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This Urban Safari Comes With a Warning: Watch Out for Snakes

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HONG KONG — The snake didn’t see the catcher coming, at least not in time to avoid being caught.

“This is the fourth-most-toxic land snake in the world, and the most toxic snake in Asia by far,” the catcher, William Sargent, told a group of hikers on a recent night in Hong Kong. He delivered the news calmly, in the way one explains that dinner is ready.

Which of us, he asked, wanted to touch it first?

Mr. Sargent, 44, runs Hong Kong Snakes Safari, an outfit that takes residents on night hikes through the territory’s wooded hinterlands. Some are more apprehensive than others as they learn firsthand about what he says is a chronically misunderstood reptile.

The hikes highlight the scale of biodiversity in Hong Kong, a financial hub of 7.5 million people that is better known for its high-rises than its sprawling protected areas. It’s also a way for city slickers with snake phobias to confront their fears in the wild.

Hong Kong is nearly the size of Los Angeles, but about 40 percent of its land area consists of parks that were created in the 1970s when the Chinese territory was still a British colony. Human-animal conflicts are inevitable because so much of the protected land lies within walking distance of dense urban areas.

Wild boars, in particular, often cause a stir when they wander into busy streets or subway stations. Last month, a family of boars made the local papers by sauntering through Hong Kong’s central business district and taking a swim in the fountain outside the Bank of China’s 72-story office tower.

Snakes generally keep a lower profile in Hong Kong, but because eight native species are capable of inflicting fatal bites, the health risks can be serious if they end up in close quarters with humans.

The Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement that whenever a snake endangers the public, it is “safely boxed and bagged” by approved catchers, then sent to live at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, a local nonprofit that also shelters rescued bats, birds, crocodiles, monkeys, pangolins and turtles. Most of the snakes are later released into the wild.

Mr. Sargent, who kept snakes as pets while growing up on one of Hong Kong’s outer islands, has been a police-approved expert since 2015. He said his snake-catching assignments had taken him to prisons, schools, supermarkets, an airport hangar and a construction site for a coronavirus ward, from which he extracted a 10-foot python.

Last month, he was summoned to a fishing village at 3 a.m. to remove a Chinese cobra — from beneath the bed of a 90-year-old woman. He said a group of the village’s elderly residents formed a kind of receiving line around him as he walked by, “yelling their five cents’ worth about this foreign snake catcher.”

“Even the police were laughing,” said Mr. Sargent, who is British-Swiss and works in event planning by day.

Separately, he runs the hiking business and an educational Facebook group about local snakes that has more than 10,000 members. It was set up partly to help correct viral misinformation, like the suggestion that snakebites are common in the city.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 81,000 to 138,000 people around the globe die each year from snakebites, mostly in developing countries, and that about three times as many suffer permanent disabilities.

Most of the world’s estimated 1.8 million to 2.7 million annual “envenomings,” or snake poisonings, occur in Asia, many in countries with weak health systems and sparse medical resources. The countries that lack the capacity to manufacture antivenom are the most at risk.

But in Hong Kong, which has a first-rate medical system, no one has been killed by a venomous snake since at least 2005, according to a spokesman for the city’s Hospital Authority. In 2018, the last year for which data is available, the authorities recorded just 73 snakebites, making the chances of being bitten about one in 100,000.

“It’s not mystical,” said Mr. Sargent during the night hike. “It’s very clear-cut what the risk is. But there’s such a huge gap of misconception.”

I was one of several hikers who met Mr. Sargent at a village near Hong Kong’s border with mainland China on a sweltering weekday evening. Before we entered an adjacent country park, he explained that the best way to avoid a snakebite was simply to watch our feet and walk with a high-quality headlamp.

Check. And check. As we set out on a concrete path, our carefully monitored footsteps were bathed in a reassuringly bright LED halo.

But the ambient light seemed to fade with every step, and sections of the path were starting to look worryingly overgrown — at least to my snake-fearing eyes.

“Look everywhere you can look,” said James Kwok, a wildlife enthusiast who had tagged along for the safari and offered snake-spotting advice.

The group forded a thigh-high stream and traversed slippery rocks in the dark. A few hikers lost their footing and tumbled into the water.

Mr. Sargent spotted our first quarry — a mountain water snake — and plucked it off a stream-side rock with his bare hands.

As he showed us the snake, it nibbled at his hand, drawing a trickle of blood. He shrugged: It was nonvenomous, and therefore harmless.

But it didn’t look happy in Mr. Sargent’s confident grip.

“No,” he said. “I mean, I’m a predator, right?”

That seemed like more than enough drama for the night. But a few minutes later, a longer, thicker, black-and-white-striped snake slithered into the light of the group’s headlamps.

“Quick, quick, quick!” Mr. Sargent yelled in a stage whisper, as the group scrambled into formation behind him, headlamp beams bouncing across the subtropical foliage like spotlights at a rock concert.

In a fluid motion, he sprinted ahead, slipped his hand into a puncture-resistant glove and scooped up the snake.

As it writhed around in the humid air, he said it was a many-banded krait, a nocturnal species whose highly toxic venom targets the nervous system. We all tittered with anxiety.

But Mr. Sargent, who still looked serenely calm, reassuringly said that in three decades of handling wild kraits, he had yet to see one strike. The animal’s primary instinct was to flee, not bite.

So we gathered around to touch the krait’s belly — which was surprisingly smooth and delicate, like a baby’s cheeks — and to marvel at how beautiful its scales looked up close.

“It’s not what you expect,” said Ruth Stather, a fellow hiker, who works in marketing.

The krait was not exactly pleased, but it seemed willing to tolerate the curious humans for a few minutes. As we stood there touching it in the silent darkness, I felt my snake phobia easing.

“They’re not interested in fighting,” Mr. Sargent said.

I worried that he was tempting fate. But, sure enough, when he released the snake into the undergrowth, it slithered away.

By: Mike Ives
Title: This Urban Safari Comes With a Warning: Watch Out for Snakes
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/world/asia/hong-kong-snakes.html
Published Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2020 09:00:24 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?

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People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on Airliners.net via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/ansett-airlines-inflight-bar-menu/
Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?

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The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/11/18/science/shrimp-parade-thailand.html
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?

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There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.



Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/aer-lingus-manchester/
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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