Friday, 30 April 2010

Gentle Jake is the world's tallest horse

30 April 2010, 13:45

Big Jake is officially the Guinness World Record holder for the world's tallest living horse, but his owner says the 6ft 11in Belgian gelding is really just a gentle giant.

The nine-year-old is almost three inches taller than the previous record-holder, a Clydesdale from Texas named Remington, reports The Metro.

Big Jake's owner Jerry Gilbert, the owner of Smokey Hollow Farm near Poynette in Wisconsin, often takes the animal to horse shows, where he pulls hefty stuff around in a team of four or six draught horses.

And he uses his size for a good cause, helping to raise money for a Ronald McDonald House, supported by the fast food chain, where parents of hospitalised children can stay to be close to their kids.

Mr Gilbert says Big Jake, who weighs about 2,600lb, is good with people, who are astonished when they see just how big he is.

Wildlife TV 'ignores animal rights'

30 April 2010

Wildlife documentaries deny animals their "right to privacy", an academic has claimed.

Producers of nature shows ignore privacy ethics when considering the mechanics of filming, argues Brett Mills, of the University of East Anglia.

BBC show Nature's Great Events - narrated by Sir David Attenborough - was scrutinised in his research.

Dr Mills said: "Human notions of privacy which rest on ideas of location or activity are ignored in terms of animals. It doesn't matter what an animal does, or where it does it, it will be deemed fair game for the documentary."

Dr Mills, who published his study in Continuum: Journal Of Media And Cultural Studies, said: "Perhaps there is an argument for some species, in some circumstances, not to be filmed. At the moment it seems that such arguments are never put forward.

"It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept.

"The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they'd rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy.

"When confronted with such 'secretive' behaviour, the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television. The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed: they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all."

A BBC spokeswoman defended the corporation's approach to wildlife filming. She said: "We are constantly developing filming technology which gives wildlife film-makers the ability to film animal behaviour with minimal disruption to the animal.

"Film-makers work very closely with scientists whose work studying the complexity of animal lives is vital for wildlife conservation."

Kemerovo Region resident claims rescuing Yeti in spring flood

265 words
29 April 2010
ITAR-TASS World Service
(c) 2010 ITAR-TASS

KEMEROVO, April 29 (Itar-Tass) < A resident of the village Senzaskie Kichi, Kemerovo Region, hunter Afanasy Kiskorov, claims that he rescued a Yeti during a spring flood on the mountainous river of Kabyrza. His actions were witnessed by local residents, Itar-Tass learnt at the administration of the Tashtagol district of the Kemerovo Region, a supposed habitation place of a hominid.

While fishing, Kiskorov and other local hunters heard strong ice crushing and shrill howling. Rushing to the piercing shriek, the huntsmen saw ³a creature, covered with dark-brown fur², in the river some ten metres from the bank.

³The strange creature, looking like a huge man, tried several times to get out of water and to stand up on both feet, but dropped into the water each time and was howling. The hunters stood frozen, and only Kiskorov hurried to offer help: he threw the creature the dry trunk of a young aspen tree, the creature clutched to it and crawled to the bank,² the district administration said.

The Kemerovo Region registers a high spring flood this year, and many mountain rivers just started breaking ice. Ice at some sections persists, but very thin. The village of Senzaskie Kichi, located 140 kilometres from the Tashtagol district centre deep in the taiga, has no electricity and a road. A helicopter flies to the village once a week.

The last flight brought a letter, signed by Kiskorov and another three huntsmen, to the head of the Tashtagol district administration with a story about this incident.

Document TASS000020100429e64t0005l

(Submitted by Paul Cropper)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Vietnam forest fires threaten rare crane

Apr 28, 2010, 8:11 GMT

Hanoi - Forest fires in a national park are threatening the habitat of the endangered red-crowned crane, Vietnamese officials said Wednesday.

The fires have destroyed 200 hectares of Tram Chim National Park in the Mekong Delta, the latest in a record-setting year of forest fires caused by low rain and hot weather.

The official Vietnam News reported Wednesday that over 500 firefighters, soldiers and police were fighting the blazes using water pumps drawing from nearby canals, but had failed to control them.

'Forest fires are much worse this year than last year,' said Nguyen Huy Loi, head of the Forest Management Department in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Loi said fires in the northern mountain district of Sapa and in southern Bu Gia Map National Park had already consumed thousands of hectares of forest. The fires near Sapa alone destroyed 1,700 hectares of forest before being extinguished in mid-February.

In the first two months of 2010, the Forest Protection Department said forest fires were running at over 10 times the rate for 2008 and 2009, when just 140 hectares were destroyed.

Loi blamed 'climate change,' resulting in lower rainfall and humidity.

The red-crowned crane is among the most endangered birds in the world, with some 1,500 believed to remain in the wild, mainly in China. The population in the Mekong Delta is believed to be about 200, according to a report by the local biosphere preserve.

Crane chicks hatch

RIGHT: One of the newly hatched Common Crane chicks. Photo: Grahame Madge
Posted on: 28 Apr 2010

The first eight Common Crane chicks, brought from Germany as part of the Great Crane Project have successfully hatched at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. The birds are destined to be released into the wild later this year.

The original plan was to fly the eggs over but these had to be rapidly changed because of last weeks’ air travel crisis. WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding, Nigel Jarrett, drove to Germany and back instead on an epic 17 hour road trip carefully collecting the 18 Common Crane eggs in portable incubators. Only hours after arriving the first chick hatched, followed by seven more.

Nigel said: “We knew we would be cutting it fine, but we didn’t know quite how close it was! It really was a privilege to bring back such an iconic bird to Britain, they are back where they belong almost like a long-lost friend. This is the start of a new generation of British birds and I can’t wait to see these newly hatched cranes gracing our skies this autumn.”

More chicks should hatch at WWT Slimbridge in the next few days and a second batch of eggs arriving at later this week by air, courtesy of Airbus and Lufthanza. Over the next couple of months the crane chicks will be taught how to forage for food, swim, socialize and protect themselves from predators – all valuable lessons to help them prepare for life in the wild.

The cranes will be transferred to a temporary release enclosure on the Somerset Levels and Moors later this summer before they are released into the wild as part of the Great Crane Project – a partnership between WWT, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

Asiatic lion census in Gir forests in India over, final tally in May

Article text removed at request of

Photo from Wikipedia.

Read story here:,asiatic-lion-census-in-gir-forests-in-india-over-final.html

Beekeeper is killed by his own swarm

Thursday April 29,2010
By Nick Fagge

A GRANDFATHER died after being attacked by bees from his own hive, it emerged yesterday.

Christopher Weaver, a 56-year-old lawyer from Leicester, was feeding the insects when they swarmed and attacked him in their thousands. The Falklands veteran, who was not wearing protective clothing, tried to escape but collapsed due to the sheer number of stings. He died from heart failure triggered by the venom.

His wife Sandra, 28, was at the couple’s home 300 yards from the beehive when the tragedy happened two weeks ago. She said: “He went to feed them and the next thing I knew, his friend was banging on the door saying he’d collapsed. Chris was adamant that he knew what he was doing. He was always being stung.”

Mr Weaver leaves two grown-up sons and a seven-year-old granddaughter. His mother Monica, 80, from Plymouth, Devon, said: “Chris was stung so much, he probably thought he was immune.”

At last, it's monkey riding a goat walking on a tightrope

Tom Phillips - 29th April, 2010

For all those of you who have been waiting ages for a decent picture of a tightrope-walking goat being ridden by a nervous monkey, today will be a good day.

For those of you who have not been tingling with anticipation at the faint hope of a tightrope-walking-goat-riding-monkey picture, we hope you'll get something.

The tightrope/goat/monkey incident occurred at a zoo in Fuzhou, in China's southeastern Fujian province.

A close examination of the picture suggests that the goat seems to be going about its tightrope walking duties with an air of calm equanimity, while the monkey is clearly rather less pleased about the whole affair, and quite probably wishes it wasn't chained to a goat being made to balance on a rope for the entertainment of a gawping public.

Goats, of course, have naturally good balance, and in Morocco can often be seen happily climbing trees. Monkeys, on the other hand, are not natural goat-jockeys.

Found Alive: The Loch Ness Monster of the Northwest Prairie. Alas, It Disappoints (Idaho scientists find fabled "giant" worm)

Published: April 27, 2010

HELENA, Mont.— Once feared extinct, the giant Palouse earthworm, reputed to grow up to three feet long and smell like lilies, has been found alive.

