Radical new approach to schizophrenia treatment begins trial

Exclusive: as evidence emerges that schizophrenia could be an immune system disease, two-year trial will use antibody drug currently used for MS

British scientists have begun testing a radically new approach to treating schizophrenia based on emerging evidence that it could be a disease of the immune system.

The first patient, a 33-year old man who developed schizophrenia after moving to London from Cameroon a decade ago, was treated at Kings College Hospital in London on Thursday, marking the start of one of the most ambitious trials to date on the biology of the illness and how to treat it.

During the next two years, 30 patients will receive monthly infusions of an antibody drug currently used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), which the team hopes will target the root causes of schizophrenia in a far more fundamental way than current therapies.

The trial builds on more than a decades work by Oliver Howes, a professor of molecular psychiatry at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences and a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in south London. Howess team is one of several worldwide to have uncovered evidence that abnormalities in immune activity in the brain may lie at the heart of the illness for some patients, at least.

In the past, weve always thought of the mind and the body being separate, but its just not like that, said Howes. The mind and body interact constantly and the immune system is no different. Its about changing the way we think about mental illnesses.

Recent work by Howes and colleagues found that in the earliest stages of schizophrenia, people experience a surge in the number and activity of immune cells in the brain. As well as fighting infection, these cells, called microglia, have a gardening role, pruning unwanted connections between neurons. But in schizophrenia patients, the pruning appears to become more aggressive, leading to vital connections being lost.

We studied people in that [initial] phase of the illness and saw microglial changes, said Howes. It shows that its something [happening] very early on and seems to be driving the illness.

The most extensive pruning appears to occur in the frontal cortex, the brains master control centre, and also the auditory regions, which could explain why patients often hear voices. The frontal cortex indirectly controls the brains levels of dopamine a surge in this brain chemical is thought to explain the delusions and paranoia experienced by those with schizophrenia.

Nearly all existing medications work by blocking dopamine, which can bring psychotic symptoms under control, but fail to protect the brains basic architecture from damage.

The current drugs are based on 1950s technology; they all still work in exactly the same way, said Howes. They are only able to target the delusion side of things. Its like getting a sledgehammer and squashing it down.

Microglial
Microglial cells, outlined in green stain, have thin processes that reach out around brain cells, stained in red. Photograph: Bloomfield et al

There is a growing appreciation that other, perhaps less well-known, symptoms associated with schizophrenia memory and cognitive problems, and lack of motivation can have an equally profound impact on patients, and existing drugs do little to help this side of the disease. Its typically [these other] symptoms that are the most disabling, said Toby Pillinger, a psychiatrist and Kings College London researcher involved in the study.

The latest trial, a collaboration between MRC scientists and Kings College London, involves treating patients with a monoclonal antibody drug, called Natalizumab, that is already licensed for MS. In MS, the brains immune cells go awry by attacking a different aspect of the brains wiring. And although the diseases manifest in very different ways, apparent parallels in the underlying biology raise the possibility that the MS drug might help schizophrenia patients.

The drug works by targeting microglia and restricting their movement around the brain, which scientists hope could prevent the over-pruning of vital connections. In doing so, it could potentially address the diseases full spectrum of symptoms.

The first participant, Leopold Fotso, 33, received his first dose of treatment on Thursday. Fotso, who lives in south London after moving from Cameroon in 2007, was diagnosed with schizophrenia four years ago. He has been admitted to hospital several times with psychotic episodes. His illness also forced him to abandon his studies in accountancy which he had moved to the UK to pursue and his part-time kitchen job.

Leopold
Leopold Fotso undergoes the first treatment of a new therapy for schizophrenia. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

He currently has monthly injections of an antipsychotic drug, and his condition is now stable. He feels on the way to being himself again and is looking to slowly start working again. Its quite hard, he said.

At some time during their life about 1 in 100 people will suffer an episode of schizophrenia. In the UK, about 220,000 people are being treated for the condition by the NHS at any one time.

In total, in this first trial, 60 patients will be treated for three months, attending clinic once a month for hour-long infusions half will receive the antibody, half a placebo. The patients symptoms will be tracked and, along with 30 healthy volunteers, they will be given a series of brain scans, cognitive assessments and tests of immune activity. The hope is that, even if symptoms do not improve, the study should also answer fundamental questions about the role of the immune system in the illness.

Belinda Lennox, senior clinical lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Oxford, whose work also focuses on the role of the immune system in schizophrenia, said the concept behind the latest study was exciting although at a very experimental stage. Theres a lot of emerging evidence that the immune system is going wrong [in schizophrenia], she said. If reducing inflammation acts to improve psychosis in this study it will open a new range of treatment possibilities, which is very exciting for the field, and desperately needed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/03/radical-new-approach-to-schizophrenia-treatment-begins-trial

Acid reflux drug linked to more than doubled risk of stomach cancer study

There are more than 50m prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors in the UK, though they have previously been linked to side-effects and increased risk of death

A drug commonly used to treat acid reflux is linked to a more than doubled risk of developing stomach cancer, researchers have claimed.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach and are used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

A study published in the journal Gut identified an association between long-term use of the drug and a 2.4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer. In the UK, there are more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year but they have been linked to side-effects and an increased risk of death.

A link between PPIs and a higher stomach cancer risk has previously been identified by academics but never in a study that first eliminates a bacteria suspected of fuelling the illnesss development.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and University College London found that after the Helicobacter pylori was removed, the risk of developing the disease still rose in line with the dose and duration of PPI treatment.

They compared the use of PPI against another drug which limits acid production known as H2 blockers in 63,397 adults. The participants selected had been treated with triple therapy, which combines PPI and antibiotics to kill off the H pylori bacteria over a week, between 2003 and 2012.

Scientists then monitored them until they either developed stomach cancer, died or reached the end of the study at the end of 2015.

During this period, 3,271 people took PPIs for an average of almost three years, while 21,729 participants took H2 blockers. A total of 153 people developed stomach cancer, none of whom tested positive for H plyori but all had long-standing problems with stomach inflammation, the study found.

While H2 blockers were found to have no link to a higher risk of stomach cancer, PPIs was found connected to an increased risk of more than double.

Daily use of PPIs was associated with a risk of developing the illness that was more than four times higher (4.55) than those who used it weekly. Similarly, when the drug was used for more than a year, the risk of developing stomach cancer rose five-fold, and as high as eight-fold after three or more years, the findings showed.

The study concluded no firm cause and effect could be drawn, but doctors should exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs even after successful eradication of H plyori.

Responding to the study, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: Many observational studies have found adverse effects associated with PPIs.

