WTF Fun Fact 12966 – Yacouba Sawadogo

Yacouba Sawadogo is a farmer – and an environmental hero. Hailing from Burkina Faso, he and his family helped stop the desertification of his village by planting their own forest.

But there’s so much more to his efforts and what we can learn from them about the importance of trees (and caring about the land around us).

Yacouba Sawadogo, the man who stopped the desert

Sawadogo’s village, in the northern part of Burkina Faso (in the Sahel Belt), suffered from a long drought from 1972 to 1984. The land was further impacted by overfarming and overgrazing by animals, and the resulting famine killed hundreds of thousands of people.

He used an ancient African technique called zai. Zai involves planting specific trees and enriching the soil, resulting in faster forest growth and improved soil quality. But his fellow farmers who saw him planting trees in the desert thought he was losing his mind.

He and fellow farmer Mathieu Ouédraogo proved them wrong.

“Yacoub Zai”

Sawadogo has no formal science education but used traditional knowledge to plant what is now a nearly 100-acre forest with 96 tree and 66 plant species. There are edible and medicinal plants in his forest, and it’s now home to previously endangered animals.

According to LifeGate (cited below), Yacouba Sawadogo recalled getting his nickname: “Thomas Sankara [President of Burkina Faso between 1983 and 1987] launched an appeal to develop initiatives to stop the advancement of the desert, and when he came to see my work, he asked me what technique I was using, and I told him it was zai. That’s why I’m also known as Yacoub Zai”.

Trouble in the forest

There is a 2010 documentary (The Man Who Stopped the Desert) about his life, and he won the Right Livelihood Award in 2018 and the Champions of the Earth award in 2020. However, Sawadogo was still fighting for the land until very recently.

In the early 2000s, the nearby city of Ouahigouya annexed the forest as part of a larger municipal land grab. Officials offered Sawadogo and each of his family members just 1/10th of an acre of the land and no other compensation. Then, people began erecting settlements on the plot.

Sawadogo began raising money in 2008 to buy the land and keep it safe. But the value of the land (thanks to his own efforts) made it extremely valuable – more than he could afford, even with fundraising. Finally, in 2021, the environmental arm of the local government erected a protective fence around the forest to preserve it, thanks to Sawadogo’s ongoing efforts.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Yacouba Sawadogo, the African farmer who stopped the desert” — LifeGate

WTF Fun Fact 12943 – A Conspiracy of Lemurs

Lemurs are fascinating creatures. They’re also diverse – there are 113 types of lemur, all native to Madagascar. Lemurs are social creatures that are active during the day and live in groups of up to 30. These groups are called a conspiracy of lemurs (or alternately a troop).

Why is it called a conspiracy of lemurs?

According to LiveScience (cited below), “Lemurs’ main predators are fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox) — carnivores that looks a bit like a cat or weasel. Lemurs can also become prey for large snakes, birds, humans and animals humans have introduced to Madagascar, such as domestic cats.”

By living in groups, it’s easier for lemurs to alert each other to dangers. The reason a group of lemurs is also called a “conspiracy” is that they work together (or conspire) to outsmart predators and stay safe.

Unfortunately, they can’t conspire to stop habitat destruction. “In 2020, the IUCN(opens in new tab) announced that 98% of all lemurs are threatened with extinction. The main reasons lemur populations have declined so significantly is because of habitat loss due to deforestation(opens in new tab) and hunting in Madagascar. Their habitat is often destroyed so that it can be used for agriculture, and they are hunted for food,” reports LiveScience.

Lemur mobbing

After conspiring to outsmart the predators they have some control over, lemurs also use a technique called “mobbing” to attack predators all at once.

Lemurs can jump up to six times their body length, so they presumably seem like they come out of nowhere and predators hardly get a chance to know what hit them (literally – conspiracies of lemurs have been known to beat large snakes to death).

Cooperative attacking and harassing (aka mobbing) is not limited to lemurs. Many species use this technique to eliminate the threat of predators.

These furry creatures seem to have quite a few sophisticated anti-predator behaviors.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Lemurs: A diverse group of endangered primates” — LiveScience

WTF Fun Fact 12921 – The Airplane “Boneyard” in Tucson

If you like airplanes (or are just mystified by the thought of seeing thousands of them), The Boneyard in Tucson, AZ – known more formally as the 309th AMARG Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – may be just the place for you.

What is Tucson’s airplane “graveyard”?

