Saturday, 31 October 2009

Guards hired to protect hedgehogs

30 October 2009

Security guards armed with torches and chicken wire are keeping 24-hour watch to stop hedgehogs hiding in a bonfire at one of the country's largest fireworks displays.

The initiative at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern, Worcestershire, is part of a campaign to raise awareness of the danger bonfires pose to hedgehogs.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) has teamed up with cleaning company Spontex, whose mascot is Ernie Hedgehog, to promote the campaign.

Clifford Soper, from Spontex, is one of the guards hired to keep watch.

"A bonfire looks like a five-star hotel to a hedgehog searching for the perfect place to hibernate," he said.

"Most people don't think about checking a bonfire, or better still rebuilding it, before lighting which can result in the death of all sorts of unsuspecting wildlife asleep inside.

"The Three Counties bonfire has followed BHPS advice and encircled its bonfire with one-metre high chicken wire."

The Halloween bonfire and fireworks display will take place at the showground on Saturday night.

Elephant kills TV expedition guide

30 October 2009

The expedition guide for a BBC children's programme tracing the footsteps of explorer David Livingstone in Africa was killed when he was charged by an elephant in Tanzania, the Corporation said.

Anton Turner, 38, was assisting with the filming of an episode of the CBBC series Serious Explorers, a spokeswoman said.

"We understand at this stage that he was charged by an elephant and was mortally injured," she added.

A doctor was travelling with the expedition and treated Mr Turner, a British citizen, at the scene, but it was understood he died shortly after the incident, the spokeswoman said.

She continued: "Three children were with the filming party at the time of the accident and are all safe. Their safety remains a priority, and all the children have been airlifted from the area. We are also consulting their parents and production of the programme has ceased.

"Four other children who were also in Tanzania in connection with the programme will also return home.

"Anton's relatives have been informed and the BBC is arranging for them to fly to Africa as soon as possible. We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Anton's family and friends.

"Anton was an extremely experienced expedition safari and wildlife ranger and former Army officer who had worked with the BBC in the past.

"As is usual with a serious accident an immediate and thorough BBC investigation into the circumstances of this incident has already begun."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We can confirm the death of a British national in Tanzania... Next of kin are aware, and we are providing consular assistance."

Friday, 30 October 2009

Radley silversmith sets off woodland hunts up and down the country - in aid of dormouse

Thursday 22nd October 2009

By Herald Reporter

A SILVERSMITH has been recruited by a national charity to cast 21 hazelnuts — in a bid to save the English dormouse.

John Huddlestone, 57, of St James Road, Radley, took up silver work at a night class at Abingdon and Witney College in 1978.

More than 30 years on, he teaches the craft and has been recruited by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to cast prizes for a new campaign.

Mr Huddlestone has created one gold-plated nut — worth £100 — and 20 silver nuts — worth £75 each — which will be hidden in woodlands around England and Wales as rewards for volunteers who help record the presence of dormice by looking for half-chewed nuts on the forest floor.

The PTES hopes to recruit thousands of volunteers to scour the countryside and the nut hunters will be able to keep any of the prized hazelnuts they find.

Unlike squirrels, which eat hazelnuts haphazardly, dormice nibble a circular hole in the hazelnut’s shell to get to the kernel. The dormice then discard the empty shell, complete with a distinctive tooth mark.

Experts believe that if volunteers can record how many gnawed shells they find, it will give them a better knowledge of how many dormice, pictured below, survive in the wild.

During the last dormouse survey in 2001, one expert examined 50,000 chewed shells to determine which were created by dormice.

Records in Oxfordshire are out of date. Monitoring at the last known habitat in Oxfordshire ended in 2006 because all traces of the dormice, which are just seven centimetres long, disappeared.

Mr Huddlestone, who works as a scientist at AEA Technology at Harwell, cast the precious nuts by pouring silver and gold into a clay mould formed from real hazelnuts.

He said: “The appeal is making something beautiful with my own hallmark. The things that I make will be around for many, many years.

“It was an odd commission, but I had already cast walnuts and nectarine stones.

“I just like doing different things and this style of casting. I do a whole range of things from silver belt buckles to delicate earrings.”

Nut hunters have until March next year to find the nuts, and can register by visiting the website

This is how to catch fish

Click images to enlarge.
Metro Ireland, 30 October 2009, p3.

Parrot can go by bus

Metro Ireland, 30 October 2009, p3.

Chinese Fruit Bats Demonstrate Unusual Sexual Behavior Never Before Seen in Adult Animals

RIGHT: Greater short-nosed fruit bat feeding on kapok, photo: Wikipedia.

by Matthew McDermott,
New York, NY on 10.28.09
Science & Technology (science)

New research published in the online journal PLoS ONE demonstrates for the first time that a non-human adult animal species regularly engages in oral sex behavior. While the behavior has been seen in juvenile animals before, this is the first time it has been observed in adult animals. Warning: While the following information is scientifically accurate, some of the descriptions are slightly graphic.

Prepare to enter the fascinating world of fruit bat fellatio. Though it has been observed previously in bonobos (both heterosexually and homosexually), this behavior generally has been confined to juvenile animals, the authors of the new study note.

Activity May Increase Copulation Time

The field research, which was conducted in Guangzhou City, China, reveals that in the case of the greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx) female species-on-male species oral sex now has been documented as a regular occurrence. Scientists observed that in instances where oral sex was performed, copulation time increased.

Benefits of Longer Copulation

As to why this behavior occurs, the paper's authors propose several adaptive hypotheses that merit further study:
  1. The activity may increase lubrication and thus prolong copulation, in turn assisting transport the transport of sperm or stimulating secretions in the female bat's pituitary gland, thereby increasing the likelihood of fertilization.

  2. Prolonged copulation may be a form of "mate-guarding" -- that is, claiming a single a partner and protecting that partner against sexual activity with other bats.

  3. The activity may help prevent sexually transmitted diseases, as saliva has "a protective repertoire that goes beyond antibacterial activity to include antifungal, antichlamydial, and antiviral properties as well," according to the report.

  4. The activity may "facilitate the detection and identification of MHC-dependent chemical cues associated with mate choice," say the scientists.
Read the whole paper: Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time (Warning: Contains some graphic descriptions.)

(Submitted by Joe McNally)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Forget Batman, robins are the superheroes

Thursday October 29,2009
By John Ingham

THE friendly, unassuming robin has a secret identity – as a super-hero.

TV’s Batman may have got all the kudos for being more intelligent than mere mortals, but it seems robins have incredible super-powers.

Scientists believe our favourite little bird has an extraordinary brain.

At night this brain helps it “see” the Earth’s magnetic field.

The information, relayed to a specialised light-processing region in the skull called “cluster N”, helps robins navigate on migration flights using its internal magnetic compass.

Experts cannot agree on what form it takes. One idea is that tiny magnets in the beak wired to the nervous system detect lines of magnetic force.

Another is that the robin “sees” magnetic fields with its eyes using a complex light-sensitive mechanism.

German scientists studied 36 European robins and found birds with damage to “cluster N” were unable to orientate themselves using the Earth’s magnetic field.

If damage occurred to another nerve channel necessary for a beak sensory system, it had had no effect. The researchers, led by Dr Henrik Mouritsen from the University of Oldenburg, published their findings in Nature.

He said: “The present study...specifically suggest that cluster N of European robins is an essential part of a circuit-processing, light-dependent magnetic compass information for night-time orientation.

“The exact role of cluster N within this circuit has not been determined but the present results raise the distinct possibility that this part of the visual system enables birds to ‘see’ magnetic compass information.”

Other types of magnetic sensor may exist in birds, too. There was strong evidence pigeons used these upper-beak “magnetosensors”.

The world's longest study of a predator-prey relationship

Trouble in nature's laboratory

The world's longest study of a predator-prey relationship has brought disturbing news. Should man intervene when nature makes it a struggle to survive?

By Tom Meersman, Star Tribune
October 28, 2009

PICTURED ABOVE: An adult moose weighs 700 to 1,000 pounds and munches 30 to 40 pounds of vegetation each day. This cow moose looked up while eating its noonday meal in a shallow pond on Isle Royale. Its calf was nearby. By Brian Peterson, Star Tribune.


Rolf Peterson held up his arm for silence and pointed through the thick brush.

A hundred yards off the trail, a female moose sporting a shiny new mahogany winter coat was knee-deep in muck, munching on plants. She raised her head nonchalantly, then flicked up her ears and froze as she spotted observers. After a long minute, she plodded up toward firmer ground. A calf popped out of the brush and trotted after her.

