TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgia allows hunting of rare animal species, which could lead to their extinction, environmentalists claim.
The legislative changes will also allow hunting in protected areas.
Hunting and protection of species is regulated by a kind of laws used under the Soviet Union called normative acts and decrees. The law doesn’t directly says one can kill an animal which is on the Red List, but new normative acts now say that authorities may decide what number of animals can be allowed to be killed.
“The decision about allowed amount of harvesting endangered wild animals is made by the Environment Minister based on an individual administrative-legal act,” the law says.
The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources issued a decree which now allows obtaining animals of certain species, including animals that are on the Red List, a list compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, showing the extinction risk of species.
The ministry defines the allowed amount of harvesting certain animals, including ones that are about extinction. Specifically, the following: coypu – 194 animals, rabbits – 615 animals, badger – 168 animals, forest marten – 157 animals, the stone marten – 157 animals, the wolf – 120 animals, jackal – 1453 animals, foxes – 162 animals, wild cat – 77 animals, wild pigs – 189 animals, roe – 417 animals, raccoon – 96 animals, pheasant – 416 animals, partridge – 713 animals, francolin – 50 animals.
Lasha Chkhartishvili, member of the Conservative Party and founder of Greenpeace Supporters Group says that it’s completely unclear why the Energy Ministry should issue such a normative act at all, it should be the competence of the environment ministry.
Georgia’s Ministry of Environment Protection was split up and nearly dissolved one year ago. Responsibility for natural resources was transferred to the Energy Ministry, while the task of overseeing protected areas was handed to the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development. The Environmental Protection Inspectorate was dissolved, and the only remaining responsibility for the Environment Ministry was to monitor air pollution. It was also physically moved and now shares offices with the Energy Ministry in Tbilisi’s Ortachala district.
The hunting season is getting closer and the adopted changes create serious danger to the animals if countermeasures are not taken soon. Greenpeace Supporters Group held a rally on Thursday in front of the parliament building to protest the changes in the legislation that they say will legalize hunting in protected territories and of animal species on the Red List.
Two trail bike riders claim to have discovered what could be the skull of a tasmanian tiger while filming during a ride through bushland.
The skull is being scientifically evaluated this morning.
Brothers Levi and Jarom Triffitt are members of the Tassie Boys, a group of stunt trail bike riders based in central northern Tasmania.
They say they were riding in bushland last week while filming stunts for a promotional video when they came across the skull.
They say it is unlike anything they have ever seen before, and closely resembles the skull of a thylacine.
"Lot's of people think 'dog', but when you actually get on Google and compare it to your normal dogs that are in Tasmania, the closest thing we could find it to was an American timber wolf, which I don't believe we have here," Jarom said.
The last known tasmanian tiger died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
Levi denies the find is a hoax.
"We were just having a regular day - just doing some photography and filming," he said.
The brothers plan to have the skull checked in Launceston this morning.
Soaring global demand for fishmeal primarily for animal feed or fish farms, including salmon, is wrecking havoc on the once abundant fish stocks of the southern Pacific
The fish stocks of the southern Pacific and in particular Peru are being plundered by widespread cheating and overfishing, according to a new investigation.
Peru is the world’s second largest fishing nation after China, with the majority of its catch converted into fishmeal, a feed for farmed fish and pigs. More than a million tons a year exported mostly to Asia, in a trade worth $1.6 billion.
Fight against wildlife crime January 2012. London's specialist wildlife police have been given a financial boost in their efforts to stamp out wildlife crime in the city - the first time a charity has directly funded a Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) unit. Thanks to the intervention from an animal welfare charity, the MPS Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) will be gaining more staff as well as resources to train up the next generation of specialist enforcement officers as its current officers near retirement.
World Society for the Protection of Animals World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA UK) made the unusual move after witnessing a wave of UK-wide austerity cuts and watching Defra Minister Richard Benyon battle to save the National WCU in parliament. The London WCU was finding it increasingly difficult to effectively address wildlife crime in London - more officers and resources were needed, but it was clear that additional centralised funding would have been impossible in the current economic climate.
