By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
This week, we have a new hero—Conan, a very good dog who chased down Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, in a raid over the weekend. Thanks to a photo the president tweeted, we know Conan—named for the comedian, not the barbarian—is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most common breeds used in military operations. One thing Conan has helped shed light on is the invaluable and often quite dangerous work of dogs in war.
The Belgian Malinois is known for being smart, fearless, loyal, and able to withstand the withering heat of the Middle East. The canines are often trained how to detect explosives, track people, and even parachute out of helicopters. Dogs can go where humans can’t, and they can take down the bad guys without killing them. They can detect the enemy up to 1,000 yards away, and they sniff out injured troops in hard-to-locate places.
Setting out in front of troops, combat canines and their handlers often lead the wayinto the most dangerous battlefields. We should all show a little gratitude.
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Exclusive poll: Everybody is buzzing
If you could save one species, which one would it be? Our Facebook users decided in May; a scientific poll asked 2,200 Americans a few weeks ago. The headlines are the same:
People love bees.
People hate sharks.
Young, old, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, whatever race or ethnic group, all want to save the bees, the National Geographic/Morning Consult poll found. An astounding 55 percent chose bees as the FIRST species they would want to save.
Sharks got about the same percentage as John Delaney in Democratic presidential polling. Take a look at the breakdown of the findings below and how this story came about. And why, hero canine Conan notwithstanding, are dogs on the list? You’ll have to ask the Facebook readers who put them there in May. But according to this poll, they’re man’s SECOND-best friend.
Today in a minute
Tradition? For generations a Thai village has lived with elephants—about 300 of them, chained up, reports National Geographic’s Natasha Daly. “The elephants here are inherited,” says Wanchai Sala-ngam, an elephant caretaker and trainer in Ban Ta Klang. “It's like the land that you get.” This government-supported practice, criticized by animal welfare groups, will continue, Daly concludes, “as long as tourists are willing to pay high prices for elephant encounters.” Hear Daly talk more about the issue on this week’s episode of our podcast, Overheard.
Now hear this: For 50 years, we’ve been taught that moths evolved ears to detect the calls of attacking bats. A new study, however, proves that ears came first. “Most of the introductions I’ve written in my papers are wrong,” researcher Jesse Barber tells The Atlantic. Barber, who has studied bats and moths for years, was involved in the new study.
American turtles, Asian pets: Will poachers cause a population collapse of some types of turtles in the United States? That’s the fear of conservation officials after what they describe as skyrocketing demand from Asia in recent years—and an increasing number of big turtle trafficking cases. National Geographic’s Dina Fine Maron says officials offer three words of advice to people crossing paths with the critters: “Let turtles be.”
Apprehended: Indian police have captured a man accused of killing sloth bears and poaching and trading tigers, the BBC reported. "We created a special cell to track him down and arrest him," said Ritesh Sirothia of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department. "It was our longest chase. It went on for six years."
Your Instagram photo of the day
No fear. This baby sea lion was patiently waiting on a beach in the Galápagos Islands for his mom to come back for food. Unafraid of human beachgoers, he slept, then swam in the tide pools, writes photographer Cristina Mittermeier. Read more on our Instagram page.
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Overheard at National Geographic
Chasing ghosts. In July, National Geographic writer Douglas Main traveled to Southwest Florida, home to the rare and beautiful ghost orchid. “There are only about 2,000 of these swamp miracles, and they’re sought after by poachers like John Laroche, a man arrested stealing some in 1994, who became the subject of a book called The Orchid Thief and the film Adaptation. To see a hidden one, I hiked through knee-deep water the color of sweet tea from early morning until afternoon with photographer Carlton Ward. He showed me that they are pollinated by multiple moths, a finding that upturned the conventional wisdom. But there are more accessible orchids, including one at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary called a “super ghost,” a huge specimen that can put out 10 flowers at a time. To see it, you needn’t don waders and dodge alligators like our party, but you can rather use a spotting scope on site: The flower sits 50 feet up an ancient cypress. Good thing, too. Its height has protected it from poachers. Unfortunately, development in the area is threatening its water supply."
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Tomorrow, Whitney Johnson, our director of visual and immersive experiences, describes photographer Pete Muller's work and his search for a sense of place. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here.
One last glimpse
Our Halloween ‘’ghost.“ Earlier this newsletter, we mentioned the muddy search for the ghost orchid. Here’s an image of the rare Dendrophylax lindenii, with its long nectar tubes, into which moths stick their tonguelike proboscises. Oh, and Happy Halloween!