Monday, 31 May 2010

Megafauna cave painting could be 40,000 years old

Emma Masters
May 31, 2010

Scientists say an Aboriginal rock art depiction of an extinct giant bird could be Australia's oldest painting.

The red ochre painting, which depicts two emu-like birds with their necks outstretched, could date back to the earliest days of settlement on the continent.

It was rediscovered at the centre of the Arnhem Land plateau about two years ago, but archaeologists first visited the site a fortnight ago.

A palaeontologist has confirmed the animals depicted are the megafauna species Genyornis.

Archaeologist Ben Gunn said the giant birds became extinct more than 40,000 years ago.

"The details on this painting indicate that it was done by someone who knew that animal very well," he said.

He says the detail could not have been passed down through oral storytelling.

"If it is a Genyornis, and it certainly does have all the features of one, it would be the oldest dated visual painting that we've got in Australia," he said.

"Either the painting is 40,000 years old, which is when science thinks Genyornis disappeared, or alternatively the Genyornis lived a lot longer than science has been able to establish."

Mr Gunn says there are paintings of other extinct animals right across the area including the thylacine, or tasmanian tiger, the giant echidna and giant kangaroo.

"It does give you a window back to a time that you can pinpoint, and in the case of the Genyornis it's a very long picture," he said.

The traditional owners of the land in the Northern Territory say they are excited the painting could be Australia's oldest dated rock art.

The Jawoyn Association's Wes Miller says the painting is one of thousands rediscovered across Arnhem Land in recent years.

"It verifies that the Jawoyn people were living in this country for a very, very long time," he said.

"People say it, but once again this is clearly a demonstration of how long Jawoyn people have been in this country and other Indigenous groups. It's great from that point of view. It's pretty exciting stuff."

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Bigfoot Appeared after Experiments to Cross Apes with Humans


Recently a hunter from the Kemerovo region of Russia saved a Bigfoot who was drowning in a river.

Countess reports like this leave practically no doubt about the existence of these creatures. Earlier we wrote about a Bigfoot and his descendants living in Abkhazia, and suggested it was the oldest human-like creature.

Russia Today: Bigfoot saved from drowning in icy Siberian river

According to another theory, Bigfoot is a product of crossing apes with humans. The theory originated in Abkhazia in the apery of the city of Sukhumi.

The place used to be popular but is empty now. In its best years the apery had over 70,000 apes and monkeys running around, now there are only a few hundred of them left. The bloody Georgian-Abkhazian war affected not only people but the apes as well.

Zurab Mikvabia, the director of the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy in Abkhazia (the official name of the apery) is trying to be optimistic:

“We are now becoming interesting again for the Russian science. The Institute is in preliminary talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about preparing monkeys for a simulated Mars mission. “

Zurab Mikvabia is skeptical about my suggestion that the apery was created specifically for experiments in crossing apes and humans: “It is not quite correct. There are more myths than facts about these experiments.”

The director, however, satisfied my request to see the archives from the 1920s and invited his deputy Vladimir Barkai to join the conversation.

“From the first stages of my scientific research I tried to arrange experiments in crossing humans and apes. I assume that the Soviet government could help me in the interests of science and propaganda of natural historic worldview.” This is an excerpt from a letter from Professor Ilya Ivanov to Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar in education, where he asked for $15,000 for an expedition to Africa, an insane amount of money for those times.

Ilya Ivanov had good reasons to refer to his pre-revolutionary experience. An outstanding zoologist, he worked as a researcher in the Askania-Nova natural reserve , where he artificially inseminated animals crossing bulls with deer or gazelles. There were draft experiments on the way to the most important one, a human-ape hybrid.

Vladimir Rosanov, a famous surgeon who extracted SS bullets out of Lenin’s body, requested 50 apes for experiments in transplantation of vascular glands to the aging leaders of the revolution (first of all, Stalin). Rozanov hoped to repeat the success of his colleague Sergei Voronov, who immigrated to France in the 19th century where in a luxurious palace on French Riviera nicknamed The Simian castle he transplanted apes’ genital glands to wealthy patients. He had 90% success rate in body rejuvenation. Rozanov required gorillas, baboons and chimpanzees that were only available in Africa. Ilya Ivanov was the man to get them.

The archives of the Sukhumi institute contain a protocol of the meeting of the Presidium of the Academy of Science dedicated to Ivanov’s African expedition. His coworkers warned him that Guinea women should not be used for insemination with gorilla sperm. Things that are now obvious were a topic of heated discussions 90 years ago.

At any rate, $15,000 was allocated for the expedition (20,000 according to other sources) and in February of 1926 Professor Ivanov and his son Ilya, a senior at Physics and Mathematics department of the MSU, went to Paris.
They sailed to French Guinea and settled at its experimental primate station in Kindia. It was difficult to catch clever, strong and aggressive chimpanzees. Bullets with sleeping aids have not been yet invented, and apes usually won in fights with hunters. Guinea locals used barbarian methods for catching apes. They hunted them down with dogs, made them climb trees and then made bonfires around those trees. The apes that could not stand the smoke were forced to jump down to the ground. The ground fights often left the hunters injured.

Ivanov’s son was one of those who suffered from a furious ape that tore his chest. The young man was hospitalized.

Another part of the experiment, insemination of local women with apes’ sperm, was complicated as well. Local women adamantly refused to participate in the experiment. Ivanov heard plenty of stories about women raped by gorillas, some of them were told to bear children. Women who were raped by gorillas were considered impure, and they were killed with a silent approval of the leaders.

On Sasquatch's trail in Virginia's Spotsylvania County

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010

THORNBURG, VA. -- Billy Willard says he's on the verge of a major discovery that could change the way humans think about the natural world, not to mention their need for a creature-proof home security system.

Here in Spotsylvania County, in the forests around Lake Anna, Willard claims there have been 14 sightings in the past decade of that most fabled of cryptozoic beasts: Bigfoot.

Or Sasquatch, as the elusive, apelike brute is referred to in more high-minded circles -- and on the side of Willard's blue pickup. The decal on the truck reads "Sasquatch Watch of Virginia," of which Willard is chief pooh-bah (when he's not earning a living installing and removing underground home oil tanks).

Go ahead, call him a loon, a flake, a huckster. He's heard it all. But Willard knows what he knows, which is that three people from this area -- a woman, her husband and their granddaughter -- told him they saw a shaggy, super-size figure on two legs gallivanting across their wooded property. Last month, Willard led a weeklong expedition to the site, where he installed five motion-sensor cameras that will snap photos if the big galoot wanders by again.

Willard, 41, says he'd like to lead a tour of the property and introduce the witnesses, really he would. But the woman who says she saw what she believes could have been Bigfoot fears an avalanche of ridicule, which is why Willard is left to begin delivering his version of what happened a few miles away, in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen.

"We believe we may be close to some kind of major discovery," he says. "All the things they would need are here, fresh water, shelter in the woods. The high concentration of sightings tells me they're here."

He interrupts his monologue to answer his cellphone, the ring tone to which is the country tune "People Are Crazy."

Ever since humans began telling stories, they have spun yarns involving life forms that tower above mere mortals, whether it's the giant of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame or Goliath or Frankenstein. Bigfoot has been a perennial for generations, with hundreds of purported sightings (many of them of supposed footprints), most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest but also popping up in states as disparate as Rhode Island, Illinois and Alabama.

The myth grew in popularity in 1967, when two men in California filmed what appeared to be a huge and hairy biped walking into the woods, at one point turning its head to glance dramatically at the camera. In Bigfoot circles, the footage is referred to as the "Patterson-Gimlin film," named for its makers, and invoked with the historical weight of the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination. In less admiring circles, the short, fuzzy clip is cited as nothing short of poppycock.

Willard knows about the film, and most everything else Bigfoot-related ("Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt once saw Bigfoot?"), all of which he's happy to share at any time, sometimes to the annoyance of his wife, Jeanean, who is prone to blurt out, "Okay, the conversation will have to change."

"After 22 years," she says, "I can get a little bit hateful."

For all of Billy Willard's certainty about Bigfoot, the buzz has not exactly caught on in the rural hamlets around Lake Anna, where many residents work at the nearby nuclear power plant or in construction or commute to Richmond or Washington.

Behind the grill at Tarheel Pig Pickers barbeque, Mark Lane, 54, giggles. "When I see Bigfoot water skiing, I'll believe it," he says. "If they catch him, we'll put him on the rotisserie and invite everyone in the community."

Ron McCormick, president of a home-building company, says people have more pressing concerns, such as plummeting property values and paying bills. "On the other hand, it could bring in tourists," he says as he sits at his desk, playing solitaire on his laptop.

Craig Petrie, 55, mowing grass a few miles away, volunteers that he sometimes hears voices calling his name from below ground as he tends the cemetery adjoining Wallers Baptist Church, where he holds the titles of head deacon and chief groundskeeper.

But Bigfoot sightings? "Never happened," he says, although he's open to the possibility, particularly with all the new subdivisions in the area ripping out trees and kicking up dirt. "If anyone's going to see him, it's me, because I'm always on this mower. And if he kills me, they'll just have to walk a few feet to bury me. It's convenient."