The charity's funding has safeguarded the future of the unit - allowing the current staff to pass on their extensive and valuable institutional knowledge - as well as allowing the unit to expand to better tackle wildlife crime.
Organised gangs WSPA UK Head of External Affairs Simon Pope explained: "Without the specialist skills and knowledge of the WCU, wildlife crime in London could flourish. This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains. It is a major source of revenue for a global network of hardened criminals, gangs and drug lords; all growing rich from the trafficking of wildlife and none about to have a crisis of conscience and stop what they are doing."
Combined with WSPA's 30-plus years of international animal welfare work, global contacts and expertise, the partnership looks set to create a meaningful legacy.
Sergeant Ian Knox, Head of the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit said: "I am delighted that the World Society for the Protection of Animals has decided to contribute a significant amount of money to the Wildlife Crime Unit. The extra funding will pay for more staff so we can be more proactive in targeting criminals who seek to exploit animals for financial gain.
"We will also be able to provide additional support and training to Wildlife Crime Officers across London which will ensure that the Met has the capability to tackle crimes against animals in the future."
Simon added: "WSPA believes that the knowledge contained in the WCU is an irreplaceable asset to London, national and international enforcement communities. We know that our supporters and Londoners want to see wildlife criminals bought to justice, so it seemed vital now more than ever to safeguard the future of this specialist unit."
The partnership launch marks the first milestone in WSPA UK's new wildlife campaign, which will cover a wide range of issues from wildlife crime and illegal trade, to bear sanctuaries and marine welfare concerns.
A report to be published this week by one of the Prince's charities, theInternational Sustainability Unit (ISU), will say that fisheries around the world could be pulled back from the brink of collapse by tackling wasteful fishing practices.
In a speech at the report's launch, the Prince will warn of "dire" long-term consequences unless action is taken to manage fish stocks more effectively.
He will use the opportunity to encourage governments, retailers and the fishing industry to adopt more sustainable practices, pointing to evidence that it could allow more fish to be taken from the seas rather than fewer.
The move comes on the back of the Prince's campaign save the rainforests, which has been credited with having played a significant role in getting the international community to sign up to initiatives to tackle deforestation.
Campaigners fighting to stop overfishing and end destructive policies such as discards, where fishermen throw dead fish back into the sea to avoid exceeding quotas, have backed the Prince's move.
While the Prince will not mention the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in his speech, environmentalists who blame the policy for encouraging discards have welcomed his decision to speak out on the wider issues.
A Clarence House spokesman said: "The Prince of Wales has been concerned about the marine environment for many years.
"He wants to focus on the fishing industry and how to promote a more sustainable approach to managing the marine environment.
"The work of the Prince's Charities' ISU's Marine Programme is about promoting sustainable approaches towards fisheries to preserve a long-term livelihood for the communities and industries that rely on them, to preserve the fish stocks, and to protect biodiversity and ecosystems in the sea."
Twenty five per cent of the world's fish stocks are now believed to be overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Half of the world's fish stocks are already suffering catches at or close to the limit that allows them to be sustainable.
The report by the ISU will be launched at an event hosted by the Prince at Fishmongers' Hall in London on Friday, attended by 250 industry representatives and officials.
It will argue that the solution lies in readdressing the economics of fishing so governments and the industry recognise the benefits of preserving stocks.
It will highlight research that shows the oceans are capable of providing $50 billion (£31 billion) per year more value than they currently do if managed in an optimal manner.
Tony Juniper, special adviser to the ISU, said: "The automatic preconception that most people have is that sustainability is about taking less.
"What we have found, in fact, is that if fisheries were managed optimally then we could be taking more. The key to it is how you get the economics lined up.
"Then you can deliver value for the consumer, value for conservation and value for the fishing communities themselves to ensure they are rewarded for a hard job under tough conditions."
