#TheNetherlands; #CullingOfMinks; #SARSCoV2; #TheDutch; #Feralcats; #Coronavirus
Lelystad (The Netherlands), Jun 10 (Canadian-Media): n a sad sideshow to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in the Netherlands began to gas tens of thousands of mink on 6 June, most of them pups born only weeks ago. SARS-CoV-2 has attacked farms that raise the animals for fur, and the Dutch government worries infected mink could become a viral reservoir that could cause new outbreaks in humans, a Netherlands study revealed in https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020.
Mink: Image credit: Wikipedia
The mink outbreaks are “spillover” from the human pandemic—a zoonosis in reverse that has offered scientists in the Netherlands a unique chance to study how the virus jumps between species and burns through large animal populations.
But they’re also a public health problem. Genetic and epidemiological sleuthing has shown that at least two farm workers have caught the virus from mink—the only patients anywhere known to have become infected by animals. SARS-CoV-2 can infect other animals, including cats, dogs, tigers, hamsters, ferrets, and macaques, but there are no known cases of transmission from these species back into the human population. (The virus originally spread to humans from an as-yet-unidentified animal species.)
The first two mink outbreaks were reported at on 23 and 25 April at farms holding 12,000 and 7500 animals, respectively. More mink were dying than usual, and some had nasal discharge or difficulty breathing. In both cases, the virus was introduced by a farm worker who had COVID-19. Today, it has struck 12 of about 130 Dutch mink farms. Once COVID-19 reaches a farm, the virus appears to spread like wildfire, even though the animals are housed in separate cages. Scientists suspect it moves via infectious droplets, on feed or bedding, or in dust containing fecal matter.
That mink are susceptible wasn’t a surprise, because they are closely related to ferrets, says Wim van der Poel of Wageningen University & Research, which has an animal health laboratory here. (Both mink and ferrets can also contract human influenza viruses.) Like humans, infected mink can show no symptoms, or develop severe problems, including pneumonia. Mortality was negligible at one farm and almost 10% at another. “That’s strange—we don’t really understand it,” says virologist Marion Koopmans of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. Feral cats roaming the farms—and stealing the mink’s food—were found to be infected as well. The researchers published a preprint about their work on 18 May; a paper in Eurosurveillance may come out soon.
The Netherlands is the only country so far to have reported SARS-CoV-2 in mink. In Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, “We have not recorded any similar disease or outbreaks,” says Anne Sofie Hammer, a veterinary scientist at the University of Copenhagen. Neither has China, the second largest producer, says virologist Chen Hualan of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. (Hubei, the province hardest hit by COVID-19, does not have mink farms, she notes.)
The Dutch outbreaks are giving scientists a chance to study how the virus adapts as it spreads through a large, dense population. In some other animal viruses, such conditions trigger an evolution toward a more virulent form, because the virus isn’t penalized if it kills a host animal quickly as long as it can easily jump to the next one. (Avian influenza, for instance, usually spreads as a mild disease in wild birds but can become highly pathogenic when it lands in a poultry barn.) Although SARS-CoV-2 is undergoing plenty of mutations as it spreads through mink, its virulence shows no signs of increasing.
Even so, the Dutch outbreaks have alarmed people in North Brabant province, where mink farms are concentrated. The region’s burgeoning goat industry caused the world’s largest human epidemic of Q fever between 2007 and 2009. Anxious citizens feared a repeat with SARS-CoV-2 and mink. But Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever, forms hardy spores that wafted out of barns and blew off fields fertilized with goat manure. SARS-CoV-2 is far more fragile; environmental sampling has not turned up any virus outside mink sheds, says veterinary epidemiologist Arjan Stegeman of Utrecht University, who leads the research on mink outbreaks. Whereas farm workers should wear protective equipment, the population at large is at very low risk, Stegeman says.
Eventually, the virus seems to burn itself out at every farm, once more than 90% of the animals have contracted it and developed antibodies. Combined with the low mortality rate, that means the outbreaks are far less devastating for farmers than, for instance, bird flu in poultry or foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.
Even though just two of the Netherlands’s nearly 50,000 confirmed human COVID-19 cases have been linked to the farms, the government decided to cull the animals because the problem could become bigger in the months ahead. Female mink give birth in April and May, leading to a sixfold increase in populations. Antibodies in their mother’s milk probably protect pups for a while, but they might become vulnerable later to any virus lingering at the farm. “That could mean there’s a second wave in minks in the fall,” Van der Poel says—raising the risk of more human cases. The mink are culled by gassing them with carbon monoxide; the Dutch government will compensate farmers.
In the long run, their businesses were doomed anyway: A law approved by the Dutch parliament in 2012 bans mink farming as of 2024 for ethical reasons. The affected farmers may be allowed to reopen their farms for another 3 years if tests conclusively show the virus is gone—or they can decide to throw in the towel now.
