Monday 31 January 2011

Romney Marsh & Dungeness the last refuge of rare species

Monday, 31 January 2011

An area of Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay has been identified as one of the ten most important wildlife sites in the country by Natural England, the government’s advisor on the natural environment.

The sites, registered as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which mark the best examples of wildlife and geology that the UK can offer, are the last refuge of some of England’s rarest species. The Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay SSSI being the last place in the South East were the Sussex Emerald moth is found.

The larvae of the moth loves the Dungeness peninsular, where the caterpillar's favoured food – wild carrot – thrives on the free-draining, vegetated shingle.

Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, said: "SSSIs are often all that stand between some of our most threatened species and extinction. By providing essential habitat that may not be found elsewhere, they represent a life support system whose importance cannot be overstated. It’s important that we celebrate these last refuges and the species they sustain, so that we can ensure they receive the attention and support they need."

The Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay SSSI was one of 10 sites highlighted by Natural England without which the organisation says a number of fragile species clinging to survival would disappear from the UK and some would become globally extinct.

The other sites identified are:
  • Avon Gorge SSSI in Bristol/Somerset,
  • Derbyshire Cressbrook Dale SSSI,
  • Cranmore SSSI on the Isle of Wight,
  • Lindisfarne SSSI in Northumberland,
  • Windsor Forest and Great Park SSSI,
  • Upper Teesdale SSSI in Co. Durham.
Two sites Dorset and Cambridgeshire were also identified but remained undisclosed.

The ten SSSIs are among 4,119 across England, ranging from a 4.5 sq m barn in Gloucestershire (home to lesser horseshoe bats) to huge areas such as 37,000 hectares of the Humber estuary (where a colony of grey seals and 50,000 golden plovers are found) which in total cover more than 8 per cent of England.

Klamath Chinook Salmon Groups Seek Endangered Species Act Protection

JEFF BARNARD 01/27/11 02:37 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Conservation groups are seeking Endangered Species Act protection for chinook salmon in the Klamath River running from Southern Oregon across Northern California.

The petition filed Thursday with the NOAA Fisheries Service says spring chinook that once were the most prized and numerous of the salmon returning each year to the Klamath are down to between 300 and 3,000 that survive to spawn each year.

Fall chinook are doing better.

If granted, protection would further complicate the tough decisions on sharing scarce water between fish and farms in the Klamath Basin, where coho salmon and two species of suckers already are protected.

The proposal comes as the U.S. Department of Interior studies whether to go through with a landmark agreement to remove four hydroelectric dams on the river to help salmon.

Species-proving Kunimasu trout goes on display in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Copyright: © 2011, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Published: 01/29/11

KOFU, Japan — One of the fish that helped prove the long-lost species of kunimasu trout still exists went on display Saturday as part of a local festival in Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi, Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan.

The specimen put on display at Saiko Wild Birds' Forest Park as part of a juhyo (frost-covered tree) festival in Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi is a male kunimasu trout about 26 to 27 centimeters long.

It is one of nine fish caught in Saiko lake in the prefecture in March that were ultimately found to be kunimasu trout by Kyoto University Prof. Tetsuji Nakabo and Sakana-kun, a TV personality and guest associate professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.

Kunimasu trout were thought to have become extinct 70 years ago, but they were proven to be living in the lake in December.

Ice sculptures of kunimasu trout and Sakana-kun also are on display at the park.

250 species of birds counted in Berks in 2010

Originally Published: 1/31/2011
By Ken Lebo
Reading Eagle Correspondent

Birdwatchers tallied 250 species in Berks County for 2010, which is also the 10-year average. We did well with ducks, shorebirds, hawks and warblers. One bird that has been seen the last 10 years but was missed in 2010 was the semi-palmated plover, a shorebird that looks like a miniature killdeer.

We had some rare birds for Berks County and a new record, not only for the county, but the state. Here are some highlights of the year:

A male painted bunting visited the feeder of Mary Schmeck of Alsace Township on the afternoon of June 30. It stayed from 2 to 6 p.m. and was not seen again. This is a colorful songbird with a blue head, green wings and red body. It normally lives across the southern states from Arizona to South Carolina and into Mexico. This is the fifth county record.

Larry Koch and Barbara Murse feed ducks year round on the Wyomissing Creek in Mohnton. On Aug. 3, they saw two ducks that were unfamiliar. After studying field guides, they realized they had seen black-bellied whistling ducks. This is a very colorful, tall, long-legged duck with a gray head, reddish-orange bill, brownish-red chest and back with a black belly. The normal range for this duck is from Brazil north through Mexico and just into Texas and Arizona.

Koch called Jack Holcomb on the WEEU-AM radio show "Jack's Back Yard," and local birders were able to see and photograph the ducks. The colorful pair enjoyed the creek for five days before moving on. This is the second record for Berks County.

The most unusual shorebird was a buff-breasted sandpiper, which was was found by Matt Wlasniewski north of Topton on Aug. 30. It was with other shorebirds in a shallow pond off of Long Road until it was chased off by a merlin in late afternoon. This is a medium-sized shorebird with buffy underparts, brown wings, yellow legs, black eye and a short black bill. It breeds in the northern-most parts of North America and winters in southern Brazil. This is the fourth county record.

The bird of the year would be the adult female Anna's hummingbird, a bird that spends its summers along the Pacific Coast and winters in northern Mexico. Due to a glitch in its migrating program, it found its way to the feeder of Renee Gery of Shartlesville. This green hummingbird looks very similar to our female ruby-throated hummingbird but is slightly larger. Gery called Holcomb on his radio show on Nov. 20 and reported the bird. Scott Weidensaul (a hummingbird bander) was called and successfully banded and identified it as an Anna's. Many people were able to see and photograph the bird through the end of the year. This is a new county and state record.

On Nov. 24, Joan Silagy was taking her daily walk at Blue Marsh Lake. Hearing some chirps, she found an adult male yellow-throated warbler. This bird was looking for insects and spiders on the picnic tables, under fallen leaves, up in the trees and around the bathrooms of the beach area. It has a yellow throat, black tear-drop mask, white belly and gray wing with a white wing bar. Many people were able to see and photograph this bird through the end of the year. This species usually spends its summers in the southeastern United States and winters along the Gulf Coast and Caribbean Islands. If we see it in Berks County, it is usually in the spring in sycamore trees along Hay Creek.

It has been a busy birding year, and I look forward to seeing what next year brings.

Shark-Catching Nations Fail To Protect Threatened Species

NICOLE WINFIELD 01/27/11 03:10 PM

ROME — Two environmental groups on Thursday accused the 20 countries that catch the most sharks of failing to fulfill promises made to the U.N. to better conserve the animals that are increasingly threatened with extinction.

In 1999, more than 100 governments adopted a plan of action at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to try to stem overfishing of sharks, pledging, among other things, to develop national action plans to ensure that shark catches are sustainable.

The non-governmental groups Traffic and the Pew Environment Group said Thursday that only 13 of the top 20 shark catching countries had developed national plans, and that it was unclear if such plans had done any good where they were adopted.

They issued their report ahead of a meeting next week of government members of the FAO's fisheries committee, which will discuss the state of the world's fisheries in detail.

Some 73 million sharks are killed annually, primarily to meet the high demand in Asia for fins which are used in shark fin soup.

Because sharks are slow growing, late to mature and produce few young, they are unable to replenish their populations as quickly when they are caught. As a result, some 30 percent of all shark species are now threatened or nearly threatened with extinction.

Traffic and Pew analyzed fisheries data and made a list of the top 20 shark catchers which account for nearly 80 percent of the total shark catch reported globally. In order, the top 10 are Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia. Yet according to the two groups, Indonesia has only made a draft national plan and India is developing one. Other countries have adopted them but, because reporting is voluntary, it's not clear if they've been implemented or have done any good.

The groups urged governments at the FAO meeting next week to have the U.N. agency complete a thorough review to determine what countries have and haven't done to comply with their pledges to manage their fisheries.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the top 20 shark catchers, most of whom have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant, Traffic's global marine program leader.

Jill Hepp, manager of shark conservation for Pew, said sharks play a critical role in the ocean environment.

"Where shark populations are healthy, marine life thrives; but where they have been overfished, ecosystems fall out of balance," she said.

