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►  Big cheetah-like feline captured in Pennsylvania

Police captured a big African cat, resembling a cheetah, running loose through the streets of a Pennsylvania city.

Reports about the spotted feline started coming in on November 3 in Reading, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia. When officers tracked it down, they initially thought they’d found a cheetah.

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County says they got a call from the city’s police department about the big cat on Saturday.

When staff responded, they found a cat called an African serval. The cats are illegal to own in Pennsylvania without a license, and the state’s game commission says no one in Berks County has such a license.

The 1- to 2-year-old female was declawed and very friendly, leading animal workers to presume it had been a pet, raised in a home since it was a kitten.

The animal could be worth $20,000 to $30,000 on the black market, said Tom Hubric, the animal rescue league’s interim executive director.

He speculated the owner may have wanted to breed the serval with a domesticated cat to create what’s called a Savannah cat. Those are legal to own, he says.

The cat was transported Thursday to a big cat rescue facility that can give it the special diet and extensive exercise it needs.

“She’s just a magnificent animal and she’s captivated everyone who has seen her,” Hubric said.

►  A look at travel books to inspire trips or to give as gifts

Travel books can get you dreaming. They can provide practical information for your trips. And they can also just tell a good story.

Here are a few books out this season to consider buying for your own use and entertainment, or to give as a gift for Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever you might be celebrating in the coming months.

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They’re way too big and heavy to tuck in your suitcase. But these beautifully illustrated volumes with big themes will get armchair travelers smiling and real-world travelers planning.

—“The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World” from Lonely Planet looks at 200 cities from Abu Dhabi through Zanzibar, offering everything from the best time to visit to ideas for a perfect day.

— “Great Hiking Trails of the World” covers 80 trails in 38 countries on six continents, including Peru’s Inca Trail, Japan’s Shikoku Pilgrimage and the U.S. “triple crown” of hiking, the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails.

— “Timeless Journeys: Travels to the World’s Legendary Places” from National Geographic explores 50 once-in-a-lifetime destinations, from places that offer a window on lost worlds, like Pompeii in Italy, to living wonders like a Tanzania game preserve.


Moon Travel Guides has a new series, City Walks, exploring neighborhoods in seven cities: Berlin; Amsterdam; Barcelona, Spain; London; New York; Paris; and Rome. The walks include descriptions, maps, attractions, dining and shopping.


These books about places and travel offer laughs, eye candy, a good read or some combination thereof. And some of them just might make you jealous in that “why didn’t I think of doing this?” way.

—For New Yorkers, former New Yorkers and wannabe New Yorkers: “Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York” by cartoonist Roz Chast is absolutely laugh-out-loud hysterical. It’s an illustrated memoir about city life told through the eyes of a native New Yorker who moved to the suburbs, billed as an “ode/guide/thank-you note to Manhattan.” Gems include this aside: “Sixth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas are the same thing. But no one calls it ‘Avenue of the Americas,’ because GIVE ME A BREAK.” Topics include “stores of mystery” and “the ancient landmarks.”

—“Van Life: Your Home on the Road” by Foster Huntington grew out of the author’s three-year adventure traveling around North America in a Volkswagen van. The photos showcase all kinds of funky vehicles parked in picturesque locations, along with peeks at a few interiors, crowd-sourced from the author’s Tumblr account, The book also offers interviews with travelers who have lived the van life.

—“Ultimate Journeys for Two: Extraordinary Destinations on Every Continent” by Mike and Anne Howard grew out of the writers’ five-year adventure across seven continents as “the world’s longest honeymooners,” an experience they chronicled on their blog The book includes 75 featured destinations; top 10 lists of day hikes, festivals, beaches and more; and travel advice.

—“Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God,” by Lori Erickson is part memoir and part travel guide as the author reflects on her pilgrimages to 12 sites around the world, from Our Lady of Lourdes in France to Machu Picchu in Peru. The book also recounts her meetings with spiritual leaders, including the chief priest of the Icelandic pagan religion Asatru and a Lakota Indian man who directs a retreat lodge at the holy site of Bear Butte in South Dakota.

BEST OF 2018

The folks at Lonely Planet don’t just publish a list for where to go in the new year, they’ve published an entire book: “Best in Travel 2018,” with the travel media brand’s picks for best countries, regions, cities and trends in travel for the new year, along with suggestions on what to see and do there.

