Wednesday, 30 June 2010

'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed

RIGHT: Leviathan was an aggressive 17m-long predator which may have preyed on other whales
Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:02 UK

Researchers have discovered the fossilised remains of an ancient whale with huge, fearsome teeth.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists have dubbed the 12 million-year-old creature "Leviathan".

It is thought to have been more than 17m long, and might have engaged in fierce battles with other giant sea creatures from the time.

Leviathan was much like the modern sperm whale in terms of size and appearance.

But that is where the similarity ends. While the sperm whale is a relatively passive animal, sucking in squid from the depths of the ocean, Leviathan was an aggressive predator.

According to Dr Christian de Muizon, director of the Natural History Museum in Paris, Leviathan could have hunted out and fed on large sea creatures such as dolphins, seals and even other whales.

"It was a kind of a sea monster," he said.

"And it's interesting to note that at the same time in the same waters was another monster, which was a giant shark about 15m long. It's possible that they might have fought each other".

The researchers speculate that Leviathan was able to feed on very large prey up to 8m long. It would catch the prey in its huge jaws and tear it apart quickly and effectively with its giant teeth.

A 3m-long fossilised skull of the creature was discovered by researchers in southern Peru in 2008. Dr de Muizon's student, Olivier Lambert was among them.

"It was the last day of our field trip when one of our colleagues came and told us that he thought he'd found something very interesting. So we joined him and he showed it to us," he said.

"We immediately saw that it was a very large whale and when we looked closer we saw it was a giant sperm whale with huge teeth."

The teeth were more than twice the length and diameter of those found in modern sperm whales and they were on the upper and lower jaws.

Sperm whales only have teeth on their lower jaw.

Dr Lambert and his colleagues had speculated that such a fierce creature might once have existed on the basis of discoveries of individual teeth.

Now, the discovery of the skull means that the Leviathan is not merely the stuff of myth and legend.

"Finally we found it," said Dr Lambert. " It was a very exciting moment".

The researchers do not know why this ancient whale died out. They speculate that the ecology and environment changed so that the creature had to change its feeding habits.

That may have led to the emergence of today's much gentler sperm whales, with the carnivorous niche filled by killer whales as conditions swung back again.

The authors of the report in Nature, who are all whale experts, are fans of the novel Moby Dick, which involves a ferocious white sperm whale.

So taken are they with the novel that they decided to dedicate their discovery to the author, Herman Melville, and give the creature its full scientific name of Leviathan melvillei.

Ray's mythical monsters find a home

Wed 30 Jun 2010

The life's work of special effects animator Ray Harryhausen is to have a permanent new home.

The collection will be housed at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Harryhausen made his name by developing animated creatures based on legends and classical mythology.

The Ray Harryhausen Collection contains drawings, paintings and storyboards, together with his animation models and the original moulds used to make them.

Examples include the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts and the Medusa and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans.

Harryhausen, who has just turned 90, said: "I am so very pleased and honoured that my Foundation will not only be looking after my collection of 90 years but will also be ensuring that it is seen by as wide an audience as possible. It is also gratifying that the National Media Museum will, in conjunction with the Foundation, be storing and preserving my Collection for the foreseeable future."

An exhibition called Ray Harryhausen - Myths and Legends has also opened at the London Film Museum and will run for 12 months.

Woman blames vampire for car crash

Tom Phillips - 30th June, 2010

A woman who drove her car into a canal told police that she had been startled by a vampire standing in the middle of the road.

The woman said that she was driving her SUV along a dirt road in Colorado's Grand Valley region on Sunday night when she saw a vampire standing in the middle of the track.

Startled by the appearance of the undead fiend, the immediately put the SUV into reverse, with the result that she drove straight into the canal.

The woman was not injured in the accident, or subsequently ravaged by the vampire, and her husband arrived to take her home.

There were no other witnesses who reported seeing the alleged bloodsucker. Troopers who arrived at the scene found the woman's vehicle in the canal, but were unable to track down the vampire.

Police say they do not believe drugs or alcohol played any part in the vampire incident.

Lost tortoise returns

30 June 2010 16:30 GMT

A missing tortoise has been found after almost two years - just a mile-and-a-half away from its English home.

Maddie Tibble's pet Lottie - who disappeared just two days after she had been given to the youngster as a ninth birthday present - has been found on a road on the far side of adjoining school playing fields, 22 months later.

The tortoise - described as in "fine health" - was returned to Maddie by a local vet as she had been fitted with a microchip.

Maddie said: "I just didn't believe it was her. I was really shocked I just thought it must be another tortoise, but I am so pleased to have her back."

Snappy accident as fisherman bags croc

RIGHT: The 24-year-old fisherman says he got the fright of his life. (User submitted: Joel Pezzutti)
30 June 2010

A far north Queensland fisherman has pulled up a three-metre crocodile while casting his bait net at a tidal drain in Cairns.

Joel Pezzutti was casting the net in the suburb of Portsmith when the saltwater crocodile jumped from the water and latched onto the net.

The 24-year-old civil contractor says he got the fright of his life but still had the foresight to capture the moment.

"I was out casting for some bait so I could go fishing," he said.

"I cast my cast net out and a croc jumped out of the water and grabbed onto it, so I back-pedalled and I ran to the car because I was on my own.

"I got my torch and camera and had to get a photo because I knew no-one would believe me."

The Department of Environment and Resource Management is investigating the incident.

Students: can we have our bum slapping lucky cow back, please?

It’s a case of moo done it after a lucky statue of a cow was stolen from a college in Vienna days before their final exams.

The design students have begged police to find the life-size plastic cow, believing it brings good luck to anyone who slaps its rump before an exam.

The cow, decorated with Hawaiian flowers, was stolen from the school overnight.

The cow was one of the CowParade creations created by students for part of the largest and most successful public art event in the world.

Students now hope that tips leading to the thief will come forward after initiating a city-wide 'Wanted: Our School Cow' campaign.

Spiders shown to girls with arachnophobia in Austrian experiment

Girls who suffer from arachnophobia will be shown pictures of spiders in an Austrian experiment into how fear affects the processes of the brain.

Published: 4:35PM BST 30 Jun 2010

Researchers are looking for girls aged between 8-13 years who are "very fearful of spiders and/or who feel sick at the sight of them," the University of Graz said on its website.

The children will be shown pictures of the eight-legged crawlers and their brain waves will be registered. They will also undergo free fear therapy with specialists.

The researchers hope the results will help them develop phobia treatments.

"Spiders provoke revulsion for many people and even set off fearful panic. Girls in particular are frequently affected," the university said.

Moushached fish

29 June 2010 16:30 GMT

A breed of fish in Mexico grows a moustache to attract females.

Mexican mollies have been studied by a group of scientists and after experimenting on the habits of 100 fish, it was found that females of the species were more sexually attracted to males with the structure on their upper lips.

Writing in journal 'Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology', the experts stated: "The moustache-like structure seems to be a previously unrecognised sexually selected trait in poeciliid fishes."

The scientists are now further exploring the possibility that the moustaches may also have a tactile function.

Professor Schlupp told the BBC: "This is based on the general observation that males will touch the female's genital region with their mouth prior to mating."

Calif. woman says Chihuahua died saving her kids

RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) -- A Northern California woman says her Chihuahua died protecting her children from two pit bulls that got into her apartment.

Mayda Estrella, of Richmond, says the family's Chihuahua, named Manchas, jumped in between the canine invaders and her 4-year-old son Sunday. A pit bull grabbed Manchas with its jaws and carried the Chihuahua away.

Contra Costa County animal services officials say the Chihuahua was killed, and the pit bulls are now in custody.

The pit bulls' owner says they had escaped their yard by chewing through a fence. Estrella says her front door was open when the dogs came in.

She says when she saw the dogs come in, she ran into a bedroom with her other child, a newborn baby.

County officials say the owner won't face criminal charges.

Dogs aren't always man's best friend.

A Florida man was run over by his own truck after his bulldog put the car into gear.

Christopher Bishop, 43, of Ridge Manor, was checking his Ford F-150 for oil leaks on Sunday evening. He put the running car into neutral and left the driver’s door ajar.

While under the truck, curious dog Tassey hopped up into the driver’s seat and put the vehicle in gear. The truck rolled over the left side of Bishop’s body, according to police.

Bishop managed to wriggle out from underneath and call for help.