The report suggests that national action plans with lofty goals that are never implemented might not be the answer to saving sharks. Rather, countries that take smaller, incremental steps toward conservation might achieve better results.

It noted that Palau had announced in 2009 it would create the world's first shark sanctuary by banning all commercial shark fishing in its territorial waters and that Honduras had announced a moratorium on shark fishing last year.

Wolf sighting is ruled unsubstantiated

By Miles Blumhardt • • January 31, 2011

Was it a wolf that Ron Greenwald saw just east of Fort Collins last week, or just a big coyote?

Or could it have been a wandering wolf hybrid?

Greenwald, who lives near Colorado Highway 14 and Larimer County Road 3, is sure he saw through binoculars on Tuesday a wolf on a ridge about 100 yards away from his house catching mice in a pasture with some cut corn.

Mark Leslie, Division of Wildlife area manager for the Fort Collins-Greeley area, isn't so sure.

"I saw a wolf, but I guess I'm just a farm boy, and some people will say I saw a coyote or dog,’’ said the retired Greenwald, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 35 years and said he’s seen wolves in the wild in Wyoming. “I guess it could have been a wolf hybrid, but it wasn’t a coyote or dog.’’

Greenwald described the animal as the size of a good-sized dog mostly brown with some black and gray. Coyotes are mostly gray with some buff color and do not possess black coloring. Wolves are much larger than coyotes and usually are gray or black with some buff coloring.

Leslie talked to Greenwald after being informed by the Coloradoan of the sighting. After interviewing Greenwald, who did not have photos of the animal, and not finding any tracks or hair, Leslie said he has a lack of solid information that it actually was a wolf.

“The place where he saw the animal was an area with houses nearby, and that’s not typical wolf habitat,’’ said Leslie, who visited the site where Greenwald said he saw the animal. “I didn’t find anything. With nothing else to go on, the sighting is ruled unsubstantiated.’’

Wolves are classified as endangered in Colorado. The state’s wolf population was largely extirpated in the 1940s.

However, wandering wolves have made appearances from time to time in the state. Most recently, two wolves were spotted in Colorado in 2009. One died of poisoning in Eagle County.

Leslie said that’s the last confirmed sighting of wolves in Colorado of which he is aware. In February 2007, DOW wildlife managers captured brief video of what appeared to be a wolf north of Walden.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Cross-eyed opossum on diet to improve health and eye alignment

Published: 30 Jan 11 10:47 CET

A cross-eyed opossum from Leipzig Zoo has been put on a diet which will not only make her slimmer and healthier – it may also help her eyes look in the same direction.

Heidi the cross-eyed opossum became an internet sensation after being moved from North Carolina, via Denmark to the east German zoo.

Someone set up a Facebook page for her which has as of Sunday morning, prompted 284,547 people to note that they ‘like this’, and thousands to leave comments on how sweet they think she is.

Click here for a Heidi photo gallery.

Yet her eye problem – likely caused by fatty deposits behind her eyes – is symptomatic of her general obesity which zookeepers in Leipzig now say they are tackling.

“She is making clear progress with mobility, and can now use her tail much better to hold onto things,” said Maria Saegebarth, spokeswoman for the zoo.

She said the opossum’s obesity is thought to have been responsible for her eye problem.

Saegebarth said Heidi is becoming more active as she loses weight out of sight of the public in a private area of the zoo. She will be put in the new giant tropical hall which is due to be opened in July.


Coyotes sighted near Manitoba school

Last Updated: Friday, January 28, 2011 | 12:23 PM CST

A coyote sighting near a rural Manitoba school prompted staff to keep kids inside on Thursday.

Officials with the Rural Municipality of St. Francois Xavier called to warn administrators at St. Francois Xavier Community School that some of the animals were seen in the area.

Staff kept an eye out for the animals but didn't see any during the morning, so the kids were allowed to go outside for recess.

But the principal spotted two coyotes in a field near the school grounds in the afternoon, leading to a cancellation of the afternoon recess, said Bruce Wood, superintendent of Prairie Rose School Division.

Although coyotes are typically shy around people, "any wild animal is unpredictable and we certainly don't want any kind of an incident with children," he said, noting that is the first time a coyote has been that close to the school.

Wood said there have been no further sightings since then, and the municipality's pest control officer is on alert.

The school also sent a note home about the incident.

Parent Theresa Montgomery applauded the school's decision to keep the students inside, but said coyotes aren't uncommon in the area.

"It's just one of the facts of living in a rural area," she said.

Wisconsin DNR says animal sighted not a cougar

Associated Press

The state Department of Natural Resources says there is no evidence that an animal sighted in southern Wisconsin last week was a cougar.

DNR Warden Ryan Ellifson says the possible sighting happened last Thursday about 7:30 a.m. in the town of Koshkonong. The animal was seen about 200 to 300 yards away, toward the center of a field.

A motorist — who usually looks for deer — saw something that "did not look like a deer."

A Jefferson County sheriff's deputy went to the scene, but by the time he arrived, there was nothing to see.

The DNR warden who investigated tells the Daily Jefferson County Union that he found "nothing that looked like it could be a cougar or even cat-like." He says it could have been a coyote.

Hip cat: Tiger gets landmark artificial joint operation

Published: 27 Jan 11 16:03 CET

A tiger in Germany has become the world's first to be given an artificial hip after a three-hour-operation by a team of vets that she only barely survived, Leipzig University said on Thursday.

Girl, as the Malayan tiger at Halle Zoo in eastern Germany is known, had been in visible pain for close to a year because of problems in her right hip joint, the university said.

"Malayan tigers are one of the world's most endangered species, with only around 500 estimated to be living in the wild. This was another reason to operate on Girl," a statement said.

The ferocious eight-year-old feline patient was not that long in the tooth either, with a life expectancy of 20.

During the operation by five specialists, Girl's heart came close to stopping, but anaesthetist Michaele Alef was able to save her.

Girl is now recovering in a separate enclosure back in Halle Zoo, and once a six-week danger period when the new hip could dislocate is over, there is a chance that it will last her the rest of her life.

"We are happy," said Peter Boettcher, another member of the team that also included Italian Aldo Vezzoni, a specialist with a wealth of experience fitting artificial hips in dogs, who worked for free.

Artificial hips of the kind implanted into Girl were first developed by professor Pierre Montavon from the University of Zurich with Swiss firm Kyon, and contain titanium for better performance and durability.

They were first used only in dogs but in recent years have also been implanted in humans.


Saturday 29 January 2011

Royal Bengal Tigers Get GPS Treatment, New Plans to Save the Endangered Species

BY Jenara Nerenberg
Fri Jan 28, 2011

Poachers beware--the World Wildlife Fund is armed with GPS tracking devices and far-reaching plans to help tigers re-produce.

Tigers in the Himalayas were a big issue this week, as a study co-authored by WWF scientists was published by Conservation Letters, detailing how the world's endangered tigers--many of which are in Nepal, Bhutan, and India--could triple with proper land management. News also came directly out of Nepal that it had successfully installed a GPS tracking kit on a Royal Bengal tiger and then transported the tiger from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park. The goal of the tracking is to place the tiger in a safer, breeding-friendly environment. (At right, WWF-US president and CEO Carter Roberts fits a GLOBALSTAR-3 satellite collar on the wild tiger 'Namobuddha' in preparation for translocation.)

"We have one of the highest densities of tigers. If our landscapes are properly managed, then our number of tigers can triple," WWF Nepal Conservation Program Director, Ghana Gurung, tells Fast Company. "We're committed to doubling our number of tigers by 2022."

The global tiger population has decreased from 100,000 to 3,200 in just a century, due to profit-seeking poachers as well as, in the case of Nepal, war-inflicted habitat destruction.

"Therefore, habitat management is essential," says Gurung. And the most important finding to come out of the study is that by preserving corridors that link breeding areas, tigers will more freely roam and breed.

If, however, they are confined to small areas--and areas that are disconnected from each other--the population begins to decrease.

Of course protecting those breeding grounds is also essential. Poachers throughout Asia hunt in search of high profits from sales to China for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

"We absolutely need to stop the bleeding, the poaching of tigers and their prey in core breeding areas," says co-author Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at WWF. "But we need to go much further and secure larger tiger landscapes before it is too late."

