Sunday, 31 October 2010

Record year for endangered Colombian parrot

Yellow-eared parrot population at all-time high

October 2010: After a record breeding season, the yellow-eared parrot population in Tolima, Columbia, is at an all-time high. Although still endangered, with just 727 birds, 291 chicks fledged from 131 nests this year.

Efforts to save the yellow-eared parrot began in 1998, when Fundacion ProAves with support from the Loro Parque Fundacion and American Bird Conservancy, launched the Yellow-Eared Parrot Project, with the primary objective of ensuring the species' survival, as well as protecting its habitat in the Colombian Andes.

Through the population census conducted in Tolima in recent months, the largest count of individuals and chicks in the history of yellow-eared parrot project has been established.

There were 727 individuals of the species, 291 were registered as chicks in 131 nests located around the town, in the municipality. This data is evidence of a significant increase in the population of Yellow-eared Parrot. This report comes after the IUCN lowered the threatened category of the yellow-eared parrot from critically endangered to endangered in May.

The recovery of populations of this species is due to the numerous efforts in environmental research and education made by the Foundation ProAves during the successful development of the 11-year project.

Report your sightings of the Death's Head Hawk-moth

Trick-or -treaters are being asked to look out for a creature of myth and legend this Halloween - The Death’s-Head Hawk-moth.

Conservationists are urging people out on Halloween to alert them of any sightings of the Death’s-Head Hawk-moth, an unusual visitor to Britain from Southern Europe with skull and crossbones markings and the ability to shriek.

The Death’s-Head Hawk-moth is the largest moth to appear in Britain, sporting a wingspan of up to 12 or 13cm. As well as being a striking species visually, it has the unusual habit of entering beehives in search of honey, and if handled, emits a loud, shrill squeak by forcing air out of its proboscis – the long, tube-like appendage that butterflies and moths normally use to suck nectar.

“We have very few sightings reported to us of this fascinating species and would like to learn more about it,” said Dr Zoe Randle from Butterfly Conservation. “We are encouraging people to let us know if they see one this season and help us gain more information on where they like to visit.”

Unlike most hawk moths, the Death’s-Head Hawk-moth has a short proboscis and therefore cannot take nectar from deep-throated flowers. It feeds on sap from trees and honey from bees’ nests. The shriek it makes is supposed to subdue and control the worker bees, whose honey it is stealing.

Because of its skull-and-crossbones markings and its unexpected ability to make quite a loud sound, the Death's-Head has been an object of terror throughout the ages

Throughout Europe, the moth was thought to be a harbinger of war, pestilence, and death to man and beast alike. Its appearance in a candlelit room, especially if it managed to snuff out the candle, was an omen of death in the house. In France, dust from its wings was thought to cause blindness if it entered the eye. The moth brought fear and panic in Brittany when large numbers appeared at the time of a widespread pestilence.

The moth's awe-inspiring properties are markedly enhanced by the sounds it makes: these have been described as a 'dismal, melancholy cry' and like the 'plaintive squeaking of a mouse'. In Poland, where it is known as the 'wandering death-bird', its cry was heard as a voice of anguish, the moaning of a grief-stricken child.

The Death's-Head has entered modern mythology in its role as an emblem of evil in the book and film of The Silence of the Lambs.

If you have seen a Death’s Head Hawk-moth, please report your sighting to your local moth recorder. Details can be found at

Warm weather sets lowland skink sex

SNOW skinks can base their gender on either genes or temperature. Which strategy they choose appears to depend on the weather.

Ido Pen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and colleagues studied two clans of snow skinks, Niveoscincus greeni, living at low or high altitude in the mountains of Tasmania, Australia. The team captured pregnant skinks from each clan and allowed half of each group to lie in the sun for 10 hours per day, while the others were restricted to 4 hours. When the skinks gave birth, the scientists sexed their offspring.

Litters born to the lowland clan had a greater proportion of females after long days in the sun, compared to short days. In contrast, the sex ratio of the highland litters remained equal (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09512). This suggests that temperature drives the sex of low altitude litters, while genes determine gender further up the mountain.

Pen thinks climatic pressures are behind these different systems. At low altitudes, females born early under warm conditions have more time to grow large and produce offspring, so it is advantageous for these skinks' gender to be temperature-sensitive. At higher altitudes, however, erratic annual temperatures mean that the timing of birth may not affect reproduction rates, so the skinks rely on genes to produce a balanced sex ratio.

South Uist whales 'now safe' at sea

Animal rescuers believe a pod of whales which were in danger of becoming stranded in a sea loch off the coast of South Uist are now safely at sea.

The Scottish SPCA and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) had been monitoring the whales since they were spotted at Loch Carnan on Wednesday.

The coastguard reported no sign of the 24-strong pod on Saturday morning.

There were concerns the whales were in distress but experts said the behaviour was typical of adults protecting young.

Scottish SPCA senior inspector Andy Brown said: "The coastguard has been out this morning and there was no sign of the whales, which is very good news.

"There was a real fear of mass strandings and, while there is no guarantee they won't return, we are hopeful the whales are now safe at sea and will stay there."

Mr Brown said Project Jonah, a New Zealand-based rescue organisation, had been sent footage of the whales and experts there said the whales behaviour suggested they were protecting their young.

"It may be that the juveniles in the pod were sick or too young for the rough seas and the adults kept them close to the shore for safety," he added.

He thanked the coastguard and the local fish farm for their help.

Smugglers Now After Venomous Snakes

by Ajay Kanth, ExpressBuzz
KOCHI: After ivory, ganja and sandalwood, the smugglers are now madly after King Cobra and other venomous snakes in the forests as 10 ml venom of a King Cobra would fetch crores of rupees in the international black market.
The smuggling of snake venom had come to light after the recent seizure of 200 ml of King Cobra venom at Kanjikode, near Palakkad.
"Though the police had earlier information on operation of such rackets, the seizure of 200 ml of King Cobra venom was the first of its kind in the state.
A case has been registered against two persons and a lab analysis report has confirmed it as King Cobra venom," said Crime Branch SP P Vijayan.
He said as per preliminary reports, the venom would be first smuggled to northern parts of the state from where it would be shipped to South-East Asian nations.
"The enzyme in the venom is processed and converted into a drug which will offer an extra kick when taken along with hashish or brown sugar," Vijayan said and added tha t the smuggling of venom had increased in the recent  times as a lot of big buyers had come forward to offer huge money for it.
"Compared to other contrabands, the venom is easy to smuggle as majority of enforcement agencies cannot easily identify it unless and until a lab analysis is done," said a senior police official. Chief Wildlife Warden K
A Ouseph said there had been a lot of reports on venom smuggling and the Forest Department had already conducted several raids at various places.
"We do not think that the smugglers extract venom after catching snakes in the forest.
Reports have pointed out that the smugglers rear snakes at their homes and  at several clandestine places to extract venom from them," the official  said and added that they would further intensify their operation to track those persons who were violating the provisions in the Wildlife Act.

From: HerpDigest Volume # 10 Issue # 46 10/30/10 (A Not-for-Profit  Publication)

Hoax Alert - New Spider Found in United State Killing People

A hoax that's been around in various forms for years. Check out Rick Vetter's comments at
NEW POISONOUS SPIDER IN THE UNITED STATES A spider bite...please  read...........
And you thought the brown recluse was bad!!!
Three women in North Florida , turned up at hospitals over a 5-day period,  all with the same symptoms. Fever, chills, and vomiting, followed by  muscular collapse, paralysis, and finally, death. There were no outward signs of trauma.
Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood. These women did not know each other, and seemed to have nothing in common.  It was discovered, however, that they had all visited the same Restaurant  (Olive Garden) within days of their deaths. The health department  descended on the restaurant, shutting it down. The food, water, and air conditioning were all inspected and tested, to no avail.
The big break came when a waitress at the restaurant was rushed to the hospital with similar symptoms. She told doctors that she had been on vacation, and had only went to the restaurant to pick up her check.
She did not eat or drink while she was there, but had used the restroom.. That is when one toxicologist, remembering an article he had read, drove out to the restaurant, went into the restroom, and lifted the toilet seat. Under the seat, out of normal view, was a small spider.
The spider was captured and brought back to the lab, where it was determined to be the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata), so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider's venom is extremely  toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere. Several days later a lawyer from Jacksonville showed up at a hospital  emergency room. Before his death, he told the doctor, that he had been away on business, had taken a flight from Indonesia , changing planes in Singapore , before returning home. He did not visit (Olive Garden), while there. He did, as did all of the other victims, have what was determined to be a puncture wound, on his right buttock.
Investigators discovered that the flight he was on had originated in India. The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of  the toilets of all flights from India , and discovered the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) spider's nests on 4 different planes!
It is now believed that these spiders can be anywhere in the country. So please, before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for  spiders.
It can save your life!
And please pass this on to everyone you care about.
From: HerpDigest Volume # 10 Issue # 46 10/30/10 (A Not-for-Profit  Publication)

U.S. "Wildlife Services"--A Tale of Unrepentant Mass Murder

Wendy Keefover-Ring

WildEarth Guardians Carnivore Protection Director

Wildlife Services Dodges Disclosure on Animal Killing

"Wildlife Services" is a secretive branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that annually kills millions of animals. Last year, it liquidated more than four million wildlife and pets, while spending $121 million--mostly tax dollars--to do the task. Their efforts purportedlyhelp those in agribusiness, but new government data demonstrate otherwise.

