Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Smarter (or luckier) than the average bear

A northern Minnesota black bear has survived for an amazing 36 years, making her one of the oldest on record.

The bear is simply called No. 56, but "Lucky" might be a better name.

The northern Minnesota black bear has beaten long odds, living to a ripe old age of 36 -- one of the oldest -- if not the oldest, wild black bears on record. She was first caught and outfitted with a radio collar in 1981, when she was 7. Since then, she's survived 29 hunting seasons and avoided cars on highways and clashes with rural residents.

How rare is she?

The average age of a bear killed by a hunter in Minnesota is 3.7 years old. About 80 percent of her 26 cubs died by age 6. And the oldest bear ever killed here by a hunter was 31, based on 35 years of data using teeth to
determine the age of harvested bears. "Obviously she's really a special bear," said Department of Natural
Resources research biologist Karen Noyce of Grand Rapids, who has been monitoring No. 56 since she first tranquilized and attached a radio collar to the bear back in 1981.

Of the hundreds of bears that have been radio collared since then, the longest that any survived was 23 years, Noyce said. "Very few bears live past 25," said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear research scientist. "This is really old for a wild bear. She has found a way to beat the odds."

Cautious by nature

But Noyce and Garshelis say there's probably a reason, beyond chance or luck, for her longevity. "It has to be something behavioral," Garshelis said. "She has avoided going to hunters' baits, though there are hunters where she lives. Whether she learned early in life from her mother ... we just don't know."

Said Noyce: "Some of that might be her personality; she might have a somewhat more cautious nature than other bears."

People assume a bear is a bear, but Noyce said studies of many animals are showing that they can be quite different. Bears don't all act the same. A bold or reckless one might not last long. No. 56 -- called that because of the numbered tag she was given -- lives in a remote area without a lot of permanent human residences. But there are roads, trails and access by hunters, who typically place bait in the woods to attract bears each fall.

But for whatever reason, she has ignored them. And she's apparently passed on that sense of caution to her offspring. Noyce said No. 56 had at least 26 cubs. All but three survived the first year and one-third survived to age 4. "That's a little better than average," Noyce said. One of her cubs lived 16 years, another is still alive at 15. At least five of her cubs bore another 47 "grandchildren," and one of those lived 22 years and bore 28 great-grandchildren. Researchers only tracked the female cubs, so that doesn't account for reproduction from male descendents. The bear was 26 years old when she had her last litter of cubs.

She also could have encountered trouble during her summer wanderings. It's not uncommon for bears to leave their home range and travel in mid-summer in search of food, and No. 56 did quite a bit of traveling in the 10 years her movement was closely monitored. Her home range covers about 15 square miles, but one year she traveled 45 miles away and another year she covered 20 miles.

Researchers have visited No. 56 in person every three years, when Noyce replaces the radio collar with a new one. Noyce, Garshelis and Ken Soring, a former DNR researcher and now DNR enforcement manager who helped collar the bear in 1981, recently went into the woods to find the old gal.

Wanted: A natural death

They tranquilized her while she was hibernating in her den, checked her health and attached a new radio collar.
"She's healthy," said Noyce. She weighs about 190 pounds. Her face and paws are gray with age. And her teeth are worn, chipped or missing. And that could affect her chances of survival. "If she has trouble eating natural foods, she may be more attracted to some other food source," Garshelis said. Like a bait pile. In recent years, DNR researchers have asked hunters to avoid shooting collared bears so information can continue to be gathered. So to boost her chances of survival, they attached large bright orange and yellow tags on each ear, and on the radio collar.

Noyce and Garshelis don't know how long a bear can survive in the wild, because most are killed before they can die of natural causes. "We've never seen a bear die of old age," Noyce said. It's hard not to become attached to an animal they have followed for most of their careers, Noyce acknowledged.

"Everything dies, and at some point she will die," Noyce said. "It will be sad, but it will be interesting. It would be disappointing after all these years if she died of a human-related cause." Said Garshelis: "We hope she dies naturally, which would make a nice ending to the story."

Hyenas' laughter signals deciphered

Acoustic analysis of the 'giggle' sound made by spotted hyenas has revealed that the animals' laughter encodes information about age, dominance and identity. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Ecology recorded the calls of 26 hyenas in captivity and found that variations in the giggles' pitch and timbre may help hyenas to establish social hierarchies.

Frederic Theunissen, from the University of California at Berkeley, USA, and Nicolas Mathevon, from the Universite Jean Monnet, St. Etienne, France worked with a team of researchers to study the animals in a field station at Berkeley. Theunissen said, 'The hyena's laugh gives receivers cues to assess the social rank of the emitting individual. This may allow hyenas to establish feeding rights and organise their food-gathering activities.'

The researchers found that while the pitch of the giggle reveals a hyena's age, variations in the frequency of notes can encode information about dominant and subordinate status. These vocalisations are mainly produced during food contests by animals that are prevented from securing access to a kill, and have been considered a gesture of submission.

Theunissen and colleagues also suggest that the giggle may be a sign of frustration and that it may be intended to summon help. He said, 'Lions often eat prey previously killed by hyenas. A solitary hyena has no chance when confronted by a lion, whereas a hyena group often can 'mob' one or two lions and get their food back. Giggles could therefore allow the recruitment of allies. Cooperation and competition are everyday components of a hyena's life. When hearing a giggling individual, clan-mate hyenas could receive information about who is getting frustrated (in terms of individual identity, age, status) and decide to join the giggler, or conversely to ignore it or move away.' The researchers plan to further test these hypotheses with playback experiments in the field.

Loyal stork returns to his injured partner

Click to enlarge - p33.

Hedgehogs, heroes of the garden

RIGHT - Hugh Warwick: "I looked into his eyes. It was then that I got a sense of his genuine wildness"
Hedgehogs are far from exotic – but we should treasure these spiny creatures, says Hugh Warwick

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

In the beginning, there was a hedgehog called Nigel. I can remember the exact moment we met. It was 1993, and I was doing a research project for the RPSCA in which I was studying the behaviour of hedgehogs in the wild after they had spent time in captivity. I was based in a field on the border of Devon and Somerset, and was monitoring the mammals' movements using radio tagging – attaching miniature transmitters to their spines – and noting their progress. It involved living on my own in a caravan in the middle of nowhere, but it kick-started my love of these tiny insectivores.

In the middle of one night, I had finished work at 4am. My only water source was outside, so I needed to get up to venture into the night to clean my teeth. That was when I first saw Nigel. He was snuffling around outside, and I recognised him immediately. I'd first met him several weeks earlier during the tagging progress, and was immediately struck by his speed, so I decided to name him after the racing driver Nigel Mansell. I watched him for several minutes, and when he wandered off I followed him. After about an hour, he came to a halt, and I laid down opposite him. And then something strange happened. He looked up at me, and seemed to notice me for the first time. I looked into his eyes. It was then that I got a sense of his genuine wildness. It's not something that you experience very often. You never really get close to wild animals normally. And so began my love affair with these enigmatic, beautiful, eccentric creatures. From working with hedgehog preservation charity HogWatch, recording the current number of hedgehogs in the British Isles, to becoming a life member of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, hedgehogs began to captivate me.

Many people believe hedgehogs are ubiquitous in Britain, but in 2007 they were added to the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), a document compiled by more than 500 British wildlife experts and one of the most-respected reference sources on endangered wildlife. Nowadays, their population in this country is estimated to be as low as one million. This is a problem. In many ways I think hedgehogs hold the key to our nation's rediscovery of nature. Unlike wildlife charities' traditional "poster animals" – often called charismatic mega-fauna – like lions and whales, you can actually get close to hedgehogs. They are a gardener's best friend. They love eating slugs, caterpillars and beetles, vacuuming up unwanted invertebrates. The fragmentation of our landscape – through the replacement of hedgerows with fencing in farms and gardens – has destroyed their natural habitat, epitomising man's domination of the landscape, an encumbrance which is reflected in his negative effect on the world through climate change.

And then there are their positive effect on our mental health. "Natural Thinking", a report published in 2007 by the RSPB, presented evidence that suggested contact with nature and green space has a very positive effect on our way of thinking. Richard Louv, an American author, has identified "nature-deficit disorder", a condition which affects our modern selves. That phrase makes utter sense to me. I strongly believe that through caring for hedgehogs we can feel better about ourselves.

