wextinction_a_0413There are at least 8 million unique species of life on the planet, if not far more, and you could be forgiven for believing that all of them can be found in Andasibe. Walking through this rain forest in Madagascar is like stepping into the library of life. Sunlight seeps through the silky fringes of the Ravenea louvelii, an endangered palm found, like so much else on this African island, nowhere else. Leaf-tailed geckos cling to the trees, cloaked in green. A fat Parson’s chameleon lies lazily on a branch, beady eyes scanning for dinner. But the animal I most hoped to find, I don’t see at first; I hear it, though — a sustained groan that electrifies the forest quiet. My Malagasy guide, Marie Razafindrasolo, finds the source of the sound perched on a branch. It is the black-and-white indri, largest of the lemurs — a type of small primate found only in Madagascar. The cry is known as a spacing call, a warning to other indris to keep their distance, to prevent competition for food. But there’s not much risk of interlopers. The species — like many other lemurs, like many other animals in Madagascar, like so much of life on Earth — is endangered and dwindling fast.

Madagascar — which separated from India 80 million to 100 million years ago before eventually settling off the southeastern coast of Africa — is in many ways an Earth apart. All that time in geographic isolation made Madagascar a Darwinian playground, its animals and plants evolving into forms utterly original. They include species as strange-looking as the pygmy mouse lemur — a chirping, palm-size mammal that may be the smallest primate on the planet — and as haunting as the carnivorous fossa, a catlike animal about 30 in. long. Some 90% of the island’s plants and about 70% of its animals are endemic, meaning that they are found only in Madagascar. But what makes life on the island unique also makes it uniquely vulnerable. “If we lose these animals on Madagascar, they’re gone forever,” says Russell Mittermeier, president of the wildlife group Conservation International (CI).

That loss seems likelier than ever because the animals are under threat as never before. Once lushly forested, Madagascar has seen more than 80% of its original vegetation cut down or burned since humans arrived at least 1,500 years ago, fragmenting habitats and leaving animals effectively homeless. Unchecked hunting wiped out a number of large species, and today mining, logging and energy exploration threaten those that remain. “You have an area the size of New Jersey in Madagascar that is still under forest, and all this incredible diversity is crammed into it,” says Mittermeier, an American who has been traveling to the country for more than 25 years. “We’re very concerned.”

Madagascar is a conservation hot spot — a term for a region that is very biodiverse and particularly threatened — and while that makes the island special, it is hardly alone. Conservationists estimate that extinctions worldwide are occurring at a pace that is up to 1,000 times as great as history’s background rate before human beings began proliferating. Worse, that die-off could be accelerating.

Price of Extinction
There have been five extinction waves in the planet’s history — including the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, when an estimated 70% of all terrestrial animals and 96% of all marine creatures vanished, and, most recently, the Cretaceous event 65 million years ago, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Though scientists have directly assessed the viability of fewer than 3% of the world’s described species, the sample polling of animal populations so far suggests that we may have entered what will be the planet’s sixth great extinction wave. And this time the cause isn’t an errant asteroid or megavolcanoes. It’s us.

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Burning Rubber One More Time

The tagline of “Fast & Furious” promises “New Model. Original Parts.” Well, yes and no. “Parts” is a remarkably apt way to describe the people of the movie, a crew of affectless hard bodies reunited from the 2001 B-movie sensation The Fast And The Furious.

Led by Vin Diesel, an inexpressive chunk of man whose actorly range is largely restricted to the occasional furrowing of a brow, the cast is slotted into a narrative involving revenge against a Mexican drug cartel, outlandish vehicular mayhem, flaunting of custom bodywork (both automotive and anatomical) and settings that encourage people to wear tank tops.

As for the newness of the model, the script (by Chris Morgan) is primitive at best, while the direction (by Justin Lin) is more or less functional. Less, in fact, would have been more: “Fast & Furious” could stand to lose 20 minutes to suit its truncated title.

This inoffensive if uninspired example of presummer pop diversion will be best appreciated by future audiences flabbergasted by its unabashed revelry in fossil-fuel consumption.

“Fast & Furious” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for outrageous moving violations and tough-guy talk.

FAST & FURIOUS

Directed by Justin Linn; written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Christian Wagner and Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production designer,Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell and Vin Diesel; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

WITH: Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), John Ortiz (Campos) and Laz Alonso (Fenix).

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HOUSTON – Streaks are made to be broken.

Whoever conjured up that old cliché obviously knew nothing of  Undertaker. After an epic battle pitting shadow against light, The Demon from Death Valley was finally able to bury the soul of “Mr.WrestleMania,” Shawn Michaels. A triumph of darkness, the victory propels Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak to an unprecedented 17-0.

As more than 70,000 sets of eyes focused on the ring inside Houston’s Reliant Stadium, vendors twiddled their thumbs and bathroom breaks were put on hold during the classic confrontation that had the international crowd fixed to their seats.

Having never defeated HBK, Undertaker set a deliberate and destructive pace, which seemed to pay dividends early in the match. Then again, Michaels enjoys quite a reputation for stamina and managed to recapture the momentum before moving outside the ring.

That’s when The Deadman leaped over the top rope, taking aim at HBK. But just as Undertaker was about to land atop Michaels with the full force of his nearly 300 pound frame, HBK darted aside and pulled a cameraman into Undertaker’s path. After a near count-out, The Phenom dragged himself back into the ring, and the legendary Superstars traded some of the most lethal maneuvers in their arsenal.

In the end, though, Undertaker would administer a second and final Tombstone to bury Michaels and secure his place in the annals of WWE history.

