Sunday, 31 May 2009

Jaguar mums give up baby secrets

14:33 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 15:33 UK
Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Jaguars are one of the most elusive of large animals, reluctant to be filmed or tracked in their natural habitat.

But now biologists have finally managed to learn one of the big cat's secrets; how often it gives birth.

An ongoing study in Costa Rica, one of the last strongholds of the jaguar, has revealed that females in the wild give birth every 22 to 24 months.

Knowing the reproductive behaviour of the species will be vital information in helping to protect the species.

Numbers of jaguars, the third largest of all cat species and the largest in the New World, are declining.

The big cat is occasionally sighted in Arizona and New Mexico in the US, and populations remain within Mexico and south through Central America and into South America, including much of Amazonian Brazil.

But the species is listed as Near Threatened by the World Conservation Union.

If conservationists are to estimate how the last remaining populations of jaguar might grow, they need to know three things: how many cubs females have in each litter, how many of those cubs survive on average, and how often females give birth to new litters.

But most information about the reproductive habits of jaguars comes from observations in zoos, which may not reflect how jaguars reproduce in the wild. Even in captivity, researchers have been rarely able to document how often females give birth to new litters.

So Eduardo Carrillo and Joel Saenz of the National University in Heredia, Costa Rica and Todd Fuller of the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst, US embarked on an ongoing study of jaguars living in the Corcovado National Park in west Costa Rica.

The study began in 1990 after Carrillo saw a female jaguar walking with a single cub across a beach in the park during the day.

"At that time there were few jaguar studies and the lack of information was an important issue when making management decisions about jaguar conservation," says Carrillo. "So in 1994 we decided to radio mark jaguars. In 2003 we began using camera traps."

During the study, they found that jaguars in the park feed mainly on peccaries and marine turtles.

The diet surprised the biologists because an adult jaguar is capable of eating any animal that crosses its path, including people, though there is no record of a wild jaguar ever having attacked a person in the wild.

They also managed to follow a single female jaguar for three and a half years, by using the radio collar to triangulate her position and identifying her particular paw prints left in the mud.

In March one year, they saw the female being attended to by an adult male. By late May or early June she gave birth, and was seen accompanied by a single cub in July.

That cub remained with its mother for 19 to 20 months. Then some 22 months after she had first given birth, Carrillo noticed she was again pregnant, and was seen with a new cub a month or two later.

That confirms that wild jaguars seem to give birth once every 22 to 24 months, and that juvenile jaguars leave the company of their mother after 18 to 24 months, the team report in the journal Mammalian Biology.

Jaguars are thought to give birth to more than cub on average, though it is unclear how many usually survive until adulthood.

"One of the main questions about jaguars is their natural birthing habits," says Carrillo. "We have little knowledge about this until now."

However, despite the team's camera traps recording pictures of adult jaguars, the mothers are still proving protective of their offspring.

"We have pictures of pregnant females, but we have never taken a picture of a female jaguar with its cubs."

Fifty-five whales stranded on South African beach

Sat May 30, 2009 5:26pm BST

KOMMETJIE BEACH, South Africa (Reuters) - About 55 whales were stranded on a beach near Cape Town on Saturday and rescue teams had to humanely kill some after failing to return all of them to the ocean, the sea rescue institute said.

Marine scientists and volunteers managed to get more than 20 of the whales back into the water despite bad weather and high waves, local media said, but some 30 remained and were killed by being shot in the head.

Craig Lambinon, spokesman for the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), said the number of mammals having to be humanely killed had yet to be confirmed.

"Some of the whales have returned to the sea, so we won't be able to confirm the number of those put down until the operation is completed," Lambinon told Reuters, adding that it was being conducted by Marine and Coastal Management.

Three more whales died earlier in the rescue attempt apart from the 30 left stranded at the end, local media said.

eTV news said the mammals were false killer whales, seen as the larger members of the oceanic dolphin family found in temperate and tropical waters throughout the world.

Rescuers had battled to keep the beached adults and calves wet and also used earth-moving equipment to try to save them, but many of the animals were pushed back ashore by the high waves, Lambinon said.

Lambinon said it was still unclear why the whales had first come ashore at 1:30 a.m. EDT, adding it was the first mass beaching of whales he knew of on the popular coastline.

Whale-watching off South Africa is a popular attraction with tourists, who often line roads at strategic spots to catch a glimpse of the giants of the ocean.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Abandoned tiger cub follows in Knut's paws at Stroehen Zoo in Germany

Orphaned tiger cub rescued by German zoo and being looked after by a pack of dogs

by: Rachael Wheeler
31 May 2009

A TWO week old tiger cub which was abandoned by its mother is now being looked after by a pack of dogs.

The tiny predator has been adopted by a Dachshund and a group of hunting dogs at Stroehen Zoo in Germany.

Staff are bottle feeding the furry orphan, who acts more like a domestic cat than a killing machine in training. The cub has even taken to rubbing itself against the zookeeper’s legs and nudging them for a little cuddle.

The rescued tiger is following in the paws of Knut, the famous polar bear who began life as a cute cub at Berlin Zoo in 2006.

The centre of a mass media campaign for animal rights, dubbed as ‘Knutmania’, the polar bear is now fully grown and looked upon as a national icon.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Saving baby seals: one woman’s crusade

Studies shed light on collapse of coral reefs


CORVALLIS, Ore. – An explosion of knowledge has been made in the last few years about the basic biology of corals, researchers say in a new report, helping to explain why coral reefs around the world are collapsing and what it will take for them to survive a gauntlet of climate change and ocean acidification.

Corals, it appears, have a genetic complexity that rivals that of humans, have sophisticated systems of biological communication that are being stressed by global change, and are only able to survive based on proper function of an intricate symbiotic relationship with algae that live within their bodies.

After being a highly successful life form for 250 million years, disruptions in these biological and communication systems are the underlying cause of the coral bleaching and collapse of coral reef ecosystems around the world, scientists will report tomorrow in the journal Science.

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

"We've known for some time the general functioning of corals and the problems they are facing from climate change," said Virginia Weis, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. "But until just recently, much less has been known about their fundamental biology, genome structure and internal communication. Only when we really understand how their physiology works will we know if they can adapt to climate changes, or ways that we might help."

Corals are tiny animals, polyps that exist as genetically identical individuals, and can eat, defend themselves and kill plankton for food. In the process they also secrete calcium carbonate that becomes the basis for an external skeleton on which they sit. These calcified deposits can grow to enormous sizes over long periods of time and form coral reefs – one of the world's most productive ecosystems, which can harbor more than 4,000 species of fish and many other marine life forms.

But corals are not really self sufficient. Within their bodies they harbor highly productive algae – a form of marine plant life – that can "fix" carbon, use the energy of the sun to conduct photosynthesis and produce sugars.

"Some of these algae that live within corals are amazingly productive, and in some cases give 95 percent of the sugars they produce to the coral to use for energy," Weis said. "In return the algae gain nitrogen, a limiting nutrient in the ocean, by feeding off the waste from the coral. It's a finely developed symbiotic relationship."

What scientists are learning, however, is that this relationship is also based on a delicate communication process from the algae to the coral, telling it that the algae belong there, and that everything is fine. Otherwise the corals would treat the algae as a parasite or invader and attempt to kill it.

"Even though the coral depends on the algae for much of its food, it may be largely unaware of its presence," Weis said. "We now believe that this is what's happening when the water warms or something else stresses the coral – the communication from the algae to the coral breaks down, the all-is-well message doesn't get through, the algae essentially comes out of hiding and faces an immune response from the coral."

This internal communication process, Weis said, is not unlike some of the biological processes found in humans and other animals. One of the revelations in recent research, she said, is the enormous complexity of coral biology, and even its similarity to other life forms. A gene that controls skeletal development in humans, for instance, is the identical gene in corals that helps it develop its external skeleton – conserved in the different species over hundreds of millions of years since they parted from a common ancestor on their separate evolutionary paths.

