Thursday 31 December 2009

'Best Job' winner stung by deadly jellyfish

December 30, 2009

Ben Southall - the winner of a competition for the best job in the world - has been stung by a deadly jellyfish.

The 34-year-old Brit was just days away from the end of his six month stint at "caretaker" of Hamilton Island in Queensland when he was stung by a deadly Irukandji jellyfish.

Though tiny (they measure just 2cm) the Irukandji are extremely venomous and stings can often result in people being hospitalised, and are sometimes fatal.

Ben had been on a 'hard-earned break' from his £75,000, six-month job when he was stung while jetsking.

Given that his normal duties include scuba-diving to check on marine life and writing a blog about his experiences we are finding it a bit hard to feel sorry for him.
Speaking of the jellyfish sting Ben said: "I’ve spent nearly six months here in the tropical paradise that is Queensland and so far I thought I’d done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home.

"I was enjoying a post Christmas jetski session with some friends at a quiet beach on Hamilton Island and as I climbed off the back of the ski and onto the beach felt a small bee-like sting on my forearm."

Feeling hot, sweaty, sick and having a headache Ben went to see a doctor who knew instantly what it was and straight away put him on a course of treatment.

" I had a couple of injections which immediately took away the uncomfortable pain I was feeling and I slipped into a comfortable sleep," Ben added.

"I’d had a minor brush with what can be a very serious jellyfish and has led to people being hospitalised for a number of days, my slight knock was enough to tell me that it’s not something to be messed around with and I really should have been wearing a full stinger suit."

Skunk diet

30 December 2009 16:30 PM

A skunk in Britain has lost a quarter of his body weight after going on a diet.

The animal - named Mr. Bumbles - was put on a crash diet after his weight reached almost 15lb, which is twice the recommended weight for a skunk of his size.

Mr. Bumbles was given to the Tropiquaria Zoo in Somerset, South West England after his owners admitted to feeding him two greasy bacon sandwiches a day.

He has now lost 4.5lb after following a strict diet of fruit and enjoying two long walks a day.

Keep pets on leash on New Year's Eve: website

Agence France-Presse 12/31/2009 11:34 AM

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Pet owners should walk their animals on a leash during the New Year's firecracker season to prevent a surge in the number of lost animals, a Bulgarian pet-finding website urged on Wednesday.

The website, which finds homes for stray animals and reunites lost pets with their owners, said it was bracing for the traditional flood of ads for lost and found animals during the holiday.

"It's always the same reason -- animals get stressed out and panicked by the loud noises of traditional fireworks and crackers on New Year's Eve," the website said.

"Walk your pets on a leash only and during the daytime," it advised.

"If you lose your pet, do not leave the place where you last saw it, as chances are it will soon come back."

Pigs close motorway after crash

Agence France-Presse 12/31/2009 9:36 AM

LONDON – A busy motorway was closed for hours on Wednesday after an accident involving a lorry carrying a herd of pigs, posing a risk to motorists, police said.

Some 12 pigs ran around on the carriageway of the M11 motorway north of London following the early-morning crash, involving a truck carrying a load of 82 animals.

The other pigs, each weighing some 20 stones (125 kilos), were trapped in the wreckage, said a spokesman, adding that some of the escaped animals subsequently began grazing on a motorway embankment.

"The southbound carriageway has been closed at Junction 8 and the road is likely to remain shut for around six hours while recovery work and repairs to the central reservation continues," said an Essex Police spokesman.

"The northbound carriageway has also been closed and could remain shut for about two hours because of fears that the pigs could cross from the southbound lane and be a danger to road users."

Dog rescued from duck pond by 17 firemen

A dog who slipped into an frozen duck pond escaped death after a team of 17 firefighters came to his rescue.

Published: 7:30AM GMT 31 Dec 2009

Matt - an eight-year-old Cocker Spaniel - ran across ice and tumbled into freezing waters in Dean Country Park, Kilmarnock.

As the dog struggled to escape, fire crews from Kilmarnock and a water rescue unit from Ayr raced to the scene after the alarm was raised.

Using ladders and specialist equipment, they managed to reach Matt and fish the shivering Spaniel out of the pond.

Matt had been taken for a walk by his owner's neighbours when the drama unfolded.

The firefighters were hailed as heroes by grateful owner Shelia Johnston

"I still can't believe one little dog caused so much fuss and had 17 firemen looking after him. I'm so grateful to all of them," she said.

"Matt came from the SSPCA's rescue centre at Cardonald so it's actually not the first time he's been rescued - but hopefully it will be the last.

"The vets have told me he's going to be fine. They put him under the heat lamp and hair dryer as soon as he arrived at the surgery.

"He had been out for a walk with my neighbours when he ran on to the pond and fell in.

"They were as delighted as me that everything turned out all right in the end."

Stevie Logan, Kilmarnock Fire Brigade's station commander, said: "The dog was in clear distress and had been in the water for some time when we arrived.

"He was trapped in a circle of water with ice surrounding it and couldn't get out.

"The people in this case did exactly the right thing by phoning us, and not attempting to rescue it themselves.

"Too many people have drowned trying to rescue their dogs, and although it is a hard thing to do to stand by and watch the dog struggling, we do have the specialist knowledge and equipment to carry out a rescue."

Photographs capture baby panda as it tries to escape playpen

These pictures show a baby panda trying – and failing – to make a clean getaway from her playpen in the Sichuan Province, China.

Published: 8:14AM GMT 31 Dec 2009

The images of Wen Li and her twin sister Ya Li were taken at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research Institute.

They show Wen Li struggling up the side of her playpen, before losing her balance and toppling over the side. Fortunately the panda cub was caught by one of her handlers before hitting the floor.

Wen Li and Ya Li were born on July 19, 2009. Just two other pandas were born at the institute in the same year, compared to 18 born in 2008.

Researches have argued that mothers at the institute were simply too “exhausted” to have any more babies.

The institute was set up 1987 with six pandas rescued from the wild. Just over two decades later it is home to 83 giant pandas, about a third of the total pandas kept in captivity in China.

They are a source of national pride in China and their dwindling numbers have become a countrywide concern. They are the rarest type of bears and, with fewer than 3,000 still in the wild, are considered to be among the world’s most endangered species.

Lifeguards to get texts from approaching sharks

December 31, 2009 7:52 AM

Australian lifeguards will soon get text messages when Great White sharks swim near the beaches they are patrolling.

Researchers are electronically tagging the man-eating predators with GPS units which will constantly monitor their movements.

If the sharks then get too near to a beach a satellite receiver will automatically send out emails and text messages to wildlife officials and lifeguards.

Currently 74 white sharks have been tagged and there are 20 communications-equipped monitoring stations have been installed off the Perth coast.

Bosses say they hope the network will "provide timely alerts of tagged sharks' presence close to beaches" -- obviously this is unless the lifeguard is busy playing a game on his phone at the time. Australian Department of Fisheries’ Senior Research Scientist Dr Rory McAuley said: "With more monitors installed we have improved chances of hearing from tagged sharks, when they are around.

"Although sharks are being tagged to improve our understanding of the risk of attacks, it is also important that beachgoers are advised of detections."

Will Britons Lap Up Creamy Camel Milk?

11:13am UK, Thursday December 31, 2009

Ashish Joshi, Gulf correspondent

Camel milk could soon be on supermarket shelves in Europe after a Dubai-based dairy applied for an export licence.

Camelicious already sells its products across the Gulf region and now the company has ambitious plans to break the European market.

But it needs to convince EU officials the camel milk meets stringent health and safety tests.

Camelicious lawyer David Wernery says camel milk is far more nutritious than its cow counterpart.

"First of all, the vitamin C content is very much higher in camel milk than in cow's milk, about 4 or 5% more," he said.

"It is low in fat, naturally low in fat, so cow's milk has about 4%, camel milk has almost 2% fat.

"So it is like drinking skimmed cow's milk but it still has the rich texture and full body taste of normal milk."

The idea was first hatched almost 10 years ago by David's father Ulrich, who is Dubai's chief veterinarian.

He had just returned from a conference on camel husbandry in Tajikistan.

This is where he first tasted milk from the humped beast.

