Wednesday 31 December 2014

‘Noah's Ark’: Russia to build world first DNA databank of all living things

Published time: December 26, 2014 08:48 
Edited time: December 27, 2014 10:31

Not quite the Biblical Noah’s Ark, but possibly the next best thing. Moscow State University has secured Russia’s largest-ever scientific grant to collect the DNA of every living and extinct creature for the world’s first database of its kind.

“I call the project ‘Noah’s Ark.’ It will involve the creation of a depository – a databank for the storing of every living thing on Earth, including not only living, but disappearing and extinct organisms. This is the challenge we have set for ourselves,” MSU rector Viktor Sadivnichy told journalists.

The gigantic ‘ark’, set to be completed by 2018, will be 430 sq km in size, built at one of the university’s central campuses.

“It will enable us to cryogenically freeze and store various cellular materials, which can then reproduce. It will also contain information systems. Not everything needs to be kept in a petri dish,” Sadivnichy added.

Tiger shot dead after killing another woman

Forest officials had ignored warning that relocating animal who had lost fear of humans was a dangerous and misguided conservation strategy

Monday 29 December 2014 11.16 GMT

A tiger released in a wildlife sanctuary in south India has been shot dead on Sunday after it killed a woman.

The animal was released in Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary, Karnataka, on 19 November. The young tiger, suspected to have killed a woman in Pandaravalli village 186 miles away, was caught and released in the sanctuary. A large contingent of forest officials camped at Bhimgad to ensure it didn’t trouble villagers and also protect the tiger from people. Officials said the tiger did not pose a threat to human life. But tiger biologist Ullas Karanth had warned it was not safe to release the animal as it seemed to have lost fear of humans.

Despite the number of people keeping a watch on the tiger’s activity and the GPS transmitter around its neck, it remained elusive. The transmitter stopped functioning soon after the animal’s release, and tracking the animal using the backup VHF radio transmitter in hilly dense forests was difficult. 

Baby rhino in intensive care after birth at Werribee Open Range zoo

Calf raised the concern of vets at the Victorian zoo after she picked up an infection from her mother, Monday 29 December 2014 07.16 GMT

A baby rhino is in round-the-clock intensive care following its birth at Werribee Open Range zoo on Saturday.

The calf was born at 4.20am on Saturday, weighing in at 67kg, but raised concern among vets at the Victorian zoo after picking up an infection from her mother, Si Si.

It’s hoped a dose of antibiotics will ensure the infant rhino survives. The animal, called Salt until an African name is chosen, will receive constant care for the next four weeks in the zoo’s veterinary hospital.

The baby will then be hand-raised by vets and keepers during her first four months as Si Si is unable to feed her calves. Salt has a sister – 18-month-old Kipenzi.

Freezing chimps wear blankets as boiler breaks

Bosses at Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary give animals throws to keep them warm while biomass boiler is repaired

By Agency

3:03PM GMT 29 Dec 2014

Chimps were left shivering in blankets after their boiler packed in during the freezing weather.
Photo: Wales News Service
Bosses at an animal centre near Swansea gave them the throws in a bid to keep them warm after the heaters broke down.

The monkeys felt the arctic chill as they waited for the £115,000 biomass boiler to be repaired.

So keepers at the Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary, in Abercrave, gave them blankets.

Graham Garen, who runs the centre, said: "Warmth is key for the animals. They might get flu or pneumonia otherwise.

"We've had to give them blankets to keep them warm while we wait for the boiler to be fixed."

The chimps have been feeling the cold since Christmas Day, when the pellet-powered boiler broke.

WA shark cull: Colin Barnett defends catch-and-kill policy for 'serious threat'

Anti-cull campaigners describe order to kill shark believed responsible for a fatal attack on a teenager near Albany as a ‘revenge killing’

Tuesday 30 December 2014 04.45 GMT

The West Australian premier, Colin Barnett, has defended his government’s catch-and-kill policy for sharks deemed to pose a “serious threat”.

The No WA Shark Cull group has described the order to kill a great white believed to be responsible for an attack that killed a teenage boy near Albany on Monday as a “revenge killing”.

