Monday 30 September 2013

Bats and Rabies Virus: More Data On Colonies at High Risk

Sep. 26, 2013 — A new approach to rabies virus epidemiology in bats shows that the risk of infection is higher in large and multispecies colonies. The research, published on the journal PLOS ONE, has been led by Jordi Serra Cobo, professor from the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Barcelona and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio), both affiliated centres with the campus of international excellence BKC. The article is also signed by experts Jacint Nadal and Marc López Roig (UB-IRBio), Miquel Borràs (Barcelona Science Park), Magdalena Seguí (Research Center in Viral Infections, CRIVIB), Luisa Pilar Sánchez (Institute of Health Carlos III), and Rachel Lavenir and Hervé Bourhy (Institut Pasteur).

It is the first time that a research analyses ecological factors that might affect the infection dynamics of the rabies virus in bat colonies. Between 2001 and 2011, 2,393 blood samples were collected from 20 bats species and 25 localities in Catalonia, Aragon and Balearic Islands. The research is centred on the detection of European bat lyssavirus 1 (EBL1), one of the twelve different groups of the genus Lyssavirus related to rabies, an emergent zoonosis that affects mammals all over the world.

Jordi Serra Cobo, who also leads the Biology and Biotechnology Club of Alumni UB, explains that "EBLV-1 seroprevalence is strongly affected by colony size and species richness. Previous studies have analysed other aspects such as the seasonal variability. Ecological factors play a relevant role in seroprevalence variability, but they were to date unknown."

African Breed of Cattle Harbours Potential Defense Against Life-Threatening Parasite

Sep. 27, 2013 — Every year, millions of cattle die of trypanosomosis. The UN and the International Livestock Research Institute list trypanosomosis among the ten diseases of cattle with the greatest impact on the poor. In Africa the disease is known as "Nagana," which translates literally as "being in low or depressed spirits." The disease is caused by a parasite that enters the animals' blood as a result of the bite of the Tsetse fly.

Surprisingly, one West-African dwarf cattle breed, the Baoulé, seems less affected by trypanosomosis than others. When they are infected, Baoulé cattle develop fever and lose weight but do not necessarily die. Their immune system is thus better able to fight the parasite than that of other breeds. In other words, the cattle seem to have a natural tolerance against the parasite.

A method to detect different trypanosomes
Katja Silbermayr from the Institute of Parasitology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni), together with an international research team, collected blood samples from three cattle types. The scientists have developed a method that can identify the parasites responsible for trypanosomosis, the trypanosomes, and can even detect three different forms of the parasite in a single step. The information is extremely valuable to veterinarians and farmers as each type of trypanosome causes a slightly different disease progression and requires a different type of treatment.

World wakes up to threat of wildlife crime at last?

Heads of state come together in call for UN action to combat wildlife crime

September 2013. Efforts to combat illicit wildlife crime have received a massive boost as heads of state and a number of ministers outlined the serious impacts of poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking.

During the most important the year in international politics, governments chose to highlight illicit wildlife trafficking as a major threat to peace and security, the rule of law and global development.

President Ali Bongo of Gabon called for the appointment of a special UN envoy on wildlife crime as well as a UNGA resolution, a move that was supported by the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague and the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, as well as other representatives present such as the Norwegian Minister of Environment.

President Ali Bongo said, "Illicit wildlife crime is no longer a simple environmental problem, it is a transnational crime and a threat to peace and security on our continent".

The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete highlighted the problem of demand and called for help from the international community to close markets.

Harris borage gives rare bumblebee a buzz

One of Scotland’s rarest insects, the Great Yellow Bumblebee, is being given a helping hand by Harris crofter David Jones. Mr Jones, who manages two crofts at Northton on the Isle of Harris in the Western Isles, has been working with RSPB Scotland to enhance the habitat on his croft for wildlife.

Early in the year, the RSPB supplied a seed mix intended to provide cover and food for rare birds such as corncrake and twite. After sowing the crop, Mr Jones and RSPB conservation officer Robin Reid waited with anticipation to see how the crop would fair.

Mr Reid said, “We planted borage, a bright blue and edible flower, which did particularly well giving the half-acre crop a distinctive hue, setting it apart from the surrounding machair. Borage produces large amounts of seed and was included in the mix to provide food for seed-eating birds. To our delight the borage also attracted large numbers of bees including the rare great yellow bumblebee.”

The great yellow bumblebee was once widespread throughout the UK but due to farmland intensification and the loss of wildflower meadows the species is now largely confined to areas of flower rich Machair in the Hebrides and Northern Isles. Northton was known to be the Harris stronghold for the species but this elusive bee has often been difficult to locate even there.

