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Thursday
Feb142019

Rare black leopard caught on camera for first time in 100 years

GM Stock Films/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A photographer has captured high-quality images of a rare black leopard at a wilderness camp in Africa.

Wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas wrote in a blog post published Wednesday that he has been "fascinated" by stories of black panthers and their elusive nature since childhood. He began conceptualizing his dream of capturing an image of the large, hidden cats after noticing photos of them emerging out of the Kabini Forest in Karnataka, India, a couple of years ago, he said.

Burrard-Lucas' first encounter with the black leopard occurred in the Kabini Forest in September after he was asked to speak at the Nature in Focus Festival in Bangalore, where he captured a faraway image of the large cat.

After the experience, Burrard-Lucas learned through friends about a black leopard living at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, and he immediately set out to find it. Once the owners of the camp confirmed they'd seen "several black leopards over the years," Burrard-Lucas decided to visit, and learned as much as he could about the leopard's habits and territory, he wrote.

After deploying a series of camera traps, a high-quality DSLR camera and two or three flashes over several nights, the last trap he checked contained images of "a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness," he said.

"I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream," Burrard-Lucas wrote.

As he "gained a deeper understanding of the leopard's movements," the photographer moved the camera traps around and captured even more images.

"I love the way this cat melts out of the darkness!" he wrote.

Soon after Burrard-Lucas achieved his dream, the black leopard disappeared, and he began capturing images of a large spotty male leopard who apparently "had chased the younger black leopard" away.

"I have never been annoyed at capturing a spotty leopard on camera trap before!" Burrard-Lucas said of the irony.

After more nights of shooting images of the spotty leopard and some hyenas, the black leopard reappeared on the night of a full moon, he said.

What struck Burrard-Lucas the most about the rare animal were its eyes, he wrote, adding that he had to adjust his lighting to darken as much of the background as possible to create a stunning contrast.

The images, taken with a Camtraptions Camera Trap with a wireless motion sensor, were confirmed to be of a black leopard in the African Journal of Ecology, published on Jan. 29.

The photos are the first scientific documentation of a black leopard in nearly a century, according to the journal.

The last documented sighting was in 1909 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the National Geographic reported. The photos from the 1909 encounter are stored at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., according to the National Geographic.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

Venezuela standoff extends to oil sector as questions swirl over humanitarian aid

Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images(CARACAS, Venezuela) -- Venezuela’s growing parallel opposition government extended its reach to the all-important oil sector on Wednesday when the country’s National Assembly moved to appoint new boards of directors to the state oil company and its refiner CITGO.

The appointments include high-profile opposition names like David Smolansky, a former Caracas area mayor who fled the country in 2017 under threat of arrest for his role in anti-government protests.

The move promises to further escalate the already-tense political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has claimed the presidency as his own.

On Tuesday, Guaido set a date – Feb. 23 -- for accepting dozens of tons of humanitarian aid currently held up on the country’s border, in defiance of Maduro.

“I hope the humanitarian aid gets in, and if it has to happen through a military intervention, just let it be quick,” Eglar Torre, 63, told ABC News in Caracas on Wednesday. “If this crazy man continues in power, this will all end in a civil war.”

The political crisis has been fueled by an ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis that has resulted in spikes in child malnutrition and shortages of basic foods and medicine.

“This has affected us so badly,” said Torre, who works as a travel agent. “Our business has fallen apart.”

But not all Venezuelans support the idea of a military intervention, which has been mentioned frequently by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Speaking to the growing Venezuelan diaspora in South Florida recently, Vice President Mike Pence said “all options were on the table” to resolve the conflict.

“I just hope that eventually these two sides come together and this can all be resolved,” Maricela Barrios, 42, who works as a secretary, said on Wednesday in Caracas. “The last thing we want here is war.”

Guaido’s declaration that he would allow humanitarian aid to enter the country by Feb. 23 puts an ultimatum on the country’s armed forces. While at least one general and some diplomatic staff around the world have defected in support of Guaido, the military has continued following Maduro’s orders.

Short of using military force, it’s unclear how the 35-year-old lawmaker would successfully get the supplies across the border and distribute them among the population. While Guaido has collected signatures of Venezuelans willing to help in the effort, transporting the aid throughout the country would be nearly impossible without the military’s acquiescence, as they frequently set up checkpoints on major highways.

“Guaido can make this happen if he applies the law, which gives him the authority to authorize it to happen,” said a man named Wilfredo who works in the country’s foreign trade ministry. “This is something that we need and however he can do it, he’s in charge.”

