Thursday, 30 April 2009

‘Puma’ spotted in Ballymoney

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A LARGE cat like animal which was spotted up a tree in the Charlotte Street area of Ballymoney recently is believed to have been a puma.

It has been a number of years since previous reports of 'large cat-like creatures' roaming the North Coast area and The Chronicle can confirm that those animals reportedly seen at the time were never captured.

The area in which the 'puma' was spotted last Thursday is within a short distance of several schools where hundreds of children play daily.

Mrs Carmel McCallum, a mother of two, told The Chronicle how she and her husband Walter saw something big and black up a tree in the field at the bottom of their garden and went to investigate.

She said: "We were looking out the window at the back of our house and I saw something black up the tree in the field behind the garden. I realised it was far too big to be a bird so we went outside so we could get a closer look.

“It was definitely a huge cat-like creature. It had a big wide cat-like face and a really long tail. We couldn't believe it when it turned around and we were able to see its face, it had a huge back and when it turned round it stumbled down the tree and disappeared."

She said that she was so excited she never thought to be afraid, adding: "I just wish I had've had a better pair of binoculars and a better camera! We were both taking turns to climb up a ladder in order to get a better look. You know, on first appearance I thought it was a bear, but when we saw the face and the long tail, my husband and I were convinced it was a puma.

“We contacted the police who contacted the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA). Two of their officers came out on Friday and when they heard our description they seemed to think it was possible that it may have been a puma."

There have been a number of reported sightings of pumas or big cats in the area in the past couple of years, but none as recently as this one by Mrs McCallum. It is also thought that no puma, until now, has ventured in as close to a town as this one is thought to have done. In August 2003 police received reports of more than 20 sightings of a 'big cat' loose on the North Coast. Then in September 2003 it was reported that a panther and a puma were at large in the North Antrim area a USPCA spokesman today confirmed that they were never caught. He added that the only 'big cat' ever caught in NI was a 'Lynx' which was shot in Omagh, Co.Tyrone years ago.

A USPCA spokesman said that two of their officers had been to the Charlotte Street scene on Friday, adding: "I can confirm that two of our officers visited Charlotte Street on Friday and took a look at the photograph. It was very distant so we can't give a definitive decision that it was in fact a puma, it was quite a distance away and the pictures weren't very clear. But in circumstances like this we like to keep an open mind. Yes, we have had reports of pumas in the Ballymoney area in the past but we haven't had any calls in a while."

More sightings of the roving black beast

29 April 2009

FRESH sightings of a mysterious black beast and the discovery of a mutilated deer this week added more credibility to the stories of a big black cat prowling Norfolk.

The new evidence came after various of tales of a mysterious panther-like black animal being spotted in north Norfolk and close to Norwich, north and east of the city boundary.

The mutilated deer was found by two teenagers, 18-year-old Diana Turner and a friend, as they walked along Weavers Way near Stepping Stone Lane just outside Stalham.

The teenagers took a photograph of the carcase which they later showed to Barrie Slater, the father of Miss Turner's boyfriend.

Mr Slater said they had struggled to think of anything else that could have caused the damage - other than a large, and perhaps feral, dog. He said: "There is nothing around big enough to do that much damage. It appears to have had its neck broken which is the sort of thing big cats do. It's an enormous bite."

Mr Slater contacted the News about the deer after seeing newspaper photographs of huge scratches supposedly left by a big cat on a tree near North Walsham on Sunday.

Jill Nobbs saw a large, dark coloured animal in the field at the bottom of her garden in Blofield.

She said: "The creature was about the size of a Labrador but longer and thinner and it ran extremely quickly.

"There were no signs of anyone walking a dog. I believe it was a wild animal, probably a puma."

She added that the animal was chasing something red - possibly a fox or a small deer.

Shaun Baxter, a househusband from Bowthorpe, near Norwich, said he saw the "black panther" leaving his mark while out shooting rabbits in a field off Bacton Road between North Walsham and Edingthorpe.

If you spot the mysterious beast contact associate editor Ivor Harvey on 01603 772461 or email

Is this yet another mysterious big cat attack?

A SAVAGED sheep carcass bears hallmarks of another big cat attack, say experts — and this time it’s close to the town centre.

Farmer Richard Webster found his prize ewe dead in the corner of his 34 acre field in Ashbourne Green on Friday morning and immediately suspected a big dog had been in with his 41 ewes and 71 lambs.

Closer inspection of the carcass reveals tell-tale signs of a big cat kill, and the attack bears a striking resemblance to one in Hognaston in November last year.

Mark Fraser, from Big Cats in Britain, said the pictures didn’t provide conclusive evidence that the wounds were caused by a cat and not a dog, but said it was an interesting case.

He said: "It’s always difficult with livestock kills judge anything after a few hours, as you’d need to get to the carcass before the scavengers.

"Cats do usually go for the neck, and because they lick bones instead of chew them they are often very clean kills, but to be honest I have seen dog kills like this before."

Traces of blood and a clawmark were spotted on the high wooden fence surrounding the field, indicating the animal leapt over it to slink away in to the night.

Despite dozens of sightings, carcasses, and even reports of a wild cat attacking a farmer’s dogs right in front of him, there is still no hard evidence a big cat is roaming the area.

Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs over swine flu

By MAAMOUN YOUSSEF, Associated Press Writer Maamoun Youssef, Associated Press Writer – Wed Apr 29, 9:18 am ET

CAIRO – Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.

The move immediately provoked resistance from pig farmers. At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, farmers refused to cooperate with Health Ministry workers who came to slaughter the animals and the workers left without carrying out the government order.

"It has been decided to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country's slaughterhouses," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's overwhelmingly Muslim population does not eat pork due to religious restrictions. But the animals are raised and consumed by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman estimated there were between 300,000-350,000 pigs in Egypt.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza told reporters that farmers would be allowed to sell the pork meat so there would be no need for compensation.

In 2008, following fears over diseases spread by animals, Mubarak ordered all pig and chicken farms moved out of population areas. But the order was never implemented.

Pigs can be found in many places around Muslim world, often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork. But they are banned entirely in some Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.

In Jordan, the government decided Wednesday to shut down the country's five pig farms, involving 800 animals, for violating public health safety regulations.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Meet The Puppy That Glows In The Dark

4:12pm UK, Wednesday April 29, 2009

In a development that Darwin himself could not have foreseen, a beagle has become the world's first transgenic dog - and it glows in the dark.

The dog called Ruppy - short for Ruby Puppy - has been created by scientists in South Korea.

The puppy was bred to produce a fluorescent protein that glows red under ultraviolet light, but it's red skin colour can also be clearly seen in daylight.

Byeong-Chun Lee, of the Seoul National University, headed the team that created Ruppy and her four beagle siblings, each possessing the bizarre fluorescent bodies.

Lee was also part of the team responsible for the very first cloned dog, Snuppy, born in 2005.

Team member CheMyong Ko of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, said of the breakthrough: "The next step for us is to generate a true disease model."

The hope is that, following the Ruppy breakthrough, transgenic dogs will become more effective stand-ins for the study of human disease.

Reactions to the announcement from other scientists studying dogs as models of human disease was mixed.

Greg Barsh, a genetist at Stanford University, said the creation of a transgenic dog was "an important accomplishment".

But he did not know of "specific situations where the ability to produce transgenic dogs represents an immediate experimental opportunity".

Nathan Sutter, of Cornell University in New York, said working with laboratory-reared dogs was "not on my horizon as a dog genetist at all", claiming "transgenesis is laborious, expensive and slow."

Aussie lizard rolls over to avoid sex

By Anna Salleh for ABC Science Online
Posted Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:34pm AEST Females of an Australian species of lizard rely on testosterone for a most unusual method of keeping amorous males off their back, researchers have found.

Evolutionary ecology Dr Devi Stuart-Fox of the University of Melbourne, and colleagues, report their findings online ahead of print publication in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.

In most animals that use colourful displays for attraction, it's usually the male that's flashy, such as the peacock.

