Saturday 31 December 2011

Hellbender Salamander Study Seeks Answers for Global Amphibian Decline

Hellbender Salamander Study Seeks Answers for Global Amphibian Decline

ScienceDaily (Dec. 19, 2011) - A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers on the endangered Ozark Hellbender giant salamander is the first to detail its skin microbes, the bacteria and fungi that defend against pathogens.

Published recently in the online journal PLoS One, the study details changes in the salamander's declining health and habitat, and could provide a baseline for how changing ecosystems are affecting the rapid decline of amphibians worldwide.

"Scientists and biologists view amphibians as kind of a 'canary in the coal mine' and their health is often used as a barometer for overall ecosystem health, including potential problems that may affect humans," said study co-author Max Nickerson, herpetology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

More than 2 feet long, the Ozark Hellbender is the one of largest salamander species in the United States. Its unusual biological characteristics include the ability to regenerate injured or missing body parts.

In the new study, lead author Cheryl Nickerson, a professor at Arizona State University, along with NASA and UF scientists, cultured and identified microorganisms from abnormal and injured tissue on the salamanders searching for pathogens that may be causing the lack of regeneration and population decline.

The researchers found several potentially dangerous pathogens, including Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacterium scientists believe is associated with disease and death in both amphibians and fish.

While many different pathogens were found in the injured tissue, no single organism was found to be responsible for the lack of regeneration. Researchers believe the occurrence of abnormalities and injury in the Ozark Hellbender may have many contributing factors, including disease and habitat degradation, and say further study is needed

"If you don't understand an amphibian's skin you don't understand the amphibians," Nickerson said.

Scientists have known about the remarkable powers of salamander regeneration for more than 200 years, but beginning in the 1980s, researchers noticed a sharp decline in the Ozark Hellbender population. They also found a specific population from the North Fork of Missouri's White River was declining dramatically and losing the ability to regenerate.

"We were finding animals with no legs that were still alive with flesh wounds or bones sticking out of limbs," Nickerson said.

"Looking at the microorganisms on their skin can help us understand why these animals aren't regenerating at the rate we're used to seeing, and may lead to conclusions about population declines," he said.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the Ozark Hellbender to the federal endangered species list. Its species name is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi.

Stanley Trauth, curator of amphibians and reptiles in the department of biological sciences at Arkansas State University, said public awareness of the species is increasing, and Hellbenders have recently been successfully bred for the first time in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo.

"There has been a dramatic decrease in the population and there are a number of factors that contribute to that," Trauth said. "But these types of studies will help provide more consistent results on the impact of microorganisms and animal health."

"In the last 20 years we have been finding a tremendous number of injuries on these animals and those injuries are not healing," Nickerson said. "Now the population is down to almost nothing and we are very worried about the species and the environmental changes around them."

The Ozark Hellbender's fossil record goes back 161 million years and it represents one of the most ancient lines of amphibian life.

"This is about as far, in phylogeny, as that type of regeneration goes, this is the most ancient group of salamanders that we know of," Nickerson said. "They have been through a lot and we want to find out what these changes mean."

"The animals in the river systems in that area, just like in Florida, where we have these huge amounts of spring water you have to worry about it," Nickerson said. "That's a big dome of fresh water and it has implications on human health as well."

via Herp Digest

2011 Was A ‘Horrible Year For Elephants’

Conservation group TRAFFIC said on Thursday that in the past 12 months a record number of large ivory seizures across the world have taken place.

TRAFFIC said that it has been a “horrible year for elephants” and there had been at least 13 large-scale seizures in 2011, totaling at least 23 tons of ivory.

In 2010, there were just six large seizures, totaling just under 10 tons of ivory.

“In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures — 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants,” Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant expert, said in a statement.

The group said once the details of hundreds of smaller ivory seizures were collated, “2011 could well prove to be the worst year ever for elephants” since the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database was set up in 1989.

TRAFFIC said most of the illegal shipments of African elephant ivory will end up in China, where it is ground up and used in traditional medicine.

Milliken said the increasing quantities of ivory being traded reflect a rising demand in Asia as well as the increased sophistication of the criminal gangs who sell it.

The gangs constantly change their routes to Asia to avoid detection, including switching from air to sea freight.

“As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning,” Milliken said in a statement.

International trade in elephant ivory was banned in 1990, and ETIS holds the details of over 17,000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures across the world since.

Lone Gray Wolf On The Move

A lone gray wolf, fitted with a GPS collar by Oregon Department of Fish and Game, has been tracked crossing into northern California, report biologists from the golden state.

The two and a half year-old male wolf was fitted with the collar in Oregon last February and has been tracked wandering more than 300 miles from its original location. Its movement into California was widely anticipated as it approached the border just before Christmas, ABC News reports.

Department of Fish and Game Director Charlton H. Bonham released a statement saying, “Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is a historic event and result of much work by the wildlife agencies in the West. If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here.”

Gray wolves are a designated a federally endangered species and there is conflict between wolves and ranchers across western states as the animals are reintroduced into wilderness areas.

Whether the wolf will remain in California or wander back to Oregon or on to Nevada is not known, it is typical for young male wolves to wander.

California authorities expect a slow wolf migration in the future after the 1995 introduction of a Canadian gray wolf pack to Idaho and areas around Yellowstone National Park. Wolves first re-entered Oregon in 1999.

New packs could become established if more wolves migrate, “If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here,” Bonham said.

Any gray wolf that returns to California is protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Based on experience from states where substantial wolf populations exist, officials said, wolves pose little risk to humans, however the Department of Fish and Game recommends that people never approach or feed a wolf, reports Cathy Locke for the Sacramento Bee.

42 million turtles born in 2010-11 nesting season in Mexico, according to Mexican authorities

Times of India, IANS
Dec 22, 2011, 10.52AM IST

MEXICO CITY: Mexican authorities recorded a total of 42.2 million Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Kemp's Ridley sea turtle births during the 2010-11 nesting season, authorities said.

Efforts to secure the protection of female turtles and their nests and safeguard hatchlings' journey to the ocean are led by the National Commission on Natural Protected Areas, or Conanp, at 33 nesting beaches, the Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat said in a statement Tuesday.

Ten of those beaches are natural protected areas, three are located inside biosphere reserves, 15 are internationally designated wetlands sites and the remainder are located in areas without special protection mechanisms, the secretariat said.

Approximately 1.2 million Olive Ridley turtle nests were laid and 23.3 million offspring made their way to the ocean at the Playa de Escobilla sanctuary and Morro Ayuta beach, both located in the southern state of Oaxaca.

A total of 20,574 Kemp's Ridley turtle nests were laid in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas and 534 in the eastern state of Veracruz and an estimated 18.9 million hatchlings reached the sea in those two regions.

"The nesting figure for the latest season is up (compared to the previous season), and therefore the conclusion can be drawn that the population is on the road to recovery," the secretariat said.

In the case of the Leatherback turtle, one of the most threatened turtle species in Mexico, authorities counted a total of 615 nests, mainly on the coasts of the Pacific states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

In those states, authorities supervised the entrance to the sea of 15,414 Leatherback offspring.

The secretariat estimates that around 1,647 Leatherback turtle nests were laid along the entire Pacific coast during the 2010-11 nesting season.

Invasion of their habitat (beaches) by man, accidental fishing, depredation of their nests by some communities that still consume their flesh and eggs and injuries suffered by boats' outboard motors are the main dangers sea turtles in Mexico face.

Mexico banned the harvest of sea turtles for commercial or subsistence reasons in April 2006.

(Editor-Anyone out there who could verify this?)

via Herp Digest

Wildlife Conservation Society Video Advises Department of Defense on Threats of Illegal Wildlife Trade

initiative implores soldiers to cross illegal wildlife products off the holiday gift list, outlines costs to career, mission, and security

NEW YORK (December 22, 2011) - The Wildlife Conservation Society today announced the release of Caught in the Crosshairs: Combating the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Iraq and Afghanistan-a new video aimed at informing U.S. military personnel about the consequences of buying illegal wildlife products when deployed or stationed overseas.

The video  is the latest outreach tool in an ongoing initiative supported by the Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Program that began in 2007 when WCS staff first noticed illegal items for sale on military bases near Kabul, Afghanistan. A subsequent survey of 395 soldiers at Fort Drum in June 2008 revealed that more than 40 percent of those surveyed had purchased or seen someone else in the military purchase products made from wildlife while stationed overseas.

Launched during the holiday season, it is hoped that the new video will educate and remind military personnel returning home to not purchase and transport these products as gifts for family and friends.

Many of the wildlife products available that end up on bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are from locally or globally threatened or endangered species such as snow leopard, Eurasian wolf, and Asiatic black bear. The purchase and transport of such products violates military regulations, U.S. laws such as the Endangered Species Act, national laws of Afghanistan, and obligations to international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

"Only a small fraction of respondents to our 2008 survey knew about the various laws regulating trade in illegal wildlife," said WCS North America Program Livelihoods Coordinator Dr. Heidi Kretser. "The video highlights the potential consequences for soldiers purchasing wildlife products and illustrates how demand for these items can put species at risk and contribute to local, regional, and global extinctions."