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

[Image: Carter Roberts, President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund, with Minister of Forest and Soil Conservation of Nepal, Deepak Bohara (standing, left), fitting a GPS plus GLOBALSTAR-3 satellite collar on the wild tiger 'Namobuddha' before it was translocated to Bardia National Park from Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Courtesy WWF/Min Bajracharya]

'Godzilla-like creature' nabbed in Calif. town

Owner reunited with 5-foot-long lizard that wandered free for a couple days staff and news service reports
updated 1/26/2011 9:41:39 PM ET

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Animal services officers often get calls reporting "huge," monstrous reptiles, only to arrive and find an itty-bitty garden snake.

But people strolling along Grambling Way, near Massachusetts Avenue, in Riverside Tuesday got a shock when they found they were sharing the sidewalk with a five-foot-long monitor lizard.

"It was just walking along," said John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Department of Animal Services. "People were stunned by the size of this thing. It looks like the size of a small alligator."

Animal control officer Jenny Selter was dispatched to the scene. "She said she saw it and almost jumped back in her truck," Walsh said. "The residents were freaking out because here's the Godzilla-like creature walking down the sidewalk."

Selter managed to get a catch pole — a long pole with a loop at the end that's used to handle vicious dogs — around the animal's neck, Welsh said. It was docile at first, but then it started hissing.

A police officer grabbed the lizard's body while Selter held onto its sharp, lashing tail, and together they put it in a compartment of her truck that's usually used for large dogs.

Black-throated monitor lizards are carnivorous, legal to own in California and native to the African grasslands and parts of Asia. Juveniles go for about $100 in pet stores, but they grow.

Back at the shelter, staff found the reptile was well-behaved for a monitor lizard.

"The last one we had was nasty. But this one doesn't hiss and we were able to walk it around. It was investigating and didn't snap at anyone," Welsh said. "We suspect that it's been someone's pet for a long time, because it's so big. I think they might let it wander around the house. Maybe it sleeps on a bean bag?"

Later Wednesday, owner Tom Casarez Jr. of Riverside was reunited with the lizard, named Elmer, Welsh said on the Animal Services website.

Casarez told officers that Elmer had been missing since Sunday. Elmer's tank was being cleaned, and a door in the residence was left open, allowing the lizard to slip out unnoticed.

Welsh said Animal Services officers visited Casarez's home and determined Elmer was being properly cared for.

Noting that Elmer is a carnivore, Welsh said there hadn't been any reports of missing pets in the neighborhood.

5-foot Monitor Lizard, 'Godzilla-Like Creature,' Freaks Out Residents In California Neighborhood

01/25/11 10:37 PM

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Animal services officers often get calls reporting "huge," monstrous reptiles, only to arrive and find an itty-bitty garden snake.

The 5-foot Monitor lizard wandering around a condo complex in the city of Riverside was way bigger than animal control officer Jenny Selter could have imagined.

"She said she saw it and almost jumped back in her truck," said John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Animal Services. "The residents were freaking out because here's the Godzilla-like creature walking down the sidewalk."

Selter managed to get a catch pole – a long pole with a loop at the end that's used to handle vicious dogs – around the animal's neck, Welsh said. It was docile at first, but then it started hissing.

A police officer grabbed the lizard's body while Selter held onto its sharp, lashing tail, and together they put it in a compartment of her truck that's usually used for large dogs.

Black-throated Monitor lizards are carnivorous, legal to own in California and native to the African grasslands and parts of Asia. Juveniles go for about $100 in pet stores, but they grow.

Back at the shelter, staff found the reptile was well-behaved for a Monitor lizard.

"The last one we had was nasty. But this one doesn't hiss and we were able to walk it around. It was investigating and didn't snap at anyone," Welsh said. "We suspect that it's been someone's pet for a long time, because it's so big. I think they might let it wander around the house. Maybe it sleeps on a bean bag?"

Welsh thinks the scaly pet might have escaped its cage or gotten loose while its owner was away, and he hoped its owner comes to claim it soon.

Ex-policeman in 'big cat' sighting

Sightings of a 'big cat' described
as similar to a puma are being
treated as authentic, a council said, Updated: 28/01/2011 22:20

Council chiefs have hailed a big cat sighting as the best ever proof the so-called mythical beasts really exist.

A former policeman based in west Wales spotted a "puma or panther-like animal" as recently as Wednesday.

Michael Disney now works for Pembrokeshire County Council's Public Protection Division and his sighting is being treated as authentic. While he gathered no photographic or other evidence, his sighting appears to give greater credence to the so-called big cat myth.

Stories of feline beasts living in remote corners of the UK are so common there is barely a region of the country without one - from the Beast of Bodmin in Cornwall to sightings in Kent and all over the north of England, such stories are common rural legends.

The latest sighting comes days after the government environment watchdog for England dismissed the existence of big cats. Experts with Natural England said in a report that they were confident no breeding populations of big cats exist in Britain.

Pembrokeshire Council begs to differ and is so convinced by Mr Disney that it is urging the public to report any sightings. It published extracts of the statement made by their man, which has been passed to the police.

Mr Disney's encounter happened in broad daylight in countryside six miles north of Haverfordwest, near Treffgarne village. He was driving his council car on a single track road at 15mph when a large black "puma or panther" crossed five metres in front of him.

He said: "I immediately stopped my vehicle and stared at this animal. It had a large cat-like head, muscular build and was approximately three feet tall.

"It was bigger and more muscular than a German shepherd dog. The coat was smooth and looked like it had brown spots on it. I had a clear, unobstructed view of the animal and the visibility was excellent."

He added: "I am 100% certain that this was a puma or panther-like animal and was definitely not a dog, cat or any other domestic animal. It was not something I had seen before other than in a zoo."

Friday 28 January 2011

'Best-ever' big cat sighting reported in Wales

Rachael Misstear, WalesOnline
Jan 28 2011

A WELSH authority is investigating what it described as the ‘best ever’ sighting of an elusive big cat, after it was reported by one of its own officers.

The large puma-like animal crossed a road just feet in front of a vehicle driven by a county council officer.

Michael Disney, who works for the authority’s Public Protection Division, encountered the animal on Wednesday afternoon in countryside near the village of Treffgarne six miles north of Haverfordwest.

In a statement which has been passed to police, he said he was travelling at around 10 to 15 mph down a single-track lane when a large, black “puma or panther” crossed just five metres in front of his car.

Michael, a former police officer, said: “I immediately stopped my vehicle and stared at this animal. It had a large cat-like head, muscular build and was approximately three feet tall.

“It was bigger and more muscular than a German Shepherd dog. The coat was smooth and looked like it had brown spots on it.

“I had a clear, unobstructed view of the animal and the visibility was excellent

“The animal was in my view for fully five to six seconds, the time it took to cover the width of the road and then disappear into the undergrowth at the side.”

“I am 100% certain that this was a puma or panther-like animal and was definitely not a dog, cat or any other domestic animal. It was not something I had seen before other than in a zoo.”

Michael’s initial concern was for the safety of the public so he drove to a nearby farm and spoke to the owner who revealed she had seen a large puma-like animal near her farm a few weeks earlier.

Chief Inspector Steve Matchett of Dyfed Powys Police said: “We are aware of a possible big cat sighting in the Treffgarne area of north Pembrokeshire, which occurred on Wednesday ( January 26).

“We’re working with all relevant agencies including Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly Government’s Big Cat Sighting Unit has also been informed.

“While the public should not be alarmed by this latest possible sighting, we would urge anyone who does see what they think might be a big cat not to approach the animal, and to stay a safe distance away from it.”

Wednesday’s encounter is the latest in a line of big cat sightings in Pembrokeshire.

The last publicised incident was in November when the carcass of a sheep was reported to bear the hallmarks of a big cat kill.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Head of Public Protection, Mark Elliott, said the latest sighting was the most definitive yet in the County.“We believe this is the closest anyone has been to a big cat in the wild and is further proof that there is a least one large animal roaming free in Pembrokeshire” he added.

If anyone has actual evidence of the presence of a big cat they should inform the Council’s Contact Centre on 01437 764551.

Experts believe that it is highly unlikely that such animals pose a threat to the public. However if anyone feels they are in immediate danger from a big cat then they should call 999 and ask for police assistance.
(Submitted by Jacqueline Wilson)

Rare Moth Thrives in "Last Refuge" on the Island

Thursday, January 27th 2011 07:00

The Isle of Wight is the last refuge for a rare moth.