The small but avid universe of Bigfoot enthusiasts includes self-styled investigators who pursue their quest during off-hours from their day jobs. Willard, for example, hosts an Internet radio show and maintains a Web site from his home in Manassas; he also monitors his Bigfoot hotline for reported sightings (a recent caller announced "I just saw Bigfoot in Reston," before exploding in laughter and hanging up).

More dispassionate scholars are fascinated by the unflagging interest in bogeymen. "People have a need to think about something like ourselves, something scary, using them as a cautionary tale," says Robert Michael Pyle, whose book "Where Bigfoot Walks" explores the history of Sasquatch.

Pyle has spent years contemplating Bigfoot, including why witnesses typically report sightings in remote settings where no one is around to corroborate the discovery. "If this animal exists," he says, "I think it's aware of its plight, and that there are a lot of big guns and big trucks out there, and that it's a good idea to remain secretive."

Undermining that secrecy is the mission of Bigfoot organizations such as the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy and the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, which grades all reports of sightings, from "A," awarded for "clear sightings in circumstances where misinterpretation of other animals can be ruled out," to "C," which includes second- and third-hand reports.

No category exists for hoax, which was what three men were accused of perpetrating in 2008 when the Bigfoot they claimed to have found in Georgia turned out to be a gorilla costume stuffed with animal parts.

Such episodes make Willard wince but do nothing to quash an interest that began when he was an 8-year-old at a drive-in theater watching "The Legend of Boggy Creek," a docudrama about a Bigfoot-type creature in Arkansas. Willard still spends countless hours in the woods listening for footsteps, always with a camera, ready to snap a picture.

He brings a set of knives and a hatchet. If he finds a dead Bigfoot, he intends to walk away with the ultimate trophy, DNA evidence, to send a message to those who ridicule the believers: "To give them the final 'Aha! I told you so.' "

Bigfoot alive in Minnesota?

05-24-2010 18:26

A U.S. broadcaster, KSAX-TV, reported on May 19 that there have rushed a large number of photos alleged on a Bigfoot, presumably seven-feet-monster in Bena, a northern town of Minnesota.

According to KSAX, it is controversial among townspeople on the existence of Bigfoot. Bob Olson, a trapper, said he is "100 percent" sure that Bigfoot exists." He claimed to have received "more than 75 reports of sightings, captured images, and footprints" since 2006.

On the other hand, another trapper William Tucker does not believe that Bigfoot is real. "I'm a skeptic of Bigfoot because I've trapped this whole area and never, never did we see any Bigfoot tracks or see Bigfoot anywhere."

The most controversial image is the Bigfoot in white-suit. The image captured about a 7-feet-tall man in white shadow, standing behind a tree. Some say the picture is white-colored because of a camera flash, while others say it is decisive evidence proving existence of Bigfoot.

Kitten survives wash and spin in a washing machine

27 May 2010 05:46 GMT

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Persian kitten gave her owners the shock of their lives when she emerged from the washing machine, dizzy and bedraggled after surviving a full cycle. Brendon Rogers, from Manly Vale, Sydney, said four-month-old Kimba, a white, fluffy kitten, must have climbed into the front-loader machine when the door was open and curled up on the dirty clothes -- unbeknownst to his father Lyndsay who turned the machine on for a cold wash.

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Persian kitten gave her owners the shock of their lives when she emerged from the washing machine, dizzy and bedraggled after surviving a full cycle.

Brendon Rogers, from Manly Vale, Sydney, said four-month-old Kimba, a white, fluffy kitten, must have climbed into the front-loader machine when the door was open and curled up on the dirty clothes -- unbeknownst to his father Lyndsay who turned the machine on for a cold wash.

They were both amazed when the cycle -- including a high level spin -- finished and they opened the door to pull out the clothes to find Kimba in the machine.

"We could hardly believe our eyes when she emerged, looking like a drowned rat," he told Reuters.

Although Kimba was alive she clearly needed help so they rushed her to the vet where she was put on an intravenous drip and treated for shock and hypothermia.

Her eyes were also badly affected by the detergent and needed treatment.

"It is just amazing that she survived but we reckon she's used all of her nine lives," said Rogers.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Chinese Pandas To Go To Survival School

3:32pm UK, Sunday May 30, 2010

Tim Hewage, Sky News Online

China has started to build a school to teach captive pandas to survive in the wild.

Head of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Zhang Zhihe, said the 60m million yuan (£6m) centre will be located in Sichuan province's Dujiangyan city.

Bears brought into the centre will be kept in cages for the first few years before being moved to caves where they will be taught foraging skills.

They will still receive frequent checkups and participate in artificial breeding.

Then the pandas will be moved to the more natural forested area with less human contact.

Finally they will be introduced to a nature reserve where it is hoped they will then be able to fend for themselves.

The naturalisation process can take as long as 15 years to complete.

Giant pandas are among the world's most endangered species.

Over 300 pandas are raised in captivity in China while only 1600 remain in the wild.

See video at:

Lion drags girl, 4, into cage in Russian zoo attack

A lion in a Russian zoo dragged a four-year-old girl through the bars of its cage and mauled her neck and arm.

Published: 7:29PM BST 30 May 2010

The girl was visiting a zoo in Tambov in southern Russia on Saturday with her grandparents when she approached the lion's enclosure, the Interfax news agency reported.

The animal dragged her in with its paw, a spokesman for the city's police said.

"The visitors and zoo workers managed to shoo away the animal, which had time to seriously maul the little girl's neck and arm," the police spokesman said.

The girl underwent an operation and on Sunday was in a "very serious" condition in a city hospital, Interfax reported.

A section of the bars around the lion's enclosure was missing, a Tambov district police officer, Sergei Ivashchenko, told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

Russian zoos, especially those in provincial towns, often keep animals in inhumane and cramped conditions.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

World Turtle Day sees satellite turtle-tracking system go live

Three-year project to track marine turtles in the Gulf

May 2010: Marine turtles are one of the longest living groups of animals to have ever existed, but human activities have placed them under increasing pressure. Across the Middle East and around the world these ancient creatures are today threatened, mostly through habitat loss and unintentional capture in fisheries, leaving them in dire need of conservation action.

On World Turtle Day, Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF launched a three-year satellite tracking project to better understand their biological and conservation needs. Focusing on the endangered Hawksbill turtle, (listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List), the project will follow up to 100 post-nesting female turtles from the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Data collected from the satellite tracking programme will be used to help local and regional agencies identify the critical overseas migration routes and near-shore habitats favoured by the turtles., providing valuable information for management and conservation authorities.

Commenting on the launch, Lisa Perry, the programme's director at EWS-WWF, said: ‘The goal of the Marine Turtle Conservation Project is to implement a comprehensive research and satellite tracking programme that will enable us to protect marine turtles of the Gulf and wider region. To do this we will combine scientific research and monitoring, with environmental awareness centred on marine turtle protection, resulting in the long-term conservation of these animals and their habitat.

‘For these highly migratory animals, today's advanced technology makes it possible to determine the turtle's surprisingly long journeys. By tracking the marine turtles through the Gulf region, we aim to raise collective awareness of their plight and to develop effective links at a regional and international level on which these nations may develop concurrent conservation agendas.'

Adopting a multi-faceted approach, the project will not only be concentrating on concrete scientific research through the tracking and monitoring of each individual turtle tagged, but it will also involve environmental awareness at the local level. A dedicated website,, has been set up to enable the public to track the turtles during the course of the campaign. It displays the migration patterns of the turtles, tracked via the satellite, and is a set to be an education platform. Visitors to the site can also learn more about marine turtles and how they can support this project.

‘These turtles depend on coastal habitats, including coral reefs for feeding and beaches for nesting at some stage of their life and this project will help us to locate these key areas in the Gulf. This will in turn help governments and conservation authorities when faced with making decisions that address coastal habitats and the marine environment,' adds Perry.

Is the cuckoo clocking in too late?

May 2010: Breeding cuckoo numbers have dropped by two thirds over the past 25 years - and researchers believe climate change may be to blame.

Birds whose nests cuckoos will traditionally use, such as the dunnock and meadow pipit, are nesting earlier, and researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology wondered if the cuckoo was now arriving back in the UK too late.

The cuckoo is one of the UK's best-known summer visitors, returning from West Africa during late April and early May to breed. It is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in other birds' nests. The top four host species are dunnock, pied wagtail, meadow pipit and reed warbler and this latest study examines whether changes in the abundance of these species, or the timing of their breeding were having an impact on the cuckoo's decline.

Yet of the four main host species there has been a decline only in the meadow pipit, which researchers say accounts for just one per cent of the falling number of cuckoos. Dunnocks, pied wagtails and reed warblers are all now nesting five to six days earlier, but although dunnock and pied wagtail nests were likely to be less available to the cuckoo as a result, said researchers, the reed warbler breeds late, and so when it nests early it works to the cuckoo's benefit.