The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/31/acid-reflux-drug-linked-to-more-than-doubled-risk-of-stomach-cancer-study

Aisling Bea: My fathers death has given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness

The comedians father killed himself when she was three. She was plagued by the fact he made no mention of her or her sister in the letter he left. Then, 30 years after his death, a box arrived

My father died when I was three years old and my sister was three months. For years, we thought he had died of some sort of back injury a story that we had never really investigated because we were just too busy with the Spice Girls and which one we were (I was a Geri/Mel B mix FYI). Then, on the 10th anniversary of his death, my mother sat us down and explained the concept of suicide. Sure, we knew about suicide. At 13, I had already known of too many young men from our town who had taken their own lives. Spoken about as inexplicable sadnesses for the families, spoken about but never really talked about terrible tragedy nobody knows why he did it. What we had not known until that day, was that our father had, 10 years beforehand, also taken his own life.

When I was growing up, I idolised my father. I thought his ghost followed me around the house. I had been told how he adored me, how I was funny, just like him. Because of our lovely Catholic upbringing, I secretly assumed that he would eventually come back, like our good friend Jesus.

My mother, being the wonder woman that she is, never held his death against him. When she looked into his coffin, she felt she saw the face of the man she had married: his stress lines had gone, he seemed free of the sadness that had been dogging him of late. But it was still tough for her to talk about. She didnt want to have to explain to a stranger in the middle of a party how he was not defined by his ending, but how loved he was, how cherished the charismatic, handsome vet in a small town had been. She didnt want his whole person being judged.

Once she had told us, I did not want to talk about him. Ever again. I now hated him. He had not been taken from us, he had left. His suicide felt like the opposite of parenting. Abandonment. Selfishness. Taking us for granted.

I didnt care that he had not been in his right mind, because if I had been important enough to him I would have put him back into his right mind before he did it. I didnt care that he had been in chronic pain and that men in Ireland dont talk about their feelings, so instead die of sadness. I didnt want him at peace. I wanted him struggling, but alive, so he could meet my boyfriends and give them a hard time, like in American movies. I wanted him to come to pick me up from discos, so my mother didnt have to go out alone in her pyjamas at night to get me.

I look like him. For all of my teens and early 20s, I smothered my face in fake tan and bleached my hair blond so that elderly relatives would stop looking at me like I was the ghost of Christmas past whenever I did something funny. You look so like your father, they would say. And as much as people might think a teenage girl wants to be told that she looks like a dead man, she doesnt.

Aisling
Aisling Bea with her father. Photograph: Aisling Bea

And then there was the letter.

My mother gave us the letter to read the day she told us, but, in it, he didnt mention my sister or me.

I had not been adored. He had forgotten we existed. I didnt believe it at first. When I was 15, I took the letter out of my mothers Filofax and used the photocopying machine at my summer job to make a copy so I could really examine it. Like a CSI detective, I stared at it, desperate to see if there had been a trace of the start of an A anywhere.

I would often fantasise that, if I ever killed myself, I would write a letter to every single person I had ever met, explaining why I was doing it. Every. Single. Person. Right down to the lad I struck up a conversation with once in a chip shop and the girl I met at summer camp when I was 12. No one would be left thinking: Why? I would be very non-selfish about it. When Facebook came in, I thought: Well, this will save me a fortune on stamps.

Sometimes, in my less lucid moments, I was convinced that he had left a secret note for me somewhere. Maybe, on my 16th no, 18th no, 21st no, 30th birthday, a letter would arrive, like in Back to the Future. Aisling, I wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand. I was secretly a spy. That is why I did it. I love you. I love your sister, too. PS Heaven is real, your philosophy essay is wrong and I am totally still watching over you. Stop shoplifting.

This summer was the 30th anniversary of his death. In that time, a few things have happened that have radically changed how I feel.

Three years ago, Robin Williams took his own life. He was my comedy hero, my TV dad he had always reminded my mother of my father and his death spurred me to finally start opening up. I had always found it so hard to talk about. I think I had been afraid that if I ever did, my soul would fall out of my mouth and I would never get it back in again.

Last year, I watched Grayson Perrys documentary All Man. It featured a woman whose son had ended his life. She thought that he probably hadnt wanted to die for ever, just on that day, when he had been in so much pain. A lightbulb moment it had never occurred to me that maybe suicide had seemed like the best option in that hour. In my head, my father had taken a clear decision, as my parent, to opt out for ever.

My father had always seemed like an adult making adult decisions, but I suddenly found myself at almost his age, still feeling like a giant child. I looked at some of my male friends gorgeous idiots doing their gorgeous, idiotic best to bring up little daughters, just like he would have been.

Finally, just after my 30th birthday, a box turned up.

The miserable people he had worked for had found a box of his things filed away and rang my mother (30 years later) wondering whether she wanted them or whether they should just throw them in the bin.

She waited for us to fly home and we opened it together three little women staring into an almost-abandoned cardboard box.

Now, most of the box was horse ultrasounds which, Ill be honest, I am not into. But there was also his handwriting around the edges and, then, underneath the horse X-rays and files, there were the photographs.

Any child who has lost a parent probably knows every single photograph in existence of that parent. I had pored over them all, trying to put together the person he might have been.

The photos in the box had been collected from his desk after he had died. We had never seen them before. They were nearly all of me. He had had all of these photos stuck on his desk. I was probably the last thing he looked at before he died.

My fathers death has given me a lot. It has given me a lifelong love of women, of their grittiness and hardness traits that we are not supposed to value as feminine. It has also given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness traits that we do not foster as masculine or allow ourselves to associate with masculinity.

To Daddy, here is my note to you:

Im sad you killed yourself, because I really think that, if you could see the life you left behind, you would regret it. You didnt get to see the Berlin wall fall or Ireland qualify for Italia 90. You didnt get to see all the encyclopedias that you bought for us to one day use at university get squashed into a CD and subsequently the internet. You have never got to hear your younger daughters voice it annoys me sometimes, but it has also said some of the most amazing things when drunk. I think you would have been proud to watch your daughter do standup at the O2 and sad to see my mother watching it on her own. Then again, if you hadnt died, I probably wouldnt have been mad enough to become a clown for a living. I am your daughter and I am really fucking funny, just like you. But, unlike you, Im going to stop being it for five minutes and write our story in the hope that it may help someone who didnt get to have a box turn up, or who may not feel in their right mind right now and needs a reminder to find hope.
Aisling

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/04/aisling-bea-my-fathers-death-has-given-me-a-love-of-men-of-their-vulnerability-and-tenderness

Dyslexia: scientists claim cause of condition may lie in the eyes

In people with the condition, light receptor cells are arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may confuse the brain

French scientists claim they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing mirror images, the co-authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.

Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia, said the studys co-author, Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes.

It offers a relatively simple method of diagnosis, he added, by simply looking into a subjects eyes.

Furthermore, the discovery of a delay (of about 10 thousandths of a second) between the primary image and the mirror image in the opposing hemispheres of the brain, allowed us to develop a method to erase the mirror image that is so confusing for dyslexic people using an LED lamp.

