Mad Minute

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two men who relocate gopher tortoises are suing Florida’s wildlife commission, saying they should be awarded at least $500,000 in damages because the agency violated due process by prematurely revoking their company’s license for less than three weeks.

The lawsuit names the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and one of its employees, Claire Sunquist Blunden. It was filed in Leon County Circuit Court by Kaiser Consulting Group LLC, Drew Kaiser and John Wilson, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

Gopher tortoises are listed as threatened and must be relocated prior to land development. The state accused Kaiser and Wilson of failing to report dead tortoises, overstocking pens for the tortoises and not maintaining a pen that was in disrepair.

According to the lawsuit, the agency warned Kaiser on March 19 that the licenses would be revoked if they didn’t request a hearing. That same day, the agency posted on its website that the pair’s licenses had been revoked. The agency then reinstated them on April 7, describing the abrupt revocation as a “procedural error.”

“It was a fundamental constitutional violation of their rights,” said Kenneth G. Oertel, their Tallahassee attorney. He said the agency put his clients out of business without a hearing or a chance to question or challenge the action.

“They just took it without any notice, without any process, without anything,” Oertel told the newspaper. “They just wrote them a letter saying ‘your license is terminated’. Well, Florida law doesn’t allow an agency to do that. You’ve got to give what’s called due process.”

The wildlife agency’s spokeswoman Carli Segelson, told the newspaper she couldn’t comment. “This is an ongoing investigation and we will release additional details when available,” Segelson said in an email.

Oertel said the agency described finding fragments of tortoise shells on large ranches, and said his clients didn’t know about those remnants.

“The rule says you have to report tortoises that you actually discover,” Oertel said. “You can’t report what you don’t know.”

The lawsuit accuses the agency’s employees of “a purposeful and malicious effort” to put them out of business.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BUCHAREST (AP) — At Dracula's castle in picturesque Transylvania, Romanian doctors are offering a jab in the arm rather than a stake through the heart.

A COVID-19 vaccination center has been set up on the periphery of Romania's Bran Castle, which is purported to be the inspiration behind Dracula's home in Bram Stoker's 19th-century gothic novel "Dracula."

Every weekend through May "vaccination marathons" will be held just outside the storied 14th-century hilltop castle, where no appointment is needed, in an attempt to encourage people to protect themselves against COVID-19.

"We wanted to show people a different way to get the (vaccine) needle," Alexandru Priscu, the marketing manager at Bran Castle, told The Associated Press.

Those brave enough to get a Pfizer vaccine shot receive a "vaccination diploma," which is aptly illustrated with a fanged medical worker brandishing a syringe.

"Besides the diploma, people benefit with free entry to the (castle's) torture rooms, which have 52 medieval torture instruments," Priscu noted.

Since the light-hearted campaign was launched over the weekend — when nearly 400 people were vaccinated — Priscu said he has received scores of requests from foreigners wishing to get vaccinated in the spooky setting. Bad news for them: only residents of Romania can officially receive a jab.

The campaign runs alongside a series of government initiatives as it pushes to speed up the inoculation campaign for the European Union nation of more than 19 million people. The government is hoping to vaccinate 5 million people by June 1 to herald in a "return to normality."

On Saturday, all vaccination centers in the country became appointment-free after 2 p.m., and round-the-clock "vaccination marathon" events have been launched in several cities throughout Romania.

Since the pandemic started, Romania has recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 infections and 29,034 people have died.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Huffington Post) This football isn't for playing.

A beach visitor made the exceedingly rare find of a Pacific footballfish that had washed up on shore at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, California, on Friday.

It's a type of anglerfish that dwells thousands of feet below the surface, Davey's Locker Sportfishing noted in a post.

The fish isn't uncommon in the ocean's dark depths, but it's highly unusual to see it perfectly preserved on a Southern California beach, the fishing company said.

The first spine of its dorsal fins, the illicium, serves as a funky overhead lamp with a phosphorescent bulb on the end to attract its prey.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife now reportedly has the 18-inch carcass.