Military personnel and affiliates stationed overseas have significant buying power that influences local markets-including driving the demand for wildlife products. This is bad news for iconic wildlife such as snow leopards in Afghanistan that are endangered, yet are sometimes poached for their beautiful coat and other body parts. By demonstrating this cause and effect relationship to military personnel, the video looks to end demand for these products, and therefore, the incentive for dealers to carry them and support poaching.

The video, narrated by actor/director and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity Edward Norton, also alerts the viewer to other dangers of purchasing and transporting illegal wildlife products. These include threats associated with zoonotic disease (pathogens that occur in wildlife that are potentially transmissible to people), the depletion of scarce and/or culturally significant natural resources, and the inadvertent support of organized crime.

The video notes that law enforcement authorities are finding that organized crime groups that smuggle weapons and drugs are increasingly involved with the trade of illegal wildlife - a trade estimated to reach into the billions of dollars.

"We believe the video helps the message resonate with military personnel on several levels, said Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy & Environment. "If something is seized and it is understood that it has been intentionally purchased with the intent of transporting it back to the United States, then they are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and their command is notified. So it could jeopardize a soldier's entire career."

WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs Peter Zahler said, "We are proud to be advising the DoD on this important project to reduce demand for wildlife products, protect military personnel from inadvertently breaking the law, and protect globally significant wildlife. This video will go a long way in helping both WCS and DoD achieve their missions."

Elephant poaching: 'Record year' for ivory seizures

More elephant tusks were seized in 2011 than in any year since 1989, when the ivory trade was banned, international wildlife trade group Traffic says.

The group said elephants have had a "horrible year", with 23 tonnes of ivory seized - representing at least 2,500 dead animals.

Trade in ivory was banned in 1989 to save elephants from extinction.

But it has continued illegally because of huge demand in Asia, where it is used to make decorative objects.

"The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking," said a statement from Traffic, which monitors the trade in wildlife products.

"Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China or Thailand."

Shifting smuggling routes
The group said there had been at least 13 large seizures of ivory this year, amounting to more than 23 tonnes, compared to six last year of less than 10 tonnes.

"In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data... this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures. 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," Traffic's elephant expert Tom Milliken said.

Read more:

Anti-whaling ship stranded off the coast of Australia

An anti-whaling ship is being towed to safety after being stranded off the western coast of Australia.
The Brigitte Bardot vessel was following the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean when a rogue wave cracked its hull.

Another boat from the anti-whaling organisation Sea Shepherd went to the rescue.

Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, spoke to the BBC from the rescue ship Steve Irwin.

Video here:

Friday 30 December 2011

Deep-sea creatures at volcanic vent

Remarkable images of life from one of the most inhospitable spots in the ocean have been captured by scientists.

Researchers have been surveying volcanic underwater vents - sometimes called black smokers - in the South West Indian Ridge in the Indian Ocean.

The UK team found an array of creatures living in the super-heated waters, including yeti crabs, scaly-foot snails and sea cucumbers.

They believe some of the species may be new to science.

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977. These fissures in the ocean floor spew out fiercely hot, mineral-rich water, yet somehow, diverse ecosystems are able to thrive in these hostile conditions.

The team, from the University of Southampton, was particularly interested in the vents on the South West Indian Ridge because this range is linked to the Mid Atlantic Ridge and the Central Indian Ridge, where vent life has been well documented.

This area is also unusual because it is an "ultra-slow spreading" ridge, which means it is less volcanically active than other ridges, with fewer vents that are further apart.

Dr Jon Copley, chief scientist of the Indian Ocean vents project, said: "This place is a real crossroads in terms of the vent species around the world."

Using a remote-operated, underwater robot called Kiel 6000, from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM Geomar), in Germany, the team was able to train their cameras on the vents.

Read more at:

Rested & Recovered, Globe-Trotting Turtle Returns to Sea

A world-traveling sea turtle found stranded in the Netherlands is back home in the Gulf of Mexico today (Dec. 27) after three long years of rest and rehabilitation.

The animal, an endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle, was found frigid and near-dead off the coast of the Netherlands in 2008, thousands of miles from the Gulf waters these turtles call home. It was dubbed Johnny Vasco de Gama by its European rescuers.

Marine biologists suspect Johnny became caught in cold currents and was "cold-stunned," a condition that shuts down internal organs and can kill sea turtles. Staff members of the Rotterdam Zoo stabilized the ailing turtle and sent him to the Oceanário de Lisboa aquarium in Portugal the following summer.

Read more at:

Monster from the deep... on the Norfolk coast: 40ft sperm whale washes up on Christmas Eve

It is believed the mammal was dead before it was washed up on the beach

The sand around its tail did not appear disturbed, suggesting the creature was dead before the tide carried it onto the sands at Old Hunstanton, Norfolk.

Large crowds gathered to see the whale, which is near the high tide mark.

A spokesman for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue said it may have been the same whale which had been seen dead on the RAF’s bombing range on the other side of the estuary, at Holbeach, some weeks ago.

Scientists from the Zooological Society have already taken samples from the animal, which will be left to be carried away by the tide to decompose naturally.

A number of whales have been washed up on the North Sea coast in the past year.

They have been especially prevalent around the Humber Estuary.

Conservationists believe the increase in the number of strandings could be explained by a change in sea currents bringing colder streams of Arctic water into the North Sea and with them whales that would not normally pass so close to the UK shoreline.

At the end of September a 33ft mammal, thought to be a Sei whale, was discovered in marshes on the north bank of the River Humber near the village of Skeffling.

Earlier the same month, a young Fin whale - a relative of the Sei - was stranded at Immingham, North East Lincolnshire, and subsequently washed up dead near Spurn Point.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has noted a rise in whale sightings generally in 2011 but no-one is sure why there may be an increase in the mammals in the North Sea.

Over the summer, a pod of up to 10 Minke whales were spotted regularly off the North Yorkshire coast between Whitby and Scarborough.

Whale experts admit they do not know why there has been an upsurge in sightings and strandings.

Read more:

Before Sounding an Alarm, Chimps Consider Information Available to Their Audience

ScienceDaily (Dec. 29, 2011) — Wild chimpanzees monitor the information available to other chimpanzees and inform their ignorant group members of danger.

Many animals produce alarm calls to predators, and do this more often when kin or mates are present than other audience members. So far, however, there has been no evidence that they take the other group members' knowledge state into account. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of St. Andrews, Great Britain, set up a study with wild chimpanzees in Uganda and found that chimpanzees were more likely to alarm call to a snake in the presence of unaware than in the presence of aware group members, suggesting that they recognize knowledge and ignorance in others. Furthermore, to share new information with others by means of communication represents a crucial stage in the evolution of language. This study thus suggests that this stage was already present when our common ancestor split off from chimps 6 million years ago.

Read more at:

New Theory Emerges for Where Some Fish Became Four-Limbed Creatures

ScienceDaily (Dec. 27, 2011) — A small fish crawling on stumpy limbs from a shrinking desert pond is an icon of can-do spirit, emblematic of a leading theory for the evolutionary transition between fish and amphibians. This theorized image of such a drastic adaptation to changing environmental conditions, however, may, itself, be evolving into a new picture.

University of Oregon scientist Gregory J. Retallack, professor of geological sciences, says that his discoveries at numerous sites in Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania suggests that "such a plucky hypothetical ancestor of ours probably could not have survived the overwhelming odds of perishing in a trek to another shrinking pond."

This scenario comes from the late Devonian, about 390 million years ago to roughly 360 million years ago. Paleontologist Alfred Romer, who died in 1973 after serving on the faculties at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, saw this time as a period of struggle and escape -- and important in fish-tetrapod transition -- to ensure survival.

Reporting in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Geology, Retallack, who also is co-director of paleontological collections at the UO's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, argues for a very different explanation. He examined numerous buried soils in rocks yielding footprints and bones of early transitional fossils between fish and amphibians of Devonian and Carboniferous geological age. What he found raises a major challenge to Romer's theory.

Read more here:

Bark beetles, climate change and our future

Recently, a classmate from the University of B.C. asked what I thought about Canada backing out of the Kyoto agreement, and if there was any connection between the insatiable bark beetles infesting the province’s forests and the rising temperatures on Earth.

First, trees are effectively the greatest CO2 warehouses ever created. For every metric ton of wood grown, 1.5 metric tons of CO2 is absorbed and one metric ton of oxygen is released.

Bark beetles like the mountain pine or spruce beetles and lightning-induced fires are nature’s emissaries of change. All forests must undergo a natural process of aging, facilitating regeneration — new life.