Never heard of "Wildlife Services"? Don't worry, you're not alone.

Although this euphemistically named agency has existed since 1885, it purposefully avoids the spotlight, and it revels in its obscurity. As my colleague, Andrew Wetzler, stated: "they're the most important wildlife agency you never heard of."

Agents and contractors employed by Wildlife Services operate on our national forests, wilderness areas, national monuments, and even on private lands. Unaccountable to the public--except those in agribusiness--these agents employ a secret arsenal that would make any mercenary army proud: helicopters, airplanes, guns, poisons, traps, snares, and wildlife-chasing hounds.

Wildlife Services admits in newly-released data that it exterminated 4.1million animals and destroyed 18,000 more in 2009. This includes 27,314 beavers; 988,577 blackbirds; and 114,522 mammalian carnivores, including 1,775 bobcats, 82,097 coyotes, 480 wolves, 571 river otters, and 443 black bears.

Last month, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services for failing to disclose its 2008 budget expenditures under the Freedom of Information Act. In response, Wildlife Services and its parent agency, the USDA's Animal and Health Inspection Service, claim that the two entities track their expenses using two different databases, but that neither were capable of interacting with the other. Thus, Wildlife Services claims, it does not know how much it spends on its controversial aerial gunning program.


Wildlife Services cannot judge how many tax dollars it spends shooting coyotes and wolves from helicopters and airplanes? A letter from the government to WildEarth Guardians states: "Wildlife Services does not have
a managerial need for financial data at this finite level."

Good to know Wildlife Services does not have that need--but the American public certainly does. Especially when all this killing has no real benefit.

Despite tales of wolves lurking in the woods looking for little girls in red hoods or little pigs in straw houses, wolves and other native carnivores kill very few domestic livestock. According to the USDA's

National Agricultural Statistics Service, less than one percent of the entire cattle inventory, and approximately four percent of the entire sheep inventory is killed by carnivores (and this includes domestic dogs).

This is true even where wolves have been restored to the landscape.

Wildlife Services kills our native wildlife. They refuse to disclose how much they spend on their operations. They artfully dodge disclosure, even while in litigation. Time for Congress to step in and engage in oversight.
Time for this rogue agency to show some accountability to the public because it spends its money with alacrity for ill purpose.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Fluffy the world's longest snake dies

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said the reticulated python passed away on Tuesday night due to an apparent tumour.

Fluffy, who weighed 140kg (300lb), became a huge tourist attraction at the zoo after being officially named the longest snake in captivity by Guinness World Records.

The python originally arrived at the zoo in 2007 on loan but after becoming a favourite among visitors and staff was given a permanent home.

She was as long as a van and as thick as a telephone pole.

'When Zoo visitors saw Fluffy they experienced many emotions such as awe, curiosity and even fear,' Zoo president and CEO Dale Schmidt said.

'Everyone was moved by her presence and she created the connection for them to learn more, and care more, about misunderstood animals such as snakes.'

Preliminary findings of a necropsy (animal autopsy) performed by the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine revealed a ‘mass’ on her ovary.

Reticulated pythons are non-venomous constrictors found in tropical forests in Southeast Asia.

Their skin has a geometric pattern that camouflages the snake protecting it from predators and allowing it to ambush prey

Cheeky monkey raids gardens

A Czech gardener has spoken of his shock to discover who was stealing vegetables from his garden - a Macaque monkey.

Zdenek Lounovi, 70, could barely believe his eyes when he looked down his back lawn and saw the animal munching on his rhubarb and turnips.

"As a gardener I'm used to pests like slugs or even rabbits - but I wasn't prepared for a monkey," said Zdenek, of Tesikov, who took this snap to prove he hadn't dreamt it.

Keepers at nearby Olomouc Zoo admitted the ape was theirs and set up a hidden camera in his enclosure to check how he had been getting out.

"He was pretty sneaky. He'd pulled part of his fence away and covered the hole with a board so he could come and go as he pleased.

'We've sealed it again and hopefully that will be the end of the monkey business," said one keeper.

Flocks of birds on feeders this winter mask serious declines

The RSPB is warning that although birds will start visiting your tables and feeders in flocks for winter food any time soon, it masks a serious decline in numbers of many common species.

And if we experience a 'big freeze' like last winter, garden birds will need your help more than ever before.

'Feed the Birds Day' is coming up on 30-31 October, which marks the time when birds will increasingly be coming to gardens for supplementary food in the coming weeks.

Natural food sources will start to dwindle in the cold weather as birds and other wildlife start to snap it up and plants become covered with snow, berry crops come to an end and lakes, rivers and ponds become frozen over.

But although adults and young from the breeding season often join together to feed in gardens, giving the impression that they are thriving, the reality is that there are much fewer than there should be.

Richard Bashford, RSPB Feed the Birds Day Manager, says: 'It's easy to think that there are plenty of garden birds at this time of year as they desperately need our help and visit us in flocks.

'House sparrows are the classic example - if you get one house sparrow in your garden, you'll probably get a group. One recent winter, I counted over 100 in my garden, but I'm one of the lucky ones.

'They have disappeared from some parts of the UK, and nationally, house sparrow numbers have dropped by over 60 per cent in recent years so they are not as abundant as they may seem.'

Starlings also arrive en masse, but their population has plummeted by almost 75 per cent in the last 30 years.

And numbers of some species we see, like starlings, blackbirds and robins are higher in winter as they are joined by continental birds visiting the UK from colder climes for winter. Many are likely to have come from many hundreds of miles away in Scandinavian countries.

But although they look the same, the migrant birds can be quite easy to spot. They will take some time settling in after their incredibly long journeys and the change of scenery and human presence in gardens means they can stick out like a sore thumb with their behaviour.

They are less used to the garden environment and being close to humans so they are less comfortable and may appear 'shifty.' Many of the visiting birds spend their summers in places that are a lot more sparsely populated than the UK and are less likely to come into regular contact with people.

They will also not be so used to visiting bird tables and feeders and will skulk closer to undergrowth whereas our native birds are perfectly at home foraging in gardens and hanging from feeders.

Richard Bashford says: 'Some blackbirds, which we will likely assume are the same ones we see all year, could have come from places like Scandinavia and central Russia.

'Hopefully, if people realise just how far some of their garden birds have come, they will be even more eager to provide them with food and water which is so vital over winter.'

What's that bird?
The RSPB is also waiting to hear of some of the more unusual garden birds that visit feeders and tables over the winter. After last year's cold weather the charity received hundreds of reports of unusual sightings, and this year could be the same if forecasts are to be believed.

Finches like lesser redpolls, bramblings and siskins were regularly spotted throughout the colder weather.

Reed buntings, yellowhammers, grey wagtails, redwings and fieldfares were just some of the other species also seen in gardens as well as the countryside at unusual times.

Gemma Rogers

Media Officer

Raising Giant Insects to Unravel Ancient Oxygen

Boulder, CO, USA - The giant dragonflies of ancient Earth with wingspans of up to 70 centimeters (28 inches) are generally attributed to higher oxygen atmospheric levels in the atmosphere in the past. New experiments in raising modern insects in various oxygen-enriched atmospheres have confirmed that dragonflies grow bigger with more oxygen, or hyperoxia.

However, not all insects were larger when oxygen was higher in the past. For instance, the largest cockroaches ever are skittering around today. The question becomes how and why do different groups respond to changes in atmospheric oxygen.

The secrets to why these changes happened may be in the hollow tracheal tubes insects use to breathe. Getting a better handle on those changes in modern insects could make it possible to use fossilized insects as proxies for ancient oxygen levels.

“Our main interest is in how paleo-oxygen levels would have influenced the evolution of insects,” said John VandenBrooks of Arizona State University in Tempe. To do that they decided to look at the plasticity of modern insects raised in different oxygen concentrations. The team raised cockroaches, dragonflies, grasshoppers, meal worms, beetles and other insects in atmospheres containing different amounts of oxygen to see if there were any effects.

One result was that dragonflies grew faster into bigger adults in hyperoxia. However, cockroaches grew slower and did not become larger adults. In all, ten out of twelve kinds of insects studied decreased in size in lower oxygen atmospheres. But there were varied responses when they were placed into an enriched oxygen atmosphere. VandenBrooks will be presenting the results of the work on Monday, Nov. 1 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.

“The dragonflies were the most challenging of the insects to raise,” said VandenBrooks because, among other things, there is no such thing as dragonfly chow. As juveniles they need to hunt live prey and in fact undergraduate students Elyse Muñoz and Michael Weed working with Dr. VandenBrooks had to resort to hand feeding the dragonflies daily.

“Dragonflies are notoriously difficult to rear,” said VandenBrooks. “We are one of the only groups to successfully rear them to adulthood under laboratory conditions.”

Once they had worked that out, however, they raised three sets of 75 dragonflies in atmospheres containing 12 percent (the lowest oxygen has been in the past), 21 percent (like modern Earth's atmosphere) and 31 percent oxygen (the highest oxygen has been).

Cockroaches, as anyone who has fought them at home knows, are much easier to rear. That enabled the researchers to raise seven groups of 100 roaches in seven different atmospheres ranging from 12 percent to 40 percent oxygen mimicking the range of paleo-oxygen levels. Cockroaches took about twice as long to develop in high oxygen levels.

