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Pink Dolphins in Hong Kong Find Respite Thanks to the Coronavirus

HONG KONG — The most popular reward for hiking to the top of Fu Shan, a hill near Hong Kong’s westernmost point, is a selfie backed by the setting sun, the gleaming new bridge across the Pearl River or a flight landing at the nearby airport.

But for those who look more closely, there is the chance of a rarer prize: a glimpse of Chinese white dolphins swimming among fishing boats and cargo ships in the milky jade water.

“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.

On the water below, a half-dozen tourist boats from the nearby fishing village of Tai O surrounded a single white dolphin. People cheered as it breached.

a report by 15 conservation groups and regional universities, as pollution, marine traffic and large-scale land reclamation projects have made the environment increasingly hostile.

coronavirus pandemic, however, has spurred some hope that the dolphins could find respite. Regional travel restrictions led to the suspension of high-speed ferries that crossed the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macau, a few times each hour, curbing one key threat to the animals.

“All vessel traffic is an issue, but high-speed ferries are a particular issue,” said Laurence McCook, head of oceans conservation for the WWF-Hong Kong. “They move so fast there’s a risk of vessel strike, but they also just physically disturb the dolphins because the dolphins run away from them.”

With the ferry suspension, dolphins are getting a little peace in one of their most favored areas in the region.

“What we have documented fairly clearly is that dolphins are moving back out into the ferry zone,” Mr. McCook said. “That actually is their most prime habitat under current circumstances.”

Still, the increased visibility of the white dolphins in places like the waters off Fu Shan is most likely the result of them being freer to use parts of their preferred territory rather than a sign that their numbers are rebounding, researchers say.

established a marine park to compensate for the loss of habitat, but dolphins have been slow to return, most likely because work continues in the area on a new runway.

“Every time we have a project like the bridge,” Mr. Ho said, “they set up a marine park as some kind of compensation. But we think it’s too late.”

On one recent survey trip, the first dolphin the team identified was number WL79, which Mr. Ho quickly identified by the V-shaped notch near its tail, the result of getting tangled in a fishing line or net.

“If we identify individuals, we can follow their life history — where they like to hang around, whether they have calves,” he said. “This is important, because one of the worries is reproductive rate of dolphins is quite low. To keep the population healthy, we want to see calves. But that’s not happening in Hong Kong.”

Newborn dolphins are gray in color and gradually lighten as they get older, their darker parts becoming distinct spots. Some become completely unspotted. They stay with their mothers for three to four years, but sometimes as long as eight or nine years, and typically live into their 30s.

Soon after the team spots another adult, WL168, identified by a large scar on its back. This one has also been seen near Macau, another Chinese territory 15 miles to the southwest, an indication of how local populations are not bound by political boundaries.

The dolphins eat a variety of fish, including gray mullet and lion head fish, the same sort of food, notes Mr. Ho, that appears in markets around Hong Kong. The overfishing of such species adds to the threats to dolphins, as does pollution from various sources including agricultural and industrial waste, urban runoff, discharge from ships and marine plastics.

Researchers also worry that dolphin viewing boats further stress the mammals, particularly those that race out from Tai O for a 20-minute, $25 trip.

Conservations groups say they hope the benefits of the ferry suspension will encourage regional governments and ferry companies to reconsider routes across the Pearl River. By traveling somewhat farther south, they could bypass key areas of dolphin habitat along Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island. Such a move would only add a few minutes to the trip, they say.

It would, of course, ease just one of the many threats the dolphins are facing.

“Rerouting the ferries is not a magic cure-all,” Mr. McCook said. “But we think that can help us catalyze other actions and demonstrate it’s not a fait accompli that we lose the dolphins.”

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It Looks Like a Vespa, Rides Like a Vespa, but Doesn’t Smell Like a Vespa

Among the iconic designs of Italy’s vibrant postwar period, few capture the essence of La Dolce Vita like Vespas and Lambrettas, the free-spirited motor scooters that brought mobility to the masses and became beloved across Italy, and subsequently, the world.

While the two companies still make scooters, those early models — whose whining two-stroke engines spew plumes of aromatic smoke — are by far the most sought by collectors, some commanding up to $30,000.

