The World Today for July 13, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 3,304,942 (+1.76%)
  2. Brazil: 1,864,681 (+1.35%)
  3. India: 878,254 (+3.38%)
  4. Russia: 726,036 (0.00%)**
  5. Peru: 326,326 (+1.12%)
  6. Chile: 315,041 (+0.97%)
  7. Mexico: 299,750 (+1.52%)
  8. UK: 291,154 (+0.22%)
  9. South Africa: 276,242 (+4.56%)
  10. Iran: 257,303 (+0.86%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country



They Miss Us Too

A gray cockatoo named Gil has been self-harming, plucking the feathers from his own chest, since authorities shut down the zoo where he lives in self-isolation in New Jersey. “They love getting talked to all day,” a birdkeeper said in an interview with the Washington Post. The problem: He’s lonely.

A blue parrot named Brat kept trying to take off the birdkeeper’s facial mask because he’s more used to his face. “He just doesn’t think it belongs there,” she said. “You think you’re coming to the zoo to watch the animals. Well, the animals are watching you, too.”

Sad zoo animals are one sign of humankind’s changing relationship with nature during the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus has forced Chinese officials to crack down on the trade in wildlife meat for consumption, NBC News reported. They first detected COVID-19 in a wildlife market in Wuhan. The virus has since been linked to pangolins, an Asian and African anteater prized for its meat and medicinal qualities. Animal rights activists have been critical of the Chinese bushmeat industry for years, but their calls have spurred little change. Until now.

Consuming some animals is a small part of the ecological crisis that’s been exposed during the pandemic. World-renowned conservationist Jane Goodall recently told CBS News that species extinction was occurring faster than ever. The consequences are unimaginable, she warned.

Development, pollution and climate change are among the factors that threaten the environment, including the animals that live on the earth. But the environment fights back indirectly.

The virus, for example, is a “zoonotic disease,” or an infection that spreads from animals to humans, wrote the Tampa Bay Times. Cases of zoonotic diseases are on the rise as humans impinge on wild areas – think deer ticks and Lyme disease – and as humans travel globally through hubs like Wuhan, Seattle, northern Italy, New York and, most recently, Texas.

Yet the worldwide shutdown has not necessarily yielded the benefits for animals that one might expect, despite cleaner air, fewer people and vehicles and the space to roam for animals who jumped to take advantage. Ecotourism provides crucial funding to rural communities so they can avoid the development that paves paradise and puts up parking lots. But the tourists they need are staying home.

As a result, conservationists in Kenya are struggling to find revenues to care for baby elephants. Without tourists to pay for their upkeep, elephant owners in Thailand may be forced to put their pachyderms to work hauling timber or other illegal uses, wrote the Revelator, an environmental news website. Some might be shot because there is no money to pay for their upkeep, reported. They are not the only animals going hungry because tourists aren’t there to contribute to their costs or feed them, the New York Times reported.

And zoo officials around the world say they are desperately fundraising, applying for loans, making contingency plans and trying to avoid transferring their animals or euthanizing them.

In the UK, the pandemic has revived an old debate about whether zoos do more harm than good. While proponents say they are important for education and conservation, animal rights advocates say it’s time they go.

“Zoos are not part of nature,” Graham Wallington, CEO of broadcaster WildEarth, which connects people with nature through technology such as virtual safaris, told Forbes. “Nature copes very easily with a pandemic, it’s designed to cope with it… When you remove animals from nature, you remove their ability to survive.”



David’s Fight

Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens voted in primaries held by the city’s pro-democracy parties over the weekend, a sharp display of opposition to China’s imposition of a controversial national security law a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The primaries are not part of Hong Kong’s official political process but were held by the pro-democracy camp in order to agree on candidates to avoid splitting the vote ahead of September’s legislative elections.

Nearly 600,000 people voted in polls, a larger-than-expected turnout, which shows there is still strong opposition against parties that have bowed to Beijing’s rules in recent years, the newspaper wrote.

Even so, while pro-democracy candidates won major support in district elections in November, they face an uphill battle in the upcoming polls.

Chinese officials criticized the primaries, saying that they possibly violate the new national security law, which outlaws activities that involve secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Legal scholars have criticized the law as being overly broad but China and Hong Kong’s pro-China government say it’s necessary to restore order and prevent security lapses after last year’s protests.

Analysts say that Beijing pushed the law forward ahead of the September elections, fearing that the government might lose the polls, which would then make it difficult for the city to pass controversial bills on its own.


The Politics of Landmarks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected international criticism over a decision to change Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, saying it’s a domestic matter, Al Jazeera reported Saturday.

Erdogan said that the decision is the will of the Turkish people: It came just minutes after a high court ruled that the UNESCO World Heritage Site could become a place of worship.

The Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral but was later turned into a mosque following the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Constantinople – now Istanbul – in 1453. In 1934, Turkey’s secular government turned the site into a museum.

The move was criticized by Orthodox Christian religious leaders, Turkey’s NATO allies, as well as Russia – with whom Turkey has forged closer relations in recent years.

“Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations,” said World Council of Churches interim secretary-general Ioan Sauca.

Analysts told the New York Times that it was a move long sought by conservative Muslims in Turkey and beyond, but one which opponents say Erdogan intends to stir his nationalist and religious base as his popularity wanes after 18 years atop Turkish politics.


Outside Partner Step

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita dissolved the country’s constitutional court after four people died during mass anti-government protests over the weekend, France 24 reported.

Keita’s move follows a ruling by the constitutional court which declared the results of a parliamentary election in March, favoring Keita’s party: Protestors and members of the opposition say the court’s results differ from polling station tallies. Now, Keita says he is willing to hold a rerun election in areas where the vote is disputed.

The weekend protests were organized by the June 5 Movement and are the third demonstrations in less than two months. Protesters say they want the resignation of Keita over his poor handling of Mali’s long-running jihadist conflict, the lingering economic woes and government corruption.

Since 2012, the West African nation has struggled to contain an Islamist insurgency, with thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. At the same time, the last democratically elected president was overthrown in a military coup in 2012. Meanwhile, Keita is due to step down in 2023.


A Star For Lunch

The black hole at the center of the Milky Way is large but it’s a mere blip compared to the supermassive black holes around the universe.

Case in point, astronomers recently studied the J2157 black hole and discovered that the gargantuan cosmic object “feeds” on one star per day, Inverse reported.

J2157 is located billions of light-years away from Earth and it is considered the fastest-growing black hole in the universe.

In their study, lead author Christopher Onken and his team wrote that the black hole is about 8,000 times bigger than the Milky Way’s black hole. The team originally encountered the celestial phenomenon in 2018 and was surprised at its growth rate.

Researchers noted that the massive object is located in an extremely active galaxy known as a quasar, which emits huge amounts of energy.

The light emitted from the quasar showed that it was only 12.5 billion years old, which means that J2157 emerged just 1.25 billion years after the Big Bang.

The findings show that J2157 grew to its imposing size in a relatively short amount of time and the authors are now trying to determine how that happened.

“Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early universe,” Onken asked, “or did the black hole just swallow up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.”

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