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How Discarded Orange Peels Brought a Costa Rica Forest Back to Life

20 years ago, a couple of ecologists fighting for the conservation of Costa Rica’s tropical ecosystems convinced a large orange juice producer to donate part of their forestland to a national park in exchange for the right to dispose of massive amounts of orange peels on a degraded plot of land within that same park. No one had any idea what an impact that would have.

In 1997, Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, a husband and wife team of ecologists working with the Área de Conservación Guanacaste national park, in Costa Rica, came up with a plan to save a piece of unspoiled, completely forested land from a big fruit juice company, by offering something very attractive in return. If the company, Del Oro, agreed to donate part of its forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, they would be allowed to deposit massive amounts of waste in the form of orange peels on a 3-hectare piece of degraded land within the national park, at no cost. Disposing of tons of leftover pulp and peels usually involved burning them or paying to have them dumped at a landfill, so the proposal was very attractive.

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Spanish Natural Park Looks Like a Giant Brain from the Air

The San Fernando marshes in Bahía de Cadiz Natural Park, Spain, are sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Brain”, because of their uncanny resemblance to a human brain, when seen from high above.

Covering an area of 105 square kilometers, Bahía de Cadiz Natural Park consists of wetlands, beaches, pine forests and reed beds, and has long been a popular destination for nature lovers, but it only received its unusual nickname a couple of years ago, when an aerial photo started doing the rounds online. It was taken by wildlife photographer Cristobal Serano who immediately spotted the similarities between the marshes and the human brain, the first time he flew over them, and decided to capture the unreal sight on camera.

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Brazilian Man Spends 40 Years Bringing a Forest Back to Life

83-year-old Antonio Vicente has spent the last four decades of his life fighting against the current. As Brazilian landowners cut down rainforests to make room for profitable plantations and cattle grazing grounds, he struggled to bring the lush jungles of his childhood back to life. Today, his efforts are being rewarded, as the completely stripped land he once began planting trees on 40 years ago, has become a beautiful jungle teeming with tropical wildlife once again.

It was 1973 when Antonio took up the challenge of restoring the forest on a 31-hectare piece of land that had been razed for cattle grazing. Ironically enough, he bought the land on the outskirts of Sao Pablo, in Brazil’s Sao Paulo region, using credits that the military government was giving out to promote deforestation and investing in advanced agricultural technology. But Antonio had no intention of using the money to boost the national agriculture. He just wanted to revive the forest.

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Couple Spend 25 Years Turning Barren Patch of Land into Paradise of Biodiversity

In 1991, Anil and Pamela Malhotra bought a 55 acres of unused farmland in Karnataka, India, and started planting native trees on it. Over the last 25 years, their small forest has turned into a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary that hundreds of endangered plants, animals and birds call home.

Anil and Pamela met and married in New Jersey, USA, during the 1960s. They both shared a love for wildlife, and after visiting Hawaii on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the archipelago’s lush forests and fascinating fauna. They bought some land and decided to settle there. “That is where we learnt the value of forests and realized that despite threats of global warming no serious efforts were being made to save forests for the future,” Anil said.

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Vibrantly Colored Flowers Turn into Creepy Skulls When They Die

The snapdragon or dragon flower is one of the most popular plants in gardens around Europe, United States, and North Africa. Named for its resemblance to a dragon’s mouth that opens and closes when lightly squeezed, this beautiful flower also has a dark side. When its petals wither away and fall off, they leave behind dried seedpods that look a lot like creepy tiny skulls.

One of the few plants to resemble something when alive and another thing entirely when dead, the snapdragon flower has inspired various legends ever since ancient times. According to one story, women who eat the tiny skull-like seedpods will regain their lost youth and beauty, while another says that scattering them throughout the house will protect residents from curses, sorcery and other evil things.

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The Amazing Story of a Gambler-Turned-Conservationist Who Spent $90 Million Saving Nature

Former gambler and businessman M.C. Davis placed the biggest bet of his life about 20 years ago when he decided to spend a considerable chunk of his fortune on nature. Over the past two decades, he spent $90 million purchasing thousands of acres of land all over Florida. And the risk paid off – he managed to revive forests and swamps across the state, saving several wildlife species in the process. Although he tried to do his conservation work without attracting too much attention, the positive effects of Davis’ efforts could not go unnoticed forever. Last year, he was featured in Smithsonian Magazine and on the National Public Radio website, and his story went viral.

