Saturday 30 June 2012

Rabies outbreak in Carlsbad prompts warning to avoid wild animals

CARLSBAD - You see a helpless, injured animal in the wild and know it needs immediate medical attention. What should you do?

"Don't touch it. For personal safety, call a veterinarian like myself or animal control," local veterinarian Samantha Uhrig advises.

Uhrig, who is licensed to care for injured wildlife at her Desert Willow Veterinarian clinic on Fiesta Drive, said in some cases, bringing in a bird that has been injured in the wild is OK.

But bringing in a wild, injured animal for medical attention should be left to the professionals, she advises. The current rabies outbreak in skunks is a major concern and a source for infecting other wild animals and humans.

"The city and county's animal control officers are vaccinated against rabies and they have the proper equipment to catch the animal. People also can call me. I'll go and get the animal," Uhrig said. "We get a lot of orphaned wildlife that people find and bring to us for medical treatment. I strongly advise against doing that. A lot of baby mammals such as raccoons and foxes look cute and cuddly, but they can carry the rabies virus. Sometimes they show symptoms and sometimes they don't. But it can be passed on to humans."

Catwalk pigs could hold the key to improving animal welfare

Scientists at Newcastle University are using video motion capture technology to get an accurate picture of how the pigs move along the runway.

The research, which uses technology featured in Hollywood smash Avatar, is part of a project which aims to improve health and welfare on UK pig farms.

Length of stride and the angle of the pigs' joints are the two main actions being monitored by the Newcastle team. 

Researcher Sophia Stavrakakis hopes her findings can help reduce lameness among livestock, currently a major problem for farmers.

'Female breeding pigs are particularly prone to leg problems and this makes it costly for farmers when an animal becomes lame because of the time and money invested in the breeding stock,' she explained.

'Using biomechanical motion capture we are able to measure the animals' gait - tracking a number of animals to find the right angulation and locomotion.

'Through this we hope to be able to develop a farmer-friendly system that will allow them to identify those pigs with better legs, a trait that can be passed on to subsequent generations.'

Read more:

How Sticky Toepads Evolved in Geckos and What That Means for Adhesive Technologies

ScienceDaily (June 28, 2012) — Geckos are known for sticky toes that allow them to climb up walls and even hang upside down on ceilings. A new study shows that geckos have gained and lost these unique adhesive structures multiple times over the course of their long evolutionary history in response to habitat changes.

"Scientists have long thought that adhesive toepads originated just once in geckos, twice at the most," says University of Minnesota postdoctoral researcher Tony Gamble, a coauthor of the study. "To discover that geckos evolved sticky toepads again and again is amazing."

The findings are published in the most recent edition of PLoS ONE. Gamble is a researcher in the College of Biological Sciences' Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development. Aaron Bauer, a professor at Villanova University, is the study's senior author. The research is part of a long-standing collaboration on gecko evolution among biologists at the University of Minnesota, Villanova University and the University of Calgary.

Geckos, a type of lizard, are found in tropical and semitropical regions around the world. About 60 percent of the approximately 1,400 gecko species have adhesive toepads. Remaining species lack the pads and are unable to climb smooth surfaces. Geckos with these toepads are able to exploit vertical habitats on rocks and boulders that many other kinds of lizards can't easily get to. This advantage gives them access to food in these environments, such as moths and spiders. Climbing also helps geckos avoid predators.


Dinosaurs Were Warm-Blooded Reptiles: Mammal Bone Study Sheds Light On Dinosaur Physiology

ScienceDaily (June 28, 2012) — A study with extant mammals refutes the hypothesis on which the assumption that dinosaurs were ectotherms was based.

The work was carried out by researchers from Institut Català de Paleontologia (ICP) and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). It has been published in Nature.
The study analysing the lines of arrested growth (LAG) in the bones of around a hundred ruminants, representative of the specific and ecological diversity of that group of mammals. The results show that the presence of these lines is not an indicator of an ectothermic physiology (does not generate internal heat), as had previously been thought, since all warm-blooded mammals have them. The study therefore dismantles the key argument of the hypothesis that dinosaurs could have been cold-blooded reptiles.
The work was carried out by Meike Köhler, ICREA researcher and ICP palaeontologist; Ronny Aanes, researcher from the Norwegian Polar Institute; Nekane Marín, PhD student at the UAB and Xavier Jordana, lecturer of postgraduate studies at same university.