Research happens up close in the world's longest continuous study of predators and prey at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. Peterson has been watching and counting moose and wolves in this wilderness off Minnesota's North Shore for nearly 40 of the study's 51 years, in summer by foot and in winter by air.

Now that continuity is at a breaking point. The island's moose population is nearing a 50-year low, and what's bad for the moose is worse for the wolves that depend on them. Peterson can see the day when the wolves die out on Isle Royale, and scientists must confront far-reaching questions: Should we intervene to help the wolves survive, or let them die out and start again? What role should humans play to preserve an ecosystem?

Disrupting the extraordinary research has ramifications far beyond the wolves on Isle Royale.

Through the years, the study has provided unprecedented information about how long wolves live in the wild, and how much prey they kill. For wildlife managers around the world who want to reintroduce wolves into an ecosystem, as they have in the Yellowstone National Park area, the answers emerging from the Isle Royale research have been crucial to their efforts.

Big decisions will have to be made. "The risks for wolves seem to be pretty large and growing," Peterson said.

Outhouse and otters

Peterson and his wife, Candy, live and work out of a one-room log cabin built by Jack Bangsund, a Norwegian bachelor fisherman in 1931, the year Isle Royale became a national park. A Norwegian flag flutters outside the cabin in his honor. Under the cabin's slanting floor, otters have hollowed out space to sleep and squabble. Loons call from the waters of Rock Harbor just beyond the rickety dock.

The lifestyle marries the pioneer with the 21st century. There's no running water, and the outhouse is in the back. A sleek, vertical Finnish wind generator and a pair of solar panels power a couple of light bulbs -- and the computers hooked via satellite dish to the Internet.

Under a ceiling papered with moose posters, family photos and island maps, Peterson has based his summer field work since 1970 when he joined the wolf-moose study as a 21-year-old graduate student.

Now 60, Peterson has retired from a teaching career at Michigan Technological University, but has no plans to give up this study, the love of his life. Trim and fit, he backpacks and bushwhacks through alder and hazelnut bushes with the energy of someone half his age. He climbs a spindly ladder to the roof of an old fire lookout tower, grasping a portable antenna to check signals from radio-collared wolves. It's an iconic scene of a field scientist in a goofy sunhat leaning into the wind, listening for beeps and watching a meter with experienced blue eyes.

Science without a rival

Isle Royale is an ideal outdoor laboratory. About 22 miles off the shore of northeastern Minnesota, its remote location makes it difficult to reach even in summer, when most visitors arrive by boat. Its terrain is a rugged mix of parallel valleys and rocky ridges, as if a giant claw scraped across its surface, as a glacier did 8,000 years ago. With no roads, no hunting and almost no human presence, it's a magnet for scientists to study plants and wildlife.

The moose-wolf study began in 1958. Durward Allen of Purdue University spent a decade learning how the two species seemed to be in balance, with each growing or declining at approximately the same rates. But that neat balance soon got messy, and the populations spiked and plunged over the decades with changes in snow depth, vegetation, diseases, parasites, higher summer temperatures and shorter winters.

By studying how much wolves prey on moose, said John Vucetich, research co-leader with Peterson, scientists can help answer a longstanding question of interest to sportsmen. "When we live with wolves, wherever it may be, we have to be concerned about the fact that they eat animals that humans also like to hunt" such as elk and deer, Vucetich said.

"In terms of the value of that study to science, nothing else rivals it," said Mark Romanski, biologist and acting chief scientist at Isle Royale National Park.

The park service contributes about $36,000 annually to Peterson's research, the National Science Foundation funds $90,000, and individuals and a small endowment provide about $25,000.

Collapse of a pack

Peterson's field station, while visually idyllic, doesn't always smell so good. Part of his research is to collect the carcasses of wolves and the skulls and other body parts of moose. A hand-made sign in front of bones collected in 2009 explains why studying the bones is important: "When they get old, moose exhibit arthritis, periodontal disease, osteoporosis. Sound familiar?"

Wolf skeletons became especially significant after a Swedish researcher discovered three years ago that Isle Royale wolves have a spinal deformity that's a sign of inbreeding, Peterson said. The park service is planning a scientific review.

One day last month Peterson cooked the carcass of a female wolf that died trying to give birth to eight pups last spring. He wore protective gloves and glasses as he lifted the skull from a boiling cauldron. He plunked the grisly mess on a picnic table, wrinkled his face at the odor, and tried to pull muscles, tendons and tongue away from the skull.

"Not done enough yet," he said, returning it to the cooker.

The death of this one female meant the collapse of an entire pack -- one of four on the island. The pack had lost several members in recent years, and by early 2009 contained only one male and one female. Her death and that of her unborn pups were the pack's last hope for regeneration.

Wolves have struggled to survive since the 1980s, when a domestic dog brought illegally to the island spread canine parvovirus. Their numbers dropped from a peak of 50 to 14 in two years, and have never fully recovered.

The current populations of about 24 wolves and 530 moose are close to what they were 50 winters ago, Peterson said, but each is at risk.

The wolves have lost more than half of their genetic variability compared with wolves on the mainland, he said. Moose are being stressed by higher summer temperatures that cause them to eat less, produce less fat for winter survival and die of starvation, Vucetich said.

Moose are also plagued by life-threatening ticks that have multiplied in the rising temperatures.

"Climate change is certainly an additional pressure, and it's the big one," Peterson said.

Night howls and spirits

So far the Park Service tradition has been not to intervene. "Our policy is basically to let nature take its course," Romanski said.

But the prospect of the wolves' extinction is forcing a new look at that policy. "It's not just a science-based decision," Romanski said. "It's a blend of science and stewardship and conservation that will have to be addressed."

For Michael Nelson, associate professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University: "It's a moral question of should we genetically rescue this population or not, and how should we interact with these wolves." He is writing a history of the wolf-moose study.

Scientific value cuts both ways, Nelson said. There is value in making sure that the wolves do not disappear so that the study can continue. But there would also be value in letting the wolves die out and studying how their absence affects moose populations, forest growth and other wildlife.

Backpackers on the island last month had mixed feelings about the future of wolves there. The hikers were tanned, rumpled and clutching mugs of steaming coffee as they departed Isle Royale on a windy day. Voyageur II, a 60-foot aluminum diesel cruiser, bucked three-foot swells on the trip back to the North Shore.

"It doesn't matter about the wolves and moose," said June Huffman of Zion, Ill., who was finishing her third trip to the park. "It's an interesting thing, but not the whole reason to come here. You come for the beauty and the solitude."

Dennis Nelson of Stillwater begged to differ. "As far as the experience here, the expectation or hope that you might see a wolf or a moose is part of the draw to come here."

Whatever the future brings, Peterson knows that the island is not as remote or protected as he once believed. "I sort of gave up the notion that parks are undisturbed sanctuaries that we can just stand back and watch," he said. But Peterson clings to the belief that in a place as wild as Isle Royale, man should strive to intervene as little as possible. He's in no rush to rescue the wolves quite yet, although it may soon become necessary to do so.

If the 51-year-old study proves anything, he said, it's that ecology is so complicated and unpredictable that people should be cautious about thinking they can manage it.

"Someone once said that nature is not more complex than we thought, it's more complex than we can think," he said.

(Submitted by D.R. Shoop)

Sasquatch hunters hope to find proof in Dolly Sods

RIGHT: This drawing was commissioned by Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, and based on a sighting one of its members had in 1982.

By Erica Peterson

Download MP3

October 27, 2009 · Have you ever been in the woods and wondered what could be there, lurking behind the trees? One group thinks they know.

On a cool but sunny October day, Dolly Sods is beautiful. The sun shines through the trees and off the endless boulder fields.

But in its endless wilderness, Dolly Sods is a little bit spooky, too. It’s a still, quiet place. And according to Billy Willard, it’s a great place to search for Sasquatch.

“Typically we go out and visit sites where there’s been previous sighting reports,” Willard said. “We do get encounters called in to a hotline that we have, and we go out and we’ll research those areas looking for evidence such as footprints, strange stick tree structures and that kind of thing.”

Willard is the founder of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, a group made up of Bigfoot enthusiasts who collect information about the legendary being in their spare time.

They’re camping out in Dolly Sods, traipsing around in the wilderness area’s forests and bogs looking for signs of Sasquatch.