There's still much to learn about this process, researchers said, and tremendous variation in it. For one thing, there are 1,000 species of coral and perhaps thousands of species of algae all mixing and matching in this symbiotic dance. And that variation, experts say, provides at least some hope that combinations will be found which can better adapt to changing conditions of ocean temperature, acidity or other threats.

The problems facing coral reefs are still huge, and increasing. They are being pressured by changes in ocean temperature, pollution, overfishing, sedimentation, acidification, oxidative stress and disease, and the synergistic effect of some of these problems may destroy reefs even when one cause by itself would not. Some estimates have suggested 20 percent of the world's coral reefs are already dead and an additional 24 percent are gravely threatened.

The predicted acidification of the oceans in the next century is expected to decrease coral calcification rates by 50 percent and promote the dissolving of coral skeletons, the researchers noted in their report.

"With some of the new findings about coral symbiosis and calcification, and how it works, coral biologists are now starting to think more outside the box," Weis said. "Maybe there's something we could do to help identify and protect coral species that can survive in different conditions. Perhaps we won't have to just stand by as the coral reefs of the world die and disappear."

Cheeky parrot steals tourist's passport

Posted Sat May 30, 2009 4:42am AEST

A wild New Zealand parrot - perhaps with a desire to spread its wings further afield - has pinched a Scottish man's passport in a bag snatch.

The passport was in a brightly coloured courier bag in the luggage compartment of a bus heading into the popular tourist destination of Milford Sound in the Fiordland region of the South Island, the Southland Times reported.

The kea, the world's only alpine parrot, struck when the bus stopped and the driver was busy in the luggage compartment. When the driver turned around the startled kea flew away with the passport.

The bird was last seen heading into thick forest and the British passport's owner doesn't expect to get it back.

"Being Scottish, I've got a sense of humour so I did take it with humour but obviously there is one side of me still raging," said the man, who did not want to be named.

"My passport is somewhere out there in Fiordland. The kea's probably using it for fraudulent claims or something.

"I'll never look at a kea in the same way."

Kea are renowned for their intelligence and curiosity and the protected birds are also considered a pest for pulling rubber fittings and windscreen wipers from vehicles and rummaging in people's bags.

Man uses live swan as a weapon

Bird used as a club during a fight in Munich
by: Joe Crowther
29 May 2009

A vicious attacker wielding a live swan went on the rampage on the banks of the river Isar in Munich.

He grabbed the swan by its neck, and swung it like a club at his victim after an afternoon drinking session.

The assailant, identified only as Sebastian P, has been given a two-year suspended sentence as a result of the attack, which resulted in minor injuries to the victim.

The fight broke out after Sebastian took offence at a tourist's east German accent, and shouted "P*** off you eastern pig, they should rebuild the Wall right up to the sky because of you."

He attacked their victim with a variety of objects, including the swan and a burning barbeque.

Thankfully, the swan managed to fly away, and escaped unhurt.

New panda cub surprised Thai zookeepers

May 28, 2009


BANGKOK - A day-old panda cub whose birth surprised Thai zoo officials is a healthy female that appears to be bonding well with its much larger mother, Chinese experts concluded Thursday.

Officials at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand had tried unsuccessfully for years to breed the rare mammal and did not know the mother was pregnant. Thailand joins the United States and Japan as the only countries outside of China to breed a panda in captivity.

"The panda experts from China said the baby is in good health and strong," said Sophon Damnui, director of the Zoological Park Organization, which oversees all zoos in Thailand. "She cries very loudly and she breast-feeds from her mother very well."

The birth was featured on the front pages of many Thai newspapers, which carried photos of the pinkish cub so tiny that it could be held in the hands of a zoo staffer. Others pictures showed the hulking mother Lin Hui gently holding her baby.

Zoo officials had resorted to sometimes-comical strategies to get its two pandas on loan from China to mate over the past six years. They held a mock wedding for the pair, separated them to spark a little romance and then put the male, Chuang Chuang, on a diet to entice Lin Hui.

When that didn't work, they started showing Chuang Chuang "porn" videos of pandas mating, and finally turned to artificial insemination.

Zoo staff artificially inseminated the seven-year-old Lin Hui on Feb. 18, Chiang Mai Zoo director Thananpat Pongamorn said.

Staff had been monitoring her hormone levels in recent weeks and noticed they were rising. But an ultrasound image on May 11 was not clear and they couldn't make out a fetus. Panda births are difficult to predict and reports of false pregnancies are common.

"She's been anxious since yesterday. She did not want to get close to caretakers or any other people, but we didn't know what the problem was," Thananpat told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

Lin Hui started licking her backside and exhibiting pain in her stomach early in the morning and then gave birth to the cub, which immediately began screeching loudly, Thananpat said.

"It is an ultimate happiness to see the baby panda," Thananpat said. "We are so happy that we can breed a panda from artificial insemination. Every staff at the zoo is proud and I think every Thai will be proud too."

Sophon told Channel 3 television Wednesday that Lin Hui was "very fond of her baby."

"She cuddles, licks and holds the baby very carefully all the time," he said. "She knows how to be a mother even though she has never been one before."

Breeding pandas is a common practice in China, where dozens are born by artificial insemination each year. But it is a rare occurrence outside of the country.

Pandas are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low reproduction rate. Females in the wild normally have a cub once every two to three years. The fertility of captive giant pandas is even lower, experts said.

Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in China's southwestern Sichuan province, which was hit by an earthquake last year that killed nearly 70,000 people. An additional 120 are in Chinese breeding facilities and zoos, and about 20 live in zoos outside China.

Suzanne Braden, the director of the Colorado-based conservation group Pandas International, called the cub's birth in Thailand "superb news and important to the preservation of the species."

"With such small numbers, every panda birth is extremely significant - especially after the devastation following the 2008 (earthquake in) Sichuan province," Braden said in an email interview.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Beavers return after 400-year gap

10:01 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 11:01 UK
A total of 11 beavers have been released into the wild in Argyll as part of a reintroduction programme.

Four more may join the Scottish Beaver Trial being run in Knapdale Forest.

The beavers have been brought to Scotland from Norway and their release marks a return to the UK after a 400-year absence.

The release will be studied to determine whether the trial should be extended and beavers reintroduced across Scotland.

The Scottish Beaver Trial (SBT) is being carried out by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Project manager Simon Jones said the release of the beaver families on Friday "went extremely well".

They were placed into purpose-built artificial lodges at carefully selected points around the trial site," he said.

"They will now gradually gnaw their way out of the lodge at a pace that is comfortable for them before exploring their new surroundings."

Mr Jones said that following the release, the "real work" of the trial could now begin.

He added: "First and foremost, this is a scientific study of how the beavers cope naturally in the Scottish environment and what effect they have upon it.

"We will be closely tracking the beavers' activities and collecting data over the next five years to help inform the independent scientific monitoring.

'Recklessly irresponsible'

"This will help the Scottish Government in making any final decisions on the future of beavers in Knapdale Forest or elsewhere in Scotland."

Not everyone, however, is in favour of the reintroduction scheme.

Last year, the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards said it would be "recklessly irresponsible" to approve new schemes before looking at the impact on fish.

Concerns were also raised by Alan Kettlewhite, a biologist with Argyll Fisheries Trust, ahead of Friday's beaver release.

"Potentially they can alter the habitats of fish, restricting access to spawning grounds," he said.

"I think the concerns are based on studies in other countries where sometimes dam-building can prevent fish access to their spawning grounds, particularly in dry years where you don't get much rain in the autumn time."

But Allan Bantick, chair of the Scottish Beaver Trial, believes the programme is a step forward in "rebuilding the natural biodiversity of Scotland".

"Our critics worry that beavers might pose a risk to migratory fish numbers, including salmon," he said.

"This has not been found to be the case anywhere else in Europe.

"However, the notion cannot be tested with this trial because there is no Atlantic salmon present in the trial site.

'Historic day'

"Our beavers will be released within a designated trial area, which should be large enough to sustain the natural expansion of their population over the next five years."

Scotland's Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham visited the trial site in Argyll on Friday morning.

She said the release marked "a historic day for conservation".