Cuckoo decline remains a mystery
Researchers concluded that neither the abundance of the host species, nor their change in breeding patterns were significant enough to fully account for the rapid decline in cuckoo numbers.

Stuart Newson, Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO said: ‘Host availability does not appear to be a major drive of cuckoo declines, so we are left with a smaller number of possible explanations. Given cuckoo breeding ecology and migration strategy, these include reduced prey (mainly caterpillars) availability during the breeding season or the deterioration of conditions along migration routes or on over-wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. These should be the focus of future work into the decline of this charismatic species.'

Cuckoos which breed in Britain during the summer overwinter in West Africa, where increasing agriculture and forest clearance are causing significant land-use changes and loss of habitat. These regional changes reflect a growing global demand for food, timber and bioenergy. BTO's long-term research partner, JNCC, is investigating the impacts of such drivers on global ecosystems and their impacts on local biodiversity, including migratory species which visit Britain.

The BTO is carrying out research on migrant birds in West Africa to identify the pressures these birds face there during the winter months. For more information visit

Displaced Fish Is Ravaging Caribbean Reefs

One of the prime suspects in the destruction of Caribbean coral has been found guilty, but researchers were wrong about its motive. For years scientists thought that the threespot damselfish was nibbling star coral to death because overfishing had reduced its natural predators. But a new survey shows that the damage is being done because the damselfish was forced from its natural habitat—and in fact the fish is also suffering. The good news is that it might be possible to restore the reefs to health, though that effort could take at least a decade.

The case begins not with the star coral but with another species, the branching staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis). Once, the dominant coral in the Caribbean, staghorns—and their less-common relative, the elkhorn—were decimated in the 1970s and '80s, the victims of a bacterial infection called white-band disease. More than 90% of the coral died, and populations hit their lowest levels in over 3000 years.

That was bad news for the damselfish (Stegastes planifrons), which survived on the staghorn coral. The ill-tempered fish, which has been known to bite the fingers of divers who approach its territory, nibbles incessantly on the coral—not to eat it but to kill the living tissue so that algae, the fish's favorite food, can grow on the dead coral skeletons. The damselfish never destroyed the staghorn coral, because the coral grew fast enough to recover from the constant nibbling.

But when the damselfish was forced to relocate to star coral (Montastraea), this coral began dying. Many scientists concluded that overfishing had thinned the ranks of damselfish predators, such as snappers and small groupers, and that the population of damselfish had exploded, wreaking havoc on star coral reefs.

But no one had tested this hypothesis. So a team of researchers set up surveys at 10 coral sites in the Florida Keys, Bahamas, and Cayman Islands and off the coasts of Belize and Jamaica. "We wanted to find out if the more heavily fished reefs had more threespot damselfish, and if not, what was controlling the abundance of threespots," says paleontologist Richard Aronson of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. He explains that the team chose the sites to compare the heavily fished areas, such as off Jamaica, with the moderately fished reefs of the Keys and Bahamas and the protected reefs of the Caymans and Belize.

Damselfish are indeed responsible for the star coral die-off, the team found, but not because their numbers are booming out of control. In fact, the researchers report this week in PLoS ONE, the fish's numbers have declined overall. Aronson says that's because star corals offer fewer places to hide than the staghorn, leaving the damselfish more vulnerable to predation.

So why is star coral dying? Aronson and colleagues conclude that it grows back much slower than the staghorn, so it doesn't recover from the damselfish algae farming. The change has placed all Caribbean reefs—already in jeopardy from pollution, silting, warming waters, and oil spills—in even greater danger. "The threespots have now killed substantial amounts of star coral, and [they] are doing damage that will take decades or centuries to fix," Aronson says.

But the reefs may not be lost. One practical solution, Aronson explains, is to restore the staghorn and elkhorn to the reefs. This can be done via a painstaking aquatic form of tree farming. Biologists first grow nubbins, or small baby coral, on cinder blocks that have been submerged, and then they transplant the growing corals to the reefs. "Once the staghorn is restored, the threespots will move back into their preferred neighborhoods," Aronson says.

The paper "drives home the fundamental importance of disease outbreaks in the changes we've seen on Caribbean coral reefs over the last several decades," says marine biologist John Bruno of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It's "an important contribution from a group of scientists who know more about these reefs than anyone else in the world."

Phil Berardelli

Forty bison (and an extra one) released onto new reserve in Utah

May 2010: The first bison out of the trailer waste no time escaping into their new home in the Book Cliffs, in Utah after weather delayed the animals' release. Captured on the Henry Mountains in January, forty bison had been kept at Antelope Island State Park, while they waited for test results to confirm the animals were free from disease.

But, explained DWR biologist Dax Mangus: ‘Between the time of their capture and waiting for the result a series of big winter storms moved into the Book Cliffs and shut us down.

‘A couple of weeks later, we tried punching through with bulldozers. But the storms took care of that attempt as well,' Mangus said. ‘Every time we thought about moving them, a storm rolled in and shut us down.'

And when the biologists finally did manage to open the doors to the trailers, a total of 41 bison jumped out. The 41 animals included the 40 bison captured last January and a bonus animal - a newborn bison calf.

There were pluses to the setbacks, though: the storms that delayed the release dumped more water on the Book Cliffs than almost any area in Utah. Located in eastern Utah, the Book Cliffs received more than 150 per cent of its average precipitation. The vegetation in the area this spring looks the best it has in years.

‘In hindsight, the delayed release was probably a blessing,' Mangus said. 'The bison we released were bigger and had better weight than they had last winter.'

The delay also provided the bison with better weather and better range conditions than they would have had in January. ‘Who knows that might have happened to them if they had been released just before the biggest winter storm series in years rolled in and dropped four feet of snow,' Mangus said.

Celebrations as two rare Australian cockatoo chicks hatch

The first born in the wild since Black Tuesday bushfires

May 2010: One has been raised on a farming property on the Lower Eyre Peninsula and is the first chick to be reared in the wild since the Black Tuesday bushfires. The second has been raised in captivity at Gorge Wildlife Park in Adelaide.

Katrina Pobke, DEH Threatened Species Officer, said this was a major milestone for the species which had suffered critically low population numbers for several years.

Only nine yellow-tailed black cockatoos remain in the wild
‘The population of the Eyre Peninsula yellow-tailed black cockatoo is now believed to consist of just nine birds, with a further 14 maintained in captivity,' she said.

‘Successfully raising two healthy young cockatoos in a step in the right direction for the future survival of the population and both chicks are in good health.'

Steve McKecknie, Gorge Wildlife Park manager, said the successful rearing of a chick in captivity was an encouraging sign.

First time parents - a positive sign for the future
‘We have five pairs of young adult cockatoos at Gorge Wildlife Park and while they are inexperienced breeders they are attempting to raise young for the first time,' he said.

‘One chick has successfully been raised so far, and this is a positive sign that the cockatoos are able to breed.'

Bird expert Trevor Cox, who has been assisting with conservation efforts of this species, said that the weather had had a positive impact on successful breeding.

‘This year, being a wetter year, has seen an increase in food supply for the cockatoos and this has assisted their breeding,' he said. ‘There are signs of cockatoos feeding near Koppio Hills on inset larvae in sugar gums and on moth larvae in yakka flower spikes. Cockatoos have also been seen feeding on hakea seeds, a food source that has been planted specifically for them to feed on. It shows that even small plantings ofood that are an import part of their diet can greatly improve the breeding success of the population.'

Crows attack Berlin residents

Scenes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" have prompted police to post warning notices around the city at blackspots.

"Attacks happen during breeding season, and crows have a natural instinct to protect their nests and young and to keep people at distance," Anja Sorges, the head of the Berlin office of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union told Germany's Spiegel magazine.

Sometimes the crows have drawn blood. On Wednesday a cyclist pedalling past the archives of the old Stasi secret police in East Berlin was dislodged from the saddle by the feathered attackers, which then continued to peck at him ferociously on the ground.

He needed medical attention. "Their beaks aren't so small," he said.

Near the city's Reichstag parliament building, a crow pecked at the back of man's head as he walked along a pathway.

But there is an end in sight: experts say the attacks will peter out and then finish altogether in a matter of weeks when the crow chicks are ready to flee the nest.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Spray teams target giant hogweed

A PLANT which causes blisters if it touches your skin is threatening to upset the natural balance of a Welsh river, environment chiefs warned yesterday.

Environment Agency Wales and five partner organisations shave resumed their annual spray attack on giant hogweed at the Lower River Usk from Crickhowell in Powys, to Newport, Gwent, in a bid to kill off the invasive ornamental plant before it takes over.

It can cause problems for local flood defences and significantly affects the area’s ecology because of its ability to spread quickly and “shade out” native plants.

Five spray teams from Environment Agency Wales, Keep Wales Tidy, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, National Trust, Wye and Usk Foundation and Monmouthshire County Council are working together.

May 28 2010 by Sally Williams, Western Mail

Beavers are back, thriving - and making it better for other species

The first beavers to be released into the Scottish wilds in more than four centuries are thriving in their new habitat and improving the environment for other creatures.