Mr Wernery Sr was so taken with the milk that he set about persuading his employer, Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed, to invest in his plan.

"The Bedouins who lived in the desert lived mainly from camel milk and dates," he said.

"Without camels, they would not have survived in the desert.

"The milk was a very good source of protein but it has never been used for commerce.

"When I came back from the conference, I told Sheikh Mohammed that he has wonderful race camels but they also produce milk.

"It is the white gold of the desert and I tried to convince him to open a commercial dairy farm. He was very enthusiastic.

"For two years we tested 16 camels with a camel-milking machine and a stand.

"It was then that Sheikh Mohammed called me and said 'let's start the dairy farm tomorrow'."

That small experiment has grown into a multi-million pound dairy and the specialist hand-selected herd is now over 3,000 strong.

The custom-made machinery and the state-of-the-art milking plant are top secret.

Journalists are not allowed on site because, according to the dairy managers, they "may carry infections that could compromise the camel herd".

But it's more probably because the race is on in the Arab world to farm and harvest one of the few abundantly available resources.

One problem facing potential dairy farmers is that most camels produce insufficient milk to make commercial profit.

One way around that is to invent one that does. Earlier this year scientists in Dubai unveiled Injaz, the world's first cloned camel.

She was created in a laboratory using cells taken from the ear of a slaughtered camel.

Injaz represents hope for the future of the uber camel: one that is stronger, faster and more productive.

One by-product of camel milk that is already available in Europe is chocolate.

Because it is less than 50% animal product, it is not subject to the same rules as the milk.

The chocolate is popular in the Far East and Camelicious claims it struggles to meet growing demand from its local Middle Eastern customers.

General manager Martin Van Almsick reckons once customers get over their initial reservations they are hooked after their first bite.

"What is inside the chocolate fulfils the promise. Everyone who has a chocolate in their mouth is able to tell," he said.

"Camel milk has a slightly salty taste, we tried to preserve that special quality in the chocolate and everybody can tell."

See video at:

Woman hit by falling moose head in bar

31 December 2009

A New York woman is suing a bar - after she suffered concussion when she was hit by a falling moose head.

Raina Kumra says she was minding her own business at the White Slab Palace on the Lower East Side when the stuffed head fell off a wall.

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, her lawyer complained: "The taxidermy moose head weighed approximately 150lbs, with antlers spanning over three feet."

Ms Kumra says it caused her "chronic neck pain, anxiety, fatigue, dizziness and other serious and severe personal injuries," including "embarrassment".

Ms Kumra, an internet design consultant, declined to comment, reports the New York Post.

But the lawsuit says that since the incident, her "overall health, strength and vitality have been greatly impaired."

The suit seeks unspecified money damages from the bar for "failing to ensure that the plaintiff and other patrons of the defendants would not be struck by the loosely affixed... moose head".

The White Slab Palace is also declining to comment.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

The Puerto Rico Primate breeding project controversy continues

Opponents of the Bioculture monkey breeding facility at Pueblito del Carmen in Guayama announced Tuesday that a Superior Court judge has ordered the controversial project to be halted, but an attorney for the firm is denying the claim, contending that he has not been notified.

Emil Rodríguez Escudero, an attorney for Bioculture, said through a spokeswoman, Annie Bird, that neither the company nor its lawyers have been notified of such a court decision. Olga Colón, a Pueblito del Carmen resident who supports the project, said she has received numerous phone calls from area residents saddened by the possibility that Bioculture may have to cease operations.

“If this were true it would be very sad and they are hurting the community because at least 50 individuals will now be left jobless,” said Colón, who noted that the firm has also created more than 100 indirect jobs.

The information that a Guayama judge had paralyzed the project was made by Roberto Brito, a resident of Pueblito del Carmen who has spent more than a year fighting the Bioculture facility, which has also stirred up opposition from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, politicians and actors, including Benicio del Toro.

Brito and other opponents of the facility filed a petition for an injunction in October, contending that Bioculture officials broke the law in their obtaining of permits from government agencies. They said the firm’s operations could hurt the environment and pollute the water. The company is slated to breed Macaque monkeys so they can be used, elsewhere, for scientific experiments.

Bioculture officials, who have denied that they have broken local laws, filed a defamation lawsuit against Brito in November. The reported ruling against Bioculture Tuesday was hailed by Guayama Mayor Glorimarie Jaime, who opposes the project even though the past municipal administration had given it a seal of approval. “We are not interested in having the monkeys in Guayama. If these monkeys are not going to be sold here then what is the interest in raising them here?” she told a television news station.

Colón, a school principal, said that while Brito lives in the community he does not represent the majority, who support the project. She said more than 300 Pueblito del Carmen residents out of 450 endorsed in writing the Bioculture project. “Brito is representing people who do not live in the community and is being supported by PETA. He receives Social Security and does not care about taking away jobs from the people” she charged.

Brito could not immediately be reached for comment.

She said Pueblito del Carmen is a community on the verge of extinction and in dire need of jobs. “We have up to 20 abandoned homes from people who went to the states because they could not get jobs. Our elementary school is on the verge of closing because of low enrollment,” she said. Colón also blasted the mayor for her “failure” to ensure young people in Guayama have jobs. “Jaime opposes Bioculture but has failed to provide alternatives to help her community. I am very saddened by her attitude,” she said. “As far as I am concerned, we will continue to support[Bioculture].”

World's oldest duck died

Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009 'Oldest duck' Edwina dies aged 22. A 22-year-old tea drinking mallard, thought to be one of the oldest
recorded living ducks, has died.

Edwina was rescued by Ian Knight and Christine Christopher two decades
ago after she was almost pecked to death by her family. The couple, from Ringwood, Hampshire, initially called her Edward but changed her name when she started to lay eggs.

Mr Knight said Edwina, who died on Monday, had been buried in their
garden under an ornamental duck as a memorial.


He said that when he first discovered Edwina she was being attacked by her family as she was the "runt of the litter". The family rescued her, but when Mr Knight attempted to release her
back into the wild she followed him home and had lived with the family ever since.

Edwina also became fond of tea and toast, which she would have for breakfast in the family home where she spent time living in the garden and garage. Mr Knight told BBC News the family was "devastated". "She wasn't well over Christmas because of the cold spell we have been
having and her legs became a bit wobbly.

"We were going to take her to the vet after the holidays but we found her inside her little house. It was going to happen eventually but it's like losing one of your family, I have had her since she was only a few days old."

Edwina was buried in the family's garden in a box, with an ornamental duck placed on top of her final resting place as a memorial. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said the oldest known wild mallard in the UK is 20 years and five months. The oldest known wigeon stands at 34 years, the oldest gadwall at 21 and the oldest teal at just over 18 years. But the oldest wild duck on record is a sea-duck called Eider at 35 years and six months.

The birds' ages have been calculated through the BTO's ringing scheme.

MOOSE ATTACK (well sort of)

NEW YORK - A Web designer says she was struck by the decor at a New York City restaurant - when it fell on her head. Raina Kumra says in a negligence lawsuit filed last week that a 150-pound stuffed moose head with 3-foot-wide antlers plummeted off a wall at the Scandinavian-themed White Slab Palace onOct. 4 and hit her. She says she suffered a concussion and other injuries.The owner of the Manhattan restaurant hasn't returned a telephone message left by The Associated Press. Nor has Kumra, who's representing herself inthe case.Kumra filed her lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. She's seeking unspecified damages

'World's best job' man stung by tiny, lethal jellyfish

Page last updated at 05:39 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009
'World's best job' man stung by tiny, lethal jellyfish

The man who landed what was dubbed "the best job in the world" as the caretaker on a tropical island off Australia has been stung by a lethal jellyfish.

Briton Ben Southall, who beat 34,000 applicants to secure the position, was stung during his last week in the job.

The culprit was the peanut-sized Irukandji jellyfish, whose venomous sting can be lethal.

In his blog, which he keeps as part of his job, he describes the incident as "a little sting on the beach".

But it was his progressive symptoms of fever, headache, lower back pain, chest tightness and high blood pressure that led doctors to diagnose the sting.

"I thought I'd done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home," Mr Southall writes in the latest update to his online diary.