But the female Lake Eyre dragon lizard (Ctenophorus maculosus) is an exception. She displays a bright orange belly and throat during parts of her breeding season, which researchers think is driven by the hormone testosterone.

Interestingly, the colour features prominently when the female wants to put off a male from copulating with her.

Stuart-Fox and colleagues took a close look at a number of female lizards taken from Lake Eyre in South Australia and observed what happened when they were in the company of males.

Persistent males

When Lake Eyre lizards copulate the male bites the female's neck, climbs on top of her, wraps his tail around hers and inserts one of his two penises.

This can be hazardous to the health of the female because when the males bite them on the neck this can pierce the female's spine and result in death.

Therefore once the female's eggs have been fertilised, she will try to avoid mating. But males aren't easily put off.

"The males are really persistent," says Stuart-Fox. "They try and force copulation and they harass females all through the breeding season."

Unreceptive females scare off advancing males by taking on a threatening posture.

If this doesn't work, they throw themselves on their backs and reveal their bright orange underside.

"Males can't actually force themselves onto a female when she's on her back," says Stuart-Fox.

Sex steroid

Stuart-Fox also measured the levels of sex steroids in blood samples taken from the lizards over time.

Progesterone and testosterone usually decrease once female lizards are no longer receptive to mating, but not in the Lake Eyre dragon lizard.

"They maintain high testosterone levels all through the reproductive cycle including when they weren't receptive later in the cycle," says Stuart-Fox.

The researchers believe the testosterone is used to drive the female courtship rejection behaviours.

War of the sexes

Sexual conflict between persistent males and reluctant females has led to an evolutionary tit for tat involving all manner of behaviours, says Stuart-Fox.

"You get this runaway process where males evolve elaborate ways of trying to gain matings and females evolve elaborate ways of trying to avoid matings," says Stuart-Fox.

But she wondered about the evolutionary benefit to females of spending time on their back, which makes it difficult for them to run away from predators.

Especially given they live in a rather drab landscape, the bright orange could be a flag to predators that says "come and get me" , says Stuart-Fox.

But she says more recent studies have suggested predators do not recognise the brightly-coloured female lizards as prey.

So, says Stuart-Fox, the risk of being vulnerable to prey is much lower than the risk of having unwanted sex.

Family of ducks march through shop to reach river

A duck brought a busy street to a standstill as she proudly marched through a shop with her 11 ducklings to give them their first swimming lesson in a river.

By Murray Wardrop
Last Updated: 10:37AM BST 29 Apr 2009

The fluffy new family had to be escorted to safety by shop staff after the ducklings hatched on a wall in the backyard of the Kidney Research UK charity store in St Ives, Cambs.

Their journey involved a 100-yard waddle through the store, across pavements and over a busy road to the River Great Ouse quayside, where they plopped three feet down into the water.

Dozens of shoppers stopped and watched in amazement as the mallard and her ducklings ignored the bustle on the street and set off for a dip.

Shop manager Carol Andrews has been chaperoning ducks through the store each Spring since it opened seven years ago.

Every year Mrs Andrews makes a ramp so the mother duck and her brood can get out of the yard and into the storeroom.

She then helps them make their first journey to the river, guiding them through traffic and pedestrians.

She believes it is the same mother duck who returns to have her ducklings in the safety of the enclosed back yard.

Mrs Andrews said: "The mother builds her nest on top of an ivy-covered 8ft wall in the back yard and when the ducklings hatch she pushes them out of the nest onto a picnic bench, then they have to jump 4ft onto the ground.

"I didn't know if they would come again this year, but I was outside in the yard about a month ago and saw the mother flying into her nest.

"It's very sweet as they waddle through. Lots of people come to watch.

"They are on their own now, I can't do any more for them, but I will go down to the river every day to make sure they are all right."

The RSPB said it was unusual for ducks to nest in such a way but commended the shop's staff for accommodating the mallard's curious choice.

A spokesman said: "Ducks tend to nest on the ground, so it's quite unusual for one to nest on top of a high wall but it does happen.

"We have records of ducks nesting on balconies, especially if there is a lot of pressure for space.

"If this duck knows it is has been safe on the wall in the yard in the past then she will go back."

Shopper David O'Doherty, 28, a hair dresser from Cambridge, said: "They are the cutest things I've ever seen. They seem very well mannered and weren't at all flustered by all the attention.

"They've chosen the right shop too given the credit crunch."

Zebrafish offer hope for treatment for motor neurone disease

The tiny zebrafish, the tropical freshwater minnow so popular in fishtanks, could hold the key to a cure for motor neurone disease, scientists believe.By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 5:17PM BST 29 Apr 2009

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that these fish are able to produce motor neurones, cells that control all muscle activity such as speaking, walking and breathing in humans, when they repair damage to their spinal cords.

By studying this process and harvesting these cells, they hope to treat motor neurone disease sufferers and reverse some of the devastating damage caused by the condition.

Dr Catherina Becker, from the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Neuroregeneration and Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research, said: "Understanding how zebrafish can regenerate large numbers of motor neurones after damage to the spinal cord and how these motor neurones are produced by natural stem cells could help in finding treatments for Motor Neurone Disease.

"This could take the form of improving methods of generating motor neurones in the laboratory that could be transplanted or finding drugs which could help patients renew their motor neurone supply."

The discovery could help patients with MND, in which the motor neurone cells die and are not replaced. This disease can cause paralysis and severe breathing difficulties and is an ultimately fatal condition for which no cure exists.

The team are now screening small molecules with a view to finding drugs that could kick-start the process of motor neurone regeneration in zebrafish, with a view to translating their findings into treatments for humans.

The tropical zebrafish, which are transparent and just over an inch (3cm) long, produce the motor neurones from cells, similar to stem cells, found in the spinal cord that are able to turn into certain types of cells.

As well as looking at stimulating the production of motor neurones, scientists are working on ways to ensure that these cells are able to function by sending messages from the brain to the spine and then on to muscles. The research could also have implications for treating spinal cord injuries following accidents.

MND affects around 5,000 people in this country alone at any one time. In the UK at least five people a day die from MND. Life expectancy for most people with MND is just two to five years, and around half will die within 14 months of diagnosis.

Birds build nests from man's hair trimmings

Three birds have made nests of Brian Williams' hair, using the leftover locks from his monthly trim in his Devon back garden.Last Updated: 1:33PM BST 29 Apr 2009

Mr Williams, 68, a retired teacher, has his hair cut by his wife Joan who collects his grey curls on a old rug.

She then shakes the blanket into the back garden but the trimmings have now been put to another use by three birds.

A goldfinch, a greenfinch and a robin have all collected the hair and used them to build homes in his garden.

The couple have now been able to take photos of all three birds swooping down and picking up the snippings.

They even have pictures of the robin's nest built from long swirls of Brian's hair and containing three eggs.

Mr Williams, of Barnstaple, Devon, said: "It is incredible that three species of birds have found a use for my hair.

"We saw the robin first but then we noticed the goldfinch and greenfinch nipping off with the trimmings.

"Joan always shakes a sheet outside which we use to collect the hair-cuttings but never gave it another thought.

"In the wild, female birds line their nests with strands of wool and are constantly foraging for other things to use.

"I am going a bit thin on top but there's still some left to help them out."

The robin's nest is on top of old wooden post covered with ivy. The greenfinch is nesting in a shrub and the goldfinch a tree.

Greenfinches nest in colonies in dense shrubs with nests made from twigs and grass, and lined with fine roots and hair.

Goldfinches make a cup-shaped nest built by the female with moss, grass and lichen, and lined with wool and plant down.

7ft Grizzly bear picked to be best man

by: Joe Crowther
29 April 2009YOU could forgive guests at this wedding for not completely concentrating on the bride and groom – standing next to them was an 800lb grizzly bear!

But this huge beast was not only invited, he had been made ‘best man’ at the ceremony, after developing a life-long bond with keeper Casey Anderson.

