Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Hedgehogs born at Wildwood

Heather Wildwood's hedgehog gave birth some five weeks ago to 4 healthy hedgehog babies. When first born they were naked but now 5 weeks on they are small versions of their mum and dad (Horatio) and are beginning to venture outside of the nest box with mum.

Hedgehogs were added to endangered list in 2007. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan shows almost 1,150 native species in 65 habitats are in danger around the country and in urgent need of special protection, this includes for the hedgehog. It is one of a list of 18 mammals that are considered at threat in the British countryside.

These animals are affected by many factors such as global warming, habitat loss, pollution, human persecution and in the case of Hedgehogs traffic leaves us with the all too familiar scene of the poor squashed animal at the side of the road.

At Wildwood you can see 9 of the 18 British mammal species currently considered endangered under the UK biodiversity plan. (Water Vole, Hedgehog, Wildcat, Otter, Pine Marten, Harvest Mouse, Dormouse, Polecat & Red Squirrel). More importantly the Park is actively involved in a number of conservation projects which are seeking to build populations of these animals by captive breeding, release schemes and groundbreaking research. Wildwood is also involved in the restoration of declining habitats using Beaver and Konik horses.

The park also has 3 of the 10 endangered British reptiles (Pool Frog, Common Lizard & Adder) as well as a range of plants in the ancient woodland itself that rare and in decline.

"A visit to Wildwood is not just a great day out" says Peter Smith chief executive of the trust "but visitors can see species that they will rarely see in the wild, but their entrance fee or membership fees go into our essential conservation projects helping to protect these vanishing creatures and habitats".

Hedgehogs are just some of the huge range of British animals that can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park near Canterbury. For more information visit our website at www.wildwoodtrust.org or telephone 0871 7820081.

Wildwood's 'Wildlife Conservation Park' is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury.

More Facts about Hedgehogs

Erinaceus europaeus

Hedgehogs are probably our most familiar garden mammals, living in city parks and gardens as well as the countryside across Britain. They are very useful to the gardener, as they eat many garden pests.

Hedgehogs have short, sharp, stiff spines over the back and sides, short legs and a pointed snout. The underside is covered with dense fur and the animal will roll into a ball when alarmed. This presents the spines towards danger, but is the main reason why so many become road casualties.

Hedgehogs mainly eat beetles, caterpillars, earthworms and slugs. Many people put out a saucer of bread and milk for them, but this can be harmful as their stomach cannot digest bread, and cow's milk is a breeding ground for germs and can cause stomach upsets. A better diet would consist of tinned dog or cat food (but not fish-based varieties), minced meat, chopped liver, or scrambled egg. Dog biscuits, bran and peanuts can be used to supplement the diet and to provide roughage but sweet foods such as chocolate and fruit should be avoided, as they are bad for their teeth. It is very important to ensure that a supply of fresh water is always available.

Hedgehogs spend the winter in hibernation, as they are unable to find sufficient food outside in the cold weather. Younger animals may be at risk if they have been unable to build up sufficient reserves to keep them alive. Those over 1lb.in weight will probably survive, and should be left alone, but those weighing less are unlikely to live unless taken indoors, given plenty to eat (see section on food), and kept warm. A suitable place could be a large box lined with hay, crumpled paper or dried leaves. If the hedgehog is very young, place a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket at the bottom of the box. Once they have reached a weight of 1-1.5lbs., hedgehogs can be released into the wild during a spell of mild, dry weather.

Adult hedgehogs hibernate for short periods during the coldest weather. They may not enter hibernation until December and become active again in March or April.

Individuals may be seen during this time as they briefly emerge in a spell of warmer weather.

The female makes a nest of grass, well hidden in the undergrowth. She has 2 - 4 babies that are born naked, with closed eyes. She suckles them and they grow quickly. They leave the nest after about 3 weeks and become independent.

Hedgehogs visit several gardens within an area - and as many as 10 different individuals may visit the same garden over a period of several nights, so the hedgehog you see in the garden may not be the same every time. Most wild hedgehogs have fleas, but these only live on hedgehogs, and cannot be transferred to cats, dogs, or humans.

The hedgehog is a very noisy animal and can be heard crashing through the undergrowth or snuffling in ditches on quiet nights. To encourage hedgehogs (and other wildlife), leave some wild areas in the garden, and avoid 'tidying up' too much. Leave plenty of dead leaves in which they can hibernate - and always check before starting bonfires, in case a hedgehog is sheltering there.

Don't use slug pellets. These are poisonous to hedgehogs and many other animals. Injured hedgehogs should be taken to the nearest RSPCA centre or vet. It is quite safe to pick up a hedgehog - but be sure to wear gloves! Hedgehogs are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, so it is illegal to trap or kill them.

Hedgehogs have the most similar fingerprints to humans.

Gray wolves get federal protection again

Minnesota's gray wolves once again will receive federal protection under a settlement announced Monday between the U.S. government and several groups fighting to return the wolves to the list of protected animals.

Pending court approval, gray wolves in Minnesota will return to their previous "threatened species" status, while the gray wolf populations in Wisconsin and Michigan will go back on the endangered species list.
The new designation makes it illegal for Minnesota landowners to kill wolves they catch in the act of preying upon livestock, pets or guard animals.

On May 4, federal officials removed gray wolves in the Great Lakes area from the endangered list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimating that gray wolves number about 4,000 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, concluded they no longer needed federal help.

A coalition of environmental and animal-rights groups then filed a lawsuit challenging the decision, arguing that the government broke the law when it issued its ruling because it did not provide public notice or invite public comment.

In the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that it erred in not offering a public comment period, as required by law.

The agreement calls for a public comment period of at least 60 days should the government seek to remove the gray wolves from the endangered species list again.

Fish and Wildlife authorities wasted no time Monday in stating their aim.

"We fully expect we'll propose delisting again in a few months or so," said Laura Ragan, a fish and wildlife biologist with the service.

"There are no red flags raising that say that wolves are not recovered," she said. "The main thing is that population numbers have continued to grow, even under state management."

Among the groups suing the Fish and Wildlife Service were the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz., which celebrated the settlement.

"We're absolutely delighted," said Michael Robinson, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We were extraordinarily worried about the wolves that were getting killed."
He called the settlement a temporary victory. "We're not so naïve as to believe that the wolves are going to be protected from this point on," Robinson said.

'Tying our hands'
Sam Scott, who manages the Rolling Thunder Ranch in Hillman, in central Minnesota, said he was disappointed by the return to protected status for the wolves.

"It's just tying our hands again," he said. "At least when they were not protected, if and when we did see one [stalking a farm animal], we could try to eliminate it. Now, the damage is done before we can ever get help."

He said he will now have to wait until a wolf kills a calf before he can act, and even then he will have to call the wolf control specialist to handle it.

So far this year, he's lost six calves to wolves, he said.

Gray wolves should have been removed from the endangered list long ago, argues David Mech, senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota.

They've been added and removed and added again to the endangered list for years. "It's always for procedural reasons," he said.

Why the back and forth?
The reason for the constant back and forth, he suggested, is that some environmental groups want to see the wolves as protected as much as possible.

The protections offered under the federal Endangered Species Act are tighter than they are under state management of the wolf population, Mech said.

Dan Stark, a wolf specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the state's gray wolf population is thriving.

"Our population is stable and has exceeded recovery goals for decades," he said, adding that the wolves live primarily in the northern third of the state.

Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, after they had been wiped out across most of the Lower 48 in the early 20th century by hunting and government-sponsored poisoning.


