Hero Landmine-Sniffing Rats Are Saving Human Lives in Africa

Rats are normally classified as vermin, but they can be heroes too. Proving the fact is APOPO, a Belgian NGO that trains African giant pouched rats to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis infections. Since 2006, these ‘hero rats’ have been working on minefields in Mozambique, clearing the country of over 13,000 landmines, thus reclaiming over 11 million square meters of land. They’ve also accurately analyzed over a quarter of a million blood samples for TB infections.

Bart Weetjens, founder of APOPO, first came up with the idea of training sniffer rats a couple of decades ago, when he was a student at the University of Antwerp. He used to keep pet rodents as a boy, so he knew that they were “very trainable, sociable, and intelligent creatures.” So when he read an article about gerbils being taught to recognise the scent of explosives, it got him thinking.

Weetjens wanted to use his experience of dealing with rodents to find a locally-sourced resolution to the problem of landmines. “I was looking for an appropriate solution that communities at the bottom of the pyramid could use, independent from expensive foreign know-how and technology,” he said. So he placed himself in the situation of the people affected by the problem, and looked at the resources they had at hand.

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Artist Manipulates the Movement of Bees to Create Accurate Wax Maps

Chinese artist Ren Ri successfully combines his love of beekeeping and art to create accurate honeycomb maps of various countries and continents.

Ren works closely with honeybees; in fact, he considers himself more of a beekeeper than a professional artist. He started beekeeping in 2007, and within a year, he mastered the basics. As he got more proficient, he began to think of ways in which he could manipulate the bees’ movements, by controlling the queen bee. Over time, he started creating meaningful beeswax patterns, and he eventually managed to produce a world map.

To create the map, Ren placed a map of the world inside the beehive. He then manipulated the queen bee to move in different directions and angles, so that the bees would build the hive at the locations he desired. “The bees continued to mould the beehive, and this moulding affected the original shape I had given the piece, through a process of addition and subtraction,” he said. Once the world map was ready, Ren created individual maps of several countries as well. He called the series Yuan Su I: The Origin of Geometry.

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The Land – A Different Kind of Playground Where Kids Get to Play with Fire and Take Risks

‘The Land’ is a different kind of adventure playground in Wrexham, Wales, which doesn’t follow the traditional format of swings and slides. Instead, it allows kids to explore independence and take risks. The Land resembles a junk yard, where kids get to jump over barrels and into mud puddles, poke sticks into open fires, and hammer sharp nails into wooden planks.

“It’s shaped by children who attend,” said Claire Griffiths, play department manager at the Association of Voluntary Organisations, which manages The Land. “It’s open access provision so children come and go as they please. They build dens, saw, hammer; they create and they destroy.”

That pretty much sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare, but the concept is surprisingly popular. Most parents seem to agree that The Land offers a valuable childhood experience that has been missing for decades. It is the complete opposite of over-protective parenting that encourages children to stay indoors.

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The Glowing Firefly Squids of Toyama Bay

Every year, between March and June, the 14-km shoreline of Japan’s Toyama Bay is lit up in blue. The electrifying light show isn’t man-made; it’s a natural phenomenon, caused by thousands of bioluminescent cephalopods known as ‘Glowing Firefly Squids’. These fascinating creatures normally live 1,200 ft underwater, but are pushed to the surface by waves during the Hotaru Ika (firefly squid) season.

Firefly Squid, or Watasenia Scintillans, are normally about three inches long and covered with photophores. Large photophores are present around their eyes and on the tips of their tentacles, while tiny photophores cover the entire body. These photophores contain light-producing chemicals that are responsible for the squid’s bioluminescence. Fireflies have similar photophores, so the squid are named after them.

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The Man Who Courted a Crane for Three Years to Save Its Species

Award winning ornithologist George Archibald is a living legend among his peers. This man actually courted a female whooping crane for three years, until she laid eggs. He managed to form an unlikely bond with the bird, and is believed to have played a big role in saving the entire species from extinction.

The story goes back to the spring of 1976, when Tex the crane was the only female of her species at the San Antonio Zoo. She was also one of about 100 surviving whooping cranes in the world. Researchers at the International Crane Foundation – co-founded by George in 1973 – had realised that Tex’s genes could contribute to increasing the population of cranes, if she would breed in captivity. There was only one problem: Tex thought she was human!

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Chinese Companies Accused of Selling Potentially Deadly Plastic Rice

A major food safety scandal involving fake rice recently rocked China; news reports suggested that the grains were made by mixing potatoes with industrial synthetic resin. There were also rumors of the “cheap but profitable” rice being exported to other Asian countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.

The fake grains supposedly cannot be distinguished from natural rice when raw. The only way to identify plastic rice is by cooking it – it remains hard and is difficult to digest. One publication explained that soup cooked with plastic rice will form a plastic film over the top, which burns when heated.

Health experts are warning people that these grains, if consumed, could wreak havoc on the digestive system. According to an official from the Chinese Restaurant Association, eating three bowls of plastic rice would equal consuming one plastic bag!

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9-Year-Old Girl Spends Her Free Time Building Tiny Shelters for the Homeless

Hailey Ford may look like an ordinary nine-year-old girl, but her magnanimity is rather uncommon and awe-inspiring. The little saint has made it her mission to help the homeless in her community by giving them a place to sleep.

While most other kids her age are content playing with toys, Hailey picks up power tools to build tiny shelters for people living on the streets. “It just doesn’t seem right that there are homeless people,” she told KING 5 News. “I think everyone should have a place to live.”

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Japanese Artist Carves Faces in Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Cups

Parents are forever telling kids not to play with food, but Japanese artist Makoto Asano does just that. He carves smiling faces into tubs of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, using nothing but the flimsy plastic spoon they come with.