►  Global carbon pollution rises after 3 straight flat years

Global carbon pollution rose this year after three straight years when levels of the heat-trapping gas didn’t go up at all, scientists reported Monday.

Preliminary figures project that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are up about 2 percent this year, according to an international team of scientists. Most of the increase came from China.

The report by the Global Carbon Project team dashed hopes that emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas had peaked.

“We hoped that we had turned the corner… We haven’t,” said study co-author Rob Jackson, an Earth scientist at Stanford University.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose steadily and slowly starting in the late 1880s with the Industrial Revolution, then took off dramatically in the 1950s. In the last three years, levels had stabilized at about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide (36.2 billion metric tons).

Estimates for 2017 put it at about 40.8 billion tons (37 billion metric tons). Sixty years ago , the world spewed only 9.2 billion tons (8.3 billion metric tons).

“It’s a bit staggering,” said co-author Ralph Keeling, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist, noting in an email that levels have increased fourfold since he was born in the 1950s. “We race headlong into the unknown.”

Man-made carbon dioxide is causing more than 90 percent of global warming since 1950, U.S. scientists reported this month.

This year’s increase was mostly spurred by a 3.5 percent jump in Chinese carbon pollution, said study co-author Glen Peters, a Norwegian scientist. Declines in the United States (0.4 percent) and Europe (0.2 percent) were smaller than previous years. India, the No. 3 carbon polluting nation, went up 2 percent.

The 2017 estimate comes to on average of 2.57 million pounds (1.16 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide spewing into the air every second.

The study was published Monday and is being presented in Bonn, Germany, during climate talks where leaders are trying to come up with rules for the 2015 Paris deal. The goal is to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, but it’s already warmed half that amount.

“It was tough enough and if this paper is indicative of long-term trends, it just got tougher,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn’t part of the team of 76 scientists who wrote the report.

While he called the study authoritative, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said he sees no need to do figures for 2017 that are not complete, saying it may be “jumping the gun a bit.”

Jackson said the team — which produces these reports every year in November — has confidence in its 2017 report because it is based on real data from top polluting nations through the summer and in some cases through October. Plus, he said past estimates have been correct within a couple tenths of a percentage point.

The top five carbon polluting countries are China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan. Europe taken as a whole, would rank third.


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►  U.S. sage grouse policy heading back to square one

Federal scientists and land managers who’ve been crafting strategies to protect a ground-dwelling bird’s habitat across the American West for nearly two decades are going back to the drawing board under a new Trump administration edict to reassess existing plans condemned by ranchers, miners and energy developers.

Federal officials are wrapping up a series of public meetings with three sessions starting Tuesday in Utah ahead of a November 27 cutoff for comment on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order last month to consider revisions to land management amendments for the greater sage grouse that were adopted under the Obama administration.

Zinke says he wants to make sure the amendments don’t harm local economies in 11 western states and allow the states to have maximum control over the efforts within their borders.

Conservationists say it’s a thinly veiled attempt to allow more livestock grazing and drilling, similar to Trump’s efforts to roll back national monument designations, but on a much larger scale. They warn it could land the hen-sized bird on the endangered species list in 2020 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to review its 2015 decision not to list it.

“They appear to be dismantling the whole land-planning amendment system and starting over,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Nevada state director.

“It’s revisionist history,” he told a Fish and Wildlife Service official during a scoping meeting-turned-brainstorming session at a Sparks hotel-casino Wednesday night.

Instead of recording public testimony, agency officials marked up easel pads with lists of criticisms, concerns and suggestions. About 80 participants moved between five breakout groups including “minerals,” ″livestock grazing,” and “wildlife and vegetation.”

They treaded familiar ground. Disagreement reigned over the size of protective buffer zones around grouse breeding grounds, states’ role in setting federal policy and whether cattle or wild horses cause more habitat degradation. There was general agreement that invasive cheat grass is fueling one of the biggest threats - catastrophic wildfires - but little consensus on what to do about it.

“I don’t understand why we’re starting all over again,” shouted a man who briefly disrupted the meeting and refused to provide his name.

Nevada Farm Bureau Vice President Doug Busselman said research increasingly suggests properly regulated grazing reduces fire fuels. But he said existing policy is “taking a restrictive approach ... and then watching massive fires sweep across the landscape, setting up the process for expansion of cheat grass, then more fire.”

