Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Origami Animals Spring To Life From One Piece Of Paper

It's like the tale of a superhero: By day, Gonzalo García Calvo is a musician in Madrid, but by night, he's an amateur origami artisan.

You might be familiar with the art of origami from reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in elementary school, or from folding our own clumsy frogs and cranes and flowers as kids. But the vast array of objects and creatures that can be summoned from one piece of origami paper is truly unfathomable to the non-expert.
Origami Duck, design by Katsuta Kyohei

Origami Rooster, original design by Satoshi Kamiya
There's no design too complicated and out-there for Calvo to attempt; he says it takes around "three hours for a complex model, and maybe more for the most detailed ones." At this point, he's been practicing his folds for four years.

Calvo told The Huffington Post via email, "I find it fascinating that by changing the steps in the folding process you end up with a totally different model, so in essence, a square of paper has inside of it all the possibilities to be anything you can imagine." 

As demanded by the rules of the art form, only folding of the paper is allowed to achieve the stunning transformations, making the results all the more remarkable. "You can fold almost anything with a single square of paper without gluing or cutting it," he said.
Origami Mammoth, design by Artur Biernacki

Origami Papillon Dog, design by Miyajima Noboru

Origami Simple Dragon, design by Shuki Kato

Origami Hippocampus, design by Román Dí­az

Origami Tree Frog, original design by Satoshi Kamiya

Origami Common Loon, design by Artur Biernacki

Origami Wolf Spider, design by Brian Chan
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See Giant LEGO animal sculptures unveiled in new trail

A collection of giant LEGO birds have been unveiled today at WWT Martin Mere. The 10 characters that form part of a LEGO brick animal trail were made from 123,200 LEGO bricks and took over 965 hours to build. This is the first time these amazing sculptures, especially created for WWT, have been seen in the North West among the real life animals which inspired them. A brand new addition to the trail was also unveiled, Kate the Kingfisher, who the CBBC Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood helped to build. She has been made especially for the Martin Mere trail and is being featured on Blue Peter, along with her other giant brick friends who Barney also helped put out on the trail on CBBC on Thursday, December 3.
Through the giant brick animal trail, the nature reserve in Burscough, Lancashire is using the world’s most popular toy to encourage kids to build a better future for nature.

What animals can you see on the trail?

Visitors to Martin Mere Wetland Centre can enjoy the 10 individually-designed LEGO brick characters revealed for nine weeks over the winter including the Christmas holidays from this Saturday, November 28 to Sunday, January 31.
You will be able to see all sorts of animals including:
  • Kate the Kingfisher
  • Flavia the Andean flamingo
  • Benedict the Bewick’s swan
  • Emily the Emperor dragonfly
  • Lottie the otter
  • Bruce the Red Breasted goose

Lottie the Otter
Nick Brooks, Martin Mere’s general manager said: “Here at Martin Mere Wetland Centre, we take particular pride in helping to conserve the Hawaiian goose (Nene) the world’s rarest goose, which was originally identified as a species that needed protecting by our founder Sir Peter Scott.
“Today, we are using LEGO bricks to inspire the next generation to continue Sir Peter’s work of saving threatened wildlife.”

Mac the Mallard

What else can you do when you visit the trail?

As well as the trail, budding sculptors can take part in creative fun and games at exclusive LEGO brick workshops at weekends and daily through the Christmas holidays, build minifigures and buy limited edition mini LEGO brick animal models, only available at WWT.
All proceeds will support WWT’s essential conservation work in the UK and around the world.
There is no extra cost to meet the giant LEGO brick animals at Martin Mere Wetland Centre, the trail is included in the admission price.

Hannah Clifford from WWT Martin Mere with Kate the Kingfisher
Places for the workshops can be pre-booked online HERE.
To find out more about the Giant LEGO brick animals and other brick activities visit wwt.org.uk/legobrickanimals or follow #LEGOBrickAnimals.

