This month South Africa and Botswana are expected to officially open Africa's first "transfrontier conservation area" -- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which covers some 14,000 square miles of land in the two countries. A second African transfrontier conservation area, to include land from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, is due to open within the next few years. Biologists hope that the parks will enable wildlife to re-establish migration paths long disrupted by borders, a process that could in turn lead to healthier populations. They also hope that the parks will help to balance the distribution of particular species: some areas contain very few elephants, for example, while others have so many that herds must be culled. Such areas have a long history in the rest of the world; the first, linking land in the United States and Canada, opened in 1932. There are now about a hundred in all. They usually result from the efforts of private groups; in Africa an international organization called the Peace Parks Foundations was one of the main catalysts.
Health & Safety
February sees some of the lowest temperatures of the year -- a fact especially pertinent to those prone to hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Recent studies have shown that cold weather elevates blood pressure, possibly because it constricts the blood vessels. High blood pressure in a cold environment can have several adverse effects: it may increase ventricular-wall stress, raise demands on the heart, increase the blood's oxygen requirements, and impair the flow of blood to the heart. The constriction of the arteries that occurs in cold weather may also cause pulmonary edema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. And blood viscosity increases, thereby interfering with the supply of blood oxygen to the heart and raising the likelihood of clots. Taken together, these phenomena can have considerable significance. For example, a recent study in the British Medical Journal noted that the number of cardiovascular-disease-related deaths in Scotland and New Zealand was 30 percent higher in cold months than in warm ones.
Accountants will be busy this month, as the rush to file income-tax forms begins (the deadline for employers to send tax statements to their employees is January 31). Contrary to popular belief, most people do not file at the last minute: the Internal Revenue Service typically receives more than half the year's returns before April 1. February's filers tend to be those expecting refunds (chiefly retirees and low-income earners) and those able to use simple forms. Taxpayers intent on getting their refunds quickly might consider ditching paper forms: those who file electronically get refunds about twice as fast as those who file on paper. Direct deposit further expedites the process, and has another virtue as well: it circumvents refund problems that can be caused by illegible handwriting or changes of address. Last November the IRS mounted a search for about 100,000 taxpayers whose refund checks from 1998 were undeliverable.
February 1: Today those Navajo living on Black Mesa, in Arizona, who have not ceded their land to the Hopi may be evicted by the federal government. The territorial issues involved date back to 1882, when a Hopi reserve was created on land occupied by the Navajo. The two tribes co-existed peacefully until coal was discovered on Black Mesa. In 1974 Congress ordered the area partitioned between the tribes, presumably to facilitate coal leases, and a large-scale relocation began. Some Navajo in the new Hopi area refused to leave. Legislation passed in 1996 requires them to sign their land over to the Hopi tribe; in return they can stay on it, as renters, for 75 years. As of this writing 88 Navajo families are holding out. Also this month a number of states hold primaries: both parties in New Hampshire on the 1st, Republicans in Delaware on the 8th, South Carolina on the 19th, Arizona and Michigan on the 22nd, and Virginia and North Dakota (caucus) on the 29th.
February 2: The waning crescent Moon and Venus together skim the southeast horizon before dawn. 8: The waxing Moon lies close to Mars tonight. It passes just below Jupiter on the 10th and Saturn on the 11th. 13: The Moon passes near the bright star Aldebaran tonight. 19: Full Moon, also known this month as the Snow, Trapper's, or Hunger Moon. 29: Leap Day, notable for being the first in a centennial year since 1600.
Arts & Letters
This month two friends who chronicled rural poverty for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Farm Security Administration will be honored with exhibits. On February 1 New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will present the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of the photographer Walker Evans. The show will consist of 175 prints spanning his career. It closes in New York in May, and will travel to San Francisco and Houston. On February 5 more than 150 photographs, drawings, and mural studies by the Lithuanian émigré Ben Shahn go on display at Harvard University's Arthur M. Sackler Museum. The exhibit will focus on Shahn's depictions of Depression-era New York. It will remain in Cambridge through April and will continue on to Washington, New York, and Chicago.
100 Years Ago
Ethel Dench Puffer, writing in the February, 1900, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "The popular interest in scientific truth has always had its hidden spring in a desire for the marvelous. The search for the philosopher's stone has done as much for chemistry as the legend of the elixir of life for exploration and geographical discovery. From the excitements of these suggestions of the occult, the world settled down into a reasonable understanding of the facts of which they were but the enlarged and grotesque shadows .... Too often ... we fail to trace in the dull presentment of every-day experience a likeness to the wonders we pursue, forgetting that marvels have meaning and value only in so far as they can establish their kinship with the events of daily life, and thus fall at last into the great sweep of universal law."
Illustrations by Susanne Saenger.
The Atlantic Monthly; February 2000; The Almanac - 00.02; Volume 285, No. 2; page 14.