Posts Tagged ‘survival’


Photo: Kudra Maliro
Regina works at the Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, where she was once a patient. She often tells other patients, “I had this horrible thing, too, and look at me now. You can’t give up.”

When people recover from a natural disaster or a disease that loved ones did not survive, rather than feeling elated to be alive, they may feel only darkness about their losses. Some have learned to try healing their spirits a bit by helping others in similar situations.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When Regina Kavira Mbangamuke’s toddler son fell sick late last year, she did what any mother would. She pressed his feverish body to hers. She wiped away his tears and his sweat. She whispered tiny comforts in his ear. Don’t be afraid, my baby.

“And when he died, she fell into a sadness so deep and physical it took a week for her to realize there might be something else wrong.

“Ebola can be like that, Ms. Mbangamuke knows now. First it tries to take the people you love most in the world. And then it tries to kill you too.

“But as she tells her story to her patients at the Ebola treatment center in this city in eastern Congo, where she now works as a nursing assistant, it has a more hopeful postscript.

‘I say, my brother, my sister, I had this horrible thing too, and look at me now,’ she says. ‘You cannot give up.’

“Like nearly every one of the 1,000 people who have survived Ebola in eastern Congo in the past 15 months, Ms. Mbangamuke’s survival is interlaced with profound loss.

“But Ebola also affords les guéris – the cured – with an unusual opportunity. They are considered likely immune to the disease, and so also to the cruel distance it demands. They don’t need to wear the spacesuit-like protective gear that other Ebola responders don to avoid touching the sick. They can hold hands and rock babies. They can hug and clean and console. And in a place where trust in outsiders is in short supply, the hundreds of survivors who now work in the Ebola response provide something else: familiarity.

“ ‘This work helps the response, but it also helps the people doing it,’ says Solange Kahambu Kamuha, a psychologist with UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, in Beni. …

“[A] young man in bed shakes his head weakly. No, he says, he won’t go. He heard that everyone who goes into an Ebola treatment center dies. From the outside, rumors like this can sound fanciful. The disease was invented by the rich to make money. The disease was brought in to kill the political opposition. Hospitals inject their patients with Ebola to keep the outbreak going.

“But each outlandish-seeming rumor contains a kernel of truth. … Even the idea that patients are being infected in hospitals is rooted in the truth that many have gotten sick after visiting one. …

“There is simply little reason to believe that outsiders ever have their best interests at heart, says [Dr. Maurice Kakule Mutsunga, the chair of the local Ebola survivors organization]. ‘All around, people see tanks and U.N. soldiers, and still our war doesn’t end,’ he points out, referring to the decades of civil war that have roiled this part of Congo. Why should Ebola, and its new army of outsiders, be any different?

“Ms. Mbangamuke sees the skepticism, and to her too, it makes sense. Ebola has broken all of society’s rules.

“ ‘Here in the Congo, to take care of people is the normal thing, but in times of Ebola people cannot do the normal thing’ for their own families, she says.

“For her, it is still nearly impossible to make sense of a world that would take her child and spare her. The camaraderie she feels with her colleagues, their unspoken understanding, the easy laughter that passes between them as they mix sugary cups of tea in the break area, none of it gives meaning to her son’s death. But it is a way for her to try to restore some measure of balance.

“ ‘Every old woman I see [in the treatment center], she becomes like my own mother. Every baby, it’s like my own baby.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: NOAA
Aerial image of Granny J2 (right) and a juvenile orca, J45, chasing a salmon in September 2016. Ultimately J2 captured the salmon and presented it to J45.

Being a grandparent himself, my husband recently took note of some research on grandmothers in the animal kingdom and judged it blogworthy. This version of the story appeared online at King5News.

Michael Crowe reports, “A team of researchers have found having a young orca’s grandmother around improves survival of the offspring. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tests the ‘grandmother effect’ in Southern and Northern Resident killer whales off Washington state and British Columbia. …

“The study used decades of photo census records of the two populations to study survival of individual whales and connected family groups through observation. And they found if a grandmother whale died, it reduced the survival of her ‘grandwhales’ in the two years following her death.

“ ‘The statistics showed they were healthier and lived longer when they had a thriving grandmother,’ said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network.

“Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, said the study confirmed decades of observations.

“ ‘They’re incredibly socially bonded animals,’ Giles said. She said it’s a fascinating relationship, because whales can live decades after they cease reproducing – killer whales have evolved one of the longest post-reproductive spans outside humans.