Win a LEGO experience day at WWT Martin Mere

The prize is free entry to Martin Mere for a family of four, a Lego animal kit, free Lego workshop for the children (one hour at the centre doing fun activities plus build your own Lego duckling to take home) plus lunch at the centre.
Five runners up will win family tickets to visit the centre to see the Lego brick animals. The competition closes at 3pm on Friday, December 4. Winners will be informed by email.
The prize must be redeemed anytime on or before January 31, 2016.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

The Leopard Gecko

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.
 Lizards can sit unnaturally (or super naturally) still, stare, and then move in a flash — alien movements at alien speeds. Our feeble human desire to anthropomorphize everything is stymied at almost every turn, and somehow this makes the creatures all the more compelling.

Then there's the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius, which is basically Latin for "good eyelid, spotted"). The leopard gecko is a lizard that evolved away the things you expect from a gecko. It has no sticky lamellae on its feet for wall climbing, it has blinking eyelids, it tends to be more docile around humans. The leopard gecko is strange to its brethren, but in ways that make it more approachable to us. It's become a popular pet — one that can live for 20 years if you treat it well — because it's an otherworldly creature that you can keep in your home. One you think you can know.

But let's get this out of the way: the leopard gecko is still weird as hell.

You've probably heard that geckos have tails to store fat and they can detach them to run away from predators, then regrow them later. In fact, you don't need to and actually shouldn't feed an adult leopard gecko every day — that's why the tail is storing fat. Leopard geckos also detach their tails; as they do, a specialized muscle clenches up to prevent blood loss. They lose their energy reserve, but they live to grow another one later. They're chill, they got this.

But it gets crazier than that: the detached tail can flop around to attract the predator while the gecko makes its getaway. It doesn't just do it once, either, as Wired notes. No, instead it just goes and goes, an unholy unliving thing scampering around so that its former host can skitter away to survive another day. Behold:

Leopard geckos shed and then eat their skin, too, the better to avoid getting tracked. Their ear canal goes straight through their tiny little skulls — shine a flashlight and you can basically see right through. It's thought to have spectacularly good eyesight, able to see color in the dark.

Most of the leopard geckos you'll encounter are bred in captivity — and because we can't leave well enough alone, there are morphs with stripes and stipples and other weird skin characterizations. But they're originally from a swath of land running from Iraq to Pakistan. That doesn't necessarily make them desert creatures, but they're optimized for arid and dry land. One of those optimizations is that they hang on to as much water as possible. Instead of excreting nitrogenous waste in liquid urine, they drop little powdery white crystals called urates.

As pets, leopard geckos feed on crickets (usually coated with a nutritional powder) and astonishingly named pinkies — tiny little baby mice. Watching any predator hunt is mesmerizing and horrible, and watching a lizard do it even more so. Don't watch this video:
You watched, didn't you? You saw that right foot hover over the ground and watched that lizard brain plot. You couldn't look away, all the way through to the awful and disturbing end.

Here's the thing about the leopard gecko. It seems custom designed as a "starter reptile" pet, the kind of animal that's easy to care for and more approachable than a snake. Those tiny little feet with their harmless claws. Those eyes with actual lids that make you believe that you understand the expressions it's making. The fact that it won't grow massive and ornery like an iguana.1 They're not slimy. They'll hang out on your shoulder. They'll blink those quiet eyes at you like a contented cat and you will feel like you have made a connection.

Seriously, iguanas live longer and get meaner than most people realize and thus end up either abused or abandoned into hostile environments — environments which they often end up damaging themselves.

There are lots of animals with tiny brains that we believe we're forming relationships with (R2D2 budgies 4 life), but with the leopard gecko it's just a trick. It's not a cat-level brain-altering chemical trick, but you're being fooled nonetheless. These evolutionary traits aren't there to warm your heart, they're there to make the gecko a more efficient killer — one who adeptly evades other predators.

Reptiles do not think the same way you or I do — they're mysterious in ways that go beyond the cliche of "tiny lizard brains." But because of how it looks, the leopard gecko is the lizard that most makes you believe that you have bridged the implacable void between the minds of mammals and reptiles. But sorry, it isn't true. You do not know the leopard gecko, it does not know you.

