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A Man Cut off a Dead Tiger’s Genitals to Improve His Own Sex Drive

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Earlier this month, an Indian man was arrested, along with two of his aides, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for cutting off a tiger’s head and genitals. The man believed eating the tiger’s sex organs would increase his libido or sex drive.

The incident came to light last month, after a headless tiger carcass with missing claws and genitals was found floating in the Ken river running through Madhya Pradesh’s Panna tiger reserve. The bizarre killing of the tiger prompted outrage after authorities suspected the tiger was killed in a mating accident or by poachers.

However, the probe revealed that a man identified as Achchelal found a dead tiger floating in the river on August 8. With the help of two of his friends, the 60-year-old man severed the tiger’s head and buried it near his field to ward off stray cattle.

“In the last five months, there have been at least 27 recorded cases of wildlife species including tigers, sloth bears, snakes and even anteaters being killed in Madhya Pradesh based on pseudoscientific beliefs,” Indrajit Latey, a wildlife educator who works in various tiger reserves across central India, told VICE News. “It is part of shamanistic beliefs propagated by local healers known as vaidus,” he said.

A vaidu would approach members of local communities, who then lay makeshift traps, explained Latey. He added that the majority of these killings either don’t get reported in the media or are covered up by the forest department as natural deaths. “The case of the headless tiger got highlighted because Madhya Pradesh is seen with a lot of pride as the home of tigers in India,” Latey said.

Forest officials in Panna tiger reserve began investigating the headless tiger case last month due to mounting public pressure. The accused have been arrested by a special task force of the forest department, and have confessed to the crime.

This is the sixth tiger killing that occurred in the reserve in the last eight months. Madhya Pradesh is home to the largest number of tigers in India, with six dedicated reserves.

“These beliefs that tigers can be used to enhance strength or as an aphrodisiac exist everywhere, but people are encouraged to poach animals when they realise their commercial value,” Anirudh Chaoji, a wildlife conservationist, told VICE News. Chaoji works closely with forest communities and the forest department in the western Indian state of Maharashtra’s Tadoba tiger reserve. Chaoji said media glorification and misinformation contribute to the killings of tigers and other animals.

A similar instance of a tiger’s head being severed was reported from the same reserve in 2005.

Last year, Madhya Pradesh forest department arrested an infamous poacher who goes by the alias Yarlen, known for his fetish of eating sloth bear penises. Yarlen confessed to have killed hundreds of sloth bears, wild boars, tigers, and peacocks to eat or sell their reproductive organs.

Yarlen’s was the first case cracked by the forest department’s special task force, formed to investigate unnatural wildlife killings after multiple sloth bear carcasses were found without their sex organs.

The reproductive organs of these animals are said to have medicinal values in treating cancer, burns, pain, asthma and prevent liver damage. The bile juice produced in the gall bladder of bears is believed to cure ailments like epilepsy, hemorrhoids, and heart pain.

None of these theories have any scientific basis. However, these products have a high demand in illegal wildlife trade markets across China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau and South Korea.

Many traditions that stem from pseudoscientific school of thought look at tigers as a source of strength or power. Followers of Tantric Buddhism (a Buddhist tradition of mystical practices) believe that wearing tiger skin while meditating can protect from spiritual interference. According to ancient texts found in various Southeast Asian regions, the calcium and protein derived from tiger’s bones have powerful anti-inflammatory healing properties. Traditional Chinese texts claim that a tiger’s penis is an aphrodisiac, while its teeth can be used to treat fevers, claws for insomnia, and whiskers to cure toothaches.

“This ‘traditional medicine’ has no verification and is usually verbally passed down in communities through mythology or hearsay,” Latey said.

Wildlife experts say that exaggerated stories, social hierarchies that revere local healers and illogical interpretations of ancient Hindu mythological texts have contributed to the issue. “These traditions continue to perpetuate because not enough people question them, or they have a placebo effect on the users. People would poach elephants for their tusks under the belief it would protect them from bad omens because the Hindu god Ganesha is missing one tusk,” he said.

In some cases, local forest communities have been accused of killing tigers who eat their cattle. Chaoji said this is the result of lack of awareness as well as lack of alternative forms of livelihood.

“From 2013 to 2020, there hasn’t been a single instance of tigers being poached in Tadoba,” he said. “This is because we have made the local communities stakeholders, and provided them livelihood opportunities in tourism or other means that don’t depend on the forest.”