But just as vintage scooters are reaching a new peak of popularity, a wave of emissions regulations aimed at reducing pollution threatens their access to Europe’s city centers. Within every regulation, though, lies an opportunity, and one lifelong scooter enthusiast has seized it firmly by the tailpipe.

Niall McCart, an Irishman from the city of Armagh, got his first Vespa at 16. De rigueur for a youth swept up in Britain’s early-1980s Mod revival, the Vespa was eminently practical as well.

Retrospective Scooters, occupies a 3,500-square-foot warehouse in the East End town of Walthamstow.

As Mr. McCart’s business grew, so did restrictions on older vehicles. The European Union’s first Low Emission Zones were established in 1996. By 2018, there were over 260, and still rising.

London has one such zone, as well as an extra-stringent Ultra Low Emission Zone, in the city center. Introduced in April 2019, the more stringent zone will expand substantially this October. To drive inside it, owners of polluting scooters must pay a daily fee of 12.50 pounds (about $17). Failure to pay can result in a hefty fine.

In 2017, with the end of cheap and dirty scootering looming, Mr. McCart posed a question to a friend and fellow scooter enthusiast, John Chubb: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could make our old Vespas electric?”

Mr. Chubb recalled the moment vividly. “We were sitting in a tent in a music festival in Cornwall, and he was saying the future is electric. I said, ‘I reckon I could build one of those.’”

He could also bring a raft of technical competencies to the project. A retired Royal Navy commander with degrees in electrical engineering and rocket science, Mr. Chubb is also an expert in anti-ship missiles, a qualification whose benefit, though perhaps unquantifiable, couldn’t hurt.

Mr. McCart’s brief was explicit. The conversion “was not to interfere in any way with the original design and setup of the scooters,” he said. “You don’t do any cutting or welding or destruction of the original chassis.” And critically important for preserving a scooter’s value, the process had to be reversible.

An encounter with a Chinese manufacturer at a motorcycle show in Milan in 2017 proved instrumental.

“The Chinese have been riding electric scooters for 15 years-plus,” Mr. McCart said. “They’ve done it and made it and perfected it. They had it all laid out.”

Mr. Chubb, meanwhile, hobnobbed with the chief technical officer of QS Motor, a firm in Zhejiang Province that makes motors for electric scooters and e-bikes.

“We had a really good conversation,” Mr. Chubb said. “I’d done a whole load of first-principles calculations about the power of an electric motor and how that would work in an electric scooter. I saw all his equations, and he and I did it exactly the same way.

“Seeing that data was very interesting,” he continued, “because we knew exactly where the sweet spot was in terms of the specifications of what we wanted to run as a motor, and we could run it more or less to optimum efficiency.”

Mr. McCart and Mr. Chubb devised the basic plan: Pull the gas tank and put a lithium-ion battery in its place, and replace the scooter’s original swing arm (which supports the engine and rear wheel) with a custom-made swing arm that holds a wheel with a built-in hub motor.

Mr. Chubb set to work on the prototype, meeting periodically with Mr. McCart, who fine-tuned various components. In June 2018, Mr. McCart unveiled their creation — an electrified 1976 Vespa Primavera — at the Vespa World Days rally in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The initial reaction was skeptical. “These guys were purists,” Mr. McCart said. “They were against it when they seen it,” he recalled, “but as soon as they drove it to the other end of the car park and back again, they had the biggest grin on their face.”

One rider made a pivotal suggestion: “You’ve got to sell it as a kit.” Mr. McCart, who had planned to offer electric conversions only as a service, embraced the idea. “I thought, ‘He’s right. I’ve got to make it really simple.’ The next step was to try and make a plug-and-play kit.”

Three years later, Retrospective Scooters sells kits for five types of vintage Vespas and Lambrettas. Costing £3,445 (about $4,750), each includes a 64-volt, 28-amp-hour battery that can push a scooter to a top speed of 50 miles an hour and go 30 to 35 miles on a charge.

Certain scooters can accommodate two or three batteries. A Lambretta GP for instance, packed with three lithium-ion units, can go 120 miles between charges. Mr. McCart, though, thinks a single battery is sufficient.