Militia attack Okapi Wildlife Reserve & kill guards

Okapi in danger
June 2012. Early in the morning on June 24th, Simba rebels (Mai Mai militia) attacked the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve near the village of Epulu in the north-eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
5 guards killed
According to the Okapi Conservation Project, at least five guards were killed, and destruction of buildings and looting has occurred. Fighting his way past the rebels, the reserve's Conservator Gishlain Somba escaped and walked through the night to Mambassa, where he is coordinating with the Congolese Army (FARDC) being deployed to the area, along with top rangers from Virunga National Park.
Grave concerns for 100 staff
"We are gravely concerned about the fate of our 100 staff members and the 14 okapi at the breeding and research station," said John Lukas, Founder of the Okapi Conservation Project. "As soon as the area is safe, we will go and provide whatever help we can."
The Okapi is the flagship species for one of the most biologically diverse spots on Earth--the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri Rainforest. Today, there are approximately only 10,000 - 20,000 okapi in the wild.
To make a donation to help the local people, rebuild the conservation station and provide assistance to the ICCN to continue to protect the wildlife of the Ituri Forest, please click here.

Critically Endangered 'Tree Lobsters' Hatched at Zoo

Three critically endangered insects called Lord Howe Island stick insects, also known as tree lobsters, have been hatched at the San Diego Zoo for the first time.

The species was thought to be extinct after 1920, when the last known wild tree lobsters were devoured by rats on their native Lord Howe Island, off the coast of Australia. However, in 2001, a small group of the stick insects was discovered on Ball's Pyramid, a remnant volcano in the Pacific Ocean near the island. After discovering the rare insect, four were taken to the Melbourne Zoo, where zookeepers have successfully hatched a number of the insects in an effort to bring them back from extinction.

Eggs were shipped to San Diego to establish a new, separate colony, according to the zoo. After incubating the eggs at 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), three nymphs emerged, which are now 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long and light green.

Scottish salmon companies have killed 300+ seals since the start of 2011

Freedom of Information request reveals salmon companies
June 2012. Following a freedom of information request by The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, the Scottish Government has revealed that 229 seals were killed in 2011 by salmon farming companies, and a further 81 in the first 4 months of 2012. The seals were killed by companies such as Marine Harvest, Loch Duart, Scottish Seafarms (Leroy & Salmar), Meridian (Morpol), Hjaltland Seafarms (Grieg Seafood) and The Scottish Salmon Company.
The Scottish Government replied as follows (Excerpt)
Scottish Government Information on Seal Killings by Salmon Farmers in Scotland:
Your request for information on the number of seals killed and by which companies can be released and is provided below. Figures for 2011 are provided in full. I have also provided the information for 2012 that the Scottish Government holds; this of course may be subject to change as further information is submitted.
The companies with licences issued specifically to them in 2011 and number of seals shot:-
Seals shot in 2011
Seals shot in 2012 to April
Dawnfresh Farming Ltd
Lakeland Marine Farm Ltd

Marine Harvest (Scotland) Ltd
The Scottish Salmon Co Ltd
Scottish Seafarms Ltd
West Minch Salmon Ltd

Loch Duart Ltd
Bound Skerries Seafoods Ltd

Hjaltland Seafarms Ltd
Northern Isles Salmon Ltd (Meridian group)

It appears that, by shooting seals, these companies may be breaking US laws about imported farmed salmon, and this may well affect these companies' ability to import salmon into the US.

EU to ban exotic species imports?

Just how hypocritical are we?
June 2012. At last, some sense from the EU, though many pet owners are up in arms complaining about their right to ruin the ecology of many other countries by importing vast quantities of birds, reptiles, mammals, bugs and other forms of life without any consideration of where they have come from.
Brits condemn exotic pets, except when they are ours
In Britain we condemn, and quite rightly, other countries where animals such as Orangutans, various species of monkeys, rare birds, endangered reptiles and live corals are for sale to the pet trade. The markets of Asia are often teeming with a huge range of wildlife that has been pillaged from the jungles and coral reefs of the world. Yet when the EU thinks about banning the import of exotic species into the UK, a large % of the population are up in arms because it might affect the pet trade.
Whilst the EU is looking at this legislation from the standpoint of preventing more alien species being imported into the EU, it will also have the benefit of stopping many increasing rare and endangered species, along with their habitats, being ruined around the world for the gratification of those people that think snakes should live in small glass cages. Just look at what is happening in the Florida Everglades where the local wildlife is being decimated by Burmese pythons, released by pet owners.
Mike Nattrass, UKIP MEP is worried about stick insects
Meanwhile, learned UKIP Euro MEP, Mike Nattrass, has been complaining that the EU is banning stick insects! Nattrass also states "Many specialist pet shops could be put out of businesses as a result of these regulations." Some good will come of iof it then!
Read his rant on his website