Addressing the media in Perth on Tuesday, Barnett said the policy was justified by the large number of shark attacks in West Australian waters in recent years, saying “eight fatalities in four years is proof enough”.

On Monday 17-year-old Jay Muscat from Albany died near Cheynes beach, which is about 65km east of the south coast town, after he was bitten on the leg by a large shark.

He had been spearfishing with fellow local teenager Matt Pullella, who told authorities he shot his speargun in the mouth of a great white shark after it bit his friend.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

'Bring back lynx to Scottish countryside'

Scottish Wildlife Trust chief executive calls for return of once native Eurasian lynx to countryside, despite fears from farmers

By Agency

1:00PM GMT 29 Dec 2014

Lynx should be reintroduced in the Scottish countryside, according to one of the country's leading conservation bodies.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust would like to see the return of the once native Eurasian lynx, even though farmers have expressed fears.

It is thought the lynx became extinct in the UK in the medieval period, caused by hunting and loss of habitat due to the intensification of farming practices.

But Jonny Hughes, the trust's chief executive, said during a debate on the BBC's World at One that the charity believes there is both a moral and ecological case for reintroduction of species that have been made extinct in Scotland due to habitat loss and persecution.

He maintained that reintroducing top-level predators such as the lynx would help restore the balance in Scotland's natural ecosystems, which continue to decline in the face of widespread threats, such as overgrazing and inappropriate development.

Texas lab faces fines, closure after 13 monkeys die from overheating

Published time: December 23, 2014 17:58

Reuters/Jose Cabezas

​Thirteen dead monkeys at a Texas lab have led to the filing of a complaint with federal regulators and the opening of a probe that could end with the research facility facing hefty fines or more.

Two macaques succumbed to hyperthermia in an overheated animal housing room in September due to a faulty thermostat inside the Alice, TX lab run by Covance Research Products, a United States Department of Agriculture inspection report revealed. Eleven more animals died roughly one month later, due to a failure with the thermostat’s override switch.

The Associated Press first reported on Monday this week that a spokesperson for the USDA said the agency is considering taking action against Covance, a drug development services company that conducts pharmaceutical testing on animals.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal rights group, has filed a complaint with the USDA asking for fines to be lobbied at Covance.  Feds could decide to suspend the lab or shut it down entirely, pending the agency’s decision.

Chicago Is Putting Subway Rats On Birth Control

The Huffington Post | By Kim Bellware

Posted: 12/23/2014 5:50 pm EST Updated: 12/23/2014 5:59 pm EST

The nation's "rattiest city" is putting subway rodents on birth control.

Egg loss and testicle problems await Chicago's rat population once the Chicago Transit Authority rolls out a rodent-specific birth control program next year, RedEye Chicago reports.

The CTA's new pilot program will use a semi-liquid bait that eventually makes rats infertile when ingested multiple times. Arizona-based rodent control company SenesTech, which makes the bait, says on its website that the non-lethal product is "specifically formulated for rats and does not affect other animal species or humans."

The bait, which reportedly tastes like egg cream, can decrease a rat's litter size "as early as 2 weeks after ingestion," according to the company.

RedEye reports that rats usually become sterile within eight to 12 weeks of exposure.

Last year, SenesTech's bait was tested in several Manhattan subway stations and Grand Central Terminal as part of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Biologist Loretta Mayer, CEO of SenesTech, told The Wall Street Journal that the results of the study were "extremely compelling" -- roughly half of the rats in the small-scale study took the bait, leading to a 43 percent decline in the rat population of tested facilities.

Farmers say Christmas trees make great goat snacks

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Western Colorado goat farmers say Christmas trees make great snacks for their herds, and they're offering to collect them from homes in the Grand Valley.

Nevelle Hopper of the Lil Moo Ranch said Friday the the trees are a natural de-wormer for goats, and pine needles have vitamin C.

She says the goats enjoy eating them, too.

Hopper's Lil Moo Ranch, the Top of the Hill Ranch and 5-R Ranch want undecorated trees that haven't been sprayed with any chemical.

Nevada goats help eat, recycle Christmas trees

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Goats are known to eat just about anything, but it didn't dawn on Vince Thomas until recently that the menu might include Christmas trees.