He added he wasn’t afraid to speak out on the issue even though Maduro’s government has cracked down on dissent.

“If they fire me, that’s better for me,” he said. “We don’t make any money anyway.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

After another human foot washes ashore in Canada, officials ask for help

jamesvancouver/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Human feet have been eerily washing up on shorelines across Canada's westernmost province for over a decade.

On Monday, the British Columbia Coroners Service appealed for the public's help in identifying the latest foot, which was discovered inside a light grey Nike sneaker on a rocky beach in West Vancouver in September.

The sneaker appeared to be in relatively new condition, and evidence indicates the foot is that of a man younger than 50. But DNA tests were unable to match the remains to any of the profiles for missing persons, according to a press release from the coroners service.

"The BC Coroners Service is asking for any information people may have related to the shoe or to whom it may have belonged," the office said in a statement. "The decedent was wearing a light grey Nike Free RN shoe with a black Nike swoosh logo and white base, white laces and a blue sock. The shoe was a men’s U.S. size 9.5 with an OrthoLite insert. The shoe was manufactured between Feb. 1 and April 17, 2017."

A spokesperson for the coroners service did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on whether foul play is suspected.

This is the 15th human foot found on the shores of British Columbia since August 2007, according to the coroners service. The feet were all clad in shoes, and most belonged to men.

British Columbia Coroners Service

Ten have been linked to missing persons, while five remain unidentified. Several have been confirmed as pairs, according to the coroners service.

The coroners service has previously said that evidence does not indicate the deaths are suspicious.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

DOJ charges former Air Force counterintelligence agent with spying for Iran

Eblis/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it has charged a former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence specialist with spying for Iran and helping that country target her former American colleagues.

Monica Witt, 39, who was also a Defense Department contractor after leaving the U.S. government in 2008, sought to "undermine the U.S. and help the government of Iran," U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu said on a call with reporters. Witt had been given high-level security clearances and had been deployed to the Middle East, prosecutors said.

“Monica Witt is charged with revealing to the Iranian regime a highly classified intelligence program and the identity of a U.S. Intelligence Officer, all in violation of the law, her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a news release.

Witt attended an event in Iran in 2012, sponsored by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, called the New Horizon Organization’s “Hollywoodism” conference, aimed at promoting anti-U.S. propaganda, prosecutors said. The U.S. says the IRGC is linked to terrorism.

After interactions with an unidentified U.S.-Iranian citizen, prosecutors said, she re-entered Iran in August 2013, and the Tehran government provided her with a computer and housing. It was after that, they said, that she began to disclose classified information to the Iranian government official.

"As part of her work on behalf of the Iranian government, she conducted research about [U.S. intelligence community] personnel that she had known and worked with, and used that information to draft “target packages” against these U.S. agents," a DOJ release said.

She is "alleged to have disclosed the code name and classified mission of a U.S. Department of Defense Special Access Program," the DOJ said.

Witt, who defected to Iran in 2013, is currently still living in Iran and her motivation, according to the FBI, was primarily ideological.

"In other words, she decided to turn against the United States and shift her loyalties to the government of Iran," the FBI said.

DOJ also said it has indicted four Iranian nationals for cyber crimes. Prosecutors allege that the four charged Iranian nationals "Planted spyware and malware on current and former U.S. personnel." Witt, according to federal prosecutors, targeted her former colleagues through the Iranians.

“Four Iranian cyber hackers are also charged with various computer crimes targeting members of the U.S. intelligence community who were Ms. Witt’s former colleagues. This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect. When our intelligence professionals are targeted or betrayed, the National Security Division will relentlessly pursue justice against the wrong-doers,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The Treasury Department announced related sanctions against Iranian cyber actors as well.

“Treasury is taking action against malicious Iranian cyber actors and covert operations that have targeted Americans at home and overseas as part of our ongoing efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s cyber attacks,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"New Horizon hosts international conferences that have provided Iranian intelligence officers a platform to recruit and collect damaging information from attendees, while propagating anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. We are also sanctioning an Iran-based company that has attempted to install malware to compromise the computers of U.S. personnel,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

NASA ends mission for Mars rover, Opportunity, after 15 years

LaserLens/iStock(NEW YORK) -- NASA has ended the mission for its Mars rover Opportunity after it spent 15 years roaming the red planet.