A report by Natural England, called Protecting England's Natural Treasures, shows the reddish buff species is now confined to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Cranmore, one of the three most important sites for rare wildlife in the country.

The insect was previously found in Hampshire and Dorset, but attempts to reintroduce the moth to the mainland have failed.

The report highlights the hard work of landowners, farmers and volunteers who have transformed the fortunes of England's SSSIs, halting or reversing the long process of decline experienced by many SSSIs over recent decades.

Without these wildlife havens, the report says, a number of fragile species clinging to survival would disappear from the UK and some would become globally extinct.

Richard Grogan, from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, told IW Radio: "Cranmore has a number of small areas of land that have not been improved by chemicals or application of fertilizer or ploughing, and so they are very old grasslands. And it is in those grasslands that a plant called saw-wort lives and it's the food plant for this very rare moth.

"We have to keep the grassland open and sunny so we have spent a long time removing small, scrubby thorn trees from the site where the food plant grows. The residents are very keen to help and we call it [the moth] the Giant Panda of the Isle of Wight."

Work to enhance the moth's habitat at Cranmore has been funded by the West Wight Landscape Partnership, of which Natural England is a partner, and Higher Level Stewardship agreements.

'Large cat fight' sound heard before savaged lamb is found

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reports of a mysterious big cat stalking the valley of the River Axe have been revived following a gruesome find.

John Knott from Henton found the shredded carcass of a lamb behind the village hall on Monday.

Pictures of what remains of the lamb – too gruesome for publication in a family newspaper – show that it appears a large predator has literally ripped the animal limb from limb.

Every scrap of meat has been taken, along with the front legs and head of the animal, leaving just its spine, ribs and back legs.

Mr Knott said that he heard a disturbance in a field near to the village hall on Monday and that there had been disturbances in the village for up to a week before the attack.

He said: "About a week ago I was going to feed the animals.

"There is an area known as the T-Ground of brambles and undergrowth with is too steep to farm, and has been left to go back to scrubland.

"There was a loud sound like a large cat fight. As I got nearer – it was 200 yards away – it got louder and louder.

"It was the same volume as cats fighting around your feet, but the noise came from a long way away.

"The horses panicked and the sheep started to flock."

Then on Monday he found the evidence of the attack.

"The night before I remember the neighbour took her dog out late at night and it was very spooked, staring up at the T-Ground, as if something was disturbing it," he said.

"From where I found the lamb, the cat must have climbed over the wall to bring it in."

The area around Bleadney, Henton and Wookey is home to regular reports of big cat activity each winter, with farm animals and wild deer savaged by an unknown attacker.

There have been suggestions that the predators live on the Mendip Hills but come down to the Axe Valley in winter when pickings become scarce.

Have you seen evidence of a big cat or other predator in the area round Henton?

Call the newsdesk on 01749 832335.

US fugitive 'planned suicide by bear'

# From correspondents in Flagstaff, Arizona
# From: AP
# January 28, 2011

A CONVICTED killer who escaped from an Arizona prison says his plan was to overdose on heroin at Yellowstone National Park and let bears eat him.

Tracy Province told a sheriff's detective about his plan after he was captured in August and returned to Arizona.

According to a sheriff's report, Province planned to shoot a gram of heroin and become bear food.

He says he didn't follow through because of divine intervention and because Yellowstone was too cold.

Province told authorities he then tried to hitchhike to Indiana to see his family.

He was captured August 9 in Wyoming, 10 days after he and two others escaped from a minimum-security prison near Kingman, Arizona.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper first reported the interview today.

Bigfoot is real, Idaho researcher to tell IUS audience

The Courier-Journal • January 25, 2011

Jeff Meldrum, an Idaho State University biology professor, will visit Indiana University Southeast to share the science behind Bigfoot in a seminar hosted by the School of Natural Sciences, the university announced Tuesday morning.

Despite sensationalism and hoaxes surrounding sightings of giant apes commonly referred to as Bigfoot or Sasquatch, Meldrum is expected to share scientific evidence that giant ape footprints do exist and warrant evaluation. His seminar will be at 12:20 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Life Science Building, room 235.

Meldrum, whose research has focused about vertebrate and evolutionary morphology, also will sign his book, “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.”

For more information, call the IUS School of Natural Sciences at (812) 941-2284.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Egyptian jackal is actually ancient wolf

Long suspected by some biologists, genetic research
has shown that the Egyptian jackal is actually a wolf.
Jeremy Hance
January 26, 2011

The Egyptian jackal, which may have been the inspiration for the Egyptian god Anubis, is actually not a jackal at all but a member of the wolf family. New genetic research in the open-access journal PLoS ONE finds that the Egyptian jackal is Africa's only member of the gray wolf family. The new wolf, dubbed by researchers as the African wolf, is most closely related to the Himalayan wolf.

"We could hardly believe our own eyes when we found wolf DNA that did not match anything in GenBank," lead author, Dr Eli Rueness, said in a press release. GenBank is an open-access nucleotide database.

The genetic data also points to an early origin for the Egyptian jackal/African wolf. In fact, researchers believe the animal is older than well-known wolves of the northern hemisphere. According to the study, Indian, Himalayan, and the new African wolf, broke off from the gray wolf before it moved north, colonizing Europe, northern Asia, and the Americas, further subdividing into different subspecies. Ethiopian wolves, which are a unique species of canids, are older still. 

The study does not appear to make a recommendation whether or not this new wolf should be considered a unique species in its own right or another subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Currently, gray wolf subspecies number in the thirties, and distinction between species and subspecies continues to be debated for a number of them.

However the new African wolf is classified, researchers argue the discovery must change how the animal is viewed in conservation. The authors call for the African wolf to be assessed individually, especially considering evidence that the animal is rare. The animal is not protected in Egypt and is often persecuted as it is considered a threat to livestock.

In good news, the researchers discovered that the African wolf, previously Egyptian jackal, is actually present in the Ethiopian highlands, expanding its known range considerably. 

"This study shows the strengths of modern genetic techniques: old puzzles can be solved," Nils Chr. Stenseth, Chair of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) and an author of the paper, says.

Citation: Rueness EK, Asmyhr MG, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald DW, Bekele A, et al. (2011) The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster Is Not a Golden Jackal and Is Not Endemic to Egypt. PLoS ONE 6(1): e16385. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016385 

(Submitted by Chad Arment)

See also:
(Submitted by Dawn Holloway)

Shark nations failing on conservation pledges

Dead sharks on beach Governments are supposed to "encourage full utilisation of dead sharks" - but fins are targeted

Many countries whose fishing fleets catch large numbers of sharks have failed to meet a 10-year-old pledge on conserving the species, a report says.

The wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic and the Pew Environment Group say most of the main shark fishing nations do not manage fisheries well.

Ten years ago, governments agreed a global plan to conserve sharks.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, with nearly a third of species at risk of extinction.

Many fisheries target the fins for use in shark fin soup; and a number of countries, inclduing the US, have recently passed measures aimed at regulating the trade.

Neither of the two countries catching the most sharks - Indonesia and India - has yet finalised national plans of action for protecting sharks.

This was one of the main recommendations of the 2001 agreement under the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that sharks needed international management.

Of the top 20 shark-catching nations, which collectively account for 80% of the global catch, only 13 have national plans in place.

"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the top 20 shark catchers, most of which have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant, leader of Traffic's global marine programme.

"They need to take action to stop the decline in shark populations, and help ensure that the list of species threatened by overfishing does not continue to grow."

Whale shark The whale shark, the world's biggest fish, is shrinking because of overfishing

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they live long lives and reproduce slowly.

As well as intentional fishing, many are caught accidentally in large nets and on the hooks of longline boats targeting species such as tuna and marlin.

Traffic and Pew are asking the FAO to review implementation of the 10-year-old agreement when it meets later this year.

The 10 recommendations to governments agreed back in 2001 include identifying and protecting key habitat, ensuring catches are sustainable, and minimising waste and discards.

Many sharks are top predators; and there is an abundance of biological evidence to show their removal can have major impacts on the rest of the ecosystem.

"Where shark populations are healthy, marine life beneath the waves thrives; but where they have been overfished we see that world fall out of balance," said Jill Hepp, Pew's global shark conservation manager.

"Shark-catching countries and entities must stand by their commitments and act now to conserve and protect these animals."

