Friday, 30 September 2011
“Sometimes whales come into shallow water looking for food and get stuck,” added Kirsten Smith, North Seas manager at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. “With the high tide the whale probably got carried up on to the salt marsh, got pushed back further in shore and then got stuck when the tide went out.”
Earlier this month a fin whale washed up dead near Spurn Point, North East Lincolnshire after getting stranded at Immingham. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has seen a rise in whale sightings over the last year but are unable to explain the increase in the North Sea.
VIETNAM AND SOUTH AFRICA WORKING TO STOP RHINO POACHINGSeptember 2011. Five government officials from Viet Nam have visited South Africa to discuss the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn. Their visit is set against a backdrop of rapidly escalating poaching of Africa's two internationally protected rhino species.
Rapidly escalating poaching
From 1990 to 2007, South Africa lost an average of 13 rhinos to poaching each year, but in 2008, the number shot up to 72 animals killed for their horns. The figure rose to 122 in 2009, and again in 2010 to an unprecedented 333 dead.
This year more than 302 animals have already been illegally killed, a rate that may push the total number to over 400 rhinos in 2011 if the poaching onslaught is not halted.
Viet Nam at the hub of the illegal trade
The rhino horn is smuggled to Asia, where there is strong evidence that Viet Nam is one of the key destinations and a primary driver of the illicit trade.
Last month, two Vietnamese citizens were sentenced to eight and 12 years in prison, respectively, by a South African magistrate for attempting to smuggle rhino horn out of the country.
Thefts from museums
In addition to poaching of live animals in Africa, the demand from Asia has led to a spate of thefts of antique rhino horn from museums and zoos across Europe by organized criminal gangs.
Rhino horn is used in traditional Asian medicine in the treatment of high fever, but a new belief has emerged claiming rhino horn has curative powers against cancer-a notion that may have developed in Viet Nam. However, there is no scientific or medical evidence to support any such claims. Rhino horn is similar in composition and structure to horses' hooves, birds' beaks, and human fingernails.
The visit of Vietnamese government officials to South Africa follows the October 2010 mission of a five-member South African delegation to Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City to discuss rhino horn trafficking between the two countries.
At the meeting in South Africa, representatives are aiming to agree on and sign a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create a mechanism under which Viet Nam and South Africa can actively collaborate to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn.
"In order to combat the illegal trade in wildlife products effectively, law enforcement must address the entire black market trade chain, from source country to end users," said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC global elephant and rhino programme coordinator.
"Formal institutional links between South African and Vietnamese law enforcement agencies should create effective channels of communication and improve law enforcement in both countries. It is important to note, however, that a meeting like this is only a first step. The real challenge is for participants to demonstrate their commitment in the follow-through once they return to their respective posts."
The Vietnamese visit was hosted by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, with support from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Funding was made possible through the support of WWF-Germany and WWF African Rhino Programme. Last year TRAFFIC facilitated the South African mission to Viet Nam.
Although scientists knew that high extinction rates were predicted to increase under climate change, there was little advice to guide how money could be best spent to minimise extinctions.
Dr Wintle said "The best part about this model is that it can be applied to a range of environments, including many of Australia's native ecosystems, to suggest how to allocate funding. Our analysis supports the existing evidence that climate change will substantially accelerate extinction rates. So the first step is that we urgently need to limit global warming to avoid a mass extinction. Given that we are probably committed to a two degree warming by 2050, we need to develop effective strategies for minimizing the number of species that go extinct as a result.
Effective allocation of funds
"We only have a limited amount of money to spend on managing biodiversity, so the question becomes, how do we most effectively allocate these funds? We needed a systematic approach to guide conservation investment to minimize extinctions and avoid wasting money. An advantage of our approach is that it makes the costs of a plan explicit, reducing the opportunity for politicization of decisions."
The scientists combined ecological predictions with an economic decision framework to prioritize conservation activities, and tested the model on one of world's most biodiverse and highly threatened ecosystems; the South African fynbos.
"An interesting result of our analysis is that the optimal allocation of money depends strongly on the yearly conservation budget. For example if budgets were small then the whole budget would be dedicated to fire-fighting capacity. However, if more money were available, investment would be directed toward avoiding habitat loss due to clearing and weed invasion," Dr Wintle said.
The team included scientists from the University of Melbourne, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, CSIR South Africa, the NERP Environmental Decisions Hub, RMIT University, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, University of NSW, the University of Queensland and a group of European researchers.
The work is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Believed to be just a few weeks old, the baby humpback was seen at Cid Harbour in the famous reef's Whitsunday Islands area by local man Wayne Fewings, who was with his family in a boat when he spotted a whale pod.
To see photo, read on...
In a video taken by University of California, Santa Cruz, biologist Giacomo Bernardi in Palau in 2009, an orange-dotted tuskfish digs a clam out of the sand, carries it over to a rock, and repeatedly drops or bangs the clam against the rock to crush it.
"What the movie shows is very interesting. The animal excavates sand to get the shell out, then swims for a long time to find an appropriate area where it can crack the shell," Bernardi said in a university release Wednesday. "It requires a lot of forward thinking, because there are a number of steps involved. For a fish, it's a pretty big deal."
The video evidence supports previous reports of tool use by fish, all involving a species of wrasse using a rock as an anvil to crush shellfish.
"Wrasses are very inquisitive animals," Bernardi said. "They are all carnivorous, and they are very sensitive to smell and vision."
Tool use was once considered an exclusively human trait but many other animals have been observed using tools, including various primates, several kinds of birds, dolphins and elephants.
Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/09/28/Tool-use-by-marine-fish-caught-on-video/UPI-22091317255853/#ixzz1ZQxkTh8E
September 2011: Wadi Wurayah continues to be a stronghold for wildlife in the United Arab Emirates with the discovery of 55 new species, including a shiny golden bug called Sphenoptera vanharteni, and a long-legged elegant ant: Lepisiota elegantissima, in addition to a tiny gecko: Asaccus gallagheri.
Out of the 55 newly recorded species recently found, 25 are considered new to science species, further highlighting the importance of this protected area. These new species found in Wadi Wurayah are composed of two species of Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, ticks), one species of terrestrial Crustacean (crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles), one species of Entognatha (springtails), and 51 species of insects (bugs, flies, ants, butterflies, etc).
The findings are a result of continued research, collaboration and verification by Emirates Wildlife Society in association with WWF (EWS-WWF), Fujairah Municipality and local authorities.
Tiny geckos feed on insects they catch in the darkChristophe Tourenq, senior conservation manager of EWS-WWF, said: ‘These discoveries highlight the importance of conserving the habitats of the UAE.
The protection of the many unique life forms that reside in our natural environment is interconnected with and interdependent on the protection of these habitats. The sustainability of our lifestyle is also dependent on the health of our natural environment and the resources it provides.'
