Wednesday 31 October 2012

Baby Beluga Whale Is … a Girl!

A baby beluga whale born at the end of August is starting to shed its slate-colored skin for the more mature creamy-white covering, and the baby is a "she," aquarium staff have just announced.
The ever-growing calf, now 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, will make her public debut Friday (Oct. 26) at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Both mom and baby are plumping up, as the calf weighs about 205 pounds (93 kilograms) and is steadily packing on 12 to 15 pounds a week. Her 1,200-pound mom Mauyak has nearly tripled her normal diet — downing up to 88 pounds (40 kg) of fish daily — to accommodate a hungry, nursing calf.
"In just two months, the calf has gained weight and reached significant milestones, including bonding with mom, nursing and meeting all of the other belugas," Ken Ramirez, Shedd's executive vice president of animal care and training, said in a statement.

Fox returns stolen handbag

A West Sussex man has told how a fox stole his wife's handbag - before bringing it back to her a few minutes later. Jeremy Clark, 38, of Burgess Hill, near Brighton, was preparing to go to hospital with wife, Anna, 35, when the fox pounced. 

He told the local Brighton Argus newspaper: "We were in the car park and he looked at me for a few seconds before letting out this feeble yelp. "Next thing I knew he had my wife's handbag in his mouth and was running towards the bushes." 

Mr Clark says he screamed at the fox to drop the bag but the animal scuttled off out of sight. "Anna had everything in there: her phone, money, purse, keys and letters. I couldn't believe the fox had just taken it - it was mad. I thought that was it," he added. 

But a few minutes later the fox crept back into the car park, with his tail between his legs, and dropped the bag at Mrs Clark's feet before running off. Mr Clark added: "I have no idea why, we couldn't believe it. We see the fox around quite a bit. I think people feed it."

Sleep-Deprived Bees Have Difficulty Relearning

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2012) — Everyone feels refreshed after a good night's sleep, but sleep does more than just rejuvenate, it can also consolidate memories.
"The rapid eye movement form of sleep and slow wave sleep are involved in cognitive forms of memory such as learning motor skills and consciously accessible memory," explains Randolf Menzel from the Freie Universt├Ąt Berlin, Germany.
According to Menzel, the concept that something during sleep reactivates a memory for consolidation is a basic theory in sleep research. However, the human brain is far too complex to begin dissecting the intricate neurocircuits that underpin our memories, which is why Menzel has spent the last four decades working with honey bees: they are easy to train, well motivated and it is possible to identify the miniaturised circuits that control specific behaviours in their tiny brains. Intrigued by the role of sleep in memory consolidation and knowing that a bee is sleeping well when its antennae are relaxed and collapsed down, Menzel decided to focus on the role of sleep in one key memory characteristic: relearning.
They publish their discovery that sleep derivation prevents bees from altering well-established memories in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Three new crew arrive at space station with fish

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Oct. 25, 2012 (Reuters) — A pair of rookie Russian cosmonauts and a veteran U.S. astronaut arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday, boosting the crew back to full strength and bringing along 32 Japanese medaka fish.
Soyuz spacecraft commander Oleg Novitskiy, flight engineer Evgeny Tarelkin and NASA's Kevin Ford ended a two-day journey with an 8:29 a.m. EDT (1229 GMT) docking at the orbital outpost as the ships sailed 254 miles above the planet.
After making sure seals between the two spacecraft were airtight, the men joined space station commander Sunita Williams, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko to return the station to its full, six-member crew.
The $100 billion station, a project of 15 nations, had had a crew of three onboard since September 16 because of normal rotation schedules.
"It is so great to see all six of you on orbit and to see your smiling faces," William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for spaceflight, radioed to the crew from the Russian mission control near Moscow.
The 33rd space station crew blasted off on Tuesday aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Ford, who flew as the pilot on a 2009 space shuttle mission, said he noticed different noises and vibrations riding on the Soyuz, but he found the trip just as enjoyable.
"The two days went really quickly," Ford told family and friends gathered at the Russian mission control during a televised welcoming ceremony. "It was an incredible ride."
Ford's Russian colleagues, both of whom are flying for the first time, had a bit of struggle adjusting to the weightless environment of space.
"I have to admit it was a little bit difficult the first day, but then it got better and easier," one of the cosmonauts said through a translator.
"It got tolerable," the other added. "Today, we're feeling great."
One of the first orders of business was transferring 32 Japanese medaka fish from special containers aboard the Soyuz into Japan's Kibo laboratory, where aquariums have been set up for a variety of experiments.

