Thursday 31 October 2013

Exotic pet market cancelled in UK but animal group warns event may go underground

Animal market unlawful
October 2013. A reptile and amphibian market that was due to take place last weekend was cancelled by the venue, Fontwell Park Racecourse, on advice from Arun District Council. Although the event was billed as a ‘private breeders meeting', the Animal Protection Agency (APA) provided evidence to Arun District Council that the event would constitute an animal market and that trading of animals at the event would be unlawful.

Pet Animals Act
The Pet Animals Act 1951 (Section 2) states that ‘if anyone carries on a business of selling animals as pets a stall or barrow in a market, he shall be guilty of an offence'. The licensing and legal teams, on receipt of evidence from APA, provided information to the racecourse, which included details relating to the Council's interpretation of the legislation in relation to the proposed activities. Consequently, Fontwell Park Racecourse advised the Council that they had taken the decision to cancel the event.

Enforcement of Section 2 of the Pet Animals Act has improved in recent years. The legislation prevents pet animals from being traded in temporary and makeshift environments, which could cause the animals to suffer. A recent prosecution brought by Doncaster Council resulted in a formal caution being issued to a trader who initially described himself as a private breeder, but finally admitted to ‘carrying on a business' of selling pet animals at a market.

Chinese Bats Likely Source of SARS Virus

Oct. 30, 2013 — Scientists say they've produced "the clearest evidence yet" the SARS virus originated in Chinese horseshoe bats and that direct bat-to-human transmission is "plausible." The 2002 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) pandemic was one of the most significant public health events in recent history and researchers have been studying the virus to better understand how it is transmitted to prepare for future outbreaks.

An international research team -- with participants in China, Australia, Singapore and the U.S. -- has published its results in the journal Nature. "Our discovery that bats carrying SARS-CoV may be able to directly infect humans has enormous implications for public health control measures," stated co-author Dr. Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance. Daszak is principal investigator on an NIH/National Science Foundation (NSF) Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) grant that provided some project funding.

The results are based on genetic analysis of samples taken over the course of a year from members of a horseshoe bat colony in Kunming, China. At least seven different strains of SL-CoVs were found to be circulating within the single group of bats. The findings highlight the importance of research programs targeting high-risk wildlife groups in emerging disease hotspots to predict, prepare for, and prevent pandemics, the researchers suggest.

"Our findings suggest that SARS-like coronaviruses are diverse and abundant in bats in Asia, and the potential for future spillover remains high," Daszak noted. "If we add this to the recent finding that Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) originates in Saudi Arabian bats, it's strong evidence that bat coronaviruses remain a substantial global threat to public health."

Rat Island cleared of rats after 230 year infestation

Rat Island is officially rat free
October 2013. Biologists have confirmed that Rat Island, a remote island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, is now rat-free for4 the first time for 230 years. The report comes after two years of careful field monitoring at Rat Island, where the invasive predator caused major declines on native bird populations by preying on eggs and chicks and altered the native ecosystem in numerous ways.

Largest rat eradication in Northern Hemisphere
Restoring habitat on Rat Island to benefit native wildlife is the largest rat eradication ever undertaken in the Northern Hemisphere and the first in Alaska. The eradication of the non-native rats took place in September of 2008 after four years of planning. The restoration of the 10-square-mile island was accomplished by Island Conservation, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

7,000 acres reclaimed for wildlife
"Rat Island is the most ambitious restoration effort we've undertaken on a refuge island, and we couldn't have done it without our partners," said Geoff Haskett, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Nearly 7,000 acres of wildlife refuge habitat has been reclaimed for native wildlife and that is an exciting result.

Here come the cavalry – Protecting Chad’s elephants

Members of Zakouma National Parks
anti-poaching horse patrol unit. 
Photograph by Michael Viljoen
Horse patrols provide the anti-poaching edge at Zakouma National Park in Chad

October 2013. Horses are an essential part of effective law enforcement and anti-poaching tactics at Zakouma National Park in the Republic of Chad. Since African Parks took over the management of the park in 2010, horse management has undergone significant improvements in terms of horse care, equipment training and guard horsemanship - and continues to do so. Stables, a riding arena, a lunging ring and two camps for the stallions when they are off-duty have also been set up.

Desert horse
The current (horse) stock improvement programme at Zakouma is focused on selling horses that prove to be unsuitable for anti-poaching patrols and purchasing larger, hardier horses. The West African Barb, a desert horse that originated from Morocco and Spain, is the primary breed found in Chad and is hardy and well-suited to the conditions. Zakouma currently has a stable of 40 horses which cost around US$50 000 a year to maintain.