He added: ‘It is vital that we all do our part towards the conservation of our natural heritage. EWS-WWF calls on all UAE residents to work together and act responsibly to help support the on-going protection of the countries habitats from degradation and loss.'
Another Wadi Wurayah species was discovered by two reptiles and amphibian specialists; researcher Theodore J. Papenfuss from University of Berkley, California, and his assistant, Todd Pierson. They spotted a tiny gecko on the gravel bed of the wadi: the Gallagher's leaf-toed gecko (Asaccus gallagheri). Males of this elegant minuscule gecko of less than 7cm show a beautifully coloured yellow tail and feed on the insects they chase in the dark, thanks to their night-vision. The Gallagher's leaf-toed gecko was first described in Masafi, UAE in 1972 and is only found in the UAE and northern Oman.
In October 2010, Wadi Wurayah officially joined the list of 1,932 wetlands around the world which are of international importance for biodiversity conservation under the Ramsar Convention. Due to its habitat diversity and the presence of permanent water, Wadi Wurayah is considered a stronghold for the wildlife in UAE.
September 2011: Oil and gas platforms could be serving as beneficial habitats for commercially important fish populations such as cod and haddock, a marine ecologist has told the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity being held in Aberdeen.
If adequate knowledge is to be gained from the existing offshore platforms, there may also be potential for man-made structures like offshore platforms and installations for renewable energy to be used as reef habitat, Dr Toyonobu Fujii of the University of Aberdeen's Ocean Lab said.
The researcher has been analysing long-term bottom trawl survey data of fish distributions in relation to the installation history of offshore oil and gas platforms in the North Sea.
Commercially important species gather in numbers‘There are currently no fewer than 500 offshore installations extracting oil and gas primarily from the continental shelf in the North Sea and, since the first installation, more and more researchers have been aware that a variety of commercially important fish species such as cod, haddock and saithe gather in substantial numbers around these artificial structures,' said Dr Fujji.
‘Currently, all the offshore platforms and the safety zones around these platforms, combined, account for only 0.08 per cent of the surface area of the North Sea. However, the proportion of fish abundance estimated to aggregate around these structures was much higher than the surface area alone would suggest.
‘We still don't know exactly why they are gathering there. It could be because there are more feeding opportunities or possibly because they provide places for them to shelter or hide.
Could be used as a nursery or breeding ground‘But if they are using these habitats as nursery or spawning grounds then the implications of the physical presence of these structures could be important since such biological mechanisms strongly drive the future population dynamics of the fish.'
Dr Fujii says more research is needed into the causes and seasonal nature of such phenomena in association with artificial structures. He also wants to explore whether other fish species such as flatfish or pelagic fish such as mackerel show similar trends and are attracted to these sites.
‘Given the magnitude of scales at which fish movement could be influenced by the offshore platforms, such knowledge will be of critical importance for future spatial management of seafloor as well as sustainable fisheries management, perhaps this is even more pertinent now with the expected expansion of offshore renewable energy developments.'
Thursday, 29 September 2011
The Canada goose is the largest goose found in Europe. It was introduced to Britain in the 17th century, then adopted as a game bird on the continent during the last century. In the wild they live 10 to 25 years and are prolific breeders. They are now resident in western Europe and, for reasons that remain obscure, their numbers have started increasing very fast. They are now on a list of 100 invasive species posing a serious threat to biodiversity in Europe.
There were only several hundred Canada geese in France at the end of the 1990s. Now there are more than 5,000 spread over at least 58 départements, with half in the Paris area.
"Unlike other wild geese, the Canada goose is quite happy in the suburbs, in parks, on lakes and in marinas," says ornithologist Philippe Dubois, who is coordinating a national survey of invasive alien species for France's League for the Protection of Birds (LPO). "Their droppings really make a mess on lawns and leisure areas, and in swimming pools." In 2009 the health risk caused by this pollution led to the temporary closure of an outdoor leisure centre at Cergy-Pontoise, north-west of Paris.
If they settle in wilder spots, Canada geese pose other problems. "They have a strong sense of territory and will prevent other waterfowl from moving into quite a large area round their nest, so they may hinder reproduction by ducks, coots and other goose species," Dubois says. He reckons that if the present population dynamic continues, something will have to be done. This would involve a more radical response than the occasional measures taken recently by the National Agency for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS), sterilising eggs and culling birds on the orders of the local government representative.
In response to a government request for plans for a campaign, the ONCFS recommended a culling role for hunters. But Pierre Migot, its head, pointed out that many people don't want the geese to disappear and a goal needs to be set. So it remains to be seen what fate awaits the Canada goose in France.
Frédéric Jiguet, an ornithologist at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, has a compromise. "Maybe they should resume hunting this invasive species," he says. "But in exchange we should take the greylag goose off the game list, at least from August to October." In 2010 there were only 150 pairs left in France.
This article orginally appeared in Le Monde
The world's most endangered sea dolphins are sliding towards extinction in the face of damaging fishing methods, experts are warning.
Hector's dolphins are found only around New Zealand, where the population has fallen from 30,000 to around 7,000 since nylon fishing nets came into use in the 1970s, a conference on marine biodiveristy in Aberdeen will hear on Thursday.
The country's North Island population, a subspecies known as Maui's dolphins, is down to fewer than 100 mammals, according to Dr Barbara Maas, head of endangered species conservation for German environmental group NABU International – Foundation for Nature.
Research by Dr Liz Slooten, from Otago University in New Zealand, suggests commercial fishing gear known as gillnets – which create a wall of netting to catch fish – are drowning 23 Hector's dolphins a year on the east coast of the South Island.
She said the sustainable limit for the area was about one dolphin a year, and at the levels currently seen the population would fall by at least a further 14% by 2050.
Maas, who has worked to protect the species for more than a decade including for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, will warn the conference that gillnets are only part of the problem.
Other fishing methods which had not been included in the calculations are also killing Hector's dolphins, including the recreational use of gillnets, along with pollution, boat strikes and marine mining.
Trawl nets, which are pulled through the water from boats, were likely to kill as many endangered Hector's dolphins as commercial gillnets, bringing the number of deaths due to fisheries to 46 along the east coast, she warns.
"An annual loss of this size will wipe out 62% of the population by 2050. Only a scattering of animals will survive, potentially pushing the population beyond the point of no return."
She said that "absolute protection against commercial and recreational gill-netting and trawling is the only way to prevent their demise".
Dr Maas, who is speaking at the international marine conference organised by the Universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews, is urging the New Zealand government not to bow to industry pressure and to ban the fishing methods in waters up to 100m deep to save the species.
She suggests more selective fishing methods, such as hook and line fishing, or fish traps, which do not catch dolphins, could be used instead.
The class-action lawsuit accuses companies of slaughtering thousands of cows just to decrease supply.