Leaders of the Scottish Beaver Trial say two of the three families reintroduced in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, a year ago tomorrow have gone on to build lodges, and one has built a dam to create a large pond with its own rich food supply. Naturalists say this activity is creating an even more diverse environment for wildlife such as butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads and ducks.

The third family failed to settle and went their separate ways following the transfer to Scotland from Norway, but the trial licence allowed a fourth family to be released this month and the arrivals appear to be doing well.

The beavers’ every move is being monitored closely in a five-year trial overseen by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland.

Trial chairman Allan Bantick said he was encouraged by the first year’s results, which showed what had been missing from the country’s biodiversity since the animals were hunted to extinction in the 16th century.

He added: “By building lodges and dams, foraging in the undergrowth and coppicing trees near the water’s edge, these beavers are fulfilling their role as a keystone species within Scotland’s wetland habitats.

“As coppiced trees regenerate their new shoots, gaps in an otherwise dense canopy allow extra light to penetrate the forest floor and benefit other wild plants.

“Knapdale is becoming an even more diverse environment for wildlife. Butterflies, dragonflies, insects, frogs, toads and ducks are already colonising the new beaver pond, which is a delight for many visitors to see.”

The release of the beavers last May marked the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal into the wild in the UK.

Scottish Natural Heritage is co-ordinating the independent scientific monitoring for the £2million trial, and will report its findings to the Scottish Government in 2014.

The results of the trial, along with other sources of information, will help Scottish ministers decide whether to allow a bigger release.

More than 25 other European countries have already reintroduced beavers

By Morag Lindsey
The Press and Journal
29th May 2010

NBC affiliate investigates Huntingdon lake monster

HUNTINGDON - A California-based production company has been in Huntingdon this week, trying to document proof of Raystown Ray.

Raystown Ray is one of many strange creatures around the world people claim to have seen. In the Pacific Northwest are stories of Bigfoot. In Scotland, it's the Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman is said to inhabit the Himalaya Mountains.

Base Productions, which is affiliated with NBC Universal Studios, has been in the Lake Raystown region since Wednesday, filming and conducting eyewitness interviews with people who claim to have seen the creature that some people believe lives in the waters of the 26.1-mile man-made lake.

Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Matt Price said he is not certain whether there is something abnormal swimming in the dark regions of Raystown Lake. At its deepest point near Raystown Dam, the lake is about 200 feet deep.

"I don't know if there is something in the lake or not," Price said. "It is a big lake and it is capable of holding something that large."

Former Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Pam Prosser, who now runs Seven Points Marina, has heard the stories.

"I grew up on the original lake. I have seen the pictures of the ski jump that we used to use for our ski club and there was a shadow in the picture. We always thought there was a mythical creature in the lake. We were never afraid of it," Prosser said.

The production team has been asking a lot of questions around town this week about Raystown Ray, and the resulting attention has been growing.

"We call it good for business," Prosser said. "And if someone is curious about it, we will take the time to talk to them about it. What the biologists have told us is that if there is a creature in the lake, it would likely be an herbivore. He doesn't eat people; he won't attack people or little kids' toes. There is not a danger in coming to Lake Raystown."

Prosser admitted that she is not certain if Raystown Ray is real, but it is difficult to dismiss the rumors and legend.

"Is there a monster? I don't know, but I don't think it is something to be afraid of," she said.

The crew was expected to wrap up filming late Friday night or early this morning before flying out.

According to Base Production's website, the television show will be titled American Paranormal.

Base Productions indicated the show should air sometime next month on the SyFy Channel

By Jeff Gill, For the Mirror
May 1st 2010
(submitted by Chad Arment)

Croc-like creature on the loose

It's no Loch Ness Monster, but a crocodile loose in a Hamilton pond is proving just as elusive.

Bry Loyst, curator at the Indian River Reptile Zoo, was scouring a pond just outside the city for most of the day on Tuesday hoping to catch sight of the animal and capture it.

"It's a needle in a haystack at the moment," he said, noting there's lots of shrubbery and reeds along the shore that make easy hiding places for a large reptile. "It's a lake, and it also connects to other rivers and things like that. So it could have swam anywhere, really."

After five hours of searching on Tuesday, the team held a meeting to determine how to proceed. Making it even more difficult is the fact they're not entirely sure what they're looking for.

"When I was here yesterday I definitely saw something," Loyst said. "But we're not 100% sure."

Based on a photo captured by local wildlife photographer Tom Badeau, many believe the creature to be crocodilian in nature. But what species it might be, and how big, is largely guesswork at the moment.

"It's an invasive species and needs to be taken out," Loyst said. "That's why the conservation society is so intent on finding this thing."

While the creature wouldn't survive the winter -- and depending on its diet, maybe not even the month -- authorities are still trying to catch the animal before it has a chance to upset the local ecosystem.

According to Loyst, the animal isn't a danger to people but they should call the Hamilton Conservation Authority if they see it.

Pet crocodiles and alligators are often abandoned when they get too big.

(submitted by Chad Arment)

Leopards and other big cats ARE on the loose in Britain - just don't tell a soul

My worst fears nearly became a chilling reality last week when two girls, Kim Howells, 15, and her cousin Sophie Gwynne, eight, were stalked in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire - by what appears to have been a huge black cat.

Kim described the ‘panther’ as about the size of a Great Dane. ‘We cut through the brambles and just started running,’ she reported afterwards.

When they arrived home, their feet were cut and bleeding. Sophie was in tears. But what really brought this strange case home to me was the fact that if they had come to any real harm, I would have felt responsible.

For six months earlier, I had visited the same spot near Cinderford while making a TV film about leopards around the world, including a short section about the (I thought unlikely) possibility of them living in the UK.

In the end, fearful of causing public alarm, I chose not to use any of the extraordinary evidence I gathered. But the encounter of the two girls last week has convinced me that might have been a mistake. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to tell the full, disturbing story.

For the truth is I may well know the ‘mythical’ beast that chased them. Danny Nineham, the region’s local big cat enthusiast, showed me evidence of its existence when I was there last autumn. And it’s a black leopard — nicknamed Boris.

‘He’s huge, even for a male leopard,’ Nineham told me. ‘I’ve recorded many sightings of him. He’s dangerous, in my view. More so than any of the other leopards living and breeding wild in the Forest of Dean, or around the country.’

Leopards in Britain? Surely not. At least, that’s what I used to think. But after going on the trail of Britain’s big cats, I’ve discovered that they’re much more than late-night campfire tales.

There’s never been a shortage of reported sightings.

Nineham works with the authorities, logging the details. He collects possible hair and droppings samples, makes plaster casts of suspected paw prints, and sets up camera traps, all in the hope he can prove once and for all that Britain is stalked by big cats.

At night he’s out in the woods, hunter chasing hunter. During the day, he tries to warn people about the possible dangers - warnings few take seriously.

When we started filming the segment on British leopards, we expected it to be slightly tongue-in-cheek. I’d met a few big cat hunters around Dartmoor years earlier, and they were mainly colourful eccentrics.

One enthusiast put out a large cage trap, baited with dead pheasants. He was inside, checking the mechanism, when the cage door slammed shut. He was trapped for several days, eating the pheasants.

Much of their evidence came from sheep carcasses - and there were plenty of fakes.

‘I found a very large cat canine tooth in one mauled sheep,’ one veterinary pathologist told me. ‘It came from a tiger skin rug!’

Indeed, we planned to interview Nineham as one of these eccentric believers and had lined up the wildlife liaison officer at Gloucestershire police, Mark Robson, to balance his claims.

Amazingly, however, he did no such thing. In fact, as I listened gobsmacked, Robson told me that most big cat sightings really are of leopards, and that there are enough eyewitness reports to follow individual animals’ movements on a map.

Then he took a deep breath - in preparation for his bombshell. Around Stroud, he says, there are many disused railway lines and cuttings full of caves, and here, enough eyewitness evidence has been found to convince him that the leopards are raising cubs.

Astonished my ‘sceptic’ had turned out to be anything but, I contacted Dr Gary Mantle, head of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

The local papers there run occasional stories about big cat sightings, and several villages, including Lacock, have had beasts of their own.

I told Mantle, who has earlier dismissed reports of a Wiltshire full of beasts, about what I had heard in Gloucestershire, and he became very serious indeed.

‘I have never said this before,’ he said, ‘but we get enough credible sightings for me to believe we have leopards in Wiltshire, too.

'I must urge you not to tell this story. There is no positive outcome. The leopards would be hunted down.’

It appeared that what had started out as a sceptical investigation into some long-held but rather eccentric beliefs had led me to a very unlikely conclusion: that Britain really is stalked by predatory big cats.

But how could these foreign felines have got here?

I discovered that private menageries filled with leopards, pumas, bears and cheetahs had once been considered the ultimate accessory.

In fact, my grandparents, living near Farnham, in Surrey, in the Thirties, had bought a bear from Harrods, but found it didn’t play nicely with their toddler, my mother. The receipt, my mother remembered, read: ‘Harrods. One bear — returned.’

But many exotic pets, it seems, were not returned to the shop, but to the wild, or rather the local countryside.