The report will analyse ways to keep fish stocks healthy while also providing more fish for consumers. It will argue that reducing supply for certain species would raise market prices, allowing fish stocks to recover while giving fishermen the ability to continue making a living.
Fishing a more diverse range of species could also help to reduce pressure, while new technology could be used to reduce by-catch – unwanted fish that are caught up in nets – and return them to the ocean alive.
It will also suggest removing subsidies for building new fishing vessels and fuel, which could help to control the number of fishing vessels operating. Currently the EU provides £2 billion a year in subsidies.
The Prince, who has a long record of environmental campaigning, has previously backed attempts to reform the CFP and has described the issue of by-catch and discards as "immoral".
Campaigners now hope that his international influence will persaude governments, regulating bodies, fishermen, seafood processors and retailers to adopt more sustainable fishing practices.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the chef who led a campaign to change the CFP and is set to begin filming a third instalment of his Hugh's Fish Fight programmes for Channel 4, welcomed the Prince's involvement.
He said: "This is absolutely the right approach. If the world's fish stocks were sustainably fished they could be more productive, not less.
"The Prince's involvement in environmental issues has the ability to rouse political will and business commitment. It is extremely welcome that he is to continue to turn the spotlight on the problems and the solutions."
A spokesman for the Marine Conservation Society said: "We welcome this approach of tackling the economics to incentivise sustainable fishing. It is something that will work and should appeal to governments no matter what their political persuasion."
(Reuters) - Abandoned Israeli army bunkers along the Jordan River are providing a lifeline for bats on the endangered species list, researchers say.
Soldiers left Israel's underground forts along the frontier with Jordan after a 1994 peace treaty between the two countries. With much of the former front line, some of it dotted by mine fields, still designated by the military as off-limits to civilians, bats swooped into the secluded and dark steel caverns.
Several years ago, researchers from Tel Aviv University were granted access to the ghost bunkers. Now, they say, they have identified 12 indigenous bat species in the 100-kilometre- (60 mile)-long tract between the Sea of Galilee in Israel and the Dead Sea's northern edge in the occupied West Bank.
Two of the species commonly known as the Mediterranean horseshoe bat and Geoffroy's bat are on the critical list and three others are designated as endangered.
"There is no doubt that by being in a closed military zone that has prevented human interference, the bat habitat will allow these delicate creatures to thrive," said one of the researchers, Eran Levin.
But he said it was too early to quantify the growth of the local bat population, estimated to be in the thousands, because the research project was not yet complete.
One former bunker -- overlooking the spot along the Jordan River where some Christian faithful believe Jesus was baptized by John -- has been turned into a more accommodating home for the webbed-wing mammals.
January 2012: Wildlife campaigner Louis Ng is no stranger to close encounters with animals in distress. But nothing quite prepared him for the emotional exchange with an adult bear outside a bear farm in Laos.
A film-maker had stumbled upon the farm and contacted Ng, the co-founder and executive director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore.
When Ng visited the farm in November 2009, he was greeted with the sight of a female bear lying motionless in a cage.
The owner explained that she was refusing food and starving herself to death so he had left her outside to meet her inevitable end. Ng crouched near but a safe distance from the cage to watch her.
Bear's eyes were flooded with anguish and gentlenessAfter a few minutes the bear, who was on her tenth day of hunger strike, pushed a limp paw through the cage bars and weakly flexed her claws in Ng's direction. He realised with a start that she was reaching for his hand. And so he gave it to her.
The two ‘held hands' in silence for a few minutes. Ng remembers the bear's eyes being flooded with both anguish and gentleness. She died the next day.
In a world where dignity is sometimes only delivered by death, this bear was the lucky one. She died after three years of living on that farm.
But more than 12,000 other bears will serve up to ten years of their lives in similar farms throughout Asia where they are milked for bile to meet the region's unsatiable demand for its healing properties.