Animal rights group Compassion Over Killing was the first to uncover the alleged systematic slaughter of healthy dairy cows in California. The group turned to Seattle attorney Steve Berman, who filed the suit claiming more than half a million U.S. dairy cows were slaughtered over seven years to artificially reduce the supply of milk and drive up prices.
"The cooperatives got together and instituted what we'll call a killing program; they retired cows," he said. Berman said the milk producers called it "dairy herd retirement", but he insists it was a way to cheat consumers and line their own pockets.
"Using their own numbers, we calculated conservatively that (they) raised the price of milk over a seven-year period by $10 billion," Berman said.
Berman said all milk products - everything from cheese to butter - got more expensive. His firm sued Cooperatives Working Together, its members are dairy companies and trade groups.
CWT, in a written statement, said:
"The program was designed and has always been operated in a manner fully consistent with the anti-trust laws of the United States. The lawsuit filed yesterday in California at the instigation of a west coast animal rights group is without merit. National Milk Producers will vigorously defend its actions and those of its member cooperatives and their producers in this lawsuit and expect that those actions will ultimately be vindicated.”
"You can not get together and agree to stabilize and maintain prices," said Berman. "That is the bedrock principle of our antitrust laws."
Berman says Compassion Over Killing uncovered documents that appear to link the cooperative's herd retirement to milk prices.
"Everyone drinks milk and according to their own documents we believe everyone paid more than they should have," he said.
The cooperative stopped using the dairy herd retirement program at the end of 2010, Berman said.
When asked if that was true, the cooperative referred KOMO News to its written statement and made no other comment on the advice of its legal counsel.
But when these beetles die and become fossilised, how much of that iridescent beauty is preserved?
It is a question that has been puzzling Dr Maria McNamara from Yale University.
Her microscopic study of ancient beetles has shown how any retained colours will be subtly altered. Blues in life will become greens in death, it seems.
It is a fascinating observation because it means scientists can say with greater confidence what a creature really looked like millions of years ago.
And that colour information could be very revealing about the way a particular beetle lived its life.
"These kinds of colours have lots of visual functions," explained Dr McNamara, who is also affiliated with University College Dublin.
"They might function in communication, for example, or in thermo-regulation. And so it's important to be able to reconstruct them properly so that we can say what those organisms were using the colours for in the first place," she told BBC News.
The spectacular colours we see in many beetles are the result of the way light interacts with the very fine layers of material that make up their cuticle, or exoskeleton.
Fabulously small structures in this chitin material will bend and reflect light to enhance particular wavelengths.
Dr McNamara and her colleagues examined the cuticles of a variety of fossil beetles ranging in age from 15 to 47 million years old.
The team used powerful analytical tools such as electron microscopes to determine how the light-controlling properties in these ancient remains had been affected by the process of fossil preservation, in which the atoms and molecules of tissues can be removed or replaced.
What the group found was that the structures were still present but that their chemistry, not unexpectedly, had been changed.
And the consequence of this chemistry alteration was to "redshift" colours to longer wavelengths. A live violet-coloured beetle would look blue when fossilised; a blue one would take on a green hue after being buried in the ground for millions of years, and so on.
"What actually happens is - the refractive index of the cuticle changes," explained Dr McNamara.
"This is a measure of how much the light is bent. This means the chemistry must have changed because the refractive index in a material will depend on what it's made from."
The researcher cautions that the degree of redshifting differed slightly from specimen to specimen, and that the beetles her team studied all came from similar lake sediments. Other types of sediment might show different results, she added.
By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News
September 2011: Chessington World of Adventures is taking part in a national conservation programme to help stem the decline of an endangered spider - by individually hand-rearing 200 baby spiders in test tubes.
The fen raft spider is one of the UK's most endangered species and is found at only three sites in the UK. The 200 babies are being hand-reared by experts at Chessington Zoo in Surrey in readiness for being released next month when they will contribute to new populations being established in the Suffolk Broads.
Each spider has to be hand-fed fruit fliesThe tiny spiders, from the Redgrave and Lopham Fen National Nature Reserve on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, have to be kept apart in individual test tubes so they do not attack each other - and with each having to be individually hand-fed fruit flies every four days, it's a very time consuming operation.
Rob Ward, Reptile Keeper at Chessington Zoo, explained: ‘Having to feed 200 spiders one at a time is certainly a challenge, but it is vital to help see them through the most vulnerable period of their lives before they are released back into the wild, as they will then have a much better chance of surviving.
One spider had 714 babies‘The spiders' mums were collected from the wild in June when they carry their eggs in huge silk sacs held in their mouths. When the babies emerge from the sac - this year one of them had 714 babies - the mother guards them in a big silk tent called a nursery web. In the wild the babies leave the web after about a week to fed for themselves. Our captive mums made their nurseries in five-litre water bottles.
‘After a week we used a "pooter" to collect the spiderlings from the nursery, which involves sucking them up into a tube with a piece of mesh and then dropping them into a container - but now we're seeing them grow and they're actually getting too big for the pooter.'
Fen raft spiders grow to a 10cm leg-span, and are one of just two British spiders fully protected by law. They get their name from their ability - thanks to their hairy legs - to float on water in fens and wetlands.
Project partners for the programme include NE (Natural England), the BBC Wildlife Fund, and the Suffolk and Sussex Wildlife trusts.
September 2011. As part of a David and Lucile Packard Foundation project Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie (SCO) the BirdLife Partner in New Caledonia, undertook operations in 2008 to eradicate invasive Black Rats and Pacific Rat from three important seabird islands in New Caledonia. The latest follow up surveys has confirmed that Table, Double and Tiam'bouène islands are all officially rat-free, and the bird populations are already showing signs of recovery.
Wedge-tailed shearwater, Roseate tern, Fairy tern, Dark-brown honeyeater & Green-backed white-eye
The islands of Table (14 ha), Double ( 6 ha) and Tiam'bouène (17 ha) form part of the Îlots du Nord-Ouest Important Bird Areas (IBA) complex in Northwest New Caledonia. They are globally important for Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus, Roseate Tern, Fairy Tern, Dark-brown Honeyeater and Green-backed White-eye which were being predated by introduced rats.
In September 2008 SCO completed operations to remove rats from the three islands, and the most recent follow up survey in mid-July 2011 has formally declared these operations successful following 24 months of rat-free monitoring.
Bird numbers recovering & new birds breeding
Already bird populations are showing signs of recovery, and [Vulnerable] Fairy Tern nested on the islands for the first time in 2010; Tiam'bouène hosting a colony of 28 active nests. Another very encouraging result is the first ever presence of [Near Threatened] Tahiti Petrel which was found breeding on Table Island in July 2011.
On each island, along with many new bird species being recorded, SCO report that the eco-systems are also showing positive signs of recovery. SCO are grateful for the support received from several individuals and organizations in completing these eradications and in particular thank the Pacific Invasives Initiative, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and BirdLife International for their assistance.
