Mail & Guardian

Nobel prize winner has local ties New endangered Cape vulture study

- — Compiled by Eunice Stoltz

The recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature award for 2021, the Tanzanianb­orn Abdulrazak Gurnah, is a fellow of the Stellenbos­ch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). In 2018, Gurnah was artist-inresidenc­e at STIAS, where he also presented a public lecture. According to a statement by Stellenbos­ch University, which hosts STIAS, Gurnah started writing his 2020 novel, Afterlives, while at the institute. Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize “for his uncompromi­sing and compassion­ate penetratio­n of the effects of colonialis­m and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. The novelist is the first Tanzanian writer to win the prestigiou­s prize and the first black African writer to win it since Nigerian Wole Soyinka received it in 1986.

A 1 500-year-old winery in Israel was unearthed by archaeolog­ists. Covering 1km2, the wine-making complex emphasises the importance of the drink in the ancient Eastern Roman Empire. Discovered at Yavne, south of Tel Aviv, the winery is estimated to have produced two-million litres of wine a year. Known as Gaza and Ashkelon wine, it was exported to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. The winery is expected to open for visitors once all preservati­on work is completed.

In a seven-day streak, South Africa recorded fewer than 1 000 new Covid-19 infections while maintainin­g a relatively low fatality rate. A new French study of 22.6-million people over the age of 50 has found vaccines cut severe Covid-19 risk by 90%. “This means that those who are vaccinated are nine times less at risk of being hospitalis­ed or dying” from the virus, epidemiolo­gist Mahmoud Zureik, who oversaw the research, told AFP. In Indonesia, the tourism industry in Bali is systematic­ally picking up following its reopening to certain countries. It was closed for 17 months. Australia’s capital city, Canberra, might soon become the most vaccinated city in the world, despite the country’s rather slow start to vaccinate. In Japan, infections decreased to their lowest levels in more than a year, weeks after the recent spike during the Tokyo Olympics. Several countries across Europe are still battling with high rates of new daily infections.

A new research project on the Cape vulture hopes to monitor the endangered species’ dietary habits by studying its foraging patterns. Nine Cape vulture fledglings at Potberg in the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg region of the Western Cape have been successful­ly fitted with satellite tracking devices, according to Anton Bredell, MEC for local government, environmen­tal affairs and developmen­t planning. Bredell says fitting the devices was a joint effort between Capenature, which manages the De Hoop Nature Reserve, and Vulpro, which focuses on vulture rehabilita­tion and research. The endangered species might be at risk due to new electricit­y infrastruc­ture including wind turbines in the region. The latest study is part of research into the risks vultures may face when colliding with wind turbines and power lines. Vultures are essential animals: described as nature’s clean-up service, they break down carcasses and recycle the nutrients, ultimately preventing the spread of disease.

New Willy Wonka too sexy for some

The latest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film — an origin tale, or prequel — is expected in March 2023. And the latest Willy Wonka, Timothée Chalamet, is certainly sweet and a pleasure to look at — but some reactions to the character have been sour. Known for his roles in Dune, Little Women and Anne with an E, Chalamet’s Instagram post of him wearing a velvet coat with Wonka’s famous top hat had social media buzzing, with users wanting to know why Wonka had to be portrayed as sexy. Previous Wonka films have starred Johnny Depp and a much younger Gene Wilder. While some say Chalamet is too young for the role or question the need for sexiness, others feel “this generation got the better Willy Wonka”.

Radio waves detected in space

Australian scientists are studying an unknown energy signal detected in the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. A study in The Astrophysi­cal Journal suggests that the newly discovered signal could be a previously unknown stellar object. The object is unique in that its brightness varies dramatical­ly, and the signal switches on and off without following any clear pattern. Titled Askap J173608.2321635, the object does not fit the descriptio­n of a dead star or one that emits huge solar flares. Initially found by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (hence Askap) radio telescope, further observatio­ns were made by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales. “We then tried [South Africa’s] more sensitive MEERKAT radio telescope.

Because the signal was intermitte­nt, we observed it for 15 minutes every few weeks, hoping that we would see it again. Luckily, the signal returned, but we found that the behaviour of the source was dramatical­ly different — the source disappeare­d in a single day, even though it had lasted for weeks in our previous Askap observatio­ns,” said the study’s co-author, Tara Murphy.

Probe into Bolshoi theatre death

The 19th-century Russian opera by Nikolai Rimsky-korsakov, Sadko, took a dramatic turn when an actor died on stage in the renowned Bolshoi theatre in Russia. Moments after the opera began, the 37-year-old Yevgeny Kulesh was trapped under a backdrop as it was lowered onto the stage during the first scene change. A video from an audience member shows the moment actors realised what happened, while spectators at first thought it was part of the performanc­e. The scene quickly changed with the orchestra coming to a stop and frantic actors on stage screaming for help before the curtains were closed and the audience ushered out of the theatre. The incident once again places the spotlight on the Bolshoi theatre,which is known for its challengin­g

Robot helps docs at state hospital

The Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town has welcomed a R38-million Da Vinci Xi robot that will assist surgeons. Groote Schuur is the first public health facility on the African continent to introduce robotic-assisted surgery. The multi-armed Da Vinci Xi robotic system can perform head and neck procedures and will aid surgeons during complex operations. During its official launch Dr Lisa Kestner, a consultant urologist at the hospital, told Eyewitness News: “It also does give advantages, in particular in pelvic surgery, where access is limited. The robot gives you a range of movement that you don’t have with convention­al laparoscop­ic minimally invasive surgeries.” Robotic-assisted laparoscop­ic surgery also benefits the patient by reducing the risk of infection and blood loss.

General Sherman Tree at risk in US

The magnificen­t 84m sequoia trees in California remain threatened by record-breaking wildfires raging through the state. Also under threat is the world’s largest living tree by volume, the at least 2 300-year-old General Sherman tree. Seventy-four of the giant trees have so far been obliterate­d, with the actual number expected to be much higher. Having scorched almost 86000 acres since it was caused by lightning on 9 September, the KNP Complex Fire — formed by the Colony and the Paradise Fires — is tearing through the northweste­rn sector of California’s Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada, the only region where these trees are found, according to The Washington Post. At the start of the week, the KNP Complex Fire was believed to be just 11% contained. Trying to mitigate the impact of the wildfires on the ancient trees, authoritie­s wrapped fire-resistant covers around their 31m girths and covered them with gel.

Wildlife photo of the year winner

Massive ancient winery discovered

In a nutshell: Covid-19 globally

The French underwater photograph­er and biologist Laurent Ballesta won the grand title of the 57th edition of the Wildlife Photograph­er of the Year contest. Chosen from more than 50 000 entries across 95 countries, Ballesta’s winning image is titled Creation.

It captures camouflage grouper fish leaving a mating frenzy that occurs for a fleeting moment once a year under a full moon. Roz Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel, said: “The image works on so many levels: it is surprising, energetic and intriguing, and has an otherworld­ly beauty. It also captures a magical moment — a truly explosive creation of life — leaving the tail end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.” working conditions. It is not the first time staff have been killed or injured there. An committee in Moscow is leading an investigat­ion into Kulesh’s death. He had performed at the theatre for almost two decades.

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