Opportunity went silent on June 10 after a massive dust storm covered the planet, according to NASA. The rover was declared dead after scientists sent out more than 800 commands asking Opportunity to respond and had not heard back by Wednesday morning, a NASA panel announced in a press conference.

The rover, which was initially set to have a three-month lifespan on Mars, celebrated its 15th birthday last month. NASA credited Opportunity's surprising longevity to choosing north-facing slopes in the winter, allowing it to collect energy through its solar panels.

Since the rover's landing in 2012, it has recorded a spike in methane levels and confirmed the first definite finding of organic compounds in the surface material of the planet through samples dug up from the Gale crater, a dried up lake on the Red Planet, according to NASA. The findings supported theories that Mars is an active planet that may have exhibited an environment for some form of life.

In 2015, Opportunity captured an image of the surface of Mars showing a mysterious rock formation that looked similar to a floating spoon.

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Wednesday
Feb132019

Iranian photojournalist slams Trump for tweeting her photo

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iranian photojournalist, Yalda Moayeri, denounced President Trump’s use of her photograph in a tweet criticizing Iran's leaders on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution this week.

"40 years of corruption," Trump tweeted in English and Farsi. "40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future.

Moayeri took the iconic image on the last day of 2017 in front of Tehran University. It shows an anonymous student of the university who raises her left fist and masks her face with her other hand using her scarf in smoky surrounding, which according to the photographer was fire extinguisher spray, not tear gas. The photo was taken during a series of protests around the country at the time which was triggered by stagnant economic situation, and led to thousands of arrests and at least 21 being killed.

However, seeing her image in Trump’s tweet made Moayeri feel “deep sorrow” and “shame,” as she wrote in an Instagram post, where she objected President Trump’s use of her photo on Tuesday.

“In other occasions, this photo had been used by opposition groups of the Iranian system, but seeing Trump tweeting it just made me determined to come out,” Moayeri said in an interview with ABC News.

“Because of his policies, I, my family and my friends are forced to live under sanctions that are devastating our lives,” she wrote on Instagram. The photographer told ABC News that she did not object from a legal or copyright perspective, though.

“I have sold my photo to the wires, and here I am talking from a very moral perspective which all comes from my personal experiences and the social responsibility I believe in,” she said.

Bringing up examples of Trump’s policies against Iran including the travel ban and reinstating economic sanctions, Moayeri said such moves would mainly damage ordinary people who are not specifically concerned about politics.

“Because of his (Trump’s) policies, I am surrounded by weddings and funerals hold on FaceTime. People are unable to join their beloveds when they need to be with each other,” Moayeri said.

“Besides, sanctions have complicated the situation and public discontent has frustrated people so much that they blame anyone who they think slightly supports the Iranian system,” she said.

Due to the risks and possible troubles that the photo of the student protester could bring her, Moayeri decided to remain anonymous at the time. It was not until six months later in June 2018 that she revealed her identity as the photographer of the iconic image by submitting it at the annual Iranian Photojournalists’ Association, IPJA. It brought her a first prize.

With the risks and dangers Moayeri went through for this picture, what bewildered her after posting the objection post on Instagram was the huge gap between the reactions she received. Besides those who appreciate her move, she said she is receiving many abusive comments for her objection to Trump’s tweet.

“Some opposition fans get my objection against Trump’s tweet as an explicit support of the current system in Iran,” Moayeri told ABC News.

“But there is a fine line here, criticizing one side of a quarrel does not necessarily mean you are supporting the other,” she added.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

Send your lover a Valentine's Day card from Lover

ABC News(LOVER, England) -- Lover, a small village in southern England's New Forest, is pronounced "Loaver" -- like Dover.

The first thing you notice upon arriving is all of the hearts. They hang from trees and fences, they decorate houses -- hearts of every size, fluttering in the breeze.

Lover has lived up to its name as the most romantic village in the world, cementing its reputation as more and more people, in buildup to Valentine's Day, sent their cards to the village Post Office to get them stamped. What could be more romantic than mailing a card with "Lover" stamped on the envelope?

But, sadly, the town's post office closed in 2008, shortly after the local school closed as well.

The villagers banded together to purchase the school and turn it into a community center, but they had to figure out how to pay for it.

"We got together," Katie Gibbs, of the Lover Community Trust, told ABC News, "and decided, Why don't we bring back the Lover Valentine post?"

