Thursday 30 June 2011

Runaway cow herd takes over Tredegar street

A quiet street in Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, was invaded by a herd of cows which trampled on gardens and peered into windows, say residents. The 20 cattle escaped from their nearby paddock and decided to feast on front lawns and flowers in Peacehaven. Residents are used to straying sheep but say the rogue cattle have become a nuisance.

Read on...


Rats decimating endangered petrel chicks

The Henderson Island Petrel will become extinct within decades unless action is taken at the remote, uninhabited World Heritage site. MV Aquila sets sail from Seattle this week, carrying two helicopters which will drop poison bait across the island, using methods developed in New Zealand.

Jonathan Hall, the project coordinator, says the island is home to more than ten globally threatened species.

Underwater landslide likely cause of 'mild tsunami'

A "mild tsunami" along the South West coast was probably caused by an underwater landslide, a coastal expert has said. The unusual tidal surge struck the Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Hampshire coastline on Monday morning. There were reports of rivers changing direction, fish leaping out of water and hair standing on end due to static.

Dr Mark Davidson, from the University of Plymouth, said the surge was quite a "rare" occurrence.

The first reports of the event came from St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.

Boatman Dave Ladner said: "The funniest thing was on the causeway all the ladies' hair was standing on end with the static. The sea on the eastern side was probably 8ins (20cm) to a 1ft (0.3m) higher than the rest and it was pouring over the causeway like a torrent rather than just a gentle meeting in the middle."

Roland Stewart from Millbrook, near Plymouth, said: "It was quite violent in a way, my dinghy was moving around with the movement of the water and I just wondered what the hell was going on.... within 15 minutes it was all over."

Amateur video footage shot on the Yealm estuary, to the east of Plymouth, shows the surge.
Bob Brown was launching his dinghy at the mouth of estuary at 1015 BST, an hour after low tide when he saw the wave. He said: "The tide was coming in from left to right, all of a sudden it stopped coming in from the sea and went back the other way. It came back at quite a force, all the boats were bobbing around. To see a tide suddenly stop and go back the other way at four times the speed was unbelievable."

He said a local landowner told him the first thing he noticed was "lots and lots of fish jumping out of the water". Dr Davidson, an associate professor in coastal processes, told BBC Spotlight: "[Surges] are quite rare and it's probably not a tidal phenomenon. It's probably more likely to be a tsunami of some kind, obviously it's quite mild. It's probably not due to an earthquake, which is the normal source. It's probably more likely to be a sub-marine landslide."

According to the Tidal Gauge Anomaly measure, which records the difference between the forecast tide and the actual tide, the anomaly on Monday morning in Newlyn, Cornwall was 0.2m (0.7ft), in Plymouth 0.3m (1ft) and in Portsmouth 0.4m (1.3ft). The MET Office in Exeter said it did not think anything in the weather could have caused the change in the tidal pattern.
The British Geological Survey said there was no seismic activity in UK waters over the weekend.

Tiny Chihuahua shows talent for herding sheep

Rescue dog Nancy's potential for herding flocks was discovered after she was adopted by a sheep dog trainer. Ali Taylor, who trains rescued border collies, said the tiny dog picked up herding straight away. "I started in a very controlled environment but it quickly became evident that Nancy has natural ability and loves herding sheep," she said. Nancy was hand-reared after being taken to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home at just three weeks old with a skin disease caused by parasitic mites.

Read on (and watch the video)...

Al-Sayed al-Essawy, Egyptian 'Gladiator,' Fights Lion In Effort To Boost Country's Waning Tourism Trade

A self-styled Egyptian "gladiator" lived up to his vow of fighting a lion in a much-hyped effort to lift his country out of its post-revolution downturn, but whether his feat had any significant impact remains questionable.

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Turtle washed up on Cornish beach has a scan after epilepsy fears

An epileptic turtle who keeps having fits underwater has been taken for an MRI scan to try to discover if a brain tumour is behind her health problems.

Snorkel, a loggerhead turtle, washed up on a Cornish beach in 1990 and has been living at the National Marine Aquarium (NMA) in Plymouth for more than ten years.

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Happy orangutans live longer in zoos

Happier orangutans are more likely to live for longer, according to a study. A team of researchers in the UK and US devised a method to measure the happiness, or subjective well-being, of captive orangutans. In a follow-up study seven years later, the scientists found that happier primates were much more likely still to be alive. The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

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Border collie sniffs out noxious weeds on Missoula mountainside

Seamus is a professional hunting dog with immense focus and energy, but the 3-year-old border collie doesn't track wild animals. Seamus hunts Dyer's woad, an invasive weed found on Mount Sentinel. Eradication of Dyer's woad is an effort that's been ongoing for 14 years on Mount Sentinel. There are only seven spots in Montana where the noxious weed is found and two spots where it's abundant: Lima and Missoula's beloved mountainside.

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Inflatable Shark Among 300 New Species Discovered in Philippines

A treasure trove of hundreds of new species may have been discovered in the Philippines, including a bizarre sea star that feeds exclusively on sunken driftwood and a deep-sea, shrimp-eating shark that swells up to scare off other predators. Scientists braved leeches and a host of venomous creatures from the mountains to the sea to uncover more than 300 species that are likely new to science. These findings include dozens of new insects and spiders, more than 50 colorful new sea slugs and a number of deep-sea armored corals "which protect themselves against predatory nibbles from fish by growing large, spiky plates," said researcher Terrence Gosliner, dean of science and research collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition.

Read on...

Coelacanth slowly reveals its secrets

An odd-looking ancient fleshy fish continues to serve as a reminder of just how little we know about the natural world.

In 1938, scientists discovered the coelacanth, a large primitive deep-dwelling fish that was supposed to have been long, long extinct.

The fish provided an immediate link to our dim evolutionary past, resembling the lobe-fin fish that were likely the first to leave the water and take to land, ultimately begetting the amphibians, reptiles and mammals we see today, including the human race.

Read on..

Snake sanctuary owner Luke Yeomans dies from cobra bite

The owner of a Nottinghamshire snake sanctuary has died after apparently being bitten by one of his own animals. Luke Yeomans, 47, was due to open the King Cobra Sanctuary, in Eastwood, to the public this weekend. Police confirmed they were called to a property in Brookhill Leys Road, near Eastwood, where Mr Yeomans had suffered a suspected heart attack.

Read on...

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Why is there only one human species?

Not so very long ago, we shared this planet with several other species of human, all of them clever, resourceful and excellent hunters, so why did only Homo sapiens survive?

Huge debates rage about human origins, but the broad consensus among scientists is that all the different species of human that have ever existed were descended from ape-like creatures that walked upright in Africa more than six million years ago.

Read on...

Ladybird made into 'zombie' bodyguard by parasitic wasp

A parasitic wasp protects itself from predators while cocooned by turning its ladybird host into a "bodyguard".

After a female wasp injects its egg into the ladybird, the larva munches on its host's internal tissues before breaking out through the abdomen.

Read on...

Charnel house gives up its secret: 1,000 human bones

A STONE AGE burial chamber in Orkney has yielded a gruesome haul of more than 1,000 human bones, it was revealed yesterday. The 5,000-year-old human bones - numbering at least 1,000, but possibly as many as 2,000 - were found in just one of the five chambers of the Banks Tomb on South Ronaldsay.

Read on...

Evolution machine: Genetic engineering on fast forward

Automated genetic tinkering is just the start – this machine could be used to rewrite the language of life and create new species of humans

IT IS a strange combination of clumsiness and beauty. Sitting on a cheap-looking worktop is a motley ensemble of flasks, trays and tubes squeezed onto a home-made frame. Arrays of empty pipette tips wait expectantly. Bunches of black and grey wires adorn its corners. On the top, robotic arms slide purposefully back and forth along metal tracks, dropping liquids from one compartment to another in an intricately choreographed dance. Inside, bacteria are shunted through slim plastic tubes, and alternately coddled, chilled and electrocuted. The whole assembly is about a metre and a half across, and controlled by an ordinary computer.