He was eventually taken to the hospital for injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010



CONTACT: Jean-Luc Thiffeault (608) 287-6419,


MADISON - The world's oceans, we know, are constantly shaken and stirred by the winds and the tides and other physical forces of nature.

But what about fish and other swimming marine life? Do they stir the ocean, too?

Since the question was first posed by pioneering oceanographer Walter Munk in 1966, some rough "top down" calculations have emerged suggesting that marine swimmers - everything from whales to krill - could contribute a significant portion of the mechanical energy for all ocean mixing. The simple math: total the mechanical energy of all the estimated marine swimmers in all the world's oceans and you get a figure that suggests as much as a third of all the vertical mixing in the world's oceans is produced by marine life.

Another and perhaps more precise way to approach the problem is to model the influence of a single swimmer on a fluid particle and multiply. That is the approach described this week in the journal Physics Letters A by mathematicians Jean-Luc Thiffeault of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Stephen Childress of New York University.

"The method we use is essentially the one Einstein applied to Brownian motion in his famous 1905 paper," notes Thiffeault. "Many small kicks due to passing swimmers cause a parcel of water to undergo a kind of drunkard's random walk."

While the problem may seem arcane, it assumes real importance in settings like fish farms and ocean aquaculture where large concentrations of confined fish can be at risk from bacterial infections caused by microbes that, in the open, mixed ocean, wouldn't be an issue.

"Oceanographers want to know how things mix vertically in the ocean," says Thiffeault, explaining that the ocean is like a layer cake, with tiers of water from top to bottom that have different temperatures and concentrations of nutrients, such as iron.

"Because of the ocean's stratification, water doesn't want to move vertically, but it eventually must, otherwise there would be no life on earth," says Thiffeault. "This is called vertical transport. The question is where does it come from?"

In their study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, Thiffeault and Childress examine the role of swimming marine life by simplifying things a bit and assuming that an individual swimmer will come in the shape of a sphere or cylinder. The effect of the swimming object on a particle of water is then calculated as it passes by.

"Our initial model is really too simple," says Thiffeault. "The numbers we're getting are very small in the open ocean, where there isn't a high density of marine life."

But the numbers go up when other factors are woven into the equation. For example, a single krill may not have much effect, but the tiny crustaceans are never alone. They gather in large, sometimes massive concentrations. And many marine swimmers, jellyfish, for example, also drag water with them when they swim, a phenomenon that could amplify the effect of the swimmer.

The model constructed by the two mathematicians in their Physics Letters A report is far from complete. Such things as viscosity, wakes, schooling, boundary layers and, most importantly for applying the model to ocean mixing, buoyancy and stratification effects, still need to be built in to the model.

Stratification, for example, becomes important in the mixing equation as water is moved up or down by a swimmer: "If water dragged upwards by an organism doesn't warm up, it will sink again" and negate the potential mixing effect of the swimmer, Thiffeault explains.

According to Thiffeault, there are two camps on the influence of marine swimmers: those who believe they have a significant effect on ocean mixing and those who discount the idea.

"We're trying to remain agnostic about the role of marine life in ocean mixing, but as a mechanism it could be applied to many other problems such as sedimentation. In one direction or another, it should be an interesting result."


- Terry Devitt (608) 262-8282,

Nessie centres in £1.3m legal row
A LONG-running feud between two neighbouring Loch Ness Monster visitor attractions has escalated, with one now suing the other for £1.3 million.

Thousands of people each year visit the Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit - owned by the Bremner family - and the Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre 100 yards away, run by Donald and Gillian Skinner.

Now Robbie Bremner has raised a civil action in Inverness Sheriff Court claiming Mr and Mrs Skinner have spent more than 20 years deliberately trying to drive visitors away from his family's business and through the doors of their similarly named centre.

He has lodged a claim for more than £1.3 million, which he estimates is profit he has missed out on as a result of the custom and trade from these "lost" visitors since 1987 when the rival centre opened.

The Skinners have also been accused by Mr Bremner of using the same blue and orange colour scheme in their marketing, advertising and signage. The action states that a "... large number of visitors to the centre expressed confusion and concerns at the similarities of the signs, trading names and promotional material." which has been a deliberate attempt to "create confusion".

Mr Bremner is also angry about the use of the word "original" by the Skinners, claiming it gives the impression it predates his family's business, which is not the case. He wants the Skinners to stop using that title and other similar titles.

However, the Skinners deny the claims, stating Mr Bremner has used a variety of different trading names with the words Loch Ness in the past 11 years while also employing a variety of different colour styles, layouts and designs on promotional material. The first day of the case yesterday saw evidence halted as both sides' lawyers held talks in an attempt to settle the case. Sheriff Ian Abercrombie urged both parties to come to a conclusion.

"I think it is important that as much time and effort is taken to narrow the issues as much as possible," he said. "I hope that these negotiations bear fruit overnight."

The court case comes only a year after police officers were called to the village when Mr Skinner allegedly defaced a sign erected on the A82 by the trunk road's maintenance contractor company Scotland Transerv.
It contained an arrow directing motorists to Mr Bremner's visitor attraction, but a sticker was swiftly plastered over it which instead pointed towards Mr Skinner's business.

Mr Bremner claims Mr Skinner "deliberately defaced the signage in a deliberate attempt to create such confusion."

The action also describes the Skinner's centre as being of an "inferior nature" because it does not offer the standard of facilities, service or hospitality his five-start VisitScotland establishment does.
Mr Bremner describes himself as "reasonably apprehensive" because he fears the current situation will continue during the current summer tourist season, which is the centre's most profitable time of the year.

Meet the 'radical rodent' surfing mice

Fred Attewill - 28th June, 2010

Say aloha to the radical rodents – a mischievous bunch of fearless mice, who love nothing more than catching a wave and shooting a curl.

What’s more, the semi-amphibious crew’s pictures haven’t been digitally manipulated – they really are surfing on tiny handmade boards.

‘It’s a really stimulating way for them to live. Much more than just being stuck in a cage all their lives,’ said boat builder and surfing mouse breeder (yes, really) Shane Wilmott.

The 39-year-old Australian builds the mini-boards and begins the team’s training in his Gold Coast home.

He said: ‘I teach them how to do it in the bath at first, so they can get used to their custom made boards.

‘Once they’ve got some confidence we move out to my pool and tow them around with a remote controlled boat.’

But it’s when Peanut, Skidmark, Rocket and Banzai hit the beach that they get to show off the skills that pay the bills, shredding the surf and slotting in the tube just like the full-size pros – albeit on tiny wavelets in shallow water.

‘I only do it because I feel they are safe,’ said Mr Wilmott.

‘Gulls are a realistic threat so I have to stay close by to make sure my guys are safe. These guys aren’t just my pets, they’re my mates too – I care about them a lot.’

We may consider their natural environment to be round the bottom of food bins, but mice are naturally excellent swimmers.

‘So if they come off, they are fine and just paddle around until I collect them,’ said Mr Wilmott.

Since teaching his first mice to surf 25 years ago, eight-month-old Banzai and chums are the third generation of surf-mad antipodean cheese-munchers to receive his expert tutoring.

‘Me and a few mates were hanging out at the beach years ago, watching these perfect little waves form really close to the shore,’ he added.

‘I remember wishing I was tiny so that I could have a go on these perfect specimens... Then it hit me that a mouse on a tiny board could do it.’

More photos at:

VIP treatment for jet-setting sharks

By Penny Timms

29 June 2009

There will be two unusual additions to the passenger list of a flight from North Queensland to Melbourne next week.

The final preparations are being made to fly two leopard sharks from Townsville to the Melbourne aquarium.

They will be driven from the Townsville aquarium to Cairns and then put on a flight to Victoria next week.

Stephen Menzies from Reef HQ says there is a lot of work to do before then, including completing a self-sustaining tank.

He says to maintain water quality the sharks will not be fed for about two days before the flight.

"That's always fun when you unload some sharks after a long transport; that first feed, because they do feed with a bit of passion," he said.

The sharks are part of a captive breeding program designed to cut the number of animals taken from the wild.

Monday, 28 June 2010


NEW YORK ( -- A small Arizona restaurant found itself at the center of a nationwide backlash that included a bomb threat after it announced plans to offer lion burgers this week as part of a World Cup promotion.But following the supply chain back to the mom-and-pop butcher that processed the alleged lion meat turns up an even more bizarre tale.

