By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
And here we are. It’s the last day of 2020, and I sure wish we could wake up tomorrow to a different world. Despite vaccine rollouts, COVID-19 is still going to be a threat, wildfires will still be burning, and the Amazon will still be disappearing. But there are a few things I’m looking ahead to that offer some hope.
In 2021, the United States will be rejoining the Paris Agreement, meaning the country will begin taking steps to fight climate change that’s threatening the economy, our homes, and the world’s wildlife. Also watch for further pushes to regulate or phase out the sale of wild animals for food in order to prevent future disease outbreaks.
And as for safari-based tourism, which forms the backbone of economies in some developing countries, we may see a return of visitors—and of well-paying tourism jobs for locals, some of whom were forced to turn to illegal hunting during the pandemic.
Los Angeles will break ground on the world’s biggest wildlife overpass (a rendering is pictured above), which meant to protect cougars from cars (and cars from cougars). There will be a renewed push to fund biodiversity conservation (a recent report showed a gap of more than $500 billion!), and a summit involving 190 countries negotiating to create a new worldwide framework for halting biodiversity loss.
And for a touch of whimsy, we’ll see heritage breeds of cows, goats, chickens, and hogs grace U.S. Postal Service stamps. Cheers to 2021!
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Meerkats: Photographer Daisy Gilardini captured these social animals in the Makgadikgadi salt pans of northeastern Botswana. The open, flat landscape covered by acacia shrubs and grassland is the ideal habitat for the meerkats, whose large communities fascinated Daisy. “They sleep in burrows at night and leave at the first rays of sun in the morning. After warming up in the sun for a few minutes, they take off on their daily hunt,” she tells us. “A handful of colony members serve as lookouts, watching out for predators like eagles, hawks, and jackals, while the others forage for food, which may include birds, lizards, insects, and fruit.”
Related: How Botswana revived Africa’s largest mammal migration
The big takeaway
Force fields: How do electric eels use their shocking superpowers? Not just for communication and navigation, but also for hunting, Nat Geo’s Diana Marques tells us. She writes of up to a hundred Electrophorus voltai surrounding small prey in shallow lake waters and then zapping them. A video in this story shows the stunned fish flying up, falling back into the water—and getting swallowed alive. Yikes! (Pictured above, an electric eel in South America.)
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Surprisingly sophisticated: Ostriches have been underestimated and maligned since antiquity. It turns out that ancient scholars didn’t understand the subtleties of the world’s biggest bird—and the fastest animal on two feet. Mainly, ostriches are alert, communal, and employ complex techniques to protect their eggs. And no, Richard Coniff reports from northern Tanzania, ostriches do not put their heads in the sand. They never have.