Sightings of large cats in Britain have increased since the 18th century. But from 1976, when the law regulating private zoos and exotic pets was tightened, they skyrocketed. The majority these days are of large black cats - most probably black leopards.

There is no doubt that leopards, and to some extent pumas, can survive almost anywhere. Indeed, if leopards can cope with Siberian winters, survive by eating rats on Indonesian rice paddies, or stray dogs in Mumbai and Beijing, they can live in rural England.

They will also find mates, even where individuals normally live hundreds of miles apart.

There are 1,000 big cat sightings a year in the UK. In Kent alone, expert Neil Arnold has been told of over 100 sightings this year.

In areas where leopards are known to live in relatively low numbers, such as China, there are rarely many sightings. Often none at all. The evidence that Britain may have its own population of leopards was mounting.

But as I came close to finishing my film, I was left with a dilemma. If I announced that leopards really were thriving in rural Britain, who knows what the reaction would be. Would there be panic? Would vigilantes and poachers hunt them down?

I opted for a more muted conclusion, saying that while some believed there were a few leopards living undercover, it all sounded rather like a tall story. Meanwhile, my private, more shocking conclusion was filed away. Case closed.

Until last week, when I realised it was in everyone’s interest to know more about the extraordinary animals living in our midst.

So why hasn’t the existence of big cats been proved before? Well, many big cat enthusiasts complain of a conspiracy, even a cover-up. Certainly officials have traditionally erred on the side of caution.

In March, Natural England published a Government report of all sightings of exotic species sent to them. Their official conclusion is that big cats do not roam Britain.

But there are also stories of strange road kills being removed by police, and clues that DEFRA and others were afraid that Freedom of Information requests would reveal they knew more than they had admitted.

A year ago, it was an FOI request that uncovered two very credible sightings of a big cat by rangers in the Forest of Dean. And then there are the sheer number of prank or mistaken sightings that muddy the

Many suspected sightings, after all, tend to be domestic cats, mangy foxes, even stuffed toys.

As eminent mammal expert Professor Stephen Harris told me: ‘Black always looks bigger in the dark.’

But the truth is that the British countryside is filled with strange animals.Indeed, pets are living wild in huge numbers. There are parrots, pythons, crocodiles and capybaras. So why not leopards?

Determined to find out more, I joined big cat enthusiasts Rick Minter and Frank Tunbridge during one of their regular talks. The village hall where they were speaking, in Chalford, near Stroud, was packed, with standing room only.

The talk was of local sightings, and leopard and puma biology. Then they invited questions and comments. One after another, people stood up and said they had seen a big cat. No, it couldn’t have been a large domestic cat, or a dog.

In many cases, several people had seen it at once. It seemed to me we had more sightings in one village than Natural England had collected in nine years across the country.

Rick then asked everyone what should be done. The great majority said to leave the cats alone, that they are not dangerous. Some said they should be investigated, but not one said they should be removed.

Later, he sent me a report from the same area, of a big cat chasing a fox across the common sometime after the meeting. And slowly, I began to find more serious scientific evidence, too.

I found Durham Police Inspector Eddie Ball, who had kept lynx of his own and knew big cats well. He had recognised clues on a sheep kill, and finding some nearby droppings, had sent them off to expert Dr Hans Kruuk, who confirmed they were from a puma or leopard.

I also learnt that in 2003, The Bio Sciences Lab, in Essex, confirmed a batch of hair sent in by Nigel Pound of Lincolnshire Police belonged to a member of the big cat family. A lab in the U.S. supported their conclusion.

The hairs had been collected after a family had seen a large cat and called the police. Their caravan was stormed by an armed unit, and although the cat had scarpered, the hairs were found, bagged, and sent to the lab. Extraordinary indeed.

So why has so much tantalising evidence been kept secret? It’s certainly in the interests of the authorities to keep the truth under lock and key.

Leopards and lynxes are alien and potentially dangerous. If their presence is confirmed, Natural England and DEFRA may have to spend valuable time and money finding and culling them. This would be both difficult and controversial.

There is also the fear that farmers might start putting out poison, or claiming compensation. I remembered Gary Mantle urging me not to reveal the existence of leopards, however convincing the evidence.

I have to agree with him, the last thing we want is conclusive proof, telling us where and when these creatures appear in precise detail. Our record of living with large animals, however rare and beautiful, is not good.

But I do think that we should be aware that these extraordinary animals are probably out there, somewhere. And it is right that people such as those two little girls should know what they might meet on a Sunday walk.

They almost certainly pose no real threat, but it won’t hurt us to know that there are bigger beasts out there than foxes and badgers.

So, if you feel like you’re being watched at dusk, and the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise, listen to your instincts. Perhaps an ancient scent has caught your nostrils.

Don’t panic. Turn, and look very carefully around you. You may see nothing - or you may see a mother leopard slinking away with her cubs.

Either way, the British countryside will have become a considerably more magical place.

Read more:

Mark Fletcher
Daily Mail Online
28th may 2010

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Mountain lion believed sighted near Georgetown

Thursday, May 27, 2010

GEORGETOWN, Ohio -- The Brown County Sheriff's Office has received two reports in two days of a mountain lion sighting near Georgetown, Ohio.

Police believe the animal may have escaped from a resident on Western Run Avenue in Mount Orab, Ohio who had purchased it at a flea market in Lucasville, Ohio. Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger said the owner indicated the animal had become aggressive and they planned to dispose of it. However, it escaped approximately a month ago and was never located.

Wenninger said it is unknown if the recent sightings could be the same animal but stressed the importance of obtaining proper wildlife permits and having the proper facilities to keep wild animals if a person is going to purchase the animals from flea markets.

"You may think it is neat to own an animal such as this and it is cute when it is little, but you have to remember that it is a wild animal and not a house pet," Wenninger said.

The mountain lion was reported sighted on Sunshine Road near Georgetown on Wednesday around 8:30 a.m. When deputies arrived at the scene, they were unable to locate the animal.

The person who reported the animal said she observed it through binoculars and was positive it was a mountain lion. She said it was in her open field and was the size of a small calf, according to the sheriff's office.

On Thursday, the sheriff's office received a report of a loud growling noise on Barnes Road near the Rumpke landfill. The call was placed at about 8:30 a.m., and the subject thought it may have been the mountain lion. Deputies were again unable to locate the animal on arrival, Wenninger said.

Wenninger said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division was notified Wednesday of the possible mountain lion sighting.

Anyone who comes into contact with the animal and is threatened by it has permission to dispose of it, if it can be done safely, Wenninger said.

If the animals is seen in a residential area, Wenninger asks the Brown County Communications Center be called at 937-378-4155.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Mitochondrial DNA Points to Multiple Killer Whale Species

April 23, 2010
By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Killer whale "ecotypes," which vary in their choice of prey, behavior, and appearance, represent distinct species, according to a paper appearing online yesterday in Genome Research.

An international research team including researchers from Roche's 454 Life Sciences and Roche Applied Sciences, used highly parallel pyrosequencing to assess the complete mitochondrial genomes of nearly 150 killer whales from the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern oceans. In so doing, they identified dozens of mitochondrial haplotypes that point to the existence of at least three killer whale species.

"We recommend that three named ecotypes be elevated to full species, and that two additional types be recognized as subspecies pending additional data," lead author Phillip Morin, a geneticist affiliated with the National Marine Fisheries Service's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of California at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and colleagues wrote.

Killer whales are currently classified as just one species, Orcinus orca. Nevertheless, researchers have identified several so-called killer whale ecotypes that have slightly different size and color patterns, behaviors, prey preferences, and social organizations.

Past studies of specific mitochondrial DNA loci have found relatively little mtDNA diversity, the researchers explained, and just over a dozen haplotypes. Nuclear microsatellite data, meanwhile, hints at the existence of additional genetic diversity and more complex population structure than previously appreciated.

"This low level of mtDNA diversity has resulted in only weak inference of phylogeographic patterns and divergence times in killer whales, limiting our ability to understand their evolution and taxonomy," they wrote. "Killer whales are therefore an ideal candidate species for applying new high-throughput techniques to allow the production of a highly corroborated mitogenome tree and the testing of hypotheses of the timing of coalescence of killer whale populations."

To test the taxonomic and evolutionary utility of high-throughput mitogenomics, the team sequenced the 16,390 or so base pairs of mitochondrial genomes from 143 killer whales using highly-parallel pyrosequencing with Roche 454 GS FLX and Titanium platforms. They also sequenced five partial mitochondrial genomes and mtDNA for three outgroup species: a false killer whale, a long-finned pilot whale, and a short-finned pilot whale.

After tossing out duplicate and poor quality sequences, the researchers were left with 139 killer whale mitochondrial genome sequences representing 66 different haplotypes.

These haplotypes clustered with geography and killer whale type, although whales from a few distant geographic populations grouped near one another, the team explained, suggesting they might share common ancestors.

They estimate that killer whale haplotypes identified in the study diverged from one another between around 150,000 and 700,000 years ago, with clades from the eastern North Pacific apparently diverging earliest and an Atlantic clade diversifying into killer whale groups found in high latitudes today.