Mr Reid said, “This year between ten and twenty bees could be seen in the flower plot at any one time from late July to early September. On warm summer days the borage was buzzing with activity, attracting a host of other bee and insect species. It was a pleasant surprise to see how attractive the borage has been to great yellow bumblebees. This crop would have provided a welcome boost to the food naturally available to the bees on the machair.”

Rhino poaching hits new levels in South Africa

Poaching increases as South Africa pushes legal rhino horn trade

September 2013. The latest figures from South Africa show that the total numbers of rhinos killed by poachers this year has already surpassed the total for the whole of last year, which was itself the worst ever year on record. 688 rhinos have been killed so far this year in South Africa alone, compared with 668 in the whole of 2012. The Kruger National Park is still by far the worst effected region, having lost 418 rhinos, but Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces have shown the largest increases.

At the current rate, we can expect another 270 rhinos to be killed in the rest of the year, implying that more than 950 rhinos will be killed in South Africa this year, though by some measures (see below) the poaching rate is actually increasing, so the total could edge near the 1000 mark.

18 rhinos per week being killed
The poaching of rhinos in South Africa has increased by more than three rhinos a week on average since Environmental Minister Edna Molewa called for a legal international trade in rhino horn, according to analysis by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Poaching has increased since South Africa called for rhino horn sales
From January 1 to March 13, 2013, an average of 15.36 rhinos were poached each week in South Africa. On March 14, Minister Molewa revealed her support at the meeting of the member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, for a legal international rhino horn trade. CITES has long banned such a trade.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Singing Mice Protect Their Turf With High-Pitched Tunes

Sep. 26, 2013 — Two species of tawny brown singing mice that live deep in the mountain cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama set their boundaries by emitting high-pitched trills, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered.

Although males of both the Alston's singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina) and Chiriqui singing mouse (S. xerampelinus) sing to attract mates and repel rivals within their respective species, the findings show for the first time that communication is being used to create geographic boundaries between species.

In this case, the smaller Alston's mouse steers clear of its larger cousin, the Chiriqui.

"Most people are puzzled by the existence of singing mice, but in reality many rodents produce complex vocalizations, including mice, rats and even pet hamsters," said Bret Pasch, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Integrative Biology and lead author on the paper, which was published online in The American Naturalist. "Often they're high-pitched and above the range of human hearing."

Both singing mouse species produce vocalizations that are barely audible to humans. Alston's singing mice are smaller and more submissive than Chiriqui singing mice, and they have longer, higher-pitched songs than their larger cousins.

"Songs consist of a set of rapidly repeated notes, called trills," said Pasch. "Notes are produced each time an animal opens and closes its tiny mouth, roughly 15 times per second."

The two mouse species share similar diets and live in similar forest habitats. Such overlap in lifestyle often leads to conflict.

"A long-standing question in biology is why some animals are found in particular places and not others. What factors govern the distribution of species across space?" said Pasch.

The End of Safari Hunting in Botswana

I’m in the bush, having been with a good leopard sighting today, but could not overlook the opportunity to say this: In three hours as the sun goes down today, we will have heard the last of the hunter’s gunshots over the plains of Botswana.

Today, safari hunting ends!! The end of an era of conservation by the gun, and the beginning of a new era for Africa, a more gentle caring one.

My congratulations to the government of Botswana, with deep gratitude from me, from all concerned citizens, and from the informed global community of people that are concerned about wildlife.

Snow Leopard Survival Threatened by Cashmere Industry

From: Dr Charudutt Mishra, The Ecologist, September 19, 2013

As London Fashion Week concludes, Dr Charudutt Mishra explains how demand for cashmere is affecting Central Asian wildlife, and how enlisting the support of local people will be essential for the future of snow leopard conservation.

The mountains of Central Asia are where the endangered snow leopards live. The higher Himalayas, the Pamirs, the Tien Shan, the Altai, all remote and faraway, seemingly insulated from our consumerist lifestyles. Indeed, the main causes of the cat’s endangerment appear to arise largely from local activities – persecution in retaliation against predation on livestock, for instance. Understandable, as livestock continues to remain a precious resource for people in these climatically and topographically harsh mountain landscapes.

Living thousands of miles away, it is difficult to imagine that our daily choices, literally the clothes we choose to wear, are shaping the chances of survival – or extinction – of the snow leopard and several other species of the Central Asian mountains.