Stinger suit

"I've avoided being boxed by a kangaroo, nibbled by a shark and bitten by a spider or a snake - but then in my final few days on Hamilton Island I fell foul of a miniscule little creature known as an Irukandji," his blog continues.

The jellyfish - which struck as he descended from a jet-ski - is virtually invisible to the naked eye and can be deadly - in 2002 two tourists died after being stung.

It is so small it can pass through the nets that protect popular swimming spots in Queensland from larger jellyfish.

But Mr Southall - who has fully recovered after a dose of antibiotics and rest - admitted that he had been inadequately dressed for the excursion.

"It's not something to be messed around with. I really should have been wearing a full stinger suit, as is recommended at all beaches here this time of year," he said.

Mr Southall, 34, a charity fundraiser from Hampshire had to undergo a gruelling selection process to get the A$150,000 ($134,000) role - including swimming, snorkelling and one-to-one interviews.

Leopard cat found for 1st time in decades on Tsushima's lower island

Leopard cat found for 1st time in decades on Tsushima's lower island
Dec 29

NAGASAKI, Dec. 29 (AP) - (Kyodo)—A rare leopard cat has been found for the first time on the lower island of Tsushima, in Nagasaki Prefecture, directly confirming their existence there for the first time in more than two decades, conservation officers said Tuesday.

The highly protected Tsushima leopard cat, one of two species of wildcats found in Japan, was until recently feared to have completely disappeared from Tsushima's lower island, though as many as 150 are thought to still survive on its upper island.

Officers of the Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center said the 1,130- gram juvenile, a male thought to have been born only last spring, was found in a weakened state Monday on the property of a company in Izuhara town by an employee who notified authorities.

Officials of the Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center, established by the Environment Ministry to study the Tsushima leopard cat and assist in recovery of the critically endangered species, were summoned to the scene.

They said the rescued feline, apparently suffering from malnutrition, is currently being nursed back to health at the center.

Leopard cats leave their mother's home range 6 or 7 months after birth, at which time they must struggle to survive on their own.

The Tsushima leopard cat, which is about the same size as a domestic cat but can be distinguished by a white spot on the back of each ear, is thought to have arrived on Tsushima from the Asian continent about 100,000 years ago.

The 696-square-kilometer mountainous territory of some 40,000 people lies in the Korea Strait, only 49.5 kilometers off the Korean Peninsula and 138 km away from Kyushu Island. It separated into two main islands by artificial waterways.

Kamijima, Tsushima's larger and less populated upper island, is home to an estimated 80-110 of the small wildcats, down from an estimated 250-300 in the 1960s, conservation officers said.

But on Shimojima, the lower island, the last confirmed wildcat sighting was in March 2007 when an automatic camera took a photograph of one, confirming their existence there for the first time since 1984 when one was found dead along a road, they said.

Wildlife officer Shinsuke Mizusaki said the leopard cat's numbers have been declining throughout Tsushima mainly due to habitat loss and road kill. Since 1991, 42 of the wildcats have been killed on Kamijima roads, including one earlier this month.

To reverse the decline of the Tsushima leopard cat, which was designated by the Japanese government as a Natural Monument in 1971, it was declared a National Endangered Species in 1994 and a government-funded project was established to protect it.

The project involves field research, habitat restoration, captive breeding and public education about threats to the wildcats which also include diseases carried by domestic cats, illegal snare trapping and feral dogs.

In recent years, the Japanese government has been studying the feasibility of reintroducing wildcats to Shimojima.

The Tsushima leopard cat, which goes by the scientific name Prionailurus bengalensis euptilura, is regarded as an isolated subspecies of the leopard cat, found across Eurasia.

Japan's other wildcat species is the Iriomote cat, or Prionailurus iriomotensis, found on the island of Iriomote in southern Okinawa Prefecture.

Monday 28 December 2009

Britain's biggest bullock weighs 3,682lbs

A colossal bull called The Field Marshall has reaffirmed his title as Britain's biggest bullock.

Published: 9:09AM GMT 25 Dec 2009

The eight-year-old Charolais tipped the scales at 3,682lbs (1,670kg) - a staggering 300lbs more - than he weighed one year ago.

He took part in a charity 'guess the weight' contest, where organisers had to use specialist scales used to weigh lorries to calculate his mass.

The Field Marshall has overtaken the previous record holder, his former stablemate The Colonel, who stood 6ft 5ins tall and weighed 3,500lbs, before his death in 2005.

The record-breaking bullock is the equivalent of a late teenager and is still growing.

Owner Arthur Duckett, 80, who bought the white steer four years ago, said: ''He's in very good health and there's no reason why he won't keep on growing.

''He's only eight and unless something unforeseen happens he will get bigger and bigger. But he's not fat - he's all muscle.

''I could feed him heavier but I don't want to make him look grotesque, I want him to be healthy and put on weight naturally.

''That's why I keep him outdoors in a field and not inside.''

The Field Marshall shares a field on Mr Duckett's farm in Alstone, Somerset, with a 5ft 6in Highland steer and a small Friesian.

He is now heavier than a Mini Cooper car which weighs 2,458lbs, and a BMW 3 series which tips the scales at just 3,053lbs.

Arthur, just 5ft 8ins tall, puts The Field Marshall's incredible size down to his parentage, appetite and the fact that he has been neutered, which boosts his growth.

He eats more than 17lbs of feed every day and enjoys oats, barley, potatoes, fodder beet followed by a portion of hay.

The Field Marshall was weighed at the Fatstock agricultural show at Sedgemoor Auction Centre near North Petherton, Somerset.

Visitors paid £2 to guess his weight and the winner received a tonne of cattle feed or the cash equivalent.

The charity event raised £1,641 for Taunton's Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset.

Arthur said: ''I haven't force-fed him he just has the same food every day. Oats, barley, potatoes, fodder beet and also a portion of hay.

''He's got a very good temperament but he's not really domesticated so you have to treat him with respect.

''He's very strong and he's got a mind of his own but we get along very well.''

Three years ago Arthur and his wife Helen broke records with their 6ft 5in bull The Colonel.

The Simmental Holstein breed who had to be put down in August 2005 at the age of nine because of back problems.

There is no longer an official record for the world's biggest bullock as Guinness World Records does not want to encourage overfeeding.

The previous holder for Britain was a bull in Essex that died in 1830 weighing 4,480lbs.

The last record to be recognised was set by a steer called Old Ben, who died in Kokomo, Indiana, in 1910. He weighed 4,720lbs and stood 6ft 4ins tall.

Lotto vultures resort to bird-brained scheme

Mon Dec 28, 2009

The traditional medicinal practice of smoking dried vulture brains to induce a vision of winning lotto numbers is killing off the bird's population in South Africa, researchers say.

Scelo, a young healer in downturn Johannesburg's market for muti, or traditional medicine, says the birds are becoming more scarce.

"I only have one every three or four months," he said.

"Everybody asks for the brain. You see things that people can't see. For lotto, you dream the numbers."

Rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapours, vulture brains can also help at the horse races, boost an exam performance, or lure more clients to a business, according to believers.

Next to snake skins and ostrich feet, as well as donkey fat to chase away bad spirits, Scelo sells a small bottle with just a speck of ground brains for about 50 rand ($7.50).

The entire bird could go for 2,000 rand ($299).

Another traditional healer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says vulture bones or feathers can also be mixed with herbs to make medicines.

"We make the brain dry and mix it with mud and you smoke it like a cigarette or a stick. Then the vision comes," he said.

He prescribes mainly vulture heads, which he says bring visions of the future, endowing users with the bird's excellent vision that helps them fly out of nowhere to descend on carcasses.

According to experts, it is a belief shared along Africa's east coast, as well as in some west African countries.

A young Zulu named Mthembeni wanted to buy a blend of ground brains and beaks for his dogs, but he turned away, dismayed at the price.

"I put it on their nose. Then they can detect any strange presence from kilometres away," he said.

"It gives security to my family."

Extinction threat

At least 160 vultures are sold each year for muti, according to a study by two wildlife groups.

Researcher Steve McKean estimates that up to 300 vultures are killed by a variety of causes, especially in the eastern province of Kwazulu-Natal, where poaching still goes largely unpunished.