Rare mussels almost 'wiped out'

The largest population in English waters of an endangered species of mollusc has almost been destroyed.
Insect charity Buglife has called for an inquiry after the death of up to 90% of the freshwater pearl mussels at the Ennerdale Water Reservoir in Cumbria.
It is thought that water levels in the outflow of the reservoir fell, causing the temperature to go up and oxygen levels to go down.
"This is devastating news," said Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow.
About 80,000 freshwater mussels were lost in this single instance, out of an estimated total population in England and Scotland of about 12m, according to Buglife.
Mr Shardlow compared the loss to wiping out a medium-sized city in the UK, in human terms.
The species is protected under UK and international legislation.
"The UK supports a large proportion of the world population for this species and we have an international responsibility to protect these animals," said Matt Shardlow.
The freshwater pearl mussel recently joined giant pandas and Javan rhinos in a list of the world's 365 "most endangered species", assembled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last year.

New species of dandelion discovered on St Kilda island

A new species of dandelion has been discovered on a remote Scottish isle.
Botanists from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and Northumberland have been involved in studies of the flower found growing on Hirta.
The island is the largest in the St Kilda archipelago, which was abandoned by its last residents in 1936.
The flower may have originated in Iceland and was carried to Hirta by birds, or the Vikings. It has been named after a retired RBGE employee.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said the dandelion - named Taraxacum pankhurstianum in honour of Richard Pankhurst - could be one of Scotland's rarest plants.
Sheep and seabirds are believed to eat it.
Seeds from four plants were collected two years ago by Jim McIntosh, a recorder of flora for the Outer Hebrides, during survey work on Hirta.
The seeds were successfully grown at the garden's nursery by horticulturist Natacha Frachon and identified as a new species by Prof James Richards, of Hexham, Northumberland.
St Kilda lies 41 miles (66km) west of the Western Isles.
The last St Kildans abandoned Hirta in August 1930 following years of depopulation and also deaths that occurred during a hard winter in 1929.

Elephant-Nosed Fish Has Funky Eyes, Too

An unusual eye structure helps the strange-looking elephantnose fish see in their dim and murky habitat, a new study suggests.

These fish live in muddy rivers in central and west Africa, which are full of plant matter, mud and gas bubbles, even when it's light out. Living in such murky waters, the fish uses its trunk-like mouth extension (from which it gets its name) to sense electrical currents created by other fish.

"They were thought to be blind until a few years ago," study researcher Andreas Reichenbach, of Leipzig University in Germany, told LiveScience. When researchers got around to looking in these fishes' eyes, "it was a little bit of a surprise because its retina was very unusual."

Friday 29 June 2012

Help record the UK’s bumblebee population – Upload your photos

Have you ever wondered which bumblebees roam your garden?
June 2012. Scientists and conservationists are calling for the public's help to map the UK's bumblebee population - all you need is a digital camera. Though acknowledged as some of nature's most important pollinators, relatively little is known about the geographical spread of these insects.

Bee maps
With the help of the public it is hoped that the bumblebee maps - showing their locations across the country - can be significantly improved. To make it easy, a new web tool has been developed by environmental and computing scientists at the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT). By taking part, participants will add dots to the map and will learn how to identify the species around them.
Dr René van der Wal from the University of Aberdeen's School of Biological Sciences explained: "Bumblebees have a unique ecology which make them not only fascinating creatures, but also one of nature's most important pollinators, playing a vital role in the fruiting of many of the UK's plants. However, there are big holes in our knowledge about where to find some species, and how their populations may be changing over time.
Photograph the bees in your garden
"We are calling on the public to help us fill this gap in knowledge by taking pictures of bumblebees in their gardens and then uploading them to the BeeWatch system on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website."