It turns out though, experts say, the worm is not a giant, nor does it have a lilylike scent.

Researchers thought the worm, translucent with the pink head and last seen in the 1980s, might be extinct because its habitat, the Palouse prairie region of Idaho and Washington, is almost gone. On March 27, however, Karl Umiker, a University of Idaho research support scientist, working with Shan Xu, a graduate student from Chengdu, China, discovered two giant Palouse earthworms, a juvenile and an adult, on a small patch of native prairie near Moscow, Idaho.

As it turns out, the worms are bigger than night crawlers but not giant. The two specimens, the adult of which had to be killed and dissected to determine whether it was indeed a giant Palouse earthworm, were about seven inches long when they came from the ground.

“But when we stretched it out and relaxed it, the adult earthworm got bigger,” said Jodi Johnson-Maynard an associate professor of soil and water management and Mr. Umiker’s supervisor. “It’s between 9 and 10 inches.”

That is a far cry from earlier claims of three-foot worms. “We tried to track that story down,” Dr. Johnson-Maynard said, and discovered that many years ago there was one giant specimen. “Apparently some boy was swinging it in the air like a rope, and it stretched.”

Giant earthworms do exist in Africa and Australia, she said, and so it was thought that a North American version was possible.

And the fragrance of lilies? “That I have never noted,” Dr. Johnson-Maynard said. She did not know the origin of that claim.

Still, Dr. Johnson-Maynard said that finding the worms was a scientific coup. “Most people thought it was extinct, or that it never even existed,” she said, “like the Loch Ness monster.”

The worms are transparent, and their organs and food can be discerned through their skin. The species was first described in 1897.

The last live worms were found in the 1980s. Worms were found by researchers in 2005 and 2007, but they were killed during recovery. There were numerous sightings in the 19th century before most of the native prairie was plowed up for wheat. Environmentalists have petitioned the federal government to list the worm as endangered.

Dr. Johnson-Maynard was disappointed that the adult had to be killed to be identified, but inspecting digestive organs is the only way to tell for sure. Now, however, she said, DNA from the sacrificial worm should enable less drastic measures.

Dr. Johnson-Maynard suspects that there are more giant Palouse earthworms, and that they are considered rare in part because they are so hard to find. While most worms live in the top foot of soil, she said, “the giant Palouse can burrow much deeper, about 15 feet.” They can also sense disturbance and flee to deeper ground when researchers are digging.

The researchers used an electroshock device to find the worms. The location technique, called the octet method, involves sticking eight electrodes into the ground in a one-foot-circle and sending electricity through them. It is believed to be what brought the worms to the surface.

The scientific name for the worm is Driloleirus americanus, a separate genus and species than other worms. The creature is different from other worms in a couple of ways. It has more nephidia, a kidney-like organ that allows it to live in dryer conditions than other worms. And their clitellum, a smooth band that all worms have, is in a different location.

The captured juvenile is resting comfortably, Dr. Johnson-Maynard said, adding, “We have it in a cooler in soil with ice packs.”
(Submitted by Brian Chapman)

See also:
(Submitted by G. A. Christian Bilou)

Elephants Emit Special "Bee Rumble" to Warn Others About Marauding Bugs

Posted: 27 Apr 2010 11:24 AM PDT

When it comes to the relationship between bees and African elephants, size does not matter. The massive pachyderms are terrified of bees, which can painfully sting elephants around their eyes and inside their trunks. Baby elephants are the most vulnerable to bee stings, as their skin isn't thick enough to ward off the insects. And researchers have now found that the elephants have developed a special strategy to help them avoid these bees that scare the bejesus out of them.

When an elephant takes note of a swarm of bees, it emits a distinct rumbling call. This bee alarm, which the scientists termed a "bee rumble," helps draw the herd's attention to the bees and allows them to run off unharmed, the researchers write in the journal PloS ONE. What's more, they respond to an audio recording of the bee rumble as if it were the real thing, giving farmers a tool they could potentially use to fend off unwanted elephants.

This is the first time that an alarm call for a specific threat has been identified in elephants. Lead researcher Lucy King of the University of Oxford believes that such calls may be an "emotional response" to a threat and a way to co-ordinate group movements. Ms King explained: "We discovered elephants not only flee from the buzzing sound, but make a unique rumbling call, as well as shaking their heads" [BBC]. The head-shaking looked like an attempt to fend off or dislodge the bees that the elephants assumed were buzzing around, King says.

For the study, King and her team played the recordings of the bee rumble vocalization to 10 elephant families. Six of the families immediately got up and fled, despite the fact that they had neither seen nor heard any bees. When the scientists tweaked the vocalization a bit to remove a key acoustical feature found in bee rumbles, the elephants stayed put. The researchers suggest that elephants may also have warning calls to alert their fellows to humans and lions---much like Diana monkeys in West Africa can call out a leopard alarm or eagle alarm, depending on which predator they spot [ScienceNOW].

King hopes that recordings of the bee rumble can be used by farmers to chase away elephants and keep them from trampling fields. As agriculture expands in Africa, elephants have been squeezed into tighter habitats--causing them to stray across fields and damage crops. "Farmers will do anything to keep their crops and families safe from damage, and unfortunately records of shootings, spearings, and poisonings of elephants are on the increase," Ms King wrote on the University of Oxford's website [BBC]. King hopes that playing back the bee rumble around fields could serve as a low-tech, humane deterrent to elephants, who will then be sent packing back into the woods.

(Submitted by T. Peter Park)

Rattlesnakes Sound Warning on Biodiversity and Habitat Fragmentation

ScienceDaily (Apr. 23, 2010) - Like the canary in the coal mine, the timber rattlesnake may be telling us something about the environment we share.
Cornell University researchers -- using cutting-edge tools including fine-scale molecular genetics and microsatellite markers -- tracked the rattlesnakes to understand how wildlife habitats are affected by even modest human encroachment.

"We used this species as a model to investigate general processes underlying population-level responses to habitat fragmentation," said the authors, led by Cornell post-doctoral researcher Rulon Clark, in the paper "Roads, Interrupted Dispersal and Genetic Diversity in Timber Rattlesnakes," currently available online and to be published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Researchers discovered that fragmentation of natural habitats by roads -- even smaller, low-traffic highways -- has had a significant effect over the past 80 years on genetic structure of timber rattlesnakes in four separate regions of upstate New York. Less genetic diversity means populations become more susceptible to illness or environmental changes that threaten their survival.

"Our study adds to a growing body of literature indicating that even anthropogenic habitat modifications that does not destroy a large amount of habitat can create significant barriers to gene flow," said researchers.

While the rattlesnakes shorter lifespan and method of travel may help make the impact of roadways relatively quick and dramatic, the new findings reinforce earlier work on other terrestrial animals -- from grizzly bears to frogs -- and provides a fresh warning about habitat fragmentation that all plans for future human development must consider.

Researchers used fine-scale molecular genetics as well as behavioral and ecological data to look at timber rattlesnakes from 19 different hibernacula -- shared wintering quarters -- in four regions in New York: the Adirondacks, Sterling Forest, Bear Mountain and Chemung County. In each case they used microsatellite markers to track how populations dispersed from their winter dens, their subsequent reproductive patterns, and how roads in these areas altered that gene flow. The roads themselves -- all paved roadways built in the late 1920s to early 19030s for motorized traffic -- were examined for use and relationship to natural barriers. Tissue samples were examined from more than 500 individual snakes.

"Over all four regions and 19 hibernacula, none of the genetic clusters . spanned either major or minor roads; hibernacula belonging to the same genetic deme were always on the same side of the road," the paper states. "This fine-scaled analysis, repeated over four geographic regions, underscores the significance of roads as barrier to dispersal and natural population processes for timber rattlesnakes and perhaps other species."

The research team also included Kelly Zamudio, Cornell University ecology and evolutionary biology professor; William Brown, professor of biology at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and Randy Stechert, an environmental consultant for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Clark is currently an assistant professor at San Diego State University.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the New York State Biodiversity Research Institute.

Young Salamanders' Movement Over Land Helps Stabilize Populations

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2010) - Amphibians -- frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts -- are disappearing worldwide, but the stream salamanders of the Appalachian Mountains appear to be stable. This region is home to the largest diversity of salamanders in the world (more than 70 species reside here), and scientists want to understand what contributes to the stability of these salamander populations.