"Traditional use as it is currently happening is likely to render vultures extinct in southern Africa on its own within 20 to 30 years," he said.

"Vultures are protected by law."

Mr McKean said improved public awareness and a better understanding of the trade in the birds was needed.

Seven of the nine species of vulture are considered endangered.

Hunters shoot them, trap them or poison them with a pesticide called Aldicarb, which is deadly to humans, according to the group Ezemvelo Kwazulu-Natal Wildlife.

Scelo says he knows how to avoid the pesticide.

"The meat is blue when it's poisoned," he said.

Aside from hunters, vultures also face the threat of electrocution if they fly into high-voltage lines or drown in farm reservoirs, all the while coupled with a shortage of food and the loss of their habitat.

Safari Visitors Enjoy A Really Wild Night

10:23am UK, Monday December 28, 2009

David Bowden, in South Africa

The days of the traditional African safari may be numbered after one operator turned to battlefield technology to spice up the game-viewing experience.

Bosses at one of South Africa's most famous Game Lodges, Londolozi, have brought in night vision goggles - more often used to hunt the Taliban in Afghanistan - to stay on the trail of wildlife once the sun sets.

The equipment means that, as other guests head back to their lodges for their evening meal, the night vision crew can stay out as the bush comes to life in the dark.

"The whole idea was to try and get closer in with nature," Londolozi owner Dave Varty said.

"With the night glasses you could see what the lions see because their nocturnal vision is so good."

Using a normal spotlight to view the animals in the dark upsets them and stops them acting naturally.

But with the night vision, they return to bush business as usual with no idea they are being watched.

It means that a hippopotamus which spent the heat of the day cooling off underwater ventures out to graze in the open unknowingly spied on by the nightvision crew.

Buffalo which would steer clear of humans in the full glare of daylight brush close-by the darkened vehicle snorting and blowing.

And lions which have spent the day lazing around digesting last night's victim begin to stir and roar as they ponder tonight's killing spree.

"Predators will get active very late in the evening," head ranger Chris Goodman explained.

"And with the night vision you can follow them and view them as they hunt and mark their territory."

It is not quite Dr Doolittle, but there is no doubt being in the bush when it comes alive at night, and being able to see and hear what is happening, does bring a whole new dimension to game viewing.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Obese skunk diets after getting fat on bacon sandwiches

An obese skunk which piled on the pounds because of a love of bacon sandwiches has slimmed down after being put on a strict diet.

24 Dec 2009

Mr Bumble has lost 4.4lb (2kg) on a gruelling weight loss regime involving eating more healthily and taking regular exercise.

The two-year-old skunk was given to Tropiquaria Zoo at Washford Cross, Somerset, in September.

His previous owners could no longer care for him and handed him over to the RSPCA but admitted that they had fed him bacon sandwiches.

Chris Moiser, the park's owner, said Mr Bumble weighed one stone (6.8kg) when he first arrived and needed to lose 5 to 6lb (2.2 to 2.7kg).

He has two half-hour walks each day and a disciplined diet of vegetables and fruit, with the occasional cricket as a treat.

Mr Moiser said the animal needs to lose another 2lbs but was being allowed more animal protein in his diet.

''Mr Bumble is looking much better: we were worried about his health,'' he said.

''He has been on a strict vegetable and fruit diet and we take him out on a lead twice a day, letting him run back to his cage.

''He doesn't sleep as much as he did and seems to be a lot more active and interested in what is going on around him.

''I'm sure he misses the bacon sandwiches.''

Safari Park Seeks New Homes For Hippos

11:50am UK, Wednesday December 23, 2009

Dominic Waghorn, Middle East correspondent

A safari park in Israel is looking for loving homes for hippos this festive season after a baby boom among its residents.

"Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood," goes the song, but the opposite seems to be true at Ramat Gan safari park near Tel Aviv.

An abundance of mud and other factors seem to have warmed the ardour of its hippos to boiling point.

The park has undergone a breeding bonanza and is now coping with a surplus of the huge riverine beasts.

"They are very fertile animals." Safari zoologist Amelia Turkel told Sky News.

"The pregnancy is short for such large animals. It's only eight months. So a female can have one calf every year."

Ms Turkel and colleagues believe the warm Israeli sunshine and the park's watering hole ape conditions in Africa so well that the hippos are as relaxed and amorous as they would be in the wild.

What began as a group of five hippos is now a herd of more than 40.

The hippo baby boom at Ramat Gan has required urgent and extreme remedies.

As with humans, too many hippos in one place causes social problems.

"We were having social issues with them so it was a good thing to try and see if we could find homes for the young males and young females," the zoologist said of the fights that began breaking out between young adults.

"We could see the results of these fights because they would be scarred up the next morning.

"They have these enormous incisors and there are four of them in their mouths. (They are) very wide and very sharp and these teeth can inflict serious damage on other hippos."

The solution has been to ship the surplus hippos to loving homes in zoos worldwide making Ramat Gan the world's biggest exporter of the animals.

It is no easy task. The hippos must be sedated at night as far away as possible from the park's lake to avoid them running into the water and drowning.

The three-and-a-half-ton beasts are then lifted by bulldozer and put in crates. The smaller ones can be flown overseas. Bigger ones go by ship.

Fourteen hippos have been sent to countries as far and wide as Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine.

There is apparently a long waiting list, but with Ramat Gan's enviably high breeding rate, there are plenty more where they came from.

See video and photo gallery at:

Reindeer poo jewellery raises £13,000 for zoo

December 24, 2009

A US zoo has raised $20,884 (£13,000) this Christmas -- by selling jewellery and other gifts made from Reindeer poo.

For several years Miller Park Zoo in Indiana have taken Reindeer poo and dehydrated and sterilised it before painting it with glitter.

The mess is then fashioned into 'gems' and used to make necklaces, earrings, ornaments and Christmas tree decorations which are sold in the gift shop and online.

This year they produced 300 necklaces and more than 2,000 ornaments which have been sold for $7.50 to £10 to people all around the world.

On hearing the Reindeer poo designs had raised so much money this year, one zoo boss said "No sh*t, really?"

A spokesperson for the zoo said: "Miller Park Zoo has designed ornaments and necklaces using actual reindeer droppings.

"If you adorn your tree or wear this necklace on Christmas Eve, it will help Santa and his reindeer find their way to your home."

Snake Handler Often Bitten, Never Shy

9:56am UK, Sunday December 27, 2009

Ian Woods, Sky correspondent in Australia

A snake handler who cheated death after being badly bitten by a venomous snake is now teaching Australians how to survive in similar circumstances.

Neville Burns has been bitten twelve times during his long love-affair with the reptiles, and uses the full range of his experience to give lectures to people at risk of meeting a snake unexpectedly.

Australia is home to most of the world's most deadly snakes. People are wary of walking in long grass, even in built up areas, in case they tread on one.

But utility workers sometimes have to venture into such areas, so Neville teaches them how to handle such close encounters.

He sets up an enclosed area and one by one, brings out four snakes so people can identify their individual characteristics. First out of the bag is a Red Bellied Black Snake.

There's a reason he gives this one due respect, but he can't quite put his finger on it.

That's because the entire forefinger on his right hand was amputated after he was bitten.

"They fought for about six weeks to save it and in the end it had to go," Neville said. "It was either that or the hand. So the finger went."

But that wasn't his worst experience. When he was 18, a Brown Snake he'd been holding by the tail turned and bit him in the face. He was rushed to hospital, and he was given anti-venom.

"They gave me three lots, and each time they gave it to me my heart stopped. They restarted my heart and gave me adrenaline and I was on life support for seven days.

"I was declared clinically dead three times and was paralysed for nine weeks on one side of my body."

Doctors discovered he was allergic to anti-venom, which is a bit of a handicap for a snake handler.

But the availability of anti-venom has dramatically reduced the number of Australians killed by snakes. Although around 3,000 people are bitten every year, only one or two people die.

A Brown Snake is the final guest at Neville's show and tell. It's one of the most common snakes in Australia, and is the second most venomous in the world.

Several times during the demonstration it bites the bag which Neville waves in front of it.

Neville's advice is to stay still if a snake is nearby, as most will only attack if they feel threatened.
He also recommends that you don't pick one up by the tail, but he then does exactly that as part of his demonstration.