The removal of rats on these islands is therefore an important starting point for the management of IBA islands Northwest. It is also an important action for the conservation of Fairy Tern in New Caledonia with between 70 and 90 pairs now found in the IBA out of a total of 130 pairs in the country.
Next steps are to continue monitoring the biodiversity recovery of the islands, seek the creation of nature reserves to protect the tern colonies from human disturbance, and to expand rat eradication to additional islands included within the IBAs complex.
THOUSANDS of monkeys could be slaughtered on the paradise island of Mauritius as part of a cost-cutting operation ordered by a British-backed supplier to the vivisection industry.
The mass cull is being considered by Noveprim Ltd, which runs macaque breeding farms on the Indian Ocean island off the south-east coast of Africa.
The animals are trapped in the wild and used to breed offspring which are exported to laboratories worldwide.
Noveprim’s directors are said to believe there is a world “overproduction” of the primates and that they need to respond to economic conditions.
The company is 47 per cent owned by Covance UK, a contract research and vivisection organisation based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Covance boss Tony Cork is listed as a director of Noveprim Ltd in Mauritius.
Drug companies believe the macaques are vital for medical research into human diseases. Animal welfare campaigners say vivisection is unnecessary and exporting monkeys thousands of miles in cages is cruel.
Their outrage deepened when they learned of Noveprim’s new plan.
In an interview with Mauritius-based journalist Priya Luckoo, Noveprim director Bruno Julienne confirmed the cull had been discussed. He insisted any cull would be ethical and humane.
It is feared that 400 monkeys a month, including breeding females and young males, would be killed until a target stock is reached early next year.
Mr Julienne said the “ideal solution” would be to release the animals back to the wild once they had been sterilised. But the authorities in Mauritius are believed to consider macaques a pest which damage crops and fauna.
Sarah Kite, director at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection campaign group, said: “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow these highly intelligent and sensitive animals, who have been exploited for years, to be simply discarded.
“We appeal to the people of Mauritius and the UK to oppose this horrific mass slaughter. These animals should be released into the wild to live a life free from pain and suffering.”
A spokesman for Noveprim said: “Noveprim has been exploring options to manage its production level, including the preferred option of establishing a sanctuary. Discussions are ongoing but it may take up to a year before final decisions are made.”
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Nicknamed Thumper by staff at Thameswood Veterinary Clinic who have taken her in, she has had to be housed in its dog kennels because she is so big.
Chris Wood, the clinic’s client care manager, said the four-year-old rabbit is ‘absolutely fine and perfectly fit and healthy’. He added: ‘She has clearly been looked after and well fed. But we have not yet had any contact from anyone looking for her.
‘We are hoping she has just escaped and not been dumped as she has a lovely nature and enjoys cuddles with our nurses.
Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/876702-thumper-the-giant-bunny-taken-into-care-after-shes-found-in-swindon#ixzz1ZFGOJkiG
It was reported that the party see Marko as the ideal alternative to the current mayor Kiril Yordanov, who they feel is not doing a good enough job for the town.
Angel Dyankov, head of the campaign headquarters of the Society for New Bulgaria party, said: 'Unlike the other mayor candidates and politicians, the Donkey has a strong character, doesn’t steal, doesn’t lie, and gets work done.'
That could have been the final chapter of the oryx's story, but the species was of symbolic significance to many in the Arabian peninsula. A few animals, caught as wild numbers dwindled, were brought together with oryxes from royal collections in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Successful breeding programs saw the captive herd grow. In Oman in 1982, the first oryx were reintroduced to their traditional lands.
In June 2011 the International Conservation Union, IUCN, announced that the number of wild oryx had hit the 1,000 mark and that the species was well on the way to recovery. It has been reclassified from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable' - the biggest success ever for an animal that was once classified as 'extinct in the wild'.
"To have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story," said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, director general of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. "One which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species."
Captive breeding programs have had notable successes in many parts of the world. In the US a private captive breeding program brought another large, iconic beast, the American bison (Bison bison), back from the edge of extinction in the late 1800s. Today around 30,000 live in the wild, while another 30,000 are found on commercial ranching operations.
In Australia the helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops), a beautiful yellow and black creature that is the bird emblem of Victoria, dwindled to as few as 50 individuals in 1990. A captive breeding program at the Healesville Sanctuary has seen this bird saved from going over the brink. Although it only numbers 80 even now, the 20 or so birds released each year are keeping this species alive, and volunteers are working around the clock to help this number climb.
By John Pickrell
Last year red-backed shrikes bred for the first time on the moor since 1970. Two pairs have raised seven birds at an undisclosed location this year.
A 24-hour watch was put in place by conservationists to guard the birds against egg collectors and disturbance.
The RSPB said the repeat breeding indicated a possible recolonisation.
Kevin Rylands, RSPB farmland conservation adviser, said: "We are already planning for 2012 to ensure that any nesting attempts next year are fully protected, as well as making sure there is enough suitable habitat for them.
"The success is testament to the effort of more than 30 volunteers and seven partner organisations working together."
The team watched the sites around the clock throughout the breeding season.
Colin Marker, one of the volunteers, said "Having a successful outcome makes all the hours of watching, patrolling and being eaten alive by midges worthwhile."
The species used to be found across southern England in hay meadows, hedges, scrub and heath.
The UK population declined in the 1930s and the shrike was finally lost as a breeding species in the 1990s.
Research being presented at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Aberdeen today will report this global estimate of the impact of the commercial fishing technique.
The technique uses a long line, sometimes up to several miles in length, with thousands of baited hooks on branch lines at regular intervals often to catch swordfish, tuna, and halibut.
David Ross Highland Correspondent
September 2011. In 2009, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) was invited to participate in a programme by the Indian government to reintroduce cheetahs to that country after nearly 60 years of extinction. The plan, headed by Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh, who served as India's first Director of Wildlife Preservation and is now Chairman of the Wild Trust of India (WTI), will reintroduce cheetahs in stages over the next decade, possibly starting in early 2012.
The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
In an advisory capacity, CCF has been working with the WTI and India's authorities to discuss the best strategies for this reintroduction and has conducted field inspections in order to determine the most viable release areas. The Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, a 344,686 square kilometre (133,084 square mile) reserve in central India, has been chosen for the first reintroduction. The sanctuary is home to many species, including wolves, leopards and nilgai --Asia's largest antelope.
CCF has made suggestions about necessary infrastructure changes as well as community involvement and education. CCF advises that local communities be counselled in living harmoniously with wildlife, particularly predators, through training and communications programmes. Sustainable tourism will be encouraged so that jobs and business opportunities for the local people can be created. Conservation biologists from India have attended several of CCF's international courses in Cheetah Conservation Biology, and in Integrated Livestock, Wildlife, and Predator Management. These courses focus on capacity building and mitigating conflict between people and wildlife countries, with a special emphasis on the cheetah. Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh and colleagues have visited CCF in Namibia.