According to Arizona Journey, a site for Tucson tourists (cited below): “AMARG is the world’s largest salvage yard, minus the snarling dogs. The aircraft are lined up in rows set up with military precision, stacked so closely together that from above their wings look like they are holding hands with each other, a sharp contrast to their former roles. It’s a starkly beautiful setting as, throughout the day, the silver fuselages reflect changing colors of the Rincon Mountains to the east.”

Since the planes are no longer fully operational, they’re just in permanent outdoor storage in the middle of the desert. The Sonoran Desert is apparently as good a place as any to place what is largely a giant airplane junkyard for defunct military aircraft since the dry air prevents rust.

Why prevent rust on planes that no one technically needs anymore? Well, some can be resurrected and others used for spare parts. In fact: “Despite its moniker, the Boneyard is not a place merely to stockpile airplanes in eternal rest. Some have been mothballed for spare parts and potential future activation. In 2015 a B-52 bomber old enough to qualify for AARP membership was restored and returned to flying condition. Though the Cold War may have ended, the men and women deployed at the Boneyard in Tucson are on constant alert for any future chills in relations between the superpowers.”

Visiting Tucson’s airplane Boneyard

Despite its location on a military base, you can visit the airplane Boneyard in Tucson while touring the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum.

But security is tight, so don’t expect to climb all over them. You can only catch a glimpse of F-14 fighter planes, for example, since they’re still flown by the Iranian Air Force “which is desperate for spare parts to maintain their fleet.”

Visitors can take a Tram Tour for $8 or Private Walking Tours for $75.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A fun visit to the massive Tucson airplane graveyard AKA “The Boneyard” (over 3000 planes)” — Arizona Journey

WTF Fun Fact 12917 – The Science of Batman

A course called The Science of Batman was proposed at the University of Victoria in Canada back in 2012, and was offered for the first time a few years later in 2016.

The science of Batman

According to HuffPost (cited below) “the course will examine how the human body can be adapted and improved based on the metaphor of the caped crusader himself” and “Offered in “alternate years” the course would make up only part of a degree and is run by the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education.”

EPHE 156 is described in the course catalog as such:

“The extreme range of adaptability of the human body
explored through the life of the Caped Crusader; examines
human potential using Batman as a metaphor for the
ultimate in human conditioning; evaluates the concepts of
adaptation to exercise and injury from the perspective of
science and exercise training; examines the multiple
sciences behind exercise adaptation, musculoskeletal injury
and concussion, and limitations of the human body and
mind.”

Frankly, it sounds pretty awesome. Just like Batman.

Why teach about superheroes?

It’s hard to get students interested in courses, so sometimes professors (or their administrators) resort to gimmicks. And while they might sound silly, there’s really nothing wrong with it if it helps students learn valuable concepts or skills. The Science of Batman wasn’t about taking away tuition dollars for something mindless, in fact, it was a course about how the human body could be improved.

In some ways, The Science of Batman was ahead of its time. People are only more and more interested in things like “biohacking” and adapting the human body to extreme conditions (like space). Physiology experts travel to high-altitude locations to study these sorts of things all the time. It may even help us improve our health and live longer. So if you have to lure in students with the promise of Batman, so what?

Parents, teachers, and, yes, even executives use references to things people are interested in all the time to explain tough concepts or motivate people.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Science Of Batman: Canadian University Offers Physical Education Class In The Dark Knight” — HuffPost

WTF Fun Fact 12898 – A Restaurant Run By Deaf Staff

Sid Nouar is deaf. The unemployment rate for deaf people in Europe is over 50%. So when Nouar opened his restaurant,1000&1 Signes in Paris, he was committed to hiring deaf staff. And he’s not the only “deaf cafe” in the world.

1000&1 Signes

When Nouar first opened his Moroccan restaurant, he couldn’t find deaf staff trained in the restaurant business (something very necessary for Parisian restaurants, where restaurant positions are careers). As a result, he ended up performing the roles of the whole front-of-house staff while his mother cooked in the kitchen.

As you might imagine, he burned out as a result.

Luckily, he was able to reopen at an even larger location a few years later and hire a full staff of deaf people.

Deaf cafes around the world

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “Although every country has its own unique sign language, Deaf people across the globe share many common experiences, especially the frustration of primarily communicating in a language not shared by the majority. Instead of focusing on what they cannot access, however, many Deaf people take pride in their rich sign languages, plus the arts, athletics, folklore, values, and history that make up what is known as Deaf Culture.”