"These charismatic creatures are not only likely to create interest in Scotland from further afield but crucially can play a key role in providing good habitat for a wide range of wetland species," she said.

"And while a great deal of research has already gone into the reintroduction, this work is far from over.

"Observations and data collection over the next five years will play a crucial role in assessing the long-term future for beavers in the Scottish landscape."

Darren Dobson, from the Carinbaan Hotel near the release site, said he was delighted at the prospect of beavers, and hopes they will prove to be a major tourist attraction.

He said: "Generally speaking it's all positive. I haven't met anyone myself who is negative to the idea.

"It's going to bring more tourists - and this is just one more thing to add to what this area's got."

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will monitor the relationship between beavers and woodland, water plants, river habitat, water levels, otters, dragonflies, damselflies and freshwater fish.

Monitoring programme

The beavers themselves will also be under close scrutiny, using tracking data.

SNH will co-ordinate the scientific monitoring work with a range of independent bodies, including Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and the Argyll Fisheries Trust.

It is contributing £275,000 to the cost of monitoring the trial.

It is claimed the trial will be a major contribution to Scotland's Species Action Framework, which identifies 32 species, including European beaver, as the focus of new management action.

The beavers released on Friday were captured in the Telemark region of Norway in September last year.

They were flown to the UK in November and spent six months in quarantine.

See video footage at:

Society warns cuckoo bird in danger of extinction


LONDON (AP) — Britain's cuckoo bird, known for its distinctive call, is in danger of extinction along with 51 other species, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said in a new report Thursday.

It found that 21 percent of Britain's bird species face extinction unless steps are taken to protect them, spokesman Tim Webb said. He said the cuckoo and other birds that visit Britain in the summer have suffered population loss largely due to a decrease in food and water supply in sub-Saharan Africa, where many migrate from.

The problem is difficulty in finding food, he said.

"The Sahara desert is spreading and the birds are having a hard time flying out in good condition," Webb said. "There isn't just one single problem, there are a host."

The society said the cuckoo population in Britain has declined 37 percent since 1994.

The population declines were not limited to summer migratory birds like cuckoos. Native birds such as the herring gull also made the threatened list.

Six species did see a recovery in the past seven years, however. The report said the woodlark has seen a "dramatic" increase in population, as had the stone-curlew. Webb said these birds saw healthy gains thanks to an increased effort to maintain woodlands that would allow their numbers to grow.

Webb said the inclusion of such well-known birds as the cuckoo and herring gull on the list could serve as an eye-opener to people who are unaware of the decline in bird population.

"Everyone thinks they are always there," he said of the birds. "They didn't think that such common birds would be struggling, and if nothing changes we will see them disappear."

Thrush uses own body as a dam, Thursday 29 May 2009, p27.

Two boys spot lemur in Calabasas backyard

May 28, 2009
By Joann Groff

Two 10-year-old boys were snacking on Chinese food earlier this month when they spotted an unusual animal—a lemur.

Noah Helfend and Aaron Berdan, both students at Bay Laurel Elementary School, were having a picnic lunch in Aaron's backyard when Noah heard noises.

"I kept hearing the trees rustling, and I kept looking around," Noah said. "I thought it was a bird or a squirrel or something. But then a giant monkey jumped out of the tree and started running."
The two boys said they couldn't believe what they saw.

"Noah was yelling, 'Oh my gosh, it's a lemur!'" Aaron said. "I was in shock. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was amazing."

The boys describe the animal as about 3 feet tall with a footlong tail.

"It was giant," Noah confirmed. "I thought it was a squirrel at first but then he looked right at us. He was orange and had black on his tail. He had a lemur face and giant yellow eyes."

The animal jumped from the tree and started running up walls and leaping high, Noah said.

After the sighting, Aaron's father called the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control, but nobody there hadn't heard anything about a lost lemur.

Noah thinks the animal is someone's pet or it escaped from a zoo. Aaron thinks maybe it ran off a television show or movie set.

"It's just the cutest story," said Ivette Helfend, Noah's mother. "He was so excited telling me. That stuff just doesn't happen in Calabasas."

Aaron and his family live near Calabasas Lake.

"We weren't very scared of it," Noah said about the giant. "We just didn't want it to die out here."

The boys haven't seen their primate friend since, but they did discover what looks to be his bed—a nestlike pile of leaves in some nearby bushes.

The Berdans tried to lure the lemur back with food so they could get a picture for Animal Care officials. So far, no luck.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Nessie pops up to say 'Allo

By Helen Paterson
Published: 27 May, 2009

THE cast of the UK stage adaptation of sitcom "Allo 'Allo" got slightly more than they bargained for while cruising Loch Ness - catching a glimpse of what could be the elusive Loch Ness Monster on the ship's sonar screen.

The sonar images reveal five Nessie-shaped images, which a trusted Loch Ness expert cannot explain.

The cast, including television series favourite Vicki Michelle, had been taking a break from performing at Eden Court Theatre last Thursday, when the spot was made.

The crew of the Jacobite Queen witnessed highly unusual readings on the ship's sonar screen, somewhere between Dores and Urquhart Castle.

According to captain John Askew, it was the first-time in his 15-years working on the loch that he successfully picked up images of this kind on any of the Jacobite fleet's sonar screens. The images have now been sent for scientific analysis.

An expert in sonar who has been studying Loch Ness since 1973 couldn't explain the sighting.

"This has got me puzzled and has every appearance of a genuine sonar contact," said Adrian Shine, of The Loch Ness Project. "The fact there's five items on the screen can be explained, as a single object often appears again as an echo.

"This certainly adds to the Loch Ness mystery and will be the subject of further investigation."

Vicki Michelle, who was aboard the boat as it travelled from Inverness to the historic Urquhart Castle, commented: "I went down to the boat's cabin and caught an arch shape on the monitor, followed by four more. The whole cast had been hoping to see something on the trip and, if it was Nessie, that positive energy probably brought her out... or perhaps she's just a fan of the show!

"In all seriousness, whether it was Nessie or not, we all definitely saw something on that monitor," she added.

Recorded sightings of the Loch Ness Monster go back nearly 1,500 years, although many photographs of the legendary 'Nessie' taken in the past century have proved to be either hoaxes or simply optical illusions.

Manitoba museum displays sea monsters

May 26, 2009 04:30 AM

Chinta Puxley

MORDEN, Manitoba – It's about as far from an ocean as you can get, and one of the last places you might expect to discover the remnants of a prehistoric sea monster that once ruled the marine world.

But some of Canada's richest deposits of marine dinosaurs are found in the sand-like soil of Morden, Man., about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

It's here that researchers, families and even school children have unearthed the remains of 80-million-year-old reptiles.

The treasure trove of skeletons discovered just outside the town prompted enthusiasts in 1979 to pool their collection of ancient bones and establish what is now the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, the country's largest collection of marine reptile fossils.

The museum is home to "Bruce," the largest mosasaur in Canada, and other reptiles that were once at the top of the prehistoric food chain at a time when much of Western Canada was under salt water.

"We have some really cool fossils here," said acting museum curator Joseph Hatcher. "They are large vertebrates like dinosaurs, contemporaries with them – fearsome mosasaurs and plesiosaurs – as well as a lot of large fish, turtles, squid and even some birds."

The centrepiece of the museum, and the biggest hit with anyone who likes fierce predators, is the mosasaur display, featuring what is sometimes known as "the T-rex of the sea."

Mosasaurs were huge oxygen-breathing lizards, up to 15 metres long, which propelled themselves though the water by moving their tail from side to side. They also boasted two sets of teeth and a jaw that could dislocate at will, allowing the reptiles to feast on just about anything they wished.

While mosasaurs ruled the sea, plesiosaurs also flourished amid the waves. Described as a "snake threaded through the shell of a turtle," the plesiosaurs look much like the fabled Loch Ness monster. The remains of these reptiles – some of which measured up to 12 metres – have also been found around Morden.

The sea creatures vanished, along with the terrestrial dinosaurs, around 65 million years ago. The popular theory is an asteroid strike caused the extinction, but Hatcher said that explanation is a bit too simple.