If you are lucky enough to have a garden, see if you can encourage a hedgehog in as a visitor. But they can be pretty fickle, so don't expect them to stay. If you want to create the perfect hedgehog garden I would suggest the best thing you do is a little less gardening. Make the garden more like hedgehog habitat, have a corner that is a little wilder, make sure that hedgehogs can get in and out. My advice is to get a hammock, a blanket and a gin and tonic and sit quietly, waiting and listening to the tell-tale sounds of a snuffling hedgehog. And when the hedgehog has come to your garden a few times – or perhaps when several hedgehogs have visited (unless you mark them with a little dot of paint, it can be hard to tell them apart) – try your luck at getting closer. See if you can approach quietly enough to allow them to continue feeding. Get a better look at them. If natural light is not strong enough, a red torch will help. And as you get closer, just think, very few people take this opportunity to get really close to a really wild animal. They would rather jet off on safari to see a lion lazing under a tree, than get nose-to-nose with a hedgehog. I know which I think gives you the better wild experience. Maybe you could get close to the moment that Nigel and I once shared.

Hugh Warwick was speaking to Rob Sharp. The paperback of Hugh's book, A Prickly Affair: My Life with Hedgehogs (£9.99), is published tomorrow by Allen Lane. To order a copy for the special price of £9.49 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit

Toads with a super sensitive side hopped it before L'Aquila quake

Colony of amphibians vanished from Italian lake five days before disaster, then
returned to breed when it was safe

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The common toad may be ugly, warty and squat, but it is blessed with an extraordinary gift. It has an uncanny ability to predict earthquakes several days before they occur, according to a remarkable study that documents for the first time an extraordinary "supersense" in wild animals.

Scientists studying a colony of breeding toads living in an Italian lake found that they suddenly disappeared en masse five days before a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the town of L'Aquila in central Italy in the early hours of 6 April 2009. Most remarkably, L'Aquila is 74km (46 miles) from the lake.

The researchers behind the observations believe there is no explanation other than the fact that the toads must have been able to detect some changes in their environment which led them to believe that violent tremors were imminent. Within days of the earthquake, the toads had returned to their breeding pool to continue spawning.

Anecdotal reports of animals behaving strangely before an earthquake are not unusual, but most cannot be properly assessed scientifically because they rely on eyewitness accounts after the event. In this case, however, the scientists were monitoring the toads long before the earthquake happened.

"Our study is one of the first to document animal behaviour before, during and after an earthquake. Our findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of earthquake early warning system," said Rachel Grant of the Open University in Milton Keynes. "We looked at the weather and other possible causes of the sudden disappearance of the toads, but nothing seemed to fit. There didn't seem to be any other reason for it except that they had somehow managed to sense that an earthquake was going to happen," Dr Grant said.
The lake where the toads were breeding was being monitored nightly by Dr Grant and her Italian colleagues, who were studying the effect of moonlight on amphibian behaviour. Males of the common toad, Bufo bufo, collect in large groups of up to 100 individuals to mate with passing females.

One night, Dr Grant found that the number of males had fallen dramatically, which she thought may be due to cold weather. However, for the next five nights, she failed to find a single toad, which was unprecedented.
"They could have gone back up into the high ground around the lake or they could have dug into the mud - we don't know," she said.

Russian scientists suggested that the toads may have been able to detect the release of radioactive radon gas from the ground, or the presence of charged particles in the ionosphere of the night sky, Dr Grant said. If so, it may be an evolved ability to protect the slow-moving animals from the frequent mud slides caused by earthquakes, she added.

"There could be more evolutionary pressure on them to develop an effective early seismic escape response," she said.

The study is published in the Journal of Zoology.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


A Sussex carpenter is hoping to earn a place in the record books by spending nearly four months in a room with some of the world's most venomous snakes. David Jones, 44, of Crawley, is due to fly to Johannesburg later to
see the room he will be sharing with 40 snakes. His room-mates will include deadly puff adders, snouted cobras,
boomslangs, green mambas and black mambas. The 121-day challenge is to begin on 24 April. The current record is held by South African Martin Smit.

Mr Smit, also known as Mad Martin, spent 113 days in a room with snakes without being bitten. Mr Jones, whose wife is scared of snakes, said the last person to attempt the record did so in 2009 and was bitten by a puff adder and narrowly avoided having to have part of his leg amputated. He said: "I have always been interested in snakes and I thought now is the time to do something slightly out of the ordinary in my life, so I though this was a challenge that I wanted to do.

"I'm not terrified - concerned, yes, for a lot of reasons. Not just the fact they are venomous snakes and there is a very real possibility of ending up in hospital, I'm also leaving a wife, I'm leaving a son and I'm leaving my family for four and a half months."

Mr Jones is using the challenge to raise money for St Catherine's Hospice in Crawley.


Rosslyn Chapel was haven for bees

An ancient chapel has revealed a new mystery with the discovery of a 600-year-old hive built into the stones. Builders renovating Rosslyn Chapel, which was made famous in The Da Vinci Code, found the "unprecedented" hive while dismantling a rooftop pinnacle.

The bees entered the hive through a hole in a carved flower crafted by the chapel's master stone masons. The 15th Century Midlothian building is undergoing a £13m conservation and site improvement project. The discovery was made when two pinnacles, which had been made unstable by nesting jackdaws, had to be taken down stone by stone and rebuilt. Malcolm Mitchell, of Page Park Architects, said: "It was a big hollow about the size of a gas cylinder and the hive had obviously been abandoned."

'Teasing' masons
It is believed that the bees left the hive when a canopy was put over the chapel during renovation works. Another pinnacle had a similar hollow, but no access hole. "Master masons built these in, whether it was under direction or not. What you find at Rosslyn is there are so many irregularities and nuances in the stone work and it's as if the stone masons are teasing us from the past," Mr Mitchell said. "These hives were never intended to be a source of honey. They were there purely to protect the bees from our inclement weather."

It is hoped the bees will return to the hive once renovations are complete "There doesn't seem to be any precedent.

"Bee hives in the past were normally portable. Often they were made of wicker baskets or ceramics, but the intention was that you would have access to them. At Rosslyn they are there purely for the bees."

He said there appeared to be a coating to protect the sandstone from the insects, which can damage masonry. The hive has been sent to local beekeepers in an attempt to identify the type of insect that made them. It is hoped the bees will return once the renovation works are complete. Several unusual findings have been made during the project, including two skeletons.

Lovelock: 'We can't save the planet'

Lovelock: 'We can't save the planet'

Professor James Lovelock, the scientist who developed Gaia theory, has said it is too late to try and save the planet.

The man who achieved global fame for his theory that the whole earth is a single organism now believes that we can only hope that the earth will take care of itself in the face of completely unpredictable climate change.

Interviewed by Today presenter John Humphrys, videos of which you can see below, he said that while the earth's future was utterly uncertain, mankind was not aware it had "pulled the trigger" on global warming as it built its civilizations.

What is more, he predicts, the earth's climate will not conveniently comply with the models of modern climate scientists.

As the record winter cold testifies, he says, global temperatures move in "jerks and jumps", and we cannot confidently predict what the future holds.

Prof Lovelock does not pull his punches on the politicians and scientists who are set to gain from the idea that we can predict climate change and save the planet ourselves.

Scientists, he says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to "fudge the data".

And while renewable energy technology may make good business sense, he says, it is not based on "good practical engineering".

Renewable technology 'doesn't really work'

At the age of 90, Prof Lovelock is resigned to his own fate and the fate of the planet. Whether the planet saves itself or not, he argues, all we can do is to "enjoy life while you can".

Trying to save the planet 'is a lot of nonsense'

Butterflies offer climate warning

Butterflies offer climate warning

March 18, 2010

SCIENTISTS have shown for the first time that man-made climate change is the direct cause of changes to the life cycle of a native Australian animal species.

Researchers have found that because of a rise in temperature, caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by humans, the common brown butterfly now emerges from its cocoon 10 days earlier than it did 65 years ago.

"This is the first study in Australia, and one of the first studies around the world, that has linked changes in a natural system to regional climate change, and shown that the change in regional temperatures are due to increases in greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere,'' said an author of the study, David Karoly, of the University of Melbourne.

Until now, many studies have only been able to demonstrate "links" between climate change and observed changes in flora and fauna. It has been hard to prove that climate change was the direct cause of such changes.