“It is the exact opposite of what we expected,” said VandenBrooks. One possibility is that the hyperoxic reared roaches stayed in their larval stage longer, perhaps waiting for their environment to change to a lower, maybe less stressful oxygen level.

This surprising result prompted the researchers to take a closer look at the breathing apparatus of roaches – their tracheal tubes. These are essentially hollow tubes in an insect's body that allow gaseous oxygen to enter directly into the insect tissues.

VandenBrooks and his team took their hyperoxic reared roaches to Argonne National Lab's x-ray synchrontron imaging facility to get a closer look at the tracheal tubes. The x-ray synchrontron is particularly good at resolving the edges where things of different phases meet – like solids on liquids or gas on solids. That's just what the inside of a tracheal tube is.

What they found was that the tracheal tubes of hyperoxic reared roaches were smaller than those in lower oxygen atmospheres. That decrease in tube size with no increase in the overall body size would allow the roaches to possibly invest more in tissues used for other vital functions other than breathing – like eating or reproducing. The roaches reared in hypoxia (lower oxygen) would have to trade off their investment in these other tissues in order to breathe.

The next step, said VandenBrooks, will be to look closely at the tracheal tubes of insects fossilized in amber to see what they might say about oxygen levels at various times in the past. These might possibly serve as a proxy for paleo-oxygen levels.

“There have been a lot of hypotheses about the impact of oxygen on evolution of animals, but nobody has really tested them,” said VandenBrooks. “So we have used a two-pronged approach: 1) study modern insects in varying oxygen levels and 2) study fossil insects and understand changes in the past in light of these results.”

Atlantic Sea Turtle Population Threatened by Egg Infection

ScienceDaily (Oct. 29, 2010) — An international team of mycologists and ecologists studying Atlantic sea turtles at Cape Verde have discovered that the species is under threat from a fungal infection which targets eggs. The research, published in FEMS Microbiology Letters, reveals how the fungus Fusarium solani may have played a key role in the 30-year decline in turtle numbers.

"In the past 30 years we have witnessed an abrupt decline in the number of nesting beaches of sea turtles worldwide," said Drs. Javier Diéguez-Uribeondo and Adolfo Marco from Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas- CSIC Spain. "While many of the reasons for this are related to the human impact of the costal environment it has been suspected that the decline is also due to pathogenic microorganisms."

Fusarium solani is a complex fungal strain which represents over 45 phylogenetic and biological species. The fungus is distributed through soil and can cause serious plant diseases. The fungus is known to have infected at least 111 plant species spanning 87 genera and has also been shown to cause disease in other animals with immunodeficiency.

During embryonic development turtle eggs spend long periods covered by sand under conditions of high humidity and warm temperatures, which are known to favor the growth of soil-born fungi.

Dr Diéguez-Uribeondo's team focused their study on the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) population on Boavista Island, Cape Verde, off the West African coast. While Boavista Island represents one of the most important nesting regions for this species a high hatching failure rate is driving population numbers down.

The team sampled egg shells with early and severe symptoms of infection, as well as diseased embryos from sea turtle nests located in Ervatao, Joao Barrosa and Curral Velho beaches and discovered 25 isolates of F. solani associated with egg mass mortalities.

Although this fungal species has been previously described in association with different infections in animals, its relationship to hatching failure had not been investigated before this study.

The finding that strains of F. solani may act as a primary pathogen in loggerhead sea turtles represents an extremely high risk to the conservation of loggerhead sea turtles across the area.

However, the description of these particular fungal strains causing this infection may help in developing conservation programs based on artificial incubation and may aid the development of preventative methods in the field to reduce or totally erase the presence of F. solani in turtle nests.

"This work reveals that a strain of F. solani is responsible for the symptoms observed on turtle nesting beaches," concluded Dr Diéguez-Uribeondo. "This shows that the infection represents a serious risk for the survival of this endangered species, while also showing immunologists and conservationists where to focus their research."

Friday, 29 October 2010

Cycads face extinction

Johannesburg - The cycad, which is the world's oldest living seed plant and has outlived the dinosaurs, faces extinction if people continue to wrench the plants from their wild habitats and plant them in gardens.

This is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature on Wednesday.

In an address to delegates at the Biodiversity Convention in Japan, the IUCN said that cycads were the most threatened group of organisms to have been assessed by them so far.

The global conservation assessment of 308 cycad species shows that their status has declined from 53% threatened in 2003 to 62% threatened in 2010. The South African National Biodiversity Institute said the country was one of the world centres of cycad diversity with 39 species.

"It is also one of the global hotspots for threatened cycads with 68% of South Africa's cycads threatened with extinction compared to the global average of 62%. From South Africa 31% are classified as critically endangered, compared to the global average of 17%.

"South Africa also has three of the four species classified as extinct in the wild, two of which have become extinct in the wild in the period between 2003 and 2010," the institute said.

The removal of cycads from the wild for private collections has resulted in two species becoming extinct in the wild.

Bark harvesting for the medicinal trade has increased in South Africa and has also resulted in declines in cycad populations, even resulting in the complete loss of populations in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, said the institute.

"We have seen dramatic declines in some species over ten years, one of them from around 700 plants to fewer than 100, and this is going to result in extinctions," it said.


Emperor of Exmoor: reports of his demise may be exaggerated, say locals

The reported demise of the Emperor of Exmoor, the celebrated red stag which graced the Devon countryside for more than a decade, came with several mysteries attached, not least who shot Britain's largest land wild animal, where they did it and what happened to the body.

Now has come another twist: the Emperor might not be dead after all.

Some locals, witnessing the continued failure of dozens of reporters and TV crews to pin down details of the demise of the 2.75-metre (9ft), 135kg (300lb) beast, much less the whereabouts of his carcass, are taking a sceptical eye to the saga.

They have questioned the reported location of the shooting by an unnamed but licensed hunter, given variously as close to the A361 Tiverton to Barnstaple road or, more specifically, near the village of Rackenford.

Several have said the stag was never seen there but instead spent its time a good 10 miles further north, inside Exmoor national park.

"I smell a rat," said one farm owner who, with several other locals, has grown tired of the media interest and asked not to be named. "Without evidence anyone can say they shot anything. I could say I shot an elephant, and who's going to say no? There's someone I've spoken to who lives up on Exmoor who's certain he's still around."

She added: "As far as I know he's never been seen in this area. He tends to be seen in the Winsford area, that's where people look out for him, and stalkers look out for him too. Because he's such an icon they don't want him killed, more than anybody else."

Responding to reports that an eyewitness saw the Emperor's head being loaded into a vehicle, she said: "If he was the Emperor, you can't load a set of antlers that size into a normal car.

"And what would you do with the body? Believe you me, if he was as big as they say he is supposed to be, it would take about six men to lift him. They wouldn't have needed a car, they wouldn't even have needed a pick-up, they would have needed a truck."

Complicating matters is the fact that while the Emperor was Exmoor's undisputed behemoth, the area hosts several other giant stags which to the untutored eye look quite similar, said Clare O'Connor, a press officer at the Exmoor national park authority.

She confirmed that the Emperor was generally seen within the bounds of the park rather than where he reportedly met his end, but admitted Exmoor authorities were also in the dark. "It's possible that someone shot him and was put off by the media attention. But it's possible that it was another stag. Personally, I'd like to think he's still with us."

Adam Gabbatt and Peter Walker

WWF welcomes EU Commissioner’s call for big cut in Mediterranean bluefin tuna catches

Last chance for Mediterranean tuna

October 2010. WWF, the global conservation organization, has welcomed the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki's call for a significant cut in catches of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic ahead of the European Union's leadership role at a major fisheries management meeting next month in Paris, France.

EU Commissioner Damanaki has announced her support for a substantial decrease in total allowable catch of East Atlantic bluefin tuna next year. Spanish Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the Greens, Raül Romeva i Rueda, confirmed Commissioner Damanaki's urge for a "substantial decrease" in catches at the meeting.

WWF is calling for this to form a fundamental part of the EU's position at the meeting of International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) members on 17-27 November 2010 in Paris, France.

Recovery plan
A new recovery plan for East Atlantic bluefin tuna must be agreed at the Paris ICCAT conference. In the coming days the EU Commission and Member States will formally agree the EU's negotiating mandate for that meeting.

"Commissioner Damanaki is laying out what could be a possible rescue plan for the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery based on science and not politics" said Tony Long, Director of WWF's European Policy Programme in Brussels. "We call on Member States to follow this lead to secure a long-term future for a sustainable artisanal fishery and a thriving marine ecosystem. The EU Commissioner is showing a way forward that counteracts strong pressure from short-term business interests."

Current stock is only 1/3 of sustainable levels
A recent scientific assessment of East Atlantic bluefin tuna by ICCAT scientists has shown that stock size is only one third of sustainable levels, and that only a total fishing quota of less than 6,000 tonnes per year might allow the tuna stock to rebuild by 2020 with a probability of over 60 per cent. The scientists also urged ICCAT to be especially precautionary this year, given the high uncertainty in data available - a result of the poor quality of reporting related to rife illegalities.

The EU, including all Member States, is legally obliged through its Marine Strategy Framework Directive to immediately establish measures aimed at achieving recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2020 at the latest.

Purse seine fishery
Besides cutting total annual catch to below 6,000 tonnes, WWF is also calling on the EU and other ICCA members to suspend the industrial purse seine fishery - responsible for the current catastrophic situation of the stock - and to establish no-fishing zones in the six known spawning grounds of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea.