Fun fact about the Pacific footballfish: Males are up to 10 times smaller than females and fuse themselves to their mate to serve "as an easily accessible source of sperm," according to the California Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Bruce Robison of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute said anglerfish are "among the most rarely seen of all deep-sea fishes," according to For the Win.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(CNN) — The UK's Queen Elizabeth II is associated with many things -- but beer is not usually among them.

Until now. The 95-year-old monarch's Sandringham Estate announced on Twitter that it has developed its own beer range -- an Indian pale ale and a bitter.

Organic barley grown in the grounds of the Queen's retreat in eastern England has been used to develop the beers, which are available to buy from the Sandringham Shop, the estate said on Tuesday.

This isn't the Queen's first foray into the alcohol business -- Buckingham Palace already sells its own gins, wines, whiskeys and even champagne.

Sandringham House, at the heart of the 20,000-acre rural estate, is where the royal family traditionally gathers to celebrate Christmas. It's been the private home of four generations of British monarchs since 1862, and is one of two private residences used by the Queen.

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge also have a country home, Anmer Hall, on the estate.

Income from the Sandringham Estate is one of a number of sources of funds for Queen Elizabeth, whose net worth in 2018 was estimated to be as much as £360 million ($500 million).

Part of the estate is a 600-acre country park open to the public.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ROME (Reuters) - Raffaele Esposito, the 19th century Neapolitan credited with inventing Italy's most famous type of pizza, may be turning in his grave: Rome has a new vending machine which slides out freshly cooked pizzas in just three minutes.

Buyers using the flaming red "Mr. Go Pizza" machine can choose from four different kinds of pizzas costing from 4.50 to 6 euros ($5.2-7.2). The machine kneads and tops the dough and customers can watch the pizza cook behind a small glass window.

Reviews by customers on Thursday of the machine, one of the first in Rome, ranged from "acceptable if you're in a hurry" to outright horror.

"It looks good but it is much smaller than in a restaurant and there is less topping," said Claudio Zampiga, a pensioner.

People have been eating forms of flat bread with toppings for millennia, but it is generally accepted that pizza was perfected in Naples, where it was a street food for the poor.

Tradition holds that Esposito created the classic "Pizza Margherita" on June 11, 1889 to honour the queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, during her visit to Naples with King Umberto I.

He used tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves to represent the colours of the flag of a just united Italy - red, white and green. A plaque is affixed to a wall in Naples saying "Pizza Margherita was born here."

Fabrizia Pugliese, a Naples native and university student in Rome, gave the machine-made pizza a try and gave it a thumbs down, saying it tasted more like a "piadina", an ultra-thin soft unleavened bread wrap popular in northern Italy.

"It's OK but it's not pizza," was her verdict.

Gina, a pensioner who declined to give her surname, rejected the concept outright.

"Terrible. Pizza really needs to be eaten hot, immediately. This doesn't work for me," she said.

In fact, for many Italians, the classic pizza experience includes watching a "pizzaiolo," (pizzamaker) knead the dough and cooking it in a wood-burning brick oven within sight of your table.

In its current location, at least, the "Mr. Go Pizza" machine will face stiff competition getting a slice of the market.

Nearby is the Napolitano restaurant, which uses a brick oven.

"I wouldn't even think of eating a pizza made by a machine," said Giovanni Campana, biting into one.

Esposito, who made a pizza fit for a queen 132 years ago, would likely agree.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Daily News) Get a room — or just wait till class ends.

A New York City high school Spanish teacher is in hot water for sucking on a companion's nipple as students watched on a video Zoom class.

Amanda Fletcher, a 14-year veteran teacher started fooling around in full view of her Columbia Secondary School students during a class last September, a Department of Education report said.

"While she was supposed to be teaching a class, Fletcher ... engaged in a clearly inappropriate and unprofessional act," Anastasia Coleman, a top schools investigations official, said in the Oct. 29 Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District report.