In the case of the brown butterfly, observations around Melbourne over the past 65 years have suggested it has been emerging earlier in spring each year. The butterfly is also found in South Australia, and the east coast of NSW.

Melbourne's weather over that period has been getting warmer, said the lead author, Michael Kearney, also of the University of Melbourne, whose research is published in Biology Letters.

To determine if the two changes were linked, Dr Kearney and his graduate student measured how fast a group of common brown caterpillars developed at different temperatures. They then compared their lab experiments with temperature records for Melbourne over the past 65 years, to predict when the butterflies would have emerged
each year.

Dr Kearney said these predicted emerging times ''matched'' the actual butterfly emergence times that had been observed and recorded by scientists.

It was then left to the leading climate scientist, Dr Karoly, to discover if the rise of almost 1 degree since 1944 as recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology was caused by greenhouse gas emissions released by humans.

Using multiple climate models, Dr Karoly was able to show that the increase in temperature observed in Melbourne was outside the range of natural climate variability. The rise in temperature could be explained only when the effect of greenhouse gas emissions were added to the models, he said.

Dr Kearney said man-made climate change probably had a similar effect on other butterfly species.

Flamingo's health check at zoo

Click to enlarge - p4.

Fine-tuned bats and 4-wheel drive elephants

SONIC BOON: Hungry bats can adjust their sonar when hunting in a thick forest - a bit like fine-tuning a radio, say scientists. The mammals use echolocation, bouncing untrsonic sounds off their surroundings as they fly in the dark, to avoid obstacles and track prey. When in a crowded environment with more obstacles, they alter the frequency of each sound so no two returning echoes are the same, according to the study in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. 'They've evolved this to fly in clutter,' said researched Prof James Simmons.

4X4 BEAST: Elephants stop and start just like 4X4 'Chelsea tractors', researchers say. The largest living land animals - which can reach 4m (13ft) and weight 8.5 tonnes - use both sets of front and hind legs for speeding up and slowing down. 'Most four-legged animals use their back legs to accelerate and front ones to slow down,' said Dr John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College in London. 'But elephants save energy by using their forelimbs and hindlimbs in both braking and propulsive roles, just as in four-wheel-drive vehicles.' -p12.

Bipedalism takes a big step backward

Human ancestors began walking more like humans and less like apes long before modern humans began walking the Earth.

A new laser analysis involving footprints discovered in 1976 at Laetoli, Tanzania, suggest that 3.6 million years ago, hominids (proto-humans) were walking in a very humanlike way, extending their legs and using more-balanced foot mechanics than apes. Walking on two legs has been considered a key feature of human evolution since Charles Darwin, but scientists have not agreed on when humanlike walking began. A likely time frame seemed to be about 2.5 million years ago, since that is when the earliest members of our species emerged.

The new research places the start much earlier, when skeletal evidence suggests that human ancestors still spent significant amount of time in trees. The fossilized footprints from two and possibly three upright walkers in Laetoli were preserved in muddy volcanic ash about 3.6 million years ago and may have been made by Australopithecus afarensis, the hominid species of the famed Lucy skeleton. Past analysis of the prints have focused on stride length and compared the look of the footprints to that of human prints, without coming to a definite conclusion.

The researchers used laser scans to examine foot biomechanics of eight human volunteers walking normally and then with a crouched-ape stance. After creating three-dimensional models of those strides, they compared them to the Laetoli prints and found a clear similarity in the equal toe-heel balance of the human upright strides and the Laetoli prints. The crouched stance left much deeper toe imprints.

"Based on previous analyses of the skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis, we expected that the Laetoli footprints would resemble those of someone walking with a bent-knee, bent-hip gait typical of chimpanzees, and not the striding gait normally used by modern humans," lead researcher David Raichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, said in a statement. "But to our surprise, the Laetoli footprints fall completely within the range of normal human footprints."

According to the study, which was published this month in the journal PLOS One, the "results provide the earliest unequivocal evidence of human-like bipedalism in the fossil record." The researchers, however, said there was no way to speculate on how early that bipedalism developed.
-- Margaret Shapiro

'Drunk' man tried to revive roadkill

A US man has been charged with public drunkenness after he tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to roadkill.

Police arrested Donald Wolfe, 55, after witnesses reported seeing him trying to revive a long dead possum, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

One reported seeing Mr Wolfe kneeling before the animal and gesturing as though he were conducting a seance.

Another reported seeing him give mouth to mouth resuscitation to the carcass on a highway north-east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

State police trooper Jamie Levier said the animal had been dead a while.

Trooper Levier says the Brookville man was "extremely intoxicated" and "did have his mouth in the area of the animal's mouth, I guess".

A possum is about the size of a domestic cat. The animals are known for feigning death when threatened, hence the phrase "playing possum".

Hungry cats dupe owners with acoustic trick

Hungry cats dupe owners with acoustic trick
15 July 2009

Magazine issue 2717.

CAT owners will know the feeling. Your pet is demanding to be fed, and isn't going to give up until it gets what it wants. What most doting owners won't realise is that the cat is using an acoustic ruse.

According to Karen McComb of the University of Sussex, UK, domestic cats hide a plaintive cry within their purrs that both irritates owners and appeals to their nurturing instincts.

The team recorded the purrs of 10 different cats when they were soliciting food, and when they were purring in a different context. Fifty people who were asked to rate the purrs on how pleasant and urgent they sounded consistently rated the "solicitation purrs" as more urgent and less pleasant. Cat owners were especially good at distinguishing between the two kinds of purring.

When the team examined the sound spectrum of the solicitation purrs they saw an unusual peak in the 220 to 520-hertz frequency range embedded in the much lower frequencies of the usual purr. Babies' cries have a similar frequency range, 300 to 600 hertz, McComb says.

The louder this high-frequency element, the more urgent and less pleasant the purr was rated (Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.033). Cats may be exploiting "innate tendencies in humans to respond to cry-like sounds in the context of nurturing offspring", McComb says.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hybrid pet wolves escape and roam parts of Ohio

Hybrid pet wolves escape and roam parts of Ohio
25 March 2010
The Plain Dealer

There are wolves living in Ohio, generally hybrid wolves bred and raised here or brought to Ohio by people who want them as pets. In Sandusky County last week, a hunter thought he killed a large coyote, only to discover it was most likely a pet wolf that had probably been running wild for about six months.

Dusty Gore of Bellevue, Ohio, spotted a small pack of what he thought were coyotes while driving past York School near his home on March 15. Coyotes are a problem for rural landowners and farmers, as they kill livestock and pets. The sighting prompted Gore to return home to get his hunting rifle. Gore shot and killed the largest of the animals. Two others ran off. Coyotes seldom grow to more than 50 pounds. This animal was estimated at more than 120 pounds, and looked suspiciously like a wolf.

Sandusky County wildlife officer Brian Bury confirmed it was a wolf, and wildlife officials were sure it was an escaped pet wolf. Even though the animal was genetically close to being a pure wolf and was in prime physical condition, the last truly wild wolf was killed in Ohio in 1842. "This wolf was huge, at least twice the size of a big coyote," said Bury. "I would not want to go face-to-face with a wolf of that size and not be armed."

No one seems prepared to handle domestic wolves should they escape or be released and become wild. Wolves are not managed by the Division of Wildlife. They might be dangerous animals, but they are the responsibility of local dog wardens and law enforcement officials, said Division of Wildlife district game management supervisor Scott Butterworth.

"If an animal like this escapes and is eventually caught or killed, someone usually claims it," said Butterworth. "But if it would maul a kid, it's doubtful anyone would come forward." No one seems to know if these people-raised wolves will be a danger to Ohioans or livestock. So far, there have been no documented attacks. Like elk, exotic deer and other animals not on Ohio's official list of wildlife, they are fair game for hunters, with no seasonal hunting restrictions. In a worst case scenario, like feral pigs, they could breed in the wild and increase in number.
Wildlife officials may have tracked down the original owner of the wolf, but won't reveal the name. "A lady called us after seeing the photo of the wolf in a local newspaper, and identified it as a hybrid wolf she raised and had sold," said Division of Wildlife district law enforcement supervisor Paul Kurfis. That wolf, said Kurfis, had apparently been sold or given to yet another person before it escaped last September.

"I've had at least a half-dozen reports of wolves in a 20-mile area around Sandusky County," said Bury. "People are very irresponsible in getting these animals, then let them loose or allow them to escape when they don't want to continue to care for them.