In research published in the March 29, 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Evan Grant (a research associate in the University of Maryland Department of Biology and wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey's Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative); along with Dr. William Fagan, University of Maryland Department of Biology; and collaborators James Nichols, US Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; and Winsor Lowe, University of Montana; describe how two species of stream salamanders find new homes by moving both within streams and over land to adjacent streams during multiple life stages, and how this movement may help to stabilize their populations.

"Scientists tend to be more focused on populations that are declining or threatened," explains Grant, "but it is also important to look at the populations that are doing well, and to understand what makes the population or species more stable. You can apply this to interpret what might be happening with populations that are declining."

The Fagan lab is known for its expertise in combining math and biology to understand the spatial distribution of species to solve real-world conservation problems. They create mathematical models to understand patterns, influences and changes in spatial distribution.

Evan Grant, who is a wildlife biologist with the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and completed this work as part of his dissertation research, used observations of marked animals to estimate the dispersal probabilities of two species of lungless salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus and Desmognathus monticola) who reside in headwater streams (these salamanders are known to prefer the headwaters, where the stream originates) in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.

These salamanders are aquatic as larva (a stage which lasts ~9 months), and then become terrestrial as juveniles, when they reabsorb their gills and begin to breathe by diffusing oxygen through their skin. While the stream is the best habitat for the salamanders because of the stable temperatures and humidity, both juvenile and adult salamanders can travel over land to forage for food, and occasionally move from one stream to another.

Over a two year period, Grant and colleagues captured and marked more than 2500 salamanders in three 40 meter segments along the headwater streams using a harmless injectable dye (known as a "visual implant elastomer"). They then released them and tracked their movements by recapturing them during four return visits each year, recording their location each time. This study was the first to track salamanders across all three life stages -- larva, juvenile, and adult -- because the research team overcame the difficulty in marking the larval salamanders, which are only a half an inch long. The adult salamanders of these two species grow to a length of almost four inches.

Grant used sophisticated models to estimate the probability of a salamander moving from one segment to another within the same stream either upstream or downstream, and from one stream to another by moving across land. What he found supported his prediction that the salamanders generally prefer to disperse upstream and that those in the juvenile stage were the most likely to change location by moving both upstream and overland to the adjacent stream.

"Marking the larvae was key to figuring out the movement ecology of the species, because once the larva transformed into a juvenile, that is when the dispersal happened," says Grant. "If I hadn't marked the larva and just marked the juveniles, the probability that I would have observed that dispersal would have been very, very slim."

It turns out that this overland movement is very important contributor to population stability. Grant used the observed dispersal probabilities to conduct a computer simulation to show changes in population stability across a range of extinction risk scenarios in the stream networks. He investigated how the combination of dispersal by the three possible movement routes -- upstream, downstream, and over land -- resulted in changes to predicted extinction times. His modeling showed that when even a small amount of overland movement occurred, it increased the likelihood of salamander population persistence dramatically. This was only the case under low to moderate rates of extinction risk. Under higher extinction probabilities (like we see in stream-breeding frogs in the neotropics), no amount of dispersal could stabilize populations.

These results suggest that the specific routes of dispersal play a big role in salamander population stability, and helps to explain why we have not seen declines in headwater stream salamander populations. This information can help wildlife biologists, amphibian conservationists, and resource managers in their efforts to maintain or restore salamander habitats to facilitate persistence of the species and prevent extinctions. These data confirm that the terrestrial habitat between streams is important to salamanders and must be maintained and protected.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

New British moth found in Hembury Woods is world first

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

A moth new to science and found nowhere else in the world has been formally recognised as living in the UK.

The 3mm-long micro moth, which lives in Hembury Woods in Devon, was recognised as a new species this year.

This week, the biologist who discovered it is presenting the Natural History Museum of London with one of the first known specimens.

The receipt of this "type" specimen will mark the official acceptance of the moth's existence in the country.

The tiny micro moth, which has a wingspan of just 6mm, was first spotted in 2004.

At that time, amateur naturalist Bob Heckford sighted the unusual bright green caterpillars of this tiny leaf-mining moth on oak saplings within Hembury Woods, a site managed by the National Trust.

In January this year, the moth was officially recognised in the journal Zookeys as a new species, named Ectoedemia heckfordi after its discoverer.

It is not known to live outside of the UK.

Official presentation

Now Mr Heckford is presenting the Natural History Museum with the original specimen.

That is important, because it marks the official acknowledgement by the scientific world of the specimen as the "type" for that species, against which any future finds will be compared and determined.

"We hear so much about the losses to the natural world, and less about the gains; which makes this find, however small, so important," says Matthew Oates, an adviser on nature conservation at the National Trust.

"Amateur naturalists have a wonderful window on the wildlife world and nature continues to amaze us and throw up surprises even in the UK."

There are well over 2,000 species of micro moth in the UK.

They come in various shapes and sizes, but many are extremely pretty, though only appreciated under magnification.

A few are actually larger than some larger, so-called macro moths.

Their biology varies.

Most are plant feeders, with larvae often mining galleries in leaves, between the leaf surfaces.

A few mine stems.

Some, though, breed in fungi and a few have aquatic larvae.

Most are nocturnal but quite a few also fly by day.

Caterpillars of the new species are found mostly on oak saplings and low growth of oak in the shade.

The mines they make are quite dark and the caterpillars are bright green which is quite unusual for micro moths.

The adults lay their eggs on the underside of the leaf.
(Submitted by Lindsay Selby)

Devon Wildlife Trust acquires new culm grassland reserve

Meresfelle Nature Reserve

April 2010. Devon Wildlife Trust has purchased 35 acres of rare Culm grassland on the River Torridge in North Devon. The purchase is set to become the charity's latest nature reserve.

The land, which was part of Marshall Farm near Woolsery, is a prime example of the species rich wet grassland of the area. It borders other high value Culm grassland sites at Bursdon Moor and also sits close to one of the charity's other reserves, Volehouse Moor, to the east. The new site has been given the name Meresfelle Nature Reserve, a title derived from an old name for the area dating back to the 13th Century.

Unusual wildlife

The site is already buzzing with wildlife. Species recorded on the reserve include small pearl bordered fritillary, snipe and adders along with a new record of a rare marsh fritillary butterfly which is threatened throughout Europe.

Matt Boydell, DWT's Land Management Manager said: "This site will be an excellent new addition to our suite of Culm grassland nature reserves in North Devon. The site has not been grazed for nearly a decade so it is in need of some appropriate management such as scrub clearance and swaling (controlled burning) but we are excited to be able to secure this land and get to work restoring it for the future."

The land purchase is part of the charity's wider conservation work in north Devon through the Working Wetlands project which aims to restore, re-create and reconnect wildlife rich sites in the area.

Strategy to create larger conservation areas

Matt added: "Our strategy at the moment for land acquisition is to secure sites near to our other reserves or in priority areas to help enlarge and connect them to make them more robust to tackle a range of threats such as climate change. We have a highly experienced team of staff that are able to manage these Culm sites and through the Working Wetlands project we are able to advise other landowners how best to manage their holdings to benefit wildlife."
(Submitted by Corinna Downes)

Llamas act as bouncers for chicks at Merseyside reserve

Tuesday, 27 April 2010 07:42 UK

Llamas have been drafted in to protect eggs and chicks of wading birds at a Merseyside nature park.

The two highly territorial camelids, called Willy and Jack, are being used to scare off predators at the Marshside reserve in Southport.

Recruited by the RSPB, the South American creatures are known for their aggressive behaviour when threatened.

Graham Clarkson, RSPB Marshside warden, hopes the llamas will keep animals such as foxes at bay.

He said: "Llamas are territorial and should chase away animals like foxes that can eat lapwing and redshank eggs and chicks.

"We hope it will make a difference to how successful the birds are this year.

"It is particularly important that they do well as the populations of these breeding birds are threatened in the UK, so we will be monitoring the outcome of this experiment carefully."

It is hoped their slightly erratic behaviour, along with the groaning noises and the sound they make when afraid or angry, will be a deterrent. They are also known to spit at and attack each other when provoked, but are gentle creatures when calm.

Lapwing and redshank birds, which nest at Marshside, are among those under threat in the UK.

The llama and its relative the alpaca are already used as livestock guards to protect lambs and sheep from predators.

The Prince of Wales uses alpacas to protect his lambs from foxes during lambing season at Highgrove, his Gloucestershire estate.

Local grazier Gill Baker, who provides the cattle to graze the marsh, said: "The 'boys' are a great hit with locals and visitors to the reserve.

"They will hopefully do a great job looking after the birds and can live quite harmoniously with the cows there."
(Sumitted by Liz R)

Chimps 'feel death like humans'

Monday, 26 April 2010 19:19 UK

Chimpanzees deal with death in much the same way as humans, studies suggest.