"This package of measures gives at least a chance of recovery to East Atlantic bluefin tuna," said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. "It is high time to show the world that Europe, with its historical role in willingly allowing the depletion of tuna stocks, is ready for a U-turn by leading on the recovery of Atlantic bluefin."

Monkey Fossils Suggest Primates Came Out of Asia, Not Africa

The discovery of four ancient, palm-sized primates in what is now Libya suggests the human family tree’s taproot is in the Middle East, not Africa.

The conventional narrative of primate development places the origins of anthropoids — monkeys and apes, including humans — in Africa. Some paleontologists, however, think Asia is the more likely cradle for that ur-primate, or what Christopher Beard has called the “Dawn Monkey.”

Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is among the co-authors of the paper describing the new primates, published October 28 in Nature. The four species’ fossils, representing three distinct taxonomic families, are 40 million years old. Nothing similar was known to have lived in Africa at that time.

The diversity and timing of the new anthropoids raises two scenarios. Anthropoids might simply have emerged in Africa much earlier than thought, and gone undiscovered by modern paleontologists. Or they could have crossed over from Asia, where evidence suggests that anthropoids lived 55 million years ago, flourishing and diversifying in the wide-open ecological niches of an anthropoid-free Africa.

That humans may trace their evolutionary lineage to creatures like the newly discovered anthropoids, which likely weighed between four ounces and one pound and could sit comfortably in your hand, is an intriguing possibility. But other paleontologists warn that more investigation is required.

“These discoveries are exciting and very informative,” said Stony Brook University paleoanthropologist William Jungers, who was not involved in the study. But “more than anything else, these discoveries indicate that we still have a lot to learn.”

Citation: “Late middle Eocene epoch of Libya yields earliest known radiation of African anthropoids.” By Jean-Jacques Jaeger, K. Christopher Beard, Yaowalak Chaimanee, Mustafa Salem, Mouloud Benammi, Osama Hlal, Pauline Coster, Awad A. Bilal, Philippe Duringer, Mathieu Schuster, Xavier Valentin, Bernard Marandat, Laurent Marivaux, Eddy Metais, Omar Hammuda & Michel Brunet. Nature, Vol. 467 No. 1095, October 28, 2010.

Nocturnal cow attacks car

A cow left to wander on a cold night attacked a car while walking along a country road near the town of Heimbach in North Rhine-Westphalia on Saturday night.

According to the police report, the cow had decided to cross the road, forcing two cars to stop. Suddenly confronted, the cow went on the attack, running past one car before jumping half on to the second.

Once it had successfully smashed the hood of the vehicle with its front hooves, the cow fled into a nearby forest.

Despite an immediate attempt to capture the animal, the cow evaded the police until Sunday morning, when it was returned to its owner.

The 36-year-old driver of the car escaped unharmed, though shaken.


From a distance it resembled a rather large man in a fur coat, leaning tenderly over the grave of a loved one. But when the two women in the Russian village of Vezhnya Tchova came closer they realised there was a bear in the cemetery eating a body.

Russian bears have grown so desperate after a scorching summer they have started digging up and eating corpses in municipal cemetries, alarmed officials said today. Bears' traditional food – mushrooms, berries and the odd frog – has disappeared, they added.

The Vezhnya Tchova incident took place on Saturday in the northern republic of Komi, near the Arctic Circle. The shocked women cried in panic, frightening the bear back into the woods, before they discovered a ghoulish scene with the clothes of the bear's already-dead victim chucked over adjacent tombstones, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomelets reported.

Local people said that bears had resorted to scavenging in towns and villages - rummaging through bins, stealing garden carrots and raiding tips. A young man had been mauled in the centre of Syktyvkar, Komi's capital. "They are really hungry this year. It's a big problem. Many of them are not going to survive," said Simion Razmislov, the vice-president of Komi's hunting and fishing society.

World Wildlife Fund Russia said there had been a similar case two years ago in the town of Kandalaksha, in the northern Karelia republic. "You have to remember that bears are natural scavengers. In the US and Canada you can't leave any food in tents in national parks," said Masha Vorontsova, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Russia.

"In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin]. He then taught the others," she added, suggesting: "They are pretty quick learners."

The only way to get rid of the bears would be to frighten them with something noisy like a firework or shoot them, she said.

According to Vorontsova, the omnivorous bears had "plenty to eat" this autumn, with foods such as fish and ants at normal levels. The bears raided graveyards because they offered a supply of easy food, she said, a bit like a giant refrigerator. "The story is horrible. Nobody wants to think about having a much loved member of their family eaten by a bear."

The bear population in Russia is relatively stable with numbers between 120,000 and 140,000. The biggest threat isn't starvation but hunting - with VIP sportsmen and wealthy gun enthusiasts wiping out most of the large male bears in Kamchatka, in Russia's Far East. Chinese poachers have killed many black bears near the border, selling their claws and other parts in markets.

The Russian government is drafting legislation to ban the killing of bears during the breeding season.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Follow that microlight: Birds learn to migrate

"Yes, people think we're crazy," says Johannes Fritz, with a wry smile.

And surveying the scene, it is easy to see why.

We are in a playing field, in a small village in Austria, close to the Slovenian border.

In it stands a makeshift camp, with all the usual outdoors paraphernalia.

But it is the large aviary, containing 14 northern bald ibis and two human "foster parents" who are gently tending to their avian flock that really draws your attention.

That, and the microlights parked nearby.

For the past couple of days, this unassuming spot has been home to the Waldrapp team, "Waldrapp" being another name for the northern bald ibis.

But the group will not be staying here for long: they are part-way through a month-long effort to take these birds on a 1,300km flight from Germany to Italy.

However, this is no ordinary migration. The scientists are teaching the birds their route by getting them to follow a microlight.

Building trust
The project forms part of a wider conservation plan to save this critically endangered bird, explains Dr Fritz, leader of the Waldrapp team.

The northern bald ibis was once common throughout Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East.

But today, because of habitat loss and hunting, it has vanished from Europe, leaving diminished populations in Morocco, and just a handful of these distinctive birds in Syria.

Along with other groups around the world, the Waldrapp team is looking into the feasibility of reintroducing birds born in captivity into the wild.

But it is not as simple as opening a cage and setting them free.

Without any knowledge of their migration route, which is usually passed on by their parents, the zoo-born birds cannot survive.

So, inspired by a similar project in America called Operation Migration, the scientists teach them their flight plan instead.

But it is a time-consuming process. It begins in spring. As soon as the birds hatch, they are introduced to their new human foster parents.

Then for the next few months, the human stand-ins spend almost every waking hour with the birds, feeding them, grooming them and playing with them.

Sinja Werner, one of the two foster parents in this year's team, says: "We try to be their parents, as best as we can. It's important that they trust you."

Finally, this bond becomes so strong that the birds are willing to follow their parents anywhere. Even if they are sitting in a microlight.

Conservation crisis
While no doubt expensive, people-power heavy and time intensive, the Waldrapp project forms part of a growing movement that is taking conservation further than it has ever gone before.

Gone are the days when saving the flora and fauna was just about safeguarding habitats and putting species protection plans into place.

Thanks to the fact that we are in midst of the biggest extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out, some researchers are saying we have to go further.

As well as concentrating on the traditional methods, they claim that we need to invest in and embrace more extreme, more experimental approaches, from hands-on reintroduction programmes like these, to shifting species around the globe and even cloning.

Professor John Fa, director of conservation science at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, says: "We are talking about over 6,000 species under threat, we are talking about pollution increasing, we are talking about habitat fragmentation, we are talking about invasive species. There are many, many threats and these threats are still there.

"In some situations, species are so low in numbers that the only way to deal with their survival is through more intervention, and I think it is pushing us with coming up with more innovative ideas, it is pushing us into coming up with extreme ideas."

And this project certainly fits the bill. The next morning, we get to witness the team in action.

As dawn breaks, the camp emerges from the darkness into a hive of activity, getting ready for a planned 200km flight that should take the team across the border into Slovenia.

The final preparations are made, and foster parent Sinja takes one last look at her birds before climbing into the microlight.

With a quick burst of speed, it powers across the dewy meadow before gliding up into the air, the fog-drenched countryside becoming ever more distant below.

The aviary opens, and the birds also take to the skies, encouraged by their adoptive mother who repeatedly yells into her loudspeaker: "Here Wileys, come come".

But, it soon becomes clear that the "Wileys", an affectionate nickname for the birds, need a bit more convincing.

Every now and again the foster parent's efforts seem to be working, and the birds gather in a tight V-shaped formation behind the aircraft.

But moments later they scatter, accompanied by increasingly desperate yells from above, pleading with them to come back.

This bizarre mid-air procession continues back and forth for the next 90 minutes, but today, just like naughty children, the birds simply will not do what they are told.

Finally, the team calls it a day, landing a measly 10km from where they set off.

Back on track
A few weeks later, Dr Fritz gets back in touch

After this early setback, he said, the birds started to behave, eventually completing their 1,300km migration and arriving in Italy in record time.

He said: "The migration 2010 was fantastic and extraordinary.

"For the first time, the flight speed and the flight distances are fully comparable with that of the wild migrating birds."

With the migration now complete, this flock now have their "flight plan" in place, hopefully allowing them to make their own unassisted migration back to Germany when the time comes for them to breed.

