Monday, 30 November 2009

Storm birds

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Focus on animals in line of fire

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Metro, 30 November 2009, p23.

Zoos issue warning on extinction

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Metro, 30 November 2009, p30.

'Mindless' bird killers set lurchers on gulls

Two yobs are facing jail after shooting nine protected sea gulls and letting their dogs maul them to death. Paul Reed, 27, and Dane Ord, 22, went out equipped for killing the kittiwakes in the dead of night, a court heard.

They were seen using a powerful torch to light up cliffs where the birds were nesting, then firing at them with an air rifle. As the birds fell on to the beach in Marsden, South Shields, in May, Reed and Ord set two lurchers loose on them, South Tyneside Magistrates' Court heard. Police were called when pub landlord Paul Simpson, 36, saw the 'awful and mindless crime'. The duo from South Shields have a previous conviction for killing a deer with dogs. The pair admitted unlawfully killing the birds and will be sentenced on December 18. They face a maximum six-month jail sentence.

Metro, 30 November 2009, p30.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sweden: woman 'murdered' by elk, not husband

A man arrested in Sweden on suspicion of murdering his wife has been cleared after police decided she was probably killed by an elk.

Published: 4:24PM GMT 28 Nov 2009

Ingemar Westlund, 68, found the body of his wife Agneta, 63, by a lake close to the village of Loftahammer in September 2008.

His wife had last been seen taking the family dog out for a walk in the forest. When she failed to return her husband went out to look for her.

Mr Westlund was arrested and held in police custody for 10 days.

However, the case has now finally been dropped after forensic analysis found elk hair and saliva on his wife's clothes.

Although the murder investigation was dropped five months ago, details have only just emerged and the police plan to hold a news conference next week to explain what happened.

Mr Westlund told the Expressen newspaper in Sweden: "My family and I have been dragged through a nightmare."

The European elk, or moose, is usually considered to be shy and will normally run away from humans. But Swedish Radio International says the animals can become aggressive after eating fermented fallen apples in gardens.

Some cultures revere the elk as a spiritual force. In parts of Asia, antlers and their velvet are used in traditional medicines. Elk are hunted as a game species; the meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef or chicken.

Owner 'gives meerkats toy mother'

Friday, November 27 2009, 14:41 GMT
By Mayer Nissim, Entertainment Reporter

The owner of five baby meerkats whose mother died in childbirth has given the animals a cuddly toy as a replacement.

Steve Rowlands, 28, has used the ten-inch figure and a hot water bottle to help the meerkats at Tropical Inc in Oldbury, West Midlands, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Rowlands said: "The babies are a month old now and they lost their mum just two days after they were born.

"We bought the toy to try and lessen the trauma for them and try and make things as natural as possible. We put it in with them and they just snuggled up to it like it was their mother.

"To recreate the warmth that Anika would have given off we also found a small hot water bottle we got the right temperature."

He added: "They now assume that the toy is their mum and they acting completely normally around it. Of course every hour we have to feed them milk ourselves, but use miniature little bottles which recreate how they would get it from mum.

"We even give it to them near the toy so they can't tell the difference between it and their mother - it's a really good result.

"At around six weeks old we are going to wean them away from their cuddly mum, as they would be in real life. That's when we can hopefully put them back in with their dad."

Pictured: tiny but colourful 'peacock' spider

A four millimetre long ‘peacock spider’ that can wave a pair of legs and two patterned flaps as part of a mating ritual has been captured on camera.

Published: 7:48PM GMT 28 Nov 2009

The tiny arachnid, found in Australia, shows off a rainbow of colours to impress nearby females.

It can raise a pair of legs and fan out two brightly patterned flaps at the back of its body.

Displaying its spectrum of shades in an attempt to attract the attention of the less vibrant brown spiders, the creature reveals hues of orange, yellow, green and blue.

Also known as a Maratus Vilans, amateur photographer Jurgen Otto originally spotted the colourful creature in the wild.

However, as it is only 4mm long, he found it easier to capture images in his Sydney home.

The spider also uses its third pair of legs in the mating display, raising them to show a brush of black hairs and white tips.

The spider can also jump, but the common belief that it can use its patterned flaps to glide through the air is an urban myth which has been debunked by the Australasian Arachnological Society.

The spider is found in eastern parts of Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales.

Both sexes of the spider rarely reach more than 5mm in body length. Females are brown with no distinct pattern.

Polish zoo lets visitors meet the Flintstones

Agence France-Presse 11/29/2009

WARSAW – Warsaw's zoo has opened a new display where two volunteers dressed as cavemen will spend time in a former monkey-cage, to remind visitors that humans are animals too, organisers said Friday.

Dressed in animal skins, the 24-year-old man and 18-year-old woman will while away their time grooming each other, keeping a fire burning, and watching visitors who look in through the bars, the zoo's deputy director Ewa Zbornikowska told AFP.

"They are very calm and gentle. They don't bite. And they're keen to watch all the strangers passing by their home," she said.

"You can try to communicate with them, or even offer them food," she added.

Zbornikowska explained that the project was "a playful attempt to inspire people to think about the place of humans in the universe."

The display, due to last until Sunday, goes hand in hand with events focusing on the lifestyle and habits of humanity's prehistoric ancestors, their discoveries, plus their image in modern society, epitomized by the cartoon Flintstone family.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Cows stampede through quiet housing estate

This is the moment police were called to stop a herd of escaped cows rampaging through a quiet housing estate.

Published: 8:00AM GMT 28 Nov 2009

The 15 heifers caused hundreds of pounds of damage during a 45 minute stampede trampling flowers, knocking over bins and denting cars.

One terrified resident was almost crushed by the herd as he tried to get out of his car.

Paul Toon, 50, said: "It was very scary. I heard a rumbling sound like thunder then suddenly a wall of black and white came charging past the house.

"They seemed almost organised. They went from one garden to the next ripping up flowers and even looking in the front windows.

"It was like something off the Cravendale milk advert."

One resident said: "The cows dented my new Audi which will cost hundreds to repair. They came out of nowhere. Luckily no one was hurt."

The cows escaped just after 9am on Wednesday morning from a field near Nuneaton, Warks.

They managed to cross the busy A5 road at rush hour and walk a further half-a-mile to the upmarket St Nicholas Park Estate.

Residents and police managed to herd the cows onto a grass patch before they were taken back to the farmer.

Table for zoo, sir?

A MONKEY tucks into dinner produced using a British invention hailed as one of the year's top 50 innovations.

The Verticrop greenhouse, below, allows Paignton Zoo in Devon to grow a range of plants in a small space - dramatically slshing the food bill for its animals.

Previously the zoo spent £200,000 a year buying in feed. The device, a joint project between the zoo and makers Valcent won praise in US Time Magazine.

The Sun, Friday, November 27, 2009, p55.

Click image to enlarge.

(Submitted by Karen Palmer)

Loch Ness Monster 'family-friendly' to boost tourism

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Loch Ness Monster has been "rebranded" by the film industry during the last decade, according to an expert on cinema.

Dr David Martin-Jones, of the University of St Andrews, said Nessie had changed from a beast feared by locals to a "family-friendly" creature.

He said the 1996 film Loch Ness and 2007's The Water Horse show the monster and Scotland in a positive light.

Dr Martin-Jones said the productions could be linked to growth in tourism.

According to the researcher, the first British movie to cash in the myth of Nessie was 1934's The Secret of the Loch.

He said it depicted Scotland as "a stereotypical land of monster-fearing locals" yet also as a modern nation connected to England by railway, road, radio, telephone, newspaper and cinema.

Dr Martin-Jones, a senior lecturer at the university's department of film studies, said: "Nessie became a movie celebrity by uniting Britain in its imagination of itself as a union of two distinct nations.

"Both were joined by modernity, even whilst Scotland - by virtue of the existence of its pre-historic monster - remained primitive in comparison to its southern neighbour."

But in the last decade, he said the Loch Ness Monster had gained global appeal in terms of cinema.

He said: "What is so distinctive about Nessie's cinematic incarnations since the 1990s is that the kelpie has been rebranded as a welcoming, and on occasion, a family-friendly monster, who negotiates Scotland's national position globally."