Latey argues that awareness, education and implementation is the only way to break free of these beliefs. “But this can only happen when the educator earns the confidence of a community member, or they may not believe their scientific theories,” he said.

As a case study, Latey mentions an indigenous hunting community called Pardi, that gave up poaching after its members were offered employment in the tourism industry. “As children in these villages get education, they will question what a traditional medicine actually does to them,” he said, adding that the setting up of primary health centres in villages have also contributed to counter these pseudoscientific beliefs.

Home to 2,967 tigers, India accounts for 70 percent of the global tiger population. While the Indian government insists their tiger population has increased over the last year, wildlife experts worry about inadequate data collection that has led to this conclusion.

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One Good Thing: This animated miniseries perfectly captures the loneliness of autumn

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One Good Thing is Vox’s recommendations series. In each edition, we’ll tell you about something from the world of culture that we think you should check out.

I grew up on a hog farm in rural South Dakota. It wasn’t quite the middle of nowhere — it was situated along a major highway — but it was close. The sounds of semis barreling by in the middle of the night had a ghostly quality, passing us by between other lands.

The worst times were when my family would get home late from some function or another, and I would have to wander out into the dark, flashlight in hand, to make sure the pigs’ water containers were working properly. (Pigs, with their muddy noses, often clogged up the pipes with that mud, so the containers had to have the mud scraped out of them twice daily to keep them working their best.)

On fall evenings, with a chill settling in, the handful of trees between the hog lots and my house stood like roadmaps to some other world, lit up by the moon. I would conjure things that might live among the trees, ghosts or Sasquatch or other monsters that could haunt my farm and my childhood. But the trees didn’t hide monsters in their shadows. They just hid the house I grew up in.

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Few artworks have captured the feeling of those chilly autumn evenings in the dark so well as Over the Garden Wall, a 10-episode Cartoon Network miniseries from 2014 about two brothers lost in a foreboding wood, trying to stay one step ahead of a fearsome beast. (It’s now available on HBO Max and Hulu.) Widely acclaimed at the time of its release and the winner of two Emmy Awards, Over the Garden Wall has become a cult classic and an annual favorite for the many fans who watch it each and every October.

Since each episode is 11 minutes long, you can watch the whole series in under two hours, and there are few better times to watch it than right now — now, during this specific October. From jack-o’-lanterns to dying leaves trapped by the wind on a fence to a musical score full of wistful melancholy, Over the Garden Wall captures something intrinsic about the dying embers of fall before winter spreads its chill across the sky. (Here, I will note that the series is appropriate for older children but might be a little too much for younger ones. If your kid is into monsters and other creepy things, however, you might as well give it a shot.)

That autumnal feeling stems from creator Patrick McHale’s use of Americana that has slipped out of common usage. In particular, many of the series’ images are taken from vintage postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which were exchanged by friends and family on occasions such as Halloween and Christmas. Thus, the series looks like a dream you maybe had once because it captures not images you’ve seen a million times before, but the much older images that inspired the more familiar ones. It’s like seeing the original after enjoying several generations of copies.

The series’ storytelling accomplishes the same. It has the feeling of a fairy tale or folktale, with numerous nods to stories you’ve maybe heard before. People are turned into animals or trees, Brothers Grimm-style, and the Beast, who is only seen in shadow, is a man with antlers sprouting from his head, similar to mythological figures like Herne the Hunter.

Becoming lost in the woods is a primeval story in almost all cultures but particularly in the United States, where the earliest European colonizers who landed on these shores saw enormous, deep, dark woods and were intimidated by their shadows. (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous short story “Young Goodman Brown,” in which a young man enters the woods to perhaps meet Satan himself captures that creeping terror well.) There is something more unsettling about emptiness than a more overtly scary creature. While Over the Garden Wall only rarely offers actually scary creatures, its core story is unnerving in a way that will hang with you.

The story is mostly a string to hang beautifully designed vignettes upon. Brothers Wirt and Greg are lost in the woods and need to get home. Along the way, they meet a frog and a talking bluebird named Beatrice. In each episode, the two meet more people who live out there, in the woods (or as the series would have it, “in the Unknown”), and they have to be clever to avoid the various fairy tale traps awaiting them in the woods.

If you find yourself wondering along the way whether these woods aren’t a real place and if something tragic befell Wirt and Greg to send them into the Unknown, well, that’s a logical assumption. The series clears everything up in the end, tying up its surprisingly large number of storylines in a fashion that proves satisfying but not overly neat. The reasons behind the brothers’ travels are revealed, and the woods themselves give up their secrets.