But whatever the future holds for these birds, one thing is certain: these kinds of hands-on conservation efforts are far from easy - or predictable

By Rebecca Morelle

Science reporter, BBC News

Tracking Golden Eagles by Satellite; Impact of Large-Scale Wind Farms Studied

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2010) — Large-scale wind farm establishment may have a negative effect on Sweden's golden eagles. In a unique project in northern Sweden, scientists at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) are trapping adult golden eagles and fitting them with satellite transmitters.

The satellite transmitters emit a signal once an hour during the daytime. These signals provide the scientists with a picture of how the birds use the landscape.

"Hopefully we can identify the golden eagles' favourite habitats. When we've done that we can see where wind farms can be established without disturbing the eagles," says project manager Tim Hipkiss at SLU's Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies.

The potential risks with wind farms are that the birds collide with the rotor blades and lose valuable hunting habitat.

Up to now the scientists have fitted transmitters on to six eagles. The goal is twenty adult eagles from ten territories, five where wind farms are planned and five without wind farms (reference areas). The project is estimated to run for long enough for the scientists to monitor the eagles during wind farm establishment. Most of the sites are in Västerbotten county in northern Sweden.

"Trapping adult golden eagles alive has never been done before in Sweden, and probably nowhere else in Europe. This is unique, and most people thought we wouldn't succeed," says Tim Hipkiss.

SLU's scientists have acquired the assistance of some of the world's leading experts in this field, from USA, where it is more common to trap birds of prey as part of conservation projects.

The trapping is carried out by the scientists placing out carrion at feeding sites a few weeks in advance, so that the eagles get used to finding food there. After this the American experts conceal a net trap and erect a hide a small distance from the net.

"Then you just have to wait patiently in the hide. When the eagle lands on the food, the person in the hide releases the net. With the help of an assistant waiting nearby the eagle is then dealt with," says Tim Hipkiss.

Fitting the satellite transmitter takes around half an hour, and it is important those involved know what they are doing. The eagles can weigh up to six kilos and wield dangerous claws. By weighing the bird and measuring its wing-length, you can tell if it is a male or a female (females are larger). The transmitter sits in place like a comfortable backpack.

Tim Hipkiss says that the birds have no problems flying with these transmitters. The adult birds fly several kilometres per day. Last summer, the scientists also fitted five juvenile golden eagles with transmitters, and have since monitored them for several months.

"The juveniles fly as they should, and some have already flown to new hunting grounds tens of kilometres away. Thanks to the transmitters we can find the birds if any of them have any problems, for example have not moved for several days," says Tim Hipkiss.

The satellite transmitters will provide information on how far the eagles fly and how they move about their territories before and after wind farm establishment. The scientists have already observed that the eagles fly further than previously thought.

"It's really great to see that this works. So far the project looks successful," says Tim Hipkiss.

The project "Effects of wind farms on the habitat use and reproductive success of golden eagles" is financed by the Swedish Energy Agency (Vindval programme) and the power companies Vattenfall and Statkraft.

Mink release in Donegal threatens birds

Irresponsible mink release in Donegal poses serious threat to wildlife

Courtesy of Birdwatch Ireland
October 2010. Ireland's largest conservation NGO, BirdWatch Ireland, is seriously concerned by the recent release of 5,000 mink from a fur farm near Ardara in Donegal, indicating that it could have devastating consequences for wildlife in the area and particularly for already rare ground-nesting birds. Western Donegal contains some of the most threatened bird species in all of Ireland, and indeed is the last Irish refuge for the internationally important Red-throated Diver, of which only 4-8 breeding pairs remain. Ground nesting birds are especially vulnerable to mink predation and their potential increase in numbers as a result of this release poses a particularly serious threat.

Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel threatened

For example, current BirdWatch Ireland conservation projects focussed on breeding waders such as Lapwing and Redshank and seabirds such as Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel have identified predation by mink as a considerable threat in some cases. They are also likely to affect many other native birds and other wildlife, including, for example, important Atlantic Salmon populations. The prompt action of the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) and of angling clubs in the area to catch as many of the escaped mink as possible is commended.

Currently mink densities are highest in the east of Ireland. However this latest release could boost mink numbers in the west and speed up their colonisation. The west of Ireland contains many key sites for nationally and internationally important bird species that are now at real risk from this invasive alien species.

Fur farming
The development of fur farming is the origin of mink in Ireland. American Mink, native to North America, were first recorded in the wild in Ireland during the early 1960's, having been released, accidentally or on purpose, from these fur farms. Peadar O'Connell, Species Policy Officer at BirdWatch Ireland said, "The problem stems from the fact that there are no natural controls, such as predators, food supply or disease, to limit the mink population, allowing it to grow relatively unchecked and filling the niche of a broad spectrum predator able to exploit many food sources and negatively affect native species."

Fur farms to close
Whatever the reasons for the release, allowing a large number of non-native predators into the wild is potentially damaging and should be investigated by the appropriate authorities. The continued existence of fur farming, however, is the root of the problem and the expected closure of such farms in 2012 under the current Programme for Government is long awaited and should help to prevent similar future problems.

Initiatives such as Invasive Species Ireland have worked on identifying methods to tackle the issue of invasive species but there is a lack of a coherent national strategy to deal with incidences such as this release. Alan Lauder, Head of Conservation at BirdWatch Ireland, said, "Incidents like this highlight a fire-fighting approach within Government in relation to invasive species rather than a planned and co-ordinated approach."

Huge cost
Alan Lauder continued, "This may also therefore be a good time to consider the possibility of mink eradication. It has been estimated in a National Parks & Wildlife Service funded project that to remove mink from an 800 km² area would cost roughly €1,062,425 over a five year period. This would need to be scaled up to eradicate mink from the entire country, but considering the funds required to protect our native species, domestic poultry and fish stocks from the threat of predation by American Mink, it would seem a sensible investment. On top of this comes the threat of EU fines if Ireland fails adequately to protect its threatened wildlife, so dealing properly with the problem now makes sound economic sense and represents a substantial long term saving not just for the national exchequer but also for Ireland's unique natural heritage which is important to us all."

Psychic octopus death conspiracy claim

Paul the octopus is dead – but conspiracy theories are thriving

Death of psychic octopus who proved a hit during the World Cup triggers claim of cover-up

No sooner had death's tentacles slackened their grip on Paul's squidgy body than the first conspiracy theory concerning his demise emerged like a cephalopod from a crevice.

Not everyone, it seems, is prepared to accept the news that the "psychic" octopus – who made such a splash over the summer by successfully predicting the results of World Cup games – passed away on Monday in the comfort of the German aquarium he called home.

According to Jiang Xiao, the director of a forthcoming thriller entitled Who Killed Paul the Octopus?, the creature had really been dead for the last three months. Jiang told the Guardian she was "60 to 70% sure" Paul had died in July and been secretly replaced by his keepers.

Explaining how such a deception could have been perpetrated, she added: "[Octopuses] all look the same. It is impossible to tell the difference."

Jiang said she thought it was "kind of strange" that news of Paul's death had broken not long after the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in western Germany had contacted her team to say they were keen to co-operate on the international distribution of her film.

"We have been keeping in touch with the German aquarium ever since the beginning [of production] but it seemed to me that they were afraid," she said. "The movie is about unveiling the inside story behind the octopus miracle, so they felt nervous.

"For the movie, we had done quite a lot of investigation and I am 60% to 70% sure that Paul died on 9 July [two days before the World Cup final] and the Germans have been covering up his death and fooling us for a long time."

Jiang declined to explain why she believed Paul had died in July — or to say more about the revelations in the movie. Her allegations of submarine jiggery-pokery met with polite bafflement in Germany today.

"It's certainly not true that Paul died in the summer," said a spokeswoman for the aquarium.

"We can absolutely assure you that he died last night. He was about two and a half, which is the average age for an octopus. He died a simple and straightforward death."

Paul is due to be cremated in the next few days. His ashes will be placed in an urn and displayed in a shrine, along with a portrait and video clips from his life, the spokeswoman added.

"We've already set up a condolence book where people can write their tributes to Paul," she said.

But what of the rumours that Paul had pulled off one last magnificent psychic coup by predicting his own death?

"If he did, he kept it to himself," she said.

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Sam Jones, Tuesday 26 October 2010 18.19 BST

True believer records sightings

“Tiger Tiger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” asked William Blake in his most famous poem.

A local man believes the fabled “Nannup tiger” lurks in the South West forests of the night— and true big cats too.

THYLACINES and big cats still lurk in the South West forests, according to Alan Troode of Nannup.

He collects and collates stories of both big cat and “Nannup tiger” (thylacine) sightings, concentrating on reports from around Nannup .

Alan first became interested in the thylacine when reading newspaper articles published in the early 1980s.

He was intrigued by the thought that the South West forests might harbour such fabulous animals and his interest was reignited when he moved to Nannup in the late 1990s.

Work and family commitments allowed him limited time to pursue the stories but conversations with locals fortified his interest.

He quickly came to the conclusion that he was not only looking at stories and descriptions of the Thylacine but also large predatory cats, not wild feral domestic cats but an animal the size of the mountain lion, cougar or puma , Felis Concolor .

He reckons he has an unbiased point of view when taking down thylacine stories and he soon realised that anything that moved in the bush that was not easily identified was claimed to be the Nannup tiger.