“Let’s not forget what scooters were invented for — traveling in a 20-to-30-mile radius of where you lived,” he said.

To date, Mr. McCart has sold 60 kits — 24 in Britain (20 of them installed at his shop), and 36 to customers overseas, mostly, and somewhat surprisingly to Mr. McCart, in the United States.

“I expected more to go into Europe,” he said, “but there’s quite a lot of bureaucracy and official inspections of any vehicle alterations, so there’s really no incentive for Europeans to buy our kit with all that up against them.”

Last summer, Danny Montoya, the owner of a children’s woodworking studio in San Francisco, installed a kit in his 1973 Vespa Rally 180. Mr. Montoya had owned the scooter since 1999, but in recent years had grown uneasy with its pollution, not to mention the constant reek of petroleum.

A capable do-it-yourselfer, he initially considered cobbling together his own electric kit with information gleaned from internet message boards, but when he came across Mr. McCart’s, he said, he thought: “Whoa, this guy has actually done the work.” Although the price gave him pause, after corresponding with Mr. McCart, who promised to assist with any technical issues, Mr. Montoya said, “OK, this is legit.”

Mr. Montoya estimates he spent 20 to 30 hours on the project, the most complex part of which, he said, was ensuring that all of the electrical connections were correct. Mr. McCart acknowledges that at the time, in late 2020, the installation guide was rudimentary. Since then, he explained, the design of the kit and the instructions have been improved so that someone with basic mechanical skills should be able to complete the installation in about 16 hours.

These days, Mr. Montoya seeks any excuse to ride his electrified machine, which performs just as advertised, delivering 30 miles on a charge, even on San Francisco’s hills. Recalling his first ride, Mr. Montoya said: “It was very weird. A normal scooter is so loud, all you hear is the motor. This is so quiet, all you hear is the wind.”

On a recent afternoon, as Mr. Montoya did a few drive-bys, a reporter struggled to discern which was louder — the soft hum of the motor or the sound of the tire treads licking the pavement.

The new incarnation is so stealthy, in fact, Mr. Chubb finds that “when you live in a quiet village, people walk right in front of you.” He’s looking into noise generators that could produce anything from the thrum of a Harley-Davidson to the futuristic racket of a “Star Wars” Podracer.

Mr. McCart, who commutes every day on his electrified Vespa, takes a different approach to unwary pedestrians: “I shout at them. I say, ‘Oi!’”

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Clearing the Suez Canal Took Days. Figuring Out the Costs May Take Years.

TOKYO — It took six days to prise free a giant container ship that ran aground and clogged the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most crucial shipping arteries. It could take years to sort out who will pay for the mess.

Cargo companies, insurers, government authorities and a phalanx of lawyers, all with different agendas and potential assessments, will not only need to determine the total damage, but also what went wrong. When they eventually finish digging through the morass, the insurers of the ship’s Japanese owner are likely to bear the brunt of the financial pain.

The costs could add up quickly.

There are the repairs for any physical damage to the Ever Given, the quarter-mile-long ship that got stuck in the Suez. There is the bill for the tugboats and front-end loaders that dug the beached vessel out from the mud. The authority that operates the Suez Canal has already said the crisis has cost the Egyptian government up to $90 million in lost toll revenue as hundreds of ships waited to pass through the blocked waterway or took other routes.

And the stalled ship held up as much as $10 billion of cargo a day from moving through the canal, including cars, oil, livestock, laptops, sneakers, electronics and toilet paper. Companies delivering goods may have to pay customers for missed deadlines. If any agricultural goods went bad, producers may look to recoup lost revenue.

Richard Oloruntoba, an associate professor of supply chain management at the Curtin Business School in Perth, Australia.

Jeff N.K. Lee, a lawyer in Taipei who specializes in commercial and transportation law.

“While the ship is just parked there, the cargo isn’t actually being damaged,” Mr. Lee said. “The only damage is that it’s delayed.”

“Say I have a batch of cloth, and on top of the time it took to come to Taiwan, it got stuck for six or seven days,” he said. “It just sat there. Will it go bad? It won’t.”

There is a caveat. The ship’s owner could have to pay for cargo delays, if its crew is found to be at fault for the accident.