Like being left- or right-handed, human beings also have a dominant eye. As most of us have two eyes, which record slightly different versions of the same image, the brain has to select one of the two, creating a non-symmetry.

Many more people are right-eyed than left, and the dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the weaker one. Image signals are captured with rods and cones in the eye the cones being responsible for colour.

The majority of cones, which come in red, green and blue variants, are found in a small spot at the centre of the retina of the eye known as the fovea. But there is a small hole (about 0.1-0.15 millimetres in diameter) with no blue cones.

In the newstudy, Ropars and colleague Albert le Floch spotted a major difference between the arrangement of cones between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people enrolled in an experiment.

In non-dyslexic people, the blue cone-free spot in one eye the dominant one, was round and in the other eye unevenly shaped. In dyslexic people, both eyes have the same, round spot, which translates into neither eye being dominant, they found.

The lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities, said the studys authors.

Dyslexic people make so-called mirror errors in reading, for example confusing the letters b and d.

For dyslexic students their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, they added.

The team used an LED lamp, flashing so fast that it is invisible to the naked eye, to cancel one of the images in the brains of dyslexic trial participants while reading. In initial experiments, dyslexic study participants called it the magic lamp, said Ropars, but further tests are required to confirm the technique really works.

About 700 million people worldwide are known to have from dyslexia about one in 10 of the global population.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/dyslexia-scientists-claim-cause-of-condition-may-lie-in-the-eyes

Antibiotic apocalypse: doctors sound alarm over drug resistance

The terrifying prospect that even routine operations will be impossible to perform has been raised by experts alarmed by the rise of drug-resistant genes

Scientists attending a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. They revealed that bacteria containing a gene known as mcr-1 which confers resistance to the antibiotic colistin had spread round the world at an alarming rate since its original discovery 18 months earlier. In one area of China, it was found that 25% of hospital patients now carried the gene.

Colistin is known as the antibiotic of last resort. In many parts of the world doctors have turned to its use because patients were no longer responding to any other antimicrobial agent. Now resistance to its use is spreading across the globe.

In the words of Englands chief medical officer, Sally Davies: The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse. Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warns.

That terrifying prospect will be the focus of a major international conference to be held in Berlin this week. Organised by the UK government, the Wellcome Trust, the UN and several other national governments, the meeting will be attended by scientists, health officers, pharmaceutical chiefs and politicians. Its task is to try to accelerate measures to halt the spread of drug resistance, which now threatens to remove many of the major weapons currently deployed by doctors in their war against disease.

The arithmetic is stark and disturbing, as the conference organisers make clear. At present about 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections. However, this global figure is growing relentlessly and could reach 10 million a year by 2050.

The danger, say scientists, is one of the greatest that humanity has faced in recent times. In a drug-resistant world, many aspects of modern medicine would simply become impossible. An example is provided by transplant surgery. During operations, patients immune systems have to be suppressed to stop them rejecting a new organ, leaving them prey to infections. So doctors use immunosuppressant cancer drugs. In future, however, these may no longer be effective.

Or take the example of more standard operations, such as abdominal surgery or the removal of a patients appendix. Without antibiotics to protect them during these procedures, people will die of peritonitis or other infections. The world will face the same risks as it did before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.

Routine surgery, joint replacements, caesarean sections, and chemotherapy also depend on antibiotics, and will also be at risk, says Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the UK Medical Research Council. Common infections could kill again.

As to the causes of this growing threat, scientists point to the widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics and other drugs and to the failure of pharmaceutical companies to investigate and develop new sources of general medicines for the future. Western doctors are over-prescribing antibiotics to patients who expect to be given a drug for whatever complaint they have. In many countries, both land and fish farmers use antibiotics as growth promoters and indiscriminately pour them on to their livestock. In the latter case the end result is antibiotics leaching into streams and rivers with alarming results, particularly in Asia.

In the Ganges during pilgrimage season, there are levels of antibiotics in the river that we try to achieve in the bloodstream of patients, says Davies. That is very, very disturbing.

The creation of these soups of antibiotic-laden waters and banks of drug-soaked soils is ideal for the development of superbugs. Rare strains that are resistant to antibiotics start to thrive in farm animals that are raised in these artificial environments and emerge as highly potent infectious agents that then spread across the planet with startling speed. Examples of these include tuberculosis, which was once easily treated but which, in its modern multi-drug-resistant form, known as MDR-TB, now claims the lives of 190,000 people a year.

Another even more revealing example is provided by colistin. Colistin was developed in the 50s, says Matthew Avison, reader in molecular biology at Bristol University. However, its toxic side-effects made it unpopular with doctors. So it was taken up by vets and used in animals. But as resistance in humans to other antibiotics has spread, doctors have returned to colistin on the grounds that it was better than nothing.

Levels
Levels of antibiotics in major rivers such as the Ganges are cause for alarm, says Englands chief medical officer, Sally Davies. Photograph: Alamy

But the antibiotics widespread use as a growth promoter for poultry and pigs in Asia had by this time encouraged the evolution of resistant strains and these have now spread to humans. Colistin was a drug we discarded and gave to the vets and now, all of a sudden, we expect that we can take it back again, said Avison. However, the genie is already out of the bottle.

The position is summed up by Lance Price, an antibiotic researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC. Superbugs are gaining strength because we continue to squander these precious medicines through overuse in human medicine and as cheap production tools in animal agriculture.

Bans on the agricultural use of antibiotics like colistin are being imposed in Asia but have come far too late to be effective, a problem acknowledged by Lord Jim ONeill, whose report to the UK government on antimicrobial resistance was published last year. When we were putting our report together, colistin resistance was considered to be a problem that would not affect us for some time. Now we find it has already spread all over the place.

The report that was overseen by ONeill who will be speaking at this weeks conference in Berlin put forward a number of proposals to stop antibiotic resistance from overwhelming health services. In particular, it argued that drug companies should now foot the bill for the development of new antibiotics and that patients should not be allowed to get them without a test to ensure they are needed.

I find it incredible that doctors must still prescribe antibiotics based only on their immediate assessment of a patients symptoms, just like they used to when antibiotics first entered common use in the 1950s, ONeill said in the report, adding that the development of rapid diagnostic tests on patients which would establish whether an antibiotic was necessary and, if so, which kind must now be an urgent priority.

The proposal to be debated at the conference this week is popular, although Professor Alastair Hay of Bristol University counselled caution. It is a very good idea, but we should note that a new type of diagnostic test like this will also add time and work for our already overburdened health service, he points out.

Then there is the issue of travel, one of the biggest problems we face over the spread of antimicrobial resistance, according to Davies, who has spearheaded Britains part in the battle to fight its spread around the world.

