All posts by Tiffany Chen

A teen’s fall and death during the last ice age

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Yucatan Peninsula. Even the tropical jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula reveal traces of the last ice age. The remains of them mammoth animals of the Late Pleistocene are safe and sound, not buried but submerged in the water-filled chambers in underground caves.

Cave divers discovered the skeletons of ice age animals that roamed the Earth before their extinction – giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, elephant-like gomphotheres and other megafauna. And then researchers discovered a young woman they call Naia,  preserved as one of the oldest human skeletons found in North America and the most complete. She is under 5 feet tall and may have been about 15 or 16 years old when she fell to her death some 13,000 years ago.

At the Yucatan Peninsula, freshwater from the underground cave system is the main source of water. In the search for fresh water, Naia’s people and the Late Pleistocene animals they hunted during the last ice age entered the cave, wandering slick passages. With a wrong step, they fell into a bell-shaped pit hole, now named Hoyo Negro, Spanish for “Black Hole.” The chamber is more than 100 feet deep and 200 feet at its widest.

Beddows, an expert cave diver, joined the research team that studied Naia and published their findings in Science magazine.

Today, Hoyo Negro is filled with water. But about 13,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the sea level was some 250 feet lower than it is today, Sea levels drop in the grip of ice ages. And so did the water level in the caves.

Underwater caves and Pleistocene animals. (Tiffany Chen/MEDILL)

Continue reading

Feral cats hunting down lizards in the Yucatan

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Quintana Roo, Mexico – The lush forests, cobalt  blue waters and and rich biodiversity leaves the tourists in awe in the Yucatan Peninsula. Yet, over the past 20 years, locals and tourists at the coastal town  of Akumal noticed a drop in the population of lizards. And stray cats are to blame.

Something rattled in the bush. A cat with a grey-speckled coat gazed intensely into the green. Tip-toeing towards a tropical bush, the cat lowered its shoulder-blade making its belly closer to the floor. It stopped. It pounced. And it turned towards me. There, a gecko- looking reptile, waved its limbs and squirmed between the cat’s teeth. The cat held the amphibian hard enough so it couldn’t escape and light enough, so the cat didn’t kill it. I thought I’d just witnessed a lion hunting an antelope in the safari. But for these cats, the hunt isn’t for food, necessarily. It’s for sport.

Domestic cats are listed among the “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” in many areas, according to the Invasive Species Specialist Group. An estimated 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the U.S. by feral cats who have shed domestic life. These cats are posing threats to birds, amphibians and small mammals around the world.

Continue reading

As oceans acidify, it’s life or death for some marine animals

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world’s oceans have been absorbing carbon dioxide caused by human activity.  Oceans act like a sponge to buffer the heating effects caused by excessive CO2 levels. Without it, the earth would be dangerously hot.

But there’s a catch. Ocean acidification is described as climate change’s “evil twin.” The dissolved form of carbon dioxide can sour the water and change the chemistry in marine environments. Scientists from the Bodega Marine Lab at the University of California, Davis, are fishing for clues to understand how ocean acidification affects the organisms that live in the sea.

Continue reading

Women and minorities face discrimination, challenges in STEM fields

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

The fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have long been dominated by men. Women in these fields often face harassment, discrimination and inequality.

“There are built-in biases in the system of academia that are harmful to women in particular,” said Shauna Price, a postdoctoral fellow at the Field Museum. “When I was younger. I don’t think I was taken seriously, especially because of my gender and looking young.”

Half of the women in STEM field experienced gender discrimination in their workspace, according to a Pew Research Study published in January. Salary differences in the same job and being treated as if they were not competent are the two biggest categories. Discrimination is especially common for women in STEM jobs who work mostly with men.

“The goal of the Field Museum’s Women in Science group is to increase participation in women in all areas in the sciences, and help overcome gender biases in women in the sciences,” said Price.

Continue reading

Exotic pet owners may not know what they’re getting themselves into

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

In the Oscar-nominated movie “I, Tonya,” Allison Janney, who plays Tonya Harding’s mother in the film, has a pet parrot that perches on her shoulder. Sometimes Hollywood movies that feature exotic animals like these can start a trend in people wanting to have one of their own. And new owners may not know some of the challenges that birds and other species can present.

About one in 10 American households own an exotic pet, according to 2012 data from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Exotic animals refer to animals besides dogs and cats, including birds, reptiles and small animals like guinea pigs or ferrets.

Continue reading

For scuba instructor, diving is more than recreation: it’s public safety

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Even on the coldest days of winter, scuba diving instructor Nick Kouris is teaching, and some of his students go on to save lives. At the Berry Diver Center in Northfield, Kouris trains officers from fire and police departments to become public safety divers. “Scuba diving is one of the life-saving skills,” said Kouris.

Continue reading

Young business owners aim to reshape Chinatown

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Young entrepreneurs are introducing new hotels and big chains like Starbucks in Chicago’s Chinatown. And they’re taking over family businesses. These new ventures are remodeling storefronts and embracing phone apps to draw a new crowd to the neighborhood.

“It’s all part of an image you want to create for the younger generation,” said Matt Chui, the owner of Chui Quon Bakery, the oldest bakery in the neighborhood.

But some longtime residents of Chinatown aren’t fans of these new business models. “That’s something they don’t want to change… and that really puts off the people,” said Chui.

Continue reading

At 76, Chinese dance instructor lives her passion and passes it on

By Dena Khalafallah and Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

At 11 years old, Jin Qui Yue discovered her passion for dance and has followed it throughout her life.

At 76 years old, she continues to teach dance to students of all ages in Chicago.

“I’m 76 years old already, and I still haven’t stepped down from the stage. I’m still teaching,” Jin said.

Jin’s dance classes can be found inside the Bei Dou Kung Fu studio on 31st Street in Chicago.

“We might not be able to communicate through language, but through dancing, we can bring each other closer,” Jin said in her native tongue.

Photo at top: Jin Qui Yue dancing inside Bei Dou Kung Fu studio. Oct. 6, 2017. (Dena Khalafallah/MEDILL)