Reintroducing wild-caught cheetah
CCF developed a proven protocol for re-introducing wild-caught cheetahs that allows the animals to perfect their skills in a safe environment before being released. To date, CCF has successfully re-wilded cheetah in two regions in Namibia. Lessons learned from these successes will assist local Indian NGOs with the reintroduction. In addition, CCF will provide an experienced ranger to train local rangers and WTI researchers in cheetah monitoring and behaviour.
The reintroduction has been approved and budgeted by the Government of India. It will return cheetahs to the grasslands ecosystem where they used to thrive. Some parties have voiced their fear that the reintroduction of the cheetah will diminish efforts to save the tiger. There is also concern about the genetic history of Asiatic cheetah. As there are no living Indian cheetahs and, thus, no concern about mixing populations, the Indian programme plans to import cheetahs from Southern Africa. CCF respects the Indian Government's stance on these issues and is providing assistance when appropriate.
CCF is currently gathering information about animals for possible export to India, and pending all import permits necessary to abide by CITES regulations, cheetahs might be roaming in India once again as early as 2012.
Opossum or Possum?
Strictly speaking, possums are natives of Australia, and opossums are native to the Americas - though they are often called possums.
Leucism (or Leukism)
Leucism is a very unusual condition whereby the pigmentation cells in an animal or bird fail to develop properly. This can result in unusual white patches appearing on the animal, or, more rarely, completely white creatures.
See Photo at:
But perhaps not animals that boast not one but two faces:
The creature, who is named Frank and Louie, hails from Massachusetts in the United States. At 12 years of age, it is now officially the world's longest surviving so-called "janus" feline.
Frank and Louie has two mouths, two noses and three eyes, but one brain, meaning its faces react in unison.
The name "Janus cat" was coined by British zoologist Dr. Karl Shuker, based on the two-faced Roman god of transitions, gates and doorways.
The cat's owner, a woman only identified as Marty, lives near Worcester in Massachusetts and has asked to remain anonymous. She was working as a veterinary technician in 1999 when a day-old, two-faced kitten about the size of her thumb was brought into her clinic to be euthanised. She adopted the cat and the pair have lived together ever since.
Frank and Louie's remarkable achievement will be recorded in the 2012 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Rupert Kirkwood, 51, was fishing from the tiny craft a mile off the Devon coast in the Bristol Channel when he hooked a 65lb (29.5kg) tope shark.
The species is harmless but that did not stop the fish turning tail and dragging Mr Kirkwood, a conservationist and vet, along behind it on his small kayak.
He told the Western Morning News he had been sitting on the sea off Ilfracombe in poor weather for four hours without a bite when he felt a "great tug" on the line, which was baited with mackerel.
"These creatures are known to do a run and it is just like Jaws - the line flew off the reel for what seemed like about 10 seconds," he told the paper.
"I tightened up the drag and swung the rod around and it started pulling me along - eventually I reeled it in and carefully lifted it out by its pectoral fin and tail.
"It was thrilling to catch something that big and it knocks spots off anything I have landed before."
Mr Kirkwood, from Holsworthy, Devon, has been fishing using the small kayak for around 10 years. His adventures on the boat have seen him paddle the entire coastline of Cornwall and part of the north Devon coastline. He has also used it to sail from Cornwall across to the Isles of Scilly, a distance of 28 miles (45km).
The tope shark, or school shark, can grow to more than 6ft (1.8m) in length and weigh more than 100lb (45kg). They are found all around the world and generally live further out into the sea but can come in close to the shore. They sometimes live in small schools and are listed as a vulnerable species.
The shark Mr Kirkwood caught was later released unharmed.
The study focused on green turtles nesting on Ascension Island, a UK overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. Scientists from the Universities of Exeter and Groningen found that eggs laid by turtles nesting on a naturally hot beach withstand high temperatures better than eggs from turtles nesting on a cooler beach just a few kilometres away.
The warmer beach has dark sand, whereas the neighbouring beach is two to three degrees Celsius cooler because it has white sand. Green turtles travel from the coast of South America to the tiny island to nest. Most female turtles nest on the beaches where they themselves hatched, so populations can become adapted to specific nesting locations.
The researchers placed some of the eggs laid on each beach into incubators of either 32.5 degrees Celsius or 29 degrees Celsius and monitored their progress. They found that the eggs from the warmer beach were better able to thrive in the hot incubator than those from the cooler beach.
A group from Cornell University, US, identified genetic factors that seem to make some individual frogs immune.
This could improve captive breeding schemes, the team writes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
September 2011. After some sheep were killed near the Belgian town of Gedinne in July, a TV camera crew set up an camera trap to see if, as suspected, a lynx had killed the sheep. Much to their, and everyone elses, surprise, what they caught on camera was not a lynx, but appeared to be a wolf (see below to view the video). To read more about this story and to find out about Animals in Trouble, the TV programme that set up the camera trap, click here.
First wolf in Belgium for 100 years
The last known Belgian wolf was seen in 1898, though there was a recent sighting in the Veluwe National Park in Holland of a lone wolf. This could potentially be the same wolf, or one from the same family. Either way, on the assumption that this wolf/wolves originated in Germany, they would have to have crossed several large motorways and rivers.
Veluwe National Park - Holland
De Hoge Veluwe National Park is the largest actively managed conservation area in private hands in the Netherlands. The Park covers 5,400 hectares of woodland, heathland, peat bogs and drift sand. It enjoys a wide variety of plants and animals and provides habitats to extremely rare Red List species.
Originally the Veluwe was surrounded by a string of swamps, heavily populated with game such as deer and wild boars because these areas offered rich vegetation to feed on. Since the 1990s many plans are underway, or have already been implemented, to restore these wetlands by blocking the drainage systems built by farmers during the last 150 years. This results in very dry heathland changing into wetland within a span of just a few hundred meters.
Parts of the Veluwe that have been separated from each other by roads, towns and farmland are being reconnected by returning farmland to nature and creating wildlife crossings over highways. In 2007, three of these overpasses had been built, each one about 50 meters wide and covered with sand and vegetation to encourage animals to use it. Six more will be built in the next five years. Wildlife corridors connecting the Veluwe to other wildlife areas such as the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands and the Klever Reichswald in Germany are being developed. It is hoped that by doing so the genetic diversity of the wildlife population will increase.
Go to the website of the Veluwe National Park
The very unusual sight of a mound of red star-thistles playing host to brown-banded carder bumblebees was recorded by Plantlife project manager Richard Moyse, on a visit to the chalk grassland site last week .
Red-star thistle is a priority speciesThe red star-thistle has only a couple of sites in Kent, and nationally is regarded as critically endangered. It has been identified as a Priority Species by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). Flowering from July to September, this biennial grows to a height of up to 70cms with reddish-purple flower heads surrounded by sharp spines.