Brutus stole the show as Anderson and actress Missi Pyle recited their vows, and he even tucked into the wedding cake at the reception afterwards, wowing the 85 guests who dared to attend.

Anderson, from Montana, raised Brutus from a cub after he was born into captivity and faced euthanasia because he couldn't be released into the wild. The bear has now grown to over 7ft tall, and weighs in at over half a tonne.

The pair have developed such a close bond over the years that they often eat, walk, swim and wrestle together, and even relax in the Jacuzzi – as you can see in our gallery here!

A Tiny Hominid With No Place on the Family Tree

Published: April 27, 2009

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Six years after their discovery, the extinct little people nicknamed hobbits who once occupied the Indonesian island of Flores remain mystifying anomalies in human evolution, out of place in time and geography, their ancestry unknown. Recent research has only widened their challenge to conventional thinking about the origins, transformations and migrations of the early human family.

Indeed, the more scientists study the specimens and their implications, the more they are drawn to heretical speculation.

Were these primitive survivors of even earlier hominid migrations out of Africa, before Homo erectus migrated about 1.8 million years ago? Could some of the earliest African toolmakers, around 2.5 million years ago, have made their way across Asia?

Did some of these migrants evolve into new species in Asia, which moved back to Africa? Two-way traffic is not unheard of in other mammals.

Or could the hobbits be an example of reverse evolution? That would seem even more bizarre; there are no known cases in primate evolution of a wholesale reversion to some ancestor in its lineage.

The possibilities get curiouser and curiouser, said William L. Jungers of Stony Brook University, making hobbits “the black swan of paleontology — totally unpredicted and inexplicable.”

Everything about them seems incredible. They were very small, not much more than three feet tall, yet do not resemble any modern pygmies. They walked upright on short legs, but might have had a peculiar gait obviating long-distance running. The single skull that has been found is no bigger than a grapefruit, suggesting a brain less than one-third the size of a human’s, yet they made stone tools similar to those produced by other hominids with larger brains. They appeared to live isolated on an island as recently as 17,000 years ago, well after humans had made it to Australia.

Although the immediate ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus, lived in Asia and the islands for hundreds of thousands of years, the hobbits were not simply scaled-down erectus. In fact, erectus and Homo sapiens appear to be more closely related to each other than either is to the hobbit, scientists have determined.

It is no wonder, then, that the announcement describing the skull and the several skeletons as remains of a previously unknown hominid species, Homo floresiensis, prompted heated debate. Critics contended that these were merely modern human dwarfs afflicted with genetic or pathological disorders.

Read the full article at:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Red squirrels ready for visitors

A brood of red squirrels born at a wildlife park in Kent has started receiving visitors.

The breeding programme at Wildwood near Canterbury is part of a drive to stop red squirrels dying out. They have been extinct in Kent since the 1960s.

Once mature, the squirrels will be released into the wild on Angelsey where they will help prevent the species from becoming extinct.

The past decades have seen a drastic decline in red squirrel numbers.

'Urgent action'

Wildwood Trust's chief executive, Peter Smith, said: "Red squirrels are going to continue to decline towards extinction unless urgent action is taken."

But he said it was "not yet too late".

"If we can help restore areas of woodland to a native state and make a concerted effort, we might just be able to tip the balance back in the red squirrel's favour," he added.

Red squirrels are now extinct in southern England apart from a small number on the Isle of Wight and two islands in Poole Harbour.

The Wildlife Trust said the main cause of the decline was competition with the non-native American grey squirrel, which breeds better and out-competes its rival for food.

An estimated 160,000 red squirrels remain in Great Britain compared with 2.5m grey squirrels.

Wildwood has urged visitors to arrive promptly at 1000 BST as the squirrels like to take a long nap at lunchtime, particularly during sunny weather.

Literary cat makes library visits

A Kent library has been visited almost every day for two years by its own "puss in books", the council has said.

Fidel, an eight-year-old black cat, turns up at Deal library almost every day while his owners are at work.

He spends the day on his favourite blue chair, only leaving the building when he sees his owners arriving home.

Staff say they have never tried to encourage Fidel with food and even used to put him outside when he first began to visit them, but he always came back.

'Art critic'

Heather Hilton, district manager for Deal Library, said: "Fidel certainly seems to like coming here and he's very popular with our customers.

"I think he's a bit of an art critic too because we sometimes see him examining the pictures on the gallery wall," she added.

A spokeswoman for Kent County Council which runs the library said Fidel was such a "dedicated customer" that he sometimes arrived before staff and could be found waiting at the front door.

Fidel is a rescue cat, whose owners chose him from a local sanctuary after he was found abandoned in a flat in Deal.

Injured Dog Set to Get Prosthetic Legs

Apr 28, 2009

A dog that chewed off his front paws after being caught in an illegal snare is about to get two new legs. Vets say once that happens, Andre will be ready for a new family.

See vdeo at:

Dorothy's dog blown away

Puppy blown away by 70mph wind
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A chihuahua swept up into the air and blown away by a 70mph gust of wind has been reunited with her owners.

Missing pet Tinker Bell was found a mile away after being picked up and hurled out of sight by the sudden blast.

The 2.7kg (6lb) dog was eventually traced with the help of a psychic, to woodland a mile from where she went missing.

Dorothy and Lavern Utley said their beloved brown long-haired dog was dirty and hungry but otherwise fine.

The Utleys had set up an outdoor display at a flea market in Waterford Township, 40km (25 miles) north-west of Detroit on Saturday.

Eight-month-old Tinker Bell was standing on their platform trailer when she was blown away.

Dorothy Utley told The Detroit News that her cherished pet "just went wild" upon seeing her again yesterday.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The economic value of honeybees

By Nick Holland
BBC Business and economics reporter
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

There is some debate about who actually made this remark. It is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but few scientists now believe this doomsday scenario will actually happen.

Nevertheless, the apocalyptic vision is an indication of how important honeybees are to the world's agricultural economy. It is estimated a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees.

So it is no wonder the dramatic and unexplained decline in the population of these insects is worrying for everyone, not just the conservationists.

Fewer bees means less pollination, which results in less honey and fewer plants.

The consequences are damaging industries that depend on the insects' survival and threaten to make the food we eat more expensive.

Fragile industry

Hidden away in quiet corner of Regents Park in London, Toby Mason puffs a calming smoke through the slats of one of his wooden beehives.

It settles the insects while he checks over the colony.

Mr Mason is one of only 300 commercial beekeepers in the country.

Fluctuations in the weather and the increased prevalence of diseases make it a fragile industry to be in. Last year these factors cost his business Purefood half its revenue.

"The year before last I went into the winter with 20 colonies and by spring last year only four or five of those colonies were alive," he says.

"It means there's huge losses in the business... and very little income from the sales of the honey because there isn't the honey there to be sold."

The shortages in supply are having a knock-on effect on the retail market too. Because the UK does not produce nearly enough honey for its own consumption, supplies are imported from abroad.

"There's been lots of talk about the problems of honeybee health around the country and indeed that is a worldwide problem, not just a UK problem," says David Bondi, managing director of Rouse Honey, one of the largest suppliers of honey in the UK.

"If you add together the effect of the increase in the cost of honey because it is in shorter supply and the increase because of the exchange rate, some honeys have doubled in price."

Economic importance

But bees do more than just make honey. They fly around pollinating all sorts of fruit and vegetables, which end up on our plates.

Their role in the food chain is so important that in 2007 The National Audit Office collated research working out the value of honeybees to the UK economy.

The value of the bees' services were estimated at £200m a year. The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn.

Nobody knows exactly what impact the current decline in honey bee populations is having on these figures and on the supplies of these foods, but it is clear there could be consequences.

"If we had a serious loss of honeybees in the UK, then inevitably food prices would have to increase," according to Simon Potts, head of pollination research at Reading University.

"Essentially we would have to import fruits from overseas.

"Either that or the British diet would have to change considerably. Instead of eating British fruits we'd have to switch to more starchy foods like grains and cereals."