Based on their mitogenomic findings, the researchers called for a revised killer whale classification scheme designating two existing killer whale types in the Southern Ocean and one group in the North Pacific as distinct species and recognizing additional subspecies. Even so, the researchers noted, studies of nuclear sequence data are needed to verify and further refine the patterns detected so far.

Overall, the team argued, using genetic information to improve killer whale classifications and taxonomy will help to inform killer whale ecology research and conservation efforts in the future. They also predicted that mitochondrial genome sequencing will play an increasingly large role in classifying other species as well.

"We expect that, as sequencing technologies continue to allow more samples, more sequence, and lower cost the application of mitogenomics will become the default approach to phylogeography, as was previously the use of control region and cytochrome B sequence analysis," the researchers concluded.

Sequence data on the 66 killer whale haplotypes identified in the current study have reportedly been deposited in Genbank.

One ocean, four (or more) killer whale species

New genetic analysis splits killer whales into multiple taxa

Tina Hesman Saey
May 22nd, 2010; Vol.177 #11 (p. 8)

Determining whether animals belong to the same species is not as black and white as you might think.

Take killer whales. Scientists have long debated whether the ocean-dwelling mammals all belong in one species. Now, DNA evidence suggests that killer whales should be classified in at least four species, and maybe more.

Scientists once thought killer whales all belonged to the species Orcinus orca. But as researchers began observing more closely, they discovered that the whales seem to belong to different groups, called ecotypes, with distinct feeding habits and appearances. Killer whales from different ecotypes don’t seem to breed with each other — one criterion for being classified as separate species. So some scientists proposed that killer whales should be grouped into different species.

Early genetic analyses didn’t support that idea. Studies that looked at pieces of mitochondrial DNA, a type of genetic material that can be used as a molecular clock to measure the time since two genetic lineages split, concluded that the various killer whale groups are similar enough to fall into a single species.

But recently, researchers have come to realize that not all molecular clocks keep the same time. The mitochondrial DNA of Adélie penguins, for example, evolves faster than previously thought (SN Online: 11/17/09). Killer whales and other cetaceans, on the other hand, have molecular clocks that tick more slowly than other species’ clocks do, says Phillip Morin, a marine mammal geneticist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif.

Morin and colleagues analyzed the mitochon­drial genomes of 139 killer whales from around the globe and found that the animals fall into several genetically distinct groups.

“The genetic data show that they are each independently evolving lineages,” Morin says.

There is enough evidence to split off three new killer whale species, Morin and his colleagues propose in a study published online April 22 in Genome Research.

Two of the proposed new species live in the Antarctic. One eats only marine mammals, frequently knocking seals off pack ice to catch its prey. The other pursues fish underneath the pack ice.

A third proposed species lives in the northeastern Pacific and eats a variety of other marine mammals, including seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins. Morin’s team estimates that this group diverged from other killer whales as a separate species about 700,000 years ago. The other groups split off more recently.

“I suspect there’s going to be another four or five species,” says Robin Baird, a cetacean biologist at the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Wash. Killer whales seem to be evolving into new species based on their eating habits, he says, a scenario that is common among birds but extremely rare for mammals.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to offspring, so it reflects only one part of a species’s genetic heritage, points out A. Rus Hoelzel of Durham University in England. Going yet another step by analyzing the full DNA makeup of killer whales might reveal genetic exchange between killer whale groups that is not detectable looking exclusively at the maternal lineage. Exchange of genetic information between the groups would indicate that they aren’t separate species.

Morin agrees that a fuller genetic picture of killer whales is called for; he thinks the additional data will validate the finding from mitochondrial DNA that orcas should be classified into a handful of distinct species.

“My gut feeling is that these really are separate species, but the careful scientist in me wants to get a little bit more data ... to really nail it down,” he says.,_four_%28or_more%29_killer_whale_species

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Friday, 28 May 2010

Animal Planet's 'River Monsters' visits Illiamna Lake

For eons, fishing has been the realm of tall tales, exaggeration and hyperbole.
So perhaps it's no surprise that the next episode of the popular Animal Planet cable television program "River Monsters" visits Alaska and tries to get to the bottom of the Iliamna Lake monster legend in a program airing Sunday entitled "Alaskan Horror."

Never mind that host Jeremy Wade fishes in Alaska lakes, not rivers.

Never mind that he finds neither monsters nor horror in Alaska. He does manage to land a nice northern pike, though he could duplicate that feat in hundreds of lakes in Canada and the upper Midwest. While toothy and perhaps fearsome to 2-year-olds and ducklings, pike aren't monsters.

Never mind that the largest fish caught during the program, a white sturgeon, is landed on the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon.

This is television, the realm of myth and imagination, and Sunday's "River Monsters" episode really aims to tell the tale of a quest while conjuring up all sorts of fearsome possibilities. Stories, rumors and myth assume the same throw-weight as fact.

"I'm out of my element in a land of giant lakes," Wade says during the program, which features his visit to Iliamna Lake, at 1,000 square miles the eighth largest lake in the country, and Lake Clark, its 200-square-mile cousin. "Together, they cover an area the size of Rhode Island. Both lakes reach staggering depths up to 1,000 feet.

"I probably have more of a chance of winning the lottery than catching the monster myself."

Instead Wade gathers stories -- tales of shadowy figures in the deep, tales of tooth marks on props, tales of aerial sightings of huge finned creatures.

And, naturally, he goes fishing. Using a rod "usually used for marlin or tuna" he tosses a big, baited hook into Iliamna and waits all afternoon and through the night. Night brings dusky darkness. Dawn brings mist and fog.

"If you're out here any length of time," he says, "you're going to see things even if there's nothing there."

Anglers everywhere can sympathize with Wade's result -- nada.

One by one, candidates for the mysterious monster are discarded after exhaustive research.

Northern pike? Too small.

Beluga whales reaching the lake via the 60-mile Kvichak River that connects Iliamna Lake to Bristol Bay? Too white.

But white sturgeon? Ah, now we may have something. The largest freshwater fish in North America, sturgeon can live in both fresh and salt water, grow to more than 20 feet long and live to age 100. Although they're toothless, they possess sharp, bony plates. And they can jump out of the water.

It's a nice, convenient theory. But alas, Wade says, Iliamna Lake is an "absolutely immense body of water where nobody has ever caught one. Realistically, it's not going to happen here."

Thank God a plane is handy.

Wade boards it and flies back to the Lower 48 to fish the Columbia River Gorge, a waterway with a healthy population of sturgeon, with guide Jack Glass, hoping to at least savor the experience.

Bingo. Wade hooks not one but two white sturgeon, the largest nearly 9 feet long.

"This is probably the biggest freshwater fish I've ever caught," Wade gushes.

"I've been doing sturgeon on Columbia River for 27 years," Glass said by phone. "It's one of the biggest populations in the world. My son and I guide full-time."

Like many fishing guides, Glass, owner of Team Hook Up Guide Service in Troutdale, Ore., faces pressing local problems. For him, it's hungry sea lions that are moving upriver to devour sturgeon.

"A couple of big lions will take on one of those things, and it's a bloodbath," Glass said. "They'll hold on to them, ripping pieces off them while they're still alive."

Hmmm. Could a pilot for "River Bloodbath" be in the works?

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

An earlier attempt to find beast in Illiamna

During the first season of "River Monsters," host Jeremy Wade has pursued piranhas in the Amazon, huge catfish in India and giant freshwater stingrays weighing 1,300 pounds in Southeast Asia. The first season averaged more than a million households per episode, the biggest ratings success in Animal Planet history.

"People want to believe there's something out there, lurking in the remote corners of the world," Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet Media, said in a press release. "It's a quest for near-mythic creatures and a detective story with all the pleasures of a narrative."

But Animal Planet isn't the first to seeks the Iliamna Lake monster.

In June of 1980, the Daily News offered $100,000 for tangible evidence of the Iliamna Lake Monster and sent reporter Bill Wilson to the lake to untangle the myths.

The reward brought both serious and non-serious responses. One man, according to the website, reportedly played classical music to lure the animal up from the depths. There were no results, and to this day there has never been a well-financed search using sophisticated sonar and underwater photographic gear.

Five rivers to see and five fish to avoid
An earlier attempt to find beast in Illiamna Five rivers Wade thinks you should see before you die:

1. The Amazon: Take a boat from Belém, at the river mouth, to Manaus. Five days traveling day and night, and you're not even halfway up the main river. Then go up one of the tributaries, and explore a backwater creek -- another two to four weeks, if you're lucky. This is the only way to fully appreciate the sheer size of the world's greatest river system.

2. The Ganges: From snow-capped Himalayas to the scorching heat of the Indian plains, all human life is here. But, like too many of the world's rivers, the underwater life is barely clinging to survival.

3. The Colorado in the Grand Canyon: Mind-blowing by all accounts, but one I've yet to see.

4. The Congo: Hopefully the two events (seeing the river and dying) won't be linked -- although this has to be one of the world's most dangerous regions for outsiders and for the people who live there.