"From reports I get, the wolves are not afraid of people or very aggressive. People have seen them eating carcasses or carrying a rabbit in their mouth. We have not heard of livestock kills, though one was spotted standing near a chicken coop. They're not malnourished."

Most troubling is that the dead wolf was spotted only a couple of hundred yards away from a school, and two others running with it had escaped. The wolf is now at a local taxidermy studio. It was reportedly 98 percent wolf with a little German shepherd and Alaskan Malamute in its genetic background.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-5158

Coyote caught in New York

Coyote caught in New York
26 March 2010
The Times (Trenton)

A wily coyote evaded New York City police for two days before being nabbed in a parking garage.

It was the fourth coyote sighting in Manhattan this year. The animal first eluded police capture Wednesday near the Holland Tunnel. It was spotted yesterday afternoon on the West Side Highway, and police chased it to an open-air garage in Tribeca. Officers cornered the coyote, sedated it with a dart and then carted it off to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Animal welfare officials will observe the animal before deciding where to take it.

Alligator rumors gaining traction

26 March 2010
The Dallas Morning News

The lake is ringed by police tape, the town awash in rumors, but the investigation is stuck in the mud.

It's been two weeks since a woman called the Kaufman Police Department, reported what appeared to be a four-foot alligator at a local park and hung up. The police chief snapped into action, sending his animal control officer to scour Kaufman City Lakes Park for clues.

A week later came the case's first and only break: a few claw prints in the mud. Or paw prints.

Or ...

Well, no one's sure exactly what they are. But the tracks are the first evidence that the alleged alligator might be more than mere conjecture.

That's all the city needed to hear. It gated off the park and has set up surveillance on the waters (read: camera in a tree). But it soon became obvious to the police chief, Michael Holder, that the locals were out of their depth.
"Not all of us are that experienced in the ways of the alligator," he admitted. Enter Eric Minter, a state game warden. He's spent eight years tracking gators, possible gators and logs that look like gators across Kaufman County - and he fears no beast so much as a flock of panicked residents.

"People always think they're gonna lose their cows," he said. "They see movies like Lake Placid, with giant alligators eating people. Alligators are like any other wild animal. They try to avoid human contact."

Which, at the moment, is the problem. Not even Minter is sure if the tracks really belong to an alligator. And despite years of local rumor, police still don't have a single documented sighting of the fabled reptile.

When the weather warms up, Minter and Holder plan a boating expedition, hoping to spot the fugitive sunning itself on a rock.

If they do, the city will have to decide whether to trap and move the animal, which might just make room for another, or simply learn to live with it. "Maybe we can put up signs saying, whatever, 'Alligators may be in the area,' " mused the police chief.

Keeping the peace

Wild alligators aren't uncommon in North Texas. They tend to shy away from people, but the species do occasionally overlap. State game warden Eric Minter has some advice:

• Don't feed the alligators. They'll get used to the service - and snappy when it's not available.
• Don't accidentally feed the alligators. Keep your pets on leashes and your children close at hand.

Stares and Stripes

Click to enlarge - p27.

Don't fear the bald squirrels

RIGHT: A black squirrel snacks at a feeder at the residence of Diane and Leonard Johnson on Morningside Avenue in Council Bluffs Wednesday. The squirrel, and several others in the area, suffers from mange, a skin disease caused by the infestation of tiny mites. The result is bare spots in a squirrel’s fur, visible around this animal’s legs.
Published Thursday March 25, 2010
By Tim Rohwer

COUNCIL BLUFFS -- If people see squirrels with little or no fur, they shouldn’t be alarmed, according to Council Bluffs Public Works Director Donn Dierks.

“It’s an every-year occurrence,” he said.

A Council Bluffs couple expressed concern that squirrels seen in their yard may have contracted a contagious disease because the animals have patches of fur missing.

“It seems to be spreading from squirrel to squirrel,” said Diane Johnson, who lives with her husband, Leonard, on Morningside Avenue.

One squirrel had no fur at all, she said.

“It looked so awful,” Johnson said. “I felt sorry for the squirrel.”

According to Dierks, these squirrels have mange, a skin disease of mammals caused by the infestation of tiny mites.

“In extreme cases, the entire body can become bare of hair and expose the skin that can become dark,” he said. “Full recovery, however, occurs in squirrels. At this point in time, we’ll leave it up to nature to handle the problem.”

There is a way to treat the diseased squirrels, Dierks said, but it’s not cost-effective for the city to trap them for treatment.

“We just don’t have the finances to do that.”

People shouldn’t try to do it on their own, he advised.

Residents are not allowed to trap animals, he said. And “there shouldn’t be any direct contact between a squirrel and a human,” Dierks said.

There are several types of mites, he said, with one known to transfer from animal hosts to people, though there has to be physical contact between the animal and the person.

Squirrel mange should not be a danger to pets.

“Mange is pretty species-specific, so it shouldn’t be a problem if it’s going around the squirrels, “ said Dr. Emily Buhr of the Animal Emergency Clinic in Omaha. “They tend to stick with the species they are with ... A dog can’t go up to a squirrel and get squirrel mange.”

But the malady, at least in squirrels, is common, she said.

“I’ve seen a lot of them that have had issues with it,” Buhr said. ‘I think it tends to happen in the winter, when they probably get a little bit immune-suppressed.”

If someone should need to handle a mangy animal, Dierks said, it’s best to wear rubber gloves and wash properly afterward.

World-Herald staff writer Andrew J. Nelson contributed to this report.

Hope for Scotland's red squirrels

SEEING RED: Hope is on the horizon for Scotland's threatened red squirrels. A vaccine is being developed to protect them against a deadly disease carried by their grey cousins. The inoculation could prevent the species from being wiped out if a culling programme to kill the invading greys proves ineffective. The vaccine being worked on at the Moredun Research Institute in Midlothian could be ready in five years. Grey squirrels were introduced to Britain from the US more than 100 years ago.
- p8.

Neanderthal may not be the oldest Dutchman

Neanderthal may not be the oldest Dutchman
Published on : 26 March 2010 - 4:48pm
By Henk-Sjoerd Oosterhoff

People may well have been roaming the land we now call the Netherlands for far longer than was assumed until recently. There is evidence to suggest that the country was home to the forebears of the Neanderthals. Amateur archaeologist Pieter Stoel found materials used by the oldest inhabitants in the central town of Woerden. These artefacts were shown to be at least 370,000 years old, which takes us back to long before the time of the Neanderthals.

Our ancient forebears are often described as cavemen but that is not entirely accurate. There were no caves in this environment, explains Pieter Stoel:

"No, they cannot be specifically described as cave dwellers. There were no caves here in the Low Countries. They can best be described as people who travelled through the country along the rivers, where they could easily hunt the animals that came to the water to drink. At the time when they possibly roamed the Netherlands, the North Sea was dry, which would have enabled them to walk to England for example."

Pieter Stoel is an amateur archaeologist. For 14 years, he has conducted research in his spare time, alongside his day job as high school physics and chemistry teacher. But next year he intends to leave the classroom behind him and focus completely on his research. He describes the find in Woerden as unique.

"It consists of splinters and cores of flint. There are no hand axes, as they were not used by this culture. These items were sucked out of a sump pit at a depth of between 27 and 36 metres."

Research institute TNO has studied the layers of soil and determined the age of the objects raised during the dredging work. The remarkable conclusion is that they are at least 370,000 years old.

"That's a record. They may even be up to 600,000 years old, but that's something we have yet to prove."

Follow-up research is needed to show whether the artefacts actually come from the layers at the bottom of the pit or whether they were shifted by the dredging work. A layer by layer study is now being carried out to see which artefacts are located where.

"We are still awaiting conclusive evidence."

Rewriting history
A similar find has already been made in the British town of Pakefield. This makes sense given that Pakefield and Woerden are only 225 kilometres apart as the crow flies. During that period, the two countries were not separated by the sea. It could well be that the forebears of the Neanderthals walked from Woerden to Pakefield.
"It was a pleasant enough climate and all they had to do was follow the Meuse and the Rhine."

Pieter Stoel's discovery may end up rewriting history. Until now, the assumption was that the ancestors of the Dutch walked from France to England and only arrived in the Netherlands at a later date. But the archaeologist now thinks the opposite might be just as plausible.

