Comet Between Fireworks and Lightning

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Sometimes the sky itself is the best show in town. On January 26, people from Perth, Australia gathered on a local beach to watch a sky light up with delights near and far. Nearby, fireworks exploded as part of Australia Day celebrations. On the far right, lightning from a thunderstorm flashed in the distance. Near the image center, though, seen through clouds, was the most unusual sight of all: Comet McNaught. The photogenic comet was so bright that it even remained visible though the din of Earthly flashes. Comet McNaught continues to move out from the Sun and dim, but should remain visible in southern skies with binoculars through the end of this month. The above image is actually a three photograph panorama digitally processed to reduce red reflections from the exploding firework.
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Flocke - German Polar Bear Cub

In the end, the official name for the Nuremberg Zoo's celebrity baby polar bear was no surprise at all.

The 6.5-pound (3-kilogram) bundle of fluff that zookeepers dubbed Flocke, or Flake—as in snowflake—will be called … Flocke.

"The most important thing leading to this decision was the name that the zookeepers, based on their first impressions, gave her," Nuremberg Mayor Ulrich Maly told a news conference.

Some 50,000 name suggestions came in from around the world vie email, many of which showed strong support for keeping the name Flocke, Maly said.

The 5-week-old cub attained star status after being taken from her mother, Vera, on January 8 amid concerns that Vera might harm or even kill the newborn.

The Bavarian city's zoo made the decision to bottle-feed the cub and not return her to her mother after keepers spotted Vera carrying the cub around in her jaws and tossing it around her enclosure.

On the polar bear's personal Web site, the zoo thanked all those who participated for "the many creative and original suggestions."

Little more than a year ago, another polar bear club in Germany—Knut—was hand-raised by his keepers in Berlin and became a celebrity after being rescued when his mother rejected him.

The daily newspaper Bild has already asked of Flocke: "Will she become Mrs. Knut?"

Zookeeper Harald Hager told reporters Flocke was doing well but was, well, a little boring.

"Outside of eating and sleeping, she's doing nothing at the moment," he said.

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How to Survive an Encounter With an Ostrich

Anyone who's seen Hitchcock's classic film The Birds may feel a little uneasy around pointy beaks and razor-sharp talons. An ostrich attack, however, is straight out of Jurassic Park. Like that movie's velociraptors, ostriches are fast--they can run at up to 45 mph--and they have a sharp nail on each of their feet that is capable of slicing a person open with one kick. Unlike velociraptors, however, an ostrich can reach more than nine feet tall and 350 pounds. The best defense? Stay at least 50-100 yards away from ostriches. If, however, you end up face to face with one of these birds, follow these tips.


1. Get to safety. When hiking or working near ostriches, you should always be aware of your surroundings and the nearest place you can run to safety. Remember, you won't be able to outrun an ostrich over any distance, but if you've got a good head start you should be able to get someplace safe if it's close enough. Head for a building, a car, or a high fence or tree that you can scale (ostriches can't fly). In the wild, go into a thorn bush if you have to; you'll get scratched up pretty good, but an ostrich won't pursue you into thorns.

2. Put something between you and the ostrich. If you can't make it to safety, grab a long pole and hold it in front of you. Since you don't want to have to find something like this while you're being attacked, it's best to carry an implement with you when there's a chance of an ostrich encounter. A strong branch with a forked end or a rake are good options, as you can hold the crook or the broader end against the ostrich's neck or chest. A broom or catching hook might be available when working with captive ostriches. A branch from a thorn tree, such as an acacia, is particularly effective in warding off an ostrich. Keep in mind, however, that whatever pole, tool, or branch you choose must be strong and long enough to keep the bird's legs from reaching you.

--- Holding the ostrich at bay works well in situations in which the ostrich is in captivity and handlers (it's best to have at least four when trying to handle a large ostrich) can come at the ostrich from the side or, preferably, the rear and subdue it by placing a hood over its neck and/or bending its neck down to the ground so that it cannot kick.
--- If your life is in danger and you have a stout stick, a hard blow to the ostrich's neck will usually break its neck and kill the animal. A machete blow to the neck will also kill the bird. Naturally, killing the animal should be a last resort only.

3. Play dead. In a 1918 article in The Atlantic magazine, former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "If, when assailed by the ostrich, the man stands erect, he is in great danger. But by the simple expedient of lying down, he escapes all danger." The experience of ostrich farmers, naturalists, and adventurers has largely confirmed Roosevelt's observation. Since ostriches kick forward and downward, the chance of injury is much lower if you lie face down on the ground and cover your head and neck with your arms. Your back will still be exposed, but this is much safer than if your front were open to attack. Additionally, the ostrich is not able to kick very effectively at an object on the ground, and eventually it will lose interest if you play dead. The bird will still likely stand on you--it's been described as dancing by some who've gone through the experience--and it may even sit on you for a while, but it will most likely not rip you open if you do this equivalent of burying your head in the sand.

