A Remembrance: The Great Animals That Died In 2016

Flowers and sympathy cards for Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinatti Zoo. This year was one for celebrity deaths, human and animal alike. John Minchillo/AP hide caption

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John Minchillo/AP

In a year that has become widely known as being the worst, a number of beloved artists and musicians have passed away. From Prince, to George Michael, to Carrie Fisher, to David Bowie, to Debbie Reynolds, the Internet has mourned and remembered some of the greats. But 2016 was also a big year for a different sort of celebrity deaths: the animal variety. Our furry friends may not have “words” of wisdom per se, but our obsessions with them might tell us something about ourselves.

Of course, there was Harambe. The gorilla was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo when a 3-year-old boy slipped into his enclosure, and the Internet kind of lost its mind.

Then, there was Bretagne, the 16-year-old golden retriever who was the last known surviving Sept. 11 search dog. As NPR reported at the time of her death: “With handler Denise Corliss, Bretagne looked first for survivors, then for remains. They worked at the site for 10 days. Bretagne was both a dedicated worker and a source of comfort for the human search and rescue teams, according to Corliss and others who worked with the golden retriever.”

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Then, just this week, Pan Pan passed away in China. The giant panda was the oldest-known male panda at 31 years old. Pandas are famously difficult to breed, but Pan Pan had no problem at all: He has been dubbed the “panda grandpa” for his many offspring, and has at least 130 descendants worldwide. Earlier this year, the world’s oldest known panda Jia Jia passed away at 38.

Cookie the cockatoo also passed this year, at the age of 83. The cockatoo was a favorite of visitors to the Brookfield Zoo, where he was the last surviving member of the original collection of animals, according to the Chicago Tribune. Tim Snyder, the curator of birds for the zoo, told the Tribune that when Cookie was happy or wanted attention, he would say the only word he knew, over and over: his own name. Sort of like someone else we know.

And Toughie, the so-called loneliest frog in the world, died in Atlanta in September. According to reporting from WABE in Atlanta, Toughie was the last documented member of his species.

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Reflecting On Some Of The Scientists We Lost In 2016

Vera Rubin, a pioneering astronomer who helped find powerful evidence of dark matter, died on Dec. 25. AP hide caption

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As I move through the stages of my life in science, I’m becoming all too aware of the weight of responsibility.

Science is more than just a career; it’s a way of being in the world (which is why everyone can be a scientist regardless of what they do for work). The traditions of honest dialogue with the world that make up the practice of science have been handed down generation to generation. When we’re students, we look to our teachers as the ones “who know.” They are the keepers of the tradition. Then we become teachers and realize our students are looking to us as the ones who know. It’s very humbling.

That’s why it’s worth taking a moment to honor some of the scientists, engineers and explorers who left us this year. It’s their shoulders we’re all standing on now to get a better view of this world.

Vera Rubin. Rubin entered a career in astrophysics at a time when few women were allowed into the boys club — and those that were had to fight hard for acknowledgment. The fact that Rubin successfully pursued ideas that were strongly at odds with established wisdom makes her long, storied career even more remarkable. Early on, Rubin began looking for evidence that galaxies did more than simply flow along with the cosmic expansion that began with the Big Bang. That was a radical enough idea but, in time, she began exploring the rotation patterns of spiral galaxies. Her data showed that in galaxy after galaxy, the rotation rates at large distances were so large they implied a gravitational “pull” of vast quantities of unseen material. In this way, Rubin can be credited with putting dark matter on the map. She was courageous and brilliant and never forgot the barriers others placed in her way because of her gender. A tireless fighter for a fully inclusive science, her absence will be sorely missed — but her example will continue to inspire.