I haven’t been back to the place I grew up in several years, and the hog lots where I used to scrape mud out of watering containers are long since gone, after my family got out of hog farming in the late 1990s. I do not know when I will return, and I like to think that now, walking along in the dark, I would not be so unsettled by the thought of what might lie lurking in the trees.

But old habits die hard. October returns each and every year, not as spooky as it was in my youth but still with an echo of an echo of what once scared me. Wirt and Greg might reach their final destination, but the Unknown is still out there, waiting to pull the unsuspecting into a great, cavernous mouth lined with trees.

Over the Garden Wall is streaming on Hulu and HBO Max. The first episode of the miniseries and the short film that inspired it, “Tome of the Unknown,” are available on YouTube.


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Who Measures the Height of Mount Everest and How?

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nepal, pandemic, everest, height, survey

Nepal was supposed to announce the new height of Everest on May 29, but the announcement has been pushed back amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Jewel Samad/AFP.

Khim Lal Gautam and Rabin Karki from the Survey Department of Nepal, and Tshiring Jangbu Sherpa, their guide, reached the top of Mt. Everest on 22 May, 2019. The three person team was carrying over 40 kilograms of equipment, including a GNSS receiver and a snow depth ground penetrating radar. They had left Kathmandu on 11 April, and over a month into the trek, in the bitter cold, Gautam, the lead surveyor, had lost a toe to frostbite. The surveyors made it to 8000 meters on the mountain when, on 21 May, they were stuck in a “traffic jam” of climbers trying to make it to the summit. When they reached the top a day later, data from the GNSS receiver was collected for an hour and 16 minutes in minus 109 Fahrenheit, after which the  surveyors began their descent, concluding the most difficult phase of Nepal’s first official mission to measure the height of the tallest mountain in the world.

Mount Everest’s current accepted height, 8848 meters, is a figure that was obtained by the Survey of India in 1955. Since then, other Indian, American, European, and Chinese surveyors have remeasured the mountain, and produced figures ranging between 8844 meters and 8850 meters. Due to the cost and technical expertise required for the project, Nepal government had not launched its own measurement effort till 2017. 

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“The earthquake in 2015 caused changes in the positions of the mountains,” former deputy director general of the Survey Department, Niraj Manandhar told VICE News. “Remeasuring was extremely difficult, but had to be done in the aftermath of the earthquake.”

Dr. Christopher Pearson from the School of Surveying at the University of Otago, New Zealand, an advisor to Nepal’s Survey Department, told VICE News that there are three reasons why the remeasurement of the mountain was necessary. One, tectonic activities are such that the height of Mt. Everest is expected to increase between earthquakes and decrease in the aftermath of an earthquake, which means that there may have been a notable change after the shocks of 2015. Two, with improvements in satellite technology, the precision of measurements has gotten markedly better, meaning that new figures on the height of the mountain are likely to be extremely accurate. Three, the top of Everest is covered in ice, and the melting of ice also means that the height may have fluctuated.

In addition to the project’s scientific relevance, measuring Mount Everest has also been a matter of national pride for the Nepal government. The Survey Department has spent US $ 1.3 million on the endeavour, working alongside six international firms since 2017. 

 “We are using traditional methods as well as cutting edge modern techniques for the first time, it is a very important project for Nepal,” the current Deputy Director General of the Survey Department, Susheel Dongol, told VICE News.

The traditional and modern methods for measuring Mount Everest are the trigonometric method and the satellite method respectively. The trigonometric method, through which the height of the mountain was first determined in 1955, measures the angle from horizontal points away from the mountain in order to make calculations on the height. The satellite method requires surveyors to place a satellite device on top of a mountain, which determines the peak’s exact location in a given coordinate system, and a series of calculations from the data thus obtained determine height with a margin of error of a few centimeters.

According to Dr Pearson, a problem with the trigonometric method is that light rays bent by the atmosphere can make a mountain look bigger or smaller, while the challenge with the satellite method is that it measures an ellipsoidal height (the height above a smoothed geometric model of the earth)instead of the height over sea level. Both methods used concurrently, therefore, lead to the most accurate figure.

The Survey Department measured the position and angle of the summit from 12 observation points for trigonometric levelling. A gravimeter— an instrument which measures the force of gravity at any given location— was taken to 298 spots. The ground penetrating radar measured the thickness of the ice-cap at the top of the mountain. The massive data collection effort included over 80 staff members from the Survey Department and took place over two years between 2018-2019 with geodetic equipment contributed by various countries. Most of the analysis of the data was conducted in late 2019. 

