Armenia: Shady Import of Lions and Tigers Raises Fears

The Yerevan neighbors of parliamentarian Mher Sedrakian, a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, have a persistent problem with noise. But this is not about wild parties or car horns. Rather, it is about lions.

Sedrakian’s alleged collection of lions, apparently kept as personal pets, constantly roars and scares the neighborhood, and no one can get them to stop, his neighbors complained to EurasiaNet.org recently.

Increasingly, many Armenians can understand that concern. Private zoos with lions, tigers and bears are emerging as a popular hobby for the wealthy and powerful in this tiny, South-Caucasus country, and the government does not seem inclined to intervene.

Instead, recent amendments to the Law on Wildlife, passed on April 12, could facilitate this pastime. Private citizens can own wild animals, including endangered species, if they have areas for the animals that ensure their “life, health and safety,” and prevent escape from captivity, the law reads. Supervision is supposed to be “constant.”

But it is not. Last November, tiger cubs were found in the streets of Etchmiadzin, a town about 20 kilometers from the capital, Yerevan, local media reported.

Although tigers, as an endangered species, cannot be exported from the wild, their import from zoos is allowed.

A search of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) database for 2008 to 2013 shows the import of six tigers to Armenia, including three Siberian tigers from Ukraine. The rest came from Belgium, Chile and Kazakhstan.

An Armenian Border Guard official, who declined to be named, explained to EurasiaNet.org that a tiger can be brought into the country if documents show its country of origin and demonstrate that it is the third generation of a zoo-based line of tigers. 

A CITES certificate that authorizes the animal’s shipment is also required, said Hovhannes Mkrtchian, head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Food Security Department, which checks import documents and verifies the animals’ health.

But investigative reports by the news site Hetq.am indicate that not all of the exotic animals imported into Armenia – namely, an endangered bonobo – end up in the CITES database.

Similarly, though crocodiles were offered for sale in Yerevan supermarkets last December for New Year’s, the database contains no mention of their import as food products.

It does, however, show an array of exotic imports. Cheetahs topped the feline list, with 18 imports from the United Arab Emirates and South Africa between 2008 and 2013. Nine lions were brought in during the same period; most from the United Arab Emirates.

Forty-one dumbo-eared fennec foxes, natives of the Sahara, entered Armenia between 2009 and 2010, while 21 rheas, ostrich-like birds from South America, made the trip in 2012.

Whether or not these animals were meant for the Yerevan Zoo was not immediately clear.

Yerevan Zoo Director Ruben Khachatrian emphasized that his zoo is “making every effort to meet international standards,” and expressed regret that Armenia has developed a reputation for an illegal trade in wild animals.

“Because of certain persons, Armenia has a bad international image in terms of the unlawful trade in animals…” Khachatrian said. “[Individuals] can approach you at international conferences and ask with anxiety, ‘What is going on in your country?’”

The government launched a criminal investigation into the import of animals to Armenia after a Hetq.am investigation, but no breakthroughs have been announced. Caution could well temper prosecutors’ questions.

Among those Armenians known to have a taste for exotic wildlife is one of the country’s most powerful political players, millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian, head of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party.

A 2009 YouTube video that showed a donkey placed in a cage of lions was widely reputed to have been filmed at Tsarukian’s Yerevan residence, which contains a private zoo.

His spokesperson, Iveta Tonoian, denied any connection to the case, but has stated that Tsarukian owns about two dozen lions and white tigers, which live “in perfect conditions.”

Tsarukian is not alone in his tastes. Former Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Manvel Grigorian, head of an influential organization of Karabakh-war veterans, keeps tigers, lions, bears and various birds in a private zoo in Etchmiadzin, a town about 20 kilometers from Yerevan.

According to Hetq.am, an allegedly toothless tiger also protects Grigorian’s Etchmiadzin house. The tiger cub found wandering in the town last year is believed to have belonged to the general, who has not responded to the allegations.

But holding any political figure to account on such a score is difficult.

The government never responded to environmentalists’ requests to see the documentation for the endangered brown bears allegedly owned by Tavush Region Governor Hovik Abovian.

The agriculture ministry’s Mkrtchian, however, maintains that “everything is done in accordance with procedures.”

“We do everything we can to ensure safety,” he said.

But it does not always work. In 2012, a lion, allegedly owned by a former police colonel, seriously injured a two-year-old child in a village not far from the Turkish border.

Environmentalist Silva Adamian, one of the few Armenian activists following this issue, argues that the Law on Wildlife simply does not work.

“Legislators should have the leverage to control the field, whereas the opposite is happening…” said Adamian.

Dining establishments throughout the country offer the meat of bears, boars and deer, all endangered in Armenia, on their menus. Bears also provide entertainment. They also can be spotted on the loose in Yerevan itself – twice within the last year.