Say hello to the evolution machine. It can achieve in days what takes genetic engineers years. So far it is just a prototype, but if its proponents are to be believed, future versions could revolutionise biology, allowing us to evolve new organisms or rewrite whole genomes with ease. It might even transform humanity itself.

Read on..

The first advertising campaign for non-human primates

Keith Olwell and Elizabeth Kiehner had an epiphany last year. At a TED talk, the two New York advertising executives learned that captive monkeys understand money, and that when faced with economic games they will behave in similar ways to humans. So if they can cope with money, how would they respond to advertising?

Read on...

Cemetery of giant creatures found in Central Africa

The remains belong to gigantic creatures that bear little resemblance to humans. Head of research group believes that they could be visitors from another planet who died as a result of a catastrophe.

According to the scientists, they were buried at least 500 years ago. At first, researchers thought that they came across the remains of ancient settlements, but no signs of human life have been found nearby.

Read on...


Animal park welcomes 'terror bird' cousin hatchling

An animal park near Germany’s northern border with Denmark is hoping a freakish-looking hatchling related to ancient “terror birds” will become a new star attraction.

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Drugs plot raid reveals old woman feeding rabbits with cannabis

Police in Brandenburg who discovered a large plot of cannabis called on the neighbouring house only to find an 84-year-old woman who had been feeding her rabbits with the plants.

“The rabbits really like it,” the woman told officers who called on her in the village of Golzow near Belzig, according to Saturday’s Tagesspiegel.

Read on...

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Rodent eradication declared a success in South Georgia

EDITOR'S NOTE: This news story is a couple of months old, but is, we feel, important enough to include anyway...

South Georgia is a remote, inhospitable island clinging on in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Despite the hostile climate, the ocean waters around South Georgia are extremely productive and provide food for millions of sea birds and marine mammals. For the huge numbers of birds that feed in the southern Atlantic, South Georgia is the place they call home. 29 species of bird breed on the island, including the wandering albatross, king penguin and the South Georgia pipit, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Unfortunately South Georgia has been colonised by invasive rodent species. These introduced rodents feed on the eggs and young of ground-nesting native birds, which can offer no resistance. Every year thousands, perhaps millions, of young birds are eaten alive by rats. Rats and mice were first brought to South Georgia by whaling ships in the 19th Century. Since then, with no natural predators, they have proliferated on the island. To see the damage these rodents can do, have a look at ARKive's rather grim, but fascinating video of an introduced rat predating on a Henderson petrel chick. Henderson Island is similar to South Georgia: it is a remote, inhospitable island that supports a high diversity of - often threatened - bird life. On Henderson Island, as on South Georgia, rodents have a devastating impact on native bird populations.

South Georgia Heritage Trust, which is responsible for wildlife conservation on South Georgia, recognises that the only way to ensure the survival of native birds is to fully eradicate rats from the island. Previous research has shown that the only feasible method of eradicating rodents on an island the size of South Georgia - 80,000 hectares - is to spread toxic bait by helicopter. This is a massive undertaking and, if successful, South Georgia will be the largest island ever cleared of rodents. The eradication programme is aided by South Georgia's geography: the island is divided by glaciers into several zones. Rodents can't cross these glaciers, meaning that they will not re-infest baited areas.

The eradication programme began in March and conservationists reported that the first phase has been a success. Around 50 tonnes of rodenticide were spread by helicopter in March, over around 13% of the island. Inspections have found no evidence of live rats in this area - a great outcome. Although some wildlife will inevitably be harmed by the rodenticide, the shape, colour and size of pellets have been carefully designed to minimise their attractiveness to non-rodents.

Read on...

Seagull swipes camera, shoots film, becomes YouTube sensation

A filmmaker whose miniature camera was apparently swiped by a French seagull whose feathered getaway was caught on video, swears the YouTube hit isn't faked.

The video shows a gull snatching the spy-sized camera before flying off and landing on the top of a nearby castle.

All the while, the video camera is rolling and captures every moment, including the gull's squawks as it lands to finish off its purloined prize only to peck away in vain as it discovers the electronic device is inedible.

The footage has already been watched nearly 300,000 times.

But despite being shot at Cannes - home of the world's most well-known film festival - the producer protested he was just in the right place at the right time, and had to climb a castle wall to retrieve his gear.

Tasmanian devil genome holds secret to survival (Via Dawn Holloway)

Scientists have sequenced the complete genomes of two Tasmanian devils in the hope of finding clues to preserving this highly endangered marsupial. Devil populations have been decimated by a highly contagious facial cancer that is transferred when these aggressive animals bite each other.

Read on...

Test-tube hamburger - a taste of things to come

CALLING all fast-food addicts - a human guinea pig is wanted to become the first person in the world to eat a test-tube hamburger.

The burger, made with beef mince grown from stem cells, is less than a year away from being produced, Dutch scientists say. And they believe it could pave the way for eating meat without the need for animals being slaughtered.

The scientists predict that over the next few decades the world's population will increase so quickly that there will not be enough livestock to feed everyone.

As a result, they say, laboratory-grown beef, chicken and lamb could become normal. The scientists are currently developing a burger which will be grown from 10,000 stem cells extracted from cattle, which are then left in the lab to multiply more than a billion times to produce muscle tissue similar to beef. The product is called in vitro meat.

Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who is behind the project, said: "I don't see any way you could rely on old-fashioned livestock in the coming decades. In vitro meat will be the only choice left.

"We are trying to prove to the world we can make a product out of this, and we need a courageous person who is willing to be the first to taste it.

"If no one comes forward, then it might be me."

Professor Post told Scientific American magazine that he thought the first test-tube burger could be made within 12 months. In 2009, scientists from the same university grew strips of pork using the same method. They admitted it was not particularly appetising, being grey with a similar texture to calamari.

Fish fillets have been grown in a New York laboratory using cells taken from goldfish muscle tissue.

Even if the initial results do not taste quite the same as proper meat, scientists are convinced the public will soon get used to it.

The world's meat consumption is expected to double by 2050. The scientists believe that the test-tube burger is only the first stage in a food revolution that might solve the problem.

Scientists thrill to a thousand new animal species in PNG

A FROG with fangs, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1000 new species that have been recently found in Papua New Guinea, the environment group WWF said yesterday.

A frog with fangs, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1000 new species that have been recently found in Papua New Guinea, the environment group WWF said yesterday.

Scientists made the astounding discoveries, which included a river shark and dozens of butterflies, at a rate of two a week from 1998 to 2008, WWF said in a report on the island's natural habitat.

"This report shows that New Guinea's forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world," WWF Western Melanesia program representative Neil Stronach said.

PNG's rainforests are the third-biggest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and, while the island covers just 0.5 per cent of Earth's land mass, it contains up to 8 per cent of the world's species, according to WWF.

Sheep dog is scared of his flock

A Border Collie has been branded Britain's worst sheep dog after developing a fear of his flock. Despite his pedigree, Ci proves instinct alone is not enough to overcome a bad case of ovinophobia. The four-year-old developed his fear of sheep when owner Jane Lippington placed him in their field as a puppy.

Read on...

Shark jumps over surfer

An amazing video of a shark jumping over a surfer in Florida has become an online hit.

The video was shot by photographer Jacob Langston who inadvertently captured the action while filming surfers off New Smyrna Beach.

Mr Langston, who works for the Orlando Sentinel, said: "I didn't even see the shark jump. But a surfer came up to me and said, "Hey man, did you see that?""