"I think it was the straw that broke the camel's back," Hatcher said. "Looking through the geological record, there is a lot of drop in diversity and in population preceding that. It looks like they were on their way out anyway."

Today, families, school groups and other amateur archeologists can book half-day to five-day escorted digs to try their luck at uncovering a mosasaur or plesiosaur of their own. In fact, many of the museum's finds have been made thanks to young volunteers.

In 2006, a school group from MacGregor, Man., unearthed the backbone, shoulder bone and ribs of a mosasaur at one of the museum's 30 dig sites. Last summer, a tour group uncovered part of a large mosasaur – called Angus – some 10 metres long.

"Paleontology is one of the few sciences left that an amateur can come out and still make a significant contribution," Hatcher said. "If we take out 40 PhDs and we take out 40 children, the probability of finding something is pretty much the same. Kids aren't afraid to get down on the ground and get dirty, so they tend to find stuff."

The museum, primarily volunteer-run, is also a research centre, housing almost 900 fossils collected since the 1970s. With virtually no federal or provincial funding, researchers are just starting to scratch the surface of the museum's collection.

Many of the fossils were collected hurriedly to save the specimens from bulldozers that were mining the region for bentonite.

"Thirty years later, we're just starting to make a dent in some of that backlog," Hatcher said. "It's like Christmas."

But with fossils being unearthed regularly, the museum is starting to outgrow its cramped quarters in the basement of the Morden community centre. Decades ago, the centre was an improvement on the town's post office where the specimens were originally kept.

Now the museum, which draws 10,000 visitors a year, is trying to get funding to build a $25-million state-of-the-art building that would be better equipped to store and display its growing collection.

"The problem that any major museum will have with large dinosaurs and marine reptiles is that they are large – they require large amounts of space," Hatcher said. "We run very short on collection room."

Siberian child 'raised by dogs'

Wednesday, 27 May 2009 18:34 UK

Russian officials have taken a five-year-old Siberian girl into care, saying that she had apparently been "brought up" by cats and dogs.

The girl, who is unable to speak, was discovered living in a squalid flat in the Siberian city of Chita.

Police said she had never been allowed outside and had adopted the behaviour of the animals she lived with.

They said she now "barked like a little dog" and jumped at the door when her carers left the room.

Police are questioning the girl's mother, but her father has not yet been found.

'Animal language'

A police statement said the girl was unwashed, dressed in filthy clothes and had the "clear attributes of an animal".

"For five years, the girl was 'brought up' by several dogs and cats and had never been outside," the statement said.

The police said the girl had managed to master "animal language only", but seemed able to understand Russian.

Earlier this year, President Dmitry Medvedev called for more action on child abuse.

He said 750,000 children in Russia were living in "socially hazardous conditions".

Pink dolphin a standout in La. shipping channel

May 27 01:57 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - What's pink, has red eyes and leaps around a Louisiana shipping channel long enough for you to believe your eyes? A rare albino bottlenose dolphin.

Bottlenose dolphins are common in the lower Calcasieu Ship Channel, feeding in the deep water and riding on top of boats' waves. And when the pink one jumps amid four dark gray dolphins, it's easy to spot.

The albino is just the 14th reported worldwide, and the third in the Gulf of Mexico, according to biologist Dagmar Fertl of Plano, Texas.

It was first reported by Wesley Lockard of Rayville, La., as a small calf in June 2007. Lockard, 26, said he and family members were fishing when they were stunned by the sight. "Something comes up and you say, `Wow! Did I just ...?' Then he comes up again and you say, `Yeah! I just saw a pink dolphin!'" he said.

Now, the mammal is as much a part of the channel south of Lake Charles as boats and fishermen.

"We see him on a pretty regular basis," said Roddy Blackburn, crewman and relief captain of a boat that ferries pilots to ships.

But spotting the pink one, believed to be about 2 1/2 years old, does take time. Michael Harbison, a state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, has seen it several times, but only when he wasn't looking for it. He spent two trips—one for 10 hours—trying to locate it but didn't see the dolphin.

The albino is usually seen with four adults, and probably splits time between the Gulf and the lower 10 miles of the ship channel, said Harbison. Typically, dolphins surface for a second or so to breathe, then dive for up to 10 minutes, moving a half-mile or more, he said.

Five days after the initial sighting was reported nearly two years ago, the dolphin was seen again.

For 90 minutes, fisherman Randy Smith watched the dolphin leap alongside an adult they assumed was its mother.

"It was unbelievable," said Smith, who was returning from a Gulf fishing trip with friends when he saw the dolphin.

Many people refer to the dolphin as a male, though its sex is unknown.

Biologist Mandy Tumlin of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries hopes more people will report sightings and give officials as much detail as possible. But they should stay at least 50 yards away and limit themselves to a half-hour of watching to keep the animals from getting too comfortable with people and boats, she said.

No specific studies are planned, but sightings will help the department track the animal.

"As rare as this is, we're trying to get as much as we can (about) this one individual," she said. "We definitely want to protect it and keep it safe."

On the Net:
NOAA albino dolphin fact sheet:
Marine mammal viewing guidelines:

New extinct lemur species discovered in Madagascar

27 May 2009 CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)

Madagascar, where natural environments show a high level of endemism, is one of the last great biodiversity sanctuaries in the world. The island is home to a special group of primates, the lemurs. There are presently 15 genera and 71 species of these small mammals on Madagascar.

The genus Palaeopropithecus is a group of subfossil giant lemurs (2). Up until now, two species had been described: P. ingens (in 1898) and P. maximus (in 1903). Palaeopropithecus have very specific adaptations, notably for locomotion, as they moved from branch to branch using all four limbs, with their head downwards, in a similar way to today's South American sloths.

Recent discoveries by the MAPPM (1) on sites in northwest Madagascar have established the existence of a third species of Palaeopropithecus, which has been baptised P. kelyus. Scientists have suspected the existence of this species for more than 20 years. P. kelyus, whose weight is estimated around 35 kg, is smaller than the two known Palaeopropithecus species, but is very large in comparison with the largest living lemur, the Indri, which weighs only 10 kg.

The other main difference of this new species is that its teeth are smaller. Its dental characteristics could be described from the P. kelyus subfossil maxilla fragment, showing a crista obliqua, a parastyle and a highly developed mesostyle. This morphology is reminiscent of the present day Propithecus genus. While other Palaeopropithecus must have fed on leaves and fruit, the differences in the teeth of P. kelyus suggest that this animal could chew much tougher foods (notably seeds) compared with the other two known species. P. kelyus was found in an area of northwest Madagascar (Boeny region, Mahajanga province) with the particularity of being situated between large bays and rivers. This topography could have isolated P. kelyus from the other two species of Palaeopropithecus, one of which lived more in the south or centre, and the other in the north of Madagascar.

In the ‘evolution laboratory' that Madagascar represents, the discovery of this third Palaeopropithecus contributes to our understanding of the subfossil fauna species. More broadly, such work also includes the study of the island's human population.

(1) The project ‘Mission archéologique et paléontologique dans la province de Mahajanga' (MAPPM) is a Franco-Madagascan collaboration between CNRS UPR 2147 (Dynamique de l'Évolution Humaine: Individus, Populations, Espèces) and UFR Mozea Akiba of Université de Mahajanga, funded by the Sous-direction de l'archéologie et de la recherche en sciences sociales of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, CNRS and Université de Mahajanga.

(2) Subfossils are species that died out during the historic or prehistoric eras and overlapped present-day species. Unlike classic fossils, their bones are not completely mineralised.

* Full bibliographic information D.Gommery et al., C.R. Palevol, vol 8 (5), July-August 2009
© 2009 Académie des sciences / Elsevier Masson (DOI : 10.1016/j.crpv.2009.02.001)

This article is presently available online in the Elsevier article database, ScienceDirect, and on the Comptes Rendus Palevol web site:

See also:

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Jake's (very) narrow escape

Click to enlarge., Wednesday 27 May 2009, p21.

