We Don’t Want Your Kind ‘Round Here
Think of how we regard the old lady with seventy cats or the man in the park who spends all day feeding pigeons, and you may get an idea of how other chimps in the Antwerp Zoo perceive Cheetah. Cheetah, a male chimpanzee, was raised by a human family and now responds better to human contact than normal social interaction with his peers. In response to Cheetah’s social difficulties, the Antwerp Zoo is urging visitors not to bond with the chimp and not to spend too much time staring at him, hoping that isolation from people will force Cheetah to relate to the seven other apes. The zoo has posted a sign on Cheetah’s enclosure asking patrons to “Look away when an animal seeks to make contact with you, or take a step back. Some individuals are more interested with visitors than their own kind.” While the visitors may enjoy Cheetah’s affection, sometimes when we love someone, we have to set them free.

We Sold Our Soul For Rock
When it comes to illegal stones, diamonds are so last decade. When a man of the 21st century really wants to impress his friends with an ethically questionable rock, he goes for a meteorite smuggled from North Africa. Apparently, these hot hunks of space rock are fetching sky-high prices from collectors eager to own a piece of 4.5 billion-year-old history. But scientists are most displeased with this new black market: “The commercial value of meteorites has now been realized,” Caroline Smith, curator of the meteorite collection in London’s Natural History Museum told the BBC. “It has affected our work because we are now competing against private collectors to obtain material for our research.” Museums and other research institutions are now turning down meteorites with questionable histories for fear that they may have been illegally purchased, and some places are banning North African meteorites altogether. Nouadhibou, a city in Mauritania, has become the epicenter of the black meteorite market; shipping companies have learned to look the other way as meteorites make their way to America, reports first-time smuggler John Thorne. And when the rocks arrive, they may be sold at a handsome price to a wealthy collector…or they might get hawked for ten bucks on eBay.

Head Case
Girls at the Children’s Village School in Mexico City: Be very glad they’re not burning witches any more. If they were, surely a present-day Goody Proctor would have been held culpable for the seemingly inexplicable epidemic of fever and nausea that plagued the school for several months earlier this year. None of the tests performed on the 600 affected students pointed to a physical cause, and doctors now believe that the girls are suffering from a mass psychogenic disorder, i.e., collective hysteria. Initially, Sisters at the Roman Catholic boarding school believed that the children were lying to get attention, but doctors say there have been 80 documented cases of mass hysteria around the world. They tend to occur in isolated communities, such as this school, where children are not allowed to call their parents and only see their families 35 days out of the year. The school also enforces strict discipline, but the Sisters pride themselves on forming character and giving students confidence. Still some parents suggest that if the students could talk to their parents, say, once a month, they might not be as prone to crippling psychosomatic illness.

Men at Work
Researchers have called a draw in one battle of the sexes. In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, scientists say that men and women work the same number of hours, on average. While conventional wisdom holds that women work more than men—running a household from dawn ‘til dusk and often bringing home some of the bacon, as well—the researchers found that between “market work” and “homework,” both sexes worked an average of 7.9 hours per day, including weekends. In some countries, namely Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, men worked slightly more than women, while in Italy, women work eight hours to men’s 6.5, and in France, women work 7.2 hours and men 6.6. In poorer countries, the gender gap widens: In Benin, Madagascar, and South Africa, women work one to two hours more than men on an average day. The researchers propose that social norms explain the equality of labor in richer countries. While average time spent working varies in the United States—the most educated people work 8.7 hours per day and the least work 6.3 hours—the difference between men and women remains small throughout. We’re all about equality in the U.S. Well, maybe not all about equality.

Let it Snow
That’s it. We’ve suspected for a while now that China was making scientific advances beyond our wildest dreams, but they’ve finally come out with a whopper: They can control the weather. For the first time, Chinese scientists have created artificial snow in Tibet, according to Xinhua news agency. The researchers used chemicals such as silver iodide to cause precipitation. Engineer Yu Zhongshui said, “The first artificial snowfall proves it is possible to change the weather through human efforts on the world’s highest plateau.” Whether Yu was talking about the 4,500 meter Tibetan plateau where the snowfall occurred or the awesome level of achievement is up for debate, but one thing is certain: China is beginning extensive preparations for global climate change. Experts have warned of melting glaciers and drought in the Himalayas, and the scientists hope that artificial precipitation will help replace moisture.

Polar Disorder
Anything truly worth loving is, to some people, worth hating. So perhaps the recent death threat against Knut, the unfathomably adorable polar bear at the Berlin Zoo, was inevitable. When Knut’s mother rejected the cub, some called for Knut to be put down rather than be raised by humans. But that group’s voice has faded beneath a global cry of “aww!” and Knut now has is own brand and has graced the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo DiCaprio. So Germany was shocked last week when the zoo received a hand-written fax saying only, “Knut is dead! Thursday midday.” While the police didn’t believe the threat to be serious, they did step up security within the zoo. Last Thursday passed without incident, and the zoo reports that Knut is “safe and in good spirits.” It’s so admirable that the threat didn’t get him down.

Originally published April 23, 2007

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