“She recalled an aerial photo of J2 (also known as ‘Granny’) from 2016 sharing fish with J45 – her apparent great-grandson. J45’s mother had recently died, and he was not yet old enough to thrive without support. Though J2 was thin and towards the end of her life, she helped the younger relation.

‘It sticks out to me, because this is an animal in here late 80s, maybe old as early hundreds,’ said Giles. ‘She’s clearly trying to keep that fish in the pathway of her relative so he’ll eat it. …

” ‘She could have eaten that fish in one bite, but she chose to corral it toward him so he’d grab it.’

“The study also notes the importance of grandmother whales in lean salmon years when the female leaders serve as ‘repositories for ecological knowledge.’ …

“ ‘The grandmothers have that long perspective, the multi-decade look at where the salmon have been, the nooks and crannies,’ said Garrett. ‘… So they’re constantly in that role of guide, mentor, teacher. They share not only their food, but their traditions, their ways.’ …

“There are 73 Southern Resident whales we know of, Giles said, and of that, there are just four grandmothers remaining – one in J pod, one in K pod, and two in L pod. She worries that these grandmothers will only become more important to the endangered Southern Resident killer whales’ survival. …

“Garrett also hopes deeper knowledge of the whales’ behaviors will encourage people to help protect them.

“ ‘I think the study helps people learn more detail, more higher resolution if you will, of how they live and who they are,’ he said. ‘They really are individuals with their own identities, their own roles, their own place in their societies and in their families. And the more we get to know them in that kind of intricate detail, the more we feel close to them, and want to help them in any way we possibly can.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Shutterstock
Another name for the orca is killer whale.


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Well, I had a treat last week! I went to watch horseshoe crabs being tagged for research — kind of like birdbanding, but for crabs. The woman with the funny expression above was actually enjoying the whole thing and helping to take notes for the scientist, Kim Gaffett.

Kim, who may be best known to New Shoreham visitors for birdbanding, has been working for some years with Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University on an initiative called the Limulus Project. The idea is to learn more about the amazing horseshoe crab, a species that, depending on whom you ask, has managed to survive between two and five mass extinctions on Planet Earth, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

In spite of their amazing record of survival, the crabs are considered threatened today, so it’s important to study them and try to find out what’s going on. As I wrote a few years ago, their blood has the ability to clot in the presence of bacteria, so it has become invaluable to pharmaceutical companies. Researchers are supposed to draw the blood as one would for a human and then have the fishermen return the crabs to the ocean, but that may not be happening consistently.

I asked Kim how she knew she would find any crabs that particular morning, and she told me that when there is a high tide and a full moon in June (flood tide), the horseshoe crabs come up to the shore to mate. The male has one claw like a boxing glove, with which he attaches to the female’s shell in order to be available when she drops her eggs. The eggs are fertilized outside the body. Sometimes other males are hanging around, and it’s possible for one batch of eggs to get fertilized by more than one male.

All sorts of marine life forms attach themselves to horseshoe crabs — seaweed, barnacles, slipper shells. Kim calls the crabs “their own ecosystem.” The crabs’ fellow travelers don’t usually cause any trouble, but as you can see below, a quahog had snapped onto a claw of one crab. A citizen scientist is shown detaching it.

From Phys.org, I read this about horseshoe crabs’ survival: “They have a special kind of blood, which … coagulates when it encounters bacteria. They can ‘wall up’ any wounds they receive.

“Another key to their survival seems to be their tolerance of habitats that fluctuate in salinity (levels of salt). When environmental changes happen, they can move to safety.

“An ability to live with low levels of oxygen is also important. [Natural History Museum expert Richard Fortey] adds, ‘The horseshoe crab was able to cope with periods of oceanic deoxygenation that were fatal to many marine organisms.’ ”

I was also interested in what Quartz had to say: “These amazing crab species are among the handful of species referred to as ‘living fossils’ because their current form resembles those found in the fossil record. Externally at least, the crab hasn’t changed much in nearly 450 million years. In that time, it has survived all five of Earth’s great mass extinctions, the worst of which killed off an estimated 95% of all marine species, and the most recent of which did away with the dinosaurs. …

“The crab’s blue blood contains a chemical called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), which thickens when it comes in contact with toxins produced by bacteria that can cause life-threatening conditions in humans. Labs use LAL to test equipment, implants, and other devices for these toxins.”

Kim says she hopes labs will start using the synthetic version of LAL more and give the horseshoe crab a break.

Note the tag below. Kim found one crab with a tag from a previous year, and she attached another tag to a newer find.




