Do polar bears need dentists? Until now, it’s not a question that ever occurred to Air Mail Pilot, and it may not have occurred to you. But it came up when Sisu, a three-year-old male polar bear who resides at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, in England, recently cracked a tooth.
In the frozen wild, dentists tend to be scarce, so polar bears with cracked teeth—or cavities or gingivitis—make do as best they can. But access to dentistry turns out to be a silver lining of captivity.
When Sisu’s keepers noticed his injury, they brought in an animal dentist named Dr. Peter Kertesz (sorry, not Dr. De Soto), who gave Sisu a root canal procedure, which helped preserve the tooth and ensure that it didn’t get infected.
Of course, you can’t just tell a polar bear to say “Ahhhhh” and start drilling. An animal anesthesiologist sedated Sisu for the duration of the operation. That was an especially tricky job since a) Sisu weighs over 1300 pounds, which is on the large size even by polar bear standards, so he presumably required a lot of anesthesia, and b) you better be sure about the amount of anesthesia because you really don’t want a polar bear to wake up when your hand is in its mouth.
A dental nurse was also on hand to make sure the hour-long procedure went smoothly. And while Sisu was conked out, the park’s vets took advantage of the situation to give him a thorough physical exam. All good!
Afterwards, Dr. Kertesz hailed the “observant and attentive” keepers who had spotted Sisu’s chipped tooth. As he told the press, “I was glad we operated swiftly because a broken tooth can lead to severe infection and be very painful.” But other than the patient being a polar bear, “it was a standard procedure.” Afterward, the dentist added, “Sisu was standing very quickly, but he was kept in his den to recover fully.”
That sounds wise: a woozy, wobbly 1300-pound polar bear is probably a danger both to himself and anyone in his path. But the wildlife park announced that Sisu is now perfectly fine and back to hanging out with the seven other polar bears at the Yorkshire park, a private conservancy, which is also home to lions, tigers, giraffes, all kinds of monkeys, and—Air Mail Pilot’s favorite—lowland tapirs.
But here’s the odd thing: the tooth that was operated on was said to be a front canine tooth. People have canine teeth too, so called because they look like dogs’ teeth. But in Sisu’s case shouldn’t it be an ursine—as in “relating to or resembling bears”—tooth? Don’t dogs get enough credit and attention as it is? —Bruce Handy
Think you’ve mastered the art of making sandcastles? Well, AIR MAIL Pilot has found someone who takes sand art to a new level.
Using just a garden rake and a stick, Jon Foreman, a 29-year-old artist living in Milford Haven, Wales, uses the shoreline near his home as a canvas for his massive drawings and designs. His art can stretch 15 feet—spanning most of the beach—and can take up to four hours to complete. Some of his work consists of patterns that look like symbols from Hindu mythology, while others depict whales and flowers. Foreman also uses pebbles and seashells he finds on the beach to create psychedelic spirals and mandalas.
But his art doesn’t last long. When the tide rises a few hours before sunrise and a few hours after sunset, the waves wash away hours of work. “The fact it is short-lived actually makes it more special, like a flower that only blooms once,” Foreman told The Daily Mail. “It’s all part of the process… like the circle of life.” Oftentimes Foreman has to race to finish a design before the waves reach it. “It can be a great adrenaline rush,” he says.
“Repeat processes are always very therapeutic,” Foreman wrote recently. “Getting lost in the process is an important part of land art.” He says making art in nature, a practice he started in college, can brighten his mood. Turns out, problems are better solved by drawing in the sand than they are by burying one’s head in it.
Lucky beach-goers in the U.K. might get a quick glimpse of Foreman’s work one of these days. For the rest of us, Foreman photographs his designs and posts them on his Instagram account, @sculpttheworld, which has 191,000 followers. He details his process in the captions, and often titles his works with Latin names. —Elena Clavarino
What’s big, furry, extinct, and the genetic secret to saving the world as we know it? If you guessed woolly mammoth, give yourself a gold star.
Dr. George Church, a Harvard Medical School biologist, and a team of researchers are developing technology to resurrect the long-extinct woolly mammoth. If all goes according to plan, they hope the mad science experiment will reverse climate change.
For the past eight years, Church—with the help of biologists from Colossal, a bioscience company he co-founded—has been developing tools and methods for the “de-extinction” of woolly mammoths. They wandered the Earth from the Pliocene era (about five million years ago) until they went extinct about 4,000 years ago.
To bring the woolly mammoth back, biologists intend to alter the DNA of the mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant. By replacing the DNA of an Asian elephant embryo with DNA similar to that of a woolly mammoth—sequences scientists learned thanks to an abundance of well-preserved specimens—they think they can rear a woolly-mammoth-like creature. “Our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant,” Church told The Guardian, “but it is going to look and behave like a mammoth.”
Woolly mammoths—elephantine beasts with enormous curling tusks— once roamed the tundras of Siberia (eastern Russia) and North America (around Alaska and Canada). In the mammoths’ days, those tundras were grasslands of frozen soil, patted flat and pristine thanks to the furry giants.
Today, without the mammoths to keep nature in check, the tundras have been replaced by moss and forest, allowing the soil to thaw, melt, and release an excess of carbon dioxide that helps heat up the planet. “Mammoths are hypothetically a solution to this,” Church said way back in 2013.
Soon, that hypothesis will be tested with the revived woolly mammoths. “We want something that is functionally equivalent to the mammoth,” Church said, “that will enjoy its time at -40 degrees and do all the things that elephants and mammoths do, in particular knocking down trees.”
Church doesn’t want to stop with the mammoth. He hopes the technology and methods can be applied to other endangered and extinct species. Our vote is to bring back the dodo. —Alex Oliviera