Bee sting venom could provide treatment for arthritis

Venom from bee stings could help to treat and even prevent arthritis, new research has suggested. Scientists have found that bee venom can control the harmful inflammation in joints that leads to rheumatoid arthritis. They have shown the venom contains molecules that cause an increase in natural hormones in the body that regulate inflammation.

It has raised hopes that bee venom can be used to develop new treatments that can help bring relief from the pain of arthritis and even prevent it from developing in the first place.

The findings helped to explain anecdotal reports of how patients who undergo bee sting therapy report improvement in their condition. Dr Suzana Beatriz Veríssimo de Mello, an associate professor in rheumatology who led the research at the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, said bee venom caused increased levels of anti-inflammatory hormones called glucocorticoids.

She said: "Bee venom is a complex mixture of substances that are known to induce immune and allergic responses in humans. "Nevertheless, bee venom has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis for centuries. However, the placebo effect has been described in studies investigating bee venom anti-inflammatory properties in arthritic patients.

"Our data shows that bee venom prevents the development of induced arthritis in rabbits through the action of glucocorticoids." Bee Sting Therapy, in which patients endure hundreds of stings by bees in the hope of getting better, is often used as a form of alternative medicine to treat a range of conditions such as asthma and multiple sclerosis. The new research is the first time a scientific explanation has been shown for the effect. Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, warned that it may be some time before any clinical applications could be found.

He said: "Failure to have an adequate steroid response might allow rheumatoid arthritis to take hold, so the bee venom is a way of stimulating the body's natural steroids to respond to the auto-immune processes that causes rheumatoid arthritis. "However, knowing anecdotally that when some people with inflammatory arthritis are stung by bees their pain goes away for a short while is one thing; actually turning these early laboratory findings into a practical clinical application is quite another."

Gorilla psychologists: Weird stuff in plain sight

Gorilla psychologists: Weird stuff in plain sight
• 23 June 2010 by Liz Else
• Magazine issue 2766.

The "gorilla in our midst" psychology experiment is up there among the world's most famous. But as Liz Else found out from Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the psychologists who devised it, exactly how it fools half of the people who take part is still a mystery

How did you come up with the experiment?

Christopher Chabris: We didn't say, "let's do a really intriguing experiment people will talk about for years". It was just a class project on visual attention in a course we were teaching 12 years ago. The gorilla suit was lying around in a lab. If it hadn't been there, who knows?

Daniel Simons: Our study revisited work from the 1970s by Ulric Neisser, where subjects had to watch a video and count the times players passed a ball. Neisser had someone with an open umbrella walk through the game, and many people didn't notice it. But his video had an odd, ghostly appearance which gave people an excuse for missing the person with the umbrella. We filmed the entire game with a single camera so that everything was fully visible - and the person in the gorilla suit was there for 9 seconds! When we showed the video, only half of the viewers saw the gorilla.

Is it the same for every group?

DS: The first subjects were Harvard University students but it worked as well with everyone we tested. For years, whenever I showed the video, I held my breath, thinking everybody would notice it. It took years before I could discount that gut instinct. Missing the gorilla is jarring. It's natural to assume that you would see it, so it's surprising and compelling when you realise what you've missed.

So why do people miss the gorilla?

CC: It's like a Rorschach (inkblot) test for cognitive abilities or personality: people think there must be something different about the people who see the gorilla compared with those who don't. Some speculate that if you are in a detail-oriented job, you are going to notice it because you notice everything, or you are not going to notice it because you are really good at focusing. But the truth is, so far no researcher has found anything that solidly predicts who is going to see it and who is not.

DS: We have looked at basic measures of attention and memory - how much you can hold in mind while doing something else, and how much you can take in with one attentional glance. These basic measures predict how well you can focus attention and count the passes, but they don't seem to predict whether you will notice the gorilla. I have just done a follow-up to the gorilla study, which I showed to about 1000 vision scientists who knew about the original video. As the gorilla enters, I introduced two changes: a backdrop curtain changes from red to gold, and one player wearing a black shirt leaves the court. The vast majority missed both, despite knowing the video was about unexpected objects. When they started looking for a gorilla, they missed other unexpected events.

Is there an evolutionary reason to miss things?

DS: I think that's the wrong way around. These failures of awareness are more a consequence of something that we need to do and that we do well - focus attention. To do any task, you need to focus on things that matter and avoid things that don't. One consequence is that sometimes you filter out things you might want to see. Intuitively we think that things that matter will catch our attention, but they don't.

CC: In our book (reviewed, right) we tell the story of a Boston police officer chasing a suspect. When you do that, you're paying careful attention, figuring out where he's going, if he's got a gun or is throwing evidence away. The officer ran past an incident of police brutality taking place close by and later claimed not to have seen it. He went to prison because the jury didn't realise the extent to which focusing on one task makes you unable to see outside that. They decided he lied to protect fellow officers.

So our picture of reality can be very wrong?

DS: Our picture of reality is correct most of the time for most of what we do. It is inherently incomplete, though, and most of the time we don't realise how much we miss. Usually, it doesn't matter - we see what's relevant to what we're doing. It's important to know that we have such limitations, though. We think we see more than we do, and that has consequences. We also think our memories are more perfect than they are, that we understand complex systems better than we do. If we were aware of our limitations, we wouldn't text and drive or think everybody who mis-remembers is lying.

Can you devise another experiment this good?

CC: The statistics are against it! But who knows what we'll find lying around tomorrow...

Christopher Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College in New York; Daniel Simons is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The "Gorillas in Our Midst" study is at

Raccoon blamed for 5-hour downtown Memphis outage

Jun 26, 9:00 PM EDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- A raccoon described as acrobatic and mean-spirited knocked out power to a section of downtown Memphis that included two hospitals and the newspaper for more than five hours.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division president Jerry Collins told The Commercial Appeal said the raccoon climbed more than 30 feet, over barriers intended to keep animals out, and short-circuited a switch on a substation.

Overall, about 8,000 customers were without city power late Thursday and early Friday.

Emergency generators restored power to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis and Le Bonheur Children's Hospital within seconds, but the outage delayed production of Friday's newspaper at The Commercial Appeal and disrupted other businesses.

Information from: The Commercial Appeal,

Terrier bikes around Europe with owner

RIGHT: Easy rider: Smudge travels around Europe strapped to his owner Rob Fuller (Pictures: Caters)
28th June, 2010

Forget walkies – hairy biker Smudge gets his kicks out of hitting the open road on a classic bike.

The Jack Russell has clocked up 17,700km (11,000 miles) biking around Europe on owner Rob Fuller’s Triumph Tiger.

Smudge, who travels on the bike in a leather pouch attached to her master, has been everywhere from the French Alps to the Czech Republic.

‘She loves being on the bike and it’s a bit more fun for her than getting stuck in kennels for a month while I’m away,’ said Mr Fuller, from Hull.

‘She took to it like a duck to water. I don’t know how she does it but she knows how to ride a bike. She knows how to lean in when we go round corners, and she’s got great balance.’

Mr Fuller’s wife, Lyn, 49, often joins the pair on their European rides – but sometimes travels on her own bike to give Smudge more room.

Smudge has even developed a system for letting her best friend know when she has a call of nature.

She taps the 50-year-old on the elbow with her paw and doesn’t remove it until he stops at a grass verge.

‘It was something I was slightly concerned about the first time I strapped her on to the bike but I had nothing to worry about.’

Mr Fuller said he thinks the three yearold is ‘one of the most popular dogs in Europe’.

‘We always get a lot of attention wherever we go. We’ve been invited to visit fellow bikers in countries all over the world by people we’ve met on our rides.

‘Everyone thinks Smudge is great but they all say there’s no way they’d ride with a dog strapped to their chest.’

World's Ugliest Dog title goes to Princess Abby

June 28, 2010 11:00 AM

An odd-looking chihuahua called Princess Abby has won the dubious title of world's ugliest dog 2010.

The grey and white pooch - which has a curved back and legs (as well as a scrunched up left eye) won the annual World’s Ugliest Dog contest in Northern California.

Each year the strangest looking dogs are rewarded, this years winner was malformed Princess Abby - rescued off the streets just five months ago.

Owner Kathleen Francis - who won $1,000 - says she ignored how the four-year-old looked when she took her in from the Humane Society which had found her malnourished and flea-infested.

