Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence Lab­o­ra­tory holds the world’s first video game com­pe­ti­tion, the In­ter­ga­lac­tic Space­war Olympics. About 24 par­tic­i­pants com­peted for the grand prize of a year’s sub­scrip­tion to Rolling­stone

If you’re a thief, you don’t ring up law en­force­ment, prom­ise a share of the loot, and com­pli­ment their work. But that’s ex­actly what one man did for Ab­san Sa­man. The war­den of Tun Mustapha, Malaysia’s largest ma­rine park, re­mem­bers the call he re­ceived from a poacher last year, of­fer­ing him a fifth of the eggs from two il­le­gally-raided nests on Ti­gabu Is­land in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Sa­man is a prom­i­nent per­son­al­ity in the area. The for­mer fish-bomber stretches his arms wide as he de­scribes the catch two days of fish­ing could bring in decades ago. To­day, though, Sabah wa­ters suf­fer the same

Size: Life Span: Lo­ca­tion: No­table Trait:

Up to 3.4m tall (males) or 2.9m tall (fe­males) Up to 70 years In­dia and 12 coun­tries in South­east Asia Males typ­i­cally grow tusks, while cows have small in­cisor teeth called tushes

Woolly mam­moths – the Ice Age gi­ants that cap­ture our imag­i­na­tion in movies and books – live on to­day in the rain­forests of South Asia.

Whether revered as a god, used for labour, or roam­ing free in iso­lated pock­ets of wilder­ness, their clos­est cousin, the Asian ele­phant, pos­sesses the same ma­jes­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics: an awe-in­spir­ing size and a set of mas­sive to-the-ground tusks, each weigh­ing 70 kilo­grams and up to three me­tres long. The tusks are key, for only spec­i­mens with these plough­ing spears of ivory may as­sume the ti­tle “great tusker”.

Com­pared to their African and woolly Arc­tic cousins, Asian tuskers have slightly slim­mer, lighter and shorter teeth. Where big tuskers once ruled the Asian ele­phant’s range from Sri Lanka to China, years of “man-made re­verse se­lec­tion” (as op­posed to nat­u­ral se­lec­tion) have stripped these bulls of their tusks, cre­at­ing a large im­bal­ance in the nat­u­ral ra­tio of great tuskers to mak­nas, or ele­phants with small or non-ex­is­tent tusks.

Bull ele­phants reach their prime late in life, at about 40 or 50 years old. This is the same time that their tusks see ex­po­nen­tial growth. Tusks are use­ful: They de­bark trees, dig for wa­ter, de­fend against op­po­nents, and im­press the ladies. Big tusks are a sign of su­pe­rior genes, long life and health; fe­males pre­fer males with big tusks to fa­ther their off­spring.

But the tar­get­ing of tusks for ivory by tro­phy hunters and poach­ers, and the prac­tice of sys­tem­at­i­cally catch­ing wild bulls and iso­lat­ing them in cap­tiv­ity, have locked away these for­mi­da­ble genes. Less than half the Asian ele­phant pop­u­la­tion sur­vived the last two decades, and to­day, only some 40 great tuskers ex­ist – about 30 African and 10 Asian. Of the lat­ter, just one lonely an­i­mal re­mains in the wild. But even cap­tive great tuskers lack proper reproductive op­por­tu­ni­ties, mean­ing their DNA is quickly van­ish­ing from the species’ ge­netic pool.

Pre­serv­ing this iconic tusk strain for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, and re­vers­ing the ef­fect of hu­man in­flu­ence, re­quires an ef­fort al­most as mas­sive as the tusks them­selves. Qual­ity sur­veil­lance, con­stant armed guards, ad­e­quate med­i­cal treat­ment, and tar­geted ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion pro­grammes need to be put in mo­tion for great tuskers – and po­ten­tially emerg­ing great tuskers – to con­serve their breed and re­store nat­u­ral tusk length. With cave paint­ings, bones and frozen tis­sue as all that re­mains of the pre­his­toric mam­moths, this may be our last chance to pre­serve Na­ture’s orig­i­nal de­sign of the glo­ri­ous pachy­derm. ag

a hairy sit­u­a­tion

17th cen­tury

ȑȑ­long hair is a cul­tural norm for men. It’s tied in a knot at the nape of the neck and cov­ered with a scarf for out­ings

18th cen­tury

ȑȑbar­bers ply streets. Shorter hair for men starts trend­ing in South Viet­nam, in­spired by French colo­nial cuts

19th cen­tury

ȑȑviet­namese re­turn­ing from univer­sity overseas dur­ing the French In­dochina pe­riod fur­ther pop­u­larise short cuts

20th cen­tury

ȑȑstreet bar­bers reach peak pop­u­lar­ity. At the end of the cen­tury, the govern­ment abol­ishes street ped­dling

21st cen­tury

ȑȑbar­bers who can af­ford it open their own bar­ber­shops. Oth­ers con­tinue op­er­at­ing il­le­gally off pave­ments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.