Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grisly voodoo masks found in Steinway mansion.

This sounds like a good beginning to Ghostbusters III. From NY Post:
Auctioneers clearing out the historic Steinway Mansion have made a grisly discovery -- a voodoo doll and voodoo masks hidden in the fabled Astoria landmark.

Experts made the chilling find in the Queens mansion, which was home to the Steinway piano family until the 1920s, as they cleared the attic following the death of its last owner, Michael Halberian, who lived there for 82 years and died in December.

Halberian's children brought in auctioneer Michael Capo to sell the mansion's contents, including items left behind by the Steinway family. He told us, "It is eerie. We were clearing out the far reaches of the attic when we came across what looks like a late-19th-century wooden box or trunk.

"We broke the lock and inside we found five voodoo masks and a doll surrounded by rusty nails in a little coffin. I don't know if the masks are made out of wax, pigskin or even real skin. This thing has some energy, and I am not sure that it's good energy.

"Everyone went silent. We are professionals, but nobody wants to go near this thing. It is scary. Clearly, somebody used this in some sort of ceremony, because there's a mirror inside the lid so the image could be reflected to others in the room.

"The Halberians do not think one of their relatives would have owned this. I think it had been there since the late 19th century. It was hidden away in an area where the owner wouldn't necessarily go, so perhaps a member of the domestic staff kept it there."

The 27-room palace, packed with such objects as telescopes, barometers and old maps, was built by Benjamin T. Pike Jr. in 1858. In the early 1870s, Pike's widow sold it to the Steinway family, which had begun moving its piano-making facilities to Astoria from Manhattan. Tailor Jack Halberian bought the mansion at auction in the 1920s after the Steinways moved out. It's now up for sale for $2.5 million.

Capo will auction off the first lot on March 26 but adds, "I don't know if we are going to sell the voodoo masks yet. I think we'll hold on to [them] and get some research done. There's a dark story here."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Effective population of Siberian tiger down to 14.

From AOL HuffPo:
The effective population of the Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is down to just 14 animals, scientists report in the journal Mammalian Biology.

There are about 500 Amur tigers currently surviving in the wild, but the effective population accounts for genetic diversity. BBC reports that the tiger has a very low diversity, which means that any disease or rare genetic disorders will probably be passed on to the next generation. A more diverse genetic population would increase the tiger's chance of survival -- it would be able to "cancel out" diseases and disorders with healthy genes.

The Amur tiger is the largest cat in the world. It once lived across China, Korea, and Russia, until the early 20th Century, when human settlements, habitat loss, and poaching drove the cats to near extinction. By the 1940's, less than 30 individual tigers survived in the wild -- this has now led to a "genetic bottleneck," destroying the Amur tiger gene pool. The results of this are seen today in the tiger's lack of genetic diversity.

Not just Amur tigers are at risk of extinction. The World Wildlife Fund reports that climate change may be shrinking tigers' habitat by 96%. Bengal tigers are shrinking in size due to stress over environmental changes. The WWF goes so far as to state that if no action is taken, tigers may become extinct in the next 12 years.

This past November, a summit was held focused on saving tigers from extinction. The summit's biggest news? It was probably that Leonardo DiCaprio survived a plane accident and still managed to attend. But also at the summit, countries agreed to double the tiger population by 2022 and crack down on poaching and illegal trade of tiger parts. It is an uphill battle, but one worth fighting.