Video clips captured by her students showed Fletcher "rocked her head back and forth" as she sucked on the unidentified companion's nipple, then "gyrated her shoulders and smiled," the report said.

"Fletcher, 37, then returned to teaching and helped students complete a worksheet.

Before the funny business on Sept. 30 - about two weeks after city schools resumed for remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic - students could see Fletcher scarfing spaghetti and her shirtless companion walk around in the background for several minutes.

The report urged that Fletcher, 37, face unspecified disciplinary action but it's not clear if she was punished. It did say she was reassigned during the probe.

The investigation was launched after a student at the high-performing school in Morningside Heights and her mother complained about the Sept. 30 incident. They submitted several clips of Fletcher that were circulated by students on the social media site Snapchat.

Fletcher, who lives in Washington Heights, refused to cooperate with the investigation and couldn't be reached for comment.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Some have claimed she's indulging a forbidden romance. More likely, loneliness compels her to seek company at Rio de Janeiro's zoo.

Either way, a blue-and-yellow macaw that zookeepers named Juliet is believed to be the only wild bird of its kind left in the Brazilian city where the birds once flew far and wide.

Almost every morning for the last two decades, Juliet has appeared. She swoops onto the zoo enclosure where macaws are kept and, through its fence, engages in grooming behavior that looks like conjugal canoodling. Sometimes she just sits, relishing the presence of others. She is quieter — shier? more coy? — than her squawking chums.

Blue-and-yellow macaws live to be about 35 years old and Juliet — no spring chicken — should have found a lifelong mate years ago, according to Neiva Guedes, president of the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, an environmental group. But Juliet hasn't coupled, built a nest or had chicks, so at most she's "still just dating."

"They're social birds, and that means they don't like to live alone, whether in nature or captivity. They need company," said Guedes, who also coordinates a project that researches macaws in urban settings. Juliet "very probably feels lonely, and for that reason goes to the enclosure to communicate and interact."

Aside from Juliet, the last sighting of a blue-and-yellow macaw flying free in Rio was in 1818 by an Austrian naturalist, according to Marcelo Rheingantz, a biologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and there are no other types of macaws in the city. The lovebirds featured in the 2011 film "Rio″ are Spix's macaws, which are native to a different region of Brazil and possibly extinct in the wild.

Being boisterous with brilliant plumage helps macaws find each other in dense forest, but also makes them easier targets for hunters and animal traffickers. They're often seen in other Brazilian states and across the Amazon, and it is suspected Juliet escaped from captivity.

Biologists at BioParque aren't sure if Juliet's nuzzling is limited to one caged Romeo, or a few of them. They're not even certain Juliet is female; macaw gender is near impossible to determine by sight, and requires either genetic testing of feathers or blood, or examination of the gonads.

Either would be interference merely to satisfy human curiosity with no scientific end, biologist Angelita Capobianco said inside the enclosure. Nor would they consider confining Juliet, who often soars overhead and appears well-nourished.

"We don't want to project human feelings. I look at the animal, and see an animal at ease," Capobianco said, noting Juliet has never exhibited behavior to indicate disturbance, such as insistently pecking at the fence.

"Who am I to decide it should only stay here? I won't. It comes and goes, and its feathers are beautiful."

After more than a year of COVID-19 quarantine and travel bans, the appeal of roaming without restriction is evident to humankind. Macaws are used to flying great distances of more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) a day, Guedes said.

Last year, BioParque gave its macaws more space: a 1,000-square-meter (10,700-square-foot) aviary where they fly beside green parrots and golden parakeets to compose an aerial, technicolor swirl. It's a massive upgrade from prior enclosures that were roughly 100 square feet. BioParque reopened to the public in March, after privatization of Rio's dilapidated zoo and almost 17 months of renovations.

BioParque aims to feature species associated with research programs at universities and institutes. One such initiative is Refauna, which reintroduces species into protected areas with an eye on rebuilding ecosystems, and is participating with BioParque to start breeding blue-and-yellow macaws.