Army of Nazi raccoons force Germans to admit defeat

Raccoons introduced by the Nazis have officially occupied Germany after experts admitted they are there to stay.
The north American invaders – freed in the wild on the orders of Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering – broke into houses at the weekend as they sought food and shelter in cold weather.
As homeowners complained about furniture being ripped to make cosy nests, the German Hunting Federation said the mammals will never be ousted.
'The raccoon is firmly established in Germany, this has to be accepted,' said spokesman Daniel Hoffman.
Magnus Wessel, head of the conservation department at Friends of the Earth Germany, said: 'Limiting their numbers is pretty much all that can be done.'
Raccoons, which German pest controllers say now number in the millions, often choose to live under houses as they feel safe from predators and can steal food from the bins.
As the cold conditions hit, a couple arrived back from holiday to find one of the animals had climbed down the chimney and eaten all the food in their cupboards in Spessart, Hesse.
A raccoon chased off a cat after breaking in through its flap, eating a packet of biscuits and ripping up a cushion for a nest at a home in Kaiserslautern.
Goering ordered the release of a breeding pair of raccoons when he was the Third Reich's chief forester in 1934, to give hunters something to shoot.
More got out in 1945 when an Allied bomb hit a farm where they were being reared for their pelts.

Mystery monkey caught in Florida after three years on the run

One of America's most elusive primates is safely behind bars today, after  what officials can only speculate was one heck of a years-long adventure.

The "Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay" is a wild rhesus macaque who has been driving animal control officers in Florida bananas for almost four years.

First spotted in January of 2009, the 25-pound male had been popping up in backyards, alleyways, outside of restaurants, and in church parking lots all over the Tampa Bay area

"He came to worship," said a woman who'd witnessed the monkey on top of a Baptist church during evening service to the Tampa Bay Times. Another woman said she saw it swing off of a tree and into her swimming pool.

Full story at:

Sneaky Cat Caught on Camera in Himalayas

Picture:  WWF

An elusive thick-furred feline has been caught on camera for the first time in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
A camera trap captured images of the fluffy Pallas's cat, also known as the manul, in the country's sprawling Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP), which is also home to the snow leopard and Himalayan black bear. Pallas's cats had never been documented in the region before, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
"This is an exciting and remarkable discovery that proves that the Pallas's cat exists in the Eastern Himalayas," Rinjan Shrestha, a conservation scientist with WWF, said in a statement. "This probably indicates a relatively undisturbed habitat, which gives us hope, not only for the Pallas's cat, but also the snow leopard, Tibetan wolf and other threatened species that inhabit the region".

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Rocky Mountain Critters Captured Close-Up in New Photos

Mountain lions, bighorn sheep and scruffy black bears are among the stars of new photographs released by the Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this week.
The wildlife caught on candid camera were gathering around water tanks deployed by the BLM to manage grazing and improve water access for wild animals on public lands. Cameras monitor the water tanks, also known as "guzzlers," capturing everything from wild deer to coyotes to mountain lions taking advantage of the free drinks.
"Biologists use these cameras to gather invaluable information regarding species use of various habitats," Matt Rustand, a wildlife biologist at the BLM's Royal Gorge Field Office, said in a statement.

Penis Worms Show the Evolution of the Digestive System

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2012) — A team of scientists has revealed that the enigmatic marine penis worms (priapulids) develop their intestine as humans, fish or starfish. This surprising finding shows that very different animals share a common way of forming a gut.
A research team led by Dr. Andreas Hejnol from the Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology in Norway, examined the formation of the gut and the expression of genes needed to form the mouth and the anus in priapulid embryos. Priapulids are an obscure group of marine worms that live in shallow waters.
"Surprisingly, priapulids form the gut like humans, fish, frogs, starfish and sea urchins -and all of them even use the same genes. It does not mean that these penis worms are now closely related to humans. Instead the fact that different animals share a common way of forming the gut suggests that the embryological origins of the human intestine and how it develops are much older than previously thought -- most likely over 500 million years, when the first bilaterally symmetric animals appeared on Earth" remarks Hejnol.
The study, featured online on the 25th of October in the journal Current Biology, represents the first description of the entire embryonic development of these enigmatic animals.

Hermit Crabs Socialize to Evict Their Neighbors

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2012) — Social animals usually congregate for protection or mating or to capture bigger prey, but a University of California, Berkeley, biologist has found that the terrestrial hermit crab has a more self-serving social agenda: to kick another crab out of its shell and move into a larger home.
All hermit crabs appropriate abandoned snail shells for their homes, but the dozen or so species of land-based hermit crabs -- popular terrarium pets -- are the only ones that hollow out and remodel their shells, sometimes doubling the internal volume. This provides more room to grow, more room for eggs -- sometimes a thousand more eggs -- and a lighter home to lug around as they forage.
But empty snail shells are rare on land, so the best hope of moving to a new home is to kick others out of their remodeled shells, said Mark Laidre, a UC Berkeley Miller Post-Doctoral Fellow who reported this unusual behavior in this month's issue of the journal Current Biology.

