By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
The drama over Tiger King won’t quit. The docu-tainment series on Netflix followed the eccentric Joe Exotic, his private Oklahoma zoo full of tiger cubs, and a murder mystery. It caught the public’s attention just as the U.S. was locking down for the pandemic. Not long before Joe (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) was sentenced to prison on a murder-for-hire plot in January, his Ed Hardy-wearing, Las Vegas party bus-owning, Hummer-driving business partner, Jeff Lowe, convinced Joe to transfer the ailing zoo (pictured above in 2018) into his name.
Even after it became clear tigers could get the coronavirus, Lowe kept the zoo open, Nat Geo reported, allowing throngs of visitors to cuddle baby tigers, all taken away from their mothers not long after birth (as depicted in a heart-wrenching scene in the fourth episode of Tiger King). But the zoo is no more. At two separate inspections over the summer, the USDA found underweight bears, arthritic wolves lying on concrete, big cats with open sores caused by maggots, and an unresponsive lion cub named Nala.
Lowe’s license to exhibit animals to the public was suspended for these violations (“a litany of falsehoods,” he called the USDA inspectors’ findings on Facebook). Then he voluntarily gave up his license. Why? He has new business ventures with his animals planned, he says. Rather than run a zoo for paying visitors, he’s moving his operations online and to television. But as Natasha Daly reports this week, that’s probably against the law, too. That’s according to a USDA spokesperson and animal lawyers. The big question now is how (or whether) the USDA—not known for its swift or strict enforcement of animal welfare laws—will react.
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Today in a minute
Hurricane warnings issued: Approaching Hurricane Delta, strengthening in open water, has prompted hurricane warnings along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Delta is expected to make U.S. landfall on Friday, bringing up to 11 feet of water to some parts of Louisiana, CNN reports. The state is still reeling from Hurricane Laura, which left thousands of Louisiana residents homeless.
Saving the jaguars: Last year, we made a big deal about the wildfires ravaging the Amazon. This year, with the West Coast wildfires and COVID-19, you may not have heard about the massive wildfires in Brazil’s western Pantanal region, home to the biggest wetlands in the world. The fires in the Pantanal this year are four times larger than the Amazon’s biggest blazes, Jill Langlois reports. Now, volunteers are coming to the region—which has the highest density of mammal species on Earth—seeking to save animals such as jaguars.
Twin threats: Wild bees have it tough enough. Now a study reinforces that fighting two threats—food scarcity and pesticides—might be too much for them. The researchers studied the effects of widespread pesticides and a lack of flowering plants on the blue orchard bee. They found reproduction declined by 57 percent and resulted in fewer female offspring, Science Daily reports.
Russian eco-mystery: First, surfers reported mild burns on their corneas from the water off Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Then large numbers of seals, octopuses, and sea urchins washed up dead on a popular black-sand beach there. Now, experts are investigating two military sites where toxic chemicals were buried. The Guardian reports that those chemicals could include highly toxic rocket fuel.
Last but not least: Meet 747, who fans joke is the size of the wide-body jetliner. The scar-covered brown bear, from Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, is the winner of this year’s Fat Bear Week contest, begun in 2014 to honor the bears as they fatten up for hibernation. It has proven popular, with more than 550,000 online votes this year for “contenders,” more than doubling the number of voters during last year’s Fat Bear Week, the Washington Post reports. Rangers estimate that 747 weighs 1,400 pounds.
Your Instagram photo of the day
His favorite birds: That’s what photographer Ivan Lesica calls the Nicobar pigeons that roam the wilds of New York’s Central Park. “The gorgeous bird (pictured above) landed on a sunlit branch and displayed its incredible colors right in front of me,” Lesica told us. “I quickly lined up the bird with the deep background shadow and took this shot. I really like showcasing such beauty on dark, neutral backgrounds to make the subject the star of the photograph.” Some of the 4.6 million fans of our Your Shot page on Instagram agree; more than 105,000 have liked this image in the past three weeks.
Related: Pigeons find home in photographer’s apartment during pandemic
The big takeaway
Tough at the start: Everybody seems to be watching the baby giant panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo (pictured above). But the six-week-old baby can’t watch back. Not only is it sightless in its first weeks of life, it is without genitalia, and it has a protective mom that doesn’t like keepers poking around. Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever explains how we’re watching this yet-to-be-named male cub in Washington, D.C., grow from a pink, wrinkly thing the size of a stick of butter to “the cuddly furballs that humans are hardwired to love."
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Fearsome—and beneficial: After 3,000 years, the raspy shriek of the Tasmanian devil is sounding through the forests of mainland Australia. The ferocious, lapdog-sized marsupials, known for their powerful jaws, have been reintroduced to mainland (shown above) from their sole remaining home, the Australian island state of Tasmania. The hope: They will help other native animals thrive. By driving away feral cats from hunting during the day, the devils may help keep the native bandicoots alive, Jason Bittel reports for Nat Geo.
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