"They'll eat the pine needles and leave the skeleton of the tree," said Thomas, a longtime volunteer firefighter who has come up with a new use for his family-owned goat herding business, "Goat Grazers."

"It basically looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas with a scrawny tree that has nothing but the branches," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal (

Thomas is launching a new program with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District on Friday to use his 40 goats to help recycle Christmas trees.

Seal found in field is recovering from pneumonia

Dumbledore the seal receiving treatment at RSPCA facility in East Winch after being found 20 miles from the sea last week

Press Association

The Guardian, Monday 29 December 2014 13.56 GMT

Photograph: RSPCA/PA
A seal discovered in a field on Merseyside has been diagnosed with pneumonia but is on the road to recovery.

The adult grey seal, who has been named Dumbledore, was found stranded in a field in Newton-le-Willows, at least 20 miles from the sea, on 22 December.

He was taken to the RSPCA’s specialist seal facility in East Winch, Norfolk, the following day, where he was examined by a vet and underwent tests.

Orfei Circus Accused Of Passing Off Dogs As Pandas

The Huffington Post | By David Moye

Posted: 12/23/2014 7:25 pm EST Updated: 12/23/2014 7:59 pm EST

An Italian circus is facing possible criminal charges for allegedly trying to deceive the audience with two chow chows painted to resemble pandas.

Police in the city of Brescia confiscated the white chow chows on Dec. 19 from the Orfei Circus and accused the staff of painting black patches on them in hopes the customers would believe the pups were actually pandas.

"Two white furred dog cubs, a male and a female of chow chow breed, were camouflaged as pandas and shown to the public, particularly children, to take photos demanding payment," Italy's state forestry police said, according to the International Business Times.

Monday 29 December 2014

More than 1,200 sea turtles washed up in New England

Over the past month a record number of sea turtles, most of which have been critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley Turtles, have been rescued from stranding on the beaches of Cape Cod in New England, reports the Massachusett Audobon Society.

Normally, around 90 sea turtles strand on the Cape on their migration from the beaches of Mexico to Cape Cod Bay.

Sea turtles spend the warmer months in Cape Cod waters, then swim south to Mexico for the winter each autumn beginning in November. But some turtles get “caught” by the hook of Cape Cod.

Sea turtles that take their body temperature from the environment around them and when the water temperature of the Bay gets down to 50 degrees F they become cold-stunned.

The Englishman returning wildlife to Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex

The 're-wilding' of the forests near the ancient site could be a model for other projects


Sunday 28 December 2014

The forests surrounding the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia are once more echoing to the eerie, whooping calls of the pileated gibbon, a species, like so many in south-east Asia, that has been decimated by hunting and deforestation.

Conservationists have reintroduced the gibbons as part of an ambitious project for the "re-wilding" of Angkor Wat, a vast "temple city" that was once surrounded by forests teeming with deer, monkeys, birds and big cats before the arrival of commercial hunters with guns, traps and an appetite for money.

The re-wilding is being led by Englishman Nick Marx, a conservationist who believes the project could become a model for other parts of south-east Asia hit by the trade in endangered wildlife.

Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument on earth, was made a World Heritage Site to protect its sprawling network of temples. Now conservationists want to restore the surrounding forests of Angkor Archaeological Park to their former glory, Mr Marx said.

New species of gecko lizard has been found in Central India

A new species of gecko lizard has been discovered in the Satpura Hill ranges in Central India by four researchers.

The new species has been named Eublepharis Satpuraensis after the location in which it was found in, reports The Asian Age.

The lizard belongs to the family of leopard geckos, which are some of the least studied lizards in India.

The gecko was located while researchers Zeeshan A Mirza, Rajesh V Sanap, David Raju, Atish Gawai and Prathamesh Ghadekar were studying amphibians in the region.

“The first picture of this species came to me in 2009 from Melghat Tiger Reserve,” said Mr Mirza, who is currently doing his research at Bengaluru’s National Centre for Biological Sciences.