Scientists in Scotland filmed a group of chimps grooming and caressing an elderly female who died, and remaining subdued for several days afterwards.

Other researchers saw females carrying around the bodies of their dead offspring. Both studies are reported in the journal Current Biology.

The scientists say this suggests other species, particularly apes, are more like humans than we might think.

"Several phenomena have at one time or another been considered as setting humans apart from other species: reasoning ability, language ability, tool use, cultural variation, and self-awareness, for example," said James Anderson from Stirling University, who led the research team looking at the death of the elderly female.

"But science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think.

"The awareness of death is another such psychological phenomenon."

Keeping close

Staff at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park in Stirlingshire used video cameras to document the death of a terminally ill female named Pansy, believed to be more than 50 years old.

When she became lethargic in the days leading up to her death, other members of the group became quieter than usual and stayed with her at nights, grooming her more than they did normally.

After her death, her daughter stayed near the body for an entire night, even though she had never slept on that platform before.

All of the group were subdued for several days afterwards, and avoided the place where she had died, spending long hours grooming each other.

In the second study, led by scientists at Oxford University, two mothers living in the wild at the Bossou site in Guinea were seen to carry around the bodies of their dead offspring - one of them for nearly 10 weeks.

This behaviour has been seen once before at the site, in 1992; and the researchers suggest it may be learned.

During the period, the babies' bodies slowly mummified as they dried out. The bereaved mothers used tools to fend off flies.

Religious beliefs

"Our observations confirm the existence of an extremely powerful bond between mothers and their offspring which can persist, remarkably, even after the death of the infant," said Oxford's Dora Biro.

"They further call for efforts to elucidate the extent to which chimpanzees understand and are affected by the death of a close relative or group-mate.

"This would both have implications for our understanding of the evolutionary origins of human perceptions of death and provide insights into the way chimpanzees interpret the world around them."

Chimpanzees and humans share about 99% of their DNA, and are so closely related that some academics have suggested they should be given rights similar to human rights.

Dr Anderson suggests the treatment of death marks another similarity.

"We found several similarities between the chimpanzees' behaviour toward the dying female and their behaviour after her death, and some reactions of humans when faced with the demise of an elderly group member or relative, even though chimpanzees do not have religious beliefs or rituals surrounding death," he said.

See videos at:
(Submitted by Liz R)

'Ancestral Eve' crystal could explain origin of left-handed amino acids

Washington, Apr 22 : Researchers have discovered what may be the 'ancestral Eve' crystal that billions of years ago gave life on Earth its curious and exclusive preference for so-called left-handed amino acids.

Amino acids are building blocks of proteins, which come in two forms — left- and right-handed — that mirror each other like a pair of hands.

The study may help resolve one of the most perplexing mysteries about the origin of life.

Tu Lee and Yu Kun Lin point out that conditions on the primordial Earth held an equal chance of forming the same amounts of left-handed and right-handed amino acids.

However, when the first forms of life emerged more than 3 billion years ago, all the amino acids in the proteins had the left-handed configuration.

That pattern continued right up to modern plants
and animals.

The scientists used mixtures of both left- and right-handed aspartic acid (an amino acid) in laboratory experiments to see how temperature and other conditions affected formation of crystals of the material.

They found that under conditions that could have existed on primitive Earth, left-handed aspartic acid crystals could have formed easily and on a large scale.

"The aspartic acid crystal would then truly become a single mother crystal: an ancestral Eve for the whole left-handed population," noted the study.

The study has been published in ACS' Crystal Growth n Design, a bi-monthly journal.

Lotus plant grown from 700-year-old seed

A Lotus has been grown from a 700-year-old seed which dates back to Korea's Goryeo Dynasty.

Published: 11:27AM BST 26 Apr 2010

The plant has been grown in Haman County, South Gyeongsang Province, South Korea.

The flower has been grown from one of the 10 lotus seeds discovered during an excavation of an ancient castle last year.

Scientists at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, have confirmed two of the seeds to be as old as 650 years and 760 years, respectively

The county also planted the eight other seeds and three of them sprouted.

How chimpanzees deal with death and dying

On the 7th of December, 2008, in the heart of Scotland, a chimpanzee called Pansy died peacefully. She was over 50 years old and lived on an island in Blair Drummond Safari Park with three other chimps -- her daughter Rosie, another adult female called Blossom, and Blossom's son Chippie.

Their reaction to her passing was recorded by the park's cameras (see video above) and many of their actions seem remarkably human. The others seemed to care for Pansy in her final minutes, examine her body for signs of life, and avoid the place where she died. Rosie even conducted the equivalent of an all-night vigil.

This footage provides a rare glimpse into how one of our closest relatives deal with death, and it's one of two such examples that have been published today. The second took place several thousand miles away in the forests of Bossou, Guinea. In 2003, a respiratory epidemic killed five of the local chimps, including two babies called Jimato and Veve. Their mothers, Jire and Vuavua, carried their babies' lifeless bodies around for 68 and 19 days respectively. They groomed the dead youngsters and chased away the flies that circled them.

Even after both babies had completely mummified into dry, leathery husk, the mothers still carried them, and other groups members investigated them. These examples of quiet, calm behaviour are incredibly different from
previous anecdotes. At Gombe National Park in Tanzania, the death of a male who fell from a tree was greeted by an eruption of noise. The others made alarm calls and aggressive displays, and they touched and held each other. They stared and sniffed at the corpse, but no one touched it and after four hours, the group left.

Elsewhere, in the Tai Forest, a leopard fatally mauled a young female and the same mass excitement ensued. This time, the others frequently touched the body and some males even dragged it for short distances before abandoning it. And in other cases, chimps have been shown to attack or even cannibalise the corpses of dead infants, despite the protestations of their mothers.

In stark contrast, Pansy's peers were calm and restrained. When studying animal behaviour, it is always important to avoid the trap of anthropomorphism, but one cannot help but draw comparisons between Rosie, Blossom and Chippie's actions and the responses of humans to peaceful death.

Pansy's final hours were documented by Alasdair Gillies, head keeper at Blair Drummond. She started becoming lethargic in November and started receiving veterinary care. Her fellow chimps seemed to know that something was up. Instead, of sleeping on their usual platforms, they nested near her. At 4pm on December 7th, she started breathing erratically and laboriously and Gillies let the others join her.

They groomed her with unusual frequency in the 10 minutes before her death and afterwards, they seemed to test for life by inspecting her mouth and lifting her limbs. More unusually, Chippie attacked Pansy's corpse on no less than three occasions; Gillies thinks that he may have been trying to rouse her or expressing frustration or anger. Blossom groomed her son for an extraordinary amount of time, perhaps an act of consolation or social support.
Rosie, meanwhile, stayed with her mother's body throughout the night, on a platform that she had never previously slept on. All the three surviving chimps slept restlessly and the next morning, they were all subdued. They removed straw from Pansy's body, ate less than normal, and watched silently as the keepers took Pansy away. When they were allowed to return to the sleeping area, Blossom and Rosie did so hesistantly, but Chippy refused. His alarm calls drew the other two back to the day area, where the trio spent the night. For the following week, none of the chimps nested on the platform where Pansy died, even though all of them had frequently done so before.

Legendary primate researcher Frans de Waal says, "I have seen chimpanzees die in captive colonies, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes after a long illness, and the reactions described here correspond with my experiences. There is even a dramatic photograph that reached cyberspace."

The tale of the African chimps, told by Dora Biro from the University of Oxford, differs in its details but has many parallels. Vuavua paid such care to her dead baby that by the time she abandoned him, his body was largely intact albeit mummified. Jire did the same, although she carried Jimato along for so long that his facial features were largely unrecognisable. Did Jire and Vuavua know that their babies were dead? It's hard to say. Certainly, they seemed to treat the corpses like live babies, at least for a few days. Towards the end, they started carrying
them in positions that they never use for healthy youngsters.

Other chimps touched, poked and sniffed the bodies, and lifted their immobile limbs. Some of the other youngsters even carried them in bouts of play. Even though the bodies' were starting to deform and smell
intensely, only one of the chimps ever reacted in a way that looked like repulsion. Biro never saw a single act of aggression.

This is hardly the first time that a chimp mother has been seen carrying the mummified corpse of her baby; the first such sighting was made in 1992 and was very similar to the latest ones. De Waal says, "The carrying of dead infants by chimpanzee mothers is well known, and has also been reported for other primates, although never of such long duration. 68 days is longer than any previous report that I have seen!"

