Monday, 24 November 2014

Autopsies from space: who killed the sea lions?

A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren't even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions studied in the summer when they haul out to breed seemed healthy and had healthy pups.

We wanted to know when, where, and why sea lions die. To unravel the mystery, we needed information from those animals that we don't see, those that might not breed, those that might never come back ashore. So we developed a special monitoring tag that could send us data about the sea lions we can't directly observe.

This so-called Life History Transmitter or LHX tag is a small electronic monitor surgically implanted into the gut cavity of young sea lions under anesthesia. Don't worry, we checked that this does not alter the behavior or survival of the animals. After all, we don't want to influence the data we need!

Since 2005, we've placed tags in 45 young sea lions in the Prince William Sound area of the Gulf of Alaska. So far, 17 of these sea lions have died. That's actually about how many deaths we expected. Young sea lions have a tough life and most don't even reach the age of reproduction.


TURTLE KEEPERS IN TENNESSEE - BEWARE OF YOUR WILDLIFE RESOURCE AGENCY-HIDE YOU TURTLES - via Herp Digest

Dear Turtle Friends,
 
Please forward this to everyone you know who enjoys owning a pet turtle, in order to make the world aware of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s (TWRA) 20 year campaign of terror seizing and destroying people’s pet turtles under the guise of salmonella prevention of a “dangerous animal” and stopping an illegal black market.  Game wardens in Tennessee are taught to compare pet turtles to drugs, and criminalize their owners. (See the articles below).  Turtles are now illegal to possess and sell in Tennessee.
 
Tragically what is happening in Tennessee is being used in other states by rogue game wardens trying to justify their need to regulate dangerous animals, and make a name for themselves in the media.   
We must do something to stop this absurd misuse of information and protect turtle owners!
 
Case and point:  In 2011 TSA’s David Manser’s 5 captive bred pet Western Painted turtles were confiscated and destroyed, after armed Tennessee game wardens entered his garden nursery business and cited him for “not having a permit for a turtle” and “salmonella” prevention. 
 
Fortunately Judge McKenzie threw out the case noting the TWRA was “out of control” and demanded the return of Manser’s pets, a request that was only too late, as the game wardens had already euthanized his turtles.
 
Peter Laviolette, the new Nashville Predators hockey coach recently brought this to light when his pet turtle “Frank” was threatened with confiscation. (See article below).  
 
We must do something to stop this nonsense from spreading any further, otherwise, turtle fanciers nationwide will be victimized under the auspices of protecting the public from a “dangerous animal.”
 
I believe the lawyer cited in the articles Chrestopher Jones, wildlifelaw.org, is the same one who stopped unlimited commercial harvest of wild turtles in Texas in 2007 and later in Florida.  I will forward my concern as well.
 
I couldn’t resist forwarding after reading these articles, still being quite upset at the thought of people having their pet turtles taken away and killed by game wardens.
 
------------------------------------------------
 
Pet Turtles Now a No No in Tennessee
 
Aug. 9, 2012 at 5:36 PM
 
http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/08/09/Pet-turtles-now-a-no-no-in-Tennessee/UPI-15281344548181/?spt=su
 
NASHVILLE, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Tennessee is outlawing keeping turtles as pets in the state because they can harbor deadly bacteria, including salmonella, officials said.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced it will not issue permits for pet stores to sell turtles or for people to own them, making it illegal to keep turtles as pets in the state.
"It's common sense," Walter Cook, captive wildlife coordinator for the TWRA, told The (Nashville) Tennessean.
"It's a public health concern and we have to be responsible," he said.
The association isn't interested in prosecuting anyone who already has turtles as pets, Cook said, but added he would like to see them donate their animals to one of Tennessee's several wildlife education facilities, where the reptiles can be kept in a closed habitat to reduce the risk of spreading the deadly bacteria.
"We just don't want anybody to get sick." 
Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/08/09/Pet-turtles-now-a-no-no-in-Tennessee/UPI-15281344548181/#ixzz3Jv7CyPjd
--------------------------------------------------

Shell Game: New Preds coach may have to give up pet turtle
 
Published May 8, 2014 by J.R. Lind, Nashville Post
 
https://www.nashvillepost.com/blogs/postsports/2014/5/8/shell_game_new_preds_coach_may_have_to_give_up_pet_turtle
 
 
During his introductory conference call Wednesday, newly named Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette revealed that he is the owner of a pet turtle named Frank.
 
