New Scientist recently reported on a record-breaking feat of a particular bird-of-prey population near Beijing. This news isn’t something to celebrate, rather something quite worrisome. Researchers discovered that kestrels had record-breaking amounts of a PDBE chemical known as Deca in their tissues.
PBDE or polybrominated diphenyl ether, commonly used in textiles, plastics and electronics, is a ubiquitous environmental pollutant. One formulation, called Deca on account of the 10 bromine atoms it has, is the most widely used because no one thought it built up in animals.
Biomagnification of pollutants is a bad thing, and unfortunately isn’t a novel concept in China. Animals at the top of the food chain accumulate potentially toxic substances through consumption, and this can lead to a loss of predators in ecosystems.
New Scientist goes on to point out that Deca found in animals can be degraded into variants similar to toxic Penta and Octa PDBEs. Kestrels weren’t the only birds of prey included in this research. Various owls & buzzards also tested positive for PBDEs. The cynical part of our psyche wonders if this research was undertaken as part of an out-of-competition testing for the (still active?) biannual Animal Olympics. We wouldn’t want Chinese birds of prey to have an unfair advantage in any future events.
But despite this attempt at glory, it appears that these birds just can’t win. Hong Kong health authorities recently announced the death of a Hong Kong kestrel from a H5 sub-type of avian influenza (no, not the Avian bird flu we humans don’t like, H5N1, but a slightly milder avian flu version).
Shanghaiist wonders what is happening to China’s avian population in general. We were really pleased to hear the ground-breaking piece of academician magic created by researchers at Shandong Technology University recently, where collective scientific powers were applied to create remotely-controlled pigeons. However, we were just that little bit extra pleased by one of our favourite China blogger’s tongue-in-cheek rubbishing on the ludicrousness of this research.
In the spirit of putting 2 + 2 together and getting 15, when Shanghaiist applies our greatest powers of conspiratorial thought, there’s an obvious symbolic parallel to China’s re-emergence as a world behemoth, and the rise of the phoenix. Imagine it. Flame-retardant kestrels swinging through China’s coal belt. You would have to imagine it, as there’s no way you could ever possibly see it from the ground.
Shanghaiist’s inner innovator and entrepreneur wants to take the next step it to combine the two Sino-Avian technologies and create a radio-controlled phoenix product for our favourite little Emperors and Empresses. Nah, that’ll never fly…
Picture taken from Fred Pipe’s Cartoon Showcase.