Monday 31 December 2012

2012’s Noteworthy Species-A roundup of species that made their scientific debut in 2012, and a few that said goodbye as well – via Herp Digest

By Sabrina Richards | December 18, 2012, The Scientist
The world's tiniest chameleon, Brookesia micra.FRANK GLAW and JÖRN KÖHLERResearchers described roughly 15,000 to 18,000 new species in 2012, making choosing the most noteworthy a monstrous task. “[It’s] worse than asking me which of my children is my favorite,” quipped Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist at Arizona State University, in an email to The Scientist. Wheeler and his colleagues at the International Institute for Species Exploration will eventually publish a top ten list of this year’s new species, but the ranking criteria “are as diverse as the species themselves,” he said.

Some of this year’s new species were encountered by researchers deep in the field. Others were recognized from museum specimens—long after the “new” species themselves had gone extinct, noted Benoît Fontaine, a conservation biologist at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Even so, cataloging new species is an important task, said Fontaine. “We know only small part of extant biodiversity,” he noted. “It’s the tip of iceberg.”

In celebration of biodiversity, here a few of 2012’s most exciting new species, and a fond farewell to a few more.

Human cousins
One of the newly identified species of slow loris, Nycticebus kayan. CH'IEN C. LEE The discovery of primate species that are new to science is quite rare, but this year researchers described at least two. Researchers from the United States and United Kingdom stumbled across a previously unrecognized species of slow loris (Nycticebus kayan), small nocturnal primates related to lemurs, while surveying slow lorises in Borneo and the Philippines. Like its relatives, the new species has endearingly wide eyes and small statures—but extremely poisonous bites. Slow lorises lick a toxin-secreting gland on their arm to create venomous saliva, which they use to deter predators. Unfortunately, slow lorises are popular in the pet trade. To keep future owners safe, their captors often remove the loris’s fangs, but this usually ends in the primate’s death, as they can no longer feed properly.

A lesula monkey, Cercopithecus lomamiensis. JOHN HART The sleepy-eyed lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis) was also officially added to the books in 2012. Well-known to locals near its Congo forest home, the lesula is only the second monkey species in its genus. The animal is light in color, making it easily distinguishable from its closest relations, the dark-furred owl-faced monkeys. John Hart of the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, who described the species in PLOS ONE, said the first lesula example his team studied was being kept as a pet by a schoolteacher’s daughter. When investigating the nearby forest, the group “expected to find something unusual, maybe a range extension [of a known species],” Hart explained. “But we were never prepared to find a new species.”

Though humans don’t farm or mine the forest, lesulas are threatened by the bush meat trade. Having depleted richer sources of bushmeat, hunters will travel “hundreds of kilometers” to hunt monkeys, Hart said. Smoked bushmeat is then sold in urban centers, where many people have no other protein options. But recognition of the lesula as a new species may aid conservation efforts, he added.

Distinctive genitalia
Juvenile Brookesia micra. FRANK GLAW and JÖRN KÖHLERFor some animal species, their genitalia are the best way to identify them. Scientists described a new species (Phallostethus cuulong), belonging to the priapum fish family, whose penises erupt from their chins. This bizarre method of identification is the best for Madagascar’s miniature Malagasy leaf chameleons, which can be distinguished by subtle differences in the shape of their hempenes, the reproductive organs held inside their body until mating. But the newest—and tiniest—member, called Brookesia micra, can be easily identified without getting too intimate. B. micra is about an inch long with “a very, very short tail. The tail has even sometimes a reddish color. It’s totally unique,” said Miguel Vences, a zoologist at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany, who led the study identifying the miniscule critter.

Teeny tiny fly
World's tiniest fly, Euryplatea nanaknihali. INNA-MARIE STRAZHNIK This year also saw the discovery of the world’s tiniest fly, identified by entomologist Brian Brown at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Nearly microscopic at less than half a millimeter in length, Euryplatea nanaknihali—named for a young entomology enthusiast who often visits Brown’s museum—belongs to a group of flies that parasitize ants. Brown, who first spotted the fly in an insect trap in Thailand, knew at first sight that E. nanaknihali was unusual. It is a “very odd” looking fly, said Brown, having “a rounded teardrop shape that makes it hard to grab, and short stubby broad wings a smoky grey in color. . . . Most people would probably think it’s a beetle.”