From The Tennessean:
 
"Frank was given to us by my nephew. When we got the turtle (in Philadelphia), he was about the size of a quarter," he said. "Then when I looked him up online I found he grows to the size of a dinner plate … and I was thinking to myself, 'what are we doing with this turtle?'
 
"My daughter insisted I love this turtle and it be part of the family, so its name is Frank."
 
Frank the Turtle spawned a lot of on-line chatter and the completely predictable parody Twitter account. But Laviolette may run afoul of the state if he brings his turtle with him to Nashville.
 
There are a couple of pieces of state law and administrative rule making at play. First up, the rules of the Tennessee Department of Health's Bureau of Health Services Administration's rules on communicable and environment diseases. Rules 1200-14-01-.36-.39 apply to turtles and tortoises.
 
In relevant part:
 
It shall be unlawful for a person to sell, barter, exchange or otherwise transfer any turtle as a pet; or to import or cause to be imported any type of turtle in the State of Tennessee for such purposes.
 
Now, Laviolette is not selling or bartering or exchanging a turtle, but he would be importing the turtle for the purpose of keeping Frank as a pet (although one reading of the Department of Health rule would seemingly prohibit the transfer or importation of the turtle only if Frank was to be sold).
 
Also at issue is the state's exotic animal law (TCA 70-4-400) passed in 1991. It sets up a permit system (and establishes various rules and regulations) for the keeping of exotic animals, broadly defined, essentially, as anything besides common pets and farm animals (turtles, for example, but also things like camels and tigers).
 
The law sets up four different classes of exotic animals: Class I covers animals "inherently dangerous to humans," including big cats, venomous snakes and the like, Class II is native wild animals (which would include Frank if he is a native species of turtle; his species is unknown to Post Sports) and Class III includes (among other things) non-native turtles and Class IV are animals that can only be kept in zoos.
 
If Frank is native and, therefore, a Class II turtle (though not a second-class turtle), he would require a permit, which the law says the TWRA and Tennessee Fish and Wildlife commission "shall issue." (It costs $10). If he is non-native and a Class III turtle, he does not require a permit, but the law gives the TWRA and TFWC broad authority to define which species are Class III.
 
So while the Health Department rule could be read as prohibiting Frank, state law seemingly allows Frank.
 
Except that in 2012, the TWRA stopped issuing turtle permits because of a threat of salmonella. And indeed, state game wardens will seize turtles, as relayed in this recent story out of Chattanooga.
 
Chattanooga attorney Chris Jones — known for representing gubernatorial candidate and raccoon enthusiast Mark "Coonrippy" Brown — says that there have been no documented cases of turtle-borne salmonella in Tennessee and is fervent in his belief that the TWRA is draconian in its enforcement. He says TWRA agents threaten turtle owners with prosecution if they don't agree to turn their pets over to the state, which either euthanizes the animals or sends them to licensed wildlife rehab facilities.
 
Jones says even turtles captive-bred in other states and purchased legally — like Frank — are at risk for TWRA seizure.
 
A request for comment from the man responsible for enforcing the law, TWRA's captive wildlife coordinator Walter Cook, was not immediately returned.
 
So can Laviolette legally bring Frank to the Music City? The answer, seemingly, is no. But if a high-profile turtle can get the law changed, he'd truly be a hero on the half shell.
 