Some so-called third-party claims related to delayed cargo may be covered by yet another insurer for the ship, the UK P&I Club. The same goes for any claims by the Suez Canal Authority, which operates the waterway and might file over any loss of revenue.

Nick Shaw, chief executive of the International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs, the umbrella group that includes the UK P&I Club, said the insurer would “make decisions together with the shipowner as to which ones had validity and which ones are illegitimate.”

Adding to the complexity of the Suez accident are the layers upon layers of insurance. Reinsurers, companies that covers the risk of other insurance companies, come into play for claims above $100 million. Between insurance and reinsurance, the ship’s owner has coverage for those third-party claims up to $3.1 billion, although few experts believe the damages will run that high.

The sheer size of the Ever Given makes the situation all the more labyrinthine. Aside from time of war, the Suez Canal has never been blocked quite so spectacularly or for as long a time as it was with the Ever Given, and this is the biggest ship to run aground.

The ship is as long the Empire State Building is tall, with the capacity to carry 20,000 containers stacked 12 to 14 high. The Ever Given is one of a fleet of 13 in a series designed by Imabari, part of a push to lower the costs per container and make the ships more competitive in an increasingly fierce market dominated by Chinese and South Korean shipbuilders.

“The bigger the ships get, the risk is whenever you have an incident like this is that you are putting more of your eggs into one basket,” said Simon Heaney, senior manager of container research at Drewry UK, a shipping consultancy. “So the claims will magnify.”

Raymond Zhong and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, Taiwan. Vivian Yee contributed from Cairo and Makiko Inoue, Hisako Ueno, Hikari Hida from Tokyo.

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Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy

WASHINGTON — President Biden will unveil an infrastructure plan on Wednesday whose $2 trillion price tag would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.

Biden administration officials said the proposal, which they detailed in a 25-page briefing paper and which Mr. Biden will discuss in an afternoon speech in Pittsburgh, would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy.

The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, officials said. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.

But even spread over years, the scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in half a century. Officials said that, if approved, the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.

signed into law this month, the “American Rescue Plan.”

“The American Jobs Plan,” White House officials wrote in the document detailing it, “will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”

While spending on roads, bridges and other physical improvements to the nation’s economic foundations has always had bipartisan appeal, Mr. Biden’s plan is sure to draw intense Republican opposition, both for its sheer size and for its reliance on corporate tax increases to pay for it.

Administration officials said the tax increases in the plan — including an increase in the corporate tax rate and a variety of measures to tax multinationals on money they earn and book overseas — would take 15 years to fully offset the cost of the spending programs.

The spending in the plan covers a wide range of physical infrastructure projects, including transportation, broadband, the electric grid and housing; efforts to jump-start advanced manufacturing; and other industries officials see as key to the United States’ growing economic competition with China. It also includes money to train millions of workers, as well as money for initiatives to support labor unions and providers of in-home care for older and disabled Americans, while also increasing the pay of the workers who provide that care.

Many of the items in the plan carry price tags that would have filled entire, ambitious bills in past administrations.

Among them: a total of $180 billion for research and development, $115 billion for roads and bridges, $85 billion for public transit, and $80 billion for Amtrak and freight rail. There is $42 billion for ports and airports, $100 billion for broadband and $111 billion for water infrastructure — including $45 billion to ensure no child ever is forced to drink water from a lead pipe, which can slow children’s development and lead to behavioral and other problems.

The plan seeks to repair 10,000 smaller bridges across the country, along with the 10 most economically significant ones in need of a fix. It would electrify 20 percent of the nation’s fleet of yellow school buses. It would spend $300 billion to promote advanced manufacturing, including a four-year plan to restock the country’s Strategic National Stockpile of pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, in preparation for future pandemics.

In many cases, officials cast those goals in the language of closing racial gaps in the economy, sometimes the result of previous federal spending efforts, like interstate highway developments that split communities of color or air pollution that affects Black and Hispanic communities near ports or power plants.

Officials cast the $400 billion spending on in-home care in part as a salve to “underpaid and undervalued” workers in that industry, who are disproportionately women of color.