The tiny fly belongs to a group that lays their eggs in an ant’s head. As the fly larvae develop, they feed on the ant’s tissue until “the ant’s head falls off, sometimes as its body is still walking around,” Brown said.

New lion on the block
Addis Ababa lion. JOERG JUNHOLD and KLAUS EULENBERGER, LEIPZIG ZOO In another boon for biodiversity, researchers confirmed this year that a population of Ethiopian lions with a unique dark mane are indeed genetically distinct from other lions in other areas. Descended from a founder population collected by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1948, the lions are known to scientists from the Addis Ababa Zoo, though reports of dark-maned lions in the wild also exist.
Researchers used the sequence of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and various microsatellites to ascertain that the dark-maned lions are genetically separate from other lions. The news has already given the lions a boost, said Susann Bruche, a biologist at Imperial College London and first author of the paper. Zoo officials have raised money for a better lion enclosure, based on natural habitats, which will give the lions more space to breed and maintain their population.

A few goodbyes
Copper-striped blue-tailed skink. CHRIS BROWN, USGS The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which puts out the Red List assessing species’ extinction risks, lists 795 species as extinct. But each year, often due to human encroachment, that list grows. Hawaii, the poster child for the havoc wreaked by invasive species—and the heroic efforts to combat them—announced the local extinction of the copper-striped blue-tailed skink this year, possibly due to torment by predatory ants. Luckily, blue-tailed skink populations persist on other Pacific Islands.

Japan announced the extinction of the Japanese river otter, an iconic creature not seen for more than 30 years. Japan’s Ministry of Environment also declared several other species extinct, including the least horseshoe bat.

Lonesome George. WIKIPEDIA, putnymark And finally, the Galápagos’s Lonesome George, the long-lived Pinta Island giant tortoise believed to be the last of his kind, died this summer. More than 100 years old, Lonesome George was introduced to several female tortoises in hopes of producing hybrids, but the eggs laid never hatched. But amidst the sorrow of his passing, some scientists retain hope. New work by evolutionary biologist Adalgisa Caccone at Yale University suggests that a few Pinta Island tortoises may still exist—and be successfully hybridizing with the locals—at Volcano Wolf on nearby Isabela Island. Caccone and her colleagues compared the DNA of more than 1,600 Volcano Wolf tortoises to a DNA database of extinct tortoises collected from museum specimens, and discovered that 17, including some juveniles, had DNA from C. abingdoni ancestors.

Some Drivers Intentionally Run Over Turtles, Clemson Student Finds During Experiment (VIDEO)

Posted: 12/27/2012 6:10 pm EST  |  Updated: 12/27/2012 10:33 pm EST
A Clemson University student was surprised by his findings this week after attempting to research the best way to ensure the safety of turtles trying to cross busy roadways.

Nathan Weaver, a 22-year-old senior in the School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, was trying to figure our how to help the turtles in their risky endeavor, but instead ended up discovering the extent to which some drivers go out of their way to flatten the hapless reptiles, according to the Associated Press.

"It was a bit surprising. I've heard of people and from friends who knew people that ran over turtles. But to see it out here like this was a bit shocking," Weaver told the AP.

For his initial experiment, Weaver placed rubber turtles in the middle of a busy street near the Clemson campus in South Carolina and watched as seven out of 267 cars purposely crushed the fake turtles in the space of an hour.

Read more about the experiment here.

Weaver's observations are not necessarily new, however. In July, NASA employee Mark Rober documented his own, similar experiment measuring the rate motorists tried to run over rubber turtles, snakes and tarantulas planted on the roadway.

Of the 1,000 cars Rober watched go by, six percent of drivers went out of their way to try to hit the rubber animals, which were stationed safely on the shoulder, Gizmodo reports.

Two Bengal tiger cubs rescued from a dry water tank

Orphan cubs had been stealing chickens form villagers
December 2012. Two orphaned Royal Bengal tiger cubs have been ‘rescued' from a dry water tank near the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh.

The cubs were wandering the area without their mother for more than a month, occasionally lifting poultry from local households for survival. Local residents reported the cubs to local wildlife authorities in November. A team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) - Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) led by Ipra Mekola, Arunachal Pradesh State Wildlife Advisory Member reached the site on December 6, to assist the Forest Department in tracking the cubs.