Whale sharks to be tagged to save species

Technology will uncover the mating secrets of these enigmatic giants

Sunday 28 December 2014

It is the largest fish in the ocean with some individuals reaching sizes of up to 65ft (18m) long and weighing more than 30 tonnes, but whale sharks remain one of the enigmas of the deep.

There are fears that the gentle giant, whose flesh is prized in countries such as China, India and the Philippines, is being slowly driven towards extinction. And so little is known about them that there is huge uncertainty about how their decline can be arrested.

Scientists and conservationists hope to safeguard the giant creatures' future by electronically tagging them to uncover their secrets. The project is being supported by the Galapagos Conservation Trust, based in London. Spokesman Peter Haskell said: "We are starting to build a picture of the whale shark's global migration."

Divers from the Galapagos Whale Shark Trust plan to tag both males and females off the coast of Peru to trace where they go and what they do. One of their main hopes is that it will reveal where in the ocean the species courts and mates, a key piece of information in the fight to understand and protect it.

"We don't know where they mate, we don't know where they give birth and we don't know where they spend the first couple of years of their lives," said Dr Alex Hearn of the Galapagos Whale Shark Trust.

Wildlife poaching has a huge impact on Africa, but our leaders are silent

The illegal ivory trade feeds terrorism and drains Africa of some of its greatest assets. Why aren’t politicians more outspoken about protecting elephants?

Tuesday 23 December 2014 09.00 GMT

Why are African leaders silent on wildlife crime? Every day in Africa nearly 100 elephants are killed for their ivory. But African leaders seem oblivious to the implications of the plunder. I am embarrassed, as an African, by their silence. The cries and shouts to bring attention to this unfolding tragedy are from prominent westerners such as Prince William andHillary Clinton, not from our own leaders.

Reports from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities) show that 80% of ivory seizures occur in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, my country. The amount of illegal ivory in Kenya, mostly en route to China, has come as a surprise to many Kenyans, who were for decades fed the narrative of a wildlife-friendly country with zero tolerance for offenders.

Earlier this year, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon stated that “the environmental, economic and social consequences of wildlife crime are profound”. He emphasised that it threatens peace and security in a number of countries where organised crime, insurgency and terrorism are often closely linked. This should be more directly understood in Kenya, where hundreds have died in attacks like the one in Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Clouded leopards could be reintroduced to Taiwan

Clouded leopards from mainland Asian could be used to repopulate Taiwan

The Formosan clouded leopard was hunted to extinction in Taiwan in the 1980s, but it might get a new start on the island in the future, according to Scientific American.

Two years ago, after a 13 year search, scientists concluded that the leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) had gone extinct in Taiwan.

But a new paper by the same scientists states the island’s ecology has improved so much since the leopards disappeared that they might once again thrive there.

Clouded leopards disappeared from Taiwan decades ago, probably in the 1980s after intense overhunting for their furs followed by destruction of their forest habitat and declining populations of the cats’ prey species.

However, Taiwan has been so successful in slowing deforestation and protecting its other wildlife over the past few decades that the island could once again support populations of leopards.

Sunday 28 December 2014

A Thousand Bison Sentenced to Die This Winter

By Taylor Hill | Takepart.com17 hours ago

With frigid temperatures and a shrinking food supply, winter can be tough on Yellowstone National Park’s wildlife. And for the area’s 4,900 bison, it’s not just nature’s elements they’re fighting against.

Upwards of 1,000 buffalo could meet their demise this winter through either hunting or through shipment to slaughterhouses, as park officials look to keep the herds contained and avoid a mass migration of the beasts into Montana.

It’s a balance the Parks Service deals with annually, but this year’s planned culling is one of the largest since the management program was created 14 years ago, up from the 650 killed last winter. According to the National Parks Service website, 300 to 400 bison will be removed by hunting, while 500 to 600 could be shipped to meat processing or research facilities starting in January.

110-million-year-old crustacean holds essential piece to evolutionary puzzle

Dec 24, 2014 by Kristy Condon
Telamonocarcinus antiquus: the newly discovered
 species is the oldest known "higher" crab,
dating back some 110 million years.