Humans 'left Africa much earlier'

Jebel Faya The tools from Jebel Faya (pictured) were made by modern humans, the researchers argue

Modern humans may have emerged from Africa up to 50,000 years earlier than previously thought, a study suggests.

Researchers have uncovered stone tools in the Arabian peninsula that they say were made by modern humans about 125,000 years ago.

The tools were unearthed at the site of Jebel Faya in the United Arab Emirates, a team reports in the journal Science.

The results are controversial: genetic data strongly points to an exodus from Africa 60,000-70,000 years ago.

Simon Armitage, from Royal Holloway, University of London, Hans-Peter Uerpmann, from the University of Tuebingen, Germany, and colleagues, uncovered 125,000-year-old stone tools at Jebel Faya which resemble those found in East Africa at roughly the same time period.

The authors of the study say the people who made the tools were newcomers in the area with origins on the other side of the Red Sea.

The researchers were able to date the tools using a light-based technique, which tells scientists when the stone artefacts were buried.

Genetics questioned

So-called anatomically modern humans are thought to have emerged somewhere in Africa some 200,000 years ago.

They later spread out, migrating to other continents where they displaced the indigenous human groups such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the Denisovans in Asia.

DNA from the cell's powerhouses - or mitochondria - can be used as a "clock" for reconstructing the timing of human migrations. This is because mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) accumulates mutations, or changes, at a known rate.

Tools from Jebel Faya Researchers used a dating technique that relies on when the tools were buried

Studies of mtDNA had suggested a timing for the "Out of Africa" exodus of 60-70,000 years ago.

But scientists behind the latest study argue that the people who made tools at Jebel Faya 125,000 years ago are ancestral to humans living outside Africa today.

Professor Uerpmann said the estimates of time using genetic data were "very rough".

"The domestic dog was said to be 120,000 years old, and now it is 20,000. You can imagine how variable the genetic dating is," he explained.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at London's Natural History Museum, said: "This archaeological work by Armitage and colleagues provides important clues that early modern humans might have dispersed from Africa across Arabia, as far as the Straits of Hormuz, by 120,000 years ago.

"This research augments the controversial idea that such populations could have migrated even further across southern Asia, despite conflicting genetic data that such movements only occurred after 60,000 years."

Multiple migrations?

The researchers say the toolmakers at Jebel Faya may have reached the Arabian Peninsula at a time when changes in the climate were transforming it from arid desert into a grassland habitat with lakes and rivers.

These human groups could later have moved on towards the Persian Gulf, trekking around the Iranian coast and on to South Asia.

Indeed, Dr Mike Petraglia at the University of Oxford has uncovered tools in India that he says could have been made by modern humans before 60,000 years ago. Some tools were sandwiched in ash from the eruption of the Toba super-volcano in Indonesia that geologists can date very accurately to 74,000 years ago.

However, other researchers suggest that the people living in India at this time could have died out and been replaced by a later wave of humans.

Anthropologists already knew of an early foray out of Africa by modern humans. Remains found at Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel date to between 119,000 and 81,000 years ago.

But the Skhul and Qafzeh people are generally thought to have died out or retreated south, perhaps because of climatic fluctuations. They subsequently disappear, and their sites are re-occupied by Neanderthals.

Professor Stringer said the fact that the tools found at Jebel Faya did not resemble those associated with modern humans at Qafzeh and Skhul hinted at "yet more complexity in the exodus of modern humans from Africa".

He posed the question: "Could there have been separate dispersals, one from East Africa into Arabia, and another from North Africa into the Levant?"

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Bats Use Carnivorous Pitcher Plant as Living Toilet

By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor
posted: 25 January 2011 07:11 pm ET

Birds may bomb cars with airborne droppings, but apparently bats use living toilets made of carnivorous plants, gracing them with their fecal matter, scientists find.

Pitcher plants get their name from the long jug-like structures they form from rolled-up leaves. These pitchers serve as pitfall traps, with digestive fluids to liquefy any hapless victims (typically insects) that fall in.

Scientists recently discovered that small mammals known as tree shrews on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo don't end up as doomed victims of the carnivorous plant — instead, they sit on the rims of one such pitcher plant Nepenthes lowii and then poop inside.

As ignoble as this might seem, this is a win-win situation for both the pitchers and tree shrews. The plants cover the pitcher lids with nectar that the critters readily lick for nourishment, while the excrement serves as much-needed fertilizer. (This is why carnivorous plants normally trap insects — to get valuable nutrients.)

Now it turns out pitcher plants are not exclusive bathrooms. Scientists have discovered the small woolly bat Kerivoula hardwickii uses a different type of pitcher in Borneo, Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata, as a lavatory and home as well.

Bat roosts

Tropical ecologist Ulmar Grafe at the University of Brunei Darussalam in Brunei first started working on the island of Borneo investigating how tadpoles can survive within the fluid of pitcher plants.

"It was a hot and humid day in the peat swamp forest and a student calls out, 'Ulmar, have a look at this — there's a bat in this pitcher,'" Grafe recalled. "We squeezed it out the top, and it was alive and well, obviously using the pitcher as a daytime roost."

Other people had seen bats roosting in the pitchers but they put it off as coincidental. "We were seeing it too often, however," Grafe said.

The pitchers of N. rafflesiana elongata are actually poor insect traps, capturing up to seven times fewer insects than typical varieties and possessing relatively little in the way of insect-attracting scents and digestive fluid. As such, "maybe the pitchers are modified in a way that attracts bats," Grafe said. "Bat roosting may not be coincidental." [Pitcher Plant Eats Rodents]

To learn more about the relationship between the small woolly bats and the plants, the researchers stuck radio transmitters onto 17 bats they found in pitchers.

"We had to use the lightest, custom-made transmitters possible, weighing only 0.4 grams, probably the smallest ones used to track animals so far, to minimize any effect of transmitter weight on bat behavior — the bats weigh 4 grams on average," Grafe said.

Not only was it tricky gluing transmitters onto the bats, "one of my students was in the peat swamp one day checking the roosts with her mother of all people, and she calls me all excited saying that she doesn't dare check one of the pitchers because a pit viper is perched beside it," Grafe said. "I told her not to worry and in just over an hour I arrived at the site and removed the viper, not wanting to be responsible for any mishap. I took the viper home as a pet, to the enjoyment of my two young kids."

Also, "my students from Germany were living with local hosts nearby who mentioned that bats were quite tasty and also healthy for pregnant women," he added. "Needless to say, we did not let them know where 'our' bats were to be found."

After their hard work, the scientists found these bats exclusively used pitchers of N. rafflesiana elongata as their daytime roosts. During the course of a roughly six-week period in 2009, they saw that 64 plants out of 223 they monitored harbored at least one bat in one of its pitchers.

The pitchers lent ample space for the bats to roost above the digestive fluid — the pitchers of N. rafflesiana elongata are up to four times longer than typical varieties of pitcher plant. Indeed, on two separate occasions, young bats shared the same pitchers with their mothers.

The scientists also compared pitchers of N. rafflesiana elongata that served as roosts and ones that were never occupied, which the researchers had monitored since they opened. They found leaves of roost pitchers had significantly higher levels of the vital nutrient nitrogen, with which excrement is loaded.

Mutually beneficial

As is the case with tree shrews and N. lowii, the bat and N. rafflesiana elongata mutually benefit from their relationship. The pitchers get excrement as fertilizer, while the bats gain valuable shelter. Indeed, these pitchers taper distinctly in their lower halves — the bats can thus rest inside by just wedging in their heads instead of trying to cling to the slippery pitcher walls.

It seems likely these different cases of poop-scooping are independent evolutionary events. N. lowii grows in areas where there seem to be low numbers of insects, so they need to get nitrogen from somewhere, and tree shrews turned up as the answer. In the case of N. rafflesiana elongata, small forest bats often find it difficult to find appropriate roosts, and coincidental use of pitchers may have evolved into a regular practice if the pitchers responded by making them more attractive as roosts.

"We believe our study is the most conclusive case to date of a mutualistic association between a carnivorous plant and a mammal," Grafe said. "I hope that more people will become fascinated by the extraordinary biology of pitcher plants. We are still learning so much about these plants and their ecology."

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 26 in the journal Biology Letters.