Entomologist Finds Possible New Tick Species... Up His Nose

When entomologist Tony Goldberg got back from a trip to Kibale National Park in southwestern Uganda, he soon found that he hadn't returned alone — he had a tick up one of his nostrils. "When I got back to the U.S., I realized I had a stowaway," Goldberg told Entomology Today. "When you first realize you have a tick up your nose, it takes a lot of willpower not to claw your face off."

It turned out to be a type of Ugandan nose tick, known to burrow into chimpanzee nostrils. Goldberg, a University of Wisconsin researcher who studies how infectious diseases spread in the wild, got the genome of the tick sequenced (it was a nymph and couldn't be identified from its bodily features). This revealed that the tick is either a new species, or is a known species that hasn't yet been sequenced, Entomology Today reported.

The ticks appear capable of infesting both chimps and humans, and may represent a new way for diseases to spread between the two, Goldberg said.

Green Flame Moths: Scientists Discover Two New Limacodidae Species from China and Taiwan

Oct. 29, 2013 — The representatives of the Limacodidae moth family are widely known as slug moths due to the resemblance of their stunningly colored caterpillars to slug species. Within this popular family the Parasa undulata group is perhaps one of the most intriguing, due to the beautiful green wing pattern typical for those species. In a recent revision, published in the open access journal Zookeys, scientists describe two new species from the group and provide a first record of a conifer-feeding caterpillar.

The two new species, Parasa viridiflamma and Parasa minwangi described from China and Taiwan both have the distinguishable green pattern typical for the group. They have a wingspan of averagely around 2 -- 2.5 cm and can be seen mainly in mid-elevations of mountains. The resemblance of the wing pattern of P. viridiflamma to mystical green flames has also inspired its name, derived from the Latin words viridis (green) and flamma (flame).

The revision of this group in Taiwan and China, compiled by Shipher Wu, National Taiwan University and Weichun Chang, Council of Agriculture, Taiwan, contains another intriguing discovery. The scientists provide the first record of a caterpillar from the group feeding exclusively on pine trees, Picea morrisonicola, in Taiwan.

"This case represents the first record of conifer-feeding behavior in this family as well as the first specialist herbivore in the genus. Meanwhile, the background match between Picea leaves and larval colouration is shared with other Picea-feeding insects. This phenomenon is worth further investigation in the aspect of convergent evolution of crypsis, or camouflaging, associated with a particular plant," explains Shipher Wu, one of the authors.

Scientists Shine Light On World's Least-Studied Bat

Oct. 29, 2013 — The Mortlock Islands flying fox, a large, breadfruit-eating bat native to a few remote and tiny Pacific islands, has long been regarded as one of the world's least studied bats. For more than 140 years nearly all that scientists knew about this animal was derived from one lonely specimen preserved in a jar of alcohol in the Natural History Museum, London.

Today, in a paper in the open access journal ZooKeys, a team of bat biologists led by Don Buden of the College of Micronesia published a wealth of new information on this "forgotten" species, including the first detailed observations of wild populations.

And it is none too soon, says paper co-author Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, as the low-lying atolls this bat calls home are likely to be increasingly affected by rising ocean waters brought on by climate change.

"Very little is known about many of the mammals that live on remote Pacific islands, including this beautiful flying fox," Helgen said. "This study gives us our first close look at a remarkable bat."

The lone London specimen was collected in 1870 from the Mortlock Islands, a series of atolls that are part of the Federated States of Micronesia in the west-central Pacific Ocean. British biologist Oldfield Thomas used this specimen to name the species Pteropus phaeocephalus in 1882. But during a recent study of the bat, Buden discovered that a German naturalist voyaging on a Russian expedition had observed and named the animal some 50 years earlier.

Scorpion-Eating Mice Feel No Sting

The sting of the Arizona bark scorpion is so fierce that humans say the pain is like being hit by a hammer. But the tiny grasshopper mouse shakes off the sting like it's nothing.

Now, researchers have found for the mouse, the sting really is nothing. Instead of causing pain, the scorpion venom blocks it, a fact that could lead to the development of new pain-blocking drugs for people.

"The venom actually blocks the pain signal that the venom is trying to send" to the mouse, said study researcher Ashlee Rowe of Michigan State University. "We don't want to try to sound too cute or anything, but it is sort of like an evolutionary martial art, where the grasshopper mice are turning the tables. They're using their opponents' strength against them."

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Plans to help the pine marten recover in southern Britain

Pine marten struggling to re-establish itself in England and Wales
October 2013. The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), with support from statutory agencies and other conservation organisations has decided to carry out a new study to look at the feasibility of boosting pine marten numbers in England and Wales.
Pine martens are doing well in Scotland - recovering naturally from their Highland stronghold. In England and Wales, however, the picture is far from rosy and it now seems that pine marten numbers in England and Wales dipped too low during the last century for the population ever to recover naturally.