In order to fully understand what is happening in British Columbia and throughout the entire western North American continent, it is important to keep in mind that trees, insects and the climate are all inexorably linked; each plays a pivotal role in the feedback loops on nature’s gameboard.

Any change in the behaviour of one or two of these players inevitably changes all of the triumvirate’s interaction along with it. With little opportunity to adapt to new conditions, instability can cause remarkable devastation to entire ecosystems.

That instability has reverberated not only in B.C. and western North America but around the globe on every forested continent as elevated temperatures in the past 40 years of just over 0.5 degrees Celsius on average are killing mature trees by the billions.

In B.C., the mountain pine beetles have killed half the commercial forests in the last 15 years. Instead of absorbing CO2 these massive graveyards of dead trees are releasing 250 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, the equivalent of all the car and light truck emissions in Canada for five years or enough wood to build a city of eight million homes.

It doesn’t even begin to end there; the spruce beetles in the far north of the province into Yukon and Alaska have taken full advantage of warming temperatures by speeding up their life cycles, which formerly took two years and now occurs within one year.

In Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon spruce beetles have accomplished something never recorded in modern or past times. Since the cold ecological constraint has been removed, spruce beetles have killed over 350,000 hectares of white spruce. Before this, the largest spruce attack was a modest 247 hectares in 1977.

The long-lived, thrifty high elevation forests of white bark and limber pines of B.C. have also been decimated by mountain pine beetles because, again, the cold-temperature barrier precluding attacks is no longer in situ. Mortality in parts of northern B.C. ranges from 72 per cent to 80 per cent. These forests are crucial habitat for grizzly and black bears, and of paramount importance to retain winter snowfall, slowly release spring melt back into the water cycle and replenish the Pacific Ocean, its salmon, eagles, wolves, bears and orcas.

Death rates of white bark and limber pines across the western United States are as high as 90 per cent. The sentinels of the high country have become the tsunami sirens of global warming, showing ecologist, climatologist and physiologists that a warming world is irrevocably altering the landscape across the entire mountainous region of western North America.

It’s not just the forests that are disappearing but rather immense amounts of ice that reflect incoming solar radiation. One hundred billion metric tons of ice melted from Greenland during the blistering-warm summer of 2010. This year alone 50 per cent of Canada’s millennia-old Arctic ice shelves along the coast of Ellesmere Island vanished.

And far worse, the Southern Ocean which occupies 22 per cent of the total ocean on the globe, absorbing 40 per cent of Earth’s CO2, is acidifying so quickly (as a byproduct of absorbing rising CO2) that by 2030 the sea water will be corrosive to crustaceans, dissolving shells that the animals are making. This amplification will reverberate all the way up the food chain to the whales.

Data from the Global Carbon Project showed the carbon emissions from our planet had increased 5.9 per cent from 2009 to 2010; that’s the largest jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution.

The $17-trillion Alberta oilsands industry must spend carbon energy and precious fresh water to separate the gooey, toxic oil from the sand. Moreover, by burning this petroleum, humans will knowingly raise atmospheric CO2 levels by an astounding 150 parts per million. Earth will be uninhabitable for life as we know it.

If Australia, with its $10-trillion coke-coal industry, can ratify a carbon tax, then surely progressive Canadians can follow their lead.

We are running out of time to combat rising CO2 emissions: Earth’s forests are dying.

It’s time to embrace innovation and the cofounder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard Shaw’s dictum: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Dr. Reese Halter is a conservation biologistat California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. His latest book is The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Scientific Discovery: Long-legged Buzzard Migrates Backwards

What can the raptors of the coastal plain teach us about the state of open spaces in Israel, the importance of responsible management of these areas, and finding a balance between the need for development and the need for environmental protection?

A research study on this topic, undertaken by postgraduate student Gilad Friedman in cooperation with KKL JNF and other organizations, was presented at the 32nd Annual Bird Watching Conference, December 26, 2011 at Tel Aviv University. Friedman’s research received much attention, because it revealed a surprising discovery. The Long-legged Buzzard, which is considered a stable bird (one that does not migrate), does in fact migrate. Furthermore, it migrates in the opposite direction from most bird species - from south to north!

The conference was organized by the Tel Aviv University Zoology Department, the Multidisciplinary Center for Bird Migration Research in Latrun and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). About one thousand people, experts as well as bird lovers, came to hear a variety of lectures about the winged world.

The speakers included Dr. Yossi Leshem on Hoopoe Foundation Activities, Ohad Hatzofe (Pelican Migration), Yoav Perlman (Nesting Survey in the Negev), Roni Malka and Roni Levana (Harassment by Photographers), Dan Alon (Bird Watching Tourism), Alon Rothschild (Nature Preservation), Dr. Eran Levine (Insect Bats in the Jordan Valley) and Amir Ben Dov (The Yellow-legged Gull), and there was an exhibition of spectacular bird photographs for the participants to enjoy in between the presentations.
Friedman’s research began pursuant to a curious phenomenon—the move of the Long-legged Buzzard from the precipices of the Judean Hills to the trees of the Judean Plain. This move instigated competition between the buzzards and the Short-toed Eagle, a bird of prey of another species.

KKL JNF has a unique interest in this research and therefore assists in covering its costs. Many of the ninety nests located by Friedman in the Lachish region are in KKL JNF forests. The raptors often choose to nest in trees that are on the edge of the forest, thereby safeguarding easy access to the open fields where they prey without forfeiting the protection provided by the forest.

Another topic relevant to KKL JNF is the effect of human activity and development on the ecosystem. Experts propose that the move of the Long-legged Buzzard from the Judean Hills to the plain is due to urban development, the expansion of natural woodland and the planting of forests. These ecological changes compelled the raptor to seek new locations and adapt to living in trees and not on mountaintops.

As a result of the transition, competition began with the current occupants of the area, the Short-toed Eagles. Evidently man’s activities in one area could indirectly affect another species in another area. The rivalry between these two species has never been investigated. In general, the Long-legged Buzzard is a species about which very little research or documentation has been done.

The state of raptors is a good indication of the state of their habitat, because they are at the top of the food chain. If raptors are proliferating, it is a sign that there is other wildlife in the area.

In his research, Friedman visits the nests, collects data on the development of the young and analyzes the food remains. He also conducts fieldwork studies using stuffed birds in order to observe territorial aggression. All the work is done with the permission of the Nature Reserves Authority.

Friedman’s research began pursuant to a curious phenomenon—the move of the Long-legged Buzzard from the precipices of the Judean Hills to the trees of the Judean Plain. This move instigated competition between the buzzards and the Short-toed Eagle, a bird of prey of another species.

KKL JNF has a unique interest in this research and therefore assists in covering its costs. Many of the ninety nests located by Friedman in the Lachish region are in KKL JNF forests. The raptors often choose to nest in trees that are on the edge of the forest, thereby safeguarding easy access to the open fields where they prey without forfeiting the protection provided by the forest.

Another topic relevant to KKL JNF is the effect of human activity and development on the ecosystem. Experts propose that the move of the Long-legged Buzzard from the Judean Hills to the plain is due to urban development, the expansion of natural woodland and the planting of forests. These ecological changes compelled the raptor to seek new locations and adapt to living in trees and not on mountaintops.

As a result of the transition, competition began with the current occupants of the area, the Short-toed Eagles. Evidently man’s activities in one area could indirectly affect another species in another area. The rivalry between these two species has never been investigated. In general, the Long-legged Buzzard is a species about which very little research or documentation has been done.

The state of raptors is a good indication of the state of their habitat, because they are at the top of the food chain. If raptors are proliferating, it is a sign that there is other wildlife in the area.

In his research, Friedman visits the nests, collects data on the development of the young and analyzes the food remains. He also conducts fieldwork studies using stuffed birds in order to observe territorial aggression. All the work is done with the permission of the Nature Reserves Authority.

'Elusive' brainless fish discovered in waters off Scotland

A brainless and faceless fish was one of 15 rare species discovered during a series of marine surveys this year.

The prehistoric Amphioxus, described by the Scottish Government as ''elusive'', was found in waters off Tankerness in Orkney.

The fish has a nerve chord down its back and is said to be regarded as a representative of the first animals to evolve a backbone.

Giant mussels with shells measuring up to 48cm (18in), were also discovered around the Small Isles and are said to have the largest sea shells in Scotland.

More than 100 specimens of fan mussels were found around the islands, meaning the area has the largest aggregation of the fish in UK waters.

The mussels are said to have golden threads similar to human hair, which are so fine they are able to attach to a single grain of sand.

In Caithness, the country's largest horse mussel bed was found in waters near Noss Head.

The species, known as ''Clabbydhhu'' in Gaelic, which translates as ''enormous black mouth'', are slow-growing molluscs that can live for up to 50 years.

They are said to stabilise mobile seabeds and provide a critical ecosystem for other species.