Land O'Lakes nurse investigates Bigfoot sightings


Land O'Lakes nurse investigates Bigfoot sightings
By Isaac Arnsdorf, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, June 28, 2009

Midnight, March 5. A young man drives toward U.S. 19 on Gulf Trace Boulevard in Holiday. He turns on his high beams where the road curves along some woods, just past the recreation center. His lights catch a pair of yellowish eyes, then a broad-shouldered figure, 8 or 9 feet
tall, covered in brown hair. The creature freezes before running to the tree line. It stops to look back at the car. The young man pulls over 20 feet away. There are no other vehicles on the road. He can now see the creature from the shoulders up. The man doesn't know why, but he thinks
to yell, "Hi!" No answer. The creature disappears into the woods.
Believe it?

The young man sure seemed convincing when he reported the sighting to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. It dispatched Cathy Betz, an investigator who lives in Land O'Lakes. Her job is to separate hoaxes from actual Bigfoot sightings in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. She's never seen a Bigfoot herself, but she is convinced they exist. Someday, she says, we'll get proof.

Meanwhile, she'll keep her day job: saving lives as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa.

Betz, 45, has believed in the cryptid ever since she was a little girl growing up in Florida and her father took her to see the 1972 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. She read up on the subject, exploring evidence, and she became convinced that something was really out there. In 2003 she joined the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.

She has been a nurse for 25 years. At first, she was reluctant to tell the other nurses at about her new hobby. She just told them her weeklong absences were spent on camping trips. Eventually she let slip that she was attending training expeditions with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. They gave her some ribbing, but she didn't hold their agnosticism
against them.

"I don't expect anybody to believe it," she says. "I don't disrespect you for that."

She enjoys the trips as a way to explore the outdoors with a group of interesting and like-minded people, she says. They sleep in tents, look around for signs of Bigfoot, and get training in tracking and hair identification. "I never imagined myself doing this kind of thing 10 years ago," Betz
says. "But I love it." She has been on four expeditions in Florida and one in North Carolina,
and she is now on another in Utah. It was on the North Carolina expedition in 2008 that she had her closest encounter with Sasquatch.

At least she believes it was Sasquatch. It could have been a bear. Something walked around the tent, touching the fabric and grunting. "I can't say with certainty what it was," Betz said, "but it was in a place with a lot of sightings."

She has collected animal skulls from her various outings, many of which now decorate her home at the end of a dirt road in Land O'Lakes. In her big leafy yard, another skull hangs on a cross of sticks leftover Halloween decorations, she says. Her bathroom is decorated with enormous
exotic bugs that she bought on eBay and framed. She awakes in the morning to crowing roosters and the chirps of her pet parakeet, Skittles.

Two days after the Holiday man said he saw a swamp monster, Betz met him at the scene. She compared his story to the version he submitted to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization online. It was consistent. They searched for tracks but didn't find any. He told her he was sure he had not seen a bear or a human. Betz's notes are secret, she says, in order to protect the witnesses.

She says the young man from Holiday did not want to be identified for this article.

She considers her role to be much like what a police investigator does. "We don't want to be considered like a fluff organization," she says. "In order to be taken seriously, we feel like we should separate out the stories that don't pan out." As part of her investigations, she often cross-check facts, such as if the witness says it was a full moon. And she examines the area, looking
for tracks, hair and other clues. She knows all about inspecting footprints for dermal ridges and mid-tarsal breaks.

"We're really a research- and science-based organization trying to get as much evidence as we can," she says. "We don't want people to think that we're just throwing everything out there that we get."

Based on reported sightings, Betz believes Bigfoot creatures are much like many other Floridians they leave for the summer. They tend to travel in nuclear families, she says. They eat fish and berries; they kill deer by breaking their back legs, slitting them down the gut, and extracting the liver. She estimates there are 5,000 to 10,000 of them across the continent.

Scientists doubt that.

"The scientific community is sympathetic to the possibility, but there isn't a whole lot of concrete evidence that is causing a lot of scientists to give up their current research projects and go out looking for (Bigfoot)," said David Daegling, an anthropology professor at the University of Florida and author of Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America's Enduring Legend. "The problem with eyewitness testimony is that it can't stand on its own from the standpoint of
scientific evidence of an uncataloged animal being out there."

Henry Cabbage, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Bigfoot's existence has not been confirmed. But the agency does keep a file on the subject, which
includes news clippings and letters from people requesting permits to go out and catch one.

So, feeling spurned by the scientific establishment, Bigfoot believers have developed their own systems for collecting and corroborating evidence. They have formal reports, credibility ratings, training expeditions and special investigators, like Florida's own Cathy Betz.

When Betz completed her report on the Holiday Bigfoot, it was classified as Class A the highest rating of credibility, meaning it was unlikely, based on the observer's conditions, that some other animal was mistaken for a Bigfoot. The report joined the more than 3,700 others posted to
the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization's Web site.

"Thousands of people for hundreds of years have been seeing something out there and are describing pretty much the same thing," she said. "Most people don't have anything to lose or to gain, but they're still coming forward." But the physical proof is still rather scant, and Betz knows this. Photographs and videos are tenuous, and hair samples and footprints are suspect.
(By contrast, there are just 100 Florida panthers, and one of them was caught on video two weeks ago.)

"It's going to take a body," Betz says. Why has no one found one yet? Betz says it's possible that the Bigfoot bury their dead. She thinks there are bones, but they're probably sitting unidentified in a museum somewhere. Bears are hit by cars or shot by hunters in Florida all the time. Why
not Bigfoot? Betz said there was once a Bigfoot hit by a car in the Everglades, but it escaped to the swamp. But when a carcass is found, and Betz is confident one will be, all those people who make fun of her now will be believers, too. She just hopes the species will be protected.

"Once it's established that it's out there, we're afraid of what's going to happen," she said, fearing poachers or the government. "It's going to be a circus."

Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at iarnsdorf@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6232.

The legend of Bigfoot For hundreds of years, people have reported seeing ape like wilderness
beasts â€" 8 or 9 feet tall, brown and hairy, 500 pounds, omnivorous, nocturnal and highly elusive. Native Americans called them Sasquatch, midcentury journalists called them Bigfoot; in snowy climates they are called yetis. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has collected 3,700 reports on its Web site, www.bfro.net, including one in March in Holiday. The existence of Bigfoot has never been proved.

Obesity Clues From Research On How Burrowing Frogs Survive Years Without Food


Obesity Clues From Research On How Burrowing Frogs Survive Years Without Food

ScienceDaily (June 29, 2009) - Many species of animals go through a period of torpor to conserve energy when resources are scarce. But when it comes to switching to energy-saving mode, the champion by far among vertebrates is the burrowing frog (Cyclorana alboguttata), which can survive for several years buried in the mud in the absence of any food or water.

How do they accomplish this feat? A team of scientists at the University of Queensland have discovered that the metabolism of their cells changes radically during the dormancy period allowing the frogs to maximise the use of their limited energy resources without ever running on empty.

This discovery could prove to have important medical applications in the long term. "It could potentially be useful in the treatment of energy-related disorders such as obesity", explains Ms. Sara Kayes who will present her findings at the Society of Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Glasgow on the 29th June 2009.

When the operation efficiency of the mitochondria, the tiny "power plants" of the cell, was measured during the dormancy period, it was found to be significantly higher compared to that observed in active animals. This trick , known as mitochondrial coupling, allows these frogs to be extremely efficient in the use of the limited energy stores they have by increasing the total amount of energy obtained per unit consumed, allowing them to easily outperform other
species whose energy production efficiency remains essentially the same even when they happen to be inactive for extended periods.