The plan is for parents to raise some 20 chicks that will receive training on forest food sources, the peril of predators and avoidance of power lines. Then the youngsters will be released into Rio's immense Tijuca Forest National Park, where Juliet has been sighted and is thought to sleep each night.

"Their role could be important in terms of ecosystem and reforestation. It's a big animal with big beak that can crack the biggest seeds, and not all birds can," said Rheingantz, the university biologist, who is also Refauna's technical coordinator. "The idea is for it to start dispersing those seeds, complementing forest animals that can't."

After some pandemic-induced delays, the project has slowly restarted and Rheingantz expects to release blue-and-yellow macaws into Tijuca park toward the end of 2022.

After two decades of relative solitude, Juliet will then have the chance to fly with friends. Neves said Juliet could teach them how to navigate the forest, or even find a love of her own.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(FOX) The woman who was found living in a national forest earlier this week reportedly told authorities she was in need of an escape.

While maintaining her anonymity, the Utah County Sheriff's Office told Fox News the woman had been living off the land in Diamond Fork for five months because she wanted "solitude and isolation."

A press release issued Monday noted that the 47-year-old woman was reported missing by U.S. Forest Service officials in November after they spotted what appeared to be her abandoned car and camp gear in the Diamond Fork area of Spanish Fork Canyon.

On May 2, a sheriff's sergeant and drone pilot discovered the woman's tent not far from where her car was seen.

"Her motivation was, in part, for solitude and isolation," Sgt. Spencer Cannon told Fox News in an email.

The woman was taken to a nearby medical center for a physical and mental health evaluation since it appeared she had lost a "considerable amount of weight" and was "weak."

Despite having some mental health struggles, the woman was released a day later. She was provided food and "new items of equipment" that should help her survive the wilderness for a "little while," according to Cannon.

It is not clear whether she will return to the area where she was found.

Although the woman had struggled to find an adequate food supply over winter, Cannon commended her resourcefulness in foraging grass and moss.

Cannon added that the woman's campsite was well maintained and organized. He also shared that the woman is "very intelligent" and "has held highly respected jobs."

"So while many of us would consider her way of living to be unsafe or unhealthy, she was quite resourceful," Cannon wrote. "But, as I mentioned, despite her resourcefulness, she had allowed her condition to deteriorate significantly."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They say a leopard can't change its spots. Unfortunately for a safari park in eastern China they can, however, escape.

Locals were demanding answers Monday after a safari park in eastern China failed to inform authorities and residents for weeks that three of its leopards had gotten out of their enclosure.

One of the leopards was still on the loose, Hangzhou Safari Park in the city of Fuyang said. According to local media, a search team is on the leopard's trail after paw prints believed to be left by the feline were found on Sunday.

The vice mayor of Hangzhou City said the police found that the leopards had escaped on April 19, several weeks before the first reported sighting. The safari park also admitted to the police that they did not report the incident over worries it would impact the flow of tourists coming into the zoo during China's May Day public holidays in the first week of March.

Local police said that five people in charge of the park, including its general manager, had been detained, and that the police had launched an investigation into the incident.

Residents of nearby neighborhoods said they had spotted the leopards in different locations as early as May 2, according to Chinese state-backed newspaper Global Times, causing fear and confusion.

After the leopards were spotted roaming residential areas and tea plantations near the park on Saturday, residents contacted authorities to report the sightings, according to a statement from the Fuyang District government.

Search teams, using drones and hunting dogs, were dispatched to look for the animals. Two of them have been found and captured, with park officials saying they are in good health.

On Saturday morning, the safari park merely announced that they would be suspending operations citing safety issues, in a now-deleted post on their official WeChat platform. They made no mention of the escaped leopards.

However, after a surveillance video showing a leopard in the high-end residential Jinyuan Villa area went viral online Friday, the park was forced to finally inform the public of the escaped leopards. They released an apology on Saturday evening, saying they were "sincerely sorry" for not alerting the public sooner, insisting that the leopards were only juveniles and that they were worried the announcement would cause panic.