“As large as they claim this creature is, it’s got to have some weight to it. And if it’s walking around out here, it’s going to leave a footprint,” Willard says.

He finds something he thinks resembles a Sasquatch print in the bog, deep in the mud.

“It could be a small track right there,” he said. “We’ve got a track right here, not as big as the other one we saw over there. And again, it’s old, you can tell it’s been here since the rain. But that might actually be cast-able. There might be some toe impressions in there.”

He pulls out some plaster of Paris and makes a cast.

Some of the members of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia have actually had a sighting—where they’ve come face-to-face with a creature they believe is a Bigfoot. But even those who haven’t believe the creature exists.

Bruce Harrington is the self-described skeptic of the group.

“I think one of the biggest arguments that people have against the existence of Bigfoot is there hasn’t been any proof,” Harrington said. “From a logical standpoint, absence of proof is not proof of absence. So just because we don’t have the proof that these creatures exist doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

The men—and the group is made up solely of men—have an impressive amount of gear with them. They pull out GPS navigators, trail cameras, regular cameras, voice recorders and evidence bags.

The latter is used when a team member finds suspicious droppings. Into the bag it goes, to be sent off to a lab for testing.

Everybody has their own theories about what kind of creature Sasquatch is. Though he’s been hunting for years, Willard has never had a sighting.

“I could accept that this thing is human, whether it’s an undiscovered Native American tribe of people, I could accept that this is some kind of North American ape that just simple hasn’t been documented yet,” he said. “Those are the two main theories.

“Now you have some more out there theories, like these things are aliens and came off a UFO. That they go through dimensions and can walk through different portals. I think this thing’s flesh and blood, whether it’s human or more ape.”

Though their weekend in Dolly Sods didn’t lead to any sightings, Sasquatch Watch of Virginia is still looking for proof. They say it’s out there.

The Chinese cat girl

21 October 2009

A six-year-old dubbed "cat-girl" has baffled doctors after thick grey hair started growing uncontrollably all over her body.

Until just a few months ago little Li Xiaoyuan had just a tiny birthmark on her back.

But hair started to grow from the mole — and quickly spread over her entire back and is now starting to grow on her arms and face.

Her dad Li Yan said: "Doctors told us it was just a birthmark even when it started spreading but now it covers half her body.

"None of the other children want to play with her they are calling her cat-girl and are really mean."

Surgeon Dr Lou Zhongquan of Zhaoqing City Dermatological Hospital believes the youngster may be suffering from a rare disease that sends normal moles out of control.

He said: "If they were smaller we could use laser treatment but even if we removed these with surgery there is a very strong chance of post surgery haemorrhage."

(Via Cabinet of Wonders)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Two-Headed Snake Found In Couple's Drawer

10:16am UK, Wednesday October 28, 2009

A two-headed snake has been discovered in a drawer full of rubbish in Illinois.

When Jerry Williamson's wife first told him she had found the scary reptile he thought she was pulling his leg.

But to his surprise she was telling the truth.

Unfazed by the terrifying stigma attached to the two-headed Hydra of Greek mythology the couple decided to keep the reptile.

They were worried it would not be able to survive on its own.

They say it is a North American water snake and has just shed its skin.

The 'Nerodia sipedon', as it is also known, is a large non-venemous snake active during day and night.

Neanderthals ‘had sex’ with modern man

October 25, 2009
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

Modern humans and Neanderthals had sex across the species barrier, according to a leading geneticist who is overseeing a project to compare their genomes.

Professor Svante Paabo, director of genetics at the renowned Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, will shortly publish his analysis of the entire Neanderthal genome, using DNA retrieved from fossils. He aims to compare it with the genomes of modern humans and chimpanzees to work out the ancestry of all three species.

Modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa about 40,000 years ago to find Neanderthals already living there. The two species then co-existed for 10,000-12,000 years before Neanderthals died out — a fact that has caused endless academic speculation about whether they interbred.

Paabo recently told a conference at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York that he was now sure the two species had had sex — but a question remained about how “productive” it had been.

“What I’m really interested in is, did we have children back then and did those children contribute to our variation today?” he said. “I’m sure that they had sex, but did it give offspring that contributed to us? We will be able to answer quite rigorously with the new [Neanderthal genome] sequence.”

Such an answer might ease the controversy over recent contradictory discoveries regarding Neanderthals. Some fossils seem to have both modern human and Neanderthal features, suggesting that the two species interbred. Yet DNA scans have shown that Neanderthal genes were very different from those of modern man.

Last week Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum, presented a conference at the Royal Society in London with an idea that could accommodate both sets of evidence.

“It’s possible that Neanderthals and humans were genetically incompatible, so they could have interbred but their children would have been less fertile,” said Stringer.

This phenomenon is seen in many other species such as when lions breed with tigers and horses breed with zebras.

“I used to believe Neanderthals were primitive,” said Stringer, “but in the last 10,000-15,000 years before they died out, around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals were giving their dead complex burials and making tools and jewellery, such as pierced beads, like modern humans.”

Due to the length of time that has elapsed since Neanderthals became extinct, any trace of their DNA in modern humans could have been diluted below detectable levels. Paabo hopes to overcome this by scanning the Neanderthal genome for the genes of modern humans.

Click here to watch an interview with Professor Svante Paabo, who is overseeing the neanderthal genome project, where he talks about whether neanderthals and modern humans had sex.

(Submitted by Rob Chambers)

Rising folk star Taylor Mitchell killed by coyotes

RIGHT: Taylor Mitchell is pictured in this undated promotional photo. A rare coyote attack has claimed the life of a young folk singer-songwriter from Toronto. Police say 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell received severe bites while she was hiking alone yesterday along the Skyline trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO- LW Communications

By staff writers
October 29, 2009 08:04am

A PROMISING young Canadian musician has been attacked and killed by coyotes while on a tour promoting her new album.

Taylor Mitchell, 19, was considered a rising star of the folk music scene, having just earned a Canadian Folk Music Awards nomination.

She was hiking alone on the Syline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park when a pair of coyotes attacked her.

Tourists rushed to her aid when they heard her screams and found Mitchell bleeding heavily from mulitple wounds "all over her body", according to The Canadian Press.

"She was losing a considerable amount of blood from her wounds," paramedic Paul Maynard told TCP.

One of the animals was later shot by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the other got away.

Park officials said it was highly unusual for coyotes to be involved in such an aggressive attack.

Mitchell was due to play at a concert after her hike and was on her first tour of the Candaian east coast.,27574,26275521-23109,00.html

(Submitted by Peter)

Bigfoot enthusiasts go high tech

October 28, 2009

Using GPS navigators, voice recorders

ELKINS, W.Va. - A team of Bigfoot enthusiasts is hoping to find the legendary creature in the bogs and barrens of a West Virginia wilderness area.

Members of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia went camping in the rugged Allegheny Mountain highlands of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area with GPS navigators, cameras, voice recorders and plaster of Paris to make casts of huge footprints, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported.

Billy Willard, founder of the group, says they're looking in places where people have reported sightings. He says he never seen Bigfoot himself.

Bruce Harrington, the group's self-described skeptical member, says he has yet to see convincing proof that the creature exists.

The group took plaster casts of suspicious prints but didn't spot the creature during the expedition last weekend.

Chimpanzees Seen 'Mourning' Late Friend

1:01pm UK, Wednesday October 28, 2009

Emma Rowley, Sky News Online

A group of chimpanzees have been captured on camera apparently lost in grief for the death of a friend.

More than a dozen apes watched in silence from their enclosure in Cameroon as the body of Dorothy, a chimp in her 40s, was wheeled past for burial.

Dorothy, who died of heart failure, was described as a "prominent figure" within the group of about 25 chimps at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre.

The photo was taken by 30-year-old Monica Szczupider.

She was working at the centre, which cares for orphaned animals whose mothers were killed for the illegal bushmeat trade.

"We were burying Dorothy," she said. "We brought her in the wheelbarrow to let the others see.

"I cannot emphasise enough how silent and still they were. Chimpanzees are typically not like that.

"They are loud, with short attention spans. It was unbelievably emotional. We were all struck."

Tarantula grounds UK flight

Wednesday, October 28 2009, 15:51 GMT
By Mayer Nissim, Entertainment Reporter

A flight from Edinburgh to London was cancelled after a passenger claimed to have spotted a tarantula crawling between his legs.