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Marvin Minsky. Minksy was one of the world’s great pioneers in the study of artificial intelligence. As MIT Technology magazine explains it, “Minsky’s early achievements include building robotic arms and grippers, computer vision systems, and the first electronic learning system, a device, which he called Snarc, that simulated the functioning of a simple neural network.” Minsky believed that AI was not only possible but also inevitable and, more than anything else, infinitely worth studying. As he once told The New York Times: “Genetics seemed to be pretty interesting, because nobody knew yet how it worked. But I wasn’t sure that it was profound. The problems of physics seemed profound and solvable… But the problem of intelligence seemed hopelessly profound. I can’t remember considering anything else worth doing.”

Susan Lindquist. A professor of biology at MIT and a National Medal of Science winner, Lindquist was an expert in the problem of protein folding. This is the nano-scale process that allows the molecular machinery in our cells to work with such astonishing specificity. She was a brilliant scientist with a passion for her problem. As she once wrote: “What do ‘mad cows,’ people with neurodegenerative diseases, and an unusual type of inheritance in yeast have in common? They are all experiencing the consequences of misfiled proteins.” This year Johnson & Johnson honored her with a $5 million grant to establish the Susan Lindquist Chair for Women in Science at MIT. The grant will be awarded to a woman scientist carrying out advance biomedical research.

Ray Tomlinson. The next time you send an email, you need to remember Tomlinson. Back in 1971 when computers were giant room-sized monoliths, Tomlinson used a precursor of the Internet (called ARPANET) to program the first tools allowing messages to be sent from one machine to the other. He used the “@” sign to separate the users name from the computer’s name allowing the pathways of email to be established.

Edgar Mitchell. The sixth human being to walk on another world, Edgar Mitchell was the Lunar Lander pilot on Apollo 14. The experience of being in space deeply affected Mitchell. “Looking at Earth from space and seeing it was a planet in isolation… that was an experience of ecstasy, realizing that every molecule in our bodies is a system of matter created from a star hanging in space.”

Gordon Hamilton. An Earth scientist who studied glaciers, Hamilton was a professor at the University of Maine. His work focused on the ways glaciers balanced their ice growth and ice loss. His work involved, among other things, deploying GPS sensors to study the movement of the vast snaking rivers of frozen water. Hamilton was only 50 years old when his snowmobile fell into 100 foot crevasse in Antarctica earlier this year. His loss was a reminder of the dangers many climate researchers are willing to endure in their effort to pursue science.


Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described “evangelist of science.” You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4

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Underwear, Dolls And More: Latin American New Year's Traditions

Radio Ambulante‘s Maria Fe Martinez talks about different Latin American New Year’s traditions, both in the U.S. and abroad.

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Syria And Russia Among Major International Stories Of 2016

Al-Jazeera’s D.C. bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara talks about the biggest international stories of 2016 and what’s upcoming in 2017, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fight for Mosul.

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World Leaders Welcome New Year With Messages Of Renconciliation — Or Not

Bubbles float over visitors during a New Year’s Eve celebration event a Tokyo hotel. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a speech at Pearl Harbor about the power of reconciliation in the waning days of 2016. Koji Sasahara/AP hide caption

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Koji Sasahara/AP

The final days of 2016 made for a dramatic time in diplomacy.

A quick roundup: The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank; Israel (and President-elect Donald Trump) admonished the U.S. for allowing the vote to pass; John Kerry reiterated his disapproval of the settlements in a blunt speech; and British Prime Minister Theresa May in turn admonished Kerry, though the U.K. was a key broker in the deal.

Then there were the sanctions the White House announced in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response that he, er, would not respond — for now.

There were some bright spots on the world stage, though: There is an effort to end violence in Syria that the U.N. supported Saturday with a new resolution. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor. He delivered a powerful message of reconciliation.

Other world leaders offered messages for the new year on Saturday.

President Vladimir Putin reportedly congratulated the Russian people for persevering through a difficult year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Putin also extended his congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, is well-known for his active Twitter presence. which was often a source of criticism during the election season — prompting rumors that his staff took away his tweeting privileges in the final days of the campaign.

On New Year’s Eve the president-elect tweeted an unusual holiday message.

Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2016

President Obama gave his weekly address Saturday morning, taking the opportunity to wish everyone a happy new year and look back on his presidency:

“Twenty million more Americans know the financial security of health insurance. Our kids’ high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. We’ve brought 165,000 troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and took out Osama Bin Laden. Through diplomacy we shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program, opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba, and brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could save this planet for our kids.”

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Not My Job: The Property Brothers Get Quizzed On Matchmaking

HGTV stars Jonathan and Drew Scott fix up homes for a living so we’ve invited them to play a game called “Have I got a match for you!” Originally broadcast April 9, 2016.

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Not My Job: Jazz Bassist Esperanza Spalding Gets Quizzed On Bases

We’ve invited Spalding to answer questions about BASE jumping, second base and Ace of Base. Originally broadcast March 26, 2016.

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(Some Of) Our Favorite Visual Stories of 2016

From photography, illustration and video, to data visualizations and immersive experiences, visuals are an important part of our storytelling at NPR. Interwoven with the written and the spoken word, images — another visual language — can create deeper understanding and empathy for the struggles and triumphs we face together.

We told a lot of stories in 2016 — far more than we can list here. So, instead, here’s a small selection of our favorite pieces, highlighting some of the work we’re most proud of, some of the biggest stories we reported, and some of the stories we had the most fun telling.


Stand At The Edge Of Geologic Time

Transport yourself to Rocky Mountain National Park, with all its sights and sounds, in an immersive geology lesson with Oregon State University geology professor Eric Kirby, who discusses the geologic history of the Rockies in 360-degree video.


Series: Climate Change In India

“Today, Indians use much less energy per person than Americans or Chinese people. Many of its 1.2 billion-strong population live on roughly $2 a day. But what if all of those people had electricity at night, a refrigerator, a car?

“With ambitious goals to improve the standard of living, and 400 million people lacking reliable electricity, ‘This means we need to enhance the energy supply by four to five times what it is now,’ says Ajay Mathur, a climate expert who runs the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. He says that no matter how fast India increases its clean energy, like solar and wind, the country will probably also double its use of coal between now and 2030.

Men watch the fires of a cremation along the banks of the Yamuna River against the backdrop of the Wazirabad Barrage and floating industrial waste. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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David Gilkey/NPR

“Todd Stern, who served till last month as the top U.S. envoy on climate change, says India has a steeper hill to climb than any other country. ‘There is no country, probably, with a bigger challenge — looking at the number of people, the level of their economic growth, the number of people who don’t have access to electricity,’ he says.”

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Can India’s Sacred But ‘Dead’ Yamuna River Be Saved?

India’s Big Battle: Development Vs. Pollution

In India’s Sundarbans, People And Tigers Try To Coexist In A Shrinking Space


Trump’s Businesses And Potential Conflicts: Sorting It Out

“Trying to understand the Trump Organization is a daunting task. President-elect Donald Trump has not released his tax returns, so the best clues about his privately held business interests come from a financial disclosure form he released in May.

“The document covers scores of pages with small type, and suggests he is financially involved with hundreds of companies, including some that simply license his name.

“A dive into that disclosure form, submitted to the Office of Government Ethics, shows his largest sources of revenue are golf courses and office-tower rents. But his interests are far flung, and include media, retail, entertainment and much more.

“Those business interests are affected by government agencies and policies. NPR scoured this document to create an overview of some of his business assets and operations (excluding debts) and the possible areas where conflicts may arise.”

A selection of President-elect Donald Trump’s business interests in other countries. Alyson Hurt/NPR hide caption

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Alyson Hurt/NPR


Dakota Access Pipeline Coverage

The protests at the Standing Rock Reservation, which started in early 2016, had small roots but grew into the thousands, drawing support from Native Americans from across the country, as well as activists who joined in solidarity against the proposed route of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline just north of the reservation.

In December, those protests won a concession from the federal government: The Army Corps of Engineers announced it would deny the permit necessary to build the oil pipeline in that area.