"There may even have been various migration flows. There may well have been people who made hand axes and who migrated from France to England. But it is also plausible that people whose culture did not include the hand axe arrived in England from Europe, via Germany and the Netherlands."

Homo sapiens
Pieter Stoel stops short of concluding that the British are therefore descended from the Dutch. It could be the case, but all things are relative. The archaeologist is quick to add that we - Homo sapiens- ultimately originate from Africa.

Mongolia winter kills herds, devastating the poorest

Mongolia winter kills herds, devastating the poorest
Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:00pm BST
By Tyra Dempster

BEIJING, March 29 (Reuters) - A severe winter has left 4.5 million dead animals
in stockyards across the Mongolian steppes, and many poor herders face the loss
of all their property just before the important breeding season.

About a tenth of Mongolia's livestock may have perished, as deep snows cut off
access to grazing and fodder.

The damage to the rural economy could increase demands on Mongolia's
already-stretched national budget, which relies on mining revenues to meet
spending commitments. [ID:nTOE61A04Q]

The Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for 1 million Swiss francs to assist
Mongolian herders, after it estimated that 4.5 million livestock have died in
the country since December.

"The numbers of livestock that have perished have gone up very, very quickly and
dramatically now to about 4 million which is roughly a tenth of the whole
livestock population," Francis Markus, communications director for the Red
Cross' East Asia delegation, said in Beijing after returning from Mongolia.

"This means that thousands of families, mostly coming from the poorest and most
vulnerable layers of the herder population, have lost their entire flocks of
animals and have been left in a very, very distraught and very, very desperate

Roughly one-quarter of Mongolia's 3 million people are nomads, while others also
raise livestock in fixed settlements. Many go deeply in debt to buy and raise
their herds, in hopes of making the money back by selling wool, meat and skins.

A similar combination of a summer drought, followed by heavy snow and low winter
temperatures, which is known in Mongolian as a 'zud', caused widespread hardship
in Mongolia a decade ago.

As a result, impoverished herder families flocked to the slums outside the
capital, Ulan Bator, straining the city's ability to provide basic services.

"The herding community's situation is very hard now. The best off are those who
still have around 40 percent of their livestock left and in the worst 50 cases
are those who have lost absolutely everything," said Zevgee, speaker of the
county parliament in Bayangol, southwest of the capital.

This zud was the worst for several years, with temperatures dropping to 40
degrees Celsius below zero or colder in 19 of Mongolia's 21 provinces, according
to a World Bank report.

Around 63 percent of Mongolia's rural residents' assets are their livestock, it
said, and at least 35 percent of the population earn a living from their

Herder Tsendjav said that she had no option but to rely on the government and
aid to survive the weather.

"I have seen many zuds that have caused the loss of numerous animals but I have
never seen a zud as bad as this one," she said at a Red Cross aid dispensary.

(Writing by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Nessie in Italian attic mystery

Mystery drawing may have been done by master illusionist

By neil macphail
Published: 13/03/2010

Our Loch Ness Monster is famed the world over, and pops up in very strange circumstances from time to time.

Now she has surfaced at the centre of an art mystery in Italy.

This centres around a charcoal drawing dating from 1949, which is described as Loch Ness Monster and Black Man without a Face, and which could possibly have been drawn by famous Dutch artist, MC Escher.

This story of the mystery painting starts in 2005 in Volturara, a small village in the Italian province of Avellino, where traffic police officer Raffaele De Feo lives.

When clearing out his family’s attic, he found what he called “the strange picture”.

Initially he did not take any notice of it, but later, in removing the frame, he sees an inscription on the back of the picture, signed by MC Escher, which reads: “With all my heart to a friendly remembrance.”

Now some Italians are urging art experts to authenticate the work as being done by Maurits Cornelis Escher, nicknamed “Mauk", and contacted the Press and Journal to spread the world that Nessie “lives” in Italy.

Escher (1898-1972) was hailed by many as one of the world's most famous graphic artists. His art is enjoyed by millions of people all over the world, as can be seen on the many web sites on the internet. And for several years he lived and travelled in Italy.

He is most famous for his so-called impossible structures, such as Ascending and Descending, Relativity, his Transformation Prints, such as Metamorphosis I, Metamorphosis II and Metamorphosis III, Sky & Water I or Reptiles.

Theme park offers snake massages

26 March 2010

Visitors to a Surrey theme park have been given the chance to enjoy a relaxing massage - from a royal python.

They were offered the snake massages to help them relax before going on a new ride, called Kobra, at Chessington World of Adventures.

"Snake massages are said to produce a feeling of relaxation as the muscles in their bodies stimulate blood flow and massage tense joints," said a spokeswoman.

The unusual offer was made to people attending the VIP launch of Chessington's latest land, Wild Asia.

It's based on an ancient kingdom and features the new ride, which spins through the air on a 90m track at a dizzying 43mph, at its heart.

An Israeli health and beauty spa hit the headlines last year by offering snake massages among its range of treatments.

For the equivalent of nearly £50, clients at Ada Barak's spa can have six non-venomous snakes slither across their aching muscles and stiff joints.

She insists that, once people get over any initial misgivings, they find physical contact with the creatures to be soothing.

Help, my chair is eating my spaniel

Firefighters called to a spaniel in the works were probably expecting a prank – but then they spied poor Sage stuck in a reclining chair.

They saw the seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles stuck by one ear in the mechanism of the recliner.

‘I didn’t realise Sage was under the chair at the time,’ said owner Ann Gaman.

‘I just didn’t know what to do. I was in a panic. In the end my neighbour rang the fire brigade and they were able to release her. They were brilliant,’ added the 69-year-old of Torquay.

Sage ‘was as good as gold’ as they prised the chair apart to free her, said crew commander Stefan Belsten.

Zookeeper injured in head-butt with giraffe


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A zookeeper has been treated at a hospital for minor head injuries and released after butting heads with a giraffe.

A spokesperson for the Roger Williams Park Zoo told The Providence Journal that the 18-foot(5 1/2-meter)-tall giraffe was being playful and took a swipe at the keeper when she was cleaning up in a space between the exhibit and the public viewing area Saturday.

The keeper remained conscious and was able to walk to safety.

Spokesperson Jan Mariani said the 20-year-old Griffy is not an aggressive animal but likes to get close to people and get his head petted.

Pit bull rips bumper off US police car

Agence France-Presse | 03/28/2010 9:03 AM

CHICAGO – A pit bull is on probation after ripping the bumper off a police car and chewing the tires on three other cars flat as two other dogs barked and wagged their tails, local media reported Friday.

The brown and white mixed breed named Winston spent two weeks locked up in the Chattannooga, Tennessee animal shelter after the bizarre attack was captured on a police surveillance camera.

His owners said they had no clue why he went wild that day, chewing through two fences and attacking four different cars.

He'd never shown any aggression before that day, owner Nancy Emerling told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A two minute police video posted on the paper's website ( shows Winston yanking on the bumper of a police cruiser, refusing to let go as it drives slowly back and forth trying to dislodge the dog.

"Keep your car still, man," one police office can be heard saying as he drives up to the other cruiser in an attempt to scare the dogs away.

The bumper eventually rips right off and a brown dog grabs hold of it as Winston bounds away tail wagging and then drops the white bumper on the pavement.

The two dogs and a big black one which had been barking from the sidelines then chases the cruiser down the road.

"I cannot believe they didn't shoot him," Emerling told the paper shortly after the March 14 attack. "I think that the officers showed amazing restraint. They could not have been nicer."

Winston was eventually caught by an animal control officer using a pole after police failed to subdue him with pepper spray and a Taser.

He was held for two weeks in the city's animal shelter where he was described as a model prisoner.

A judge said she would drop a citation naming Winston a "potentially dangerous dog" after six months if he completes obedience training and doesn't act up again.

"The obedience training is going to be more like anger management," Emerling's lawyer, Jim Anderson jokingly told the paper.

as of 03/28/2010 9:03 AM

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Open for Monkey Business

Click to enlarge - p35.

Dino Rod

The north-south divide surrounding the tyrannosaur is a myth. Evidence that the breed lived in the southern as well as northern hemisphere has been found in the shape of a rod-like bone of a 3m-tall (10ft) creature in Australia. However, it throws up another question - why only those in the north grew to be the size of T-rex. The Anglo-Australian study appears in Science. - p30.

