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Can elephants sway an election?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

It takes a village to understand why elephants became a big issue in yesterday’s Botswana election.

The country is home to a third of Africa’s elephants—about 130,000. It’s a remarkable number considering that poaching has decimated elephant herds across the continent. But making sure all those elephants can peacefully coexist with people who live in rural parts of the country has become a major political issue.

When I was in Botswana last month, I went to several villages in the Okavango Delta to talk to people about what it's like trying to survive and make a living with elephants tramping back and forth every day to get to the river. Elephants have killed two people in that area this year and destroyed countless livelihoods by eating crops—often a whole field in a single night. People are terrified to go outside after dark. Not knowing what it's like to live alongside five-ton animals, I didn't get it at first. But my interpreter, who's from this area, turned out to be the best interview of the trip.

He said he likes elephants, but: "Lions are better. Elephants don’t take chances. They’re killers.”

Lions—fast, strong, sharp-toothed carnivores—are less dangerous than elephants. Turns out that's the prevailing sentiment in this area—and it's the truth.

Here’s more on the elephants and the voting from the BBC and from VOA.

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Today in a minute

Busted: Two turtle poachers have been arrested in Florida, charged with being part of a smuggling ring that sold over 4,000 Florida turtles in the past six months, CNN reported. The black market value was $200,000, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said. The charges, the commission added, “represent the state's largest seizure of turtles in recent history."

How about listening? These male birds figure they have to SHOUT to get a date. As a result, the male white bellbird in the Amazon may be the loudest bird on earth. When wooing a female, a male screeches right into her face at 125 dB, about the loudness of speakers at a rock concert. “They just seem alien,” says Jeff Podos, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Digit-al discovery: The nocturnal aye-aye, an endangered cat-sized lemur found in Madagascar, has a secret weapon, scientists have discovered. It’s a sixth digit, a thumb-like appendage farther up its arm that helps it hold onto trees. The discovery shows us how little we still know about some animals on earth.

Saved: Two decades ago, the Iberian lynx looked like it would go the way of the sabertooth tiger. But due to captive breeding and habitat management, the population has bounced back from fewer than 100 in 2002 to about 700, Smithsonian reports. The biggest challenges facing it? Maintaining scrubland, keeping up populations of rabbits (its favorite prey), and avoiding cars.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Fireflies at night. Using a 30-second exposure, Kirsten Luce showed the bursts of light that fireflies make. Some of their paths are small loops, like those in the bottom center of the frame, while others move steadily in one direction or another. Read more here about Luce’s work, done in a sanctuary in Tlaxcala, Mexico. Related: How do fireflies do that?

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Overheard at National Geographic

Do sharks rock? National Geographic writer and editor Kristin Romey ran into legendary undersea photographer Brian Skerry in the office on Tuesday and asked him: What did he think about the upcoming underwater KISS concert for sharks? Turns out dive operators have known for a while that sharks are fond of deep bass tones with a certain rhythm. Skerry himself discovered that mako sharks like head-banging AC/DC music. Would the upcoming concert be harmful to sharks? Romey asked. The sharks would be fine, said Skerry, adding that he, however, is not a KISS fan. And no, Romey did not ask about baby sharks.

The big takeaway

What was a critical turning point for wildlife biologist Lucy Spelman? “Working with the gorillas taught me how readily our emotions, our sense of compassion, and our humanity influence conservation decisions. I finally understood that conservation is more than a science. I realized it was time to shift gears in my career and start teaching. I no longer wanted to work to save the last of a species or focus just on the science of veterinary medicine. I wanted to help inspire the next generation of conservationists.” From the National Geographic 2020 Almanac, out now.

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One last glimpse

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Humble—and plentiful. Goldfish, such as this celestial eye goldfish, developed as an act of mercy by Buddhists who protected them. They have become valuable for scientific research and as pets, writes historian Anna Marie Roos in a new book. Yet goldfish are bottom-feeding carp that can accelerate algae blooms—and have been declared a nuisance in six states. Roos tells National Geographic that she dedicated her book to Speedy, her pet goldfish, who came to an abrupt end. “I was a geeky scientist at a young age and out of curiosity, touched him. He had really rough scales, so I poured hand lotion in the water to make his scales soft. ... Yes. In part, I wrote the book out of guilt for Speedy."

This newsletter has been curated by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com.