Originally 4 cubs!
"There were four cubs according to the information from the local people. They had been lifting mainly poultry, and had made unsuccessful attempts at larger livestock. One of the cubs was reportedly injured," said Mekola.

On December 11, the team discovered that three of the cubs had been trapped in a dry water tank, reported IFAW-WTI biologist Soumya Das Gupta. The villagers had covered the tank with wooden planks and branches to prevent the cubs from escaping till the rescue team arrived.

Two healthy cubs
Two of the cubs were healthy and were successfully sedated and removed from the tank by WTI veterinarians Dr Jahan Ahmed and Dr Nupur Ranjan Buragohain. The third was severely ill when first sighted, and succumbed the following morning.

The rescued cubs were a male and a female; the deceased cub was also a female. Post-mortem revealed pneumonia, starvation and hypoglycaemic shock as the cause of death. The status of the fourth cub is unknown. The two rescued cubs will be kept under observation till they are stabilised.

Starvation Didn't Wipe Out Sabertooth Cats

Around 12,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene, some of Earth's biggest mammals started going extinct — mammoths, mastodons, cave bears and dire wolves among them.

The cause of this mass die-out is still debated, though some researchers have pointed to dwindling food resources, possibly driven by warming temperatures and competition with humans, as a culprit. A new study suggests, however, that at least two of these long-gone creatures, sabertooth cats and their feline cousins, American lions, didn't starve to death.

Big carnivores facing scarce resources often gnaw their prey to the bone and signs of this voracious eating behavior are evident in the wear and tear on their teeth. But the teeth of sabertooth cats and American lions from the La Brea Tar Pits in California have no such marks that would indicate a period of distress before extinction, the new analysis shows.

Read on:

Flaming-Orange Shellfish Reef Found in Scotland

A huge, colorful shellfish reef discovered off Scotland's west coast could be the largest of its kind in the world, according to the Scottish government.

Packing at least 100 million bright-orange shells into 4.5 square miles (7.5 square kilometers), the living reef consists of flame shells, a rare saltwater clam found near Scotland. Neon-orange tentacles emerge from between the clam's paired shells, waving gently in the current.

The flame shell reef is located in Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland. The overall population of flame shells in the inlet is likely to exceed 100 million and is the largest known flame shell reef anywhere in the United Kingdom, the Scottish government said in a statement.

Call of the wild

After millennia spent exterminating them, humanity is protecting wolves. Numbers have risen again—and so have ancient resentments

IN AUGUST 2011 Desiree Versteeg, a Dutch mortuarist, was driving home in the suburbs of Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands when she saw an animal in the road. “At first I thought it was a dog. Then I thought it was a fox. Then—I couldn’t believe my eyes—I saw it was a wolf.” She got out of the car to take a picture. “I was seven or eight metres away from him. He couldn’t get away because a fence was blocking his path. He turned and stared at me. That was a frightening moment.” Both she and the wolf fled.

From Ms Versteeg’s photographs, and from the carcass of a deer found nearby—its throat torn out in classic wolf fashion—scientists verified that she was the first person to have seen a wolf in the Netherlands since 1897. Having talked to the experts, she now understands that the wolf was probably more frightened than she was. “But all you know at the time is: it’s a wolf, it’s a predator and I’m in its way.”

Ms Versteeg’s experience illustrates a dramatic reversal that has taken place in the West over the past couple of decades. Economic change has led to a fundamental shift in humanity’s attitude to wolves. For the first time since man first sharpened a spear, he has stopped trying to exterminate them and taken to protecting them instead. The effort has been so successful that wolves are recolonising areas from which they disappeared as much as a century ago. As they do so, they are forging revealing divisions over whether mankind can live side-by-side with the species it replaced as the Western world’s top predator.

State v wolf
Most man-made extinctions have been accidental—the result of over-hunting, or importing predators or diseases. Wolves are different. Through most of human history, killing them has been regarded as a public good. As soon as anything that looked like a state developed, it set about exterminating wolves.