Solitude, pain and fear drive bears mad‘This farm had 29 bears in cages just large enough for them to stand up,' Ng said. ‘All you hear when youS walk inside is the constant banging of heads against those cages.'
Solitude, pain and fear have literally driven the bears mad. Their only outlet is to ram their heads against their tiny prison cells or starve themselves to death.
At this point anything is preferable to the horrific procedure of having their gall bladder drained of bile twice a day.
The medical use of bear bile dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 659 AD. Its only therapeutic component is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) which makes up 15 per cent to 39 per cent of bile in bears compared to five per cent in humans.
Bear bile was traditionally used for gastric bypass surgery and to treat minor ailments such as sore throats, sprains, as well as epilepsy. As the bile was taken from the intact gall bladders of bears killed in the wild, the absence of torture eased consumers' minds.
Often they end up chewing off their own limbsBut the supply was meagre and led to high prices on bear bile medicines. But then, in the 1970s, South Korea invented a method of extracting bile from live bears. It was cruel, excruciating and the golden ticket to a booming trade.
‘The bile is removed from the bear by inserting a catheter tube through a permanent incision in the abdomen and gall bladder,' Ng said. ‘Sometimes a permanently implanted metal tube is used.'
Imagination eliminates the need to describe the pain that comes with this practice. Most bears are too weak or crazed to protest but those that do face a worse punishment.
‘One cub took a swipe at the farmer,' Ng said. ‘The height of its cage was halved so it could only lie on its back. It soon started gnawing on its own paw which is what happens when bears lose their minds. Often they end up chewing their own limbs off.'
A 2010 report by wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, found that while China is the prime origin for bear bile products in Asia, Malaysia is among a string of Asian countries that play the dual role of producer and consumer.
What most concerns Matt Hunt, chief executive of Free The Bears Fund in Australia, about the report is that a significant number of Malaysia's TCM shops were found to be selling wild-sourced bear gall bladders.
‘This means that sun bears in Malaysian forests are being hunted to feed this trade,' he said.
Gall bladders cost as much as a packet of heroinAccording to Ng, the price of a gall bladder costs as much as a packet of heroin in the black market. Consumers fork out about £150 for 127g while one milligram of bile is priced at £12.50. Each extraction from a live bear yields 10 milligram of bile.
Malaysian shopowners and staff interviewed by TRAFFIC Malaysia revealed that a majority of the gall bladders sold were wild-sourced and that they were aware of its illegal status. This ambivalence is bad news for the Asiatic black bears, sun bears and brown bears, the three species who are hunted for their parts.
Ng is now setting up a rescue centre in Laos on a five-hectare site with a 12-room building for volunteers and two enclosures measuring one hectare each to accommodate 29 bears.
Not only will the bears be rescued but they will also be put through a rehabilitation process to help them adapt to a community after being in solitary confinement for so long.
The £320,000 facility is expected to be ready for volunteers by June. It will be a big step forward on a still long road towards saving Asia's bear population.
Jumping spiders use green light to gauge the distance of their jumps, a Japanese study has found.
The findings not only explain how the spiders so reliably hit their targets, they may help to improve computer vision.
Professor Akihisa Terakita, Dr Mitsumasa Koyanagi and Dr Takashi Nagata and colleagues of Osaka City University in Japan report their results this week in the journal Science.
There are thousands of species of jumping spider spread throughout the world, which have a remarkable ability to leap several times their body length on to their prey. The scientists looked at a particular species (Hasarius adansoni) that lives in the fields around the Osaka City University. "We often find them in our houses", says Terakita.
Most jumping spiders have four sets of eyes. The key to their athletic prowess appears to be the main eyes in the centre. In the 1980s, studies showed that the retina of these central eyes are very unusual - having four layers of photoreceptor cells instead of the normal single layer.
The Japanese scientists knew that the spiders were not using 'binocular vision' to measure distance. This is the main technique we use, where each eye gives a slightly different picture of the scene and the brain can then work out how far away things are.