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Sometimes when I’m trying to cross a city street in traffic that’s coming from all directions, I think about how people who don’t visit cities much — Inuit people, say, or rural tribesmen in Africa  — would cope. Probably about as well as I would cope dealing with the habits of lions or polar bears. We all develop the survival skills we need most.

Birds do, too. According to Scientific American, urban birds develop skills that let them outwit their country cousins on certain tests.

Christopher Intagliata reports,”While visiting Barbados, McGill University neurobiologist Jean-Nicolas Audet noticed that local bullfinches were accomplished thieves.

” ‘They were always trying to steal our food. And we can see those birds entering in supermarkets, trying to steal food there.’

“And that gave him an idea. ‘Since this bird species is able to solve amazing problems in cities, and they’re also present in rural areas, we were wondering’ are the rural birds also good problem-solvers, and they just don’t take advantage of their abilities? …

“So Audet and his McGill colleagues captured Barbados bullfinches, both in the island’s towns and out in the countryside. They then administered the bird equivalent of personality and IQ tests: assessing traits like boldness and fear, or timing how quickly the finches could open a puzzle box full of seeds.

“And it turns out the city birds really could solve puzzles faster. They were bolder, too, except when it came to dealing with new objects—perhaps assuming, unlike their more naive country cousins, that new things can either mean reward … or danger.

“The study is in the journal Behavioral Ecology [Jean-Nicolas Audet et al, The town bird and the country bird].”

More here.

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I used to love finding little red salamanders when I was a child.

I didn’t know they played an important role in the ecosystem, even balancing out processes that contribute to climate change. Of course, when I was a child, nobody talked about ecosystems or climate change. But I’m glad to learn salamanders are important. Small things often are.

Writes Richard Conniff in the NY Times, “According to a new study in the journal Ecosphere, salamanders play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. …

“The study — by Hartwell H. Welsh Jr., a herpetologist at the United States Forest Service’s research station in Arcata, Calif., and Michael L. Best, now at the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif. — notes that salamanders’ prey consists almost entirely of ‘shredding invertebrates,’ bugs that spend their lives ripping leaves to little bits and eating them.

“Leaf litter from deciduous trees is on average 47.5 percent carbon, which tends to be released into the atmosphere, along with methane, when the shredding invertebrates shred and eat them.

“If there aren’t as many shredders at work and the leaves remain in place, uneaten, they are covered by other leaves. … The anaerobic environment under those layers preserves the carbon until it can be captured by the soil, a process called humification.

“At least in theory, having more salamanders in a forest should mean fewer shredding invertebrates and more carbon safely locked underground.”

Read how they tested their theory, here.

 Photo: Todd W. Pierson/University of Georgia

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I have blogged several times about vanishing languages and the people who seek to preserve them.

Now it seems that community radio is getting into the act, with programs that are becoming a piece of the cultural-survival puzzle. This is happening worldwide, including in the United States.

“The swift and sure loss of indigenous language in the U.S. was hardly an accident,” writes Alexis Hauk at the Atlantic. “From the latter part of the 19th century to the latter part of the 20th, the Bureau of Indian Affairs systematically sent generations of Native American kids into boarding schools that were more focused on punishment and assimilation than on education. In a piece for NPR in 2008, Charla Bear reported on the terrible conditions that persisted at these schools for a century—how kids were given Anglo names, bathed in kerosene, and forced to shave their heads.

“In recent years, the government has taken steps to reverse some of the damage. In 1990, the Native American Languages Act was passed, recognizing the right of indigenous populations to speak their own language.”

Lobbying by Loris Taylor, the CEO and president of Native Public Media, “helped lead to the creation in 2009 of the [Federal Communications Commission]’s ‘Tribal Priority’ for broadcasting,” writes Hauk, “and then, a year later, to the establishment of the FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy, which promotes technology and communication access on tribal lands.”

Mark Camp, deputy executive director at Cultural Survival, says that “Congress’s passage of the Community Radio Act in 2011 means that community radio stations could soon—in Camp’s words—’mushroom,’ which offers a lot of potential for Native American media on reservations, where there is usually little infrastructure and in many cases no electricity (certainly no wifi). In these areas, a low-power FM station that’s plugged into the grid in the center of town allows people with battery-powered, handheld radios to listen in to what’s happening all around them.” Read more.

Update: Asakiyume adds this link from “The Take Away.”

Arizona’s KUYI 88.1 broadcasts in Hopi to approximately 9,000 people. Photograph: KUYI


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