In Their Own Words: The ‘Water Protectors’ Of Standing Rock

Protesters Mark A Solemn Thanksgiving Day At Standing Rock

Protesters, Police Still Clashing Over Disputed North Dakota Pipeline

N.D. Pipeline Protester: ‘It’s About Our Rights As Native People’

(Clockwise from top left) Protesters pray while marching across a wood pedestrian bridge near the main protest camp; an elder looks out to Turtle Island; protesters demonstrate hours before a federal judge denied the tribe an injunction against the pipeline; protesters gather on Thanksgiving Day to build a bridge to Turtle Island, which they consider sacred ground, as police look on. Emily Kask, Cassi Alexandra (2), and Andrew Cullen for NPR hide caption

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Emily Kask, Cassi Alexandra (2), and Andrew Cullen for NPR


A Silent Epidemic

“Up to 1 in 5 kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year. So in a school classroom of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with the same issues many adults deal with: depression, anxiety, substance abuse. And yet most children — nearly 80 percent — who need mental health services won’t get them.

“Whether treated or not, the children do go to school. And the problems they face can tie into major problems found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out.

“Experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. Yet it’s a role many schools are not prepared for.”

A Silent Epidemic: Our public schools are strugglingto handle millions of studentswith mental health problems. Here's why.

LA Johnson/NPR


Grapefruit And Salt: The Science Behind This Unlikely Power Couple

“Grapefruit’s bitterness can make it hard to love. Indeed, people often smother it in sugar just to get it down. And yet Americans were once urged to sweeten it with salt.

“Ad campaigns from the first and second world wars tried to convince us that ‘Grapefruit Tastes Sweeter With Salt!‘ as one 1946 ad for Morton’s in Life magazine put it. The pairing, these ads swore, enhanced the flavor.

grapefruit salt

Credit: Joy Ho and Meredith Rizzo/NPR

“In our candy-crushed world, these curious culinary time capsules raise the question: Does salt really make grapefruit taste sweeter? And if this practice was once common, why do few people seem to eat grapefruit this way today?”


Olympics Coverage

Rio de Janeiro hosted the world’s elite athletes in an Olympics that promised transcendent moments in sports — and potential controversies outside of the competition.

The Summer Games began Aug. 5, and more than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries participated.

From concerns over the Zika virus and Russian athletes banned on doping charges to incredible wins by the U.S. women’s gymnastics team and sweet moments of inter-country support, the 2016 Olympics was one of the biggest events — and biggest stories — of the year.

‘A Fantasy Of A Fantasy’: U.S. Fencer Jason Pryor On Reaching The Olympics

In Rio’s Favelas, Hoped-For Benefits From Olympics Have Yet To Materialize

How The Olympic Medal Tables Explain The World

Fencer Jason Pryor is ranked number one in the U.S. in men’s epee and will compete at the Rio Olympics in August. Pryor, 28, is considered relatively short for a fencer at 5-foot-9, but is exceptionally quick. Adrienne Grunwald for NPR hide caption

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Adrienne Grunwald for NPR


The Driving Life And Death Of Philando Castile

“Philando Castile spent his driving career trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of traffic stops, fines, court appearances, revocations and reinstatements, raising questions about bias, race and luck.

“Castile’s trouble with traffic stops began when he still had his learner’s permit. He was stopped a day before his 19th birthday. From there, he descended into a seemingly endless cycle of traffic stops, fines, court appearances, late fees, revocations and reinstatements in various jurisdictions.

“Court records raise big questions: Was Castile targeted by police? Or was he just a careless or unlucky driver?

“An NPR analysis of those records shows that the 32-year-old cafeteria worker who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb, was stopped by police 46 times and racked up more than $6,000 in fines. Another curious statistic: Of all of the stops, only six of them were things a police officer would notice from outside a car — things like speeding or having a broken muffler.”


Convention Coverage

During a week in Cleveland, photographer Gabriella Demczuk explored the ways that people embraced and challenged the Republican Party’s mission in this election — both from inside and outside the party. Then in Philadelphia, Demczuk continued her exploration of the fractures in America’s political system, examining the Democratic Party’s attempt to make itself “stronger together.”

