Sunday 30 June 2013

Fish and Wildlife Service sued over decision to not list dunes sagebrush lizard---Two groups say Texas conservation plan too vague, overseen by oil industry insiders - Herp Digest

By Mella McEwen, Midland Reporter-Telegram, June 19, 2013 --A year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the reptile is the subject of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lawsuit focuses on Texas’ voluntary conservation plan, which the two groups say risks the lizard’s future “by relying on a voluntary state conservation plan in which Texas maintains that individual agreements with landowners to conserve the lizards’ habitat cannot be made available to the federal agency or the public.” New Mexico’s conservation plan was not part of the lawsuit.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is operating completely in the dark in Texas on this one,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife in announcing the lawsuit. “Denying Endangered Species Act protection for a species that is clearly imperiled based on a wink and a nod from the state is downright negligent at best, since the service has no way of validating the quality or effectiveness of the agreements.”

Said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “It may sound cliché, but this really is an example of letting the fox guard the hen house. The dunes sagebrush lizard is hanging by a thread and needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act to have any chance at survival.”

Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said that while he had not yet read the lawsuit, “I feel the Fish and Wildlife Service made the correct decision not to list the lizard. The reason is that the decision was based on scientific fact and that is the data did not justify a listing. The lizard is doing just fine. The population appears to be strong, based on studies we’ve seen.”

The two groups noted, in announcing the lawsuit, that the species’ narrow range has gotten narrower due to increased oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying on livestock grazing land.

Shepperd said such claims “of habitat fragmentation have been vastly overblown. Recent studies have shown over the last 40 years, less than 10 percent of the lizard’s habitat has been fragmented or developed. That doesn’t appear to be a large impact.”

He added, “we encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service to stand behind that decision.”

In announcing the lawsuit, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the Texas conservation agreement, saying it only vaguely described the actions required and leaving specific conservation measures to be spelled out in certificates between each participant and the state of Texas. They criticized the fact that those certificates are guarded from public access by state law, leaving “no way for Fish and Wildlife, or scientists and other experts, to determine whether such measures are adequate to prevent the lizard’s extinction. The lack of knowledge and transparency in this case not only further threatens the survival of dunes sagebrush lizard, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other species waiting in line for protection.”

Compounding the problem, the two groups said, Texas has delegated authority to implement the agreement to a private entity, the “Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation,” which is run by three lobbyists from the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

Imported Tortoises Could Replace Madagascar's Extinct Ones

Two millennia ago, millions of giant tortoises roamed Madagascar, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa that is rich in species found nowhere else on Earth. Those tortoises kept Madagascar's unique ecosystem in check by munching on low-lying foliage, trampling vegetation and dispersing large seeds from native trees like the baobab.

When humans began settling on the island about 2,300 years ago, Madagascar's large vertebrate populations were the first casualties. Dozens of species disappeared altogether, including 17 giant lemurs, three pygmy hippopotamuses, two aardvark like mammals, a giant fossa (a catlike carnivore), eight elephant birds, a giant crocodile and two giant tortoises. With their demise, the composition of Madagascar's ecosystems changed, shrubs and vegetation clogged the forest floor and wildfires became more frequent and intense.

Now, researchers think they've found a way to replace Madagascar's lost giant tortoise species: Bring in some relatives, says Miguel Pedrono, a Madagascar-based conservation biologist with the French agricultural research center CIRAD.

Silence of the Rattlesnake Researchers: Snakes, Culture and Conservation - via Herp Digest

June 12, 2013, by Matt Miller Sr. Science Writer---Cool Green Nature, Nature Conservancy Blog- Here’s what you quickly learn about rattlesnake researchers: They’re fearless, but pay obsessive attention to safety. They watch their step. And they keep their mouths shut.

IJn fact, when I joined snake researchers in the field in Vermont, I was practically sworn to secrecy. They asked that I promise not to reveal specific locations where snakes were found, or use any photos with revealing landmarks. Snake researchers are silent.

For good reason: they do not want their research to endanger the rattlesnakes they’re trying to conserve.

Snakes should fear us more than we fear them. Snake researchers know this. They were far more anxious about people discovering their research sites than they were about handling venomous snakes.

It’s no secret that people have strong (and some have argued innate) feelings about snakes. Some take those feelings and act on them. There are those who hate snakes and round them up, shoot them, spray gasoline down their dens. There are others who love snakes, who want to interact with them, who want them as pets, who want to play Croc Hunter.

Both the snake haters and the snake lovers can harm reptile populations, including Vermont’s endangered timber rattlesnakes.

That’s why the researchers I recently accompanied – part of a project between the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Orianne Society and The Nature Conservancy—were so secretive. They knew that some people would follow them to research sites, causing potential havoc for vulnerable timber rattlers.

Vermont paid a bounty on timber rattlesnakes until 1981, so there are still those who not only kill snakes, but consider it something of a civic duty.