5. The River Near You: A hidden world awaits you just a short journey from where you live.

Five river monsters that think of you as dinner:
1. Piranhas: Only if they're hungry, and sometimes the boot is on the other foot. When I've been hungry, I've been known to reduce a piranha to a skeleton in a matter of seconds. Amazonians say that a soup made from piranhas works as an aphrodisiac.

2. Candiru: This vampire-like Amazonian fish, about the length of a toothpick, normally burrows into the gills of a larger fish where it enjoys a liquid feast of its host's blood. But sometimes it makes a mistake and burrows into a human orifice. Because it has barb-like, backward-pointing spines on its gill covers, it can't extricate itself and can only be removed by delicate surgery.

3. Bullshark: Most sea fish can't survive in rivers -- they absorb water and their body cells burst. But thanks to a fiendishly clever way of controlling the amount of salt in its body and the ability to excrete surplus water, this species of shark can swim and feed hundreds of miles inland.

4. Goonch catfish: People living beside Himalayan rivers say this toothy predator feeds on human remains from riverside funeral pyres.

5. Goliath tigerfish: This 6-foot cousin of the piranha can reach 100 pounds and will even bite pieces out of crocodiles. Fishermen say they will snack on the dangling extremities of unwary swimmers or paddlers.

Both lists come from

Read more:

(submitted by Chad Arment)

'Hot air balloon' octopus mystery solved

Researchers at Museum Victoria in Australia have solved a mystery about a particular species of octopus that live in tropical and sub-tropical oceans across the world.

The Argonaut Octopus differs from most other types of octopus because it lives near the surface, rather than on the sea floor, and the females have a brittle white shell full of air which has earnt them the name of "paper nautilus".

The purpose of this shell has puzzled marine biologists since the time of Aristotle in ancient Greece, who believed it to be a primitive sail. Many have suggested theories for its purpose, and the most popular was Adolf Naef's theory in 1923 that it's a casing for eggs -- inhabited by the female, who lays her eggs inside before clambering in herself, alongside one of the male's arms, used as a penis, which snaps off during sex.

But Museum Victoria scientists Dr Julian Finn and Dr Mark Norman have discovered that it's primarily used as a buoyancy device that lets the argonaut octopus rise to the surface of the sea and descend to the bottom, when required.

When the octopus is at the surface, the researchers observed it rocking the shell around to capture a quantity of air, which it then seals off using its arms. That then allows the creature to maintain neutral buoyancy in the ocean, in the same way that a hot air balloon stays in the sky. Previously, air trapped inside the shell was thought to be harmful to the creature.

The scientists' findings have been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, and describe how three of the 20cm-long creatures were caught in commercial nets in the Sea of Japan, and transported to a tank containing sea water and fed. One at a time, they were then released into Okidomari Harbour, where they were observed and photographed underwater by scuba divers. Before, release, all air was drained out of their shells.

In every case, the animal immediately swam towards the surface, before "gulping" in as much air as it could and sealing it off using its arms. It then jetted back down below the surface again, halting at a point where the trapped air cancelled out the animal's weight -- allowing it to attain neutral buoyancy. It was then able to swim parallel to the water's surface at great speeds -- faster than a diver.

The scientists discovered that the rocking motion of the shell at the surface was more efficient than a passive shell would be, allowing it to capture a larger volume of air and therefore maximise the depth at which neutral buoyancy can be achieved. That allows the creature some protection from wave motion and predators like birds striking from above.

The males of the species, in comparison, are tiny and shell-less -- rarely surpassing 2cm in length. Each only mates once in its short life, whereas the females mate many times. As a result of the male's size and lack of a distinctive shell, they were only discovered in the late 19th century, whereas the females had been known since ancient times. Originally, it was thought that the arm left behind in the female's shell had been a parasitic worm.

The impacts of the research could allow for more sophisticated buoyancy systems for both divers and submarines, as well as allowing for better knowledge of marine ecosystems and how these rare creatures live. The scientists are still investigating the Argonauts, and have set up a survey to try and find out a little more about the creatures. Members of the public who spot the creature should head on over to the survey website and get in touch with ArgoSearch.

By Duncan Geere
(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Schoolgirl comes face to face with 'black panther' in the Forest of Dean

SCHOOLGIRL Kim Howells had a 15th birthday to remember after coming face to face with a big cat.

The Heywood pupil fled in terror after being pursued by the panther in woods near Ruspidge.

Kim was walking with her cousin Sophie Gwynne, eight, at around 8.30pm on Monday when they came across the beast lying beneath a tree.

She said: "I saw something out of the corner of my eye and at first I thought it was a log or something. We carried on walking but then I looked back and it was sitting up looking at me."

Kim said the cat was about the size of a Great Dane, black all over with big eyes and paws and a long tail. She said it was about 15metres away from them and there was no mistaking what it was.

She said: "It was definitely a big cat. I've seen boar in the Forest before and it definitely wasn't one of them. What makes me sure is that it was still light so I could see it really clearly."

As the girls walked away the creature started following them along the path.

Kim said: "Sophie was asking what it was and then we looked behind us and it was about five metres away, following us.

"I didn't know what to do so we cut through the brambles and just started running."

The girls ran all the way back to Kim's home in Ruspidge.

Kim's mum Cathy said: "They were in a real state, their feet were all cut and Sophie was in tears.

"Kim is a very sensible girl and if that's what she says she saw, that's what it is."

Cathy later showed Kim a picture of a panther on the internet and she confirmed that was what she saw.

Cathy says she has now has second thoughts about letting her daughter and niece play in the woods.

She said: "I used to think that they were much better off there than a public park or somewhere but now I'm not sure, it is a real worry."

It is not the first time a big cat sighting has been reported near Ruspidge.

In June 2007, milkman Robert Brinton got an early morning wake-up call when he encountered a big cat in Railway Road.

Earlier the same year, firefighter Peter Bishop reported a black cat sighting in Cinderford and a lorry driver from Lydney saw one on Valley Road.

(submitted by Chad Arment)

A recent paper showing why Burmese pythons won't be invading northern regions anytime soon:

(submitted by Chad Arment)

Case study analyzes why, where and when of leading shark attack site

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks are most likely to occur on Sunday, in less than 6 feet of water, during a new moon and involve surfers wearing black and white bathing suits, a first of its kind study from the University of Florida suggests.

Researchers analyzed statistics from shark attacks that occurred in Florida's Volusia County, dubbed the "Shark Attack Capital of the World," between 1956 and 2008. They also spent a year observing people between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at UF.

"It's basically an analysis of why, where and when in an area that traditionally has had more shark-human interactions than any other stretch of coastline in the world," he said. "One of our students, Brittany Garner, essentially camped out there, counted the number of heads on the beach and took photographs."

While this 47-mile-long section of Central Florida's Atlantic coast leads in human-shark skirmishes, making up 21 percent of all global attacks between 1999 and 2008, most are "hit and run" incidents that seldom cause serious injury and no fatalities occurred, he said.

"Calling them attacks is probably a misnomer because the consequences are usually no more severe than a dog bite," he said. "They're not the same kind of bites made by 10- to 20-foot-long white sharks that you have off the coast of California. Here we see a different style of attack, primarily perpetrated by smaller fish-eating sharks such as spinners and blacktips that are less than 6 to 7 feet long, which because of their size normally seek smaller prey."

There have been 231 shark attacks between the first one reported in 1956 in Volusia County and 2008, said Burgess, who works at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. The study, part of which was published recently in the edited volume "Sharks and Their Relatives II," uses statistics from 220 of those cases for which detailed information is available.

Human, shark and environmental factors combine to create a perfect storm of favorable conditions in Volusia County for attacks, particularly near Ponce Inlet between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, he said.

The more people in the water the greater the chances they will encounter a shark, and New Smyrna Beach south of the inlet is a "hot spot" for surfers with its well developed sand bars and good waves, Burgess said. Hand splashing and feet kicking provoke sharks, which bite and release what they mistake for normal prey items in the turbid waters, he said.

Also, the strong tidal flow in the inlet makes it "an aquatic smorgasbord of food items for sharks, barracudas, mackerel and other large predators," boosting shark numbers, he said.

Young white males were attacked most because they spend the most time in the water, Burgess said. Ninety percent of victims were male, 77 percent of 196 victims were between 11 and 30 years old and in the 171 cases where race was known, 98 percent were white, he said.

Well over half of the 220 victims were bit on the leg — 158 — more than five times the number bit on the arms — 34 — the second highest body part to be injured, he said.

Surfers were the most frequent victims, making up 61 percent of the total, Burgess said. They tended to be bitten more in the early morning and late afternoon when waves were highest and they spend more time surfing, he said.

"At the time of the attack, most of the surfers were sitting or holding onto the board waiting for a wave, which explains why most surf victims were bitten on the legs," he said.

Sharks are not weekend warriors. Rather it is human leisure that leads to the fewest number of human encounters on Wednesdays and the highest on Sundays, followed by Saturdays, Burgess said. "There are a fair number of attacks on Fridays as well, reflective of people skipping work and taking three-day weekends," he said.

