Hot snow festival?

While most of Europe has shivered through an unusually cold March, a snow festival in Arctic Greenland has been postponed indefinitely because of a "heat wave." The 11th annual international Snow Sculpture Festival in Nuuk was scheduled from March 18 to 21, when the average temperature in Greenland's capital would usually be well below freezing.

"The snow has been melting because of the mild weather and last week we had several days of rain," Nuuk Tourism manager Flemming Nicolaisen said.

The festival is a popular attraction and more than 20 teams had been scheduled to take part. Nicolaisen said the artists needed plenty of fine new snow to sculpt. Greenland's climate is usually harsh and about 80 per cent of the semi-autonomous Danish province is covered by ice, but February brought record-high temperatures above 15 Centigrade.

Goodbye, St. Nick

A Turkish mayor defended a decision to remove a bronze statue of his town's most famous son — Saint Nicholas, and replace it with a brightly coloured model of his modern incarnation, Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas, a Fourth Century Christian bishop who lived and worked in what is now the southern Turkish town of Demre, is especially revered by Russia's Orthodox Church. A Russian artist donated the bronze statue of the saint to Demre five years ago.

Hot snow festival?

Mayor Suleyman Topcu said he and the Demre council respected Saint Nicholas and had not acted out of ill will, but said the modern-day commercialised Santa Claus had wider popular appeal.

"The current statue is the best way to introduce Saint Nicholas because the whole world knows this image of him in his red clothes and hat, with his sack of presents and a bell in his hand," Topcu said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

All for ivory

Sudan's army and proxy militias are slaughtering large numbers of elephants in unstable parts of central Africa to meet the growing demand for ivory in Asia — mainly in China, according to a report released this week.

Between 6,000 and 12,000 elephants a year are being poached for their tusks in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya and possibly Chad for export to Asia, the report said.

Compiled for the British-based wildlife charity Care for the Wild International, the report said Sudan is now the focal point for the illegal ivory trade, which is decimating elephant populations in surrounding nations.

Hot snow festival?

Esmond Martin, a respected elephant researcher who led the month-long investigation, told reporters here that the Sudanese army and pro-government militias had virtually invaded Garamba National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where, he said, "the killing of elephants is out of control".

Too early for school

Astonished German police picked up an eight-year-old boy at 3 a.m. He had accidentally set off to school thinking he was late!

"He seemed to have got into a panic that he was late and went off to school by himself with his rucksack," said a spokesman for police in the western city of Aachen. "You'd think the parents weren't looking after him, but that wasn't the case here."

Police found the boy as he was heading home after he discovered the school was still closed.

No to breeding bears

Vietnam took steps toward closing the country's bile farms, where thousands of bears spend their lives languishing in cramped cages while the fluid is extracted for medicinal purposes, wildlife advocates and a government official said recently.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals announced that it signed an agreement in February with Hanoi under which the government will establish a task force to close the bile farms.

Hot snow festival?

The agreement also "outlines government plans for the registering and microchipping of all bears in captivity and phasing out breeding of bears (for) farms," the group said in a statement.

Bile farms are illegal in Vietnam but the government rarely cracks down on the operations or enforces a ban on the capture of wild bears.

The U.N.-recognised group believes about 3,000 bears are currently kept in farms in Vietnam.

Flour fight

A picturesque town on the coast of Greece celebrates the carnival season in a unique way. People from all over gather at Galaxidi, to be a part of the flour war that is celebrated. Wearing masks and goggles to protect themselves they throw almost 3,000 pounds of coloured flour at each other.

Hot snow festival?

Residents of a picturesque Greek coastal town celebrate the carnival season in a unique way. People from across the country come to Galaxidi to participate in the town's flour war.

Protecting themselves with goggles and masks, participants hurled more than 3,000 pounds of coloured flour at each other. Those who do not want to be all messed up can view the fight from across the harbour. It is said that it takes the locals days to clean up.

Compiled by NIMI KURIAN

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