The surging global demand for cashmere, that wonderful soft and warm fibre, is compromising the survival prospects of the snow leopard, the saiga, and a host of other iconic species of the Himalayas and Central Asia. Yet, the same fashion industry is also bringing better livelihood opportunities for local people, our biggest partners and hope for wildlife conservation in these mountains. It sounds complex, and it is complex.

What exactly is going on, and what do we do?

In a recent paper I co-authored with my friend Joel Berger and our Mongolian colleague Buuveibaatar, we have tried to explore the complex pathways through which the largely Western demand for cashmere is affecting Central Asian wildlife. Cashmere is derived from the lightweight under hair of domestic goats, and the bulk of the global production comes from snow leopard landscapes of Central Asia.

'I flew 3,500 miles to protect your badgers'


FLYING more than 3,500 miles to Gloucestershire to be arrested for defending badgers was all worth it for a campaigner from the United States.

Rebecca Reid, 52, from Pittsburgh, was arrested by Gloucestershire police in the Kent's Green area of Newent at about 1.45am on Thursday on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

She had flown from her family home in Pittsburgh to join the campaign against the cull.

After being released from custody yesterday, the freelance interpreter claimed police had searched her hotel room in the Royal Hop Pole, in Tewkesbury, after her arrest and taken her computer.

The self-professed wildlife advocate, said: "I have been following the badger cull for many months now.

"It is something that is very interesting to people in America. There are a lot of animal lovers in the States who can't believe what is happening here.

"I thought it would be a good idea to come here.

"I have been donating a lot of money to the protests, but I know help on the ground is most valuable.

"There have been all sorts of protestors, but all they want to do is to stop this unscientific cull.

"Petitions and polls in the UK and the States have all shown people are against the cull, so why are they going ahead with it?

"I have no complaints against the local police. What I am upset about is the level of action they have been asked to take.

"There are protesters from young teenagers to 75 year olds, which is incredible."

Volunteering at a wildlife centre in Pittsburgh on a monthly basis, she said she hoped the outcry would force the UK government to abandon any plans for a widespread badger cull in the future.

Growing up in Liverpool, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband and children more than 15 years ago.

"There has been a massive growing in support from different parts of the world," she added.

"From young people and the old people, they are just taking care of each other. It is very heartwarming."

She has been bailed to return to Cheltenham police station tomorrow.

Police said she must keep away from "a certain area" in Gloucestershire and Somerset between 7pm and 7am, although they will not specify which areas.

A 20-year-old man from Walsall and a 26-year-old woman from South Croyden in Surrey were arrested together with Mrs Reid.

The other two have been bailed to return to Cheltenham police station on November 22.

Family welcome tigers into their home

A Brazilian family have shown their dedication to saving endangered tigers - by moving seven of them into their home.

Father of three Ary Borges rescued two tigers from a circus eight years ago and built a sanctuary in his garden.

Now the family live, eat, and even swim with the giant man-eaters in their backyard pool in Maringa, near Sao Paulo.

And shockingly Mr Borges even lets his two-year-old granddaughter, Rayara, ride on the back of the fully-grown big cats.

Mr Borges, 43, said: "I was never worried about my daughters co-existing with these animals

"You have to show the animals respect and love - that's how you get it back from them."

The 43-year-old and his daughters Nayara, 20, Uyara, 23, and Deusanira, 24, walk the tigers on leads and feed meat directly into their mouths.

They even allow them into their kitchen during mealtime and let them lounge around the house.

Incredibly, Uraya, who also works as a dog trainer, is happy for daughter Rayara to interact with the massive predators with minimal safety precautions.

She said: "Rayara loves playing with the tigers - she sees my dad interacting with them and she goes crazy.

"But it's safe. I would never expose her to a dangerous situation.

"Every day since they were born we have taken care of them and fed them so their instincts become dormant.

"They are part of the family. I can't imagine life without them."

Research Reveals Bottom Feeding Techniques of Tagged Humpback Whales in Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary

Sep. 26, 2013 — New NOAA-led research on tagged humpback whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary reveals a variety of previously unknown feeding techniques along the seafloor. Rather than a single bottom feeding behavior, the whales show three distinct feeding approaches: simple side-rolls, side-roll inversions, and repetitive scooping.

A recently published paper, in the journal Marine Mammal Science, indicates that bottom side-roll techniques are common in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Great South Channel study area, a deep-water passage between Nantucket, Mass. and Georges Bank-further southeast.

The study further states that the observed feeding behavior also leads to vulnerability to entanglement in bottom set fishing gear, an issue which is a major mortality factor for the species. This finding reaffirms a NOAA Fisheries regulation that mandates the use of sinking line between fishing traps used in the lobster fishery as a way of reducing entanglements.

