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IT WAS THERE THE WHOLE TIME

Extinct, to hear environmentalists tell it, is supposed to mean forever. Well, maybe for some species. But not, apparently, for Asterolasia buxifolia. For more than 160 years the tall shrub with golden star-like flowers was assumed to have disappeared from Earth. That is, until Australian botanist Bob Markinson found a cluster of it last year in a valley of the Blue Mountains about 90 miles west of Sydney. Using a DNA sample, a colleague now has confirmed the discovery.

PLENTY OF ROOM AT THE INN

How difficult a Christmas season was it for tourism in Jesus' birthplace? The 210-room Bethlehem Hotel, the West Bank city's newest, reported only two reservations because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Turnstiles at US theme parks spun less often this year

Most of North America's largest theme and amusement parks experienced drops in attendance this year, a phenomenon the trade publication Amusement Business attributes to concerns about air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the slowing economy. But smaller regional parks held their own or had increases in attendance, benefiting from their accessibility by car. Amusement Business's list of the 10 most popular theme and amusement parks with the expected change in visitor numbers compared with the previous year:

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1. The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Fla. -4%

2. Disneyland -11%

3. Epcot at Walt Disney World -15%

4. Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World -6%

5. Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World -7%

6. Universal Studios at Orlando -10%

7. Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando -8%

8. SeaWorld Orlando -2%

9. Disney's California Adventure, Anaheim, Calif. (first year)

10. Universal Studios Hollywood -9%

- Associated Press

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