Other rare finds from the marine surveys, which covered over 2,000 square miles, included Flame Shell beds in Loch Linnhe, Argyll, as well as new communities of Northern Feather Star, a brightly coloured species with 10 feather-like arms fanning out from a central disc, which were revealed off the Sound of Canna.

The Scottish Government said the findings will further the country's knowledge of the biodiversity of its seas.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: ''In an age where the lands of the world have been mapped out and recorded, it's amazing how many discoveries are waiting to be found under the waves.

''Spanning from the weird to the wonderful, discoveries this year have included the bizarre Amphioxus and the beautiful yet elusive brightly coloured Flame Shell.

''The waters around Scotland are rich in such fascinating biodiversity and it's our responsibility to protect this fragile environment.

''That's why we have ramped up our marine survey work, with plans being prepared for new surveys in 2012 to further our knowledge of what lies beneath Scotland's seas.''

Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: ''These surveys highlight that Scotland's seas and coasts are home to a truly amazing range of weird and wonderful wildlife.

''By providing vital information on what lies beneath the waves, these surveys will help inform decisions on better ways to protect this important resource now and long into the future.

''It is important that the Government builds on this survey work to further our knowledge of the marine environment.''

Susan Davies, director of policy and advice with Scottish Natural Heritage, added: ''Scotland's seas really are a fantastic asset. The findings from these surveys will help us to manage them sustainably and ensure future generations can also enjoy the benefits of a healthy and diverse marine environment.''

During the surveys, multi-beam scanners were used to create 3D images of the seabed, allowing the first marine maps of many new areas to be made.

Belize protected area boosting predatory fish populations

Herbivorous fish needed for reef recovery still lagging

A 14-year study by the Wildlife Conservation Society in an atoll reef lagoon in Glover's Reef, Belize has found that fishing closures there produce encouraging increases in populations of predatory fish species. However, such closures have resulted in only minimal increases in herbivorous fish, which feed on the algae that smother corals and inhibit reef recovery.

The findings will help WCS researchers in their search for new solutions to the problem of restoring Caribbean reefs damaged by fishing and climate change.

The study appears in an online version of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. The authors include: Tim McClanahan, N.A. Muthiga, and R.A. Coleman of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Barracuda, grouper & snappers
Specifically, the fishing closures have resulted in the recovery of species such as barracuda, groupers, snappers, and other predatory fish. Herbivorous fish such as parrotfish and surgeonfish, however, managed only slight recoveries, along with a small amount of the herbivory needed to reduce erect algae and promote the growth of more hard corals. This modest recovery of herbivorous fish has not been sufficient in reversing the degradation of the reefs by algae that have overgrown the reef and replaced the coral that once occupied 75 percent, but now represent less than 20 percent, of the seafloor cover. The authors note that a recent national-level ban by the Belizean government on the fishing of parrotfish-a widespread herbivorous species-may be the key to reef recovery, provided that the fishing ban is enforced and met with compliance. WCS provided valuable data through its monitoring program at Glover's Reef to justify the landmark measure to protect reef grazers.
"The fishing ban in the fully protected portion of the lagoon was expected to result in an increase in predatory fish and-more importantly-herbivorous fish such as parrotfish that in turn reverse the degraded condition of algal dominance in this reef," said Dr. Tim McClanahan, lead author of the study and head of WCS's coral reef research and conservation program. "What happened was a recovery of predatory fish, but not of the herbivorous fish, a finding that is forcing us to come up with a more effective model of reef management and recovery. If the nation-wide ban on parrotfish is successful, then we can see if this type of large-scale management is the only effective solution for protecting coral reefs."

According to the authors, a number of factors could be contributing to the unpredicted responses of fishing closures, which considerably complicates the understanding of coral reef ecology and management. The complex web of species interactions may produce unexpected cascading effects because of underestimates in the possible responses to bans on fishing. Other possible reason: the size of the closure may be too small to produce the desired effect, or there may be a failure of compliance with fishers following the ban. The authors also mention that environmental factors such as oceanographic oscillations and warming waters complicate any attempt to establish cause-and-effect relationships in these systems, as they noted a loss in coral cover across the 1998 El Niño that killed many corals worldwide.

"It is encouraging to see the recovery of large predatory fish such as groupers and snappers under significant pressure elsewhere in Belize, but the lagging herbivorous fish is a warning that there is no single solution to coral reef conservation," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS's Marine Program. "While no-take zones are critical, more comprehensive ecosystem-based management is essential throughout the range of targeted species for long term recovery of the entire Meso-American Barrier Reef."

From Fiji to Kenya to Glover's Reef, Dr. Tim McClanahan's research examines the ecology, fisheries, climate change effects, and management of coral reefs at key sites throughout the world. This work has been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. WCS wishes to acknowledge the Oak Foundation and The Summit Foundation for their generous support of this study and our marine conservation work throughout Belize.

Turtles Show Way to Prosperity (Via Herp Digest)

Turtles Show Way to Prosperity
By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI 12/26/11Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Passers-by gaze into the display window at a pearl store in Manhattan whose owner keeps turtles because they helped save his family from poverty.
The turtles in a large aquarium in a Midtown window often bring passers-by to a halt, even those used to seeing the unexpected.

"Everyone who passes this store wants to know about the turtles," said Johnny Lu, whose business specializes in the manufacture and sale of coral and pearl jewelry. "I tell them that my family owes everything we have to the turtles."

Mr. Lu, a fisherman's son who grew up in the Penghu Islands off the western coast of Taiwan, was 8 when a typhoon destroyed his father's boat and fishing equipment, plunging his family into despair.
"We nearly starved to death," said Mr. Lu, 58, who is one of 11 children. "We ate rotten potatoes for months. We couldn't afford rice. My mother went to the temple every day and prayed for some kind of miracle, but our situation seemed hopeless. We weren't starting again from the ground up; we were starting from somewhere beneath the ground."

Mr. Lu's mother and father, Lu Hong Kui-Su and Lu Ching-Shui, began making ends meet by collecting coral shells along the golden beaches of Penghu, decorating the shells as jewelry and selling them to local residents.

And then, one tiny step at a time, their miracle began to arrive.

Mr. Lu's father noticed that turtles roaming the Penghu Islands - also called the Pescadores - often nestled in pearl beds in shallow and deeper waters. He began following the trails of hundreds of turtles and discovered thousands upon thousands of pearls, which he began to sell, along with the coral shells, as jewelry.

In a short time, Mr. Lu's father became a well-to-do pearl farmer. He opened a factory in Taipei to produce pearl necklaces and other jewelry, and before long, American and other foreign retailers were demanding his product.

The family kept expanding the business. In 1984, Mr. Lu opened a pearl store in Manhattan. Two years later, he, his parents and his siblings created a second, much larger pearl farm on Hainan Island, in the South China Sea.

ohnny Lu says turtles were the reason his family was able to succeed in the pearl business.
At 246 West 38th Street, Mr. Lu has one of his three Manhattan stores. It is also where about two dozen turtles raise the curiosity of people on the street.

"This business will remain with my family for generations to come," said Mr. Lu, whose Lucoral and Lupearl Corporation also has manufacturing and wholesale arms. "We have a lot of nieces and nephews to put to work."

One of Mr. Lu's sisters, Flora Lu, runs the Lucoral Museum and Gift Shop in Honolulu.
In a telephone interview, she said: "I remember being a little girl on the islands, always looking for pearls and for coral shells to recycle because we were really struggling. On the Penghu Islands, turtles are seen as good luck charms, as symbols of hope. Those turtles certainly brought my family good luck. Looking back now, it all seems like a fairy tale."

Other siblings operate wholesaling and distribution businesses in Hawaii, Hong Kong, mainland China and Japan, and the Lu family's pearls are sold by retailers in 40 countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Italy.

"Mr. Lu is the godfather of the pearl business," said Hesham Abdelrahman, a salesman at the 38th Street store, which is called the Lucoral and Lupearl Company.

"Up until the mid-1990s, the Lu family pretty much controlled the entire pearl industry, and though other competitors started jumping into the marketplace, the Lu family is still one of the largest and best-known pearl distributors in the world."

To help illustrate his point, Mr. Abdelrahman pointed to a wall filled with photographs and letters from first ladies who have worn Lu pearls, including Michelle Obama, Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan, and from Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister.

"The beautiful coral tree with the amethyst base is a work of art and one I will always treasure," Mrs. Reagan wrote to Mr. Lu in 1981 after visiting the family's pearl factory in Taipei.

As he fed his turtles one morning, Mr. Lu, who also teaches jewelry making, noted that many of the turtles are donated by local residents whose children have gone off to school and can no longer care for them.

"I tell my neighbors, 'Bring all of your turtles to me, I'll take care of them,' " Mr. Lu said. "Turtles once saved my entire family, so as long as I'm here, they will always have a home."