Lemurs dressed in Halloween masks give visitors a fright

A group of light-hearted lemurs gave visitors to an animal park in Milton Keynes a fright after they dressed up in spooky Halloween masks.

lemurs, Woburn Safari Park
 A cheeky lemur gives his friends a fright (Picture: Zachary Culpin/ Solent)
The ring-tailed lemurs had fun running around the walk-through section of Woburn Safari Park donning ghoulish Frankenstein, werewolf and vampire masks.
As well as scaring visitors, park spokeswoman Abi Crowley said the primates got into the spirit of Halloween season by spooking each other and dining on pumpkin.
'All the lemurs and monkeys were running around teasing each other with the masks,' she said.
'They held the masks up to eat they looked like they were trying to spook each other out.
'And the sad face carved on the pumpkin was priceless as one of our monkeys munched straight into it.
'They are usually fed a lot of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and squash so this was a nice treat.'
Staff put mashed banana on the back of the masks to attract the lemurs to the masks, while they also hung pumpkins on trees across the park.
Ms Crowley added: 'A lot of our visitors stopped to have a good look and enjoyed watching the animals' antics.'

My theory is he's a relative: Monkey is dead ringer for Albert Einstein

Like the German scientist, the stump-tailed macaque is a rare breed – but his home is in Malaysia where he was snapped swinging from trees at Taiping National Park.
Einstein monkey
  ‘As soon as I saw the baby monkey, my very first thought was that it looked like Einstein and that I needed to get some shots of it to prove it,’ said amateur photographer Prof Mihail Nazarov, 66. Albert Einstein

‘When I got back home, I looked back through the shots and could see the similarities between the monkey and Einstein even more. ‘I love these pictures and the feeling of capturing something which is so unusual and amazing.’ Albert Einstein took his place in the history books in the early 20th century and is regarded as the father of modern physics for developing the E=MC² theory of relativity. His lookalike may not be a contender for the Nobel Prize but then again he is only a baby.

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Honey-bees found to have bite that stuns

Honey-bees are known for their sting, but scientists have now discovered they can also bite.

Bees resort to biting when faced with pests, such as parasitic mites, that are too small to sting.

Close study of the biting behaviour has revealed that they secrete a chemical in their bite that stuns pests so they are easier to eject from a colony.
Tests suggest the chemical could also have a role in human medicine, as a local anaesthetic.
Stun tests
Dr Alexandros Papachristoforou, a biologist at Greece's Aristotle University of Thessaloniki told the BBC honey-bees had previously been seen dealing with pests that lived alongside them in colonies but this had always thought to be part of their grooming behaviour.
"Everybody thought that was it. Full stop," Dr Papachristoforou said. "But that's not the case. It's something totally different and was just there and we could not see it.
"I think we know too many things about the pathology of honey bees," he said. "We are still missing a lot of basic knowledge on their biology and behaviour."
The pests that honey-bees bite include varroa mites as well as wax moth larvae.

Apeman of the Amazon

The 'Apeman of the Amazon': 75-year-old picture sweeps internet but does it show man's missing link . . . or the work of a very good make-up artist?

Could these pictures dated from the 1930s of a supposed apeman found in the jungles of Brazil be proof for the much sought after missing link?
His giant lips and furrowed brow and awkward monkey-like gait appear to be simian and the Dutch magazine Het Leven which published them in 1937 certainly seemed convinced, describing the pictures as those of a mystery apeman.
The internet has been awash with speculation following the appearance of the pictures on the imgur picture-sharing website two days ago. Since then, millions have seen them on reddit, Facebook and such like.
But what is the real story behind the online excitement? Many observers claim to have spotted tell-tale signs of prosthetic make-up on his face, yet many more seem keen to believe this is historic evidence of an anthropological marvel.
The apeman is pictured here in 1937 in Brazil in a photograph published in the magazine Het Leven

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Brazil: Saving endangered monkey helps forest

SILVA JARDIM, Brazil (AP) — Three tiny flaming orange monkeys crouched on a tree branch, cocking their heads as if to better hear the high-pitched whistles and yaps that came from deep within the dense green foliage. Then they answered in kind, rending the morning with their sharp calls and cautiously greeting each other in the forest.
That the cries of Brazil's endangered golden lion tamarins should fill the air at all on a recent afternoon was cause for celebration, the result of one of the world's most inspired species restoration efforts. In fact, that campaign has transformed the lush forest where the monkeys live and has become a model widely cited for saving other animals.
"There is no question in my mind that the golden lion tamarin is one of the best examples of international collaboration anywhere in the world," said Russell Mittermeier, president of environmental group Conservation International and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's group on primates. "I cite it every couple of weeks. This is how you do this kind of thing."
Saving the squirrel-sized monkeys, which sport a lush coat and foot-long tail, became a passion for everyone from international animal aid groups to Brazilian conservationists. It also brought in people living in the area, from well-off landowners to farm workers, who learned how to make a living from growing the trees that the monkeys depend on to survive, researchers said. Its population has grown from just hundreds four decades ago to 1,700 in Rio de Janeiro state.