Keepers mauled by white tiger in New Zealand

A white tiger mauled a zookeeper to death at a New Zealand wildlife park Wednesday as a group of tourists watched in horror, police say.

The attack took place at the Zion Wildlife Gardens near Whangarei, about three hours north of Auckland.

Two zookeepers had gone in to clean an enclosure at the park, when one of two white tigers inside lunged at a keeper, said Sarah Kennett, spokeswoman for Northland Police.

The second keeper and other zoo staff tried to pull the tiger off the man but failed. He died shortly after, Kennett said.

The tiger was put down, the park said.

A group of eight tourists who were on a guided tour of the park witnessed the Wednesday morning attack, Kennett said.

"This is an incredibly sad day," the park said in a statement, adding that it would provide counseling to its employees.

The Zion Wildlife Gardens is home to several endangered tigers and lions. It is best known in New Zealand as the setting for the popular television series "Lion Man."

In February, an employee needed surgery after he was attacked by a white tiger, according to local media reports.

Last year, the country's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry released documents to CNN affiliate TVNZ that said animals at the park were kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

Inspectors were so concerned about the conditions that they considered having 40 cats put down, the documents said.

'Stunning' fossil goes on display

13:00 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 14:00 UK

A 47-million-year-old fossil is on display for one day only at London's Natural History Museum.

The lemur-like creature, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a "missing link" between today's higher primates - monkeys, apes and humans - and more distant relatives.

But some independent experts are sceptical of the claim.

Giant dinosaurs 'held heads high'

00:23 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 01:23 UK
Keeping its head down: the Natural History Museum's diplodocus will not need to be "re-posed"
By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Diplodocus's impressive neck sweeps along the main hall of London's Natural History museum, welcoming its visitors.

Now, findings suggest that 150 million years ago the giant may have held its head higher for much of the time.

By studying the skeletons of living vertebrates, Mike Taylor, from the University of Portsmouth, and his team, reshaped the dinosaur's resting pose.

But there is more than one way to assemble a dino-skeleton, and more than one theory on the sauropods' stance.

Dr Taylor said he is not suggesting that museums should re-pose their long-necked sauropod skeletons from the current horizontal position to a more upright posture.

"The diplodocus in the main hall vestibule of the Natural History Museum is in a perfectly good posture," he told BBC News. "It's one within a whole range of movement that would have been entirely possible."

But, after studying X-rays of members of 10 different vertebrate groups, Dr Taylor is convinced that when they were not reaching down for a drink, the sauropods stood with their heads held very high indeed.

With their necks aloft, like giraffes, the dinosaurs would have towered up to 15m above the ground.

Living model

Dr Taylor and his colleagues found that the necks of mammals and birds - the only modern groups that share the upright leg posture of dinosaurs - are "strongly inclined" vertically.

"Our approach was embarrassingly straightforward," said Dr Taylor. "We looked at real animals, and at the whole animal."

Bones can only give us so much information, he explained, and the soft tissue in the animal's huge neck could "enable greater flexibility than the bones alone suggest".

Some of the earliest reconstructions of sauropod skeletons - in the late 19th and early 20th Century - were posed with erect necks, so the idea is not new.

"It's largely in recent years that this view has changed," Dr Taylor said.

"But we can be confident that they held their heads upright."

Many scientists, however, still maintain a more horizontal view.

And a recent paper, published by Australian scientist Roger Seymour in the journal Biology Letters, went even further.

It suggested that the creatures would not actually be able to lift their heads up to eat from high trees, because this would raise their brains so far above their hearts that their blood pressure would have to be elevated to a dangerous - possibly lethal - level.

But Dr Taylor is not swayed by this argument.

"There are some [living animals] where the heart is able to exert much greater pressure than Seymour's equations predict [is possible]. We don't see why that couldn't also be true in sauropods."

Heads up

Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist from London's Natural History Museum, thinks the sauropods were likely to have been able to lift their heads high, but he remains unconvinced that would have been their "resting posture".

"It would require lots of muscular activity, and put a lot of strain on their hearts," he said.

Dr Barrett explained that, since it is impossible to know how thick the pads of connective tissue between the dinosaurs' vertebrae were, it is difficult to estimate how much of a role this tissue, along with muscles and tendons, played in the animals' range of movement.

"Sauropods are bizarre," he told BBC News. "There is no living animal built in the same way."

So, although the study of living animals' skeletons is very valuable, he added, "finding a model to explain the biology of these creatures is not that easy".

Earthrace may take on Japanese whalers

Japanese whaling ships in the southern ocean could see the amazing 78 foot biodiesel fueled trimaran Earthrace in the next whaling season.

New Zealand seafarer Pete Bethune and his world record-setting boat Earthrace could become part of environmental organisation Sea Shepherd's fleet battling the whalers in the Southern Ocean after Earthrace finishes its world tour in Hamilton in three weeks.

'That's the most likely scenario but it's not 100 per cent yet,' he told the Taranaki Daily News in New Plymouth yesterday. 'To go down there would be pretty cool.'

Sea Shepherd has become well known in recent years for its skirmishes with Japanese whaling ships. Last year, its boat Steve Irwin chased the whaling fleet for more than 3000 kilometres, and the organisation claimed to have saved the lives of 305 whales.

For the past three years, Bethune and Earthrace have been fighting a different environmental battle promoting the use of sustainable biofuel. Last year, the 100 per cent biofuel-powered wave-piercing trimaran smashed the round the world speed record, knocking almost two weeks off the old record with a time of 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes.

During that epic voyage received daily sat phone reports from Bethune and if he heads south we expect we will hear from Bethune on a regular basis again.

'I've lived the dream on this boat,' Bethune said. 'I've had the best times of my life on this boat and the worst times of my life.'I've been treated like a king and treated like a pauper.'

Bethune and Earthrace hit the headlines when they were detained in Guatemala after an accident killed a local fisherman, but he said other standout memories included wakeboarding on Loch Ness, diving in the Pacific and Caribbean, surviving more than a dozen storms at sea and brushes with Colombian pirates.

'Would I do it again? I would,' he said. 'To get to work on something you really believe in most of us go through life without any chance to do that.'

But Bethune said the world tour following the record-setting voyage became much bigger than he had expected and had come at the cost of time with his family.

Now he's looking forward to a break and says joining the Sea Shepherd fleet would not be as demanding on his time. 'It's hit and run 10 weeks and it's all over, not three years like this has been.'

A combination of leightweight carbon fibre contruction and twin 540hp Cummins Mercruiser engines means that Earthrace has a burst speed of 45 knots, she averaged around 22 knots for much of her round the world speed record and unlike Sea Shepherd Earthrace can outrun the Whaling fleet, that would mean that Sea Shepherd woould know the location of the wahling fleet and be able to impeding their activities.

The full story can be read at

by Ryan Evans - Taranaki Daily News & Powerboat-world 10:05 PM Tue 26 May 2009 GMT

Tokoloshe myth could be wired to brains, say neurology experts

May 26, 2009 Edition 2

Ben Maclennan

Hold the bricks: the concept of the tokoloshe may have its roots in the primordial neurology of the human brain, experts have suggested.

The theory has been put forward by KwaZulu-Natal neurologist Dr Anand Moodley in a letter co-authored by Canadian neuropsychologist Neil Fournier in the latest issue of the SA Medical Journal. The tokoloshe, in African mythology, is a diminutive human-like creature with a large head and big eyes, often blamed for mischief or evil deeds. Raising one's bed by placing it on bricks is said to offer protection against it.

Moodley and Fournier said the key to the tokoloshe could lie in a part of the brain - the indusium griseum - two thin strips of grey matter that had no known function in adults. They said neuroscientists suggested the indusium griseum could be the "embryonic equivalent", in a foetus, of the hippocampus in the adult brain.

In adults, the hippocampus housed short-term and spatial memory, including a somatotopic or map-like "representation" of the person's body.

The hippocampus was particularly susceptible to overstimulation by the brain's electrical signals. Stimulation of the indusium griseum in an adult, they said, could therefore conceivably result in a throwback to a self-image of a tiny person stored by the foetus on that part of the brain.

