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Giant tortoise makes 'miraculous' stable recovery

Where once there were 15, now more than 1,000 giant tortoises lumber around Espanola, one of the Galapagos Islands.

After 40 years' work reintroducing captive animals, a detailed study of the island's ecosystem has confirmed it has a stable, breeding population.

Numbers had dwindled drastically by the 1960s, but now the danger of extinction on Espanola appears to have passed.

Galapagos tortoises, of which there are 11 remaining subspecies, weigh up to 250kg and live longer than 100 years.

The study, based on decades of observations of the variety found on Espanola, was published in the journal Plos One.

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It looks like we can step back out of the picture”

Prof James GibbsSUNY-ESFSlow release

It offers some good news that contrasts with the tale of Lonesome George, the very last of the related subspecies found on Pinta, on the other side of the archipelago. George's death, at the age of about 100, made international news in 2012.

Lead author Prof James Gibbs told BBC News the finding on Espanola was "one of those rare examples of a true conservation success story, where we've rescued something from the brink of extinction and now it's literally taking care of itself".

Prof Gibbs, from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY-ESF), said he felt "honoured" to be reporting the obvious success of the reintroduction programme, which the Galapagos Islands National Park Service commenced in 1973.

The Galapagos Islands today are home to 11 related types of giant tortoise, but there used to be 15

His team has found that more than half the tortoises released since that time are still alive, and they are breeding well enough for the population to plod onward, unaided.

"It looks like we can step back out of the picture," Prof Gibbs said.

It is quite a contrast to the 1960s, when just 12 females and 3 males roamed the island.

"They were so rare at that point, they couldn't find one another. Many of the females had lichens growing on their backs, and fungi, that indicated they hadn't been mated in a very long time."

Those animals were taken to an enclosure another island, to concentrate on breeding. Over the subsequent decades, more than 1500 of their captive-raised offspring have been released on Espanola.

Competing for cacti

It wasn't as simple as putting the tortoises back, however. Their problems began when feral goats were introduced in the 1800s and devoured much of the island's vegetation, severely disrupting the ecosystem.

"They can literally turn a rich ecosystem into a dustbowl," Prof Gibbs said.

Tortoises wait for pads to drop from cactus plants - a precious food source in the dry season

The goats even learned to feast on very tall cactus plants, whose dropped pads are a key food source for the tortoises in the dry season.

"They would feast on the roots... and chew away at the bark, and eventually that would topple these cacti. And then they had an incredible buffet of maybe 500-1000 years of cactus growth, demolished in a week or two."

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It's a long process but it's quite normal for it to take decades”

Dr Gerardo GarciaChester Zoo

Conservationists set about culling the goats in the 1970s and finally eradicated them in the 1990s.

Their legacy, Prof Gibbs discovered, remains.

Analysis of the island's plant life and its soil show that it has seen a major shift to bigger, woodier vegetation in the 100 years since the goats started stripping the undergrowth.

These shrubs and trees are a problem both for the tortoises and for their summer food of choice, the cacti.

The trees even get in the way of an endangered albatross that breeds on the island, making it difficult for the big, ungainly birds to take flight.

"Population restoration is one thing but ecological restoration is going to take a lot longer," Prof Gibbs said.

Lonesome George, who died aged about 100 in 2012, was the last of the tortoises from Pinta

Dr Rebecca Scott, an ecologist who studies turtles at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany, said the results showed how important it is to monitor reintroduction carefully.

"Reintroducing these large, keystone species, in combination with reducing the spread of invasive species, can really help return ecosystems to native state.

"This work highlights the merit of well-managed reintroduction programmes, but also of really monitoring how these animals do."

Dr Gerardo Garcia, a herpetologist at Chester Zoo, agreed that the situation was complex and the programme had succeeded because of careful, long-term management.

"It's a long process but it's quite normal for it to take decades," he told BBC News.

"Nothing gets released and stable in less than 20 or 30 years."