Now, there is a “Deaf Ecosystem” that employs the deaf community whenever possible. And deaf travelers seek out these deaf entrepreneurs. Still, 80% of the clientele at deaf cafes are hearing people. But they’re required to adapt to their surroundings rather than the other way around.

Atlas Obscura offered an example: “When visiting Austin, Texas, Deaf travelers are sure to visit Crêpe Crazy. The birth of this popular crêpe restaurant evokes the quintessential American fairytale: two Deaf immigrants turn a secret family recipe into a pair of successful central Texas restaurants, serving an American take on a European classic.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Deaf-Owned Restaurants Offer Cuisine and Community” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 12897 – The World’s Oldest Cat

The world’s oldest cat was named Creme Puff – and the furry girl held on until age 38! It’s all been confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The story of Creme Puff

Creme Puff was owned by Jake Perry, who can safely be called a legendary cat owner (as well as a husband, father to humans, and plumber). He also adopted and found homes for hundreds of cats over his lifetime. But even more stunning is that Perry had been the owner of the previous record-holder for longest-lived cat before Creme Puff came along!

That cat, Granpa Rexs Allen was part sphynx and part Devon Rex mix, and he lived to age 34.

Creme Puff was a mixed tabby cat.

What’s Perry’s secret to cat longevity?

As you might imagine, Perry treated all of his cats as they so richly deserved. He built a theater in his garage that played nature documentaries for his cats to watch. He remembered and celebrated their birthdays every year (which, if you think about it, is A LOT of birthdays). Perry even had steps built all over the walls of his house so his cats would have things to climb on to stay engaged and stimulated.

Most importantly, he insisted that a loving relationship is the secret to cat longevity.

The diet Perry fed his cats is more questionable (or is it, since 1/3rd of the cats he’s owned have lived to be 30?). According to Atlas Obscura (cited below, with an excellent story on Perry) the cats’ daily diet had a few extra fixins’ on top of dry commercial cat food, including “a home-cooked breakfast of eggs, turkey bacon, broccoli, coffee with cream, and—every two days—about an eyedropper full of red wine to ‘circulate the arteries.'” (Note, caffeine and alcohol are not recommended for cats, nor is that much human food, so there much be some other secret – or it all goes together in some perfect feline-friendly way.)

Perry’s vet of choice is Bruce Hardesty, the owner of South Congress Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. He’s seen 40 or 50 cats Perry has owned over the years. He believes at least 6 of Perry’s cats have reached age 30.  WTF fun facts

Source: “How to Raise a 165-Year-Old Cat” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 12889 – Dasia Taylor’s Life-Saving Sutures

Anywhere from 2% to 5% of surgical incisions and other stitched-up lacerations get infected, and it can be life-threatening. That’s partly because patients may not know their wounds are infected until they see signs like redness or experience pain. Teenager Dasia Taylor has an answer – she invented sutures that turn a different color when a wound is infected.

Dasia Taylor’s suture solution

When she began the project in October 2019, Dasia Taylor was just 17 years old. The Iowa City West High School student was participating in science fairs and was eventually named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a highly prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

Her invention was a suture threat used for medical stitches that changes color from bright red to dark purple when an infection is present. She uses beet juice to make the dye. But it’s far more chemically complicated than that.

Color-changing sutures save lives

Dasia Taylor’s invention is designed in part to help people who don’t have access to convenient medical care and is based on a process already known to scientists.

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below): “Taylor had read about sutures coated with a conductive material that can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance, and relay that information to the smartphones or computers of patients and doctors. While these ‘smart’ sutures could help in the United States, the expensive tool might be less applicable to people in developing countries, where internet access and mobile technology is sometimes lacking.

While less than 5% of people in the US whose wounds are treated with sutures develop an infection, that number jumps to 11% in developing countries.

Taylor is also concerned about the high rate of C-section infections in parts of Africa and the US (the US has just as high of a rate of infection – sometimes higher – than some African nations with fewer medical resources).

How do color-changing sutures work?

So, how do the sutures help notify patients of an infection? Well, according to Smithsonian: “Healthy human skin is naturally acidic, with a pH around five. But when a wound becomes infected, its pH goes up to about nine. Changes in pH can be detected without electronics; many fruits and vegetables are natural indicators that change color at different pH levels.”

“I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,” said Taylor. Bright red beet juice turns dark purple at a pH of nine. “That’s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it’s at.’”

But that wasn’t the full solution. Taylor also had to find a material that would hold onto the dye while not being too thick to be used as a suture. She tackled the problem during the COVID lockdown and ran experiments until she found the best of the 10 materials she was trying – a cotton-polyester blend that could change color in just minutes of picking up a change in pH.