Mad cow drags police officer along country road

Stand-off as animal now penned inside field ...
Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A cow ran down four people, including a police officer, after it escaped from a market and ran wild along a busy road in the Republic of Ireland

The animal had escaped from the market on the Quin Road, Ennis, Co Clare, and was so dangerously out of control that efforts by a vet to put it down were abandoned for safety reasons.

The cow was eventually herded back to the mart but it failed to calm down. Several farmers later forced the animal in to a nearby field.

Earlier, a garda who had been trying to corral the cow was knocked over and dragged along the road by the animal.

Several members of the public who had also tried to bring the animal under control were also knocked over.

The garda and three others sustained only minor injuries and did not require hospital treatment. Last night the cow remained penned inside the field but concerns that it could escape and cause further chaos remained.

ISPCA animal welfare officer Frankie Coote refused to rule out the possibility that the cow would have to be put down.

Mr Coote, who was also called to the scene, said: "This cow was rogue and was out of control. This was a serious situation and rogue animals like this can be extremely dangerous. Members of the public should never try to approach an agitated animal like this. I was shocked to see the people ignore warnings from the guards to get out of the way.

"People should consider their own safety first, take cover and raise the alarm."

One local woman said: "I have never seen anything like that in my life. I thought it was a bull but it goes to show that a cow can be just as dangerous. I can't believe no one was killed."

Source Irish Independent

Kangaroos invade Hanging Rock races

# January 26, 2011 2:59PM

KANGAROOS have forced organisers to abandon the Hanging Rock Australia Day races in Victoria.

The first race was delayed twice and finally cancelled, along with the rest of the day's meeting, after a mob of kangaroos invaded the track.

One roo reportedly bounded down the home straight during the second attempt to run the race.

The Hanging Rock Racing Club holds only two race meetings a year - on New Year's Day and Australia Day - in a tradition going back more than 125 years.

The race track is at the foot of the famous Hanging Rock formation in the Macedon Ranges.

The area is famed as the setting of Picnic At Hanging Rock, a novel and subsequent film about the mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls and a teacher on an outing at Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day 1900.

Two-clawed and parrot-sized: new T.rex cousin unveiled

25 January 2011
By Neil Bowdler
Science reporter, BBC News

A tiny distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex has been discovered in China with only a single claw on each forelimb.

Linhenykus monodactylus weighed no more than a large parrot and was found in sediments between 84 and 75 million years old.

The dinosaur belongs to a sub-branch of the theropods, the dinosaur group which includes T.rex and Velociraptor, and which gave rise to modern birds.

Details are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new species was named after the Chinese city of Linhe, Inner Mongolia, near where its fossilised remains was uncovered in what is called the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai Formation.

The international team found a partial skeleton, including bones of the vertebrae, forelimb, hind limbs, and a partial pelvis

It is part of the Alvarezsauroidea family of theropods, a group of small, long-legged dinosaurs, known for their strange and tiny arms.

Michael Pittman of University College London, who was part of the team, says the animal would hardly have been intimidating.

"You'd see a very small animal, probably below your hip height, with a very small skull. It's not very threatening because its teeth are very small compared to other carnivorous dinosaurs and there's some evidence it may have been an insectivore," he told the BBC.

What is striking is the animal's unusual claws.

"Non-avian theropods start with five fingers but evolved to have only three fingers in later forms," he says. "Tyrannosaurs were unusual in having just two fingers but the one-fingered Linhenykus shows how extensive and complex theropod hand modifications really were."
Disappearing fingers

The suggestion is that this mono-digit theropod may represent the end of one evolutionary pathway, in which unused digits disappear as part of a process of natural selection.

"Vestigial structures, like legs in whales and snakes, may appear and disappear seemingly randomly in the course of evolution," says Jonah Choiniere of the American Museum of Natural History, who also worked on the find.

"Linhenykus highlights complexity in evolution of these vestigial fingers."

Dr Paul Barrett of London's Natural History Museum said the discovery was a "nice specimen" to add to a sub-group already known for its weirdness.

"Alvarezsauroids are already known to be an unusual group of theropods with very bizarre hands used primarily for digging, and this new find confirms there was some variation in how weird these hands were."
(Submitted by Dawn Holloway)

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Delving Into the Past of a Big Cat: Clouded Leopard Redefined

A photograph of a clouded leopard from Borneo (Neofelis diardi borneensis) taken in 2009 by an automated camera-trap set up by the Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah (ConCaSa) project in Tangkulap Forest Reserve, Sabah Malaysia. (Credit: Photo copyright of Wilting & Mohamed, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department.)
ScienceDaily (Jan. 24, 2011) — Using genetic and morphological analyses, an international team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, has recently demonstrated that the clouded leopard (Neofelis) should not only be classified into two species, but that one of which even comprises two distinct subspecies.

As shown in 2006, the genus Neofelis comprises two species living with distinct distributions. Clouded leopards from Borneo and Sumatra are genetically and morphologically highly distinct from their relatives on the mainland (Neofelis nebulosa) and thus form a separate species, the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi).

Following up on these findings, a team of researchers led by Andreas Wilting and Joerns Fickel of the IZW collected fur and bone samples of the clouded leopard from natural history museums worldwide, with the aim of elucidating to what extent the spatially distinct populations of the Sunda clouded leopard have followed different evolutionary paths. "Although we suspected that Sunda clouded leopards on Borneo and Sumatra have likely been geographically separated since the last Ice Age, it was not known whether this long isolation had caused them to split up into separate sub-species," explains Wilting.

In the course of their study, the researchers were able to demonstrate considerable genetic differences between the two populations. Dissimilarities between populations were also found with regard to skull morphology, as shown by Per Christiansen of the University of Aalborg, Denmark, a co-author of the study.

In contrast, a comparison of coat colour patterns conducted by Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland yielded only small deviations between the populations -- the authors surmise that this finding could be attributed to the highly similar tropical habitats on Borneo and Sumatra. Based on these distinct patterns of genetic and morphological variation, the researchers have now formally described two subspecies of the Sunda clouded leopard: one occurring exclusively in Sumatra, the other being endemic to Borneo.

"So far we can only speculate about the specific course of events in the evolution of the clouded leopard," says Joerns Fickel. The scientists postulate that natural disasters and global climate periods are responsible for the split into two species and subspecies. The eruption of the "super-volcano" Toba on Sumatra ~75.000 years ago is likely to have played a particularly important role in this process. As Fickel explains, this event unquestionably had extreme consequences for the Southeast Asian fauna and flora. On that account, the researchers conclude that in all likelihood, only two populations of clouded leopards survived the eruption, one in southern China (Neofelis nebulosa) and one on Borneo (Neofelis diardi). In a plausible scenario, the latter recolonised Sumatra via glacial land bridges and subsequently developed into a different subspecies as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age and isolated the two islands.

Both subspecies are classified as endangered by the IUCN, owing to the fact that they, as all other big cats, occur at low population densities and require big home ranges for their survival. In order to save the Sunda clouded leopard, it is therefore of paramount importance to protect large forest areas in Borneo and Sumatra, or at least to manage them sustainably, Wilting emphasises. For this reason, the project is being carried out in close collaboration with Sabah Wildlife Department in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo. Dr. Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, adds that the IZW together with his department has contributed actively to efforts for the conservation of the Sunda clouded leopard in Borneo for several years, and last year, this team published the first video footage of a Sunda clouded leopard from the wild.

Polar bear's epic nine day swim in search of sea ice

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

A polar bear swam continuously for over nine days, covering 687km (426 miles), a new study has revealed.

Scientists studying bears around the Beaufort sea, north of Alaska, claim this endurance feat could be a result of climate change.

Polar bears are known to swim between land and sea ice floes to hunt seals.

But the researchers say that increased sea ice melts push polar bears to swim greater distances, risking their own health and future generations.

In their findings, published in Polar Biology, researchers from the US Geological Survey reveal the first evidence of long distance swimming by polar bears (Ursus maritimus).

"This bear swam continuously for 232 hours and 687 km and through waters that were 2-6 degrees C," says research zoologist George M. Durner.

"We are in awe that an animal that spends most of its time on the surface of sea ice could swim constantly for so long in water so cold. It is truly an amazing feat."

Although bears have been observed in open water in the past, this is the first time one's entire journey has been followed.

By fitting a GPS collar to a female bear, researchers were able to accurately plot its movements for two months as it sought out hunting grounds.