A kelpie, or water horse, is a shape changing creature from Scottish mythology.

Nessie is one of ten genres of Scottish film examined by Dr Martin-Jones in his new book Scotland: Global Cinema.

The others include comedy, Bollywood, horror, costume drama and gangster flicks.

Last month, a 1936 film that claimed to show the first evidence of the monster was among rarely-seen archive footage set to be shown in Scotland.

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

A year ago, outstanding qualities that could earn Unesco World Heritage status for Loch Ness and the Great Glen were set out - but with no mention of Nessie.

Destination Loch Ness, a not-for-profit group campaigning for the designation, had secured a £25,000 sponsorship package to progress the bid.

Tourism expert Prof Terry Stevens said it was important to broaden knowledge of the area beyond "the myth".

Securing World Heritage status for Loch Ness and the Great Glen could generate £25m for the economy and 250 jobs within three years, according to research commissioned by DLN.

(Submitted by Lindsay Selby)

Puffer fish Russian roulette ends as scientists breed non-lethal version

Scientists in Japan have bred a non-lethal puffer fish, ending the "Russian roulette" risk of eating "torafugu".

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Published: 6:00AM GMT 28 Nov 2009

The fugu is one of the world's most dangerous foods, thanks to a concentration of anhydrotetrodotoxin 4-epitetrodotoxin in the liver or ovaries that is 1,200 times more lethal than cyanide.

The poison paralyses the nerves and prevents the lungs from working. There is no antidote and death occurs within minutes - with the first indication that all is not well reportedly a numbness of the lips.

Only specially-licensed chefs are qualified to prepare this winter delicacy for human consumption and there are several fatalities every year, mostly among sport fishermen who think they know how to remove the poisonous parts.

Now an aquaculture company based in the southern prefecture of Ehime said it had raised 50,000 non-poisonous fugu at a fish farm.

But many fugu chefs - who are traditionally bound to commit ritual suicide with their own fish knife should one of their customers expire after eating one of their meals - said they preferred to take their chances with the potentially deadly wild varieties.

"It's a very tasty fish, but that's not the only reason people choose to go to a fugu restaurant," said Shinichi Ueshima, the chef at the Dote fugu restaurant in Yokohama.

"It's obviously more than a little exciting to go to a restaurant knowing that it might be the last meal that you ever eat," he said. "Where is the enjoyment in eating something that has no risk in it?"

Fugu chefs consider themselves among the elite in the very competitive world of Japanese cuisine and are required to undergo three years of training and apprenticeship - followed by a test that just 35 per cent of applicants pass - before they are permitted to prepare their first fish.

Couple tries to crack case of mystery egg

Thursday November 26, 2009

Ostrich farm located 3 miles from where discovery made

by Elaine McMillion
Daily Mail staff

CLENDENIN, W.Va.--Something bigger than a Thanksgiving turkey laid the egg that Sherman Farley stumbled upon while deer hunting Tuesday.

Bill Pepper, owner of Benedict Haid Farm, three miles from where the egg was found, suspects it is an ostrich egg.

But it still remains a mystery as to how the 4.5-pound egg that measures 18 inches in diameter longways wound up in the woods near Dutch Ridge Road in Clendenin.

Farley, 49, discovered it while hunting about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

After examining the beige-colored egg, he decided to leave it there overnight. He returned home later that evening and told his wife about his find.

"He was afraid to get it," Rosie Farley said with a laugh. "He thought it might blow up."

So on Wednesday morning Rosie went with her husband to the spot where it lay.

Rosie, 60, has been a hunter herself for nearly 30 years, but she was baffled by the enormous egg.

"I've never seen anything like this in the woods," she said.

"It looks like it has been with another egg in the nest," she said as she pointed to a dried, yellow, yolk-like substance on the shell.

The egg measures 16 1/4 inches in diameter at its center and has a porcelain-like shell.

Rosie says it can't be a turkey egg because those are not much larger than chicken eggs. She also said she has never seen peacocks in the area. Emu eggs are much darker in color, normally blue or green.

"I'm sure there's nothing native to West Virginia that would lay an egg that size," said Jim Phillips, a state naturalist based at Pipestem State Park.

Rosie said she has recently heard stories of ostriches running loose near Falling Rock, which is fairly close by and between Blue Creek and Clendenin.

Pepper said about a month ago someone called him to report the appearance of an emu running through the woods just miles from his farm on Dutch Ridge Road.

"I told them I only have one emu and it was still there," said Pepper, who is also a Charleston lawyer. "But that might have been an ostrich that someone confused for an emu."

Benedict Haid Farm, which is about three miles from where the egg was found and about a half hour's drive from downtown Charleston, has one emu and seven ostriches.

Pepper said the shell of an ostrich egg is dimpled like a golf ball and thicker than that of a chicken egg - about an eighth of an inch thick.

Pepper's description matches the characteristics of the Farley's find, but now the question is not "what," but "how?"

"How would an egg get three miles from the farm?" Rosie wondered.

Pepper said ostriches lay eggs only in warm weather. He has not seen one of his large birds lay an egg in three to four weeks.

Phillips, the naturalist, also said that wild birds are not laying eggs this time of the year.

"I wonder if the West Virginia Mothman found a girlfriend," Phillips joked.

Pepper does not believe one of his ostriches has escaped.

"I don't keep an accurate count so maybe one of mine got loose, but I really don't think so," Pepper said. "Someone on the farm would have told me."

"Besides they make no attempt to get loose. They got it made and they don't jump the fence," he said.

Phillips suspects other wildlife is to blame.

"If he's not missing any ostriches, probably what has happened is a coyote, raccoon or bear has rolled it that far," Phillips said. "It wouldn't be impossible for a dog to move something like that, too."

However, Phillips said he doesn't understand why a bear or raccoon couldn't have figured out how to crack open the egg.

Pepper said it is hard to believe an animal could get a four-pound egg three miles to the place where Farley found it.

"I don't see how an animal could have done that," Pepper said.

Pepper and Phillips suspect a prank.

"The only other thing I can think of is one of the neighbors did it as a joke to see if a hunter would find it," the naturalist said.

However the egg ended up in the woods, Pepper said the Farleys have a new but foul-smelling treasure in their possession.

"There is nothing in there but a bunch of slime and goo," Pepper said. "Chances are it will be the most horrific smell they have ever smelled."

Pepper recommends the couple drill a hole in the bottom with a quarter-inch drill bit and blow out the contents with a tire pump. Then he says they should soak it in bleach.

An ostrich egg is valued at $10 to $15, he said.

"People carve them and paint them," Pepper said. "They are very pretty. You can a buy a stand for them."

That's exactly what the Dutch Ridge residents plan to do.

"I'd like to find out what it is, drill it and keep it as a souvenir," Rosie said.

Although the chances of a baby ostrich surviving are extremely slim, Rosie can still dream.

"If it hatched, I'd probably pen it up and take care of it," Rosie said. "And if it was big enough, I'd probably saddle it up."

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Pet pig puts wind up family as farting prompts gas leak fears

By Kelly Ryan, Herald Sun
November 27, 2009
  • Family calls 000 to report 'gas leak'
  • Smells found wafting from the 120kg porker
A PORTLY pig with flatulence triggered a minor emergency near Bendigo this week when smells wafting from the 120kg porker sparked fears of a potentially dangerous gas leak.

Two Country Fire Authority tankers and 15 firefighters turned out in darkness to search the source of the leak at a property at Axedale, east of Bendigo. But the likely culprit was soon sniffed out, the pet sow startled from slumber in the dead of night.

"She got very excited when two trucks and 15 firies turned up and she squealed and farted and squealed and farted," said fire chief Peter Harkins.

"I haven't heard too many pigs fart but I would describe it as very full-on."

Mr Harkins said the family had done the right thing by calling 000 to report a suspected gas leak: "It's all bottled gas up here and a leaking cylinder could pose a major fire risk.

"It was because we took it so seriously that 15 volunteers still managed to attend the call out at 10.30 on Tuesday night."

Mr Harkins said the day had been both wet and warm, as well as slightly humid.

