Bye Bye Bugs? Scientists Fear Non-Pest Insects Are Declining

A staple of summer — swarms of bugs — seems to be a thing of the past. And that’s got scientists worried.

Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.

Scientists think something is amiss, but they can’t be certain: In the past, they didn’t systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can’t make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they’re pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.

Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.

“You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?” said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, “the world would start to rot.”

He noted Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson once called bugs: “The little things that run the world.”

The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a “Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies.” Now, “the flying insects are virtually gone.”

It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.

Windshield test

The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.

Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren’t good scientific experiments, since they don’t include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today’s cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)

Still, there are signs of decline. Research has shown dwindling individual species in specific places, including lightning bugs, moths and bumblebees. One study estimated a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. University of Florida urban entomologist Philip Koehler said he’s seen a recent decrease in lovebugs — insects that fly connected and coated Florida’s windshields in the 1970s and 1980s. This year, he said, “was kind of disappointing, I thought.”

University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There’s a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, “there’s no insects on that sheet,” he said.

But there’s not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.

The evidence

Last year, a study that found an 82 percent mid-summer decline in the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves in Germany compared with 27 years earlier. It was one of the few, if only, broad studies. Scientists say similar comparisons can’t be done elsewhere because similar bug counts weren’t done decades ago.

“We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have,” said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.

The lack of older data makes it “unclear to what degree we’re experiencing an arthropocalypse,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren’t convincing in themselves, “but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting” to show a problem, she said.

After the German study, countries started asking if they have similar problems, said ecologist Toke Thomas Hoye of Aarhus University in Denmark. He studied flies in a few spots in remote Greenland and noticed an 80 percent drop in numbers since 1996.

“It’s clearly not a German thing,” said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. “We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.”

The suspects

Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.

Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts, and that’s really bad news,” Wagner said.

To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans’ war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.

Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.

Those landscapes are “essentially dead zones,” he said.

Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.

Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.

“We’re hitting insects during the day, we’re hitting them at night,” Tallamy said. “We’re hitting them just about everywhere.”

Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.

Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.

Restoring habitat

Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.

University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop “turf is basically like a desert” that doesn’t attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.

The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become “ecological traps where you’re drawing insects in and they’re all squashed by cars.”

Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.

Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.

“The kids I’m teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule,” Wagner said. “They’re not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon.”

From: MeNeedIt

Bye Bye Bugs? Scientists Fear Non-Pest Insects Are Declining

A staple of summer — swarms of bugs — seems to be a thing of the past. And that’s got scientists worried.

Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.

Scientists think something is amiss, but they can’t be certain: In the past, they didn’t systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can’t make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they’re pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.

Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.

“You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?” said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, “the world would start to rot.”

He noted Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson once called bugs: “The little things that run the world.”

The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a “Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies.” Now, “the flying insects are virtually gone.”

It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.

Windshield test

The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.

Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren’t good scientific experiments, since they don’t include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today’s cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)

Still, there are signs of decline. Research has shown dwindling individual species in specific places, including lightning bugs, moths and bumblebees. One study estimated a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. University of Florida urban entomologist Philip Koehler said he’s seen a recent decrease in lovebugs — insects that fly connected and coated Florida’s windshields in the 1970s and 1980s. This year, he said, “was kind of disappointing, I thought.”

University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There’s a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, “there’s no insects on that sheet,” he said.

But there’s not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.

The evidence

Last year, a study that found an 82 percent mid-summer decline in the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves in Germany compared with 27 years earlier. It was one of the few, if only, broad studies. Scientists say similar comparisons can’t be done elsewhere because similar bug counts weren’t done decades ago.

“We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have,” said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.

The lack of older data makes it “unclear to what degree we’re experiencing an arthropocalypse,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren’t convincing in themselves, “but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting” to show a problem, she said.

After the German study, countries started asking if they have similar problems, said ecologist Toke Thomas Hoye of Aarhus University in Denmark. He studied flies in a few spots in remote Greenland and noticed an 80 percent drop in numbers since 1996.

“It’s clearly not a German thing,” said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. “We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.”

The suspects

Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.

Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts, and that’s really bad news,” Wagner said.

To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans’ war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.

Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.

Those landscapes are “essentially dead zones,” he said.

Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.

Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.

“We’re hitting insects during the day, we’re hitting them at night,” Tallamy said. “We’re hitting them just about everywhere.”

Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.

Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.

Restoring habitat

Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.

University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop “turf is basically like a desert” that doesn’t attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.

The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become “ecological traps where you’re drawing insects in and they’re all squashed by cars.”

Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.

Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.

“The kids I’m teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule,” Wagner said. “They’re not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon.”

From: MeNeedIt

Making, Drinking Arak a Source of National Pride in Lebanon

Every part of Lebanon’s national drink, arak, is infused with tradition — from distilling the aniseed-tinged liquor to the ritual of mixing it at the table, when the transparent liquid suddenly turns milky white as water is added.

Arak is a staple of big Sunday meals. With a sweet taste and high alcohol content, around 40 percent, it’s best consumed with food — lots of it. That makes it perfect for Lebanon’s traditional meze, spreads of never-ending small dishes that family and friends linger over for hours.

Aficionados say arak is vital to digesting the homemade raw meat dishes that are central to a meze. The real impact comes at the end of the meal, when you stand up after all that eating and the alcohol from glass after glass really hits.

But the tradition is facing competition in Lebanon as young generations opt for liquors like vodka or whiskey that are easier to mix and drink — without a meal.

Arak is comparable to Greece’s ouzo or Turkey’s raki, which are also grape-based drinks with the licorice-like flavor of anise. Lebanese say arak is smoother. Many families make it at home, each boasting their particular flavor and kick. Restaurants often serve both commercially produced versions and homemade varieties, known as “Arak Baladeh.” Regulars usually opt for the homemade.

With so much home production, it is hard to tell how much arak is made. Lebanon’s Blom Bank estimated in 2016 that around 2 billion bottles a year are produced in the country, with nearly a quarter of it exported, mostly for Lebanese expats yearning for their local drink.  

At a recent festival in Taanayel, a town east of Beirut, several commercial companies and smaller boutique houses showcased their araks in a celebration aimed at promoting the drink to the young.

Christiane Issa, whose family owns one of Lebanon’s largest arak producers, Domaine des Tourelles, said the drink is a natural digestif. It was a nod to Lebanon’s growing market for holistic and natural products.

“The most important thing about arak is that our grandfathers used herbs to treat illness, not medicine. They believed in herbs, so they chose to make arak with green anise because it has anethole, a compound that aids digestion,” said Issa, the company’s administrative manager.

Some Beirut bars have introduced an infused version of arak, adding a twig of basil or rosemary, to attract young drinkers. Issa suggests watermelon.

Passions run strong over every detail of arak tradition.

It is to be drunk from small glasses — bigger than a shot glass but smaller than an Old Fashioned glass — arranged on a tray at the top of a table laden with meze. A new glass is used with each new serving. Some prefer to drink it in a tall glass.

It is often mixed in a traditional glass pitcher, round with a short beak-like spout. That makes it easy to drink straight from the pitcher when the party really gets going.

Drinkers staunchly debate the best way to mix.

Some prefer half water, half arak — a strong, sweet mix, usually not for the newbies. More common is one-third arak to two-thirds water, to prolong the drinking and the gathering.

The ice cubes are another discussion. For some, the glass is filled with ice cubes first before pouring the drink. Those truly religious about the drink insist that ice must come last.

No one can clearly explain the difference, but theories abound. Some say arak is further weakened if the ice is already sitting in the glass. Others say, don’t question tradition.

The making of arak is a family affair, with secrets passed from one generation to another.

Central to the process is a triple distillation using a still called a “karakeh” in Arabic.

The harvest is in September and October. The grapes are crushed and left to ferment for three weeks. The mix is then put in the lower part of the karakeh, where it is heated until it evaporates and cooled in the top part by a stream of cold water.

At this stage, it is pure alcohol. Anise and water may be added in the second or third distillation. The mix is what makes each house’s taste unique.

Homemade arak usually goes straight into gallon containers after distillation, ready for drinking. In commercial production, the arak sits in clay jugs for a year, making it smoother, Issa said.

“Wine ages but arak rests,” Issa said.

Issa’s father introduced a new technique, letting it sit in the clay jugs for five years before going to market. Her family bought Domaine des Tourelles 18 years ago and now it produces 350,000 bottles a year of Arak Brun, named after the Frenchman who founded it in 1868.

At the Taanayel festival, visitors sipped on the sweet drink with their meals.

Michel Sabat was marketing his new Arak al-Naim, or “Arak of Paradise.”

He said with so many producers, arak can only get better.

“There is a lot of competition here in Lebanon, so those who produce arak have to make sure it is very good quality.”

  

From: MeNeedIt

Making, Drinking Arak a Source of National Pride in Lebanon

Every part of Lebanon’s national drink, arak, is infused with tradition — from distilling the aniseed-tinged liquor to the ritual of mixing it at the table, when the transparent liquid suddenly turns milky white as water is added.

Arak is a staple of big Sunday meals. With a sweet taste and high alcohol content, around 40 percent, it’s best consumed with food — lots of it. That makes it perfect for Lebanon’s traditional meze, spreads of never-ending small dishes that family and friends linger over for hours.

Aficionados say arak is vital to digesting the homemade raw meat dishes that are central to a meze. The real impact comes at the end of the meal, when you stand up after all that eating and the alcohol from glass after glass really hits.

But the tradition is facing competition in Lebanon as young generations opt for liquors like vodka or whiskey that are easier to mix and drink — without a meal.

Arak is comparable to Greece’s ouzo or Turkey’s raki, which are also grape-based drinks with the licorice-like flavor of anise. Lebanese say arak is smoother. Many families make it at home, each boasting their particular flavor and kick. Restaurants often serve both commercially produced versions and homemade varieties, known as “Arak Baladeh.” Regulars usually opt for the homemade.

With so much home production, it is hard to tell how much arak is made. Lebanon’s Blom Bank estimated in 2016 that around 2 billion bottles a year are produced in the country, with nearly a quarter of it exported, mostly for Lebanese expats yearning for their local drink.  

At a recent festival in Taanayel, a town east of Beirut, several commercial companies and smaller boutique houses showcased their araks in a celebration aimed at promoting the drink to the young.

Christiane Issa, whose family owns one of Lebanon’s largest arak producers, Domaine des Tourelles, said the drink is a natural digestif. It was a nod to Lebanon’s growing market for holistic and natural products.

“The most important thing about arak is that our grandfathers used herbs to treat illness, not medicine. They believed in herbs, so they chose to make arak with green anise because it has anethole, a compound that aids digestion,” said Issa, the company’s administrative manager.

Some Beirut bars have introduced an infused version of arak, adding a twig of basil or rosemary, to attract young drinkers. Issa suggests watermelon.

Passions run strong over every detail of arak tradition.

It is to be drunk from small glasses — bigger than a shot glass but smaller than an Old Fashioned glass — arranged on a tray at the top of a table laden with meze. A new glass is used with each new serving. Some prefer to drink it in a tall glass.

It is often mixed in a traditional glass pitcher, round with a short beak-like spout. That makes it easy to drink straight from the pitcher when the party really gets going.

Drinkers staunchly debate the best way to mix.

Some prefer half water, half arak — a strong, sweet mix, usually not for the newbies. More common is one-third arak to two-thirds water, to prolong the drinking and the gathering.

The ice cubes are another discussion. For some, the glass is filled with ice cubes first before pouring the drink. Those truly religious about the drink insist that ice must come last.

No one can clearly explain the difference, but theories abound. Some say arak is further weakened if the ice is already sitting in the glass. Others say, don’t question tradition.

The making of arak is a family affair, with secrets passed from one generation to another.

Central to the process is a triple distillation using a still called a “karakeh” in Arabic.

The harvest is in September and October. The grapes are crushed and left to ferment for three weeks. The mix is then put in the lower part of the karakeh, where it is heated until it evaporates and cooled in the top part by a stream of cold water.

At this stage, it is pure alcohol. Anise and water may be added in the second or third distillation. The mix is what makes each house’s taste unique.

Homemade arak usually goes straight into gallon containers after distillation, ready for drinking. In commercial production, the arak sits in clay jugs for a year, making it smoother, Issa said.

“Wine ages but arak rests,” Issa said.