In England King Edgar imposed an annual tribute of 300 wolf skins on Idwal, king of Wales, in 960; monarchs made land grants on condition that the beneficiaries carried out wolf hunts; King Edward I employed a wolf-hunter-in-chief to clear central and western England of wolves. By the end of the 15th century they seem to have disappeared from England, though in Scotland they hung on a little longer: in 1563 Mary Queen of Scots had 2,000 Highlanders drive the woods of Atholl for a hunt that bagged 360 deer and five wolves.


Dragonfly Shows Human-Like Power of Concentration

Dragonflies lack humans' big brains, but they still get the job done, according to new research that suggests that these insects have brain cells capable of feats previously seen only in primates.

Specifically, the dragonflies can screen out useless visual information to focus on a target, a process called selective attention. The new study, published Dec. 20 in the journal Current Biology, is the first to find brain cells devoted to selective attention in an invertebrate animal.
Selective attention is crucial for responding to one stimulus among the dozens of distractions that clamor for notice at any given time, said Steven Wiederman of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Pooches have their cake and eat it in Japan for Christmas

TOKYO (Reuters) - Don't know what to get your pet dog for the holiday? Depending on whether they were naughty or nice, nothing will say Christmas quite like a special Japanese holiday cake for canines.

Pastry chef and Italian restaurant owner Naohiko Nagatani came up with a dog-friendly take onJapan's Christmas cake, which is usually based on sponge and laden with whipped cream, that can be eaten by both dogs and their owners.

"The birth rate's declining here in Japan, so dogs have pretty much become like children and people want to share Christmas with them," Nagatani said.

"But if it's just the humans eating cake, the dogs put on a really sad face. They want to have some themselves and get upset if you don't give them cake too."

To make his creation canine-friendly, Nagatani leaves out chocolate and alcohol. He makes the sponge from spelt, a type of wheat that he says causes fewer allergies than regular flour.
The cake, which he first began selling six years ago, has proved popular. This year, the restaurant has already filled orders for 70 of them, priced at 6,000 yen ($73) each.

Akiko Uchida, whose six-year-old mongrel Kenji is a cake shop regular, said the special cake is a guilty pleasure.

"I share out the cake between us, take photos and shoot videos to capture the moment," the 46-year-old said, as Kenji lapped up cake from a fork. "But to be honest, I probably enjoy it more than him."

Sunday 30 December 2012

Shetland pony takes a ride on Berlin subway

Commuters in Berlin got the fright of their lives last week when a woman boarded a subway train with her Shetland pony.

Footage of the unidentified blonde woman leading the pony onto Berlin’s S-Bahn subway and enjoying a ride together has been uploaded onto YouTube, where one clip has been watched almost a quarter of a million times.

Jarkko Riihimaki, one of the passengers who witness the bizarre event, is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: ‘This was supposed to be a normal trip home with the S-Bahn.

‘After one stop, a girl – pretty conventional looking – comes in with a pony. Yes, with a pony!
‘I don’t know what to say about the whole thing.’

The video on YouTube shows the well-behaved pony calmly standing in the carriage as its owner sits in silence.

Passengers on the carriage are shown looking bemused at the animal, while some try to capture the unique commute on their mobile phones.

While internet users have reacted with joy at the clip, S-Bahn spokesman Burkhard Ahlert was less than impressed.

‘One may smile but according to our transport regulations, this is clearly not allowed,’ he said.

‘This clearly violates our conditions of carriage.

‘A horse can be dangerous. What if it escapes? The S-Bahn is no place for such animals.
‘We have informed the police already.’

It is though the pony may belong to a local circus group that collects charitable donations.

Asian toad stowaway gets new home in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — They say cats have nine lives. Now a Chinese toad has joined that club of wily survivors.

South Africans are marveling at the endurance of a toad that got trapped in a cargo shipment from China to Cape Town after jumping into a porcelain candlestick that was made there. South African officials reportedly planned to put down the creature, fearing it would cause harm as an invasive species if it were let go in the wild.

But the toad got a last-minute reprieve. Mango Airlines, a South African airline, transported the toad on Friday to Johannesburg for delivery to an animal sanctuary after officials decided to find a way to let the globe-trotting toad live. The two-hour flight was a breeze compared to the trip from China, an odyssey of many weeks and thousands of kilometers (miles) across the Indian Ocean.