The British Airways craft was grounded after the unnamed man raised the alarm on the Airbus A319, though none of the other 82 passengers said that they saw the arachnid, The Scotsman reports.

An airline spokesman said: "A male passenger claimed he had seen what he believed to be a tarantula on board the aircraft. He saw it walking between his legs.

"On arrival, he drew this to the attention of the cabin crew. He did not give the impression of being particularly upset. A specialist team was sent to fumigate the aircraft."

The spider was not found after the incident.

Earlier this month, flights were grounded after a bird and a mouse found their way on board different planes.

Big cat confronts Matlock cyclist

26 October 2009
By Julia Rodgerson

Big cats could be prowling a Dales town after a 'shocked' cyclist claims he was confronted by a huge animal crossing the road in front of his bike.

Adam Gladwin, 28, of Matlock, said he saw the large black cat in Darley Dale while he was on his way to work.

He said the animal crossed the road from the Whitworth Park area at around 5am on Sunday October 11.

Mr Gladwin said: "It was as plain as day, straight in front of me. It was as big as a German Shepherd dog with a long black tail. It was only 35 to 40 yards away.

"I was unsure whether to keep going. I called in to the paper shop and told them what I'd seen and they said there had been other sightings in the area."

It is understood that there have been other sightings of large cats at Northwood Lane in Darley Dale.

Mr Gladwin added: "Some people are a bit sceptical and some people belief me. I've also heard that the creature has been going in the bins at DFS.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a big cat. There is no other explanation."

Have you seen any big cats in the Dales? Let us know your thoughts below.

Paul Westwood, of Big Cat Monitors, the UK website dedicated to big cat sightings, said Derbyshire was a very popular place for sightings.

"The original cats from the 70s – when the Government introduced legislation to stop people keeping them – would have died out now but it is easy for people to illegally import cubs. It is a status thing but when they get too big people realise they can't handle them. The Derbyshire countryside is an ideal location for them."

Mr Westwood said the latest sighting sounded like a leopard or jaguar.

On Friday at 5pm a man reported a sighting of a large puma-like cat with a long tail in a field at Idridgehay.

A Derbyshire police spokeswoman said this year they had received four reports of big cat sightings in the Peak District and Dales.

(Via Cryptozoo-oscity)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Skull of 'sea monster' discovered

27 October 2009

The fossilised skull of a giant "sea monster" has been discovered off the UK's Jurassic Coast, a local council announced.

The fossil comes from a pliosaur, a ferocious predator which lived in the oceans 150 million years ago.

The skull, which was discovered by a local collector off the Dorset coast, measures 2.4m in length and scientists believe the creature would have been 16m in length - one of the largest pliosaurs ever found.

The fossil was purchased by Dorset County Council for £20,000 with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

After it has been scientifically analysed and prepared, it will be put on display at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

Pliosaurs were a form of plesiosaur, a group of giant aquatic reptiles which lived in the seas at around the same time dinosaurs roamed the Earth. They had short necks and huge, crocodilian-like heads that contained immensely powerful jaws and a set of huge, razor-sharp teeth.

They used four paddle-like limbs to propel their bulky bodies through the water, and would have preyed on dolphin-like ichthyosaurs and even other plesiosaurs.

David Martill, a palaeontologist from the University of Portsmouth, said: "These creatures were monsters. They had massive big muscles on their necks, and you would have imagined that they would bite into the animal and get a good grip, and then with these massive neck muscles they probably would have thrashed the animals around and torn chunks off. It would have been a bit of a blood bath."

David Tucker, the council's museums adviser, said: "Our aim is to purchase fossils found along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and to get them into local museums - we want to put really exceptional fossils in museums."

The council is meeting with experts to discuss how best to study and prepare the fossil.

'Monster Shark' Chomps Into Great White

Tuesday October 27, 2009
Huw Borland, Sky News Online

A giant shark that could be up to 20ft long has sent shockwaves across Australian beaches after a great white was nearly bitten in half.

A stunning picture shows a 10ft predator thrashing about with two massive chunks missing on either side of its body, off the Queensland coast.

Experts said its rival may be 20ft (about six metres) long, judging by the size of the huge bites.

The great white was savaged after it got snared on a drum line - a baited hook attached to a buoy - near North Stradbroke Island, east of Brisbane.

The wounded creature was still alive when a crew hauled it onto a boat, close to Deadman's Beach.

"It certainly opened up my eyes. I mean the shark that was caught is a substantial shark in itself," Queensland Fisheries' Jeff Krause told Australia's Daily Telegraph.

Swimmers have been warned to stay out of the water near the island.

The attack also worried many at a nearby tourist Mecca - Surfers Paradise, south of Brisbane.

Surfer Ashton Smith, 19, of the Gold Coast, told the Courier Mail: "I've heard about the big one lurking. Every surfer is always cautious over here."

Drum lines and shark nets are used to defend swimmers from sea predators, but they have been criticised for occasionally trapping migrating whales.

Fisheries minister Tim Mulherin told the Mail that the capture of the bitten shark - and the indication of a larger one feeding in the area - bolstered the decision to keep defences in place.

He added there were no special plans to hunt the attacking shark but contractors had reset the drum lines.

Ewe must be joking! Sheep in the vineyard?

Tue Oct 27, 2009

By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some vineyards in New Zealand and California are milking sheep for all they're worth.

"Well, they are mini-sheep really. Their proper name is Babydoll sheep," New Zealand vintner Peter Yealands explained in a telephone interview.

"They're a very rare breed, but an old one."

Yealands had to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops just to get 10 of the Babydolls from Australia to his vineyards in New Zealand's Marlborough region. Wool is his country's leading export, so why import more sheep?

But Babydolls aren't just any sheep, and Yealands was looking for an environmentally friendly way of keeping his 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of vines properly maintained during the growing season.

"It's common practice to have normal size sheep - Merino is what we use - to come to the vineyards during the winter when the vines are dormant," he said.

The results are a well-fed flock for the shepherd and a clean vineyard for the vintner. But once the weather warms and the vines begin to bud, the Merinos are banished.

"Let's just say they find grape leaves quite tasty," the 61-year-old vintner explained.

He also tried guinea pigs to solve the problem.

"They were really good at eating the grass and the weeds," Yealands said. "Unfortunately, they attracted hawks. And the hawks annihilated them."

He had heard about California vineyards using Babydoll sheep, which grow no higher than 24 inches.

Sarah Cahn Bennett, the winemaker for Navarro Vineyards and Winery in Mendocino, California, has had a small flock of Babydolls for the past four years.

She started them off in a vineyard that had been planted in the 1980s when the custom was to grow the vines 55-inches tall. The standard now is to grow them no higher than 35 inches.

"The Babydolls work great," she said of the breed, which was originally raised in Southdown, England. "They not only get rid of the weeds and grass between the rows, but they also eat the suckers at the bottom of the vines and we'd have to get rid of those anyway," she added referring to green shoots that come up on the plants in the spring.

Bennett, who holds a graduate degree in viniculture, laughed as she remembered that she now also has a certificate in sheep sheering.

"Generally, you have to sheer them once a year," she said as the flock ambled through rows of vines bearing Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer grapes.

She had just put up another 20-acre vineyard designed with the Babydolls in mind.

Yealands, who is experimenting this year with a flock of six rams and four ewes and has more on order from an Australian breeder, hopes that he will match Bennett's success with the Babydolls and in the process "reduce our operational costs by more than NZ$1.5 million (670,000 pound) annually."

Although the Babydolls don't produce much milk Bennett sells the wool they produce to off-set some of their expense, which makes them a bit of a .... baaahgain.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney)

Coalmine canaries face extinction in fatal trap

October 27, 2009

AUSTRALIA must create a new, expanded network of protected wetlands around its coastline or see many bird, animal and plant species become extinct as sea levels rise, the House of Representatives report says.

It recommended that the Government should urgently assess the vulnerability of Kakadu National Park to the intrusion of salt water into its fresh water wetlands. Up to 80 per cent of the freshwater wetlands in the park could be lost, and replaced with salty mud flats, as global average temperatures rise between two and three degrees this century.

Many existing wetlands should also have their conservation status upgraded. The report said this had implications for many activities like land clearing, building canal-style housing developments and driving vehicles along beaches.

The unavoidable sea level rises, which are already thought to be locked in by current greenhouse gas emission levels, are expected to devastate water bird populations, according to advice from Birds Australia.