Asano’s ice cream faces may look childish to some people, but there’s a certain whimsical quality about them that makes them stand out. Each face is carved out of a different flavor of ice cream, with sauces and toppings forming features such as hair, mustaches, or beards.

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Thai Batman Fan Opens His Own Dark Knight Museum Complete with a LEGO Gotham City

Meet Somchai Nitimongkolchai, Bangkok’s biggest Batman fan. The 43-year-old has been investing in Batman memorabilia for the past decade – his vast collection now consists of a whopping 50,000 pieces, including a LEGO Gotham City. And it’s all on display at his very own ‘Batcat Museum & Toys Thailand’.

Somchai, a self-confessed superhero geek, became obsessed with the Dark Knight ever since the 2005 film Batman Begins. He was blown away by Christian Bale’s performance as Batman. “I saw Batman Begins and was really impressed by how smart and brave Bruce Wayne was,” he said. He felt like Batman was an ‘approachable hero’ for the real world. “Anyone could just put on a mask and be Batman.”

Somchai, who ran an event-organising company at the time, had never collected anything until then. But the film inspired him to purchase his first collectible – a ceramic Batman piggy bank – for his office desk. Since then, he has combed every flea market and garage sale in Bangkok, looking for stuff related to his favorite superhero. “I started shopping on eBay and then learned more about how collectibles are marketed,” he said.

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Meet Baltazar, the Last Ice Merchant of Ecuador

While the rest of the world reaches into the freezer for ice, there’s someone on this planet who actually climbs mountains to chop it off. Meet Baltazar Ushca, Ecuador’s last hielero, or ‘iceman’.

Ushca is the last surviving practitioner of his family’s trade – passed on from father to son for centuries. At least once a week, the 68-year-old spends five hours hiking up Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak. He keeps going until he reaches the ice mine that has fed him and his family for generations.

Negotiating the steep 14,700-foot path is no joke, especially at Uscha’s age. But he continues the family tradition of cutting ice from the cave and shaping it into blocks. He then transports the blocks, by mule, down to the nearest city of Riobamba, where they are sold.

Despite his age and his short stature (4ft 11in) Ushca can carry two 66-lb blocks of ice on his shoulders. And he’s quite happy working on the mountain that he considers to be sacred. “This is a man’s work,” he said, proudly. “I am happy when I walk. Father Chimborazo looks after me.”

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Advanced Artificial Leg Allows Amputees to Feel Sensations in Their Foot

Austrian scientists have invented a revolutionary product in the world of prosthetics – an artificial leg with lifelike sensations. The one-of-a-kind man-made limb has sensors fitted to the sole, which are able to stimulate nerves at the base of the amputee’s stump.

“It feels like I have a foot again,” said Wolfang Rangger, the very first recipient of the sensory-enhanced prosthesis. “I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, sand, or grass. I can even feel small stones.”

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Man Chops in Half Everything He and His Girlfriend Owned after Breakup

We’ve seen people do strange things to cope with the pain of a breakup – like spending a week at KFC or inventing ridiculous uses for a wedding dress. But German eBay user ‘der.juli’ took post-breakup madness to the next level by literally cutting in half all the things he and his ex owned together.

It must have been a terrible breakup – what else could have prompted him to do destroy his TV, iPhone, laptop and even his car? We’re not kidding, he actually sliced his green Opel Corsa and his Macbook Pro neatly down the middle! He’s now selling the broken stuff on eBay, each priced at less than $2.

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The World’s Newest Human Ken Doll Actually Looks Plastic

Brazilian model Mauricio Galdi is the newest addition to the growing band of surgically-enhanced men branded ‘Human Ken Dolls’. After a total of eight procedures in the past decade, his face now looks like that of the popular plastic doll.

Mauricio, 27, claims that he wasn’t actually aiming for the ‘Ken’ look, but now that the media’s given him the title, he doesn’t mind cashing in on the publicity. “I never sought out to be the Brazilian human Ken,” he said. “It was something that came to me, television sought to give me that title.”

We find that kind of hard to believe though, given the fact that he’s been obsessed with dolls since childhood. Growing up in a middle class household in Sao Paulo, Mauricio confessed that he often felt jealous of little girls because it was socially acceptable for them to play with Barbie and Ken. “I saw them playing with dolls and I wanted to do the same,” he admitted, “but I never did for fear of prejudice.”

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School Fire Drills in China Are Way More Intense Than What You’re Used To

Let’s face it: fire drills are boring and they do nothing to prepare you for a real disaster. Recognising the need for some serious training, a school in China recently collaborated with the local fire department to take traditional fire drills to the next level.

During the mandatory annual event hosted by Nanhu Vocational School, in Hongkou District, Shanghai, students had to evacuate the building at the sound of a bell. But they also had to run through a series of burning doorways with napkins over their mouths, to avoid smoke inhalation. After crossing the obstacles, the students used fire extinguishers to put off the flames. Over 1,000 students from different grades attended the course.

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Doctors Keep Teen Awake for a Week to Keep Parasite from Tunneling into Her Eye

Contact lenses seem harmless, but they can cause the eyes some serious damage, something that 18-year-old Jessica Greaney learned the hard way. She was nearly left blind last month, when a parasite burrowed into her eye and started feeding on her cornea, all because of a contaminated lens.

When Jessica first noticed that her eyelid was drooping, she thought she just had a minor infection. The young girl visited the hospital, where doctors told her it was an ulcer, but in spite of using medication for a week, her symptoms didn’t go away. In fact, they steadily worsened.

“By the end of the week, my eye was bulging, and it looked like a huge red golf ball,” Jessica told student newspaper The Tab. “It was swollen, and extremely painful, and they admitted me into hospital.

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