True Believers, Protesters And Trump: Scenes From Cleveland

Dissent, Drama And Unity At The Democratic Convention

(From left) A woman with the California delegation cheers for Trump during the RNC. Light falls on the American flag at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Johnnie Roebuck (left) and Joyce Elliott, from the Arkansas delegation, celebrate as Clinton is named the Democratic presidential nominee. Gabriella Demczuk/NPR hide caption

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Gabriella Demczuk/NPR


Semi-Automatic Weapons Without A Background Check Can Be Just A Click Away

” ‘With recent events and political environment, these weapons will be harder to get a hold of.’ ‘This is what your AR-15 dreams it could be when it grows up.’ ‘I can meet … near the FL Mall in Orlando or any other time.” “Cash is king.’

“These classified advertisements for semi-automatic weapons were listed on Armslist, a website where anyone can advertise a firearm they’d like to sell, and anyone can contact a seller with an offer to buy. The site is legal. But there’s no way to know whether buyers and sellers who meet through Armslist are following federal, state or local background check rules.

“We wanted to see how many semi-automatic firearms — defined here as handguns and rifles able to rapidly fire a large number of bullets, one shot per trigger pull, without having to reload — can be currently found on Armslist, and how quickly new listings appear. This provides a window into the difficulty of regulating access to a type of weapon frequently used in mass shootings.”


NPR Music’s Best Music of 2016

Our favorite albums of the year draw from all of the genres we cover at NPR Music, from rock, pop and hip-hop, to classical, jazz, electronic and international artists. These are the records NPR Music couldn’t stop playing — albums that speak to a moment and a lifetime, that party, and that exist in their own worlds.

best music 2016

Credit: Chelsea Beck/NPR

Our list of the year’s best songs may begin with Beyoncé and end with Drake, but between those two stars you’ll find a multi-genre mix that celebrates all of the music we love. These are the pop anthems, rallying cries, party jams, riff rockers, perfumed piano pieces and emotional exorcisms that we loved to share this year.


The Hopes (Security) And Fears (Bears) Of Syrian Refugees In New Jersey

“Across the country, private organizations, faith-based groups and individuals quietly have been working to ease the plight of Syrian refugees. More than 11,000 have arrived in the U.S. this year, fulfilling a pledge by the Obama administration. That figure far exceeds the number of Syrian refugees accepted during the previous four years of the Syrian war, and the White House is calling for a big bump in the overall number of refugees next year.

Ghada and Osama sit on their deck in their new home in Princeton, N.J. Their family has been resettled from Syria and is being sponsored by the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Due to security concerns we are only including first names. Jake Naughton for NPR hide caption

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Jake Naughton for NPR

“It had been a long journey for Osama and Ghada and their four kids, who are among the nearly 5 million Syrians who have fled their homeland since the war began in 2011. They survived the war in Syria and had struggled for three years as refugees in Jordan when they were notified by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, that they had been accepted for resettlement in the U.S.”


Series: School Money And The Cost Of Opportunity

“There are huge gaps in school funding between affluent and property-poor districts. And, with evidence that money matters, especially for disadvantaged kids, something has to change.

School Money is a six-month nationwide collaboration between NPR’s Ed Team and 20 member station reporters exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students.”

Is There A Better Way To Pay For America’s Schools?

Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem


NPR’s Exit Interview With President Obama

President Obama spoke to NPR as he prepared to leave Washington for the holidays, reflecting on the year that was, the 2016 campaign and other news, plus revealing what he’s hearing from citizens. In the wide-ranging exit interview, NPR’s Steve Inskeep asked Obama about Russian interference in the U.S. election, executive power, the future of the Democratic party and his future role.

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Former Ambassador Explains What's Next For U.S. And Russia After Sanctions

Forrmer U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, a professor at Stanford, joins NPR’s Rachel Martin to discuss Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to the sanctions from the U.S.

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