Calne teacher tells of battle with crocodile in Malawi

A teacher from Wiltshire who escaped from the jaws of a crocodile has said that he thought he was going to die. Antony Blackmore, who is 27, was grabbed as he swam in Lake Malawi in Africa. The crocodile clamped its teeth on to his left foot and dragged him 6ft (1.8m) beneath the waves.

He said: "In a split second I was snatched and taken down and rolled round and round. I thought 'this is it'. I couldn't see a way out."

Death roll
Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Blackmore said: "I swam two or three times a day in the lake and locals hadn't seen a crocodile in the area for 17 years.

"I went for a swim on Valentine's Day about midday and I was just treading water when I was snatched. It was instantaneous and I looked up to the surface and realised I was travelling down.
"It felt very strangely serene and it was almost as if it was happening in slow motion."
Mr Blackmore said he has been told that crocodiles spin their victims round in what is known as the death roll in order to drown them.

He said: "I managed to kick out with my right foot and hit its snout and eye. It released its grip for a moment and I managed to pull my left foot out and swim to the surface.

"The adrenalin was pumping by now and I managed to scramble up on to a rock. I didn't feel any pain, just complete fear and terror.

Murky waters
"I saw it swim round the rock once but then it sloped off in the murky waters.
"I started bellowing out for help. A local guy heard me and came out in a boat to get me back to the shore."

Mr Blackmore, a Sheffield University graduate who lives in Calne, is now recovering at his parents' home.
His left heel was "pretty much ripped off" by the attack and he said he is on his sixth course of antibiotics to try to clear an infection. He said he intends to return to northern Malawi once his foot has healed to continue his volunteer teaching and tree planting work at McAlpine school in a project run by the Shanti Trust. Crocodile hunters claim to have killed the 11ft (3.4m) crocodile to claim a bounty offered by the Malawian authorities.

'Miscommunication' led to giraffe remains in trash
'Miscommunication' led to giraffe remains in trash
(AP) – 3 hours ago

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque city officials blamed miscommunication for the remains of a Rio Grande Zoo giraffe being placed in a trash bin.

A memo Friday from a city official to Mayor Richard Berry said it was not an act of insubordination or disrespect but appears to be the result of unfortunate miscommunication between the zoo manager and an employee.

Berry ordered an investigation after learning about the remains of 16-year-old Kashka. The giraffe was euthanized at the zoo last week after a debilitating leg injury.

The zoo said large animals are dismembered before necropsy, with remains then going to the landfill for burial in a special area set aside for animals.

The report by Betty Rivera, director of the city department that oversees the zoo, said an employee told a manager no dump truck was available to take the animal to the landfill.

The manager said the employee could put the remains in an "open top" as long as the material was covered.

The manager thought "open top" referred to a large pickup truck, while the employee believed it meant a trash container, Rivera explained.

Reports indicate the zoo and a landfill are reviewing procedures and will ensure employees are trained.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Hunt for Bownessie

Last updated at 09:30, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

TALES of a giant creature lurking in the depths of a lake have fascinated the British public since 1933, when The Inverness Courier reported sightings of a ‘monster’ living in Loch Ness.

Watch a video clip....

By Karl Steel

Over the years, hundreds of investigations to find the beast have proved unsuccessful and the notion that something so large can go undetected for so long have, for most people, rendered it a modern day myth, a quirky tale, a ploy to bring in tourists.

So, when news emerged of a similar sighting on Lake Windermere in 2006, people were quick to dismiss it in the same way.

Millions of people travel up and down the 11-mile stretch of water each year – how can nobody have seen anything before now?

Then in February 2007, professional photographer Linden Adams snapped pictures of a large bow wave moving along the lake, dipping and circling in the calm water, from a viewpoint around 2.5km away and more than 1,000ft up on Gummers How.

“Even though I was a long way away, I could see that it wasn’t just a freak wave or a swan or anything like that,” says Linden. “It looked like it had the head of a Labrador, only a lot bigger.

“Compared with boats moored nearby it appeared to be about 50ft in length.”

When he saw the pictures that he’d taken, he knew that what he’d seen was an important find. He sent them off for forensic examination, and to this day they have confounded experts.

He labelled his discovery ‘Bownessie’, in reference to its Scottish counterpart, and the legend has grown from there.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of it being a ‘monster fish’, in that the sheer size of it is beyond all record,” he says.

“There are so many questions to be answered like how it got there or, if it grew in the lake, what can it be eating?

“I am really keen to find out what it is. There is no way something of that size can have swum into the lake – it has either been put there or it has grown there.

“Any scientist that’s seen my photos have agreed that there is an animate being of considerable size that is living in the lake.”

In fact, there have been reports of a ‘monster’ living in the lake dating back to the 1950s, but it is only since these images emerged that the notion has begun to be taken seriously.

So far there have been public sightings from a number of different points along Windermere. Video footage taken by a local journalist even hit national headlines when it was featured on Sky News.

Reports often describe a dark mass, anywhere between 12ft and 70ft in length. One of the most detailed encounters happened in July last year when hotelier Thomas Noblett was swimming near Wray Castle – the lake’s deepest point at around 219ft – at around 7am one morning and he felt a wave that he described as having “the force of a submarine”.

Andrew Tighe, who was accompanying Thomas in a support boat alongside, said that the wave came completely out of the blue.

He says: “The lake was just so flat as it normally is at that time of morning – no traffic on the lake at all – and a huge wave came and swamped the boat and swamped over the top of Tom while he was swimming, to which Tom got out of his swimming stroke and said, ‘what the hell was that?’.

“Then all of a sudden another one came and just swamped over the top of the boat, swamped myself, and again, covered Thomas.”

Andrew said that it was almost as if a boat was travelling down the centre of the lake, but there was nothing in sight.

A few days earlier, the pair had dismissed a radio story about Bownessie as nonsense, but following his encounter he believes that there is definitely something abnormal living in the lake.

“Me and Thomas just laughed-off anything in (the radio programme), and with us being in the lake every day, we hadn’t experienced anything,” he says.

“What it is, I don’t know.

“All I know is what I saw on that day.”

The increasing interest in the mystery surrounding Bownessie attracted the attentions of paranormal investigator Dean ‘Midas’ Maynard.

The Durham-based celebrity psychic was enthralled by Linden Adams’ photo and felt that it was something worth looking into.

He says: “Being a paranormal investigator, I’ve got a very open mind to these kind of things - that’s what I do.

“From the witness accounts, I’m 99 per cent sure there’s something in Windermere that can’t be explained.”

Dean decided to become actively involved in the search, and along with Linden, Thomas and Andrew, set out on an investigation with sonar equipment for the ITV1 series The Lakes to see what they could find. Although that proved fruitless, plans are afoot to conduct a more scientific search later this year.

In July, the group will have access to the state-of-the-art DIDSON (Dual-frequency Identification Sonar) high-definition imaging unit, and it is hoped that this will provide inconclusive evidence of whether Bownessie exists or not.

It will be the most detailed survey of Lake Windermere ever undertaken, and with the backing of the Freshwater Biological Association, the research will also look at the level of fish stocks in the lake, and if there is enough to sustain a creature of such reputed size.

Dean says: “We hope just to get evidence that it’s here. We don’t have to do anything with it if it’s in here, we want to leave it alone.

“We want to verify accounts from people that have seen something and just clear up that they’re not going mad.

“So far we’ve not had sightings from any ‘crack-pots’, they’ve all been from respected people.

“There’s no point in scare-mongering, we just believe that there is something in there that shouldn’t be in there, or has grown to such a size that it is being labelled a monster.”

First published at 13:14, Friday, 19 March 2010
Published by
(Submitted by Mark North)

Bark at the moon with Werewolf lager

Beer: Werewolf Beer
Made by: Brewery Rinkuskiai; Birzai, Lithuania

Owners Rimantas Cygas, Petras Kalkys and Sigitas Kalkys established the brewery in 1991. Rinkuskiai currently ranks fifth behind the country's four largest breweries and holds 4 percent of the market share, according to the company.

Web site:

If you visit the site, you won't find Werewolf among the brewer's offerings. That's because Aiko Importers developed Werewolf exclusively for the American market, according to an e-mail from Aiko President Igor Kogan.

Rinkuskiai brews Werewolf in Lithuania, which South Carolina-based Aiko imports into the U.S. along with other Rinkuskiai beers.

