Photograph by Jasper Doest
Photograph by Jasper Doest
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Would you let a pair of pigeons into your home?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

Pigeons are not “flying rats,” and Jasper Doest is determined to change that perception. His photography project, “Pandemic Pigeons: A Love Story,” chronicles the lives of Ollie and Dollie, a pair of bold pigeons that has befriended his family while isolating in their apartment in the Netherlands.

They’ve grown so comfortable that they come into the kitchen to check the dishes for crumbs (above, Ollie on a plate and Dollie around the corner) and into the living room to check out his daughters’ dollhouse. They hang around when the family eats sushi take-out, while the girls are doing their home-schooling, and when Jasper has his morning tea on the balcony.

We recently published some of Jasper’s photos as well as a story he wrote about the experience. “Every time I’m cleaning their waste off our balcony, I do understand how people see pigeons as a nuisance,” he writes. “But my impulse to malign them evaporated.” (Pictured below, Jasper’s daughter, Merel, momentarily startled as Dollie swoops by and Ollie, left, lands on the balcony.

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If you can get past all that poop, pigeons really are quite remarkable. They’re resilient to the many hazards of city living. They can problem-solve, recognize individual human faces, count from one to nine, and tell the difference between cubist paintings and impressionist ones. Their homing and navigational skills have been prized for thousands of years, and domesticated racing pigeons can fly more than a thousand miles and at speeds upwards of 50 miles an hour. And despite their reputation, they rarely make people sick.

To be honest, I never thought much about pigeons one way or another. They’ve never grossed me out the way they do many people, but I wasn’t particularly fond of them either. After working with Jasper on this story, I see them in a whole new light. Despite the social isolation and instability of the world today, “these daily visits have become a reminder of another reality,” Jasper says. “We are not alone on this planet, and we need to share it with all living beings as if our lives depend on it.” (Below, Ollie flying off after wandering around the girls’ dollhouse.)

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Today in a minute

Keeping his cool: Descending the Dolomites, trying not to panic, 12-year-old hiker Alessandro Breda urgently recalled a video he had just watched on what to do if you accidentally encountered a bear. Behind Alessandro, shadowing him, was a sizable brown bear. In the distance stood his grandmother, howling with fear. The video of Alessandro walking away from danger on Sunday has become a sensation, the New York Times reports. Three bear maulings have occurred in the area in northern Italy since 2014. “I’d learned that if you yell, the bear becomes agitated and becomes much more aggressive,” Alessandro said.

Operation Hidden Mitten: That’s the name of a U.S. law enforcement operation meant to keep a Chinese delicacy known as mitten crabs from being smuggled into the country. Why? These ravenous crabs are super-invasive, preying on local wildlife and upending food chains and fisheries. They also can transmit a parasite that attacks human lungs, reports Rene Ebersole for Nat Geo.

Elvis is in the ocean: A new species of colorful, scaly worm named after Elvis Presley has been found in the Pacific, Science News reports. Is iridescent gold-and-pink scales of a worm discovered off California—reminiscent of sequins on the iconic jumpsuits of “The King”—prompted the naming of P. elvisi. Three related wormy, deep-Pacific Elvis impersonators share some common traits, such as nine pairs of scales, but each species has its own distinct colors.

An early bloom: If plants aren’t flowering, a pollen-hungry bumblebee will make tiny incisions in their leaves to nudge the process along—a discovery that has stunned bee scientists. The researchers showed that bumblebees can force plants to bloom up to a month earlier than usual. If humans can figure out how to replicate that process, it would have big implications for our food supply, Virginia Morell writes for Nat Geo.

Who can resist doughnuts? How did a southwestern Florida city capture an 18-month-old bear wandering downtown? The old doughnut trick, the Fort Myers News-Press reported. Wildlife biologists lured the 250-pound black bear into a cage with a trap door using a few boxes of sugared doughnuts and a blueberry pie-scented spray. The male bear was to be relocated to state-managed preserve land. Hat tip to NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro for the story link.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Landed? Most emperor penguins never touch land during their lives. They reproduce on the sea ice surrounding Antarctica. But rapid warming threatens the base of their existence: In 2016 thousands of chicks were feared to have drowned when the sea ice broke up before they were ready to swim, says photographer Frans Lanting. “I know the hardships emperors face because I camped out for a month with them on sea ice,” writes Lanting, who is pushing to get emperors recognized as an endangered species. This year, photographer Stefan Christmann, who has endured one entire winter with the penguins, updated the story. Climate models predict significant losses of the penguins’ ice shelf by century’s end unless urgent action is taken against climate change.

Subscriber exclusive: Emperor penguins march toward extinction

Related: 10 facts about emperor penguins

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The big takeaway

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Which designer brands have had wildlife products seized? A new analysis of government records found that Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Michael Kors, and dozens of other fashion companies have had thousands of items made from illegal wildlife products seized by federal law enforcement at U.S. ports of entry from 2003 through 2013. Reptiles—some endangered—accounted for 84 percent of all items, many of which were belts, watch bands, wallets, shoes, and purses, writes Rachel Nuwer for Nat Geo. Past investigations have found that snakes and other animals are skinned alive or killed in other inhumane ways. (Above, illegally imported reptile skin boots seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the years are stored at a warehouse in Colorado.)

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Frenzy: When hundreds of hungry sharks zero in on breeding groupers, it’s not pretty. Laurent Ballesta and his team built a semicircular rig of 32 synchronized cameras to capture the sharks hunting down one grouper off the Fakarava Atoll in French Polynesia. The hunt came amid a wild—and quick—grouper mating season, before dawn, during a full moon. At sunrise, Ballesta and his team paused. “At that moment, I heard whales singing, probably many miles away.” he wrote. “It reminded me of church bells.”

Subscriber exclusive: A rare look at the collision of hungry sharks and breeding groupers

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Do you have an idea, or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading.