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Monkey skulls, snakeskin boots and bear bile: Morbid items fill Heathrow’s ‘dead shed’

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At first glance, it looks as though you’ve stumbled into the rumpus room of an eccentric uncle: guitars stuck up on the wall and, in the background, some taxidermy gone wrong. (If it were ever right.)

But when you focus in on the objects lining the shelves — tiny monkey skulls, for example, and what seems to be the preserved foot of an elephant — it careens quickly toward a house of horrors.

It’s called the “dead shed” — a special room at London’s Heathrow Airport used by the U.K. Border Force to train customs agents tasked with enforcing the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

A skull and items carved from ivory are shown on a table inside the dead shed. There has long been a global push to crack down on the illegal ivory trade. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Finding a postal consignment out of Indonesia, packed with langur and macaque monkey heads en route for sale as “Gothic art” was one of the most upsetting finds for senior border officer Grant Miller, in a career that’s been full of them.

“These primates had been killed to order by people in the United Kingdom. It was a really brutal, brutal day,” he said.

The picture of the illegal wildlife trade on the planet is “massive,” according to Miller.

This skull from a monkey, displayed here, was intended to be sold online as Gothic art. (Lily Martin/CBC)

“It goes from your tourist who goes abroad and buys a souvenir, perhaps a sea turtle shell, up to completely … transnational organized criminals who are trafficking the ivory from an elephant that’s slaughtered every 15 minutes to markets of demand in the Far East,” he said.

“They are doing it not because it’s the animal; it’s a product that they can make profits on, fuelled by greed and pure criminality.”

The illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth-most lucrative in the world for criminal gangs, after drugs, weapons and people smuggling, worth as much as $23 billion US annually. And it’s growing.

Grant Miller is a senior officer with the U.K. Border Force’s national CITES team. (Lily Martin/CBC)

The number of seizures by the U.K. Border Force in 2017 was more than 1,300, up from just 174 in 2011.

That’s also a sign that governments are trying harder to tackle the crisis, according to Miller.

He pulls out a wheeled suitcase, a giant elephant tusk contained within. There were four suitcases in all, he says, brought in from Angola.

“The ivory split over the cases was both completely unworked items, so the raw tusk, but also semi-worked items of beads and bangles; 110 kilos in total and, as you can see, very dirty,” he said. “Indeed, there’s still blood from the animal on [this tusk].”

The U.K. Border Force seized more than 1,300 items in 2017, like these still-bloodied ivory tusks. (Lily Martin/CBC)

The border team used a new fingerprint dusting powder on the Angolan ivory tusks for the first time. It was devised by the Metropolitan Police Service, with King’s College London.

“Previously we were able to lift fingerprints from ivory up to 24 hours,” said Miller. “This new powder allows us to lift fingerprints and ridges up to 28 days, so it’s a massive improvement in our ability to actually bring forensics into the fight against wildlife crime.”

An estimated 20,000 elephants a year are now being slaughtered by poachers for their ivory.

But it’s when you start looking through some of the smaller objects in the room that the scale of the illegal trade becomes even clearer.

There are vials of bear bile, prized and sold in Asian markets as an ingredient in some traditional Chinese medicines. It would have been extracted from the gall bladders of live bears held in captivity.

A sun bear cub is shown at the Chester Zoo, which is located near Liverpool. The cub was born at the zoo after its parents were transferred there after being rescued from poachers in Vietnam. Classified as vulnerable species, this is one type of bear that is commonly harvested for its bile in parts of Asia. (Lily Martin/CBC)

There are also corals and butterflies pinned in frames. 

One small baggie contains what looks like a handful of bruised fingernails. They’re scales from a pangolin, a small anteater whose scaly exterior is also sought after for use in traditional medicines in Asia.

“This is what we believe is the most trafficked mammal anywhere around the world,” said Miller. “We believe we’ll lose a pangolin every five minutes.

“The Asian species have been really decimated and now they’re going after the slightly larger African species.”

A bag of pangolin scales is shown inside the dead shed. Pangolins may be the most heavily trafficked animal in the world due to these scales, which are often used in traditional medicines. In Vietnam, scales are sometimes ground into powders and marketed to lactating women wanting to improve their milk. Pangolin meat is also sold in some restaurants as an expensive delicacy. (Lily Martin/CBC)

If you need it put into starker perspective, Miller says that in West Africa, three-tonne seizures of the scales have been recorded.

More than 180 nations or entities, including Canada, have signed onto CITES, which seeks to protect nearly 6,000 species of animals and some 30,000 species of plants.

The guitars up on the wall — one of which picked up the signatures of Liam and Noel Gallagher somewhere along the way — are there because they’re made partly out of rare rosewood, and arrived without the necessary permits.

Parts of these guitars are made from rosewood, which cannot be brought into the U.K. without a permit. The Union Jack guitar on the left is signed by Liam and Noel Gallagher. (Though its seizure was unconnected to the Oasis brothers.) (Lily Martin/CBC) 

“The value of the permit is that it gives evidence that the supply chain where the goods were taken from is secure and that the wood has been harvested in a sustainable manner,” Miller said. “So it arrived at Heathrow Airport, failed to have permits, so we seized the guitar, which is just up there.”

It’s up to ordinary travellers to better educate themselves, Miller says. He points back to the shell from a sea turtle, all of which are controlled under CITES

“Quite often they’re sold as tourist souvenirs, and this is where the public need to get smarter. A lot of tourists will go to the Caribbean on holiday; you know, if you’re seeing animal and plant products for sale, walk past them. You really don’t need them.”

The work of the U.K. Border Force, of course, is not all about the dead shed and its macabre contents. Customs agents often find people trying to smuggle live animals into the country too.

The illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth-most lucrative in the world for criminal gangs, after drugs, weapons and arms smuggling. (Lily Martin/CBC)

In June, a man arriving from South Africa was arrested at Heathrow wearing a belt containing two newborn vultures and 17 eggs.

And one of the biggest cases currently under prosecution is a smuggling operation that saw 13 endangered White Cay iguanas found alive in the suitcases of two women arriving from the Bahamas.

With a little help from British Airways, the iguanas were repatriated in a rare happy ending.

Snakeskin shoes and other fashion accessories without proper permits and proof of origin are often seized. (Lily Martin/CBC)

The training offered through the dead shed, Miller hopes, has a role to play in a happier ending for the planet.

“My generation is certainly responsible for the increase of plants and animals that are now listed [as endangered], and we owe it to future generations to actually try and reverse the trend of losing wildlife from the wild. If we do not protect these iconic species, we will lose them for future generations.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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