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If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the new height of Everest may already have been made public, but COVID-19 and tensions with China have delayed the announcement of the height. The “ownership” of the mountain, which lies on the border between the two countries, has long been a point of contention,  and although the relationship between Nepal and China has been quickly advancing in recent years, state communication about matters relating to the mountain is a diplomatic tightrope. In October 2019, after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Kathmandu, a statement by the Nepali and Chinese government said that they would “jointly announce the height of Mount Sagarmatha/Zhumulangma” (Everest). A year after Gautam and Karki reached the top of the mountain, on May 28, members of the Chinese government’s survey team also reached the summit to collect data. Although the measurement efforts have been separate, the promise of a joint announcement means that Nepal’s “pride project” is no longer its own.

A senior member of the Survey Department who did not want to be named said that China’s involvement was a “blindside,” and there is “no clarity” about when the public announcement of the new height will take place.

This is not the first time that the height of Everest has been a source of tension between Nepal and China. In May 2005, when Chinese researchers concluded that the height of the peak was 3.7 meters less than the estimates made in 1955 (they excluded the height of the ice cap at the top of the mountain in their calculation), then Director General of the Survey Department, Raja Ram Chhatkuli had said, “Both are correct heights. No measurement is absolute. This is a problem of scientific research.”

 In 2010, the countries agreed to settle their differences, with the Chinese side accepting Nepal’s claim that the snow height of Mount Everest is 8,848 meters, and the Nepali side recognised the Chinese claim that the rock height of the mountain is 8,844.43 meters.

The joint announcement decision appears to have taken place without the Survey Department’s knowledge. In October 2019, the Survey Department told The Kathmandu Post that ten days after the public announcement, it had not received official communication from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding China’s involvement in the process, suggesting that those involved with the science of the measurement and those in charge of state messaging were not on the same page. 

A year after the announcement that the height of the mountain would be jointly announced by Nepal and China, the Survey Department has been circumspect on the timeline of the declaration. “It was a long and difficult process, and the reveal will come in due time,” Damodhar Dhakal, information officer of the Survey Department told VICE News. 

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Nagorno-Karabakh fighting continues as second truce fails to hold

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Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan spill into fourth week, with dozens of civilians and hundreds of soldiers killed.

Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in heavy fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Monday, with both countries ignoring a renewed truce that was meant to come into effect at the weekend.

The truce was agreed on Saturday after a similar deal brokered by Russia a week earlier failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.

In both instances, Armenia and Azerbaijan accused one another of breaking the truce within hours of agreed deadlines.

On Monday, ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri forces were shelling their positions in northern and southern areas of the line of contact that divides them.

They recorded another 19 casualties among their troops, pushing the military death toll to 729 since fighting with Azeri forces erupted on September 27; 36 ethnic Armenian civilians have died.

Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties, but on Saturday claimed 60 Azeri civilians had so far died.

The Azeri defence ministry said Armenian forces had shelled its positions in the Garanboy, Terter and Aghdam regions of Azerbaijan overnight and said the Agjebedin region was being shelled on Monday morning.

The reports could not immediately be verified.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenian forces of violating the truce, and said in a Twitter post there were “dead and wounded due to these heinous actions”.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since fighting began on September 27, including hundreds of soldiers and dozens of civilians.

Nagorno-Karabakh is inside Azerbaijan but has been controlled by Armenia-backed troops for more than 25 years.

The failure to halt renewed fighting has raised fears of all-out war and humanitarian crisis, while the conflict puts fresh strain on ties between Turkey, which strongly backs Azerbaijan, and its Western allies in NATO.

While Turkey has called for a ceasefire, countries such as France and Germany have criticised Ankara for its fervent and vocal support of Baku in the fight.

Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia and sells weapons to both rival countries, could also be at risk of being embroiled into a regional war.

The first truce brokered in Moscow earlier this month was aimed at letting the sides swap detainees and bodies of those killed in the clashes, but it had little effect on the fighting around the enclave.

The latest truce was announced after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked to his Armenian and Azeri counterparts by telephone and called on sides to observe the truce that he mediated a week ago.

Russia, France and the United States jointly chair a body called the Minsk Group, which has attempted to help resolve the conflict under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to “fully abide” by the new truce, his spokesman said.

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