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9 Expert Tips for Eating Halloween Candy Mindfully

Many of my clients ask this time of the year how to cope with bags full of candy hanging around the house calling their name. Yes, it's hard to eat those little snack-size bites of candy mindfully! The good news is that it is possible. I interviewed a few experts to find the scoop on their best Halloween candy-coma prevention tips.

1. Switch it up:
You often are thinking about the next piece of candy before finishing the one you have. To slow down and enjoy each piece of candy as you are eating it, eat with your non-dominate hand (if you are left handed, eat with your right). This will help prevent you from mindlessly popping candy into your mouth. Research indicates that this simple swap can cut down on how much you eat by approximately 30 percent. -- Dr. Susan Albers, author of the National Bestseller, EatQ

2. Halloween fairy:
Robin Treasure, the Wellness Strategist states, "In our home (with a 5-year-old) the "candy fairy" appears at night after every holiday, takes all the candy, and leaves coins. The candy gets chucked mercilessly in the trash.

3. Pumpkin seeds: 
If you're super-stressed and anxious you're going to stress eat! Here is a great Halloween tip to lower your stress and sugar cravings: Enjoy some spicy, roasted pumpkin seeds. They are high in zinc and tryptophan so they'll raise serotonin, your happy and calming brain chemical. They're also a great snack to help keep your blood sugar stable and mood even. -- Trudy Scott, author of The Antianxiety Food Solution and host of The Anxiety Summit

4. Tahini: 
Have tahini or coconut oil with any Halloween candy to cut the sugar shock, but also maintain the fatty richness of the candy. Think of adding tahini as making an instant candy-filled version of Halva and coconut oil as a decadent buffer to your sugar buzz. -- Dr. Sam from tenpointwellness.com

5. Go green this Halloween:
This Halloween, decorate with organic pumpkins and squash and then eat the decorations! With bellies full of nutrient-dense foods, the trick-or-treat candy baskets will remain full, too! -- Elaine De Santos from FamilyForHealth.com

6. Protein: 
If candy is still in the house post-Halloween, eat a breakfast of protein, such as eggs or turkey bacon, with healthy fat, such as avocado or almond butter, in order to prevent from being too hungry and wanting to reach for the candy. -- Heather Morgan, MS, NLC, Nutrition Coach, Radio Host, Columnist Owner of Morgan Holistic Health, Sonoma CA

7. Avoid emotional eating: 
With all that extra sugar around, don't let stress and overwhelm tip the scales! If you find your hand in the treat bowl, ask yourself if candy is what you need or if there is a better fix for what you are really craving. Are you actually hungry, or are you tired, bored, stressed, or looking for a quick pick me up? Make a pact not to use Halloween treats to feed your hidden hungers. -- Dr. Melissa McCreery, psychologist, emotional eating expert at TooMuchOnHerPlate.com

8. "Eat dessert first": 
To avoid big blood sugar swings that can keep your kids (and you) awake all night on Halloween, I recommend eating candy first and then winding down the evening with a high-protein dinner like chili or grass-fed beef burgers. Keeping blood sugar more stable will calm cravings for even more sugar, and keep kids (and moms) from waking up in the middle of the night with a blood sugar drop. -- Jessica Drummond, MPT, CCN The Integrative Pelvic Health Institute

9. Sweeten your palates: 
It may sound counterintuitive, but actually having healthier sweet treats keeps me away from Halloween candy. Our Halloween tradition: a bowl of homemade chili topped with avocado to keep blood sugar balanced and cravings at bay + a mug of warm, spiced apple cider. Spiced cider comforts, warms and aids digestion while knocking out sweet cravings. Using the "switch witch" and tossing out the candy doesn't hurt either! -- Jen Wittman of TheHealthyPlate.org.

Wishing you a mindful Halloween!

