Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet 4.26.05

Bird Flu Mystery
The ongoing bird flu outbreak across Southeast Asia may not be
contained until at least 2007 because the way it spreads baffles
experts, according to officials in the worst-affected country,
Bird Flu Mystery

The ongoing bird flu outbreak across Southeast Asia may not be contained until at least 2007 because the way it spreads baffles experts, according to officials in the worst-affected country, Vietnam.

At least 36 people have died from the disease in the last year and a half, with more cases being reported almost weekly. Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told visiting officials it is still not known how the virus is transmitted from waterfowl, which can carry it without getting sick, to poultry and then to people. The cull of millions of birds across Southeast Asia has failed to stop the disease from spreading.

Reindeer Panic

A herd of 140 reindeer plunged to their death after possibly being chased off a cliff by a wild cat in northern Sweden. “It was a lynx that chased and frightened the reindeer off the cliff,” said Tuorpons Sami town spokesman Nils Petter Pavval. “Reindeer have a sixth sense; they know the cliffs and overhangs and thin ices. They don’t just rush off a cliff of their own free will, but must have done this in panic when a predator hunted them,” he added. Sami reindeer herders discovered the animals in a bloody heap at the foot of the 2,300-foot cliff.


An estimated 10,000 villagers fled their homes on the largest island of the Comoros chain as Mount Karthala sent fountains of ash and lava spewing out of its crater. The mountain subsided two days later, but volcanic fallout may have contaminated much of the Indian Ocean island’s water supply.

n Ambrym Volcano, in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, has been the greatest source of sulfur dioxide gas on the planet so far this year. The volcano has erupted regularly during recorded history, but the current phase is more potent than usual, according to vulcanologist John Seach. Falling ash from Ambrym poses a hazard to local water supplies.

Bird Lakes Shrinking

Wildlife officials in Kenya say that millions of waterfowl, including the country’s famed flamingos and pelicans, are in peril as lakes in the central Rift Valley dry up. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) says deforestation, river diversion and changing weather patterns threaten to deplete several lakes that are home to millions of the birds. KWS officials said the government has failed to develop a policy to safeguard the lakes, and called for immediate action to stop the damage.


A strong aftershock just off Japan’s Kyushu Island injured 56 people in Fukuoka prefecture one month after the initial magnitude 7.0 quake killed one person. The latest shaking damaged dozens of homes and unleashed five landslides.

n Earth movements were also felt in eastern Japan, the Sumatra aftershock zone, northern Egypt, northern Italy, northern Peru, Southern California and south-central Alaska.

Saharan Haze

A pall of dust from the deserts of North Africa darkened skies across parts of Greece, causing travel disruptions due to low visibility. Crete was hardest hit, with all air and sea traffic to the island canceled. Several international flights in and out of Greece were also delayed for several hours. Greece’s National Meteorological Service said the phenomenon was caused by North African low-pressure centers, known as “Saharan depressions,” which channeled the clouds of dust across the Mediterranean.

Whaling Season

Norway launched its annual whaling season with hunters now being allowed to kill a total of 797 of the marine mammals by the end of summer. It is the largest quota allowed since the Oslo government relaunched commercial whaling in 1993 in defiance of the International Whaling Commission moratorium established in 1986. Frode Pleym, of the Norwegian branch of Greenpeace, said whale meat is increasingly difficult to sell as fewer and fewer Norwegians actually eat it. He claims Norway continues to hunt whales merely for reasons of “national pride.”

Python Jam

A tourist in southern Thailand who couldn’t get his rented car to start eventually discovered that a 16-foot-long python had wrapped itself around the engine.

The Nation reported the unidentified tourist had parked outside the Krabi Royal Hotel in Krabi, and was unable to start the vehicle when he tried to leave.

Hotel staff lifted the hood, and discovered the wayward snake was constricting the motor. Authorities were called in and spent more than an hour extracting the python, which was then freed unharmed in a nearby forest.

By Steve Newman

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