He says that ape physiology drives an enormous attachment between mother and infant, that doesn't rapidly shut down when the infant dies. For example, a chimp's reproductive cycle grinds to a halt for four years after giving birth. "It would also not be adaptive to abandon an infant every time it gets sick," says de Waal. "The best option is for mothers to keep hope and keep caring. A rapid shutting down of attachment would be maladaptive: it might lead mothers of near-dead infants to abandon them prematurely." Why did Jire and Vuavua eventually let go? As their reproductive cycle restarted and all the associated hormonal changes kicked in, the mums could have been psychologically prepped to raise another generation. The fact that Jire carried her dead child for longer than Vuavua may be because she had already had 7 previous children, while Vuavua was a first-time mother.

Both of these examples suggest that chimpanzees have a better awareness of death and dying that people have previously thought. In many ways, this shouldn't be surprising -- these animals are self-aware and empathetic towards each other. Another intelligent animal, the African elephant, also shows remarkably sophisticated behaviour on the death of their peers. De Waal says, "I don't think this is the same as what elephants do, which visit burial sites long after the death of a companion. But I wouldn't be surprised if elephants also showed reactions like these (minus the aggressive displays, which seem typically chimp) to the actual death of another."

Do chimps truly understand the concept of death? Based on the stories of Pansy, Jire and Vuavua, de Waal says, "Definitely, they seem to recognize the death of another, and perhaps realize that this is a permanent change, and a permanent loss. This by itself is already very significant, and reports like these help us understand the depth of
their understanding." But he also adds that we can't draw any conclusions about whether they understand their own mortality. "To understand one's own mortality would require extrapolating from what happens to others to one's own situation. We cannot rule this out, of course, but it would require another big mental jump and for the moment we have no way of knowing if species other than us have made this jump."

In the meantime, James Anderson, who led the Scottish study, says that the work could affect the way that elderly chimps in zoos and research facilities are cared for. It might, for example, be more humane to let
the old-timers die naturally, surrounded by peers and familiar surroundings, than to resort to isolated treatment or euthanasia.

Reference: Current Biology, references unavailable at time of writing

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


9 April 2010
The Southland Times

ONE hundred years on and moose in Fiordland live on - well, according to a South Otago-based moose hunter anyway. Ken Tustin, of Bull Creek, near Milton, is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the release of moose in Fiordland today with a book that details evidence of moose from the area.

The book, A (nearly) complete history of the moose in New Zealand, details encounters with moose in the fiords and the many sightings of the animal by hunters, trampers, fishermen and lighthouse keepers. The biologist had been collecting evidence and stories of moose in New Zealand for about 40 years and the book offered photo and DNA evidence from as recently as 15 years ago, he said.

"It was generally thought that the animals were extinct in the mid-30s but in the early 50s there were a number of individuals that shot and photographed the moose. So what it has is stories of people's sighting or shooting or someone that has seen a skeleton of the moose as proof," he said.

The stories about moose sightings, of which 60 were post-1960, had taken years to put together after tracking people down and then confirming their moose encounter story with a second source, Tustin said. "This book is firstly about moose, but it is also about a social history as it says what each person was doing down in the sounds at the same time."

The book will be in Southland book stores by April 15.

Lilliput jumbos — a subject of debate (via Paul Cropper)

Lilliput jumbos — a subject of debate
12 April 2010
The Hindu

KOCHI: The existence or not of pygmy elephants (‘Kallana' in Malayalam) is back in debate following the reported sighting of one such animal at Marakappara in the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary in the State recently.
Sali Palode and Jain Angadikkal, wildlife photographers, reportedly photographed the animal on March 18 on a trip along with Mallan Kani, a tribesman. However, experts say the existence of a dwarf race in one part of Kerala is improbable.

“We could see the animal as close as 100 metres and photograph it,” Mr. Sali says. Mr. Jain says the skin of the animal appeared wrinkled. It had a long tail and its trunk touched the ground. It looked like the miniature of an adult tusker.“Although it is well known that smaller elephants were found on the island of Borneo, a DNA analysis by Columbia University in 2003 had confirmed that these elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) were a genetically distinct type of the Asian elephants,” says R. Sukumar, Professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.“These elephants were recognised as ‘an evolutionarily significant unit.' They are only slightly shorter than elephants in Sri Lanka or India. The elephants of Sumatra were somewhat shorter on average, but not so much that they can be called pygmy elephants. The use of the term pygmy was very misleading,” said Mr. Sukumar, who is a member of the Project Elephant Task Force.The WWF website describes Borneo elephants as smaller in size than other Asian elephants. The males may only grow to less than 2.5 metres and have babyish faces, larger ears and longer tails that reach almost to the ground, the website says.

Anil Antony, Wildlife Warden, Wildlife Division, Thiruvananthapuram, says forest officials, along with Mallan Kani, visited the area immediately after the news came in. However, no evidence, not even its dung, could be found.

Variations in size
Regarding Peppara, Dr. Sukumar says there can be variations in size of the animals in natural populations. No perspective regarding the height of the animal can be obtained from the picture. It appeared to be weak and the long hair in its tail looked distinctive on assessing the photograph taken by the wildlife photographers, he says.
T.N.C. Vidya, who was part of the team that conducted the DNA studies on Borneo elephants, says there is nothing to suggest that it is a pygmy adult elephant that was photographed.

“Just as there are dwarfs among humans, if one does come across an occasional true elephant dwarf, that is not reason enough to think that it is a different subspecies or species. The Borneo elephants have evolved in isolation from other elephant populations for hundreds of thousands of years,” says Dr. Vidya, a Ramanujan Fellow of the Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore.

“In Kerala, there are no such populations in isolation and, therefore, I will not expect to find any distinct race of elephant,” she says.

Lensemen [sic] claim sighting pygmy jumbo; experts skeptical (via Paul Cropper)

Lensemen claim sighting pygmy jumbo; experts skeptical
12 April 2010
The Press Trust of India Limited

Thiruvananthapuram, April 12, 2010 (PTI) - The long speculation over the existence of pygmy elephants in forests of the Western Ghats is back in debate with two local wildlife photographers claiming to have spotted a dwarf jumbo at Peppara Wildlife Sanctury near here. The state Wildlife Department officials, however, say they have not come across any empirical or scientific proof to establish the claim.

The lensmen claim that they saw the diminutive tusker at a distance of 100 meters during an expedition to the area last month and released its photographs to the local media. "We were trekking with Mallan Kani, a local tribal chief. He knows the topography of the forest very well. All of a sudden we came across the jumbo with wrinkled face and long tail. Its trunk touched the ground," one of the photographers said.

It looked more like the miniature of an adult tusker, he said.

However, animal experts say that no dwarf elephants have been scientifically identified in any forests in Kerala region. "No environmental factor is existing in Kerala for the evolution of pygmy elephants," said P S Easa, a member of Steering Committee of the Project Elephant Task Force and expert in elephant ecology and behaviour.

R Sukumar, Professor at Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said the actual height of the animal could not be assessed from the picture which is claimed to be that of a pygmy elephant.
Just after getting information on the sighting of the jumbo, an official team led by Anil Antony, Wildlife Warden at Thiruvananthapuram, visited the area along with Mallan Kani.

He said they did not get any evidence to substantiate the claim.

Known as "Kallana" among the Kani tribals of the area, the existence of such type of an elephant has often been reported from different parts of the world including Borneo in Indonesia and Africa. Borneo elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) were long thought to be identical to the Asian Elephant and descendants of a captive population.

The WWF Website describes Borneo elephants as being smaller in size than other Asian elephants. The males may grow to a height of less than 2.5 metres and have babyish faces, larger ears and longer tails that almost reach the ground, the website says. Dr T N C Vidya, a Ramanujan Fellow of the Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, said "Just as there are dwarfs among humans, if one does come across an occasional true elephant dwarf, that is not reason enough to think that it is a different subspecies or species." However, Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala K P Ouseph told PTI that he had ordered a detailed study on the possibility of the presence of "Kallana" in the forests of Kerala.

WHERE'S WALLABY? (via Paul Cropper)

Sam Dimmer
14 April 2010
Coventry Evening Telegraph

Trucker is caught on the hop by sighting
STREWTH! Has a wallaby been spotted in Warwickshire? A lorry driver passing through Long Itchington on Sunday night certainly reckons he saw one nibbling on grass on the outskirts of the village. The sighting comes after a spate of sightings a few miles away in Northamptonshire leading experts to believe that a colony could be thriving in the area.