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ORCHARD SUPPLY HARDWARE GETS ROBOT EMPLOYEES

SAN JOSE (KGO) --You may be surprised who will be ready to greet you when you stop by Orchard Supply Hardware store on Royal Avenue in San Jose this holiday shopping season.

The company posted a video on youtube featuring its new robot team member - OSHbot. 

The robots dubbed OSHbots look like white columns with two large black screens on either side of them. They are equipped with 3-D cameras so they can scan and identify items and help customers navigate the store.

It can respond to people and even speaks Spanish.

The new robots are expected to make their big public debut in about three weeks.

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After weeks of watching, Hawaii lava nears home

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii officials will make arrangements for those living in the path of a lava flow to watch the destruction of their homes.

 

That accommodation is being made to "provide for a means of closure," Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said Monday. "You can only imagine the frustration as well as ... despair they're going through."

Dozens of residents have been told they might have to evacuate as lava from Kilauea heads toward their homes.

The lava was about 100 yards from a home Monday morning, officials said.

After weeks of fitful advancement, the lava crossed Apaa Street on Sunday in Pahoa Village, considered a main town of the Big Island's isolated and rural Puna district. It was getting dangerously close to Pahoa Village Road, which goes straight through downtown.

Here's a look at the volcano:

THE LATEST

The flow advanced about 275 yards from Sunday morning to Monday morning, moving northeast at about 10 to 15 yards per hour. At other times, the lava slowed to about 2 yards per hour or sped up to about 20 yards per hour, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Teams of scientists from the observatory were walking alongside the flow day and night to provide updates, she said. At 11:15 a.m. Monday, the flow front was 580 yards from Pahoa Village Road.

Officials closed the Pahoa Village Road between Apaa Street and Post Office Road to everyone except residents.

Those living downslope of the flow are under an evacuation advisory. Most residents have left or have made arrangements to go somewhere else if necessary. Oliveira said he doesn't anticipate having to issue a mandatory evacuation order.

The couple living in the house closest to the flow have left but have been returning periodically to gather belongings, Oliveira said. "They are out of the property and awaiting the events to unfold."

He estimated the lava could reach the house sometime Monday evening.

Apaa Street resident Imelda Raras, said she and her husband are ready to go to a friend's home if officials tell them they should leave.

"We are still praying," she said. "I hope our home will be spared."

 

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SLOW CREEP

Scientists began warning the public about the lava on Aug. 22. At the time, residents were cleaning up from a tropical storm that made landfall over the Puna district, toppling trees and knocking out electricity.

The lava has advanced and slowed as residents waited and watched.

Kilauea volcano, one of the world's most active, has been erupting continuously since 1983.

This is not an eruption at the caldera, the things that make for stunning pictures as red lava spews from the mountaintop.

Decomposition of vegetation in the lava's path has created methane gas, which if it accumulates and is ignited by heat can cause a blast, Babb said.

"It's not a massive explosion," she said. "But it can dislodge rocks. It can hurl large rocks several feet."

WHO IS AT RISK?

Initially, the lava seemed headed for the Kaohe Homesteads, a widespread, sparsely populated subdivision in the Puna district.

It reached vacant lots in the subdivision before it stalled. It skirted the northeast corner of the subdivision and then headed toward Pahoa.

Pahoa has a small-town, quaint and historic charm, but it's "the only town in a commercial sense in lower Puna," said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who represents Puna and runs a natural food store in Pahoa.

Because the lava could change direction, any community in Puna is at risk. Everyone in the district lives on the volcano. The lush, agricultural district is about a 30-minute drive from the coastal town of Hilo.

The lava that crossed Apaa Street is on the other end of the street from the Raras home, but they're bracing for the possibility the lava will spread or change directions.

COUNTRY-STYLE LIVING

Why would someone live on an active volcano? Unlike Honolulu, the state's biggest city on the island of Oahu, the Big Island's Puna region has affordable land and offers a more rural way of life.

Located on the island's southeast side, the area is made up of subdivisions that have unpaved roads of volcanic rock.