Costs would double

But honeybee populations are declining around the world and so far there seems to be only one other way of pollinating mass numbers of plants.

It involves employing people to go round with feather dusters, brushing the insides of plants with pollen.

They are already doing it in parts of China to pollinate pear trees in areas where the insects are extinct.

Reading University is currently trying to work out how feasible it would be to employ people to hand pollinate plants in the UK.

They are focusing on how much an apple would cost if you paid someone earning the minimum wage.

Early estimates suggest it would more than double the price.

When you consider a single hive of fifty thousand honeybees pollinate half a million plants in one day it is clearly not a practical solution.

'Giant' hedgehog put on a diet

A rescued hedgehog that is four times the size of a normal animal is having her food intake restricted to help her slim down.

Huff Puff tips the scales at 2.04kg (4lb 6oz) while the average female hedgehog weighs about 600g (1.3lb).

Maureen Webb, who runs the Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue Centre in Herefordshire, said the podgy hedgehog just kept "growing and growing".

EU acts to save 'hungry vultures'

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

Farmers are to be allowed to leave dead livestock in their fields in parts of Europe - to help starving vultures.

MEPs voted for a change in the law after the hungry birds, most often found in Spain, had been spotted as far away as Brussels, scavenging for food.

The move allows farmers to leave dead livestock in their fields - providing it is deemed safe and hygienic.

Vultures are capable of stripping a dead cow or sheep carcass in a matter of hours.

Environmentalists describe the birds as "nature's cleaners".

But many vultures have been starving to death since European rules aimed at tackling mad cow disease forced all dead livestock to be cleared away.

This forced the birds to embark on some rather long-haul trips - one was even spotted recently perched on top of a bus shelter in Brussels.

Gray whales granted rare reprieve

Conservation campaigners are hailing a victory for the critically endangered western gray whale.

The groups have won agreement from some oil and gas companies in Russian waters to end seismic work, giving the whales a chance to breed undisturbed.

The cessation comes in response to research showing how oil exploration can alter the behaviour of gray whales.

However, a number of firms have refused to stop exploration work planned for the breeding season.

Feeding season

WWF and Pacific Environment conservation groups praised the Sakhalin Energy consortium for its decision to abandon underwater seismic work scheduled to take place off Sakhalin Island in 2009.

"The results seen today demonstrate that collaborative science based initiatives like this panel process can succeed - even on issues as complex as oil and gas development," said Aleksey Knizhnikov from WWF-Russia in a statement.

Sakhalin Energy's decision came following the presentation of research revealing how seismic work disrupts the lifecycle of the gray whale.

The whales are known to only feed in summer and their main feeding area is in the Piltun Bay which lies at the north eastern part of Sakhalin shelf.

Research reveals that the noise from oil and gas exploration has driven the whales into deeper waters making it hard for their calves to feed and thrive.

The western gray whale is known to be one of the world's most endangered creatures. Only 35 of the 130 animals remaining are thought to be breeding females.

The whale is listed as "critically endangered" by Russia and is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

The suspension of seismic work by Sakhalin Energy, which is backed by Shell and Gasprom, might mean the whales can move in-shore, feed and breed.

However, campaigners pointed out that other oil and gas firms working in the region, including BP, Exxon and Rosneft, were still planning to carry out seismic work in 2009.

Shark fins protection welcomed

Plans for new curbs on the practice of removing fins from live sharks have been welcomed by wildlife campaigners.

EU countries are the main exporter of shark fins to China, where they are used to make shark-fin soup.

A meeting in Brussels on Thursday drew up an action plan on "finning", which results in the deaths of the sharks.

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the plans for Scottish waters went further, only giving permission in exceptional circumstances.

Environment groups claimed current law on finning - cutting fins off the living shark and dumping the low-value carcass at sea - was not strict enough.

Mr Lochhead said: "We know that some shark populations are critically endangered, and that is why we are proposing even tougher restrictions in Scotland, sending out a strong message."

Special fishing permits for taking sharks' fins were first issued in Scotland in 2004.

The only Scottish-based boats which request the permits are Anglo-Spanish vessels administered from Ayr and Ullapool.

If approved, the new restrictions would ban the granting of permits.

Mr Lochhead said: "We are one of Europe's most important fishing nations and we have a huge interest in maintaining the sustainability of our seas, their stocks and the wider marine ecosystem.

"I welcome the fact that across Europe commitments are being made to review existing regulations on shark finning. I strongly believe it's a wasteful and damaging practice.

"In Scotland we will not sit back and wait for things to happen. We are determined to develop robust, workable procedures, proving beyond doubt that we are leading the rest of Europe on the conservation front."

Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust, said: "The shark fin trade encourages unsustainable mortality and unacceptable waste - these proposals will ensure compliance and potentially reduce the requests for permits to near zero.

"Mr Lochhead has recognised the urgent need for strict management measures for sharks and Scotland is setting a fine example to the rest of the UK and Europe."

Louize Hill, marine policy officer at WWF Scotland, said: "As well as being an incredibly wasteful practice, with over 90% in weight of the shark discarded, many shark species are threatened with extinction.

"Only effective control and enforcement, such as the measures proposed here, will protect these vulnerable species.

"Once again Scotland looks set to be at the forefront of fisheries conservation."

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Cat missing since 2005 is back home

A cat was back with his owner after going missing for three-and-a-half years, the RSPCA said.

Kofi vanished from his home in Nottingham during the autumn of 2005, said an RSPCA spokeswoman.

An RSPCA inspector was called after a cat was found injured in a street Ipswich, Suffolk on April, Suffolk, on April 6.

A scan on a micro-chip fitted to the cat revealed Kofi's identity and checks showed that he had nothing worse than an infected flea bite.

Kofi had been reunited with owner Sarah Hawley, who now lives in Sheffield, and was doing well, the spokeswoman added.

"We couldn't believe it when the chip showed that the cat had travelled so far from home," said the RSPCA spokeswoman.

"We see so many unwanted animals that to get this cat back home after so long, just because of his microchip, is fantastic."

Mrs Hawley added: "I was amazed ... We had given up hope of seeing him again."

Cromford paw print sparks new Derbyshire big cat claims

Published Date: 20 March 2009A GIANT paw print has been found in the Dales prompting more speculation big cats are roaming the countryside.

Resident Brian Smith came across the latest print near to Black Rocks in Cromford, while out walking his dog.

The marking measured four-inches and was discovered in open ground next to a public footpath.

Mr Smith said: "I've never seen anything like it before but I've heard people talking about big cats.

"I compared it to my dogs paw print and it was much bigger."

In January a three-inch wide print was spotted by Wirksworth farmer Peter Ward, of Barrel Farm, Millers Green.

He found the print on land near where he kept the cattle and after doing some research believed the markings were similar to those of a puma.

He reported his finding to the police and the British Big Cats' Society.

Mahouts tame rogue elephant

Zoo staff now start treating the pachyderm like other elephants

Vijay was chained for the past three years

Mahouts took one month to tame the animal

Reformed: Vijay is back among visitors of the Nehru Zoological Park after a rather solitary existence. PHOTO: M. SUBHASH

HYDERABAD: Shedding three years of chained and rogue existence, Vijay is out for a stroll among visitors at Nehru Zoological Park these days. The rogue elephant which was chained and confined to a rather solitary existence after it went berserk, has finally fallen in line and not only it is taking commands but also moving around freely and comfortably.

It took two mahouts who have been brought in from the Top Slip elephant camp of Tamil Nadu to tame the elephant and make it behave normal. “I was moved by the plight of the animal and there were several representations from animal lovers too. So, we sought the assistance of mahouts who worked for last one month on the elephant,” says zoo director K. Bhoopal Reddy.


It was almost three years back when Vijay went violent and out of control and started damaging enclosure and surrounding structures. None was injured as it was night time and no visitors were around.

The elephant was immediately tranquilised and kept in fetters since then which left some injuries on the legs. After it went rogue, Vijay forgot commands and the habit of obeying them. “Slowly, it was made to recollect the commands and now behaves like any other tamed one in the zoo,” he says.