Wandering Cape Cod bear captured in Boston suburb

BOSTON (Reuters) - He's baaack: A male black bear captured on Cape Cod earlier this month, where it was tranquilized and moved to central Massachusetts, showed up again on Tuesday just six miles from downtown Boston.
State officials said they had captured the bear in a tree in the Chestnut Hill area of Brookline, just west of Boston, and confirmed it was the same bear which roamed the Cape for about two weeks before being captured and relocated on June 12.
The bear was identified by a tag placed in its ear. It had probably traveled about 100 miles.
"Because this bear was in a highly congested urban area, an interagency Large Animal Response Team was deployed to the area," said the Massachusetts' wildlife agency, known as MassWildlife.
The 180-pound bear was then shot with a tranquilizer dart by the Environmental Police. Later, MassWildlife officials transported the animal to a remote location in western Massachusetts, about 150 miles away.
The Boston Globe reported that the bear was spotted in a white pine tree in the backyard of Alan Leventhal, chief executive of Beacon Capital Partners, one of the largest real estate investment trusts in the United States, and on Boston University's Board of Trustees.
The agency said that black bear sightings have been reported in a number of towns west and south of Boston recently but could not confirm that all sightings were the same bear.
The Boston Globe reported that the bear was spotted in a white pine tree in the backyard of Alan Leventhal, chief executive of Beacon Capital Partners, one of the largest real estate investment trusts in the United States, and on Boston University's Board of Trustees.
The Brookline Police Department tweeted photographs of the bear in the tree, with a caption that was a twist on the classic children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See":
"Black bear, black bear what do you see? I see Brookline police looking at me."
The so-called Cape Cod bear was first spotted May 27 in the Cape Cod area, the easternmost part of the state. State wildlife officials think the bear swam across the Cape Cod Canal from the mainland.
The Massachusetts bear population was last estimated at 3,000 in 2005, with most bears in northwest and western parts of the state, including the Berkshires region.
The black bear population has been slowly growing and expanding its range into eastern and southeastern Massachusetts, state officials said. Of the three species of bear found in North America, the American black bear is the smallest.
(Reporting By Ros Krasny)

British oil company to drill for oil in Virunga National Park – SOCO ‘Hostile to the park’

Seismic tests in Lake Edward.
June 2012. The committee overseeing World Heritage Sites yesterday cautioned that petroleum exploration in Virunga National Park could cause serious harm and should be halted. WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Lukuru Foundation welcome this strong position and urge the DRC government and oil companies to act on it.
Expressing its concern over recent actions by petroleum companies, the World Heritage Committee reiterated its position that oil development is incompatible with World Heritage status. In the Committee's decisions, passed at its annual meeting, the committee also called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to revoke permits granted to exploration companies.
Hostile to the park
British oil company SOCO International, which has already begun activities in Virunga, was criticized in the State of Conservation report on Virunga as being "hostile to the park". The committee said SOCO's permits did not conform to Democratic Republic of the Congo's international commitments.
SOCO states that "it will never seek to have operations in the mountain gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest." This ignores the point that much large areas of Virunga, Africa's oldest National Park, lie outside the gorilla habitat. It seems that SOCO belive that this area will be fair game.

Pet piranha bites off toddler's fingertip

Chicago-area parents thought their pit bull was to blame when they heard their 18-month-old daughter crying and discovered one of her fingertips had been severed.
 Turns out, the culprit was a piranha the family kept in an aquarium.

Doctors determined the bite wasn't from a dog after the girl was rushed to a hospital by ambulance.

Cook County Sheriff's Department spokesman Frank Bilecki tells the Chicago Tribune (the girl's father cut open one of two piranhas and found the fingertip. He says doctors tried to reattach the fingertip, but he didn't know if they were successful.

He didn't immediately respond to messages left Saturday by The Associated Press, and a hospital spokesman couldn't provide the information.

Bilecki says the parents were distraught and aren't facing charges.