One Swedish study followed a group of young backpackers who went off on holiday to different parts of the world. None had resistant bacteria in their guts when they left. When they returned a quarter of them had picked up resistant bugs. That shows the pervasive nature of the problem we face, she said.

Tourism, personal hygiene, farming, medical practice all are affected by the issue of antibiotic resistance, and it will be the task of the conference to highlight the most effective and speedy solutions to tackle the crisis.

In the end, the problem posed to the planet by antimicrobial resistance is not that difficult, says ONeill. All that is required is to get people to behave differently. How you achieve that is not so clear, of course.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/08/world-faces-antibiotic-apocalypse-says-chief-medical-officer

Revealed: every Londoner breathing dangerous levels of toxic air particle

Exclusive: Every area of the capital breaches global standards for PM2.5 pollution particles, with most areas exceeding levels by at least 50%

The scale of Londons air pollution crisis was laid bare on Wednesday, with new figures showing that every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles.

The research, based on the latest updated London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, shows that every area in the capital exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for a damaging type of particle known as PM2.5.

It also found that 7.9 million Londoners nearly 95% of the capitals population live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. In central London the average annual levels are almost double the WHO limit of 10 g/m3.

The findings, described as sickening by Londons mayor, Sadiq Khan, have serious health implications especially for children with both short- and long-term exposure to these particulates increasing the likelihood of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Health experts say that young people exposed to these toxic pollutants are more likely to grow up with reduced lung function and develop asthma.

Khan said: Its sickening to know that not a single area of London meets World Health Organisation health standards, but even worse than that, nearly 95% of the capital is exceeding these guidelines by at least 50%.

London is widely recognised as the worst area for air pollution in the UK, although there is growing evidence that dangerously polluted air is damaging peoples health in towns and cities across the country.

Khan added: We should be ashamed that our young people the next generation of Londoners are being exposed to these tiny particles of toxic dust that are seriously damaging their lungs and shortening their life expectancy. I understand this is really difficult for Londoners, but thats why I felt it was so important that I made this information public so people really understand the scale of the challenge we face in London.

Levels of PM2.5 across London

The mayors office said approximately half of PM2.5 in London is from sources outside the city. However, the main sources of PM2.5 emissions in London are from tyre and brake wear, construction and wood burning.

Last week Khan unveiled plans to limit the use of wood-burning stoves in the capital from 2025 and tighten up regulations to make sure all new stoves from 2022 are as clean as possible.

He has also set out a range of plans to tackle pollution from diesel cars in the capital. The first stage, the new T-Charge, which will charge older, more polluting vehicles entering central London, starts later this month.

The figures were revealed as it emerged that the government has failed to bring down the number of regions across the UK with illegal levels of air pollution despite being ordered to by the courts.

According to figures submitted by ministers to the European Commission, 37 out of 43 zones across the UK are still in breach of pollution limits the same number as in 2015 despite the government being under a supreme court order to bring pollution down as soon as possible.

Clean air campaigners criticised the governments inaction and welcomed Khans plans, which include the introduction of an ultra low emission zone in 2019.

But they called on the mayor to take more urgent, immediate action in light of the scale of the crisis.

Paul Morozzo, a clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: London air isnt safe to breathe. Every person in London is affected by this crisis old or young, healthy or ill. The air you breathe in London is putting your health at risk now and in the future, whether you realise it or not.

Restricting diesel will make a big difference to both PM and nitrogen oxide air pollution in London, which is why the mayor has no choice but to get tough on cleaning up our roads.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: Quite frankly, this research beggars belief and is deeply concerning for every Londoner. Toxic air is poisoning our children, making existing lung conditions worse, such as asthma. The mayor cannot solve this public health crisis without government support. We urgently need changes to taxation for new diesel vehicles and a diesel scrappage scheme.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, said: The mayor needs to decide whether he is going to commit to take the air pollution epidemic seriously or not. And that means making the right choices over the big polluting decisions. Creating pollution with one hand and then trying to waft it away with the other is no solution.

The mayor cant credibly claim to be tackling Londons dirty air when he is actively contributing to it by building the Silvertown tunnel, backing City airport expansion and failing to bring in a moratorium on waste incineration.

The mayor released the latest findings on Wednesday morning as he signed London up to the Breathe Life coalition organised by the WHO, the body UN Environment and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, at the Child Health Initiative conference at City Hall.

The initiative aims to connect similar world cities, combine expertise, share best practice and work together to improve air quality.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, welcomed Londons support and Khans measures aimed at tackling air pollution.

To ensure good health, every person must be able to breathe clean air no matter where they live. Londons plan to clean up their air means millions of people will be able to walk to work and walk their children to school without worrying about whether the air is going to make them sick. More cities around the world must also follow suit.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/04/revealed-every-londoner-breathing-dangerous-levels-of-toxic-air-particle

I live a healthier life now Im free of the trappings of modernity | Mark Boyle

Being healthy is not about doctors, ambulances and technology. I use natural methods to keep my body in balance, writes Mark Boyle, the Guardians Life Without Technology columnist

When people learn of my decision to reject modern complex technology in favour of older, slower, forgotten ways, their first line of inquiry usually involves healthcare. Considering its importance to our lives, this is hardly surprising. Yet because of its emotive nature which of us, after all, doesnt have friends or family needing glasses, hearing aids, stents or prescription drugs? it seems difficult to have a calm, objective discussion on the subject.

The more concerned and curious inquirers often ask me what I would do if I got seriously ill. While the long answer is complicated and nuanced, honestly, I dont know. Its easy to live by your values when times are good, much harder when youre having a stroke or dying of cancer.

One thing I can say with more confidence is this: if we continue pursuing this political ideology of mass industrialism which has given us ambulances, dialysis machines, wheelchairs and antidepressants not only will we continue to harm our physical, emotional and mental health (leading to even more people needing such things) well also wipe out much of life on Earth.

Industrial civilisation, itself only 200 years old, is already causing the sixth mass extinction of species of the last half billion years. Whats that got to do with an ambulance? Well, both nothing and everything. The ambulance itself undoubtedly saves lives (including my dads). Yet deconstruct a single ambulance with its plastics, oils, fluids, copper, acids, glass, rubber, PVC, minerals and steel and Ill show you how to lay waste to the very thing all our lives depend upon: the planet.

Big picture aside, most of what afflicts us today cancer, obesity, mental illness, diabetes, stress, auto-immune disorders, heart disease, along with those slow killers: meaninglessness, clock-watching and loneliness are industrial ailments. We create stressful, toxic, unhealthy lifestyles fuelled by sugar, caffeine, tobacco, antidepressants, adrenaline, discontent, energy drinks and fast food, and then defend the political ideology that got us hooked on these things in the first place. Our sedentary jobs further deplete our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, but instead of honestly addressing the root cause of the illness we exert ever more effort, energy, genius and money trying to treat the symptoms and contain the epidemics.