No recent evidence of breeding or natural recovery
Chairman of the VWT, Dr Tom Tew said: "With no recent evidence of breeding or natural recovery, reinforcement of the existing UK population could be the only way to restore a viable pine marten population in southern Britain. This would mean supplementing the current pine marten populations in England and Wales with animals from elsewhere".

Embarking on this new study is the culmination of more than 30 years of pine marten research and survey work carried out by the VWT: research that has given a clear picture of the causes of the pine marten's decline and the requirements for its survival. A data base of sightings collected over this period has allowed the Trust to identify pine marten ‘hot spots' in which to focus its efforts. However, despite the use of sophisticated detection equipment, such as remote cameras offering 24/7 surveillance opportunities and, more recently, advanced DNA techniques, there has only been a handful of unequivocal records in the last 20 years.


Critically Endangered Pacific gray whales get reprieve from oil platform

Reprieve for whales at risk from oil platform

October 2013. In a victory for conservationists, an oil platform planned near the habitat of a Critically Endangered whale population has been postponed for at least five years.

A decision about development plans for the offshore Sakhalin-II drilling platform has been deferred by the Sakhalin Energy consortium, according to the western gray whale expert panel report.

Only 150 Pacific gray whales alive
Concerns had been raised over the platform's potential impact on western north Pacific gray whales, of which only an estimated 150 animals remain. WWF and other organizations have campaigned to stop the platform from being built by targeting both the oil company and the banks that are the main investors to the project, and see this as a successful outcome.

New species of gecko, skink and frog discovered in Australia

Discoveries in remote Cape York Peninsula
October 2013. A James Cook University-National Geographic expedition to Cape York Peninsula in north-east Australia has found three vertebrate species new to science. The species appear to have been isolated for millions of years and include a bizarre looking leaf-tail gecko, a golden-coloured skink and a boulder-dwelling frog.

Cape Melville
Dr Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University and National Geographic photographer/Harvard University researcher Dr Tim Laman teamed up for an expedition to explore a remote mountain range on Cape York Peninsula in north-east Australia. The rugged mountain range of Cape Melville is an amazing place-millions of black granite boulders the size of cars and houses piled hundreds of meters high. Surveys have previously been conducted in the boulder-fields around the base of Cape Melville but the plateau of boulder-strewn rainforest on top had remained largely unexplored, fortressed by massive boulder walls.

Echolocation: Bats and Whales Behave in Surprisingly Similar Ways

Oct. 29, 2013 — Sperm whales weigh up to 50 tons, and the smallest bat barely reaches a gram. Nevertheless, the two species share the same success story: They both have developed the ability to use echolocation -- a biological sonar -- for hunting. Now Danish researchers show that the biosonar of toothed whales and bats share surprisingly many similarities -- even though they live in very different environments and vary extremely in size.

Echolocation systems are one of Nature's extremely successful specializations. About 1,100 species of bats and roughly 80 species of toothed whales use the technique -- this is 25% of all living species of mammals. But why have such different animals as whales and bats both developed the same technique? The reason cannot be found in kinship, as bats and whales are no closer related to each other than all other mammals descended from the same land vertebrates for 200 million years ago.

The answer lies in convergent evolution -- when almost identical features or developments happen in different species. Through evolution both bats and toothed whales have developed the same functional characteristics.

Researchers from the two Danish universities, Aarhus University and University of Southern Denmark, have now studied the acoustic properties of the technique behind echolocation in bats and whales in the wild. Previous studies of their abilities to locate and catch prey have primarily been based on laboratory tests, and the studies in the wild now provide a much more realistic picture of how the animals use echolocation.

Poached rhino’s skin grafts a failure

Disappointing results from Thandi's skin grafts 
October 2013. Vets checking Thandi, the rhino that underwent a pioneering skin grafts after having her horn hacked off on Kariega Game Reserve, have found that the grafts have mostly been unsuccesful. The purpose of the checks was to evaluate if the skin grafts had worked, and which methods in particular had been successful. Although Thandi's behaviour and general health appear strong, the procedure revealed that the skin grafts were mostly unsuccessful. 

Very disappointed
Veterinary Doctor, William Fowlds, commented "The surgical team assessed her face after a good clean up we were very disappointed to find that she has removed most of the grafted tissues that were transplanted on the previous two occasions. Only 2 small islands of tissue remain over her front horn area and the exposed bed of granulation tissue is not as blood rich as we would have hoped. The back horn area is doing well but probably isn't subjected to as much pressure as what is clearly happening in the front." 

Thandi has undergone many surgeries and treatments since her horn was hacked off by poachers in March last year. 19 months after she was poached the Kariega team, Dr Fowlds, and surgical Doctors Johan Marais and Alistair Lamont gathered at Kariega in the hope that this would be her last procedure after a very long recovery period. 