---------------------------------
 
Those whose wild animal pets were taken, killed say TWRA takes its duty too seriously (with video)
April 6 2014
 
by Mary Helen Miller        Chattanooga Times Free Press Sunday front page
 
mmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.   view bio
 
See video:
 http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/apr/06/out-of-the-wildthe-twra-takes-seriously-its-duty/?local
 
 
Animals seized by TWRA, 2009 - 2013
Turtles: 118
Snakes: 98
Raccoons: 23
Alligators: 6
Deer: 6
Coyotes: 5
Squirrels: 4
Skunks: 2
Vultures: 2
Bobcats: 1
Quaker Parakeets: 1
·        
Dudley loved his pacifier. His sister Opossum loved vanilla ice cream.
And every day the 2-year-olds sat on the couch with stuffed animals and watched "How The Grinch Stole Christmas."
 
At night, when they couldn't sleep, they'd crawl up into Tisha Morgan's bed and nuzzle into her face. She would lull them back to sleep with a bottle of warm infant formula.
 
"That's just how much babies they were," said Morgan, who was given the two raccoons in the spring of 2012.
 
But those tender moments are gone now.
 
Last October, while Morgan was out of town, seven state wildlife officers and a Polk County officer entered her opulent, 11,000-square-foot home in Delano, Tenn., and took the animals. A woman who rents a room from the Morgans and was home at the time said the officers were wearing bulletproof vests and "combat pants."
 
The raccoons were taken to a veterinarian, who euthanized them. Then, in accordance with standard procedure, the vet said, he removed their brains so they could be sent to Knoxville to be tested for rabies. The tests came back negative.
 
"I hit the floor; I was squalling," Morgan said of the day she returned home to find the raccoons gone and "The Grinch" still playing on the TV. "They were like my children."
 
The raid was spawned by a tip from Morgan's former housekeeper, who told state wildlife officials the raccoons had attacked her. The same woman is now entangled in a legal battle with the family over the raccoons and is suing for $600,000.
 
The former employee said the animals left her with post-traumatic stress and panic attacks.
 
Several months later, Morgan won't let the new housekeeper wipe the paw prints from the breakfast nook window, where the raccoons used to peer out to the backyard. Her phone is filled with photos and videos of moments like Opossum's first bowl of ice cream. She still has Dudley's doll-sized baseball cap and his pacifier, with its half-shredded nipple.
Lorane McCarty, of Powell, Tenn., has felt the same pain. Two summers ago, she and her husband adopted a fawn that was injured and appeared motherless.
 
They fed him apples and gave him a blanket to sleep on the porch. McCarty taught him tricks in the front yard.
 
"I'd say, 'Come on Buddy, jump on my back,'" she said. "He was something else; everybody loved him."
 
But the wildlife agents came for Buddy, too. One afternoon last year, men with guns came to her home and gave her and her husband an ultimatum: Sign Buddy away, or have him taken by order of seizure. McCarty gave up the deer, and an incident report written by one of the officers says that they euthanized the deer shortly after taking it from McCarty's home.
"They just took him straight out and killed him," McCarty said.
•••
 
It's a human impulse to bond with animals, even wild ones. They can appear so loyal, so doting, so loving. And then there is the soft fur and the big eyes.
 
It's easy to ignore their teeth. It's easy to ignore their diseases, their nature.
 
So in Tennessee there's an agency that exists, in part, to protect us from ourselves. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency aims to keep people and dangerous animals separated from one another.
 
Yet Morgan, McCarty and others describe the TWRA as an agency out of control, overzealous in its efforts to seize animals that seemingly pose no danger to anyone. In the past five years, TWRA officers have taken at least 266 animals from residents by confiscating them or telling their owners that they must be surrendered.
 
While forcing people to give up their pets breaks hearts, the TWRA said keeping people and dangerous animals away from each other is for everyone's safety.
 
Raccoons can carry rabies, and deer can become territorial as they mature. Even a turtle can be a killer: A child may lick its shell and contract salmonella, the TWRA warns.
·          
"We understand that there's a lot of animals you'll connect with, that you may find that's cute or cuddly, or pretty, and you may feel even sorry for them," said TWRA Officer Joe McSpadden. But, he said, "we try to encourage the public not to approach, not to disturb those animals."
 