University of Alberta PhD student Javier Luque has found the oldest crown-group true higher crab ever discovered, deep in the tropics of Colombia. The discovery of Telamonocarcinus antiquus pushes back the oldest known record of true higher crabs into the Early Cretaceous, dating about 110 million years ago.

The new finding provides critical information that would shift the paradigm from the previously accepted hypothesis of high latitude origin in the Late Cretaceous period, to a lower latitude Neotropical origin in the Early Cretaceous—several million years earlier than previously thought.

Read more

The ants that conquered the world

December 24, 2014

Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. New research suggests that Pheidole evolved the same way twice, once to take over the New World, and then again to take over the Old World.

Increasingly acidic oceans threaten world's mussel populations

Mussel shells could become more brittle as climate change causes acidity of world’s oceans to rise, scientists have warned

Press Association

Wednesday 24 December 2014 06.00 GMT

The world’s mussel population could be under threat as climate change causes the oceans to become more acidic, scientists have warned.

Mussel shells become more brittle when they are formed in more acidic water, Glasgow University has reported in the Royal Society journal Interface.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes the oceans to become more acidic and reduces the concentration of the minerals mussels need to generate their shells, according to scientists.

However, they also found that mussels may have an in-built biological defence mechanism which boosts shell development when water temperatures rise by 2C.

Dr Fitzer said: “What we’ve found in the lab is that increased levels of acidification in their habitats have a negative impact on mussels’ ability to create their shells.

“We worked with colleagues in our School of Engineering to examine the toughness of the shells of the mussels in the more acidic water against those in control conditions.

New report examines $2 billion bear trade

A new report assessing the $2 billion a year trade in bears and their parts reveals the scale of the illegal trade. Produced by Interpol the report demonstrates some of the methods that illegal traffickers use to get their products through borders and to their customers.

New report examines $2 billion bear tradeIt’s not just dead products and bear parts that are part of the growing trade in bears. One example highlighted by the Interpol report featured a bear smuggler trying to move live bear cubs from South Yunnan to Chengdu. Officials discovered 22 moon bears – Asiatic black bears – in the back of the car. The trafficker tried to pass the bear cubs off as Akita puppies.

In another incident, reported to Interpol as part of their assessment into the trade, officials reported discovering 200 bear paws hidden in the inside of a car tyre.

The “Assessment on Illegal Bear Trade” report by INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit highlights in particular how poaching and the illegal trade of bears, their parts and derivatives continue on a large scale worldwide.

The Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit, David Higgins, said: “Improving enforcement coordination, from legislation to investigation, can have a considerable impact on syndicates involved in the trade. A unified planning process with a cooperative multinational enforcement efforts bringing together police, customs and wildlife law enforcement units is crucial if we want to dismantle the complex networks of individuals”.

Rediscovery of the critically endangered streamside frog, Craugastor taurus (Craugastoridae), in Costa Rica - via Herp Digest Open Access Journal-Tropical Conservation Science Vol.7 (4): pages 628-638 2014 

Gerardo Chaves1, *Héctor Zumbado-Ulate1,2, Adrián García-Rodríguez1,6, Edwin Gómez3, Vance Thomas Vredenburg4 and Mason J. Ryan

1 Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica 
2 Asociación para la Conservación y el Estudio de la Biodiversidad, San José, Costa Rica 
3 Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, San José, Costa Rica 
4 Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, 94132-1722 USA 
5 Department of Biology and Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-0001 USA 
6 Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brasil, 59078-900 
*Hector Zumbado-Ulate (corresponding author:

In 1987 the amphibian decline crisis reached its apex in Costa Rica when at least 17 species experienced population crashes and subsequently went undetected for decades. The amphibian declines in Costa Rica were relatively well documented and came to exemplify the current global amphibian decline crisis. The Mesoamerica endemic frog clade, the Craugastor punctariolus species group, is one of most severely affected anuran clades, experiencing a loss of 26 out of 33 species throughout Mesoamerica. Eight species of C. punctariolus group frogs occur in Costa Rica, and all declined following the 1987 die-off; despite intensive surveys over the last 14 years, most remain undetected. To date, only one species in this group, the stream-breeding frog C. ranoides, in known to have a stable population, and only in the Santa Elena Peninsula. Here we document the rediscovery of another species, the South Pacific streamside frog C. taurus, in southeastern Costa Rica, representing the first sighting after fifteen years of searching. We discovered two previously unknown populations in Punta Banco, the driest section within the historical range, in an area representing only 4% of the historical distribution. Our findings add to the short but growing list of recently rediscovered amphibian species in Costa Rica and provide encouraging news in an otherwise discouraging situation for amphibian conservation. Additional research and monitoring are urgently needed to develop long-term management plans for this and other Critically Endangered species.