Waking at 4AM to soundless dark — where the leopard gecko can see things you cannot — you might realize that it's not just reptiles you cannot truly know. Your friends and lovers are also inscrutable, in their way. Their minds and modes of thought belong to another world — their own. Are you fooling yourself, when you think you understand their hearts?

While you wait for the light to strengthen, think of the leopard gecko; maybe the difference between pretending you know a creature and actually knowing the creature doesn't matter. You can sate the gecko's hunger and make it feel safe enough to keep its chubby little tail attached. It can rest upon your warm palm and close its eyes and make you feel like you have helped another creature find its way in a harsh, cold, and uncaring world. Maybe that should be enough. Maybe you don't need objective proof that there is more than that.

Also, let's be honest, the little lizards are super cute.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The healing power of animals

The growing field of animal-assisted therapy has helped many anxiety and depression sufferers cope with their symptoms, writes Katie Byrne

She tried prescription medication, psychiatry and therapy, but nothing could tame the black dog that gnawed at her very essence.

As she descended into a state of hopelessness, she decided to do "one hopeful thing". She bought a Golden Retriever puppy called Bunker. Little did she know how much solace he would provide...
"Bunker didn't ask me to tell him how I was feeling," she recalls. "He didn't need me to label my emotions, to tell him what had happened or why I was so sad. He just met me where I was.

"He met me physically, on the floor, and pressed his body into mine, licked my face, made me take deeper breaths than I had in days, made me laugh even. He had no expectations. He didn't care if I felt better. He just wanted me."

There is a quote often found on the waiting room walls of veterinary surgeons that reads: "There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face". It's a sentiment that resonates with Barton. She calls Bunker her "lifeline".
Ciara Morrison with her turtle Stomp 
Ciara Morrison with her turtle Stomp
"That unconditional acceptance is so very freeing for someone suffering from a dire sadness," she continues. "And it's something a human can very rarely do for another human. Only an animal can consistently do this for us."

Barton's relationship with Bunker is the subject of a memoir, Dog Medicine, which was released last week.

Dublin-born healthcare assistant Ciara Morrison is one of the many people looking forward to reading it.

Morrison can relate to the story. She suffers from acute anxiety and has been attending psychiatric services since the beginning of 2012.

"Throughout the first year of being in and out of hospital, I had a little dog called Teeny and I absolutely adored her," she explains.

"She used to know when something was wrong. If she ever heard me crying, she would come running like some sort of mini superhero! When she'd reach me, she'd lick the tears off my face until I laughed and then dutifully curl up in my lap and stay there until I'd move her.
"If I was very depressed and struggling to get out of bed, she'd be there licking my face and nudging me until I moved."

These women's stories aren't unusual. Dogs are well known to promote healing. Studies show that just a few minutes of bonding with a canine can lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate and reduce shallow breathing.
Julie Barton, author of the much-anticipated memoir, Dog Medicine, and her dog Bunker. 
Julie Barton, author of the much-anticipated memoir, Dog Medicine, and her dog Bunker.
However, while the therapeutic effects of dogs are the most studied and documented, there are many more animals proven to provide comfort and support.

Vlogger Melanie Murphy, who was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder at 19, believes that cats can help reduce stress and ease tension. And she should know - she once owned five feline friends.

"When you're stressed, hug an animal. That is the best advice I can give to the world," Melanie (pictured below) says.

Emerging research suggests that a cat's purr, like other low-frequency vocalisations in mammals, may have healing properties. It's better known as "purr therapy".

Equine-assisted therapy is another growing field. Therapeutic riding coach Sandra Schmid of Hairy Henry Therapeutic Riding (hairyhenry.com) in West Cork has many success stories.

"There's one young girl who started with me when she was eight. She'll be 11 soon. When she first came to me, she struggled with separation anxiety and panic attacks.

"She has grown hugely in confidence over the years. She still suffers from panic attacks at school and at home, but she has never had one when with me, despite two falls off the horse and a couple of other minor incidents."