Zimbabwe weighs cost of too many elephants

A HERD of elephants hobbles past a cluster of acacia trees to a water-hole deep in Zimbabwe's vast Hwange game reserve, attracted by the drone of generators pumping water round the clock into the pool.
With the elephant population ballooning, wildlife authorities have resorted to using 45 generators, each consuming 200 litres of diesel a week from June to November, to ensure the animals can get water.
The strategy appears to be working. So far this year 17 elephants have died in the area due to the extreme heat and lack of water, compared with 77 last year.
"The elephants drink close to 90 per cent of all the water (pumped) here," said Edwin Makuwe, an ecologist with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority,
"I think elephants now know that when they hear an engine running, chances are that there is water close by."
But the water, while life-preserving, might be running against the flow of nature.

Whale Racket: Sounding out How Loud the Oceans Were from Whale Vocalizing Prior to Industrial Whaling

ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2012) — Concern is growing that human-generated noise in the ocean disrupts marine animals that rely on sound for communication and navigation. In the modern ocean, the background noise can be ten times louder than it was just 50 years ago. But new modeling based on recently published data suggests that 200 years ago -- prior to the industrial whaling era -- the ocean was even louder than today due to the various sounds whales make.
California researchers Michael Stocker and Tom Reuterdahl of Ocean Conservation Research in Lagunitas, Calif., present their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22 -- 26 in Kansas City, Missouri. Using historic population estimates, the researchers assigned "sound generation values" to the species for which they had good vocalization data. "In one example, 350,000 fin whales in the North Atlantic may have contributed 126 decibels -- about as loud as a rock concert -- to the ocean ambient sound level in the early 19th century," Stocker notes. This noise would have been emitted at a frequency from 18 -- 22 hertz.

NYC Museum Celebrates Teddy Roosevelt's Conservation Work

Wynne Parry, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 26 October 2012 Time: 09:38 AM ET

NEW YORK — The natural world was a lifelong passion for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. At age 8, Roosevelt started his own collection of natural history specimens, and on his deathbed, he was writing a book review about pheasants.

Some of the specimens he collected, as well as other Roosevelt artifacts, remain at the American Museum of Natural History, an institution with which he had a lifelong association.

The 26th president and his legacy are memorialized in a number of places throughout the museum. That memory has received a $40 million restoration, unveiled Thursday (Oct. 25) in a ceremony featuring city and state officials.

Size Does Matter in Sexual Selection, at Least Among Beetles

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2012) — A new collaborative project among researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Cincinnati has, for the first time, demonstrated experimentally the evolutionary force behind the rapid evolution of male genitals, focusing on a species of seed beetle.
 This mechanism is revealed in a study published October 25 in the scientific journal Current Biology. The experiments leading to this paper involved a species of seed beetle known as Callosobruchus maculatus. Mating among these beetles involves several males engaging in copulation with individual females.

"When a female mates with several males, the males compete over the fertilization of her eggs," said Michal Polak, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati, one of the co-authors. "Because females mate with multiple males, the function of the male copulatory organ may determine which of the males will fertilize most of her eggs. Our results show that the morphology of the male genitalia affects his fertilization success in these beetles."

The competition to produce offspring is the driving force of evolution. Competition among males occurring after insemination may be an important evolutionary force that has led to the evolution of a diversity of shapes and sizes of male sexual organs, the co-authors assert. This competition among males has generated a great biological diversity that they believe can directly contribute to the formation of new species.

Firefighters in nutty squirrel rescue

Firefighters came to the rescue after a squirrel burying his nuts managed to get his head stuck in a manhole cover.

Concerned passers-by called the fire brigade when they spotted the distressed rodent trapped in the middle of the street in Munich, Germany, as cars thundered by.
Firefighters and vets eventually freed the squirrel - usually one of nature's great escape artists - with special metal cutting equipment after an attempt to ease him out with soapy water failed.
"Apart from being a bit grumpy, which is understandable, he was fine and ran straight up the nearest tree," said a fire service spokesman.
"As it's autumn we think he'd been looking for places to bury his nuts but had taken a bit of a wrong turn."

Monday 29 October 2012

How to kill: Dutch govt aims to regulate religious slaughter

The Dutch government is drafting a decree that would give it the power to overrule anyone aiming to practice ritual slaughter in the Netherlands. The move has received mixed reactions from Jewish communities throughout the country.
The decree, which was signed by Dutch Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker, is aimed at defining the practice’s future in the Netherlands.
Ritual slaughter – which is known as ‘scechitah’ to Jews and ‘dhabihah’ to Muslims – involves making an incision across the animal’s throat, allowing the blood to drain out. The slaying of conscious animals is a requirement of Jewish and Muslim law.
The declaration says that slaughtered animals still conscious 40 seconds after having their throats cut would be stunned –deeming them unsuitable for kosher or halal purposes. It also issues regulations on knife sizes and where the animal can be cut.
Both faiths maintain that ritual slaughter is humane because the animal quickly loses consciousness as it bleeds to death.
However, animal rights campaigners say the practice induces unnecessary suffering to the animal.
Whether or not the ritual should be legal in the Netherlands has been under debate for some time.
Last year, the Dutch lower house passed a total ban on the practice. However, the ban was later scrapped by the Senate – which claimed it interfered with freedom of worship.