The new findings follow earlier NOAA-led studies detailing so-called "bubble net" feeding behaviors near and at the surface. Bubble net feeding is a behavior in which humpback whales corral and contain fish into a small area by trapping them in nets of air bubbles so they can more efficiently scoop them up in their large filter-feeding mouths.The behaviors are used by individual animals and as part of coordinated feeding behaviors involving two or more animals.

Killer Hornets Terrorize China
By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor | September 26, 2013 04:55pm ET

A series of deadly hornet attacks has led Chinese officials to warn citizens to avoid walking through fields and wooded areas this year. At least 28 people have been killed, and hundreds seriously injured, when swarms of the stinging insects descend without warning on unsuspecting people.

The prime suspect in the killings is the Asian giant hornet — sometimes called the yak-killer hornet (Vespa mandarinia) — which can grow to be more than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length, and has a quarter-inch-long (6 millimeters) stinger that delivers venom containing a potent neurotoxin.

The Asian giant hornet is the world's largest hornet, and is a voracious predator that dines on mantises, bees and other large insects. It has a deservedly evil reputation for wiping out entire hives containing thousands of honeybees by biting off the bees' heads and then stealing their honey and bee larvae. The hornets are capable of flying up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) in a single day at speeds of 25 mph (40 km/h). 

Giant Prehistoric Elephant Slaughtered by Early Humans

Sep. 19, 2013 — Research by a University of Southampton archaeologist suggests that early humans, who lived thousands of years before Neanderthals, were able to work together in groups to hunt and slaughter animals as large as the prehistoric elephant.

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered a site containing remains of an extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) in 2003, in an area of land at Ebbsfleet in Kent, during the construction of the High Speed 1 rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London.

Investigation of the area was carried out with independent heritage organisation Oxford Archaeology, with the support of HS1 Ltd.

Excavation revealed a deep sequence of deposits containing the elephant remains, along with numerous flint tools and a range of other species such as; wild aurochs, extinct forms of rhinoceros and lion, Barbary macaque, beaver, rabbit, various forms of vole and shrew, and a diverse assemblage of snails. These remains confirm that the deposits date to a warm period of climate around 420,000 years ago, the so-called Hoxnian interglacial, when the climate was probably slightly warmer than the present day.

Since the excavation, which took place in 2004, Francis has been carrying out a detailed analysis of evidence recovered from the site, including 80 undisturbed flint artefacts found scattered around the elephant carcass and used to butcher it. The pre-historic elephant was twice the size of today's African variety and up to four times the weight of family car.

Dr Wenban-Smith comments: "Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably by a group of at least four individuals.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Fishery observers face bribes, harassment, threats, intimidation, and even injury or death

WWF and the Association of Professional Observers call for measures against IUU fishing

September 2013. WWF and the Association of Professional Observers (APO) are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), for urgent measures to protect the health, safety, and welfare as well as promote the professionalism of at-sea observers assigned to fishing vessels as a way to reduce illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. Member states of the WCPFC, including Japan, China, the European Union and the United States, will meet in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, to discuss problems related to IUU fishing and conserving and managing tuna in the region.

Both organizations expressed concerns over anticipated declines in funding for the observer programme and observer support and asked the WCPFC and associated scientific and management support agencies to improve operational standards to ensure robust observer programmes.

"If we want to prevent IUU fishing and secure the sustainability of our fisheries for future generations, our fisheries observer programmes must be well-organised and sufficiently resourced. Fisheries management agencies simply cannot conduct adequate assessments of the fish stocks without reliable scientific data provided by observers," said Alfred Cook, tuna manager for WWF. "Moreover, the fisheries observers must be well-compensated as well as adequately protected to do their jobs well," he added.

Fisheries observers play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of fisheries resources through the extensive information they collect on the harvest of fish stocks globally, including impacts on marine habitat and sensitive bycatch species. They also perform an extremely important monitoring function that helps deter and prosecute IUU fishing.

A Day in the Life of the Mysterious Odd-Clawed Spider Progradungula Otwayensis

Sep. 25, 2013 — A recent paper published in the open access journal Zookeys provides a first-time glimpse in the natural history of the enigmatic spider species Progradungula otwayensis. Lurking in the hollows of old myrtle beech trees and thus hard to collect, this extraordinary spider is an endemic species confined strictly to the beautiful Great Otway National Park (Victoria, Australia).