That encouragement can take many forms. Often, when the TWRA finds out that somebody is keeping an outlawed species, officers will simply ask the person to surrender it, either to be taken to a rehabilitation program or zoo, or to be put down. But sometimes search and seizure are their tactics.
Officers will show up unannounced, sometimes in intimidating numbers.
 
"It was about 7 in the morning. The doorbell rang, my kids were in the bed," said Chad Duggin, of Murfreesboro, who had been keeping an illegal snake.
 
He opened the door to see several TWRA officers, he said.
 
Duggin believes that an undercover TWRA officer posing as a reptile dealer had been watching him for months. At the time Duggin was arrested in 2006, the TWRA was carrying out a major undercover push to stop the trafficking of venomous reptiles in Tennessee.
 
Even though Duggin said his cobra's venom glands had been removed, the snake was still illegal in Tennessee.
 
Usually people will surrender their animals once they find out that they aren't supposed to have them, according to the TWRA. Handcuffs are rare. Drawn guns are almost unheard of, unless "there were an imminent threat," said Walter Cook, the captive wildlife coordinator at the TWRA. It's his experience, Cook said, that people will say officers were wielding weapons even if they weren't.
 
"They had guns drawn," Duggin said. "They came straight in, grabbed me, cuffed me."
•••
 
Because of the way the TWRA keeps records, it's hard to know exactly what happens when officers take animals from people's homes. Generally, they report that they took an animal, but they don't have to record what they do with it, said Cook. In most cases, officers take animals to a rehabilitation center or zoo. Euthanasia, Cook said, is a last resort.
 
"Other states don't have this extreme regulatory scheme," said Chris Jones, a Chattanooga attorney who specializes in wildlife law. "Tennessee is made fun of, just how Draconian it is."
 
Jones has likened the TWRA to the Gestapo. Others have called Tennessee's wildlife laws "communist," and the agency that enforces them "over the top."
 
Here, residents aren't allowed to take any native species from the wild, not even turtles, said David Favre, a professor at the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law.
Many other states, such as Kentucky and Missouri, have a more moderate approach. Those states allow residents to keep many of the species outlawed in Tennessee.
 
Snakes, raccoons and turtles are the most common animals that the TWRA takes. They have also taken away people's pet skunks, squirrels and even vultures. The five-year tally of 266 includes a few seizures of large collections of animals, the biggest being the 53 poisonous snakes that the TWRA took from pastor Andrew Hamblin's serpent-handling church in LaFollette last year.
 
In another high-profile case last year, the TWRA took away YouTube celebrity Mark "Coonrippy" Brown's dancing raccoon, Rebekah.
 
"Innocent people have been abused by [the TWRA], and it all links to this individual," said Jones the attorney, arguing that Cook, the TWRA gatekeeper to permits, is unfair in his enforcement of the law.
 
Cook disagrees. He said Tennessee's strict laws and rigid enforcement make its captive wildlife program the best in the country. Sitting in his Nashville office among his hunting trophies -- mounted fish, tail feathers and an antlered skull -- he explained that 23 other states have asked for a copy of Tennessee's laws to help shape their own.
 
"It lays out in very clear manner what you can and can't do," said Cook. "And not allowing the personal possession of dangerous wildlife is very appealing to most citizens of every state."
•••
 
Cook has been granting and denying wildlife possession permits for about 20 years. He wouldn't let the Times Free Press photograph him because sometimes he likes to go unrecognized while poking around captive wildlife sites. Generally, Cook gives permits to circuses, zoos and sanctuaries that meet certain requirements, but individuals are denied in almost every circumstance.
 
It's not just native wildlife that Tennessee is strict about. The state has stringent requirements for keeping exotic wildlife, too. Before a law was enacted in 1991, the public could keep dangerous species, like lions, cougars and leopards, as long as they met certain requirements.
 
But there were accidents. A little boy's arm was chomped off by a lioness at a home in Knoxville. A 3-foot alligator was found in the Holston River. A 2-year-old girl near Nashville was killed by her father's leopard.  "Her head was crushed like a ripe plum," then-state Sen. Ray Albright, of Chattanooga, told the Knoxville News Sentinel in 1991. He sponsored the bill that tightened captive wildlife laws.
 