Many live off the grid on solar power and catchment water systems.

Residents know the risks as there are special insurance requirements to buy land in certain lava zones.

PREPARATIONS

Sporadic suspensions in the lava's movement gave emergency crews time to work on building alternate routes to town in the event the flow covers the main road and highway.

Crews near the leading edge have been wrapping power poles with concrete rings as a layer of protection from lava heat.

Officials worried that if lava crosses Highway 130, it would isolate Puna from the rest of the island.

"Puna will be divided into the north side of the flow and the south side of the flow," Ruderman said.

HOW LONG WILL THE RISK REMAIN?

No one knows if the lava flow will stop, change direction or hit homes.

In the 1990s, about 200 homes were destroyed by lava flows from Kilauea.

The last evacuations from the volcano came in 2011. One home was destroyed and others were threatened before the lava changed course.

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

Kilauea is home to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Some residents expressed anger at suggestions to divert the flow. They say it's culturally insensitive to interfere with Pele's will.

YOUNG VOLCANO

The U.S. Geological Survey says Kilauea is the youngest volcano on Hawaii Island. Officials estimate Kilauea's first eruption happened between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago.

DON'T CANCEL VACATION PLANS

The lava isn't a reason to cancel a Big Island vacation because it's an isolated event.

Officials have warned people to stay away from the area and imposed flight restrictions because of helicopter tours hoping to see lava.

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Cocoa may hold clue to reversing memory loss

(PARIS-AFP) - Bioactive ingredients found in cocoa sharply reversed age-related memory decline in a group of volunteers, scientists reported on Sunday.

The compounds, called flavanols, were taken in a specially-prepared cocoa drink, according to an experiment published by the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Over three months, 37 healthy volunteers aged 50-69 had a daily drink containing either a high dose of flavanols -- 900 milligrammes -- or a low dose, 10mg.

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    The scientists carried out brain imaging, measuring blood volume in a key part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, a region of memory formation whose performance typically declines as one ages.

    They also carried out memory tests before and after the volunteers started with the drink.

    The tests entailed a 20-minute pattern-recognition exercise designed to assess a type of memory controlled by the dentate gyrus.

    The high-flavanol group notched up major memory improvements and an increase in blood flow to the dentate gyrus.

    "If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old," said Scott Small, a professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

    More work, in a bigger group, is needed to verify these early findings, he cautioned.

    Flavanols have excited great interest. They dangle the possibility of tackling age-related memory loss in the world's fast-growing population of elderly but without using drugs.

    The compounds exist in grapes, blueberries and other fruit as well as in some vegetables and teas, but the type of flavanol and the amount vary widely.

    Previous studies in mice showed that the class of flavanols found in cocoa boosts the performance of the dentate gyrus.

    "The dentate gyrus in humans and mice are very similar," Small said in an e-mail exchange with AFP.

    "I suppose that our study does show, for the first time, that flavanols improves the function of humans' dentate gyrus, particularly in ageing humans."

    Age-related decline

    The findings apply to normal memory loss -- things such as forgetting names of new acquaintances or where one has left one's glasses -- which usually becomes noticeable when people reach their fifties or sixties.

    They do not apply to memory loss caused by disease, such as Alzheimer's.

    The cocoa drink was prepared by a large US food corporation, which also partly supported the research. The study is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    The firm used a proprietary process to extract flavanols from cocoa beans. Under conventional processing, most of the flavanols are lost from the raw plant.

    Small said it was still too early to make dietary recommendations for flavanols, but "certainly I would NOT suggest that people consume more chocolate."

    "That would be a mistake," he said.

    "Very simply, the amount of flavanols that are found in chocolate is minuscule compared to the very high amount of extracted flavanols that our subjects consumed. The same is true for most other foods or teas," said Smith.

    "Hopefully, in the future a food source or a specific diet will be identified that contains very high amounts of the specific flavanols we studied."

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