P. otwayensis belongs to the small spider family Gradungulidae which consists of seven genera with a total of 16 described species found exclusively in eastern Australia and New Zealand. The genus Progradungula to which the species studied here belongs is among the few cribellate ones in the family. This term refers to the cribellum, a web producing organ which, unlike normal spinnerets, produces extremely fine fibers which are combed out by the calamistrum, producing silk with a wooly texture. The fibers are so small in diameter that prey insects easily become entangled in them, without any glue needed.

To add to its mystery P. otwayensis weaves highly stereotyped ladder-shaped webs, where they stand facing down after sunset, waiting for preys which will be caught by using the ladder as a trap -- a behavior which was already described in detail by now retired arachnologist Mike Gray (Australian Museum) for the only known other species of this genus, P. carraensis. A single thick and shiny silk thread is then used by the spiders to provide a zip-line like connection between the external webs and the security of the enigmatic retreat in the hollows of ancient myrtle beech and mountain ash tree.

European wildlife recovering – 37 species back from the brink

Wildlife comeback in Europe - The successful return of species to their natural habitats

September 2013. The Eurasian beaver, European bison and White-tailed eagle have all been highlighted as species that have made a remarkable comeback in Europe over the past 50 years, according to a first ever in-depth report.

37 species have recovered in 50 years
Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) worked with experts from across Europe to gather relevant data about the distribution and abundance of selected species. The resulting report, ‘Wildlife Comeback in Europe', describes how, why and where 37 mammal and bird species have recovered over the past 50 years, providing important lessons for the conservation of these and other species.

Celebrate and learn
Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's Director of Conservation says: "It is essential that we both celebrate and learn from major successes in conservation. This study helps us understand the interventions and conditions necessary for a broad range of species to experience similar recoveries."

"Wildlife will bounce back if we allow it to - this report shows that", says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. "With continued and strong legal protection, active boosting of existing wildlife populations and reintroductions to bring back lost species, combined with an increasing tolerance towards wildlife, more species will surely follow."

Making Time: How to rescue whales tangled in nets

The Campobello Island Whale Rescue team disentangles whales caught in fishermen's gear and nets around the Bay of Fundy off the east coast of Canada.

To free a trapped whale, you have to tire it out. When writhing around in the water, they can be impossible to cut loose, so volunteer Mackie Greene ties polyurethane balloons to the fishing nets wrapped around their fins.

These make it harder for the giant mammals to dive back beneath the surface, and allow his team to start severing the ropes.

In the early 1990s, Greene had wanted to become a fisherman, but years of overfishing in the Bay of Fundy had left cod stocks heavily depleted.

"I still wanted to be on the water though," he says, "so I started a little whale watching business back in 1995."

The bay is a rich feeding ground for a variety of sea life, attracted to the coast in search of food. The densely populated waters are a similar draw for fishermen, whose nets can prove fatal for the whales.

Greene got to know a team of marine scientists stationed in the bay, and when a whale became wrapped up in a fishing net he helped them untangle the cords and set it free. "I helped them out and I fell in love with it," he says.

Get a Grip: How Frogs Hold on in Flowing Water

Torrent frogs have an amazing ability to climb in wet environments near waterfalls, where ordinary tree frogs would be washed away.

Researchers compared the gripping ability of torrent frogs, a class of frogs that live in fast-flowing mountain or hill streams, to that of tree frogs, and found that torrent frogs were much better at gripping wet, steep and rough surfaces.The frogs' sticky secret, the researchers found, involves hugging wet and rough surfaces with their toes, belly and thighs.

"Torrent frogs adhere to very wet and rough surfaces by attaching not only their specialized toe pads (like many tree frogs do), but also by using their belly and ventral (inner) thigh skin," study researcher Thomas Endlein, of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, wrote in a statement.

Scientists warn of ocean conservation in wrong areas

Attempts to maintain biodiversity in the world's oceans could be targeting the wrong areas, with the seas around the UK as important as coral reefs.

That is the findings of a new report by scientists from the universities of Dundee and Portsmouth.

They examined the importance of each species rather than simply counting the number of species in a given area.

They found areas with fewer species, like those around the UK, were more affected by issues like pollution.

The researchers claim the study, published in the journal Nature, challenges conventional wisdom about what biodiversity means.

'Catastrophic collapse'
Professor Terry Dawson, from the University of Dundee, said: "Conventional global conservation priority has focused on tropical sites having high biodiversity richness in terms of species.

New Zealand puts a $10 bounty on large white butterflies

Butterfly bounty introduced to eradicate great whites
September 2013. A $10 bounty on great white butterflies is being introduced by the Department of Conservation for the school holidays to help eradicate the pest from the Nelson area, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith has announced.