Issa’s father introduced a new technique, letting it sit in the clay jugs for five years before going to market. Her family bought Domaine des Tourelles 18 years ago and now it produces 350,000 bottles a year of Arak Brun, named after the Frenchman who founded it in 1868.

At the Taanayel festival, visitors sipped on the sweet drink with their meals.

Michel Sabat was marketing his new Arak al-Naim, or “Arak of Paradise.”

He said with so many producers, arak can only get better.

“There is a lot of competition here in Lebanon, so those who produce arak have to make sure it is very good quality.”

  

From: MeNeedIt

Removing ‘Zombie’ Cells Deters Alzheimer’s in Mice

Eliminating dead-but-toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slowed neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.

The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these dead-beat cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in ageing mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned.

In experiments, a team led by Tyler Bussian of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used mice genetically modified to produce the destructive, cobweb-like tangles of tau protein that form in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients.

The mice were also programmed to allow for the elimination of “zombie” cells in the same region.

“When senescent cells were removed, we found that the diseased animals retained the ability to form memories, and eliminated signs of inflammation,” said senior author Darren Baker, also from the Mayo Clinic.

The mice likewise failed to develop Alzheimer’s signature protein “tangles”, and retained normal brain mass.

Keeping zombies at bay

A closer look revealed that the “zombies” belonged to a class of cells in the brain and spinal cord, called glia, that provide crucial support and insulation to neurons.

“Preventing the build-up of senescent glia can block the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration normally experienced by these mice,” Jay Penney and Li-Huei Tsai, both from MIT, wrote in a comment, also in Nature.

Bussian and his team duplicated the results with pharmaceuticals, suggesting that drugs could one day slow or block the emergence of Alzheimer’s by keeping these zombie cells at bay.

“There hasn’t been a new dementia drug in 15 years, so it’s exciting to see the results of this promising study in mice,” said James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society in London.

For Lawrence Rajendran, deputy director of the Dementia Research Institute at King’s College London, the findings “open up new vistas for both diagnosis and therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.”

Up to now, dementia research has been mostly focused on the diseased neurons rather than their neighboring cells.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that other brains cells play a defining role,” Rajendran added.

Several barriers remain before the breakthrough can be translated into a “safe, effective treatment in people,” Pickett and other said.

The elderly often have lots of harmless brain cells that look like the dangerous senescent cells a drug would target, so the molecule would have to be good at telling the two apart.

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

The number afflicted is expected to triple by 2050 to 152 million, according to the World Health Organization, posing a huge challenge to healthcare systems.

 

 

 

From: MeNeedIt

Time Magazine Sold for $190 Million to Couple

Time Magazine is being sold by Meredith Corp. to Marc Benioff, a co-founder of Salesforce, and his wife.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the iconic news magazine is being sold for $190 million to Benioff, one of four co-founders of Salesforce, a cloud computing pioneer.

The sale is occurring nearly eight months after Meredith Corp. completed its purchase of Time Inc.

Meredith, the publisher of such magazines as People and Better Homes & Gardens, had put four Time Inc. publications up for sale in March. Negotiations for the sale of the three other publications — Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated — are continuing.

From: MeNeedIt

Time Magazine Sold for $190 Million to Couple

Time Magazine is being sold by Meredith Corp. to Marc Benioff, a co-founder of Salesforce, and his wife.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the iconic news magazine is being sold for $190 million to Benioff, one of four co-founders of Salesforce, a cloud computing pioneer.

The sale is occurring nearly eight months after Meredith Corp. completed its purchase of Time Inc.

Meredith, the publisher of such magazines as People and Better Homes & Gardens, had put four Time Inc. publications up for sale in March. Negotiations for the sale of the three other publications — Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated — are continuing.

From: MeNeedIt

Meet Captain South Africa; She’d Rather not Punch Criminals

The usual suspects — Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and Darth Vader — roamed at Comic Con Africa. A few African characters were also on display: Kwezi, Captain South Africa and Shaka Zulu.

The success of Marvel’s “Black Panther” film spiked interest in African stories, and creators on the continent hope to capitalize with more comic book characters of their own. The three-day convention ending Sunday in South Africa was a platform for their efforts, even if it was dominated by the global superheroes, villains and other pop culture figures who have been around for decades.