"The outcome would be visual hallucinations of a small humanoid with a large head, big eyes and a small body," they said.

"Temporal lobe epileptics are known to have formed hallucinations that include a human form of varying sizes."

They said it had often been argued that the search for answers to age-old conundrums could not always be found in scientific study, and that beliefs "are just what they are" and should be left alone.

"But this instance does beg the questions: could the tokoloshe be the experience of a stimulated indusium griseum? "And do we here in Africa have a pre-programmed tokoloshe homunculus - miniature human - waiting to be activated in times of distress, dreamlike states or during a seizure?"

See also:

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Mysterious winged cat baffles animal experts

White moggy grows fluffy wings out of its back - but can it fly?

China Foto Press / Barcroft

by: Kris Mullin
26 May 2009

ANIMAL experts have been pussy-footing over the explanation for a cat that has developed bat-like wings on either side of its back.

The long-haired white feline was born a normal kitten, but started to develop furry wing-like appendages on either side of its back when it was just a year old.

Scientists believe the growths may be the result of a genetic mutation caused by chemicals during its mother's pregnancy. Alternatively, the cat which was discovered in Chongqing, China, may be a freak that developed from two embryos.

However, the puss does not seem to be bothered by its wings, and it was quick enough to swoop on any cat biscuits dished up.

Chongqing is known as one of China's hottest cities and, following the discovery of this cat, the air there is certainly getting a bit moggy.

Monkey business

A small Japanese restaurant is booked out weeks in advance thanks to a member of staff - a monkey waiter.

Fuku-chan greets guests and takes them hot towels at the end of their meals at the Kayabuki restaurant, 60 miles north of Tokyo.

A diner told The Sun: "He has these airs and graces that make him look just like a French waiter at a posh restaurant."

Restaurant owner Kaoru Otsuka said: "It all started when I gave him a hot towel out of curiosity and he took it to the customer."

Seven-legged calf dies after birth

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
It's an unlucky No. 7 for a calf born with a few extra legs in Colorado.
A veterinary hospital helped deliver a seven-legged calf last week.

The staff at the Steamboat Veterinary Hospital said the Black Angus calf, which was delivered by cesarean section, had two spines but one head. One leg also had two hooves. The calf lived for only 10 minutes.

Vet Lee Meyring says the birth was an incomplete splitting of the embryo into twins.

He says he had previously seen a calf with a fifth leg, but the seven-legged calf was the most bizarre he has seen.

The hospital says the calf's owners do not want to be identified.

Duke could be world's tallest horse after growth spurt

Britain's tallest horse could now be the biggest in the world after a growth spurt saw him shoot up to nearly 6ft 8inches.

Last Updated: 2:52PM BST 26 May 2009

Duke was measured at just under 6ft 8ins tall - or 20.1 hands from the ground to the horse's withers. Photo: IMAGES INTERNATIONAL

Owners say a diet of herbal tea and Granny Smith apples has triggered the two inch growth in just one year.

In May 2008 Duke, a the six-year-old shire horse, measured 6ft 6ins - or 19.3 hands tall.

At the time it made him smaller than Radar, a Canadian shire horse living in Texas.

But the sudden spurt means Duke is now leading the way after he was measured at just under 6ft 8ins tall - or 20.1 hands from the ground to the horse's withers - the highest part of the back at the base of a horse's neck.

He is now one of three horses fighting for the accolade of the tallest horse in the world.

Sara Ross, the owner of two-ton Duke said she was amazed at the horse's continued growth.

"Duke has been unwell for the past six weeks or so, but is well on the road to recovery with the help of buckets of herbal tea and apples," said Mrs Ross.

"We couldn't believe it when we measured him and found he's grown so much in the past year."

Radar's last measured height stood at 20.1 hands and his closest other rival, an Australian shire called Noddy was recently measured at just under 20.1 hands.

Duke, who is scared of mice, gets through more than 20 gallons of water, five gallons of herbal tea and nearly 20lbs of grass, hay and grain a day.

Mrs Ross, who runs the Horse Refuge near Tenterden, Kent, said: "He is the biggest horse I've ever seen and he just keeps growing.

"He's an absolute giant and looks like he's one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the world now."
Duke's girth has been measured at 8ft 6ins, his face if three feet long and his thighs are 56 inches at their thickest point.

The average height of a shire horse is 17.2 hands. The British record of 19.2 hands was held by a shire called Cracker until his death last year.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Mother hawk sends N.L. residents running


May 25, 2009

NORTH WEST BROOK, N.L. - People near a community on the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador have been taking some heat from a protective mother hawk.

Several people have been attacked, suffering cuts to their heads and hands, near a walking trail in the North West Brook area.

A sign has been put up to warn people of the potential danger.

One woman from North West Brook says the hawk swooped down and attacked her while she was out for a walk on Saturday evening.

Dennis Baker says the same hawk came at him from behind last week, cutting his head and hands.

Wildlife officers found a nest in the area and expect the eggs to hatch soon.

Leopard roams Pakistani prime minister's garden

Mon May 25, 2009 9:11am BST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani hunters are trying to catch a wild leopard roaming the grounds of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's official residence, an official said on Monday.

The animal, first spotted on a closed-circuit television camera, slipped into the garden of the well-guarded Islamabad compound late last week, perhaps in search of prey such as wild boar that also roam the area.

"It's a big animal," said the prime minister's spokesman, Imran Gardezi, adding that Gilani had not left the residence and was carrying on with his duties as usual.

Wildlife officials armed with tranquillizer darts have been trying to catch the leopard. They almost had it cornered on Sunday, but it leapt over a six-foot (1.8 metre) wall topped with barbed wire into another part of the compound, Gardezi said.

Islamabad was built in the 1960s up against the forested foothills of the Himalayas and animals including wild boar, foxes, monkeys and porcupines are often seen in the city's green spaces.

But the leopard might not be allowed to roam free for much longer. "If it can't be caught alive today perhaps orders will be given to shoot it," Gardezi said.

(Reporting by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Miral Fahmy)

Climate link to mockingbird songs

09:36 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 10:36 UK
By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Unpredictable weather seems to stimulate chatter among birds - as well as humans - according to researchers.

A team of US scientists has found that mockingbirds living in variable climates sing more elaborate songs.

Complex tunes, sung by males to impress females, are likely to signal the birds' intelligence.

Published in Current Biology, the findings suggest that females seek mates with superior singing skills - smart enough to survive harsh climes.

Carlos Botero, a researcher from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina, led the study.

He and his colleagues compared recordings of 29 species of mockingbird, studying patterns in their songs including the number of different notes, the number of syllables and the birds' abilities to mimic other sounds.

His team then compared weather patterns in the birds' habitats with the patterns in the songs.

Dr Botero told BBC News that it was "very exciting" to see a strong correlation between song complexity and climate.

"The birds are not born knowing how to sing; they have to learn," he explained. The fact that the males sing more variable tunes in a more variable climate could demonstrate the "sexual selection of intelligence".

This means that females may be looking for a tuneful signal that their prospective partner is a good catch.

Singing challenge

Local climate patterns are good indicators of how challenging life is in a given location, Dr Botero explained.

"Survival and reproduction become more complicated when weather patterns are unpredictable because you don't know when food will be available or how long it will be around.

"In really difficult or demanding environments you would expect females to be choosier."

He added that researchers might be able to use this simple, measurable behaviour in the birds, to provide clues about the evolution of important human developments such as language, music and art.

Sandra Vehrencamp from Cornell University, who was also involved in the study said that, to fully test this explanation, the team would need to design an intelligence test for the male birds, and examine their relative breeding success.

During the course of the study, Dr Botero embarked on a solitary month-long tour of South America, seeking out elusive birds and recording their songs.

Thanks to his expedition, some key gaps in the library of birdsong at Cornell University, where he was based during the study, are now filled.

"I had to try to visit as many different countries as possible at exactly the right time - when the birds were breeding," he said, adding that some of the remote locations he visited were like "mockingbird paradise".