To scoop the title, Princess Abby beat 14 other dogs in her category before making it to the final… where one look had her competition howling in horror.

Event vet Karen "Doc" Halligan said, "Princess Abby is the poster child for spaying and neutering your animals. Her looks probably stem from being inbred."

The World's Ugliest Dog Contest event is now in its 22nd year. Miss Ellie, last years winner had been due to challenge to regain the title but died earlier this month at the age of 17.

World's Ugliest Dog Contest

Lion decides to play through at Mont. golf course

Jun 27, 9:53 PM EDT

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) -- Golfers at a western Montana golf course faced a hazard with real teeth - and claws - when a mountain lion decided to play through. Golfers said they spotted the elusive predator while teeing off at Valley View Golf Club Friday morning in Bozeman.

Bozeman animal control officer Kathy Middleton said the lion was first sighted near Aspen Pointe senior living center before other callers later saw it at the golf course.

Joe Knarr with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the agency has been receiving calls about lions all through the south of town. He said mountain lions sightings are common in the area, though there have been more reports this year than previous years.

Middleton said the lion spotted Friday most likely was just passing through.


Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle,

Cat lover forced to give up 200 pets

A homeowner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who happens to be a cat lover, owns about 190 cats over city limit. So he's asking the public to adopt some of his black cats to save them being euthanized.


Sunday, 27 June 2010

Plants Demonstrate Complex Ability to Integrate Information

Behavior Breakthrough: Like Animals, Plants Demonstrate Complex Ability to
Integrate Information

ScienceDaily (June 25, 2010) - A University of Alberta research team has discovered that a plant's strategy to capture nutrients in the soil is the result of integration of different types of information. U of A ecologist J.C. Cahill says the plant's strategy mirrors the daily risk-versus-reward dilemmas that animals experience in their quest for food.

Biologists established long ago that an animal uses information about both the location of a food supply and potential competitors to determine an optimal foraging strategy. Its subsequent behavioral response is based on whether the food supply is rich enough to accept the risks associated with engaging in competition with other animals.

Cahill found plants also have the ability to integrate information about the location of both food and competitors. As a result, plants demonstrate unique behavioural strategies to capture soil resources. Previous studies show plants alter the growth of their roots in relation to the
placement of food or a competing plant. Cahill and his colleagues now show an integration of both location and competition information in plants. "This ability to integrate information is a level of complexity never seen in plants before," said Cahill. "This is something we assumed only happened with animals."

Using a mini-rhizotron camera, referred to by Cahill's team as a "camera on a stick," the researchers compared the root movement of potted plants in relation to various positions of nutrients and competing plants. The roots of one plant in a pot where nutrients were evenly distributed occupied the entire breadth of the soil.

When two plants occupied a single pot and the nutrients were evenly distributed, the roots stopped growing laterally towards each other. There was complete segregation of the root systems; the plants avoided contact with one another. Cahill says in terms of risk versus reward, the plants avoided each other because the rewards were low.

But when nutrients were placed between two plants sharing a single pot, both plants grew their roots much closer towards each other. Cahill says in this case the rewards were high, and the plants risked increased competition.


A 6-month-old girl is dead and her mother is in serious condition after a tree branch fell on the pair as the father tried to take a photo during a visit to the Central Park Zoo, according to NYC officials and NYPD sources familiar with the freak accident.

The child's 33-year-old mother is at Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side in serious but stable condition. The accident happened just before 2 p.m. Saturday while families were enjoying the crowded zoo on a hot summer day. As the father prepared to take a photo of his wife, who held their daughter in her arms, witnesses heard a snap, NYPD sources tell NBCNewYork.Everyone screamed and the branch fell about 40 feet, striking both the mother and baby in the head before crashing to the ground and splitting in half, according to people at the scene.

Jail Snake

A PRISON inmate was bitten by an adder after an invasion of the venomous snakes, it was revealed yesterday.

An ambulance with two paramedics raced to treat the shocked 30-year-old.
The baby adder had sank its fangs into his hand in the grounds of HMP The Verne in Dorset. He later told officers that he thought it was a slow worm - until he saw its mother coming at him. The con, serving five years for fraud and drug offences, recovered fully in the jail's medical centre. It was believed that adders, Britain's only venomous snake, have been climbing the sloped walls to bask in the sunshine.

Bosses have put up signs warning the 600 inmates: "Due to warm weather, snakes are falling from the ramparts into the prison. If you see one, do not approach but alert staff." A prison insider said: "A bite by an adder is not fatal for a normal, healthy human being. "But it is extremely painful and requires immediate medical attention."

Another source added: "There's enough snakes in here without them falling from the walls."
The Prison Service said: "A prisoner at HMP The Verne was bitten by an adder on Friday, June 18. He was treated in the healthcare centre."

Read more:

Strange creature on the prowl in East Texas neighborhood (Via Lindsay Selby)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) – A strange creature is roaming one East Texas neighborhood.
Some say it's a fox or coyote, others a dog. Others are bit more creative, suggesting it's the legendary Chupacabra, an animal that supposedly sucks the blood of livestock. read on

Experts rediscover plant presumed extinct for 60 years

Experts rediscover plant presumed extinct for 60 years

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News
24 June 2010

In a small, noisy laboratory, tucked away in London's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a tiny plant is growing.

It looks just like a very small parsley bush, but it is actually a very special little plant indeed.

Clean air has to be constantly circulated in the lab to protect it from any bacteria.

This precious specimen is the Anogramma ascensionis fern, commonly known as the parsley fern. Since the 1950s, botanists believed it to be extinct.

It is native to Ascension - an island in the South Atlantic, which is one of Britain's overseas territories. And a small project supported by Kew's overseas territories programme has rediscovered and rescued it - a timely success story, as this year has been dubbed International Year of Biodiversity.

Kew botanist Phil Lamden and local conservation officer Stedson Stroud found the plucky little plant clinging to a precarious existence on a mountainside in the harsh volcanic landscape.

"We were down the back of Ascension's Green Mountain, which has very, very steep slopes. You have to be really careful because if you slip you're a goner," Mr Stroud recalled.

"And we came across this beautiful little fern and immediately knew it was the lost Anogramma that had been extinct for the last 60 years."

Ascension is covered by bleak, forbidding lava flows, and only 10 plant species are known to be truly "endemic" - found nowhere else in the world.

According to Kew scientists, goats that were released on to Ascension by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s, ate their way voraciously through the island's greenery for 350 years before any of the flora was even described to science.

The introduction of more invasive herbivores - rabbits, sheep, rats and donkeys, together with over 200 species of invasive plants, further squeezed out the island's original plant inhabitants. The rediscovery of Anogramma boosts to seven the number of surviving endemic plant species on the island.

Mr Stroud said that, in the excitement, both of the researchers "forgot where they were".

"We were scrambling around, looking to see if there were more, and then we realised, we should really have safety ropes and stuff around us," he said.

24-hour rescue

There were more plants - four in total. But as far as the researchers knew, these were all that remained of Anogramma. So with the help of his colleague, Olivia Renshaw, Mr Stroud mounted a rather perilous effort to protect them.

"We had to keep the plants alive - they were on a bare rock face and it was a really dry period, so Olivia and I went down twice a week carrying water and we set up a drip feed," said Stedson.

After a few weeks of tending the plants, the next part of their plan was even more risky. They had to get pieces of the ferns back to Kew so that more plants could be grown in the safety and sterility of the lab.

Stedson climbed down the ridge one again - this time to collect a few small cuttings of the spore-forming or reproductive parts of the plants.

Once harvested, the spores were vulnerable to drying and contamination, and the team had just 24 hours to transfer the precious cargo to the laboratory in Kew's Conservation Biotechnology Unit (CBU).

The samples were placed in a sterile container and rushed to the nearby airfield. From there, they were flown to a military airport in the UK, where a car was waiting to race them to Kew. Fortunately, the dust-like fern spores survived the journey intact.

Dr Viswambharan Sarasan is head of the CBU. He explained that their arrival was not the end of the challenge.

The spores had to be bleached to eliminate any bacteria, before the plants could be grown in culture.

"That is the really risky part," he said. "If you bleach them for too long, you could kill the spores, but if you don't treat them for long enough, there could be remaining bacteria that will grow in culture and kill them."

