it. The mud is still moving at roughly half a mile an hour toward another river, but officials say they hope the Retiro Baixo hydroelectric dam and plant complex will stop the wave from polluting it.

Australia Has 3 Excellent Reasons to Avoid Floodwaters

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The city of Townsville, Australia, is currently enduring a flood of epic proportions, and more rain is in the forecast, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. More than 20,000 homes are at risk, reports the BBC, and authorities were scrambling to get people to higher ground with boats and helicopters. They also had a warning for those venturing out into floodwaters on their own: “Crocodiles may be seen crossing roads, and when flooding recedes, crocodiles can turn up in unusual places such as farm dams or waterholes,“ says Queensland’s Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch. (This resident’s photo proves the point.)

Not scary enough? “Similarly, snakes are very good swimmers and they too may turn up unexpectedly,“ says Enoch. And finally, Queensland police added a third threat: “If the thought of coming face to face with a crocodile isn’t deterrent enough, before you start playing in flood waters you should always remember the distinct possibility you could be wading in your neighbor’s feces. Yes. Their feces.“ You can guess the emoji that accompanies the warning.

‘It’s Like Tinder, but With Dogs’

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If the pooch melts your heart, swipe right. Animal lovers in Lithuania have created a mobile application inspired by the popular dating app Tinder to match up dogs in local shelters with new owners, per the AP. Called GetPet, the app was launched last month, is getting hundreds of new users daily, and already has made a few matches. It joins a growing market of apps for people looking to adopt a pet, including PawsLikeMe and BarkBuddy. “It is like Tinder, but with dogs,“ says Vaidas Gecevicius, one of the app’s creators. “You can arrange a meeting with the dog—a date.“

GetPet features profiles of furry four-legged creatures looking up with soft, yearning eyes. Scrolling down reveals more information about the pup, and those interested can then swipe right. But there are limits to the Tinder comparison: It’s a one-sided situation, where the dogs don’t get to have a swiping experience. If you swipe left, another dog profile appears. The app only features dogs for now, but the plan is to eventually include cats and other animals.

Report: US Has Damning Recording of Saudi Prince

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke of killing Jamal Khashoggi a year before the journalist was murdered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, reports the New York Times, citing “current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports.“ The sources say that in a conversation intercepted by US intelligence agencies, the crown prince said he would go after Khashoggi “with a bullet” if he didn’t stop criticizing the kingdom. Intelligence analysts—who are now going through years of intercepted communications from the crown prince, according to the sources—believe the prince meant he wanted to kill Khashoggi, but not that he would actually shoot him.

The conversation with aide Turki Aldakhil happened in Sept. 2017, the sources say, as the prince was consolidating power and days before Khashoggi writing about Saudi Arabia in the Washington Post. Asked about the conversation, Aldakhil said: “These allegations are categorically false. They appear to be a continuation of various efforts by different parties to connect His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this horrific crime. These efforts will prove futile.“ Voice of America reports that Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said Thursday that Saudi Arabia undermined Turkey’s investigation of the “brutal and premeditated killing,“ which she said was carried out by Saudi officials.

Banksy’s Self-Shredding Painting Loses Its Batteries

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The first museum to display Banksy’s partially shredded canvas has deactivated its self-destructing frame to ensure “Love Is in the Bin” isn’t actually thrown in the bin. “We opened up the frame and found the shredder machinery, the battery holders, the wires and satisfied ourselves that the batteries had been removed and the wires cut,“ Henning Schaper, director of Germany’s Frieder Burda Museum, tells Reuters of the frame-embedded shredder meant to destroy 2006’s “Girl With Balloon” after it sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby’s in London in October. Two-thirds of the painting passed through the shredder before it malfunctioned, increasing the artwork’s value, per the BBC.

Retitled “Love Is in the Bin,“ the painting is displayed for the first time Tuesday just as it appeared after the shredding. Strips of canvas hang from the frame, with the head of the female subject hidden behind it. The shredder was deactivated to keep the rest of the painting from passing through it at some later date. Per the BBC, there was some concern that a visitor at Frieder Burda might set it off. “Love Is in the Bin” will be on display at the museum in Baden-Baden until March 3, reports CNN. It will then move to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany. Per Reuters, neither museum will charge visitors who wish to see the painting, in keeping with Banksy’s attitude toward the democratization of art.

Suicides Are Increasing Globally

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The total number of deaths by suicide hit 817,000 in 2016 — an increase of 6.7 percent since 1990 — according to research published in The BMJ.