Dead, not alive
"We want great white butterflies dead not alive. They are an unwelcome pest and pose a major threat to endangered native cresses, and garden and commercial plants like cabbage and broccoli," Dr Smith says.

Only limited sightings so far
"To date they have only been found in Nelson Tasman but we must do everything we can to ensure they don't become a permanent widespread pest. Female great white butterflies can lay as many as 750 eggs so every butterfly killed potentially stops up to another 750 butterflies emerging. The peak period for the butterflies emerging from pupae this spring coincides with the school holidays. It's a great opportunity to involve school children in conservation, as well as earning some extra pocket money. It also has the potential to help us curb a spring breeding surge. The bounty is not limited to children. Adults are also invited to catch and kill great white butterflies and bring them in to claim their bounty."

Hwange elephant poisoning update - Death toll now 81 elephants

Largest elephant poisoning on record
September 2013. Since the original discovery of 41 elephant carcasses in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park last week, a further 40 carcasses have now been discovered in what is believed to be the worst mass poisoning of elephants on record. Zimbabwe's Minister for Tourism, Walter Mzembi, visited the site of the massacre in Hwange National Park and announced that the death toll had now reached 81 elephants, and a large amount of smaller game, and that it was still possible that more would be found.

Zimbabwe Government officials have (again) vowed to crackdown on poaching.

It is highly likely that more wildlife, especially scavengers, will have eaten some of the carcasses will have died in addition to the elephants over a much more wisdespread area, and the full extent of the damage may never be known.

More arrests
Five Zimbabwean nationals were originally arrested in connection with the use of cyanide in Hwange National Park, and reports now indicate three more people have been arrested. Ivory, cyanide and a leopard skin were all recovered from the alleged poachers.

Zimbabwe poachers jailed 15 years for elephant poisoning

Harare (AFP) - A Zimbabwe court on Wednesday sentenced three poachers to at least 15 years in prison each for poisoning and killing 81 elephants, state radio reported.

A provincial magistrate sentenced 25-year-old Diyane Tshuma to 16 years in prison for poisoning elephants with cyanide at in Hwange National Park, in the west of Zimbabwe, Spot FM reported.

His co-accused Robert Maphosa, 42, and Thabani Zondo, 24, were each sentenced to 15 years.

"The parks and wildlife management authority has hailed the sentences saying they will be a deterrent to would-be poachers," Spot FM reported.

Tshuma was ordered to pay $600,000 (440,000 euro) to the Zimbabwe Wildlife and Parks Authority for killing the animals, while Zondo must pay $200,000 by the end of the year.

Elephant's tusks are highly sought after for Asia's ivory trade.

The three were among nine people arrested on suspicion of poisoning watering holes in the game park.

However, Jerry Gotora, chairman of the Zimbabwe parks department board of directors on Tuesday said the poison had been "put at places where elephants graze, not in water".

Two years ago nine elephants, five lions and two buffalo died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park.

Just 50 rangers patrol the 14,650-square kilometre (5,660-square mile) park, and wildlife authorities say 10 times that number are needed.

There are more than 120,000 elephants living in Zimbabwe's national parks.

Friday 27 September 2013

Bizarre Sighting: Cane Toad Eating a Bat?

What's the matter, bat got your tongue?

A park ranger in northwest Peru got a surprise when he encountered a toad with something in its mouth. This something happened to be a bat.

Ranger Yufani Olaya snapped a photograph of the bat-chomping toad in the Cerros de Amotape National Park, where he works. Olaya shared the photograph with biologist Phil Torres, who works at the Tambopata Research Center, a scientific outpost in the Peruvian Amazon. This is probably the first photographed record of a cane toad eating a bat, Torres said.

The bat in the photograph is likely a type of free-tailed bat, perhaps a velvety free-tailed bat (Molossus molossus), which is common throughout northern South America. In another instance, a different type of toad was observed eating a free-tailed bat in Brazil, Torres told LiveScience. 

Cane toads are opportunistic feeders and well known for being voracious eaters — that trait has allowed them to be successful as an invasive species in places like Australia, Torres said. But it's a rare occurrence to find one eating a bat, which usually flies far from the ground where the amphibians hop.

Tribal elders say they'll sue Cherokee NC bear zoo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians said Wednesday they're planning to sue a North Carolina roadside zoo that houses bears in concrete pits on reservation land unless they release the animals to a reputable sanctuary.

An attorney for two tribal elders filed a notice of intent to sue the operators of the Cherokee Bear Park for violating the federal Endangered Species Act.