While equine-assisted therapy can be an investment, there are many more forms of animal-assisted therapy for those that can't afford it.

Even the passive act of watching fish swim has been proven to reduce anxiety, while smaller, less time-consuming animals can be just as therapeutic.

Morrison has since bought two tortoises called Stomp and Brutus. "I find it so relaxing to tend to their table. It's like my own mini, indoor garden," she explains. "I spend ages arranging it and placing nice stones around, building little mounds for them to climb. It's a great way to stay present in the moment and practice mindfulness with very little effort."

She adds that those suffering with mental health issues should be mindful of the upkeep required with certain pets.

"Don't take on a complex animal that requires stringent care if you are still in an early phase of your recovery," she says. "Taking on too much could actually stress you out more. Start small."
It's a point echoed by Barton. "I caution against a severely depressed person rushing out and getting a dog, especially if they've never had a dog or didn't grow up with them.

"When I adopted Bunker, I was in a particularly rare and privileged position of having no job, no kids, two capable caretakers in my parents and no immediate financial concerns."

She also reminds that animal therapy can come from all manner of sources. "There's all kinds of medicine out there in the animal kingdom. It's merely our job to be vulnerable and open enough to see it and accept it."
read more "The healing power of animals"

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dog Sets Dog Skateboarding Record For Dogs

It’s been a weird year for skateboards. As foretold, hoverboards are here, but they’re either really limited in what they can do or they’re not actually hovering. Fortunately, Peru’s Otto the Skateboarding Bulldog is here to set us straight: What matters isn’t how the board moves, it’s how cool it looks when a dog is the one riding it.

Yesterday, Otto skateboarded through a human tunnel 30 people long, setting the “longest human tunnel travelled through by a skateboarding dog” record, a very important feat. The event was part of Guinness World Record Day 2015, when a bunch of people (and animals, I guess) do weird unique things more so than other people (or animals) have ever done them before. We live in a strange and beautiful world that encourages and praises this behavior.
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Friday, November 13, 2015

The funniest animal photos of 2015 revealed

The best entries in the inaugural Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been named
This year's winning photograph, by Julian Rad Photo: Julian Rad
The above image of a wild hamster, cheeks filled with food, expression of quiet determination writ large across its furry brow, has been named the funniest animal photo of the year at the inaugural Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.  

The hamster, or rather Julian Rad, the Austrian who captured it, beat hundreds of rivals to the top prize, earning himself a one-week holiday in Tanzania and a Nikon D750 camera in the process.

This stag took second place  Photo: William Richardson
Second and third place went to a pair of Britons: William Richardson, for his photo of an impeccably camouflaged stag in Richmond Park, and Oliver Dreike, for an image of a gorilla that swears it was just scratching its nose. Honest.

This gorilla swiped third  Photo: Oliver Dreike

Given that the award is in its first year, the number of entries - more than 1,500 - was impressive, as has been its global reach, with those entries coming from as far afield as Iraq, Macedonia, Uruguay, Belize and Sri Lanka.

This distressed hippo was one of 10 "highly commended" entries  Photo: Marc Mol
Images of animals looking foolish clearly hold a special place in everyone’s heart - regardless of nationality.

So too was this graceful cheetah  Photo: Mohammed Alnaser
 Among the judges were Hugh Dennis, the actor and comedian best known for his role in BBC’s Outnumbered, and Kate Humble, the broadcaster and regular contributer to Telegraph Travel, as well as several respected wildlife photographers, such as Will Burrard Lucas and Tom Sullam.
This ninja squirrel  Photo: Julian Rad
  “It was a pleasure to judge the inaugural Comedy Wildlife Awards,” said Hugh Dennis.

This amused seal  Photo: Julie Hunt
He added: “The number and quality of the entries was fantastic. The finalists should be very proud of themselves, as should the animals they photographed, simply for looking so funny. Sadly there is no way of telling them.”

flapping bird
This flapping bird  Photo: Charlie Davidson

In addition to being extremely entertaining, the awards aim to raise awareness of the work of The Born Free Foundation, the conservation and animal rights charity.