Ants call for emergency backup with chemical trail

Brazilian "big-headed" ants use chemical trails to drag others into helping them carry food, a study shows.
Researchers found that when an ant discovered food that was too large to carry, it immediately set off for the nest, laying a pungent chemical trail.
This almost instantly caused hundreds of other ants to rush in and help drag back the oversized snack.
The team thinks the species' "chemical breadcrumb trail" is the fastest and most accurate ever recorded.
The findings from this study are reported in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.
To me, to you
Only ants and humans are able to "organise themselves into teams" to lift heavy objects.
Although many ant species use chemical trails to organise themselves into food-collecting groups, the big-headed ant has an "extreme" chemical enlisting strategy, says the University of Sussex team.
Tomer Czaczkes, the scientist who led the study - and who filmed the ants at work in the forests of Brazil - said that the insects were "incredibly accurate" when it came to following the trail laid down by a fellow forager.
"When an ant finds something delicious," he said, "she has to lay a trail really quickly, because competition is fierce.
"The pheromone trail starts working immediately. Any ants caught in its net are funnelled towards the food item."
In their experiments, Dr Czaczkes and his colleagues left food items outside an ants' nest and filmed the reaction.

Six-legged cane toad found

A SIX-LEGGED cane toad has hopped head over heels and into the limelight in a small Territory town.

We're not pulling your leg - the unnamed hexagonal monster with four front limbs was found in the yard of RS Gardening in Batchelor, 42km south of Darwin, yesterday afternoon.

The acrobatic amphibian made a stand as it put its best feet forward and hoofed it from under some old sheet metal during a yard clean-up.
But the mutant's plans of escape went flat-footed.

Toad catcher and gardener Savvas Christodoulou, 29, knew something was afoot when the slimy palm-sized creature jumped away from him with less vigour than the four-legged variety.

"He was more clumsy than normal. I hope there's no more."

The gardener shoe-horned it into a plant pot "for evidence" - in case further research was required.

"I'm just interested in how he ended up like that," he said.

But the toad is walking a fine line and may already be heading six-feet under.

Toads are the achilles heel of wildlife and callous arch-rival gardeners in the Territory.

A six-legged toad excited Brisbane Museum curators after a schoolgirl found it in River Heads, Queensland, in March last year.

A five-legged toad was found in Virginia, in Darwin's rural area, last September.

Appeal to save Oxon wildlife site launched

BBOWT needs to raise £99750 in 6 weeks
June 2012. The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) launches a public appeal to raise £99,750 in just six weeks to purchase a riverside meadow near Bampton in west Oxfordshire. If BBOWT does not reach its target in time, this rare opportunity to purchase the land known as Upper Common could be gone forever. 

Upper Common is an 11-hectare site on the edge of BBOWT's Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve. The willow-lined riverbanks and flower-filled hay meadows at Chimney are a refuge for some of England's most threatened species, including the water vole. Awash with glorious displays of wildflowers in the summer, the meadows attract butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies that flit through the nodding heads of brightly coloured wildflowers. Tragically, meadows like this are now a rare site with only 3% of traditional hay meadows remaining in England and Wales.
Neil Clennell, Head of Conservation and Education (Oxfordshire) for BBOWT, says: "With the right management we could transform Upper Common into a colourful meadow, teaming with life once again. Using green hay cut from the nature reserve we can spread wildflower seed onto prepared ground where species like knapweed, fairy flax and delicate quaking grass can flourish.
"With greater control over the water levels it will be possible to keep areas of the reserve wetter for longer, creating new wetland habitats for threatened wading birds such as curlew and snipe. There are already signs of water voles and otters on Upper Common and with a bit of work we could provide safer habitat, helping these much-loved creatures to survive. Opportunities to buy land like this are exceedingly rare. If someone else purchases this land, the vital restoration work needed on the meadow and waterways is unlikely to happen."
It's not just wildlife that will benefit if BBOWT is successful. The public will be able to enjoy a stroll through the new meadow on a circular walk taking in the delights of the nature reserve and the Thames path.

If you would like to help us secure this vital site for wildlife, you can donate to BBOWT's Chimney Meadows appeal at Alternatively, please call BBOWT's Supporters' Office on 01865 788300.

Brown-banded carder bee amongst rare bees spotted in Britain

New sighting of rare UK Priority Bee Species Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) has created a buzz at Carmel National Nature Reserve (NNR), Carmarthenshire
June 2012. A joint project of The Grasslands Trust and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has resulted in an exciting discovery of the rare Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species, at Carmel National Nature Reserve