The scientists were able to determine when the bear was in the water by the collar data and a temperature logger implanted beneath the bear's skin.

The study shows that this epic journey came at a very high cost to the bear.

"This individual lost 22% of her body fat in two months and her yearling cub," says Mr Durner.

"It was simply more energetically costly for the yearling than the adult to make this long distance swim," he explains.

Mr Durner tells the BBC that conditions in the Beaufort sea have become increasingly difficult for polar bears.

"In prior decades, before 1995, low-concentration sea ice persisted during summers over the continental shelf in the Beaufort Sea."

"This means that the distances, and costs to bears, to swim between isolated ice floes or between sea ice and land was relatively small."

"The extensive summer melt that appears to be typical now in the Beaufort Sea has likely increased the cost of swimming by polar bears."

Polar bears live within the Arctic circle and eat a calorie-rich diet of ringed seals (Pusa hispida) to survive the frozen conditions.

The bears hunt their prey on frozen sea ice: a habitat that changes according to temperature.

"This dependency on sea ice potentially makes polar bears one of the most at-risk large mammals to climate change," says Mr Durner.

The IUCN red list identifies polar bears as a vulnerable species, citing global climate change as a "substantial threat" to their habitat.
(Submitted by Liz R)

Iran's endangered cheetahs are a unique subspecies

Monday, 24 January 2011
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

Iran's critically endangered cheetahs are the last remaining survivors of a unique, ancient Asian subspecies, genetics experts reveal.

New analysis confirms Iran's cheetahs belong to the subspecies Acinonyx jubatus venaticus.

DNA comparisons show that these Asiatic cheetahs split from other cheetahs, which live in Africa, 30,000 years ago.

Researchers suggest that Iran's cheetahs must be conserved to protect the future of all cheetahs.

Cheetahs formerly existed in 44 countries in Africa but are now only found in 29.

Historically, they were also recorded across southwest and central Asia but can now only be found in Iran.

Scientists have previously said that cheetahs have low genetic variability, theorising that a "population crash" approximately 10,000 years ago led to inbreeding in the species.

Despite this, five 'different' subspecies are currently described according to where they live.

Genetic studies in the 1990s confirmed cheetahs found in southern Africa (A. j. jubatus) and east Africa (A. j. raineyi) as separate subspecies.

However, it has not been clear whether populations in west Africa (A. j. hecki), northern-east Africa (A. j. soemmeringii), and north Africa and Iran (A. j. venaticus) are genetically different enough to deserve their current status as subspecies.

Aiming to solve the puzzle of modern cheetahs' origins, scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria have been working in collaboration with the Iranian Department of Environment and wildcat conservation group Panthera.

Their findings are published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Dr Pamela Burger and her team analysed the DNA of cheetahs from a wide geographical and historical range, including medieval remains found in north-western Iran.

"With our data we prove that current Iranian cheetahs represent the historical Asiatic subspecies A.j. venaticus as they share a similar genetic profile with specimen originating from northwestern Iran in 800-900 CE," explains Dr Burger.

The researchers have also been able to distinguish Iranian cheetahs from their nearest neighbours in northern-east Africa which were confirmed as A. j. soemmeringii.

Cheetahs in north Africa, previously considered the same subspecies as those in Iran, were actually found to have more in common genetically with those in west Africa.

By comparing sequences in the DNA, researchers have found that the unique Asiatic cheetahs separated from the rest of the species in southern Africa over 30,000 years ago.

Dr Burger explains that because this split occurred long before the theorised population crash, A.j. venaticus represents a highly distinct lineage.

"The implications of our discovery are that the confirmation of the subspecies is a basis for future conservation management. If the aim is to conserve this biodiversity, subspecies should not be mixed," she says.

Currently estimated at just 60-100 individuals with less than half at mature breeding age, the Iranian cheetah population is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Together with the United Nations Development Programme, Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society the Iranian Department of the Environment has established a programme to make conservation of the Asiatic cheetah a national priority.

Conservationists are concerned that time is running out for Iran's cheetahs.

"We have been successful in stabilising numbers in Iran but we still have a long way to go before we can consider this unique sub-species secure," says Alireza Jourabchian, Director of the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Programme (CACP) in Iran.

Threats facing the small population include overhunting of cheetah prey, habitat degradation and direct poaching.

Monday 24 January 2011

Croc swallows phone and starts ringing

January 24, 2011 - 10:36AM

Workers at a Ukrainian aquarium did not believe it when a visitor said a crocodile swallowed her phone. Then the reptile started ringing.

The accident in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk sounds a bit like Peter Pan, in which a crocodile happily went "tick-tock" after gulping down an alarm clock.

But Gena, the 14-year-old croc who swallowed the phone, has hardly been living a fairy tale: he hasn't eaten or had a bowel movement in four weeks and appears depressed and in pain.

Gena noshed on the Nokia phone after Rimma Golovko dropped it in the water. She had stretched out her arm, trying to snap a photo of Gena opening his mouth when the phone slipped.

"This should have been a very dramatic shot, but things didn't work out," she said.

Employees were sceptical when Ms Golovko, a mother in her 20s, told them what happened.

"But then the phone started ringing and the sound was coming from inside our Gena's stomach and we understood she wasn't lying," said an employee who declined to give her name.

Since then, Gena has been refusing food and has been listless. He also won't play with three fellow African crocodiles, despite being the leader of the group.

"His behaviour has changed," the employee said. "He moves very little and swims much less than he used to."

Doctors tried to whet the crocodile's appetite this week by feeding him live quail rather than the pork or beef he usually gets once a week. The quail were injected with vitamins and a laxative, but, while Gena smothered one bird, he did not eat it.

Dnipropetrovsk chief veterinarian Oleksandr Shushlenko said the crocodile would be taken for an X-ray this week if he continued to refuse food. Surgically removing the phone would be a last resort, he said, since incisions and stitches usually take at least three weeks to heal in reptiles and the procedure is dangerous for the animal and the vets.

"Everything will depend on where the foreign body is located," Dr Shushlenko said. "We don't have much experience working with such large animals."

The crocodile with the ticking stomach in Peter Pan was on the hunt for Captain Hook after getting a taste for the pirate's flesh by eating one of his hands. But luckily for Hook, he could always hear the crocodile coming.

Ms Golovko has about as much hope of retrieving her phone as Hook did of retrieving his hand. But she does want to get back the phone's SIM card, which holds her precious photos and contacts.

See video at:

Fossil female pterosaur found with preserved egg

21 January 2011
By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

For fossil hunters, it represents one of those breakthrough moments.

A pterosaur has been found in China beautifully preserved with an egg.

The egg indicates this ancient flying reptile was a female, and that realisation has allowed researchers to sex these creatures for the first time.

Writing in Science magazine, the palaeontologists make some broad statements about differences in pterosaurs, including the observation that only males sported a head-crest.

David Unwin, a palaeobiologist in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, was part of the research team.

He told the BBC the discovery was astonishing: "If somebody had said to me a few years back that we would find this kind of association, I would just have laughed and said, 'yeah, maybe in a million years', because these sorts of things are incredibly rare."

Pterosaurs, also sometimes referred to as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, 220-65 million years ago. Although reptiles like the dinosaurs were plodding on the ground below them, they were not actually dinosaurs themselves - a common misconception.

This particular specimen has been dated to about 160 million years ago.

It was found by Junchang Lü and colleagues and excavated from sedimentary rocks in the famous fossil-hunting grounds of Liaoning Province in China. Liaoning has yielded many of the great finds in recent years, including a series of feathered dinos that have transformed thinking on bird evolution.

The new creature is from the Darwinopterus genus, or grouping, but has been dubbed simply as "Mrs T" (a contraction of "Mrs Pterodactyl") by the research team.

The state of the egg's shell suggests it was well developed and that Mrs T must have been very close to laying it when she died.

She appears to have had some sort of accident as her left forearm is broken. The researchers speculate she may have fallen from the sky during a storm or perhaps a volcanic eruption, sunk to the bottom of a lake and then been preserved in the sediments.

"The most important thing about this particular individual is that she has a relatively large pelvis compared to other individuals of the same pterosaur, Darwinopterus," explained Dr Unwin.

"This seems quite reasonable - females lay eggs, they probably need a slightly wider pelvis. And then the really exciting thing is that she has a skull which lacks any kind of adornment or decoration whatsoever. When we look at other individuals of Darwinopterus, we find quite a few individuals with a large crest on the skull.