The spiders were also not using 'lens accommodation' - thickening or thinning of their lenses. The spider lens is "in a rigid cuticle and therefore not able to be altered in thickness", says Terakita.
They weren't using 'motion parallax' either. This is used by insects such as the praying mantis, which sways back and forth thus giving itself different pictures of the object.
This left scientists wondering how do spiders measure depth.
Terakita's team examined a mechanism known as 'depth defocus', where the depth (or distance to an object) is determined by measuring the fuzziness of its image.
Their first discovery was that the two deepest layers of the retina only had receptors for green light.
Whether or not an image is focussed depends on two things: the wavelength (or colour) of the light, and distance between the lens and the layer of photoreceptors. Other scientists had already noted that green light would only be sharply in focus in the deepest retinal layer. In the next layer, which is a little closer to the lens, green light would be 'defocused' giving fuzzy images.
So why would the spiders bother collecting a fuzzy image? Terakita thinks that the spiders are in some way measuring the fuzziness of the image in the nearer layer and using that to judge distance by depth defocus.
The culmination of their research was an experiment where four spiders were repeatedly tested for their ability to jump on flies in either red or green light. In the green light they jumped perfectly. In the red light they consistently fell short, jumping only about 90 per cent of the distance to the flies. The value of 90 per cent fitted nicely with theoretical calculations the scientists had done using lens equations.
Professor Marie Herberstein of Macquarie University, who was not part of the research, is an expert in colour and vision in spiders. "Jumping spiders have excellent eyes", she says. "Their entire life revolves around vision, unlike most other spiders which rely on vibration."
"Depth perception is important to these spiders, not just for jumping on prey, but for things like males approaching females (which can be much larger). Cannibalism is rife amongst spiders and when they are hungry, well anything that moves, they just jump on it."
"The real beauty about this paper is the fullness of their explanation", says Herberstein. "I particularly value the fact that they went on to do the behavioural study. High tech is great but in the end you have to test [the hypothesis] on the whole animal."
Terakita's team have looked at just one species of jumping spider, but both he and Herberstein suspect that other jumping spiders are also using depth defocus.
"About ten kinds of jumping spiders have had their retina structure investigated by different research groups", says Terakita. "All of them have a four-layered retina. So we think most jumping spiders have a similar system."
"How to detect depth is one of the ongoing challenges in the field of computer vision", adds Terakita. He thinks there may be much to learn from the spider's system.
A recent biodiversity survey in a remote corner of Tajikistan has yielded surprising results.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) recently teamed up with local and international scientists to conduct a survey of life in the Zorkul nature reserve, near the Afghan border. FFI's team planted camera traps which captured images of five different snow leopardsin one valley, according to a press release.
Wired UK reports that the FFI team, with the help of Panthera, planted 11 cameras around a 5.8 square mile (15 square kilometer) area in August 2011.
The survey's results have prompted a quick response. FFI's Dr. Alex Diment told Wired UK that FFI is training local rangers in the nature reserve "on how to work in the harsh field conditions, and how to combat illegal poaching and other threats."
Their actions are undoubtedly warranted. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists snow leopards (Panthera uncia) as endangered.
FFI reports that habitat loss and poaching have caused at least a 20 percent decline in snow leopard populations in the past 16 years.
Scientific American writes that scientists in Australia have created "embryonic stem-like cells from the tissue of an endangered adult snow leopard." The scientists' (theoretical) goal is to help save endangered big cat species by reproducing them in labs.
Residents in a Kentucky town are saying "Get the flock out of here" to thousands of black birds that fill the sky each night.
At dusk, the birds take flight in La Grange, Ky., and create what some locals describe as a "cloud of birds," according to TV station WAVE. The birds nest down in a wooded area for the night and depart each morning in a huge pack, reports said.