"You ought not have to live next door to someone who has a wolf, a tiger, or a poisonous snake," Albright said.
 
When your next-door neighbor keeps beasts, the worst can happen, as it did in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011. The small town made global headlines after 50 exotic animals, including lions, tigers, cougars, wolves and bears escaped from someone's personal zoo. The same scenario could have been possible in Tennessee before the 1991 law.
 
But law or no law, wildlife adoptions aren't likely to stop. Lorane McCarty, who took in Buddy the deer and had raised another deer and seven squirrels before that, said she would do the same thing again.
 
"I know it's against the law, but, yes, I would [take in another deer]," she said. "If somebody brought one here half dead, I couldn't turn it away."
Morgan, who lost Dudley and Opossum, has put her house in Delano up for sale. She's been fed up with Polk County and Tennessee for a while, and the killing of her raccoons was the last straw.
 
She plans to move some place where she can rescue and raise wild animals in peace.
 
"It was a great place to raise kids," Morgan said. "But the TWRA has ruined it."
 
So far this year, Cook knows of only one person the TWRA has caught keeping an illegal species.
 
But it's spring now, and baby animals will start showing up. They may appear motherless, even if they aren't, Cook said. And people won't be able to help themselves.
 
"That's why I refer to this time of year as wildlife kidnapping season," Cook said.
 
Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at mmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.
 

Fossils Suggest Ancestor Of Horses, Rhinos Originated On The Asian Subcontinent While It Was Still An Island

Provided by Shawna Williams, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Working at the edge of a coal mine in India, a team of Johns Hopkins researchers and colleagues have filled in a major gap in science’s understanding of the evolution of a group of animals that includes horses and rhinos. That group likely originated on the subcontinent when it was still an island headed swiftly for collision with Asia, the researchers reported Nov. 20 in the online journal Nature Communications.

Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs belong to a biological group, or order, called Perissodactyla. Also known as “odd-toed ungulates,” animals in the order have, as their name implies, an uneven number of toes on their hind feet and a distinctive digestive system. Though paleontologists had found remains of Perissodactyla from as far back as the beginnings of the Eocene epoch, about 56 million years ago, their earlier evolution remained a mystery, says Ken Rose, Ph.D., a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Rose and his research team have for years been excavating mammal fossils in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, but in 2001 he and Indian colleagues began exploring Eocene sediments in Western India because it had been proposed that perissodactyls and some other mammal groups might have originated there. In an open-pit coal mine northeast of Mumbai, they uncovered a rich vein of ancient bones. Rose says he and his collaborators obtained funding from the National Geographic Society to send a research team to the mine site at Gujarat in the far Western part of India for two weeks at a time once every year or two over the last decade.


Stargazer Shrimp Discovered In South African Waters

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

A newly-discovered species of shrimp living in South African waters has been dubbed the Stargazer Mysid due to the way its large, candy-striped eyes appear to gaze permanently upward, researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) announced recently.

Even though the 10- to 15-millimeter long crustacean appears to have a devoted interest in astronomy, the university explained that the phenomenon is simply a trick of nature, as the eyes of shrimps lack pupils and irises. Instead, the creatures have compound eyes comprised of several simple elements, each of which look in different directions.

The colorful patterns on its eyes are believed to give the appearance that they belong to a much larger creature, thus scaring off predators, UCT researchers noted. The creature’s official name is Mysidopsis zsilaveczi in honor of Guido Zsilavecz, the underwater photographer who first discovered the creature at False Bay in southwest South Africa.


World's largest earwig is declared extinct


Presented by
Matt Walker

The world’s largest earwig has officially been declared extinct.

The St Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) could attain lengths of up to eight centimetres.

Previously found in Horse Point Plain, a protected area on St Helena Island, the last confirmed live adult of this insect was seen in May 1967.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has now declared the species extinct, changing its status from Critically Endangered.

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