And Dr Sarasan had only a one-pence-piece-sized clipping of fern to work with - the smallest sample he had ever cultured from.

After another nervous period of waiting, he was relieved to discover that the process had left the spores intact and viable.

He and his colleague Katie Baker, a botany undergraduate student working at Kew, have now succeeded in growing 60 new Anogramma plants in culture - all from four tiny plants on a cliff face in Ascension.

The team hope eventually to restore Anogramma to its former wild habitats on Ascension's Green Mountain.

And Mr Stroud has even managed to grow some of the plants in a shade house on the island itself.

"Each and every day, you're there, tending and looking, and hoping that something will happen," he said.

"Then one day you see something and - watching the plants grow - you can't ask for anything more."
Anagramma fern growing in culture Kew scientists have successfully grown more than 60 Anogramma plants

Colin Clubbe, who leads the UK overseas territories programme at Kew, says that this rescue effort was a small but vital part of a much wider goal to protect native plants in Britain's overseas territories before they are lost forever.

Plants are such an important component of our lives," he said. "And if we lose them, we lose them - extinction is forever.

He says that "holding on to our natural environment" could help us protect many of the plants we depend on.

"We do exploit species - we're reliant on plant products. We use them as a source of genes and, in these extremely dry habitats, like Ascension, plants that are naturally adapted may hold some answers to things like plants' responses to climate change."

This is actually the third extinct plant that Mr Stroud has rediscovered and, for him, it is an ongoing and very personal mission.

"There's never a time that I'm not actually looking for these species because, we say they're extinct, but I believe they are there," he said.

"It's so satisfying, bringing a plant back from the brink of extinction."

Saturday, 26 June 2010

USF scientists find long line of oil 6 inches under the sand at Pensacola Beach

The sugar-sand beach here appeared cleaner Thursday, after workers picked up tar balls overnight with shovels and nets. By noon they had collected 44,955 pounds of tar balls and oil material, according to the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center.But a University of South Florida geologist made a grim discovery Thursday morning, 24 hours after the worst oil onslaught in Florida so far.

Dungeness purple herons 'in first UK hatching'

Saturday, 26 June 2010 10:35 UK

A pair of purple herons, which are thought to be the first of their type to nest in the UK, appear to have to bred successfully, the RSPB said.

The wildlife charity said the birds are thought to have hatched eggs in the nest they have made on the Dungeness peninsula in Kent.

Purple herons usually breed in southern Europe and visit Britain in small numbers each year.

The RSPB has put a "species protection scheme" in place to protect them.

It said it was not clear how many chicks there were in the nest, but increased activity of the parents coming back and forth to the site indicates they have young to feed.

Chris Corrigan, the RSPB's regional director for south-east England, said: "The arrival of these chicks is a timely reminder the Dungeness peninsula is one of the most important and sensitive wildlife habitats in the UK."

The purple heron, which is closely related to grey herons that are widespread in the UK, can reach 90cm (2ft 11in) in height.

In Europe, the birds breed in colonies in reedbeds and feed on insects, reptiles and amphibians.

Experts said the bird, which has struggled in Europe in recent decades, is one of the species likely to be setting up home in southern Britain as climate change pushes wildlife further north.
(Submitted by Liz R)

Oil-coated baby dolphin carried to shore by tourist dies (VIDEO)


Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Plans to evacuate Tampa Bay area are in place.As FEMA and other government agencies prepare for what is now being called the worst oil spill disaster in history, plans to evacuate the Tampa Bay area are in place.The plans would be announed in the event of a controlled burn of surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or if wind or other conditions are expected to take toxic fumes through Tampa Bay.This practice has been used by the US Forestry service, when fire and smoke threaten the health and well being of people.The elderly and those with respiratory problems would be more susceptible to health risks, in the event of a controlled burn.


PHOENIX — A restaurant owner who put lion burgers on the menu in honor of the World Cup has felt a roar of anger from outraged animal rights activists. Cameron Selogie, owner of the Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa, served burgers made with African lion this week as a nod to the tournament in South Africa. Reservations sold out, with a waiting list 100 long. But the burgers also attracted international attention and the scorn of animal rights activists, who picketed outside the restaurant. Selogie has even received some death threats. And now Selogie himself is questioning whether the meat was fair game.

-- full story:

Dog who survived Barceloneta massacre dies

Dog who survived Barceloneta massacre dies
June 25, 2010
by Peggy Ann Bliss

The last survivor of the animal massacre of Barceloneta has died and will be honored tonight. Yoli, the mixed breed dog who almost three years ago miraculously outlived almost 90 other cats and dogs ordered killed by the
town mayor, breathed her last June 19, according to her protector Maritza Rodríguez.

“She did it without my permission, but I forgive her for the intense love that I have and always will have for her,” said Rodríguez in an e-mail message to all animal lovers. The message was addressed to “all who shared and in any way carried the message and raised the cry of alert so that justice could be done.”

On October 8 and 10, 2007, police made two raids, seizing some 90 pets from their owners at three public housing projects, causing widespread anger.

Residents say many of the animals were later thrown off the 50-foot Indian Bridge in Vega Alta, just outside of town. Many of the decaying bodies were later found, but a few managed to escape.The news traveled around the world, causing outrage among animal advocates.

Mayor Sol Luis Fontanes allegedly ordered the raids after instituting a no-pet policy at the projects. Nevertheless, it was discovered later that no such rules existed. Forty five residents filed a $22.5 million federal
lawsuit on Friday against the town, the Public Housing Administration, the owner of an animal control company and several others. The suit claims the pets were beaten, drugged and thrown to their deaths.

Rodríguez said she was so overcome by emotion that she could not inform the community of the death or the dog that spent her last years with her. “I thank everyone for all the words of compassion and encouragement, for
which I am eternally grateful,” said Rodríguez, who has rescued hundreds of mistreated and abandoned cats and dogs.

As for Yoli, “I called her “My little Queen,”(Mi Reinecita) she said. Everyone who knew her personally knew that she loved life and loved to be around people. She was so sociable and affectionate. “Yoli was a symbol
of strength and she belongs to the people of Puerto Rico. I know she would like us to say good bye to her as she deserves, The service is for people who understand and who struggle daily to improve the quality of life and justice for our animals.

The service will be held tonight at 6 at Unity Church in Santurce, 1955
Victoria Street.


Reports of Japan Bribing International Whaling Commission (Via Matt Williams)

Investigation Supports Longtime Sea Shepherd Reports of Japan Bribing International Whaling Commission
BY Ariel SchwartzTue Jun 22, 2010

Japan is so desperate to preserve its whaling industry that the country has resorted to bribing small nations with cash and prostitutes, according to a recent investigation from The Sunday Times of London. Undercover reporters from the newspaper disguised themselves as representatives of a Swiss billionaire seeking anti-whaling votes at the next International Whaling Commission's meeting, set to take place later this month in Morocco. The reporters found six countries (St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea, and Ivory Coast) willing to part with their votes--as long as the undercover reporters could give them more than what Japan was already offering.

The investigation also caught delegates revealing on camera that Japan offers call girls to visiting fisheries ministers and civil servants. A fisheries representative from Guinea admitted that Japan offered officials at least $1,000 in spending money per day during IWC event, and a fisheries official from the Marshall Islands told undercover reporters, "We support Japan because of what they give us."

None of this comes as a surprise to Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. "I've posted about this on our Web site for years. It's no secret," he tells "Japan has been bullying and bribing to get their way."

Watson believes that the IWC, which is supposed to oversee whale conservation, is irrelevant because it has been so tainted by scandal. While Sea Shepherd is officially banned from IWC meetings, Watson recounts one incident in 1997 when the organization was allowed to attend an IWC reception. "I walked in and the entire Japanese, Icelandic, and Norwegian delegations walked out. Other countries did too. They followed like puppy dogs after the Japanese. It was the greatest compliment I ever received."

So if the IWC can't change Japan's whaling culture, what can? Unsurprisingly, Watson believes that Sea Shepherd can help sink the whaling industry. Many environmental groups disagree--Greenpeace, for example, believes Sea Shepherd's actions (sinking whaling boats and destroying equipment) are too violent. But Japan will do almost anything to keep its valuable whaling industry alive. Direct intervention may be the most effective solution--and it makes for good television, too.

Paul the octopus is a sucker pundit

By Josh Layton 26/06/2010

England's World Cup hopes have been dealt a blow - by a psychic octopus.