Porcupine, python strut catwalk for Russian zoo

Agence France-Presse 05/25/2009 10:11 AM

SAINT PETERSBURG - Leggy models shared the catwalk with a porcupine, a python and a yak on Sunday at a fashion show to raise public awareness of animal welfare and Saint Petersburg's zoo.

About a dozen animals in all -- some on leashes, others in the models' arms -- strutted their stuff for the zoo, one of the oldest in Europe but hard-pressed for funds.

"Casting the models was not easy," Tatiana Fedorishenko, the zoo's deputy director, told AFP, referring to the human kind. "The animals in the show are tame, but the models have to be without fear, and comfortable with them."

"It was hard," confided one of the models, Natasha. "My fox was always trying to run away. I had trouble finishing my walk."

The show was the idea of fashion designers in Russia's second city, in solidarity with the 410 species and 2,000 animals at the zoo in Alexander Park that was founded in 1865.

"I'm taking part because of my compassion for animals," said designer Vladislav Aksyonov. "I am flatly opposed to the use of natural fur and I also want to help our zoo."

as of 05/25/2009 10:11 AM

Dying bulldog saves owner from burning house


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A Michigan man's decision not to end his terminally ill bulldog's life has ended up saving his own.

Scott Seymour said his dog, Brittney, awakened him with her barking early Saturday in time for both of them to escape from his burning house in Grand Rapids.

The fire came two weeks after a veterinarian discovered the nine-year-old American bulldog had several cancerous tumours.

The vet said the dog might not survive surgery, and Seymour ruled out chemotherapy, believing it would be too hard on Brittney.

Seymour said he could have had Brittney put down, but instead decided to give her medication to blunt her pain until death comes naturally, probably within a few weeks.

Firefighters said the house may be a total loss.

Orangutans cannibalise own babies

Two female orangutans have been seen cannibalising the bodies of their recently deceased babies.

Such behaviour has never before been recorded in any great ape species.

The two incidences occurred just one month apart in the same region of forest in Indonesia.

The conservationist who witnessed both incidences suspects they were examples of aberrant behaviour, triggered by stressful living conditions suffered by both mothers.

Humans aside, chimpanzees were the only great apes known to engage in cannabilism, the eating of members of the same species. The behaviour had also been inferred but not seen in gorillas, after the remains of infants were found in the faeces of two adults.

But until now, no ape has been recorded eating its own offspring.

"Cannibalism has been documented in chimpanzees and reported in gorillas. Never before has any ape species been seen treating its own offspring as a consumable resource," says David Dellatore of Oxford Brookes University, in Oxford, UK.

That was until Dellatore begun tracking orangutans living in Bukit Lawang, an area of forest within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Dellatore, who now works with the Sumatran Orangutan Society based in Medan, Sumatra, initially monitored the physical health of once captive orangutans that have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

But soon he noticed that tourists in the area were interacting closely with the apes. Despite a ban on doing so, some tourists would feed or touch the semi-wild apes. So Dellatore switched his research to monitoring the behavioural health of the orangutans, following them from dawn till dusk.

During this research he twice witnessed female apes he recognised eating the corpses of their recently deceased babies.

"While following Edita, whose infant had just died in the forest, on the eighth day myself and my assistant Tumino saw her begin to consume the corpse," Dellatore says.

"At first we did not believe it, but there was no mistaking it. Edita was engaging in filial, or mother-infant cannibalism."

"Then a month later I was following Ratna by myself, whose infant had also just died, and observed her also cannibalising her dead infant."

Seeing the first instance surprised Dellatore, while he found the second even more shocking.

"Such behaviour had never been seen before in more than four decades of orangutan research. Surely it's not happening here twice in a one month period?" Dellatore recalls asking himself.

But Dellatore managed to collect further evidence of the second event. "I recovered a fallen piece of the infant's skeleton that Ratna spat out, as well as rather clear video footage of the event."

Grieving mothers

Dellatore is unsure why the orangutans behaved so. "It makes little evolutionary sense for orangutan females to kill their infants, nor is there any evidence that this happened here," he reports in the journal Primates.

But he points out that it is not uncommon for orangutans and other nonhuman primate mothers to carry their deceased infants. "It may be part of a grieving process," he says.

Indeed, Edita, a 23 year old female, carried and protected the body of her one year old infant for seven days, occasionally inspecting it while vocalising a whimper. Only on the eighth day did she start to consume it, when it was already heavily decomposed. Twenty year old Ratna's seven month old infant appeared unwell a few days before death.

Dellatore is reluctant to make any definitive claims as to why the behaviour occurred. But he suspects that the mothers' stressed upbringing may have triggered their later actions.

"Semi-wild orangutans are all exposed to considerable traumas, such as witnessing the deaths of their own mothers," he says. To feed the pet trade, an orangutan is often captured from the wild as an infant, with its mother being killed as she would not otherwise let her baby go. Captive orangutans also suffer long periods of social isolation.

"Studies have shown that early social deprivation can have deleterious effects on later levels of cognitive ability. It is possible that the cannibalism events are an extension of these effects," he says.

Although rare, mothers have been recorded cannibalising their infants in a few species of monkey. In galagoes, another primate species also known as bushbabies, the behaviour has been linked to stressful living conditions.

The presence of tourists may also be stressing the apes.

Dellatore supports proper ecotourism in the area, which can bring in important funds that can help conserve the great apes. But he says too many tourists visit and interact with the apes without a sense of environmental or social responsibility.

His organisation is running an ecotourism development programme in Bukit Lawang to try and mitigate these problems.

See video footage at:

Team Discovers Signs Of Rarest Known Deer Species In Philippines

Posted on: Friday, 22 May 2009, 14:29 CDT

An expedition team revealed that footprints and droppings from the Visayan spotted deer, one of the world's most elusive mammals, have been found deep in the Philippines jungle, BBC News reported.

Considered one of the most vulnerable of all mammals, less than 300 of the deer are thought to remain on just two islands.

The discovery, made by Craig Turner and James Sawyer, came about as the team explored the inner forests of the North Negros Natural Park (NNNP) on Negros Island in the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable forest ecosystems in the world, with only 16,500h of forest remaining in a park of more than 80,000h.

Turner, an environmental consultant who for years helped organize conservation work on the fringes of one of the least explored of all tropical forests, said the team held an ambition to access the interior and undertake the first biological exploration of the forest.

Turner, Sawyer and colleagues in the Philippines explored the area for five years before founding the Negros Interior Biodiversity Expedition.

The team entered the interior in April and while surveying for new species they kept a particular eye out for the Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi), also known as the Philippine spotted deer.

The Visayan holds the distinction of possibly being the rarest deer in the world and is one of three deer species native to the country.

They soon stumbled across several sets of tracks along the edge of a river after three days of exploration.

They discovered evidence of where the deer had been feeding on young palm trees, and experts say the findings suggest that more than one group of Visayan spotted deer survive in the park, given the distance between the two discoveries.

They also found two piles of deer scat in a natural clearing, at a site where they hoped to trap bats. Sets of deer footprints lead away from the small droppings.

Since the Visayan spotted deer is the only deer species living on the Negros island, the team is confident they found signs of life of the elusive mammal, as experts say there are few other large mammals on the island that could have left such signs.

Turner said other species such as the Visayan warty pig and civets have distinctly different scat.

The Visayan spotted deer was found to have become extinct in over 95 percent of its former range when the last major survey was conducted in 1991.

It now only survives on two of the seven Visayan islands of the central Philippines, Negros and Panay.

The two populations have been separated for thousands of years, with no confirmed sighting of the deer on Negros since the mid-1990s.

Turner said it has been assumed that the species persists in the NNNP, but no scientific proof has been presented in recent years, and very little fieldwork has been completed on the deer.

"This discovery confirms they are surviving, but doesn't tell us they are thriving," he added.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Dormice decline 'is slowing down'

03:13 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 04:13 UK

Conservationists say they are encouraged by research which suggests that a decline in the numbers of dormice is slowing down.