Migratory birds like the black-tailed godwit, the grey plover and Latham's snipe can be regarded as the ''canaries in the coalmine'' for climate change, said Dr Eric Woehler of Birds Australia, who gave evidence to the parliamentary committee.

''Many of these birds breed only a few centimetres above the high-water mark,'' Dr Woehler said. ''They cannot just go somewhere else to breed … the development and construction of coastal infrastructure such as roads and houses will stop that inward migration of the coastline.

''So, as the sea level rises, essentially what you are going to end up with is a sea wall rather than the capacity for the coastline to find its new line inland of where it is now.''

The majority of water birds migrate to Australia each year from places as far afield as Siberia and Alaska, so the demise of local breeding habitats would have global consequences, the report noted.

The definitions for endangered wetlands should be simplified, and many major wetlands upgraded to ''wetlands of international significance'' under the Ramsar Convention, the report said. Ramsar status means a wetland cannot be used for housing.

''The committee was concerned about the continuing construction of canal estates more generally in some states, given the increased vulnerability of such developments to projected sea level rise and their environmental impact,'' the report said.

The Government is reviewing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which many experts said should be strengthened to take sea level rise into account.

What next? Now it's budgie storms in Queensland flood areas

By Peter Morley
The Courier-Mail
October 27, 2009

RIGHT: A plague of budgies seen near Boulia / Picture: Ann Britton

SKIES around the far west Queensland town of Boulia are teeming with budgerigars.

This year's floods along river systems such as the Diamantina and Georgina sparked prolific breeding by the budgies which have been feasting on an abundance of grass seeds, the Courier-Mail reported.

"I have been here since 1983 and never seen anything like it," Boulia grazier Ann Britton said. "The skies are thick with budgies - how they do not collide with each other is a miracle in itself.

"My father, who has travelled extensively in the Outback, was with me when we saw a massive flock and said he would not have believed the size if he had not seen it with his own eyes."

Desert Channels Queensland spokesman Steve Wilson said the green budgerigars were "virtually everywhere" in "great big clouds that look like a bee swarm".

The birds "just seemed to turn up" after rain brought new life to the region and then began to breed."I was in Boulia where I saw 17 pairs nesting in a coolibah tree," he said. "

They like hollow logs but the need to breed is dominant and one budgie was sitting on four eggs on the ground."

Read more about the storm at the Courier-Mail.,27574,26264581-13762,00.html

(Submitted by Pater Darben)

Nessie appears from film archive

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A 1936 film that claimed to show the first evidence of the Loch Ness monster is among rarely-seen archive footage set to be shown in Scotland.

The material can be seen at Glasgow Film Theatre and the National Library of Scotland (NLS) as part of Unesco's World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.

It includes the UK's earliest-known personal wedding in 1905 and US actress Vera Reynolds visiting Glasgow in 1926.

A number of films will also be available on the NLS website.

The library currently has about 67 films available to see online, with plans to increase this to 100 in the next few weeks.

These include the last tram in Edinburgh in 1956, sausage making in the 1930s through to the story of Jean Cameron of Clova - a wartime postal worker who pioneered trousers for female "posties".

Unesco declared the heritage day to raise awareness of the importance of audiovisual documents to national identity and promote their preservation.

Janet McBain, curator of the Scottish Screen Archive at the National Library of Scotland, said: "Our conservation work ensures old and often damaged film can be made available for future generations to enjoy when otherwise they may have been lost forever.

"For example, our footage of the earliest known wedding film of the 4th Marquess of Bute to Miss Augusta Bellingham, took our dedicated team over three years to restore and produce for public view.

"This day is a fantastic opportunity to not only reveal some hidden audiovisual gems but also highlight the great care that goes into preserving material for public display."

(Via Cryptozoo-oscity)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Twin ducklings hatched from the same egg

Click to enlarge, Monday 26 October 2009, p11.

Gecko survives garden centre fire

Click to enlarge, Monday 26 October 2009, p20.

CD and DVD players to employ shrimp technology

Click to enlarge, Monday 26 October 2009, p20.

18 die as buffalo rammed by train

Click to enlarge, Monday 26 October 2009, p12.

Black panther spotted in Luxembourg: police

Photo by Coffy Motiondesign
October 27, 2009

A BLACK panther sighted in northeast France several weeks ago, and last seen in Belgium in September, was possibly spotted in neighbouring Luxembourg over the weekend, police said today.

"Police were alerted Sunday at 3.30pm by a lady who saw a black panther in an industrial zone in Bascharage," a small community in southwest Luxembourg, spokesman Vic Reuter said.

"We sent out several patrols with dog handlers, and a police helicopter with a thermal camera searched for several hours but we couldn't find anything," he said, adding that the hunt was abandoned in the late afternoon.

He said police were taking the sighting "very seriously", given that a similar animal had been seen in the Ardennes region not far away in Belgium.

The panther hunt began on August 24, when a large wild cat was first spotted by hikers in woods in the Meurthe-et-Moselle region of northeast France.

Tracks at the site were found to be those of a "great cat, probably a black panther," according to French hunting and wild fauna office (ONCFS).

Around a dozen further sightings occurred in France, including one by a natural sciences teacher which was thought to be very credible.

No circuses or zoos have reported such an animal missing, and officials believe the cat might have been raised by a person living in the area.,27574,26265381-23109,00.html

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Customs find reptile haul on man

Monday, 26 October 2009

Customs officials in Norway have arrested a man who they say tried to smuggle 24 reptiles into the country by taping them to his body.

Fourteen royal pythons rolled up in socks were found taped to the man's torso and 10 geckos held in small boxes were taped to his legs.

Officials were alerted to the illegal haul after a tarantula was found in the man's luggage.

The 22-year-old was travelling to Kristiansand on a ferry from Denmark.

"He told us he was crazy about reptiles," the head of the local customs office, Helge Breilid, told AFP news agency on Sunday.

The snakes, which are not endangered, are the smallest of the python family and are not venomous.

(Submitted by Dave McMann)

Restaurant critic Gill delights in killing a baboon

By Kunal Dutta
Monday, 26 October 2009

His hunting credentials include pheasant-seeking missions to Wiltshire with Jeremy Clarkson, and trigger-happy deliberations with the chef Marco Pierre White moments before they despatched a deer.

But now AA Gill, the outspoken restaurant critic and self-appointed arbiter of British culinary standards, might have just taken a pop too far with a column revelling in the demise of his latest gunshot victim – an entirely inedible African baboon.

Writing in yesterday's Sunday Times Style Magazine, Gill described a trip to Tanzania where, driven by the urge to embody a "recreational primate killer", he shot the ape during a safari.

"I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this," he said. "Baboon isn't good to eat, unless you're a leopard. The feeble argument for cull and control is much the same as for foxes: a veil of naughty fun."

The comments, which to his critics will smack of Oscar Wilde's famous quotation about fox-hunters ("the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable"), have angered animal welfare charities, which yesterday brandished the act "utterly morally reprehensible".

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "There is no excuse for taking potshots at such endangered species. The vast majority of people in this country find trophy-shootings of this sort absolutely despicable."

In Gill's column, written as a set-up to preview The Luxe restaurant in London, he described baboons as "no stupider than Piers Morgan".

"They see you, they sod off, in great gambolling gangs, babies riding mums like little jockeys," he wrote. "And they stand around on rocks and bark like Alsatians."

But a spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the incident highlighted the growing perception of Africa's baboons as vermin or problem animals. "We are working to shift this perception and are completely opposed to the act of cold killing, which is especially rife among farmers in Africa," he added.

Mr Batchelor went even further, saying: "Baboons might not be in the same league as endangered elephants but that's not the point. Even if the world was overrun with such animals, it is not for a journalist to make the call of culling them.

"Management of animal populations should be left to people with specialist skill and knowledge, and not to restaurants critics with nothing better to do with their time."

Gill has often used hunting as the theme for his columns. In an article last year, he described an incident with Marco Pierre White in which both he and the French chef deliberated about shooting a deer, an act he described as "Ray Mears directed by Quentin Tarantino". "So I kill him and gut him, and sling the cadaver into the back of the Land Rover," Gill wrote.

"But because Marco's going on a bit, I forget to puncture the diaphragm and six pints of gelatinous gore empty into the back. Mr Ishi has to hose it out. He drives me back to London in silence, occasionally muttering: The blood. The blood."

