Nuns in Mexico Are Keeping a Sacred Salamander From Going Extinct

iStock
iStock

A critically endangered salamander called the axolotl is getting some divine intervention courtesy of a group of nuns in Mexico. The BBC reports that The Sisters of Immaculate Health in the Mexican town of Patzcuaro have teamed up with scientists to breed—and potentially save—the species.

The freshwater axolotl can only be found in Mexico, where pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of invasive species threaten the salamanders. The odd-looking creature was a revered figure in Aztec mythology, and many in Mexico still believe in its spiritual powers. The axolotl's ability to regenerate its limbs and organs—even its brain and heart—has given it a medicinal and mystical appeal that has not gone unnoticed by scientists and spiritual leaders alike.

For decades, the nuns have been breeding a specific kind of axolotl called the achoque, found only in Lake Patzcuaro, which they have used to produce a natural cough medicine. The nuns wouldn't divulge how the cough syrup is made, stating only that the salamanders are a key ingredient. The contents of one $17 box of axolotl cough syrup on eBay include bee honey, axolotl, common bracket root, European walnut leaves, and other herbs.

The production of this medicinal supplement hasn't hurt the species, though. In fact, it may even be helping it, according to scientists who praised the nuns' expertise in axolotl breeding. Gerardo Garcia, a conservationist at the UK-based Chester Zoo, told the BBC that the nuns "have a fantastic genetic pool of achoques" which could eventually be reintroduced to the wild.

As for the nuns, breeding the species isn't merely a commercial enterprise, either. "It's not just important for us; it's important on a national and an international level because it's an endemic species, and if we don't try to save this species then nature will be lost," Sister Ofelia Morales Francisco tells the BBC.

To learn more about their program, check out the BBC's video below.

[h/t BBC]

This Stylish Cardboard Box Is Designed to Be Your Cat’s New Favorite Hideout

Scott Salzman
Scott Salzman

You can buy your cat a fancy bed or perch, but when it comes right down to it, your feline friend is probably going to be more eager to curl up in the cardboard box that it arrived in. So why not just cut out the part where you spend time and money picking out something your cat couldn’t care less about? Just get a really nice box. That’s the premise behind the Purrfect Cat Box, a cardboard box specifically tailored to cats’ needs.

While every cat is finicky in his or her own way, almost all cats love a good cardboard box. (Seriously, it’s science.) Squeezing into a cozy box makes cats feel protected, and, since cats like warmer temperatures, the insulating cardboard also helps keep them at their preferred level of toasty.

Designed by Colorado-based inventor Scott Salzman, the Purrfect Cat Box is made to be just the right size for ultimate kitty comfort. At about the size of a shoebox, it’s big enough for most cats to squeeze into without being cramped—though Salzman doesn’t specify whether it will work for big breeds like Maine Coons—but small enough that they still feel protected inside. It has a small cutout in the front to allow your cat to peek his head outside the box, and, most importantly, to get in a really good chin scratch.

While we humans might find cardboard cars or cardboard Taj Mahal replicas adorable, most cats just want a plain box that makes them feel safe and comfortable. The geometric-patterned Purrfect Cat Box walks the line between utilitarian and chic, making the empty cardboard box in your living room a little bit less of an eyesore.

Plus, it’s cardboard-priced. At $6 a box, it's about what you'd pay to have a regular cardboard box full of anything from Amazon delivered to your door, but it’s still inexpensive enough that if your cat destroys it, it’s easy enough to throw in the recycle bin and get a new one.

Get it on Indiegogo.

Signalman Jack: The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad—and Never Made a Mistake

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One day in the 1880s, a peg-legged railway signalman named James Edwin Wide was visiting a buzzing South African market when he witnessed something surreal: A chacma baboon driving an oxcart. Impressed by the primate’s skills, Wide bought him, named him Jack, and made him his pet and personal assistant.

Wide needed the help. Years earlier, he had lost both his legs in a work accident, which made his half-mile commute to the train station extremely difficult for him. So the first thing he trained the primate to do was push him to and from work in a small trolley. Soon, Jack was also helping with household chores, sweeping floors and taking out the trash.

But the signal box is where Jack truly shined. As trains approached the rail switches at the Uitenhage train station, they’d toot their whistle a specific number of times to alert the signalman which tracks to change. By watching his owner, Jack picked up the pattern and started tugging on the levers himself.

Soon, Wide was able to kick back and relax as his furry helper did all of the work switching the rails. According to The Railway Signal, Wide “trained the baboon to such perfection that he was able to sit in his cabin stuffing birds, etc., while the animal, which was chained up outside, pulled all the levers and points.”

As the story goes, one day a posh train passenger staring out the window saw that a baboon, and not a human, was manning the gears and complained to railway authorities. Rather than fire Wide, the railway managers decided to resolve the complaint by testing the baboon’s abilities. They came away astounded.

“Jack knows the signal whistle as well as I do, also every one of the levers,” wrote railway superintendent George B. Howe, who visited the baboon sometime around 1890. “It was very touching to see his fondness for his master. As I drew near they were both sitting on the trolley. The baboon’s arms round his master’s neck, the other stroking Wide’s face.”

Jack was reportedly given an official employment number, and was paid 20 cents a day and half a bottle of beer weekly. Jack passed away in 1890, after developing tuberculosis. He worked the rails for nine years without ever making a mistake—evidence that perfectionism may be more than just a human condition.

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