If this is such an efficient way to use energy resources during dormancy, how come that it is not more widespread in the animal kingdom? The researchers speculate that a potential drawback may be the increased production of reactive oxygen species, which may in turn lead to oxidative stress. Since these small molecules are believed to cause most of the damage during periods of
re-awakening, increasing mitochondrial coupling does not seem to be a particularly good idea for animals that tend to exhibit short periods of spontaneous arousal during the dormancy period, in some cases even daily.

Burrowing frogs, on the other hand, are believed to remain deeply asleep during the entire period of dormancy. Furthermore, being cold-blooded, they don't have the need to maintain a basal level of heat production, minimizing their energy needs.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Victim Of Chimp Feared Animal, Brother Says

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A Connecticut woman mauled and blinded by a chimpanzee in February had feared the animal might hurt someone and described him as mean and so strong that she had to repair his cage several times, her brothers said.

Michael and Stephen Nash's comments to The Associated Press provides the first public look at Charla Nash's dealings with Travis, a 200-pound chimpanzee that went berserk when his owner asked Nash to help lure him back into his house. The chimp ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids, and she has been hospitalized for months at the Cleveland Clinic, where she is in stable condition.

Nash was a friend and employee of the chimp's owner, Sandra Herold of Stamford, Conn. Nash's family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Herold, saying she was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control "a wild animal with violent propensities."

Nash's brother Stephen said his sister mentioned problems people had with Travis, but he declined to elaborate.

"She even said she thought Travis might hurt somebody but she didn't think it would be her," Stephen Nash said.

Another brother, Michael Nash, said his sister welded Travis's cage a few times after the animal had damaged it by banging it and throwing objects around his cage.

"He kept breaking it. It wasn't sturdy enough for him," Michael Nash said.

Herold's attorney, Robert Golger, has said there was no way to predict Travis would attack Nash. He questioned why Nash would voluntarily go to Herold's house if she was afraid of the chimpanzee.

Travis was normally in his cage when Nash visited, Stephen Nash said. "She got lulled into a false sense of security because he hadn't bothered her."

The 14-year-old chimp was shot and killed by police Feb. 16 when he tried to attack a police officer responding to the assault on Nash. Test results showed that Travis had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system at the time of the attack.

Travis starred in TV commercials when he was young and lived a life of luxury with Herold, dining on fine foods and sometimes drinking wine from long-stemmed glasses. But there were increasing signs of trouble as the animal grew stronger and neared adolescence -- Travis allegedly bit two people in the 1990s and escaped in 2003, prompting several warnings to state officials.

A state biologist warned officials last October that Travis could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened and said that officials had not determined if his enclosure was strong enough. The state Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of monitoring exotic animals in Connecticut. Nash's family has declined to say if they will file a lawsuit against the state or others.

Nash's family said she's continuing to make progress at the Cleveland Clinic, which performed the nation's first facial transplant. Officials there have said it's too early to determine if Nash would be a candidate for the procedure.

Nash remembers getting out of her car that day to help her friend lure the animal back in the house, her brothers say. She does not recall the attack, but her brother sees hints of the trauma in a recurring dream and a panic attack she had in the hospital.

"They kept dragging me in the car and wouldn't let me sleep," Nash said, according to her brother Michael. "It was a dirty car."

Michael Nash said he thinks his sister's dream is her recollection of the ambulance and efforts to save her life.

During the panic attack, Nash screamed for her brother. "Help me. They're hurting me. They were hurting me," she said.

Michael Nash said his sister became agitated after a hospital aide tried to help her to the bathroom. "I think grabbing just created a reaction, an instinctual fear of being attacked," he said.

Nash continues to make progress, her brothers said. One day she was saying the Hail Mary.
"It amazes me," Michael Nash said. "Her mental abilities have really come back."

Not long ago she was in denial about what happened, insisting Travis attacked someone else. But then she acknowledged Travis hurt her, Michael Nash said.

"I knew it when I got out of the car something was wrong," she said, according to her brother.
Nash has gradually taken more interest in her medical care, exercising and even marveled at how she does everything in the dark, Michael Nash said. She also wanted to throw a pizza party for her daughter.

"I think I'd be in a fetal position," Michael Nash said.

Fecal DNA Sampling Provides Extremely Accurate Estimates Of Tiger Populations

ScienceDaily (June 28, 2009) — The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced a major breakthrough in the science of saving tigers: high-tech DNA fecal sampling.

According to the study, researchers will be able to accurately count and assess tiger populations by identifying individual animals from the unique DNA signature found in their dung. In the past, DNA was collected from blood or tissue samples from tigers that were darted and sedated. The authors say this new non-invasive technique represents a powerful new tool for measuring the success of future conservation efforts.

The study appears in the June 16th edition of the journal Biological Conservation. Authors of the study include: Samrat Mondol of the National Centre for Biological Sciences; K. Ullas Karanth, N. Samba Kumar, and Arjun M. Gopalaswamy of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Centre for Wildlife Studies; and Anish Andheria and Uma Ramakrishnan, also of the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

"This study is a breakthrough in the science of counting tiger numbers, which is a key yardstick for measuring conservation success," said noted tiger scientist Dr. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "The technique will allow researchers to establish baseline numbers on tiger populations in places where they have never been able to accurately count them before."

The study took place in India's Bandipur Reserve in Karnataka, a longterm WCS research site in the Western Ghats that supports a high abundance of tigers. Researchers collected 58 tiger scats following rigorous protocols, then identified individual animals through their DNA. Tiger populations were then estimated using sophisticated computer models. These results were validated against camera trap data, where individual tigers are photographed automatically and identified by their unique stripe pattern. Camera-trapping is considered the gold standard in tiger population estimation, but is impractical in several areas where tiger densities are low or field conditions too rugged.

"We see genetic sampling as a valuable additional tool for estimating tiger abundance in places like the Russian Far East, Sunderban mangrove swamps and dense rainforests of Southeast Asia where camera trapping might be impractical due to various environmental and logistical constraints," said Karanth.

Rabbit-Size Elephant Ancestor Found -- Oldest Known

After the dinosaurs perished, life on Earth didn't take long to bounce back, a new study suggests.
A newfound 60-million-year-old creature called Eritherium azzouzorum—the oldest known elephant ancestor—bolsters the case that whole new orders of mammals were already around less than 6 million years after global catastrophe ended the age of reptiles some 65.5 million years ago.

Paleontologist Emmanuel Gheerbrant discovered the rabbit-size proto-elephant's skull fragments in a basin 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Casablanca, Morocco.

Elephant ancestors, he said, now join the likes of rodents and early primates as some of the first known mammals to walk the Earth during the Paleocene era, 65.5 to 55 million years ago (prehistoric time line).

Much of the story of the newly discovered creature, said Gheerbrant, of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, can be found in its teeth. Two of the creature's lower front teeth jut a fraction of an inch out from its jaw. No other fossils of the time have teeth like this.

"This is some kind of precursor of the tusk of the more modern [elephant]," Gheerbrant said.
Based on the skull fragments, Gheerbrant guessed that the proto-elephant was probably no more than 20 inches (50 centimeters), tip to tail—"something like a very large rabbit," size wise.
Because the find consists of skull and jaw fragments only, Gheerbrant said there's not enough evidence to know what it looked like—or whether it had anything resembling a trunk or elephantine ears.

Sixty million years ago, Africa was lush with vegetation and disconnected from the Eurasian continent to the north (world map of this period). The continent, Gheerbrant said, was an evolutionary hotbed.