Weve developed Stockholm syndrome, sympathising with the very system that has economically held us hostage since the 18th century. Industrialism, along with its partner in crime, capitalism, has even persuaded us that, in order to save ourselves and loved ones from the horrors of disease we should spray every surface with chemicals, keep childrens hands out of the dirt and muck, and try to sterilise our entire world. With our immune systems compromised as a result, multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies then sell us products to fend off what our bodies should be able to fight off naturally.

In their cleverness they have even persuaded us to pop painkillers for things that hardier generations would balk at. My own approach to healthcare wont satisfy the critics, the advocates of this strange thing called progress that seems to have us all more stressed and less content. And thats OK; Im not trying to tell people what to do, and Ive got no product to sell. I share it only because my editor tells me its the most common online inquiry.

In doing so Im very aware that Ive been blessed to be born without any serious long-term health issues, and that at 38 Im relatively young. That said, Im not convinced that its necessary to fall into such poor physical shape, as civilised peoples tend to do. My dad is almost 73 and he can still cycle 150km before dinner, simply because he has never stopped looking after his health.

The philosophy underlying my approach is that of any herbalist: keep the vitality in your body strong, and be mindful to do it every day. When it goes out of ease and into disease, use the appropriate plants the original source of many industrial medicines to bring your body and mind back into balance, and to restore optimal functioning. Your body is always aiming for balance and health, and listening to it is one of the best things you can do. Illness is feedback the sooner you heed it and restore your vitality, the less likely it is youll develop more serious problems.

I find it impossible to describe my approach to health without describing my approach to life. I wouldnt dream of suggesting that this is a prescriptive solution for anyone else; but with the exception of a voluntary vasectomy, I havent seen a doctor or nurse for 20 years.

I pick my own fruit and vegetables from the garden and hedgerows, and eat them as fresh, raw and unwashed as is optimal. I cycle 120km each week to lakes and rivers, where I then spend three evenings of that week relaxing and catching the following days dinner. I work outdoors, getting sweaty and dirty doing things I enjoy. I made the tough decision to live in the natural world so that I could breathe clean air, drink pure water and create life that allows others the same. I wash with water, and water only. I use no chemicals inside or outside the house. I wear as few clothes as I need, I use nothing electrical no fridge, no screens, no phone. I avoid sugar, caffeine and stress like the plague.

Sleep comes and goes with the light I find six hours of peaceful rest sufficient. If and when I do feel ill or out of balance, my girlfriend Kirsty (who illustrates these articles and is teaching herself herbalism) recommends a plant from our herb patch and I slowly feel vital again. Shes currently drying yarrow, horsetail, silverweed, self-heal, calendula and chamomile for the winter months.

Ive suffered from hay fever something becoming more common as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase since I was a child. These days I eat a handful of plantain leaves a natural antihistamine three or four times a day, and that sorts it. Plantain comes out just before hay fever season and goes to seed shortly afterwards, and is a common in the cracks of city pavements and lawns as it is in the countryside.

I appreciate that this may sound unrealistic to many. When I was working 60 hours a week in a low-paid job in the City, 10 years ago, it did to me too. I only managed to do it by stripping away modernitys bullshit, learning to live with the land, and reducing my bills down to zero. Simplicity in these times is hard won, but Ive found that its worth it.

I can only speak for myself, and I support everyones decision to care for their own health as they see fit. Ultimately, were all going to die and I wish to go out like the American writer and conservationist Edward Abbey: by taking off to the wilderness, where wildlife can feed on my dead body just as I have done on theirs. It seems only fair.

Two things, in this respect, I find important. One is that like Henry David Thoreau once remarked, I do not safely reach death and discover that I had not lived. Second, that I dont cling to my own fading light so desperately that I extinguish it for all else. Like all good guests, its wise not to overstay your welcome.

This article was written by hand and posted to an editor at the Guardian, who typed it up to go online. Get in touch with Mark Boyle, the Guardians Living Without Technology columnist, here or in the comments below, a selection of which will be posted to him

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/21/healthier-life-free-modernity-doctors-technology-exercise-herbs

‘Western society is chronically sleep deprived’: the importance of the body’s clock

The 2017 Nobel prize for medicine was awarded for the discovery of how our circadian rhythms are controlled. But what light does it shed on the cycle of life?

The cycle of day and night on our planet is age-old and inescapable, so the idea of an internal body clock might not sound that radical. In science, though, asking the questions why? and how? about the most day-to-day occurrences can require the greatest leaps of ingenuity and produce the most interesting answers.

This was the case for three American biologists, Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, who earlier this week were awarded the Nobel in medicine or physiology, for their discovery of the master genes controlling the bodys circadian rhythms.

The first hints of an internal clock came as early as the 18th century when the French scientist Jean-Jacques dOrtous de Mairan noticed that plants kept at a steady temperature in a dark cupboard unexpectedly maintained their daily rhythm of opening and closing their leaves. However, De Mairan himself concluded this was because they could sense the sun without ever seeing it.

It was only when Hall, Rosbash and Young used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the rhythm of a living organisms daily life that scientists got the first real glimpse at our time-keeping machinery that explains how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earths revolutions, the Nobel prize committee said.

Using fruit flies, the team identified a period gene, which encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day, in an endless feedback cycle.

Prof Robash, 73, a faculty member at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachussetts, said that when his paper was published in the 1980s he had no grandiose thoughts about the importance of the discovery. During the intervening years, the picture has changed.

Its [now] pretty clear that it has its fingers in all kinds of basic processes by influencing an enormous fraction of the genome, he said.

Scientists discovered the same gene exists in mammals and that it is expressed in a tiny brain area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. On one side, it is linked to the retina in the eye, and on the other side it connects to the brains pineal gland, which pumps out the sleep hormone melatonin.

Modern lifestyles may no longer be constrained by sunrise and sunset, but light remains one of the most powerful influences on our behaviour and wellbeing. This realisation has fuelled a sleep hygiene movement, whose proponents point out that bright lights before bedtime and spending the whole day in a dimly lit office can dampen the natural circadian cycle, leaving people in a continual mental twilight dozy in the morning, and too alert to fall asleep promptly at night.

Rosbash welcomes this new awareness. Its been overlooked for a long time as a real public health problem, he said. All of western society is a little bit sleep deprived and, when I say a little bit, I mean chronically.

There is growing evidence that this decoupling from the natural circadian cycle can have long-term health consequences much more far-reaching than tiredness.

At first, it was assumed that the brains master clock was the bodys only internal timekeeper. In the past decade, though, scientists have shown that clock genes are active in almost every cell type in the body. The activity of blood, liver, kidney and lung cells in a petri dish all rise and fall on a roughly 24-hour cycle. Scientists have also found that the activity of around half our genes appear to be under circadian control, following undulating on-off cycles.