Mr. Biden’s pledge to tackle climate change is embedded throughout the plan. Roads, bridges and airports would be made more resilient to the effects of more extreme storms, floods and fires wrought by a warming planet. Spending on research and development could help spur breakthroughs in cutting-edge clean technology, while plans to retrofit and weatherize millions of buildings would make them more energy efficient.

The president’s focus on climate change is centered, however, on modernizing and transforming the United States’ two largest sources of planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution: cars and electric power plants.

A decade ago, Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus plan spent about $90 billion on clean energy programs intended to jump-start the nation’s nascent renewable power and electric vehicle industries. Mr. Biden’s plan now proposes spending magnitudes more on similar programs that he hopes will take those technologies fully into the mainstream.

It bets heavily on spending meant to increase the use of electric cars, which today make up just 2 percent of the vehicles on America’s highways.

The plan proposes spending $174 billion to encourage the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles by granting tax credits and other incentives to companies that make electric vehicle batteries in the United States instead of China. The goal is to reduce vehicle price tags.

The money would also fund the construction of about a half-million electric vehicle charging stations — although experts say that number is but a tiny fraction of what is needed to make electric vehicles a mainstream option.

Mr. Biden’s plan proposes $100 billion in programs to update and modernize the electric grid to make it more reliable and less susceptible to blackouts, like those that recently devastated Texas, while also building more transmission lines from wind and solar plants to large cities.

It proposes the creation of a “Clean Electricity Standard” — essentially, a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of electricity in the United States be generated by zero-carbon energy sources like wind, solar and possibly nuclear power. But that mandate would have to be enacted by Congress, where prospects for its success remain murky. Similar efforts to pass such a mandate have failed multiple times over the past 20 years.

The plan proposes an additional $46 billion in federal procurement programs for government agencies to buy fleets of electric vehicles, and $35 billion in research and development programs for cutting-edge, new technologies.

It also calls for making infrastructure and communities more prepared for the worsening effects of climate change, though the administration has so far provided few details on how it would accomplish that goal.

But according to the document released by the White House, the plan includes $50 billion “in dedicated investments to improve infrastructure resilience.” The efforts would defend against wildfires, rising seas and hurricanes, and there would be a focus on investments that protect low-income residents and people of color.

The plan also includes a $16 billion program intended to help fossil fuel workers transition to new work — like capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines — and $10 billion for a new “Civilian Climate Corps.”

Mr. Biden would fund his spending in part by eliminating tax preferences for fossil fuel producers. But the bulk of his tax increases would come from corporations generally.

He would raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, partly reversing a cut signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Biden would also take a variety of steps to raise taxes on multinational corporations, many of them working within an overhaul of the taxation of profits earned overseas that was included in Mr. Trump’s tax law in 2017.

Those measures would include raising the rate of a minimum tax on global profits and eliminating several provisions that allow companies to reduce their American tax liability on profits they earn and book abroad.

Mr. Biden would also add a new minimum tax on the global income of the largest multinationals, and he would ramp up enforcement efforts by the Internal Revenue Service against large companies that evade taxes.

Administration officials expressed hope this week that the plan could attract bipartisan support in Congress. But Republicans and business groups have already attacked Mr. Biden’s plans to fund the spending with corporate tax increases, which they say will hurt the competitiveness of American companies. Administration officials say the moves will push companies to keep profits and jobs in the United States.

Joshua Bolten, the president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, a powerful group representing top business executives in Washington, said on Tuesday that his group “strongly opposes corporate tax increases as a pay-for for infrastructure investment.”

“Policymakers should avoid creating new barriers to job creation and economic growth,” Mr. Bolten said, “particularly during the recovery.”

Coral Davenport and Christopher Flavelle contributed reporting.

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Ship Is Freed After a Costly Lesson in the Vulnerabilities of Sea Trade

SUEZ, Egypt — For six days, billions of dollars’ worth of international commerce sat paralyzed at either end of the Suez Canal, stalled thanks to a single giant container ship apparently knocked sideways by a powerful southerly wind.

The ship’s insurers and the canal authorities summoned the largest tugboats in the canal, then two even larger ones from further afield. They deployed diggers, front-end loaders and specialized dredgers to guzzle sand and mud from where the ship was lodged at both ends. They called in eight of the world’s most respected salvage experts from the Netherlands.