In a column in 2003, Gill wrote: "Somebody asked me what I was going to do in Scotland. Stalking, I said. 'Oh, how exciting. Who?' 'Who? No, I'm shooting.' 'Ooh, with a long lens? I suppose it's Balmoral. You journalists are real scum.' 'No, no, I'm stalking deer and shooting them with bullets. 'Oh God, not Bambi's mother? 'No, no, of course not – Bambi's absentee father.'"

Since the Government criminalised fox-hunting in 2004, hunt groups have reported higher attendances than ever. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have taken part since the ban was implemented.

A spokesman for the RSPCA also condemned Gill's actions but said it could not act against him because the shooting took place beyond its UK jurisdiction .

Gill could not be reached for comment yesterday. But the last word could be left to Clarkson, who once wrote: "Morally reprehensible? Oh yes – but when you're out there on a chilly day with a bellyful of sloe gin and you blow a high bird clean out of the sky with a single shot, it awakens the hunter-gatherer that lurks in all men."

AA Gill: Collected wisdom

"In the range of things you can be good at, being a food or TV critic is not way up there. But it's a talent and I'm quite good at it. Can anyone do it? Is everyone's opinion worth the same? No. My opinion is worth more than other people's."

"[Gordon] Ramsay is a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being."

On an overly-attentive waiter in a French restaurant: "I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he'd added that the salt had been shaved from the pudendum of Lot's wife."

"We all know the Welsh are loquacious dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls."

On the Isle of Man: "The weather's foul, the food's medieval, it's covered in suicidal motorists and folk who believe in fairies."

"I don't like the English. One at a time, I don't mind them. I've loved some of them. It's their collective persona I can't warm to: the lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd of England."

On TV show Countdown: "A displacement activity for lives circling the plughole."

"The Albanians are short and ferret-faced, with the unisex stumpy, slightly bowed legs of Shetland ponies."

(Submitted by Ray D.)

Understanding Porphyria: No Vampires Here

Written by NAPSI
Sunday, 25 November 2007

(NAPSI) - Many of the world's myths and legends have some basis in fact, which is why they are perpetuated through the centuries. In one case, the idea of a race of nefarious monsters-specifically, vampires-may actually have sprung from a very real and potentially deadly disease that affects thousands of people worldwide.

Porphyria is not a single disease but a group of at least eight disorders. Symptoms vary, but among them are some that have, in ancient times, given credence to the legend of the vampire. These include excruciating stomach pain, severe headaches, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), muscle weakness that can take on a state of paralysis from sensitivity to sunlight, and comas that last for days, giving one the appearance of having awakened from the dead.

Genetic Disorder

In reality, porphyria can only be passed genetically through families. It is extremely hard to diagnose and can be painful or even deadly. The root of the disease is in defective enzymes that are involved in the body's manufacturing of heme-a vital substance for all body organs. Heme consists of an iron atom surrounded by a porphyrin molecule and is a part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to all parts of the body.

Unfortunately, the legend is bigger than the disease that spawned it; even today, people with porphyria are accused of being vampires. But vampires are only a myth created many centuries ago when medicine couldn't explain the problem.

"It's just absurd to think that drinking blood is a way to revitalize anyone!" says Desiree Lyon Howe, director of the American Porphyria Foundation (APF). "Drinking blood means it goes into the digestive system and merely passes through; it doesn't replace the blood in your body."

Charlotte de ne Guerre, a sufferer of porphyria, recently wrote a novel-inspired by her life story-that will shed light on the subject and dismiss the vampire stigma. In the book, "Grave Disorder," de ne Guerre lays out two tales that are separated by centuries but joined by the one truth.

Spanning The Centuries

The Baroness Elysia von Eschenbach is a young 17th-century noblewoman who doesn't understand the bizarre physical breakdowns that have plagued her. She is betrothed to the arrogant son of a wealthy Frenchwoman who is more interested in Elysia's title and land, but the consequences of having the disease are even more dire. When she absorbs too much sun, drinks wine and eats the wrong foods, she lapses into a near-death coma at her wedding...only to wake up after her abrupt funeral.

The other tale concerns a contemporary American woman, Claire Foster. She knows she's not crazy and that her symptoms are not all in her head, and yet, like many people today, she struggles to understand why she's suffering and is unable to find a doctor who will take her condition seriously, much less accurately diagnose her illness. Both tales are engaging from the onset of the story and build to a climax that will enable the reader to understand the plight of those who suffer with porphyria.

Ms. de ne Guerre spent her professional career as a Certified Quality Engineer for Abbott Laboratories. Even though the orphan drug Panhematin was manufactured by Abbott and coincidentally passed right across her desk, it was several years later that a diagnostician in an emergency room finally gave a name to her condition. She wrote this novel of intrigue not only to delight readers, but to bring understanding of the disease porphyria and help break the stigma that it is thought to be the disease of the vampires.

Understanding The Disease

APF is eager for the understanding as well. There are many people who are afraid to seek treatment because of the stigma, and then, of course, there are many more who are needlessly suffering because the majority of today's doctors are simply unaware of the disease.

Yet people with porphyria can lead very productive lives, such as Lauren Warren, who finished fourth in the Ford Ironman USA Lake Placid Triathlon, thus qualifying her to join athletes around the world in the famous Ironman World Championships. Could a vampire do that? To learn more about the disease and treatments, visit

(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Flores Hobbits: New analyses show the mini-humans as stranger & more primitive than previously thought

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN staff editor and writer Kate Wong, in "Rethinking the Hobbits of Indonesia," SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, November 2009, pp. 66-73, reports that new analyses show the mini-humans to be even stranger than previously believed, and hint that theories of human evolution need revision.

In 2004, Australian and Indonesian scientists excavating Liang Bua cave in Indonesia's Flores Island found bones of a miniature human species, formally named Homo floresiensis and nicknamed the "hobbit" for J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional creatures, that lived as recently as 17,000 years ago--far more recently than any other pre-sapiens hominids like Homo erectus or Homo neanderthalensis. Scientists initially suggested that Homo floresiensis was a dwarfed descendant of Homo erectus, a human ancestor with body proportions similar to our own and generally considered the first hominids to leave Africa. The "hobbits'" small size compared to H. erectus and modern humans was explained as an adaptation to island conditions.

New investigations, however, show that the "hobbits" were more primitive than researchers had thought--a finding that could could overturn prevailing assumptions about human evolution. The "hobbits" have been found to display features more primitive than those of Homo erectus, suggesting that H. erectus may not have been the first hominid to leave Africa. The Flores "hobbits" could have been a late-surviving relict population of a primitive hominid species that left Africa even before H. erectus. Homo erectus arose about 1,8 million years ago. while H. floresiensis may have appeared either shortly before or shortly after Homo habilis, who emerged about 2 million years ago.

To date, excavators have recovered the remains of about 14 individual "hobbits" from Liang Bua cave on Flores. Some of their features resemble those of apes and of australopithecines like the 3,2 million year old "Lucy." Other traits, however, resemble those of our own genus, Homo. The "hobbit" brain was about the size of a chimpanzee's. However, a virtual reconstruction, generated from CT scans of the interior of the braincase, indicates that despite its small size it had a number of complex, advanced features. Such features may help explain how a creature with a chimp-sized brain was able to make stone tools.


(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Epic humpback whale battle filmed

Friday, 23 October 2009

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

It is the greatest animal battle on the planet, and it has finally been caught on camera.

A BBC natural history crew has filmed the "humpback whale heat run", where 15m long, 40 tonne male whales fight it out to mate with even larger females.

During the first complete sequence of this behaviour ever captured, the male humpbacks swim at high speed behind the female, violently jostling for access.

The collisions between the males can be violent enough to kill.

"Even though this is one of the most common of the large whales, very little is known about its actual sexual behaviour," says Life producer Dr Ted Oakes.

"One of the most interesting things is that humpbacks have never been seen to mate."

But what has been filmed is the epic battle between males to get mating access to the female whales.

Up to 40 males swim behind a single female at speeds of up to ten knots, each jostling to obtain a dominant position.

"It's the closest we're ever going to get to dinosaurs fighting. It's the largest battle in the animal kingdom and it feels like something out of Jurassic Park," says Dr Oakes.

Migrate to mate

Most humpback whales spend their summers feeding in polar regions.

During the winter, they migrate thousands of miles to warmer tropical waters.

While there is little food in the tropics, females move there to give birth, as the warmer water helps smaller baby whales better regulate their body temperature.

Males follow the females to the tropics, hoping to find mates.