Initially, the elephant was allowed to take a stroll in the mornings and evenings when there were no visitors and also on two Mondays when the zoo was closed for holiday. Now, it obeys commands to kneel, salute and move and halt and after careful watch, the authorities started bringing it out from the enclosure amid the visitors.

The zoo staff which was scared to even move in its proximity given the violent behaviour, have now started treating it like other elephants.

“It is even allowing the mahout to sit on it and moving comfortably among crowds. Its shackles are gone and it is free now,” Mr. Reddy informs.

Alan Rodgers: conservator of the forests of East Africa

From The Times
April 25, 2009

W. Alan Rodgers was for nearly 30 years the driving force behind the protection of East Africa’s globally important forests. For although the region is famous for its magnificent wildlife and landscapes — readily conjuring up images of vast herds of game on the great plains around Mount Kilimanjaro — most of its rare animals and plants are found outside the national parks and game reserves, being restricted to the remaining fragments of forests on the mountains and near the coast. Alan Rodgers was instrumental in virtually every major initiative in recent years to conserve those forest patches, most of which have now been given formal protection.

In 1979 Rodgers — as he was affectionately known to his friends — was on a field trip with the anthropologist Katherine Homewood to survey a remote forest on the Udzungwa Mountains in southwest Tanzania when they heard an unusual monkey call which they recognised as a mangabey, a species not previously known to exist within hundreds of kilometres of the spot. It turned out to be a completely new species which was later named the Sanje Mangabey and was the first new primate found in East Africa for many years. Its discovery alerted biologists and conservationists to the potential importance of the forests on the chain of mountains known as the Eastern Arc in Tanzania.

Numerous biological expeditions to the Eastern Arc over the ensuing 30 years have found — and continue to find — a wealth of new species, including another new species of mangabey in the Southern Highlands and nearby Udzungwa Mountains in 2003. The forests on these isolated mountain blocks are now recognised to be the richest tropical ecosystem in Africa for rare plants and animals, with the Udzungwa forests being the most important. Rodgers was among the first to understand their significance, and he spent the remainder of his life vigorously lobbying various Tanzanian authorities and the conservation movement to protect these forests. His efforts were partly rewarded in 1992 with the creation of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, the first new national park in Tanzania in decades, and the first that was not set up to protect large mammals.

William Alan Rodgers was born in Liverpool in 1944 and moved to Kenya as a child when his father took up a lectureship in Nairobi. Here Rodgers later read zoology and botany, followed by a master’s degree in conservation at Aberdeen. He then spent 11 years in the vast Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania as an ecologist for the Game Department, where he took part in anti-poaching patrols and conducted wildlife census counts in the aircraft that he piloted. He set up the Miombo Research Centre and produced a flurry of scientific papers on the ecology of Africa’s largest wilderness reserve, on topics ranging from lions, elephants and the ivory trade to the effects of fire on vegetation.

By 1976 Rodgers was recognised to be a world expert on miombo woodland ecology and was given a position as a lecturer at the Zoology Department of the University of Dar es Salaam. Here he eagerly shared his knowledge and inspired a generation of students, many of whom were later to join his informal army of conservationists in the common cause of protecting East Africa’s natural heritage. During this time Rodgers’s many initiatives included a permanent research station on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater to discourage corrupt officials from getting involved in rhinocerus poaching. He further co-founded the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group in 1982 and led students on field trips to spearhead research into the remaining fragments of Coastal Forest, another overlooked ecosystem with large numbers of rare animals and plants. Rodgers oversaw the activities of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group for the rest of his life, and it is today Tanzania’s foremost forest conservation organisation, with 45 staff supporting the management of more than 100,000hectares of forest.

From 1984 until 1991 there followed a seven-year stint in India where Rodgers joined the Wildlife Institute of India. His energy produced another flurry of scientific papers on subjects ranging from snow leopards to sacred groves, together with his monumental work A Biogeographical Classification of India, which is now one of the most cited and used documents in the field of wildlife conservation in India. Rodgers was the key architect in developing “wildlife science” in India, and through his contribution the institute has subsequently produced a vast array of competent biologists who are now contributing to the cause of conservation across the globe. He pioneered a novel technique for preventing tiger attacks by encouraging people walking in forests to wear “face” masks on the back of their heads, as tigers are less likely to attack if they think you can see them. He also put together the Action Plan for Protected Areas Networks in a country with a far greater human population pressure than in East Africa. This experience was to emphasise to Rodgers the urgent need to formally protect as much habitat as possible before it was too late.

Rodgers returned to East Africa in 1992, on the eve of the Earth Summit in Rio and the UN Convention on Biodiversity, to set up a project financed by the Global Environment Facility to support the management of East African Biodiversity. As chief technical adviser for this initiative, Rodgers skilfully used his prominent position to increase the protection afforded to the most important remaining patches of forest. His two great causes, the Eastern Arc Forests and the Eastern African Coastal Forests, which were hardly known at the start of the 1980s, were included in the internationally recognised list of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots by the end of the millennium. After years of dormancy, many new forest reserves and nature reserves were gazetted through his efforts, as well as the Jozani National Park on Zanzibar Island.

Rodgers later served as the regional technical adviser to the UN Development Programme and Global Environment Facility initiatives in East Africa, where he sought to ensure that biodiversity conservation was advanced as part and parcel of the larger development agenda. He led an initiative to put together a manifesto for the environment to the Government of Tanzania in 1994, overcoming resistance from a number of government officials. His infectious enthusiasm held strong, despite his inevitable engagement with bureaucracy. He sought every opportunity to get people out into the field and do practical conservation. He was a mentor to many, who sought him out for his wisdom and encouragement, and who risked his ruthless editing of any documents that crossed his desk — wielding his red pen with pleasure to eliminate redundant prose and unsubstantiated claims.

As a person, Rodgers had more interest promoting and encouraging the right people to achieve action and results than personal recognition. It is therefore largely to his credit that a coherent and effective conservation movement exists in East Africa today, and that so much of the Eastern Arc and Coastal Forests are now protected. They still face enormous challenges and pressures from a growing population hungry for natural resources, but their situation would be far bleaker were it not for him.

Rodgers’s energy was not limited to conservation; he was also a fine rugby player, an enthusiastic actor, a keen fisherman and a generous and jolly host, who with a scratch of his grizzled beard would captivate his audiences with many a mischievous anecdote about his wild youthful years. He is survived by his first wife Bobbi Jacob and their daughter; his second wife Nicky Tortike and their two sons; and his partner Mercy Njoroge. His three children are now following his passion for East Africa and conservation.

Alan Rodgers, ecologist, botanist, zoologist and conservationist, was born on October 25, 1944. He died on March 31, 2009, aged 64.

New Study Shows Widespread And Substantial Declines In Wildlife In Kenya

by Staff Writers
Nairobi, Kenya (SPX) Apr 24, 2009

Populations of major wild grazing animals that are the heart and soul of Kenya's cherished and heavily visited Masai Mara National Reserve-including giraffes, hartebeest, impala, and warthogs-have "decreased substantially" in only 15 years as they compete for survival with a growing concentration of human settlements in the region, according to a new study published in the May 2009 issue of the British Journal of Zoology.

The study, analysed by researchers at the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and led and funded by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is based on rigorous, monthly monitoring between 1989 and 2003 of seven "ungulate," or hoofed, species in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which covers some 1500 square kilometers in southwestern Kenya.

Scientists found that a total of six species-giraffes, hartebeest, impala, warthogs, topis and waterbuck-declined markedly and persistently throughout the reserve.

The study provides the most detailed evidence to date on declines in the ungulate populations in the Mara and how this phenomenon is linked to the rapid expansion of human populations near the boundaries of the reserve.