Cranky croc steals Aussie zoo worker's lawn mower (Via Herp Digest)

Cranky croc steals Aussie zoo worker's lawn mower
Associated Press 12/28/11

SYDNEY (AP) -- A giant saltwater crocodile named Elvis with an apparent affinity for household machinery charged at an Australian reptile park worker Wednesday before stealing his lawn mower.
Tim Faulkner, operations manager at the Australian Reptile Park, north of Sydney, was one of three workers tending to the lawn in Elvis' enclosure when he heard reptile keeper Billy Collett yelp. Faulkner looked up to see the 16-foot (5-meter), 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) crocodile lunging out of its lagoon at Collett, who warded the creature off with his mower.

"Before we knew it, the croc had the mower above his head," Faulkner said. "He got his jaws around the top of the mower and picked it up and took it underwater with him."

The workers quickly left the enclosure. Elvis, meanwhile, showed no signs of relinquishing his new toy and guarded it closely all morning.

Eventually, Faulkner realized he had no other choice but to go back for the mower.
Collett lured Elvis to the opposite end of the lagoon with a heaping helping of kangaroo meat while Faulkner plunged, fully clothed, into the water. Before grabbing the mower, however, he had to search the bottom of the lagoon for two 3-inch (7-centimeter) teeth Elvis lost during the encounter. He quickly found them and escaped from the pool, unharmed and with mower in tow.

Though many may question the wisdom of going after a couple of teeth with a massive crocodile lurking just feet away, Faulkner said finding them was critical. "They clog up the filter systems," he said.
And, he said, "They're a nice souvenir."

Elvis has a history of crankiness and has lunged at staff before, though this is the first time he has stolen something from one of the workers. The croc was initially captured in the northern Australian city of Darwin, where he had been attacking fishing boats. He was then moved to a crocodile farm, where he proceeded to kill his two crocodile girlfriends.

In 2008, he was moved to the reptile park, where he has enjoyed solitary confinement in his own enclosure.

"When they are the dominant croc, they're just full of testosterone," Faulkner said. "He's got his beautiful own yard, he wants to be a solitary creature. He's happy."

Despite having to give up the lawn mower, Elvis was clearly pleased with himself, Faulkner said.
"He's beaten us today ... he's kingpin," Faulkner said. "He's going to be walking around with his chest puffed out all day."

As for the staff at the reptile park?

"I can't lie, the bosses are not going to be happy about the cost of a new lawn mower," Faulkner said with a laugh. "(But) we love it. No one's injured ... and when you get scared and it all turns out to be good, it's actually quite enjoyable."

Turtles conviscated from poachers (Via Herp Digest)

327 Turtles, Podocnemis expanas adult females destined for Christmas Eve Dinner were confiscated from poachers and released in the Rio Branco near Caracaraí by , ICMBio authorities.
Glauco Araújo Do G1, em São Paulo , 12/22/11----

Game wardens recuperated 327 tartarugas and captured 6 trafficers the wild animlas during na operation that began on December 15 and terminated on the 21st in the lower Rio Branco, near Caracaraí (RORAIMA). Supposedly the turtles were destined for Christmas Eve Dinner and were commissioned for the hunters to catch these turtles by people with a lot of political power.

The turtles according to the technician from Instituto Chico Mendes (ICMBio), were found tied up and in sacks, ready to take to Boa Vista, where they were to be delivered to the buyers for R$300 ($225US) for the larger ones and R$100 for the smaller ones

In addition to the turtles 311 eggs were confiscated., disse Antonio Lisboa, chefe do Parque Nacional do Viruá e analista ambiental do ICMBio.

The prisoners Said that the turtles were to be delivered to a particular address to people of high Power in Boa Vista..

The operation was to be extended until December 30 with the help of IBAMA and Military Police of the Environment in the Stat of Roraima. "The registered 23 auto fines. Among the crimes commited by these trafficantes of wildlife, were bad treatment of the animals and formation of na organized trafficking unit "quadrilha". All of the prisoners were taken to the state Penetencery Agrícola Monte Cristo.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Crafty Caterpillars Mimic Each Other to Avoid Predators

Scientists have long documented mimicry in adult butterflies, but new research shows that caterpillars also use this defense mechanism to deter predators.

To protect themselves from hungry predators, caterpillars have evolved a number of defenses. Some caterpillars physically camouflage themselves to look like bird droppings or sticks, while others have developed fake eyes to scare off birds. Some caterpillars even have chemical defenses gained from poisonous plants, which they then broadcast to predators with a bright warning coloration.

Although many adult butterflies employ mimicry — where one species develops warning color patterns similar to another species' — to quickly teach predators which insects to avoid, scientists have observed few definitive cases of caterpillars using this strategy.

"Mimicry in general is one of the best and earliest-studied examples of natural selection, and it can help us learn where evolutionary adaptations come from," University of Florida biologist Keith Willmott said in a statement.

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Dino-Chicken: Wacky But Serious Science Idea of 2011

Paleontologist Jack Horner has always been a bit of an iconoclast. In the 1970s, Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., and his friend Bob Makela discovered a Maiasaura nesting site, painting the first picture of dinosaurs as doting moms and dads. He's also been at the forefront of research suggesting that dinosaurs were fast growing and warm-blooded.

But Horner's newest idea takes iconoclasm to a new level. He wants, in short, to hatch a dinosaur.

Or something very much like one, at least. Horner, who served as a technical advisor for the "Jurassic Park" movies, has no illusions that the technique in that movie — extracting dino DNA from mosquitoes in amber — would work. DNA degrades too quickly, for one thing. Dinosaur DNA has proved impossible to extract from actual dinosaur bones, never mind blood-sucking insects.

"If you actually had a piece of amber and it had an insect in it, and you drilled into it, and you got something out of that insect and you cloned it, and you did it over and over and over again, you'd have a room full of mosquitoes," Horner said in a February 2011 TED Talk in Long Beach, Calif. TED, or Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a nonprofit focusing on "ideas worth spreading."

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Ohio Exotic Animal Owner Wasn't Drunk Or On Drugs

Terry Thompson, Ohio Exotic Animal Owner, Wasn't Drunk Or On Drugs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A final coroner's report shows an Ohio man who released dozens of wild animals and then killed himself had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system.

The Columbus Dispatch reports ( ) that the findings released Wednesday also confirm that 62-year-old Terry Thompson died after he put a gun to the roof of his mouth and fired. And the report indicates he was bitten and clawed by large cats immediately after his Oct. 18 death on his property near Zanesville in eastern Ohio.

Sheriff's deputies were forced to kill 48 loose exotic animals, including bears, lions and endangered Bengal tigers.

Three leopards, two primates and a grizzly bear survived the big-game hunt and are now in the care of the Columbus zoo.

Goat flees nativity play

Goat Flees Nativity Scene, Still On The Lam

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A goat that apparently didn't want to be part of a Minnesota Nativity scene has headed for greener pastures.

The 3-year-old Angora goat was supposed to have a supporting role at Bethlehem Church in Fergus Falls. Instead it escaped its leash Saturday afternoon, and remained on the lam Monday.

The goat's owner is Jim Aakre of rural Underwood. He says he tried to chase it for about two hours, but the lack of snow made tracking difficult.

The wayward goat has been spotted several times since it escaped, but police haven't been able to collar it.

A Fergus Falls Journal report ( ) says Aakre and his wife also provided a llama and two puppies for the service.

Cheetah, Tarzan's chimpanzee, dies

'Tarzan's chimpanzee' Cheetah dies aged 80 in Florida

A chimpanzee who apparently starred in Tarzan films in the 1930s has died at the age of 80, according to the sanctuary where he lived.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor said he died on Saturday of kidney failure.

He had acted alongside Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan films from 1932-34, it claimed.

The animal loved fingerpainting and watching football, and was "soothed by Christian music".

Sanctuary spokeswoman Debbie Cobb told the Tampa Tribune that Cheetah came to live at Palm Harbor from Johnny Weissmuller's estate in about 1960.

"Cheetah" was in the Tarzan movies alongside Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller, according to the sanctuary where he lived.

Chimpanzees in zoos typically live 35 to 45 years, she said.

It is not clear what lay behind Cheetah's longevity, or what evidence there is for it.

A sanctuary volunteer told the paper that fingerpainting was not Cheetah's only talent.

"When he didn't like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them," Ron Priest said. "He could get you at 30 feet [9m] with bars in between."

The Florida "Cheetah" is not the only chimpanzee who has been described as Tarzan's companion.

A chimp known as "Cheeta" who lives in California was for a long time claimed to be the chimp in the films, but, following research for a biography, that claim has been withdrawn.

It is possible that several different animals were used while filming the Tarzan movies.

Bird flu - Hong Kong alert

Hong Kong orders chicken cull as bird flu alert raised

Hong Kong is culling 17,000 chickens after three birds were confirmed to have died from the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain in the past week.

The government has banned imports and the sale of live chickens for three weeks after an infected chicken carcass was found at a wholesale market on Tuesday.