Having grown up in a cramped trailer on a dirt road in the Florida Panhandle, Davis set out to make a fortune at a very young age, becoming a self-proclaimed gambler and hustler. He made hundreds of millions of dollars, but it took a simple traffic jam to bring about the epiphanic moment that would change the course of his life forever. “It’s drizzling rain, and I was just sort of frantic with exasperation,” he told NPR. “Stuck in traffic, and I looked up, and I saw on the marquee of the high school, ‘Black Bear Presentation’. Intrigued, he decided to pull over and attend the event.

At the time, Davis didn’t even know that Florida had black bears, but the lecture made by two women of the Defenders of Wildlife piqued his interest – the very next day he donated enough money to keep the Defenders campaign alive for two years. He also began to read more books written by environmentalists, and kept in touch with Laurice MacDonald, one of the Defenders that had oipened his eyes. “He had the steepest learning curve,” MacDonald later said. “We would begin with little debates. They were a little testy but fascinating.”  

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Grieving Mother Dedicates Her Life to Planting Millions of Trees in Memory of Her Son

Meet Yi Jiefeng, a Shanghai woman who has helped plant millions of saplings in Inner Mongolia, over the past 12 years. Her goal is to reforest the arid Alashan Desert while keeping alive the memory of her son who passed away 16 years ago.

In the year 2000, Yi’s only son, Yang Ruizhe, was killed in a road accident in Japan, and the tragic incident left her a shattered woman. But she eventually found a way to deal with the grief by devoting her own life to fulfilling her son’s dream. Ruizhe had told her about his plans to plant trees in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous region in order to stop the advancing desert, so Yi decided to fulfill his dream herself. “He was fond of nature since he was a little boy,” she said. “He was concerned about natural things such as wind, rain, plants, and animals.”

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The Androgynous Lionesses of Botswana

Moremi Game Reserve, located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is home to a pride of butch lionesses with deep roars and bushy, luxurious manes. They look so much like male lions, they easily fool competing prides into believing that they’re actually males.

The maned lionesses are regularly spotted by visitors to the Mombo Safari Camp, an area within the Reserve where these wild beasts reside. Wildlife experts believe that the lion population in the area might have a genetic condition that causes the phenomenon. The seasonal flood waters of the delta could have isolated these lions for decades, forcing them to inbreed their way to a genetic mutation causing a hormonal imbalance.

When National Geographic contacted Luke Hunter, president of the big-cat conservation group Panthera, for answers, he explained that masculine females are likely to occur when the embryo is disrupted – either during conception or while in the womb. “If the former case, the genetic contribution of the sperm – which determines the sex of the fetus in most mammals – was probably aberrant, giving rise to a female with some male characteristics,” he said.

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Meet Hyperion, the World’s Tallest Tree

Up until August 2006, the tallest known tree in the world was a 369-foot California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) nicknamed ‘Stratosphere Giant’, located somewhere in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California. To give you some idea about its massive size, that’s twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, minus the foundation.

But the Giant lost its status when two naturalists, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, stumbled upon group of trees in California’s Redwood National Park that were taller than any they’d ever seen before. They made preliminary measurements using professional laser equipment based on goniometry, and found not one, not two, but three trees that were taller than the Stratosphere Giant.

The tallest of the lot, named Hyperion, was found to be a good 10ft taller than the Giant, standing at a whopping a 379 ft. When Atkins and Taylor announced their discovery, a team of scientists led by Humboldt State University ecologist Steve Sillett arrived at the park to measure it again in September 2006. They were aiming for more accuracy, so they actually used a tape this time. They actually climbed to its very top and dropped the tape to the ground. The epic stunt was filmed for National Geographic.  

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These “Walking Trees” in Ecuador Can Allegedly Move Up to 20 Meters per Year

The Socratea exorrhiza is perhaps the world’s only mobile tree. They say its complicated system of roots also serves as legs, helping the tree constantly move towards sunlight as the seasons change. Walking trees can apparently move up to 2-3 cm per day, or 20 meters per year. That may not sound like much, but it’s pretty much a marathon by tree-standards.