Monitoring found numbers fell by 9% between 2002 and 2008, compared with 31% from 1992 to 2002.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) said there was "reason to be optimistic" that conservation efforts were proving effective.

Loss and degradation of woodland and hedgerow habitats have hit numbers.

Once widespread, the dormouse has become extinct across half its range in England.

Under the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, running since 1988, volunteers have set up nesting boxes and checked them to help build an idea of dormice population.

Some 197 dormouse sites were monitored by volunteers in 2008.

Jim Jones, of the PTES, said: "While the slowdown in the decline is very encouraging, the species is still in decline, so conservation and monitoring efforts remain a priority if dormice are not to disappear from the British countryside."

Most of the woodland areas monitored over the past 21 years have been managed in a "dormouse-friendly" way.

There have also been 16 successful reintroductions of more than 600 dormice in the past 16 years.

Research had shown dormice needed good coppiced hazel woodland, with undergrowth such as brambles, said Mr Jones.

The PTES has been trying to get the message out to landowners on managing their woods for the mammal.

Climate change

Dormice have been affected by increasingly isolated habitats, preventing them from breeding with other populations, says the trust.

This also hinders them in moving if their habitat is degraded or affected by climate change.

Dormice are particularly prone to climate change as they struggle in wet summers, which prevent them foraging and putting on weight for their hibernation.

Warmer winters mean they do not hibernate properly, and so use up more energy.

San Diego wants to use barking dogs recording to drive seals


May 24, 2009

SAN DIEGO - Officials in San Diego are hoping that a dog's bark is worse than its bite.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports the city plans to seek court permission to use recordings of barking dogs to discourage seals from taking up residence at the popular Children's Pool beach in La Jolla.

It's part of an annual $700,000 plan to disperse about 200 seals at the beach.

Marine experts say the seals likely will adjust to the noise, but city officials say their backup plan is to add other sounds and spray the seals with water.

Animal rights activists say they'll oppose the plan.

Shelter cat wins top honours at show


May 24, 2009

STRATHAM, N.H. - Call him the stray that won the day.

Chaplin, a stray two-year-old black and white cat, beat out purebreds and other pampered felines to win top honours in a cat show in New Hampshire. The cat, currently awaiting adoption at an animal shelter, won "Best Household Pet" at the Cat Fanciers' Federation's regional show in Rochester on May 16.

Just five days earlier, Chaplin was a nameless stray referred to simply as "the cat" by the people who found him.

When he came to the shelter in Stratham, the staff thought his dashing good looks could put the Persians, Himalayans, and Scottish Folds to shame.

So far, Chaplin seems unfazed by his newfound fame - he just wants a home.

Acupuncture for pets 'on the rise'

Posted Sat May 23, 2009 2:00pm AEST

A conference of veterinarians in Darwin has discussed alternative therapies in response to reports of growing demand for acupuncture and herbal treatments for pets.

Several vets attending the Australian Veterinary Association conference in Darwin say demand is growing, with many vets now offering acupuncture, massage and natural plant based treatments instead of antibiotics.

Twenty-five vets from the conference visited a naturopath to learn more about the therapies.

The Australian Veterinary Association says they should be rigorously tested and registered to ensure they are safe for animals.

The president of the Australian Veterinary Association Dr Mark Lawrie says conventional antibiotics are no longer effective on many animals.

"It's an adaptation, really, of bacteria over time, that [resistance] will occur," he said.

"We know there's been a lot of good work done to see that there is rising levels of resistance in humans to multi-resistant strains of bacteria and we are seeing some evidence of that in animals."

But he says alternative therapies are not necessarily the answer to this problem.

"I don't think that's a valid argument with that particular issue, in that it's more the appropriate use of whatever drug that you use that's the critical thing," he said.

"Any treatment of animals should be done by a veterinarian and any product that is used should be appropriately tested and registered."

He has urged pet owners to follow vets' instructions to prevent the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Bees trap workers in NYC game store


May 24, 2009

NEW YORK - Thousands of bees swarmed outside a New York City game store, trapping employees inside for hours.

Worried employees looked out the window of the Manhattan store, while talking on the phone, as the bees clustered Saturday afternoon.

A sign in the window warned: "Look! ... closed due to bee infestation."

Most passers-by avoided the GameStop store near Union Square, one of the city's busiest shopping areas.

But Edward Albers tried to help.

Dressed in regular clothes, he lured many bees into a box without being stung.

Eventually, police bee specialist Tony Planakis arrived in protective gear and used the scent of a queen bee to collect the rest of them.

The store has reopened for business.

The bees are being taken to hives upstate.

Tiny seahorse, world's longest insect among top new species

12:07 p.m. EDT, Fri May 22, 2009

(CNN) -- A pea-sized seahorse, the world's longest insect, a "ghost slug" and the world's smallest snake were among the top 10 species discovered in 2008, a committee of scientists said Friday.

These unusual critters were among thousands of species found last year, many in remote or tropical regions of the planet, that hint at the breadth of the Earth's undiscovered biodiversity.

"Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth's species is," said Quentin Wheeler, director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, which announced the top 10 new species list.

"We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted," Wheeler added.

The ASU institute and an international committee of taxonomists -- scientists devoted to species exploration and classification -- compile the top 10 list of new species each year.

Also on the 2008 list are a caffeine-free coffee plant, a snail whose shell twists around four axes, a palm that flowers itself to death and microscopic bacteria that live in hairspray.

See photos of the new species »

Here's the complete list:

1. Pygmy seahorse: Classified by its Latin name, Hippocampus satomiae, this species measures about half an inch long and was found near Derawan Island off Kalimantan, Indonesia.

2. A plant that kills itself: Found in a small area of northwestern Madagascar, a rare genus of palm -- Tahina spectablilis -- produces huge, spectacular flowers and then dies and collapses. Fewer than 100 have been found.

3. Decaf, please: Known as Coffea charrieriana, this plant found in Cameroon is the first record of a caffeine-free coffee species from Central Africa.

4. Spray-on species: An extremophile bacteria, Microbacterium hatanonis, was discovered in hairspray by Japanese scientists.

5. A stick that moves: The world's longest insect, with a body length of 14 inches (22.3 inches including legs), Phobaeticus chani resembles a stick and was found in Borneo, Malaysia.

6. The Barbados Threadsnake: Leptotyphlops carlae measures only 4.1 inches long and is believed to be the world's smallest snake.

7. A pale "ghost slug": Selenochlamys ysbryda was a surprising find in the densely populated area of Cardiff, Wales.

8. A very limber snail: This unique species, Opisthostoma vermiculum, is found on a limestone hill in Malaysia and has a shell that twists around four axes.

9. Damsel in the deep blue sea: Chromis abyssus is a beautiful species of damselfish found in deep-reef habitat off the coast of Ngemelis Island, Palau.

10. Fossil mama: A fossilized fish, Materpiscis attenboroughi, is an extremely rare find from Western Australia and shows a mother giving birth 380 million years ago.

Scientists are still classifying species found around the globe in 2008, so final data for that year are not available. But on Friday, the taxonomists issued a State of Observed Species report card that states 18,516 species new to science -- about half of them insects -- were discovered and described in 2007.

The vast majority of the 18,516 species named in 2007 were invertebrate animals (75.6 percent), vascular plants (11.1 percent) and vertebrates (6.7 percent).

The report was compiled by ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration in partnership with other scientists.

"Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life," Wheeler said. "It is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet."

According to Wheeler, a new generation of tools is coming online that will vastly accelerate the rate at which humans can discover and describe species.

The annual release of the top 10 new species list and State of Observed Species report commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications.

An estimated 1.8 million species have been described since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists estimate that there are between 2 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most set the number closer to 10 million, according to ASU.

"It is estimated that the approximately 1.8 million species named since 1758 represent no more than a fraction of the world's species," the report states.

"Rapid environmental changes around the world highlight the urgent need to accelerate our exploration of Earth's species," the report says. "Millions of species -- the majority not yet known to science -- face an uncertain future. Among these species are keys to understanding the history of the origin and diversification of life on our planet."
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