There are still some kinks to work out before it goes from the laboratory to the bedside, but it’s safe to say this teen is on her way to an illustrious research career.  WTF fun facts

Source: “This High Schooler Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12824 – Teen Invents Tool To Catch Elephant Poachers

A teen named Anika Puri has invented a new way to catch elephant poachers.

“I was quite taken aback,” the 17-year-old Chappaqua, New York student told Smithsonian Magazine. “Because I always thought, ‘well, poaching is illegal, how come it really is still such a big issue?’”

Learning more about elephant poachers

Puri and her family visited India a few years ago and saw ivory lined up at a Bombay market. The ivory trade has been illegal for decades in India.

After some research, Puri realized African elephants are still being hunted and that the “forest elephant population had declined by about 62 percent between 2002 and 2011.” Those numbers continue to drop today.

As a wildlife lover who is gifted in science and technology, Puri invented a system to help catch poachers.

According to Smithsonian: “Drones are currently used to detect and capture images of poachers, and they aren’t that accurate, the teenager explains. But after watching videos of elephants and humans, she saw how the two differed vastly in the way they move—their speed, their turning patterns and other motions.”

Tracking and stopping elephant poachers

Once she saw the difference in movements between humans and elephants, she realized she could build a piece of technology to track their movements.

As a result, she spent 2 years creating ElSa (short for “elephant savior”). Still in the prototype stage, the machine-learning driven device “analyzes movement patterns in thermal infrared videos of humans and elephants.”

Better yet, Puri says the accuracy is 4 times that of other tools. Her tool also costs a mere $250 to make whereas others run into the thousands of dollars due to their use of high-resolution cameras.

However: “ElSa uses a $250 FLIR ONE Pro thermal camera with 206×156 pixel resolution that plugs into an off-the-shelf iPhone 6. The camera and iPhone are then attached to a drone, and the system produces real-time inferences as it flies over parks as to whether objects below are human or elephant.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “This Teenager Invented a Low-Cost Tool to Spot Elephant Poachers in Real Time” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12814 – The Tarantula-Pet Frog Theory

We don’t exactly get the warm fuzzies from tarantulas, but we know there are some spider fans out there who think the leggy creatures get a bad rap. And we’re open to reconsidering some of our terror. Especially when we find out cool things about them – like the tarantula-pet frog connection.

Communalism and “pet” frogs

According to a University of Michigan press release, a “team of biologists has documented 15 rare and disturbing predator-prey interactions in the Amazon rainforest including keep-you-up-at-night images of a dinner plate-size tarantula dragging a young opossum across the forest floor.”

Ok. That’s not the endearing part. But they continue…

…”the researchers also report on lethal parasite infections in lowland Amazonian frogs and commensal relationships between spiders and frogs. A commensal relationship is one in which one organism benefits and the other is not harmed.”

So, it turns out the circle of life takes a little side trip when it comes to these tiny frogs.

Now, other research shows that tarantulas tend to form communal relationships with frogs that just downright taste bad to them, so they could be why they don’t eat them. But one also has to wonder why they even let them hang around.

Does the tarantula keep frogs as pets or housekeepers?

The nature website Roaring Earth (cited below) gives us some more insight into the frogs:

“Measuring hardly more than half an inch in length, microhylids might seem like a pretty insignificant family of frogs. But they’ve crossed onto scientific radars in a big way. Many of these tiny, narrow-mouthed frogs have been observed in Sri Lanka, Peru, and India living in close proximity to tarantulas.”

Now, when species have commensal symbiosis, that means one creature doesn’t get anything out of the interaction. But it’s possible that this relationship could be described as mutualism instead. In that case, both species would benefit.

And how do the spiders get anything out of this (besides a cute, slimy pet?). Well, some researchers have postulated that “the frogs may eat the small invertebrates attracted to the spider’s prey remains.” So frogs get a bodyguard while spiders get a housekeeper.

Tarantula – pet frogs, or tarantula – frog friendship?

Better yet, the small invertebrates that the tarantulas eat are the ones that may target a spider’s eggs. So, frankly, it seems like the spiders get more out of this than the frogs, but tarantulas probably have a hard time finding friends, so maybe it does all even out in the end!

What do you think about the tarantula-pet frog theory?  WTF fun facts

Source: “Giant Taranzulas and Tiny Frogs Are Friends with Benefits” — Roaring Eart