Bushmeat Pushes African Species to the Brink

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2012) — A recent report says illegal hunting of wildlife in South African Development Community (SADC) states can lead to the eradication of many species across extensive areas and even complete ecological collapse.

Africa's iconic large carnivores, such as cheetah, lion, leopard, and wild dog, are particularly vulnerable to this practice, either because they are caught in the bycatch from unselective methods such as snaring, or due to loss of prey. The report says that the scale and severity of the threat is such that, without urgent intervention, one of SADC's most valuable resources will be lost across vast areas of the region.

The report: "Illegal hunting and the bush-meat trade in savanna africa: drivers, impacts, and solutions to address the problem" is authored by Panthera, Zoological Society of London, and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Coyote-Shooting Contest Awards Assault Rifle As Prize In New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Coyote hunters in New Mexico will have the chance to compete for a couple of high-caliber grand prizes just in time for the holidays — a pair of Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifles.
A shooting range and gun store in Albuquerque is hosting a two-day contest to see who can kill the most coyotes, despite protests from environmentalists.
KOB-TV reports that Calibers Shooting Sports Center is holding the challenge for two-member teams beginning Dec. 1.
Susan Weiss, an advocate for the “Coexist with Coyotes” group, calls the competition “immoral and disgusting.”
Caliber’s owner, Ryan Burt, says he came up with the idea after he was approached by several ranchers from around the state who have been dealing with coyotes harming livestock.
Coyotes have no protection under New Mexico law.

Expert Says Great White Shark Killed Surfer Off Central Coast

LOS ANGELES ( — A 15 to 16-foot great white shark killed a surfer Tuesday near Surf Beach in Lompoc.
Ralph Collier from the Shark Research Committee made the determination Wednesday after examining the body of Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., who was bitten by the shark on the left side of his upper torso area.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s dispatch center received a 911 call stating a man had been bitten by a shark while surfing off the coast.
Solorio’s friend, who witnessed the attack, pulled him out of the ocean and onto the beach.
The man then started first aid procedures while another surfer called 911.
The Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Department arrived and took over emergency procedures.
Solorio was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lucas McKaine Ransom, a 19-year-old former Perris High School and University of California, Santa Barbara student, was killed in 2010 near the same location in a suspected great white shark attack.

Flipper on a mission: Ukraine resuming dolphin combat training

A Soviet program of dolphin military training is reportedly being revived in Ukraine. The unit's tactical objective will be search operations and patrolling the waters near the Russian and Ukrainian Naval base in Sevastopol.
In the Soviet Union, dolphin training started in 1965, while a special naval dolphinarium was initiated in 1973 in Sevastopol, the homeport of the USSR's Black Sea fleet.
Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates), who naturally inhabit the Black Sea, were chosen as future subversives, set to infiltrate enemy lines, mine warships and counteract military swimmers. For that purpose dolphins were properly armed with knives and underwater pistols fixed on their heads and specially designed baldric for mine carriage.
Later, the center also obtained dolphins of other species, reportedly from the White Sea of the Arctic Ocean and from the Pacific of Russia’s Far East. According to some sources in the Soviet Union, there were specialists training seals, sea lions and even orcas for the same tasks.

'Ash dieback' fungus Chalara fraxinea in UK countryside

A disease that has the potential to devastate the UK's ash tree population has been recorded for the first time in the UK's natural environment.

Chalara dieback, caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea, was confirmed at two sites in East Anglia.

Until now, the disease had only been recorded in a few nursery specimens.

Ash trees suffering with C. fraxinea have been found across mainland Europe, with Denmark reporting the disease has wiped out about 90% of its ash trees.

Experts say that if the disease becomes established, then it could have a similar impact on the landscape as Dutch elm disease had in the 1970s.

This outbreak resulted in the death of most mature English elm by the 1980s. Elms have recovered to some extent, but, in some cases, only through careful husbandry.

The East Anglia outbreak was confirmed by plant scientists from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) at the Woodland Trust's Pound Farm woodland in Suffolk, and Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Lower Wood reserve, in Ashwellthorpe.