For example, an analysis of the monthly sample counts indicates that the losses were as high as 95 percent for giraffes, 80 percent for warthogs, 76 percent for hartebeest, and 67 percent for impala. Researchers say the declines they documented are supported by previous studies that have found dramatic drops in the reserve of once abundant wildebeest, gazelles and zebras.

"The situation we documented paints a bleak picture and requires urgent and decisive action if we want to save this treasure from disaster," said Joseph Ogutu, the lead author of the study and a statistical ecologist at ILRI.

"Our study offers the best evidence to date that wildlife losses in the reserve are widespread and substantial, and that these trends are likely linked to the steady increase in human settlements on lands adjacent to the reserve."

Researchers found the growing human population has diminished the wild animal population by usurping wildlife grazing territory for crop and livestock production to support their families. Some traditional farming cultures to the west and southwest of the Mara continue to hunt wildlife inside the Mara Reserve, which is illegal, for food and profit.

The Mara National Reserve is located in the northernmost section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa.

The reserve is bounded by Tanzania's Serengeti National Park to the south, Maasai pastoral ranches to the north and east, and crop farming to the west. The area is world-famous for its exceptional wildlife population and an annual migration of nearly two million wildebeest, zebra and other wildlife across the Serengeti and Mara plains.

Ogutu and his colleagues focused much of their attention on the rapid changes occurring in the large territories around the Mara Reserve known as the Mara ranchlands, which are home to the Maasai. Until recently, most Maasai were semi-nomadic herders-known for their warrior culture and colorful red toga-style dress-who co-existed easily with the wildlife in the region.

But over the last few decades, some Maasai have left their traditional mud-and-wattle homesteads, known as bomas, and gravitated to more permanent settlements-on the borders of the reserve.

For example, Ogutu and his colleagues report that in just one of the ranchlands adjacent to the reserve-the Koyiaki ranch-the number of bomas has surged from 44 in 1950 to 368 in 2003, while the number of huts grew from 44 to 2735 in number.

Their analysis found that the "abundance of all species but waterbuck and zebra decreased significantly as the number" of permanent settlements around the reserve increased.

"Wildlife are constantly moving between the reserve and surrounding ranchlands and they are increasingly competing for habitat with livestock and with large-scale crop cultivation around the human settlements," Ogutu said.

"In particular, our analysis found that more and more people in the ranchlands are allowing their livestock to graze in the reserve, an illegal activity the impoverished Maasai resort to when faced with prolonged drought and other problems," he said.

In addition, the study warns that retaliatory killings of wildlife that break down fences, damage crops, degrade water supplies or threaten livestock and humans is "common and increasing" in the ranchlands.

Ogutu said the various forces threatening wildlife in the ranchlands "could have grave consequences" for protecting wildlife in the reserve. That's because, given the seasonal movements of the animals in and out of the reserve, on most days, most of the wildlife in the region regularly graze outside the protected reserve, in the ranchlands.

While not covered in their analysis, the researchers involved in the study are quick to point out that the Maasai's transition to a more sedentary lifestyle has been driven partly by decades of policy neglect that left many Maasai with no choice but to abandon their more environmentally sustainable practice of grazing livestock over wide expanses of grasslands.

"The traditional livestock livelihoods of the Maasai, who rarely consume wild animals, actually helped maintain the abundance of grazing animals in East Africa, and where a pastoral approach to livestock grazing is still practiced, it continues to benefit wild populations," said Robin Reid, a co-author of the paper who is now director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University in the United States.

"There appears to be a 'tipping point' of human populations above which former co-existence between Maasai and wildlife begins to break down. In the villages on the border of the Mara, this point has been passed, but large areas of the Mara still have populations low enough that compatibility is still possible."

Previous research by Reid and Ogutu has shown that moderate livestock grazing in the Mara Reserve could also benefit wildlife. For example, many species of grazing wildlife avoid the reserve when the grass is tall in the wet season to avoid hiding predators and coarse, un-nutritious grass.

Instead, wildlife tend to graze near traditional pastoral settlements where grass is nutritious and short because it's used to feed pastoralist herds, and predators are clearly visible.

Reid added, "These apparently contradictory findings are now being used by local Maasai communities to address the loss of wildlife. They see that wildlife are lost when settlements are too numerous, but that moderate numbers of settlements can benefit wildlife."

Maasai landowners are working together with the tourism companies to establish conservancies where they carefully manage the number of settlements and the number of livestock to achieve this balance. They also have the incentive to do so because the local community receives a share of the profits from tourism on their land.

Dickson Kaelo, a Maasai leader, works with tour companies and local communities to design these conservancies. During a recent experience at the new Olare Orok Conservancy, he found that wildlife initially flooded into the area when people removed their livestock and settlements. But soon, the grass grew tall and many wildlife left for the shorter grass near settlements beyond the conservancy.

"We know from thousands of years of history that pastoral livestock-keeping can co-exist with East Africa's renowned concentrations of big mammals. And we look to these pastoralists for solutions to the current conflicts," said Carlos Sere, Director General of ILRI.

"With their help and the significant tourism revenue that the Mara wildlife generates, it is possible to invest in evidence-based approaches that can protect this region's iconic pastoral peoples, as well as its wildlife populations."

Another such initiative already under way, the Wildlife Conservation Lease Programme, is being implemented in the Kitengela rangelands adjacent to Nairobi National Park. The programme uses cash payments to encourage pastoralist families living on leased lands not to fence, develop or sell their acreage.

This lease programme, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been highly successful in keeping rangelands open for wildlife and livestock grazing, while also providing Maasai families with an important source of income. ILRI believes the scheme should be broadened to include more families here and should be introduced in other pastoral ecosystems and rangelands.

"We have evidence that the sharp declines of East Africa's wildlife populations in recent years can be slowed and ecosystem crashes prevented by bettering the livelihoods of the Maasai and other pastoralists who graze their livestock near the region's protected game parks," concluded Sere.

"Our work demonstrates that scientists, policymakers, and local communities can work together to build the technical means and adaptive capacity needed to keep this region's pastoral ecosystems, and the people who depend on them, more resilient, even in the face of big changes."

The Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development. ILRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It has its headquarters in Kenya and a principal campus in Ethiopia.

Grain-eater species hit Cape Town

John Yeld
April 24 2009 at 02:22PM

The "feathered locusts" have arrived in the Western Cape!

That's the urgent warning ornithologists are posting to conservation and agricultural authorities after a ringing operation near Worcester this week confirmed the presence of a breeding population of red-billed quelea.

This grain-eating species is probably the most serious bird pest in Africa, sometimes occurring in flocks of millions of individuals which have devastating impacts on crops.

Control operations by agricultural authorities elsewhere in the country - particularly in the North West Province, Free State and Limpopo - and further afield in many African countries, kill several million at a time but do not make a significant dent in their overall numbers.

The estimated total quelea population is 1,5 billion birds, and it is considered by some to be the most numerous land-bird in the world.

There are real concerns that if it becomes locally established in the province, it could seriously reduce harvests of wheat and other grains, with agriculture already under pressure from climate change.

"This is the worst news since sliced bread, a real nightmare!" said Professor Les Underhill, director of the Animal Demography Unit in UCT's zoology department.

"If quelea get a grip on the Western Cape and start breeding here in the swarms that they occur in further north, they will become a major agricultural pest."

Agricultural practices such as the provision of livestock feedlots and water sources - especially grain feedlots on ostrich farms at places like Leeu Gamka - are believed to be encouraging this regional migration.

Underhill's colleague Dr Dieter Oschadleus, who is bird-ringing co-ordinator of Safring, says the red-billed quelea - one of 112 weaverbird species in the world - did not occur historically in the Western Cape but had in recent decades started expanding its range into the province.

"But there has not been any evidence of breeding in the winter rainfall region of the province - until now."

On April 6, Erna Rabie of Nuwerus farm between Worcester and Robertson noticed a flock of several hundred quelea, including males in breeding plumage, roosting in reeds on the Nuy river.

"The birds were still present a week later, so I decided to ring them," said Oschadleus.