Photo: Megan Lorenz
And these clumsy owls
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Monday, November 9, 2015

Wild: A Game of Animal Survival that Stretches off Into Infinity

If Sony's PlayStation 4 lineup is anything to go by, 2016 will be the year games go to infinity. The headline grabber is No Man's Sky, of course, but for those not keen on space travel, there's another option that's also crazily ambitious. Wild is many things—an adventure game, a survival game, a riding on the back of a bear and skidding his bum along the side of a mountain game—and, like No Man's Sky, it's a game of infinite exploration.

The idea, at least for now, is that players—taking on the role of a shaman—must simply survive. As day turns to night, the world of Wild becomes nasty, and those without shelter or means of protection will succumb to the animals that roam at night. How exactly players will build that protection is something of a mystery for now, although I'm told that climbings up trees is a good place to start. Indeed, much of how Wild will work still seems to be completely up in the air. Every explanation for how the game works is prefaced with the phrase "In the current build..."


But that's not to detract from what is one of the most interesting and exciting games to have come along in years. Survival games aren't all that rare these days—particularly for PC gamers—but one with the scope of Wild is. It's a solo experience, but it's also a multiplayer experience. The animals that roam the world might be AI characters, or they might other players who've channelled their own shaman's spirit into the body of an animal to either help or hinder you on your journey.

You can do the same, of course. As shown in the Paris Games Week stage demo, the shaman can meditate, and take over an eagle's body to swoop down from the sky and capture a snake. Or the shaman can summon a bear, clambering onto its back to traverse the world—complete with an amusing bum-sliding animation—or use its strength to fight enemies. There are no swords or weapons (again, at least in the current build) or anything other than animals that can help you survive.

While Wild will never tell you to go anywhere, or do a particular thing (there isn't even a HUD), its survival systems are geared towards pushing you to interact with animals, and making them your allies. At the start of the game, this is easier said than done. With no allies to start with, you're left hunting smaller animals, or those that are easier to catch, like a frog or a rabbit. And when caught, they must be brought to an oft-guarded divinity stone, where the animal god (a snake in the stage demo) will set a task before you can summon their power.

You may be asked to kill one of your other animal compatriots, or be forced to live as a particular animal for several days, hunting what it hunts, and eating what it eats. And if it's a larger animal like a bear, then it's more complicated than simply capturing it. The bear must be domesticated first, either by raising one from birth—and that means feeding it, walking it, and other parental responsibilities—or by finding an injured bear and nursing it back to health. With each new animal that the shaman learns to control, a new tattoo is etched across the shaman's skin.

If this all sounds a little bit out there, don't worry: it is. Like Dreams—which also got a showing in Paris—Wild defies convention. Perhaps the only thing that's conventional about it for now, is what happens when you die: if you're an animal, you go back to the shaman; if you die as a shaman—something that will happen if you leave him or her out in a vulnerable spot while meditating—you go back to the last camp or shelter that you made or discovered. That there's no permadeath in a console game isn't that surprising, mind.

But I suspect the camps will stick around. If nothing else, needing to discover camps and shelters will encourage exploration, and in a game where "everything" can be explored, keeping people interested is just as important as giving them a vast world to explore. And if you're wondering how a tiny studio like Wild Sheep is making a seemingly infinite game—even with the backing of the legendary Rayman creator Michel Ancel—look no further than procedural generation, or least something very similar.

"The tech means that the game is actually infinite," explained Ancel, "but infinity can be very boring. The world is made up of a lot of different technologies, so you could say that [it's procedurally generated]. I will say that, as a developer, we are helped by the technology to create a game world without spending time creating every single piece of grass, so there is a big system in place helping to create things. It's a balance between homemade things, and generated things. But yes, we use a tool to generate the world in real-time."