Many of the first African comic books are “caricatures of Supermans, of Captain Americas,” said Bill Masuku, a Zimbabwean artist and writer. “But if you allow that to grow, giving it time, you will get better quality story-telling that is naturally African.”

One example is Masuku’s Captain South Africa, a black female superhero who “doesn’t want to punch criminals because that doesn’t end crime,” he said at a convention stall where he also promoted another of his creations, Zimbabwean superhero Razor-Man.

Thousands of people, many in costume, turned out for the suburban Johannesburg event introduced by Reed Exhibitions. ReedPOP, a subsidiary of the global company, hosts similar conventions around the world and brought its model to Africa for the first time.

Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya have been running their own “comic con” festivals for several years; South Africa’s annual ICON comic and games convention started in 1992.

Hurricane Florence scrapped plans by Anthony Mackie, the actor who has played Marvel’s Falcon superhero, to travel to Comic Con Africa. Aquaman actor Jason Momoa also canceled. Kevin Sussman from “The Big Bang Theory” and Yetide Badaki from “American Gods” made it, to the delight of autograph and photo op seekers.

“If you have issues with personal space, comic cons are not for you,” said ICON director Les Allen as he waded through crowds. Up ahead, video gamers playing a “Counter-Strike” first-person shooter in sound-proof booths battled each other on giant screens as spectators followed the combat. Someone in a reptilian “Predator” outfit paced the hall, posing with fans. Other people had masks, hoods, swords and staffs and there was plenty of spandex and hair spray, of course.

“Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince,” a glossy graphic novel about the real-life Zulu king who built an empire at a time of European expansion into Africa, was among home-grown projects on display. The story of power and intrigue was written and drawn by South African Luke Molver.

“To a large extent, African stories get told by people outside of Africa, about people in Africa,” said Robert Inglis, the book’s promoter and director of Jive Media Africa, a company based in South Africa. Part of the reason is that many African stories circulate through “word of mouth” and don’t have the “lasting kind of print space” to resonate internationally, he said.

Nearby, Janine Evans was offering capes modeled on traditional Basotho blankets and other clothing merchandise associated with a band of southern African superheroes.

“Our aim here is to actually take the Afrocentric from the fantasy world and bring it into people’s everyday lives,” she said.

One African superhero is Kwezi, a comic book character drawn by creator Loyiso Mkize. He is a young man who learns he has special powers, and then sorts out problems in the local community. In a short video animation, a flying Kwezi checks a phone message that summons him to an urban Johannesburg neighborhood: “Trouble in Braamfontein, we need you now!!!!”

Other promotions at Comic Con Africa include “The Tokoloshe,” a South African horror movie whose name refers to an evil spirit; and “Apocalypse Now Now,” a South African short film and novel whose name plays on the uniquely South African phrase meaning “soon.”

The goal is “to normalize the existence of African content and creators,” said Masuku, the Captain South Africa creator. “We’re still making the steps to get there. I’m happy with where we are right now.”

From: MeNeedIt

Meet Captain South Africa; She’d Rather not Punch Criminals

The usual suspects — Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and Darth Vader — roamed at Comic Con Africa. A few African characters were also on display: Kwezi, Captain South Africa and Shaka Zulu.

The success of Marvel’s “Black Panther” film spiked interest in African stories, and creators on the continent hope to capitalize with more comic book characters of their own. The three-day convention ending Sunday in South Africa was a platform for their efforts, even if it was dominated by the global superheroes, villains and other pop culture figures who have been around for decades.

Many of the first African comic books are “caricatures of Supermans, of Captain Americas,” said Bill Masuku, a Zimbabwean artist and writer. “But if you allow that to grow, giving it time, you will get better quality story-telling that is naturally African.”

One example is Masuku’s Captain South Africa, a black female superhero who “doesn’t want to punch criminals because that doesn’t end crime,” he said at a convention stall where he also promoted another of his creations, Zimbabwean superhero Razor-Man.

Thousands of people, many in costume, turned out for the suburban Johannesburg event introduced by Reed Exhibitions. ReedPOP, a subsidiary of the global company, hosts similar conventions around the world and brought its model to Africa for the first time.

Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya have been running their own “comic con” festivals for several years; South Africa’s annual ICON comic and games convention started in 1992.

