Amur leopard, yesterday
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Big cat conservation, GDPR, dinosaurs, World Cup: Our picks of the week’s news

Image credit: Dawn Walker

E&T staff pick the news from the past week that caught their eye and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them. For the full story, just click on the headline.

Tim Fryer, technology editor

Conservation technology: can science save endangered species?

It’s heart over head time. In our latest issue we look extensively at the issue of technology’s role in animal extinction, principally in terms of how it can be used to prevent it. Despite the incredible work of zoologists, scientists and conservationists, it is the unsustainable lifestyle of the human race that will determine if many species survive or die out. Nothing new in that – virtually all of us know that, it is just whether or not we care enough or are willing to inconvenience ourselves enough to do anything about it.

After all, new species are being discovered all the time. Over the last twelve months we’ve have had new frogs, deep-sea crabs, endless insects and a bacterium not just found but created by submarine volcanoes. All fascinating. All important in their own way (especially to themselves), but if we are being honest, they are not tigers, polar bears or snow leopards. And this is where I think it is perfectly justifiable to let heart rule head.

During my research for this article I went to the Big Cat Sanctuary, based in Kent. It plays its part in breeding programmes for endangered species. The Amur leopard, pictured at the top of the conservation web story, is Hogar, who lives at the Big Cat Sanctuary and has done his bit in siring the next generation. However, Amur leopards still only exist in double figures in the wild and they are the rarest big cat in the world. And while it is no surprise to find certain species of tiger, gorilla and rhino as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List (the accepted standard reference for endangered species), it may be more surprising that other species that are perceived as more plentiful, like lions, giraffes and elephants, are also classified as vulnerable.

And what is so often overlooked is that these animals are absolutely beautiful.

Everyone knows what a lion or leopard looks like. Right from the word go children’s books are filled with our favourite animals, while many of us enjoy wildlife documentaries - the quality of photography is stunning. When we think we’ve seen it all, David Attenborough introduces us to snakes ambushing an iguana or a jaguar dispatching a fully grown caiman with a single bite. But none the less, I think we have become blasé about our wildlife. Even at regular zoos there is such a lack of space along with a quantity of people and their associated noise that the animals feel like they exist as animated extras in a walk-through 3D exhibit.

Being at the Big Cat Sanctuary was a different experience. While there was no way it could compare to the thrill of seeing these beasts in their natural environment this was an opportunity to get up close to animals that appeared pretty content with their lot. The hush was regularly broken by the roar of the lions, but the lack of people – it is not open to the public on a regular basis – made the experience with the animals all the more intimate. The animals all looked content and happy to see people, or ignore them if they so chose, with the exception of Athena the jaguar who had such a look of malice and hunger in her eyes that even the keepers who knew her well were scared of her.

The point is that under supervision, and still the other side of a fence of course, we could get up pretty close to these animals and have time to study them carefully. It gave us the opportunity to marvel at the magnificence of these creatures and appreciate just how special they are.

Extinction is important. Everything plays its part in the natural scheme of things and without all of the components then that scheme can destabilise. No doubt it will naturally reach equilibrium again, but if that equilibrium left us devoid of Hogar and the rest of the big cats, polar bears and elephants, then it would nibble away at the collective human soul. We and our world would be diminished for it.

Sometimes the arguments that come from the heart are the most important.

Vitali Vitaliev, features editor

Book review: ‘The People Vs. Tech’ by Jamie Bartlett

This review made me think of one very recent – and still ongoing – technological threat to us all which is, most probably, not mentioned in the book. But before I tell you what it is exactly that I mean, let me issue a short personal statement:

Dear readers

With my columns, blogs, features and weekly news picks, I have been trying to give you the best personal experience to ensure that you enjoy my services today tomorrow and in the future. It has also been my goal to be as open and transparent (even if not always 100 per cent serious) as possible about the personal data I might have accidentally revealed about myself and other individuals in the process of providing the above services (i.e. columns, blogs, features etc). Today, I want to advise you about the changes of my private privacy policy effective of the morning of 25 May, 2018. These changes will reflect the ever so bewildering and discombobulating requirements of the EU General Data Protection Regulations (known as ‘GDPR’), aimed at stressing you out, wasting your time and littering your submissive email boxes to the bursting point with junk, (rather transparently) camouflaged as trying to achieve a greater transparency. In case you do not want to receive and to read my blogs, picks, columns etc, you do not need to take any action – and I will keep sending them to you anyway. On the other hand, if you want to unsubscribe (even if you never subscribed to anything in the first place), click the non-existent ‘unsubscribe’ button in the end of this statement. You will then receive an automated email asking if you really wanted to unsubscribe or did it by accident. You can safely ignore this email, for no matter what you reply, you will keep receiving my blogs, columns etc. anyway. If all of the above is not transparent enough, I refer you to my revised privacy policy which you cannot access in print or online, for it is none of your business. Thank you for wasting your time. If you have any questions, please contact me by using the contact form which is not attached to this email and, frankly, does not exist.