The rise of elephant-like mammals hot on dinosaurs' heels suggests there are many more mammals from the period to be found, he said. More fossil hunts are needed, he added, to uncover how evolution put mammals center stage once the reptilian resource hogs had gone.

Mark Anderson

Khram Island, Thailand, June 17, 2009--A Thai Navy sailor holds a baby albino green sea turtle at a nursery for the reptiles, which are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.About 15,000 green turtles and hawksbill turtles are hatched and housed at the navy's conservation center annually until the animals are old enough to be released into the sea.

—Photograph by Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

Yard-long "Megapiranha" Fossil Found

June 26, 2009--Eight to ten million years ago, South America's waters harbored a toothier, three-foot (one-meter) version of today's famed, flesh-eating piranhas.

Alberto Cione, a paleontologist at Argentina's La Plata Museum, first noticed the evidence of Megapiranha pananensis (pictured in an artist's rendering)--an upper jaw with three unusually large and pointed teeth--in his collection in the 1980s. The remains had been discovered half a century earlier in a riverside cliff in northeastern Argentina. Cione and his colleagues now report that Megapiranha bridges the evolutionary gap between modern-day piranhas and plant-eating pacu fish.

The new study appears in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. --

Anne Minard

Bear skips veggies for chocolate in Calif. home


Deputies say a bear with an apparent sweet-tooth busted into a San Bernardino County home and gobbled up a box of chocolates from a couple's refrigerator.

Sheriff's Sgt. Tom Alsky says the couple arrived home Saturday afternoon, found the bear chowing down in their kitchen and phoned for help.

The bear fled before sheriff's deputies arrived.

Alsky says the animal appeared to have pushed aside vegetables in the couple's fridge and gone straight for the two-pound box of sweets.

He says the bear also tried to open a bottle of champagne but was not successful.

Not just cuckoo's clock that's upset by climate change

Bats falling from trees. Cranes staying put. Whales losing weight. Global warming is causing havoc, writes FIONA McCANN

CUCKOOS, LONG the bane of birdlife due to their habit of offloading eggs in the nests of all and sundry, are getting their comeuppance. Turns out they’ve fallen behind the migratory birds whose nests they usually use: those guys are moving north earlier due to climate change and leaving the cuckoos without the surrogate parents they require for raising their young.
Cuckoos aren’t the only ones confused by climate change however. The following five species have been both baffled and battered by environmental alterations, and often to an extent that can seriously threaten their survival.

These iconic bears are becoming the poster animals for climate change, given that increasing temperatures globally have been melting the Arctic ice shelf, and many are drowning in their quest for food.

The bears need sea ice on which to hunt seals, but longer ice-free periods mean longer time between meals, and researchers say many polar bears are finding they don’t have the required reserves to tough it out between feeds.

As if that wasn’t enough, the seals they normally feed on are also in shorter supply, given that the fish they in turn feed on are more scarce, and so on down the food chain. Put plainly, the shrinking polar ice cap means polar bears, who need ice to survive, are also shrinking in numbers. Some ecologists are warning that they could be gone entirely 100 years from now.

Not only are whales in the wrong place at the wrong time these days, what with their usual foodstuffs thriving closer to the poles because of warmer oceans, but they’re losing weight. Though this might be considered good news for many of their human counterparts, it’s bad news for whales, who rely on blubber for insulation and energy. According to a Japanese research team, whales are getting thinner which indicates big changes in their ecosystem.

And this loss of weight, tough though it may be to believe, could in turn be affecting their ability to reproduce. The problem is that krill, a staple food for baleen whales, grows in sea ice, so warming oceans mean migratory whales such as the humpback and blue now have to travel about 600 miles farther south for food. Small wonder they’re slimming down, but the consequences could be fatal.

Losing blubber is one thing, but dropping dead is another entirely. Yet that’s just what happened to thousands of Australian bats when scorching heatwaves linked to climate change caused them to flap their wings in a bid to cool off.

This, sadly, had the opposite effect. On one particular day in 2002, temperatures soared to 42 degrees wiping out 6 per cent of the flying foxes in nine colonies in New South Wales.

As many as 50 per cent of young bats died in the heatwave, finding themselves ill-prepared for the scorching temperatures. What happened was that, as things got hotter, the hanging bats began to fan their wings to cool themselves, but within a couple of hours of this frenzied activity they started panting and drooling saliva.

Finally, according to reports, bats began falling from the trees and dying within minutes – literally dropping dead. Researchers have estimated that over 30,000 flying foxes in Australia have died due to heatwaves in the past 15 years.

Turtles have it bad. Particularly male turtles. Get this: with turtles, the sex of the offspring doesn’t come down to any of that X and Y chromosome business, but is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs after they’ve been fertilized. In many turtle species, the
warm ones become female, and the cooler ones male. This has led some scientists to extrapolate that it’s potentially curtains for male turtles as the global temperature heats up.

And without the males, there’s not much hope for the rest. Even if a few brave soldiers make it, they’re facing a host of other climate change challenges, given that their digestion rate, growth and reproduction are all closely related to temperature, and these guys aren’t famed for their quick reactions. Adapting to rapid changes may take a bit longer for slow-moving turtles, and time could run out before that happens.

Climate change has caused particular confusion for migratory birds, who are accustomed to upping sticks when the weather changes. What happens when the weather doesn’t do what it used to is that many of them either migrate earlier, change their routes, or in some cases, settle down and giving up on the whole migration thing altogether.

One example of the latter is the crane, a bird that normally leaves the cool climes of Germany in the winter to wait it out in the balmier resorts in Spain and Portugal.

But rising temperatures have apparently fooled the cranes into thinking that it’s okay to stay put after all. Having ditched their travel plans however, many of the birds subsequently suffer when temperatures in Germany dip so low that they cannot survive the harsh winters.


Two men guilty of badger digging

Two men have been found guilty of using dogs to drive badgers out of their setts in Shropshire.
Paul Billington, 32, of Wrexham and Gerard Monk, 27, of Wheelton, Lancashire, were found guilty after a two-day trial.

The pair faced a variety of charges including attempting to kill a badger, digging for badgers, interfering with setts and hunting with dogs.

An RSPCA spokesman said the pair were digging at the setts near Whitchurch.

'Fighting dogs'
Ian Briggs said it was difficult to say what the motivation of the pair's actions were but thought it was because it was a bloodsport.

"It tends to be that they like killing things.

"They like to see their dogs fighting with the badgers which are regarded as the toughest mammals in the country," he said.

Billington, of Burton Meadows Farm, Llyndir Lane, Rossett, and Monk, of Millbrook Close, will be sentenced in July.

The case was heard at Shrewsbury Magistrates' Court.


Rare fish 'proves water quality'

The discovery of a rare blood-sucking fish in the River Wear is proof of high water quality, conservationists said.

Seven adult sea lampreys, which have toothed, funnel-like sucking mouths, have been found in the river near Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

Only three species of lampreys remain in Britain, and they are protected under European law.

The Environment Agency said the creatures only breed in water which is very clean.

So far the agency has identified twelve spawning sites, known as redds.

Fisheries officer Paul Frear said: "We were thrilled to discover lampreys back in the River Wear, as these rare blood-suckers show us that the water quality in the river is very high.

"Lampreys are extremely selective with their spawning sites and will only nest where the water quality is optimal."

Scientists are continuing to search for more lampreys, and anyone who spots one is asked to report the sighting to the Environment Agency.


Map of elephant DNA reveals trail of ivory smugglers

Scientists have used a revolutionary genetic technique to pinpoint the area of Africa where smugglers are slaughtering elephants to feed the worldwide illegal ivory trade.