Fine-feathered friends, they're not. Residents complain that they're constantly cleaning up after the avian arrivistes, who started showing up last November in the community northeast of Louisville. Nearly everyone has heard their town compared to Alfred Hitchcock's classic film "The Birds."
To protect themselves from bird poop, some people have begun carrying umbrellas, even on sunny days, CNN reports.
The birds' unexplained presence has allegedly coincided with a surge in respiratory ailments, according to one woman who spoke with WAVE.
While nobody is sure why the birds migrated to La Grange, wildlife experts told CNN that the behavior of flying clockwise in large groups is called murmuration and is common among starlings.
In an effort to scare off the unwelcome newcomers, a married couple blasts a noisy air canon. But the birds keep coming back.
As nearly anyone who has adopted a dog or cat from a shelter can attest, there’s something special about a rescued pet; it’s as if the animal senses he’s been given a second chance at life. That’s certainly the case with Juno, aBelgian Malinois who was rescued from a shelter just days before she was to be euthanized. But since coming to live with her family in Alcoa, Tenn., Juno has taken on the role of rescuer to four-year-old Lucas Hembree.
Lucas suffers from Sanfilippo syndrome, an inherited, metabolic disease caused by the absence or malfunctioning of an enzyme needed to break down long sugar molecules. As the disease progresses, children lose the ability to speak, walk and eat. The disease also causes severe neurological damage that leads to aggressive behavior, hyperactivity and seizures.
“The most catastrophic thing parents hear when they learn their child has this disease is that there’s no cure or treatment available,” says Lucas’ father, Chester.
Unless that changes, Lucas isn’t expected to live past the age of 15 and may be in a vegetative state by the time he is eight. Realizing that every moment is extra precious, Chester and his wife, Jennifer, want their son to experience as much as he can while he still has the capacity to enjoy it.
Prayer and persistence So when the disease started to take a toll on Lucas’ joints, Chester looked into getting a service dog to keep Lucas steady when he walked. “I was told that a service dog would cost at least $15,000, and that Lucas wasn’t a good candidate because of his deteriorating abilities and his behavior,” Chester says. “I refused to accept this answer.”
Dogs have been a loyal companion to mankind for more than 30,000 years, findings reveal.
Scientists believe that two 33,000-year-old skulls unearthed in digs in Siberia and Belgium show dogs were domesticated long before any other animal, such as sheep, cows or goats.
Researchers from the University of Arizona said the skulls had shorter snouts and wider jaws than undomesticated animals such as wolves, which use their longer snouts and narrower jaws to help them hunt.
The researchers think dogs could have been the first species of animals to be domesticated by humans, long before farm animals were bred for their meat and skins. This offers a possible explanation for why breeds such as pugs and huskies look so different, despite being the same species.
The scientists used carbon dating to determine the age of the two skulls, then looked at the bone structures and concluded that claims the dogs had been domesticated were ‘pretty solid’.
Study author Dr Greg Hodgins, whose findings were published in the journal PLoS ONE, said: ‘Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological [structural] characteristics.
‘Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth.
‘The interesting thing is that typically we think of domestication as being cows, sheep and goats, things that produce food through meat or secondary agricultural products such as milk, cheese and wool and things like that.
‘Those are different relationships than humans may have with dogs. The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat.
‘They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt.
‘And it’s really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals.’
In the new Animal Planet reality TV show optimistically titled "Finding Bigfoot," a team of experts examines video of an alleged Sasquatch spotted in the Canadian Rockies. The video, shot by a man named Todd Standing, shows something large and dark, standing atop a wooded ridge and then ducking back behind a bush. It could pretty much be anything, and when the experts concluded that the subject was probably not a Bigfoot, Standing expressed his frustration: "No video is ever going to be evidence, ever. It's never going to be good enough…"
Standing, like many Bigfoot researchers, misses the problem: It's not so much that any Bigfoot video is inherently worthless, it's that his video, like all that have come before it, is of such poor quality that there's no way to know what we're seeing. It could have been anything – a guy in a dark jacket (or gorilla costume), a bear or even Bigfoot. The fatal flaw in Bigfoot photos and videos is the image quality, not the image subject. If Standing, the "Finding Bigfoot" team, or anyone else shot well-lit, clear video of what was obviously a 12-foot-tall, hairy bipedal creature in the woods, that would be compelling.