The brown-banded carder bumblebee is one of 24 species of bumblebee found in the UK - a number of which have declined massively as a result of the loss of extensive areas of flower-rich grassland and the intensity of modern farming methods. Many of their favoured food plants have become scarce, and with farmers cultivating right to the edges of fields, places to construct nests have all but disappeared.
This is encouraging and rewarding newsHedgerows, too, as well as being in short supply, are cut back so regularly that they have ceased to be safe nesting sites.
However, the species hangs on in North Kent, where it is associated with coastal grassland and brownfield sites (eg the Trust's Holborough Marshes reserve near Snodland), and, to a lesser extent, it has appeared in chalk grassland such as at Queendown Warren near Hartlip.
Alison Ruyter, Medway & Mid-Kent Downs Area Warden for Kent Wildlife Trust, said: ‘It is so encouraging and rewarding to see that our conservation management programme is producing such tangible results and real wins for wildlife.'
Richard Moyse, project manager for Plantlife's nearby Ranscombe Farm Reserve, added: ‘This is a classic demonstration that protecting wildlife starts with protecting wild plants, and habitats rich in wild plants. Without the wild plants, we wouldn't have the insects, and without insects, we wouldn't have much other wildlife at all.'
Darland Banks nature reserve is managed by Kent Wildife Trust in partnership with the owners Medway Council.
This challenges current theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa.
Dr Patrick Walsh of Edinburgh University said the study revealed "a clear role for experience".
Picture source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ploceus_velatus_1.jpg
The disease, called trichomonosis, is caused by a parasite and was first seen in finches in the UK in 2005.
Press Release-USF&WS 9/26/11
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will conduct an in-depth status review of 374 rare southeastern aquatic, riparian and wetland animal and plant species to determine if any or all of them warrant federal protection as a threatened or endangered species under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Service made this decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, after reviewing a petition seeking to add a total of 404 species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and analyzing information about these species in its files. While this initial review
found evidence to suggest that ESA protection may be warranted for 374 of these species, the Service will now undertake a more thorough status review before determining whether to propose any of them for listing.
The review will encompass 13 amphibians, six amphipods, 17 beetles, three birds, four butterflies, six caddisflies, 81 crayfish, 14 dragonflies, 43 fish, one springfly, two isopods, four mammals, one moth, 35 mussels, six non-vascular plants, 12 reptiles, 43 snails, eight stoneflies, and 75 vascular plants. Included in the review is the Florida sandhill crane, a long-legged, long-necked gray crane that resembles herons except for the bald patch of red skin on top of its head.
"The Endangered Species Act has proved to be a critical safety net for America's imperiled fish, wildlife, and plants. Our finding today is the first step in determining whether these species need the special protection afforded by the Act," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
Eighteen of the 404 species petitioned are already on the Service's list of candidates for listing as threatened or endangered or are subjects of a proposed rule to list. The decision for one fish, the Alabama shad, was given to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) because the species
is under its jurisdiction. The NMFS found that the petition did not present substantial scientific or commercial information to move forward with a 12-month finding for the Alabama shad. The Service has not yet made a finding on the remaining 11 species, but anticipates doing so no later
than September 30, 2011.
Most of the species, such as the caddisflies and crayfish, are found in small areas. However, some like the green floater mussel and the black rail historically ranged over much larger areas and have seen their habitat and numbers significantly reduced. All of these species face one or more of the following threats: the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of their habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and
natural or manmade factors affecting the species' survival.
The status reviews for these species (other than the 18 already on the candidate list), as well as any subsequent listing proposals that may follow, will likely follow completion of a multi-year listing work plan approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on
September 9, 2011. This work plan, developed through a settlement agreement with WildEarth Guardians and a separate, complimentary settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, will enable the agency to systematically, over a period of six years, review and
address the needs of more than 250 species now on the candidate list, to determine if they require ESA protection. A list of these species is available at
Based on the status reviews for these 374 aquatic-dependent species, the Service will issue 12-month findings for each species and determine whether to propose them for listing. At this time, however, the 12-month findings are not scheduled to be completed within the next six years due to the priorities detailed in this court-approved work plan, unless the Service is able to combine these findings with other actions already funded and/or scheduled.
To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting information on the 374 species from governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning the status of the species.
The finding will publish in the Federal Register on September 27, 2011. (I think it was meant to say 2012) Written comments regarding the status of these 374 species may be submitted by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the
instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R4-ES-2011-0049].
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn:
Docket No. [FWS-R4-ES-2011-0049]; Division of Policy and Directives
Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS
2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before November 28, 2011.
The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.
For further information contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, Southeast Regional Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30345.
For more information about this finding, please visit the Service's Southeast regional web site at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/.
Vanessa Kauffman, 703-358-2138, email@example.com
Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, 25 September 2011
New York Times 24 September 2011Midwest Farmers Are on Alert Against Pig Thieves
By MONICA DAVEY
LAFAYETTE, Minn. - Here in pig country, the pigs are vanishing."Hundreds of pigs don't just disappear," said Marc Chadderdon, asheriff's investigator in Nicollet County.This month, 150 pigs - each one weighing more than an average grownman - disappeared from a farm building in Lafayette despite deadboltson its doors.
When he died, villagers in the hamlets began worshiping him as their Patron Saint and developed businesses based on snakes to honor his victory over the sea serpent.
Le Mat villagers learnt how to cook snakes into many delicacy dishes such as baked snakes dipped in pepper and salt dip-sauce, fried snakes with onion and garlic and crispy mince snake meat. Such delicacies of Le Mat village have become so popular that hundreds of foreign and domestic visitors now patronize the village every day.
Today the village is developing its eco-tourism along with its traditional snake business in order to preserve the ancient customs of the village and also present them to the world, said Truong Ba Huan, head of the management committee of Le Mat village.
Despite rapid urbanization, Le Mat villagers preserve their traditional lifestyle by living in ancient Vietnamese style village communal houses, maintain water wells and conserve old banyan trees and their traditional snake business which gives this village its own unique charm.
An isolated population of rare land snail last recorded in Fife 110 years ago has been rediscovered. The plaited door snail (Cochlodina laminata) sighting was received by Fife Nature Records Centre, following a report from a member of the public.
The snail, which has a distinctive corkscrew shell, was last recorded in West Fife near Oakley in 1901. The new discovery near Blairhall is thought to be the only known population in Fife.
Catalonia's lawmakers voted for the ban - the first in Spain - last year after 180,000 people signed a petition. They say the bullfighting is barbaric, but opponents say they will challenge the ban in Spain's top court.
But according to David Macdonald, Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Oxford who has co-authored the report for the last 10 years, hope is not lost.
"If one could roll back and look at what in 2001 we might have expected the picture to be, I think it's amazingly positive," he says.