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee heard the same thing last month from Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, a fifth-generation rancher who blames grazing restrictions for a wildfire that wiped out his family’s winter grazing allotment this year.

“In the process of placating anti-grazing activists, federal agencies have made the No. 1 threat to the greater sage grouse in Idaho worse,” Bedke said. Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, filed one of a series of lawsuits aimed at blocking the Obama plans.

Conversely, Republican Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Democratic Governor Steve Bullock of Montana have expressed concern that altering existing plans could undermine efforts to prevent a listing. Nevada GOP Governor Brian Sandoval also has cautioned against wholesale changes, although he applauded Zinke’s recent lifting of a temporary ban on new mining claims across about 15,600 square miles (40,400 square kilometers) adopted under Obama.

Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion said existing protections took a diverse group of stakeholders years to work out.

“Those plans were essential to keeping sage grouse from becoming endangered,” he wrote in a November 07 letter to Zinke.

That’s the message Karen Boeger delivered in Sparks.

“We all duked it out on these plans,” said Boeger, a retired teacher and member of the Nevada Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers who previously served on a Bureau of Land Management advisory board. “We’ve hardly gotten out of the chute. Let’s give it a chance.”

The bureau’s acting deputy director, John Ruhs, understands the frustration.

“A lot of folks have been engaged in this topic for a long time. Some have been at the table going back 15 years or more,” said Ruhs, who’s worked for the agency in Nevada, Oregon, Colorado and Idaho.

“We’re trying to find the best methods to allow all uses of the land to occur and still ensure protection of habitat,” he said. “It’s a tall order.”

Donnelly, whose Arizona-based group has sued over failure to list hundreds of species, said the intent of the Obama amendments “was very clear: Prevent the listing of the sage grouse.” That goal seems to have gotten lost, he said.

“We heard a lot about mineral withdrawals and local collaboration, but all in the name of what?” Donnelly asked. “Are we still committed to conserving sage grouse, or is the intention to mine and drill every acre of the West? If that’s the case, we are plunging head-long toward listing the grouse.”

►  Animal rights groups demand action against Iowa fur farm

Federal inspectors have repeatedly ordered a southeast Iowa fur farm to improve the grim living conditions for ferrets, foxes, raccoons and skunks it sells to government laboratories and pet stores.

Many of the animals have been forced to live in sweltering heat or maggot-infested filth, sometimes with decomposing carcasses in their cages, officials found over the last two years.

So far no charges or enforcement action has been taken against the Ruby Fur Farm near New Sharon, 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines. However, animal rights groups are calling for rescue of the animals, revocation of the farm’s federal license and fines for neglect.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors documented the most recent problems when they returned to the farm seven times between December and August after finding suffering animals.

A building housing 290 raccoons reached 100 degrees in July, with many of the animals panting and drooling and 26 in “severe heat distress,” according to a July 21 inspection report.

Reports from 2015 show injured or sick raccoons as well as skunks and ferrets that didn’t receive veterinary treatment. In one cage a skunk was found living with its dead cage-mate.

A December 2016 report noted: “One dead, decomposing, headless juvenile ferret was found incorporated into the fecal material buildup on the wire floor in the corner of the cage,” which also housed a live adult and six juvenile ferrets.

Federal contracts show that even as USDA inspectors were writing up the reports about the farm’s treatment of raccoons, the agency was signing contracts to buy animals from the company for research. It spent nearly $30,000 in June and December of 2015 and in July 2016.

The business since 2007 received more than $67,000 from USDA contracts to provide skunks, raccoons, and foxes. USDA has expansive research enterprises with divisions that focus on food safety, animal health and food production improvements. One of the contracts indicates raccoons were obtained by a USDA lab in Colorado focusing on wildlife diseases, and another noted young foxes would be used as “research models.”

The farm is licensed to Randy Ruby as a registered federal dealer by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and it holds state permits as an animal dealer and a pet shop.

Ruby declined to discuss the reports with The Associated Press when reached by telephone. He referred calls to The Cavalry Group, a Missouri-based animal business advocacy organization to which he is a member.

Its president, Mindy Patterson, said some of the USDA inspectors’ claims are exaggerated and when there has been an issue Ruby has addressed them immediately.