Kalispell veterinarian operates on grizzly bear shot by bird hunter

KALISPELL – A grizzly bear injured earlier this month when a bird hunter shot the animal in the eye was captured near Ferndale on Wednesday and released in the Spotted Bear area, but only after a Kalispell veterinarian removed the animal’s eyeball and treated an infection.
About two weeks ago, a bird hunter shot at the female grizzly in what was described as a surprise encounter east of Bigfork, wildlife officials said. The hunter was unharmed and reported the incident immediately to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The sow grizzly had a cub and had previously been radio-collared, and both bears were spotted feeding on a road-killed deer along the Swan River Road near Ferndale earlier this week.
“The decision was made to capture the bears and move them preemptively,” said John Fraley, an FWP spokesman, adding that the bears’ proximity to humans concerned bear management specialists.
After the bears were captured, FWP examined the adult bear and found that her left eye had been hit by birdshot. FWP contacted Kalispell veterinarian Dan Savage and, after fully anesthetizing the bear, he removed the remnant of the grizzly’s eye tissue, applied stitches, and cleaned the wound, which had become infected. He also administered antibiotics.

Conservation of resources protects wildlife, ability to train

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – There are several species of animals including the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Mazama pocket gopher and the streaked horned lark that could soon be put on the endangered species list. What they all have in common is that they call Joint Base Lewis-McChord home.

With proper resource management, habitat protection and restoration, being put on the list doesn’t have to be the case. Through the efforts of several programs, JBLM manages its natural resources and protects training grounds for current and future use.

A Soldier’s ability to fight effectively is often determined by the level and ability of a Soldier to train and could be affected by land management. That is why land management works to find a balance between training and conservation.

“We try to set up a win-win scenario where the Soldier can use the land, meet their training objective and missions but not adversely impact the species,” said Paul Steucke, chief of the environmental division at public works on JBLM.

A variety of species live on JBLM’s approximately 80,000 acres of undeveloped training land and some are endangered Steucke said.

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Sunday 28 October 2012

569 Radiated Tortoises seized at Airport in Madagascar - via Herp Digest

by Heather Lowe, 10/12/12 Turtle Survival Alliance

On October 10, two Asian passengers on an Air Madagascar flight to Bangkok, Thailand and Guangzhou, China were arrested at Ivato International Airport after attempting to smuggle four suitcases full of 569 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) through customs.  This is a record number seizure for this airport in the capital city of Antananarivo. After the confiscation, the Malagasy Forestry Authority mandated the Turtle Survival Alliance to look after the baby tortoises. Of the group, three were already dead and ten are currently in very poor condition.

This is the second major tortoise confiscation in the past two weeks and is already overwhelming our resources to care for them properly. This underscores the critical need for another regional rescue center in the south where tortoises can be moved immediately following seizure for quarantine, treatment and long-term care prior to their release back into protected areas.

Herilala Randriamahazo (TSA Malagasy Tortoise Conservation Coordinator) has been scrambling ever since the confiscation to care for the tortoises, along with the help of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) staff. The tortoises are currently being housed at the offices shared by the TSA and the MBP in Antananarivo, but there are not sufficient facilities available there to house the massive influx of animals. Right now, many are making their home on the terrace out of necessity! They will be kept there until the investigation against the poachers is complete and the TSA is given permission to move forward with reintroduction plans that will send the tortoises back to the spiny forests in the south.

In the meantime, plans are underway to construct additional pens on site and to transform a part of the existing garden to better manage the tortoises. Part-time keepers will have to be brought on board to assist with the massive job of caring with such a large group until their eventual release. If you are interested in making a donation toward these efforts (anything will help!) please contact Heather Lowe at the Turtle Survival Alliance for more details.

Why You Shouldn't Kiss Pigs at the County Fair

LiveScience Staff

Some prize pigs at Ohio's county fairs may have a dark secret.

Two months ago, a 61-year-old Ohio woman died after catching a new strain of swine flu. Her death was the first fatality linked to a variant of influenza A virus H3N2 (H3N2v), which first appeared in humans in 2011 and has infected more than 300 people this year.

Like many individuals who caught H3N2v this summer, the woman who died had contact with pigs at a county fair, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu-risk at livestock exhibitions might be especially high because the majority of flu-positive pigs at county fairs don't show any outward signs of illness, a new study suggests.

Bowhead whales cross from Atlantic to Pacific regularly

First range-wide study of bowhead whale genetics finds much genetic diversity lost during age of commercial whaling

October 2012. Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, City University of New York, and other organizations have published the first range-wide genetic analysis of the bowhead whale using hundreds of samples from both modern populations and archaeological sites used by indigenous Arctic hunters thousands of years ago.

A newly published study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, and other groups represents the first range-wide genetic analysis, using both modern-day tissue samples and historical artifacts of the bowhead whale, a species at home among the ice floes of the Arctic. This individual was photographed off Point Barrow, Alaska. Reaching up to 65 feet in length and up to 100 tons in weight, the bowhead whale is a baleen whale that lives in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. The bowhead gets its name from its enormous arched head, which it occasionally uses to break through ice up to 60 centimetres thick in order to breathe.