The act allows citizens to file lawsuits for violations, but it requires them to give 60-days' notice to the violators and federal regulators, said James Whitlock, an attorney for tribal elders Amy Walker and Peggy Hill.

If the bear park doesn't come into compliance, the next step is to file a federal lawsuit, he said.

Walker and Hill said the bears are being held in tiny cages in barren concrete pits.

"The Cherokee Bear Zoo is an open concrete grave for these intelligent animals and they must be move from the despicable facility to a place where they'll cared for, not abused and neglected," Walker said.

The owners of the bear park could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

This is the latest development in the long, public campaign to close three privately owned bear zoos on the Cherokee Indian Reservation: Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Santa's Land.

Earlier this year, the Chief Saunooke Bear Park's 11 bears, including three grizzlies, were taken to a 50-acre animal sanctuary in Texas. The move came after the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, suspended the park's exhibitor's license and fined the owner $20,000 over inhumane conditions.
Inspectors found that the zoo was failing to provide the bears with appropriate food, proper veterinary care and a safe enclosure.

Northern Moths May Fare Better Under Climate Warming Than Expected

Sep. 24, 2013 — Moths in northern Finland are less susceptible to rising temperatures than expected, suggesting high latitude moth populations around the world may be partly buffered from the effects of rapid climate warming, according to a new Dartmouth-Finnish study based on the most extensive analyses yet conducted of seasonal patterns in forest animals.

The results are important because moths are a key food source for birds, bats and many other predators, and (in their caterpillar stage) are one of the planet's most abundant plant-eating animals and most voracious agricultural pests. The findings also underscore the value of long term ecological monitoring.

The results appear Sept. 24 in the journal Global Change Biology. A PDF of the study is available on request. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, Finnish Environment institute, Kainuu ELY Centre and Dartmouth.

Climate change is influencing natural systems worldwide by altering the annual timing of biological events among many plants, animals and insects, especially toward the poles where temperatures are increasing more rapidly and ecological effects from planetary warming are most pronounced.

The Finnish and Dartmouth researchers analyzed sensitivity to temperature of multiple populations of 334 moth species distributed over 600 miles of latitude from southern to northern Finland (about the same latitude as southern to northern Alaska). Their results show that temperature is the dominant control on most moth life cycles but that some species are more strongly controlled by day length, while others are controlled by a combination of temperature and day length. They found that climate dramatically affects when caterpillars are feeding and adults are flying, with the majority of species flying up to a month earlier in warm summers than cool summers. This is especially significant in regions where the summer lasts only a few months.

New nose grown by surgeons to replace original one

A new nose has been grown by surgeons on a patient's forehead, so it can be transplanted to replace his original one.

Xiaolian, 22, didn't look after his badly damaged nose following a traffic accident in August 2012.

The infection corroded the cartilage of his nose, making it impossible for surgeons to fix it.

They then decided to grow him a new one at a hospital in Fuzhou in Fujian province, China.

It was grown by placing a skin tissue expander onto Xiaolian's forehead, cutting it into the shape of a nose and planting cartilage taken from his ribs.

The surgeons said that the new nose is in good shape and the transplant surgery could be performed soon.

Mr Shehan Hettiaratchy is Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and a member of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).

He says: "The forehead is a traditional place to get extra tissue from to rebuild a nose. The skin from there is a good match for nose skin.

"Most importantly, the forehead skin can be moved to the nose and keep it's blood supply, which is essential otherwise the skin would die."

The world’s oldest face belongs to this 419 million-year-old fish

Scientists believe that a new fossil discovery from China is the world’s oldest known example of the bone structure we now recognize as a face.

The remarkably well-preserved fish (an example of the species Entelognathus primordialis) was discovered in Southeast China in a layer of sediment dating back to the Silurian period – making the specimen roughly 419 million years old.

Detailed in the journal Nature, the find is remarkable because it’s the earliest known example of the basic facial bone structure we recognize today: the ancient predator has a jaw, a mouth, two eyes and a nose.

All other previous finds from this geological time period have been of jawless fish – a type of animal that still exists today as lamprey and hagfish.

However, even stranger than looking eye to eye with the world’s oldest known face is the idea that this fossil might even be a director ancestor of human life.

The fossil is unique in that it displays characteristics of two types of ancient fish: placoderms (heavily armoured fish that were thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago) and bony fish (a taxonomic group that gave rise to all modern veterbrate fish - and subsequently amphibians, birds, mammals and finally us).