It has also raised the city's flu alert system to "serious".

Two wild birds were also found to have died of the the virus.

The government said it was tracing the source of the chicken carcass, but it was not clear whether the chicken came from a local farm or was imported.

"I understand that it will cause inconvenience to the public, and the poultry trade will also encounter losses," said Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, York Chow.

"However, to safeguard public health, we need to adopt decisive and effective measures to prevent and control the spread of the virus."

On Tuesday, a dead Oriental magpie found at a secondary school tested positive for bird flu.

Another secondary school closed for a day for disinfection last Friday after a dead black-headed gull was found with the virus.

Hong Kong is quick to take action against infectious diseases after an outbreak of the deadly respiratory disease SARS in 2003 killed 300 people in the city and a further 500 worldwide.

In 2009, 300 people were placed under quarantine at a Hong Kong hotel after a guest contracted swine flu.

GPS trackers find migrating cuckoos in same spot

Scientists amazed after five migrating cuckoos fitted with GPS trackers meet up in the same spot in Africa

Scientists have been left astonished after five cuckoos who headed south from Britain for the winter have congregated in the same little-known part of Africa.

British conservationists decided to track their movements to find out more about the birds' lifestyles following concerns about their dwindling numbers.

After leaving East Anglia in June, the birds - Clement, Kasper, Martin, Chris and Lyster - flew thousands of miles apart as they made their way to warmer climes.

Three of the birds, Chris, Martin and Kasper, flew down through Italy and straight across the Sahara desert.

The other two, Clement and Lyster, went to Spain and down the Atlantic edge of the continent, more than 1,000 miles to the west.

Yet now it's been discovered they are all now relatively close, in the Congo rainforest, despite having travelled around 3,000 miles south.

Incredibly, three are about as close to each other as they were when they were caught in Norfolk and Suffolk in May and June.

Experts said their journey was fraught with danger with crossing the Sahara was one of the major sources of mortality for many migrants.

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Seychelles paradise-flycatcher - habitat danger

Habitat danger for Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher

The illegal felling of mature trees on La Digue island, the stronghold of the Critically Endangered Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina has been exposed by the local media. In a front page article, the newspaper Le Seychelles Hebdo revealed the shocking story. The damage includes the felling and cropping of several native tree species used by the bird.

The owner of the land had made an application for a tourism development but the Department of Environment had put this on hold so as to carry out a survey. The owner apparently went ahead with land clearing. “Clearing of land and felling of the tree species in question which are protected by law require authorisation by the land use & planning authority and the Department of Environment respectively”, said Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner).

The land owner and the contractor who undertook the works have been fined 50,000 Seychelles Rupees each (about US$ 4,000) by the environment authorities. According to sources on La Digue those fined are refusing to pay and have their own case against the government.

Nature Seychelles, the flycatcher’s BirdLife Species Guardian is currently undertaking a small education and advocacy project on La Digue in collaboration with the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA). The project is funded by Viking Optical, the BirdLife Species Champion.

“The habitat on this tiny island will always be under threat because of increasing development, and consumerism. This is why we established a second population on Denis Island”, says Nirmal Shah. There is a now a breeding population on Denis after the translocation of 23 birds in November 2008 by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and Nature Seychelles.

La Digue is a picturesque but rapidly changing island. The Seychelles Government is now investigating the possibility of making La Digue carbon neutral after Cousin Island Special Reserve, managed by Nature Seychelles, showed the way forward by becoming the world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve. “In fact, recent news that the government will phase out all fossil fuel vehicles on La Digue so that only electric ones are used in the future is an excellent move for general environmental protection and eco tourism on the island”, says Shah.

This news is brought to you by the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Czech national's attempt to take 247 animals on plane foiled

Man tried to take 247 animals on plane

A Czech national was nabbed in Argentina for trying to board a transatlantic flight with 247 live animals including poisonous snakes and endangered reptiles packed in a bulging suitcase, reports said Monday.

The man identified as Karel Abelovsky, 51, was caught while trying to board a flight for Madrid when shocked baggage X-ray technicians and staff at the Iberia Airlines desk at Ezeiza Airport in greater Buenos Aires noticed "organic substances moving inside," local media reported.

When they opened the bag, they found more than 200 reptiles and mollusks, among them nine species of poisonous snakes including South American pitvipers, packed in clear plastic containers.

There were also 15 venomous vipers, including two yararas -- which can measure up to 1.50 meters (five feet) -- and several young boas.

Some of the animals were reported to be extremely rare and protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Two of the animals were found dead and most of the others could have suffered the same fate due to a lack of oxygen if the suitcase had been placed in the plane's cargo area.

The discovery was made on December 7 but only recently came to light. A judge has charged Abelovsky with attempted smuggling, and he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Researchers suspect that an exotic species smuggling ring was behind the trafficking attempt.

Drones used to track Japan whaling fleet

Anti-whaling activists' drone tracks Japan fleet

Anti-whaling activists intercepted Japan's harpoon fleet far north of Antarctic waters on Sunday, they said, with the help of a military-style drone.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society spokesman Paul Watson said the unmanned long-range drone, launched from the anti-whaling ship the Steve Irwin, had located the Japanese fleet and relayed the coordinates back to the activists.

Watson said Sea Shepherd, a militant activist group which regularly shadows and harasses the Japanese whalers, had caught up with the fleet at 37 degrees south, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) above Antarctic waters.

No whales had been killed so far, he added.

"This is going to be a long hard pursuit from here to the coast of Antarctica," said Watson.

"But thanks to these drones, we now have an advantage we have never had before -- eyes in the sky."

Three Japanese security vessels were tailing the Steve Irwin to prevent it from following the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Watson said.

But he said the activists had established the upper hand with their two drones, donated by Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security (MOMPS), a private US firm.

Fitted with cameras and detection equipment, the drones have previously been used to combat bluefin tuna poaching off Libya.

Unmanned aircraft are most notably used by US forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Sea Shepherd drones were developed by New Jersey-based MOMPS, which is described as working to enforce international maritime and fisheries rules and "helping to prevent acts of terrorism and piracy worldwide".

Watson said: "We can cover hundreds of miles with these drones and they have proven to be valuable assets for this campaign."

While the Steve Irwin was being tailed by the harpooners' security detail he said Sea Shepherd's other vessels the Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot -- which can travel faster than the whalers -- were free to chase the Japanese south.

Commercial whaling is banned under an international treaty but Japan has since 1987 used a loophole to carry out "lethal research" in the name of science -- a practice condemned by environmentalists and anti-whaling nations.

Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Netherlands issued a joint statement earlier this month expressing their "disappointment" at the annual hunt and warning against violent encounters.

Confrontations with the increasingly sophisticated Sea Shepherd group have escalated in recent years, with one clash sinking an activist powerboat and a protester arrested for boarding a Japanese ship.

Sea Shepherd harassment saw the Japanese cut their hunt short last season, and they are now suing the activists in Washington seeking an injunction against what they say is a "life-threatening" campaign.

Japan's coastguard has deployed an unspecified number of vessels to protect the whaling ships, and Tokyo has confirmed it will use some of the public funds earmarked for tsunami reconstruction to boost security for the hunt.

Yellowstone ecosystems - reintroduction of wolves

Wolves spur rebirth of Yellowstone ecosystems
By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The reintroduction of wolves has resulted in profound ecoystem changes in the Greater Yellowstone region.

For the first time in 70 years, the over-browsing of young aspen and willow trees has diminished. Trees and shrubs are recovering along some streams, providing improved habitat for beaver and fish.

“Yellowstone increasingly looks like a different place,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and lead author of a recent study documenting some of the changes.

“These are still the early stages of recovery, and some of this may still take decades,” Ripple said. “But trees and shrubs are starting to come back and beaver numbers are increasing. The signs are very encouraging.”

The findings of this report are based on a recent analysis done by OSU researchers and a review of other studies. They were published recently in Biological Conservation, a professional journal. They outline an ecosystem renaissance that has taken place since wolves were restored toYellowstone after being extirpated in the 1920s

Among the observations in this report:
•Since their reintroduction in 1995-96, the wolf population generally increased until 2003, forcing changes in both elk numbers and behavior due to what researchers call the “ecology of fear.”

•The northern range elk populations decreased from more than 15,000 individuals in the early 1990s to about 6,000 last year, and remaining elk now have different patterns of movement, vigilance, and other traits.

•By 2006, some aspen trees had grown tall enough they were no longer susceptible to browsing by elk, and cottonwood and willow were also beginning to return in places.

•Improved willow growth is providing habitat that allows for a greater diversity and abundance of songbirds such as the common yellowthroat, warbling vireo and song sparrow.

•The number of beaver colonies in the same area increased from one in 1996 to 12 in 2009, with positive impacts on fish habitat.

•Increases in beaver populations have strong implications for riparian hydrology and biodiversity – Wyoming streams with beaver ponds have been found to have 75 times more abundant waterfowl than those without.