Rainforest guides in Latin American countries like Ecuador have been telling tourists about the amazing walking trees for decades now. The most common version of the story is that the tree slowly ‘walks’ in search of the sun by growing new roots towards the light and allowing its old roots to die. The unusual roots, split from the trunk a few feet above the ground, add to the illusion of the tree having legs.

“As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m,” explained Peter Vrsansky, a palaeobiologist from the Slovak Academy of Sciences who lived for a few months in the Unesco Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, about a day’s journey from Ecuador’s capital Quito.

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Iconic “Tree of Life” in Kalaloch Is a Monument to Resilience

Located on an eroded, partially caved in cliff on Kalaloch beach, within Olympic National Park in Washington, the Tree of Life is stubbornly hanging on to the eroding soil with just a few of its roots. Some call it magical, others immortal, I just think it’s resilient. 

The roots in the middle are exposed and spread out, making it look like the tree is hanging on for dear life. And what’s truly surprising is that it has managed to survive this way for years, sprouting fresh green leaves despite its roots having very little contact with soil. It hasn’t toppled over, not even during the worst of storms that regularly hit the coast. While many other healthy trees in the area have succumbed to the unpredictable weather, the Tree of Life manages to survive, year after year.

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Tiny Bird Mimics Other Birds’ Warning Calls to Confuse Predators

Despite its tiny size, the brown thornbill is quite capable of protecting itself in the wild. Its survival strategy is simple yet effective – it scares other birds away by ‘crying hawk’!

It seems that most birds use certain calls to warn their kin of impending danger, especially when hawks and other birds of prey are approaching. The thornbill is not only aware of this fact, but can reproduce the danger signals of several species, including the much larger pied currawong. Predators are fooled by the false alarm, and the thornbill earns its chicks a few extra seconds to escape.

The thornbill’s talent for mimicry was discovered by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU). “I am amazed that such a tiny bird can mimic so many species, some much bigger than itself. It’s very cunning,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Branislav Igic.

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Abandoned Chinese Village Reclaimed by Nature Becomes Tourist Attraction

It really doesn’t take long for Mother Nature to reclaim her territory, slowly obliterating all signs of human occupation, if we only allow it. Case in point is the abandoned Chinese village of Houtou Wan which, within a span of 50 years, has become a beautiful secret garden completely covered in lush vegetation.  

Houtou Wan village is located on one of the 394 Shengsi Islands of China’s Yangtze River. It used to be a thriving fishing town a few decades ago, but it was gradually abandoned as the number of fishing vessels outgrew the size of the bay and the population was forced to relocate. All but a handful of villagers left Hotou Wan in the last half century, leaving nature to work her magic on the settlement. The result is nothing short of breathtaking.

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Moss Viewing – A Strange Yet Increasingly Popular Japanese Pastime

A lot of people walk by moss all the time, without even giving the time of day, but in Japan, they actually have this thing call moss viewing that involves going on trips to damp places and staring at moss for hours, as a means of relaxation.

According to Takeshi Ueno, a plant ecology expert at Tsuru University, the activity is particularly popular among women, because “they are rich in emotions”. “They can innocently enjoy changes in the shapes and colors of leaves, for example, so they are well-suited to moss viewing,” Ueno, who usually leads the moss viewing trips near Lake Shirakoma, added.

It all started in 2013, when Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel in Aomori Prefecture introduced a one-night program that included an observation tour of the moss colonies in a riverside forest. It was an unsuspected success, and after the Bryological Society of Japan named the area around Lake Shirakoma a ‘precious moss-covered forest’, moss-viewing became a regular affair. The event has become so popular among female travelers that it is held about eight times a year.

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Harmless Caterpillar Mimics Menacing Snake Head to Fool Predators

Meet the Dynastor darius darius, a harmless caterpillar with astounding survival skills. In order to avoid being attacked by predators during its pupal stage (when the larvae transform into butterflies or moths), the helpless creature takes on the form of a rather menacing snake!

Native to Trinidad, the shape-shifting D. darius often mimics the head of a Gaboon pit viper, successfully fooling even the toughest of its predators. After it sheds its final layer of skin, the caterpillar enters its pupal stage, and its chrysalis takes the shape of a viper’s head. The transformation lasts 13 days, during which time this mimicry is its only line of defense. To make the appearance even more believable, the scary-looking chrysalis hangs on the underside of forest leaves at a carefully selected angle.

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