To film the whales' heat run, the Life team travelled to the southern Pacific waters around the archipelago of the Kingdom of Tonga.

"In order to capture the sequence we had to film from a helicopter, a boat and from underwater," says Dr Oakes.

"Each of those was really difficult, and we had to get them all together. It was a big challenge."

Running the gauntlet

When a female humpback comes into heat, she alerts males by making sounds, such as slapping the water surface. She may also release scent into the water to signal her status.

"The males all gather around the female, she hangs there, and then swims away. That's when it kicks off," says Dr Oakes.

"It is kind of like a gauntlet. She swims away at speed and the males then fight for pole position directly behind her tail."

As they chase the female, the males escalate their conflict.

First they lift their bodies out of the water, slapping the bottom of their huge feeding pouches onto the surface. They also slap their long pectoral fins onto the water.

The males then vocalise loudly and blow bubbles underwater, a threat display among many marine mammals.

Listen to a male humpback whale singing at BBC Wildlife Finder

"When they blow these huge streams of bubbles, in this context it means there's going to be an almighty fight'," says Dr Oakes.

The males then start colliding, hitting one another and even jumping out of the water and onto rivals.

Considering that each male humpback can weigh 40 tonnes, such collisions must hurt, says Dr Oakes.

"It's a violent behaviour. So violent that there are records of males killing one another."

Underwater epic

Cameraman Mr Roger Munns filmed most of the underwater footage of the heat run for the BBC.

Mr Munns had to freedive whilst holding his breath to get shots of the whales swimming past him at speed, as the use of scuba tanks would disturb the humpbacks.

"We had to find the whales when they are on the heat run, which is hard," says Dr Oakes.

"Then we had to position the diving team in front of the charging pack of whales for them to have any chance."

"At one point I think Roger had the female and seven or eight males go past him. He said it was the most incredible experience of his life. Like standing in the middle of a motorway."

The "humpack heat run" is broadcast within the Mammals episode of the BBC series Life at 2100BST on BBC One on Monday 26th October.

See videos at:

(Submitted by Ted Oakes)

Dead rabbit throwing contest banned

Animal charity in New Zealand brands children's game as 'inhumane'
By METRO NEWS REPORTER - Friday, October 23, 2009

A contest that involves children seeing how far they can throw dead rabbits has been banned in New Zealand following outcry from animal welfare campaigners.

The annual 'rabbit throw' in the South Island town of Waiau has been a tradition for years but officials have had to cancel the event following complaints from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

An animal cruelty inspector with the charity, Charles Cadwallader, said: "Do you throw your dead grandmother around for a joke at her funeral?"

The bizarre competition is part of the town's annual pig hunt – a highlight in the calendar for Waiau's 400 residents.

Organiser Jo Moriarty claims banning the bunny contest is "political correctness gone mad".

She said: "You know, the children of the community here are fantastic, they love their animals."

But the outraged SPCA in New Zealand says to throw the dead rabbits around sends a message to children that dead animals are fun and a form of entertainment and that, that is not a message children should be sent.

There are 30 million wild rabbits in New Zealand but the animal charity claims that the fact the creatures are pests does not justify inhumane treatment in death.

Animal slaughter for the World Cup?

Fri Oct 23, 2009

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African traditional leaders plan to perform ritual animal slaughters to bless stadiums for the 2010 World Cup tournament ahead of the start of the showcase event next June, they said on Friday.

Zolani Mkiva, chairman of the Makhonya Royal Trust, a grouping responsible for co-ordinating cultural activities, said the tournament, the first to be held in Africa, needed to be blessed in true "African style."

"We must have a cultural ceremony of some sort, where we are going to slaughter a beast (cow)," said Mkiva.

"We sacrifice the cow for this great achievement and we call on our ancestors to bless, to grace, to ensure that all goes well. It's all about calling for the divinity to prevail for a fantastic atmosphere."

South Africa is set to host the World Cup -- the world's most watched sports spectacle -- in less than eight months, with the tournament expected to attract about 500,000 foreign tourists.

Mkiva said the Trust has sent letters to the chief executive and chairman of the World Cup Local Organizing Committee (LOC), proposing traditional ceremonies to be performed at each of the 10 stadiums that are going to be used for the event.

The officials have yet to respond to the request.

"We believe that from the start we've got to do things in accordance with our own traditions," Mkiva said.

(Reporting by Alison Raymond, editing by Justin Palmer)

Rugby star races wolf - and wins

23 October 2009

Rugby World Cup winner Ben Cohen has shown off his blistering pace - by beating a wolf in a race at Wembley.

The unusual event took place to promote a brand of footwear, under the banner "fast or food?".

Fortunately for Cohen, his lupine opponent - a Canadian timber wolf by the name of Monty - was in a cage, so there was little danger of him ending up as lunch.

Cohen admitted: "It's probably the most surreal thing I've ever done, but I'm always up or a new challenge so I gave it a go. The looks we got from the crowds were very bizarre."

The 31-year-old, who plays for Sale Sharks, is hoping to regain his place in the England team, having not represented his country since 2006.

He's obviously still got the pace for it - even if eyewitness reports suggest that Monty was slightly less committed to the cause than most of Ben's rugby opponents.

Man smuggles chihuahua through airport scanner

Airport security staff who passed a handbag through an x ray scanner discovered a live chihuahua hidden inside.

24 Oct 2009

Customs officers at Dublin Airport at first believed the dog was a stuffed toy when the outline appeared on the monitor, but discovered it was a live animal when they opened up the bag for closer inspection.

The tiny dog, hidden in a cage within the luggage, arrived in the airport on a flight from Madrid with a Bulgarian man.

It was found smuggled in his hand luggage when it was scanned through an x-ray machine and the image of the animal flashed up on screen.

The dog has now been handed over to officials from the Department of Agriculture and Food and is currently in quarantine.

A Revenue spokesman said officers had “discovered a Chihuahua-type toy dog which had been placed in a small cage and hidden in a holdall bag."

He added: "When Customs officers examined the luggage the image of a dog in a small cage appeared on the X-ray screen.

"The dog appears to be in good health although a little dopey from the journey."

The Bulgarian man was arrested at Dublin Airport.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ice skating bear kills Russian circus hand

Fri October 23, 2009

From Yuri Pushkin

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A bear on ice skates attacked two people during rehearsals at a circus in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, killing one of them, Kyrgyz officials said Friday.

In the incident, which happened Thursday, the 5-year-old animal killed the circus administrator, Dmitry Potapov, and mauled an animal trainer, who was attempting to rescue him.

"The incident occurred during a rehearsal by the Russian state circus company troupe which was performing in Bishkek with the program, Bears on Ice," Ministry of Culture and Information director Kurmangazy Isanayev told reporters.

It is unclear what caused the bear to attack Potapov, 25, nearly severing one of his legs while dragging him across the ice by his neck. Medical personnel were unable to save Potapov, who died at the scene.

The 29-year-old circus trainer Yevgeny Popov, who attempted to rescue Potapov, was also severely injured, according to doctors.

"The victim has sustained serious injuries - deep scalp lacerations, bruising of the brain, lacerations on his body. His condition is considered critical," Dr. Gulnara Tashibekova told reporters on Russian state television.

After the incident, the circus was cordoned off by police and emergency service workers. Experts have been brought in to examine the bear, which was shot and died at the scene.

Russia has a long-standing tradition of training bears to perform tricks such as riding motorcycles, ice skating, and playing hockey. Fatal attacks are unusual.

(Submitted by Chris Kraska)

Water crisis in west as Lachlan River runs dry

Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby
October 24, 2009

THOUSANDS of households in western NSW are facing an unprecedented water crisis and the State Government is stepping up plans to help truck water to several towns, while others will be restricted to using water only for critical human needs.

The Lachlan River is expected to cease flowing west of Condobolin within weeks after the decision was taken yesterday to at least halve water flows from the region's biggest dam, Wyangala, on November 1.

A telephone hook-up of state officials, community representatives and farmers in the Lachlan Valley confirmed measures that would be taken to cope with the crisis, which follows the failure of spring rains. It is feared that Wyangala could run dry by mid-summer.

''I don't think people understand that, under the present conditions, by next April the dam will have less than 1 per cent left in it,'' said the chairman of Lachlan Valley Water, Dennis Moxey.

''Towns like Cowra and Forbes may not have any water, either. There are going to be hundreds, even thousands, of households that will have to truck water in to … live in their houses or they will have to walk away. I never imaged it could get this bad.''

