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“It just kept moving,” she says. “Every hour I’m checking, and it’s gone further and further.”

Pheasey, then a PhD student at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in the UK, was tracking a stolen item — but not the usual type.

The dot was tracking the journey of a fake turtle egg, which Pheasey had planted deep within a real turtle nest the day before. The egg was poached and trafficked to a supermarket loading bay 137 kilometers (85 miles) away, where it was probably sold.

Dubbed an “InvestEGGator,” the fake turtle egg — roughly the size of a ping pong ball — was developed by scientists at US-based conservation organization Paso Pacifico, which focuses on protecting coastal ecosystems in Central America.

Made of a rubbery material called NinjaFlex, the fake eggs are daubed with a special textured paint — developed by Hollywood special effects artist Lauren Wilde — that gives off a yellowish tinge.

The fake eggs look and feel like the real thing, but hidden inside them is a SIM card with a GPS transmitter that uses mobile networks to transfer location data, and a USB port for charging.

Paso Pacifico developed the decoys as a tool to combat trafficking. The organization estimates that poachers destroy more than 90% of sea turtle nests on many of Central America’s unprotected beaches, to sell the eggs into the illegal wildlife trade.

In a two-year research project that began in 2017, Pheasey deployed 101 fake eggs in the nests of olive ridley and green sea turtles across four beaches in Costa Rica, to test their effectiveness in tracking trade routes.

The results of her study, published this year, show that the devices could help to crack the illegal wildlife trade not just in turtles, but across a number of vulnerable species.

Planting the fake eggs

Pheasey and her team planted the decoys during the night, once the turtles had dug their nests and scurried back to sea. With just one fake egg hidden within a clutch of more than 100 eggs, she hoped they wouldn’t be detected by poachers.

If the fake eggs were taken from the nests, the SIM card would find a signal and send an alert with GPS coordinates to Pheasey.

“It’s just like your mobile phone,” she tells CNN. “If you bury your phone in the sand, you’re not going to have any signal. But as soon as they’re uncovered, they’ll come online.”

Pheasey and her team inserted the fake eggs into turtle nests during the night.

Of the 101 decoy eggs deployed, a quarter were illegally taken and five successfully provided tracks.

The tracks varied in length. One decoy traveled under 50 meters (160 feet) to the nearest beach house, one moved two kilometers (just over a mile) to the nearest bar, while another went 137 kilometers (85 miles) inland, providing solid evidence of the turtle egg trade.

In some cases, decoys’ journeys revealed the full trade chain: from the poacher, to a seller, to a customer’s residence, says Pheasey.

Policing illegal trade

This intelligence could help strengthen law enforcement by enabling authorities to target traffickers and criminal networks rather than local poachers, who are usually “marginalized individuals trying to make a quick buck,” says Pheasey.

While turtle eggs have been eaten by coastal communities for centuries, the rise in demand in towns and cities across the world — combined with other growing threats to turtles such as overfishing and net entanglement — makes this practice unsustainable, says Sarah Otterstrom, conservation scientist and executive director of Paso Pacifico.
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“They’re now considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac,” she tells CNN. “In many bars and restaurants, people will make turtle egg soup, or they’ll put a raw turtle egg in a drink.”

As more turtle populations decline, protection of their eggs is crucial to ensure their survival.

However, before the decoy eggs can be used effectively for conservation and law enforcement some hurdles remain. Paso Pacifico are working to extend the eggs’ battery life, which only lasts for a few days when the eggs are sending hourly location alerts.

Pheasey identified low signal reception in coastal areas as another possible limitation, but Otterstrom doesn’t see this as a major problem. “Even though there might be beaches that are remote and don’t have cell phone technology, as the eggs make their way towards markets, they will inevitably come across cell phone towers,” she says.

Inside each fake egg is a GPS transmitter which sends location alerts via a mobile signal. The same technology could be adapted for other species.

What’s important is that the tracking technology is affordable, widely available, and works in most countries around the world, so it can be used to identify cross-border trade, she says.

Paso Pacifico has sold its turtle egg decoys, at around $60 an egg, to conservation projects and law enforcement agencies, including one undisclosed South American government.

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Otterstrom says that Paso Pacifico is planning to adapt the technology to work for other species whose eggs are vulnerable to illegal trade, such as parrots or crocodiles.

The organization is working with a group in Ecuador to combat the gruesome shark finning practice by developing tracking devices that could be embedded in the fins of sharks caught as bycatch and sold legally. This would help to reveal international trade routes, says Otterstrom.
With the global illegal wildlife trade estimated to be worth up to $23 billion dollars annually, decoy tracking technology is a tool with great potential.

“Intelligence is key to prevention,” says Pheasey. “It means that you’re always ahead of the poachers rather than behind. We need to be proactive, not reactive.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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