Day and night, with international pressure bearing down, the dredgers dredged and the tugboats tugged.

But not until the seventh day, after the confluence of the full moon and the sun conjured an unusually high tide, did the ship wriggle free with one last heave shortly after 3 p.m., allowing the first of the nearly 400 ships waiting to resume their journeys by Monday evening.

reconstruction of the ship’s movements through the narrow section of the canal north of the port of Suez shows the Ever Given weaving back and forth from one side of the canal to the other almost as soon as it entered the channel, gathering speed until the 224,000-ton ship tops 13 knots, or about 15 miles per hour.

internet memes about the epic traffic jam piled up, the Suez Canal Authority and the ship’s owner and insurer scrambled tugboats and dredging equipment to the scene. By the day after the grounding, they had called in a highly regarded team of salvage experts from Smit Salvage, a Dutch company.

“The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented,” Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Royal Boskalis Westminster, Smit’s parent company, said in a statement on Monday.

images emerged on social media of the ship, for so long diagonal, once again parallel with the canal.

celebrated the moment on Twitter, writing that “Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stuck ship in the Suez Canal despite the great complexities surrounding this situation in every aspect.”

Ms. Stausboll said that the authorities’ often overly rosy projections during the past week left many shipowners confused about what to believe. “A lot in the shipping community would wish there had been more clarity about what was going on in Egypt from the authorities,” she said. “It does harm your reputation.”

In the absence of a faster, cheaper option, however, the Suez Canal will remain a key artery for shippers, she said. And she pointed out that most ships, including large ones, have navigated the canal without incident in the past.

Shippers have, in any case, a more pressing concern: how to resolve the chain reaction of delays that may ripple out for weeks or months even after the Suez backlog clears, as it was beginning to do by Monday night.

The first ship to pass through the canal after the Ever Given got out of the way was the YM Wish, a 1,207-foot-long Hong Kong-flagged container ship that exited the canal at about 9:15 p.m.

If there is schadenfreude among ships, the YM Wish was perhaps not feeling it. VesselFinder.com reported the YM Wish ran aground in the Elbe River in Germany only six years ago. In its case, however, it took less than a day to float again.

Marc Santora contributed reporting from London, Nada Rashwan from Ismailia, Egypt, and Thomas Erdbrink from Amsterdam.

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A Biologist, an Outlandish Stork and the Army of Women Trying to Save It

Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.

It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. After traversing some of the highest and most dangerous roads in the world, including the Tanglang La mountain pass, I ventured off to see a traditional selection of endangered animals: Asian elephants, greater one-horned rhinos, western hoolock gibbons.

While en route to Guwahati, Assam’s capital, I saw a 5-foot-tall bird towering near the roadside. I was so taken by its appearance that I asked the driver to pull over so I could have a better look. It had piercing blue eyes, an elongated electric-yellow neck, a wobbly, inflatable neck pouch, long legs that moved with a stiff military gait, and spindly black hairs atop its (mostly bald) prehistoric-looking head. Little did I know that this outlandish animal — also endangered, though not famously so — would change the course of my professional life.

ecologically important water storage basin threatened by pollution and encroachment.

cattle egrets, were the spectacular greater adjutants, who were circling and stiffly marching alongside the other foragers.

rare and endangered scavengers.

taxonomic bias, since humans generally favor attractive mammals with forward-facing eyes. “The more people who see hargilas as a bad omen, disease-carrier and pest,” Dr. Barman told me, “the more I am obsessed.”

towel-like textile — with transfixing speed and expertise.

Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer who lives in the Catskills. You can follow her work on Instagram.

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Serbia Hails Chinese Companies as Saviors, but Locals Chafe at Costs

METOVNICA, Serbia — The well in the retired couple’s yard, their only source of clean water, began to dry up two years ago. Last year, dead fish started washing up on the banks of the river that runs by their home in a bucolic village in southeastern Serbia.

But most disturbing of all for Verica Zivkovic and her husband, Miroslav, are the ever-widening cracks in the walls of the house they built after moving to the countryside more than a decade ago to raise goats.