"Smells are always exacerbated in those conditions. We got to the property and we could smell a very strong odour in the vicinity.

"It didn't take us too long to work it out because we could both smell and hear her."

The pig, a family pet, was lying low yesterday, her embarrassed owners refusing media requests for a photograph of their porker.

She is believed to be a friendly and docile animal, a much loved children's pet, possibly in need of a change of diet.,27574,26407128-13762,00.html

(Submitted by Peter)

No answers yet for calf mutilations near San Luis

November 26, 2009

UFO investigator finds similarities with San Luis and Trinidad incidents.


SAN LUIS - A string of calf mutilations earlier this month have left a local rancher and law enforcement scratching their heads.

Rancher Manuel Sanchez has had four calves mutilated over a three-week span in a pasture he leases near Los Vallejos, just southeast of here, with the most recent victim coming on Nov. 16.

In each case, Sanchez found his calves with skin peeled back and organs cleaned out from the rib cage.

He found no signs of human attackers such as ATV tracks or footprints in the pasture that's guarded by two locked gates.

Nor did he find any evidence of animal predators such as a coyote or a mountain lion. There were no blood pools near the animals, or drag marks on the ground. "There's nothing really to go by," said Sanchez, who's ranched for nearly 50 years. "I can't figure it out."

Sgt. James Chavez, who serves as the public information officer for the Costilla County Sheriff's Office, said a deputy and an undersheriff went to the pasture to investigate one of the killings.

Chavez said the investigation revealed no indications of a predator attack and the lack of blood at the site made it highly unlikely that a person butchered it.

"I've butchered a cow before and I know what kind of a mess it leaves," he said.

Both Sanchez and Chavez think there have been other mutilations in the area that have gone unreported because of people's unwillingness to talk about something so mysterious.

Chavez, who's worked in Costilla County for five years, also investigated mutilations when he was a sheriff's deputy in Rio Grande County.

Neither of the men believe aliens were responsible for the attack.

But in the San Luis Valley, where a mutilated horse maintains celebrity status four decades after its death and a UFO watchtower graces the roadside near Hooper, some may look upward for an explanation of the incidents.

The day after Sanchez found his last calf mutilated, Chuck Zukowski came down from Colorado Springs to investigate.

Zukowski, who investigated three cattle mutilations in Huerfano and Las Animas counties in March, hopes to establish a link between cattle mutilations and the existence of UFOs.

But Zukowski's report, which is posted on his Web site,, does not reach that conclusion.

It does note, however, that the mutilation of Sanchez's last calf was similar to one found on Tom Miller's ranch near Trinidad.

The only differences were that Sanchez's calf was missing part of its tongue, while the Miller calf was missing both its ears.

Zukowski hopes to find a cow mutilation with more of the animal intact so he can send it to veterinary labs at Colorado State University for a necropsy.

"We're trying as much as we can to find a pattern," he said in a phone interview with The Chieftain.

In the meantime, Sanchez has sold off his 32 remaining calves out of fear more would get mutilated.

He has yet to decide how he'll manage the remaining 40 animals in his herd.

"It's a big loss for a small rancher," he said.

(Submitted by Brian Chapman)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Humpback Horror: Camel Chaos In Oz

RIGHT: Camels were used by white settlers who built roads and railways across the Outback

Thursday November 26, 2009
Ian Woods, Sky correspondent in Australia

Around 6,000 feral camels are rampaging through a remote Australian town causing chaos and terrifying the locals, prompting the government to organise a mass cull.

The Northern Territory government said that the community of Docker River was "under siege".

Local government minister Rob Knight said: "They've actually come right into the community smashing infrastructure, so it's become a critical situation.

"There are health issues, there are camels being trampled, and dead carcasses in the community.

"They are smashing over water mains and intruding on the airstrip, causing problems with medical evacuations."

Many of the 330 residents are said to be too scared to leave their homes. The town is around 150 miles west of Uluru, commonly known as Ayers Rock.

Graham Taylor, the chief executive of local authority Macdonnell Shire, told Sky News it was a crisis.

"It began four weeks ago with 25 or 30 camels, but every day more and more turned up looking for water," he said.

He said the camels would be rounded up and taken out of town to be shot humanely.

The animals are part of a wild herd of more than a million camels which roam the central Australian desert.

They were introduced to the country in the 19th century when white settlers built roads and rail across the Outback, and used the animals for transportation.

The camels were set free afterwards, and have been breeding ever since.

With few natural predators and vast sparsely-populated areas in which to roam, the camel population has soared, putting pressure on native species by reducing food sources, destroying habitat and spreading disease.

Earlier this year, the Federal government announced it was allocating £10m to tackle the problem.

See video at:

Giraffe suffers from crick in the neck

A giraffe in a US zoo has been pictured suffering from what looks like an agonising crick in the neck

Published: 8:34AM GMT 26 Nov 2009

Five-year-old Amali from Tulsa Zoo, Arizona, suffered the unfortunate bend in transit from The Wilds park in Ohio.

It is feared that the hook might never be cured.

Since undergoing treatment from Tulsa Zoo's resident vet Dr Kay Backues, Amali has been kept in medical quarantine since her arrival on October 18.

The 11-foot tall female giraffe is not thought to be in any pain and staff at Tulsa Zoo are hoping the crick corrects itself naturally.

"When Amali the giraffe walked off the trailer into her new home she could walk, eat and manoeuvre normally," said Dr. Backues.

"Amali was initially treated for muscle fatigue and possible soft tissue trauma.

"We are using medications a human might use if they strained their neck or back, such as non-steroidal ant-inflammatories similar to ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, pain relievers (analgesics) and a vitamin supplement.

"These treatments have appeared to make her more comfortable, but further diagnostics are being planned to determine the extent of the injury.

"She is due to have an x-ray next week after the Thanksgiving holiday.

A giraffes neck is designed with strong ligaments and elongated bones that give it the ability to browse higher on trees in the wild than other animals.

However, in Amali's case the unique support system of the head and neck that gives them this advantage is a delicate alignment that is susceptible to injury by muscle fatigue, or ligament and tendon trauma.

Under constant medical surveillance Amali is adjusting well to her new environment.

Amali, whose name means "hope" in Swahili, will remain in quarantine and under veterinary care as the Tulsa Zoo develops options for her treatment.

She continues to function and act normally and zoo staff hope after more recovery time, she, too, will join her new herd on exhibit.

I want to be a ham-star

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Metro Ireland, 26 November 2009, p5.

Baby gibbon gets surrogate mother

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Metro Ireland, 26 November 2009, p12.

Tourists robbed by baboons

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Metro Ireland, 26 November 2009, p13.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

'World's biggest animal sacrifice' held in Nepal

Up to a million Hindus gathered at a temple in southern Nepal on Tuesday to witness the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals in a mass sacrifice that has drawn widespread criticism.

By Our Foreign Staff
Published: 5:21PM GMT 24 Nov 2009

Worshippers travelled long distances, many coming from neighbouring India, to attend the controversial ceremony at the in the jungles of Bara district, about 100 miles south of Katmandu. The two-day Gadhimai festival honouring the Hindu goddess of power takes place once every five years in southern Nepal.

A huge cry of "Long Live Gadhimai!" went up after the temple's head priest launched the event with the sacrifice of two rats, two pigeons, a rooster, a lamb and a pig.

The crowd then rushed to a nearby field, where 250 sword-wielding butchers began the mass slaughter of around 20,000 buffalo, brought by devotees to be sacrificed near the holy temple.

Animal rights activists have held demonstrations in recent weeks in towns near the Gadhimai temple and in Nepal's capital Katmandu, protesting against what one Nepalese minister said was the largest animal sacrifice in the world.

Critics say the killings - carried out by slitting the animals' throats with swords - are barbaric and conducted in a cruel manner.

However, Hindu organisers refused to halt the slaughter, saying it is a centuries-old tradition. Participants believe sacrificing the animals for Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity. The slaughtered animals are taken back by devotees to their villages and eaten during a feast.

The koala wars

It's cute and it's cuddly. And in 30 years, campaigners say, the koala will be extinct. But this emblematic animal has a curious history – and its fate is mired in politics.