Some incidents contributing to the Nannup tiger legend showed traits and characteristics that Alan can only describe as speculative. Still he came to the conclusion that both the thylacine and Felis Concolor — two distinct predatory animals — roam the South West.

Two distinct animals give rise to two distinct animal hunters, he said. Information about both animals has been diverse, controversial and stories have been at odds with each other at times.

There is very little information about the thylacine and some reported characteristics cloud the issue further.

Reports have the tiger ranging in colour from light yellow to fawn, light brown to dark biscuit and all black — and with or without stripes.

Vocalisations have been described as hissing, coughing, snarling, growling and snapping.

During mating the mysterious beast is said to have a blood-curdling scream.

Often caught in car headlights at night, the blue eyes are believed to be the black tiger and the amber eyes belonging to the yellow chocolate tiger, he said.

Habits such as scratching sticks and dirt over carcases, multiple kills and the size of some animals killed brings into question the weight to kill ratio.

On some occasions the animal is described as being rather inquisitive and in no hurry to move and other reports have the animal taking flight and gone in a flash.

All this conflicting information has led Alan to believe that both the thylacine and Felis Concolor are still at large in the South West.

“I am only starting to scratch the tip of the iceberg so to speak and have a lot of further work to do on correlating both types of sightings,” he said.

“There are sightings of both animals in many areas claiming both tiger and cat occurrences.

“It is my hope to be able to engage believers of both animals in a more comprehensive look at the predatory animals that roam the forests with an open unbiased approach — to give validity and authenticity, to clear up some of the speculation and misinformation.”

Alan believes this can only help to strengthen belief in the presence of both the big cat and the Nannup tiger.

Over the years Alan has logged many reports on sightings of both animals.

He not only records an audio report but he then makes a hard copy which he gets authenticated by having the person reporting the sighting, sign and date.

Alan is a true believer in the existence of both animals in our South West forests.

• If you ever see a strange animal on your travels around the South West, particularly in the Nannup Shire you can contact Alan Troode on 0428 942 142 or email him at alantroode@

Four-Legged Chick

An Australian chicken farmer isn’t making any suppositions about the four-legged chick that hatched while he was transporting eggs through a top alien hotspot.

Alien influence? Hardly. Kevin Horner of Noonamah said it has more to do with a double yolk than aliens that the chick, dubbed Drumstick, hatched with two extra legs protruding out of her back end while he was passing through Wycliffe Well, the Geelong Advisor reports.

Having bred about 100,000 chickens, the 59-year-old man said he’s never seen or heard of a four-legged chicken and thought Drumstick was sitting on a dead bird when he first noticed her deformity.

Horner said Drumstick will be his prized pet and be spared from becoming a meal.

And that’s no yolk.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Owners may be nearing answers to cow mutilation mystery


Kathy Cooper pets Tootsie Wednesday as she recalls the numerous cattle mutilations and killings that have occurred on her South Hall farm. The Coopers have lost 20 cows on their farm over the past year.

John and Kathy Cooper feel they are getting closer to solving the mystery behind the cattle mutilations at their South Hall Farm.

In September, they discovered one of their cows dead in the pasture with its udders completely removed. It was the 20th cow they had found dead or mutilated in a year's time.

A recent article in The Times about the Coopers' situation lead to more stories on Atlanta TV stations and even CNN and Coast to Coast radio.

The exposure over the last month has brought a number of experts to visit their 200-plus acres in Chestnut Mountain.

"It went nationwide and because of that we've gotten ideas of what to do,"

Kathy Cooper said. "With the research scientists and investigators and everything, we would just sit around for hours and talk about the details."

In the last month, the Coopers have gotten a dog to help alert them of people on the property, have offered an award for any information leading to the culprit behind the mutilations and are better prepared to gather clues in case of any future incidents.

A research scientist said if another cow is mutilated, a veterinarian should be called to do an on-site necropsy.

"He said the critical thing is to get a vet to agree to come on site so you don't lose any time," Cooper said.

"Your evidence a lot of times disappears over time."

Cooper also hopes to get more clues from tests being performed on the cow killed last month. The University of Georgia Veterinary School determined that one of the Cooper's other cows had been poisoned.

"This one I think they are going to spend some more time with the tissue samples and the blood samples," Cooper said.

Cooper said an investigator at the Hall County Sheriff's Office is taking calls for any leads to who could be behind the cattle mutilations.

"He has had a lot of phone calls, but most of it has to do with extraterrestrial theories," Cooper said. "Hall County has put a lot of effort into this and really spent a lot of time on it. I think he thinks we're getting
closer to making some sense of it."

Cooper said supernatural causes are often blamed for cattle mutilation cases.
"They believe it's got to be something other than humans," Cooper said.

Cattle mutilations have been reported across the country with little explanation despite extensive studies. The cows are discovered with their udders or genitals cleanly removed with a nearly surgical precision. The
mutilations are often attributed to a variety of causes, including everything from extraterrestrials and cults to natural predators and decomposition.

Cooper said it is hard for her to image that something other than a person is doing this to her cows.

"You really can't rule that out because you don't have proof one way or another," Cooper said. "It's hard for me to understand it, I can't believe it."

Anyone with information can contact the Hall County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division at 770-531-6879.

By Melissa Weinman

Gainsville Times

The diva dog Lu Lu which walks on her hind legs and carries her own handbag

Meet Lu Lu, the ultimate in diva dogs. While most pampered pooches are happy to being carried around in a hand bag Hollywood-style, Lu Lu prefers to carry her own.

Forget the catwalk - it is all about the dog-walk. Lu Lu walks around on her hind legs, just like a human.

The one-year-old pup has taken to using just her two legs to walk, leaving her other two free to carry a handbag.

The miniature pinscher has won the hearts of locals in Zhumadian, in the Henan Province where she can often be seen walking upright.

Locals in the Chinese province of Henan have grown to love Lu Lu's usual stance

But it is not clear why the pooch has begun to walk in such a way.

Retired teacher Zhou Guanshun, who owns Lu Lu, said her unusual walk is part of her charm.

He said: 'We loved her instantly'.

Daily Mail Reporter

Dino Death

Dinosaurs didn't have a chance: When it came to asteroids, they had a one-two punch.

They went extinct 65 million years ago by at least 2 meteorite impacts. Scientists had identified know where the crater left by the first one is: on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Now they think they've found evidence of the second one in the Ukraine, in the form of the Boltysh Crater.. In fact, those giant lizards may have been pelted by a SHOWER of meteorites!

When the Chicxulub Crater in the Gulf of Mexico was first discovered in 1980, establishment scientists (as usual) scoffed at the idea that an impact could have killed off the dinosaurs. But scientists who investigated the crater found remains of polling and spores of fossil plants embedded in the mud, meaning that immediately after the impact, ferns quickly covered the now barren landscape. Ferns have a amazing ability to recover after a catastrophe and so are good indications of past impact events.

They found a second group of fern fossils in a separate layer several feet above the first one, meaning that there were at least two impacts. The Ukraine crater was discovered in 2002. Scientists think that these two impact happened several thousand years apart, giving the dinosaurs no chance to recover from the first one. In BBC News, Howard Falcon- Lang quotes researcher Simon Kelley as saying, "We interpret this second layer as the aftermath of the Chicxulub impact. It is quite possible that in the future we will find evidence for more impact events."

Or the disaster could have been caused by space rocks hitting with EACH OTHER, sending their fragments racing down to the Earth below. Something of this sort (in this case a super-nova, or exploding star) caused a human extinction in part of North America in the past (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). In BBC News, Falcon-Lang quotes meteorite expert Monica Grady as saying, "One possibility might be the collision of Near Earth Objects."

'Indiana Jones' hits the Yeti trail in Nepal

Kathmandu, Oct 25 (IANS) As mysterious and as much sought-after as UFOs, the Yeti - also known as the Abominable Snowman, Migoi and Bigfoot - is not a myth or a hermit in the wilderness.

It exists in virginal forests untrodden by man, living on tree barks, frogs and even 'brains' of animals.

Immensely powerful, it can kill several yaks with a rock and when lonely, wistfully eyes the mountain women grazing their herds near the forest, toying with the idea of capturing one for company.

It has a strong sense of smell, is afraid of the fire and lives in caves.

The hairy ape man that has captured the imagination of people down the ages comes alive vividly once again as another 'Indiana Jones' hits the Yeti trail in Nepal with his new book, 'Yetis, Sasquatch and Hairy Giants'.

'I must be frank and say that I haven't come across a Yeti as yet though I went on several Yeti expeditions,' says a candid David Hatcher Childress, the 54-year-old explorer whose nearly 20 books on his exotic wanderings have made his fans bestow the title 'Indiana Jones' on him.

'However, I firmly believe they exist.'

The American archaeologist, who first came to Nepal in 1976 at the age of 19, has been to Mongolia, China, Bhutan, Sikkim and places in Canada where sightings of the mysterious creature were reported. His new book, published by Kathmandu's Adventure Pilgrims Trekking and launched in the capital Saturday, puts together a wealth of anecdotes, reports and photographs about the Yeti.

'One of the earliest reported sightings was in 1921 when a British expedition went on a reconnaissance of Mt Everest,' says Childress, on the eve of a trekking expedition in Nepal.