#UNEP; #Biodiversity; #CronavirusPandemic; #GlobalEducation
New York, Jun 6 (Canadian-Media): “I have never seen anything quite like this,” says Kathleen Usher, a Canadian elementary school teacher as she clicks through the website of Earth School, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reports said.
The portal, which the UN Environment Programme, and TED-Ed launched together with a wide array of partners as a response to COVID-19 on 22 April, features 30 kid-friendly primers on a range of environmental issues, from the origins of water to the life cycle of a t-shirt.
“The avalanche of support from leading scientists, incredible teachers and specialists in everything from climate to oceanography to build out Earth School has just been a joy to behold,” says Usher, one of the school’s curators. “Global collaboration for the sake of our kids feels amazing!”
With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting education worldwide, Earth School sought to bring together compelling and interactive resources for learning about nature and the environment on a single global platform. And it’s working. Over 200,000 young people, hailing from every country on earth, have taken so-called quests on the site over the last month. Now Earth School is set to reach new heights as the Government of India will share it with teachers across the country through their online learning portal, DIKSHA, with other nations set to follow suit.
One of the stars of Earth School 2020 has been Priyanka Modi from India who has made a short animation of every lesson she has done together with her six-years-old son Atharva.
"I love exploring the quests with Atharva. It is fun to learn together and explore science new knowledge from home”, Modi said.
The initiative was developed in just three weeks by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and TED-Ed, a non-profit educational organization. The goal was to create a platform that would connect kids with the nature while locked down at home.
It quickly drew in over 50 collaborating organizations, including major conservation and education players such as National Geographic, BBC Ideas, the World Wildlife Fund, Earth Day Network, Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Earth School has also won the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is developing ways to support school children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“With the COVID-19 lockdown and the need for home-schooling, it wasn’t easy to find a series of reliable and engaging lessons on nature on the web,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “So we decided to try and change that. With TED-Ed and the amazing teachers and supporters behind this initiative, we want to try and get to one million children through Earth School by the end of 2020.”
Governments have been involved as well, including the Government of Finland who provided financial support for the project.
“To build back better we have to learn back better. That is why we were delighted to support Earth School. Teaching young people about the importance of nature and how to protect it has never been more urgent, so it was very encouraging to see more than 200 000 kids from all over the world take part”, said the Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen.
Sumeera Rasul of TED-Ed, said, “Launching Earth School during COVID-19 has proved to be a powerful initiative, uniting students and educators all over the world for positive actionable learning, during a time of physical distancing. We have received a tremendous response to the animations, lessons and resources in the school. We aim to keep growing this platform, to help youth acquire knowledge and values needed to solve complex issues around climate change and build a better planet.”
The lessons are built around an inspiring short-film from TED-Ed, which then leads to a quick quiz followed by a Dig Deeper section where youngsters can explore films and exercises that speak to their imagination and let them explore and discover the natural world.
Discussion boards then allow students to interact with children from across the world, sharing ideas on everything from how many t-shirts they really need, to how cats can inspire them to design greener buildings.
Organizers will keep the doors open to Earth School throughout the year. They will also examine how more governments can share the material with their teachers and explore how the lessons can bridge the digital divide by being shared with refugee populations. They aim to have 1 million children take quests by the end of 2020.
Collaborators who contributed to Earth School include: BBC Ideas, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Conservation International, CEE, Earth Day Network, Earth Challenge 2020, Environment Online (ENO), GeSI, International Olympic Committee, IUCN, Institute for Planetary Security, Junior Achievement, Learning in Nature, Littlescribe, Minecraft, National Geographic Society, Ocean Wise, Only One, Royal Geographic Society, SciStarter, Sitra, TAT, TED-Ed, The Nature Conservancy, UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN SDSN / TRENDS, UN Technology Innovation Lab, UNCCD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, University of Pennsylvania, Vult Labs, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), Wild Immersion and WWF.
#NatureConservancyofCanada; #CanadianUniqueSpecies; #NatureServe
Ottawa, Jun 5 (Canadian-Media): A list of 308 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants and animals which are uniquely Canadian and found nowhere else on the planet was released in a report Jun 4 by Dan Kraus, a senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NSC) and a lead author of the report on endemic species, media reports said.
Image credit: Website
Dan Kraus said in his report that the highest numbers of endemic plants and animals were
found in B.C., Quebec, Alberta, and Yukon.
The list of species and subspecies unique to Canada was compiled by NSC in partnership with NatureServe Canada.
Canada's leading national land conservation non-profit organization NSC is mandated with the goal of protecting natural areas that sustain plants and wildlife, prioritizing endemic species.
NatureServe Canada is part of an international network that collects and distributes conservation data.
Uniquely Canadian species include mammals such as the eastern wolf, Vancouver Island marmot, wood bison, and Peary caribou; birds such as the Pacific Steller's jay; and fish such as the Banff longnose dace, Atlantic whitefish, and Vancouver lamprey, the Maritime ringlet
butterfly and the Yukon goldenweed.
The report also said only 10 percent of these species are considered to be globally secure.