He doesn't believe in the old adage "once bitten, twice shy".

See video at:

Reptile breeders say python ban will hurt business

26 Dec 2009

The Bradenton Herald

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's efforts to make it illegal to import and trade nine dangerous snakes, including Burmese pythons, isn't sitting well with those in the reptile industry.

Nelson introduced the bill to target pythons, later adding species of anacondas and boa constrictors the U.S. Geological Survey considers dangerous. The bill's intent, he has said, is to protect U.S. wildlife and natural resources, as well as to address the concern over pet snakes being released in the Everglades.

But reptile breeders and sellers argue that the bill will severely impact their business.

Myakka City resident David Barkasy predicts it will cause his reptile wholesale business to decline. Barkasy's company, Silver City Serpentarium Inc., is a wholesaler of pythons, boa constrictors and other reptiles to distributors, pet shops and breeders.

Barkasy estimates pythons make up 6 percent of sales at Silver City Serpentarium, and boa constrictors make up 4 percent of his company's sales.

"Seeing that we're down 25 percent for the year because of the recession, you add another 6 to 10 percent and that's a lot of money," said Barkasy, who said he averages about $300,000 in annual sales. "Everything in that stock we wouldn't be able to sell. It would either be euthanized or kept until it died of old age."

Susie Perez Quinn, a legislative aide to Nelson, said the cost to the environment outweighs the impact to the reptile industry.

"If you take the impact on the environment and the impact to taxpayers and the millions that will be spent to restore an ecosystem like the Everglades, you can't compare the two," Perez Quinn said.

The bill cleared a Senate panel Dec. 10, setting it up for a full Senate vote.

Nelson wrote the bill after federal park officials raised concern over pet owners releasing the pythons and other species in the Everglades.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Burmese pythons, which can grow to 20 feet long and 200 pounds, have a population in the tens of thousands in South Florida.

"As stewards of our country's vast public lands and natural resources, we have to deal with the threats posed by invasive species," Nelson said in a statement.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida says the bill will help protect endangered species in South Florida.

"All these snakes that are being released in the Everglades are reproducing in the Everglades and they're catching and killing a lot of the endangered species that do live and belong there," said Don Anthony, spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.

Anthony said the bill also will prevent the dangerous snakes from ending up with irresponsible pet owners.

In July, a 2-year-old girl in Sumter County was killed in her crib when an 8-foot Burmese python escaped from its glass container and strangled her. Anthony said the python bill could help prevent such incidents in the future.

"What kind of life is it for a huge snake like that to live in a little glass box?" Anthony said.

"These are wild and exotic animals that belong in their natural habitat."

At Bayshore Pets in Bradenton, the pet shop's reptile handler Mike Smith said the bill will impact out-of-state boa constrictor sales.

"It would negatively impact us," Smith said. "I would be upset about that if that snake is included on the ban. It's a popular exotic snake."

The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers says Bill S373 will "destroy" the reptile industry if it is passed. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., has filed a snake bill similar to Nelson's in the U.S. House, which went through subcommittee hearings Nov. 6.

"It's going to destroy about one-third of the reptile industry, which is about a $3 billion a year industry," said Andrew Wyatt, president of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, a North Carolina-based trade group with about 12,000 members nationwide.

"This bill doesn't even address the issue of Burmese pythons in the Everglades. It's not addressing the issues of feral pythons in the Everglades."

Reptile breeder Michael Cole, owner of Ballroom Pythons South in Central Florida, estimates the bill will cost his business $250,000 a year if it passes. In addition, Cole said he fears the bill will cause more people to release the pythons and other snakes.

"If you can't sell the animals you can produce," Cole said, "then you can't do anything with them."

Information from: The Bradenton Herald ,

(Submitted by Sally Tully-Figueroa)

Saturday 26 December 2009

Successful artificial insemination of Kakapo gives hope to critically endangered bird

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) kakapo recovery team has carried out a world first - the successful artificial insemination of a wild bird population.
Paternity tests confirmed artificial insemination (AI), assisted by international bird reproduction expert Dr Juan Blanco, produced two chicks from two different females this breeding season.

Deidre Vercoe, kakapo recovery manager, said "This is a major break through for the recovery programme. Infertility has been a big problem. Successful AI means we have a tool to improve fertility rates and minimize the loss of genetic diversity within the small but growing kakapo population."

50% of eggs infertile
In 2005 more than 50 per cent of the eggs were infertile with inbreeding thought to be a contributing factor.

"There are several males who dominate the gene pool, now we can collect sperm from other males and improve their odds of producing off-spring," said Ms Vercoe.

While successful AI has been achieved using freshly collected kakapo sperm, the team continues its work towards cryopreservation (Deep freezing) as a management tool. The ability to store sperm longer term gives great hope for the ongoing genetic health of the species.

"We have a population of ‘founder' birds from Stewart Island that are of an unknown age. AI with cryopreserved sperm may give us the ability to include their valuable genetics in the population long after they are gone."

6 female kakapo artificially inseminated

Six female kakapo were artificially inseminated using different sperm storage techniques. Sperm collected and refrigerated for 2-5 hours before insemination was the most successful method, resulting in two female chicks.

33 chicks hatched in breeding season

The kakapo chicks were two of 33 that successfully hatched during the 2009 breeding season which took the kakapo population past the 100-mark for the first time in decades.

The work was carried out under the guidance of Dr Blanco who returned for his fourth year with the kakapo team. He believes the result is a world first for a wild bird population.International bird reproduction expert Dr Juan Blanco's visits to Codfish Island were sponsored by Rio Tinto Alcan as part of the Kakapo Recovery partnership.

Financial support was also received from The McKee Trust who donated $45,000. This enabled staff from Nelson's Cawthron Institute to provide technical assistance with kakapo sperm analysis and cryopreservation trials.

"Juan's time on the island (Codfish Island) has given us a lot of confidence planning for the next breeding season. We now have the ability to work on improving the genetic health of future kakapo," Ms Vercoe said.

Search for wintering Slender-billed Curlews

Skilled volunteer observers will scour more than 35 countries around the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent this winter, in the hope of confirming the continued existence of Critically Endangered Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris. Once abundant around the Mediterranean in winter, Slender-billed Curlew is one of 47 ‘lost’ bird species that may now be globally extinct. The birds have not been seen at their last known wintering site, in Morocco, since 1995. Through BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinction Programme, the British Birdwatching Fair has provided funds to enable international search teams to travel to Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, and to cover the expenses of four national search teams inAlgeria. Swedish BirdLife Partner SOF is funding an international search team to Sudan.

The RSPB/Birdfair Small Research Grants Programme is helping fund searches in Egypt and Iran. Many other searches are self-funded. If a Slender-billed Curlew is located, a rapid-reaction team will be deployed to fit it with a satellite tag in the hope of tracking it to its breeding grounds. The winter surveys will be followed by coordinated spring searches, with autumn searches of potential moult sites if funding can be raised. Birdwatchers are urged to report any possible sightings, new or old. To download the Slender-billed Curlew Identification leaflet click here (PDF 143KB). To download maps showing all Slender-billed Curlew records since 1900 click here (PDF 400KB). For more information visit the Slender-billed Curlew project website.

BirdLife and Audubon's conservation work gets Royal support

“Protecting threatened species is vitally important to developing a different relationship with our planet”, said HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco at a recent event in Washington DC, United States. “Humanity needs to adopt a more humble attitude, aware that it needs other species to survive”.

The event was organised by BirdLife, Audubon (BirdLife in the US) and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and took place at the Washington DC Residence of H.E. Gilles Noghes - the Ambassador of the Principality of Monaco to the US. The evening was also attended by Bernard Fautrier and John B. Kelly – respectively CEO of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and President of the Foundation’s US Chapter.

A major focus of the event was on the ratification of the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) by the US Congress. Last year Ex-President George W. Bush passed the treaty to the US Senate for approval. The Washington event created an opportunity to advance the agenda for the US Senate ratification of the ACAP treaty by the attendance of Dr Jane Lubchenco - Under Secretary of commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator - and Evan Bloom of the US State Department.