'They saw a group of shaggy creatures crossing the glacier and asked their Sherpa guides what they were. The guides answered it was the Mehteh Kangmi, meaning the Big Ape. When the expedition telegrammed their discovery, the message became garbled and people thought it was 'Metch' or wretched. And that's how the Abominable Snowman expression came into being.'

Childress also says the Yeti could be the inspiration for King Kong, the gigantic primordial beast made famous by the eponymous Hollywood film of 1933 directed by Peter Jackson.

'Kong could have been derived from Kangmi,' he says.

Three countries are most passionate about the Yeti, according to him - the US, Canada, where it is called the Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and Nepal.

However, the home of the Yeti is most likely to be in the mountains of Bhutan, Sikkim and the base of the Makalu peak in Nepal as well as Mt Kanchenjunga.

Two years before his first visit to Nepal, the world, he says, was rocked by reports about a Yeti incident in Nepal.

In July 1974, a Sherpa woman who had gone to the forests in Solukhumbu in northern Nepal to graze her herd of yaks reportedly came across the Yeti, an immense beast that struck the yaks on the neck with a rock and killed them.

It then reportedly split their skulls open and ate their brains, causing the woman to fall in a faint.

'When she recovered, she couldn't talk for several days due to the shock,' Childress says. 'That's how powerful the yeti is. It can tear a man from limb to limb. However, it prefers to avoid men.'

Two famed explorers hit the Yeti trail in Nepal much before Childress: the first man atop the Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was part of a Yeti expedition in 1960 but discovered the Yeti skull to be that of a monkey, and Austrian climber Reinhold Messner, whose 1999 book, 'My quest for the Yeti', made him the target of ridicule.

Both later became disillusioned and concluded the Yeti did not exist.

In 2007, an American television channel specialising in extraordinary creatures came to look for the Yeti in Nepal.

Though they didn't find their elusive quarry, the crew returned content with casts made of unusually big footprints they had found.

Childress has already begun work on a second Yeti book. This one, he says, will focus on the Yeti in Nepal.

'Even now, scientists are working in Bhutan, trying to find more evidence and new hair samples that will prove the Yeti exists,' he says.

'The Yeti is real, not a myth or a bear or a wild man.'

Spectacular unknown species found in Amazon

NAGOYA, Japan (AFP) – Spectacular species previously unknown to the outside world are being discovered in the Amazon rainforest at a rate of one every three days, environment group WWF said in a report published Tuesday.

An anaconda as long as a limousine, a giant catfish that eats monkeys, a blue fanged spider and poisoned dart frogs are among the 1,220 animals and plants to have been found from 1999 to 2009, according to the study.

The report was released on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in Japan that is being held to try to stem the mass extinction of species around the world, and the WWF said it highlighted why protecting the Amazon was so vital.

"This report clearly shows the incredible, amazing diversity of life in the Amazon," Francisco Ruiz, head of WWF's Living Amazon Initiative, told reporters at the launch.

"(But) this incredible region is under pressure because of the human presence. The landscape is being very quickly transformed."

Logging and clearing for agriculture uses such as cattle farming and palm oil plantations have led to 17 percent of the Amazon -- an area twice the size of Spain -- being destroyed over the past 50 years, according to the WWF.

The WWF compiled the findings reported by scientists over the 10-year period to highlight the extent of biodiversity loss that may be occurring without humans even knowing while the Amazon is being cleared.

"It serves as a reminder of how much we still have to learn about this unique region, and what we could lose if we don't change the way we think about development," Ruiz said.

One of the most amazing discoveries was a four-metre (13-foot) anaconda in the flood plains of Bolivia's Pando province in 2002.
It was the first new anaconda species identified since 1936, and became only the fourth known type of that reptile, according to the WWF.

There were a total of 55 reptile species discovered, with others including two members of Elapidae -- the most venomous snake family in the world that includes cobras and taipans.

A kaleidoscope of different coloured frogs were also found, including 24 of the famed poison dart variety and one that was translucent.

Among the 257 types of fish discovered in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon was a "goliath" catfish.

One of them found in Venezuela measured nearly 1.5 metres long and weighed 32 kilogrammes (over 70 pounds).

Although the "goliath" catfish normally exists on a diet of other fish, some of them have been caught with parts of monkeys in their stomachs, according to the WWF.

Another extraordinary species of catfish that was discovered in the Brazilian state of Rondonia was extremely small, blind and red.

Villagers found the fish when they accidentally trapped them in buckets after hauling up water from a well.

At least 500 spiders were also discovered, including one that was completely brown except for a pair of almost fluorescent blue fangs.

Thirty-nine new mammals were also found, including a pink river dolphin, seven types of monkey and two porcupines.

Among the 637 new plant species discovered were sunflowers, ivy, lilies, a variety of pineapple and a custard apple.

The Amazon is home to at least 40,000 plant species, and the WWF described the scale of diversity in some areas as "mind boggling".

It said 1,000 plant species were documented in one hectare (2.5 acres) of lowland rainforest in Ecuador, while 3,000 were found in a 24-hectare region of the Colombian section of the Amazon.

As part of efforts to save the Amazon, the Brazilian government has worked with the WWF, the World Bank and other groups to establish protected areas of rainforest covering 32 million hectares over the past six years.

The WWF said the protection efforts, in which foreign governments and organisations provide some of the finance to help run the projects, should serve as a model for the world in how to save rainforests.

by Karl Malakunas Karl Malakunas

Columbus cleared of importing syphilis from America after skeletons from two centuries earlier show signs of disease

Christopher Columbus and his crew have long been blamed for syphilis back from the Americas to Europe after their historic first voyage.

A syphilitic skull with the tell-tale indentations on the forehead

In 1493 they returned to Spain bringing news of lands across the Atlantic and the first cases of the potentially deadly disease thanks to their exploits abroad, it was believed.

But now scientists have found evidence that the disease existed in Europe long before Columbus was even born.
A new discovery in London may prove that syphilis exists ed in Europe far earlier than previously thought

Skeletons unearthed in a cemetery at a church in East London show signs of the disease up to two centuries before the explorer first set sail.

Archaelogists excavating bones from St Mary Spital in East London found rough patches on skulls and limbs of some of the skeletons, telling evidence of syphilis.

Brian Connell, an expert from the Museum of London who studied the bones, said he had no doubt that the skeletons were buried before Columbus’ voyage. Radiocarbon dating of the samples is estimated to be 95 percent accurate.

Previous findings of early syphilitic bones have been inconclusive.

Mr Connell said: ‘We’re confident that Christopher Columbus is simply not a feature of the emergence and timing of the disease in Europe,’ he told The Times.

‘This puts the nail in the coffin of the Columbus theory.’

Two of the syphilitic skeletons unearthed at St Mary Spital are from 1200 - 1250 while the other five are from 1250 – 1400. They were buried with coins and other objects that helped the experts corroborate the radiocarbon dating results.

The site was named after the hospital nearby in the City of London and the skeleton were probably victims of the disease who were patients there.

One of the skeletons belong to a child who would have been blind, bald and had teeth that grew at a 45 degree angle through its jaw because of the disease.

Mr Connell said: ‘IT would have had gross facial disfigurement, which would have been very distressing for the child, who was about 10 years old when it died.

‘The skull, which should have been smooth, looks like a lunar landscape. It caused a bit of a stir when it was found because the symptoms are so obvious.’

Syphilis causes serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes and bones and if untreated can be fatal. It is carried by the bacterium Treponema palladium.

In an era hundreds of years before the discovery of antibiotics, syphilis quickly spread and was soon the scourge of every major city.

Ever since the first recorded case in Europe took place in 1495 - three years after Columbus's first voyage to the New World - doctors have argued over its origins.

Some have claimed that it existed in Europe in ancient times. But others have claimed it was the price of those early and often violent visits to Latin America.

Columbus was once credited with being the first European to reach the Americas, but it is now thought that the Vikings made the journey several centuries earlier.

Soon after syphilis crossed the Atlantic, the Europeans were quick to blame each other. It was called the French, the Naples and the Venetian disease.

But across the Atlantic, diseases carried from Europe were causing far greater havoc. Millions of Native Americans died of measles, flu and smallpox exported from Europe.

By Niall Firth

50-Million-Year-Old Insect Trove Found in Indian Amber

That’s what’s researchers expected, anyway, but not what they found in the amber, described October 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Instead, the insects resemble what’s seen in amber deposits from continental landmasses of the time. (Amber is the geological name for fossilized tree resin, which often preserves insects that get stuck in it.) The findings suggest an unexpected transfer of insects, perhaps across chains of volcanic islands.

Although the new amber didn’t yield bizarre new species, it’s still loaded with fossil treasures. More than 700 insect species representing 55 families of insects have been identified inside. Among them are ancient bees, termites and ants — highly social insects that form some of the world’s most complex societies.

In the years to come, scientists will compare these ancient specimens to modern forms and develop a deeper understanding of how these creatures have evolved. Until they do, the bugs are plenty amazing to look at.

By Brandon Keim

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Bigfoot in Santa Cruz County?: Enthusiasts make their case during Bigfoot.... (via Chad Arment)

The Alliance of Independent Bigfoot Researchers and the Bigfoot Discovery Project presented the annual Bigfoot Discovery Day Saturday, staged at the Bigfoot Discovery Museum. The all-day gathering began in 2006.

From local investigators to interested families with children, more than 50 people attended the outdoor lunch and roundtable discussion, where purported Bigfoot sightings and evidence were presented, and numerous stories were told with an emphasis on Santa Cruz County.