The park has also come under fire after Chinese state-backed broadcaster CCTV reported seeing the leopards injured after they had been captured by authorities. Local authorities responded saying the leopards were healthy, but Chinese social media users expressed their disdain online.

On China's Twitter-like Weibo, one user said: "The zoo should be heavily fined. This incident imposed great threat to the safety of people's lives and property."

Other users also expressed concern towards the treatment of animals at the zoo , saying: "The behavior of the zoo should be thoroughly investigated. Don't just investigate why the animals could escape, but also whether the animals are being properly managed and treated."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hong Kong (CNN) For a week, China's Long March 5B grabbed global attention, as space agencies and experts closely tracked its trajectory, speculating where debris would fall upon the rocket's uncontrolled reentry.

In China, however, the country's space administration stayed silent for days amid criticism that allowing such a large rocket stage to free fall towards Earth was irresponsible and posed a safety risk -- albeit a small one -- to many countries.

Finally, on Sunday morning Beijing time the China Manned Space Engineering Office broke its silence, confirming the remnants of the rocket had plunged into the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, after most of it had burned up in the atmosphere.

For many who have followed the rocket's return, the news came as a big relief. In China, it was not only seen as a vindication of the rocket's design, but also used by state media to argue that the intense global attention was merely a Western effort to discredit China's space program and thwart its progress.

"Their hype and smears were in vain," the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, said in an editorial Sunday, accusing US scientists and NASA of "acting against their conscience" and being "anti-intellectual."

"These people are jealous of China's rapid progress in space technology," the paper said. "Some of (them) even try to use the noises they made to obstruct and interfere with China's future intensive launches for the construction of its space station."

While Beijing has long accused Western countries and media of holding China to a different standard, Chinese officials also routinely have a nationalist response to any criticism, branding it an ill-intended attempt to "smear China."

Such fierce defensiveness is particularly evident when it comes to China's space program, an important point of national pride for the Chinese public and a source of prestige for the ruling Communist Party.

China was a latecomer to space exploration, launching its first satellite only in 1970, 13 years after the Soviet Union and 12 years after the United States. But in recent decades, it has swiftly become a frontrunner in the space race -- it was the first country to land on the far side of the moon in 2019, and successfully brought back lunar rocks last year.

The defensiveness to criticism from the West, especially the United States, is partially born out of what Beijing perceives as Washington's hostility to block its progress beyond Earth's atmosphere.

Since 1999, the US has imposed export controls on satellite technology to China. And in 2011, Congress passed a law that imposed restrictions on NASA engagement with China.

Consequently, Chinese astronauts are barred from the International Space Station (ISS) -- the only space station in orbit and a collaboration between the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

As a result, China is building its own space station, the Tiangong (meaning heavenly palace in Chinese). Last month, it successfully launched its first module with the Long March 5B -- the rocket that drew the world's scrutiny.

In blaming the West for their "smear campaign," however, Chinese state media and space experts omitted to explain why the Long March 5B had caused anxiety among global scientists.

Rocket stages are often dropped before they reach orbit along trajectories that can be predicted before the launch. And when they are designed to reach orbit, they usually come with devices that allow more controlled reentries and aim for the ocean. Or they are left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. The Chinese rocket, estimated to weigh over 20 tons, is the largest space object to return uncontrolled to Earth in nearly three decades -- and a major deviation from the practice of other space agencies.

There are also worrying precedents for what happens in such incidents: the US Skylab space station broke up over the Indian Ocean and scattered debris across Western Australia when it returned to Earth in 1979. More recently, a piece of debris from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket landed on a farm in Washington state, after the second stage of the rocket broke up on reentry.

But amid deepening political mistrust of the US, and a lack of technological exchanges, meaningful scientific international exchanges with Beijing are being sidestepped in favor of fanning the flames of nationalist anger.