The conservation of seabirds, tropical forests and Globally Threatened species represent priority work areas for both BirdLife and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. “BirdLife International is an exceptional environmental protection organisation”, announced HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco. “It provides a campaigning vehicle in which everyone can play a valuable role. This spirit also drives my Foundation which is currently working on over eighty projects across all continents”.

The purpose of The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation’s is to protect the environment and to encourage sustainable development. One of the projects which the Foundation is currently supporting is the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, and HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco is the Species Champion for the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita. “We look forward to a fruitful working relationship which will enable us to implement a range of highly effective initiatives”, added HSH.

During the evening BirdLife’s Chief Executive – Dr Marco Lambertini – illustrated the challenges we face in protecting seabirds, forests, migratory birds and species on the brink of extinction, and outlined exciting recent progress achieved by the BirdLife Partnership.

We’ve worked together to achieve drastic reductions in seabird bycatch through fisheries adoption of our simple, inexpensive and effective mitigation measures”, said Dr Lambertini. “The BirdLife Partnership is also undertaking several groundbreaking projects for the conservation and restoration of tropical forests like the successful pilot for long-term forest restoration in Indonesia, and has recently identified over 2,500 Important Bird Areas across the Americas that are crucial for the conservation of both Globally Threatened and migratory species”.

“Birds know no boundaries, and to protect them we need to follow their lead,” said John Flicker - Audubon president. “Audubon is honored to be the US Partner for BirdLife International, and grateful for the generous support and recognition our combined efforts have received this evening. It will help us to ensure that birds in all hemispheres and around the globe can thrive”.

Audubon is one of the oldest environmental charities in the world. It strives to conserve and restore natural ecosystems for the benefit of wildlife and people, and undertakes activities such as: promoting sound environmental policies; developing an IBA programme throughout the United States; connecting millions of people each year with nature through Audubon nature centres, and; engaging people in monitoring, assessing and protecting bird populations through initiatives such as the Christmas Bird Count.

Friday 25 December 2009

Leucistic Cardinal in Texas
This Cardinal was seen in Hideaway, Texas, in December 2009 by Pat Fengler. Northern Cardinals occur from Mexico and Belize, all the way up through the Eastern Seabord to southern Canada.

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.

Record number of manatee deaths in Florida in 2009

419 Manatees dead so far in 2009 - Boat strikes the major causeDecember 2009. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute documented 419 manatee carcasses in state waters up until Dec. 11. This preliminary data indicates that the total number of manatee deaths for 2009 has surpassed the highest number on record for a calendar year.

12.5% of all Florida manatees died - Boat strike major cause of deathThere are thought to be around 3200 Manatees living in Florida, so this represents some 12.5% of the population - Clearly an unsustainable rate. Records show that, of all those manatees reported dead, 30% of all known deaths were killed by boat strikes, a figure three times greater than natural causes. This figure also means that 4% of the total population was killed by boats.

To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Police 'handcuff' bull

Police in China handcuffed a runaway bull that was causing chaos through city centre streets.

The bull caused traffic chaos in Liuzhou, in southern China's Guangxi province, reports IC Media.

Pedestrians ran for their lives as the bewildered animal charged through shopping areas.

After more than two hours of chasing the terrified animal around the city, police finally managed to catch it.

With the help of passers-by, they managed to restrain the animal - and cuff its front legs to prevent it hurting itself.

"It kept struggling to get away again so we had to cuff it to stop it struggling," said a police spokesman.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Russia plans to send a monkey to Mars

December 23, 2009 1:50 PM

Russian authorities have revealed plans which could see them send monkeys to Mars.

After putting mon­­­keys into orbit in 1983 the Soviets moved on to human astronauts - but now the apes could be making a return.

While space experts say while the aim is to get humans on Mars, the length of the flight and effects of cosmic rays is said to make it impossible to plan for at the moment.

As a result the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy - which supplied apes for the programme in the 1980s - has revealed plans for a monkey Mars mission.

It is likely to start with a ground-based simulation capsule mission for 520 days… and about 1,500 bananas.

Kids' Chef Serves Up Treat For Fussy Lemur

Wednesday December 23, 2009
Neal Walker, Sky News Online

A children's chef has been called in to meet the dietary requirements of a fussy eater at Chessington Zoo.

Baby lemur Smeagol is so picky he had to have a special festive feast whipped up for him by chef Annabel Karmel.

Like the typical "difficult" child, the five-month old lemur refuses to eat his vegetables.

Zoo keepers have tried to tempt the animal with a variety of treats, but so far the youngster has turned his nose up at almost everything on offer.

So Mrs Karmel was drafted in to ensure he eats his Christmas dinner.

"He's quite fussy, like most kids are," she said. "He doesn't like vegetables but he likes fruit. The trouble with him is that he is fickle - one day he likes something and the next day he won't eat it."

Keepers at the zoo in Surrey became concerned after the ring-tailed lemur refused to eat the food put down for him.

"When we made him something fun, he got very excited and went straight for it. He started to pick all the bits off it and then demolished the lot." - Annabel Karmel reveals her trade secrets
It is important he is well nourished because lemurs grow more in their first year than at any other time, and Smeagol has to double in size before he is fully grown.

Mrs Karmel, who cooks for her own pet dogs - a two-year-old golden retriever named Oscar and a one-year-old Samoyed called Hamilton - said the way to entice a fussy eater was to make something which "looked fun".

The mother of three, who has written 20 books on cooking for children, combined a selection of fresh and dried fruits and fashioned them into a reindeer shape for the choosy lemur.

When she presented Smeagol with her creation, he leapt on his festive meal.

"When we made him something fun, he got very excited and went straight for it. He started to pick all the bits off it and then demolished the lot."

The chef's approach means he will get sufficient nourishment to grow into a strong adult.

Mrs Karmel can now concentrate on producing healthy meals for children, rather than animals, at Chessington.

Not again! Giant Swedish Christmas goat statue gets torched

Wed Dec 23, 2009 3:16pm GMT

Arsonists set fire early on Wednesday to a giant straw statue of the Swedish Yule goat, a forerunner to Santa Claus in Sweden, defying security measures for a third year in a row.

Police in Gavle, north of Stockholm, said an unknown number of attackers had torched the goat in the early morning hours, leaving a blackened skeleton standing in the town square.

"It's a tradition to burn it down," Lofberg said. "It's happened an untold number of times since the 1960s ... it's been burnt down more years than it's survived."

Burning the goat has been a popular, and illegal, tradition in Gavle since the 1960s when an advertising executive first came up with the idea to endow the city with a giant replica of the goat, a Christmas decoration common in many Swedish homes.

There were no witnesses, but a bottle of lighter fluid was found near the goat's frame, which stood about 12 metres tall at the apex of its horns, police told Reuters.

"We have some leads," said Stefan Lofberg, who is leading the investigation for the Gavle police.

Police have tried a range of tactics to stop would-be arsonists, including posting guards near the straw goat, coating it with flame retardant and training security cameras on it.

But vandals have usually found a way around the foils and their assaults have become more elaborate: in recent years the goat has been run over, dragged into a river and attacked by arsonists dressed as Santa Claus and the Ginger Bread Man.

Flame retardant coating thwarted attempts to burn the goat in 2006, but the group sponsoring it then stopped flame-proofing it because of the ugly, brownish tinge its straw took on.

Goats have special meaning in Swedish Christmas tradition. Before Santa Claus became ubiquitous at the turn of the 20th century, men would dress up as goats and hand out presents to well-behaved children. Bad children received lumps of coal.

(Reporting by Nick Vinocur; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

See also:

Man jailed for eating rare tiger

Wednesday December 23, 06:46 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - A man who killed and ate what may have been the last wild Indochinese tiger in China was sentenced to 12 years in jail, local media reported on Tuesday.

Kang Wannian, a villager from Mengla, Yunnan Province, met the tiger in February while gathering freshwater clams in a nature reserve near China's border with Laos. He claimed to have killed it in self-defense.

The only known wild Indochinese tiger in China, photographed in 2007 at the same reserve, has not been seen since Kang's meal, the Yunnan-based newspaper Life News reported earlier this month.

The paper quoted the provincial Forestry Bureau as saying there was no evidence the tiger was the last one in China.

