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SCIENCE FILE

Earthwatch: A Diary of the Planet

March 22, 2001

History Sliding Away

Peru's famed lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, is in imminent danger of being destroyed by landslides, according to Japanese geologists who have placed ground-movement sensors at the site. In a report published in New Scientist, the Kyoto University researchers show that the back slope of the site is moving downhill at a rate of almost 0.4 of an inch a month. Kyoji Sassa of the university's Disaster Prevention Research Institute cautioned, "This is quite fast, and it's a precursor stage of a rockfall or a rockslide." Small rockfalls and cracking have already damaged parts of the ancient Inca fortress, a World Heritage Site, located high in the Andes about 50 miles northwest of Cuzco.

Monarch Massacre

Millions of monarch butterflies in Mexico are reported to have been killed by pesticides as they began their annual migration to the north. Environmentalists alleged that 22 million of the orange-and-black butterflies were deliberately sprayed by loggers in an effort to regain the protected forests where the monarchs seek warmer temperatures during the winter. The butterflies have arrived in the forests of Mexico's central Michoacan state in early November for at least 10,000 years. They leave at the end of March to make the 3,000-mile return trip north to lay their eggs.

Lion-Killing Flies

Swarms of aggressive bloodsucking flies have killed at least six lions and seriously wounded 62 others in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater wildlife park. The biting flies, Stomoxys calcitrans, have file-like teeth, which they use to break through skin of warm-blooded animals and humans. Nim Shallua, acting conservationist at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, reported that the big cats died after being bitten repeatedly. Shallua said, "The flies bite the lions and then keep biting their wounds, inflicting a lot of pain and traumatizing them." Shallua also noted that the insects typically appear after extreme changes in weather, such as the recent heavy rains that followed last year's drought.

Earthquakes

A mild earthquake hit the Himalayan foothills in the earthquake-prone Indian state of Uttaranchal, causing panic and the death of one man who jumped from a building in terror.

Earth movements were also felt in Taiwan, the northern Philippines, western Java, northwestern Turkey, Crete and El Salvador.

Turtle Recovery

After swimming for thousands of miles on their annual breeding migration, at least 1 million endangered olive Ridley turtles have arrived on India's eastern coast to nest. The turtles' numbers exceeded their previous all-time high of 736,500, which was set last year. However, wildlife activists reported that trawler fishermen, eager to slaughter the rare protected turtles, were lurking off the beaches of Orissa state. Although the trawlers are required by law to remain at least 12 miles from the coast while the turtles are nesting, many of them move in as close as 300 feet from the beaches. Belinda Wright, director of the turtle project at the independent Wildlife Protection Society of India, reported that more than 8,500 turtles have already been killed this season.

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