Using a DNA map of Africa's elephants, they have found that most recent seizures of tusks can be traced to animals that had grazed in the Selous and Niassa game reserves on the Tanzania and Mozambique borders.

The discovery suggests that only a handful of cartels are responsible for most of the world's booming trade in illegal ivory and for the annual slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants. The extent of this trade is revealed through recent seizures of thousands of tusks in separate raids on docks in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan. These were aimed at satisfying the far east's growing appetite for ivory, a new status symbol for the middle classes of the region's swelling industrialised economies.

As a result, ivory prices have soared from $200 a kilogram in 2004 to more than $6,000. At the same time, scientists estimate that between 8% and 10% of Africa's elephants are now being slaughtered each year to meet demand.

"In the past, law enforcement agencies - including Interpol - thought these shipments of ivory had been put together by traders cherry-picking small stockpiles across Africa," said Professor Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington's Centre for Conservation Biology, where the DNA elephant map was developed.

"Our work shows that isn't true. The vast majority of poaching is being carried out by a few big organisations - possibly one or two major syndicates - that are targeting one area and then hammering its elephants. It is grim, but it also suggests we can target our anti-poaching efforts very specifically by focussing efforts on these regions."

At present, Tanzania is at the centre of the world's ivory slaughter. However, other work by Wasser and his team indicates that different areas, including parts of Zambia and Malawi, have been targeted in the recent past.

Ivory poaching was halted by an international campaign in the 1990s after it reached a peak between 1979 and 1989, when more than 700,000 elephants were killed for their tusks. However, aid that helps African nations fight poachers has dried up and the illegal ivory trade has returned to its previous high levels.

Killing for tusks is a particularly gruesome trade. Elephants are highly intelligent animals whose sophisticated social ties are exploited by poachers. They will often shoot young elephants to draw in a grieving parent, which is then killed for its tusks. "Our estimates suggest that more than 38,000 elephants were killed using techniques such as this in 2006 and that the annual death rate is even higher today," said Wasser.

His team's technique - outlined in the current issue of Scientific American - involves two separate sets of analyses. First, volunteers and researchers across Africa collected samples of elephant dung. Each contains plentiful amounts of DNA from cells, sloughed from the intestines of individual animals. These provide material for DNA fingerprints, which have since been mapped for the whole of Africa. Animals from one area have very similar DNA fingerprints, the researchers have found.

As part of the second analysis, a section of tusk seized from smugglers is ground up and its DNA is carefully extracted. Again a DNA fingerprint is made and compared with those on the dung map, in order to pinpoint the origin of the elephant.

In this way, Wasser and his colleagues analysed ivory seized when more than 11 tonnes of tusks were found in containers in raids on Taiwan and Hong Kong docks in July and August 2006. About 1,500 tusks were discovered and all were traced to elephants from the Selous game reserve, a Unesco heritage site in Tanzania, and the nearby Niassa game reserve in Mozambique. However, Japanese authorities - who had made another seizure of ivory that summer in Osaka - refused to co-operate and have since burnt the 260 tusks they found before their origins could be established. "You can draw your own conclusions," said Wasser.

Since then, major seizures of ivory have been made in Vietnam and the Philippines, both this year, and Wasser and his team are now preparing to use their DNA map to trace its origins.

"Ivory is now traded globally in the same illegal manner as drugs and weapons," said Wasser. "It is shameful that this has happened and we need to press the countries whose elephants are being targeted this way and get them to halt this trade."

Robin McKie, science editor

Heath fritillary butterfly sees boost in population

One of the UK's rarest butterflies has seen a boost in population, the RSPB has said.

A colony of heath fritillary at Blean Woods National Nature Reserve near Canterbury in Kent has grown from six in 2006 to 1,300 this year.

It is found at sites in Kent, Cornwall, Devon and Essex and its caterpillars feed only on cow-wheat plants.

In Blean Woods the colony has grown by ten times in the last twelve months - from 120 in 2008 to 1300 this year.

Manager of the reserve Michael Walter said: "The sheer number of butterflies is unlike anything I've seen before for any UK butterfly species.

"At the beginning of June I did my first count in the area, and was surprised to record 68 - a good number for a peak count, let alone for the start of the season. Now we're at the peak there are well over a thousand, the fact that they are heath fritillaries makes it even more incredible.

"I have been working at Blean Woods for 27 years and have seen some amazing sights but this has got to be one of the best. Wherever I look there are just great clouds of them taking off. In the evening you can see them settle on the leaves here, they seem to cover every surface."
The large colony is one of 21 groups of heath fritillary at the reserve.


The eagles have landed in Scotland

A total of 20 white-tailed sea eagle chicks have arrived in Scotland as part of a reintroduction programme.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham welcomed the third batch of chicks in the five-year East Scotland Sea Eagles (ESSE) reintroduction project.

The chicks were then taken to ten purpose-built aviaries at a secret location on Forestry Commission Scotland land in Fife.

They will stay here for up to two months until they have developed all their flight feathers and are strong enough to fledge.

ESSE is a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland to reintroduce the birds to the east of Scotland.

The birds disappeared from the UK in Victorian times as a result of attacks by humans.

Ms Cunningham said in a statement: "Previously wiped out in Scotland it is apt these chicks are arriving in this year of Homecoming and I am confident their presence, and that of the sea eagles released before them, will help encourage visitors to our shores.

"Ultimately however, the project's goal is to replace what was once lost and with 2010 as International Year of Biodiversity there is no better time to take action to boost the variety of life in Scotland.

"It is particularly gratifying that an animal driven to extinction by human persecution now has us going to great lengths to rectify the mistake. I'd like to congratulate RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage on their efforts and I look forward to seeing these magnificent birds thriving in their new home"

Claire Smith, RSPB Scotland sea eagle project officer, said: "With two previous batches of chicks now well established in the east of Scotland, this project is helping to ensure that these spectacular birds become an increasingly common sight all over the country.

"Over time, they will begin to link up with the established population in the west, helping boost the number of breeding pairs in the wild. We are already seeing the two populations of birds mixing with increasing visits from young west coast birds to the east over the past few months."

Three Spix macaws, one of the world’s rarest birds, hatched in captivity

Successful hatching of three Spix's macaws
June 2009. Three critically endangered Spix's macaws have hatched at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation Centre (AWWP), located in the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar.

What makes this breeding success so important is that it came from AWWP's genetically most important pairing, including the genetically most important female in the international studbook managed population.

The first two chicks hatched in late February and the third on the 2nd of March. All three hatched without complications in AWWP's new bird nursery, which has three rooms exclusively for Spix's macaws; one for incubation, another for hand-rearing and an extra large room for fledglings.

Spix’s Chicks at 3 weeks. Credit AWWP

66 Spix macaws in captivity - Extinct in the wild
AWWP is currently home to 50 of the 66 Spix's macaws in the Brazilian Government's international studbook managed breeding program. The Spix's macaw is almost certainly extinct in the wild where it has not been observed since the last known wild bird was last seen in October 2000.
Spix’s Chicks at 7-8 weeks. Credit AWWP

Habitat recreation
The goal of the captive breeding program is to establish a genetically and demographically sustainable population from which carefully selected individuals can be re-established back to their place of wild origin; the semi-arid "Caatinga" biome of Northern Bahia State, Brazil. Efforts to provide suitable habitat for the birds have already started, with two key properties having been purchased from parties involved in Spix's macaw conservation including the recent purchase of the 2200 hectare Concordia Farm by AWWP's owner and founder HE. Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohd. Bin Ali Al-Thani late last year.