Gideon Haigh
The Guardian, Monday 23 November 2009

When south-eastern Australia was consumed by bushfires in February, one image shut out all others. Nearly 200 humans might have perished, but a koala had been saved: videoed in a blackened landscape imbibing thirstily from the water bottle of a volunteer firefighter, Sam featured in newspapers from the New York Times to the Sun, and became a hit on CNN, YouTube and a website created by her veterinary carers.

According to the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, she was the subject of widespread comment at the G20 summit in London in April this year, and he issued a personal tribute to this "symbol of hope" when Sam died six months later. "It's tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us," Rudd said, just restraining himself from decreeing a state funeral.

Political leaders, however, appropriate symbols at their peril. A fortnight ago in Canberra, representatives of the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) took a long and determined campaign for better protection of the creature to the government's "threatened species scientific committee", following a request for a review of the animal's status by environment minister Peter Garrett. The foundation presented what they say is definitive evidence of a sharp decline in koala numbers due to habitat destruction and disease. Its message was stark: the koala would be extinct "within 30 years". Hits on its website instantly doubled, and concerns were expressed about the impact on Australia's tourist industry: polls consistently show the koala to be the country's most popular animal with visitors.

In the AKF's chief executive Deborah Tabart, meanwhile, Rudd faces an implacable and outspoken critic, one who will now be dogging his steps at next month's Copenhagen climate change conference. Rudd may have been nice about Sam the koala, but Tabart does not think Rudd is doing enough for the species; she describes him as a "bureaucrat who hides behind policy and writing documents". The koala, she mutters darkly, "has many powerful enemies".

It has certainly had its detractors. The koala features in fossil records as far back as 25 million years ago, and has an honoured place in aboriginal creation myths, but when Gerald Durrell described it as "the most boring of all animals", he was far from the first to do so.

The koala is assuredly a creature of leisure. It has the smallest brain proportionally of any mammal, sleeps most of the day, and dedicates much of the rest to chewing gum leaves. The first description published in England 200 years ago, in fact, introduced the koala as the "New Holland Sloth". In his Arcana; or The Museum of Natural History (1881), the naturalist George Perry was severely censorious of the koala's "sluggishness and inactivity", and thought its "clumsy appearance" was "void of elegance".

"We are at a loss to imagine for what particular scale of usefulness or happiness such an animal could by the great Author of Nature possibly be destined," concluded Perry, although his respect for that particular author compelled him to concede: "As Nature however provides nothing vain, we may suppose that even these torpid, senseless creatures are wisely intended to fill up one of the great links of the chain of animated nature, and to shew forth the extensive variety of the created beings which GOD has, in his wisdom, constructed."

Nor was the koala then prized for cuddliness, being widely hunted for its fur from the 1870s, and provoking relatively little interest overseas. The first specimen to make it to England met an untimely end in the office of the superintendent of the Zoological Society, asphyxiated by the lid of a washing-stand that fell on its head.

Cuddly anthropomorphism

The koala's installation in national favour owes much to eager exercises in anthropomorphism in the early 20th century, first in cartoons published in the legendary nationalist periodical the Bulletin, then in children's tales such as Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding (1918) and Dorothy Wall's Blinky Bill (1933).

Lindsay offered Bunyip Bluegum as a koala of culture, with boater, bowtie and walking stick, while Wall's Blinky was a marsupial of mischief, dressed in knickerbockers and bearing a knapsack, although sufficiently patriotic to join the army during the second world war.

If it was considered inadequately industrious for the 19th century, the ­ koala was exquisitely suited to the cuteness-conscious 20th. Indeed, it is appropriate that the AKF's case is accented to the environmental pressures the koala faces in Rudd's home state of Queensland, where it is the faunal emblem, and has always had political claws.

It was in Queensland that the koala was the subject of Australia's first concerted environmental campaign after the state Labor government, in response to pressure from trappers who had denuded koala populations to the south, proclaimed an open season on the animal in August 1927.

Resistance orchestrated by the Queensland Naturalists Club and the Nature Lovers' League inspired one newspaper to print an edition bordered in black, and flushed out celebrity apologists including the writer Vance Palmer. "The shooting of our harmless and lovable native bear is nothing less than barbarous," he thundered. "There is not a social vice that can be put down to his account . . . He affords no sport to the gunman . . . and he has been almost been blotted out already in some areas."

The trappers had their way, slaughtering and skinning no fewer than a million koalas, but the Labor government paid the price, being swept from power at the next election. Australia's first three fauna parks, set up in the late 1920s, were then dedicated to koalas.

Researching all this for his book Koala: The Origins of an Icon (2007), biologist Dr Stephen Jackson was astonished by the ardour he encountered. "You read now what was being published then, and you think: 'Wow! These people really went off.' It's almost the beginning of the conservation movement in Australia, because it mobilised people as never before." And although nobody has since posited a Queensland koala equivalent of the Curse of Gnome, there is some evidence for it.

Seventy years after that pioneering koala campaign, for example, federal tourism minister John Brown famously dismissed the animals as "flea-ridden, piddling, stinking, scratching, rotten little things"; he left politics soon after following allegations he had misled parliament over a tender submitted by a contractor.

The 1995 state election was then dominated by a Labor government plan to drive a major roadway through a key koala habitat. An apparently unassailable majority dwindled unsustainably when Labor lost what became known as the "koala seats" in Brisbane Bayside. Oddly, Rudd – then chief-of-staff to the premier of Queensland – was mixed up in the row over that koala habitat.

In the end, those koalas probably did Rudd a favour – and now Tabart thinks it is payback time. She is an unpredictable political opponent. An entrant 40 years ago in the Miss Australia pageant, she explains her failure candidly: "I didn't sleep with one of the judges, so I didn't win."

Tabart has made a particular target of Professor Bob Beeton of the University of Queensland, the chairman of the aforementioned threatened species scientific committee, which four years ago rejected an AKF application for listing of the koala as "vulnerable". "That determination sits on my desk to this day, and it outrages me," she says. To Beeton's statements that his committee might take up to a year to report back to environment minister Peter Garrett, she retorts: "The minister doesn't have that time – and nor does the koala."

Beeton has a droll line or two as well. While naturalists describe the koala as representative of "charismatic megafauna", Beeton is unmoved by charisma: under pressure from a television interviewer last week, he responded that his committee would grant protection of the koala as much consideration as protection of the death adder – the subject of another recent determination. Asked about advocacy groups in general, and the proposition that no such group has ever prospered from buoyant pronouncements of abundance, he invokes Francis Urquhart in House of Cards: "You might well think that. I couldn't possibly comment."

Threatened by disease

Far from being new, Beeton observes, disease is a perennial problem in the koala community. The Chlamydia organism, which finally carried off Sam, may be present in as many as half of Australia's koalas – just as it is also present in about a third of humans.

Another spectre cited in recent publicity concerning the koala is a newly identified but little understood retrovirus, originally given the acronym KoRV, but now more catchily abbreviated as Kids (Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Beeton believes that a great deal more needs to be known about the condition: "It's very hard for a single disease to kill a species. We couldn't kill rabbits in Australia with myxomatosis."

There is clearly much argy-bargy to come. The AKF's prospects will depend on its ability to use global concerns to influence domestic policies; for Australians, the koala reposes, at least at the moment, on a list of "things-to-be-concerned-about-had-I-the-time".

So far, it has made its case with only a broad brush. Because of her suspicions of the Species Committee, Tabart says that the foundation is unprepared as yet to divulge full details of its data, on grounds that earlier data presented to the Species Committee was "used against the koala". She will say only that it results from the examination of 80,000 trees at 2,000 field sites and concludes that the population may be as low as 43,000, compared with previously assumed figures comfortably in six figures. This leaves the foundation open to criticism because, as Jackson points out, koala numbers depend quite heavily on where you look: "If you talk to biologists [in Victoria], they'll tell you: 'Koalas are falling out of the trees down here. We don't know what to do with them.'"

Statistics that are public, however, include those of widespread land clearing in Queensland until its cessation in January 2007, after a decade in which up to 700,000 hectares of habitat was being destroyed annually under the influence of property developers and resources companies – a reckless abandon whose environmental effects are still little understood.