And that's exactly what Gibbs and her fellow organizers did, opening a pop-up post office in the old school. People can visit and purchase a Valentine's Day card or take their own and get it stamped with the official Lover "cachet" stamp. Cards also can be purchased online for $7 to $11 and mailed anywhere in the world.

"We have reached every single continent so far" except Antarctica, Gibbs said.

The pop-up post office buzzes with good-natured volunteers dressed in red sweaters as they organize and stamp cards. There are three shifts per day, with each shift processing about 1,000 cards.

This is the third year of the reincarnated Lover Valentine post, and the villagers have raised enough money not only to buy the old school but to transform it into a community center.

It's the tale of an enterprising village carrying on tradition -- and sending "love" to the world.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Feb132019

Everything you need to know about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's baby

Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their first child this spring.

Meghan, 37, and Harry, 34, announced the pregnancy in October, just as they kicked off their 16-day tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.

Meghan's every move has been scrutinized ever since, from her maternity fashion choices to her bump cradling. Through it all, Meghan has kept up a relentless pace of engagements, including the recent announcement of her four charitable patronages.

As we await the birth of the royal baby -- aka Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis' cousin -- here is everything we know so far:

When the baby will arrive

Meghan told a well-wisher during a recent visit with Harry to Birkenhead, Merseyside, that she is due in April.

When her pregnancy was announced in October, Kensington Palace said only that Meghan was due "in the spring."

Where the baby will be born

Kensington Palace has not announced where Meghan plans to deliver her first child.

Meghan's sister-in-law, Duchess Kate, gave birth to all three of her children at the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital Paddington in London, where the late Princess Diana also delivered both Prince William and Prince Harry.

Meghan and Harry may also choose to deliver their baby somewhere else in London or somewhere closer to their new home in Windsor.

How the baby's birth will be announced

When Meghan gives birth, Queen Elizabeth and the royal family will be notified before a public announcement is made.

Meghan and Harry could follow tradition in publicly announcing the birth by having a statement posted on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. They could also choose to do things their own way.

When each of William and Kate’s three children were born, a statement was posted at Buckingham Palace, bells tolled, and there was the traditional gun salute as the country celebrated the new heir.

Where the baby will live

Harry and Meghan will soon move to Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Windsor Estate, about 30 miles from London.

Windsor is home to Windsor Castle, the largest occupied castle in the world and a special place for Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Meghan and Harry's wedding last May took place at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

"Windsor is a very special place for Their Royal Highnesses and they are grateful that their official residence will be on the estate," Kensington Palace said in a statement announcing the move.

How the baby may make history

U.K. media outlets have reported that Meghan and Harry's baby will hold dual American and British nationality, a first for a royal baby.

Meghan, a California native, will reportedly still be waiting on her application for British citizenship to be approved when she is due to give birth.

At the time Meghan's engagement to Harry was made public in November 2017, Kensington Palace announced that Meghan would become a naturalized citizen of the U.K.

Despite marrying a member of the British royal family, she still has to pass a test on British culture, history and traditions in order to become a U.K. citizen.

Meghan will be compliant with all U.K. immigration requirements as she undergoes the process of becoming a British citizen, which can take several years, Kensington Palace said in November. She will retain her U.S. citizenship during that time.

Where the baby will fall in the line of succession

The boy or girl will be seventh in line to the British throne, after its grandfather, Prince Charles, uncle, Prince William, three cousins, George, Charlotte and Louis and its father, Prince Harry.

The baby will not automatically be a prince or princess, but its great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, can step in to give the baby that title.

What leave Meghan, Harry will take after the baby is born

Kensington Palace has not yet announced maternity and paternity leave the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to take after the baby's arrival.

Being a member of the royal family is not a job that comes with established maternity and paternity guidelines. Both Kate and William took some time off after the births of each of their three children.

It will be up to Meghan and Harry to decide the length of time they take off from public engagements.

Meghan has been busily working throughout her pregnancy, recently announcing her four charity patronages.

Who will support Meghan, Harry as new parents

Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, lives in Los Angeles, but there will be plenty of room for her to stay at Frogmore Cottage should she travel across the pond to help Meghan, her only child.

Closer to home, the couple will of course have Harry's family nearby in London.

Who the baby's playmates may be

Meghan and Harry's child will have built-in playmates with its cousins, Prince George, 4, Princess Charlotte, 3, and Prince Louis, who will turn one in April, all living nearby in Kensington Palace, which is about 30 minutes from Harry and Meghan’s home at Frogmore Cottage.