Wall brown butterfly 'may be a victim of climate change'

Evidence suggests butterfly is dying out because warmer weather is causing generations to hatch out too late in the year to survive, scientists say

Wednesday 24 December 2014 12.13 GMT

The dramatic decline of one of Britain’s butterflies may be because climate change is creating a “lost generation” according to research by Belgian scientists.
Lasiommata megera LC0311.jpg

The disappearance of the wall brown (Lasiommata megera) from swathes of southern England has mystified conservationists for two decades but new evidence suggests that the butterfly is dying out because warmer weather is causing generations to hatch out too late in the year to survive.

In recent years, instead of the offspring of the wall butterflies found flying in July and August spending winter as a caterpillar before emerging as a butterfly the following year, warm conditions encourage the caterpillars to quickly turn into a butterfly by September and October.

By emerging so late in the year, these butterflies fall into what researchers, led by Professor Hans Van Dyck of Louvain University, call a “developmental trap”. By autumn, it is too cold and there are not suitable plants for their offspring to eat before winter. In effect, these autumn butterflies are a lost generation, leaving no caterpillars that can survive to become butterflies the following spring.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Environmental Law Bans Floridians from Removing Yard-Eating Tortoises - via Herp Digest

By Katherine Timpf,  National Review Online, DECEMBER 10, 2014 10:45 AM

G topher tortises, named for their habit of digging large burrows in the ground, are a threatened species that thrives in Sarasota, Fla. — which means it’s illegal to remove them from your yard, even if they’re eating around the foundation of your house.
An anonymous Sarasota resident — let’s call him John — tells National ReviewOnline that he personally has over a dozen burrows on his property, including several beneath and around his home.
John requested to remain anonymous because, without any other options, he has been forced to illegally move the tortoises away from his house and fill in the burrows himself — offenses that could send him to jail if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) finds out.

He says he even called anenvironmental consultant to try to figure out what to do with the “multiplying” tortoises tearing up his yard, and they “chuckled at him,” saying there was nothing he could do unless the tortoises had alreadydamaged the house. He legally could not touch the tortoises — and could not fill in their burrows, either.

“I can’t prove they are damaging my home, but once it’s damaged, it’s kind of too late,” John says.
Gopher tortoises are primarily herbivores and live in sandy soils. The ones in Florida have been listed as “threatened” species by the state since 2007, but are not yet federally recognized under the Endangered Species Act like those in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Up to 360 other animal species are thought to live in gopher-tortoise burrows — which can be up to 52 feet long and 23 feet deep.
Heathery Rigney, FWC’s gopher-tortoise-permit specialist for southwest Florida, tells National Review Online that there are no permits available to residents seeking to remove tortoises to keep their yards from being eaten.
“We encourage them to leave it alone, encourage them to just enjoy it living in their yard,” she says in an interview. “We can provide them educational brochures. If they have children, we have coloring pages so they can learn about native species.”
Floridians can obtain “Burrow or Structure Protection” permits that allow for the “on-site relocation of tortoises” for residents who can prove that burrows “compromise existing structures” (such as one underneath a propane tank) or put the tortoise in danger (such as one in a driveway or parking lot), according to the official gopher-tortoise-permit guidelines.
The key phrase here is “on-site relocation.” Even with this permit, tortoises may be moved only to another area of the same property. That’s right: Even if residents’ homes have existing, proven damage from the tortoises, they are still not allowed to move the animals out of their yards.
On top of that, residents who seek these permits must apply for and be approved to take an online gopher-tortoise-handling-permit class before they are allowed to move them. Threatened structural damage or not, they’re not allowed to fill in any burrows (or even “disturb” any areas within 25 feet around them) without completing all the necessary legal steps.
“In most cases, it is best to live with tortoises and their burrows,” the guidelines explain. “Relocations are stressful for gopher tortoises.”
What happens if you get busted touching one of the tortoises without proper authorization? It’s punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
And it’s not as though this is just some arbitrary law that no one is enforcing. “People who attempt to relocate them without proper permits are charged,” FWC officer Baryl Martin tells NRO.
FWC even has a 24-hour hotline and e-mail contact where people can report violations and earn up to $1,000 if the tip leads to an arrest. John says he is particularly terrified because he knows there is a tortoise-touching tattletale in the neighborhood who called FWC after seeing another neighbor filling in holes alongside his house to save the foundation from collapsing.
“Some neighbor across the way spied on them and ratted them out to county environmental people, who scolded them and put the fear of God in their hearts,” he said. “If a neighbor that doesn’t like me decides they want to give me trouble . . . all the neighbor has to do is say, ‘I think I see somebody doing something wrong.’”
Other Sarasota residents have told NRO that they, too, have had problems with the tortoises in their yards, but are too scared to be interviewed for fear the FWC may discover that they have touched one.
“I suppose on one level I’m not exactly living in fear, but I’ve had a nightmare or two of the whole federal government descending on me with SWAT teams,” John says.