•The coyote population decreased with the increase in wolf numbers, potentially allowing more small mammals that provide food for other avian and mammalian predators, such as red foxes, ravens and bald eagles.

Read more here ...

Hope for species as rare Sumatran rhino is captured

Capture of rare Sumatran rhino gives hope for species
Malaysian wildlife authorities said Monday the capture of a young female Borneo Sumatran rhino had given them a last chance to save the highly endangered species from extinction.

The female rhino, aged between 10 and 12 years old, was caught on December 18 and is being kept in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah on the Malaysian area of Borneo island where it is hoped it will breed with a lone captive male.

"All of us in Sabah are relieved that we have been able to capture this rhino after almost a year-and-a-half," Borneo Rhino Alliance director Junaidi Payne told AFP.

The female rhino, which has been named Puntung, was caught in a joint operation by the Borneo Rhino Alliance and the Sabah Wildlife Department.

"This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms of mammal," Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said in a statement.

Puntung had been specifically targeted since early 2010 as the mate for a 20-year-old, lone male rhino named Tam, who was rescued from an oil palm plantation in August 2008.

"It is an ideal age for breeding. Puntung and Tam are being kept in adjacent paddocks. They can see each other and there is some communication," Payne said.

Previous attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to breed Borneo Sumatran rhinos failed but Payne said he was "cautiously optimistic" the latest captive breeding programme would succeed.

The critically endangered Sumatran rhino is a mostly solitary animal except for courtship and rearing young.

Read more here ...

Kepler Mountains home to rare bat colony

Rare bat colony found in Kepler Mountains
A colony of rare native bats has been discovered in the Kepler Mountains in Fiordland.

The find was made by Department of Conservation rangers this month.

The colony of long-tailed bats is only the second known such habitat in Fiordland.

The bats are ranked as nationally critical.

Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jo Whitehead said once the bats were gone from the Kepler Mountains it was unlikely they would return as the department did not yet have techniques to transfer bat populations.

Native bats had been decimated by rats in plague years and were particularly vulnerable while breeding in their roost trees during summer.

Five maternity roost trees had been discovered in the Iris Burn Valley.

They were less than 500m from the Kepler Track Great Walk, Ms Whitehead said. The discovery came about as a result of a month-long research project.

It had been supported by the Fiordland Conservation Trust and Distinction Hotels in an effort to find maternity roosts of native bats that had been seen in areas around Te Anau.

Twenty Tauranga students were also instrumental in the find, after recording evidence of bats on automatic detectors in the Iris Burn Valley.

The great bustard is back in the south-west after 180 absence

Great Bustard flies again across South West – after 180 year absence
Once a familiar sight in grassland areas of southern Britain, the Great Bustard was hunted to extinction in Britain in the early 19th Century.

But, as part of a pioneering reintroduction programme, begun on a shoestring budget, the first of several clutches of rescued chicks from Saratov in southern Russia were introduced to Salisbury Plain, seven years ago.

Standing up to 3ft tall and with a wingspan of more than 8ft, some Great Bustards have been known to weigh as much as 21kg (46lb).

But with males taking up to five years to reach maturity – and facing threats ranging from foxes to electric power lines – they are considered one of the most difficult wild birds to breed.

In 2009 the first three native British chicks were hatched in nests at a secret site on Salisbury Plain, with more following last year.

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Two spring and no summer, but British wildlife adapts well

British wildlife adapts well to confusing year of two springs and no summer

Unusual weather

December 2011. Much British wildlife has enjoyed a successful year thanks to a mild spring and a warm autumn with abundant spring-like sunshine, according to experts at the National Trust. It managed to survive the cool and wet summer, the second in a row.

The weather for the year created favourable breeding conditions for many species with National Trust wildlife experts reporting a boom in grey seal, avocet, spring insects and autumn berries in particular. The warmest April and the second warmest autumn on record meant that warmth-loving insects such as butterflies, bumblebees and spring mining bees thrived.

The glorious autumn resulted in an abundance of fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs, especially apple, hawthorn and sloe, beech nuts and acorns. These provided deer, badgers and grey squirrels with a plentiful food source and fattened up well prior to see them through the tough winter months. Many winter birds will also benefit.

Matthew Oates, wildlife adviser at the National Trust, said: "The unusual weather this year has confused some of our native wildlife but many species have responded well.

"Wildlife emerged from winter to a fantastic spring which promised so much but failed to deliver for many species, which were let down by a poor summer. Luckily the ‘Indian summer' in autumn months with spring-like temperatures came to the rescue leading to many second appearances, an abundance of berries and huge numbers of migrant species to our shores."

A combination of the warm autumn and high winds has resulted in many rare bird visitors to our coast and countryside with North American buff-breasted sandpipers at several locations, desert wheatear at Man Sands in Devon, red-flanked bluetail at Orford Ness in Suffolk and a bufflehead at Helston Loe Pool in Cornwall.

The earliest spring this century lead to an early appearance of vibrant spring flowers. Primroses peaked at the end of March, a fantastic display of bluebells emerged during April and most vegetation and blossom appeared three to four weeks earlier than normal, but the dry conditions was not good news for frogs, toads and newts, as many of their breeding ponds dried up.

Autumnal tints were visible from late July, and by late August autumn was visible almost everywhere, due to the early start, local drought and summer cold. In much of England water levels were worryingly low, the lowest since 1976, with water rationing being threatened.

Matthew Oates continued: "It has certainly been an unpredictable year of weather and the extreme fluctuations throughout just a single year continue to provide challenges to our wildlife."

The year was preceded by the coldest December on record. But after the first week of January snowy conditions retreated beyond the Highland line. A mild, wet and windy week followed before dry but cold weather dominated the second half of January.

Waxwings, a scarce winter migrant bird, were widespread, feasting on berries in towns and countryside.

A fantastic winter for garden birds, with the nation spending a fortune on bird feed. Successful Big Garden Birdwatch weekend at end of month, with many fieldfares and redwings counted.

Hazel catkins were profuse, catching hay fever sufferers out late in the month.

Plenty of cloud and bands of rain brought in by westerly weather for most of the month. There were some strong winds in the first week but temperatures were generally near or above normal throughout.

Rooks started building and blackbirds tuning up by the middle of the month.

A 17 per cent increase in the number of flowering plants and bulbs in bloom suggests that spring arrived earlier than 2010, according to the annual flower count of 38 National Trust gardens on Valentine's Day

The year woke up with a bang in March, which after a cold grey start became one of the driest and sunniest on record.

Abundance of marsh fritillary caterpillars on downs in Dorset and Wiltshire; in places consuming all of their foodplant leaves (devil's bit scabious).

Frog & toad spawn appeared somewhat late the legacy of the cold December, then tadpole development was hindered by pools and ponds drying up.

Primroses flowered early, at peak in late March in the south, and finished there by Easter.

High pressure over or near to the UK for much of the month ushered in the warmest April on record, which was incredibly dry apart from in Scotland, Northern Ireland and NW England.

The best Easter weather on record, with temperatures reaching 24C on Easter Saturday.

Bluebells and an abundance of spring blossom, especially in orchards, but a poor year for the rare pasque flower due to spring drought.

The dry conditions caused heath and moor fires at places such as Marsden Moor in Yorkshire and chalk streams dried up.

Superb month for spring insects, including mining bees and their parasitic bee flies, and record immigration of bar-tailed godwits, pushed in by easterly winds in late April.

By the start of May vegetation in gardens and the countryside had rushed headlong into early summer but the fine weather broke at the end of the first week of May. The southern two thirds of Britain then experienced cold drought conditions, with many cold nights after grey windy days.

Vegetation and blossom was three to four weeks ahead of the norm - June arrived early. May blossom (hawthorn) was practically over in the south of England as the month began.

But much late frost damage in many districts, with many oaks defoliated. Difficult conditions for pregnant female bats, possibly delaying birth of pups.

Successful breeding season for avocets at Orford Ness in Suffolk, despite a lack of mud for feeding.

A cool, cloudy and wet month with with many cold nights though the rain helped to avoid drought conditions. It was especially poor in the north.

Another record year for the large blue butterfly at National Trust's Collard Hill reserve in Somerset, with the population up by a third on 2010's dizzy heights.

Purple emperor butterfly emerges at Bookham Common on 13 June - earliest national appearance since 1893.

July started and ended well, though the bulk of it continued the cool wet trend. It was a rather cool month overall, with mean temperatures about 1 °C below average over England and Wales making this the coolest July since 2000.

First blackberries were on bushes before the middle of the month roughly a month earlier than normal.

Cool weather meant that on many days, insects were reluctant to take to the wing in northern England.

Foul, wet and windy weather in the north did have a silver lining by encouraging the first waxcap fungi of the autumn in the Lake District.

August followed a similar pattern to July after a promising start. A cool and grey holiday season with a lot of rain in the north of England. The last good August was in 2006.