There will also likely be family holidays all together at Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland, and those famous royal Christmases at Sandringham House.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb122019

WWII aircraft carrier discovered intact on the ocean floor

This file image shows wreckage from the USS Lexington during a discovery mission by the Petrel research vessel. DOUGLAS CURRAN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Deep in the South Pacific Ocean, researchers have located the final resting place of the USS Hornet, the World War II aircraft carrier sunk in a 1942 battle with the Japanese Navy.

Overhead sonar images show the carrier lying eerily upright and nearly intact on the deep and desolate ocean floor.

The aircraft carrier was located in late January by the research vessel R/V Petrel in waters nearly 17,500 feet deep around the Solomon Islands.

Because of the ocean depth where it was located, the entire ship shows little sign of deterioration or buildup from ocean life.

Close-up underwater images capture the moment in time shortly after the carrier sank the night of Oct. 26, 1942, during the two-day Battle of Santa Cruz Island.

One image shows an aircraft tug with its black rubber tires still gripping the carrier’s deck where it would have moved aircraft into position. A sign with the tug's maker, "International Harvester," is clearly visible atop its engine.

Also visible are the anti-aircraft weapons used to fend off the intense bombardment from Japanese aircraft.

In the end, the resulting fires and damage to the ship from the bombs dropped by Japanese planes were too much and the Hornet’s 2,000-strong crew was forced to abandon ship.

After U.S. Navy ships tried without success to scuttle the ship, the carrier was finally sunk by four torpedoes fired by two Japanese destroyers.

111 sailors from the Hornet’s crew lost their lives in the battle.

The carrier was best known for its role in the famous Doolittle Raid in April 1942, when 16 B-25 bombers took off from the ship’s deck for a surprise bombing raid on Tokyo.

Later that summer, the ship participated in the Battle of Midway, the pivotal aircraft carrier battle that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

The carrier was best known for its role in the famous Doolittle Raid in April 1942, when 16 B-25 bombers took off from the ship’s deck for a surprise bombing raid on Tokyo.

Later that summer, the ship participated in the Battle of Midway, the pivotal aircraft carrier battle that turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Feb122019

Venezuelan opposition leader vows to get humanitarian aid at border in to the country, in defiance of president Nicolas Maduro

Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images(CARACAS, Venezuela) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said Tuesday that he will authorize several tons of humanitarian aid to enter the country on Feb. 23, in defiance of the country’s sitting president, Nicolas Maduro.

The remarks by Guaido came at massive anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital Caracas, where tens of thousands filled the streets to hear the lawmaker announce plans for the coming days.

Guaido and Maduro have been locked in a political power struggle since Jan. 23, when Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate president using a constitutional article that allows him to do so as the legislature head. Guaido and dozens of countries have labeled Maduro’s reelection a fraud.

“This humanitarian aid is getting in no matter what,” Guaido shouted to the crowd Tuesday. “This order is for the military: allow this aid to enter.”

Guaido didn’t clarify how he would force the truckloads of aid across the border without Maduro’s authorization. Maduro has called the effort a pretext for a military invasion of the country and so far the armed forces have followed his orders to block the supplies at the border.

“We need humanitarian aid now,” read a sign held by Miguel Seijas, 54, on Tuesday. Many in the crowd expressed confidence that Guaido had successfully cornered Maduro and that change was imminent.

“This costume represents hope because we’re about to escape this nightmare finally,” Gustavo Misles, a 74-year-old retired university professor, told ABC News. Misles wore a clown wig and was holding a sign that said “we’re going hungry,” adorned with legal Venezuelan bills. The country’s paper currency has become worthless as some economists project inflation could reach 10 million percent this year. Other protesters used the currency as confetti.

As Guaido addressed the crowd, Venezuela’s vice president Delcy Rodriguez took to state television to reject his plans.

“What’s behind this cheap show is a military intervention in Venezuela, and an invasion,” she said.

This year’s protests and the power struggle mark the latest bout of unrest for the restless South American country, currently in the midst of the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in its history. Anti-government protests also rocked Venezuela in 2014 and 2017.

"I'm following the path of my son, I’m still fighting and protesting," Elvira Pernalete, 49, told ABC News at Tuesday's demonstration. Her 20-year-old son Juan Pernalete died in 2017 protests when a tear gas canister hit him in the chest at close range.

Maduro also organized thousands of his supporters on Tuesday in response to Guaido’s march and state TV broadcast images of the official protests throughout the day.

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