Two New Frogs Discovered in Western Australia

Tiny toadlet and Kimberley froglet only know from the Kimberley
June 2009. Two new species of frogs have been discovered in Western Australia according to the Western Australian Museum.

Tiny Toadlet
The first species is called the Tiny Toadlet (Uperoleia micra) and is just over 2 cm long. It was discovered near the Prince Regent River when it was first heard calling near the field expedition base camp at Bachsten Creek. The new species is extremely shy and would not have been discovered if its call did not differ from those of three related species in the area.

Toadlets are actually frogs
‘Toadlets' are not true toads, but a group of native frogs that have a stocky appearance. The Kimberley is host to the highest diversity of Toadlets in Australia.

Kimberley Froglet

The Kimberley Froglet (Crinia fimbriata), was discovered on the Mitchell Plateau - an area previously believed to have been well surveyed for frogs. It is also about 2 cm in length. It was noticed owing to its blue and red background colour and covered with tiny white dots, similar to some Aboriginal painting styles. Males of this species have flanges on the fingers, but it is not known what the flanges might be used for.
Kimberley biodiversity
The discovery of two frog species in the northwest Kimberley emphasises the high diversity of the area, and is timely owing to current State and National reviews of the area's biodiversity assets. The very rugged northwest Kimberley region is being increasingly impacted by tourism, industry, feral weeds, cattle and soon the Cane Toad.

High level of endemism
Dr. Paul Doughty, WA Museum Curator of Herpetology said "The northwest Kimberley has a high diversity of frogs and reptiles that are unique to the region, as it receives high rainfall in summer and the area is cut-off by drier regions to the south. Many of the species that occur there have been evolving there in isolation for millions of years, and there are certainly more species to discover from the area."

"Other than being able to describe these two new species, we know very little about their behaviour and habits. To me they are like new friends that we are just getting to know" he said.

The discoveries were made possible by a research grant through Alcoa of Australia to support the WA Museum's Alcoa Frog Watch programme. Also participating were Dale Roberts of UWA, Marion Anstis - Australia's tadpole expert, PhD student Luke Price from the SA Museum and many others.

The discovery of the frogs from the high rainfall zone of the northwest Kimberley were formally described this week in the Records of the Western Australian Museum and Zootaxa.
Picture Credit Western Australia Museum

Thieves 'using Google Earth to steal koi carp'

Thieves are using Google Earth to steal expensive koi carp from homeowners' ponds, police believe.

They are believed to be using Internet mapping systems to identify gardens with ponds so they can take the sought-after specimens.

Twelve thefts of the exotic fish and pond equipment, some of which are worth hundreds of pounds, have been reported over a three-week period across Hull, East Yorks.

Humberside Police Community Support Officer Sam Gregory said all the evidence suggests the culprits are using the Internet to seek out their targets.

Google Earth provides satellite photos detailed enough to see what is in people's back gardens.
PCSO Gregory said: "Google shows what is in your garden and you can see people's ponds.

"One of the properties targeted has an eight foot fence and is set back from the road.

"The pond is in the corner and can't be seen.

"Unless you were standing right next to the wall, you wouldn't be able to hear the running water."

Robert Barnes lost four koi carp and expensive lilies from his pond. The 65 year-old said: "They took the smaller fish, probably because they last longer out of the water.

"My neighbour later told me she had seen two young men with a bike with a box on it and a big black net."

Nigel Dawson, 40, woke up one morning to find his expensive filter system and 13 koi carp had been taken from his back garden.

He said: "I am devastated. I didn't see or hear anything."

A spokesperson for Google said the search engine was just one provider of such satellite images.
They said: "Google Earth is built from information that is available worldwide from a wide range of both commercial and public sources.

"As such, Google Earth creates no appreciable increase in security risks, given the wide commercial availability of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery of every country in the world.

"Criminals could use maps, phones and getaway cars but no one would argue that these technologies are responsible for the crime itself, that responsibility lies with the perpetrator."


Sunday, 28 June 2009

Wildlife skyscraper wins design award

Garnett Netherwood Architects has won the Holbeck Urban Village Wildlife Design Competition.

June 2009. Garnett Netherwood Architects were declared the winners of the first Holbeck Urban Village Wildlife Competition with an ambitious design for a Green Tower Structure which is to cater for the wildlife of Holbeck Urban Village. There were 31 entries from architects, artists and designers from as far and wide as Mumbai, New York, Seoul and Rotterdam.

Garnett Netherwood's design is a skyscraper for wildlife made from the recycled materials of demolished buildings. It is to house a number of species and if successful could provide a template for many more green towers within and around the area. The tower structure resonates with the Italianate towers which are a well known landmark on the Holbeck and Leeds skyline.
Hopefully these green towers will attract wildlife back into the urban environment.

Neil Oxlee of Garnett Netherwood said "We did believe that Holbeck Urban Village was the place to create such an iconic structure. The idea is well suited to an urban environment and will provide many environmental advantages if constructed. This structure could serve as a talking point whilst having an extremely positive effect on the local wildlife. Since we found out we had won there has been a lot of positivity towards the design which will hopefully lead to a full version of the scheme being created."

Competition judge Geoff Ward who is the chair of RIBA Yorkshire commented "The Urban Takeback design had the right balance of ambition alongside a sensitive understanding of the local environment. Also, its high visibility gives it potential to be a focal point for engaging and attracting the community."

Woylie Conservation Research Project

The woylie has been hailed as one of the success stories of wildlife conservation programs like DEC's Western Shield. In 1996, it was the first endangered species to be removed from listing under the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 as a direct result of a recovery program.

However, a dramatic decline in woylie numbers has been observed over the past few years.
With funding from Saving our Species, the State Government's biodiversity conservation initiative, research is now under way to determine possible causes.

Juvenile woylie (Photo: Sabrina Trocini)”

On 22nd January 2008 Environment Minister David Templeman re-listed the woylie as endangered under Schedule 1 of the State Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.

The assessment of the conservation status of the woylie and the Woylie Conservation Research Project are funded through Saving our Species.


Tracking device leads authorities to stolen snake

A STOLEN two-metre carpet python has been recovered after authorities homed in on a tracking device fitted to an endangered woylie which the snake had devoured.

The snake was taken from the Department of Environment and Conservation's Woodvale Research Centre sometime between June 19 and 22. The python had eaten a woylie in the wild at Narrogin, complete with transmitter, and was brought to the centre so the tracking device could be removed from the snake.

Conservation department officers, with the assistance of the airforce, put up a search plane yesterday and traced the signal to a house in Heathridge. Department of Environment and Conservation senior research scientist Nicky Marlow said she was "absolutely ecstatic" to have the python back. "We were really upset when the python was stolen because we knew it wasn’t a good thing for her to have the transmitter inside her," Dr Marlow said. Dr Marlow said DEC needed special permission from Air Services Australian and the military to send up a search plane. Sergeant Damian Ellson, of Joondalup police, said the occupant of the house where the snake was found was at home when the property was raided. The 31-year-old man, who told police he bought the python from a seller for $50, has been charged with receiving stolen property. "He (the occupant) was not aware there was a tracker involved," he said.

"Upon entry we found the snake in a fish tank within about one minute, so it was a great result.

"(The python) was in a poor condition, it didn’t have the light and requirements a snake of that type would need. "It was very cold and distressed when located." Sgt Ellson said trading in stolen wildlife was a serious offence which carried fines of up to $7000. Dr Marlow said the python will be returned to the wild once the transmitter has been removed in a couple of weeks. The police investigation is ongoing.


Monkeys fall for visual illusion

A visual illusion has provided clues about how monkeys recognise faces.