Rare heathland broad-headed bug (Alydus calcaratus) discovered by the National Trust's Biological Survey Team on Dunkery Beacon in Exmoor, along with the scarce cow-wheat shieldbug (Sehirus biguttatus). A rare tiger beetle wasp was discovered at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.

Poor feeding conditions for young bats due to cold weather and rain.

Apart from a gale at the end of the first week, September was pleasant, ending in a strong anticyclone, the first since the spring.

Early autumn leaf fall due mainly to spring and autumn drought.

Tail end of Hurricane Katia brought in many buff-breasted sandpipers from North America to places such as Dunkery Beacon in Somerset, and Dale Head in Pembrokeshire, but only a single vagrant monarch butterfly, to Ringstead Bay in Dorset.

Numbers of common crane fly, an important food source for bats and some birds seemed to continue to make a slow recovery after the population crash of 2007, possibly caused by the summer floods in that year.

October began with an un-seasonal heat-wave, producing the hottest October day ever. It was unusually mild, and dry away from the far west and north.

Fantastic autumn for fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs, especially apple, hawthorn and sloe, beech nuts and acorns. Deer, badgers and grey squirrels fattened up well to see them through the lean winter months.

Poor season for fungi in many districts, due to cool summer and autumn drought. Good though in East Anglia, including many waxcaps at Blickling and Hatfield Forest.

Good autumn for rare vagrant birds, including a red-flanked bluetail on Orford Ness, Suffolk coast. A kingfisher that had been ringed in Poland became a record breaker when it was seen at Orford Ness.

The second warmest November in over 100 years thanks to a southerly flow with only November 1994 warmer. Plenty of cloud at times and some persistent fog over eastern England, but any rainfall was showery and mainly confined to the west and north.

A ‘second spring', with many spring shrubs and plants flowering, including many dandelions and white dead nettle, and many garden plants.

Bats and moths active until late in the month as the warm weather lead to a longer lasting food supply.

Record breaking grey seal breeding season at Blakeney Point with more than 750 pups born from early November to mid-December.

A desert wheatear followed the southerly air steam up from North Africa to spend a few days at Man Sands in Devon.

Great year for holly and mistletoe berries in most districts, a knock on from the fine spring.

15 Short-eared owls overwintering at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, perhaps suggesting good success on Scandinavian breeding grounds and maybe a sign of a population crash in the vole population there. Also seen at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, and on the North Wiltshire downs.

Pine marten tracks in snow at Castle Ward in County Down.

Five cranes paid a visit to Buscot and Coleshill Estate in Oxfordshire, possibly part of the influx that brought birds into the British Isles in November.

The autumn rains at last arrive in central and eastern England.

Monday 26 December 2011

Dalmation has 15 puppies - double the average number

Not quite 101 Dalmations

There aren't quite a 101 of them but for new mum Pebbles her 15 Dalmatian puppies are more than enough.

Pebbles' owner Kay Sullivan was left shocked when her pet pooch gave birth to the huge litter - double the average number.

The birth left two-and-half-year old Pebbles so exhausted that she, husband Neil and daughter Cerys had to step in to lend a hand.

Mrs Sullivan, of Garnant, Carmarthenshire, said: "By the time we had fed the last one, it was time to go back to the first one."

And thanks to their help all of the puppies have survived. The family now have the task of coming up with names for all five males and ten females.

Newly christened is Patch and Phantom Of The Opera due to the fact half his face is black and the other white.

Their story has drawn parallels to the Disney film '101 Dalmatians' because 15 is the number of puppies stolen from Dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdy.

Mrs Sullivan, who is not a dog breeder, said they may keep one or two of the new arrivals but were looking to sell the rest.

"We were expecting an average litter of about seven or eight. We weren't expecting 15. It's a bit much," she said. "We don't want 15 dogs running around."

Polar bear cub raised by humans

Polar bear cub is raised by hand

A baby polar bear cub is being raised by human carers in Denmark after its mother failed to produce any milk.

Siku - still blind and deaf - has to be bottle-fed by staff at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park near Kolind.

Zoo director Frank Vigh-Larsen said: "Our polar bear female Ilka had a cub, but after two days we decided to immobilise Ilka, because the cub was constantly screaming and being very unsettled.

"Ilka had absolutely no milk, so instead of leaving the cub to die we decided to try to bottle feed it.

"It is now 30 days old, and weighs 3.2 grams, 2.4 grams more than at birth, and he is thriving."

The polar bears in Scandinavian Wildlife Park are part of a global breeding program for captive polar bears.

Mr Vigh-Larsen added: "We are convinced that it will be possible for Siku to become a normal functioning polar bear within a few years, so he can live together with the other polar bears in the park."

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Microbe thriving in Death Valley

Badwater Basin: Death Valley Microbe Thrives There

Nevada, the “Silver State,” is well-known for mining precious metals.

But scientists Dennis Bazylinski and colleagues at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) do a different type of mining.

They sluice through every water body they can find, looking for new forms of microbial magnetism.

In a basin named Badwater on the edge of Death Valley National Park, Bazylinski and researcher Christopher Lefèvre hit pay dirt.

Lefèvre is with the French National Center of Scientific Research and University of Aix-Marseille II.

In this week’s issue of the journal Science, Bazylinski, Lefèvre and others report that they identified, isolated and grew a new type of magnetic bacteria that could lead to novel biotech and nanotech uses.

Magnetotactic bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms that are found in almost all bodies of water.

As their name suggests, they orient and navigate along magnetic fields like miniature swimming compass needles.

This is due to the nano-sized crystals of the minerals magnetite or greigite they produce.

The presence of these magnetic crystals makes the bacteria and their internal crystals–called magnetosomes–useful in drug delivery and medical imaging.

The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy and the French Foundation for Medical Research.

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Ancient Fungi-Plant Duo Discovered in Amber

A walnut-size piece of amber from 52-million years ago reveals what scientists say is the oldest, tight-knit partnership between a fungus and a tropical tree.

An international team of scientists from the United States, Germany and India discovered the rare fossil in the Tadkeshwar Lignite Mine of Gujarat State, western India.

Such symbiotic partnerships (which benefit both parties) as the one preserved inside amber, or plant resin, have made possible the survival of most land plants today, the researchers note. The fungi have threadlike cells that increase the surface area of the plant's roots, increasing the plant's access to necessary nutrients from the soil. In return, the fungus gets sugary foods that the plant produces. This fungus-plant root partnership is called a micorrhizal relationship.

"Mycorrhizal relationships are believed to have arisen more than 400-million years ago, as plants began to colonize terrestrial habitats," Paul Nascimbene, of the American Museum of Natural History's division of invertebrate zoology, said in a statement. "They are seen as a key innovation in the evolution of vascular plants."

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Rapid evolution in domestic animals

Genetic Study of Black Chickens Shed Light On Mechanisms Causing Rapid Evolution in Domestic Animals

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2011) — The genetic changes underlying the evolution of new species are still poorly understood. Genetic studies in domestic animals can shed light on this process due to the rapid evolution they have undergone over the last 10,000 years. A new study describes how a complex genomic rearrangement causes a fascinating phenotype in chickens.

In the study published in PLoS Genetics researchers at Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, North Carolina State University and National Chung-Hsing University have investigated the genetic basis of fibromelanosis, a breed characteristic of the Chinese Silkie chicken (image on left). This trait involves a massive expansion of pigment cells that not only makes the skin and comb black but also causes black internal organs. Chickens similar in appearance to the Silkie were described by Marco Polo when he visited China in the 13th century and Silkie chickens have a long history in Chinese cuisine and traditional Chinese medicine.

"We have shown that the genetic change causing fibromelanosis is a complex rearrangement that leads to increased expression of Endothelin 3, a gene which is known for promoting the growth of pigment cells," explains Ben Dorshorst the post-doctoral researcher responsible for the work.

The research group led by Leif Andersson has by now characterized a number of traits in domestic animals, and a clear trend is emerging, namely that genomic rearrangements have contributed significantly to the rapid evolution of domestic animals. Other examples include Greying with age in horses and mutations affecting the size and shape of the comb in chickens.

"We have good reason to believe that such rearrangements have also played a significant role in the evolution of other species, including ourselves," concludes Leif Andersson.

The researchers also studied other chicken breeds where fibromelanosis occurs, including the Bohuslän-Dals svarthöna breed (image on right) from Sweden, and they found that all fibromelanotic breeds carried the exact same very unusual mutation. This finding is consistent with anecdotal evidence suggesting that this Swedish breed of chicken inherited their black skin and internal connective tissue color from Asian chickens that were first brought to Norway by a sailor on the East Asian trade routes centuries ago. This is a nice example of how humans have distributed a single novel mutation with an interesting effect when they developed breeds of domestic animals around the world. -- It is obvious that humans have had a strong affection for biological diversity in their domestic animals, says Leif Andersson.
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