While the mortality rate, or the number of years lost, actually decreased by a third during that time, suicides still accounted for 34.6 million years of life lost.

The study revealed that men take their lives more often, while women attempt suicide more frequently.

Is there any positive news?

The U.K. and Sri Lanka reduced suicides, but they remain high in Eastern Europe and the U.S., where firearms are more readily available.

Researchers hope increasing awareness will lead to more targeted support.

Learn more:    Inverse      Daily Mail

Who’s the daddy? Surprise in Swiss orangutan paternity test

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A paternity test on a baby orangutan has come back with a surprising result.

Basel Zoo in northwestern Switzerland said Thursday the test showed 5-month-old Padma wasn’t fathered by the male in her enclosure.

Keepers routinely take DNA samples from newborn orangutans because the endangered great apes are part of a breeding program.

Researchers at Basel University’s forensic laboratory compared Padma’s DNA to that of Budi, a 14-year-old male living in the same enclosure as the baby’s mother, Maja.

They found it didn’t match Budi’s DNA. Instead, it matched 18-year-old orangutan Vendel, who lives in the next enclosure.

It appears that for Maja and Vendel, the dominant male at Basel Zoo, the dividing fence was no obstacle to some monkey business.


Basel Zoo:

In the year of the pig, Hong Kong debates its boar problem

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It may be the year of the pig, but Hong Kong has had enough of the wild ones.

Authorities in the densely populated financial center are looking for ways to cut down on potentially dangerous encounters between humans and wild boars that have increased as the city’s ballooning population expands into former wilderness.

Boars are now frequent sights on roadways, in parks and housing developments and even in shopping centers, and there is concern that the animals have lost their fear of humans.

While the government is pushing for softer measures such as sterilization for the pigs and education for humans who feed them, others say the solution is a full-scale cull of the swine.

The debate about how to handle the wild boars comes as the city of more than 7 million people is being festooned with pig-themed decorations in preparation for the Lunar New Year holiday that officially begins on Feb. 5. The pig is one of 12 animals that in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle.

Not far from its cramped apartment blocks and neon lights, Hong Kong has plenty of untouched land, traditionally home to a variety of animals, including wild boars. Some areas where homes are close to parks or forests, such as Aberdeen in Hong Kong Island’s south, have become popular spots for growing numbers of boars to forage for food amid the garbage cans.

The government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department says it doesn’t know how many wild boars there are in Hong Kong. But it has acknowledged a big increase in public complaints about the animals over the past five years — from 294 in 2013, to 738 in 2017.

That prompted a review of policy starting last year, which included a halt to hunts by volunteer teams for boars deemed to be threats to property or public safety.

Instead, the government is extending a policy of sterilizing the animals and feeding them contraceptives, as well as discouraging the public from providing them food. It also captures and tries to relocate wild boars away from residential areas as an alternative to killing them.

However, one local organization, “Wild Boar 70,” is lobbying for the renewed culling of the wild boar population.

Other countries with large populations of wild pigs have a policy of controlling them by killing large numbers every year, according to spokesman Wesley Ho.

“Our goal is hopefully to raise public concern about Hong Kong’s current problem of wild boar overpopulation, and about exactly what kind of animal these wild boars are,” Ho said.

Nations such as France and the U.S. have to deal with large-scale damage to agriculture wrought by feral pigs, largely appealing to hunters as a solution.

Denmark this month began erecting a 70-kilometer (43.4-mile) fence along the German border to keep out wild boars in an attempt to prevent the spread of African swine fever, which could jeopardize the country’s valuable pork industry.

With agriculture a minor player in the local economy, such concerns aren’t much of an issue in Hong Kong.

However, Roni Wong, of the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, says that development expanding into Hong Kong’s green areas is causing the increasing confrontation between humans and animals.

“Their habitats are slowly being urbanized,” Wong said. “So their chances of feeding, and their habitat, are being destroyed.”

By now, Hong Kong social media users are highly familiar with videos of wild boars taken by drivers and pedestrians. Sometimes they show a herd rushing across a road in front of cars in a manner that looks dangerous to both themselves and drivers.

Other times, they come across as cute, cuddly and unthreatening, often raising a snout to the camera as if in greeting.

Hong Kong’s government says it hopes to complete its policy review of wild boar management within the year.