Bumblebee numbers have sharply declined with the loss of traditional habitat and intensive agricultural practices. The UK's wildlife-rich grasslands have declined by 97% in the last 70 years as a result of intensive agriculture, development and neglect with profound impacts for native bumblebee populations, including loss of habitat and food resources.
Carmel National Nature Reserve, near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire, is one of the UK's richest wildlife areas and an internationally significant site. Its range of habitats includes ancient woodland, heathland, and species-rich grassland which support some of the UK's rarest plant and animal species. Situated on a limestone ridge, the area was historically used for quarrying and traditional agriculture, resulting in a mixture of ancient meadows and woodlands, quarries, spoil heaps and lime kilns. Declared a National Nature Reserve in 1999, Carmel is managed by The Grasslands Trust and the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).
Transformed into flower-rich meadows
In 2006, The Grasslands Trust took over the management of a greater part of the Reserve to restore grasslands that had been damaged through intensive agriculture back to flower-rich meadows and pastures. Through the "Working with Nature" Project funded by GrantScape, The Grasslands Trust, in partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, has been working to increase the populations of bumblebee species by undertaking restoration of their primary habitat: wildlife-rich grasslands. Restoration work has also included the restoration of woodland glades and small sunny quarries, by managing the encroaching shrubs.

Early human ancestor chewed bark

An early relative of humans chewed on bark and leaves, according to fossil evidence.
Analysis of food trapped in the teeth of the two-million-year-old "southern ape" suggests it existed on a unique diet of forest fruits and other woodland plants.
The study, in Nature, gives an insight into the evolution of what could have been a direct human ancestor.
Other early African contemporaries had a diet suggesting a grassland habitat.
The first fossils of Australopithecus sediba, discovered in South Africa in 2008, were hailed as a remarkable discovery.
Teeth from two individuals were analysed in the latest research, focussing on patterns of dental wear, carbon isotope data and plant fragments from dental tartar.
The evidence suggests the ape-like creature ate leaves, fruit, bark, wood and other forest vegetation.
Dr Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led the research.
"We've for the first time been able to put together three quite different methods for reconstructing diet and gotten one cohesive picture of the diet of this ancient species and that picture is really quite different from what we've seen in other hominins (human ancestors)," she said.

Sharp decline in upland birds in Wales

Independent surveys reveal drastic declines in Wales' upland bird populations

June 2012. Ornithologists in Wales have expressed shock at the findings of a range of independent surveys carried out across Wales in the last two years that reveal massive declines in the numbers of many of our upland birds.
Iconic species in decline
Species in serious decline include many of the iconic species that define our uplands including curlew, golden plover, chough, peregrine falcon and ring ouzel. If the current trends continue these species may be extinct in the Welsh hills before too long.
Surveys undertaken by independent consultancy Ecology Matters reveal that on The Plynlimon range in mid Wales numbers of golden plover have declined by 92% since 1984 with only one pair remaining; red grouse have declined by 48% and four species - teal, peregrine, ring ouzel and black headed gull are now extinct in this area.
Peregrine falcons
Initial results of surveys being undertaken by the Welsh Kite Trust are showing declines of peregrines at inland sites across Wales. Where birds are hanging on breeding productivity has declined drastically.
An independent long - term study of chough by the Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project has documented long-term declines at inland breeding and feeding sites.
Mick Green, of Ecology Matters, said "Although I was aware of declines I was shocked at the scale revealed once we carried out proper surveys. That the declines on The Plynlimon are on a designated site that is meant to be protected is especially worrying - if declines like these are found on protected sites what hope is there in the wider countryside?"
Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust added "It is worrying that the recovery of the peregrine we witnessed at the end of the last century now seems to have been reversed and absolutely tragic that many of the upland slate quarries and mine workings that once rang with the enigmatic call of the chough are now silent - we urgently need to find the reasons for these trends so that we can act now to counteract them".

Thursday 28 June 2012

Scientist spends 40 years studying Skomer Island’s seabirds

Guillemots on Skomer Island
June 2012. A bird expert at the University of Sheffield has spent 40 years studying seabirds on an island off the UK in one of the longest running investigations of its kind. Professor Tim Birkhead, of the University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, first visited Skomer Island - situated off the cost of west Wales - in 1972 and since then he has returned every summer, gaining invaluable information about guillemots.