Type of beer: pale lager

A lager is defined as any beer brewed by bottom fermentation, which means the yeasts sink to the bottom during the fermentation process. Fermentation subsequently takes longer

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Gorillas Could Disappear in 15 Years, UN Agency Warns

24 March 2010

Gorillas could disappear from large parts of the Greater Congo Basin in central Africa by the mid-2020s unless urgent action is taken to safeguard their habitats and counter poaching, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL warned today.

Projections in 2002 had suggested that only 10 per cent of the original gorilla ranges would remain by 2030, but the report found that those estimates were too optimistic given the intensification of pressures including illegal logging, mining, charcoal production and increased demand for bush meat, of which an increasing proportion is ape meat.

Outbreaks of the Ebola haemorrhagic fever virus are adding to concerns. These epidemics have killed thousands of great apes, including gorillas, and by some estimates up to 90 per cent of animals infected by the virus will die.

The report, launched at the meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) currently taking place in Qatar, said the situation is especially critical in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where a great deal of the escalating damage is linked with militias operating in the region.

It stated that the militias are behind much of the illegal trade, which may be worth several hundred million dollars a year.

"This is a tragedy for the great apes and one also for countless other species being impacted by this intensifying and all too often illegal trade," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director.

"Ultimately it is also a tragedy for the people living in the communities and countries concerned. These natural assets are their assets: ones underpinning lives and livelihoods for millions of people. In short it is environmental crime and theft by the few and the powerful at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable," he added.

Mr. Steiner welcomed the involvement of INTERPOL and called on the international community to step up support for the agency's environmental crime programme.

Christian Nellemann, a senior officer at UNEP who was lead author of the 2002 report and headed up the new one, said the original assessment had underestimated the scale of the bush meat trade, the rise in logging and the impact of the Ebola virus on great ape populations.

"With the current and accelerated rate of poaching for bush meat and habitat loss, the gorillas of the Greater Congo Basin may now disappear from most of their present range within 10 to 15 years," said Mr. Nellemann.

"We are observing a decline in wildlife across many parts of the region, and also side-effects on poaching outside the region and on poaching for ivory and rhino horn, often involving poachers and smugglers operating from the Congo Basin, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, to buyers in Asia and beyond," he added.

Pig power and choosy chimps

PIG POWER: Domestication may have reduced the brain sizes of guinea pigs but not their problem-solving ability. They outperformed their wild cousins (cavies) om some tests when pitted against each other in water mazes. Domesticated ones had the advantage in orientation but cavies were stronger swimmers, German researchers found. It suggests domestic ones have adapted better to the man-made environment.

CHOOSY CHIMPS: Apes, like humans, know they may be wrong when they make a choice. They were observed as they chose between two hollow tubes - one containing food - after being given clues as to the right one. When the apes were less sure which was correct, or when the reward was more desirable, they made more visual checks before choosing. The German study is published in journal Animal Cognition. - p23.

DNA identifies new ancient human dubbed 'X-woman'

Thursday, 25 March 2010
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists have identified a previously unknown type of ancient human through analysis of DNA from a finger bone unearthed in a Siberian cave.

The extinct "hominin" (human-like creature) lived in Central Asia between 48,000 and 30,000 years ago.

An international team has sequenced genetic material from the fossil showing that it is distinct from that of Neanderthals and modern humans.

Details of the find, dubbed "X-woman", have been published in Nature journal.

Ornaments were found in the same ground layer as the finger bone, including a bracelet.

Professor Chris Stringer, human origins researcher at London's Natural History Museum, called the discovery "a very exciting development".

"This new DNA work provides an entirely new way of looking at the still poorly-understood evolution of humans in central and eastern Asia."

The discovery raises the intriguing possibility that three forms of human - Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and the species represented by X-woman - could have met each other and interacted in southern Siberia.

The tiny fragment of bone from a fifth finger was uncovered by archaeologists working at Denisova Cave in Siberia's Altai Mountains in 2008.

An international team of researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from the bone and compared the genetic code with those from modern humans and Neanderthals.

Origin unknown

Mitochondrial DNA comes from the cell's powerhouses and is passed down the maternal line only.

The analysis carried out by Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues revealed the human from Denisova last shared a common ancestor with modern humans and Neanderthals about one million years ago.

This is known as the divergence date; essentially, when this human's ancestors split away from the line that eventually led to Neanderthals and ourselves.

The Neanderthal and modern human evolutionary lines diverged much later, around 500,000 years ago. This shows that the individual from Denisova is the representative of a previously unknown human lineage that derives from a hitherto unrecognised migration out of Africa.

"Whoever carried this mitochondrial genome out of Africa about a million years ago is some new creature that has not been on our radar screens so far," said co-author Professor Svante Paabo, also from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The divergence date of one million years is too young for the Denisova hominin to have been a descendent of Homo erectus, which moved out of Africa into Asia some two million years ago.

And it is too old to be a descendent of Homo heidelbergensis, another ancient human thought to have originated around 650,000 years ago. However, for now, the researchers have steered away from describing the specimen as a new species.

Dr Krause said the ground layer in which the Denisova hominin fragment was found contain tools which are similar to those made by modern humans in Europe.

Slice of time

"We have ornaments, there is a bracelet, so there are several elements in the layers that are usually associated with modern human archaeology," he told BBC News.

"That's quite interesting, but of course, it is hard to prove that the bone is strongly associated to this archaeology, because it is possible that bones could have moved within the site.

"We are also not sure how exactly the excavation was done. It could have come from a deeper layer, so that's hard to say."

Professor Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, said the find presented a number of questions, such as to what extent culture could continue to be used as a proxy for different prehistoric human groups.

Referring to his research on Neanderthals and modern humans in southern Iberia, he told BBC News: "The assumption is that when one group - the moderns - arrives the other group disappears. Here you have a very clear example of co-existence for long periods.

"Where is the rule that says you can have only one species in an area? Especially if they're at low density... the implications are big."

The research contributes to a more complex picture that has been emerging of humankind during the Late Pleistocene, the period when modern humans left Africa and started to colonise the rest of the world.

Professor Finlayson has previously argued: "A time slice at a point in the late Pleistocene would reveal a range of human populations spread across parts of Africa, Eurasia and Oceania.

"Some would have been genetically linked to each other, behaving as sub-species, while the more extreme populations may well have behaved as good species with minimal or no interbreeding."

It was long known that modern humans overlapped with Neanderthals in Europe, apparently for more than 10,000 years.

But in 2004, researchers discovered that a dwarf species of human, dubbed "The Hobbit", was living on the Indonesian island of Flores until 12,000 years ago - long after modern humans had colonised the region.

Difficult classification

Neanderthals appear to have been living at Okladnikov Cave in the Altai Mountains some 40,000 years ago. And a team led by Professor Anatoli Derevianko, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, has also found evidence of a modern human presence in the region at around the same time.

Professor Stringer commented: "Another intriguing question is whether there might have been overlap and interaction between not only Neanderthals and early moderns in Asia, but also, now, between either of those lineages and this newly-recognised one.

"The distinctiveness of the mitochondrial DNA patterns so far suggests that there was little or no interbreeding, but more extensive data will be needed from other parts of the genome, or from the fossils, for definitive conclusions to be reached."

Experts have been wondering whether X-woman might have links with known fossil humans from Asia, which have controversial classifications.

"Certain enigmatic Asian fossils dated between 250,000-650,000 years ago such as Narmada (in India), and Yunxian, Dali and Jinniushan (in China) have been considered as possible Asian derivatives of Homo heidelbergensis, so they are also potential candidates for this mystery non-erectus lineage," said Prof Stringer.

"However, there are other and younger fragmentary fossils such as the Denisova ones themselves, and partial skulls from Salkhit in Mongolia and Maba in China, which have been difficult to classify, and perhaps they do signal a greater complexity than we have appreciated up to now."

Other experts agreed that while the Siberian specimen may be a new species, this has yet to be shown.

"We really don't know," Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told the Associated Press news agency.

Dr Tattersall, who wasn't involved in the new research, added: "The human family tree has got a lot of branchings. It's entirely plausible there are a lot of branches out there we don't know about."
(Submitted by Liz R)

Fossil finger points to new human species

DNA analysis reveals lost relative from 40,000 years ago.
24 March 2010
Rex Dalton

In the summer of 2008, Russian researchers dug up a sliver of human finger bone from an isolated Siberian cave. The team stored it away for later testing, assuming that the nondescript fragment came from one of the Neanderthals who left a welter of tools in the cave between 30,000 and 48,000 years ago. Nothing about the bone shard seemed extraordinary.