Yours insincerely

V Vitaliev

You must have guessed already what particular threat I have in mind – GDPR, which, according to one entrepreneurial PR person, whose unsolicited marketing email, camouflaged as a piece of GDPR criticism (I am now serious!), I received this morning, (I quote) “is now more popular that Beyonce, outpacing her (sic – VV) in the number of Google searches”. Indeed!

I am not going to discourage any potential GDPR missives, however, for one simple reason: as I heard on Radio 4’s Today programme, from this morning on, the senders of unsolicited emails can be fined up to £25 million! An easy way to become a multimillionaire, it seems, and therefore I want to implore all existing marketing companies to keep sending to me all those entirely unsolicited GDPR (and other) emails unreservedly, for I am in desperate need of a new house, new yacht and a new Lamborghini too.

GDPR is dead! Long live GDPR!

Dickon Ross, editor in chief

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. They’re big, they’re bad and they’re back

Tyrannosaurus redux: how do scientists and artists bring dinosaurs to life?

As the latest instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise reaches the big screen, Tim Fryer couldn’t resist taking a fresh look at whether there is even the remotest chance that genetic scientists or engineers will one day be able to clone a dinosaur. Hilary Lamb also looks at how science and technology bring dinosaurs back to life – but not literally. She traces how the depiction of dinosaurs in popular culture has evolved over the decades, but the model-makers and animators still have a lot more catching up to do with the faster developing understanding in palaeontology and science.

Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor

‘Serious earthquake risk’ with fracking near coalfields, government warned

I’m not really sure how I feel about fracking: I enjoy all the benefits of having energy readily available and I don’t want to be one of those people whose knee-jerk response to any new development is to object to it, but at the same time I firmly believe we should try to understand all the possible consequences of any action before pressing ahead. This report by a respected geologist should certainly be scrutinised carefully.

‘Show that green solutions are profitable’ – solar pilot

Bertrand Piccard was one of the initiators of the Solar Impulse project to fly an aircraft around the world using only solar energy. Now he has moved on to promoting ‘solutions’ that assist sustainability while also being profitable for their backers. I first heard him speak at an event in 2008. I quoted him then as saying: “Industry doesn't invest to save the ice caps… As long as protecting the environment is expensive, it will never work. It has to be profitable.” Ten years later, he’s still working to get the same message across.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

2018 Fifa World Cup Russia: VAR and other technology, on and off the pitch

Is it just me, or is there much less excitement about this summer’s football World Cup in Russia than there has been around previous tournaments where one of the British home nations has been involved? No sign of a song involving the squad, just low-key coverage of the England squad announcement and a couple of trailers for TV coverage screened during breaks in programmes than only viewers who are likely to have matches in their diaries already are likely to be watching.

With less than a month to go until the opening match in Moscow, and the English season not due to finish until the whistle blows at the end of the League 2 play-off final next week, I suppose there’s still time for a public still recovering from royal wedding fever to turn their attention to England’s chances and reluctantly get behind the national team with a sense of deja vu.

Despite it having become a cliche that they’ll scrape through the group stages and maybe another round to go out on penalties, there’s potentially a new factor for supporters of England – or any other country – to worry about this time round with the arrival of the video assistant referee. In theory it should mean fewer contentious decisions, but experience at home during the 2017-18 season suggests it could be the source of even more controversy.

Not everyone knows the name of Tofiq Bahramov, but everyone of a certain age is familiar with the so called ‘Russian linesman’ who in the pre-technology days of the 1960s awarded the disputed Geoff Hurst goal that effectively sealed England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup final. How ironic would it be if in Russia in 2018 it was tech that played a decisive part in determining the outcome of this year’s competition?

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