In this sense, Sam the koala was an ironic representative of her species, survivor of a calamity amply publicised and readily understood; far greater ecological damage on Australia has been inflicted by easy government acquiescence.

Gideon Haigh is one of Australia's leading cricket writers.

Chew leaves – sleep for 18 hours The life of a koala

When a koala dies, a new occupant won't move into its home range for about a year – the time it takes for scratches on the trees and scent markings to disappear. Then, as long as they are not disturbed, koalas keep their home ranges (a group of several trees that they regularly visit) throughout their lives – up to 18 years.

Often called koala bears because of their cuddly teddy-bear appearance, they are of course marsupials – and can be aggressive. They breed once a year (koalas usually only produce a single cub, or joey, though occasionally give birth to twins), and once a cub is born – 2cm long, blind and hairless after a gestation period of 35 days – it relies on its sense of smell and touch to crawl into its mother's pouch, where it stays for the next six months, feeding on milk. After it emerges, the cub will remain with its mother until it is a year old, riding on her back or clinging to her belly.

The adult koala's days are filled with sleeping and eating. They survive on a diet of predominantly eucalyptus leaves and bark – to most animals, eucalyptus leaves are incredibly poisonous, but the koala's digestive system has evolved to manage the toxins. It is often said that eucalyptus makes koalas "stoned" – probably because they sleep for up to 18 hours a day, wedged between branches of eucalyptus trees – but this isn't true: their high-fibre, low-nutrition diet means they have to sleep to conserve energy.

They also don't tend to drink, getting almost all the water they need from leaves. In fact, the name koala is thought to come from a name in one Aboriginal language meaning "doesn't drink". Emine Saner

Going, going . . . Endangered flagship species

Giant panda

The poster-bear of the wildlife conservation movement and symbol of the WWF since 1961. "Charismatic or flagship species tend to be larger animals that take up a larger space," says Amanda Nickson, director of its international species programme. "By conserving these, you help to conserve everything smaller that shares their habitat. Pandas were one of the earliest species that people became aware were threatened; they show we can bring species back from the brink of extinction." There is still much work to do, though: only 1,600 pandas are left in the wild in southern and eastern China.


In the last 100 years, the tiger population has decreased by 95%, three sub-species have become extinct and a fourth has not been spotted in the wild for 25 years. There are thought to be around 3,200 tigers left in the wild in south and east Asia, but they are endangered by poaching for the trade in tiger body parts (used in traditional Chinese medicine) and their skins, loss of prey and the more long-term threat of habitat loss. "The global community needs to take action now," says Nickson.

African elephant

Elephants losing their habitat as human populations encroach is a relatively recent threat, but while the global ban on illegal ivory in 1989 helped, poaching remains a problem. It is thought the population of around 600,000 is decreasing by 38,000 every year, and one recent estimate suggested large groups could be extinct by 2020. "Elephants are still being slaughtered daily to supply the illegal trade in ivory," says Robbie Marsland, UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Blue whale

Before the extensive whaling of the 20th century – in 1931, 29,000 blue whales were killed in one season alone – it is thought there were around 250,000 blue whales at any one time. By 1966, when the International Whaling Commission banned blue whale hunting, they were almost extinct; now there are around 2,300. "Despite our best efforts, their numbers aren't recovering as well as we would hope," says Nickson. "Blue whales are a symbol of why we can't allow species to become too endangered. We allowed their numbers to get too low, and we need to learn lessons." ES

Dolphin murder shocks Nitish

Cases of poaching on the rise in the region, say experts


Patna, Nov. 22: Poachers allegedly killed a dolphin — India’s national aquatic animal — in the Ganga, sending shockwaves among environmentalists.

The Manmohan Singh government conferred the ‘national’ honour on the fresh-water mammal as recently as October 5. The matter came to light after two motorboat operators — Krishna and Avinash — working with the state tourism development corporation, raised an alarm after spotting a group of fishermen dragging the dolphin out of the river near the collectorate ghat around noon yesterday.

The men fled after spotting the two operators. Krishna, Avinash and others who had gathered at the site after the duo’s cries failed to save the animal, by then badly injured and gasping for breath. Though the dolphin was released in water its carcass was found floating in the river after a while.

The zoology head at Patna Science College and an expert, R.K. Sinha, also known as Dolphin Sinha, yesterday’s incident was just the tip of the iceberg. He added the fresh-water mammal was poached regularly by fishermen for its meat.

“We have news that as many as five dolphins have been killed near Patna ghats in the past seven days,” Sinha said, adding: “Fishermen settled in makeshift huts behind the collectorate ghat have been engaged in poaching for some time now.”

District wildlife officers today lodged an FIR in this connection with Gandhi Maidan police station. “Investigation is on,” said Bihar chief wildlife warden, B.A. Khanna.

The carcass has been taken to the environmental science laboratory of Patna University and R.K. Sinha, also a member of Ganga River Basin Authority of India, is engaged in an autopsy.

The incident is learnt to have shocked Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who launched a campaign to save the endangered species found only in the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Indus and their tributaries.

After the Centre declared dolphins as the national aquatic animal (after Nitish requested for the same), the chief minister wrote to all district magistrates and forest officers to ensure protection of the endangered species. In the state, there are only 200 dolphins left. The Union government is likely to unveil Project Dolphin to save the species that figures in Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act-1972.

100 volunteers using night vision search for missing dog

By JO STEELE - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A search involving 100 volunteers, using night vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment, would be a Herculean undertaking if the hunt was for a missing person.
How much more impressive is it if the search is for a dog?

The dog in question is a cocker spaniel called Lady and she ran away earlier this month.

Former policeman Graham Turvey, 57, and his wife Cynthia, 56, have travelled 250 miles to set up an incident room on behalf of Lady's owners.

The couple, from Morpeth, Northumberland, gathered teams of up to 30 people at a time to scour every inch of land in and around Milton Keynes.

Some have come from as far as Carlisle. Lady was rescued from a puppy farm earlier this year by the Northern English Springer Spaniel Rescue centre, which the Turveys run. The chocolate and tan bitch was re-homed in Milton Keynes on November 9 but ran away within a day.

When her new owners reported Lady missing, Graham and Cynthia sprang into action.

Graham, a sergeant with Northumbria Police for 33 years, said: 'It gives you the skills to search a particular place more thoroughly and think about the search methodically.' Their incident room has sleeping bags, maps and a computer.

'The support we have received is incredible,' said Cynthia. 'We'll search until we find Lady. When we took her in we made a commitment to her and we'll stand by that. You don't give up on a dog.'

Man mauled after trying to have picnic with bear in Swiss zoo

A man was just moments away from death as he hung in the jaws of a bear he tried to have a picnic with in a Swiss zoo.

By Allan Hall in Berlin
Published: 11:38AM GMT 25 Nov 2009

But in the end it was the bear who ended up fighting for his life after police shot it in order to save the life of the uninvited intruder into his enclosure.

These dramatic photographs were taken by a visitor to the Bern Park, Switzerland, on Sunday when Finn, a European brown bear aged four, suddenly realised the unwanted human guest in his home.

The 25-year-old man's bid to party with Finn mirrors a similar escapade in Berlin Zoo in Germany on Good Friday this year when Mandy Knobloch, 32, jumped in to swim with the polar bears.

She was severely mauled but rescued before keepers had to open fire on the bears.

Finn was not so lucky. As his massive jaws – capable of crushing steel – and eight-inch fangs that can rip flesh like paper sank into his prey, police had to act fast to save the life of his prey.

Finn picked up the intruder as if he were a rag doll, carting him to the other side of his enclosure which only opened last month.

He pounced after the man climbed onto a wall surrounding and jumped 20 feet into his home.

Police were left with little option but to open fire, they said. Yet they used a fragmentation bullet, the kind which splinters inside the target.

Finn is critically ill but veterinarians are unable to operate because of the number of splinters caused by the bullet.

The man sustained severe head and leg wounds but he is out of danger. Police and zoo officials say there has been an outpouring of public sympathy after the incident – for the bear.