Whale mass stranding attributed to sonar mapping for first time

An investigation of a mass stranding of melon-headed whales in Madagascar in 2008 blames ExxonMobil echosounder

September 2013. An independent scientific review panel has concluded that the mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in 2008 was primarily triggered by acoustic stimuli; more specifically, a multi-beam echosounder system operated by a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil Exploration and Production (Northern Madagascar) Limited.

In response to the event Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) led an international stranding team, with assistance from International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), to help return live whales from the lagoon system to the open sea, and to conduct necropsies on dead whales to determine the cause of death.

Concern over high-frequency mapping sonar systems
According to the final report, this is the first known marine mammal mass stranding event of this nature to be closely associated with high-frequency mapping sonar systems. Based on these findings, there is cause for concern over the impact of noise on marine mammals as these high-frequency mapping sonar systems are used by various stakeholders including the hydrocarbon industry, military, and research vessels used by other industries.

European law could be unbearable for Croatia's brown bears

Croatia joined the European Union on 1 July and conservation scientists fear that EU rules could cause problems for its brown bear population.

The country has been managing its brown bears as game animals, meaning they can be hunted; but under EU legislation, bears are a protected species and can only be shot if they are deemed to be problem animals.

This might seem to be a positive outcome for the bears. However, it could lead to reduced tolerance for bears among local people, because the local economy will lose valuable revenue from hunting, according to a study by researchers from Imperial College London and Zagreb University. They argue that a system involving hunting ensures local support for bears in Croatia, which is vital in ensuring the animals’ long-term survival. It was a lack of local support for large carnivores, such as wolves and bears, that led to these animals disappearing from much of Europe in previous centuries. 

Under the Croatian hunting system, 10 to 15 per cent of the total bear population can be killed each year, and individual hunting organisations receive the right to hunt a portion of this quota. These organisations sell the rights to shoot bears for trophies to hunters, which enables them to provide employment to local people, and to compensate farmers quickly for any bear damage. Under this system, the local economy has benefited and the bear population has remained stable.

Thousands of Dino Tracks Found Along Alaska's Yukon River

Researchers may have just scratched the surface of a major new dinosaur site nearly inside the Arctic Circle. This past summer, they discovered thousands of fossilized dinosaur footprints, large and small, along the rocky banks of Alaska's Yukon River.

In July, the scientists from the University of Alaska Museum of the North embarked on a 500-mile (800 kilometers) journey down the Tanana and Yukon rivers; they brought back 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of dinosaur footprint fossils.

"We found dinosaur footprints by the scores on literally every outcrop we stopped at," expedition researcher Paul McCarthy, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said in a statement. "I've seen dinosaur footprints in Alaska now in rocks from southwest Alaska, the North Slope and Denali National Park in the Interior, but there aren't many places where footprints occur in such abundance."

Video: Frog breaks up fight between two shrimps

Could this be the most bizarre animal video on YouTube?

The latest weird clip features an assertive frog breaking up a fight between two shrimps in a no-holds barred underwater battle.

It begins with the two Indian whisker shrimp coming to blows at the bottom of a fish tank, ferociously attacking each other with their spindly legs.

The fight is quickly broken up when the frog plunges to the bottom of the tank between the warring pair, before a caption pops up: ‘Not in my tank.’

It has racked up thousands of hit since it was uploaded to the video-sharing site earlier this month.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Too confusing for animals: Leopard print clothing banned at Chessington World of Adventures

Leopard print clothing has been banned at Chessington World of Adventures amid concerns it is confusing the theme park’s animals.

Animal print may be one of the hottest trends in the UK at the moment, but it has left rhinos and giraffes at the park’s new ZUFARI attraction in a muddle.

Bouncers have been employed to enforce the zero-tolerance ban at the park after staff noticed a number of the animals trying to communicate with visitors or running away scared.

Zebra, giraffe, leopard and African wild dog prints are among a number now banned at the zoo.

Chessington officials have put the confusion down to the new 22-acre ZUFARI trail being a near exact replica of the Serengeti plains, meaning print-wearing guests puzzle the animals.

‘Since the launch of ZUFARI, guests have interacted with the animals more closely than ever before and we have noticed a lot of animals becoming baffled by animal-print-wearing guests,’ explained ZUFARI spokeswoman Natalie Dilloway.

‘It’s no wonder the animals are getting confused when they see what they perceive to be zebras and giraffes driving across the terrain in a 7.5 tonne truck.’

Guests who wear animal print will be supplied with Chessington clothing when going on ZUFARI, which sees guests journey off-road to with animals including white rhinos, giraffes and flamingos.

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