In effect, tiny clocks are ticking inside almost every cell type in our body, anticipating our daily needs. This network of clocks not only maintains order with respect to the outside world, but it keeps things together internally.

Virtually everything in our body, from the secretion of hormones, to the preparation of digestive enzymes in the gut, to changes in blood pressure, are influenced in major ways by knowing what time of day these things will be needed, said Clifford Saper, a professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. The most common misconception is that people think that they do not have to follow the rules of biology, and can just eat, drink, sleep, play, or work whenever they want.

This discovery explains why jet lag feels so grim: the master clock adapts quickly to changing light levels, but the the rest of your body is far slower to catch up and does so at different speeds.

Jet lag is so awful because youre not simply shifted, but the whole circadian network is not aligned to each other, said Prof Russell Foster, chair of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. If you were completely aligned but just five hours shifted you wouldnt feel so crappy.

It is also helps explain the extensive range of health risks experienced by shift workers, who are more likely to suffer from heart disease, dementia, diabetes and some cancers. Theyre having to override their entire biology, said Foster.

Obesity is also more common among those with irregular sleep patterns. Sapers team has found that animals that dont get enough sleep, but keep their circadian pattern, do not gain weight. But when they are placed on a 20-hour light-dark cycle, they eat more impulsively and develop glucose intolerance.

I would suggest that for humans, staying up late, watching video screens with high levels of blue light and eating high fat foods, is potentially a major cause of obesity and diabetes, said Saper.

Evidence is also emerging that our risk of acute illness rises and falls with a predictable regularity. People are 49% more likely to suffer a stroke between 6am and 12 noon than at any other time of the day and a similar pattern is true for heart attacks. This is linked to a circadian rise in blood pressure in the early morning, which happens even if youre lying in bed not doing anything.

As a result, it makes sense to take certain blood pressure medications first thing, before getting out of bed. By contrast, cholesterol is made more rapidly by the liver at night. So, statins, which lower cholesterol, work best if taken before going to bed.

Foster said that a failure to consider the circadian influence in past animal experiments may even have led to promising drug candidates being shelved. Toxicity can change from 20% to 80% depending on the time of the day you test a drug, he said.

As the impact of scientific advance slowly trickles down, the medical profession and society at large are waking up to the power of the biological clock.

A paper last year showing that jet lag impairs baseball performance, prompted some professional sports teams to take on circadian biologists as consultants on schedules for training and travel. The US Navy has altered its shift system to align it with the 24-hour clock, rather than the 18-hour day used in the old British system. Schools are experimenting with later school days, better aligned with the teenage body clock, which runs several hours later than that of adults.

As circadian rhythms have journeyed from obscure corner of science to part of the zeitgeist, companies are launching an increasing number of products on the back of a new anxiety around sleep and natural cycles. This is the western world; if somebody can make a buck theyre going to try to do it, said Rosbash.

The 73-year-old, who describes his own relationship with sleep as borderline problematic, prefers low- tech remedies, however.

I havent quite figured out how to do better, he said. I try not to take sleep medication. I dont drink alcohol too late in the evening, I read a good book. The common sense things, I think they help.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/06/western-society-is-chronically-sleep-deprived-the-importance-of-the-bodys-clock

Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars

Adjunct professors in America face low pay and long hours without the security of full-time faculty. Some, on the brink of homelessness, take desperate measures

There is nothing she would rather do than teach. But after supplementing her career with tutoring and proofreading, the university lecturer decided to go to remarkable lengths to make her career financially viable.

She first opted for her side gig during a particularly rough patch, several years ago, when her course load was suddenly cut in half and her income plunged, putting her on the brink of eviction. In my mind I was like, Ive had one-night stands, how bad can it be? she said. And it wasnt that bad.

The wry but weary-sounding middle-aged woman, who lives in a large US city and asked to remain anonymous to protect her reputation, is an adjunct instructor, meaning she is not a full-time faculty member at any one institution and strings together a living by teaching individual courses, in her case at multiple colleges.

about

I feel committed to being the person whos there to help millennials, the next generation, go on to become critical thinkers, she said. And Im really good at it, and I really like it. And its heartbreaking to me it doesnt pay what I feel it should.

Sex work is one of the more unusual ways that adjuncts have avoided living in poverty, and perhaps even homelessness. A quarter of part-time college academics (many of whom are adjuncts, though its not uncommon for adjuncts to work 40 hours a week or more) are said to be enrolled in public assistance programs such as Medicaid.

They resort to food banks and Goodwill, and there is even an adjuncts cookbook that shows how to turn items like beef scraps, chicken bones and orange peel into meals. And then there are those who are either on the streets or teetering on the edge of losing stable housing. The Guardian has spoken to several such academics, including an adjunct living in a shack north of Miami, and another sleeping in her car in Silicon Valley.

The adjunct who turned to sex work makes several thousand dollars per course, and teaches about six per semester. She estimates that she puts in 60 hours a week. But she struggles to make ends meet after paying $1,500 in monthly rent and with student loans that, including interest, amount to a few hundred thousand dollars. Her income from teaching comes to $40,000 a year. Thats significantly more than most adjuncts: a 2014 survey found that the median income for adjuncts is only $22,041 a year, whereas for full-time faculty it is $47,500.

We take a kind of vow of poverty

Recent reports have revealed the extent of poverty among professors, but the issue is longstanding. Several years ago, it was thrust into the headlines in dramatic fashion when Mary-Faith Cerasoli, an adjunct professor of Romance languages in her 50s, revealed she was homeless and protested outside the New York state education department.

We take a kind of vow of poverty to continue practicing our profession, Debra Leigh Scott, who is working on a documentary about adjuncts, said in an email. We do it because we are dedicated to scholarship, to learning, to our students and to our disciplines.

Adjuncting has grown as funding for public universities has fallen by more than a quarterbetween 1990 and 2009. Private institutions also recognize the allure of part-time professors: generally they are cheaper than full-time staff, dont receive benefits or support for their personal research, and their hours can be carefully limited so they do not teach enough to qualify for health insurance.

This is why adjuncts have been called the fast-food workers of the academic world: among labor experts adjuncting is defined as precarious employment, a growing category that includes temping and sharing-economy gigs such as driving for Uber. An American Sociological Association taskforce focusing on precarious academic jobs, meanwhile, has suggested that faculty employment is no longer a stable middle-class career.

Adjunct
Adjunct English professor Ellen James-Penney and her husband live in a car with their two dogs. They have developed a system. Keep nothing on the dash, nothing on the floor you cant look like youre homeless, you cant dress like youre homeless. Photograph: Talia Herman for the Guardian

The struggle to stay in housing can take many forms, and a second job is one way adjuncts seek to buoy their finances. The professor who turned to sex work said it helps her keep her toehold in the rental market.