Bigfoot Discovery Museum founder and curator Michael Rugg officiated, answering questions and facilitating much of the day's discussion. Rugg said the goal of the annual Discovery Day is to get people in Santa Cruz County to realize that the museum is not just a roadside attraction on the side of Highway 9, but a center for diligent research.

"We have plenty of evidence of a Bigfoot presence up here in the mountains," Rugg said. "I have some vocalizations we've recorded, we have some video that we shot locally, and we have a number of eye witnesses who have reported sightings. In our testing, we've come up with more evidence to indicate it's true than the opposite."

Rugg, who recounted his own Bigfoot sighting as a toddler in 1950, told the gathered crowd that, since he founded the museum in 2004, he's had an opportunity to further his research and hear numerous firsthand tales of sightings.

"Our museum is trying to serve as an advocate for eyewitnesses," he said. "People have been reporting anomalous events that our scientific authority figures have relegated to complete nonsense. What we're saying is, give these folks a break. There are plenty of things to learn yet."

Entering the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, one is confronted by plaster casts of giant feet, looping footage of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film, where an unidentified creature bounds across the screen, and Bigfoot-themed art. There is also a wall-sized map of Santa Cruz County, with pushpins detailing reported local sightings, stretching from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos.

Boulder Creek resident Bill Tucker, a longtime volunteer with the museum who stood behind the counter alongside Capitola resident Mike Barrow, recounted his own experience coming into contact with the unknown. Tucker was camping in Washington in 1987, he said, in an isolated campground. He found himself at a river, where he had the feeling that he was being watched.

"Then, a bunch of rocks came across the river," he said. "This happened, off and on, for the next 12 hours. Something was trying to keep me out of there. I began to believe right then."

Barrow said that his interest stemmed from the Patterson film, which was released when he was 7.

"It grabbed my imagination and, ever since, I've been looking," he said.

Pleasanton resident Tom Yamarone has been involved with the museum in various capacities since it opened, he said. Yamarone, who writes Bigfoot-related folksongs, which he performed later in the evening, said that he was encouraged by Saturday's turnout.

"My interest in the subject is very active," Yamarone said. "It's great to see so many people turn out for this."

The Discovery Day moved to the Louden Nelson Center later in the evening, where further presentations were given, including discussions on the latest game-camera technology used in Bigfoot-tracking and a historical slide-show of newspaper reports on Bigfoot dating back to the mid-1800s.

Rugg said the day was a success. He added that he founded the museum in 2004 because he wanted to "have a bigger part in trying to solve this mystery."

"I'm so sure this is real, I don't care what anybody says," he said.

by Jory John

Germany: Black panther hunt (via Chad Arment)

Officials in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate on Wednesday gave hunters permission to shoot an escaped panther that has been on the loose near the Belgian border for almost a year.

Both the Koblenz regional environmental protection office and city licence agency (SGD) have approved hunters’ rights to kill the big cat, they said.

“We’re looking into if and how we can find the animal,” said Nicole Scherer, spokesperson for the licence agency.

The authorities believe the animal could be a black panther that escaped from a French animal park some time ago. A “large black creature” has been cited along the Belgian border near Trier four times just since August, a factor that informed the city’s decision, they said.

Tranquilising the animal is not a good enough option, officials said, because it could flee in the seven minutes it takes for the drugs to take hold.

The black creature was first seen in the Belgian Ardennes region, just on the other side of the German border, about one year ago. Later similar sightings were reported in other parts of Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany’s Eifel region near Trier.

“According to the number of sightings we must take the situation seriously,” said Thomas Müller, spokesperson for the Trier-Saarburg county administration.

After tigers and lions, black panthers are the world’s third-largest big cat species.

Snake swarm (via Rachel Carthy)

Terrified householders had to abandon an entire town after 3,000 illegally bred king cobra eggs hatched out and gave their owner the slip.

The eggs - bred to supply the traditional health industry - had been stored in a cage in a house in Xianling, south west China.

But the newly hatched snakes escaped through a hole in their enclosureand took over the entire town.

"We don't really know how many survived but we caught 170 of them so we think a lot are still missing," said a police spokesman.

King cobras - which as adults can reach 18ft in length -are among the most deadly snakes in the world and can kill a man with a single bite.

Illegal breeder Cai Yong is now facing jail for breeding venomous snakes without a licence.

NH Mountain Lion Sightings (via Chad Arment)

At 6:20 on the morning of Aug. 20, Cheri Mazerall had just let her cat out the back door when she saw what she describes as a “beautiful, large beige/yellow” animal with “large feet and a long tail” come over her stone wall on Center Road in Lyndeborough.

“I waved my arms into the air,” she said, “and went ‘shoo, shoo,’ and then it walked up the hill” away from the house.

Mazerall, who is a rural mail carrier for the Lyndeborough Post Office, said people try to tell her the animal couldn’t be what she’s convinced it is: a mountain lion.

It definitely wasn’t a bobcat, she says. She used to live in Michigan, and she saw bobcats there.

“They have tufted ears and spots,” Mazerall said.

Kim Bradford, another Lyndeborough rural carrier, believes her.

Bradford says she was driving up Baldwin Hill Road last summer when she glanced down and saw a mountain lion in front of her mail vehicle.

Its color resembled a golden retriever’s, she said, and it trotted across the road in front of her, its long tail “swooped up” and its belly hanging low.

A short while later, she delivered a package to a woman who lives nearby, and the woman told her she, too, had seen a mountain lion in the neighborhood.

Bradford and Mazerall aren’t alone. Many people in New Hampshire have claimed to have seen mountain lions.

David Erler says some of them probably have.

Erler is a senior naturalist at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness. On Oct. 10, he gave a slide talk called “Wild Cats of New Hampshire,” which included the bobcat and the lynx.

But the biggest cat that might be in New Hampshire, he said, is the mountain lion, also know by many other names, including cougar, puma and catamount.

Unfortunately, there is no “irrefutable evidence,” he said.

They were extirpated in the 19th century. The last one was said to be killed in Lee around 1850.

Since then, there have been no known road-killed or hunter-killed mountain lions. There have been no photos, no DNA evidence and no confirmed tracks or scat, Erler said.

“We have enough deer and moose” to feed a cougar population, he said, “but not enough evidence to say they are here.”

The state Fish and Game Department investigates up to 100 sightings a year, and also says none of them offer positive proof.

Erler thinks people do see mountain lions in New Hampshire, “But I don’t think there is a viable population” – meaning there aren’t enough healthy animals in breeding pairs to sustain a population.

Fish and Game goes too far in saying there are no mountain lions here, he told an audience of about three dozen people, and for understandable reasons.

If Fish and Game said yes, it would have to come up with a management plan, the cats would have to be protected and “elements of the hunting population” would object, Erler said.

Saying there are mountain lions in New Hampshire, Erler said, would “create a hornets’ nest I wouldn’t want to step into.”

But Eric Orff, a retired wildlife biologist with Fish and Game who kept track of sighting reports for 30 years, said all reports proved to be false, and if there have ever been any of the animals on the loose, they were escapees from private owners.

Every animal leaves lots of signs of its presence, Orff said, and definite signs of mountain lions have never been found in New Hampshire since 1940, when Fish and Game began investigating reports.

Lynx, on the other hand, although rare in New Hampshire, have definitely made a modest comeback since they were wiped out in the mid-1880s.

Lynx are somewhat larger than bobcats, with longer legs and similar stubby tails, but more pronounced ear tufts and bigger feet. One was found dead on a road in 1966 and another in 1993, Orff said. More recently, there has been “good tracking evidence” of one at the base of Mount Washington.

Mountain lions, however, “have never been documented here,” he said. No one has ever found fur, tracks or scat that could be confirmed as coming from mountain lion.

Nevertheless, every year, and all across the state, come reports from people who say they saw the big felines.

“There are as many (sightings) from the Manchester area as from the Pittsburg area,” Orff said. In southern New Hampshire, most of the reports come from Lyndeborough and towns west.

It’s easy to see why people are fascinated with the animals. The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has two gorgeous mountain lions, a male and a female, that are on permanent loan from Montana, where they were orphaned in 2003.

They came to Holderness as blind kittens and now prowl a steep rocky enclosure.

Earlier this month, visitors were treated to a demonstration designed to help the cats “get used to presenting their claws and their bellies” for health checks, Erler said, and to stimulate them and exercise their minds.

The training and monitoring is for “practical purposes and not entertainment,” he said, and also gets the animals to present their bodies in such a way that they can be given injections if they need them.

On Oct. 10, Kate Mokkosian, the primary trainer, easily engaged the female cougar, which rose up on its haunches over an open metal grid and presented its shoulder to Mokkosian, who touched it with a fake syringe and then rewarded the animal with a rat.

The male wouldn’t play along, however, and seemed to be irritated by the crowd, Mokkosian said.

The female – the center doesn’t name its animals to avoid making them seem like pets – “is very laid back, very sweet, and she purrs and chirps,” Mokkosian said. While “the male growls, hisses and spits,” the female “is more relaxed in a large group, and is getting good at presenting her shoulder for the pretend inoculations.”

Squam Lakes opened the mountain lion training session to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the summer.

The center also has black bear, fisher, bobcat and other New Hampshire animals and bird species on exhibit, in line with its mission “to advance understanding of ecology by exploring New Hampshire’s natural world.”

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