And while it may seem difficult to believe for those who consider pets to be cuddly animals like guinea pigs and golden retrievers, there are those who want to own rattlesnakes. Some individuals follow researchers to snake hibernation sites, record the location using GPS and then sell the coordinates to reptile pet enthusiasts. (For an excellent account of the scope of global reptile trafficking, I recommend Bryan Christy’s book, The Lizard King).

“Rattlesnakes live for 20 to 40 years, and have low reproductive rates,” says Chris Jenkins, executive director of the Orianne Society, an organization devoted to reptile conservation. “Removing or killing adults is one of the very worst things you can do to a population.”

But some want to interact with snakes for less nefarious purposes. They are fascinated by these creatures and just want to see them (and sometimes, handle them). “Many people want to go to a hibernation site just to interact with snakes,” says wildlife biologist Doug Blodgett with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. “But those interactions can harm snakes and put people at risk.”

Social Lemurs Have More 'Street Smarts,' Study Finds

Lemurs that come from big tribes and live in large groups exhibit more "social smarts" than those that live with only a few companions, finds a new study that suggests the size of a primate's social network could influence its social intelligence.

Researchers designed a series of experiments to test lemurs' social cognition. Essentially, the scientists were curious how lemurs process a situation — specifically, how they decide whether or not a human can see them — and then how they use that information in manipulative ways — in this case, to steal a piece of food if they think they are not being watched, said lead study author Evan MacLean, a senior researcher in the department of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

"There's an idea that animals that live in big groups develop important psychological abilities, because they have to figure out how to get their way in an environment where they can't always get their way," MacLean told LiveScience.

A New Bizarrely Shaped Spoon Worm, Arhynchite Hayaoi, from Japan

June 27, 2013 — A new species of the peculiarly shaped spoon worms has been recently discovered in Japan, and described in the open access journal Zookeys. These animals derive their name from their elongated and spoon-like projection (the proboscis), issuing from the barrel- or sweet potato-like roundish body proper (the trunk).

The new species Arhynchite hayaoi was discovered on a sandy tidal flat named Hachi-no-higata of the Seto Inland Sea, Japan. Like most spoon worms, the new species has the typical peculiar spoon shaped proboscis. The animal is of a pinkish-yellow colour, and its body length reaches about 10 cm in total.

Spoon worms, scientifically called Echiura, are a small group of exclusively marine animals. Although they are members of annelid worms, most of which has segmented structure, they have lost segmentation during their evolutionary history. Like the new species from Japan, most spoon worms live in shallow waters, but some are connected with deep sea waters. Most representatives are deposit feeders, which means that they use their "spoon" to collect organic particles or fragments from their surroundings.

Previously confused with a different species, the newly described spoon worm used to be in fact rather abundant and collected in great numbers from intertidal to subtidal sandy bottoms for fish bait in the Seto Inland Sea, Japan. Now that the true identity of the species is recognised, it seems to be in decline, with numbers dropping to a point where the spoon worm lost this economic importance.

Female Florida panther, raised in captivity, gives birth in the wild

Released female panther gives birth

June 2013. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have discovered that a female Florida panther that was rescued as an orphaned kitten and raised in captivity has given birth just a few months after her release back into the wild. Biologists found an approximately 1-month-old female kitten in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in southwest Florida, near where they released the young adult panther on Jan. 31.

"We were very excited to find this panther's kitten," said Dave Onorato, FWC panther biologist. "The fact that this panther has given birth is positive news for the recovery of this endangered species and a testament to the hard work of all involved in its rescue and rehabilitation."

Early conception
Biologists estimate the female panther became pregnant about three weeks after her release, when she was only 21 months old. That age is somewhat younger than the typical age of first conception for female panthers the FWC has documented. While biologists are encouraged the female became a contributor to the population so quickly, it was not completely unexpected, given that her home range is within prime panther habitat.

Conserving globally threatened bugs on the UK Overseas Territory of St Helena.

Bugs on the brink - Conserving St Helena's invertebrates
June 2013. Wildlife charity, Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, has launched a 3-year ‘Bugs on the Brink' project, on the UK Overseas Territory of St Helena. Many of St Helena's unique invertebrates are on the brink of extinction, with some of its most iconic species, such as the Giant earwig, feared lost within living memory. Funded by the Darwin Initiative, the project will help to conserve St Helena's globally threatened invertebrates. This is the first time that anyone has set out to create a long-term plan for conserving St Helena's invertebrates.

400 endemic invertebrates
St Helena is one of the UK's ‘Overseas Territories', lying in the South Atlantic Ocean, mid-way between Africa and South America. It is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and, for now, can only be reached by boat. The island's flora and fauna evolved in extreme isolation, resulting in more than 400 invertebrate species found nowhere else on Earth. For this reason, St Helena has been called the ‘Galapagos of the South Atlantic'.

Unfortunately, following its discovery by sailors in 1502, St Helena suffered immense environmental destruction, caused by introduced livestock and forest clearance. Today, much of the island's unique wildlife is threatened with extinction. Iconic invertebrates such as the Giant earwig (Labidura herculeana), Giant ground beetle (Aplothorax burchelli) and St Helena darter (a dragonfly - Sympetrum dilatatum) are believed lost within living memory. The remnants of the native flora and fauna are struggling to survive in habitat fragments, which occupy a tiny fraction of their original area. They also face a wide range of pressures from non-native plants and animals.

Leopard shot, killed in Clark County

WDRB 41 Louisville - News, Weather, Sports Community
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Two Indiana residents got the surprise of their lives Thursday night when the "bobcat" they shot turned out to be something quite different.

Indiana wildlife officials say it was a leopard.

On Friday morning, WDRB News was contacted by Donna Duke, a Kentuckiana resident who claimed to have photographs of a leopard that was shot at a home on State Road 3, just outside of Charlestown in Clark County, Ind.

Duke spoke with WDRB News by phone. She says her friend -- who wishes to remain anonymous and did not want to speak with the media -- lives in that area, which had seen a number of attacks against dogs and cats recently. Duke's friend has a number of cats, and was worried about their safety.

"She's got cats that are basically her family," Duke said. Duke says her friend contacted a local wildlife official, who initially thought the attacks might have been committed by a bobcat. He told her to keep a sharp eye out for bobcats at night.

Duke says her friend told her that she and her boyfriend took turns watching the area from the roof every night.

"She was trying to protect her babies," Duke said.

Sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning, Duke says her friend was outside near her pool, when she saw a dark shadow pacing back and forth nearby. That's when, Duke says, her friend's boyfriend grabbed a gun and shot it.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Two-headed turtle hatches at US zoo

The female Texas turtle arrived on June 18 and will go on display Thursday at the zoo's Friedrich Aquarium.

Zoo spokeswoman Debbie Rios-Vanskike said that the two-headed turtle appears healthy and is able to swim and walk.

Experts at the zoo do not foresee any health issues for Thelma and Louise, named after the female duo in the 1991 Oscar-winning road film of the same name.

The San Antonio Zoo is no stranger to two-headed reptiles. The facility was home to a two-headed Texas rat snake named Janus from 1978 until the creature's death to 1995.

Towards a New Relationship with Rattlesnakes - via Herp Digest

By Matt Miller, Senior Science Writer June 12, 20113, Cool Green Nature, Nature Conservancy Blog- It might seem difficult to override our feelings about snakes. As Edward O. Wilson, David Quammen and others have written, many infants will shriek in terror when shown a snake. Youngsters don’t have such automatic reactions when shown more dangerous objects, like guns or poison. Kids have to be taught to avoid these things. With snakes, there’s an inborn fear—likely from humanity’s time on the savanna when stepping on a venomous snake would have very bad consequences.

The cultural hatred of snakes can run deep. Consider rattlesnake roundups, where people capture snakes (often by using gasoline fumes to flush them out of their dens) and then hold “family events.” Rattlers are subject to all manner of cruelty at these events.

But education can make a difference: in Georgia, the Orianne Society replaced a traditional rattlesnake roundup with an educational festival about snakes. It has been better attended than the previous event.

In Vermont, there are still those who would kill all rattlesnakes given the chance. As I rode through a small town with Blodgett, a large pickup pulled up next to us and hissed “SNAKE!” out the window, this despite Blodgett’s secrecy about the project. Some local residents believe the researchers are stocking snakes, a fairly common conspiracy theory wherever rattlesnakes are found.

Still, most people recognize timber rattlesnakes as an important part of the Appalachian Mountains. They are happy to know the rattlers are out there but don’t need interactions.

But what if a rattlesnake ends up in your backyard? The research partners have been handing out refrigerator magnets and brochures that list licensed snake researchers who will come and safely remove any rattlesnakes.

“It’s making a difference,” says Blodgett. “People know who to call when they have a rattlesnake too close.”

Most people will hike by timber rattlesnakes without even knowing they’re nearby. In fact, even snake researchers often have difficulty finding the snakes, even those with radio transmitters.

If you do see a rattlesnake while out hiking, consider yourself lucky, and enjoy the encounter from a distance. And consider this: While habitat loss, disease and climate change certainly pose risks to timber rattlesnakes, they also continue to be threatened by human ignorance.

So give snakes plenty of space. After facing too many years of relentless persecution and bad human behavior, they deserve it.

Snake Fungal Disease: The White-Nose Syndrome for Reptiles? - via Herp Digest

By Matt Miller, Senior Science Writer, Cool Green Science, Blog for Nature Conservancy- 6/11/13-While studying timber rattlesnake movement patterns and habitat use in Vermont, researchers made a surprising discovery: snakes covered in lesions, particularly around their faces.

Called snake fungal disease, it’s a disease showing up with increasing frequency in snakes around the eastern and midwestern United States. Conservationists fear it could pose a similar threat to snakes as white-nose syndrome in bats.

That’s a scary comparison: white-nose syndrome was first documented in 2007 in New York and has since spread widely, killing millions of bats as far west as Oklahoma. It has recently been raging through caves in the Smoky Mountains and has been verified in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park. So far, despite many efforts at controlling the spread, the disease rages on. Could snakes face a similar menace?

Timber rattlesnakes don’t move as widely as bats, but they do share some habits. They too hibernate underground in communal dens—often with other snake species. During hibernation, immune systems are suppressed. This combination can create a fertile ground for fungal disease growth and spread.

“There has been a lot of money spent on white-nose syndrome, and a lot of educational outreach, but so far they’ve been unable to stop the spread in bats,” says Emily Boedecker, acting state director for The Nature Conservancy in Vermont. “Snakes are even less appreciated by the public than bats. An emerging disease is a significant concern.”

The research partnership between the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Orianne Society and The Nature Conservancy captured snakes to monitor their movements through radio telemetry. But they also weighed and measured snakes, and assessed their health. That’s when researchers found snake fungal disease. It has never been documented in Vermont before, but now it was turning up on numerous snakes.

Snake fungal disease has been documented sporadically in the past, but it began showing up with increasing frequency beginning in 2006. While it has been known to cause mortality, the effects on snake populations is yet unknown – in large part due to the secretive nature of snakes.

“We have more questions than answers,” says Dr. Chris Jenkins, executive director of the Orianne Society. “We don’t know if it’s a big deal yet, but we need to look into it closely.”

Jenkins notes that the disease does not appear to be spreading like white-nose syndrome; it is appearing in different parts of the country at the same time. It’s possible that snake fungal disease is not new but is only now being recognized. “Maybe we just weren’t looking for it,” he says.

When they emerge from hibernation, timber rattlesnakes bask in the sun, which appears to help control the lesions.

Another possibility is that the disease has always been present, but now has been exacerbated by a change in environmental conditions, including climate change.

In Vermont, researchers found that the timber rattlesnake population had relatively low genetic diversity, not surprising given its isolation. “Low genetic diversity and a fungal disease is a combination I find very disconcerting,” says Doug Blodgett, a wildlife biologist for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The problem with wildlife diseases – indeed, any threats to wildlife – is that they are not considered serious threats until it’s too late. It is difficult to predict what will be a minor issue and what will devastate millions of animals – as has turned out to be the case with white-nose syndrome, and fungal diseases impacting amphibians.

While snake fungal disease was not a focus of the Vermont research, it may be one of the most important findings. Hopefully this time conservationists can gather necessary information and develop strategies to stop the disease before it devastates snake populations.

“We know so little about this disease, but now we know it’s here and we can start addressing the issue,” says Blodgett. “We know we can’t ignore it. The past should teach us that.” you can find a photo of milk snake captured in New York shows signs of fungal and bacterial infections. Photo: D.E. Green, USGS National Wildlife Health Center

NASA satellites reveal fire hotspots that are polluting Singapore

Fires lit to clear forest for palm oil and wood pulp plantations

June 2013. WWF has renewed calls for zero-burn policies to be enacted and enforced, as satellite hotspot analysis showed the single jurisdiction of Riau Province, Sumatra as the location of over 88% per cent of the fire hotspots that have seen Singapore and parts of Malaysia blanketed with the worst haze and pollution since 1997.

Fire hotspots are in concession areas
The call comes as Sumatra NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest (EoF) - WWF-Indonesia, Jikalhari and Wahli Riau - released a new analysis linking NASA indications of fire hotspots to concession areas. Fire and haze information is now available online through interactive maps through a joint project of EoF and Google Earth Outreach.

9000 fire hotspots
According to the most current analysis, more than 9000 fire hotspots were mapped in Sumatra by NASA satellites between 1 and 24 June, with more than 8000 in Riau province. Nearly 40 per cent overlapped with large scale pulpwood concessions or oil palm plantations.

WWF-Indonesia and EoF caution that further investigation will be required and is underway to better indicate responsibility for the fires. Concession holders have legal responsibilities over concessions but it does not necessarily follow that the companies are responsible for lighting the fires.

Palm oil 
Many are likely linked to the supply of palm oil. WWF-Indonesia this week released a report detailing the supply of oil palm fruit illegally grown inside the iconic Tesso Nilo National Park. The hotspot analysis shows the Tesso Nilo forest complex (the national park and two adjacent selective logging concessions) to be a significant source of haze, with 449 hotspots (6 per cent of the overall total for Riau) recorded there.

Animals being used as tourist props in Mexico

Call on Mexico to ban use of wild animals as tourist photo ‘props'

June 2013. The use of wild animals, such as lion, jaguar and tiger cubs for tourist photo ‘props' in resorts across Mexico should be outlawed to protect the animals, say three international wildlife charities. Care for the Wild International, Born Free Foundation (both UK) and FAADA Foundation (Spain), have united to petition the Mexican government to change the law following hundreds of complaints from tourists.

Tourists having photos taken with animals
Visitors to Cancun and other resorts are often confronted by people with young, cute animals with which they can have a photograph taken - for a fee. Some are told that the animals are ‘orphans', and that the money will go towards their care - but this is often far from the truth.

Taken from mothers at birth, drugged & mutilated
Most of the animals will have been taken away from their mothers at birth, they may be drugged, mutilated - teeth and claws removed - exploited on a daily basis then faced with an uncertain future when they are too old for photographs.

Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild, said: "Millions of animals around the world are used in tourism activities, including these. And like in this case, tourists often don't realise that by simply having a photograph taken, they are contributing to suffering and abuse. Through our website, we're aiming to get tourists to check first before they do something involving animals on holiday which they, or the animals, may regret."

Presented as conservation
Giovanna Costantini, from FAADA, said: "The most outrageous thing in Mexico is that these activities are presented as ‘conservation' by its organizers, who every year deceive thousands of tourists while seriously threatening the welfare of the animals involved. And this is something that FAADA through its Responsible Tourism campaign ( wants people to be aware of and wants authorities to ban as a matter of urgency."

Researchers Discover Species-Recognition System in Fruit Flies

June 27, 2013 — A team led by UC San Francisco researchers has discovered a sensory system in the foreleg of the fruit fly that tells male flies whether a potential mate is from a different species. The work addresses a central problem in evolution that is poorly understood: how animals of one species know not to mate with animals of other species.

For the common fruit fly D. melanogaster, the answer lies in the chemoreceptor Gr32a, located on sensory neurons on the male fly's foreleg. "In nature, this sensory system would prevent the creation of hybrids that may not survive or cannot propagate, thereby helping the species preserve its identity," said senior author Nirao M. Shah, MD, PhD, a UCSF associate professor of anatomy.

The work is reported in a paper published online in Cell on June 27, 2013.

Before mating, the researchers found, the male approaches a prospective female and taps her repeatedly on the side with his foreleg. "As he does so, he is using Gr32a to detect, or actually taste, unpleasant-tasting waxy chemicals on the cuticle, or outer skin, of individuals of other species, said co-author Devanand S. Manoli, MD, PhD, a UCSF postdoctoral fellow in anatomy and fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry. "If the prospective mate is not of the same species, and Gr32a is activated, the mating ritual stops right there, even if the male has never encountered a female of another species before."

Two Rare Albino Humpback Whales Spotted on Yearly Migration

A famous albino humpback whale was reportedly spotted with a similarly rare all-white companion off the coast of Australia. The two whales are heading north as part of an annual migration that can bring up to 15,000 humpback whales to the Great Barrier Reef for their mating season.

The albino male, named Migaloo (an Aboriginal word that translates to "white fella"), was previously the world's only documented white humpback whale, and scientists are now hoping to conduct DNA tests to determine if the two whales are related, reported the Herald Sun.

Migaloo was first seen in 1991 near Cairns, in the Australian state of Queensland, and was estimated to be about 4 years old at the time, according to the Herald Sun. The 46-foot-long (14 meters) albino whale is believed to have at least one all-white offspring, after photographs of a white humpback calf emerged in 2011.

Social Networks Shape Monkey 'Culture' Too

June 27, 2013 — Of course Twitter and Facebook are all the rage, but the power of social networks didn't start just in the digital age. A new study on squirrel monkeys reported in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, on June 27 finds that monkeys with the strongest social networks catch on fastest to the latest in foraging crazes. They are monkey trendsters.

The researchers, led by Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, made the discovery by combining social network analysis with more traditional social learning experiments. By bringing the two together, they offer what they say is the first demonstration of how social networks may shape the spread of new cultural techniques. It's an approach they hope to see adopted in studies of other social animals.

"Our study shows that innovations do not just spread randomly in primate groups but, as in humans, are shaped by the monkeys' social networks," Whiten said.

Whiten, along with Nicolas Claidière, Emily Messer, and William Hoppitt, traced the monkeys' social networks by recording which monkeys spent time together in the vicinity of "artificial fruits" that could be manipulated to extract tempting food rewards. Sophisticated statistical analysis of those data revealed the monkeys' social networks, with some individuals situated at the heart of the network and others more on the outside. The researchers rated each of the monkeys on their "centrality," or social status in the network, with the highest ratings going to monkeys with the most connections to other well-connected individuals.

Friday 28 June 2013

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates hatching of three endangered Temple Turtles - via Herp Digest

June 11, 2013 -The Times Union, The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has three new arrivals — highly endangered Yellow Headed Temple Turtles, the first hatched at the Northside Jacksonville facility.

Temple Turtles come from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Lao. The species earned its name because they are often captured in the wild and “liberated” into Buddhist temple pools, according to zoo officials.

One of the largest aquatic turtles in Southeast Asia, the species can get to 2 feet in length. But temple turtles are often exploited for meat, eggs or use in traditional medicines or as pets.

The zoo’s temple turtles were part of a shipment confiscated in October 2010 in Hong Kong. The Turtle Survival Alliance raised the money needed to airlift them to the Jacksonville zoo, where more than 40 of them were processed. The zoo retained six for display and breeding purposes.

For two photos of turtle go to

Medway Council planning to build 5000 houses on nationally-important wildlife site

RSPB urges Medway Council to end plan to build on nationally-important wildlife site

June 2013. The RSPB is urging Medway Council to reconsider its criticized proposals to build 5000 homes on a nationally important site for wildlife.