Read on...

Soldiers told to stare at storks

Troops ordered to scare away storks from an airport have been banned from using their guns and told to stare at the birds instead.

Soldiers were brought in over fears the colony of 25 storks would disrupt the Airpower 2011 air show in Zeltweg, Austria, this weekend.

Organisers had tried to lure them away with bait, by creating better feeding grounds further away and even putting up plastic storks to make it seem more attractive elsewhere - but without success.

Read on...

Dog Death Cop Flees Post In 'Suicide Bid'

An officer responsible for allowing two police dogs to die in a sweltering car fled his post and suffered a hand injury in what is claimed to be a suicide bid. It emerged that the officer disappeared less than 90 minutes after the dogs were found collapsed in his unventilated car at a training facility at Keston in Kent. "On Sunday 26 June at approximately 12.25 police were alerted to a police officer suddenly leaving his duty posting, causing concern for the officer's safety and welfare," a Scotland Yard spokesman told Sky News.

Read on...

Udder Genius: Daisy The Cow's Great Escape

A farmer whose herd of cattle kept escaping each night had a shock when he installed CCTV - only to discover it was an inside job.

By day, Tom Grant drives a tractor. By night, he solves mysteries - mysteries like cows on the move! He was locking his cattle inside each night but finding them outside each morning.
Tom said: "I was a wee bit suspicious because I thought there was a bit of rustling in the area and that maybe there were boys about during the night trying to steal one of them."

Read on...

Dutch man builds huge Noah's Ark

A doomsday dream about massive flooding prompted Dutch man Johan Huibers to build a huge Noah's Ark, which he plans to float down London's River Thames ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

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Monday 27 June 2011

Supersize Spores Make Fungal Infections More Deadly, Possibly Explaining Victims in Missouri

This season's tornado outbreak in the U.S. left some unusual casualties in its wake. At least three people have reportedly died from a virulent fungal infection and several more remain infected following the storms that struck Missouri last month.

Such severe fungal infections are rare but can be fatal if allowed to spread throughout the body—especially for people with compromised immune systems. A fungus's severity had been thought to be a factor of its type or method of spreading. But new research suggests that there is one key determinant in how deadly a fungal infection is going to be: spore size.

Read on...

Scientists look for surviving Eskimo curlew birds

Scientists look for surviving Eskimo curlew birds

Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska Thu Jun 23, 2011

(Reuters) - Federal scientists are on the lookout for the Eskimo curlew, as they work to determine if the elusive shorebird last seen two decades ago still exists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, a tundra-nesting bird once abundant over the skies of North and South America, which was nearly hunted into oblivion by the mid-20th century.

The agency, which made its announcement in the Federal Register on Wednesday, will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987, said Bruce Woods, a spokesman for the agency.

An unconfirmed sighting -- of an adult and a chick -- was recorded in 1983 in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Woods said. The Eskimo curlew population once numbered hundreds of thousands, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It is the smallest of four species of Western Hemisphere curlews, and is known for its long migration route from Arctic tundra breeding grounds to wintering lands in South America.

But the birds died off in drastic numbers due to overhunting, the loss of prairie habitat that was converted from grasslands to agriculture and the extinction of a type of grasshopper that made up much of their diet.

Most were gone by the beginning of the 20th century, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite its scarcity, the Eskimo curlew is well-known to bird lovers. It was the subject of a classic short novel, "Last of the Curlews," that chronicled the life of a lonely Eskimo curlew waiting on the tundra for a mate and, finding none, flying solo on the long fall migration. The 1954 book was adapted into a children's animated movie in 1972.

The wildlife inquiry, to be conducted by the service's Alaska scientists, is the first such formal review of the Eskimo curlew under the Endangered Species Act, Woods said. The bird was listed as endangered prior to passage of the act. such reviews are typically completed within 12 months.

Brendan Cummings, senior attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said he hopes the bird continues to be listed as endangered and not written off as extinct. Continued listing will cost little and could help protect far-north habitat home to other birds and wildlife, he said.

"While I have my doubts, I think it would be premature to close the coffin lid on the species," Cummings said.

World's ugliest dog

Her scruffy short tufts of hair, protruding tongue and bulbous, bloodshot eyes have powered 14-year-old Chihuahua Yoda to victory at the coveted World’s Ugliest Dog Competition.

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Orange-tailed skink rescued from extinction

June 2011. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has received 22 orange-tailed skinks which were rescued following the invasion of Flat Island, near Mauritius, by the predatory Indian musk shrew.

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Overdue Charles Darwin book returned to library 122 years late

Staff at an Australia library have been stunned after first edition copy of Charles Darwin's Insectivorous Plants book was returned 122 years late.

A stamp inside the first edition copy showed that the book had been borrowed more than a century ago, on January 30, 1889.

Investigations have found that the book had been in a private collection for 50 years before being handed to a local university, whose employees passed it back to the library.

Read on...

Arabian oryx moved from IUCN Endangered list – Many new entries

June 2011. The regal Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx), which was hunted to near extinction, is now facing a more secure future according to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. Its wild population now stands at 1,000 individuals.

"To have brought the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species," says Ms Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. "It is a classic example of how data from the IUCN Red List can feed into on-the-ground conservation action to deliver tangible and successful results."

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Squirrel Dalek creates dangerous new tree-climbing threat to Doctor Who

This new species of hideously-deformed, radiation-scarred mutants permanently trapped in their dustbin-shaped war machines can also forage for nuts and, more importantly, climb trees.

In turn, this presents a very real threat to the Doctor - who, until now, had been able to outrun his foes with very little difficulty by stepping off the special carpets used by the Daleks.
Read on...

Sunday 26 June 2011

Big Dinos Stayed Cool

Sauropod dinosaurs, the enormous plant-eating dinos with long tails and necks, had body temperatures ranging from 96.3 to 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit -- making them as warm as most mammals -- including people. Because body temperature usually rises the larger an animal gets, the findings, published in the latest issue of Science, suggest huge sauropods had mechanisms for cooling themselves off.

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55-Foot Beached Chinese 'Sea Monster' Identified

According to multiple media reports, a 55-foot-long marine animal recently washed up dead on a beach at Guangdong, China. You can see its decaying body in the above image. Now the question is: What's this species that beach goers are calling a "sea monster?"

Live Science showed the photo to three marine biology experts: Scott Baker of Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute, Bill Perrin, senior scientist for marine mammals at the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Bob Brownell, senior scientist for international protected resources with NOAA's Fisheries Service.

Read on...

Tanzania Government ditches Serengeti Highway

Tanzania steps up for the Serengeti and says ‘no' to an asphalt roadJune 2011. The proposed asphalt road which would have bisected the Serengeti National Park, jeopardising the world's last great mammal migration, will not now be built, the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has announced at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. Read on...

$50,000 Reward For Locating Live Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The Nature Conservancy – a private, non-profit conservation organization, has increased the reward for finding an Ivory-billed woodpecker to $50,000 for information that leads a Conservancy or Game and Fish biologist to an Ivory-billed Woodpecker nest, roost cavity, or feeding site in Arkansas. Read on...


May 2011. At this time of year frogs and toads are a common sight but North London gardener Lucy Conochie was surprised to come across this toad. At first glance this appears to be an ordinary common toad - with its warty skin and golden eyes - but on closer inspection it becomes clear that this is no ‘common' toad. This unusual little amphibian has an extra foot, with two limbs growing from the elbow on its right front leg. Read on...

Saturday 25 June 2011

China launches rhino farm with South African rhinos

TIME magazine exposes plans for Chinese rhino ‘farming'

June 2011. TIME magazine has uncovered evidence of plans to 'farm' rhinos in Africa, in contravention of national and international legislation. The latest issue of TIME magazine reveals a secret plot in China to breed imported white rhinos commercially so that their horns can be used in so called traditional medicine-a scheme that would be in direct contravention of national and international laws, and which contradicts statements made in 2010 by Chinese officials at an international meeting and representatives of the traditional Chinese medicine industry.

Rhino farm
In March 2010, members of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies made a declaration saying they did not want their industry tainted by the use of endangered species parts or derivatives. Later that month, Chinese officials had affirmed to world governments at CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that there were no intentions to permit rhino farming in the country, yet a TIME reporter uncovered detailed business plans by an ammunitions company to sell and market rhino horn pills, with an aim to generate a 60 million dollar profit annually.

Unintended consequences
Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC's expert on the rhino horn trade, said "The natural world is scarred with the unintended consequences of what those only interested in profit might consider ‘good business plans. The scale of the Chinese market is potentially so awesome, one miscalculation and we potentially could lose entire species, poached to meet the rising demand."

Rhino poaching spree
Asian demand for rhino horn is fuelling a rhino poaching spree in southern Africa, which has seen the number of animals illegally killed in South Africa alone rise to more than 333 in 2010 and shows no signs of abating.

The plan to profit commercially from the importation of live rhinos into China, as alleged by TIME, is also problematic for South African authorities who have reportedly allowed the exportation of 103 live white rhinos since 2007.

South Africa requires the importing country to have adequate legislation in place to ensure live rhinos will only be used for the purpose indicated on the CITES export and import permits to avoid parts and derivatives of live specimens being used commercially.

Rhino horn farming
TIME reveals that these rhinos may in fact find their horns whittled down by one kilogramme each year, using a "self-suction living rhinoceros horn-scraping tool", under a curious new patent application filed by a subsidiary company of the munitions manufacturer in June 2010.

"South Africa should impose a moratorium on all further exports of live rhinos, unless China can demonstrate that their intended use is compliant with the country's export policy.

"None of the live rhinos sent to China were for commercial purposes" says Milliken. "It appears that people are being misled."

Man fined $100 for running up to endangered Hawaiian monk seal and touching it

HONOLULU (AP) — Touching an endangered Hawaiian monk seal will cost a 19-year-old man $100.The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday that Cameron Cayaban pleaded guilty in federal court to harassing, harming or pursuing an endangered species.

A federal magistrate judged imposed $100 in fines and fees.Cayaban was charged with slapping a Hawaiian monk seal at Kalaeloa's White Plains Beach in March.His lawyer says Cayaban was overcome when he saw the seal, ran up to the endangered animal and touched it.Witnesses reported it to military police.,0,1796380.story

Three Sri Lankan elephants killed after being hit by train

Investigation now underway

June 2011: Three wild elephants have died in Sri Lanka after being hit by a passenger train.

The three elephants were crossing the rail track when they were hit by the train. A baby elephant was among the group of three females and it is also believed that one of the females was about 22 months pregnant.

Sri Lanka Railways and the Wildlife Department have jointly started a probe on the deaths of elephants. The elephants were killed when they crossed the tracks in a forested area near Ambanpola, 93 miles from the train's final destination, Sri Lanka's capital Colombo.

Second incident this year
The investigators are probing to verify whether the train was speeding or whether the location of the accident is a regular elephant path.

Director General of Wildlife Conservation Department Dr. Chandrawansa Pathiraja said that steps have been taken to build safety fences near the elephant passes and to clear the sides of the rail tracks so the engine drivers could see the elephants.

‘This is the worst train accident involving elephants I can remember,' said railway general manager Wije Samarasinghe. ‘About two months ago, three elephants were hit by another train in the east of the country and two of them died.'

Elephants in danger
At least 100 elephants are killed on the island each year, mostly by farmers, while marauding elephants raiding villages also claim the lives of about 50 people annually. Elephants are considered sacred animals in Sri Lanka, but they increasingly clash with farmers as habitat becomes scarce; they are also killed by trains and high-voltage power lines.

High risk of mass extinction in world’s oceans

Creating conditions associated with every previous major extinction

June 2011: The world's oceans are at high risk of an unprecedented number of marine species extinctions, according to an international panel of experts.

The panel's report was the result of a workshop considering the cumulative impact of all stressors affecting the ocean. The experts examined the combined effects of pollution, acidification, ocean warming, over-fishing and hypoxia (deoxygenation).

The scientific panel concluded that:
The combination of stressors on the ocean is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history.

The speed and rate of degeneration in the ocean is far faster than anyone has predicted.

Many of the negative impacts previously identified are greater than the worst predictions.

Although difficult to assess because of the unprecedented speed of change, the first steps to globally significant extinction may have begun with a rise in the extinction threat to marine species such as reef-forming corals

'The findings are shocking'
Dr Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) which convened the workshop said: ‘The findings are shocking. As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

‘This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that.'

Marine scientists from institutions around the world gathered at Oxford University under the auspices of IPSO and the IUCN. The group reviewed recent research by two world ocean experts and found firm evidence that the effects of climate change, coupled with other human-induced impacts such as over-fishing and nutrient run-off from farming, have already caused a dramatic decline in ocean health.

A new extinction event inevitable if damage continues

Increasing hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and anoxia (absence of oxygen, known as ocean dead zones) combined with warming of the ocean and acidification are the three factors which have been present in every mass extinction event in Earth's history.

There is strong scientific evidence that these three factors are combining in the ocean again, exacerbated by multiple severe stressors. The scientific panel concluded that a new extinction event was inevitable if the current trajectory of damage continues.

The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now
The report sets out a series of recommendations and calls on states, regional bodies and the United Nations to enact measures to better conserve ocean ecosystems, and in particular demands the urgent adoption of better governance of the largely unprotected high seas which make up the majority of the world's ocean.

Dan Laffoley, Marine Chair of IUCN's World Commission on protected Areas and senior adviser on Marine Science and Conservation for IUCN, and co-author of the report, said: ‘The world's leading experts on oceans are surprised by the rate and magnitude of changes we are seeing.

‘The challenges for the future of the ocean are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent.'

Frightening truth about our oceans

Τhe rate at which carbon is being absorbed by the ocean is already far greater now than at the time of the last globally significant extinction of marine species, some 55 million years ago, when up to 50 per cent of some groups of deep-sea animals were wiped out.

A single mass coral bleaching event in 1998 killed 16 per cent of all the world's tropical coral reefs.

Overfishing has reduced some commercial fish stocks and populations of by-catch species by more than 90 per cent.

New science also suggests that pollutants including flame retardant chemicals and synthetic musks found in detergents are being traced in the Polar Seas, and that these chemicals can be absorbed by tiny plastic particles in the ocean which are in turn ingested by marine creatures.

The experts agreed that adding these and other threats together means that the ocean and the ecosystems within it are unable to recover, being constantly bombarded with multiple attacks.

Two new populations of Endangered Western tragopan discovered

Two rare Indian pheasants' new territory - Western tragopan is shy and silent

June 2011: The extremely rare western tragopan has been recorded at two new sites along the Pir Panjal range in Jammu and Kashmir. Sightings and calls of the pheasant were validated at the Kalamund-Tatakuti and Khara Rakh areas of the range.

A Schedule I species on the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and listed as ‘Vulnerable' by the IUCN Red List, the western tragopan is a medium-sized, brightly coloured pheasant endemic to the western Himalayas and inhabits coniferous forests. Locals had talked about seeing the bird in April - but its presence was confirmed the following month.

‘The bird is extremely shy and silent. But knowing that the best way to locate the species would be during its breeding season, when it becomes highly vocal, we returned in May,' said Riyaz Ahmad, the team leader and assistant manager, species division of WTI.

The victim of rampant poaching
A victim of rampant poaching for its meat and plumage and habitat degradation and fragmentation, the western tragopan has previously been reported only from Kazinag range and Kishtawar National Park in the state. A few scattered records occur from Sud Mahadeo area of Jammu province.

‘I was pleasantly surprised to note the tragopan's presence in these areas. Unlike its usual haunts, the moist north-facing coniferous slopes, the present sites are located on the south face of Pir Panjal along Poonch,' said Dr Rahul Kaul, South Asia representative, IUCN SSC Galliformes Specialist Group and Chief Ecologist, WTI.

In addition to western tragopan, the team also sighted another threatened species in the region, the cheer pheasant.

Ecologically diverse and representative of western Himalayan forests possessing key species such as the markhor, brown bear and musk deer, the team has recommended Kalamund-Tatakuti for notification as a protected area.

Friday 24 June 2011

Snake Genome Suggests Treatments for Human Heart Disease (Via HerpDigest)

Snake Genome Suggests Treatments for Human Heart Disease
By Katherine Harmon Jun 21, 2011 01:10 PM

NORMAN, Okla.-Snakes have been around for some 150 million years, but their ancient physiology might hold some important clues to developing new drugs. 

Aside from their sleek exteriors, snakes' internal physiology is perhaps even more intriguing. "It's a really fun model for studying the extremes of adaptation," Todd Castoe, a researcher at the University of Colorado (CU) School of Medicine's biochemistry and molecular genetics department, said June 20 at the Evolution 2011 annual conference in Norman, Okla.

In addition to the wow-factor of deciphering the snakes' interesting innards, the strange systems could help us better understand our own biology. 

As infrequent feeders, snakes have a highly variable metabolism, which can dip down to one of the lowest-known rates of any vertebrate. In particular, "the Burmese python is the quintessential model of the extreme version of this," Castoe said.

They can increase and decrease their metabolism by some 44-fold and their heart size by more than 50 percent depending on their energy demands. 

Behind all of these unusual evolutionary assets are the genes that make these feats possible. However, even as new genetic sequencing technology has allowed researchers to amass an impressive collection of plant and animal genomes, "reptiles have been really over looked by the bulk of sequencing," Castoe noted.

Earlier this year he and his colleagues published the first draft of a snake genome-the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus)-and it has divulged some interesting details about this species' agile metabolism. The snake's mitochondria, which are in charge of energy use in cells, "have undergone the single most extensive change that we're aware of," Castoe said.

To learn more about how the Burmese python heart undergoes such vast changes, Castoe and his team looked specifically at cardiac gene expression. Over the 72-hour metabolic cycle, they found many rapid changes in gene expression in the heart. In just a 24-hour sample, there were 1,852 unique transcriptomes (expressed RNAs in the tissue)-261 of which were up-regulated more than five fold.

These changes might help shed light on human heart development and disease. "We're pretty excited to not look at this in a vacuum," Castoe said. Some heart growth in humans is a good thing, such as that which occurs in childhood and due to exercise-what Castoe calls "Lance Armstrong-style heart growth." But other heart enlargement, such as that caused by heart disease, cardiac hypertrophy, is a definite negative and the target of much drug development. 

"If we are able to understand the genetic cues involved in rapid python heart muscle increases and decreases, that to be says there is the potential to develop therapeutics for humans,"

Leslie Leinwand, director of CU Boulder's Cardiovascular Institute, said in a prepared statement in 2008, before the genome had been completed. 

More work remains to be done before these new findings can be translated into potential drugs for heart disease in humans.

And as researchers digest more of these big snakes' genome, more medical applications might also emerge. 

A second and more thoroughly annotated draft of the python genome is expected out this fall. And other snakes are set to join the ranks of the sequenced, including the garter snake, the rattlesnake and the king cobra. Castoe notes that the field only keeps getting more interesting, adding: "If you're not studying snakes already, you should start."

Illegal Wildlife Traders Target Endemic Geckos (Via Herp Digest)

Illegal Wildlife Traders Target Endemic Geckos
By Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas, 6/1/11

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines-The tuko has been making a lot of noise in the wildlife trade-and conservationists don't like what they're hearing.

Environment officials here are looking into reports that foreigners have been offering hefty sums to buy native geckos, locally known as tuko, a nocturnal lizard one would either love or hate for the loud sound it makes.

Some buyers are reportedly willing to pay P100,000 or more each for geckos that weigh at least 500 grams, according to Valentin Talavero, head of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office.

Among the purported buyers are Korean and Chinese nationals, the latter said to be interested in geckos for their AIDS research, Talavero told the Inquirer on Monday.
Errol Abada Gatumbato, vice president and managing director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., said gecko "collection" seemed to have gone unchecked not only in Negros, but in other provinces where the species still thrive.

Reports reaching his group indicated that the sought-after lizards were being used either for gaming or medicinal purposes, Gatumbato added.

"This is quite alarming because there are endemic geckos with conservation values," he added, citing sketchy accounts of "clandestine buying" all over the country.

In interviews with the Inquirer, several Negrenses who asked not to be identified admitted to poaching the native gecko population for sale to foreign buyers.

A more enterprising resident said he even "fattened" the lizards first in captivity.
But whether in rural or urban areas, one need not look far to have a sense of the growing tuko trafficking.

For example, information on which types of geckos are in demand-and how to sell them-is easily available on

The website even lists down the characteristics of a "perfect tuko." To supposedly fetch a higher price, a gecko should sport red, orange or white spots on its skin, their feet splayed flat and shaped like a flower.

A marketable gecko should also weigh 400 grams or more, with a body length of at least 21 inches, the website said. It should look healthy-no severed body parts-and fed with food (mainly insects) found in their natural environment.

The gecko must also be active and fierce when one tries to hold it, the website added.

Geckos are also sold at, a popular buy-and-sell site.

And yet on paper, the prized lizards supposedly enjoy the full protection of the law.
Under the Wildlife Act of the Philippines, the collection of wildlife species such as the tuko requires a permit from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), Gatumbato said.
Reached for comment in Manila, PAWB Director Theresa Mundita Lim maintained that poaching and selling geckos are "illegal activities."

But lacking ample data on the country's gecko population, the government could not ascertain at the moment whether the species should be considered endangered or not, Lim said.
"We need to ensure first that its natural population will not be affected. Without that, it's illegal to catch it," the PAWB chief stressed.

According to Lim, geckos largely figure in the wildlife trade because of a demand in China, where their body parts are used in Chinese medicine.

Joan Gerangaya, head of the City Environment and Natural Resource Office, said several locals had asked his office to issue permits to "transport" tuko, but that they were all turned down since it would be in violation of the wildlife act.

Those interested in "breeding" tuko, however, may secure special permits from regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Gerangaya added. With a report from Kristine L. Alave in Manila

Chinese village bites into snake business (Via HerpDigest)

Chinese village bites into snake business

By Royston Chan and Aly Song Royston Chan And Aly Song - Sun Jun 19, 9:12 pm ET

ZISIQIAO VILLAGE, China (Reuters Life!) - This sleepy village nestled in the heart of vast farmland in China's eastern Zhejiang province hides a deadly secret.

A step into the homes of any of the farming families here brings visitors eye-to-eye with thousands of some of the world's most feared creatures -- snakes, many of them poisonous.

Cobras, vipers and pythons are everywhere in Zisiqiao, aptly known as the snake village, where the reptiles are deliberately raised for use as food and in traditional medicine, bringing in millions of dollars to a village that otherwise would rely solely on farming.

"As the number one snake village in China, it's impossible for us to raise only one kind of snake," said Yang Hongchang, the 60-year-old farmer who introduced snake breeding to the village decades ago.
"We are researching many kinds of snakes and the methods of breeding them."

In 1985, Yang started selling snakes he caught around the area to animal vendors. He soon began to worry that the wild snakes would run out and thus began researching on how to breed snakes at home.
Within three years, he had made a fortune -- and many other villagers decided to emulate his success.
Today, more than three million snakes are bred in the village every year by the 160 farming families.
Snakes are renowned for their medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine and are commonly drunk as soup or wine to boost the person's immunity.

Yang has now started his own company to make his business more formal and build a brand, and also to conduct research and development for his products, which range from dried snake to snake wine and snake powder.

"Our original breeding method has been approved and recognised by the province and the county. They see us as the corporation working with the farming families," Yang said.
"So the company researches on the snakes and they hand them over to the farms for breeding. They said this model was working very well."

The original breeding method was simply putting males and females together, but now meticulous research is done on how the snakes breed, how to select good females, investigation into their diet, and how to incubate eggs so survival rates rise.

With rising demand for snake products from restaurants and medicine halls due both to rising wealth and a government push for breeding the animals to be used in traditional medicine, Zisiqiao villagers are now boasting a annual income of hundreds of thousands of yuan per year.

Yang Xiubang, 46, has been raising snakes in his home for more than twenty years and said his annual income has been steadily rising.

"The demand for traditional Chinese medicine is quite high in China," he said.
"After we finish producing the dried snake, most of them are sent to medicine factories. This also includes snake livers and snake gallbladders."

Yang added snake products from the village are currently being exported globally to countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Closer to home, snake products from the village are sold in the bustling Zhejiang city of Hangzhou, where the Hangzhou Woai Company offers a plethora of goods including snake powders.
"Each part of the snake is treasured," said store manager Gao Chenchang.

"China has a strong snake culture, there are a lot of people -- like in Guangzhou -- who like to eat snakes."

With such a special product, Zisiqiao's million dollar business is the envy of other rural communities. But Yang Hongchang said competition is stiff from other breeders who are rearing snakes on a larger scale than his village.

In addition, rearing the snakes comes with obvious risks.

The snake farmers said they had been bitten, some by deadly snakes, and were saved only by injection of anti-venom medicine.

Yang Wenfu, 55, gave up rearing species of venomous vipers after being bitten by one of them earlier in his career.

"After that, I no longer dared to raise vipers. I am still scared today," he said, adding that his arm grew hugely swollen after the bite.

"Life is valuable and making money is secondary."

(Additional reporting by Reuters Television Shanghai; editing by Elaine Lies)

Bill Haast, a Man Charmed by Snakes, Dies at 100 (Via HerpDigest)

Bill Haast, a Man Charmed by Snakes, Dies at 100
By Douglas Martin, NYTimes, on-line 6/17/11 in print 6/18/11

An eastern diamondback rattlesnake left one hand looking like a claw. A Malayan pit viper mangled an index finger. A cottonmouth bit a finger, which instantly turned black, prompting his wife to snip off the fingertip with garden clippers.

Mr. Haast was bitten at least 173 times by poisonous snakes, about 20 times almost fatally. It was all in a day's work for probably the best-known snake handler in the country, a scientist-cum-showman who made enough money from milking toxic goo from slithery serpents to buy a cherry-red Rolls-Royce convertible.

A secret of his success was the immunity he had built up by injecting himself every day for more than 60 years with a mix of venoms from 32 snake species. He suspected the inoculations might have explained his extraordinarily good health, but he was reluctant to make that claim, he said, until he reached 100.

Mr. Haast, who was director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, a snake-venom producer near Punta Gorda, Fla., died of natural causes on Wednesday at his home in southwest Florida, his wife, Nancy, said. He was 100.

Mr. Haast's story was good enough in its day to land him in Walter Winchell's syndicated column, on "The Tonight Show" and, hardly surprising, in Ripley's Believe It or Not attractions. His original Miami Serpentarium, south of Miami on South Dixie Highway, attracted 50,000 tourists a year for four decades.

Outside was a 35-foot-high concrete statue of a giant cobra, forked tongue flicking menacingly. Inside, Mr. Haast, the self-proclaimed "Snakeman," entertained paying customers by using his hands to grab snakes below their heads and force their teeth into soft plastic. Venom would then drain into test tubes fastened to the plastic. He did this 100 or so times a day.

The serpentarium was more than just another roadside attraction. The price of a gram of freeze-dried venom from exotic snakes, requiring 100 or more extractions to accumulate, could exceed $5,000. The substance is an essential ingredient in making a serum to treat snakebite victims. It has also shown promise as a medicinal ingredient.

Mr. Haast and a Miami doctor treated more than 6,000 people with a snake-venom serum that they and their patients contended was effective against multiple sclerosis and arthritis. After the CBS News program "60 Minutes" did a report on the subject in December 1979, interest in the serum surged. But in 1980 the Food and Drug Administration banned the product as useless after saying that numerous deficiencies had been found in Mr. Haast's manufacturing process. Nevertheless, researchers have continued to work on drugs made from venom in the hope of using it to treat cancer, Alzheimer's and other diseases.

Mr. Haast himself indisputably saved lives. He flew around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to 21 different snakebite victims. Venezuela made him an honorary citizen after he went deep into the jungle to give a boy a pint of blood.

The favor was returned in 1989 when, according to The Associated Press, the White House used secret connections to spirit a rare serum out of Iran to treat Mr. Haast as he fought to recover from a bite by a Pakistani pit viper. (Different venoms require different antidotes.)

William E. Haast was born on Dec. 30, 1910, in Paterson, N.J. He caught his first garter snake at 7 at a nearby canal. His first serious snake bite came at age 12, when he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake at Boy Scout camp. The same year, a copperhead's bite put him in the hospital for a week. When young Bill brought his first poisonous snake home to the family apartment, his mother left home for three days, he said. She finally agreed to let him keep a snake or two in cages.

"The snake would bite the mouse," he said in an interview with The Miami Herald in 1984. "The mouse would die. I found it intriguing."

He bought his first exotic snake, a diamondback rattler, from a catalog. Noticing that it had come from Florida, he knew then, he said, that Florida was his destiny. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined a roadside snake show that made its way to Florida in the late 1920s.

The snake attraction soon failed during the Depression, so Mr. Haast went to work for a bootlegger in the Everglades, where he was pleased to find plenty of snakes. The bootlegger was arrested, and Mr. Haast found his way to an airline mechanics school.

Finding a job as a flight engineer with Pan American World Airways, he began traveling around the world. That gave him a chance to use his toolbox to smuggle snakes, including his first cobra.
Mr. Haast's dream of a first-class snake farm came true when he opened his Miami serpentarium in 1947. His near-fatal snakebites became legend in the news media, particularly after the total passed 100 in the mid-1960s.

His first wife, Ann, divorced him over his snake obsession. His second, Clarita, and third, Nancy, pitched in enthusiastically.

Besides his wife, the former Nancy Harrell, he is survived by two daughters, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Mr. Haast closed the serpentarium in 1984 after a 6-year-old boy fell into his crocodile pit and was fatally mauled. He moved his venom-gathering operation to Utah. Six years later, he returned to Florida and opened the facility in Punta Gorda, where he raised and milked snakes but did not resume his snake show.

For all the time he spent with snakes, Mr. Haast harbored no illusions that they liked him.
"You could have a snake for 30 years and the second you leave his cage door cracked, he's gone," he told Outside magazine in 1997. "And they'll never come to you unless you're holding a mouse in your teeth."

Hundreds of Tortoises Smuggled in Suitcases at Bangkok Airport. (Via Herp Digest)

Hundreds of Tortoises Smuggled in Suitcases at Bangkok Airport.
Posted Sat Jun 11, 2011 12:24pm AEST

Customs officials in Thailand have intercepted an illegal shipment of 370 tortoises, hidden in two suitcases that were abandoned at Bangkok's Airport.