Alan Guscott, who spotted the mild-mannered marsupial, said: "It was a little after midnight while driving through Long Itchington, I spotted what I first thought was a kangaroo. "I slowed for a look and realised that at about 3ft 6ins it was too small. It didn't run off even after I almost stopped. It was raining hard and it's brown coat was soaking wet. It was nibbling grass on the verge and looked at me, then carried on nibbling. It was on it's own as far as I could tell."

"My mates didn't believe me and thought I had been drinking, even though I'm teetotal. It's the first time I have ever seen one in this country."

It's not the first time a wallaby - normally found in the Australian outback - has been spotted hopping around the UK in the wild. In the 1930s five were released from a private collection and found conditions in the Derbyshire Peak District suited them. They began breeding and by the 60s a small colony had developed drawing tourists from far and wide but after a series of savage winters it was feared that the wallabies had died out.

Now several fresh sightings have been made across the UK, leading experts to suggest that wallabies may be here to stay. Kiri Charlton, education officer at Drayton Manor Park's zoo, said that their wallabies thrive in the UK climate. "We have four," she said. "And the only shelter they have is a hut with a bit of straw in it.
"There's not really any predators for them, so I suppose they could survive. It depends really on how well they were treated in the first place. If they are used to being fed then they would struggle to fend for themselves."
Christopher Lee, landlord of the Cuttle Inn, on Southam Road in Long Itchington suspected another foreign imposter might be to blame for the wallaby sighting.

"I would guess the driver saw a Muntjac deer," he said. "They do hop about a bit like a wallaby."

CALL: 024 76 500 222

Sightings of big cats 'are not a myth' (via Paul Cropper)

Sightings of big cats 'are not a myth'
15 April 2010
The Dartford Messenger

A KENT big cat expert has got his claws into a group which claims sightings are a myth. What's raised Neil Arnold's hackles is a statement from organisation Natural England that all big cats in the UK are a myth.
But Mr Arnold, who collates sightings from all over the county, said in March alone Kent Big Cat Research has had 27 reports of large, exotic cats which added up to 73 reports so far this year.

Mr Arnold said: "A majority of animals sighted in the countryside are not connected to zoo escapees as the organisation states. Hundreds of pumas and leopards, mainly cubs, were released in the 1960s and 1970s and what we are now seeing are their offspring."

* For more information or to report a sighting, call 07851 602 853.

There are wild big cats (via Paul Cropper)

There are wild big cats
16 April 2010
Kent Messenger

A BIG CAT expert has denied claims that sightings of giant felines in Kent are a myth. What's raised Neil Arnold's hackles is a statement from organisation Natural England casting doubt on the existence of the Beast of Blue Bell Hill and other supposed wild beasts. Mr Arnold, who collates sightings from all over the county, said in March alone Kent Big Cat Research has had 27 reports of large, exotic cats.

They included reports from Blue Bell Hill, Lenham, Lordswood, Densole, Canterbury and Ashford. They bring the total number of sightings this year to 73. Mr Arnold said most sightings were suspected to be of a black leopard.

He said: "Sightings date to the 1500s across Surrey, Kent and Sussex. "A majority of animals sighted in the countryside are not connected to zoo escapees as the organisation states. Hundreds of puma and leopards, mainly cubs, were released in the 1960s and 1970s, and what we are seeing is their offspring. Also, previous centuries prove that animals escaped and were released from menageries."

Natural England, which aims to protect and improve England's natural environment, had dismissed the idea of big cats in the country.

* March 5
A train passenger told Mr Arnold that "on the other side of the tunnel between Boxley and Blue Bell Hill, near train track I saw a big, black cat from a short distance. It resembled a black leopard".
* March 12 A woman called Anne said she saw a big cat which was "very long in the body" while travelling London-bound on the M20 at Lenham.

Report a sighting to Neil Arnold on 07851 602853 or call the Kent Messenger newsdesk on 01622 695666.

Big cats roam through Nebraska (via Paul Cropper)

David Hendee
Big cats roam through the state
752 words
18 April 2010
Omaha World-Herald
© 2010 Omaha World-Herald. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Nine of the 12 confirmed observations of mountain lions in Nebraska since about Thanksgiving were where wildlife biologists expected to see them -- in the rocky canyons and hills of the Pine Ridge. Where the three others popped up didn't surprise Sam Wilson, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's mountain lion expert.

The trio of observations came from Custer, Dawson, Buffalo and Thomas counties in central Nebraska.
Wilson said the December observations of big cat tracks in Custer, Dawson and Buffalo counties possibly were of the same animal. The tracks were discovered on consecutive days and about 18 miles apart, within the distance a cougar can cover in that time period.

"We know we have a mountain lion population in the Pine Ridge, but people can see one anywhere,'' Wilson said. "It's complicated.'' A recent World-Herald story featuring a trail camera photograph by Tyler Hunter of Chadron of two cougar kittens near Rushville reinforced the evidence that Nebraska has a resident population of mountain lions for the first time since the late 1800s.

Wilson said it's important for people to understand that 79 of the state's 99 confirmed observations of cougars since 1991 -- a few others were pending laboratory tests of scat and hair last week -- were from the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills areas of western Nebraska. Sightings outside this area are likely young males passing through to points unknown.

Radio collars on mountain lions from South Dakota's Black Hills indicate how far a footloose cougar can roam. One Black Hills cat was killed by a train in Oklahoma. Another was shot in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"There's some good chance that the mountain lion you see across the road at your farm in eastern Nebraska is a young male,'' Wilson said. "A month later it could be in Missouri or Arkansas or anywhere. They're able to cover that much land.''

Dave Kaslon of Ord set out a motion-sensitive trail camera after discovering possible mountain lion tracks on the gravel road near his central Nebraska house just south of town two weeks ago. Kaslon said his wife, Diane, returned from a walk about 5 p.m. April 3 and mentioned big tracks in the roadside gravel. The couple took a pickup truck to their north gate and then walked 50 yards north toward Ord, which is about a quarter-mile away.
That's where tracks came out of a ditch and continued about a half-mile south into the hills and canyons overlooking the town and the North Loup River.

The couple called Ord police officers, who measured the deep track impressions and made photos.
Cougar tracks are 3 to 4 1/4 inches long and 3 1/4 to 4 3/4 inches wide. They are significantly larger than bobcat tracks and distinctly different than coyote or domestic dog tracks. A cougar's heel pad, relative to the size of the entire track, is large. "It's a little concerning to people, but I think these cats have been around a while,'' Kaslon said.

Last spring, he said, his horses stayed close to the barn for three weeks while the grass was turning green. Kaslon suspects the horses knew a cougar was nearby. He said a neighbor five miles away saw the mountain lion that killed about 40 chickens on a farm last fall. Ord police officers chased about a dozen deer from the courthouse lawn early one morning nearly three weeks ago. Kaslon said he wonders if the deer were spooked into town by a cougar.

The Game and Parks standard for confirming a cougar sighting is straightforward. If there is evidence of a mountain lion, it is confirmed. When there is not tangible evidence, there is no confirmation. Evidence includes hair, tracks, scat, a deer carcass with mountain lion markings, blood tested for DNA, a cat carcass or a photo.
As a wildlife biologist, Wilson said, it's rewarding to see a native species return to Nebraska, but he understands the cats walk a fine line.

"These big predators,'' he said, "they're here only by the grace of people accepting them.''

Contact the writer:
B&W Photo/1 Seventy-nine of the state's 99 confirmed observations of cougars since 1991 -- a few others were pending lab tests of scat and hair last week -- were from the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills areas.
Document OMHA000020100420e64i000bj

Cougar sighting in Regina (via Paul Cropper)

City & Province
Cougar sighting in Regina
Pamela Roth
515 words
23 April 2010
Regina Leader Post
Copyright © 2010 Regina Leader Post

Regina's bar district is no longer the only place known for cougar sightings. Conservation officers are advising the public to be vigilant around Wascana Lake following a city bus driver's report of a cougar sighting in the area Wednesday night.

According to Gary Provencher, conservation officer with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, the animal was spotted around 10:12 p.m. when it crossed the path of a bus near the Conexus Arts Centre. Aside from the reported sighting, Provencher said there's no evidence to suggest a cougar was in the area, but is still advising the public to be on the lookout.

"Chances are, it's long gone by now if there was one there. We just want to make sure people are aware of the report and to take precaution in that area," said Provencher, who doesn't believe the animal is a threat.
"Generally, they are shy animals and stay away from human interaction, but sometimes smaller children might be considered prey."