This is something I chose to do, she said, adding that for her it is preferable to, say, a six-hour shift at a bar after teaching all day. I dont want it to come across as, Oh, I had no other choice, this is how hard my life is.

Advertising online, she makes about $200 an hour for sex work. She sees clients only a handful of times during the semester, and more often during the summer, when classes end and she receives no income.

Im terrified that a student is going to come walking in, she said. And the financial concerns have not ceased. I constantly have tension in my neck from gritting my teeth all night.

To keep their homes, some adjuncts are forced to compromise on their living space.

Caprice Lawless, 65, a teacher of English composition and a campaigner for better working conditions for adjuncts, resides in an 1100 sq ft brick house near Boulder, Colorado. She bought it following a divorce two decades ago. But because her $18,000 income from teaching almost full time is so meager, she has remortgaged the property several times, and has had to rent her home to three other female housemates.

I live paycheck to paycheck and Im deeply in debt, she said, including from car repairs and a hospitalization for food poisoning.

Like every other adjunct, she says, she opted for the role thinking it would be a path to full-time work. She is so dependent on her job to maintain her living situation that when her mother died this summer, she didnt take time off in part because she has no bereavement leave. She turned up for work at 8am the next day, taught in a blur and, despite the cane she has used since a hip replacement, fell over in the parking lot.

If she were to lose her home her only hope, she says, would be government-subsidized housing.

Most of my colleagues are unjustifiably ashamed, she said. They take this personally, as if theyve failed, and Im always telling them, you havent failed, the system has failed you.

A precarious situation

Even more desperate are those adjuncts in substandard living spaces who cannot afford to fix them. Mindy Percival, 61, a lecturer with a doctorate from Columbia, teaches history at a state college in Florida and, in her words, lives in a shack which is in the woods in middle of nowhere.

Lecturer
Lecturer Mindy Percivals mobile home in Stuart, Florida. Her oven, shower and water heater dont work. Photograph: Courtesy of Mindy Percival

The mobile home she inhabits, located in the town of Stuart, north of Miami, was donated to her about eight years ago. It looks tidyon the outside, but inside there are holes in the floor and the paneling is peeling off the walls. She has no washing machine, and the oven, shower and water heater dont work. Im on the verge of homelessness, constantly on the verge, she said.

Percival once had a tenure-track job but left to care for her elderly mother, not expecting it would be impossible to find a similar position. Now, two weeks after being paid, I might have a can with $5 in change in it. Her 18-year-old car broke down after Hurricane Irma, and she is driven to school by a former student, paying $20 a day for gas.

I am trying to get out so terribly hard, she said.

Homelessness is a genuine prospect for adjuncts. When Ellen Tara James-Penney finishes work, teaching English composition and critical thinking at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley, her husband, Jim, picks her up. They have dinner and drive to a local church, where Jim pitches a tent by the car and sleeps there with one of their rescue dogs. In the car, James-Penney puts the car seats down and sleeps with another dog. She grades papers using a headlamp.

Over the years, she said, they have developed a system. Keep nothing on the dash, nothing on the floor you cant look like youre homeless, you cant dress like youre homeless. Dont park anywhere too long so the cops dont stop you.

James-Penney, 54, has struggled with homelessness since 2007, when she began studying for her bachelors degree. Jim, 64, used to be a trucker but cannot work owing to a herniated disk. Ellen made $28,000 last year, a chunk of which goes to debt repayments. The remainder is not enough to afford Silicon Valley rent.

At night, instead of a toilet they must use cups or plastic bags and baby wipes. To get clean, they find restrooms and we have what we call the sink-shower, James-Penney said. The couple keep their belongings in the back of the car and a roof container. All the while they deal with the consequences of ageing James-Penney has osteoporosis in a space too small to even stand up.

James-Penney does not hide her situation from her class. If her students complain about the homeless people who can sometimes be seen on campus, she will say:Youre looking at someone who is homeless.

That generally stops any kind of sound in the room, she says. I tell them, your parents could very well be one paycheck away, one illness away, from homelessness, so it is not something to be ashamed of.

Ellen
Ellen James-Penney teaching an English class at San Jose State University in California. She tells her students, youre looking at someone who is homeless. Photograph: Talia Herman for the Guardian

I hung on to the dream

Many adjuncts are seeking to change their lot by unionizing, and have done so at dozens of schools in recent years. They are notching successes; some have seen annual pay increases of about 5% to almost 20%, according to Julie Schmid, executive director of the American Association of University Professors.

Schools are often opposed to such efforts and say unions will result in higher costs for students. And for certain adjuncts, any gains will come too late.

Mary-Faith Cerasoli, 56, the homeless adjunct who captured the publics attention with her protest in New York three years ago, said that in the aftermath little changed in termsof her living situation. Two generous people, a retiree and then a nurse, offered her temporary accommodation, but she subsequently ended up in a tent pitched at a campground and, after that, a broken sailboat docked in the Hudson river.

But there was, however, one shift. All the moving around made it hard for her to make teaching commitments, and in any case the pay remained terrible, so she gave it up. She currently lives in a subsidized room in a shared house in a wealthy county north of New York.

For Rebecca Snow, 51, another adjunct who quit teaching after a succession of appalling living situations, there is a sense of having been freed, even though finances continue to be stressful.

Author
Author Rebecca Snow, now retired from adjuncting, has moved to a small apartment just north of Spokane, Washington. Photograph: Rajah Bose for the Guardian

She began teaching English composition at a community college in the Denver area in 2005, but the poor conditions of the homes she could afford meant she had to move every year or two. She left one place because of bedbugs, another when raw sewage flowed into her bathtub and the landlord failed to properly fix the pipes.

Sometimes her teenage son would have to stay with her ex-husband when she couldnt provide a stable home. Snow even published a poem about adjuncts housing difficulties.

In the end she left the profession when the housing and job insecurity became too much, and her bills too daunting. Today she lives in a quiet apartment above the garage of a friends home, located 15 miles outside Spokane, Washington. She has a view of a lake and forested hills and, with one novel under her belt, is working on a second.

Teaching was the fantasy, she said, but life on the brink of homelessness was the reality.

I realized I hung on to the dream for too long.

  • Do you have an experience of homelessness to share with the Guardian? Get in touch

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/adjunct-professors-homeless-sex-work-academia-poverty

Exclusive: footage shows young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe for Chinese zoos

Rare footage of the capture of wild young elephants in Zimbabwe shows rough treatment of the calves as they are sedated and taken away

The Guardian has been given exclusive footage which shows the capture of young, wild elephants in Zimbabwe in preparation, it is believed, for their legal sale to Chinese zoos.

In the early morning of 8 August, five elephants were caught in Hwange national park by officials at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).