A local court sentenced Kang to 10 years for killing a rare animal plus two years for illegal possession of firearms, the local web portal reported. Prosecutors said Kang did not need a gun to gather clams.

Four villagers who helped Kang dismember the tiger and ate its meat were also sentenced from three to four years for "covering up and concealing criminal gains," the report said.

Kang was also fined 480,000 yuan ($70,000).

The Indochinese tiger is on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 left in the forests of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.

Is 'Giant George', the 7ft long Blue Great Dane, the word's biggest dog?

23 December 2009 16:30 PM

A dog in the US is 7ft 3ins-long.

Giant pooch George - who is believed to be the world's tallest dog - is almost 43 inches high from his paw to shoulder and weighs a humungous 245lbs.

The four-year-old blue Great Dane is expected to take the title as the hugest living pup after the previous record holder died last August.

George's owners David and Christine Nasser are currently waiting for confirmation from Guinness World Records.

David said: "He is very, very unique".

At 245lbs, George weighs as much as two adult women.

See also:

I don't eat squirrels: Britney shoots down rumors

RIGHT: A music lover, yesterday.

Agence France-Presse 12/23/2009 3:40 PM

LOS ANGELES – Britney Spears took aim at some of the tabloid stories that have dogged her through 2009, publishing a list of the top 75 articles deemed to be the most ridiculous.

A statement on Spears's official website said more than 13,000 stories had been written about the singer this year -- and many were either "patently absurd or simply offensive."

"We ranked the ones we believe were the most ridiculous," the statement said, trumpeting the website's list of the "top 75 Bulls#!t Britney Spears stories" of 2009.

Among the stories to make the list include a report from a London tabloid citing a new Spears biography which stated that the singer's family used to eat squirrel meat during her "trailer park childhood."

According to the Daily Star, the revelations had sent "sales of squirrel meat soaring" as fans "snapped up squirrel, rabbit and possum meat from butchers and restaurants."

Another item on the list -- weighing in at 57th place -- was Spears' addiction to "flower therapy," a system which uses plant essences to "balance physical and emotional disturbances."

Also on the list was a report from London's Evening Standard claiming that Spears had requested a stripper's pole to be installed at her suite in The Dorchester Hotel to help the singer stay in shape.

"Britney loves pole dancing, it is her new favorite workout," an unidentified source told the newspaper. "She wants to be able to do it in the privacy of her own hotel room."

At number one was a January story from Britain's Daily Mirror revealing that Spears was dating Indian choreographer Sandip Soparrkar and that she had hosted a private New Year's Eve party to introduce him to her friends and parents.

Several of the stories near the top of the list related to Spears's recent troubled tour of Australia, including a November 7 story from the Herald Sun newspaper which revealed fans had walked out of a concert in Perth because of her lip-synching.

Despite quotes from several named fans unhappy at Spears' performance, promoters for the concert insisted that reports of a walkout were inaccurate.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Experts Cry Wolf Over 'Faked' Wildlife Pic

1:18pm UK, Tuesday December 22, 2009
Lewis Dean, Sky News Online

An award winning wildlife photo which scooped the year's most prestigious award and a cheque for £10,000 is being reviewed by judges after claims it was faked.

Spanish artist Jose Luis Rodriguez's image, called Storybook Wolf, is said to have broken rules by using a tame wolf rather than a wild one.

The rules of the competition, which attracted more than 43,000 entries, state that images of captive animals must be declared and that judges will give preference to images taken in "free and wild conditions".

Judges of the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition are investigating claims the wolf pictured is actually one from a zoo near Madrid.

The Natural History Museum, which runs the competition with BBC Wildlife Magazine, said: "We are investigating this thoroughly with the Judging Panel and will report back in the New Year once our investigations are completed."

Mr Rodriguez strongly denies any wrongdoing or breach of the competition rules.

Suspicions were raised when wolf experts said that a wild animal would probably squeeze through the bars of the gate rather than jump over it.

Mr Rodriguez had told judges it took a long time to find the location let alone a wolf that would jump over the gate.

If found to have manufactured the photo Mr Rodriguez would be stripped of the prize.

(Submitted by Steve Puckett)

Baby seal in garden named Rudolph

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A family who found a baby seal in their back garden in Kent 18 miles from the sea named her Rudolph, saying she was a "brilliant Christmas present".

The pup, which the RSPCA said was less than a year old, was in the Dwyer family's garden in Benenden on Monday morning when they let out pet dog Jack.

"We could see it came from the stream at the end of the garden from tracks in the snow," said Harriet Dwyer.

"I heard Jack barking and went over to see what looked like a huge slimy cat."

It is thought the seal got into the stream from the River Rother, which meets the English Channel at Rye.

Storms or floods

"It got in our pond and I think it ate some of my parents' goldfish," said Miss Dwyer.

"Jack is a collie and rounded it up a bit and it eventually settled in the herb garden by the corner of the house."

The RSPCA is now caring for the seal, which has been renamed Gulliver, at Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre near Hastings in East Sussex.

Keeper Elaine Crouch said baby seals often became separated from their mothers in bad weather such as storms or floods.

"This one is a really good weight, and not starving but has been completely lost," she said.

"She has a a tag from Belgium, probably put on by the rehabilitation centre at Ostend, then she got into the River Rother and ended up in the stream."

See video at:

Fossil find reveals whales as suckers

December 23, 2009

A WHALE fossil found near Torquay more than 70 years ago has provided scientists with clues about how the mammals evolved, backing up the theories of naturalist Charles Darwin.

Museum Victoria palaeobiologist Erich Fitzgerald spent five years studying the fossil of a primitive toothed whale known as a Mammalodon colliveri and found, as Darwin had suggested, that some whales evolved as suction feeders.

Dr Fitzgerald said the findings showed that south-east Australia was ''a cradle of evolution'' for a variety of unusual, tiny baleen whales.

A specialist in the evolution of marine mammals, Dr Fitzgerald's research on the 25 million-year-old fossil is published in the latest Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

The Mammalodon colliveri, a relatively small whale at just three metres long, was unique to south-east Australia, with fossils only found in Victoria.

The fossilised skull and lower jaw of the whale, found in 1932 by local collectors, is just 45 centimetres long and has unusual features, including a short, blunt snout.

Large holes in the upper and lower jaws indicate the mammal - a close cousin of the 30-metre-long blue whale, the largest animal to inhabit the planet - had huge blood and nerve supply to the lips and facial muscles.

''This is unusual and no other baleen whale has this … and it tells us that the Mammalodon was feeding in a really unusual way. It suggests that it was a bottom-feeding mud-sucker,'' Dr Fitzgerald said. He said the whale probably used its tongue and snout to suck small prey up from sand and mud on the sea floor.

The fossil goes on public display for the first time at Museum Victoria until March. Since it was found in the 1930s, it was stored at Melbourne University's geology department before being transferred to Museum Victoria in the 1980s.

See video at:

(Submitted by Peter Darben)

Christmas dinners for the animals at Wildwood

As we all rush around trying to find a Christmas Turkey and plan the most important meal of the year, the keepers at Wildwood have been creating their own recipes to give the animals in the park a special treat. Feeding time is like stepping into the kitchen of a London restaurant with stacks of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat being prepared to the highest standards.

Pomegranates, bananas, oranges and clementines are just a few of the healthy options that greet the smaller mammals and birds this Christmas, ‘It gives them something to work on,’ said Christine, one of Wildwood’s keepers, ‘especially the pomegranates where they have to think about how they are going to get at the seeds.’ But there are a few treats in store as well, as the occasional doughnut can be seen inside the Fallow Deer Paddock.

Though Wildwood buys in a much of the food it uses for the animals it also receives donations of out of date food from a supermarket.

‘We are lucky that Sainsburys is very generous to us with their donations of out of date food’ commented Martyn Nicholls, Head of Press and Marketing in the park. ‘In these difficult times they have really made a difference to our animals.’

Wildwood is only closed on Christmas and Boxing day and will be open over the rest of the Christmas holiday so why not walk off your Christmas dinner around the park?

Wildwood's 'Wildlife Conservation Park' is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. 01227 712111,

Christmas food facts

Eating mince pies at Christmas dates back to 16th century Britain, where it is still believed that to eat a mince pie on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas will bring 12 happy months in the year to follow.