Giant Oarfish Dissected! Worms, Eggs Found Inside

Researchers have dissected the two deep-sea oarfish that washed ashore in southern California this month. So far, they found that one was teeming with worms and the other was about to have babies.

On Oct. 13, an 18-foot-long (5.5 meters) oarfish was dragged to shore by a snorkeler at Catalina Island. Because the species lives in deep, dark waters, up to 3,000 feet (915 meters) below the surface, intact specimens are rarely discovered. Strangely enough, another smaller oarfish washed ashore north of San Diego just a few days later.

Parasitologists from the University of California, Santa Barbara jumped on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the elusive creature and asked for a small tissue sample of the oarfish that washed up at Catalina Island. When the researchers cut through a tiny portion of the fish's intestine last week, they found it was carrying a heavy parasite load.

Evidence of Europe's smallest rodent is big news for RSPB Saltholme

THE smallest rodent in Europe, the harvest mouse, has been found living and nesting at RSPB Saltholme on Teesside.

Evidence of their presence in the area was discovered in March when a member of the reserve’s Wildlife Explorers group found a skull during an owl pellet activity.

However, their presence on the reserve was only confirmed with the discovery of a harvest mouse nest by assistant warden Ed Pritchard.

Dave Braithwaite, site manager at RSPB Saltholme, said: “When the skull was discovered we knew that the mice were in the area, but now we can say definitively that they are here on the reserve.”

The nest was discovered during routine scrub clearance, which is part of the habitat management work on the nature reserve.

Nests can vary from five to ten centimetres in diameter and are made of shredded leaves, woven to resemble a ball, with larger nests used for breeding and raising young.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Snared and beaten badger found on footpath in Scotland

Badger beaten to death after it was caught in a snare
October 2013. The Scottish SPCA is appealing for information after a badger was found snared and beaten to death on a public footpath in the Inshes area of Inverness.

Scotland's animal welfare charity was alerted when two ladies walked into its Highlands and Islands Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre to report that they'd seen the badger on the path close to a nearby garden centre. Senior Inspector Gill MacGregor found the animal on its back with a deep laceration to the throat. A post mortem examination has now revealed that the badger was snared using baler twine and killed with a heavy blow to the head using a blunt instrument.

The charity has been conducting enquiries into this incident since it happened on 30 September but so far the investigation has not resulted in any leads. The Scottish SPCA is now appealing to the public for help.

Senior Inspector MacGregor said, "This is a very unusual incident as it appears that the badger was deliberately killed and then placed on what is a very busy footpath, possibly with the intention of it being discovered. We have been advised there are no known badger setts in the area so this rules out the possibility that the badger crawled there or was killed at the location where it was found.

"The injuries the badger sustained were horrendous and this was an incredibly cruel act. I initially thought the badger's throat had been slit, but in fact it had been snared and the baler twine was still deeply embedded in its neck. This would have caused a tremendous amount of suffering before the badger was finally killed with a blow to the head. We are very keen to speak to anyone who knows anything about this incident. The persecution of badgers is abhorrent and killing a badger is an offence under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The use of an illegally set snare is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981."

Anyone with information should call the Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.

Otter killed in illegal eel trap on Anglesey

Illegal trap appeal after otter found dead

October 2013. Natural Resources Wales officers are appealing for help to catch a poacher after an otter was found dead in an illegal trap placed on the River Cefni in Llangefni on Anglesey. The otter - a protected species under European law - was discovered by a passer-by in an unlicensed eel trap which had been discarded on the riverbank.

Natural Resources Wales environmental crime officers, working with North Wales Police, are urging anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area to report it confidentially by calling 0800 807060.

Officers believe the fully grown otter became entangled in the net and drowned as it entered the trap in search of food.

Eryl Lloyd of Natural Resources Wales said, "This unlicensed trap was illegally placed and there was no guard in place to prevent the otter from getting inside.

"Apart from the callousness of then dumping the trap beside the river, we're keen to trace the perpetrator as this kind of illegal activity has an impact on fish stocks and has a serious effect on wildlife and the local economy."

Otters are an indicator of good water quality with their numbers on the increase in Welsh rivers.

Poaching carries a fine of up to £5,000 and / or six months imprisonment.

Climate Change Has Silver Lining for Grizzy Bears

Oct. 28, 2013 — Global warming and forest disturbances may have a silver lining for threatened species of grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada.

In a 10-year study that monitored 112 bears in Alberta's Rocky Mountain region, University of Alberta biologist Scott Nielsen and his colleagues found that warmer temperatures and easier access to food associated with forest disturbances helped the grizzlies to build more body fat, known to increase the chances of successful reproduction for mothers.

The resulting 'silver spoon effect' shows that bears born into these favourable conditions have a head-start in life, said Nielsen, an assistant professor in the U of A Department of Renewable Resources.

"Understanding variations in body size helps us understand what limits grizzly populations," Nielsen said. "We get clues about the environments that most suit grizzlies by examining basic health measures such as body size. A simple rule is, the fatter the bear, the better. Certain environments promote fatter bears.

The findings, published in BMC Ecology, may help influence forest harvest designs to enhance habitat for the Alberta grizzly, which is classed by the Alberta government as a threatened species. Currently there are only about 750 of the bears in the province, half of them adults.

Britain’s rarest freshwater fish reappears in Bassenthwaite Lake after 10 year absence

Vendace reappears in Bassenthwaite
October 2013. Britain's rarest freshwater fish, the Vendace, has made an unexpected reappearance in Bassenthwaite Lake in north-West England more than a decade after being declared ‘locally extinct'. 

1 juvenile caught
A fish community survey of Bassenthwaite Lake which took place this autumn recorded a single young vendace specimen. The small size of the fish, only 54 mm in length, makes it likely to be an underyearling which hatched during the spring of this year.

Dr Ian Winfield from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology led this autumn's survey. He said, "This finding of a single Vendace individual is a very pleasant surprise and gives great encouragement to everyone involved in the restoration of Bassenthwaite Lake and its fantastic wildlife."

Discovery of a new species of nectar-feeding bat from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest reveals another critically endangered Brazilian Cerrado species

Original species even more Endangered now new species has been recognised

October 2013. Bats of the genus Lonchophylla (Phyllostomidae, Lonchophyllinae) comprise Neotropical nectar-feeding species characterized by elongated skulls with long muzzles and long, extensible tongues. Most species are distributed from Peru northward along or adjacent to the Andes, with only three species-L. bokermanni, L. dekeyseri and L. mordax-occurring along the South American east coast.

A new study focused on L. bokermanni has revealed Atlantic Forest populations as a distinct and new species whose authors named Lonchophylla peracchii (in honour of the Brazilian bat researcher Adriano LĂșcio Peracchi).

Brazil's Atlantic Forest
This new species occurs along 500 kilometres of Atlantic Forest in south-eastern Brazil, covering different habitat types-including continental islands, evergreen to successional forests, and pioneer formations. Due to habitat requirements (including climate and vegetation) the authors of the study expect new records for the Atlantic Forest of south-eastern and north-eastern Brazil (expanding the distribution to ca. 1000-1500 km).

Dino impact also destroyed bees, says study

Scientists say there was a widespread extinction of bees 66 million years ago, at the same time as the event that killed off the dinosaurs.

The demise of the dinosaurs was almost certainly the result of an asteroid or comet hitting Earth.

But the extinction event was selective, affecting some groups more than others.

Writing in Plos One journal, the team used fossils and DNA analysis to show that one bee group suffered a serious decline at the time of this collision.

The researchers chose to study bees within the subfamily known as Xylocopinae - which included the carpenter bees.

This was because the evolutionary history of this group could be traced back to the Cretaceous Period, when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth.

Previous studies had suggested a widespread extinction among flowering plants during the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event 66 million years ago.

Monday 28 October 2013

Rhino Permit to be Auctioned at Dallas Safari Club Convention

EDITOR'S NOTE: The CFZ is primarily a research organisation, but we are also involved in activism and animal welfare. Therefore, stories like this, which aren't the least bit Fortean, are included because we think that it is important that such events are highlighted, rather than ignored.

Published on Friday, October 11, 2013

DALLAS, TX - -( —Through an historic collaboration between governments, one hunter will have a chance to hunt a black rhino, help manage and conserve the species, and import a rare trophy to the US in 2014.

The Dallas Safari Club (DSC) has been selected by the Government of the Republic of Namibia to auction a special hunting permit with all proceeds earmarked for rhino conservation in that country.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has promised full cooperation with a qualified buyer.

DSC will sell the permit during its annual convention and expo Jan. 9-12 in Dallas.

An unprecedented sale price is expected.

Sundarbans wildlife under threat from Coal fired power plant

Last refuge of rare wildlife under threat

October 2013. Conservation organisations worldwide have expressed deep concern over plans to build a coal-powered power station (or perhaps two). 

The Sundarbans is one of the largest mangrove forest in the world covering 140,000 hectares of the the deltas of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers on the Bay of Bengal.

The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Royal Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.

A memorandum jointly signed by the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India contained a plan to build a power generation plant on the edge of the Sunderbans in Rampal; The treaty proposes to establish two 660 megawatt unit power plants in Rampal. The proposed spot for the plant is only 7.5 miles away from the Sundarbans mangrove forest.

Rare bird endangered
The Sundarbans of Bangladesh holds one of the last populations of the Endangered Masked Finfoot and is considered as a safe stronghold of this highly threatened species. Conservationists are now concerned about the future of this bird in the Sundarbans, where a coal-based power plant has been given the green light to go ahead.

Wallaby spotted in Highgate Cemetery

Footage taken at Highgate Cemetery on Monday shows what appears to be a wallaby skulking in the bushes and around gravestones.

Visitor and volunteer coordinator Melanie Winyard said someone first spied the marsupial, which belongs to the same family as the kangaroo, on Sunday.

“It’s quite extraordinary and so unexpected,” she said. “The West Cemetery is quite secure so it’s a mystery how he got in there but now he’s in, it’s quite a good place to be as he won’t be crossing the roads.”

“To spot a wallaby in London is quite strange.”

Surfer Fends Off Shark With Punches To Head

A surfer in Hawaii has survived being attacked by a shark after grabbing its fin and repeatedly punching the fish in the head.

Jeff Horton, 25, was surfing near Kilauea when a fin was spotted in the water.

Twenty minutes later, he was sitting on his surfboard with his legs dangling in the water when he spotted a dark shape approaching.

Initially he thought it was a stingray, but was forced to quickly pull his legs out of the water as the tiger shark bit into his surfboard.

The impact knocked Mr Horton off his board and on top of the shark.

Holding on to the shark with one hand, he repeatedly punched it as hard as he could.

He said: "I finally got one nice punch into the eye. I put some really good hits on it, for sure."

It was only after his knuckle jammed into the shark's eye that it spat out his surfboard and swam away.

Mr Horton was able to scramble back on to his board and, along with another surfer, paddled to the shore as the shark briefly followed behind them.

His 7ft board, which has a teeth imprint, will now be put up on his wall.

Elusive 'panther' may be on the move

Mid-Canterbury's elusive black panther may have moved south.

Last week a delivery driver spotted what he described as a large cat-like animal feeding on road kill just outside the Fairlie township in the early hours of the morning.

The description was remarkably similar to reports in a number of sightings of the panther-like animal in Mid Canterbury roughly the size of a Labrador dog, with round head and a distinctive long tail.

Such sightings began trickling in 1992 when the animal was spotted at the Ashburton River mouth.

But the legend really took flight this century when Marcus Ewart and David Tutton reported seeing a large, black panther-like cat near Alford Forest; two years later the cat appeared again, this time witnessed by Peter and Toni May in the Ashburton Gorge.

A month later, in October 2003, truck driver Chad Stewart was startled by a huge black cat in the Mayfield foothills. The same month the cat appeared again, this time near the Fairton meat works.

Several sightings were reported in the Seafield and Pendarves areas in January 2004.

Meet rhino saviour Clive Stockil

Rhino conservation pioneer Clive Stockil from Zimbabwe believes community-based conservation is vital for the survival of African wildlife and has been at its forefront for four decades. He is the founding chairman of the SavĂ©Valley Conservancy (which is now home to one of the country’s largest rhino populations), the chairman of the Lowveld Rhino Trust and a board member of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. Here he talks to Wild Travel about his life work and being the first-ever recipient of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa – a lifetime achievement award – at the 2013 Tusk Conservation Awards.

How do you feel to be the first recipient of the Prince William for Conservation in Africa award?

I truly did not expect this. When I received the letter from HRH Prince William informing me of the judge’s decision, I was humbled, encouraged, and excited. It was truly a great honour to receive this prestigious award.When the realisation of how important this recognition was, and the impact it would have on our efforts to achieve sustainable development and conservation of our finite and delicate environment, finally dawned it was an emotional moment. 

False Widow Spider Outbreak Closes School

An invasion of Britain's most venomous spider has prompted the temporary closure of a school.

The Dean Academy , in the Forest of Dean, will be shut today after an infestation of the false widow species in its ICT block.

Vice principal Craig Burns sent a letter to parents saying the decision followed advice from pest control experts and health and safety officers.

"We have identified an issue with false widow spiders in the academy," he wrote.

"We have taken advice from the Health and Safety unit at Gloucestershire Local Authority and C&D Pest Control, Chepstow, and have taken the decision to close the academy all day on Wednesday in order that the appropriate pest control work can be undertaken.

"We are advised that it will be safe for students to return to school on Thursday.

"Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause you, but I'm sure you will understand that this is in the best interest of students' health and safety."

The truth is out there: Britain's answer to the X-Files

It is Britain’s own version of the X-files – a unit of experts who specialise in unravelling the origins of mysterious slimes, animals and objects found around the country.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Natural History Museum in London are a series of laboratories that would not be out of place in the long running science fiction series.

This is the Identification and Advisory Service, whose job it is to scrutinise the array of strange and baffling objects discovered by members of the public - from apparent dragon skulls to objects that appear to come from outer space.

Their most recent case is a particularly baffling one – a mass of slime that appeared on a nature reserve after reports of a meteor streaking through the skies earlier this year.

Samples of the “intergalactic jelly” were rushed to the museum from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve in Somerset. But laboratory tests failed to find any firm clues for what it could be.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Stir It Up: Naming of Caribbean Reef Parasite Creates Controversy

In July 2012, marine biologist Paul Sikkel of Arkansas State University announced he had discovered a new coral reef crustacean, which he had named Gnathia marleyi, after the late Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley. The news kicked off a media storm — drawing worldwide coverage from outlets including CBS News, the Associated Press,Reuters, CNN, Fox News, NPR, the BBC and AFP. The story generated so much public interest (a rarity for taxonomy news), that it spawned a question on Jeopardy. Even People magazine named the discovery one of 2012's most intriguing things.

Most of the coverage was, to Sikkel's delight, positive. After all, Sikkel had named the "true natural wonder" for Marley because of his respect and admiration for Marley's music. Plus, he says, "Gnathia marleyi is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley."

Monkey That Purrs Like a Cat Is Among New Species Discovered in Amazon Rainforest

Oct. 25, 2013 — At least 441 new species of animals and plants have been discovered over a four year period in the vast, underexplored rainforest of the Amazon, including a monkey that purrs like a cat.

Found between 2010 and 2013, the species include a flame-patterned lizard, a thumbnail-sized frog, a vegetarian piranha, a brightly coloured snake, and a beautiful pink orchid, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Discovered by a group of scientists and compiled by WWF, the new species number 258 plants, 84 fish, 58 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 18 birds and one mammal. This total does not include countless discoveries of insects and other invertebrates.

"These species form a unique natural heritage that we need to conserve. This means protecting their home -- the amazing Amazon rainforest -- which is under threat from deforestation and dam development," said Claudio Maretti, Leader of Living Amazon Initiative, WWF.

Gloucestershire badger cull extended by 8 weeks – Risks spreading bTB

Humane Society UK appalled & flabbergasted at "madness" of Gloucestershire badger cull 8 Week extension, risks spreading bTB

October 2013. Leading animal welfare charity, Humane Society International UK, is appalled by news that an eight week extension to the Gloucestershire badger cull has been granted by Natural England. The charity warns that prolonging the shooting is the very worst thing the government can do because it increases the risk of spreading bovine TB as badgers flee the area. 

Perturbation danger 
The extension of the killing period in Gloucestershire more than doubles the original six weeks to 14 weeks. The seminal Randomised Badger Culling Trial highlighted the importance of any cull to be done quickly because of the danger of perturbation. 

Mark Jones, Gloucestershire resident and Executive Director of HSI UK said: "I am appalled & flabbergasted that an eight week extension has been granted to DEFRA's badger killing fiasco in Gloucestershire. By extending culls here as well as in Somerset, the pilots are moving even more dangerously away from the recommendations of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which were very clear - the longer you subject badgers to this sort of disruption, the greater the risk of worsening the spread of bovine TB among both badgers and cattle. It is utterly illogical to continue with a policy that has already proven such a disaster, and flies squarely in the face of sound scientific advice. Surely somebody in Government can put a stop to Owen Paterson's badger cull madness before it's too late."

In Gloucestershire 708 out of a target 1,650 badgers have been killed. In Somerset 850 badgers out of a target 1,020 have been shot. 

HSI UK has also written to Owen Paterson to ask him to explain himself over unsubstantiated claims he made last week about badger suffering. On 10th October he stated in a parliamentary answer to a question from Angela Smith MP that ‘...some of the animals we have shot have been desperately sick-in the final stages of disease...'.

Disease free buffalos re-introduced into Marakele National Park

October 2013. South African National Parks (SANParks) has re-introduced a herd of 20 disease free buffalo, comprising of nine cows and eleven bulls, into Marakele National Park, situated outside Thabazimbi in Limpopo Province. 

Removed in 2009 due to disease
According to SANParks Head of Veterinary Wildlife Services, Dr Markus Hofmeyr, the re-introduction of this high value species follows the removal of all the buffalo in 2009 due to a disease called Theileriosis which was diagnosed in the buffalo that roamed the area.

Dr Hofmeyr said the first test to determine the disease prevalence in the area was initiated in 2011 with the re-introduction of 15 sentinel bulls. "These bulls were tested again in April 2013 and confirmed to be negative for Theileriosis allowing the state vets to lift the quarantine status on Marakele fully."

According to Dr Hofmeyr it was important for SANParks to remove the buffalo at that time because it could have had a negative effect on the livestock in the neighbouring farms.

He said it is quite exciting to once again have a healthy population of buffalo in the park after a few years of absence. "We are now confident that the area is free of Theileriosis following negative testing earlier this year. This herd of buffalo was born and kept in Graspan, near Barkley West close to Kimberley and will be able to adapt with ease in Marakele." said Hofmeyr.