These captures are usually kept as secret as possible. The Guardian understands that in this case the usual procedure was followed. First, a viable herd is identified. Then operatives in a helicopter pick off the younger elephants with a sedative fired from a rifle. As the elephant collapses, the pilot dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay. When things quieten down, a ground-team approaches the sedated elephants on foot, bundles them up, and drags them on to trailers.

The footage, a series of isolated clips and photographs provided to the Guardian by an anonymous source associated with the operation, documents the moment that operatives are running into the bush, then shows them tying up one young elephant. The elephants are then seen herded together in a holding pen near the main tourist camp in Hwange.

Elephant
In this part of the footage, a young female elephant is seen being kicked in the head repeatedly by one of the captors. Photograph: The Guardian

Finally, in the most disturbing part of the footage, a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tightly tied to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal, still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on her body, twist her trunk, pull her by her tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.

Altogether, 14 elephants were captured during this time period, according to the source, who asked to remain to anonymous for fear of reprisal. The intention was to take more elephants, but the helicopter crashed during one of the operations. It is estimated that 30-40 elephants were to be captured in total.

The elephants that were taken are now in holding pens at an off-limits facility within Hwange called Umtshibi, according to the source. One expert who reviewed the photographs, Joyce Poole, an expert on elephant behaviour and co-director of the Kenya-based organisation ElephantVoices, said the elephants were bunching huddling together because they are frightened.

The
The young elephants in their enclosure. According to experts, they are bunching, huddling together because they are frightened. Photograph: The Guardian

Audrey Delsink, an elephant behavioural ecologist and executive director for Executive Director for Humane Society International Africa, also reviewed the photos and footage. She believed that most of the elephants were aged between two and four. Basically, these calves have just been weaned or are a year or two into the weaning process. In the wild, elephants are completely dependent on their mothers milk until they are two, and are not fully weaned until the age of five.

A number of the calves, she said, were displaying temporal streaming a stress-induced activity. Many of the gestures indicate apprehensive and displacement behaviour trunk twisting, trunk curled under, face touching, foot swinging, head-shaking, ear-cocking, displacement feeding, amongst others. Zimparks were approached but did not make a comment.

The buyer for the young elephants is a Chinese national, according to inside sources who asked not to be named. Last year he was associated with a case involving 11 wild hyenas, who were discovered in a truck at Harare international airport that had been on the road for 24 hours without food or water and were reportedly in an extremely stressed condition, dehydrated and emaciated and, in some cases, badly injured.

One
One of the hyenas found in a consignment at Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Photograph: The Guardian

The legal live trade in wild animals

The capture of the baby elephants is just one of a number of operations that have taken place in Zimbabwe and across the continent over several decades. Nine elephants were reportedly exported from Namibia to Mexico in 2012, six from Namibia to Cuba in 2013, and more than 25 from Zimbabwe to China in 2015. In 2016, the US imported 17 elephants from Swaziland despite objections from the public and conservationists. From 1995-2015, more than 600 wild African elephants and 400 wild Asian elephants are reported to have been traded globally, according to a database kept by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Under Cites, trading live elephants is legal, with a few stipulations. The destination must be appropriate and acceptable, and the sale must benefit conservation in the home country. But elephant conservationists and animal welfare advocates point out a number of flaws in the system. There are no criteria setting out what appropriate and acceptable means and what is really contributing to conservation, explained Daniela Freyer of Pro-Wildlife, a German-based organisation that seeks to improve international legislation protecting wildlife. Currently, it is entirely up to authorities in the importing countries to define and decide. There are no common rules and no monitoring of the conditions of the capture, the number of animals being traded, where they will end up or the conditions in which they will be kept at their destination. There is also no monitoring of the requirement that a sale benefit conservation.

For example, Zimbabwe and China are the biggest players in the live elephant trade, but Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager at Humane Society International (HSI), says they have found little information from the importing countries on the animals arrival. We dont know how many facilities in China have received the elephants imported from Zimbabwe during the last few years. We dont know the status of these animals.

Attempts to comply with the few Cites stipulations such as appropriate and acceptable destinations are sometimes dismissed. In 2016, a Zimbabwe delegation of Zimparks and ZNSPCA inspectors travelled to China to access the facilities, where they found that most of the zoos showed signs of poor treatment of the animals. But their recommendation that a shipment of 36 elephants remain in Zimbabwe until the holding facilities in China were completed and assessed for compliance by Zimbabwe, was ignored.

On September 16 Chinese papers announced in cheery headlines that three elephants two females and a male, aged approximately four years old had arrived at the Lehe Ledu wildlife zoo. Photographs of the elephants from Chinese media were analysed by Poole, who noted that the face one of the females looked pinched and stressed. The elephant appears to have begun to wear her tusks down on the bars, rubbing back and forth in frustration. Poole added that the sunken look, dark eyes and mottled skin are common for young, captured elephants. In the wild, you only see the pinched, sunken look in sick or orphaned elephants.

The zoo has said that it is providing more than 1,000 square metres of indoor space and 3,000 sq metres outdoors. The animals have six full-time babysitters and every meal is prepared carefully, based on scientific recommendation.

A video posted on YouTube celebrating the arrival of the elephants at Lehe Ledu zoo.

Finally, questions have been asked about whether Zimbabwe is complying with the Cites stipulation that the sale of the elephants must benefit their conservation in the wild. The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, was reported in the Guardian last year as saying the sale of the elephants was necessary to raise funds to take care of national parks in Zimbabwe, which have been ravaged by drought and poaching. But in the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, using funds from the sales of elephants to pay off a military debt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The international body governing the trade, Cites, is increasingly coming under fire for its role. The scientific literature states that captive facilities continue to fall far short of meeting elephants natural needs for movement, space and extended social networks, with negative effects on health, behavior and reproduction, said Anna Mul, a legal adviser on animal law at Fondation Franz Weber, an organisation that is lobbying Cites to end the trade of live elephants.

A spokesman for CITES said: The triennial CITES conference held last year (CoP17) agreed that appropriate and acceptable destinations was defined as destinations where the importing State is satisfied that the recipient of the live animals is suitably equipped to house and care for them. CoP17 also agreed on a process to assess if additional guidance on this matter is required. Further, both the importing and exporting countries are now required to be satisfied that any trade in live elephants should promote the conservation of elephants in the wild. In addition, the exporting Party must also be satisfied that animals are prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants in trade… CITES does not address the way in which the animals are captured or stored prior to export.

But for now, China continues to import the vulnerable elephants at almost conveyor-belt speed. According to Ho, some pressure to stop the practice is beginning to be felt, but the country is influenced by the view that breeding is conservation. And then, of course, there is a willing partner in Zimbabwe and the thrill of seeing African elephants by the visitors.

Its a win-win, she said, for those who are financially profiting from the legal trade in the calves. But its a lose-lose for the animals, both imported and left behind.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/03/exclusive-footage-shows-young-elephants-being-captured-in-zimbabwe-for-chinese-zoos