Though he lost, Michaels is to be commended for his efforts, never flinching from the daunting task before him. Unlike many of his predecessors, Michaels seemed unafraid to face The Phenom on WWE’s grandest stage, girded by both devotion and confidence.

For his part, Undertaker never once lost sight of his goal: Keeping his WrestleMania record unblemished. Now, in light of his monumental victory, Undertaker can rest – perhaps not “in peace” – but at least until he’s called on to defend The Streak at next year’s WrestleMania.

jon-cenaHOUSTON – In front of a packed Reliant Stadium, John Cena regained the World Heavyweight Championship by defeating now former World Heavyweight Champion Edge and Big Show.

More than 72,000 raucous WWE fans erupted to their feet in excitement during Cena’s entrance, which took a new take on his long-standing trademark catchphrase, “You Can’t See Me.” As far as the eye could see, dozens upon dozens of Cena lookalikes – all wearing his “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect” shirt – came out and parted ways as the genuine article came out and saluted Reliant Stadium. Though the odds were stacked against him this Sunday night, Cena’s lookalikes and fans cheered him on as he raced down to the ring, refusing to be daunted by the task at hand.

After waging a brutal war with his opponents, Cena summoned from deep within and hit the Rated-R Superstar with an Attitude Adjustment. Next, he hoisted then 400-pound plus World’s Largest Athlete atop his shoulders and – with the 70,000 in attendance cheering him on – Cena dropped Big Show with a thunderous Attitude Adjustment. After the carnage, Cena pinned Big Show to regain his gold.

The exhibition of brute strength caused the WWE Universe to erupt in raw emotion, putting their stamp of approval on Cena at one of the most historical events in WWE’s history.

The victory was a sweet measure of revenge for the Raw Superstar who saw The Ultimate Opportunist finagle his way into the Elimination Chamber Match at No Way Out and emerge from the evil structure with Cena’s gold.

Ever since that shocking night in February, Cena set his sights on regaining the World Heavyweight Championship. Like a tenacious pit bull, Cena kept himself close to the trio of  Smack Down General Manager Vickie, her husband, Edge, and Big Show. Wherever they went – Raw or SmackDown – he was right there behind them.

Cena’s persistence paid off.

At the World Heavyweight Championship contract signing on Raw, Guerrero shocked her husband and Big Show by revealing that she was going to allow Cena to compete in the Triple Threat Match at the 25th Anniversary of  Wrestle Mania.

And it was Cena who revealed why – he had been holding onto salacious video footage of Edge’s wife and Big Show engaged in extra marital carousing .

Hustle, loyalty and respect. Those attributes certainly worked for Cena over the years in the ring, and now on the big screen as star of the action-packed movie, 12 Rounds.

And, at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, it was all of those traits, combined with steadfast determination and raw power that equaled success for The Champ.

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HOUSTON – For months, the venomous Randy Orton tore through the life of Triple H brutally attacking and injuring his father-in-law, brother-in-law and even his wife. At the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania, The Legend Killer had an opportunity to take away yet another thing his rival held dear: The WWE Championship. Yet despite Orton’s sadistic mind games, Triple H persevered, defeating his opponent to avenge his family and keep his coveted championship gold resting securely around his waist.

The match began with not one bang, but two, as Triple H and Orton both hit their patented maneuvers (the Pedigree and RKO respectively) within moments of the contest’s start. The Game dominated the early match, prompting The Legend Killer to move the fight outside of the ring. Keenly aware of the stipulation that would have the WWE Championship change hands on a disqualification or count-out, Orton hoped to leave his opponent battered and broken outside the ring as the referee counted to 10. But Triple H was running on pure fury, repeatedly coming back from the third-generation Superstar’s underhanded tactics.

With his options running out, Orton took out the referee, giving himself a few unsupervised moments to retrieve a sledgehammer from underneath the ring. But as he started to climb back in, Triple H served the venomous Superstar some of his own medicine, delivering a vicious punt and retrieving the sledgehammer for himself. While the ring official was still incapacitated, the WWE Champion clobbered Orton, setting him up a game-winning Pedigree and three-count.

Randy Orton’s Road to WrestleMania began in earnest at the 2009 Royal Rumble, where with the help of The Legacy he eliminated Triple H to earn a spot at WWE’s greatest spectacle. The Legend Killer’s phenomenal win came at a time when the third-generation Superstar was already up to his eyes in trouble for punting Mr.McMohan  in the head less than a week earlier. Orton’s ensuing rivalry with the WWE Chairman’s progeny quickly escalated to the point of no return, when in one night of utter brutality, Orton both punted Shane and RKO’d Stephanie, drawing her husband, a livid Triple H out to the ring to her aid.

Though he had already incapacitated three beloved members of The Game’s family, Orton still had his eye on his rival’s WWE Title, and subsequently announced that he would be challenging Triple H for it at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania. Escalating into realms rarely seen in WWE, their conflict saw The Game smash his way through Orton’s St. Louis home, prompting the third-generation Superstar to once again attack his rival’s wife, but this time following it up with a demented kiss, which the handcuffed WWE Champion had no choice but to watch in rage-filled horror.

With his defeat of Randy Orton, Triple H achieved much more than simply retaining the WWE Title. For months, The Legend Killer and The Legacy had run roughshod over WWE’s royal family, promising that a win at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania would begin a new era. But with a punt, a sledgehammer and a thunderous Pedigree Triple H both avenged the McMahons and put an end to Orton’s delusions of grandeur.