On Monday and Tuesday he and birder Mike Ford set up nets, helped by members of the Worcester Bird Club.

Their operation found hard evidence that the quelea had bred recently: many nests and eggshells, two nests with addled eggs and a large number of juveniles.

"This is the first breeding record of the species in the winter rainfall region," said Oschadleus.

Of the 116 quelea ringed, 10 were adult males, nine adult females and 97 recently fledged juveniles.

"Quelea were present all day in the reeds, calling and resting, with individuals flying in and out to forage.

"The population is estimated to be a few hundred."

This reeding site in the Breede River Valley is not far from the Overberg wheat-growing area, Oschadleus added.

It was difficult to know what effect the queleas would have in the Western Cape and how well established they would become, he added.

"However, there is a good chance that they will keep increasing and start attacking wheat crops."

While quelea were sometimes blamed for damage they did not do - the birds were very visible, while insects were less so - they had certainly been proved to cause vast damage, he said.

"The most important thing is to keep monitoring them.

"Farmers should be warned, the Department of Agriculture should be informed and I will certainly contact the quelea group in Pretoria."

This article was originally published on page 8 of Cape Argus on April 24, 2009

Rare species birds freed at everglade sanctuary

BEIJING, April 26 -- Some rare, endangered birds were released back into the wild on Friday at Dahuangpu Everglade Sanctuary in Tianjin by the Tianjin Wildlife Caring Associationn (TWCA) after spending months being rehabilitated following illnesses and injuries sustained during migration.

According to Tianjin Wildlife Caring Association (TWCA), the freed birds -- including the nationally-protected Oriental White Stork, white swan and gray crane and geese.

Due to starvation, loss of physical strength or diseases, these birds were not able to continue their migration from north to south. The water follow a migration path from Inner Mongolia down the Yangtze River to the Boyang Lake Nature preserve in the Jiangxi Province in Southeast China. The weaker birds landed in northern Tianjin around December and were rescued and brought to the TWCA by Tianjin citizens.

Soundbite: Gao Deming, Director of TWCA “Dahuangpu is one of the well-conserved everglade sanctuary in Tianjin. We choose to free the birds there in order to have them adapt smoothly to the nature. Naturally birds will continue migration towards north afterwards.

There are only 3,000 Oriental White Storks left on earth.

Soundbite: Zhang Zhengwang, Zoology Professor of Life Science College of Beijing Normal University “Lots of waterfowl stop at Dahuangpu Everglade Sanctuary during migration, so some injured or ill birds can be found by citizens and be sent to rescue center.”

During the past year, TWCA received more than 1000 calls about animal protection, about 1000 birds were rescued and released back into the wild.

Xinhua News Agency correspondents reporting from Tianjin.

(Source: XHTV)

See video at:

Hunting mythical creatures

Sunday Star Times
Last updated 00:51 27/01/2008

Big cats, 'extinct' songbirds, moa, native otters there's a zoo-ful of shy and mysterious creatures roaming the countryside if New Zealand's cryptozoologists are to be believed. Are they just chasing dreams or is the truth out there? Kim Knight reports.

It was a dark and stormy night.

OK, says Vicki Hyde, president of the New Zealand Skeptics, so it wasn't stormy. But it was dark.

And there was something out there. Big, black, bulky. Just sitting there, watching.

"We stared. It stared back."

She threw a shoe. It didn't move. "Too big for an ordinary cat. Too still for a dog. Too quiet for a possum."

A quick dash inside and the outside lights went on to reveal: an upended bucket.

"Did we feel silly? You bet."

It can happen to anyone, says Hyde. Mistaken identification leads to incorrect assumptions and misperceptions, she writes in her new book Oddzone.

"It doesn't mean you're foolish or stupid or insane. Just human."

And humans love a good mystery. Is there a yeti in the Himalayas? A Nessie in the Loch? A moose in Fiordland?

The hunt for a remnant population of moose liberated in New Zealand bush in the early 1900s is more than three decades old. So is the search for the South Island kokako, last reliably sighted in the 1950s and 60s. Student filmmakers recently went on the trail of a mysterious black cat in Canterbury. And now moa are back in the headlines, with news that next month, an Australian researcher will cross the ditch to find a colony of the giant birds in Te Urewera.

Who are these people who devote lifetimes to the hunt for the unknown?

Ken Tustin, 62, has amassed around 600 nights in the Fiordland bush trying to prove the existence of moose. The closest he has come is the collection of stray hairs, DNA-tested by scientists in Canada, who say his theory is almost certainly correct.

"I read articles saying I'm obsessed," says Tustin. "I think [my story] tells kids, hey, in 2008, there are some great adventures still to be had. There are unsolved things and wonderful mysteries out there."

He knows he'll need photographs to silence the critics some people say the hairs prove nothing more than that the hunter has been hoaxed. Tustin, and his wife Marg, have had remote cameras in the bush for years. "We've probably put about 10,000 camera nights into it." So far, no moose "and about 2000 red deer".

He says it's a lovely personal challenge.

"Man thinks he controls the planet but, in effect, we're being outfoxed by a very large, charismatic animal."

For researchers like Tustin, and 60-year-old Rhys Buckingham, who is convinced the South Island kokako still exists, the common thread is begrudging admiration for their prey.

"How come you can't find a thing the size of a horse?" Buckingham asks Tustin.

"How is it you can't find a stupid squawking crow?" retorts Tustin.

What keeps the pair going?

"You've got to have some mystery in your life," says Buckingham who is fitting in a phone interview around two three-day dance parties.

He says the South Island kokako is an incredible songbird and he believes he has collected numerous tape recordings of the bird that's been dubbed "the grey ghost". Naysayers reckon he's simply recorded tui.

"I used to be more obsessed when I thought there was a chance to save it from extinction," says Buckingham. "I'm getting more disillusioned now, with what appears to be a calamity facing much more common birds, with stoat and rat plagues. I think I'm too late, I haven't been successful... it would be so magnificent to save it from extinction."

THE MOOSE and the kokako did, at least, once exist. But are there other, more mysterious creatures roaming New Zealand?

In 1966, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand included a section headed "Animals, Mythical". "Numerous tales of monsters, ogres, goblins and fairies, and weird `hairy men' who devoured unwary travellers and waylaid hunting parties have long been part of Maori lore," it said. "In all probability, such tales of water-dwelling monsters and other huge reptiles known as kumi were nothing more than distorted folk memories of the crocodile of the western Pacific or Asia."

The entry gives slight credence to the waitoreke an aquatic, otter-like creature. Julius von Haast was believed to have acquired a portion of skin from the supposed animal. Charles Darwin wrote a letter, now held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, querying its existence: "If I have not utterly exhausted your patience, I should be particularly obliged if you would inform me whether you think the evidence is really good that there formerly existed some animal (with hair?) like an otter or Beaver: I am much surprised at this. Could it not have been any water bird or reptile?"

Lemuel Lyes, archival researcher with Natural History New Zealand, says the existence (or otherwise) of the waitoreke is important even if it is now extinct. "If it could be proven to have existed once, then perhaps that would shatter some conceptions about New Zealand's natural history."

Here's a theory: New Zealand is rumoured to have been visited by Tamil explorers. Te Papa Museum records the 1836 discovery of a ship's bell, inscribed with ancient (at least 500 years old) Tamil script, being used by Whangarei Maori as a cooking pot. As it happens, says Lyes, Tamil sailors were known to use tame otters to catch fish. "Maybe, pre-Tasman days, some Tamil lost their otter?"

Lyes says it's feasible a small number of the animals could exist undetected. "We're supposed to have this huge population of stoats and weasels and things, yet how many New Zealanders have actually seen them? What's to stop small pockets of otters living in some sanctuary down south?"

Cryptozoologists the name given to people who study creatures whose existence has not been substantiated say there is a very good chance of discovering unknown animals in New Zealand.

According to Hawke's Bay-based researcher Tony Lucas, "We still have many areas in the South Island which remain relatively unexplored. These remote regions hold the best hope of harbouring a new, or previously thought extinct, species."