The mother of all squirrels

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

World's oldest sheep, Lucky, dies in Australia at 23

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The world's oldest sheep has died in Australia at the age of 23 - twice the normal life expectancy - after succumbing to a record heatwave.

Lucky hit the Guinness record in 2007 and was a celebrity in her hometown of Lake Bolac, near Melbourne.

The ewe had died on Monday at the farm where she had been found as a little lamb, her owner Delrae Westgarth said.

Lucky was hand-reared from birth after being abandoned by her mother. She went on to have 35 offspring of her own.

"She used to come and howl at the back gate, torment the dogs and that sort of thing," Mrs Westgarth told public broadcaster ABC.

Lucky, a Polwarth-Dorchester cross, succumbed to a weeklong heatwave, as temperatures soared above 30C (86F).

"We brought her into the shed where she was reared and put air conditioners on her," Mrs Westgarth said, but she did not survive.

Lucky - who became toothless and arthritic in her old age - had been buried under her favourite nectarine tree, Mrs Westgarth added.

A copy of her Guinness World Record certificate is on the wall of Lake Bolac's tourist information centre, which carries Lucky postcards, bookmarks and wool samples for sale, the Melbourne Herald-Sun reports.

(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Foreign lizards threat to our native species

RIGHT: The local: a female sand lizard
BELOW: The alien: a male wall lizard

8:00am Tuesday 24th November 2009
By Jane Reader

ALIEN species of lizard have caused a sharp decline in the number of protected sand lizards on Dorset’s cliffs, research has revealed.

Wall lizards and green lizards, native to parts of mainland Europe, are taking over their territory, breeding at four times the rate of the local reptiles.

Now a detailed study will be carried out to assess the impact of the invaders amid fears for the future of the native Dorset sand lizards.

Experts said local breeders have been slowly introducing the species over the last 15 years, despite knowing it is against the law.

“It is an ill-advised thing to do,” said Dave Bird of the British Herpetological Trust.

“They see these lizards running around when they are on holiday and think it would be nice to have the same thing here.”

Mr Bird said the aliens have taken hold on sand cliffs in the Boscombe, Bournemouth and Poole areas and also in quarries in the Purbeck and Portland areas.

“They are not doing much harm in the quarries because there are no native species there but I believe they have brought disease to the areas where there are sand lizards.”

The trust has now enlisted the help of the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo where lizards will be tested for disease. The issue featured on a BBC Inside Out documentary last night, which looked at the impact alien species are having in Britain.
(Submitted by Mark North)

Swans set sail

Click to enlarge

Snake spits out new species of chameleon at scientist's feet

Latest find in natural world was result of reptile coughing up lizard as conservationist studied monkeys in the jungle

Esther Addley,,
Monday 23 November 2009

It was so nearly known as dinner. Instead, a small and not terribly impressive chameleon has become the newest discovery of the natural world, after a startled Tanzanian snake spat a still-undigested specimen at the feet of a British scientist, who identified it as a previously unknown species.

Dr Andrew Marshall, a conservationist from York University, was surveying monkeys in the Magombera forest in Tanzania, when he stumbled across a twig snake which, frightened, coughed up the chameleon and fled. Though a colleague persuaded him not to touch it because of the risk from venom, Marshall suspected it might be a new species, and took a photograph to send to colleagues, who confirmed his suspicions.

Kinyongia magomberae, literally "the chameleon from Magombera", is the result, though Marshall told the Guardian today the fact it wasn't easy to identify is precisely what made it unique.

"The thing is, colour isn't the best thing for telling chameleons apart, since they can change colour for camouflage. They are usually identified based on the patterning and shape of the head, and the arrangement of scales. In this case it's the bulge of scales on its nose."

Happily for Marshall, shortly afterwards he spotted a second chameleon, this time alive, and was able to photograph it. The two creatures were found about six miles apart, which he believes may be the full extent of the area colonised by the extremely rare species. Though he found the specimen in 2005, his paper on the discovery, published this week, puts the find formally on record. "It takes quite a long time to convince the authorities that you have a new species," he said.

Had Marshall hoped it might be named after him? "Oh crumbs, no. The thing is, if you work in an area of conservation importance and you can give a species the name of that area it can really highlight that area. By giving it the name Magombera it raises the importance of the forest." The tiny area of jungle is currently unprotected, he said, and he hopes the find will persuade the Tanzanian authorities to extend protection.

"When we presented our findings to the local village people they were just amazed that the world now knows an animal by the Swahili name Magombera," he said.
(Submitted by Richard Muirhead)

See also:
(Submitted by Tim Chapman)

Monday, 23 November 2009

Mary the tortoise 'is actually male'

Monday, November 23 2009, 13:58 GMT
By Mayer Nissim, Entertainment Reporter

Zookepers in the US have discovered that a tortoise they thought was female for over half a century is actually male.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo spokesman Tom O'Konowitz confirmed that the creature, previously known as Mary, has now been renamed Terry, The Chronicle-Telegram reports

O'Konowitz said: "This is definitely a first for us. It came as something of a surprise to finally figure out Mary's true identity. It took us 55 years to finally say she's a boy.

"With some species like elephants, gorillas and rhinos, it's very obvious whether you're dealing with a male or female."

He added that staff had assumed the tortoise was female because it had a flat shell, short tail and was the smallest of a batch of three that arrived from Aldabra Island off the east coast of Africa in 1955.

O'Konowitz explained that large tortoises' reproductive organs are not usually visible during examinations, but in this case "became visible to the staff".

See also:

Strange creatures of the deep found in underwater 'twilight zone'

Thousands of strange ceatures which exist in perpetual darkness miles below the surface of the oceans have been catalogued for the first time by scientists.

Published: 8:00AM GMT 23 Nov 2009

The Census of Marine Life, a major international project surveying the oceans, recorded 5,722 species living at depths greater than 0.62 miles where the sun never shines.

Many inhabited icy cold black realms as deep as three miles where the pressure would crush a human.

In total, 17,650 species were identified living deeper than 200 metres, the ''twilight zone'' where light barely penetrates and photosynthesis ceases to be possible.

Scientists were surprised by the diversity of life in the deepest reaches of the oceans.

Even the mud at the bottom of the ocean abyss was teeming with living things.

Among the bizarre creatures encountered by the researchers were a six foot long cirrate octopod - nicknamed ''Dumbo'' because of the large ear-like fins it uses to swim - discovered more than a mile deep on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Another was a ''wildcat'' tubeworm caught in the act of dining on crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico. When the worm was extracted by a robot arm from the sea bed, oil gushed both from the animal's body and the hole in which it was found.

Also recovered from the Atlantic was an ''indescribable'' catch of multi-coloured invertebrates, including corals, sea cucumbers and sea urchins living a kilometre below the surface.

At more than 1.7 miles down, in the northern Gulf of Mexico, scientists videoed an odd-looking transparent sea cucumber creeping forward on its many tentacles.

Dr Robert Carney, from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, US, one of the Census scientists, said: ''Distribution is pretty straightforward for animals in the deep sea. The composition of faunal populations changes with depth, likely a consequence of physiology, ecology and the suitability of sea-floor habitat condition for certain animals.

''Diversity is harder to understand. Although the mud on the deep sea floor appears monotonous and poor in food, that monotonous mud has a maximum of species diversity on the lower continental margin. To survive in the deep, animals must find and exploit meagre or novel resources, and their great diversity in the deep reflects how many ways there are to adapt.''

The vast majority of creatures collected in mud from the abyssal plain were new to science, said the researchers.

Of some 680 specimens of copepods collected from the south-eastern Atlantic, for example, just seven could be identified.

Among the hundreds of species of earthworm-sized macrofauna found at different sites, 50% to 85% were unrecognised.

British expert Dr David Billett, another member of the team from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said: ''The abyssal fauna is so rich in species diversity and so poorly described that collecting a known species is an anomaly. Describing for the first time all the different species in any coffee cup-sized sample of deep sea sediment is a daunting challenge.''

The scientist used a range of high and low-tech hardware including robot submersibles and sea-floor rovers, coring drills, dredges and trawling nets.

