Wednesday 31 August 2011

What is killing killer whales?

Killer whales, the ocean's fiercest predators, are easily recognisable by their black and white markings.
But their future seems less clearly defined.

Marine experts are concerned about an invisible threat to the animals that has been building in our seas since World War II.

That was when industries began extensively using chemical flame retardants, such as PCBs.

These chemicals were later found to harm human health and the environment, and governments around the world banned their use in the 1970s.

But their legacy lives on in the world's seas and oceans, say biologists, posing a modern threat to animals such as killer whales, also known as orcas.

Small population
Ingrid Visser grew up watching killer whales, the largest members of the dolphin family, from the shores of her native New Zealand. She has dedicated her life to knowing more about the animals.

The island nation's orca population is made up of fewer than 200 individuals and as such is listed as threatened.

"They hunt in New Zealand waters in the shallows for the rays and in deeper waters for the sharks," says Dr Visser.

"[These] orca are unique as they are the only population that has so far been recognised to specialise in hunting for rays and sharks."

But according to Dr Visser's studies, this diet could be the reason the population is not growing.

As large mammals, killer whales consume a large amount of prey.

But this position at the top of the food chain, as "apex predators", makes them particularly vulnerable to changes in their prey.

That is because orca feed on fish that in turn eat polluted prey or absorb pollution from the water. So the orca ingest all of the pollution in the chain, in a process called "bioaccumulation".

Dr Visser says her studies of the bodies of stranded orca and the sharks and rays they feed on have confirmed this fear.

"Their prey is definitely polluted - we are seeing spikes in the same chemicals as are seen in the orca," she says.

New Zealand orca are not the only ones living with pollution, according to Alex Rogers, Professor in Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford, UK.

"Studies have identified high levels of flame retardant chemicals in orca particularly from the Northern Hemisphere, for example from the north Pacific, particularly off Canada and the Arctic," he says.

"These chemicals have also been found at high concentrations in orca from the Southern Hemisphere."

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were banned globally from the 1970s.

In recent years, the European Union has also banned the use of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in foam for furniture and electrical devices due to their potential toxicity.

"The two main groups of flame retardant chemicals, PCBs and PBDEs have a range of effects on animals including interference with thyroid function and vitamin A metabolism, negative effects on neurological and reproductive development and impacts on immune function," says Prof Rogers.

Persistent threat
But despite actions to limit use of these chemicals, also referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), marine experts suggest the damage has already been done.

"PCBs are not water soluble, they only dissolve and accumulate in fatty tissue," says Dr Paul Jepson from the Zoological Society of London.

Dr Jepson says this fat solubility is a considerable issue for female cetaceans such as killer whales who feed their young for up to a year on high fat milk to kick-start their development.

"You get this huge maternal transfer. It's been calculated that in whales and dolphins about ninety percent or more of the mother's body burden of PCB can be offloaded, particularly to the first calf," he tells BBC Nature.

POPs are a problem that is not going away.

"Even though PCBs have been banned they're just so resistant to break down in the environment. The decline of these pollutants is happening very slowly," says Dr Jepson.

In his role as co-ordinator of the UK Cetacean Strandings Project Dr Jepson regularly comes into contact with marine mammals.

His studies into harbour porpoises, common to UK waters, have highlighted the ongoing impact of the chemicals.

"We're not really finding any decline at all in PCBs in our harbour porpoises... levels in the UK appear to have plateaued since about 1997."

Dr Jepson says that Dr Visser's findings could pose a serious cause for concern for orca worldwide, especially those in seas close to heavily populated and industrialised nations.

"Pollutant levels, particularly with PCBs, will be much higher in European waters than they would in New Zealand," says Dr Jepson.

"If they are finding quite high levels in orcas in New Zealand it's really quite worrying for us."

Little-known facts
This remains a controversial area of study however due to the elusive nature of the subjects.

Orca have the most cosmopolitan distribution of any animal, being found in every ocean around the world.

But their wide-ranging territories, predatory nature and deep-sea lifestyles have restricted long-term studies to determine population sizes.

There is precious little opportunity to study the animals on land either as orca rarely strand: Dr Jepson's last encounter with one on the UK coast was 12 years ago.

Not much is known therefore about the causes of orca's deaths and what, if any, pollutants are in their bodies.

Dr Visser however is determined to record New Zealand's orcas in the hope they will provide information that will help conservationists worldwide.

To do this, the scientist is literally immersing herself in the world of the killers: diving with the animals to document their behaviour and health.

Without in-depth studies of populations around the world, there will not be enough evidence to truly know whether populations are in decline.

Natural World: The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales airs on BBC Two at 2000 BST on Wednesday, August 31.

How elephants could solve the biofuel problem

When it comes to weaning the world's motorists off their addiction to fossil fuel, few would have bet on finding part of the solution in the pungent depths of elephant droppings and a Swiss compost heap.
A biochemical cocktail based on enzymes and micro-organisms found in elephant faeces and in rotting vegetable matter has the potential to revolutionise biofuel production by making it possible to mass-produce eco-friendly gasoline for the first time without relying on food crops, say the scientists.

A Dutch technology giant, DSM, has signed deals to introduce its new fermenting technique in test plants across Europe and the US, meaning ethanol, which currently makes up 4 per cent of all petrol in Britain, derived from crop waste and wood chips, could be available at the pump by 2015.

Research shows the new technology, along with other second generation or "2G" biofuels, could produce up to 90 billion litres of bio-ethanol in Europe by 2020 and displace more than 60 per cent of conventional petrol use as well as reducing reliance on crops such as maize, which has been blamed for fuelling the global food crisis.

But scientists warn there is a lack of political will across Europe to provide the support and subsidy for large-scale production. Environmentalists also question whether the hundreds of millions of tonnes of "bio-mass" required can be produced without encroaching on land used for food production.

But researchers believe that after decades of false dawns for the biofuels industry as it seeks to produce products which can compete on grounds of price and energy content with fossil fuels, they are on the cusp of a commercially viable method of production that converts vegetable matter previously considered to be unusable waste into ethanol, which must form 10 per cent of all road transport fuel by 2020 in Europe.

Inspiration for one half of the technique, which is being tested in demonstration-scale refineries due to come on line in 2014, came from analysis of mechanisms in the intestines of elephants which allow them to digest not only "ordinary" sugars such as glucose, but other sugars which normally remain locked up in the cellulose structure of plant cells. American researchers have also found bacteria in the droppings of bamboo-chomping pandas which could be similarly effective in biofuel production.

When the elephant enzymes were combined with another enzyme found in an analysis of a compost heap in Switzerland, tests showed the resulting cocktail could convert 90 per cent of bio-mass, such as maize stalks or wheat straw, into ethanol – about double the rate until now.

One analysis calculated that widespread take-up of 2G biofuel could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by more than 40 per cent by 2020. Volkert Claassen, DSM's head of strategy in biotechnology, said: "From the technology point of view, we are very confident that this will work. But we are at the point where we need to take this to a very different level ... If you want to make these kinds of tremendous changes in the world, then you need the right political environment."

By Cahal Milmo, Chief Reporter

Owl Eggs Reveal Complex Pollutant Patterns

An animal's load of persistent organic pollutants depends on more than the amount of the chemicals in the environment, according to a long-term study of tawny owls. The study connects variations of pollutant levels in the owls' eggs with changes in climate conditions and the birds' food supply (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es201786x).

Every year since 1986, Georg Bangjord, a study co-author and bird enthusiast who lives in Trondheim, Norway, has collected egg samples from more than 100 tawny owl nest boxes. Jan Bustnes of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research and his colleagues have been studying the concentrations of pollutants in these eggs. The owls accumulate chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) from their prey, and store them in their fat. When the females lay their eggs each year, they transfer some of those chemicals to the eggs. In 2007, Bustnes and his colleagues reported that concentrations of these chemicals in the eggs had declined since the 1980s (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es071581w).

Despite the overall decline, the researchers also noticed significant year-to-year variations in the pollutant levels. Bustnes and his colleagues decided to examine how variables such as climate conditions or food availability might have affected the chemicals' levels. So they combined their pollutant data with yearly observations of prey numbers and snow depth, along with climate data from the North Atlantic Oscillation index. They then ran statistical analyses to look for trends.

Owl eggs had greater levels of PCBs and DDT during winters with lower temperatures, periods of high snowfall, and seasons with smaller populations of their preferred prey, voles. Colder temperatures and scarce food sources could prompt owls to burn more of their fat stores, which contain high levels of the pollutants. As the owls metabolize the fat, greater amounts of the pollutants enter their blood stream and eventually accumulate in their eggs, Bustnes says. Under these conditions, the owls also lay fewer eggs, which could further concentrate the chemicals, he says.
The trend for PBDEs, the chemicals found in flame retardants, was slightly different. Levels of those chemicals also increased in eggs during colder, snowier winters, but only when voles were plentiful. Bustnes says there isn't a clear explanation for the PBDE trend.

Integrating food supply data with physical data, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation index, is a new and interesting way to understand variations in pollutant loads, says Craig Hebert, a research scientist at Environment Canada, the nation's environmental agency. The study "emphasizes how complex the interpretation of some of these temporal trends can be," and why researchers should consider multiple variables when analyzing pollutant levels in animals, he says.

Karen Foster, a postdoctoral researcher at Trent University, in Canada, adds that the data suggest that simply reporting the concentrations of pollutants measured in wildlife is not sufficient: "We really need to understand why we're seeing these concentrations."

Bird flu deaths in Asia prompt call for scrutiny

(Reuters) - Virologists warned on Tuesday that there was no vaccine against a mutant strain of H5N1 bird flu now spreading in China and Vietnam and called for closer monitoring of the disease in poultry and wild birds to stop it spreading to people.

The call came after the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Monday of a possible resurgence of bird flu and said a mutant strain of the H5N1 was spreading in Asia and beyond.

While scientists are uncertain if this new strain -- called H5N1- -- is more virulent in people, they said it was different enough from its predecessor to escape a human H5N1 vaccine that can tackle the parent strain.

"There is a human H5N1 vaccine candidate that is a (WHO)recommended vaccine ... But it doesn't confer full protection against the (new variant)," said leading virologist Malik Peiris at the University of Hong Kong.

"But that is not unusual. H5 viruses keep changing and we have to change the vaccine strain."

The World Health Organization meets twice a year, in February and September, when experts discuss and decide on the makeup of candidate influenza vaccines.

H5N1 kills up to 60 percent of the people it infects. It has resurfaced in recent months, most notably in Cambodia where it has infected eight people this year, killing all of them.

"H5N1 cases in Cambodia always have high mortality because they are detected late," Peiris told Reuters in an interview.

"It doesn't necessarily indicate that this particular virus strain is more virulent to humans. But it is a threat because it has become more widespread globally."

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Chinese in Africa told: ‘Don’t buy ivory’

Many people don't realise it's illegal August 2011: TRAFFIC and the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) are targeting Chinese nationals living in Africa with their message not to bring ivory and other illegal wildlife products into China.

A series of Chinese-language broadcasts about Stop the illegal trade in ivory are being aired throughout Africa between July and the end of August by China Radio International (CRI).

As the number of Chinese nationals living and visiting Africa has increased in recent years - several hundred thousand Chinese workers currently live in Africa, working in a variety of industries including mining, forestry and infrastructure development - so has the frequency of cases in which Chinese nationals have been found illegally transporting ivory and other wildlife products to China.

A typical example occurred last month, when Huanggang Customs in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province caught a man illegally entering China with 3.5 kg of ivory products from Africa.

Combatting a basic lack of awarenessThe radio broadcasts aim to counteract the basic lack of awareness among Chinese citizens about the illegality of transporting ivory and the consequences of being caught. Some people claim not to know it is illegal and others believe that if caught, they only face having the goods confiscated.

But, as the radio programmes highlight, the consequences of smuggling ivory are far more serious, with anyone found guilty facing anything between five years and permanent imprisonment under Chinese Criminal Law.

‘The open sale of ivory in illegal domestic markets in parts of Africa may give the false impression it can be legally purchased, but buyers should be aware they could end up behind bars for years,' said Jianbin Shi, head of TRAFFIC's China programme.

Illegal ivory trade is escalatingRegulations governing the import and export of ivory and other wildlife products between Africa and China are covered in detail during the radio broadcasts, including those under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

A new report published revealing the escalating levels of illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants was presented to government delegates at the 61st meeting of the Standing Committee to CITES earlier this month.

In 2009, China's Customs agency detected around 860 cases of smuggling of endangered species products, almost 800 of them elephant tusks or ivory products. Logistics companies too have witnessed a rise in the number of cases of illegal transportation of wildlife products, with often large quantities of protected items such as ivory, skins of Asian big cats, pangolin scales and antelope horns discovered.

Fish-catching trick may be spreading among dolphins

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Dolphins in one western Australian population have been observed holding a large conch shell in their beaks and using it to shake a fish into their mouths -- and the behavior may be spreading.

Researchers from Murdoch University in Perth were not quite sure what they were seeing when they first photographed the activity, in 2007, in which dolphins would shake conch shells at the surface of the ocean.

"It's a fleeting glimpse -- you look at it and think, that's kind of weird," said Simon Allen, a researcher at the university's Cetacean Research Unit.

"Maybe they're playing, maybe they're socializing, maybe males are presenting a gift to a female or something like that, maybe the animals are actually eating the animal inside."

But researchers were more intrigued when they studied the photos and found the back of a fish hanging out of the shell, realizing that the shaking drained the water out of the shells and caused the fish that was sheltering inside to fall into the dolphins' mouths.

A search through records for dolphins in the eastern part of Shark Bay, a population that has been studied for nearly 30 years, found roughly half a dozen sightings of similar behavior over some two decades.

Then researchers saw it at least seven times during the four-month research period starting this May, Allen said.

"There's a possibility here -- and it's speculation at this stage -- that this sort of change from seeing it six or seven times in 21 years to seeing it six or seven times in three months gives us that tantalizing possibility that it might be spreading before our very eyes," he added.

"It's too early to say definitively yet, but we'll be watching very closely over the next couple of field seasons."

The Shark Bay dolphin population is already unusual for having developed two foraging techniques, one of which involves the dolphin briefly beaching itself to grab fish after driving them up onto the shore.

The other is "sponging" -- in which the dolphins break off a conical bit of sponge and fit it over their heads like a cap, shielding them as they forage for food on the sea floor.

But both of these spread "vertically," mainly through the female dolphin population, from mother to daughter. The intriguing thing about this new behavior with the conch shells is that it might be spreading "horizontally," Allen said.

"If it spreads horizontally, then we would expect to see it more often and we'd expect to see it between 'friends'," he added, noting that dolphins are known for having preferences in terms of companions and whom they spend time with.

"Most of the sightings from this year are in the same habitat where we first saw it in 2007, and a couple of the individuals this year are known to associate with the ones that we saw doing it a year or two ago."

The next step would be not only to observe the behavior again in another season but also to try and gather evidence Of deliberate actions on the part of the dolphins.

"If we could put some shells in a row or put them facing down or something like that and then come back the next day, if we don't actually see them do it but find evidence that they've turned the shell over or make it into an appealing refuge for a fish, then that implies significant forward planning on the dolphins' parts," Allen said.

"The nice idea is that there is this intriguing possibility that they might manipulate the object beforehand. Then that might change using the shell as just a convenient object into actual tool use," he added.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3 more Californian condors released in Arizona in September

Population had fallen to just 22 birds August 2011: Three California condors will be released to the wild in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona next month.

Members of the public are welcome to watch the release from a viewing area, where spotting scopes will be set up. The release on Saturday, September 24 will be the 17th public release of condors in Arizona since a recovery programme began in 1996.

Hatched and reared in captivityCondors are hatched and reared in captivity at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and transported to Arizona for release to the wild. Condors also come to the release area from the Oregon Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Currently, 70 condors are in the wild in the Grand Canyon region. The world's total population of endangered California Condors is 399, with 198 of them in the wild in Arizona, Utah, California, and Mexico. Condors were reduced to just 22 individuals in the 1980s when a programme was begun to save the species from extinction. Research shows that lead poisoning from spent lead ammunition is the principle mortality agent for the condor flock, which forages largely on its own, and the programme has also made advancements in reducing the prevalence and impact of lead.

Recovery and reintroduction cooperators in Arizona include The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rare freshwater jellyfish found in China

A rare type of freshwater jellyfish has been found to be thriving in a river in south China.Schools of the endangered freshwater jellyfish were discovered by police officers conducting a dive-training session in a river in Du’an Yao county of Guangxi Zhuang region, Xinhua reported.

Wei Qinghua, a police diving coach who first noticed the jellyfish, found thousands of the creatures in an underwater cave and took pictures and sent them to biologists at the Chinese Academy of Science.
The biologists concluded that the creatures Wei saw were freshwater jellyfish, also known as “peach blossom jellyfish” for their resemblance to the flower, said Lan Qifu, chief of the regional tourism bureau.

Tong Xiaoli, an environmental professor at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, said: “They look very unique and beautiful, but it is hard to tell what specific species they belong to. We will need to work with foreign experts in order to determine their species.”

Freshwater jellyfish are occasionally found in Guangdong, Fujian and Shandong provinces, Tong said, adding that the jellyfish found in Guangxi look different from those found in other provinces.

“If they are confirmed to be a new species, they will have tremendous research value,” he said.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Rhino horn: Fooling the thieves lured by riches

Who, What, Why: Is it legal to eat wild birds?

A pub has stopped selling wild bird on its menu - in the form of rook salad - on police advice. So what is the legality of such dishes?
The Taverners pub on the Isle of Wight managed to sell 30 servings of its unusual addition to the specials menu before the authorities asked the landlord to desist.

All wild birds in the UK are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Technically, it is legal for people to eat some species if they killed the birds under licence but, with the exception of wood pigeon, they can never be sold for human consumption.

It would, however, be legal to eat a wild bird if it had been killed by someone else, or discovered dead as roadkill - although anyone wishing to do so would have to prove they were not responsible for its demise.

The hitherto obscure area of law was brought to public attention by the Taverners. However, the pub's owners and the customers who chose the dish were not technically guilty of breaking the law.

Instead, the man who supplied the bird meat was arrested on suspicion of contravening the 1981 act. A police investigation found that the man had shot a number of fledgling rooks.

The legislation makes it illegal to kill, injure or take any wild bird, although a general licence system allows exemptions in some circumstances. It sets out a list of birds - such as golden eagles, red kites and woodlarks - which are protected at all times and for whom no licence to kill will be granted.

Other species can be killed under licence to prevent damage, disease or to conserve flora and fauna, and there would be nothing to stop those who did so from eating the birds they had culled.

However, except in the case of wood pigeon, it has never been legal to sell wild birds killed under licence for human consumption. Game birds are covered by a different law.

"The reasoning for this is that permitting sales of the wide variety of other wild birds killed under general licence, could increase the risk of killing purely to meet commercial demand," says Melissa Gill of Natural England, which oversees the permits in England.

"The licensee is at fault if he sells on the meat of a bird he has killed under licence - it is a condition of the licence which he is granted that he does not do that."

On the other hand, tucking into a dead bird which had been found in one's garden or as roadkill would not contravene the act.

"It would not be illegal to eat it, so long as the individual could prove that they had not killed it and had discovered it dead," Ms Gill adds. However, the legal onus would be on the individual eating the bird to prove how and where they found it.

And the organisation responsible for food safety advises against making a meal of a newly discovered avian carcass.

"The Food Standards Agency would not advocate cooking and eating roadkill," a spokesman says.

"There are various reasons for this, including the possibility that the animals you find may not have been healthy when killed and may have been suffering from disease or environmental contamination which could have an adverse effect on your health."

The Answer

All wild birds in the UK are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - it is illegal to kill them without a licence
  • The licence holders can eat the birds they kill themselves so long as they do not sell the meat on
  • It would be lawful to eat a wild bird that someone else had killed or whose carcass had been discovered - although anyone who did so would have to prove they were not responsible

Dolly scientist working on cloning Scottish wildcats

A scientist who was involved in cloning Dolly the sheep 15 years ago has started work on a new technique to clone rare Scottish wildcats.

Embryologist Dr Bill Ritchie said the project could help protect the species which is thought to number about 400 cats in the wild.

Midlothian-based Moredun Research Institute is involved.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has previously suggested cloning wildcats.

Dolly the Sheep was the first cloned mammal ever to be made from an adult cell and was the result of work at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh.

Dr Ritchie's research has received some funding from Genecom, the commercial arm of the Moredun Research Institute and the Institute for Animal Health.

The scientist said: "Several cat species have been cloned using the domestic cat, as well as the wolf using dog eggs.

"It is very difficult to find pure wildcats due to their crossing with domestic animals, but modern scientific techniques are able to select animals which are pure bred.

"Cells collected from these animals by taking a small piece of skin would be cultured to supply cells for the cloning process."

'Pure wildcat kittens'
Dr Ritchie said eggs from domestic cats, which would be available from tissue recovered during spaying of the animal, could be used as the starting material for the cloning process.

A project in the Cairngorms where cats are spayed to prevent inter-breeding with wildcats could provide a "convenient source of eggs", Dr Ritchie said.

In August last year, bosses at the RZSS's Highland Wildlife Park confirmed a plan to clone wildcats was in the early stages of being discussed.

Talks had been held with the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh.

The park said a house cat-wildcat hybrid could be used to give birth to "pure wildcat kittens".

It has been estimated that 150 breeding pairs of wildcats survive in parts of the Highlands.

Disease, loss of habitat and inter-breeding with domestic cats have been blamed for devastating wild populations.

Selective Trawl Catches Norway Lobster but Allows Cod to Escape

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2011) — Researchers from DTU Aqua in Denmark have decoded the behaviour of Norway lobsters and cod and used the results to develop a selective trawl. This so-called SELTRA-trawl ensures that fewer cod end up as by-catch in the Norway lobster fishery in the Kattegat.

Despite the fact that the cod fishery in the Kattegat is subject to strict fishing quotas, a substantial amount of cod have ended up as by-catch in the Norway lobster fisheries. But after July 15, 2011, more cod have escaped the lobster trawl. From this date, the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries has decided, that all Norway lobster fishing in the Kattegat is to be conducted using a selective trawl, called the SELTRA-trawl.

"The Norway lobster population in the Kattegat is doing well, and the Norway lobster fishery is the most economically important fishery in the Kattegat. In 2010 alone, 1700 tonnes of Norway lobsters were caught here. The cod population, on the other hand, has declined severely in the last 20-30 years. If it had not been possible to reduce the by-catch of cod by implementing the SELTRA-trawl, the Norway lobster fishery would have to be reduced significantly in order to protect the cod," says senior research scientist Niels Madsen from the National Institute of Aquatic Resources (DTU Aqua) in Denmark. He has been in charge of developing and testing the SELTRA-trawl during a project funded by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and the EU.

The cod escapes
A trawl is a funnel-shaped net, which distends when it is pulled after a vessel. When it is pulled along the bottom of the sea, it catches Norway lobsters and bottom-dwelling fish on its way. The catch then falls back towards the rearmost end of the trawl and ends up in the so-called codend.

The challenge for the researchers at DTU Aqua has been to design a trawl that selectively catches Norway lobsters while letting cod and other unwanted by-catch escape through the meshes. Norway lobsters are relatively small, and a small mesh size is thereby required to retain them in the codend. These small meshes also retain fish the size of or larger than the Norway lobsters which is the reason that previously there has been a great deal of by-catch when fishing Norway lobsters.

The researchers came up with the idea of replacing the traditional round codend with a codend shaped like a square box. This square-shaped box proved to be more stable in the water enabling the researchers to take advantage of the cods' and Norway lobsters' behaviour.

When using this codend, the researchers discovered that the Norway lobsters were passive and preferred the bottom part of the codend, while the cod were more active and had a preference for the upper part of the codend and tried to swim against the current to escape.

Based on the knowledge of the differences in behaviour, the researchers at DTU Aqua created the so-called sorting box that has a larger mesh size and is placed in the front end of the SELTRA-trawl allowing the cod to escape. Thereby, they had come up with the basic idea for the SELTRA-trawl.

To be placed on the fishermen's own trawl
In order to keep the costs of the SELTRA-trawl relatively low, the SELTRA-trawl was developed to be added to the fishermen's own trawl:

"The fishermen fishing for Norway lobsters has their own trawl already, and all they need to do is to place the seven meter long SELTRA-trawl with the sorting box and the square codend instead of the rearmost part of their own trawl. In this way, the fishermen do not have to buy a complete new trawl," explains Niels Madsen.

Testing the trawl
Project SELTRA was initiated in 2005 and completed in the end of 2008. Since then, the SELTRA-trawl has been tested in the Norwegian company SINTEF's flume tank at the North Sea Science Park in Hirtshals.

"Through the co-operation with the Danish Fishermen's Association, fishermen and net makers we got ideas on how to design the SELTRA-trawl, so that it is convenient and useful for the fishermen and easy to construct for the net makers," says Niels Madsen.

The SELTRA-trawl has been used on commercial fishing vessels in the so-called closed areas in the Kattegat. The closed areas are areas, in which the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries has prohibited cod fishing in order to protect spawning cod.

"In some places in the closed areas, the fishermen have been required to use the SELTRA-trawl when fishing for Norway lobsters. The fishermen, who have now used the SELTRA-trawl for a couple of years, say that they have not experienced significant reductions in the amount of Norway lobsters that they catch," says Niels Madsen and continues:

"Furthermore, the SELTRA-trawl has proved to allow the main part of the cod to escape. During the development work and the following tests we have seen up to 90 % of the cod escape from the SELTRA-trawl."

A Bloodsucker Goes to Washington: Is this the Chupacabra?

A bizarre beast said to combine the characteristics of a kangaroo, dog, rat and deer was captured last week by workers at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland near Washington, D.C.

Technicians on a smoke break wandered near a wooded area and found the strange, nearly hairless animal. The workers took cellphone videos of the beast, and eventually lured it into a cage with Chinese food as bait. Local news reporters interviewed the hospital workers, who offered a variety of opinions about the beast's identity. "It's a kangaroo, dog, rat mixed," X-ray technician Joe Livermore told the local NBC news. "It's got a rat tail and a head like a deer. I don't know what it is."
Benjamin Radford, Life's Little Mysteries Contributor

Video at site:

The shy animal was dubbed "Prince Chupa" after the mysterious vampire
chupacabra, and already some are wondering if the bloodsucker has
finally been captured alive. The chupacabra dates back to 1995, when
an eyewitness sighted the monster in Puerto Rico. In my book,
"Tracking the Chupacabra," I provide evidence showing that the
original chupacabra report described a monster in a science fiction
film, and most likely no beast ever existed. Since then, no hard
evidence of the chupacabra has emerged, and the myth has been kept
alive by occasional reports of animals identical to Prince Chupa. So
it's not a chupacabra: but what is it?

Many veterinarians and other animal experts are hesitant to offer
opinions about mysterious creatures because it can be difficult to
identify an animal from just a photo or video. Many animals,
especially in the Canidae family (which includes dogs, coyotes, foxes,
and wolves), can look very similar and the exact species may only be
distinguished by personally examining details such as skull shape,
tail length and so on (or DNA analysis). If experts miss a detail in a
fuzzy photo or video and get it wrong, they can look foolish. [Rogue
Giant Rodent Caught on Camera in California]

That said, we can tell from the video that it's clearly a canid; many
suspect a fox. Most people know what a fox looks like — and it's not a
kangaroo-dog-rat-deer-looking thing — unless its hair has fallen out
because of disease. Prince Chupa probably has a bad case of mange, a
parasitic skin infection caused by mites. Because people usually see
animals with their full coat of fur, animals with mange can be
difficult to identify.

So let's do the math. It's about the size of a fox; foxes live in the
area. Prince Chupa's tail looks similar to what you'd see on a
hairless fox: long, thin and rat-like. All signs point to it being a
fox — although perhaps one with a longer-than-normal tail — with a bad
case of mange.

The beast was eventually set free, and unless it is re-captured and
subjected to DNA analysis, we may never know exactly what it is.

Another Bear attack in Yellowstone

A bear attack caused the death of a hiker whose body was found on a trail in Yellowstone National Park, officials confirmed Monday.

The body of John Wallace, 59, was discovered Friday by two hikers along the Mary Mountain Trail, an area of the park that had been closed to hikers, according to park services.

Rangers discovered signs of grizzly bear activity, including tracks and scat, or bear droppings, in a park campground where they believe Wallace pitched a tent on Wednesday, the park said in a news release.

Autopsy results concluded that Wallace, a Michigan resident, died from traumatic injuries he received after being mauled by a bear. It's the second fatal attack in Yellowstone National Park this summer, said Park Superintendent Dan Wenk.

Just last month, a 57-year-old California man was killed by a bear within the same 10-mile area of the park, Wenk said.

Park managers determined that man was killed by a bear protecting its cubs. Despite the close proximity of the latest attack, the officials do not think the same bear is responsible for Wallace's death because no evidence of cubs was found at the scene.

DNA tests on hair samples from the site will be performed to confirm suspicions that a different bear was involved in the second attack, Wenk said.

Over the past 25 years, Yellowstone has averaged 1 or 2 encounters a year that resulted in injuries, Wenk said.

Prior to this summer's attacks, the last fatal bear mauling was in 1986, he said.

Torn apart by tiger sharks Fantome Is, Queensland

WHAT started out as a dream getaway with friends has turned to tragedy for a 48-year-old man who was found dead off Fantome Island, near Townsville yesterday.

A Melbourne man, known to his friends as Rooster, was killed after he encountered trouble while trying to retrieve a vessel which broke anchor off the island about 7.30pm on Sunday night, reports the Townsville Bulletin.

The man's body, which had been mauled by tiger sharks, was found near the island about 9.45am yesterday.

It's not clear whether the man had drowned or if he was killed by the sharks.

Fantome, part of the Great Palm Island group, is about 65km north-east of Townsville.

The qualified builder was taking a break from work on Orpheus Island to spend time with three workmates living on Palm Island. Emergency services officers launched a large-scale air and sea search after the man failed to return to shore with the vessel on Sunday night.

Emergency Management Queensland's Allan Jefferson told Yahoo7: "Four of them went swimming out to the boat, three of them made it and the fourth one never got there.

"The person has gone into the water to retrieve the boat last night and has not returned."

Palm Island resident Lynndel Prior was one of the last people to see the man alive after he stopped by to visit her family over the weekend.

Ms Prior said her partner, Anthony, had formed a close bond with the man while working on Orpheus Island.

"They both hit it off straightaway and became really close mates, so the news has obviously hit us pretty hard," she said.

Rooster was just such a loveable bloke who was always willing to put his hand up to help others to put a smile on their face.

"It's hard to imagine how a day that started out so great could end up so tragic."

The man leaves behind a wife and stepson, Jake, who had been working on the island with his father in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.

Read more at the Townsville Bulletin:

Monday 29 August 2011

Wayward penguin returning to sea

The wayward emperor penguin known to the world as Happy Feet has left a New Zealand zoo on the first leg of his journey back to cooler southern waters.
The three-foot penguin craned his head back and forth, flapped his flippers and seemed a little perturbed by his move from the Wellington Zoo to the research vessel Tangaroa, which was to leave port later.

Happy Feet was found on a New Zealand beach on June 20, far from his Antarctic feeding grounds. He was moved to the zoo after he became ill from eating sand that he likely mistook for snow. He has since regained weight and been cleared to be returned to the wild.

Lisa Argilla, a vet who has helped nurse the penguin back to health, said he has a "stronger and stroppier attitude" than when he arrived at the zoo, when his demeanour seemed flat and his feather condition was poor.

"He's definitely a survivor," she said.

His story has touched people from around the world. A web camera set up at the zoo has attracted about a quarter of a million viewers - despite the penguin doing little more than eating, sleeping and waddling.

"He's brought a lot of hope and joy to people," said Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo's chief executive. "His story has driven to the heart of what makes us human."

The Tangaroa is New Zealand's largest research vessel and was already scheduled to head into frigid southern waters to check on fish numbers in order to set fishing quotas. Happy Feet has been placed in a custom-made crate for the journey and will be kept cool with 60 buckets of ice. He will be fed fish. He will be released after four days at sea at a latitude of 51 degrees south.

The boat's skipper, Richard O'Driscoll, said that once the Tangaroa has reached the drop-off point, he will likely cut the engines and then release the penguin from the deck into the sea using a makeshift canvas slide.

The penguin has been fitted with a GPS tracker, and people will be able to follow his progress online after he is released.

Chinese doctors to call for ‘cruel’ bear farms to be closed

China’s bear farms, where for decades bile has been extracted from the endangered animals in horrific conditions, have been condemned by eminent Chinese scientists.

At a conference in London on Friday, the experts will say there is no justification for the farms because their latest research has shown that that herbal substitutes have greater health benefits than those claimed for bear bile which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The rare public criticism of ‘bile farms’ by traditional Chinese medicine experts will be led by Dr Yibin Feng, an associate professor and assistant director at the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.
He will unveil new research showing that the bears’ suffering on the farms is “unnecessary” and will call for the farms to be closed down.
“Bears are being inhumanely treated and bear farming must end in the near future,” Dr Feng will tell the conference in Westminster.
“Our research provides evidence that other easily available animal bile and plants can be used as bear bile substitutes.”

His conclusions will delight campaigners who for years have fought against the farms and freed hundreds of bears from captivity.

They claim that opposition to the industry is growing as China’s burgeoning middle class become increasingly opposed to such cruelty.

Dr Feng will warn the World Traditional Chinese Medicine Congress conference, however, that opponents face a hard battle with traditionalists who remain convinced that real bear bile can help cure many ailments including stomach and digestive disorders and kidney problems. Many people, including government officials, will refuse to accept substitutes, he will say.

On the farms, the bears - mostly Asiatic black bears - are kept in tiny, cramped cages and milked for their bile through crude holes cut into the abdomen wall and the gall bladder.

The wounds are deliberately left open, leaving the bears exposed to infection and disease. They are kept hungry and denied free access to water because this helps produce more bile.

The farms are still found in many parts of China and other Asian countries, fuelling poaching and illegal trade in the animals.

Dr Feng’s research shows that herbal alternatives and bile from other animals such as cattle - which can be collected cheaply at abbatoirs - can be more effective than bear bile.

He will argue that growing opposition to animal substitutes will mean that, eventually, only plant substitutes will be acceptable. “The final choice will have to be to use plants to substitute bear bile,” he will tell the conference at Central Hall.

“Completely replacing the real one in chemical compositions is really difficult, but it is possible and we are close to proving the reality which is that the pharmacological effects of the substitute are better than those of the real one.”

Animal welfare campaigners point to growing opposition to the farms inside China. Earlier this year the owner of one of the biggest bear bile farms in China - who also owns a large pharmaceutical company - sparked protests in China when he applied for approval to list his company on a stock exchange.

Another speaker at the conference, Toby Zhang, of the charity Animals Asia, said: “There has been a groundswell of public opinion against bear bile farming which shows that the Chinese people are increasingly concerned about animal welfare issues. Now even tradtional medicine doctors are advising against the use of bear bile.”

Jill Robinson, the English founder and chief executive of the charity, which has a sanctuary for rescued bears in China, said: “Bears are dying in droves across the country in conditions that are just as horrendous as they were when we began rescuing bears in 1995. This appalling trade has to end.

“There are over 54 different herbal alternatives and man-made synthetics that can take their place. No one is going to die from a lack of bear bile.”

In December 2009, 19 of China’s mainland provinces committed to becoming bear farm free. Another province, Shandong, closed its last bear farm in 2010.

But there is growing concern that the bear bile trade is still widespread throughout Asia.

The Chinese government estimates that there are currently between 7,000 and 10,000 bears kept for their bile in China. There are an estimated 16,000 Asiatic bears living in the wild.

A report in May by TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, found that poaching and illegal trade of bears, “continues unabated”, and on a large scale, mostly in China, but also in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The most common products on sale were pills and whole bear gall bladders where the bile secreted by the liver is stored.

International trade in the bears, and their parts and derivatives, is prohibited under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report found that the ban was widely flouted. Domestic trade of bear bile is legal but regulated in China and Japan and illegal in other countries.

Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years.

Until about 30 years ago, the only way to acquire bear bile was by killing a wild animal and removing its gall bladder. In the early 1980s bear farms began appearing in North Korea and quickly spread to China.

Bears rescued from farms by Animals Asia are found to be suffering from liver cancer, blindness, shattered teeth and ulcerated gums. Contaminated bile from sick bears poses a threat to human health.
The campaign has won support from celebrities including Joanna Lumley, the actress. “Bear farming is a cruel and unnecessary practice,” she said.

“The bears are suffering and dying from liver cancers - and doctors in Asia are now urgently highlighting concerns for those who consume the diseased bile.”

Karen Mok, China’s biggest music star, said: “Animals deserve to live in a world without fear or suffering. We must all help the thousands of bears suffering terrible cruelty.”

Dr Jidong Wu, president of the UK association of traditional chinese medicine at Middlesex university, which prohibits the use of bear bile by its practitioners, said extracting bear bile was “inhumane and unethical” and “against the general principle and law of traditional Chinese medicine which emphasises keeping the balance between mankind and nature.”

By David Harrison

Guy Hawks: Ospreys return to Wales for first time since the Gunpowder Plot

With his wings outstretched and a satellite receiver on his back, Einion the osprey is unaware that he is making history –one of the first of the beautiful birds of prey to hatch in Wales for more than 400 years.

A trio of the majestic birds –named Einion, Leri and Dulas after local rivers – hatched three months ago in the Dyfi Valley, also home to their father Monty.

Majestic: Monty rests on a branch
Photo: Andy Rouse

He has soared in the skies above the valley for two years but it was only this year that he managed to attract a mate, a female named Nora.

After a rather hasty 16-day courtship, she laid her eggs in their nest on top of a 50ft telegraph pole.

Einion, Leri and Dulas are now fully fledged and will soon migrate 3,600 miles to spend the winter in Africa. The trip is fraught with danger for young ospreys, and only one in three lives to make the journey back to Britain.

To track their progress, the trio have been fitted with the tiny solar-powered transmitters.

The osprey is Wales’s rarest bird and to see them take flight is a truly incredible sight,’ said Emyr Evans, of the Dyfi Osprey Project, which fitted the transmitters. ‘We hope they will fly back to us safely after spending the winter in Africa.’

Also known as the sea hawk or fish eagle, ospreys live mostly on a diet of fish and have a 6ft wingspan.

In common with other birds of prey, they had been hunted to extinction in Britain by egg-collectors and trophy-hunters.

In the Fifties, conservationists reintroduced them to parts of Britain – most notably, the birds have re-established themselves in Scotland, where there are now some 200 pairs.

There is also another breeding pair at Glaslyn, Gwynedd, North Wales. It is suspected that Monty may have been born there and that he has returned to Wales to breed.

The last reported sighting of an osprey in the Dyfi Valley came in 1604 – the year before the Gun¬powder Plot – when a Flemish engineer wrote of ‘fishy hawks’ on the Dyfi Estuary.

Since the young ospreys hatched, they have been seen by more than 40,000 birdwatchers.

By Emily Hill

Read more:

Poisoned pigeons used to kill wild buzzards

HAND-REARED live pigeons were coated in poison, tethered to the ground and used to kill two wild buzzards near the Tipperary-Offaly border, according to BirdWatch Ireland.

BirdWatch volunteers were horrified to discover the two dead buzzard chicks beside three poisonous tethered pigeons near Roscrea.

BirdWatch Ireland Development Officer Niall Hatch said the banned insecticide Carbofuran used to kill the buzzards is so toxic “a quarter of a teaspoonful is enough to kill a fully grown adult”.

“There is a really serious public safety issue here as well,” he said, “whoever is responsible for planting the poison took a real risk themselves”. Had the pigeons been found by children who attempted to rescue them, “you could be reporting on an even worse story today,” he added.

No motive has yet been established. Buzzards eat rabbits, crows, magpies, rats and mice. They will occasionally feed on a dead lamb, but are incapable of killing a lamb, said Mr Hatch.

An indigenous bird, the buzzard was absent in Ireland from the late 19th century until 1933, when a pair bred in Co Antrim. The species has spread slowly down from the north through the 20th century and is now established in almost every county in Ireland.

BirdWatch Ireland say this was a particularly abhorrent incident.

The live hand-reared pigeons were tethered to the ground s bait, their bodies coated with poison and their wings clipped to prevent any chance of escape.

A day after the dead buzzards were found last month, another live, poison-coated pigeon was discovered tethered in the same area.

The buzzards’ nest in Roscrea was being monitored by two young volunteers from BirdWatch Ireland’s Raptor Conservation Project since early spring. They had been charting the progress of the three young buzzard chicks.

One volunteer said: “we had been watching them all summer and it was sickening to see them killed like that for no reason”.

The farmer on whose land the birds were nesting said: “they have not caused me or any of the other farmers in the area any problems whatsoever. I gave nobody permission to come on my land and lay down poison, and whoever did so was trespassing,” he said.

In October 2010, laws were passed making it illegal to use poison to kill birds or animals, with the exception of rats and mice.

An investigation has been launched and anyone with information is urged to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service on 057 91 37811 or Birr Garda station on 057 91 69710.


Extinct bumblebee to be reintroduced to Britain

Scientists are planning to release around 60 short-haired bumblebee queens into wild flower meadows in an attempt to re-establish the species in this country.

The rare insect, which is also known by its scientific name of Bombus subterraneus, has not been seen in the UK since 1988 when it was spotted in a meadow in Dungeness, Kent.
The queens to be reintroduced have been imported from Sweden. The first crop of the fertilised insects are currently being screened for disease, before being released into meadows in southern England in the spring. Other releases are likely to follow.
Dr Mark Brown, a senior lecturer in biology at Royal Holloway who is involved in the scheme, said: "These insects have been declining across Europe due to the changes in agricultural practice that have seen the decline in flower-rich wild meadows.
"While other species of bumblebee have been declining, this is one that we have lost and we are aiming to bring it back. They tend to specialise in feeding on flowers like red clover so as meadows have disappeared so have the bees.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent

Famine threatens Australia's gentle sea cows

Extreme weather has destroyed the dugong's feeding grounds – just the latest menace facing this already endangered species
An underwater famine is posing the latest threat to one of Australia's most endangered marine species, the dugong, which lives entirely on sea grass. At least 100 have starved to death in recent months and many more are likely to follow in the absence of their only food source.
Torrential rain and storms, including Cyclone Yasi earlier this year, have destroyed vast swathes of sea grass from northern Queensland to the New South Wales border. More than 1,000 miles of coastline which once provided the perfect habitat for these oddly shaped and gentle creatures are now denuded of the dugong's natural foodstuff.
Known as sea cows because of their total dependency on sea grass, numbers have plummeted over the past decade as they struggle to cope with extreme weather conditions, escalating industrial activity, and hunting by indigenous fishermen. Turtles, too, have fallen victim to the seagrass famine with several hundred reported washed up dead along the coastline.
"This is a national environmental disaster," says Professor Ellen Ariel, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townsville. "What's happening now is they have nothing to eat and it's not going to change in any way soon. Sea grass takes between two to three years to recover, if there are no other extreme weather events in the meantime."
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is similarly concerned, recently launching a campaign to protect dugong and green turtles which it predicts will die in record numbers. Forced to stray from their regular foraging areas in search of food, the two species are much more vulnerable to disease, injury and death. A major industrial development at Gladstone on the mid-Queensland coast is also increasing pressure on the marine habitat.
A multi-billion pound gas processing plant on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef has already attracted criticism. Last month Unesco's world heritage committee expressed its extreme concern at the Queensland and federal government's backing of the project. For her part, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has pledged to make a comprehensive assessment of the plant's environmental impact.
In addition to climatic and industrial threats to the dugong population, indigenous fishermen have also been accused of endangering the species. Next month a television campaign will be launched by animal activists who believe Australia's Native Title laws are allowing the "uncontrolled" and "unmonitored slaughter" of dugongs and turtles. Australians For Animals has accused some aboriginal groups of "appalling cruelty".
Campaign organiser Colin Riddell says: "We have a confirmed report of a dugong calf being tied to the back of a boat, its cries bringing in the mother so they can both be killed. We have reports in our office of indigenous groups going out in motor boats with a GPS to find dugongs. Once found, they radio their mates and entire pods of dugongs are slaughtered."
Dugong hunting has been an accepted part of Australia's indigenous culture for thousands of years. Their ivory and bones are used in traditional crafts and their meat, which is said to be similar to high quality beef, is regarded as a delicacy. The Native Title Act allows dugongs to be caught by aborigines for personal, domestic or non-commercial needs, but, according to Mr Riddell, some are being sold for profit. He claims the meat sells for nearly £100 a kilo and is even being exported.
Now he is urging the government to call a moratorium on dugong hunting until population numbers are established. "I don't have a problem with Native Title hunting if it's done sustainably," he insists. "But let's just see how many are left."
The dugong's placid nature and slow swimming style make it easy prey for predators. Spending their entire life at sea, they swim by moving their broad spade-like tail in an up an down motion and by the use of their two flippers. The large grey mammals which are up to 10ft long, can live for decades but take time to reach sexual maturity and do not breed rapidly. Without the sea grass they will simply starve to death.

Africa’s forest elephants are running out of space

Easier access for hunters means fewer elephants August 2011: The survival of the forest elephants of Central Africa depends on limiting human access to rainforests, according to new Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) research.

The study says that entry points to the rainforests facilitated by roads, rivers, or other access points have led to more hunters and fewer elephants. Furthermore, roads and other forms of infrastructure construction in the countries where forest elephants still exist usually lack adequate, or any, anti-poaching efforts, putting the future of Africa's lesser known cousin of the savanna elephant in peril.

‘While the science behind testing the effects of access to forest elephant habitat is necessarily complex, the bottom line is pretty obvious, and our findings support the hypothesis that multiple access points to tropical forests are detrimental to elephants and other wide ranging species,' said Dr Samantha Strindberg of the WCS.

Logging roads can have a devastating effectBuilding upon previous studies that examined the effects of roads on forest elephant densities, the researchers looked at the effects of multiple access points by systematically counting and mapping the location of elephant dung across large landscapes. Dung counts are necessary because forest elephants are elusive animals and difficult to count directly, so their dung provides a rough index of abundance.

The study showed that the negative impacts of hunting of species such as forest elephants extend far from settlements and other access points because these species range over such large distances.

Researchers found that levels of human presence in different landscapes varied between the five national parks considered in the study. For instance, Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo contains many human settlements and far fewer dung piles than Minkébé National Park in Gabon, which has only recently been made accessible to humans by the construction of logging roads.

Could lead to general ecosystem decayThe conservation implications of the study underscore the need for development plans on both local and national levels in the Congo Basin.

Dr Charles Yackulic, the study's lead author, said: ‘The proliferation of access points to formerly remote, inaccessible areas is devastating to elephants and other wide-ranging species. Forest elephants' disappearance is the herald of more widespread declines in wildlife which may lead to general ecosystem decay.'

Dr Steve Blake of WCS and the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology added: ‘Unfortunately, governments, development agencies, and private industry - all of which fuel infrastructure development - have known this for a long time, and still little is being done to improve the geography of infrastructure planning at local, national and regional levels.

The time to do things right is running out‘This latest study underscores the fact that time is running out to do things right. The good news is that there is a tiny window of opportunity still available to develop the Central African interstate highway system in a strategic way that maximizes social benefits to people while minimising ecological impacts such as fragmentation and access proliferation.

‘The problem is that in reality this costs more money than the current free for all infrastructure development led by the private sector, in which cost minimization is the primary consideration. Like so many environmental issues we could have a pretty decent win-win for wildlife and people if only the world was prepared to pay a little more.'

Rare sand lizards released back to the wild on Merseyside

Species has been lost from local heathland August 2011: The UK's rarest lizard has been given a helping hand, with 80 captive-bred sand lizards released on the Sefton Coast as part of a long-term conservation project to restore the species' status and historic range.

The release at The Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Freshfield Dune Heath is one of 19 projects within the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership Scheme.
CAPTIVE BRED: Young sand lizards.
Picture: Phil Smith

In the UK, sand lizards only live on two rare habitats - sand-dunes and lowland dry heath. A healthy population still survives on the sand dunes of the Sefton Coast but they have been lost from the heathland.

Lizards are extending their rangeLast September, 34 juvenile sand lizards were released at Freshfield and a number have been found and photographed since, moving further away from the release site than had been anticipated.

Merseyside sand lizards have a unique genetic make-up and the juveniles due for release have been captive bred from local stock. The animals are being released later this month to allow them to get used to the reintroduction site before hibernation in October.

Fiona Whitfield of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust said: ‘We are excited at the arrival of a new species for the reserve and to be a part of these important local and national projects. There is a large population of common lizards on Freshfield Dune Heath so we are confident that the sand lizards will thrive here.'

The lizard release is part of a three-year Heritage Lottery Funded Project being delivered by the Sefton Coast Partnership. It is also supported by the North Merseyside Amphibian and Reptile Group, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and Natural England.

National Zoo's Reptile Discovery Center adds endangered species (Via Herp Digest)

National Zoo's Reptile Discovery Center adds endangered species, emphasizes preservation
By Amanda Long, Published: August 18, Washington Post,

When you realize your home's look hasn't evolved much since its post-college phase, you put the Ikea bookshelves on Craigslist, start searching for a contractor who won't drive you crazy, scrutinize endless tile samples and stop considering Pottery Barn too public a venue to fight with your spouse. Then you prepare the neighbors and pay the county.

When you realize your reptile house is "stuck in the '80s," as National Zoo biologist Matt Evans did last year, you put your aging non-endangered snakes, turtles and lizards on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' "status list" (a Freecycle of sorts for curators), work the phones to find a new home for unwanted animals, and start cashing in favors from former colleagues whose zoos have just the gecko you gotta have. Then you prepare the neighbors: Tell the plant people you need new native plants, the commissary you need new meat, and the vet you need quarantine space. And you cross your fingers and hope no red tape keeps the Smithsonian's Reptile Discovery Center from getting fresh, new cold blood.
Kinda makes your remodeling look less beastly.

When Dennis Kelly left his post at Zoo Atlanta to take over the National Zoo last year, he made species preservation his top priority. He enlisted Evans and Jim Murphy, a research associate, to do a massive remodeling of its "geriatric" inventory, while revamping its mission: more research, more species protection and more endangered animals.

The Smithsonian's zoo wasn't, as Evans says, "doing much in the way of science" or leading the country in species preservation, so the 71-year-old Murphy, a giant in herpetology circles, was called out of semi-retirement to head up the Reptile Discovery Center.

"Firing up the herpetologists is Jim's forte," said David Chiszar, an animal behaviorist and snake specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In terms of research and journal contributions, Chiszar says, "Murphy is probably in the top five across all zoos and across all the years we have had zoos in the U.S."

It was the conservation aspect that lured Murphy out of semi-retirement: "I am convinced that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event of animals and plants, caused by humans," he says. The fifth cleared the planet of dinosaurs. "I know hundreds of biologists, and not one is optimistic. It is incumbent upon me to alert others to this looming catastrophe."

With every new endangered Malagasy leaf-tailed gecko now calling Woodley Park home, Evans and Murphy are shifting the Reptile Discovery Center from a static, but crowd-pleasing, collection that hadn't turned over in decades to one that has 13 new species.

To make room for the 33 and counting newcomers, the reptile center team "deaccessioned" 57 animals. Deaccessioning is the right-sizing of the museum world. One day, you're hanging out with the other leopard geckos munching on mealworms, the next you're at the Bramble Park Zoo in South Dakota.

But think about it: It is not that easy to find a good home for a leopard gecko.

Zoo vet makes house calls for sick turtles (Via Herp Digest)

Zoo vet makes house calls for sick turtles
August 26, 2011

GALVESTON - Eighteen years ago, a lunch plate-sized female Kemp's ridley sea turtle - one of thousands hatched and nurtured to save the species from extinction - was released off Galveston Island. This May, the turtle, weighing about 100 pounds and laden with dozens of eggs, returned to nest near Jamaica Beach.

It should have been a victorious return, an indication that the endangered species, reduced to only 300 known breeding females in 1985, was making a comeback. But this return was no success.
A boat's propeller had cleaved a 100-square-inch segment from the animal's shell, shattering much of what remained. Bleeding, oozing, its mangled rear quarters resembling hamburger meat, the turtle that would be designated LNH110528-01 seemed destined to die.

Discovered by a beachcomber, the animal was taken to the National Marine Fisheries Service's Galveston turtle hospital and a frantic call was placed to Dr. Joe Flanagan, veterinary chief at the Houston Zoo.
When it comes to sick or injured turtles, Flanagan, 53, is the region's go-to doc, a gray-haired, avuncular Dr. Oz, Marcus Welby and Dr. Ruth rolled into one. Ben Higgins, manager of the fishery service's sea turtle program, calls Flanagan's volunteer work key to his hospital's success.
"We can't afford a veterinarian," he says.

Up to 45 turtles a year - victims of infections, propellers or fishhooks - come under Flanagan's care. Most are treated at the Houston Zoo, where he oversees the 17-member team charged with caring for the facility's 6,000 animals.

Those requiring long-term care are kept in tanks at the Galveston hospital, an unfunded sideline of the federal program to test strategies to save turtles from commercial fishing operations.
Armed with a sophisticated pharmaceutical arsenal and skilled at delicate surgical maneuvers accomplished through tissues outside the shell, Flanagan modestly plays down his role in turtle health.
"Turtles," he says, "will survive."

Flanagan, a Nebraska native who took his veterinary training at Iowa State University, professes a fascination with turtles that dates to his childhood.

"They occur all over the world, from oceans to deserts. They all hatch from eggs, but some in less than two months and others in 18. The come in all sizes. Some fit in the palm of your hand, some are 6 to 8 feet. . They're just neat to look at."

This week, Flanagan's hospitalized patients included tiny hawksbill turtles whose flippers were severed by fibers of nylon bags in which they'd become entangled; a turtle that suffered bleeding after a fishhook was extracted from its neck; loggerhead hatchlings that inexplicably stopped eating; and LNH110528-01, which was to be examined for possible release.

The fate of the stranded ridley was touch-and-go after she was discovered May 28 while attempting to dig nest holes near Jamaica Beach. A boat's propeller had sliced away much of her shell, exposing muscle, fat and connective tissue.

"It was certain that a person couldn't go through that surgically without worry of totally contaminating the abdominal cavity," Flanagan says.

An ultrasound showed she was filled with eggs. Flanagan administered oxytocin, medication to induce laying, obtaining 68 eggs, most of which hatched. Systemic anti­biotics were given, but the situation remained grim.

The turtle refused to eat, either because she was suffering intense pain or because other eggs remained in her body. X-rays showed she still carried more than a dozen eggs.

A "living tag" on the turtle's shell revealed it had been one of the ridleys hatched in a discontinued Galveston breeding program in 1993. Flanagan, who had worked as a volunteer in that program, feels a special tie to the injured animal. Recalling her fate "almost brought tears to my eyes."

In mid-July, broken shells were found in her tank. More oxytocin was given and the rest of the eggs expelled. At that point, the patient's health and prognosis improved. The open wounds have sealed and toughened.

Not quite ready to go

Although a final decision has not been made, it appears after Flanagan's examination of the turtle that the ridley is not ready to be released.

Protective bone eventually will grow beneath the damaged shell, but that process could take a year. Fractured parts of the remaining shell could be reinforced with braces, but there's no guarantee the patch would last.

"If we release her as she is," Flanagan says, "she never will heal."

Sea Turtle Andre Dead, Three Weeks After Florida Release (Via HerpDigest)

Sea Turtle Andre Dead, Three Weeks After Florida Release
Posted by Kristeen Moore on August 27, 2011 11:04 AM

Sea turtle Andre was found dead on Wednesday, which was only three weeks after a team released the rehabilitated loggerhead back into the ocean, according to the Associated Press. Florida-based Loggerhead Marinelife Center had rescued Andre last June and rehabilitated the turtle before his release earlier this month.

Andre was located on Hutchinson Island, and was identified by a tag that the Center had placed on him prior to his release. David McClymont, president of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center told the Associated Press that the sea turtle was in such bad condition, that their staff could not determine the cause of death.

The green sea turtle was originally rescued by the Center on June 15, 2010, where he was found stranded on a sandbar. According to the Associated Press, two holes in Andre's shell from boat accidents resulted in the sea turtle carrying around three pounds of sand in his body, as well as a few crabs. Andre also suffered a collapsed lung, pneumonia, an exposed spine and an infection.
Veterinarians with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center recognized that the turtle had good neurological function, an indication that he could be rehabilitated. His rehabilitation marked new advancements in the search and rescue of subsequent sea turtles.

Andre was 177 pounds and approximately 25-years-old upon his release, according to the Associated Press.

Sea turtles are an endangered species. It is currently nesting season along the coasts of Florida. Hurricane Irene is thought to have disrupted the nests of some sea turtles along Florida's east coast.

Twenty endangered Siamese crocodiles hatch in Laos (Via Herp Digest)

Twenty endangered Siamese crocodiles hatch in Laos
Aug 28, 2011 4:47 PM, By JERRY HARMER

VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) - One of the world's rarest crocodile species has moved a little bit further from extinction with the hatching of 20 wild eggs plucked from a nest found in southern Laos.
Experts believe there could be as few as 300 Siamese crocodiles remaining in the world's swamps, forests and rivers, so the discovery of the nest - the first found in the mountainous, jungle-clad country since 2008 - is a significant step in the rehabilitation of a species that was declared extinct in the wild in 1992.

Since then, tiny populations have been discovered in remote corners of its range, which used to include most of Southeast Asia. Still, the crocs remain critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, the acknowledged authority on the status of global biodiversity.

Under the soft red light of an incubator, the 20 baby crocodiles tapped and cracked their way into the world last week. Their nest was found in the southern province of Savannakhet in June by a team of villagers trained by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which is working to save the species in landlocked Laos.

"The feeling was one of elation," Chris Hallam, who coordinates the organization's crocodile project in Laos, told The Associated Press about the hatching.

"When you look at the global population and the population in Laos it represents quite a significant number of individual crocodiles," he said.

The crocs were hatched at the Lao Zoo, just outside Vientiane, where they were moved to protect them from predators such as snakes and monitor lizards.

Hallam said the crocodiles will be raised in captivity for 18 months before being released back into the wild.

And it seems they won't be alone. Villagers recently found another nest in Savannakhet with 20 eggs inside. Because those crocs are so near to hatching, conservationists decided to leave them where they are with village teams keeping an eye on them.

The Siamese crocodile grows up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length but is generally docile. Their passive nature made them all the easier to hunt. In recent decades thousands were captured and sold to crocodile farms that sprung up across Southeast Asia, feeding a vogue for its renowned soft skin and a taste for its meat.

Several thousand of the crocodiles remain in farms and in zoos, though many have been crossbred with bigger species, reducing still further the numbers of pure Siamese crocodiles.

Possible Biological Control Discovered for Pathogen Devastating Amphibians (Via Herp Digest)

Possible Biological Control Discovered for Pathogen Devastating Amphibians

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2011) - Zoologists at Oregon State University have discovered that a freshwater species of zooplankton will eat a fungal pathogen which is devastating amphibian populations around the world.

This tiny zooplankton, calledDaphnia magna, could provide a desperately needed tool for biological control of this deadly fungus, the scientists said, if field studies confirm its efficacy in a natural setting.

The fungus, B. dendrobatidis, is referred to as a "chytrid" fungus, and when it reaches high levels can disrupt electrolyte balance and lead to death from cardiac arrest in its amphibian hosts. One researcher has called its impact on amphibians "the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history."

The research, reported August 26 in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"There was evidence that zooplankton would eat some other types of fungi, so we wanted to find out if Daphnia would consume the chytrid fungus," said Julia Buck, an OSU doctoral student in zoology and lead author on the study. "Our laboratory experiments and DNA analysis confirmed that it would eat the zoospore, the free-swimming stage of the fungus."

"We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that," she said. "Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go."

The chytrid fungus, which was only identified in 1998, is not always deadly at low levels of infestation, Buck said. It may not be necessary to completely eliminate it, but rather just reduce its density in order to prevent mortality. Biological controls can work well in that type of situation.

Amphibians have been one of the great survival stories in Earth's history, evolving about 400 million years ago and surviving to the present while many other life forms came and went, including the dinosaurs. But in recent decades the global decline of amphibians has reached crisis proportions, almost certainly from multiple causes that include habitat destruction, pollution, increases in ultraviolet light due to ozone depletion, invasive species and other issues.

High on the list, however, is the chytrid fungus that has been documented to be destroying amphibians around the world, through a disease called chytridiomycosis.

Its impact has been severe and defied various attempts to control it, even including use of fungicides on individual amphibians. Chytridiomycosis has been responsible for "unprecedented population declines and extinctions globally," the researchers said in their report.

"About one third of the amphibians in the world are now threatened and many have gone extinct," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology, co-author on this study and an international leader in the study of amphibian decline.

"It's clear there are multiple threats to amphibians, but disease seems to be a dominant cause," he said.

Although they have survived for hundreds of millions of years, amphibians may be especially vulnerable to rapid environmental changes and new challenges that are both natural and human-caused. They have a permeable skin, and exposure to both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Because of this, OSU researchers said, other animals such as mammals, birds and fish have so far not experienced such dramatic population declines.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Oregon State University.

Journal Reference:
Julia C. Buck, Lisa Truong, Andrew R. Blaustein.Predation by zooplankton on Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis: biological control of the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus? Biodiversity and Conservation, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s10531-011-0147-4

Sunday 28 August 2011

Bobcat swaps sharp teeth and claws of mountain lion for 5cm cactus spikes

When you're running for your life you don't have time to think about protecting your undercarriage. Take this bobcat, which clambered up a 15m (50ft) giant saguaro cactus and stayed there for six hours to escape a mountain lion.
His smart manoeuvre left the larger predator circling the base of the 300-year-old plant, where he stared up and growled before giving up and walking off.

The bobcat refused to crawl back down for several hours, instead sitting on the cactus’s 5cm (2in) spikes. Amazingly, it appeared to have suffered hardly a scratch.

The scenes were taken in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, by photographer Curt Fonger, 69, who said: ‘The mountain lion probably had cubs, the bobcat had intruded on its territory and she gave chase to warn the bobcat not to come close to her young family.

‘I was astonished that the bobcat was on such a high prickly perch. In fact, the beautiful creature seemed quite content and was lying on top of the cactus.’

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