“What we witnessed up close and personal this summer was Randy Ruby’s farm being targeted and harassed with hyper-aggressive inspections,” she said. “We have time-tested agriculture practices to ensure the health and safety of both people and animals that are being redefined as inhumane treatment of animals by these groups who have nothing but an emotion-based agenda.”

The farm’s website says it has been in business for more than 65 years and raises “our animals with tender, loving care, and we can ship them anywhere in the world.”

Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based nonprofit that monitors U.S. research and animal holding facilities, has called for the termination of the fur farm’s federal animal dealer’s license and rescue of the animals.

In an October 16 letter to Robert Gibbens, a veterinarian and the USDA’s director of Animal Welfare Operations based in Colorado, Budkie asked the agency to fine Ruby Fur Farm. He said inspection reports clearly demonstrate “a total disregard for the health and well-being of these animals.”

USDA spokesman R. Andre Bell confirmed the agency has discussed the farm with an animal rights group but declined to say whether it was considering enforcement action or terminating the license. He also declined to discuss whether USDA’s purchased of animals from the fur farm had any impact on its enforcement of animal welfare regulations.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture, which has issued state permits for the farm to operate as a pet shop and registered federal dealer, has no enforcement action pending, said spokesman Dustin Vande Hoef. The agency can revoke the permits if it were to find standard of care issues but it has received no complaints, he said.

Any animal neglect charges must come from a law enforcement officer under Iowa law.

Mahaska County Sheriff Russ VanRenterghem said he accompanied a USDA inspection team to the fur farm three or four times in July.

“I don’t see any violations,” he said, describing the farm’s owners as “very reputable, very good people.”

Iowa is ranked the second worst in the nation for animal welfare behind Kentucky, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual rankings released in January.

Iowa enforcement is weak because with a few exceptions animal neglect is not considered a felony, and laws defining adequate shelter conditions are unclear, the group said.

“In general if I was picking a state to be an animal in, Iowa would be very far down my list,” said David Rosengard, a staff attorney for the group’s criminal justice program. “I could be neglected. I could be starved. I could be abandoned and the person who did that wouldn’t face the sort of repercussions they would have to deal with in a lot of other states.”


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►  Fears squashed: Zucchini mistaken for WWII bomb in Germany

A worried resident in Germany alerted police to what he thought was a World War II bomb in his garden. Officers rushed over — and found a particularly large zucchini.

Police were summoned to the scene in Bretten, near the southwestern city of Karlsruhe, on Thursday morning by an 81-year-old man.

They said in a statement Friday that officers determined “the object, which really did look very like a bomb” was actually a 40-centimeter (nearly 16-inch) zucchini.

The offending vegetable, which was very dark in color, weighed about five kilograms (11 pounds). Police believe someone threw it over a hedge into the garden.

Unexploded wartime bombs are unearthed frequently during construction work in Germany, often forcing authorities to evacuate tens of thousands of residents while they are defused.

►  4-foot-long lizard found in Southern California backyard

A lizard that can grow to be 8 feet long has been found in Southern California, thousands of miles from its native land, and authorities think it’s a pet gone astray.

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The 4-foot-long crocodile monitor was spotted sunning itself on top of a hedge Wednesday afternoon in the backyard of a Riverside home.

The crocodile monitor is a relative of the famous Komodo dragon. It’s native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia — not California — but it is legal to own them in the state.

It’s green and yellow with big claws, a long tail and a forked tongue.

The big lizard is now being held by Riverside County’s animal services division. If the owner doesn’t claim it, the monitor will be sent to a sanctuary for exotic animals.

Division of Natural Resources to Conduct Survey on Public Opinions about Black Bears

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The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is conducting a scientific study of state residents’ opinions on and attitudes toward black bears and black bear management.

State residents may receive a phone call from Responsive Management, the research firm contracted to conduct the study, asking them to participate in a brief telephone survey about black bears and black bear management.

“Selection of residents for participation in the study is random to maintain a scientifically valid study,” said Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR. “If you receive a call at home or on your cellphone for this study, please consider participating to assist the agency in better understanding state residents’ opinions on issues related to black bears in West Virginia.”

This study builds on previous surveys conducted by the DNR and Responsive Management in 2012 and 2006 to assess attitudes toward black bears. The study will include an analysis of trends in opinions and attitudes. The data will then be used to update the state’s Black Bear Management Plan.

Responsive Management is an internationally recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resources.

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