Photograph by Shirley Caldwell
Photograph by Shirley Caldwell
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What makes this cardinal so fascinating?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

The way I see it, Nat Geo’s ANIMALS coverage spans two things: fascinating animal discoveries, and important conservation and welfare stories. Looking back on our most-read animals stories of 2019, it’s clear. You all loved the story about the half-male, half-female cardinal (pictured) spotted in Pennsylvania (How is this scientifically possible?!) and the story about the unusual sighting of three huge female great white sharks feeding on a dead whale (Female great whites are almost always solitary. What was going on?!). You also loved our investigation into the dark and disturbing world of captive wildlife tourism and our story about the deadly disease behind the amphibian apocalypse.

I also want to call out a few stories from this year that didn’t get the attention they deserved (IMO):

Why Zimbabwe’s female rangers are better at stopping poaching: To few people’s surprise, investing in women tends to have an outsize impact on community improvement, which is why this elite wildlife ranger unit is all-female. The Akashinga rangers, as they’re called, are survivors of abuse and exploitation—and now they’re protecting their country’s most iconic wildlife.

How veterinary drugs are wreaking havoc on wildlife: We all know there’s a problem with antibiotics use in livestock helping to create antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We talk a whole lot less about what all those antibiotics are doing to wildlife. Don’t miss this important read.

Inside the Indian community that welcomes leopards: One of the biggest threats facing wildlife today is that humans are spreading out into their territory. That leads to attacks on livestock and, occasionally, people—who in turn attack the animals in retaliation. But this one community in India (below) has figured out not only how to peacefully coexist with leopards but to actually welcome them ... even after one of the cats tried to steal a baby.

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What were your favorite animal stories this year? What animal stories would you like to see more of in 2020? Let me know!

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Fox on the run: A gray fox hunts at dusk in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. The gray fox is the only member of the dog family that will climb trees to search for prey, sleep, or escape from predators, says photographer Joel Sartore, who aims to photograph as many species as he can through his Photo Ark project.

Related: Nat Geo's best animal photos of 2019

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Today in a minute

Saved: These U.S. research lab chimpanzees were dumped in Liberia decades ago and left to die. They didn't know how to live in the wild. They still don't, but one man, John Thomas, has been their guardian all that time, the Washington Post reports.

Good breeding: Inside a compound in Panama, the United States is breeding a billion destructive screwworm flies a year, then releasing them. The twist? The program renders the flies infertile, part of a decades-long effort to protect livestock by keeping the screwworm flies—and their flesh-eating, parasitic larvae—away.

Long mystery solved
: A look into the century-old extinction of North America’s only native parakeet says humans were to blame. The rise of industry, intensive hunting, and eradication by farmers also doomed the Carolina parakeet, the last of which died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

The valley of death: Animals wander in a gorge in remote Kamchatka, but don’t come out. Why? A fatal volcanic gas is emerging from it, Atlas Obscura reports.

The big takeaway

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Come back tomorrow for Whitney Johnson on the latest in photography. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, Debra Adams Simmons on history, and George Stone on travel.

One last glimpse

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It’s back! Thought extinct for the past three decades, the starry night harlequin toad was spotted by scientists in Colombia’s remote Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta coastal mountain range. The indigenous Arhuaco people, who invited the scientists to their region, consider the amphibian sacred—and showed the researchers about 30 of the distinctive spotted toads. Their starry name is an ode to the clear nights on the mountain range.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea, a link, or a tip on a new “found” species? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. And thanks for reading!