Airline spokesman Hein Kaiser said the toad got "first-class treatment," sitting in the cockpit in a transparent plastic container with escort Brett Glasby, an animal welfare inspector. There was even a mock ceremony in which the toad's boarding pass was handed to Glasby.
"He was the star of the show on the flight," Kaiser said of the amphibious passenger. "I think every passenger stopped to have a look."

On landing in Johannesburg, the toad, dubbed Jack B Nimble, was brought out of his container for a celebrity-style photo call.

Observers said the mottled brown toad seemed like a cool customer. "Pretty chilled," as Kaiser put it.

It belongs to the Asian Gold Toad species, which breeds during monsoon season. It is believed to have survived the trip from China by hardening its skin to prevent it drying out and also slowing its breathing and heart rate, methods that help the species survive in times of drought.


Dog survives light lunch of Christmas decorations

A dog has been put on Father Christmas’s naughty list after requiring life-saving surgery to remove around a foot of fairy lights he had eaten.

Charlie, a seven-year-old crossbreed dog from Southampton, was saved by surgeons from the PDSA veterinary charity.

His owner Sharon Fay, 45, said Charlie – appropriately described as the ‘light of her life’ – had also previously eaten her scarf.

‘I hadn’t even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage but it quickly became clear what had happened,’ she said of the most recent incident.

‘Back in March he ate one of my scarves and needed an operation to remove it, but I thought it was just a one-off incident as he hadn’t shown any signs that he was going to be a repeat offender. I’ve had dogs all my life and have never known a dog act like this before.’

After he was taken to the vets, X-rays showed the tangled remains of the lights in Charlie’s stomach; as well as a shoelace.

Whale watchers get ready as Pacific gray migration begins

The annual Pacific gray whale migration has begun in Southern California and whale watchers are already excited about the number of sightings near the South Bay this week.
About 100 Cabrillo Marine Aquarium volunteer naturalists climbed aboard the Redondo Beach Voyager Wednesday morning at the unofficial start of the local whale-watching season. It was too windy for the boat to venture out to areas where the gray whales might be spotted, but there are already indications that lots of the 50-foot-long mammals will be seen through the end of the season in May.

"Last season, our gray whales migrated closer to shore and our counts were quite high," said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the annual gray whale census count at Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes. "The migration started earlier than usual. This year, the same thing may be happening."

The census, sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cetacean Society, has been taking place since 1979. Last season, volunteer census takers posted at the interpretive center counted a record 672 southbound and 1,133 northbound gray whales from December to May.

Each winter, the whales swim south in one of the longest known mammalian migrations. On the 14,000-mile round-trip, they go without food as they seek out warm lagoons in Baja, Mexico, to give birth and mate. They must give birth in warm water because their babies are not born with enough blubber to insulate them against the cold Alaskan seas.

Zoo polar bear dies during heatwave

The last polar bear at the Buenos Aires zoo has died amid a heat wave.

Zoo officials said Winner became nervous and irritated amid the scorching heat of South America's summer and the noise from fireworks during Christmas Eve celebrations.

This affected his ability to control his body temperature and he apparently died of hyperthermia.

The zoo is widely visited in the Argentinian capital and has traditionally showcased polar bears.

Officials said the animals used to live in a 2.5-meter-in-diameter pool but their cage was improved in 1993 when a 145,000-litre pool was built along with a site for birthing and three security rings.

The zoo said in a statement that the site had been visited by experts and met all international regulations to house polar bears.

Decision to Give a Group Effort in the Brain

Dec. 23, 2012 — A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

During a task in which rhesus macaques had control over whether they or another monkey would receive a squirt of fruit juice, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to new research by Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons as the animals weighed different scenarios, such as whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all. Three areas of the brain were seen to weigh the problem differently depending on the social context of the reward. The research appears Dec. 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Using a computer screen to allocate juice rewards, the monkeys preferred to reward themselves first and foremost. But they also chose to reward the other monkey when it was either that or nothing for either of them. They also were more likely to give the reward to a monkey they knew over one they didn't, preferred to give to lower status than higher status monkeys, and had almost no interest in giving the juice to an inanimate object.

Two orphan otters from Cumbria being raised on Skye

December 2012. Two otter cubs, named Bubble and Squeak, were found abandoned in Cumbria. Initially they were left to see if Mum would come back but the next morning they were found crying and covered in frost. They were taken first to the Aquarium of the Lakes in Windermere where they were cared for until they were strong enough for their journey to their new home on Skye.

Grace Yoxon, Director of IOSF, said "Bubble and Squeak are such gorgeous wee otters and it is so funny to watch them as they climb all over each other to reach the fish! It is always better to bring up two cubs together as they get the otter company they need and one will learn from the other.

Release back in Cumbria
At the moment they are in an indoor cub unit but when they are bigger they will move to outdoor pens. They will stay on Skye until they are about 12-15 months as this is the normal age at which cubs will leave their mothers. They will then return to Cumbria for release. It is really important that we keep human contact to a minimum as if they become tame we cannot release them back to the wild where they belong."

Nutrient-Sensing Enzymes Key to Starvation Response and Survival in Newborn Mammals

Dec. 23, 2012 — In the perilous hours immediately after birth, a newborn mammal must survive the sudden loss of food supply from its mother. Under normal circumstances, newborns mount a metabolic response to ward off starvation until feeding occurs. This survival response involves a process of controlled breakdown of internal energetic sources known as autophagy. Although autophagy has been well documented, the key mechanistic regulators of autophagy in vivo have remained poorly understood.

Whitehead Institute researchers have discovered that a family of nutrient-sensing enzymes, dubbed Rag GTPases, modulates the activity of the mTORC1 protein complex, whose inhibition is essential for autophagy and survival in newborns. The finding, reported this week in the journal Nature, emerges from the lab of Whitehead Member David Sabatini, whose earlier in vitro studies showed that mTORC1 (for "mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1") senses the presence of vital amino acids via interactions with Rag GTPases.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Some in Congress oppose wider ban on big snakes – via Herp Digest

By William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau, November 29, 2012

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The monstrous snakes that have invaded the Everglades and gobbled up some of its endangered wildlife are Florida's problem, not cause for a nationwide ban, some Republicans in Congress declared on Thursday.

Their staunch opposition greatly diminishes the chances that Congress will approve a bill to broaden the ban on invasive snakes that was proposed by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, and supported by proponents of Everglades restoration.

Opponents cited evidence that these snakes die in cold weather and cannot move farther north to threaten other parts of the country. They said a nationwide ban on importation and interstate sales would thwart pet owners and pinch the livelihoods of sellers and breeders.

"Florida is handling a Florida problem that only exists in Florida," U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., chairman of the House subcommittee on fisheries and wildlife, told witnesses at a hearing on Thursday.

The chairman mocked testimony that Burmese Pythons have rebounded from cold snaps, have killed several young children and could thrive in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and semi-tropical U.S. territories. He also dismissed warnings that global warming will increase the range of deadly snakes and other invasive species.

"I think the worry, the threat, that in the next few years we're going to have reptiles on our doorsteps in Washington, D.C., is a little overblown," Fleming said.

A Florida member, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, dismissed the proposed ban as "a solution in search of a problem." He said the bill amounts to an egregious attempt by an over-bearing government to rein in helpless small businesses, jeopardizing a $1.4-billion reptile industry.

"I'm dumbfounded," Southerland said. "We got bigger fish to fry here than to target businesses. It's open season on businesses. It's open season on enterprise, on freedom."

With as many as 100,000 snakes infesting the Glades, the U.S. Interior Department already has issued an administrative rule to ban importation and interstate sales of the Burmese python, northern and southern African python and the yellow anaconda.

Rooney and Everglades promoters hope to put that ban into law and expand it to include five more species: the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee's anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

Environmentalists say these snakes kill endangered wildlife in Florida and undermine a multi-billion-dollar restoration of the Everglades.

"If we are trying to restore the ecosystem for wading birds adapted to the Everglades and we have invasives countering those measures, that's a big problem," Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, said after the hearing.

She also warned that widespread publicity about pythons and other snakes in the 'Glades have discouraged tourism.

"We have some people no longer willing to visit because they are just afraid," Hill-Gabriel said. "The world knows the Everglades have a snake problem, and we need to show we are taking action."

The current ban and proposed expansion would not solve the immediate problem, which is how to eradicate the estimated 30,000 to 100,000 invasive snakes already in the Everglades.

Whale washed ashore in New York

An ailing, endangered finback whale has been found washed ashore in a coastal enclave of New York City that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy.