But even the highest-quality photograph or video can't be considered definitive proof of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or any other mythical beast. Similarly, if the goal is to simply make scientists and the general public take Bigfoot seriously, then some verified remains of the creature – be they hair, teeth, blood, bones or something else – would do the trick. [Infamous 'Yeti Finger' Flunks DNA Test]
But definitive proof is a very high standard. Most Bigfoot enthusiasts — and the general public — would be satisfied with nothing less than the rock-solid definitive proof offered by a living or dead specimen.
This issue brings up a longstanding debate within the Bigfoot community: Would be ethical to shoot and kill a Bigfoot? Some say yes, because that's the only way to prove they exist, and once proof is found, funds could be made available to protect them as an endangered species. Others say no -- that because Bigfoot sightings are so rare, they must have very small populations and killing one might drive the animals to extinction. Shooting a suspected Bigfoot with tranquilizer darts is an option that has gained some steam.
Ethics and the lethal-or-nonlethal debate aside, there's a good reason aiming your gun at a Bigfoot could be a bad idea: It might be illegal. A Texas teen shot what he believed to be a Chupacabra earlier this year, and while charges were not brought against him, if the creature turned out to be someone's dog or a mangy coyote, he could potentially havefaced a felony charge.
The point is, you simply can't know for sure if the mysterious, burly figure you have lined up in your sights is the real beast, or a bear or someone's pet – or, even worse, just a person in a gorilla suit. This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author ofScientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
The cold snap plaguing large areas of the Tar Heel state is causing problems for sea turtles, who have begun washing up on shore in large numbers after being stunned by quickly-dropping water temperatures.
As of Thursday morning, 19 marine reptiles - three loggerheads, 16 green turtles - had been found on regional beaches, mostly in the Cape Lookout area.
Twelve of the green turtles died Wednesday night, but Jean Beasley, director of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Beach, said the rest of the group was showing some signs of life.
"I think within 72 hours we should have a pretty good idea," Beasley said late Wednesday. "It's going to take us a while to warm these turtles up."
Because reptiles, including turtles, can't regulate their own body heat, they're susceptible to sudden, drastic shifts in water temperature.
"If it's a gradual lowering of temperature, they can survive and do pretty well," Beasley said. "But if they've been at 78 degrees and it drops into the lower 60s, they are probably going to stun."
Cold-stunned turtles appear extremely lethargic and in some cases will stop moving entirely as more of their blood supply diverts to the core of their bodies, a condition Beasley said is a relatively common occurrence in North Carolina during the winter months.
"Last year, we had up over 150, and we had quite a few that died," she said. "The longer they're exposed to the severe cold, the bigger impact it's going to have on their basic systems, their core body and their vital organs, so the sooner we can get them the greater chance they have."
To recover from a cold stun, sea turtles must be warmed gradually. Raising their core temperature too quickly can result in a reverse shock, which can kill them, Beasley said. And though the extreme cold weather has passed, turtles may continue to wash up on shore in the coming days.
"We'll still have the hangers-on. Those that are under the docks will be showing up on shore, but hopefully we're not going to have another major event," Beasley said.
If you find a cold-stunned turtle on the beach or in shallow water, call the Topsail Beach facility at (910) 470-2800 or (910) 470-2880, or the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network at (252) 241-7367.
If the turtle is small enough to be moved, Beasley recommends placing it in a garage or carport and covering it with a towel.
"Just keep them out of the weather, but do not start warming them up," she said. "As soon as those numbers are called, we'll have somebody out to get the turtles."