Hurricane Florence scrapped plans by Anthony Mackie, the actor who has played Marvel’s Falcon superhero, to travel to Comic Con Africa. Aquaman actor Jason Momoa also canceled. Kevin Sussman from “The Big Bang Theory” and Yetide Badaki from “American Gods” made it, to the delight of autograph and photo op seekers.

“If you have issues with personal space, comic cons are not for you,” said ICON director Les Allen as he waded through crowds. Up ahead, video gamers playing a “Counter-Strike” first-person shooter in sound-proof booths battled each other on giant screens as spectators followed the combat. Someone in a reptilian “Predator” outfit paced the hall, posing with fans. Other people had masks, hoods, swords and staffs and there was plenty of spandex and hair spray, of course.

“Shaka Rising: A Legend of the Warrior Prince,” a glossy graphic novel about the real-life Zulu king who built an empire at a time of European expansion into Africa, was among home-grown projects on display. The story of power and intrigue was written and drawn by South African Luke Molver.

“To a large extent, African stories get told by people outside of Africa, about people in Africa,” said Robert Inglis, the book’s promoter and director of Jive Media Africa, a company based in South Africa. Part of the reason is that many African stories circulate through “word of mouth” and don’t have the “lasting kind of print space” to resonate internationally, he said.

Nearby, Janine Evans was offering capes modeled on traditional Basotho blankets and other clothing merchandise associated with a band of southern African superheroes.

“Our aim here is to actually take the Afrocentric from the fantasy world and bring it into people’s everyday lives,” she said.

One African superhero is Kwezi, a comic book character drawn by creator Loyiso Mkize. He is a young man who learns he has special powers, and then sorts out problems in the local community. In a short video animation, a flying Kwezi checks a phone message that summons him to an urban Johannesburg neighborhood: “Trouble in Braamfontein, we need you now!!!!”

Other promotions at Comic Con Africa include “The Tokoloshe,” a South African horror movie whose name refers to an evil spirit; and “Apocalypse Now Now,” a South African short film and novel whose name plays on the uniquely South African phrase meaning “soon.”

The goal is “to normalize the existence of African content and creators,” said Masuku, the Captain South Africa creator. “We’re still making the steps to get there. I’m happy with where we are right now.”

From: MeNeedIt

Zimbabwe Disperses Vendors in Effort to Fight Cholera Outbreak

Zimbabwe police Sunday clashed with vendors who were resisting being removed from streets as part of the country’s efforts to fight the cholera outbreak, which has claimed more than two dozen lives in the past two weeks.

Vendors were alerting each other of armed riot police and municipality officials coming to confiscate their wares Sunday in Harare. As soon as police officials left, the vendors would resume their business.

One of them is 34-year-old Maria Mange, a mother who three children who says unless she gets employed, she will remain selling vegetables and fruits in Harare’s CBD.

“I am refusing to leave the streets on the basis that we cause the spread of cholera,” she said. “Our wares are cleaned or boiled before being consumed. It is dirty water which causes cholera, their failure to collect refuse, plus flowing sewage in the streets and blocked sewer pipes. Why concentrate on vendors and not criminals?”

Another vendor is Ronald Takura who says he has to find a way to make a livliehood.

“No, vendors are not causing the cholera. You are disturbing [our] search for money in our country,” he said. “I do not have a job and I do not have work to do. So do not send us out. I do not understand what is happening in this city. E.D. Mnangagwa, we supported, we do not see what he is doing for us.”

He adds in Shona language, Zimbabweans voted for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the July 30th elections, but he is not supporting the vendors.

But Zimbabwe’s minister of health, Obediah Moyo, says there is no going back.

“The issue of food vending is another issue, we all agreed that has to stop, especially in the area of epicenter [of the epidemic], that the police are helping us to stop the vending of food,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak has since spread to several parts of the country from its epicenter in Harare’s densely populated suburbs.

International organizations such as UNICEF, WHO, and MSF have since moved in with assistance. But critics say the long-term solution is improving water supply, sanitation and regular waste collection by Zimbabwean authorities.

A cholera outbreak is the second since a 2008-09 epidemic claimed almost 5,000 lives.

From: MeNeedIt