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Condors soar again over Northern California coastal redwoods

The endangered California condor returned to soar the skies over the state’s far northern coast redwood forests on Tuesday for the first time in more than a century.

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Two captive-bred birds were released from a pen in Redwood National Park, about an hour’s drive south of the Oregon border, under a project aimed at restoring the giant vultures to their historic habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

The two male condors were moved into staging area at late morning and a remotely controlled gate was opened. After a few minutes of warily eyeing the opening, the birds stepped one by one through the opening, spread their giant wings and took off.

“They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the region’s Yurok tribe, said in a webcast.

Condors were last spotted in the park area around 1892, authorities said. The California condor is the largest native North American bird, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet (3 meters). The scavenger was once widespread but had virtually disappeared by the 1970s because of poaching, lead poisoning from eating animals shot by hunters and destruction of its habitat.

The birds can live for 60 years and fly vast distances in search of carrion, so their range could extend into several states.

Federal and local fish and wildlife agencies are involved in the restoration project headed by the Yurok tribe, which traditionally has considered the California condor a sacred animal and has been working for years to return the species to the tribe’s ancestral territory.

“For countless generations, the Yurok people have upheld a sacred responsibility to maintain balance in the natural world. Condor reintroduction is a real-life manifestation of our cultural commitment to restore and protect the planet for future generations,” tribal Chairman Joseph L. James said in a statement.

Two more condors were set to be released later — after biologists determine that the two birds who took to the skies Tuesday have displayed appropriate behavior, authorities said.

The condors, including one female and three males, are between 2 and 4 years old. Two were hatched at the Oregon Zoo and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho.

In the early 1980s, all 22 condors remaining in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive-breeding program that began releasing the giant vultures into Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest in 1992.

That flock has been expanding its range while other condors now occupy parts of California’s Central Coast, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico. The total population now numbers more than 500 birds in captivity and in the wild.

Two years ago, California condors were spotted in Sequoia National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada, for the first time in nearly 50 years.

However, that same year, a dozen adults and two chicks died when a wildfire set by an arsonist ravaged their territory on the Big Sur coast.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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