At the end of the month the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board will vote on new rules for taking turtles out of the wild. On Thursday the DNR held a public hearing in Macon.
Right now there are no limits on the number of freshwater turtles trappers and farmers can catch or breed. In 2010 lawmakers passed legislation requiring the DNR to come up with rules on commercial turtles.
David Hem's been a turtle farmer in North Georgia for 20 years. He takes mature snapping turtles from the wild and harvests their eggs on his farm.
"Most of it's going to China, the baby turtles. So, all I do, I don't sell the meat or anything. I have my own turtles, my own ponds. I dig eggs every season and sell the babies after I hatch them and they get shipped. Probably 99 percent of them go to China."
New rules would require reporting harvest numbers and species. That would limit Hem's take to 300 snapping turtles a year. DNR officials say the Chinese are buying American turtles for food and medicine after decimating their own wild populations.
Controversy over the sale of "frog-o-sphere" kits has reached Windsor, with an online petition to get one store to stop carrying them gaining almost 400 signatures in one day.
"I was floored when I saw they were selling these frog-o-spheres, especially at a place called Green Earth, which I thought was more of an eco-friendly, green place to shop," said Dan MacDonald, a longtime animal rights activist who started the petition against the Devonshire Mall store on Thursday. "A tiny frog in a plastic case, that's the least green thing I can think of. They might as well start selling fur coats and deer heads."
The kits, which contain one or more African dwarf frogs, gravel containing micro-organisms and sometimes snails and plants in a small cube-shaped aquarium, have been targeted by animal rights activists before. On its website, PETA calls them "cruel and terribly unnatural cubes" and claims the frogs are often neglected by untrained staff at the stores and warehouses where they're kept before being sold.
Christine, a manager at Green Earth who declined to give her last name, said she wouldn't comment on the petition.
However, she said staff receive training and know to only use dechlorinated water, handle the frogs while wearing gloves and feed them two food pellets per frog twice a week.
Christine said Green Earth has been selling the frogs since the spring and is currently sold out. She was unable to say how many kits the store has sold, but estimated five per cent of customers contact the store to ask for a replacement frog because theirs died shortly after purchase.
"From what we were told, they're very happy in the smaller aquariums because in the wild, they're at risk from predators, so they're constantly hiding. So they feel safer in that smaller container," she said.
Two experts contacted by The Star said the small aquarium was suitable for the frogs, at least until they're sold. David M. Green, a conservationist and amphibian expert at McGill University, said the frogs should be transferred to a tank holding between 75 and 190 litres of water to live long-term.
"You can keep them in there temporarily. Not for their entire lives, no, that's miserable. But they're fine for a few weeks. They live in puddles. They live in muck. They live in mud wallows," he said, adding the water should be kept at room temperature or warmed with a tropical fish heater.
Another expert said he didn't want his name used because he was worried about repercussions from extreme animal rights activists, who have targeted his colleagues in the past. He forwarded an email from his university's administration warning about extremists who made threatening phone calls, firebombed residences and cut the brakes of vehicles belonging to researchers and professors.
He said concerns about the size of the tank are the result of people projecting human concerns onto animals. "Sure, I would like a lot of space to run around, a clean habitat. But I am a human, not a frog," he wrote in an email.
Some postings on animal rights sites say the small tank is to blame for restless, aggressive frogs, but the expert said the source of the problem is more likely something counterintuitive - keeping the tank too clean.
"Probably the cruellest thing about the picture on the website is how clean the water is," he wrote. "Species from this family of frogs are adapted to hiding and feeding on the bottom in murky water."
Regardless of whether the tank environment is suitable, MacDonald said a big part of the problem is how the kits are marketed as toys and gifts, not pets. He said shoppers were tapping on the glass and asking if the frogs were real when he visited the store.
"A lot of people buy these on impulse, because they're very, very cute," he said. "But it is an ecosystem. If that's disturbed, it sets the whole thing off and the frog dies a really terrible death."