The species widely hunted for centuries by commercial whalers, who prized the species for its long baleen (used in corsets and other items) and its thick blubber (the thickest of any species of whale). The bowhead whale may also be among the most long-lived mammal species. In 2007, aboriginal whalers on the Alaskan coast landed a whale carrying a valuable clue about the animal’s probable age. The whalers discovered a harpoon point manufactured in the 1890s embedded in the whale’s blubber, indicating the animal may have survived an encounter with whalers more than one hundred years ago.

Ancient DNA samples
In addition to using DNA samples collected from whales over the past 20 years, the team collected genetic samples from ancient specimens -extracted from old vessels, toys, and housing material made from baleen-preserved in pre-European settlements in the Canadian Arctic. The study attempts to shed light on the impacts of sea ice and commercial whaling on this threatened but now recovering species. The study appears in the most recent edition of Ecology and Evolution.

"Our study represents the first genetic analysis of bowheads across their entire range," said Elizabeth Alter, the study's lead author and now a professor at City University of New York. "The study also illustrates the value of ancient DNA in answering questions about the impact of changing climate and human exploitation on genetic diversity in bowhead whales."

Rarest dog: Ethiopian wolves are genetically vulnerable

Populations of the world's rarest dog, the Ethiopian wolf, are genetically fragmenting, scientists say.

Fewer than 500 of Africa's only wolf species are thought to survive.

Now a 12-year study of Ethiopian wolves living in the Ethiopian highlands has found there is little gene flow between the small remaining populations.

That places the wolves at greater risk of extinction from disease, or habitat degradation.

In a study published in the journal Animal Conservation, Dada Gottelli of the Zoological Society of London and colleagues in Oxford, UK and Berlin, Germany, quantified the genetic diversity, population structure and patterns of gene flow among 72 wild-living Ethiopian wolves.

The team sampled wolves living within six of the remaining seven remnant populations, as well as from one population at Mount Choke, that has since become extinct.

Rebel attack on Virunga National Park ranger patrol kills three in DR Congo

More than 130 rangers have been killed in the last 15 years protecting wildlife. Please help support their families.

More than 130 rangers have been killed by rebels - Please help their families
October 2012. Armed Mai Mai rebels have again attacked a ranger in Congo's Virunga National Park, killing two ICCN park staff and one soldier who was assisting the rangers. In addition, three soldiers were wounded, one critically. Five Mai Mai PARECO rebels were killed during the attack, as well as two wounded and captured. The wounded rebels are currently in custody at the hospital in Vitshumbi.

The attack took place at Mwiga Bay, an area just west of the fishing settlement of Vitshumbi on Lake Edward in the park's central sector, where a dramatic increase in the presence of armed militias has led to a growing number of attacks on park staff.

The park's Chief Warden, Emmanuel de Merode, said after the attack, "The civil war has brought an influx of militias into the park, intent on poaching and attacking the local population. This is bringing overwhelming pressures on our small team of rangers whose duty it is to protect the wildlife and the people living in and around the park. Once again, we are deeply shocked and saddened by the deaths of our colleagues."

Civil war has made the park's staff highly vulnerable
The outbreak of civil war in May this year has provoked the withdrawal of the military from many areas of Virunga National Park, leaving the park's staff vulnerable to the many illegal armed groups that frequent the area.

Zoo confident its newest animal will be a big hit

Her floppy, oversized paws padding silently along, Fierca pranced around the ZooMontana education center on a leash, up onto a table and sitting on command, before her handler gave her a small chunk of beef as a reward.
"A lot of people think you can't train a cat, but you can," said handler Melanie Richard. "She'll be an important ambassador for us."
Officials hope that as the zoo's newest addition, Fierca, a 1-year-old Canada lynx who behaves better than some domesticated dogs, will be as much of a hit with the public as she is with the staff.
With those big paws, small tufts of hair coming out of the tops of her ears and a playful, curious nature, the 25-pound cat certainly passes the eyeball test for that.
"This is one of the most relaxed cats I've ever seen," said Jeff Ewelt, the zoo's executive director. "She's basically bombproof. I really think she'll be a visitor favorite."
The addition of Fierca is a boost for the zoo, which has lost several of its most popular animals since the Association of Zoos and Aquariums pulled its accreditation in spring 2011.

Assynt red deer cull defended by John Muir Trust

A landscape conservation charity has defended its proposal to cull up to 100 red deer stags to protect ancient woodlands.

The John Muir Trust (JMT) said its management of deer in its Quinag Estate in Assynt had been criticised locally.
Rather than shoot deer, the trust said it had been urged to fence off sensitive areas of trees.
JMT said fences were expensive, ugly and also prevented deer which remain from feeding in the woodlands.
The trust said the size of Quinag's red deer population was too large and having a damaging impact on woods at Ardvar and Loch a'Mhuilinn.
Trees in the woods were descendants of the first trees to grow in Scotland after the glaciers receded thousands of years ago and support hundreds of other species, it added.
JMT said it was being accused of planning to cull all deer on the estate.
In a statement on its website, the trust said 296 stags were estimated to be on Quinag.
It plans to cull up to 100, but would not take all that number if the impact on trees was reduced.