Prof Macdonald cites the growth of "citizen science" as an enormous boost to mammal monitoring. Public insight into a perceived decline in hedgehog numbers prompted scientific investigation that led to the species' inclusion on the government's Biodiversity Action Plan.
But it says conservation schemes have benefited otters, polecats and water voles and half of the monitored species have stable or rising populations.
Saturday, 24 September 2011
A man who burned to death in his home died as a result of spontaneous combustion, an Irish coroner has ruled.
West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin said it was the first time in 25 years of investigating deaths that he had recorded such a verdict.
Michael Faherty, 76, died at his home in Galway on 22 December 2010.
Deaths attributed by some to "spontaneous combustion" occur when a living human body is burned without an apparent external source of ignition.
Typically police or fire investigators find burned corpses but no burned furniture.
An inquest in Galway on Thursday heard how investigators had been baffled as to the cause of Mr Faherty's death at his home at Clareview Park, Ballybane.
Forensic experts found that a fire in the fireplace of the sitting room where the badly burnt body was found, had not been the cause of the blaze that killed Mr Faherty.
The court was told that no trace of an accelerant had been found and there had been nothing to suggest foul play.
The court heard Mr Faherty had been found lying on his back with his head closest to an open fireplace.
The fire had been confined to the sitting room. The only damage was to the body, which was totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath him.
Dr McLoughlin said he had consulted medical textbooks and carried out other research in an attempt to find an explanation.
He said Professor Bernard Knight, in his book on forensic pathology, had written about spontaneous combustion and noted that such reported cases were almost always near an open fireplace or chimney.
"This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation," he said.'Sharp intake of breath'
Retired professor of pathology Mike Green said he had examined one suspected case in his career.
He said he would not use the term spontaneous combustion, as there had to be some source of ignition, possibly a lit match or cigarette.
"There is a source of ignition somewhere, but because the body is so badly destroyed the source can't be found," he said.
He said the circumstances in the Galway case were very similar to other possible cases.
"This is the picture which is described time and time again," he said.
"Even the most experienced rescue worker or forensic scientist takes a sharp intake of breath (when they come across the scene)."
Mr Green said he doubted explanations centred on divine intervention.
"I think if the heavens were striking in cases of spontaneous combustion then there would be a lot more cases. I go for the practical, the mundane explanation," he said.
The government of the Maldives has complained after the UK's Daily Telegraph website carried a satirical blog post saying the island nation is to be omitted from the Times Atlas of the World.
The supposed omission was said to be due to impending climate change.
The low-lying islands of the Maldives are at risk from rising sea levels.
The spoof blog post was taken seriously by several media outlets in the Maldives. The Telegraph blog post was written by a climate change sceptic, James Delingpole. On Monday, scientists said the new edition of the Times Atlas had exaggerated the scale of ice-cover reduction in another part of the world, Greenland.
Mr Delingpole's blog said the next edition of the famous atlas would continue what he called its "Climate Change alarmism", by completely erasing some very low-lying areas - the Maldives, Tuvalu and "major parts of Bangladesh".
He quoted a fictitious "spokesman" for the atlas as saying that in map-making, "emotional truth" was more important than actual truth.
Some Maldivian websites and newspapers took the satirical blog seriously.
Would you slam on the brakes if a frog hopped in front of your car?
Taxpayers in an upstate New York country are jumping mad about new signs warning drivers of locations where frogs like to hop across the road. They say telling drivers to look out for the limber little amphibians is pointless and spending money on the signs is a waste of money.
"During these economic times, this is just absurd," Sodus Town Supervisor Steve LeRoy told WHAM-TV. "New York State is laying people off and we're trying to find money for water, and construction projects. It's ridiculous."
The signs have recently popped up near Chimney Bluffs State Park, in the Finger Lakes region, after a new state ordinance took effect, according to the Finger Lakes Daily News. State officials could not say if they were there to protect a particular species of frog.
"I just can't imagine anybody stopping their vehicle for a frog," LeRoy said.
It is said that 1 in 5 new relationships now begins online. Amphibian Ark (AArk) asks, Why should people have all the fun? The global not-for-profit has launched a website called FrogMatchMaker.com.Where frogs find their princes (www.frogmatchmaker.com) to facilitate relationships between potential sponsors and start-up amphibian conservation projects in need of resources. Assistance may be in the form of funding, specialized staff or training skills, or in-kind support in the way of equipment and supplies.
Amphibians need help because they are one of the most imperiled groups of living organisms. "For every one species of bird or mammal in trouble, there are two to three amphibian species on the brink of extinction" said Kevin Zippel, AArk Program Director. "The current amphibian extinction crisis is reminiscent of the disappearance of the dinosaurs, making it one of the greatest conservation challenges in the history of humanity."
"This web site currently includes 48 projects in 23 countries on three continents and can be searched by country, region, species, funding amount required, and by project type" said Kevin Johnson, AArk Communications Officer. "You can also browse new projects that have been added in the last 30 days or projects that have been added in the last 60 days. Using FrogMatchMaker.com, donors have been able to easily locate amphibian conservation projects that are a good match with their organizations' missions, and provide appropriate support, to ensure the success of these vital programs."
Amphibians are important because they often play a keystone role in ecosystems, are indicators of environmental health, and they lead to discoveries of new medical compounds, including a substance that blocks the transmission of HIV.
A great example of a program that has benefited from FrogMatchMaker.com is the Lake Titicaca Frog Rescue Program in Peru. Thanks to the support from the Denver Zoo, the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima has established a rescue population of this Critically Endangered Frog. "If it weren't for the matchmaking work of the AArk, we probably would not have known about this project" said Tom Weaver, Area Supervisor of Tropical Discovery at the zoo.
The Amphibian Ark is tracking ~100 rescue programs run by partners around the world. However, it estimates that a total of 900-1000 species require rescue to stave off imminent extinction. FrogMatchMaker.com aims to help those species not currently in rescue programs.
Amphibian Ark was founded in 2006 by the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Its mission is facilitating partnerships that ensure the global survival of amphibians, focusing on those that cannot currently be safeguarded in nature. For more information, please visit www.AmphibianArk.org.
Hidden under layers of grass and vegetation, the dozen turtle nesting boxes lining the Downing Musgrove Causeway to Jekyll Island go unnoticed by most causal observers. But for the endangered terrapin turtles that slip into the wire-lined boxes to hatch eggs, the habitat-enhancing tools are vital for survival.
From May to July, terrapin turtles use the boxes to lay and hatch eggs.
The most recent season for the turtles is a cause of some concern to staff members of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The number of nesting turtles dropped by half, said Terry Norton, executive director of the rehabilitation and conservation center on Jekyll Island.
The lower number is a mystery.
"We don't know if it was a barren year or if the terrapin population has had that significant of a decline," Norton said. "We don't have any exact numbers, but we do know, from observation and counts, that the number of nesting turtles is severely decreased."