Paul the octopus has correctly predicted all of Germany's wins and defeats in the World Cup so far - and he is tipping them to beat Fabio Capello's team tomorrow.

To get his predictions, food is lowered into Paul's tank in two containers with the flag of each country on the front. The one he goes for is his tip to win.

For this last 16 clash in Bloemfontein, Paul opted for a mussel in a glass of water marked with the black, red and yellow flag of our fierce rivals.

To rub salt in England's wounds, twoyear-old Paul lives in Oberhausen Sea Life centre in Germany but is originally from Weymouth, Dorset.

The centre's Tanja Munzig, who looks after the creature, said: "For the European Championship in 2008 Paul's success rate was more than 80% for Germany games.

"And for this World Cup, he has had a 100% success rate so far." She'll probably shell out a few squid on the result.
(Submitted by Mark North)

Friday, 25 June 2010

Bionic feet for amputee cat

A cat that had its back feet severed by a combine harvester has been given two prosthetic limbs in a pioneering operation by a UK vet.

The new feet are custom-made implants that "peg" the ankle to the foot. They are bioengineered to mimic the way deer antler bone grows through the skin.

The operation - a world first - was carried out by Noel Fitzpatrick, a veterinary surgeon based in Surrey.

His work is explored in a BBC documentary called The Bionic Vet.

The cat, named Oscar, was referred to Mr Fitzpatrick by his local vet in Jersey, following the accident last October. Oscar was struck by the combine harvester whilst dozing in the sun.

The prosthetic pegs, called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (Itaps) were developed by a team from University College London led by Professor Gordon Blunn, who is head of UCL's Centre for Biomedical Engineering.

Professor Blunn and his team have worked in partnership with Mr Fitzpatrick to develop these weight-bearing implants, combining engineering mechanics with biology.

Mr Fitzpatrick explained: "The real revolution with Oscar is [that] we have put a piece of metal and a flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone."

"We have managed to get the bone and skin to grow into the implant and we have developed an 'exoprosthesis' that allows this implant to work as a see-saw on the bottom of an animal's limbs to give him effectively normal gait."

Professor Blunn told BBC News the idea was initially developed for patients with amputations who have a "stump socket".

"This means they fix their artifical limb with a sock, which fits over the stump. In a lot of cases this is sucessful, but you [often] get rubbing and pressure sores."

The Itap technology is being tested in humans and has already been used to create a prosthetic for a woman who lost her arm in the July 2005 London bombings.

"The intriguing thing with Oscar was that he had two implants - one in each back leg, and in quite an unusual site," Professor Blunn told BBC News.

He said that the success of this operation showed the potential of the technology.

"Noel has some brilliant ideas," he added. "And we're continuing to work closely with him to develop new technologies."

Canada zoo appeals for stolen tiger and camels

A zoo in Canada has pleaded for the safe return of a tiger and two camels that were stolen in transit last week.

Bowmanville Zoo, in Ontario, has even offered $2,000 (£1,325) for a picture of the animals being given water.

A $20,000 reward offered since Saturday has failed to produce any leads on the whereabouts of Jonas, a Bengal tiger, and camels Todd and Shawn.

They were in a trailer being moved from Nova Scotia to the zoo when their vehicle was stolen near Montreal.

The Ford truck hauling the trailer was found abandoned in Quebec early on Saturday.

Friendly animals

"If they haven't received any water their situation is dire," said the director of Bowmanville Zoo, Michael Hackenberger.

The 160-kg Jonas was in danger of suffering kidney failure if he had not had anything to drink since he was stolen on Friday.

Police believe it was an "opportunity crime", with the thieves being unaware what the cargo was.

"This was a crime of opportunity and now they have something they don't know how to deal with, and we are trying to make this as easy as possible to get out from underneath this," Mr Hackenberger said.

"That's a direct appeal to the captors."

He said all three animals were trained and friendly.

2-year-old cow moose picks area man’s yard to lie down and die. (Via D R Shoop)

photos at URL

MERRIMACK – When he wakes up every morning, Rob Munroe glances out the front window to see what’s going on in his Shady Lane neighborhood. Imagine the unpleasant surprise that greeted him Wednesday when a 300-pound moose lay down in his front yard to die.

It’s not clear what killed the moose, estimated to be about 2 years old. The cow appeared to be in good physical condition, was not bleeding and had no outward signs of problems, according to N.H. Fish and Game. Because no pattern of moose dying in that way has developed in the community, the department did not conduct an investigation into the cause of death, said Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.

“One moose does not make a trend,” Ellingwood said. “Unless we see some pattern of moose dying, we wouldn’t be inclined to look further.” He added, “There’s lot of things that can happen to animals that we simply can’t quantify.” Ellingwood said he’s confident that the moose didn’t suffer from chronic wasting disease, a contagious, neurological condition that affects deer, elk and moose. Known as the deer version of “mad cow disease,” CWD has been spreading across the country and is as close as New York state, raising concern among wildlife officials.

“If we suspected that was the case, we’d look further into it,” Ellingwood said, adding that New Hampshire monitors CWD by sampling about 400 deer each year. The many possible causes of the moose’s death include simple malnutrition; being hit by a vehicle and suffering from internal injuries; or diseases and malnutrition cause by ticks. Another possibility is brain worm, a microscopic parasite that can causes neurological problems.
It’s not uncommon for moose to die of brain worm, Ellingwood said, especially in southern New Hampshire.
“It happens a number of times a year,” Ellingwood said.

Ellingwood said it is unusual for a moose to die in areas as urban as central Merrimack. Shady Lane is just off Baboosic Lake Road, a main thoroughfare in Merrimack. Munroe, 51, lives in a split-level house at 1 Shady Lane. In his 20 years there, he said he has seen one other moose: a bull, which tramped through his property en route to Bedford and was eventually shot by police because it was deemed rabid.

Other than some cardinals, squirrels, and a flock of turkeys that showed up one Thanksgiving, Munroe hasn’t seen much wildlife. But on Wednesday, about 8:45 a.m., he spotted the moose. She was about 15 feet from his front door, sitting somewhat on hind legs, seemingly trying to get up, Munroe said. “I said, ‘Oh my god! There’s a moose!’ ” Munroe recalled. “There were two other people here, so I told them … Nobody believed me.”
Munroe called the police and decided to stay inside.

“I didn’t want to get into no altercation with it,” he said.

From the window, Munroe saw that officers arrived as the cow lay down on her side, stretching her legs. She died within a few minutes. Police reported that Fish and Game would arrive within a couple of hours. When they did, Munroe said he helped them gently drag the moose over to the driveway. The department then scooped the body up with a loader and placed it in the bed of a pickup truck. As is customary, Ellingwood said, Fish and Game delivered the carcass to “appropriate rural circumstances, where natural decay and wildlife can consume it without offending anyone.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Mystery surrounds 'horse-boy' on Google Street View

Thursday, 24 June 2010 15:13 UK

Mystery surrounds a man wearing a horse's head who has been captured on Google's Street View in Aberdeen.

The man - who has become known as 'horse-boy' - can be seen in the Hardgate area of the city.

The sighting has become a popular attraction on Google's service, which offers a photographic map of streets.

The man is wearing dark trousers, a purple shirt - and a brown and white horse's head.

Dozens of BBC news website users have e-mailed from across Europe to say they know who horse boy is.

Others have sent in images of the mystery horse-head wearer and some have claimed to be him.

Stefan Kleen from Germany said he and a friend met horse-boy at a German festival last weekend.

He added: "He only spoke English so we didn't really talk a lot to him."

Anders Hauge reckons he has been shopping in Haugesund in Norway; John Hammond was convinced he was playing the fairways and relaxing in the bars of Marbella and Julian Sykes said he had been sighted in Cardiff.

John Ainsworth insisted he saw horse-boy in Norwich earlier in the year walking through Wensum Park.

He said: "I thought I was hallucinating at first but then realised it was real."

Other readers have not been impressed with the story and some have told the website that it is not newsworthy and is a prank to generate further publicity.

A number of contributors have said that horse-boy features in other parts of Google's street view service.

Mark Coates said: "If you go down the road and turn back you can see him putting on the horse head and on the shot back up the road again he has white hair."

