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SCIENCE FILE

Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

March 02, 2000

Mysterious Trunk Disease

A mysterious disease is causing scores of elephants in South Africa and Zimbabwe to lose control of their trunks, preventing them from eating, drinking and communicating. Kurt Hostettmann of Switzerland's Lausanne University reported that a team of researchers is struggling to target the cause of the condition. Hostettmann reported to the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, "We have absolutely no idea how to treat them. That's why we have to urgently find the cause." Floppy trunk disease, as the condition is called, was first reported in 1989 around Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. It is characterized by paralysis at the tip of the trunk that gradually moves up the trunk and eventually results in total paralysis.

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Tropical Cyclones

Tropical cyclone Elinea's three-week odyssey over the entire length of the Indian Ocean ended with a deadly rampage across Madagascar and some nations of southeastern Africa. The storm weakened as it caused extensive damage and numerous deaths on Madagascar, but regained strength before roaring ashore in Mozambique, which was still recovering from the worst flooding in 40 years. Mudslides and flash flooding there swept away several remote villages.

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Earthquakes

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake rocked the Mediterranean island of Crete but there were no initial reports of injuries or damage.

Earth movements were also felt in eastern Switzerland, Taiwan, northern Japan, northwestern Venezuela, the Grand Canyon region of Arizona and the high desert of Southern California.

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Philippine Volcano

The Philippines' Mayon Volcano exploded before dawn on Friday, sending incandescent fountains of lava cascading down its slopes and forcing nearly 5,000 surrounding residents to flee. The volcano sent molten boulders the size of automobiles arcing over its flanks. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology issued a warning stating that it anticipated "that more explosive eruptions will occur and that pyroclastic flows will be generated when more gas-rich magma begins to be trapped within the volcano."

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Outback Swamped

Monsoon rains have transformed the Australian outback into an inland sea, with waterfalls running down the face of the famed Ayers Rock. The Finke, Hugh and Palmer rivers have burst their banks and flooded the flat desert landscape south of Ayers, inundating numerous outback towns.

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Deadly Viagra Quest

Hunters in the United Arab Emirates who were on a quest for the source of a natural form of Viagra have killed the last known Arabian mountain goats. Moaath al-Sawaf, an environmental researcher, reported in the Gulf News that the hunters have traditionally eaten the meat of the goat, known as a tahr, to restore sexual potency. He said, "Even younger people have begun hunting the tahr, which has disappeared. The last two were killed by hunters and no one has reported another of their kind anywhere in the mountains." Sawaf also reported that the last known endangered Arabian wolf was hunted down in the mountains of Ras al-Khaimah by shepherds who feared the animal would attack their flocks.

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