Guillemot study
He will visit the island again on June 21 2012 for 10 days, marking his 40th breeding season studying the guillemots, conducting an annual census and ringing the birds to see how old they are when they start to breed and how long they live.
Professor Birkhead said: "It has been an invaluable investigation, for example it is clear that climate change has had a huge effect on the guillemots as they now breed two weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. We also know a huge amount more about guillemot biology than we did 40 years ago, and we can use changes in guillemot numbers to tell us what is happening in the seas surrounding the island.
"Long term studies like this are few and far between but remain vital for understanding changes taking place in the environment. It's been a constant challenge both to secure funding and to carry out the work itself as the birds breed on the sea battered cliffs of a remote island."
½ million seabirds
Home to about half a million seabirds, including the guillemots, razorbills and puffins, uninhabited Skomer Island is a natural nature reserve, specially protected and a site of scientific importance.
Technological advances throughout the four decades have enabled Professor Birkhead to gain even more information about the birds.

Human Insulin Suppresses Mosquito Immune System: Increasing Cases of Type II Diabetes Could Abet Malaria’s Spread

ScienceDaily (June 26, 2012) — Human insulin suppresses the mosquito immune system, according to a paper in the June Infection and Immunity. And while mosquitoes and malaria might seem to go together like baseball and hotdogs, mosquitoes' immunological resistance to the malaria parasite actually slows its spread among H. sapiens.

"A fair portion actually fight off the infection," says first author Nazzy Pakpour of the University of California, Davis.

But now the rate of type 2 diabetes is climbing in Africa as in most of the rest of the world, to the point where by 2030, one in five adults there are predicted to be so-afflicted. More diabetes means more hyperinsulinemia -- more human insulin to inhibit mosquitoes' immune response to Plasmodium falciparum, thus aiding and abetting transmission of this dread disease.

As horrific as the medical consequences of all this might be, the science is intriguing. "It's crazy to think something in our blood could change how mosquitoes respond to parasites," says Pakpour.

In earlier work, Pakpour and collaborators showed that ingested human insulin activates the insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway in Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, making them more vulnerable to invasion by P. falciparum. The new study showed that insulin signaling reduced expression of certain mosquito immunity genes that are under the same regulatory control, and that human insulin suppressed mosquito immunity by activating the so-called PI3K signaling pathway, and that artificially inhibiting that pathway could reverse the immunosuppressive effects of human insulin.

Undercover investigation reveals whales killed for ‘local needs’ in Greenland are being served to tourists

Real reasons behind Denmark's pleas to increase the number of whales it needs to kill for native Greenlandic peoples are exposed 
June 2012. Despite a ban on commercial whaling, an undercover investigation by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has revealed that Greenland (a Danish overseas territory) has been actively undermining the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on commercial whaling by selling whale meat, from whales it is allowed to kill solely for the nutritional needs of local aboriginal people, to tourists visiting the country.

WDCS investigators visiting Greenland documented restaurants and hotels deliberately targeting tourists by placing bowhead and other whale meat on their menus. The investigations also revealed supermarkets openly selling endangered fin whale and other whale meats, all freely available for visitors to the country to buy.
Denmark to request increase in whaling for ‘subsistence'
These revelations come on the eve of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (the international body that regulates whaling) in Panama in July, where Denmark is set to ask that it be allowed to kill more whales in future years to meet the nutritional subsistence needs of the native population in Greenland. 

‘Purpose of local aboriginal consumption'

However, the IWC requires that subsistence whaling should be for the ‘purposes of local aboriginal consumption', not for the type of commercial sale that the investigation by WDCS has revealed.

Cambodia Remains Last Vulture Bastion in Southeast Asia

ScienceDaily (June 25, 2012) — In face of what has become a precipitous slide toward extinction across the Asian continent, the vultures of Cambodia have persisted, giving conservationists hope that these important scavengers can come back from the brink, according to authors from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Royal Government of Cambodia, and other groups in a new study.

The creation of new feeding stations, or vulture "restaurants," and the restoration of populations of depleted wildlife species represent the next important steps in vulture conservation, the study says.

The paper appears in the online edition of Bird Conservation International. Authors include: Tom Clements, Martin Gilbert, and Hugo J. Rainey of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Richard Cuthbert of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International in Indochina; Pech Bunnat and Song Chansocheat of the Ministry of the Environment, Royal Government of Cambodia; Seng Teak of the World Wide Fund for Nature -- Cambodia Program; and Tan Setha of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Royal Government of Cambodia.


Military forces clear LRA from Congo park – But for how long?