"We're very confident now that we're dealing with two genders here - males with big crests and small hips, and females with no crest on the skull and large hips."

More at:
(Submitted by Dawn Holloway)

Georgetown man shoots creature: Chupacabra or hairless bear?

Dave Marquis
Posted: 1/19/2011

SLIDESHOW: Some images of the animal may contain graphic content

GEORGETOWN, CA - To handyman Frank Gallo, the creature that almost attacked him beside his rural trailer several days ago looked like the legendary Chupacabra.

"Scared the hell out of me," Gallo said. "It crouched and faced me and I shot two warning shots at it - 357-magnum, from 20-feet."

The shots seemed to have no effect and Gallo kept firing during the encounter.

"He looked down at where he'd been shot and let out a cry that sounded like, maybe a six year old girl. Ahhhhhh, really loud," Gallo said.

When Gallo saw the animal up close, it was even stranger.

"If you could feel this thing, if you could touch it, it's skin is like an elephant," Gallo said.

The animal had huge claws, canine-like teeth and almost no fur on its body. However, it was the animal's lack of fur that tipped off California Department of Fish and Game Warden Patrick Foy.

"(It's) probably a juvenile bear and has developed some type of an ailment that's caused it's skin to shed all of it's fur," Foy said.

To Gallo, it looked more like, the supposedly, mythical creature known in Mexico as a Chupacabra.

Gallo scoured the Internet, looking for images and information on the Chupacabra.

"Something like this (animal) will hit an animal, knock it down, grab it and suck the blood out of it. That's where the name Chupacabra comes from, it's Spanish for goat-sucker,"Gallo said.

"Could be a fairly new species, you know. Could be a mutation," Gallo said.

However the pictures told Foy it was more likely a bear. Late Tuesday evening, a game warden picked up the animal and confirmed Foy's suspicions that it was a young bear.

It may take several days to determine what caused the bear to lose it's fur.

"Somebody with an untrained eye would look at this and think that this was a pretty creepy-looking character," Foy acknowledged.

Gallo is not convinced.

"Doesn't move anything like a bear, didn't act like a bear. Doesn't make sounds like a bear," Gallo said. "There are skeptics and there are people that are open-minded."

Sunday 23 January 2011

Rare species vulture rescued

This rare species vulture, rescued by locals after its electrocution near Srimongal upazila town in
Moulviabazar district on Thursday, is kept for treatment at the mini zoo owned by Sitesh Ranjan Dev,
a wildlife expert in Srimongal. Photo: STAR
Sunday, January 23, 2011

A rare species vulture was rescued by locals when it was hit by a full voltage electricity wire near Srimongal upazila town on Thursday. The near extinct vulture is now under treatment at the mini zoo of Sitesh Ranjan Deb at Srimongal town. Every day a large number of people are visiting the zoo to see the vulture. Zoo owner Sitesh Ranjan Deb, also an eminent wild life expert said, the right wing of the 10-kg vulture was seriously injured after being hit by a full voltage electricity wire at Uttarsur village near Srimongal town on Thursday. Instantly the vulture fell down the ground. Local people caught the injured vulture. Later, Sitesh brought it to his zoo. The zoo owner is giving treatment to the near extinct bird which is rarely seen in our country. Sitesh said about 15 to 20 days will be needed for complete cure of the bird. Afterwards, the vulture will be freed, Sitesh said.

'Newest' cat Sunda leopard has two distinct species

London, Jan 23 : The 'newest' cat species-the Sunda clouded leopard-exists in reality in two distinct forms, scientists have confirmed.

This big cat is so enigmatic that researchers only realised it was a new species-distinct from clouded leopards living elsewhere in Asia-in 2007.

Now a genetic analysis has confirmed that the cat comes in two forms, one living in Sumatra, the other on Borneo, reports the BBC.

Clouded leopards are the most elusive of all the big cats, which include lions, tigers, jaguars, snow leopards and normal spotted leopards.

Until 2006, all clouded leopards were thought to belong to a single species.

As well as the better-known clouded leopard living on the Asian mainland (Neofelis nebulosa), scientists determined that a separate clouded leopard species lives on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

The two species are thought to have diverged over one million years ago.

This leopard is now known as the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), though it was previously and erroneously called the Bornean clouded leopard.

In 2010, a team of scientists working in the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysia released the first footage of the cat in the wild to be made public.

Led by Andreas Wilting of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, the researchers captured images of a Sunda clouded leopard walking along a road.

Now Wilting and colleagues have published new research, which reveals even more about this mysterious cat.

They sampled 15 Sunda clouded leopards living on Borneo and 16 living in Sumatra, conducting molecular and genetic studies to reveal their origin.

The researchers also examined the skulls of 28 further Sunda clouded leopards and the fur coats of 20 specimens held in museums, as well as the coats of cats photographed on both islands.

"Although we suspected that Sunda clouded leopards on Borneo and Sumatra have likely been geographically separated since the last Ice Age, it was not known whether this long isolation had caused them to split up into separate sub-species," explained Wilting.

But his team's analysis confirms that the latest 'new' species of cat to be discovered actually comes in two forms, a Bornean subspecies N. d. borneensis and the Sumatran subspecies N. d. diardi.

Their results have been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.


See also:

Alberta researcher makes surprising discovery about ant species

U of A researcher found 89 species

By Hanneke Brooymans, Edmonton Journal January 21, 2011

EDMONTON — Alberta is crawling with more than twice as many ant species as originally thought.

This surprising discovery was made by University of Alberta master’s student James Glasier while he was studying ants and their habitats in the sandhills near Edmonton.

He needed to sort out which ants were there, but quickly discovered there was no handy key on the ants of Alberta to help him identify all the different species. So he thought he’d make one himself.

Glasier, 25, drew on a preliminary survey done in the 1960s by Janet Sharplin, but nothing substantial had been done since then. So he collected ants wherever he went. He turned over rocks, dug through soil, pulled off tree bark, knocked down dead trees and set up traps. He found one species in the 27th-floor apartment of a friend. (That ant happens to be the only known invasive species in the province, called a pharaoh ant.) Other ants were sent to him by researchers doing work in various parts of the province.

Altogether, he has more than doubled the number of ant species in Alberta from 40 to 89.

One of the more interesting species was found inside the hill of another species. These guest ants, as they’re called, take up the chemical scent that the host colony members use to identify each other. That way they manage to fool the resident ants into accepting them and even feeding them, Glasier said.

It’s not clear if these free loaders are benefiting the hosts in any way. Sometimes they’re seen cleaning the larger ants, but Glasier thinks that might be how they pick up the chemicals they need to mask their identities.

Seems pretty smart for a creature only twice the size of the head of a pin. Glasier has a few of these pinned inside his insect cabinet where he has meticulously labelled and stored many of the species he has collected. Others are stored in small vials of ethanol.

In the first summer he amassed more than 20,000 ants. Parked in front of a microscope, he’s developed a knack for identifying ants, a tricky business involving noting the grooves and shape of the body, as well as the number of hairs on the body.

“I’ve looked at them for so long, sometimes they’re really easy,” Glasier said about the identification process. “But if it’s something new, it can take a long time to identify.”

Glasier thinks the province could still yield more species. “I would say there are definitely more out there, especially in southern Alberta, where I haven’t done a lot of work.”

Glasier said it’s important to know what species we have and what they’re doing because ants are an integral part of our ecosystems, not only as a source of food for everything from grizzly bears to woodpeckers, but also because they reduce some pest insect populations and protect some plants from being browsed.

One of Glasier’s academic supervisors is John Acorn, an entomologist and author of numerous books on bugs. Their relationship goes back more than a decade. When Glasier was in Grade 7, he asked Acorn to be a mentor. One of his first projects with Acorn involved ants.

Now he’s adding new species to the Alberta list.

“To me, the big message is there’s so much we take for granted,” Acorn said about Glasier’s new species. “There have been very competent entomologists working in Alberta for 100 years. And ants are not exactly obscure.

“In a way, it’s kind of embarrassing. We really should know this.”

On the other hand, it’s also exciting, he said. As we learn more about the ecology of ants and how important they are in the overall scheme of things, it will be useful to know which species play roles in the different ecosystems, he said.
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