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FLORA AND FAUNA
Jonathan, St. Helena's ancient tortoise, awaits visitors
By Béatrice DEBUT
Jamestown (AFP) Nov 26, 2017


Photographer captures human face of endangered species
Washington (AFP) Nov 25, 2017 - Can you love an animal to death?

A new book by British photographer Tim Flach documents some of Earth's most treasured species pushed to the brink of extinction by manmade crises, from pangolins hunted for their scales to Brazil's pied tamarin threatened by urbanisation.

"Most of the changes in the past have been driven by natural forces, but on this occasion, it seems to be driven by us," Flach told AFP on a visit to Washington.

"My real question is: 'Why am I here doing it? Why am I here taking a picture of the last male white rhino?' It's the question of how we got to that point, rather than simply one of wonderment."

Coral, insects and even some ecosystems are included alongside some of the most recognizable threatened mammals such as polar bears and lesser-known creatures like harlequin toads.

The panda is one of the least vulnerable species found in the more than 150 images of "Endangered," whose release coincides with a new exhibition of Flach's photos in London's Osborne Samuel Gallery.

Flach, known for his highly stylized photographs of dogs and horses, captures the animals' almost human expressions.

On the book's cover, a crowned sifaka lemur hugs his knees toward his chest, his bright yellow eyes betraying a worried yet inquisitive look, like a reprimanded schoolboy.

Flach, 59, often uses a black velvet backdrop and his lighting captures colors in such detail that one can almost feel the softness of the lemur's black, orange and white fur.

In the summer, Flach trekked to Russia's Caspian Sea, hiding in a "fly-infested hole" in search of the saiga antelope, an Ice Age survivor that once roamed alongside woolly mammoths but could soon be wiped out by poachers preying on its twisted horns.

Flach could only get a good sighting of the females, so he returned in the dead of winter with the longest lens he could borrow from Canon and got just one shot.

Other encounters during a two-year odyssey included staring the last male white rhinoceros in the eye and swimming with great white sharks off the Galapagos Islands.

He hopes that others share his passion for wildlife.

"If we care about something, we are more likely to take action," said Flach.

He is a tourist attraction worth travelling a long way to see -- Jonathan the giant tortoise is perhaps the world's oldest land animal, living in pampered luxury on the remote British island of St. Helena.

Aged at least 185 -- though no one knows for certain -- Jonathan should prepare himself for an influx of visitors now that an airport has opened on the small island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The island's most famous resident, Jonathan slowly roams the lush gardens of the governor's house, eating carrots, lettuce, cucumber, apples and pears prepared in the governor's kitchen.

He appears on the island's five-pence coin, on immigration stamps, and in old black-and-white photographs alongside Boer War prisoners in the early 20th century.

"He is an institution, my V.I.P. -- Very Important Patient," said his vet Catherine Man, during her weekly check-up of Jonathan, who stretched out his long, wrinkled neck to eat some chopped carrot.

"He knows our voices and is very gentle, but it can be a bit dangerous for my fingers when I feed him.

"He has a very set routine, he goes to the same places in the paddock at the same time each day."

Jonathan originates from the Seychelles but the circumstances of his arrival on St. Helena remain a mystery and the exact year is much disputed.

Some unconfirmed reports suggest 1882 -- a few decades after Napoleon died in exile on the island on 1821.

- Younger days -

When younger and more agile, he was known for disrupting croquet matches on the governor's lawn, and for going under tables at tea parties and upsetting the china.

Man, the only vet among the island's 4,500 population, says he is now blind, has no sense of smell and is already far beyond his life expectancy of 150 years -- but otherwise he is in good health with good hearing.

"Reptiles have a slow metabolism, they breathe slowly, they eat slowly, and live a long time," she said.

"But perhaps his stress-free lifestyle here, and the clean air help explain his longevity."

St. Helena, located 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometres) from the African mainland, is one of the most remote places on Earth.

Until now, the island's only link to the outside world was by ship, but the new airport brings tourists on a weekly commercial flight from Johannesburg.

They will be able to visit Jonathan, viewing him and his three younger companions -- Emma, David, Frederica -- from a designated "corridor" to ensure the tortoises are left largely undisturbed.

Lisa Phillips, the governor of St. Helena, said that when she arrived to take up the post last year she went to meet Jonathan before she stepped inside the governor's house.

"He loves company," she said, even suggesting that venerable Jonathan is attracted to Emma, a mere youth at the age of 49.

"He still enjoys the ladies and I have heard him quite regularly in the paddock with Emma and he grunts," she said.

"I have to keep an eye on him when he is doing that -- it was not in the job description when I became governor."

Inevitably, there has to be a plan for when Jonathan finally dies.

His obituary has already been prepared and his shell will be preserved for posterity.

FLORA AND FAUNA
New NASA Insights into the Secret Lives of Plants
Pasadena CA (JPL) Nov 27, 2017
Life. It's the one thing that, so far, makes Earth unique among the thousands of other planets we've discovered. Since the fall of 1997, NASA satellites have continuously and globally observed all plant life at the surface of the land and ocean. During the week of Nov. 13-17, NASA is sharing stories and videos about how this view of life from space is furthering knowledge of our home planet and ... read more

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