Congo and UN military provide assistance to counteract LRA in Garamba National Park
June 2012. Further to the news from earlier in June, African Parks (AP) are pleased to report that the security situation at Garamba has stabilised with the assistance of Congo military (FARDC) and UN special forces (MONUSCO) who have temporarily moved into the park. As a result of the resulting increase in patrolling, AP believe that LRA operatives have probably been driven out of the park.
Elephant meat
AP wish to thank all those who expressed concern and support after their announcement of the LRA attack in Garamba close to park headquarters on 6 June. The situation remained tense in the immediate aftermath with AP guards encountering another 20 LRA operatives on June 7th, who fortunately fled leaving behind supplies including a quantity of elephant meat.
Troops and helicopters on patrol
As a result of AP requests for help following these incidents, FARDC agreed to provide 100 military personnel to help patrol the park for a month, and provided ammunition to replenish our supplies. MONUSCO troops were also sent to investigate the situation. Military helicopters were also provided by MONUSCO to survey the park from the air. During this surveillance, a camp was identified 20 km north-west of where game guards had encountered the LRA, however it had been recently deserted. At the site where the LRA firefight took place on 6 June, our guards found two elephant carcasses and numerous AK47 and machine gun cartridges.
AP believes that the LRA has retreated to the Azande hunting reserve north-west of Garamba, which is densely forested. However AP fully expects that the LRA will return to the park unless an ongoing military presence is secured. As a result AP is continuing to lobby within the DRC, Europe and the USA for a military team to be seconded to the park on an ongoing basis. Our efforts resulted in human rights organizations highlighting Garamba in an LRA submission to the UN Security Council.
African Parks are engaging a military specialist to spearhead their law enforcement efforts at Garamba and have appointed a task-team to formulate a long-term security plan for the park. The recent LRA encounters and onslaught of elephant poaching have AP more determined than ever to put successful strategies in place to ensure Garamba's long-term survival.

Mystery of the Flatfish Head Solved

ScienceDaily (June 25, 2012) — Those delicious flatfishes, like halibut and sole, are also evolutionary puzzles. Their profoundly asymmetrical heads have one of the most unusual body plans among all backboned animals (vertebrates) but the evolution of their bizarre anatomy has long been a mystery. How did flatfishes, with both of their eyes on one side of their head, evolve? So puzzling was the anatomy of flounders and their kin that they were used in early arguments against Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Skeptics wondered how such unusual features could have slowly evolved whilst remaining advantageous for the fishes' survival.

A new fossil discovery described in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Oxford University researcher Dr Matt Friedman finally solves the mystery. Friedman's fossil fish, named Heteronectes (meaning 'different swimmer'), was found in 50 million year old marine rocks from northern Italy. This study provides the first detailed description of a primitive flatfish, revealing that the migrated eye had not yet crossed to the opposite side of the skull in early members of this group. Heteronectes, with its flattened form, shows the perfect intermediate stage between most fish with eyes on each side of the head and specialized flatfishes where both eyes are on the same side.


Rare Sumatran rhino gives birth at Indonesian sanctuary

Birth of Baby Rhino Represents Hope for Species Survival
June 2012. The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) is pleased to announce the birth of a bouncing baby male Sumatran rhino born to Ratu, a 12-year-old Sumatran rhino living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia's Way Kambas National Park. The calf was born on June 23 at 12:46 a.m. with no complications, attended by Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary veterinarians, Ratu's keepers and advisors from the Cincinnati Zoo and Taronga Conservation Society Australia.

Fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos 
The birth helps ensure the future of one of the world's most endangered species. There are fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos living in Indonesia and Malaysia. This is the first birth of a Sumatran rhino in an Indonesian facility and the first birth in an Asian facility in 124 years. 

"We are overjoyed that Ratu delivered a healthy calf and are cautiously optimistic that the calf will continue to thrive," said Dr. Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation. "The little guy is absolutely adorable, and none of us has been able to stop smiling since the moment we were sure he was alive and healthy. We have been waiting for this moment since the sanctuary was built in 1998. The International Rhino Foundation is honoured to play an important role in protecting rhinos. We are hopeful the Sumatran rhino population will thrive once again." 

Third pregnancy

This was the third pregnancy for Ratu, who miscarried her first two calves. The rhino calf weighs 60-70 pounds and looks healthy and active. 

Dr. Dedi Candra, head veterinarian and animal collections manager at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, has been monitoring Ratu's pregnancy by weighing her weekly and conducting regular ultrasound exams, using methods developed by the Cincinnati Zoo, where the father, Andalas, was born in 2001. 
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