Marakele National Park is situated in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains, just ten kilometres outside of the town of Thabazimbi in the Province of Limpopo and is approximately 250km north of Johannesburg. The mountainous scenery, buffalo and many other animals are the main attraction to this park.

First venomous crustacean found

Experts have found the first venomous crustacean - a centipede-like creature that lives in underwater caves.

The blind "remipede" liquefies its prey with a compound similar to that found in a rattlesnake's fangs.

It lives in underwater caves of the Caribbean, Canary Islands and Western Australia, feeding on other crustaceans.

The venom contains a complex cocktail of toxins, including enzymes and a paralysing agent.

The findings are detailed in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

The remipede (Speleonectes tulumensis) breaks down body tissues with its venom and then sucks out a liquid meal from its prey's exoskeleton.


Wednesday 23 October 2013

'The matter is closed': new report into Blue Mountains big cat

A doctor, dentist, solicitor, clergyman and Qantas pilot have all seen it, as have numerous Rural Fire Service volunteers and an officer from the Department of Agriculture. A NSW detective spoke of how he watched the beast, from barely 50 metres away, for more than a minute. And like most others, he is "convinced" it was a black panther.

Rumours have circulated for decades about a colony of "Big cats" roaming Sydney's western fringes and beyond. But today, a report commissioned by the State Government has concluded that the many hundreds who have seen the panther are wrong.

In a review of "large free-ranging felines in New South Wales", a New Zealand-based invasive species expert, John Parkes, said the accounts were "at best prima facie evidence".

"The sightings are mostly of black animals but the occasional reports of brown or tan cats suggest either more than one species is present or people are mistaking other animals for cats. Large dogs, large feral cats or swamp wallabies have been suggested as candidates by some."

He added: "There is no conclusive evidence that large cats exist in the wild in NSW."

The NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said: "The NSW Government will not commit further expenditure to this issue and, as far as I am concerned, the matter is closed.”

Dung beetle has galloping gait

Scientists have discovered that three species of dung beetle walk with a "galloping" gait not seen in any other insect.

The vast majority of insect species walk with what is known as an alternating tripod gait - steadily moving forward three legs at a time.

It is not clear why these flightless beetles have shifted so radically from the usual way of walking.

The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers wrote: "Like a bounding hare, the beetles propel their body forward by synchronously stepping with both middle legs and then both front legs."

They beetles appeared simply to "drag" their back legs, they added.

Dr Jochen Smolka, from the University of Lund in Sweden, who carried out the research in South Africa, was studying wingless desert dung beetles in order to find out how they navigated to their burrows.

"We noticed that [one species we were looking at] was kind of bobbing along in a peculiar manner," he told BBC News.

Badger group disruption aids TB flow

Badgers with TB spread the infection more easily to other badgers and to cattle when social groups are disturbed, a new study confirms.

Vaccination has the potential to reduce the spread of infection without disturbing local populations, scientists report in Current Biology.

The findings help explain why culling badgers can cause TB infection in cattle to rise, as infected badgers roam into new territory, they say.

Pilot culls are underway in England.

Badgers are being culled in west Somerset; with a decision due shortly on whether to extend a pilot cull in west Gloucestershire.

In the study, researchers at the University of Exeter and the National Wildlife Management Centre at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire, fitted 51 badgers in eight different social groups with electronic collars.

They monitored the range of the wild badgers and their social interactions over the course of a year.

The researchers were able to build a detailed picture of the social network of a wild population of badgers for the first time.

We think of badgers as living in tight knit social groups and "sleeping in a big heap underground", but there is more complexity to it, said Prof Robbie McDonald of the University of Exeter, who led the study.

Targeted Culling of Deer Controls Disease With Little Effect On Hunting

Oct. 21, 2013 — Chronic wasting disease, the deer-equivalent of mad cow disease, has crept across the U.S. landscape from west to east. It appeared first in captive mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s. By 1981, it had escaped to the wild. It reached the Midwest by 2002. Little is known about its potential to infect humans.

The effort to keep chronic wasting disease in check in Illinois is a success, report researchers Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, left, a wildlife veterinary epidemiologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey; U. of I. animal sciences professor Jan Novakofski; and postdoctoral researcher Michelle Green.

Now researchers at the University of Illinois offer a first look at the long-term effectiveness of the practice of culling deer in areas affected by CWD to keep the disease in check. Their study appears in the journalPreventive Veterinary Medicine.

Each year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources tests 7,000 (hunted, culled or incidentally killed) deer for CWD infection, conducts aerial surveillance to see where deer congregate and sends in sharpshooters to cull deer at the sites with disease, said Jan Novakofski, a professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois and an author of the study.

"We know a lot about how far deer typically move," he said. "If they're sick, they're going to spread the disease that far. So if you find a deer that's sick, you draw that small circle and you shoot there."

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