In a study, rhesus monkeys responded to the "Thatcher effect", a strange phenomenon that makes it difficult to detect changes in an upside down face.

The study, in the journal Current Biology, is the first to show this effect in non-human animals.

The authors say this suggests that the ability to identify a familiar face may have evolved in an ancestor common to humans and rhesus monkeys.

The Thatcher effect is named after Margaret Thatcher, because images of the former UK prime minister's face were used its first demonstration, in experiments with humans.

A "thatcherised" image of a face has its mouth and eyes inverted relative to the rest of the face.

A familiar face
To test the monkeys' response to the effect, the team assessed their responses to photographs, observing how much attention the animals paid to the images.

"We showed monkeys pictures of other monkeys, either upright or upside down until they were bored (and stopped paying attention)," explained Professor Hampton.

"Then we showed them 'thatcherised' faces, again either right side up or upside down."

When the faces were right side up, the monkeys regained interest, indicating that they noticed the change.

"When the faces were upside down, they did not," said Professor Hampton. "They treated it as just another boring presentation of the same picture."

"What is surprising is that, like humans, the monkeys detect these changes strongly in upright pictures of faces, but not in faces that are upside down," explained one of the authors, Robert Hampton from Emory University in Atlanta, US.

"This shows that monkeys, like humans, are especially sensitive to the relationship [between] facial features in upright faces. This sensitivity is likely necessary for discriminating between different faces."

Because faces share many common features, with subtle differences in their layout, Professor Hampton explained that "detecting these differences in the layout is the key" to recognising a familiar face amongst many others.

Humans often describe upright "thatcherised" faces as gruesome, and the team are planning future studies taking physiological measures such as pupil size, to begin to address whether monkeys also find the images alarming.

Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News


Scientists find tiny new bat species: Geneva museum

GENEVA (AFP) — Scientists have identified a new species of bat weighing just five grammes in the Comoros island archipelago off eastern Africa, the Natural History Museum in Geneva said on Wednesday.

Australian, Madagascan, Swiss and US scientists were documenting bats in the former French colony when they came across the new species, which originates from nearby Madagascar, the museum said in a statement.

The mammal has been named "Miniopterus aelleni" in honour of the late Villy Aellen, a former head of the Geneva museum and a major bat specialist.

Some 10 new species of mammal have been identified every year since 2000, the museum said


Fears over return of 'black plague'

PEOPLE in Kinlochbervie fear that they may face another invasion of millipedes in the area, three years after "the black plague" when houses were infested with the multi-legged arthropods.

So far it has been a mystery why the nocturnal creatures keep appearing in the townships of Droman and Balchrick, a few miles north-west of Kinlochbervie.

In June 2006, millions of them invaded houses, making life a misery for residents. The bugs climbed walls, dropped onto food as they died and crawled over people as they slept in bed. They crossed the road in such numbers that some people turned back rather than walk through them.
Individual householders could not keep them out and they appealed to the council and various environmental bodies "to do something".

Over the past few weeks they have re-appeared in the area, although not in the numbers reported before. As none were seen last year, folk are wondering why they have decided to return this summer.

Bridget Graham at Balchrick Post Office told us: "Over the past couple of weeks we have noticed the millipedes returning again but not in the numbers they were a few years ago.

"We have tried everything to get rid of them because they are horrible when they are indoors. The trouble is that you don't want to put any kind of chemicals down because we are a crofting area with sheep and cattle around, and of course pet dogs and cats. Also, the land is part of the John Muir Trust estate and they will not allow anything like that.

"We have been in contact with the council and other experts to try and find a solution but there does not seem to be one. My daughter was on the internet but still couldn't find anything.

"Apparently there is a powder you can put down, but I don't know how successful that is. I tried talcum powder, as someone said that worked, but it didn't.

"What I can't understand is that, until five years ago, I had never seen a millipede here, but then they suddenly appeared. We don't know why, nor why it is only in this small area of the north-west. It could be climate change, but then it happened so quickly. If anyone out there can help, then we would be grateful."

This year, the beasties have only been seen in Balchrick – not Droman. One Balchrick resident said there were up to 100 in his house.

Our Kinlochbervie correspondent, Andrew Marshall, says: "An expert opinion was that if the grass was kept short by grazing animals, the millipedes would disappear. It seems the grass in Droman is shorter now, but near a house invaded in Balchrick there is an ungrazed field."

Andrew Campbell, of the John Muir Trust, told us: "We are very aware of the situation and I was up there myself a couple of years ago and was horrified at how many there were.

"They must be a real nuisance to the people there. We did a bit of research into it in preparation for their appearing last year but when they never did we assumed they had gone.

"I suppose you can say they are a natural phenomenon and like many insects and small animals they have their peaks and troughs. But why they should appear in just this small area of the north-west, we have no idea – they are nowhere else on the west coast as far as I know.

"What can be done? Nothing comes to mind. If you use a spray, then that will have an effect on other species. I heard in one place in Europe they erected a wall made of something like stainless steel around the whole area and the millipedes could not climb up the walls because they kept sliding down. That was effective but obviously not practical here.

"The John Muir Trust is naturally concerned about what is happening as we want the communities who are living and working on our land to be in a safe, healthy and comfortable environment, but we are defeated by this one. Individuals must take their own precautions, such as not leaving outside lights on. Like other nocturnal creatures they are attracted to light.

"This was a crofting area but is not so intensively cultivated now so maybe this has created a habitat which is good for them.

"We are intrinsically against chemicals or pesticides being used, but we can understand people who are being affected by this wanting to find something which can prevent the millipedes infesting their homes."

Millipedes are active at night and spend most of their life in moist soil and decaying vegetation. They are nature's recyclers as most eat decaying leaves and wood and other small pieces of dead plants. They are often confused with centipedes because they look similar – centipedes have poisonous bites but millipedes do not.

Alison Cameron

I share my home with 11 cats - four cheetahs, five lions and two tigers

Sharing a bed with your furry friend has taken on a whole new meaning for Riana Van Nieuwenhuizen.

The sanctuary worker shares her South African home with not one but FOUR orphaned cheetahs, five lions and two tigers.

Forty-six-year-old Riana said: 'I love them all. But they're a handful.'

Riana bought her first cheetah, Fiela in 2006, after realising the big cats were in trouble and heading for extinction with only 1000 left in Africa.

She left her full time job working for the department of justice - a position she had held for 22 years - and found temporary employment on a game ranch where she could raise her beloved big cat.

But Riana's real dream was fully realised after she set up the not-for-profit Fiela Funds Cheetah Breeding Project in South Africa to ensure the long-term survival of the cheetah and their ecosystem.

The project spreads over a hectare of land and visitors can meet Fiela and the other cats and even have their pictures taken.

And if you want to outdo your friends in the wedding photo stakes the project also offers newly weds the chance to be snapped cuddling up to a big cat.

The cats in Riana's own home are truly part of the family and are allowed to roam freely.

They make it known when they are hungry, even jumping up onto work surfaces in an attempt to snatch a bite of whatever's going.

Luckily Riana's two dogs aren't on the menu but instead romp with the cats and even snuggle down with them for a snooze.

The cheetahs have even been known to sit in on the odd card game but whether they offered any cat-like-cunning or poker faces is unknown.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Wood harvest puts pandas at risk

A wild panda in the Wolong Nature Reserve

People and giant pandas are still coming into conflict.

So concludes a report into the firewood collecting habits of people living in one of China's largest panda reserves.

It found that over the past 30 years, people living in rural communities have ventured ever deeper into prime panda habitat to collect wood to burn.

