We’re guessing that most of you weren’t around in the late 19th century. But if you had been, and if you were living in Ireland and looked up now and then, it would have been hard not to notice that something had gradually gone missing from the skies: the magnificent white-tailed eagle. After all, it had a wingspan of up to eight feet—these birds were sometimes referred to as “flying barn doors”—and that’s the sort of thing one pays attention to. But, sadly, the white-tailed eagle was driven to extinction by what has been described as “human persecution.”
Fortunately, the species (which is sometimes known as the sea eagle) survived elsewhere. And now 21 eagle chicks imported from Norway have been released around Ireland in the hope that they can reestablish themselves.
The program, directed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (N.P.W.S.), is actually a sequel to a bigger effort. As The Times of London noted, “One hundred young eagles were released as part of phase one of the project between 2007 and 2011 in Killarney National Park. More than 35 Irish-born eagle chicks have since fledged here.” Happily, the feed-me-right-NOW call of young white-tailed eagles, described as “a shrilly piieh-piieh,” had taken on a distinct Irish brogue.
It was exciting. “Just to see the eagle flying in Irish skies is something reminiscent of what was happening over 150 years ago,” Eamonn Meskell of the N.P.W.S. told The Times. “They’re just massive, massive birds and their wings are absolutely impressive when they’re soaring.”
Apart from being an altogether great idea for eagles and eagle fans, the reintroduction could also mean an increase in ecotourism for Ireland. Eagles were successfully released in Scotland’s Isle of Mull in the 1970s, and “the revenue generated from ecotourism is absolutely phenomenal—something in the region of millions per year,” Meskell told the newspaper. Ditto Norway.
Well, AIR MAIL Pilot is packing its binoculars. —George Kalogerakis
Last week, AIR MAIL Pilot brought you the story of the Asian elephant herd that has been enjoying a 17-month, 800-mile trek across southwestern China. This week in News of the Pachyderm World we turn our attention to an even longer journey undertaken by a lone woolly mammoth 17,100 years ago.
Interesting, you say, but why are ancient mammoth wanderings considered news right now, when the world has so many other pressing concerns? And what about the fact that mammoths have been extinct for thousands of years and there hasn’t been a new Ice Age movie in forever?
If you guessed “a team of scientists” is at the bottom of all this, you get a gold star.
A study published in the journal Science revealed that thanks to a clever chemical analysis of a pair of male mammoth tusks, researchers were able to trace where the animal roamed over the course of his lifetime. All told, before dying at the age of 28, he traveled some 43,500 miles around what is now Alaska—far enough, the study said, “to almost circle the Earth twice.”
If you thought woolly mammoths were lazy or unambitious, you do not get a gold star.
The scientists nicknamed their mammoth Kik, in honor of the river near where his tusks were found in 2010. Kik grew up as part of a herd. But at around the age of 15, as he presumably became a threat to his older male relatives, he was forced to set out on his own—a form of tough love, AIR MAIL Pilot supposes, and a tradition that continues to this day among modern elephants.
That is when Kik really started to rack up the steps, heading north toward the Arctic Circle in search of food and a mate. He stayed on the move for more than a decade, right up until his death, likely of starvation, AIR MAIL Pilot is very sorry to report.
How did the researchers figure all this out? Mammoth tusks grow in layers as the animal matures, so when a tusk is cut open it has rings that correspond with age, like a tree stump—or, as one of the study’s authors poetically described it, “stacked ice cream cones.”
Researchers analyzed the presence of certain trace elements in each layer of one of Kik’s tusks, and cross-referenced their findings with the levels of those elements across the Alaskan landscape, enabling the team to trace not only where Kik had traveled, but when. This is a big deal because, while people who study woolly mammoths know a lot about them as a species, no one had been able to conjure an individual mammoth’s life history before. You could say the researchers brought Kik back to life, not unlike the way a writer might.
The scientists had feelings about that. “You get really attached to his movements and you get sad, actually, when you end up at 28 years and he just dies there,” one of the study’s co-leaders, Clément Bataille, of the University of Ottawa, told Vice. “You think, ‘That’s too bad. Maybe he could have gone in another direction and done something else.’”
True, and a sad “what if.” On the other hand, had Kik turned left, found more food, and lived longer, we might not know his story today. —Bruce Handy
Imagine training relentlessly for the better part of your life, breaking records, and then being told you can’t compete in the Olympics—not because you’re not good enough, but because of where you were born. At just 16 years old, Great Nnachi, who broke the Italian record for pole vaulting two years ago with a 12-foot-leap, is one of Italy’s most promising young athletes.
Last month, Nnachi should have been on a plane to Tokyo to compete for Italy, but her life-long dream was thwarted. Although Nnachi was born in Turin and has spent her entire life in Italy, because her parents are Nigerian, she won’t be eligible for Italian citizenship until her 18th birthday. This is due to Italy’s lousy legal structure, which does not grant citizenship to those people who were born in the country but whose parents are of foreign descent.
Italy is one of the few countries left with this system, a relic of the 1800s which prioritizes heritage over where someone was born. The laws aren’t only arcane but also discriminatory. While Nnachi was not allowed to compete in the Olympics, the runner Lamont Marcell Jacobs Jr., who was born in Texas, was allowed, since his mother is Italian. Jacobs, who grew up on a U.S. military base, ended up winning the 100-meter gold medal for Italy.
Nnachi is far from the first person to criticize Italy’s outdated laws. For years, Italy’s center-left coalition has proposed reforms that have stalled in parliament.
And while the laws likely won’t change anytime soon, Nnachi’s star is continuing to rise. Earlier this year, she secured an all-time record by vaulting over 13 feet. (Athleticism runs in the family—Nnachi’s younger brother, Mega, is an aspiring football player. Despite his talent, he, too, must wait until his 18th birthday to play for Italy.)
“It’s tough being unable to participate in international competitions, unlike my friends,” Nnachi told Euronews.
But Nnachi maintains a positive outlook. “My message to others in my situation is: don’t stop, don’t give up,” she said. “Continue to do sports, and don’t let anything get in the way of your dreams.” —Bridget Arsenault