Man Stopped at Airport With 5K Leeches Had Weird Claim

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The beagle sat down next to the Canadian man at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Oct. 17, 2018, and the jig was up. Clued in by the dog, officials searched the man’s bags and found containers holding 5,000 leeches. National Geographic has the story, which it says hasn’t been made public; as such, the name of the “alleged illegal leech importer,“ who has a court date Feb. 15 and was flying in from Russia when he was stopped, hasn’t been released. But an intelligence manager employed by Canada’s environmental department has the man’s alleged story: that he planned to put the leeches to personal use and use their waste water on his orchids. The quantity suggests something else: that the plan may actually have been to find buyers for the parasitic worms, which can be put to “uses such as treating frostbite and helping with recovery from face lifts.“

They can go for about $10 each, making his supply—a collection of southern medicinal leeches and European medicinal leeches—worth an estimated $50,000. Those species fall under an endangered species treaty that requires the right export-import permits be secured before transporting the leeches. National Geographic goes on to detail the difficulty Canadian officials have had with finding a home for the leeches. Since they’re threatened, the officials don’t want to do away with them, but the government doesn’t want to house them (especially after 20 of them temporarily escaped). So far, it has managed to unload only 1,500 of them. Read the full story HERE to find out where they went.

Putin Just Made ‘Tit-for-Tat’ Move on INF Treaty

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On Friday, the US said it would pull out of a longtime arms-control treaty with Russia; on Saturday, Russia followed suit. There’d been a small window to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which had been in place since the end of the Cold War, with Russia still technically able to meet a US-mandated compliance deadline on Saturday. But Russia has continued to deny it’s been in violation of the treaty, and now, despite President Vladimir Putin’s past criticism of US President Trump for threatening to withdraw from the INF pact, Putin has made what he says is his “tit-for-tat response,“ indicating that Russia will do the same, Radio Free Europe eports.

Per the AP and CNN, Putin’s announcement on the Kremlin website says Russia, like the US, will leave the treaty in six months’ time, and that he has asked for new land-based intermediate-range weapons to be developed—though he insists those weapons won’t be put to use in the EU or anywhere else unless the US does so first. “We will respond quid pro quo,“ Putin noted. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and [we] will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.“ The Russian leader says he instructed his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, not to get caught up in any more INF talks with the US, instead waiting to see if Washington will respond to any of Russia’s earlier suggestions to save the treaty.

Guards Ward Off Monkeys With a New Weapon

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In a bid to ward off marauding monkeys that gather around the world-famous Taj Mahal, security guards have taken to patrolling the area with something new: slingshots, the New York Times reports. Indeed, the gangs of cheeky critters in Agra, India, may look cute, but tourists tend not to appreciate that they are dangerous, wild animals that bite and scratch when approached. “Foreign tourists get very excited to see the monkeys,“ says deputy security chief Dineshor Tongbram. “They try to go closer to them and become victims.“ In May, the Times of India reported on monkeys attacking two French tourists and in November the BBC reported on a baby that was snatched and killed by a monkey.

Tongbram says visitors suffer at least two attacks per month. “Monkeys get angry when they see empty-handed tourists,“ he adds. Worse, the monkeys’ aggressive nature has become such a problem that even Taj Mahal security staff feel threatened. Despite the danger, legislation in India forbids harming wild animals; and while some cities use fierce langur monkeys to ward off the threat, that’s not allowed around the Taj Mahal. The mausoleum was built in the 1600s by the Muslim emperor Shah Jahan and attracts some 25,000 visitors daily, who in turn attract many monkeys scavenging for food that is discarded in trash cans by the site’s entrance.

Wartime Grenade Turns Up in an Unexpected Place

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A WWI grenade ended up Saturday in about the last place you’d expect: a potato-chip factory in Hong Kong. Police say the unexploded German device was discovered in a pile of potatoes from France and was promptly defused, the South China Morning Post reports. Seems the grenade had been dropped or failed to go off in an area known to have trenches—and even today, some hundred years later, the two-pound device could pose a danger to anyone standing nearby.

“If you’re standing close, within five feet, you could get wounded or even killed [if it went off], but it’s not the kind of thing that can bring down a whole building,“ says a professor at the University of Hong Kong. “But chances are, the weapon was never armed because to ignite it, you have to withdraw the safety pin and release a lever. And since it didn’t go off, it was probably never triggered.“ Police detonated the device on-site at the Calbee brand snack company, notes CNN, and posted a video on Twitter of the explosion.

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