Photograph by CAROLYN SIMANCIK, AP
Photograph by CAROLYN SIMANCIK, AP
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When will trainers stop drugging racehorses?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

The Kentucky Derby ended in an uproar last year when Maximum Security (above), the first horse to cross the finish line, was disqualified for interfering with another horse. The incident capped a year of controversy in horse racing, with higher than usual numbers of horses dying on racetracks across the U.S.

This week, Maximum Security’s trainer was among 27 people charged in a wide-reaching doping scheme to manufacture, distribute, and secretly administer drugs to racehorses under their care. “What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” said William Sweeney, Jr., the head of the FBI’s New York office.

These kinds of drugs allow horses to run unnaturally fast, which both masks pain of existing injuries and makes them more susceptible to catastrophic injuries and falls. Reliance on performance-enhancing drugs and lax oversight at the racetracks has made American racetracks among the deadliest in the world. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, 493 Thoroughbred racehorses died. That’s a rate 2.5 to five times greater than in Europe and Asia, where anti-doping rules are more strictly enforced, the New York Times reports.

If we as a society continue to insist on a sport in which our athletes are animals, with little choice about the matter, we’re going to have to do a whole lot better protecting them.

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Coronavirus update

The latest: The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down cruise operations. Princess Cruises has suspended operations for two months, and Viking has canceled cruises until May 1. While the U.S. Congress has closed to the public, the market again has fallen, and the number of cases and fatalities rise, a reminder: The vast majority of people with COVID-19 recover in about two weeks, while most of those with more severe ailments may take three to six weeks to rebound. For now, everyone—not just people with underlying health conditions—should wash their hands frequently and maintain a social distance. I, for one, look forward to the day when we can mingle again.

Today in a minute

Rare giraffes slaughtered: Wildlife enthusiasts worldwide were fascinated by a rare white giraffe and her calf in conservation lands in northeastern Kenya. Now, distraught conservation officials have reported the animals have been killed. Nat Geo's Natasha Daly reports that poachers are likely to blame. “This is a very sad day,” said the conservation area’s manager, Mohammed Ahmednoor, in a statement.

Rats helping rats: Who knew the phrase “you dirty rat” was a slur to a creature that, a new study shows, has empathy and will avoid hurting another rat? The study, which looked at domesticated rats, Liz Langley writes for Nat Geo, showed similarities between rats and humans that may help scientists better understand sociopathy.

Don’t look at your dog that way: Your pet isn’t going to give you the coronavirus, health officials say, despite the “weak positive” reading of a COVID-19 patient’s Pomeranian in Hong Kong last week. There have been no such reports in the United States, the CDC says. "At this time, people should be minimally concerned about this coronavirus affecting their pets," veterinarian Dr. Will Sander tells Business Insider.

From guns to binoculars: In the tribal lands of India’s northeast, traditions are changing as onetime hunters are now working to preserve wildlife, the Guardian reports. Their biggest success is helping the rebound of the Amur falcon, a small, resilient raptor that was once over-hunted in the area.

NYC deer hunters: On Staten Island, some residents blame a swelling deer population for causing dozens of accidents and say they should be able to hunt them. They also say the numerous wild turkeys are over-aggressive. The city, however, remains committed to a vasectomy program for the deer, the New York Times reports.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Fast work: It can take many days to get an image like this of the swift-moving sailfish. Photographer Paul Nicklen says he was able to capture this photo in waters off Mexico “with only a few good hours of lucky shooting.” The sailfish can reach speeds of 68 miles an hour.

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The big takeaway

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

The last glimpse

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Make way for otters! A half-century ago, smooth-coated otters, native to the Singapore area, were in danger of dying out. Their rivers were choked with rotting animal carcasses, garbage, and sewage. Now, with cleaner waterways, these sea otters have bounced back—and they’ve adjusted to city life, too. Perhaps too well, writes Claire Turrell for Nat Geo. The land-roving otter families all have names, such as the Bishan family (above), pictured crossing a downtown street.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading!