Wednesday 31 July 2013

Wildlife Trust appeal to buy Dambuster airfield

A Land Fit for Heroes - appeal to buy Woodhall Spa Airfield
July 2013. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has launched an appeal to raise half a million pounds to buy Woodhall Spa Airfield. If successful, for the first time ever, the public will be able to walk along the runway that the Lancasters took off from.

The charity currently owns more than half of the airfield and an adjacent nature reserve, Kirkby Moor. By securing the rest of the site, the runway can be saved and a new nature reserve created. Kirby Moor has a wide range of plants and animals: 250 plant species have so far been recorded, together with 275 moths, 20 butterflies and 11 dragonflies. About 60 species of birds breed on the reserve in most years and over 100 species have so far been recorded. Adders occur on the reserve. 

Woodhall Spa Airfield will become a place where visitors can share in the unique atmosphere of spaciousness and serenity. The air will fill with the songs of skylarks. The open skies will see birds of prey soaring where aircraft once flew. It will be a fitting tribute to the many servicemen and women who gave their lives to preserve and protect our ‘green and pleasant land'.

Scientists Erase the Memories of Sleeping Mice

Researchers at Stanford claim they've figured out how to erase the traumatic memories of mice while they sleep bringing them one step closer to their goal of ending PTSD for humans. Apparently a prescription memory-eraser could even be on the way. Are we closer to an Eternal Sunshine moment than we think?

The conventional treatment for stress and anxiety caused by traumatic events can be grueling for the patient, barbaric, even. They've simply got to recall the drama over and over and over in front of a shrink until, eventually, they learn how to deal with it—and there's no guarantee the patent won't relapse.

Nature reports the research of a Stanford team that found a way to replicate this therapy passively in sleeping mice. First, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of jasmine by exposing them to the smell and then zapping them electricity. Once the mice were thoroughly traumatized, the researchers went about un-traumatizing the mice in their sleep.

Small Herbivorous Lizards Can Grow To the Size of 10ft Reptiles (They Just Require a Warmer Climate) – via Herp Digest

University Herald, by Stephen Adkins 7/12/13

The paleontologists from the UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology believe that small-sized lizards require a warmer climate to grow into large lizards and the current global warming conditions could help them attain just that. They think that some modern-day reptiles can also grow larger as global temperatures continue to increase.

Scientists arrived at the conclusion after examining fossils of a giant vegetarian lizard discovered in Myanmar, Burma. They think that a rise in temperature 40 million years ago caused this cold blooded animal to grow to the size of a Komodo dragon. The temperature is estimated to be significantly hotter than the current climate.

Prior to this revelation, scientists thought that huge carnivorous dragons grew larger compared to their herbivores counterparts due to the absence of predators.

The fossils of the giant lizard, dubbed Barbaturex morrisoni, were originally found in Burma by scientists from University of Iowa and Duke University in the 1970s. Recently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln paleontologists started studying the jaw bones of the giant lizard's fossil.

The study also found that the 10-foot-long creature lived in a time when there was absence of ice at the poles and presence of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to Daily Mail, the lizard king features ridges along the inside of its mouth that imply that the animal may have had a skin flap in its throat, which in turn means that the lizard was probably a plant-eater.

'What's cool is that this is an example of gigantism in herbivorous lizards, which tells us that if you're a reptile and vegetarian, you have to have a warm environment,' said Patricia Holroyd, vertebrate paleontologist of UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology. 'These guys were nearly six feet long and weighed about 60 pounds, bigger than the antelopes in the area.'

The paleontologists also predicted the old lizards to be around six-foot long from nose to tail, weighed about 68 lbs and could have resembled the present-day bearded dragons.

Apart from the warmer climate, lack of large animals (that compete with them or eat them) is also necessary for the plant-eating lizards to grow larger.

'We think the warm climate during that period of time allowed the evolution of a large body size and the ability of plant-eating lizards to successfully compete in mammal faunas,' Jason Head, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Nebraska at Lincolnsaid.

En Garde! Gang of Feral Cats Attack Woman, Dog in France

One more reason to love dogs: A gang of feral cats in France attacked a woman and her poodle, forcing both victims to seek medical attention for their injuries.

The cat-attack occurred Sunday (July 21) near the city of Belfort in eastern France. The 31-year-old woman was walking her dog near a wooded area when six felines set upon her, knocking her to the ground, The Independent reports.

The victim was treated for injuries at a nearby hospital where she was also given an injection for rabies. Her poodle was treated at a nearby veterinary clinic. 