Research Finds That Lizards Are Fast Learners – via Herp Digest

October 17, 2012
An Australian lizard, the Eastern Water Skink, has dispelled a long held myth that reptiles are slow learners. Researchers studying the lizard have found they do have the ability for rapid and flexible learning, challenging previous work that has suggested reptiles are less cognitively sophisticated than other vertebrates. 

"Previous studies have reported that lizards require dozens of trials before learning a relatively simple spatial task if they learn at all. We found this wasn't the case," says lead researcher Daniel Noble, Macquarie University. 

The breakthrough to this research was testing the lizards in an environment that more closely mimics their natural conditions. The lizards were given spatial tasks, which required them to learn the location of safe refuges. Under these conditions approximately one third of the skinks were able to learn both a spatial learning and spatial reversal task within a little over a week. 

An animal's ability to act on information from its surroundings and to change what they learn has a strong bearing on its survival. In the case of a lizard, learning the location of safe refuges in their environment could mean the difference between life and death. 

"The idea that lizards and snakes have poor cognitive abilities has been spurred in part by the use of ecologically irrelevant tasks. We observed flexible spatial learning in water skinks by testing them under a biologically meaningful context and in semi-natural conditions. This learning may have been fast because of the diversity of available cues lizards could use to make associations with particular refuges. In contrast, laboratory experiments are often only interested in a subset of these cues, which may inhibit lizards from learning quickly " says Noble. 

Though further research is needed to understand the precise mechanisms responsible for spatial learning in these reptiles, it is clear that lizards can learn a task quickly if it has important bearing on fitness. 

"Our results make a lot of sense because lizards are often faced with predatory threats in the wild where they are required to escape to a refuge to avoid being eaten. This requires the knowledge of the spatial locations of refuges within their environment and to be able to flexibly adjust the use of the refuges depending on whatever contingencies arise " says Noble. Information provided by Macquarie University

Unique sea snake found in museum

25 October 2012 Kristianstad University

The pristine jungle and the deep seas are full of undiscovered biological species - but they can be found in museums as well. In a formalin-filled jar in Copenhagen Natural History Museum a new snake species has recently been discovered.

"Museums are probably full of undiscovered species, and are an invaluable archive worthy of protection, just like the jungle itself", says Johan Elmberg, Professor of Animal Ecology at Kristianstad University in Sweden.

The newly discovered mosaic sea snake, named after its unusually patterned skin, which looks just like a Roman floor mosaic, lives in one of the world's most endangered environments – the tropical coral reefs around Northern Australia and Southern New Guinea.

"Sea snakes are a good indicator of how the coral reefs and other precious ecosystems are doing. If there are snakes left in the environment it shows that the reefs are healthy and intact", says Johan Elmberg.

The new sea snake was found by chance by two research colleagues, John Elmberg and Arne Rasmussen, associate professor at the School of Conservation at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. One day at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen they examined formalin-filled jars of snakes and found two sea snakes with the same name on the label, which had been there since being sent home by the great collectors of the eighteen

"But they looked different and didn’t seem to belong to the same group of snakes. That was where the detective work began. After comparing the sea snakes with other similar species in other museums in Europe it was even more obvious that we had found a new distinct sea snake", says Johan Elmberg.

The Mosaic sea snake belongs to a good handful of species ranging in southeast Asia and Australia. The snake never goes ashore and now that it its identity is known it is apparent that it is relatively common in the sea in northern Australia and southern New Guinea.

"There are millions of sea snakes, but how they live, where and at what depth is difficult to know exactly because these snakes are so difficult to study", says Johan Elmberg.

Some species of sea snake are considered as having the strongest venom of all snakes, but because the species that Johan and Arne discovered is one of the few that feed on fish eggs, it has only very small fangs and is therefore virtually harmless. Of all the 3000 snake species in the world, only 80 or so live in the oceans. To analyse the tissue samples Johan Elmberg and Arne Rasmussen were helped by Kate Sanders, a molecular ecologist in Australia, who also collected tissues from living individuals of the new species and examined them in a DNA lab. The analysis showed a very clear difference in the genetic composition of the newly discovered species compared to other similar sea snakes.

"When Kate told us that we actually had found a new snake species, I got chills. To find a new species is a biologist's ultimate dream", says Johan Elmberg.

Johan believes that it is very important to document the biodiversity of the marine environment to get a grip on the status of the coral reefs for example.

"This discovery also highlights very clearly the importance of the museum's treasure trove of biodiversity. There are lots of species still to be discovered in the world's museums, which unfortunately often struggle to finance their operations", says Johan Elmberg.
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