Its genetic material told another story. When German researchers extracted and sequenced DNA from the fossil, they found that it did not match that of Neanderthals — or of modern humans, which were also living nearby at the time. The genetic data, published online in Nature, reveal that the bone may belong to a previously unrecognized, extinct human species that migrated out of Africa long before our known relatives.

"This really surpassed our hopes," says Svante Pääbo, senior author on the international study and director of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "I almost could not believe it. It sounded too fantastic to be true."

Researchers not involved in the work applauded the findings but cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from a single study. "With the data in hand, you cannot claim the discovery of a new species," says Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist and director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen.

If further work does support the initial conclusions, the discovery would mark the first time that an extinct human relative had been identified by DNA analysis. It would also suggest that ice-age humans were more diverse than had been thought. Since the late nineteenth century, researchers have known that two species of Homo — Neanderthals and modern humans — coexisted during the later part of the last ice age. In 2003, a third species, Homo floresiensis, was discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia, but there has been no sign of this tiny 'hobbit' elsewhere. The relative identified in Siberia, however, raises the possibility that several Homo species ranged across Europe and Asia, overlapping with the direct ancestors of modern people.

The Siberian site in the Altai Mountains, called Denisova Cave, was already known as a rich source of Mousterian and Levallois artefacts, two styles of tool attributed to Neanderthals. For more than a decade, Russian scientists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Novosibirsk have been searching for the toolmakers' bones. They discovered several bone specimens, handling each potentially important new find with gloves to prevent contamination with modern human DNA. The bones' own DNA could then be extracted and analysed.

When the finger bone was discovered, "we didn't pay special attention to it", says archaeologist Michael Shunkov of the Novosibirsk institute. But Pääbo had established a relationship with the Russian team years before to gather material for genetic testing from ice-age humans. After obtaining the bone, the German team extracted the bone's genetic material and sequenced its mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — the most abundant kind of DNA and the best bet for getting an undegraded sequence from ancient tissue.

After re-reading the mtDNA sequences an average of 156 times each to ensure accuracy, the researchers compared them with the mtDNA genomes of 54 modern humans, a 30,000-year-old modern human found in Russia and six Neanderthals. The Denisova Cave DNA fell into a class of its own. Although a Neanderthal mtDNA genome differs from that of Homo sapiens at 202 nucleotide positions on average, the Denisova Cave sample differed at an average of 385 positions.

The differences imply that the Siberian ancestor branched off from the human family tree a million years ago, well before the split between modern humans and Neanderthals. If so, the proposed species must have left Africa in a previously unknown migration, between that of Homo erectus 1.9 million years ago and that of the Neanderthal ancestor Homo heidelbergensis, 300,000 to 500,000 years ago.

Study author Johannes Krause, also at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, says that the researchers are now generating nuclear DNA sequences from the bone with the hope of sequencing its entire genome. If they are successful, it would be the oldest human genome sequenced, eclipsing that of the 4,000-year-old Eskimo from Greenland that Willerslev and his colleagues reported last month2.

A complete genome might also enable the researchers to give the proposed new species a formal name. They had originally planned to do so on the basis of the mtDNA genome. But they opted to wait until more bones are found — or until the DNA gives a clearer picture of its relationship to modern humans and Neanderthals.

Willerslev emphasizes that, on its own, the mtDNA evidence does not verify that the Siberian find represents a new species because mtDNA is inherited only from the mother. It is possible that some modern humans or Neanderthals living in Siberia 40,000 years ago had unusual mtDNA, which may have come from earlier interbreeding among H. erectus, Neanderthals, archaic modern humans or another, unknown species of Homo. Only probes of the nuclear DNA will properly define the position of the Siberian relative in the human family tree.

Anthropologists also want to see more-refined dating of the sediments and a better description of the finger bone itself. "I haven't seen a picture of the bone, and would like to," says Owen Lovejoy, an anthropologist at Kent State University in Ohio. "The stratigraphic age for the bone is 30,000 to 48,000 years old, but the mtDNA age could be as old as H. erectus," says Lovejoy. "That doesn't tell us much about human evolution unless it truly represents a surviving ancient species."

The cave has yielded few clues about the culture of the Siberian hominin, although a fragment of a polished bracelet with a drilled hole was found earlier in the same layer that yielded the bone3.

Pääbo suspects that other human ancestors — and new mysteries — may emerge as geneticists grind up more ancient bones for sequencing. "It is fascinating that molecular studies make a contribution in palaeontology where there is little or no morphology preserved," he says. "It is clear we stand just in the beginning of many fascinating developments."
(Submitted by Michael and Sue Watson)

Meet Digit, the new type of human

March 25, 2010 - 6:10AM

THE human family has a new member.

A previously unknown type of ancient human, who lived about 40,000 years ago, has been identified using DNA from a finger bone found in Siberia.

The extraordinary find brings to four the number of human species thought to have roamed the earth at that time.

Six years ago only two were known: Neanderthals and modern humans. Then, in 2004, scientists announced the discovery of a hobbit-sized species of extinct human on the Indonesian island of Flores.

"Forty thousand years ago, the planet was more crowded than we thought," said Terence Brown, of the University of Manchester.

A team led by Johannes Krause, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, discovered the finger – thought to be a "pinky" – in a cave in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia. Dr Krause said the DNA it contained was different to that of both Neanderthals and modern humans.

He carried out extensive testing to confirm the mitochondrial DNA, passed from mothers to their offspring, was authentic and had not been contaminated by DNA from other sources.

"[It] was from what seemed to be a new hominin lineage," said Dr Krause, whose findings are published in the journal Nature.

Dr Krause was so shocked he called his colleague Svante Paabo – who sequenced the DNA of Neanderthals last year – to tell him about the find.

"At first I didn't really believe him, I thought he was pulling my leg," said Professor Paabo.

This is the first time a new human ancestor has been identified by its DNA sequence rather than from the study of its bones.

With only DNA evidence to go by, the researchers have said it is impossible to tell what the species would have looked like. And although they could not determine the sex of the individual to whom the finger belonged, the researchers have nicknamed the prehistoric person "X-woman".

The first human group to leave Africa, about 2 million years ago, was Homo erectus. They were followed by Neanderthals around 500,000 years ago, and modern humans around 50,000 years ago.

Professor Paabo said the x-woman type of human would have developed much later than Homo erectus but long before Neanderthals. Modern humans shared a common ancestor with the unknown hominin about a million years ago, he said.

The X-woman humans seem to have lived alongside Neanderthals and modern humans.
(Submitted by Paul Cropper)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Tyrannosaurus Rex takes a power shower

Click to enlarge - p11.

Dinosaur Buried Alive 185 Million Years Ago Uncovered in Utah

03/24/2010 10:16

According to new study, researchers have discovered a rare skeleton of a new species of plant-eating dinosaur in Utah's red rocks that lived 185 million years ago and may have been buried alive by a collapsing sand dune.

The discovery confirms the widespread success of sauropodomorph dinosaurs during the Early Jurassic Period.

The study was conducted by Joseph Sertich, a former University of Utah master's student and current Stony Brook University Ph.D. student, and Mark Loewen, a paleontologist at the Utah Museum of Natural History and instructor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah.

The new dinosaur species is named Seitaad ruessi, which is derived from the Navajo word, "Seit'aad," a sand-desert monster from the Navajo creation legend that swallowed its victims in sand dunes; and Ruess, after the artist, poet, naturalist and explorer Everett Ruess who mysteriously disappeared in the red rock country of southern Utah in 1934 at age 20, Sify reported.

Joe Pachak was hiking in the Comb Ridge area near Bluff, Utah, when he spotted the bony fossil protruding from the multicolored cliffs of the Navajo Sandstone, which represents the remains of a huge sand dune desert as large as the modern-day Sahara Desert. As such, the dinosaur has been named Seitaad ruessi, derived from the Navajo word "Seit'aad," a sand-desert monster from the Navajo creation legend, FOXNews reports.

According to The Star, named Seitaad ruessi, the species was 3 to 4.5m long and 0.91 to 1.2m high. Its bones were found below an ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling.

The word Seit'aad means a sand monster that buried its victims in dunes in Navajo legend, according to the researchers.
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