The Census, which is also surveying life at shallower depths, is due to complete its work in October 2010.

Dr Chris German, one of the project leaders from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said: ''The deep sea is the Earth's largest continuous ecosystem and largest habitat for life. It is also the least studied.''

Smuggler ties 15 lizards to his chest

Customs officials find live lizards strapped to man's chest at Los Angeles International Airport

By TOM PHILLIPS - Monday, November 23, 2009

The annals of unusual animal smuggling attempts got another entry on Friday, when officials arrested a man who strapped 15 live lizards to his chest as he tried to get them through customs at Los Angeles International Airport.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Friday that 40-year-old Michael Plank of California was returning from Australia when U.S. Customs agents found two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 skinks fastened to his body Tuesday.

Plank has been released on $10,000 (around £6,030) bond and will be arraigned in a federal court on December 21.

Authorities say the lizards' value totals more than $8,500 (about £5,125). All Australian reptiles are strictly regulated and Plank did not have a permit to import them, let alone strap them to his chest.

Dog attack kangaroo turned on owner


An Australian man was in a stable condition in hospital after being slashed across the abdomen and face by a kangaroo that was holding his dog underwater.

An Australian man was in a stable condition in hospital after being slashed across the abdomen and face by a kangaroo that was holding his dog underwater.

Chris Rickard, 49, said he was walking his blue heeler, Rocky, on Sunday morning when they surprised a sleeping kangaroo in Arthur's Creek north-east of Melbourne. The dog chased the animal into a pond but it then turned and pinned the pet underwater.

When Mr Rickard tried to pull his dog free, the kangaroo turned on him, attacking with its hind legs and tearing a deep gash into his abdomen and across his face.

"I thought I might take a hit or two dragging the dog out from under his grip, but I didn't expect him to actually attack me," Mr Rickard told The Herald Sun newspaper. "It was a shock at the start because it was a kangaroo, about five feet high, they don't go around killing people."

Kangaroos rarely attack humans but will fight if they feel threatened.

Dogs often chase kangaroos, which have been known to lead the pets into water and then pin them underwater as a means of defence.

Mr Rickard said he ended the attack by elbowing the kangaroo in the throat, adding Rocky was "half-drowned" when he pulled him from the water.
(Submitted by Lindsay Selby)

See also:,2933,576328,00.html?test=latestnews
(Submitted by Loren Coleman)

Drug misuse on Minnesota dairy cows prompts federal warning

Two state farms were reprimanded for unsafe levels of antibiotics in animals. The 2 animals were pulled from slaughter lines after testing.

By LORA PABST, Star Tribune
Last update: November 20, 2009 - 11:32 PM

Two Minnesota cows that could have ended up on a dinner plate were pulled from slaughter lines after federal inspectors discovered dangerously high levels of antibiotics in both animals. In a rare move, federal officials sent stern warning letters to two central Minnesota dairy farms, which were among only 30 farms nationwide reprimanded so far this year for violating the rules governing how animal drugs can be used.

J&L Dairy, in Clarissa, Minn., sent a dairy cow to slaughter in March, even though it was drugged with 129 times the amount of penicillin allowed under federal regulations.

Another farm, Evergreen Acres Dairy, LLC, in Paynesville, Minn., was warned by the FDA last month, after one of its cows was found to have more than four times the allowed amount for a certain type of antibiotic. Further inspection found that the farm had misused 10 other drugs.

In letters to both farms, the FDA wrote that "you hold animals under conditions that are so inadequate that medicated animals bearing potentially harmful drug residues are likely to enter the food supply."

In the arena of meat safety, bacterial contamination gets the most attention because of the potential for deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness and massive recalls of tainted products.

Drug residues are less likely to cause immediate harm to consumers, but they can still be dangerous.

Jeff Bender, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, said antibiotics and other animal drugs have been used on dairy farms for decades, mostly to treat udder infections. Strict federal standards and testing processes were put in place to make sure the drugs didn't remain in meat or milk of treated animals.

"We want to avoid the possibility that if a person were allergic to penicillin, that consumption of a product or milk from that animal would cause an allergic reaction," he said.

3 new ancient crocodile species fossils found

Randolph E. Schmid, AP Science Writer – Thu Nov 19, 3:25 pm ET

WASHINGTON – A 20-foot-long crocodile with three sets of fangs — like wild boar tusks — roamed parts of northern Africa millions of years ago, researchers reported Thursday. While this fearsome creature hunted meat, not far away another newly found type of croc with a wide, flat snout like a pancake was fishing for food.

And a smaller, 3-foot-long relative with buckteeth was chomping plants and grubs in the same region.

The three new species, along with new examples of two previously known ancient crocodiles, were detailed Thursday by researchers Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal. They spoke at a news conference organized by the National Geographic Society, which sponsored the research.

"These species open a window on a croc world completely foreign to what was living on northern continents," Sereno said of the unusual animals that lived 100 million years ago on the southern continent known as Gondwana.

Hans Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History said the discovery revises the ideas of what crocodile-type reptiles were like.

"It's a joy for anyone who is interested in ancient life to see," said Sues, an editor at ZooKeys, which published the findings.

The researchers suggest that these crocs could gallop across the landscape chasing prey and yet dive into water and swim.

"My African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water," Sereno wrote in an article for National Geographic magazine.

"Their amphibious talents in the past may be the key to understanding how they flourished in, and ultimately survived, the dinosaur era."

They weren't racehorses, Sereno said, but they could move quickly. Freshwater crocs in Australia manage to eat a few people every year and these would have been able to do as well, he said. However, there were no people around at the time.

The newly discovered species are:
  • Kaprosuchus saharicus, nicknamed "BoarCroc," found in Niger. BoarCroc was a 20-foot-long meat-eater with an armored snout for ramming and three sets of dagger-shaped fangs for slicing. The tusks stuck out above and below the jaw like a modern warthog, said Larsson. "This has never been seen before on any crocodile."
  • Araripesuchus rattoides, which the researchers call "RatCroc," found in Morocco. This 3-foot-long croc was a plant- and grub-eater with a pair of buckteeth in the lower jaw it used to dig for food.
  • Laganosuchus thaumastos, or "PancakeCroc," found in Niger and Morocco. Also 20 feet long, it was a squat fish-eater with a 3-foot pancake-flat head and spike-shaped teeth on slender jaws. Sereno said it probably remained motionless for hours, its jaws open and waiting for prey.

In addition the researchers found new fossils of two previously named species:

  • Anatosuchus minor, "DuckCroc," found in Niger, a 3-foot-long fish-, frog- and grub-eater with a broad snout and Pinocchio-like nose. Special sensory areas on the snout end allowed it to root around on the shore and in shallow water for prey. Its closest relative is in Madagascar.
  • Araripesuchus wegeneri, or "DogCroc," found in Niger, a 3-foot-long plant- and grub-eater with a soft, doglike nose pointing forward.

Sereno has focused since 2000 on fossils in the Sahara Desert, his first find being Sarcosuchus imperator, a 40-foot-long creature that would have weighed 8 tons and which he called "SuperCroc."

The new findings are detailed in the journal ZooKeys as well as National Geographic magazine and a documentary scheduled for Saturday on the National Geographic Channel.

(Submitted by Michael Newton)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stowaway cat Pharaoh survives two-week voyage to Britain from Egypt

Pharoah the cat has survived after stowing away in a container on a merchant ship that arrived at the British port of Felixstowe after a 3,000 mile journey from Egypt.

Published: 2:50PM GMT 21 Nov 2009

The hungry animal was found in a container after two weeks on board the MV Maersk Batam which travelled from the Port Said in Egypt to the Suffolk port.

John Biscoe, of GMA Freight, said: "We opened this container that had just arrived from Egypt to ensure that it was all in order and I was with the forklift operator and became aware there was something in there.

"It was a container with wire coils and I said there was a cat in there.

"The other chap wondered if it was a lion or something but then this little thing jumped out and started rubbing around my legs."

Two RSPCA officers collected Pharaoh and he is now being looked after a quarantine cattery near Colchester, Essex.

"He was very scrawny and we gave him a bowl of water and one of my colleagues gave him his sandwich ~ he ate the meat very quickly," said Mr Biscoe.