The Department of Water and Energy triggered plans yesterday for slashing flows and supplying water to suffering towns south and west of Condobolin.

The drought gripping the valley has caused the water level in Wyangala dam drop to 6 per cent. At full capacity the dam holds twice the water in Sydney Harbour and helps sustain the 100,000 people in the region.

"The Government will never let a town run out of water,'' said the Water Minister, Phillip Costa. ''Government agencies are working with local water utilities in the area on a range of emergency drought works to strengthen town supplies and continue water delivery, should the situation continue to worsen.''

A senior official in the Department of Water and Energy, Peter Christmas, said slashing flows to keep only part of the river flowing had not been tried since the dam was built in 1935.

''I don't think there were any heads in the sand; people were aware of it and hoping against hope that it would have to happen. Now that it's going to happen, it has really hit home.

''The whole Lachlan Valley's been in drought for the seventh year this year, and I'm just absolutely amazed at the resilience of these people. But for some, I don't know whether this will be the last straw.''

Wal Dawson farms beef cattle, merinos and cereal along a Lachlan tributary south of Condobolin, just after the point where the water flows stop.

''The situation for us is unprecedented,'' Mr Dawson said. ''My family's been around here since the 1800s and they survived a lot but I don't know if they could survive today, because this is coming on top of eight years of drought.''

Water is expected to stop flowing down the tributary near his property within weeks.

Another farmer, Barry Crouch, said allocating the remaining litres was already becoming a source of tension between those in towns and on farms.

''We haven't used our irrigation pump since 2003 because we haven't had the allocations but we will have to forgo our water because they are sending it to the town. The question is, how do you cut a drop of water in half?''

Friday, 23 October 2009

Feline scared yet?

Click to enlarge

Alaskan creature stories

Port Chatham left to spirits
‘Nantiinaq’ sightings and spirits led to desertion of Alaska village

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Malania Helen Kehl, Nanwalek’s eldest resident, is frequently called upon around the village to impart her memories of how life used to be on this southern-most tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Among her remembrances are medicines used to heal the sick and ways of preserving sea lion meat in barrels for winter. She also is one of the last to tell the ghostly story of how the village of Port Chatham came to be deserted; why the abandoned town was shunned, and those who once lived there vowed never to return.

Malania was born Jan. 25, 1934 at Port Chatham, then a small village founded at the edge of a peaceful moorage. The village once offered shelter for many people, including Capt. Nathaniel Portlock’s ship on his 1786 Alaska expedition. But when Malania was a baby, the family abruptly moved away from Chatham, leaving the house and every board of its frame behind.

What frightening situation caused John and Helen Romanoff to take their children and flee to Nanwalek?

“We left our houses and the school, and started all new here,” Malania said in a recent interview, speaking in her traditional Sugt’stun through translator Sally Ash. “There was plentiful land here for gardening and people. My parents built a house on the beach.”

What had frightened Malania’s parents hadn’t been a single event. Over a “long period of time,” a nantiinaq (Nan-te-nuk) – or big hairy creature – was reportedly terrorizing villagers. And Malania also told of the spirit of a woman dressed in draping black clothes that would come out of the cliffs.

“Her dress was so long she would drag it,” Malania said. “She had a very white face and would disappear back into the cliffs.”

The goose-bumped terror felt when people encountered these spirits was nothing compared to what happened to Malania’s godfather, Andrew Kamluck. He was logging in 1931, when someone or something hit him over the head with a piece of log-moving equipment. The blow reportedly killed him instantly.

Malania isn’t the only one to tell of strange events at Port Chatham. Port Graham Elder, Simeon Kvasnikoff, said he remembers when nantiinaq was blamed for the disappearance of a gold miner.

“This one guy over there had a little place where he was digging for gold,” Kvasnikoff said. “He went up there one time and never came back. No one found any sign of him.”

Another story recounted the experience of a sawmill owner named Tom Larsen, who had a job cutting wood for the old fish traps. He told of spotting nantiinaq on the beach once. After going back to his house to get his gun, he returned to the beach and “the thing looked at him,” Kvasnikoff said. For some reason, Larsen decided against firing a shot.

In an April 15, 1973 issue of the Anchorage Daily News, a feature article told of the abandoned cannery town of Portlock near Port Chatham. The writer had learned the story during an evening spent with the school teacher and his wife at English Bay (Nanwalek) while on a boat trip.

The story is told:

“Portlock began its existence sometime after the turn of the century as a cannery town. In 1921, a post office was established there, and for a time the residents, mostly natives of Russian-Aleut mix, lived in peace with their picturesque mountain-and-sea setting.”

According to the ADN story, sometime in the beginning years of World War II, rumors began to seep along the Kenai Peninsula that things were not right in Portlock. Men from the cannery town would reportedly go up into the hills to hunt Dall sheep and bear, and never return. Worse yet, sometimes stories would circulate about mutilated bodies that were swept down into the lagoon, torn and dismembered in a way that bears could not, or would not, do.

“Tales were told of villagers tracking moose over soft ground. They would find giant, man-like tracks over 18 inches in length closing upon those of the moose, the signs of a short struggle where the grass had been matted down, then only the deep tracks of the manlike animal departing toward the high, fog-shrouded mountains...”

The article goes on to tell how the fed-up townfolk decided to move en masse, and by 1950, the U.S. Post office had closed there.

Even into more recent times, nantiinaq reports haven’t stopped entirely. A man who prefers to remain anonymous tells his story online at

“In 1990, while I was working as a paramedic in Anchorage, we got called out on an alarm for a man having a heart attack at the state jail in Eagle River. He was a Native man in his 70s, and after I got him stabilized with IVs, O2 and cardiac drugs, my partner and I began to transport him to the Native Hospital in Anchorage.”

En route to the hospital, the paramedic and the Native man, an “Aleut” from Port Graham, talked about hunting. The paramedic had been to Dog Fish Bay and was once weathered in there.

“This old man sat up on the gurney and grabbed me by the front of my shirt. He got right up to my face and said, ‘Did it bother you?’ Well, with that question, the hair just stood up on the back of my head. I said, ‘Yes.’ “Did you see it?” was his next question. I said “No... Did you see it?” He said “No, but my brother seen it. It chased him.”

In August of 1973, Ed and two others were bowhunting for goats and black bear when a storm forced them to take shelter in Dogfish Bay Lagoon.

“We beached our skiff and let the tide run her dry. After a dinner of broiled salmon we turned in to our tent. Back in those days, the best tent I had was a dark green canvas job with a center pole and no windows or floor. We left the fire burning and cleaned the pots and pans so as not to attract bears during the night and turned in,” Ed wrote.

The sky was clear, but the wind was howling through the old growth timber that lined the shore. Sometime around 2 a.m., Dennis woke Ed after hearing what sounded like footsteps outside the tent. It wasn’t a bear. Ed said the walking – or rather creeping – continued until it half circled the tent.

“In August, there is still some light in the sky until about 10 or 11. I recall that we all were embarrassed about being afraid about the coming night. We had a flashlight and the rifle in the tent between us, locked and loaded. I finally dosed off but woke right up when Dennis squeezed my leg. The illuminated hands of my watch showed it was 2:30. Joe was already sitting up and had the rifle in hand. I heard the first step, not more than about 10 feet from the back of the tent. Slowly. Then another and another. Whatever this was, it sounded like it was walking on two feet.

It made the same semi-circle around the tent. When we finally got enough courage to crawl out of the tent and turn the flashlight on, we saw nothing. No tracks, nothing. The third night we decided if it bothered us again, we would come out of the tent shooting. We were actually scared. It never came back the third night and the following day we had a break in the weather and got the heck out of there.”

Though Sasquatches became something of a popular phenomenon in the 1960s and ‘70s in the Lower 48, the nantiinaq in Sugt’stun culture has been around for a long time. According to the culture, he might be a different kind of creature, a tragic half-man, half-beast who wasn’t always in this condition. He perhaps used to be fully human.

Elder Nick Tanape said he doesn’t discredit the stories about nantiinaq, but says he’s never seen one.

“I think there’s something to them,” he said.

Malania said that, once her family moved to Nanwalek, the nantiinaq stayed far away and left them in peace. It didn’t follow them, and for that they were grateful. She grew up, raised 13 children and remains one of the few regional elders who can pass on the old traditions.

Malania – a favorite among the young people of Nanwalek, especially when she tells stories – learned many things from her grandmother, who was a traditional healer.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)
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