No parliamentarian working on environmental issues could comment to EurasiaNet.org about these practices.

Civil society groups are not prepared to take up the issue either, claimed Adamian.

“The field is controlled by certain influential people, while society is so busy with other problems that it simply has no time to take an interest in these issues,” she said.

Meanwhile, the imports continue.

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This Incredible Star-Shaped Superyacht Will Cost Half-A-Billion Dollars

This new superyacht — called the STAR — doesn’t even look like a boat at first glance, but like some sort of strange iceberg floating in the water. 

Which makes sense considering that it was specifically designed to be unlike any other yacht on earth, measuring 433 feet long and almost 200 feet high.

“The inspiration came directly from the stars,” designer Ignor Lobanov told Business Insider. “The profile of the yacht makes a perfect star when reflected in the water.”

The symmetrical concept vessel from Lobanov was created in collaboration with BMT Group and Alex Malybaev. Their goal was to redefine luxury yachts.

STAR 4

The initial idea for the STAR came when Malybaev, from FIRMA branding agency, together with Lobanov decided that despite the advances in modern architecture and car design, all yachts looked too much alike. 

The two were fed up with the traditional look of a yacht, and Malybaev drew the first sketch of the STAR on a napkin. “I looked at the sketch and set to work. The idea was so great that I wanted to prove it could become a yacht,” said Lobanov in a press release.

STAR 3

The STAR has been developed as a private yacht, but could also be the world’s most exclusive floating hotel, as it can host up to 200 day guests and 36 overnight guests. 

It also has a helipad, an underwater viewing deck, and four elevators providing access to the boat’s eight decks.

STAR 2

The incredible vessel has been designed with a maximum speed of 18 knots and over 37,6oo square feet of luxury interior space.

The top deck of the yacht will also have a range of visibility of over 20 kilometers and incredible views, according to Lobanov.

STAR 5

The STAR’s incredible technical development features “a symmetrically fore and aft double ended hull form, with all electric architecture and fully azimuthing propulsion,” according to the press release

Basically, the STAR will have some incredible features that allow it to rotate easily without the constraints of traditional anchors.

STAR 6

Lobanov will also collaborate with BMT Nigel Gee for help with naval architecture and technical feasibility.

“STAR is a tangible view of a 21st century interpretation of art and science,” said James Roy, Yacht Design Director of BMT Nigel Gee, in a press release. “We are fortunate to live in an era where technology makes the delivery of bolder designs more possible — for clients who are adventurous innovators anything is truly possible.”

STAR 7

But this remarkable concept will not come cheap. The lavish super yacht will cost around €400 million, or about USD $500 million, Lobanov told Business Insider. 

For more information about the STAR, check out the Igor Lobanov’s page here.

24 European Banks Fail Finance Stress Tests says EBA

Euros

Lloyds Banking Group has “narrowly” passed a financial stress test ordered by European financial regulators to identify banks at risk of collapse in the event of an economic downturn.

Lloyds, one of four banks tested by the European Banking Association (EBA), nearly failed a benchmark set for banks to prove they are financially robust enough to withstand another banking crisis.

While Lloyds, the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, and Barclays all passed the test, Lloyds only had a “capital under adverse scenario” of 6.2%, slightly above the benchmark set by the EBA of 5.5%.

The aim of the stress test is to make sure banks in Europe still have enough capital to continue lending to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which rely on banks for credit, during another recession.

Across Europe 24 banks failed the stress test, based on a review of their finances up to the end of 2013. They include nine Italian banks, three Greek banks and three Cypriot banks. The worst affected was the Italian bank Monte dei Paschi, which had a capital shortfall of €2.1bn (£1.65bn, $2.6bn).

Ten banks have taken measures to bolster their balance sheets in the meantime. The remaining 14 banks in the eurozone have nine months to increase their capital buffers against losses, or risk being shut down.

Second health check

At the same time the European Central Bank (ECB) has conducted its own investigation into the financial health of Europe’s banks, with similar findings.

The ECB healthcheck – the findings of which were leaked by Bloomberg this week – found 13 of Europe’s 130 biggest banks failed the stress test after an in-depth review of their finances.

Collectively the 13 banks must increase their capital buffers against losses by €10bn.

The ECB said 25 banks in all were found to need stronger buffers, but that 12 have already made up their shortfall.

The remaining 13 now have two weeks to tell the ECB how they plan to increase their capital buffers.

The stress tests are an important step towards the ECB’s takeover as a central banking supervisor, under the Single Supervisory Mechanism scheme, on 4 November.

This move is aimed at weeding out financial problems within Europe’s largest banks before the ECB takes the role of central banking supervisor. The ECB is tasked with enforcing tough regulations on national banks, which governments may shy away from.