The greatest number of attacks occurred during new moons, followed by full moons, the edges of the lunar extreme when the moon has its biggest pull on the tidal phase, Burgess said. Probably the moon's phases influence the movements and reproductive patterns of fish, the shark's food source, just as they affect human behavior, he said.

Not surprisingly, attacks were highest during the swimming season, from May through October, peaking in August, Burgess said. They spiked in April as sharks began their seasonal northern migration up the eastern coast of the United States, he said.

Most incidents involved one bite, occurred in turbid, murky or muddy waters and were at the water's surface, Burgess said. Only one attack was on a diver, he said.

More victims wore swimsuits that were black and white than any other color combination, followed by black and yellow, attesting to sharks' abilities to see contrast, he said.

Between 1999 and 2008, shark attacks worldwide numbered 639, of which there were 428 reports in the United States, 275 in Florida and 135 in Volusia County. Burgess said.

(submitted by Chad Arment)

Bacteria Living in 'Cloud Cities' May Control Rain and Snow Patterns

Some bacteria can influence the weather. Up high in the sky where clouds form, water droplets condense and ice crystal grow around tiny particles. Typically these particles are dust, pollen, or even soot from a wildfire.

But recently scientists have begun to realize that some of these little particles are alive -- they are bacteria evolved to create ice or water droplets around themselves. Some of them live in clouds , and here and there they may be numerous enough to change rain and snowfall patterns.

Might make you think twice about trying to catch snow flakes or raindrops with your tongue.

One of these weather gifted bacteria is called Pseudomonas syringae. Known to live on agricultural crops, this bacteria does more than provide any old surface for the ice crystal to grow.

Thanks to a special protein, the bugs promote freezing at higher temperatures than usual, an attack mechanism that damages plants so the microbes can feed.

But David Sands, a scientist from Montana State University, and other researchers believe the bacteria are part of a little known weather system.

The magical ability of this protein is well known. Ski resorts use cannons to shoot this protein into the air to promote snow formation.

The fact that these bacteria employ the protein is the intriguing part (and, oh yeah, they can LIVE IN CLOUDS!) and could open up doors for more than the snow-building industry.

The most nagging question for scientists, however, is determining just how widespread this and other species of bacteria are, and how much they influence precipitation patterns. From Tuesday's New York Times article about the discovery, cloud physicist Roy Rasmussen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said:

“The question is, do these guys get into the atmosphere in large enough concentrations to have an effect? My gut feeling is this may be important for specific places and specific times, but it’s not global.”

If bacteria really do play an important role in modifying weather patterns, it could help explain how poor land use practices like overgrazing and logging contribute to droughts. Rid an environment of plants and the microbes have nothing to eat. Strip away enough vegetation and there aren't enough bugs around to seed clouds -- and the rains disappear.

The flip side of the coin is that certain crops could be planted to encourage bacteria growth, and thus bring rain to a dry region.

"Wheat or barley might differ a thousandfold” in terms of bacteria amount, Sands said, “depending on the variety.”

But before scientists attempt to engineer weather patterns -- which could open up its own can of worms -- they must understand the full extent of these bugs' miraculous ability to work as natural rainmakers.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

2 new frog species discovered in Panama's fungal war zone

Trying to stay ahead of a deadly disease that has wiped out more than 100 species, scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute continue to discover new frog species in Panama: Pristimantis educatoris, from Omar Torrijos National Park, and P. adnus from Darien Province near the Colombian border.

In 1989 researchers realized that frogs were dying around the world. Then they identified the cause: a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis. In 2004 Karen Lips, associate professor at the University of Maryland, sounded the alarm that the disease was devastating highland frogs in Central Panama and spreading across the country to the east.
Pristimantis educatoris

"We are working as hard as we can to find and identify frogs before the disease reaches them, and to learn about a disease that has the power to ravage an entire group of organisms," said Roberto Ibanez, research scientist at STRI and local director of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Since 2005 research institutions and zoos from Panama and the United States have scrambled to collect healthy frogs east of the infected area—to save them from extinction. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project unites eight institutions including STRI and the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, along with Panama's environmental authority, ANAM, in a new effort to raise captive frogs in Panama at Summit Nature Park with support from the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center.
Pristimantis adnus

While collecting at Omar Torrijos National Park, Lips' team noticed a common frog much bigger than specimens collected elsewhere. Mason Ryan and Tom Giermakowski, from the Museum of Southwestern Biology and the University of New Mexico, compared the frogs' feet and toes with frogs in museum collections, concluding that the bigger frogs were actually a new species.
They named this new species P. educatoris. The species name, educatoris, honors Jay M. Savage, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Miami, who taught several generations of students about tropical frogs. Educatoris actually has a double meaning, because females of this species also nurture and care for their developing eggs.

In 2008, researchers first detected the fungus to the east of the Panama Canal. During a collecting trip in November 2009 to Chagres National Park, even further to the east, researchers were dismayed to find that most of the frogs there were already infected and dying.

On May 20, researchers from the PARC project returned to what they hope are still fungus-free, healthy frog habitats in Darien Province. On an earlier trip organized by members of Eldredge Bermingham's lab at the Smithsonian, another new frog species was collected by researchers from STRI, the University of Panama and the Círculo Herpetológico de Panamá.

Its name is based on ADN, the acronym for the Spanish acido deoxiribonucleico, meaning deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, in English. "We chose this name to underscore the usefulness of genetic techniques as we identify these new frog species and determine the relationships between tropical frogs that may look very similar," said Andrew Crawford, professor at University of the Andes and research associate at STRI.

These two reports bring the total number of frog species described in Panama and Costa Rica to 197. Nearly 15 percent of these new frogs have been described in the past seven years.


The species collection and identification work was supported by Sigma Xi, the American Society of Ichthyology and Herpetology Gaige Fund, Idea Wild, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Bay and Paul Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. Both publications credit Panama's ANAM for research and collecting permits.

STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website:

M.J. Ryan, K.R. Lips, J.T. Giermakowski. New species of Pristimantis (Anura: Terrarana: Stabomantinae) from lower Central America. 2010. Journal of Herpetology. 44(2): 193-200

A.J. Crawford, M.J. Ryan, C.J. Jaramillo. A new species of Pristimantis (Anura: Strabomantidae) from the Pacific coast of the Darien Province, Panama, with a molecular análisis of its phylogenic position. 2010. Herpetologica, 66(2), 192-206

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Rare Ocelot Found Dead, Endangered Species Not Seen In AZ Since 1960's

(submitted by Chad Arment via Kevin Stewart)

Arizona Reporter - Arizona News - 23/04

The Arizona Game and Fish Department yesterday collected a dead, intact carcass of a cat resembling an ocelot, a rare small to medium-sized cat that is listed as a federally endangered species.

The animal reportedly was accidentally hit and killed by a motorist on Sunday, April 18 on Highway 60 between Superior and Globe.

In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Department is in the process of shipping the carcass to the Service’s national forensics laboratory located in Ashland, Oregon, where it will undergo testing to determine if the cat is actually an ocelot of wild origin.

“Currently, we have no reason to suspect that this is anything other than a wild, naturally occurring ocelot and genetic analysis should help with verification,” said Eric Gardner, the Department nongame and endangered species program lead. “Although not legal to possess in Arizona under most circumstances, ocelots are actually fairly common in the pet trade and genetic testing may help us determine its origin or if this was a captive-raised animal.”

Coincidently, The Sky Island Alliance, a Tucson-based non-governmental organization, last week announced that a volunteer citizen naturalist had retrieved an image of an ocelot from one of the Alliance’s remote cameras placed in Cochise County. The image was dated November 7, 2009. Sky Island Alliance has not yet publicly released the photo.

There have been only a handful of verified ocelot sightings backed up by specimens or photos in Arizona. The species has not been documented in Arizona since 1964 and historical records are very rare. Investigations of the occasional sightings reported since 1964 have often determined that a bobcat had been misidentified as an ocelot, despite the significant difference in tail length between the two species.

Ocelots are small to medium-sized spotted cats with a long tail. They tend to be smaller in the more northerly parts of their range than in the central or southern areas of occurrence. Their upper body coloring is highly variable ranging from grayish to cinnamon, or tawny to reddish brown, with dark markings forming chainlike streaks (generally forming black-bordered elongated spots that are more nearly stripes than spots) down the sides. Their present range is in the eastern and western lowlands of Mexico, from southern Mexico through Central America, and in the lowland areas of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. On the fringes of their range, they occupy a very limited region in both the United States (a remnant population exists in southern Texas) and Argentina.

The ocelot was listed in the U.S. as a federally endangered species in 1982.

Posted: Apr 29, 2010 11:38 PM
Updated: May 07, 2010 1:44 PM
Posted by Dan Marries
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - A snapshot of a rare animal is stirring excitement in wildlife circles. The photograph, dated November 7, 2009, was captured with a remote sensing camera located only 40 miles north of the international border. Today, Sky Island Alliance released the original ocelot photo:
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