Unless more is done to meet the needs of these rural households, the report says, they may continue to cut down prime forest, putting pandas at risk.

Collecting wood to use as fuel is extremely common around the developing world, with some reports suggesting that up to three billion people still rely on wood as a main source of energy to cook with and heat their homes.

That in turn significantly impacts wildlife habitats, which can become degraded and fragmented as trees are chopped down.

Guangming He of the Michigan State University in East Lansing, US led a team that examined how the collection of firewood has impacted panda habitat in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, China.

More than 15% of the nation's land area is legally protected in thousands of nature reserves and national parks, and the Wolong Nature Reserve is one of the largest dedicated to protecting the giant panda, holding around 150, or roughly 10%, of the remaining wild population of pandas.

The team surveyed how the wood collecting habits of 200 rural households in the reserve had changed since the 1970s.

"The impacts of fuelwood collection on panda habitat over time and space were not known," says He.

His team found that over the past 30 years, residents have increasingly travelled further into the forest, to more remote and high elevations, to collect wood. Trees such as oak, maple, birch, spruce and larch are chopped down, and the logs driven home to be chopped down further into firewood.

"Collectors were travelling longer distances to physically challenging areas," says He. "In our case, to areas of high quality panda habitat."
The number of sites where people cut down trees for firewood increased threefold during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, says the report, published in Landscape and Urban Planning by He and colleagues based in the US and at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Bejing and China's Center for Giant Panda Research and Conservation based in the Wolong Nature Reserve.

That's a problem for pandas, which occupy temperate montane forests with dense stands of bamboo at altitudes of 1,200 to 4,100m.
Since the 1970s, roads have been constructed within the reserve, including one that bisects it, to encourage local people to visit local markets rather than rely on the forest for resources.

However, these roads extended so far into the forest that they helped residents reach previously inaccessible trees, He's team found.
But "the most surprising result would be that many households were aware of fuelwood collection regulations and understood their importance to panda conservation, but many of them did not comply," He says.

China has recently provided extensive financial help to many rural households in the Wolong Nature Reserve, helping them switch to electricity rather than rely on firewood for their energy needs.

But more should be done to lower electricity prices to discourage people from collecting wood, says He.

Otherwise, he says, "if fuelwood collection continues, then all wild pandas in the reserve will be impacted."

Matt Walker Editor, Earth News

Battle To Save Penguins Facing Extinction

Conservationists are warning that a rare species of penguin could face extinction unless urgent action is taken to protect it.

African penguins which nest around the southern coastline of the continent are under threat from commercial fishing and oil spills.
In the past century the population of the birds has declined by 90%, leaving just 26,000 breeding pairs left in the wild.
If the current rate of decline continues the African penguin, also known as the jackass penguin because of its donkey-like bray, could be extinct by 2024.

In South Africa, researchers are closely monitoring every penguin colony to gather data to present to the government as part of a campaign for fishing exclusion zones.

On the remote Dyer Island, off the coast of Cape Town, Lauren Waller and her colleague Deon Geldenhuys spend each day measuring and weighing the penguin chicks.

Their condition reckoned to be a good indicator of the availability of fish around the island because they are totally dependent on their parents' ability to find food.

"We're finding more underweight chicks, and more chicks that have been abandoned," Lauren said.

Dyer Island - uninhabited by humans - is a protected site for sea birds. But the protection does not extend out to sea.

Fishing of sardines and other pelagic fish in the area is unrestricted which means that the penguins have to compete with the trawlers for food.

The researchers have attached small GPS devices to some of the adult birds to see how far they are travelling.

"We've found that the Dyer Island birds are swimming 40 kilometres to fish, and that is at the very limit of the distance they can travel when they have chicks," Lauren said.

Penguins mate for life and the breeding pairs take it in turns to find food while the other stays with the chicks.

The distances involved mean the adult penguins are increasingly vulnerable to seal attacks and oil spills out at sea, while their young go hungry back in the nest.

At the Southern African Foundation For The Conservation Of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape Town hundreds of injured and oiled penguins are rescued every year.

"Most of the time the oil spills aren't even reported, but every day we get penguins in here who are close to death because they have been covered in oil," said Venessa Strauss, the centre's CEO.

Saving the birds is labour-intensive. It takes four people to clean each bird, and they then have to be fed three times a day - by hand.

The penguins are eventually returned to the wild in the hope that they will help boost the falling numbers.

Climate change is exacerbating the problem, shifting the location of the fish and also making the penguins vulnerable to over-heating on the land.

Around the Western Cape researchers are experimenting with artificial nests made of fibre glass to try to keep the chicks out of the sun.

On Dyer Island the penguins have been quick to move into the burrow shaped structures, each pair closely guarding their new homes.

Cattle to graze on heathland

HEATHLAND near Exeter will be restored in a Forestry Commission project to encourage wildlife.

The work, on Ideford Common, within Haldon Forest, will ensure it remains a suitable habitat for breeding birds of prey, nightjars and butterflies.

The project is part funded by a £27,200 grant from the SITA Trust and £3,000 from Natural England.

The money will be used to graze cattle on the common area and pay for fencing and access points.

A pond will be excavated for the cattle to drink from and there will be felling of a small area of plantation woodland. A cattle corral will also be constructed.

The total cost of the project will be £57,600.


Baby pine martens back together again

Animals thriving after falling from nest at Banff a month apart

TWO baby pine martens who were separated after they fell from the same nest in the north-east have been reunited.

Staff at the Scottish SPCA wildlife rescue centre at Fife have named the female Aspen and her brother Ash.

Aspen tumbled out of their nest in a chimney top at Banff at the end of May and Ash suffered the same fate a month later.

Ash was originally taken to an SPCA rescue centre at New Deer but was later transferred to the Fife centre.

Centre manager Colin Seddon said: “We have reunited the pair and they have been getting on very well together.

“We were fairly confident about putting them together, given that they are brother and sister, but occasionally when you introduce one animal to another, there can be a bit of a stand-off.”

The two animals are being kept in a small enclosure at the moment but centre staff are preparing to move them to an outdoor space where they will have more room to move around and climb.

Mr Seddon said: “Once they are fully developed, we will find a suitable location to release them back to their natural native habitat.”

By John Thomson

Return for damselfly in distress

An endangered insect has been reintroduced to a nature reserve in Devon in a bid to secure its future.
The number of southern damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) in the UK has fallen by about 30% since 1960, and it is now considered globally threatened.
The iridescent-blue insect breeds in heathland streams and has been hit by pollution and drainage of waterways.

Now Devon Wildlife Trust has released about 500 damselflies at Venn Ottery Nature Reserve in east Devon.

The project, funded by the British Dragonfly Society, was the brainchild of David Thompson, professor of conservation biology at Liverpool University's school of biological sciences.

"Southern damselflies are a very localised species and find it difficult to disperse to other sites, so reintroductions of this kind are essential to help secure the future of the species," he said.
Butterfly rearing cages were used to transfer the insects from a site in Dorset.
They were released into a 400m (1,312ft) stretch of watercourse at Venn Ottery, where they have not been seen for more than 20 years.

Work was carried out at the site ahead of the reintroduction to make it fit for the insects, including introducing grazing, reducing scrub levels and installing small dams to slow the movement of water through the reserve.

Devon Wildlife Trust's reserves officer Ian Chadwick said more than 95% of the southern damselfly's two-year life cycle was spent as larvae in submerged stream vegetation.

"A permanent supply of unpolluted, slow-moving running water is essential for their survival," he said.

"This work has enabled us to create the right conditions for the reintroduction and we are confident that it will succeed."

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