The European Commission said the tests had been “robust exercises, unprecedented in scale and among the most stringent worldwide”.

“Yet there is no room for complacency,” a statement said. “Rigorous and timely follow-up actions to the results of the exercises will be absolutely crucial.”

Finally, Downton gets a kosher character

For Jewish Downton Abbey fans, last Sunday’s episode was a huge moment – the arrival of a character who is completely kosher. Finally.

True, there was excitement a couple of series ago when the Countess of Grantham’s mother came to stay at Downton and we found out that her name was Martha Levinson.

But, as played by Shirley Maclaine, she did not start making blessings over those magnificent silver candlesticks they have on the dining table.Later it was revealed in,

The Chronicles of Downton Abbey” a book written by Jessica Fellowes, niece of the show’s creator Julian, that: “Martha’s husband was Jewish, she herself is not, and their children were raised Episcopalians”.

So the introduction of Atticus Aldridge was a breakthrough.

Lady Rose, the family black sheep who has already shocked her relatives after getting involved first with a married man and and then a black jazz singer, seemed at last to have found a suitable young man – handsome, well-mannered, cutglass accent. 

Someone who might even win the approval of the terrifying Dowager Countess.

But Mr Aldridge, played by Matt Barber, is not quite the perfect English gentlemen.

He is a member of a Ukrainian-Jewish family who fled to Britain after pogroms in Odessa.

But it is a family that has done very well. Aldridge is the son of the recently ennobled Lord and Lady Sinderby and is just about to take up work in the family bank.

Such aristocratic Jews fit well with the Downtown milieau and have history on their side too. 

After all, the Rothschilds (bankers like the Sinderbys) built so many country houses that a slice of Buckinghamshire became known as Rothschildshire.

But viewers should try to contain their excitement. Lady Rose does get through boyfriends very quickly so Atticus may not be around very long.

Nigeria: Drug Mule Left to Die At Madrid Airport

A Nigerian drug mule has died in a Spanish airport after cocaine bags inside his body split open – because airport staff refused to touch him fearing he had Ebola.

The man collapsed in the customs area of the Madrid-Barajas airport outside the capital after arriving on a flight from Istanbul. Upon hearing that the man was from Nigeria, staff were too afraid to approach the man and left him in shivers on the airport floor.

The man, who had landed on a flight from Istanbul on October 18, died 90 minutes later from a massive drugs overdose, Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said. It later transpired that the man was suffering the effects of a cocaine overdose after several bags of the drug burst in his stomach. 

Reuters / Rafael Ibarra

A passenger accompanying the Nigerian later told police that he had flown from Madrid to Istanbul on October 14 and had not been to Nigeria for four years.

Ebola has killed 4,877 people in the past six weeks, almost all of whom were infected with the virus in West Africa.

Go Inside Mussolini’s Secret Bunker That Hasn’t Been Seen In 70 Years

Mussolini Bunker1

To mark the 70th anniversary of its liberation from fascism, Rome has reopened one of the bunkers built for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. 

A series of bunkers were built under the Italian capital during World War II to provide shelter for bureaucrats and party leaders.

Bunker di Roma, a local website, has cataloged up to 12 different bunkers beneath the city and campaigned for their refurbishment so that tourists can visit them. 

Many of the bunkers, including Mussolini’s personal air raid shelter, have not been entered since the end of the war, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Mussolini was leader of the Italian fascist movement from 1923 to 1943. 

The bunker is located below Villa Torlonia, the Roman residence of Mussolini since 1922. It’s just a short walk from the Colosseum.

The bunker is located below Villa Torlonia, the Roman residence of Mussolini since 1922. It's just a short walk from the Colosseum.

The shelter could house up to 15 people in case of intense bombardment. It was never used, as Mussolini was ousted by his own private council on Sept. 8, 1943.

The shelter could house up to 15 people in case of intense bombardment. It was never used, as Mussolini was ousted by his own private council on Sept. 8, 1943.

The bunker was outfitted with the most cutting-edge technologies of the time. It was designed to protect against a gas attack, as the sign in this picture says.

The bunker was outfitted with the most cutting-edge technologies of the time. It was designed to protect against a gas attack, as the sign in this picture says.

Communication with the outside was guaranteed through a safe telephone line. Two more bunkers were built in the same area for other officials.

Communication with the outside was guaranteed through a safe telephone line. Two more bunkers were built in the same area for other officials.

The bunker was transformed from a wine cellar. Corriere della Sera wrote that Mussolini complained that the bunker was not ready by the time his regime fell.

The bunker was transformed from a wine cellar. Corriere della Sera wrote that Mussolini complained that the bunker was not ready by the time his regime fell.

The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, has praised the initiative as one more way to understand the city’s history.

The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, has praised the initiative as one more way to understand the city's history.