A male and female ostrich on a farm. The powerful legs and sharp nails can deliver a fatal blow.


Ostriches love man-made objects, especially shiny ones, so before you go out on safari or onto an ostrich farm remove all jewelry, and avoid displaying shiny or dangling objects when near ostriches. Even the most mild mannered of ostriches practice investigative pecking, and a peck at an earring or your eyeglasses - or your eyes, for instance, could result in serious injury.
Ostriches can only kick forward, and rarely, to the side, so if you're behind or to the side of an ostrich you're pretty safe. Ostriches can maneuver quite deftly, however, so you're only safe temporarily.

Ostriches are usually very skittish and will run if given the chance. If you don't try to corner an ostrich, then, you'll usually have no problems. Males ready for breeding, however, tend to be very territorial and may become aggressive. You can spot these by the red flush on the front of their legs. Hopefully, however, you won't get close enough to see this without binoculars.

Ostriches don't really bury their heads in the sand, as is often thought. They sometimes put their heads to the ground if they sense danger in the distance, as when they do so their bodies can look like mounds of earth. They do this so well, in fact, that it's sometimes possible for you to come very close to an ostrich before you see it.

In the wild, it's pretty easy to stay out of an ostrich's way if you keep your distance. On ostrich farms, however, injuries and deaths are more common--in fact the late country singer Johnny Cash received serious injuries from an ostrich attack on his farm. Never try to handle an ostrich without proper training and backup.

Professional handlers and ostrich farmers sometimes hold a board of thick plywood with arm holes in front of them to protect themselves from the ostrich's nails. The ostrich's kick, however, which can exert more than 500 pounds of pressure per square inch, can still cause serious injury even if the nail doesn't penetrate the board.
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David Attenborough Makes Final Wildlife Series

Sir David Attenborough admires a perentie lizard in the Australian outback
For more than 50 years, the name David Attenborough has been synonymous with the BBC's ground-breaking wildlife programmes.

Since he presented the first of his Zoo Quest series in 1954, he has delighted television viewers with his compelling commentary and insight into natural history.

But after a distinguished career, in which he has made pioneering films on almost every group of animals (remeber amazing mimic bird - Lyrebird?), Sir David, 81, looks likely to bow out next year with his series, Life In Cold Blood.

Shot in high definition at a cost of £800,000 per episode, the five-part series examines the world of reptiles and amphibians and marks the final chapter in Sir David's epic Life series.

It took two years to make in more than 20 countries, and used innovative filming methods to reveal that the creatures, far from being cold and slow, are in fact extremely dynamic.

Some of the techniques, including mounting tiny cameras on tortoise shells and sending microscopic lenses deep into underground lizard burrows, captured incredible moments.

Amazing firsts include wild rattlesnakes hunting, anacondas being born underwater, a male frog "giving birth", a mother caiman leading her crèche of babies to safety, and semaphoring Panamanian golden frogs.

In one scene, Sir David is filmed dangerously close to a spitting cobra whose venom, if it hits the naked eye, can permanently blind.

The broadcaster said his objective was to show the true nature of the animals.
"Reptiles and amphibians are sometimes thought of as slow, dim-witted and primitive," he said.
"In fact they can be lethally fast, spectacularly beautiful, surprisingly affectionate and extremely sophisticated."

Life in Cold Blood, which is due to be screened in February, comes 30 years after Sir David started his Life series with Life on Earth, watched by an estimated 500 million people.
At the time it was the most ambitious series produced and was followed by other classics including The Living Planet, The Life of Birds, The Life of Mammals and Life in the Freezer, a celebration of Antarctica.

The new series has been made by the BBC's renowned natural history unit, which is having £12 million taken from its £37 million budget, with 57 out of 180 posts being axed, as part of corporation-wide budget cuts.

Andrew Jackson, the managing director of Tigress Productions, an independent television company which makes wildlife shows, said the cuts were "short-sighted".

"The natural history unit is the leader in its field and what happens there has reverberations way beyond the BBC," he said.

"It's the depletion of the BBC talent base."

The BBC said the unit would continue to make landmark series.
Keith Scholey, the controller of factual production, said: "The natural history brand is probably the most important thing the BBC does and it has to be protected."

Other nature shows scheduled for next year include Pacific Abyss, in which a team of experts search for new marine species, Wild China, which focuses on the country's diverse landscapes, and Elephant Diaries, about a year in the life of orphaned baby elephants in Kenya.
By Nicole Martin
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