"He must have been someone's pet in Egypt – he was very happy to see us."

Pharaoh will be kept at the cattery for five and a half months because of rabies quarantine regulations.

A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said it had been "touch and go" for the cat when it was found two weeks ago.

She said: "He was not in a very good state and at first it was thought he might not survive.

"He has been taken to a quarantine centre at Colchester, checked for rabies and other problems, fed and been looked after and now looks much better.

"Pharaoh will have to stay in quarantine and then it will be re-homed here."

Scientists hail Hobbie-J as 'cleverest rat'

Scientists say they have created the world's cleverest rat, called Hobbie-J, by modifying a single gene in a technique they believe could also be used to boost human brainpower.

By David Harrison
Published: 2:13PM GMT 21 Nov 2009

Hobbie-J, named after a Chinese cartoon character, can remember objects for three times longer than other rats and is better at finding its way through mazes.

The rat, when it was an embryo, was injected with genetic material to boost the NR2B gene which controls memory.

The success brings hope for future dementia patients, as it is thought the gene enhancement could one day be used in a drug treatment for human brain disorders.

Dr Joe Z Tsien, who led the experiment at the Medical College of Georgia, said: “Hobbie-J can remember information for longer. It’s the equivalent of me giving you a telephone number and somehow you remembering it for an hour.

“Our study provides a solid basis for the rationale that the NR2B gene is critical to enhancing memory. That gene could be used for memory-enhancing drugs.”

Dr Tsien undertook a similar experiment on a mouse named Doogie 10 years ago, but thie latest trial shows that memory enhancement can work on different types of mammals, potentially paving the way for human use.

Although it could take decades to develop a safe drug, dementia organisations in the UK welcomed the study.

Andrew Scheuber from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: “This research involving rats may lead to new ways to reduce the risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s or to ameliorate dementia symptoms.

"A treatment involving NR2B may have the potential to slow the deterioration that takes place in dementia patients, but it is too soon to tell.”

However, Dr John Hardy, professor of neuroscience at University College London, said the research would not help Alzheimer’s patients because they suffered from dying brain cells, not ineffective ones.

Another monkey sighting – this time in northwest Hillsborough

By HOWARD ALTMAN The Tampa Tribune
Published: November 20, 2009

TAMPA - James McMullen was sitting on his patio, like always, enjoying his morning coffee when he saw what he thought was a big cat in a backyard tree.

"I said to myself, 'Man, that is a big cat.'"

So he walked toward it.

When he got closer, he realized it wasn't a cat.

"It was a monkey," he says. "It was orangey blonde in color. A fair size. When it was on all fours, it was about 18 inches tall. If he stood up, he would be about 3 feet tall."

The sighting, McMullen said, "was baffling."

He hasn't been following media reports about a stealthy simian whose scampered from East Tampa to Linebaugh Avenue and now, apparently, through the tall oaks in his backyard in northwest Hillsborough.

"I didn't believe I was seeing a monkey in my backyard," he said. It wasn't until later, when he talked to his mother, Barbara, that he realized that what he spotted may be the object of an area-wide monkey/goose hunt.

McMullen, who lives at 13444 Bellingham Drive, said he ran into his house to get his cell phone, which has a camera, but by the time he got out, the animal was gone, heading toward the Tampa Jewish Community Center, which backs up to his yard.

Because the community center has a day care, McMullen says he alerted the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the center.

After receiving McMullen's call, day care officials searched the 25-acre grounds. Although they couldn't find the animal, they are not allowing the facility's 200 to go outside today, said Peter Paternacki, the center's director of operations.

"We sent out our troops to look for the monkey, or primate," Paternacki said. "But we didn't find him. Two sheriff's deputies showed up, and they couldn't find him either."

The sheriff's office called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, sheriff's office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

The commission is not sending anyone to look for the animal, spokesman Gary Morse said.

"There are several reasons why," Morse said. "The monkey is moving around and not a threat as long as people don't approach or feed it. And it is not in an area that is conducive for its capture."

It would be hard to find a tranquilizer dart that was fired and missed, Morse said. The darts contain dangerous drugs. Also, if the animal were darted and ran into traffic, that would present other problems.

"Right now, we are playing a wait-and-see game," Morse said. "As long as he is not threatening people, is avoiding people and in an area that is difficult for his capture, we are going to bide our time."

The animal, Morse said, is likely the same macaque that was seen in East Tampa last week, on Linebaugh Avenue this week and perhaps in Clearwater a few months ago.

"There are not a lot of these animals out there," he said.

Strangely enough, McMullen said his mother may have spotted the animal this morning while driving to his house, which is near Gunn Highway and the Veterans Expressway.

"My mother thinks she saw him run across Sheldon Road," he said. "She described it as having an orangey color."

For the second time this morning, McMullen said was shocked.

"That was him," he said he told his mother.

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

Baboon or monkey? Either way, deputies looking for this simian

By HOWARD ALTMAN The Tampa Tribune
Published: November 18, 2009

TAMPA - Eric Gonzalez and his wife Tiffany were driving on Linebaugh Avenue this afternoon when an animal darted in front of their 2007 Dodge Caravan.

"Look out for that dog," Eric said his wife told him.

"But when it crossed in front of us, it was running at an alarming speed," Gonzalez said. "As soon as it stood up on its back legs, I knew it wasn't a dog."

It was, he said, a baboon.

"It had a bald butt, the body was beige, the butt was pinkish," Gonzalez said.

Just as quickly as the couple saw the creature, it was gone.

"As soon as it jumped up, it jumped right off to Williams Road," he said. "It cleared a 6-foot fence."

After the shock wore off, the couple called authorities – Eric called the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Tiffany called 911.

It was the second call about the baboon deputies had received, according to HCSO spokesman Larry McKinnon.

The first call came in about 1:30 p.m., he said. Because the animal was spotted near Canella Elementary School, deputies contacted school officials, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Lowry Park Zoo, said McKinnon.

Gonzalez said he called in the baboon sighting because of concern for the neighborhood.

"We live in the area," said Gonzalez. "My main concern was that this is a wild animal. We have a lot of kids in the area. There is a school right there and we do not want the kids to be curious and approach it. The animal, being wild, might turn around and attack one of the kids."

McKinnon said the animal probably escaped from captivity.

"We suspect it was a large monkey or baboon that escaped from a house in the area," McKinnon said. "We have had reports of this for a week."

McKinnon said because the animal was near a school, the sheriff's office sent a helicopter and patrol cars to investigate.

So far, deputies have not been able to find the animal, which was last seen shortly before 2 p.m. running behind a Hindu temple on Nixon Road.

It is possible this may be the same simian seen in Tampa last week, McKinnon said.

Last week, a resident reported seeing a monkey in East Tampa, hunkered down in a tree on Elm Street just south of Sligh Avenue, west of the Hillsborough River.

Initially, residents called to say there was a monkey on the loose. Then spectators said it appeared to be a big raccoon. Fish & Wildlife officers arrived and determined it was a macaque monkey.

"An officer went up into the tree to get a better look at it," commission spokesman Gary Morse said at the time.

The animal spotted Wednesday was most likely not a baboon, he said, but a macaque.

"A lot of people might mistake a macaque for a baboon," he said.

At this point, Fish & Wildlife officers are not searching for the animal because they are waiting to hear back from HCSO, Morse said.

Officers have no idea where the macaque came from. A breeding population of rhesus macaques lives in the woods of the Silver Springs area, near Ocala, but officers here don't know whether there is a connection.

It's possible the monkey is a pet that escaped, Morse said. So far, no one has filed a missing monkey report. A permit is required in order to have a monkey.

Lowry Park Zoo officials said the animal isn't from their facility.

"All of ours are accounted for," zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said.

Morse said officers have given up the active hunt.

"We're just telling people if they see it to just let us know," Morse said. "Don't feed it and don't approach it."

The macaques generally are not aggressive, but they can be "if you corner them or get in their personal space," he said. "They are very strong and capable of hurting somebody, but only if they feel threatened. They are not going to go out there and hunt somebody down."

(Submitted by Chad Arment)
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