This is the country, after all, that gave up the takahe half a century after it was thought to be extinct. The Chatham Islands taiko had not been seen for 111 years until it was dramatically rediscovered on New Year's Day in 1978. And as recently as 2003, the New Zealand storm petrel, gone for 150 years, was sighted off the coast of Whitianga.

But how about those reports of a giant black cat in Canterbury? Last year, Mark Orton, a former film student who now works for Natural History New Zealand, trekked the region collecting eyewitness sightings for a documentary called Prints of Darkness. "I can only tell you what I saw," Toni May tells the camera. "I can't tell you what it is."

If it was a feral cat, says another interviewee, "it was an Arnold Schwarzenegger of a cat".

The rogue panther is an international cryptozoology mystery similar stories frequently circulate in United Kingdom and Australian media.

"The characters we featured in our film were not nutters," says Orton. "They firmly believe in what they saw."

His personal theory? "I think there's possibly a rather large breed of feral cats. They've probably thrown up the black gene through years of interbreeding. Through their stealth and willingness to survive, the black cats have had the biggest success and they're the ones thrown up more often than not."

The filmmakers based themselves at Panther's Rock Tavern, Mayfield. The pub got its name in retrospect and now hangs a mock big-cat road sign in the bar. Orton says locals laugh at the story of giant felines. "They've made fun of people in the community who have been open enough to admit the story. Some of the people we ended up putting in the film didn't go to the mainstream media because they didn't want the exposure."

REX GILROY knows how they feel. The 64-year-old bills himself as the "father of Australian cryptozoology". Next month, he and his wife Heather will travel to New Zealand to search for moa in Te Urewera where they claim to have previously found moa tracks and a nesting site.

"A lot of people are frightened to go to the media," says Gilroy. "They [the media] play it up as a joke but it may affect the life's work of some serious researcher. I just say we've got to be prepared to keep an open mind and investigate the evidence.

"You've got to be born for this sort of work," Gilroy tells the Star-Times. "As an open-minded field researcher, I prefer to look for the evidence rather than dismiss something out of hand because a textbook says it's extinct."

He will go back to a site he says is home to "maybe half a dozen" small, scrub moa. And that's not all. Gilroy says years ago, he found "tracks of bare human footprints, not too large ... but I've often wondered who was getting around in the middle of nowhere, in the forest."

Could it be the mysterious Moehau New Zealand's version of the Big Foot mystery? Gilroy is keeping an open mind.

"It's difficult for me, because I've got to differentiate between hoax sightings and believable ones ... like some road workers, in the pouring rain, about 10 years ago, in the Eglinton Valley before the Milford Tunnel. They were in a shed, waiting for the rain to stop, and on the edge of the jungle were two birds emerging from the bush, about eight feet [2.4m] in height. And they were chewing leaves off trees ... I get to know when someone's telling the truth. You can tell embellishments."

Gilroy says "you've got to be a bit eccentric in this business. If people think you're a little bit crazy, they leave you alone so you can do your work.

"I want people to question, to draw their own conclusions. I think you can do no more greater service to man than make him think."

Giraffe, the new star at city zoo

HYDERABAD: The ground is being flattened and the moat is getting ready. After left abandoned for more than a decade, the enclosure at Nehru Zoological Park is being given a facelift to welcome an occupant, a giraffe.

The zoo which despite boasting a wide array of wildlife did not have either a giraffe or zebra is getting the former by May 1. Being acquired under animal exchange programme from Delhi zoo, the giraffe is to be brought by road so as to reach here by this month-end.

“Since its vacation time for schools and children visit us in large numbers, we are trying to make it available by May 1,” says K.Bhoopal Reddy, zoo director. While a male giraffe is coming now, its mate is expected to be brought here in six months time.

Under the exchange, the Delhi zoo is also giving a pair of blue and yellow Macaw and a pair of red jungle fowl and in return, receiving a pair of Asiatic lion and pairs of silver and golden Pheasants from the Nehru Zoological Park.

Meanwhile, the zoo here has also decided on acquiring zebra and is likely to get it ‘straight from the market’. According to Mr. Reddy, a pair might cost around Rs.4 lakh and the idea is to bring at least two pairs here. Another animal missing at the zoo is rhinoceros, the last having succumbed to cancer recently, and efforts are on to find a replacement, he says.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Huff Puff: Britain's biggest hedgehog?

Huff Puff the hedgehog is thought to be Britain's biggest at an average of three and a half times the size of her spiky contemporaries.

By Aislinn Simpson
Last Updated: 10:29PM BST 24 Apr 2009

The nine-month-old female weighs in at 2.04kg - the weight of a small cat - and is the size of a football.

She piled on the pounds after gorging on cat biscuits and dog food at the Furze Pig Hedgehog Rescue Centre in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, where she was taken as an orphan.

The 15 other hedgehogs at the centre weigh around 600g each, so staff have decided to put Huff-Puff on a calorie-controlled diet.

Maureen Webb, 60, who runs the centre with husband Derek, said: "I've looked after hedgehogs for 20 years but have never seen anything like Huff-Puff.

"She just seems to keep growing. I don't feed her any more than the others but she's getting bigger and bigger.

"It's amazing because she was a tiny little thing when she came in.

"I've no idea why she keeps growing but she doesn't enjoy moving much so it could be that. I don't feed her any more than the others.

"I'm reducing her diet now and cutting breakfast out all together. I suppose it's a bit like people - some only have to look at cream teas and they put weight on."

Huff Puff was rescued after she was found cold and shivering under a garden shed in October last year.

Maureen named her new arrival because of her "stroppy" nature.

"She's a real little madam and a right prima donna. When you approach her she huffs and puffs - hence the name," she said.

"The problem is I can't release her until she's the right size because she won't survive."

Endangered whooping crane follows aircraft in unique migration

These endangered whooping crane, pictured flying through the air in V-formation, are seen making the long journey south in a unique human-led migration.

11:12AM BST 22 Apr 2009

Travelling 1,250 miles over a three-month period the birds follow a specially constructed ultralight aircraft from central Wisconsin to the west coast of Florida each October.

The journey is the result of efforts by conservationists to increase the population of whooping cranes in the wild, which had declined to just 15 in 1941, although numbers have now risen to approximately 200.

To combat the threat of extinction of North America's tallest bird, US Fisheries and Wildlife Services teamed up with the Whooping Crane Recovery Team to breed a secondary flock who will migrate down the eastern seaboard.

Led by conservation group, "Operation Migration", the annual journey from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, sees as many as 20 whooping cranes making the trip south to the Florida refuge.

"The total migration distance is 1,250 miles and the migration takes around 80 days to complete," said 59-year-old lead pilot Joe Duff.

"The problem with reintroducing these birds is they learn the migration route by following a parent.

"As there is no parent generation we become the surrogate parent and we teach them to follow our aircraft and we lead them on their first migration.

"Thereafter they are on their own and they return as wild birds."

Mr Duff and his team, who are to be awarded the Conservation Partners Award from the Department of Interiors in Washington this week, have led over 100 birds south in this secondary migration project from 2001.

The complicated process begins before the birds are even born.

"We start the procedure at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre in Maryland where the largest captive flock of Whooping cranes are kept," he said.

"We start playing the sound of the aircraft carrier engine and the brood call before the egg hatches.

"Once the birds are about 50 days of age we ship them out to Wisconsin before they learn to fly because once they earn to fly then the first thing they see from the air is where they home to."

Using a specially constructed ultralight, complete with cameras, GPS system and an amplifier system to broadcast calling sounds, Mr Duff and his four man team can cover 50 to 100 miles per day at a speed of 38mph.

However, conditions can only be achieved during smooth air conditions, which restricts flying time.

"We can only fly for that very calm cold period first thing in the morning right after the sun rises when we only get an hour of dead calm air.

"So we have to wait for calm days and for days where there is no ground fog or until the frost clears in the mornings so we have a very narrow weather window we can use."
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