At lavish Christmas feasts in the Middle Ages, swans and peacocks were sometimes served for dinner.

A traditional Christmas dinner in early England was the head of a pig prepared with mustard.

The Christmas turkey first appeared on English tables in the 16th century, but didn't immediately replace the traditional fare of goose, beef or boar's head in the rich households.

In Victorian England, turkeys were popular for Christmas dinners. Some of the birds were raised in Norfolk, and taken to market in London. To get them to London, the turkeys were supplied with boots made of sacking or leather. The turkeys were then walked to market. The boots protected their feet from the frozen mud of the road. Boots were not used for geese: instead, their feet were protected with a covering of tar.

During the Christmas season, over 1.76 billion candy canes will be produced. Candy canes started out as straight white sticks of sugar candy used to decorate Christmas trees. A choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral decided have the ends bent to depict a shepherd's crook and he would pass them out to the children to keep them quiet during the services. It wasn't until about the 20th century that candy canes acquired their red stripes and if you turn it upside down, it becomes the letter J symbolizing the first letter in Jesus' name.

In Armenia, the traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of fried fish, lettuce, and spinach. The meal is traditionally eaten after the Christmas Eve service, in commemoration of the supper eaten by Mary on the evening before Christ's birth.

In the Ukraine, they bake a traditional Christmas bread called "kolach". This bread is braided into a ring, and three such rings are placed one on top of the other, with a candle in the centre of the top one. The three rings symbolize the Holy Trinity. They also set the table for Christmas Eve dinner with two tablecloths: one for the ancestors of the family, the other for the living members as in pagan times, ancestors were believed to be benevolent spirits who, when shown respect, brought good fortune.

The Ukrainians also prepare a traditional twelve-course meal at Christmas time. A family's youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Ruff and Ready

Metro Ireland, 22 December 2009, p5.

Man dressed in animal skin shot dead during hunt

A Greek man dressed in animal hide was mistakenly shot dead while out hunting wild boar for a Christmas dinner.

By Paul Anast in Athens
Published: 4:57PM GMT 20 Dec 2009

Police said members of a shooting party made up of families opened fire when Christos Constantinou, 49, moved through the undergrowth.

They are thought to have been confused by the fact the victim was disguised in dark goat skins, which are used to camouflage and to mislead their prey.

The groups had fanned out in pairs of two to track down an animal for the traditional festive dinner when the accident happened.

Police in the northern Greek town of Nemea, Chalkidiki, said Mr Constantinou was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital.

Two unidentified men, aged 25 and 28, were detained and were being questioned.

(Submitted by Kyle Moffat)

Mammoths Hung on Longer? Late-Surviving Megafauna Exposed by Ancient DNA in Frozen Soil

ScienceDaily (Dec. 15, 2009) — Extinct woolly mammoths and ancient American horses may have been grazing the North American steppe for several thousand years longer than previously thought. After plucking ancient DNA from frozen soil in central Alaska, a team of researchers used cutting-edge techniques to uncover "genetic fossils" of both species locked in permafrost samples dated to between 7,600 and 10,500 calendar years.

This new evidence suggests that at least one population of these now-extinct mammals endured longer in the continental interior, challenging the conventional view that these and other large species, or megafauna, disappeared from the Americas about 12,000 years ago.

"We don't know how long it takes to pinch out a species," says Ross MacPhee, Curator of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. "Extinctions often seem dramatic and sudden in fossil records, but our study provides an idea of what an extinction event might look like in real time, with imperiled species surviving in smaller and smaller numbers until eventually disappearing completely."

At the end of the Pleistocene, the geological epoch roughly spanning 12,000 to 2.5 million years ago, many of the world's megafauna, such as giant sloths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, stag-moose, and mammoths, vanish from the geological record. Some large species such as Equus caballus, the species from which the domestic horse derives, became extinct in North America but persisted in small populations elsewhere. Because of the apparent sudden disappearance of many megafaunal species in North America, some scientists have proposed cataclysmic explanations like human overhunting, an extraterrestrial impact, and the introduction of novel infectious diseases. The swiftness of the extinctions, however, is not suggested directly by the fossils themselves but is inferred from radiocarbon dating of bones and teeth discovered on the surface or buried in the ground. Current "macrofossil" evidence places the last-known mammoths and wild horses between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago.

But hard remains of animals are rarely preserved, difficult to find, and laborious to accurately date because of physical degradation. Because of this, MacPhee and co-authors Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia, and Duane Froese of the University of Alberta in Canada decided to tackle the problem by dating the "last survivors" through dirt. Frozen sediments from the far north of Siberia and Canada can preserve small fragments of animal and plant DNA exceptionally well, even in the complete absence of any visible organic remains, such as bone or wood.

"In principle, you can take a pinch of dirt collected under favorable circumstances and uncover an amazing amount of forensic evidence regarding what species were on the landscape at the time," says Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. "The use of ancient DNA offers the possibility of being able to sample previous life within the last 400,000 years, freeing us from having to rely on skeletal and other macrofossil evidence as the only way to collect information about species that are no longer with us."

In order to prospect for genetic fossils, the team collected soil cores from undisturbed Alaskan permafrost. Wind-blown Stevens Village, situated on the bank of the Yukon River, fit the bill perfectly. Here, sediments were sealed in permafrost soon after deposition. Two independent methods (radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence) were used to date plant remains and individual mineral grains found in the same layers as the DNA.

"With these two techniques, we can be confident that the deposits from which the DNA was recovered haven't been contaminated since these lost giants last passed this way," said Roberts, director of the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong. "It's a genetic graveyard, frozen in time."

Cores collected at Stevens Village offer a clear picture of the local Alaskan fauna at the end of the last ice age. The oldest sediments, dated to about 11,000 years ago, contain remnant DNA of Arctic hare, bison, and moose; all three animals were also found in higher, more recent layers, as would be expected. But one core, deposited between 7,600 and 10,500 years ago, confirmed the presence of both mammoth and horse DNA. To make certain that the integrity of this sample had not been compromised by geologic processes (for example, that ancient DNA had not blown into the surface soils), the team did extensive surface sampling in the vicinity of Stevens Village. No DNA evidence of mammoth, horse, or other extinct species was found in modern samples, a result that supports previous studies which have shown that DNA degrades rapidly when exposed to sunlight and various chemical reactions.

"The fact that we scored with only one layer is not surprising," says MacPhee. "When you start going extinct, there will be fewer and fewer feet on the ground, and thus less and less source material for ancient DNA such as feces, shed dermal tissues, and decaying bodies."

The team also developed a statistical model to show that mammoth and horse populations would have dwindled to a few hundred individuals by 8,000 years ago.

"At this point, mammoths and horses were barely holding on. We may actually be working with the DNA of some of the last members of these species in North America," says permafrost expert Froese, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta. "The Yukon Flats includes large shifting river bars with an abundance of high quality forage where large mammals can and could make a living. There may have been a handful of similar sites in Alaska, hosting small remnant populations," says Froese.

"Dirt DNA has lots of exciting potential to contribute to extinction debates in other parts of the world too, as well as a range of archaeological questions," said Willerslev, who also points out that the approach is not restricted to looking back at the past. "We can also use it to make a list of modern species living in any particular location," he said. "This kind of information is really valuable for studies of animals that are hard to detect, and there are some neat forensic applications too."

The new paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to Willerslev, MacPhee, Froese, and Roberts, authors include James Haile, Morten Rasmussen, and Thomas Gilbert of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark; Alberto Reyes, and Simon Robinson of the University of Alberta in Canada; Lee Arnold and Martina Demuro of the University of Wollongong in Australia; Rasmus Nielsen and Kasper Munch of the University of California at Berkeley; Barry Brook, Jeremy Austin, and Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide in Australia; Ian Barnes of the Royal Holloway University of London in the United Kingdom; and Per Moller of Lund University in Sweden. The research was funded by the Danish National Research Foundation, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Alberta Ingenuity Foundation, the Australian Research Council; Discovery Communications, Inc.; the AHRB, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

(Submitted by Terry Colvin)
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