Are you 'horse-boy' or do you know who it is? Contact the BBC Scotland news website at
(Submitted by Ben Lovegrove)

The separation between Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens might have occurred 500.000 years earlier than previously believed

The separation between Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens might have occurred 500.000 years earlier than previously believed
23 June 2010 University of Granada

Spanish scientists have analysed the teeth of almost all species of hominids that have existed during the past 4 million years. Thus, they achieved to identify Neanderthal features in ancient European populations. Dental fossils suggest that the separation occurred at least a million years ago, while DNA-based analyses suggest that this occurred much later.

The separation of Neardenthal and Homo Sapiens might have occurred at least one million years ago, more than 500.000 years earlier than previously believed after DNA-based analyses. A doctoral thesis conducted at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana) - associated with the University of Granada-, analysed the teeth of almost all species of hominids that have existed during the past 4 million years. Quantitative methods were employed and they managed
to identify Neanderthal features in ancient European populations.

The main purpose of this research –whose author is Aida Gómez Robles- was to reconstruct the history of evolution of Human species using the information provided by the teeth, which are the most numerous
and best preserved remains of the fossil record. To this purpose, a large sample of dental fossils from different sites in Africa, Asia and Europe was analysed. The morphological differences of each dental class was assessed and the ability of each tooth to identify the species to which its owner belonged was analysed.

The researcher concluded that it is possible to correctly determine the species to which an isolated tooth belonged with a success rate ranging from 60% to 80%. Although these values are not very high, they increase as different dental classes from the same individual are added. That means that if several teeth from the same individual are analysed, the probability of correctly identifying the species can reach 100%.

Aida Gómez Robles explains that, from all the species of hominids currently known “none of them has a probability higher than 5% to be the common ancestor of Neardenthals and Homo Sapiens. Therefore, the
common ancestor of this lineage is likely to have not been discovered yet”.

What is innovative about this study is that computer simulation was employed to observe the effects of environmental changes on morphology of the teeth. Similar studies had been conducted on the evolution and development of different groups of mammals, but never on human evolution.

Additionally, the research conducted at CENIEH and at the University of Granada is pioneer –together with recent studies based on the shape of the skull- in using mathematical methods to make and estimation of the morphology of the teeth of common ancestors in the evolutionary tree of the human species. “However, in this study, only dental morphology was analysed. The same methodology can be used to rebuild other parts of the skeletum of that species, which would provide other models that would serve as a reference for future
comparative studies of new fossil finds.”

To carry out this study, Gómez Robles employed fossils from a number of archaeological-paleontological sites, such as that of the Gran Colina and the Sima de los Huesos, located in Atapuerca range (Burgos, Spain), and the site of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia. She also studied different fossil collections by visiting international institutions as the National Museum of Georgia, the Institute of Human Paleontology and the Museum of Mankind in Paris, the European Research Centre Tautavel (France), the Senckenberg Institute Frankfurt, the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing
and the Museum of Natural History in New York and Cleveland.

Although the results of this research were disclosed in two articles published in one of the most prestigious journals in the field of human evolution, Journal of Human Evolution (2007 and 2008), they will be thoroughly presented within a few months.

Is it legal to eat lions? (Via D R Shoop)

A small Arizona restaurant found itself at the center of a nationwide backlash that included a bomb threat after it announced plans to offer lion burgers this week as part of a World Cup promotion. But following the supply chain back to the mom-and-pop butcher that processed the alleged lion meat turns up an even more bizarre tale.

The story started when Cameron Selogie, owner of Il Vinaio restaurant in Mesa, Ariz., bought about 10 pounds of so-called African lion meat, planning to mix it with ground beef to make burgers honoring the FIFA World Cup's South African location. Selogie sent an e-mail newsletter to his restaurant's patrons advertising the special.

That newsletter -- which was the sole publicity Selogie had planned -- exploded into a media blitz when one of the e-mail recipients turned out to be an animal activist.

She spread word to a local TV station, and the news has since circled the globe, even garnering a brief write-up in the online version of London's Daily Telegraph. Lion burgers are an attention-grabbing idea, but it raises the question: How, exactly, does an Arizona restaurant manage to get its hands on African lion meat?

Welcome to the mysterious world of back-alley exotic meat purveyance.

Selogie said he bought the meat through a Phoenix distributor, Gourmet Imports-Wild Game -- a one-man operation owned by Rick Worrilow. Selogie says he did his research, and was told that the meat came from a free-range farm in Illinois that is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, Worrilow, who essentially serves as a middleman between farms, meat processors and restaurants, also said the meat came from a completely legal plant in Illinois. And even though he didn't know the name of that plant, Worrilow said he was confident that the meat was inspected by federal regulators. So where's this supposed African lion farm in Illinois?

Well, here's one clue: When the meat arrived at Il Vinaio on Tuesday evening, Selogie said it came in packaging with the name "Czimer's Game & Sea Foods." Czimer isn't a free-range farm. It's a butcher shop located just outside of Chicago in Homer Glen, Ill.

Lions, ligers and bears ...
Czimer's website advertises standard wild game: pheasants, quail, ducks, venison, buffalo and so on. But then, sprinkled through the product list, some wilder offerings pop up. Like llama leg roasts. Or camel cutlets.

And African lion meat. You can snag it in shoulder roast, steak, tenderloin or burger form -- or, for a bargain, try the ribs at $10 a pound.

So where does Richard Czimer, the company's owner, get these lions?

The meat is the byproduct of a skinning operation owned by another man, Czimer said in an interview with He declined to name that gentleman. "This man buys and sells animals for the skin, and when I need something and he has ability to get it, I will bargain for the meat. It's a byproduct," he said. And where does that mystery man get the lions? "I wouldn't have any idea," said Czimer, who operates a small retail store in addition to his wholesale business. "He has his sources, and I do not infringe on his business, just as he does not infringe on mine."

He's willing to take a hands-off approach: "Do you question where chickens come from when you go to Brown's Chicken or Boston Market?" he asked. Czimer's exotic-meat dealings have landed him in hot water before. Back in 2003, Chicago newspapers covered his conviction and six-month prison sentence for selling meat from federally protected tigers and leopards. Czimer admitted to purchasing the carcasses of 16 tigers, four lions, two mountain lions and one liger -- a tiger-lion hybrid -- which were skinned, butchered and sold as "lion meat," for a profit of more than $38,000.

His supply chain may be murky, but like the Arizona restaurateur and the meat salesman, he expressed total certainty that his lion meat is USDA-approved and thoroughly inspected by regulators before it reaches his processing plant.

But here's a twist: The USDA says it doesn't inspect lions bred for meat. That's the job of the Food and Drug Administration. Is it legal to eat lions? Yes, according to the FDA's communications team. The African lion isn't currently a federally protected endangered species and it qualifies as a game meat, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said in an e-mail.

While the African lion is not considered endangered by U.S. regulators, it is classified as "threatened" by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international protection agreement.

As for Czimer, his shop is officially registered with the FDA and has been inspected by state regulators, Heardon said. Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Selogie is taking the protests in stride. He plans to have bins of ice water outside for picketers who brave Arizona's 100-degree heat to protest as he serves up the burgers on Wednesday and Thursday night.

"I do feel bad that people are so concerned about this. But for most people, this is the king of the jungle and that's the only reason they can give me for their concern," he said. "We're not doing anything to endanger the species."

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Minnesota Zoo’s extreme makeover (Via D R Shoop)

Minnesota Zoo’s extreme makeover

Most signs suggest the Minnesota Zoo is on a roll. Attendance is setting records. Membership and fundraising are at all-time highs. New exhibits are winning national awards the old zoo never dreamed of.

But the zoo's senior staff arrives for work each morning thinking, "Ugh."

Contaminated water oozes across an ugly parking lot and fouls the zoo's central lake. The main entrance -- never meant to be that, and not looking like one today -- is invisible. Inside, it's dark and low-ceilinged, with endless walks to anything resembling an animal, save for the snow monkeys' bleak, stained pit. The nocturnal exhibit is simply closed and empty.

Thanks to an influx of money from the state, almost all of that is about to change.

"We're not knocking 'er down and starting over," said director Lee Ehmke, standing on the decaying surface of what was once envisioned as a lively central plaza. "We're building on the base of what was constructed here in the 1970s. But it will feel like a completely new experience."