A spokesperson for the City of Regina said the bus driver declined to speak publicly about the sighting.
Provencher said the description of the animal matched that of a cougar, which is about two metres in length, stands about a metre tall at the shoulders, has a long tail and short light grey-brown or dark reddish-brown fur.
If the sighting is confirmed, Provencher believes it'll mark the first time a cougar has been seen in the city.
Although it's rare to see one in an urban setting, cougars aren't rare to Saskatchewan.

The province has an estimated population of around 300 cougars, which are often spotted in the Qu'Appelle Valley and South Saskatchewan River valley. Cougars are known to cover an area of 200 to 300 square kilometres when searching for food, such as deer and rabbits, which are found at Wascana Centre.
Provencher suspects the sighting was likely of a younger cougar that's had few interactions with humans.
If a cougar does become a problem, a team of hounds could be used to track down the animal so conservation officers can move it to another region.

While there has been cougar attacks on humans and pets in B.C. and Alberta, Provencher said there's never been a human attack in Saskatchewan. "Sometimes, they are a bit curious and that curiosity overrides their natural instinct to stay away from humans and they venture into an urban area," said Provencher. "It's unusual, but we are making every effort to confirm or disconfirm it was there."

Provencher advises to stay still if you do encounter a cougar. If it appears threatening, wave your arms and try to make yourself look bigger until it runs away. Last week, a young bull moose was also attracted to the bright city lights. It made its way into the Whitmore Park area in south Regina before it was tranquilized by conservation officers and transported to the Condie Nature Refuge northwest of the city.


440 words
24 April 2010
The Press (Christchurch)
© 2010 Fairfax New Zealand Limited. All Rights Reserved.

It is the most mysterious wildflower in Britain, the strangest, the rarest, the hardest to see, and it was given up for lost. But like a wandering phantom, the ghost orchid has reappeared. The Independent newspaper reports that after an absence of 23 years, during which it was declared extinct, this pale, diminutive flower, the most enigmatic of all Britain's wild plants, rematerialised last autumn in an oak wood in Herefordshire.

Its sighting, initially kept a close secret, has electrified the British botanical community. This is British botany's holy grail, searched for annually and ardently by a small army of enthusiasts for more than two decades.
Its eventual rediscovery was due to the painstaking detective work of an amateur botanist, Mark Jannink, who identified 10 possible sites in the Welsh borders and visited them regularly throughout the summer, until on September 20 he found a single example of Epigogium aphyllum, bearing a single white flower on a white stem only five centimetres tall.

The plant was so unobtrusive that it was invisible from a few yards away.

There had been no previous ghost orchid sighting in Britain since a single plant was found in Buckinghamshire in 1986. It was declared extinct in Britain's Red Data List in 2005. Mr Jannink, 42, who runs a motorbike company in Worcestershire, has been a wildflower enthusiast since childhood. "To be honest, I was ready to give up, and the feeling when I saw it was of relief more than anything. It was the following day I felt the euphoria," he said.
The species is hard to find because it does not appear every year and behaves more like a fungus than a flower, according to naturalist Peter Marren author of Britain's Rare Flowers: "It has no green leaves. It doesn't depend on photosynthesis at all, and it doesn't manufacture its own food. Instead, the food is manufactured for it by a fungus on its roots. It lives largely underground; in fact it can live underground without flowering properly for years on end, and it only flowers when conditions are just right."

Mr Marren added that when it does bloom, the ghost orchid flowers in the thick leaf-mould in the darkest parts of the woodland, where there is no other vegetation. "It's the hardest British flower to see. It looks extraordinary. It produces these flowers without chlorophyll which in the dim light look like ghosts, and if you shine a torch beam on them they appear to be translucent white in the pitch darkness, almost like a photographic negative."

RIP Gordy the Gorilla

One of three adult male gorillas at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul has died.

Gordy, a 400-pound western lowland gorilla, collapsed April 19, according to zoo officials. He was 23. Gordy had been acting normally during veterinarian rounds that morning, but zookeepers later found him unconscious and with no detectable pulse. They tried to revive Gordy, even using a defibrillator, but nothing worked.

The cause of Gordy's death remains unknown, officials said. They held off on announcing his death until autopsy results came in, but it could take a few more weeks before they arrive. Officials think it might be heart-related
because of the suddenness of Gordy's death. Heart disease is a common cause of death in captive adult gorillas.

The typical lifespan of gorillas in the wild is 30 years. In captivity, gorillas can live into their late 40s and early 50s. Gordy came to Como from the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1991. Schroeder, 24, and Togo, 21, are Como's remaining male gorillas.

Elephant-speak for 'Beware of the bees'

Elephant-speak for 'Beware of the bees'
• 22:00 26 April 2010 by Andy Coghlan

Video: Elephant warning
Listen: 'Bee rumble' alarm call made by elephants.

Entire elephant families bolt when they hear recordings of trumpetings made by other elephants fleeing from bees.
This is the first demonstration that elephants may make specific sounds to warn of particular threats, although they have also been observed "roaring" when threatened by lions.

"Six out of 10 elephant families fled from the loudspeaker when we played the 'bee rumble' compared to just two when we played a control rumble and one with the same call shifted to a different frequency," says Lucy King of the University of Oxford, who heads a team in Kenya investigating the meanings of elephant vocalisations. The fleeing elephants also shook their heads violently, as if trying to deflect bees.

In 2007, King and her colleagues demonstrated that elephants flee in terror from bees and from recordings of bees. Last year, in follow-up trials, they successfully protected human settlements from encroachment by elephants by wiring beehives together as a fence.

Bee rumble

The latest findings open up the possibility of using recordings of the "bee rumble" as a deterrent as well, helping to prevent potential conflict between humans and elephants.

Elephants are terrified of bees because they can crawl into their trunk and sting them from inside it. They also sting around the animals' eyes, leaving painful welts that take weeks to disappear. The researchers believe that the rumbles alert both the elephant's family and neighbouring herds to the threat, and may teach young elephants that bees are dangerous.

Monkeys and birds are known to produce slightly different sounds to warn of different types of threat. Putty-nosed monkeys native to Nigeria, for example, make different sounds to warn of leopards or eagles.

Journal reference: report to appear in PLoS ONE

Monday, 26 April 2010

Is Einstein the world's smallest horse?

Tom Phillips - 26th April, 2010

He was just 14 inches tall and only weighed six pounds when he was born - is Einstein the pinto stallion the smallest foal in the world?

Einstein is just three days old, after being born on Friday at a farm in Barnstead, New Hampshire.

It's thought that Einstein could lay a claim to the title of the world's lightest foal - his 6lb weight at birth being normal for a human baby, but not a horse, even a miniature breed like Einstein.

Unlike other miniature horses - notably the current claimant of the world's smallest horse title, Thumbelina - Einstein doesn't show any signs of dawrfism.

Judy Smith, the owner of the Tiz A Miniature Horse Farm where he was born, at first feared that he was dead when his mother, Tiz Fenisse, gave birth.

'I have been at this for 20 years plus but I have never seen one this tiny or even close to it,' she said.

Dr Rachel Wagner, Einstein's co-owner, told Sky News: 'Most of the ones that are really tiny are what we call dwarves and they have some sort of dysmorphic features, or features that aren't really normal or healthy. This little guy is like all horses - he's almost all leg.'

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Cameras capture secret life of the 'Highland tiger'

Monday, 19 April 2010

A new research project in the Highlands has provided a rare insight into the secret world of one of Britain's most endangered and elusive species.

Scottish wildcats are notoriously secretive, but conservationists are hoping to gain a more detailed understanding of their behaviour.

They have attached specialist camera equipment, known as photo-traps, to trees in the Cairngorms National Park.

The cameras have already provided images of wildcats and other animals.

Motion detectors and infra-red technology allow the devices to capture images of passing animals over a period of days, weeks or even months.

The project is still in its early stages but the cameras have already provided images of Scottish wildcat - popularly known as the Highland tiger - and other animals, including golden eagles.

'Major threat'

The research is being led by Dr David Hetherington of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

He told BBC Scotland: "Wildcats are very shy, secretive animals. They are active mainly at night and it's really difficult for people to get close enough to watch them properly.

"These camera traps are an excellent way of us getting a much better insight into where wildcats live, when they're active, and what habitat they're using.

"We can also get an idea of where they don't live and, of course, that's also really important information."

Experts believe the Scottish wildcat population has fallen to about 400, and work is under way to prevent the species becoming extinct.