Josette Galliot, the mother of the victim, said, "The cats jumped on my daughter and managed to knock her over. They bit her on the leg and on her arms. They even pierced an artery."

"My daughter thought it was a living nightmare. She's still traumatized and is bordering on depression," Galliot said.

Veterinarians and local residents are divided over what may have provoked the feline fury. According to some observers, a recent heat wave in the area may have played a part in the unusual mauling.

Veterinary specialist Valerie Dramard believes the cats were protecting their territory from the poodle, and the woman simply got in the way.

Frenchman survives crocodile head bite

Not many can say they had a fight with a crocodile and won. But a Frenchman lived to tell the tale after a crocodile clamped his jaws around his head when he was swimming in the sea in Australia.

A French deckhand Monday admitted he was lucky to be alive after escaping with bite wounds when a crocodile latched onto his head in northern Australia.

Yoann Galeran, 29, had swum out from shore to retrieve a moored dinghy after dark at Nhulunbuy on Sunday when the two-metre (6.5 feet) saltwater croc attacked, grabbing him by the head and rolling him in the water.

"I just feel that I've been lucky and I just think if it was a bigger crocodile, I maybe wouldn't have any head," he told ABC radio.

"I was swimming, and maybe four or five metres from the boat, I just feel like rocks hitting on my head and something strong and I just realise (it was) a croc," he added.

"I just had the feeling that if I want to fight for my life, I just need to move all my body as much as I can.

"He just hit me on the top, on the left side, and on top of my neck and tried to push me down in the water. I punched him anywhere."

After fighting off the beast, he managed to scramble to safety aboard the dinghy and make it to shore where he was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment to bite marks to his head, neck and shoulders.

Central Africa forests could die as keystone species are wiped out

Study by the Universities of Stirling, Oxford, Queensland, and WCS warn of imminent ecological collapse caused by unsustainable hunting and other factors

July 2013. Scientists from the Universities of Stirling, Oxford, Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn that current hunting trends in Central African forests could result in complete ecological collapse.

The authors maintain that the current rate of unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas and other seed-dispersing species threatens the ability of forest ecosystems to regenerate, and that landscape-wide hunting management plans are needed to avoid an environmental catastrophe.

Humans have shared forests for millennia, but are now destroying them
"Humans have lived in the forests of Central Africa for thousands of years, until recently practicing subsistence hunting for the needs of their communities," said Kate Abernethy, lead author of the study. "Over the past few decades, this dynamic has drastically changed. Much of the hunting is now commercially driven, and species that play important ecological functions are being driven to local extinction."

Prairie butterfly sliding towards extinction

Rarer than a Panda! Researchers working to save endangered butterfly
July 2013. Researchers from both Canada and the United States are rushing to figure out why a small, brown and orange winged butterfly is dying out quickly.
 (Courtesy Erik Runquist/Minnesota Zoo)

Massive population crash
Listed as an endangered species in Manitoba in 2012 and listed nationally as threatened, the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly population has dropped dramatically throughout North America. In Canada, it is known to only inhabit 17 fields in south-eastern Manitoba, primarily on the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area. In the United States, the closest population appears only in a handful of sites in Iowa and North Dakota.

Researchers from the University of Winnipeg, Minnesota Zoo and University of Michigan are now just outside of Winnipeg performing valuable research on this declining species. Since the adult butterfly is active for only two to three weeks, researchers are using this critical time to collect information on the Poweshiek skipperling's genetics and genetic diversity to save this important butterfly from extinction.

More protection needed for vulnerable wildlife in Southern Canadian Rockies of Alberta

July 2013. A new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS Canada) calls for the designation of new Wildland Provincial Parks in the Southern Canadian Rockies of Alberta to protect vulnerable wildlife and provide for their safe passage in an increasingly fragmented landscape. The report focused on determining important, secure habitats ("safe havens") and landscape connections ("safe passages") for six species-bull trout, West Slope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. These species are vulnerable to loss of secure habitat from industrial land uses and/or climate change.

Nestled between Banff and Waterton Parks, the Southern Canadian Rockies in Alberta has been overshadowed by these two iconic national parks. Yet this area contains spectacular landscapes, supports one of the most diverse communities of big animals in North America, and is a stronghold for the six vulnerable species that have been vanquished in much of their range further south.

In the report entitled Protecting and Connecting Headwater Havens, WCS Canada's award-winning Conservation Scientist, Dr. John Weaver concluded that "Once abundant populations have disappeared from some regions, but remnant ones persist in remaining strongholds. These represent hope and opportunity to protect and recover the wildlife heritage of Alberta. Designation of new Wildland Provincial Parks would demonstrate stronger commitment to safeguard these headwater havens of wildlife and water treasures in the Southern Canadian Rockies of Alberta."

Tuesday 30 July 2013

USFWS to hold public meeting on jaguar critical habitat on July 30

July 29, 2013

USFWS to hold public meeting on jaguar critical habitat on July 30

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public information session and public hearing on the proposal to designate critical habitat for jaguars on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 in Sierra Vista.

The meeting will be held at Buena High School Performing Arts Center at 5225 Buena School Blvd., Sierra Vista. The informational portion of the meeting will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m., and the public hearing will occur from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

In 2012, the Arizona Game and Fish Department submitted comments to the Service on the jaguar critical habitat proposal. Because lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species' historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species, the department has asked that the proposal be withdrawn.

Conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar's primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. The six areas identified as proposed jaguar critical habitat in Arizona already offer protection to the species through the Endangered Species Act. The vast majority of the proposed critical habitat area is public land that is already under federal management jurisdiction or federally-approved conservation plans.

Game and Fish believes that the unwarranted designation of critical habitat for jaguars would likely result in denial of access to lands for jaguar conservation and research efforts; fewer observations of jaguars being reported; and, less timely sighting reports from people that do choose to report a jaguar.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, or disability in its programs and activities. If anyone believes that they have been discriminated against in any of the AGFD’s programs or activities, including employment practices, they may file a complaint with the Deputy Director, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000, (602) 942-3000, or with the Fish and Wildlife Service, 4040 N. Fairfax Dr. Ste. 130, Arlington, VA 22203. Persons with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation or this document in an alternative format by contacting the Deputy Director as listed above. 

Borneo's Orangutans Are Coming Down from the Trees

July 29, 2013 — Orangutans might be the king of the swingers, but primatologists in Borneo have found that the great apes spend a surprising amount of time walking on the ground. The research, published in the American Journal of Primatology found that it is common for orangutans to come down from the trees to forage or to travel, a discovery which may have implications for conservation efforts.

An expedition led by Brent Loken from Simon Fraser University and Dr. Stephanie Spehar from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, travelled to the East Kalimantan region of Borneo. The region's Wehea Forest is a known biodiversity hotspot for primates, including the Bornean orangutan subspecies, Pongo pygmaeus morio, the least studied of orangutan subspecies.

"Orangutans are elusive and one reason why recorded evidence of orangutans on the ground is so rare is that the presence of observers inhibits this behaviour," said Loken. "However, with camera traps we are offered a behind the scenes glimpse at orangutan behaviour."

The team positioned ground-based cameras across a 38-square-kilometre region of the forest and succeeded in capturing the first evidence of orangutans regularly coming down from the trees. The amount of time orangutans spent on the forest floor was found to be comparable to the ground-dwelling pig-tailed macaque, Macaca nemestrina, which is equally abundant in Wehea Forest. Over 8-months orangutans were photographed 110 times, while the macaques were photographed 113 times.

Divers in near miss with humpback whales

24 July 2013 Last updated at 03:14 BST

A group of friends snorkelling off the coast of California got closer then they expected to a pair of feeding humpback whales.

Shawn Stamback was in the water when he was surrounded by a school of small fish, attempting to evade the predators below.

The whales breached and collected a huge mouthful of fish and water, and narrowly missed the divers.

Getting Cozy With Baby Butterflies ... So Cozy, They Whisper A Wriggly Secret

I've got a friend, Destin, who has a YouTube channel called Smarter Every Day, where he pokes around with his camera to get extremely intimate looks at small miracles in nature. In this one, about the secret life of baby butterflies, he learns that when it comes time for the caterpillar to turn itself into a butterfly, it doesn't spin a lot of silk and build itself a shelter (a pupa). I thought that what caterpillars do. But no ... take a look at what actually happens.

There's another mystery here that Destin has yet to ponder. (But he says he will. He's working on it for later this year.) We've read, and reported on this blog that when it's time for caterpillars to transform themselves, once they are safe inside the pupa, they melt.

Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species

Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world's largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi's iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic's Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.

"The current Minister of the Environment simply does not understand the importance of this protected area. Other Ministry technical staff had denied the permit, but he signed it off himself, yielding to pressure from the Agrarian Institute," Yolanda Leon, a biologist and president of the local NGOGrupo Jaragua, told


Satanic cult suspected as pony found mutilated on Dartmoor

A Satanic cult is suspected of being behind the grisly death of a pony, found mutilated on Dartmoor after a full moon.

Police have appealed for the public's help after the the two month old pony was found dead on moorland at Yennadon Down, Dousland Yelverton by a horse rider at around 6.50pm on Tuesday.

A police spokesman said that the pony appeared to have been "deliberately mutilated" and officers are investigating the possibility that the body had been left in "some kind of ritualistic way."

The young male had its genitals, right ear and tongue sliced off, and eyes gouged out, its belly hacked open and had traces of white paint on one of its legs.

It was also surrounded by circular patches of burnt moorland, raising questions about a ritual taking place.

23-Million-Year-Old Lizard Fossil Found In Mexico – via Herp Digest

Published July 08, 2013

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico –  Mexican scientists are studying a complete fossil of a lizard that lived some 23 million years ago and whose soft tissue remains have been preserved in amber.

The small piece of fossil resin, which is in the shape of a trapezoid and entombs the skeleton, was found several months ago in the Simojovel amber deposits of the northern part of the southeastern state of Chiapas.

Amber often contains small remains of plants and animals, but it is rare to find complete vertebrates such as this lizard, preliminarily identified as a new species of the genus Anolis and currently on display at the Amber Museum in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Francisco Riquelme of the National Autonomous University of Mexico's Physics Institute told Efe the specimen, measuring about approximately 1.8 inches (or 4.5 centimeters) by .5 inches (or 1.3 centimeters) was "a complete and articulated animal that also preserves remains of soft tissue and skin."

Chiapas's Paleontology Museum director Gerardo Carbot fossil specimens found in the state date back a minimum of 23 million years ago because that is the age of the amber that is extracted from deposits in the municipalities of Simojovel, Huitihupan, El Bosque, Pueblo Nuevo, Palenque, Totolapa and Malpaso.

Scientists Prove Ticks Harbor Heartland Virus, a Recently Discovered Disease in the United States

July 22, 2013 — Scientists have for the first time traced a novel virus that infected two men from northwestern Missouri in 2009 to populations of ticks in the region, providing confirmation that lone star ticks are carrying the recently discovered virus and humans in the area are likely at risk of infection. The findings were published online today in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Dubbed Heartland virus or HRTV, the infection causes fever, headaches, and low white blood cell and platelet counts. The two men infected in 2009, who live about 70 miles apart, were sufficiently ill to require hospitalization. They eventually recovered, and no other cases have been reported. Disease experts anticipate, however, that more people could become infected. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify additional cases and determine the role of this novel virus as a human pathogen.

Chewbacca bat, beetle with explosive farts among oddities spotted on Mozambique expedition

The "Chewbacca" bat, a cave-dwelling frog, bombardier beetles that unleash explosive farts as a defense mechanism, and a diminutive elephant shrew were among hundreds of species documented during a one-month survey of a park that was ravaged during Mozambique's 17-year civil war. The findings suggest that biodiversity in Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique is well on the road towards recovery, opening a new chapter for the 4,000-square-kilometer protected area.

Between April 15th and May 15th 2013, a team of 15 scientists conducted an inventory of plants and animals on the Cheringoma Plateau in the eastern part of Gorongosa. The researchers used a variety of methods, including pitfall traps, mist nets, pheromone traps, remote cameras, and ultrasonic sound detectors, to document the area's plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, katydids, and praying mantids. Overall the expedition turned up 1,200 species of animals and plants on the Cheringoma Plateau, including dozens of species never before documented by science.

From Obscurity to Dominance: Tracking the Rapid Evolutionary Rise of Ray-Finned Fish

July 22, 2013 — Mass extinctions, like lotteries, result in a multitude of losers and a few lucky winners. This is the story of one of the winners, a small, shell-crushing predatory fish called Fouldenia, which first appears in the fossil record a mere 11 million years after an extinction that wiped out more than 90 percent of the planet's vertebrate species.

The extinction that ended the Devonian Era 359 million years ago created opportunities quickly exploited by a formerly rare and unremarkable group of fish that went on to become -- in terms of the sheer number of species -- the most successful vertebrates (backboned animals) on the planet today: the ray-finned fish.

A University of Michigan evolutionary biologist and a colleague have shown that the previously known but misclassified Fouldenia was the first recorded shell-crushing ray-finned fish. This long-extinct fish, and a handful of its relatives, demonstrate that in the immediate aftermath of the end-Devonian extinction, ray-finned fish had already acquired a diversity of forms that gave them an evolutionary edge, enabling them to fill the ecological vacuum left by the demise of most major fish groups.

Monday 29 July 2013

Buglife questions Defra Minister's TV statements about Neonicotinoids and bees

Defra Minister David Heath on ITV
July 2013. On Thursday 18th July ITV's Tonight programme investigated the current bee and wild pollinator crisis which threatens food security. Defra Minister David Heath appeared on the programme and made a number of statements about neonicotinoid pesticides that are highly questionable.

Discounting the conclusions of over a hundred studies by independent scientists which show that neonicotinoids are an environmental risk David Heath stated "There's abundant evidence that this is a substance which is toxic in the laboratory...What we have not been able to demonstrate yet is there's any linkage between that and what you see in field conditions where you have much lower dosages than were applied in the laboratory tests".

Contradicted the opinion of the Government's own scientific advisory group
This statement contradicts the opinion of the Government's own scientific advisory group, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP). In the January 2013 meeting "Members commented that the laboratory and semi-laboratory studies reported in the literature represent sound science. The main questions raised were about whether the nature of the exposure was realistic, and information to date suggests the exposures were reasonable".

David Heath also stated that "Wouldn't you expect there to be some evidence after all of these trials, somebody to have gone on and said "What's actually happening in the field?" but they haven't".

Important appeal for information regarding the harassment of dolphins in Cornwall. £2000 reward offered.

25 vessels harassing a pod of dolphins
July 2013. On Saturday 20th July, at approximately 3.30-4pm in the Camel Estuary, near the Port Hand buoy, off Daymer Bay and Trebetherick Point, reports were received of as many as 25 small vessels harassing a pod on Bottlenose dolphins. Very soon after, a carcass was reported to have been found at the scene. The death is believed to be as a result of the harassment.

There is a general appeal for information as it is believed that there were a number of private, commercial and sightseeing vessels in the area at that time. The Padstow sightseeing vessels are all trained in how to behave responsibly around wildlife and there is no insinuation that they are involved, however passengers may have been witness to the harassment by other vessels.

Serious wildlife crime
Harassment of dolphins is a serious wildlife crime under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The law states that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass any dolphin, porpoise, whale or basking shark. A conviction carries the maximum sentence of £5000 and/or six months imprisonment.

If you saw anything If you or anyone you know witnessed this incident or any others like it in other areas, please call 101 and ask to speak to a Devon and Cornwall Police Wildlife Crime Officer, quoting log reference 399 210713. Ideally, the Police need a description of the vessels (colour, registration, etc) involved and/or photos or video. Alternatively, please contact BDMLR.

Sea Shepherd and Dive Master Insurance have offered a combined reward of £2000 for any information that leads to a conviction.

The carcass was unable to be recovered so if anyone finds it please report it immediately to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network on 0345 201 2626.

This is a joint appeal from British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Was rabies used an ancient biological weapon?

Rabies spread by bites of infected dogs has been deeply feared since antiquity. But the virus also gave some people a rather nasty idea: Why not use it as a weapon?RELATED

The main vector of rabies is domestic dogs, but wild animals such as foxes and bats can transmit the disease to humans. Rabies is almost invariably fatal.

The earliest record of canine rabies appears in Mesopotamian cuneiform law tablets from about 2000 BC. The codex set a heavy fine for any dog owner who allowed a dog with symptoms of the disease to bite another person. The disease’s zoonotic ability to jump from animals to humans is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia, reaching China in the sixth century BC. Rabies was known in ancient Anatolia by the fifth century BC, mentioned by Xenophon and Aristotle. As rabies spread to Italy and Europe, many Byzantine doctors and medieval medical writers described the symptoms and course of the dread disease (animal symptoms include snapping and biting, excessive drooling, hydrophobia).

Are bites from vampire bats making people resistant to rabies?

Rabies is virtually non-existent in North America, but it's still a blight in many parts of the world, including South America. The disease, which is commonly transmitted by bats, is almost always fatal. But a recent study conducted in Peru is suggesting that native people there may have developed an immunity to the virus by getting bitten by vampire bats. If true, the discovery could have serious implications to the development of vaccines — and even a cure.

News of this study comes to us from Marissa Fessenden of Scientific American. She describes how the vampire bats, who bite humans while they're sleeping, may have passed along small amounts of the virus over time. Similar to how a person can develop an immunity to snake venom, the low-dose exposures may have induced the rise of natural anti-bodies in the Peruvians.

Bees 'Betray' Their Flowers When Pollinator Species Decline

July 22, 2013 — Remove even one bumblebee species from an ecosystem and the impact is swift and clear: Their floral "sweethearts" produce significantly fewer seeds, a new study finds.

The study, to be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the interactions between bumblebees and larkspur wildflowers in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. The results show how reduced competition among pollinators disrupts floral fidelity, or specialization, among the remaining bees in the system, leading to less successful plant reproduction.

"We found that these wildflowers produce one-third fewer seeds in the absence of just one bumblebee species," says Emory University ecologist Berry Brosi, who led the study. "That's alarming, and suggests that global declines in pollinators could have a bigger impact on flowering plants and food crops than was previously realized."

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the study, co-authored by ecologist Heather Briggs of the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Two Rare Southwest Snakes Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection --More Than 400,000 Acres of Critical Habitat Proposed in Arizona, New Mexico – via Herp Digest

TUCSON, Ariz.— As part of a landmark agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed Endangered Species Act protections for the Southwest’s narrow-headed garter snake and northern Mexican garter snake. In New Mexico and Arizona, the agency also proposed to protect more than 420,000 acres of critical habitat for the Mexican garter snake and more than 210,000 acres for the narrow-headed garter snake. Threatened by nonnative species and the loss and degradation of riparian habitats, these non-venomous, aquatic snakes have undergone massive declines in recent decades.

“These two southwestern snakes have been in trouble for years, so I’m glad they’re finally getting the protection they desperately need to survive,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the protection of imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “Protecting these snakes and their beleaguered habitat in the Southwest will benefit every other animal that depends on these river systems.”

The main culprits in the decline of the Mexican and narrow-headed garter snakes are the destruction of their streamside habitats due to livestock grazing, water withdrawal, and agricultural and urban sprawl, as well as the introduction and spread of nonnative species, such as sunfish, bass and crayfish. The snakes have undergone dramatic range-wide declines in the United States and are now almost entirely limited to small, isolated populations that are at risk of extirpation. Indeed, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that “83 percent of the northern Mexican garter snake’s populations in the United States and 76 percent of the narrow-headed garter snake’s populations occur at low densities and are likely not viable.” 

“The decline of these snakes is symptomatic of widespread declines in the aquatic fauna across the Southwest,” said Adkins Giese. “These snakes depend on native fish and amphibians as prey, and the widespread loss of these snakes and their prey reflects a severe collapse of the food web in Southwest rivers and streams.”

The Center petitioned for the Mexican garter snake in 2003. After several lawsuits, it was designated a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection in 2008. In 2011 the Center submitted a status report documenting the need for Endangered Species Act protection for the narrow-headed garter snake. Under a historic 2011 settlement agreement with the Center that requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue protection decisions for 757 species around the country, the agency must make a final decision about protection for the snakes in fiscal year 2014.

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Global Wildlife Trafficking Busts Expose Illegal-Internet Sales in U.S., Southeast Asia – via Herp Digest

7/11/13, USF&WS Press Release-

Scores of wildlife traffickers face federal and state charges for selling protected species online last summer. The announcement today follows a coordinated undercover law enforcement operation led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and involving officers from 16 States, three Federal agencies, and three Asian countries.

Operation Wild Web resulted in 154 “buy/busts” in the United States: 30 involving Federal wildlife crimes and 124 for violations of State wildlife laws.  It also exposed online trafficking of live birds and tiger and leopard pelts in Southeast Asia, where enforcement agency participation was coordinated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)

“Our message is clear and simple:  The internet is not an open marketplace for protected species,” said Edward Grace, the Service’s Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement. “State partners and our ASEAN-WEN counterparts were essential to the success of this operation, and that cooperation remains critical to disrupting wildlife trafficking on the Web
and elsewhere.”

Over a 14-day period running from August 8 through August 22, 2012, approximately 70 Service special agents and conservation officers from State wildlife agencies across the country teamed up to investigate illegal online commerce in wildlife.  Agents from the National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped staff some of the 14 “taskforce” groups operating in the United States.  Wildlife officers in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia simultaneously ran their own in-country Operation Wild Web taskforces targeting illegal wildlife internet sales.

The operation also benefited from the support of the Service’s Intelligence Unit, and was aided by non-investigative assistance from the Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare here in this country and by the Freeland Foundation and Wildlife Conservation Society in Southeast Asia.

Wildlife and wildlife products seized by Service agents during Operation Wild Web included  the pelts of endangered big cats such as Sumatran tiger, leopard and jaguar; live migratory birds; sea turtle shells and sea turtle skin boots; whale teeth; elephant ivory; migratory bird mounts; walrus ivory; and other items.  The intercepted transactions involved more than $60,000-worth of wildlife contraband.

Federal laws regulating the sale of wildlife include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (which both prohibit any commercialization of protected birds); the Endangered Species Act (which bans the interstate or international sale of listed species and most products made from them); the Marine Mammal Protection Act (which limits the sale of most marine mammal parts and products, other than those crafted by Native Alaskans); and the Lacey Act (which makes it a federal crime to transport wildlife or their products across state boundaries if they have been sourced in violation of state law).

Federal prosecutions based on Operation Wild Web have been completed or are being conducted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California and other U.S. Attorney Offices throughout the United States.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission played major roles in the taskforce operations in these states.

Additional photographs of seizures available at

Sandra Cleva, 703-358-2423,
Gavin Shire, 703-346-9123,

CITES AND U.S. Reptile Importers/Exporters and Pet Hobbyists-New Turtles are now Appendix I and II animals. – via Herp Digest

Forty-four species of Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises and three species of North American pond turtles received increased protections at CoP16. The following table outlines the changes to the CITES Appendices.  For Appendix-II species, you will need to ensure that you have obtained the proper CITES documentation to conduct international commercial trade. International trade for primarily commercial purposes is effectively prohibited for Appendix-I listed species.

These listings will have little effect on the average hobbyist or pet owner. If you do plan to travel internationally with your pet, please refer to the Service’s website on “personal pets.” However, as a pet owner and consumer you should make sure that you always purchase reptiles and amphibians from a reputable seller/breeder/dealer. Ask questions. Where did the animals come from? Were the animals legally acquired? If the juveniles are captive bred were the parents legally acquired? Be an informed consumer and help ensure that trade is legal and sustainable.

If you have any questions regarding the required CITES documentation for these species, please contact the Division of Management Authority at

Burmese star tortoise  (Geochelone platynota)
Big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum)
Asian Narrowheaded Softshell (Chitra chitra)
Burmese Narrowheaded Softshell (Chitra vandijki)
North American Turtle Species
Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)
Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)
Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Asian Turtle/Tortoise Species
Malayan Softshelled turtle (Dogania subplana)
Leith's Softshell turtle (Nilssonia leithii)
Burmese Peacock Softshell turtle (Nilssonia formosa)
Wattlenecked Softshell turtle (Palea steindachneri)
Hunan Softshell turtle (Pelodiscus axenaria)
Northern Chinese Softshell turtle (Pelodiscus maackii)
Lesser Chinese Softshell turtle (Pelodiscus parviformis)
Swinhoe's Giant Softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)
Japanese Pond turtle (Mauremys japonica)
Red-necked Pond turtle (Mauremys nigricans)
Indian Black turtle (Melanochelys trijuga)
Indian Eyed turtle (Morenia petersi)
Beal’s Eyed turtle (Sacalia bealei)
Four-eyed turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata)
Cochin Forest Cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica)
Western Blackbridged Leaf turtle (Cyclemys atripons)
Asian Leaf turtle (Cyclemys dentate)
Cyclemys shanensis
Southeast Asian Leaf turtle (Cyclemys oldhamii)
Eastern Blackbridged Leaf turtle (Cyclemys pulchristriata)
Ryukyu Blackbreasted Leaf turtle (Geoemyda japonica)
Black-breasted Hill turtle (Geoemyda spengleri)

Crowned River turtle (Hardella thurjii)

Sunday 28 July 2013

Victory for justice as ivory poaching kingpin gets five year jail sentence in Congo

Poaching kingpin had ‘influential connections'
July 2013. Conservationists are celebrating following the news that Pépito, the kingpin of an ivory poaching and trafficking ring in Republic of Congo, was sentenced to five years in jail this week.

The imprisonment of Pépito, whose real name is Ngondjo Ghislain, represents a coup for African Parks, who, alongside Government officials and other NGOs, worked tirelessly to secure the arrest and imprisonment of the notorious poacher who operated around Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

Naftali Honig, co-ordinator of PALF, an NGO that promotes proper judicial process, said Pepito's imprisonment was an "almost unprecedented success" in Congo and could be attributed to the diligence of the regional Court in Ewo. He praised African Parks Network, WCS and the European Union who made the effort to attend the court case in Ewo, which is almost 600 km away from Brazzaville.

‘Sense of impunity'
"For more than a decade Odzala-Kokoua National Park and the Cuvette-Ouest region of Congo were plagued with the crippling presence of Pépito. His sense of impunity expired this week when he was delivered to Brazzaville prison to serve his five-year prison sentence," said Honig.

Leon Lamprecht, African Parks' Manager for Odzala-Kokoua described Pépito's jailing as "a victory for justice in Congo. Pépito allegedly had influential connections that previously secured him immunity against prosecution and we are very relieved to have him behind bars for five years," said Lamprecht.

Brain Picks out Salient Sounds from Background Noise by Tracking Frequency and Time, Study Finds

July 23, 2013 — New research reveals how our brains are able to pick out important sounds from the noisy world around us. The findings, published online today in the journal eLife, could lead to new diagnostic tests for hearing disorders.

Our ears can effortlessly pick out the sounds we need to hear from a noisy environment -- hearing our mobile phone ringtone in the middle of the Notting Hill Carnival, for example -- but how our brains process this information (the so-called 'cocktail party problem') has been a longstanding research question in hearing science.

Researchers have previously investigated this using simple sounds such as two tones of different pitches, but now researchers at UCL and Newcastle University have used complicated sounds that are more representative of those we hear in real life. The team used 'machine-like beeps' that overlap in both frequency and time to recreate a busy sound environment and obtain new insights into how the brain solves this problem.

In the study, groups of volunteers were asked to identify target sounds from within this noisy background in a series of experiments.

Declining Sea Ice Strands Baby Harp Seals

July 22, 2013 — Young harp seals off the eastern coast of Canada are at much higher risk of getting stranded than adult seals because of shrinking sea ice cover caused by recent warming in the North Atlantic, according to a Duke University study.

"Stranding rates for the region's adult seals have generally not gone up as sea ice cover has declined; it's the young-of-the-year animals who are stranding (those less than one year old)," said David Johnston, a research scientist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.
(Credit: Courtesy of IFAW)

"And it's not just the weakest pups -- those with low genetic diversity and presumably lower ability to adapt to environmental changes -- that are stranding," he said. "It appears genetic fitness has little effect on this."

The study, published online this week in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PLoS One, is the first to gauge the relative roles that genetic, environmental and demographic factors such as age and gender may be playing in harp seal stranding rates along the U.S. and Canadian east coasts in recent years.

Turtle Trafficking Prompts Arrests in Puerto Rico

Eight people were arrested in Puerto Rico on charges of selling endangered sea turtles for human consumption, federal authorities said.

The suspects were allegedly involved in selling the meat of 15 hawksbill turtles and seven green turtles, an undercover operation revealed.

The eight individuals, all residents of Patillas and Arroyo, were taken into custody Thursday (July 18) on felony and misdemeanor charges. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Scientific Who's Who of Bolivian Mammals

July 23, 2013 — The Wildlife Conservation Society announced today the publication of a massive database of mammals occurring in Bolivia, shedding light on the poorly known yet vast wildlife diversity of this South American country.

The database details 31,380 distributional records for 116 species of medium and large-sized mammals ranging from the curious pacarana -- a 30-plus pound nocturnal rodent also known as Count Branickii's terrible mouse -- to better known species such as the jaguar and lowland tapir. Other species include bush dog, black spider monkey, vicuna, giant anteater, water opossum, and the mysterious Chacoan fairy armadillo. The number of records for the featured species range from just one for the newly registered red-nosed bearded saki monkey to 2,370 for the white-lipped peccary. The list does not include bats, rats, mice and smaller opossums.

The database was gathered over the past five years through existing published records, as well as trawling through "grey literature" or unpublished reports along with vast institutional databases from WCS and a number of Bolivian institutions including Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Armonia, BIOTA, FaunAgua, Alianza Gato Andino, Amazon Conservation Association, Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d'Orbigny and Centro de Biodiversidad y Genetica.

Czech rhino horn smuggling gang arrested

24 rhino horns seized

July 2013. Czech customs and police have arrested a rhino horn smuggling gang. 16 people were arrested and charged with smuggling, and 24 rhino horns were seized.

It appears that the gang members posed as hunters in South Africa, where they shot the rhinos on game farms; the horns were then imported to Europe, sometimes using fake documents. The gang planned to export the rhinos to Asia but it appears that they have been seized before they could complete the shipment.

This is not the first time rhinos have been shot, supposedly by ‘big game hunters' who turned out to be working for smuggling syndicates. South Africa changed their rules after discovering that rhino hunting licences had been awarded to Thai prostitutes posing as hunters. Possibly as many as dozens of rhino were shot, not by the Thai girls who thought they were on safari, but by ‘professional hunters. The horns were then given export licences before being shipped to the gang leaders in Asia.

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