The appeal follows a letter from the Planning Inspector to the council, which finds Medway Council's Core Strategy (for housing development) unsound because Lodge Hill proposals are inconsistent with national planning guidance (the National Planning Policy Framework).

Commenting on the situation this morning, Martin Harper, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "The leaders of Medway Council need to stop wasting time and money and identify alternatives sites for development which will provide homes and jobs for the people of Medway, whilst protecting the environment for those people and for future generations."

Site of Special Scientific Interest - Important for nightingales and rare plants
Earlier this year, Natural England notified Lodge Hill - a former military training school in North Kent - as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its importance for nightingales and rare plants. The site has been identified as one of the most important in the country for nightingales.

Martin Harper added: "This is not a case of wildlife versus jobs and houses. We perfectly understand Medway Council's desire to create employment and homes for the people of North Kent. However, the Government's own guidance is perfectly clear: housing shouldn't be proposed for nationally-important wildlife sites before alternatives have been considered.

2,000 turtles rescued, released in Kolleru Lake, India - via Herp Digest

by Rajulapudi Srinivas KALIDINDI (KRISHNA DIST.), June 18, 2013 

Go to following url for photo with the following caption: Forest officials having a close look at the turtles seized at Atapaka Bird Sanctuary in Krishna district on Tuesday. The gunny bags lying close by are packed with the turtles. 

Forest Department officials of the Wildlife division rescued about 2,000 Indian soft shelled turtles packed in 75 gunny bags meant for smuggling at Venkatapuram in Kalidindi mandal in the early hours of Wednesday.

The officials rescued the turtles and released them into Kolleru Lake at Atapaka Bird Sanctuary, said Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) G. Anand.

On receiving information that the turtles were being transported, the mobile party striking force led by Kaikalur Forest Range Officer V. Ratna Kumar and Atapaka Bird Sanctuary Deputy Range Officer K.V.R. Prasad seized the turtles. The smugglers on getting wind of the raid abandoned the turtles and escaped from the scene.

Forest authorities took charge of the turtles only after conducting a ‘panchanama’ with the local Revenue and Police Department officials and then shifted them to the sanctuary.

“The turtles are of different sizes, weighing between 200 gm and 2 kg. We suspect that the accused collected them from the local ponds in Kaikalur, Kalidindi, Mandavalli and Mudinepalli mandals and planned to shift them to Odisha or West Bengal,” said Mr. Anand.

“The Indian soft shelled turtles are a protected species under Schedule-1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Some consume the meat and the shell is also used to make decorative items. Efforts are on to track the smugglers,” said Kaikalur Sub-DFO Shaik Khaleelullah.

The Forest Department will intensify patrolling on the borders of Krishna and West Godavari districts to prevent smuggling of turtles from ponds and canals.

Ancient horse bone yields oldest DNA sequence

A fragment of a fossilised bone thought to be more than 700,000 years old has yielded the genome of an ancient relative of modern-day horses.
This predates all previous ancient DNA sequences by more than 500,000 years.
The study in the journal Nature was made possible because the bone was found preserved in Canadian permafrost following the animal's demise.
The study also suggested that the ancestor of all equines existed around four million years ago.
A remnant of the long bone of an ancient horse was recovered from the Thistle Creek site, located in the west-central Yukon Territory of Canada.
Palaeontologists estimated that the horse had last roamed the region sometime between a half to three-quarters of a million years ago.
An initial analysis of the bone showed that despite previous periods of thawing during inter-glacial warm periods, it still harboured biological materials - connective tissue and blood-clotting proteins - that are normally absent from this type of ancient material.

Small Fish's Predator Perception Makes a Splash

Small fish may have small brains, but they're not stupid. A common coral reef fish called damselfish can learn to avoid predators from more experienced kin, even in complete darkness, new research shows.

Biologists have long known that fish use a variety of signals to warn others when predators approach, including visual cues, chemical cues, warning sounds and cues felt by motion. Until now, visual cues were thought to be an essential part of the mix. But new work from a team of biologists from Australia and Canada has shown otherwise, as reported today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Many fish can often detect an approaching predator by its distinct odor. Some are born hardwired to associate the smell of predators with danger, whereas others are born oblivious and must learn to make the connection.

'Vampire' sea lampreys heat up for sex

By Ella Davies,  Reporter, BBC Nature

Male sea lampreys heat up special fat deposits during sexual encounters, scientists have found.

The bizarre vertebrates are best known for their blood-sucking mouths filled with teeth and a razor sharp tongue.

Males also have a raised bump of tissue along their back which they rub against females during courtship.

US researchers discovered that this tissue generates heat in the presence of ovulating females, and heats up more for some than others.

The team from the University of Michigan, US, published their results in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Sea lampreys are parasitic animals found in the North Atlantic Ocean. The jawless vertebrates look similar to eels and adults can measure over 45cm in length.

Researchers first began to investigate the males' bump, referred to as "rope tissue" by biologists, after observing how it was used in courtship dances.

Ancient Elephants Grazed Before They Had Teeth for It

Ancient elephants switched from eating primarily leaves and shrubs to feeding on grass several million years before their teeth were fully adapted for grazing, according to a new study.

The findings indicate that as the ancestors to modern elephants evolved, anatomical changes significantly lagged behind habitat and behavioral adaptations, said Adrian Lister, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, England.

"It only makes sense that behavior is a powerful driver of evolution, and that by taking the behavioral step to eat grass, it imposes the selection pressure for the right kind of teeth," Lister told LiveScience. "The idea has been around for around 100 years, but there have been few demonstrated examples. This is the first example from the fossil record."

Thursday 27 June 2013

Beavers to return to Wales in 2014?

Welsh Beaver Project planning to reintroduce beavers to Wales in 2014

June 2013. Since 2005 the Welsh Beaver Project, which is led by the six Wildlife Trusts in Wales, has been investigating the feasibility of undertaking a managed reintroduction of beavers to Wales for the many benefits their presence can bring to wildlife, the environment and the economy. After much investigation and consideration, the River Rheidol (which enters Cardigan Bay through Aberystwyth) is looking like the most promising site for an initial pilot reintroduction and local consultation is underway.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, 30 - 40 young (2-3 years old) beavers, (equally split between males and females) sourced from a combination of captive bred beavers from collections within the UK and beavers from Norway, will be released in the spring/summer 2014.

Once widespread
Beavers are native to Wales and were once widespread from Britain to Siberia, but hunting by humans for fur, meat and scent glands dramatically reduced their populations and led to their extinction from Wales by around the 15th century.

Ecosystem services
Beavers are natural managers of rivers and wetlands, performing ‘ecosystem services' that assist many other species, including humans. They are herbivores, eating vegetation, coppicing bankside trees, creating glades and enabling woodland and aquatic plants to flourish. This provides ideal habitat for insects, birds and mammals, as well as increased food for fish.

Plan would OK more off-road vehicle use in Imperial County dunes (threat to Desert tortoises) - via Herp Digest

By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2013

Environmental groups expressed concern Monday about the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plan to open up an additional 50,000 acres of Imperial County’s Algodones Dunes – including habitats for several rare species – to unlimited off-road vehicle use.

"This plan is outrageous and we will challenge it," said Ileene Anderson, a spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity. "I’m shocked that the BLM decided to adopt such a destructive, damaging plan – right when it should be carefully protecting these wild creatures and places to make up for vast energy projects that are being developed nearby."

The sprawling recreation area has for years been the focal point of legal wrangling between off-roaders seeking to keep acreage open and environmentalists demanding protection of the dunes' sensitive plant and animal species, including Peirson’s milk vetch and the desert 

The BLM plan, to be formally announced Tuesday, effectively doubles the amount of land available for off-road vehicle use.

Also known as the Imperial Dunes, Algodones is the largest active sand dune formation in North America, covering about 200,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Imperial County.

The dunes draw 1.3 million visitors a year and are one of the most dangerous off-road recreation areas in the nation. Thanksgiving weekend gatherings draw more than 200,000 people and have led to homicides, traffic fatalities and mass arrests.

The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Assn. was unavailable for comment.

Greg Suba, conservation director of the California Native Plant Society, said: "The Algodones Dunes’ rare and endemic plants are irreplaceable parts of nature. BLM's plan would sacrifice these national treasures to destruction from off-roaders who can't even follow the rules already in place."

Tick-Caused Bobcat Fever Can Be Deadly to Domestic Cats

June 24, 2013 — Kansas State University veterinarians are warning pet owners to watch out for ticks carrying a disease that could kill cats.

Cytauxzoon felis, also known as bobcat fever, is a blood parasite that infects domestic cats and has a very high death rate. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and clinical associate professor at Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center, says this disease was thought to be carried only by the American dog tick, but now may be carried by the lone star tick, which is quite prevalent in northeast Kansas.

"Most people have probably seen a lone star tick even if they're not familiar with them by name," Nelson said. "They're the ones that have a bright white spot on their back."

Bobcat fever does not affect humans or dogs. It is called bobcat fever because bobcats are considered the main reservoir for the disease, as it is typically not fatal for them.

Most cases of bobcat fever occur from March through September, which coincides with the times cats are most likely to encounter ticks. Late spring and early summer are the peak times for ticks in Kansas.

Moles Unearth Ancient Roman Artefacts

Archaeologists in England have discovered artefacts at an Ancient Roman fort – with the help of moles.

Volunteers from the Altogether Archaeology project have been developing a new archaeological survey technique at Epiacum (Whitley Castle) Roman fort near Alston in Cumbria: surveying molehills. The fort is a scheduled ancient monument, so it is illegal to disturb the ground within it without special consent. However, moles are not subject to scheduled monument legislation and they continue to dig around inside the fort. The moles’ digging disturbs archaeological deposits, thus bringing pieces of pottery and other finds to the surface where they can be gathered from molehills.

Altogether Archaeology volunteers worked with the moles to carry out an investigation of the fort. Using canes stuck in the ground, the fort was divided up into a grid of squares. The molehills in each square were sieved and any finds retained. The BBC reports that so far, the moles have unearthed both fragments of, and intact items made from, pottery and glass, as well as jet jewellery and even a decorative bronze dolphin.

Overlooking the South Tyne Valley, Epiacum is one of the least known, but best preserved, Roman forts in Britain. It was probably built in the early second century at about the same time as Hadrian’s Wall. The fort was garrisoned through until c. 400AD. It lies on the Maiden Way, the Roman road from Kirby Thore to Carvoran on Hadrian’s Wall, and experts think it was linked in some way to Roman lead and silver mining.

This Castle’s Toilet Still Holds Parasites From Crusaders’ Feces

Cyprus, the Mediterranean island nation just south of Turkey, took centuries to gain its independence. The Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Ottomans, British and others all took their turns taking over the island, and each left their mark on the archeological record. But in a ruined chamber in a castle on the western corner of the island, it may be more apt to say the invaders left a smear.

In 1191, during the Third Crusade, King Richard I of England invaded Cyprus and ordered that a castle be built on the island’s western corner in order to defend the harbor there. Called Saranda Kolones, the castle’s name refers to its many monolithic columns. But in typical tumultuous Cyprus fashion, the medieval castle was only used for thirty years before it was destroyed by an earthquake. By then, King Richard had sold Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem. Lusignan and his successors had other plans for expanding the island. The wrecked port was abandoned and the castle never rebuilt. 

As castles go, Saranda Kolones had a pretty poor run. But two University of Cambridge researchers recently realized that, precisely thanks to the castle’s short use, a priceless treasure had been left behind in the Saranda Kolones’ bowels. One of the centuries-old castle latrines (read: ancient toilet), they found, was still full of dried-up poo. That feces, they thought, could provide valuable insight into what kind of parasites plagued the former residents’ guts. And because only 30 years’ worth of waste clogged the ancient sewage system, those parasites could provide specific insight into what ailed medieval crusaders. The researchers rolled up their sleeves and collected samples from the dessicated cesspool.

To rehydrate the ancient night soil, the team placed one gram of their sample into a chemical liquid solution. They used micro sieves, or tiny strainers to separate parasite eggs from the digested remains of the crusaders’ meals. They created 20 slides, and peeked into their microscopes to see what creatures the soldiers may have left behind.

Hunger Affects Decision-Making and Perception of Risk

June 25, 2013 — Hungry people are often difficult to deal with. A good meal can affect more than our mood, it can also influence our willingness to take risks. This phenomenon is also apparent across a very diverse range of species in the animal kingdom. Experiments conducted on the fruit fly, Drosophila, by scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have shown that hunger not only modifies behaviour, but also changes pathways in the brain.

Animal behaviour is radically affected by the availability and amount of food. Studies prove that the willingness of many animals to take risks increases or declines depending on whether the animal is hungry or full. For example, a predator only hunts more dangerous prey when it is close to starvation. This behaviour has also been documented in humans in recent years: one study showed that hungry subjects took significantly more financial risks than their sated colleagues.

Also the fruit fly, Drosophila, changes its behaviour depending on its nutritional state. The animals usually perceive even low quantities of carbon dioxide to be a sign of danger and opt to take flight. However, rotting fruit and plants -- the flies' main sources of food -- also release carbon dioxide. Neurobiologists in Martinsried have now discovered how the brain deals with this constant conflict in deciding between a hazardous substance and a potential food source taking advantage of the fly as a great genetic model organism for circuit neuroscience.

In various experiments, the scientists presented the flies with environments containing carbon dioxide or a mix of carbon dioxide and the smell of food. It emerged that hungry flies overcame their aversion to carbon dioxide significantly faster than fed flies -- if there was a smell of food in the environment at the same time. Facing the prospect of food, hungry animals are therefore significantly more willing to take risks than sated flies. But how does the brain manage to decide between these options?

34 Critically Endangered Red wolf pups born this season in the wild

Additional 23 pups born as part of breeding programme
June 2013. The final red wolf pup count for the 2013 whelping season has been announced as Thirty-four, spread across seven litters in the restored red wolf population in eastern North Carolina, down slightly from recent years' pup counts.

Captive born pup raised by wild wolf
The Red Wolf Recovery Program reported 39 pups from nine litters born in the wild in 2012, 40 pups from 10 litters in 2011, and 43 pups from nine litters in 2010. The Red Wolf Recovery Program also reported 23 pups from 4 litters born in zoos and nature centres participating in the Species Survival Plan captive breeding program. In addition, as part of the efforts to increase the genetic diversity of the wild population, a captive-born pup was fostered into a wild-born litter to be raised as a wild wolf. Reasons for the decline in the number of pups born in the wild this year are not apparent.

World population reduced to just 17 animals
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the world's most endangered wild canids. Once common throughout the south-eastern United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the 1960's due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. After being declared an endangered species in 1967, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible. Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. Consequently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild in 1980.

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