“We came here for the peace and quiet,” said Ms. Zivkovic, 62, but that all changed when a Chinese company arrived.

In 2018, the company, the Zijin Mining Group, took control of a money-losing copper smelter in the nearby city of Bor and began blasting away in the nearby hills in search of copper and gold.

pro-democracy group Freedom House downgraded Serbia in 2019 from “free” to “partly free,” citing a tightening grip on politics, civil liberties and the media.

In January, 26 members of the European Parliament demanded a review of the “growing impact of China’s economic footprint in Serbia,” including “reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population.”

The roots of Serbia’s tilt toward China date to 1999, during the Kosovo war, when U.S. warplanes mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. On that site now stands a huge Chinese cultural center. A marble memorial stone outside bears inscriptions in Serbian and Chinese hail China’s “martyrs.”

But memories of shared suffering at American hands have faded in places like Bor, site of the Chinese-owned smelter.

Pollution from the Bor plant skyrocketed to many times the legally permitted level in 2019 and 2020, setting off a series of street protests and prompting Zijin Mining’s general manager in Serbia to tell his managers last October that he was “very dissatisfied” with the “frightening” level of pollution, according to leaked minutes of the meeting.

He blamed the bad publicity, which he said had damaged “the government of the People’s Republic of China,” on “people who are in favor of the West and receive support” who “have stood in opposition to our work.”

Bor’s mayor, Aleksandar Milikic, a Vucic loyalist, initially dismissed the protests as the work of political agitators.

But, apparently worried about losing votes, he announced last year that he would file a court case against Zijin for negligence. It is not clear whether he actually did so. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Zijin Mining did not respond to requests for comment.

Milenko Jovanovic, an air pollution expert, said he was fired in November from Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency after raising concerns about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air around Bor.

The government, he said, rejected anything that might upset China and its investors. “It lets them do whatever they want to do,” he said.

A court in Belgrade ruled this month that Mr. Jovanovic had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that he be given his job back.

Activists concede that air pollution levels in Bor have fallen since protests, but say that the main danger has now shifted to towns and villages to the south, where hundreds of Chinese workers brought in by Zijin are developing one of the world’s biggest unexploited copper deposits, and digging for gold.

The earth around the new mine trembles from blasting work and the heavy trucks, driven by Chinese workers, that rumble along roads adorned with China’s red national flag. Rivers and streams are discolored by effluent.

The government has added to public anger by issuing expropriation orders so that Zijin can build access roads and expand its mine. Dragan Viacic, a farmer, said he had received a letter from Serbia’s finance ministry informing him that he must sell 13 acres of his land at a fraction of the market price.

“They said this was necessary in the public interest but in reality this is just the interest of the Chinese,” he said.

In Metovnica, a village near the mine, Mr. Zivkovic and his wife used to have 25 goats but, with no clean water on hand after their well dried up, they now keep just one.

“Why don’t we have any water anymore? Why are there no fish in the river?” The answer, he said, is Zijin Mining Group.

Pointing to fissures radiating across the wall of his house that appeared last year after Chinese miners started using explosives, Mr. Zivkovic said: “It was a tiny crack at first but then it spread.”

Confident that it has the support of Mr. Vucic and his officials, the mining company and other Chinese ventures in Serbia have mostly ignored complaints and shrouded their operations in secrecy.

Sasa Stankovic, an environmental activist and elected member of the Bor regional council, said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact Zijin to discuss pollution levels. The copper smelter in Bor, he said, had been hazardous to health for decades, but the dangers jumped sharply after Zijin arrived and ramped up production.

Bor now accounts for a stunning 80 percent of Serbian exports to China, repeating a pattern widely seen in Africa of Chinese firms extracting natural resources for shipment back to China.

At Slatina, a village down the road, Miodrag Zivkovic, a local farmer stood on a rickety bridge over the Bor River, its waters thick with sludge and garbage, and said: “We didn’t go to the Chinese mine but the mine came to us.”

All the same, he said, given the few jobs available in the region, his son would still like to get work at the smelter, which pays relatively well. “Everyone here needs a salary and is ready to risk everything,” he lamented.

Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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