Emergency workers and marine biologists responded to a report of a 60-foot whale that was stranded on the bay side of the Rockaways, Queens.

Biologist Mendy Garron said it was unclear what caused the whale to beach itself, but its chances of survival appear slim.

She said the whale was not moving around much and "looks very compromised".

Ms Garron said biologists are waiting for the tides to subside to determine what to do next.

The neighbourhood of Breezy Point is still recovering from the October storm that caused serious flooding and a fire that destroyed 100 homes.

Read more:

China: Shark Tank Explodes At Shopping Centre

Shark tank explodes at shopping centre in Shanghai, China

CCTV pictures capture the moment the aquarium burst in Shanghai, sending glass and fish flying into the crowd.

Sixteen people were hurt when a 33-ton aquarium containing sharks, other fish and turtles exploded at a shopping centre in the Chinese city of Shanghai.

CCTV pictures captured the moment the giant tank burst, sending glass and fish flying into the crowd.

A man who was taking pictures of the aquarium when it broke was swept away by water.

Shoppers, store assistants and security staff suffered cuts and bruises as they were hit by pieces of 15cm-thick acrylic glass.

Three lemon sharks and dozens of small fishes and turtles were killed, according to reports.
Police have begun an investigation after the tank burst without warning.

"I was just walking by and heard the explosion of this water tank. I heard a bang, then water flushed out," said an unnamed passer-by.

"A cosmetics counter collapsed. The shop assistant was pulled out by other people," said another unidentified witness.

A safety expert said: "According to experts' preliminary investigation, the main cause of the incident is that the material used to make the aquarium ruptured under low temperatures after long-time use."

The Orient shopping centre said it had no plans to rebuild the aquarium which had become a popular attraction since it was installed two years ago.


First Goat Genome Sets a Good Example for Facilitating De Novo Assembly of Large Genomes

Dec. 23, 2012 — In a collaborative study published online today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers from Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, BGI, and other institutes, have completed the first genome sequence of domestic goat by a robust approach integrated with next-generation sequencing (NGS) and whole-genome mapping (WGM) technologies. The goat genome is the first reference genome for small ruminant animals and may help to advance the understanding of distinct ruminants' genomic features from non-ruminant species. This work also yields a valuable experience for facilitating the de novo assemblies of large, complex genomes in the future.

Goats are recognized as an important member of the world livestock industry, and with many unique biological features. They are an important economic resource in many developing countries around the world, especially in China and India. However, despite their agricultural and biological importance, breeding and genetic studies of goats have been hampered by the lack of a high quality reference genome sequence. The goat genome sequence will be useful for facilitating the identification of SNP markers for marker-assisted breeding, and improving the utility of the goat as a biomedical model and bioreactor.

Tanzania to withdraw proposal for ivory sale

Major ivory seizures forced rethink
December 2012. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has learnt from well-placed, reliable and confidential sources in Tanzania that the Government of that country is to withdraw its controversial proposal to the next full meeting of CITES, which will take place in Bangkok in March 2013, to reduce protection for its elephant population and sell-off 101 tonnes of stockpiled ivory.

According to the EIA, "This move, as yet not confirmed officially, is the only logical course for Tanzania to take - recent major seizures of ivory apparently originating in Tanzania show clearly how little control the country has over the illegal trade in ivory and how vulnerable its elephants really are. Tanzania's withdrawal of its ill-conceived proposal is very good news, and this development is a wonderful early Christmas gift to elephants everywhere."

EIA was the first NGO to reveal Tanzania's plans in October, and the first to formally announce its opposition to the proposed downlisting and ivory.

An EIA spokesman added "At that time we branded the proposal as ‘ludicrous', coming as it did when ivory poaching is escalating and the CITES ivory-trading mechanism itself is increasingly being called into question. EIA firmly believes that such CITES-approved stockpile auctions serve only to stimulate the market for ivory, confusing consumers as to whether ivory is legitimate and spurring further poaching as demand in consumer countries such as China grows.

"We have previously called for China to be stripped of its 'Approved Buyer' status because its domestic market it flooded with poached ivory which is effectively laundered behind the screen of a legal supply.

"EIA works to seek the return of a total global ban on all trade in ivory and an absolute end to all CITES-approved stockpile sales."

Related Posts with Thumbnails