It is the second seizure of the protected Indian Star tortoise species at the airport within a week.
Ekalarp Rattanaruja from the Thai Customs Department says smugglers are trying new methods to outwit officials.

"Nowadays the smugglers keep changing their tactics," he said.

"Sometimes they leave them in Lost and Found, sometimes they just try to carry them through. More and more they change their methods and their routes."

'Dog killed by Yowie'

FIRST it was UFOs, now it's feared Yowies could be on the loose in Darwin's rural area.
A Territory Yowie researcher believes the Big-Foot-like beast could be responsible for the recent death of a dog south of Darwin.

The dog's owners believed their seven-month-old puppy, which had its head ripped from its body, was mauled to death by dingoes. But Andrew McGinn, who has been researching Yowies in the Top End for more than a decade, said it was possible the hairy ape-type beast was responsible for the attack.

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BIG: A photograph of a footprint taken on mango farmer Katrina Tucker's Acacia Hills property in 1997

Argentina: Residents Terrified by "Striking Imp"

Argentina: Residents of Santiago [del Estero] Terrified by “Striking Imp”

Local residents state that the small creature appears in dark places and pummels people. Police has issued a statement asking people not to walk alone in the dark.

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Lost Scottish folk tales published online

The notebooks of the Scottish folklore pioneer Alexander Carmichael have been prepared for publication.

It will be the first time Carmichael's work has been available in its entirety.

From 1860, he spent 50 years collecting legends, songs, curses and oral history from Gaelic-speakers.

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Giant Gator Killed In Trinity River

An episode of 'Swamp People’ inspired Dallas attorney Levi McCathern to go on a hunt for bigger game.

"Something I wanted to do was hunt something that could hunt me and alligators seemed like a challenge,” said McCathern, who has hunted since the age of six.

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Thursday 23 June 2011

Fishy business: Mysterious 55ft ‘sea monster’ washes up in China

You’d need a big portion of chips to go with this. A gigantic sea beast measuring 55ft has been discovered washed up on a beach in Guangdong, China.

It was found wrapped in fishing lines, leading locals to suspect that fishermen cut it free from their nets because it was too big to haul in.Read more:

Loch Ness Monster sighting reported by locals

FOYERS shop and cafe owner Jan Hargreaves and her husband Simon believe they caught a glimpse of Loch Ness’s most elusive resident — Nessie.

It was while taking a break on the store’s front decking — looking out to the loch — when Mrs Hargreaves and kitchen worker Graham Baine spotted an unusual figure cutting a strange shape through the water.

“We were standing looking out and saw something that looked bizarre,” said Mrs Hargreaves.

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Blistering barnacles! A real Yeti skin has been sold in Geneva! Not exactly; it is the pelt of an Ursus arctos pruinosus, or rare Tibetan blue bear, to be more precise.

The hide was the main attraction on Wednesday at the Hotel des Ventes auction house, selling for SFr18,200 ($21,600). It was originally collected by mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary during his famous Yeti hunt to the Himalayas in 1960.

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Paranormal group seeks help confirming 'Bigfoot DNA'

A California paranormal group claims to have DNA samples of Bigfoot -- concrete evidence of the legendary creature's existence -- but they want help authenticating them.

Members of the Sanger Paranormal Society will call upon the public to donate money and resources to their Bigfoot research effort at a Thursday afternoon news conference in Fresno, Calif.

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Coyote runs into home near Battle Ground .

BATTLE GROUND -- William Biscoe and his wife were startled out of bed Monday morning by what they thought was a dog in their house.

The dog turned out to be a coyote that had chased their cat into their home, located in a heavily forested area on Berlin Road.

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Early human fossils unearthed in Ukraine

Ancient remains uncovered in Ukraine represent some of the oldest evidence of modern people in Europe, experts have claimed. Archaeologists found human bones and teeth, tools, ivory ornaments and animal remains at the Buran-Kaya cave site. The 32,000-year-old fossils bear cut marks suggesting they were defleshed as part of a post-mortem ritual.

Details have been published in the journal PLoS One.

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Breakdancing Calgary gorilla becomes online sensation

Zola, an eight-year-old lowland gorilla living at the Calgary Zoo, is the star of the latest animal video online to go viral.

Zookeepers captured the gorilla on video late last week "breakdancing" inside his enclosure; splashing, spinning on one heel and stomping through a puddle.

At one point he appears to be breakdancing.

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Wednesday 22 June 2011

Cat steals from everyone in San Mateo neighborhood

Lucky for Dusty he's a cat. Otherwise he'd surely be in jail, or at least a 12-step program. The San Mateo feline has pilfered more than 600 items from neighbors - behavior so odd it's baffled and delighted animal experts and made Dusty a minor celebrity.

"It's extreme, but it's absolutely adorable," said Marilyn Krieger, a cat behavior consultant in Redwood City. "I can't say exactly why he's doing it, except it has to do with mixed-up neurotransmitters. I think it's a form of OCD." Dusty's nocturnal heists started about four years ago, a year after his owners adopted him as a kitten from the Peninsula Humane Society.

"I noticed a piece of latex glove on the bed one morning and told my husband he should do a better job cleaning up his work stuff," said Jean Chu, a dentist. "He said, 'It wasn't me. I think it was the cat.' "

After that, Chu and her husband, Jim Coleman, were greeted each morning with a tableau of neighborhood detritus on their doorstep: gloves, towels, Crocs, swim trunks, Safeway bags, bubble wrap, a Giants cap and other backyard sundries.

Chu started keeping a log of Dusty's haul, which averages three or four items a night. His record spree is 11 in a 24-hour period. "It's work. Every time I go out to get the paper in the morning, I have to pick up after him," said Coleman, an artist. "Sometimes he brings things
that are sort of expensive. I get a little worried about that."

As for the booty, Chu washes it and hunts for the rightful owner. If she can't find the owner, she stores the loot in boxes in the dining room. The boxes are now piled two deep.

"He stole my bikini," said Kelly McLellan, who lives a few doors up the street. "He did it in two trips. He was very focused on keeping the ensemble. When it went missing I wasn't worried, though. I knew where to go."

McLellan's son, Ethan, 6, lost a Nerf rocket football.

"I looked for it, but I didn't know where it went," he said. "Then I remembered. The cat took it."
Stephanie Somers' family lost six bathing suits and countless shorts, towels and car wash sponges. "We don't leave anything out anymore," she said. "But we don't mind. We like
Dusty." A year ago Chu contacted People magazine about her kleptomaniac kitty, and a star was born. Dusty has been on the David Letterman show and Animal Planet, and infrared footage of his nighttime antics are a hit on YouTube - there's even video of him dragging home a brassiere. The public can meet Dusty at an adoption event June 25 at the Peninsula Humane Society, where he will be posing for photos and allowing fans to pet him.

Dusty's predilection for theft is rare but not unheard of, animal experts said. Some cats will bring home half-dead mice, acting on their instinct to teach kittens to hunt. Dusty's habit is likely related to that somehow, minus the kittens and mice. "It's like a predatory instinct gone awry," said Richmond cat consultant Mikel Delgado. "He's obviously very bold." Anika Liljenwall, behavior associate at the Peninsula Humane Society, said Dusty's predatory instinct has become "crossed in his head."

"In his mind he's caught something and he's bringing it home to share," she said.

Neuroses aside, everyone agrees Dusty seems to be a perfectly happy and healthy cat. "We always try to find meaning in what animals do," Liljenwall said. "But maybe he just does this because it's fun."

No cull of badgers in Wales during scientific review

Controversial plans for a badger cull in west Wales have been put on hold while a review is carried out. The Labour-run Welsh Government says an independent panel of experts will examine the science involved.