That involves encouraging cat owners in the Highlands to ensure their animals are neutered.

Dr Hetherington explained: "The major threat to wildcats these days is hybridisation, or inter-breeding, with domestic cats.

"Although they are quite different and have a completely different temperament, they are actually quite closely related genetically to domestic cats so they can produce fertile hybrids.

"If that continues we are going to lose our pure Scottish wildcat."

Conservationists believe the work could help prevent another iconic species joining a long list of large predators which have been wiped out in Scotland over the last few centuries.

Douglas Richardson, of the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig near Aviemore, said: "We are dealing with an animal that's the last of its kind in the British Isles.

"We formerly had lynx and other big, dangerous and interesting animals. But this is our last feline predator and I think we are duty bound to protect it.

"There are many representatives from Scotland and the UK who are involved in conservation efforts with tigers in Asia or giant pandas in China.

"If we allow the Scottish wildcat to disappear, then the Indians, the Russians, the Chinese could quite rightly turn round and say 'Why should we bother? You didn't.'"

Australia's cane toad invasion gets sausage 'solution'

METRO REPORTER - 26th April, 2010

Scientists in Australia are tackling an invasion of poisonous cane toads with a sausage designed to protect vulnerable predators from the creatures.

They've added a nausea-inducing drug to cane toad meat and created sausages from it to use as bait to help train animals not to eat the toads.

Sydney University's Jonathan Webb, leader of the research team that came up with the sausage solution, explained that the tainted meat was inspired by the same association humans make, after they've had food poisoning, between a particular food's taste or smell and the feeling of being ill.

Cane toads, which have large toxin glands in their shoulders, have been blamed for a decline in Australia's quoll population.

According to experts, the quoll - a bushy-tailed marsupial around the size of a cat - sees the toads as large frogs and can't otherwise be prevented from eating them.

Restaurant fined for 'gay' guide dog ban

Monday, April 26 2010, 12:47 BST
By Mayer Nissim, Entertainment Reporter

A restaurant in Australia has been banned after banning a blind man from entering the premises with a "gay" guide dog.

Ian Jolly, 57 of Woodville North, was barred from restaurant Thai Spice in May 2009, the Adelaide Sunday Mail reports.

Restaurant owners Hong Hoa Thi To and Anh Hoang Le gave a statement to an equal opportunity tribunal stating that they thought Jolly's partner Chris Lawrence said that "she wanted to bring a gay dog into the restaurant".

"The staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog," the statement continued.

Despite the restaurant displaying a "guide dogs welcome" sign, Jolly and Lawrence were refused entry to the Grange eatery with the canine.

At the tribunal conciliation hearing the restaurant agreed to attend an equal opportunity course, issue Jolly a written apology and pay him the sum of AU$1,500 (£970) in compensation.

Cat 'survives trip in police car bumper'

Monday, April 26 2010, 12:05 BST
By Mayer Nissim, Entertainment Reporter

A four-week old kitten reportedly survived a two-hour journey in a police car's engine bay after getting caught in its bumper cavity.

The incident happened in Cartwright, south-west Sydney, when senior constable Tex Tannous narrowly avoided hitting the feline and assumed that it had run off, says ABC News.

When he later stopped to set up a breath test station for drivers, he heard the sound of purring coming from his engine.

Tannous said: "It decided to climb up underneath the car into the engine bay and I couldn't locate it, so I'm walking around trying to find it, I could hear it but couldn't find the little sucker.

"One of the other guys from our office come past and I yelled out to him, I said 'I've got a bit of a problem, I've got a cat in the engine bay'. And he sort of looked at me a bit funny."

Tannous claimed that his colleagues thought he was playing a practical joke but added that he turned off his engine to ensure that the cat did not overheat.

"The cars do get hot sitting there while we're conducting our duties and I didn't want to have a fried cat in the engine bay," he confirmed.

The officer then took the car to a mechanic who found the kitten, now nicknamed Cartwright, inside the vehicle's bumper cavity.

Gored Bullfighter Battles For His Life

12:18pm UK, Monday April 26, 2010
David Williams, Sky News Online

One of Spain's top matadors is fighting for his life after being gored in the groin during a bullfight in Mexico.

Jose Tomas received a 17-pint blood transfusion after the half-tonne bull plunged one of its horns 10cm into the fighter's left thigh, puncturing a vein and an artery.

Tomas had bled so profusely that bullring officials even appealed to the crowd to come forward for transfusions if they matched his relatively rare A- blood type.

Doctors later spent three hours trying to repair a femoral artery perforated in the fight in the city of Aguascalientes.

The director of the Miguel Hidalgo hospital, Geronimo Aguayo, said Tomas had shown "slight improvement" but remains in a grave condition.

Mexican television footage showed the acclaimed fighter being caught out by a quick turn from the animal during the bout, which was being held amid celebrations for an important national festival.

The beast attacked and lifted Tomas into the air, shaking its head with the matador dangling from its sharp left horn.

Once on the ground, Tomas rolled away and held his hands up as if to say he was OK, but a large, dark red stain was already seeping through his glittering gold suit.

The 34-year-old has suffered a number of serious gorings since returning to the ring in 2007 following his surprise retirement five years previously.

His comeback was met with a tremendous fanfare in Spain, whereupon Tomas told one interviewer "living without bullfighting is not living".

Loch Ness monster 'beyond doubt'

A police chief believed the existence of a Loch Ness monster was "beyond doubt", according to a historical document. In 1938, the chief constable of Inverness-shire raised concerns about protecting Nessie from hunters.
In a letter he wrote: "That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness now seems beyond doubt."

The document has been released by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) as part of an exhibition.

The government file reflects how ministers handled the issue of the existence of Nessie. Reports of a monster in Loch Ness date back to 565 AD, when St Columba was said to have encountered a strange water beast. But alleged sightings gathered pace in the 1930s, with a series of grainy photographs of the "monster" appearing in newspapers.

In 1933, the Scottish Office was asked to confirm the existence of a monster or sea serpent in Loch Ness.
A parliamentary question was tabled in the House of Commons asking whether, in the interests of science, an investigation would be launched into the creature's existence, but the question was ridiculed by the press at the time.

Ministers and civil servants were sceptical, but the documents show consideration was given to issues such as stationing observers round the loch to capture Nessie on camera and whether it would be possible to trap the monster without injury. In the end it was felt that as the creature was popular with the public, it would be better not to kill either it or the myth.

However, this did not stop hunters from flocking to Loch Ness in the hope of capturing the monster.

The letter from William Fraser, the chief constable of Invernessshire, to the Under Secretary of State at the Scottish Office, raises concern about the arrival of a hunting expedition in Fort Augustus in 1938. It says they are "determined to catch the monster dead or alive". The document goes on to describe how the party claimed they were having a special harpoon gun made and would return with 20 "experienced men" to track the monster down.

"That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt, but that the police have any power to protect it is very doubtful," the letter concludes. "If you have any suggestion to make or can offer any guidance in the matter, I shall be grateful."

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Squirrel with a sore nut...

Saturday April 24,2010
By Tom Morgan

THIS bandaged baby squirrel is looking far from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Named Crunchy by his carers, the four-week-old grey squirrel has been put on painkillers after tumbling from a branch when a tree surgeon sawed through his home.

Luckily he escaped serious injury save for a nasty cut on his head and is now recovering at the Wildlife Aid Centre in Leatherhead, Surrey, where he is being fed milk, nuts and biscuits.

The four-inch long squirrel was found lying injured in a garden in nearby Guildford. “He’s now feeding well, which is great news and he is very lively,” said the sanctuary’s founder, Simon Cowell.

“I think Crunchy fell from the tree and cut his head when he hit the deck or caught some branches on the way down. We have a licence that allows us to release a certain number back into the wild each year. All being well we will release Crunchy in eight weeks.

“It is okay to handle him while he is this small but as he gets older we will have to keep some distance because they have a nasty bite.”

Bird-Eating Squirrel Illustrates Avian Dilemma

by David DeFranza on 04.20.10

Image credit: normanack/Flickr

Everyone with a bird feeder knows that a squirrel will do almost anything to get the seeds inside. When one amateur photographer captured a photo of a squirrel making a meal of an actual bird, however, he illustrated a largely unknown problem that plagues avian species.

Audubon writes:

A vast amount of evidence shows that clear and reflective sheet glass and plastic are the largest manmade threat to birds after habitat loss. A billion birds—at least—die annually from colliding with such material in the U.S. alone, and the toll worldwide is far greater.

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