I wonder whether—after we've all tried to survive yet another night in Wild, or explore our 10,000th planet in No Man's Sky—infinity will be quite as appealing. Maybe, by the end of 2016, we'll be clamouring for a good ol' fashioned scripted campaign. Or maybe, just maybe, Wild will keep us interested. It has the tech, it has the ideas, and it's just weird enough that it might actually work... "in the current build" at least.

Wild is under development exclusively for PS4. There's currently no release date.

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Annual Cause for Paws Winnipeg Event Monday

The downtown salon 360 Hair & Nails is hosting their annual Cause for Paws Cut-a-thon on Monday, Nov. 9, when Winnipeg Square will be taken over by hair stylists and estheticians to offer haircuts and manicures from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Annual Cause for Paws Winnipeg Event Monday
The event is held in support of the roughly 8,000 animals that are taken in each year by the Winnipeg Humane Society. Special guest appearances by The Winnipeg Police Services’s K-9 Unit and Winnipeg Blue Bomber mascots are planned from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. as part of the day’s festivities.

All proceeds from the $20 haircuts and $10 manicures (includes polish and nail art) will benefit the animals the society cares for. In addition to haircuts and nail art, 360 Hair & Nails is offering a variety of raffle prizes including a trip for two to Las Vegas, Smart TV’s, signed Winnipeg Jets Gear, and more. Tickets are $20 for 20.

The society’s mission as a registered charity and non-profit organization is to protect animals from suffering and to promote their welfare and dignity.
Pets are available by adoption through the society who takes care of the animals’ health needs prior to adoption through the donations they receive.
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Friday, November 6, 2015

Daily Cute: Office Animals

Take-your-pet-to-work day can be a lot of fun (though, I’d much rather stay at home and bring my work to my pet instead).

Some places even have an office pet, which can dramatically improve your day and your excuses: “The office dog ate my TPS reports.” So, even if you don’t have an animal at work, launch the gallery to see a bunch of animals in the office, and feel like you do.
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Forest birds of Hawaii are the latest animals threatened by climate change

Some of the rarest creatures in the world could become extinct due to fossil fuel dependence.

Researchers used a variety of sources, such as a database of sightings and regional climate projections, which allowed them to predict future changes of distribution of species across the American islands.

An `I`iwi, also known as a scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper Image credit: Harmonyonplanetearth/flickr
Previous conservation research regarding forest birds has focused on the links between climate change and avian malaria, whereas this study looks at the potential impacts of climate change on at-risk species. It's also easier for scientists to gauge the impact of climate change given the unique species residing on the island and their specific habitat requirements, compared with species in much larger territories. These habitat requirements are what limit any potential population expansion for forest birds.

All ten species investigated for this study are expected to lose over 50 per cent of the range of their habitat by 2100, and three of these species are set to lose over a staggering 90 per cent during the same period.

Hawaiian 'akepa Image credit: Casey Sanders/Wikimedia
One of the species concerned is the Hawaiian 'akepa, a very small bird found in ‘ōhi‘a and koa-‘ōhi‘a trees above 4,500 ft. It was once present in Oahu, one of the smaller islands of Hawaii, but the last possible sighting may have been in 1976. The population is estimated at 12,000 on the main island, but was as low as 230 in Maui in the early Eighties, where it was last heard in 1995.

An ʻōmaʻo (or Hawaiian thrush) Image credit: harmonyonplanetearth/flickr
The ʻōmaʻo, also known as the Hawaiian thrush, is one of the very few examples of a forest bird species high in number. However, because the bird is found only on the main island, it is considered vulnerable to future extinction. The bird feeds primarily on fruit and seeds, but occasionally eats small insects and vertebrates.
Previous research has shown the link between temperature, avian malaria and vectors for diseases, allowing researcher to investigate how climate change will cause malaria to move into higher altitudes, where these forest birds reside. The populations will decrease because of this, and also reduce overall distribution across the islands.

Although the authors recognise some of the successful conservation work such as controlling invasive species, and forest restoration, they conclude these strategies may not be enough, with even intact native forests unsuitable, due to the increasing temperatures spreading avian malaria. Will anyone care to mention these colourful birds at the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris?
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