The cull had been part of an attempt by the previous Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government to combat bovine TB. But Environment Minister John Griffiths said there would be no cull while the panel carried out its work.

The Labour-Plaid coalition had planned the cull alongside other measures to control TB in cattle in an area of north Pembrokeshire - the so-called Intensive Action Area.

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T. rex's arms helped them stand up

It is one of the most enduring mysteries of paleontology - what the fearsome T. rex used its arms for, and why they were seemingly so small.

Now Japanese and American scientists think they have come up with an answer.

By running computer simulations and examining the joints of dinosaur fossils, researchers at the University of Oregon and the Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science found that the Tyrannosaurus could often be found crouching down or lying prone.

The arms, it transpires, were a very good design for righting the beast when it wanted to stand up.

CSI: Wildlife -- Solving Mysterious Animal Deaths

CSI: Wildlife -- Solving Mysterious Animal Deaths
from Miller-McCune

Carol Meteyer unfurled the Sandhill crane's gray wings across the steel examination table, and for a moment, the 4-foot-tall bird regained its former majesty. In that instant, the laboratory's windowless cinderblock walls, cement floor and fluorescent lights disappeared. It was easy to imagine the crane's wings cupping the prairie air as it landed in an Oklahoma field, its long gray neck stretched, its red crown the only bright spot in a dun landscape.

FedEx had delivered the crane, along with three others, that morning. The day before, it had stood in a farm field in Oklahoma, its head bowed and its wings limp; 10 other cranes were already dead or showing similar symptoms.

Dead animals arrive at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., almost every day, usually by overnight delivery in plastic coolers. State and federal wildlife biologists from all over the country send carcasses to the lab hoping to solve cases of mysterious animal deaths, to confirm their own diagnoses or to provide evidence in legal cases against an animal's killer. Because it does solve animal murder mysteries through scientific investigation, the center has been called wildlife's own CSI unit. It would be just as accurate, though, to call it a wildlife Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also solves deadly mysteries, but the emphasis there, as at the wildlife health center, is on research, outreach and prevention of needless death.

Earliest Art in the Americas: Ice Age Image of Mammoth or Mastodon Found in Florida

ScienceDaily (June 21, 2011) — Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Florida have announced the discovery of a bone fragment, approximately 13,000 years old, in Florida with an incised image of a mammoth or mastodon. This engraving is the oldest and only known example of Ice Age art to depict a proboscidean (the order of animals with trunks) in the Americas. The team's research is published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Tuesday 21 June 2011

Why Cleaner fish punish their partners for putting on weight

Largest fish in harem will turn into rival male

June 2011: Telling your partner to watch her weight is not recommended - unless you're a male cleaner fish, reports a new study.

Cleaner fish feed in male-female pairs by removing parasites from larger ‘client' fish. While providing this cleaning service, cleaners may get greedy and bite clients rather than sticking to parasites. This cheating by cleaners causes mealtimes to come to an abrupt end as the irritated client fish swims off.

RICH PICKINGS: Cleaner fish remove parasites from larger fish - but are not averse to sometimes taking a bigger bite. Picture: Joao Paulo Krajewski

But it's not just the client fish that is disgruntled. Females males that bite clients receive aggressive punishment from their male partners for such greedy behaviour. And with good reason.

Greedy females kept in check with harsh punishments
Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and a number of other leading scientific institutions have now shown that male fish lose more than just a meal from their partner's big appetite - they also risk the female becoming so large that she will turn into a rival male.

Cleaner fish live in groups led by one dominant male with a harem of up to 16 females. All cleaner fish are born female and turn into males when they become the biggest fish in their group. A male cleaner fish usually partners with the biggest female fish in the harem for cleaning duties.

‘Our research shows that male cleaner fish are sensitive to their female partner's size. One reason for keeping a cheating female in check may be to stop her eating too much and then challenging his position as the dominant male on the reef,' says Dr Nichola Raihani, lead author from ZSL.

Deterrent alters the female's behaviour
The research also shows that the male cleaner fish distinguish between high and low value meals and will punish the female more severely if she drives off a high-value client.

The female fish will respond to this punishment by providing better service to high value clients in the future. This is the first non-human example of where punishment fits the crime and results in the offender adjusting their behaviour according to the potential penalties.

Dr Nichola Raihani says: ‘Cleaner fish and humans may not share many physical traits, but cleaner fish punish cheating individuals, just as we punish people who step outside of the law. In both situations, harsher punishment may serve as a stronger deterrent against future crimes.'

Dingy skipper puts in rare appearance in Worcestershire woodland

First time a dingy skipper has been recorded in Monkwood area since 1995

June 2011: A locally scarce butterfly has been spotted at a woodland nature reserve on the outskirts of Worcester.

Numbers of dingy skippers have increased in parts of Worcestershire, such the Wyre Forest, in recent years. This is the first time it's been seen in the Monkwood area for many years.

James Hitchcock, conservation officer for Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘Dingy skippers used to be found on Monkwood Green and in our adjacent woodland but we haven't recorded them there since 1995.

‘With the warm springs of the past few years, we have seen dingy skippers flying in good numbers elsewhere in the county and there have been promising signs of natural spread and recolonisation.'

Butterfly has been suffering serious national decline
The butterfly has suffered serious decline nationally and is a priority species for conservation. It is found in only a handful of sites in Worcestershire. This sighting and their increased numbers around the county bodes well for their future.

James added: ‘Monkwood is jointly owned by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation. We've spent the last couple of years undertaking vital work to improve the woodland habitat for butterflies.

‘It's great to see that our efforts are paying off. Last year we discovered nine previously unrecorded micro-moths in the woodland.

‘This year has also seen good numbers of the nationally rare leaf-rolling weevils in the woodland. They're only known to live in about ten woodlands in England and three of those are in Worcestershire.'

Dingy skippers are small, brown and grey butterflies. They're often seen basking in the sunshine on bare ground with their wings spread out. In dull weather they perch on the top of dead flowers with curved wings. They can be confused with other butterflies and moths such as the grizzled skipper.

Emperor penguin appears on New Zealand beach

Lost juvenile Emperor penguin a long way from home

June 2011. Locals in New Zealand were very surprised to find a 1 metre tall penguin on a North Island beach as the largest resident penguins in New Zealand, yellow-eyed penguins, grow to a maximum of just 65 centimetres.

Residents of New Zealands Kapiti Coast realised that they have been treated to a rare visit by an emperor penguin. There is only one other recording of an emperor penguin in New Zealand, at Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967.

Stay clear of the penguin
New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) advises that people should not disturb the penguin and ensure that dogs are kept on leads in the area. Penguins can give vicious bites if they feel threatened. If left alone it is expected and hoped that the bird will eventually swim back out to sea.

It is not known why these birds that reside in the Antarctic would visit New Zealand shores.

DOC biodiversity spokesperson Peter Simpson said" It's amazing to see one of these penguins on the Kapiti Coast. Unusual animals from the Antarctic sometimes visit our shores, but we really don't know why".

Department of Conservation staff were first alerted by Kapiti resident Christine Wilton who was walking her dog on Monday afternoon at Peka Peka Beach.

"I saw this glistening white thing standing up and I thought I was seeing things," Ms Wilton said.

She contacted DOC's Waikanae office and rangers went to investigate. They saw what looked like a big white ball in the sand. It stood up, looking quite relaxed and in good condition. It was later confirmed that the majestic visitor is a juvenile emperor penguin standing at about 1 metre tall.

World's largest penguins
Emperor penguins are the largest penguins, adults reaching more than a metre tall and weighing up to 30kg. They feed on fish, krill, squid and a wide range of marine invertebrates and hold the diving record at 450 metres deep and 11 minutes underwater.
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