Zoo supporters hope their $21 million share of the state capital projects bill, signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week, is just the beginning of a three-phase makeover that will cost more than $70 million, counting private contributions. The so-called "Heart of the Zoo" plan aims to mostly replace the central spine of the 32-year-old facility and start afresh. The price tag will be higher than what it cost to build the zoo, which opened in 1978.

The changes come despite the zoo's own consultants warning last fall, after taking discreet political soundings, that "legislators don't agree it is essential or urgent for the state."

Worried, the zoo created its own grass-roots support system, Minnesotans for a Great Zoo, which attracted more than 1,000 members, many of whom dashed off letters or e-mails to politicians. "You're seeing more and more of that," said Himle Horner principal Todd Rapp, who delivered the warning last fall.

"It was an attempt to capture the goodwill and support that's out there," Ehmke said. "We've got 44,000 households as members, representing 150,000 people who've made some level of commitment to the zoo.

Within that group, some are really passionate about it."

A do-over on design

That passion subsists despite what today's senior officials consider a series of blunders in the zoo's creation and expansion. They include forcing zoo-goers to navigate a long windswept plaza to reach the building's original main entrance, and slapping the blank brick exterior wall of Discovery Bay beside what became the new main entry.

The first phase of the reconstruction effort will, among other things:

•Add a major new penguin exhibit, introducing a charismatic species to the heart of the main building. Kids will be able to climb up to a beach alongside nesting penguins.
•Turn an abandoned, dilapidated whale tank into a nearly 200-seat theater for the bird show and other uses.
•Expand and improve the zoo's education wing for school groups and others.
•Landscape and re-create the existing main entrance. Designers will seek to draw the eye away from, if not entirely conceal, that looming wall, which gives arriving at the zoo the feel of scuttling in through a back door.

"There aren't trees big enough to mask all that architecture," Ehmke said.

Later phases -- if the money keeps flowing -- will shift the entrance back to its original spot, surround visitors with animals from the moment they arrive and bring them into the building through a lively new visitors' center, under shelter from winter's blasts and summer's heat.

In the meantime, officials are considering what to do with the $6 million they got as part of the $21 million for "asset preservation." Ideas include environmentally friendly permeable pavers and drainage swales to turn parking lots into green teaching tools, and renovating the nocturnal exhibit.

The other $15 million, for the Heart of the Zoo project, will be paired with $5 million in private contributions to get a start on that $70 million task.

That level of private giving has done a lot to help the zoo counter the reluctance some legislators have to spend money on amenities amid a recession, Rapp and others say. And it has helped to engineer almost a role reversal between the suburban state zoo and its cuter, more historic cousin in St. Paul, the Como Zoo.

"It's fascinating to recall that if you go back 10 years, the Minnesota Zoo was the controversial one, with attendance problems and a lot of different issues," said Sen. Chris Gerlach, an Apple Valley Republican. "Now, Como is hitching their wagon to the good reputation of the Minnesota Zoo."

Como's supporters inserted language preventing Pawlenty -- a south suburbanite who once represented the district in which the zoo sits -- from axing millions aimed at Como if he wanted to ensure that Apple Valley's zoo got its dough.

The linking of the two followed a well-publicized shot at Como by Republican minority leader and now gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert, who wondered why it costs so much more to house a gorilla than it costs to create luxury homes for people. The zoo was seeking $11 million to upgrade a pair of exhibits.
It so happens that Ehmke, earlier in his career, designed the most popular animal exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in New York, a $50 million blockbuster featuring ... gorillas.

"Having designed a gorilla exhibit myself," he said with a smile, "I know they needed a new one."

Scorpions and parakeets 'found living wild in UK' (Via Lindsay Selby)

Scorpions, parakeets and turtles have all been found living wild in the UK, according to a new study.

The study, led by the University of Hull, studied sightings and population numbers for creatures introduced into Britain over the last 150 years.

It found 13,000 yellow-tailed scorpions and between 30,000 and 50,000 ring-necked parakeets in south-east England. About 10 coatis, which are also known as Brazilian aardvarks, and about 20 snapping turtles were also found.

Breeding population

The coatis, which are members of the racoon family and hail from North America, are thought to be living wild in Cumbria. The snapping turtles, also from North America, are believed to be living in parts of Kent, London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire.

The scorpions originate from north-west Africa and southern Europe and the ring-necked parakeets come from Africa and Asia. Report author Dr Toni Bunnell, of the University of Hull, said it was thought some of the animals had originally been kept as pets but were released when their owners could no longer look after them.

"If you get enough turfed out in the same area and they can survive and the habitat suits them, then you have got a breeding population. That seems to be what's happening." She added that other species were thought to have escaped from private collections.

The report was commissioned by the Eden television channel.

Confirmed: Big cats prowl in Ontario (Via Andrew Gibson)

Confirmed: Big cats prowl in Ontario
Tracks, scat and DNA lay to rest any doubt that cougars exist here

Raveena Aulakh
Staff Reporter
Mon Jun 21 2010

It’s really, truly official: Cougars in Ontario are fact, not fable.

A definitive four-year study by the Ministry of Natural Resources has finally put a rest to all doubt that the big but reclusive cats prowl the province’s wilderness.

“Cougars have been here all along . . . we are collecting additional information about them now,” said Rick Rosatte, a senior research scientist in Peterborough. More than 30 pieces of evidence have been collected, including photos of tracks, DNA and scat samples that verify the big cat’s presence.

Of the roughly 2,000 reported sightings in the province since 2002, very few have been confirmed by track marks or DNA. Ontario’s original population was thought to have been hunted out of existence in the late 1800s. The last cougar shot here was found in 1884 near Creemore, south of Collingwood.

Rosatte says the study begun in 2006 has had three phases: investigating potential sightings; examining tissue, scat or DNA; and setting up cameras across the province — including at Kenora, Lindsay and Sault Ste. Marie, where the last confirmed sightings occurred.

He interviews people who think they’ve spotted a cougar, tries to determine the animal’s size and, when it sounds really promising, sets up trail cameras triggered by motion and heat. Dozens have been set up, but there are no photos yet. “We are hoping for photos, but cougars travel a lot and they travel very fast,” said Rosatte.

The cats, also known as pumas and mountain lions depending on region, can travel up to 50 kilometres a night, within a territory ranging up to 1,000 square kilometers.

But the big question about the natural-born killers with a muscular saunter, is: Where did they come from?

“Were they always here? Are these native cougars? Are they coming from the west? Or are these released captive animals?” said Rosatte. “It’s intriguing.”

He doesn’t think there’s a large population but declined to put a number to it. “I don’t think it’s substantial,” he said.

Stuart Kenn, president of Ontario Puma Foundation, who has been tracking the elusive animal for three decades, estimates there are 550 cougars in Ontario. There appears to be a “cougar corridor” bordered by Ottawa, Peterborough and Owen Sound to the south and North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie to the north.

“The best way to study these animals is to track them down with dogs,” Kenn said. “But since the province has listed them as endangered, we can’t do that.”

The foundation, which shares data with the ministry, has already developed a recovery plan that, among other things, encourages protecting large wilderness tracts where cougars prowl.

But while cougars are out there in the wilderness, there’s no need to worry, said Kenn. In Ontario, “There’s never been a confirmed attack on a human by a cougar. It’s very, very rare.”

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Pictured: shy badgers eat cornflakes at a hotel

RIGHT: Badgers tuck in to their Corn Flakes, at Isle of Wight hotel. Photo: SOLENT
A family of badgers has been photographed at an Isle of Wight hotel, after turning up every night for a bowl of cornflakes.

By Andrew Hough
Published: 7:00AM BST 22 Jun 2010

The usually shy creatures appear in the grounds at 9pm without fail, to eat what has apparently become their favourite breakfast cereal.

It has been a regular occurrence at the five-star Enchanted Manor, near Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, for the past four years.

Maggie Hilton, who runs the Enchanted Manor with husband Ric, said: "We started putting left-over scraps from breakfast out for the badgers.

"They would grab most of the food and immediately run away to eat it but, strangely, they would stay to eat the cornflakes.

"They seemed calmer when they were eating the cereal and stayed around for much longer."

She added: "They are really fussy and I have tried putting out other cereals but they turn their noses up at them.

"They are really tame and friendly and our guests can't believe their eyes when they creep out of the woods every night and into our garden."

Kellogg's has pledged to supply the hotel with cornflakes for free so the friendly animals don't go hungry.
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