Of the 12 nesting boxes on the sides of the causeway, three have been found to be more popular with turtles and are being labeled as hot spots, where the majority of the season's nesting turtles migrated to lay eggs, Norton said.
Raccoons - or at least one raccoon - have been a nuisance to nesting turtles this past season. A box in one of the three hot spots was broken into by a raccoon or raccoons on several occasions, Norton said. Watching the intruder on an camera placed inside the box, Norton was able to see the small night mammal squeeze between the fencing protecting the box and steal eggs.
"This is the first time we've ever had a raccoon get inside a box," he said. "We'll now have to figure out the best way to keep them away." At the sea turtle center, the hatchling numbers were also down by a large percentage. Norton and staff regularly hatch eggs from terrapins struck by cars on the causeway or hurt in the area, but this season, they were far less active than usual.
Only 40 eggs were hatched at the center this year, compared to 110 last year. Norton isn't sure of the cause of the lower number. Norton has noticed another strange trend: More males were hatched than females. He said it's likely because temperatures in the nesting boxes were lower along the causeway than in normal hatching territories. The lower temperatures made for more males, he said.
Norton and staff are conducting a study to figure out which nesting box sites would benefit most from being made warmer in order to decrease the male bias condition developed this year, he said. "Lower temperatures make more males, and we need to find the boxes that would benefit most from being about 86 degrees," Norton said. "We are trying to balance out the male-female ratio to help keep the population healthy."
It had come down to one final decision: drown or be eaten alive.
After a full half-hour of clinging to mangroves, fighting against a crocodile for his life, Todd Bairstow was ready to give up. He had even tried to throw his dog at the growling beast in the hope it would eat that instead - but nothing would loosen its grip.
"I was just about to let go - I couldn't do it anymore," he said. "It felt like my arms were just going to snap off. "I was thinking: right, do I drown myself or get eaten alive?"
The Port Pirie mine worker had been fishing alone on the bank of a Weipa river, in Queensland's north, in March. He was reeling in the line after his first cast when the 3.2m estuarine crocodile launched itself out of the water and latched on to his leg.
Growling like a dog, the croc knocked him over and tried to drag him into the water. Now, five months and 13 operations later, Mr Bairstow, 29, has finally returned home.
"My life flashed before my eyes. I was thinking about not having kids and that," he said. "I thought about how upset Mum and Dad would be - it was just flash, flash, flash."
Mr Bairstow said he had managed to grab hold of a mangrove as the crocodile tried to drag him into the river. While he clung to its branches, the croc tried to death roll him three times while it held his legs in its jaws, dislocating both of his knees. He heard them pop as the croc tried to twist him around.
As minute by minute ticked by, Mr Bairstow yelled desperately for help as he tried to poke it in the eyes and hit it on the head. "If I had a knife I might have been able to get it in the eyes," he said. "But none of it made any difference."
In a desperate last ditch effort, Mr Bairstow even tried to feed his dog - a three-month-old puppy that had been yapping the entire time - to the hungry croc. "I went to throw him over my shoulder to the croc, but he took off and left me by myself," he said.
"It was a lonely place to be."
He was just about to let go and be dragged into the murky water when he heard a woman's voice: "Help's coming, love". "It gave me a second wind," he said. The woman had heard him screaming from a pub about 350m up the creek, and within minutes his mate, Kevin Beven, was on the bank, pulling him from the beast's jaws.
"And then these four Aboriginal fellas arrived, hitting the croc with rocks and sticks until it p---ed off back into the water," Mr Bairstow said. His Port Pirie parents, Luke and Cathy, left town as soon as they heard of the attack on March 9, and flew out of Adelaide the next day.
"I thought, 'If he got attacked by a croc, you don't survive'," Luke Bairstow said. "If he survived, he's got to have horrific injuries, but the main thing was that he was still with us." Luke and Cathy spent two months at their son's Cairns hospital bedside, wanting to stay until he could walk with crutches.
He is finally back in the family home while he does physiotherapy every day and attends specialist appointments once a month in Adelaide. Mr Bairstow had been living away from Port Pirie for eight years, working in mines in the Kimberleys, Northern Territory and Cape York.
He said he may need yet another operation on one of his knees, and spent his days cycling, walking and doing weights as physiotherapy. He said he hoped to be back at his Rio Tinto job in north Queensland at the end of this year.
A San Carlos woman charged with fatally stabbing her boyfriend's pet lizard and later trying to wrestle away a deputy's gun possibly suffered a mental breakdown triggered by years of domestic violence, her attorney said Friday.
Shawna Kim Apour, 37, pleaded not guilty Friday to a felony count of animal cruelty for the slaying of Speedy, her boyfriend's bearded dragon, as well as other charges related to the Aug. 13 incident and the run-in Tuesday with the deputy. "I think this person was put under tremendous emotional and psychological strain," said defense attorney Chuck B. Smith, alleging that she was abused by her boyfriend over a period of "several years." Pointing to his client's otherwise trouble-free record, Smith said he asked a judge Friday to lower Apour's bail from $200,000 to $25,000.
The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office countered with a request to hike her bail by $50,000 to reflect the fact Speedy had died between the time Apour was charged with animal cruelty and Friday's hearing, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. "It is now a more serious case," he said. The judge kept the bail at $200,000, Wagstaffe said. Apour is next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 31.
The events of the case were touched off about 3:40 a.m. Aug. 13 when Apour got up from watching a movie with her boyfriend and retrieved a knife, Wagstaffe said. She then went into a room where her boyfriend keeps his pet lizards and closed the door. When he heard the top of a terrarium open, he asked Apour through the door what she was doing and she replied, "Nothing. Don't worry about it," Wagstaffe said.
After she walked out of the room, the boyfriend saw blood on the inside of the terrarium. Fourteen-year-old Speedy had been stabbed deeply in the shoulder, Wagstaffe said. Apour left the home in the 1000 block of Crestview Drive, the knife still in her hand, and slashed the 1958 show Buick belonging to her boyfriend's brother, Wagstaffe said. She then pierced the tires of two nearby cars and carved "hate crime" into the hood of one, he said.
Sheriff's deputies who arrived at the scene ordered Apour to drop the knife but she waved it at them, Wagstaffe said. They used a Taser to take her into custody. Apour was charged with felony domestic violence, animal cruelty and vandalism, as well as misdemeanors for brandishing a weapon and resisting arrest. She was released on $25,000 bail the same day. A few days later, a railroad employee called authorities to report a woman, Apour, walking on the tracks near the San Carlos Caltrain station. Her mother was also nearby and had called 911.
When sheriff's Deputy Bridget Hensley tried to lead Apour away from the tracks, she went for the deputy's gun and Taser, Wagstaffe said. Hensley held her off until backup arrived to arrest her on suspicion of obstructing and trying to disarm an officer, both felonies, as well as misdemeanor resisting arrest and trespassing.