European fire ants spell trouble for North American forests

December 24, 2014

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

Invasive species are often bad news for the local environment, but new research suggests that the European fire ant could be double trouble for forest ecosystems in eastern North America.

In a new paper, evolutionary biologists from the University of Toronto report that the European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) can not only invade people’s backyards and deliver a nasty sting in the wrong circumstances, but it is also helping spread the seeds of an invasive plant seeds.

“Ecologists think invasive species might help each other to spread, but there are few good examples. They talk about ‘invasional meltdown,’ because ecosystems could be very, very rapidly taken over by invasive species if invaders help each other out,” explained Megan Frederickson, one of the authors of a study that will be published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “Our results suggest that invasional meltdown could be happening right under our noses, here in Ontario.”

Frederickson, Kirsten M. Prior, Jennifer M. Robinson and Shannon A. Meadley Dunphy, all from the university’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, created artificial ecological communities inside 42 small plastic swimming pools. These communities, also known as mesocosms, were created a field station, the Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill.

Each of the pools was filled with soil, and the researchers planted four species of spring wildflowers – three native species (sharp-lobed hepatica, Canadian wild ginger and bloodroot) and one invasive species (greater celandine). Next, they collected colonies of either the European fire ant or a native woodland ant, adding them to the pool. Each ant picked up and relocated seeds of their respective plant species as the study authors monitored their activity.

Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

December 24, 2014

University of Bristol

Unlike Derek Zoolander, ants don't have any difficulty turning left. New research has found that the majority of rock ants instinctively go left when entering unknown spaces. Around ten percent of people are left-handed and brain lateralization is widespread in other vertebrates.

They found that ants were significantly more likely to turn left than right when exploring new nests. Such left bias was also present when the ants were put in branching mazes, though this bias was initially obscured by wall-following behaviour.

So why do the majority of rock ants turn left when entering unknown spaces?

Edmund Hunt said: "The ants may be using their left eye to detect predators and their right to navigate. Also, their world is maze-like and consistently turning one way is a very good strategy to search and exit mazes.

Ancient Eye Cells Suggest Color Vision Is 300 Million Years Old

by Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | December 23, 2014 11:01am ET

Fossilized rod and cone cells — the kinds that help people see — have been discovered for the first time, researchers say.

The finding reveals that such eye cells have existed for at least 300 million years, and that the ancient fish they were discovered in likely saw in color, according to the study's scientists.

Human vision depends on pigments that absorb light. These pigments lie inside cells known asrods and cones. Cones are sensitive to color and also help perceive fine detail and rapid changes. Rods are more sensitive to light than cones, but are not sensitive to color, and are responsible for peripheral and night vision. Both rods and cones are found in a layer of tissue in the back of the eye known as the retina.

Major comeback for sea turtles: Highest reported nest counts in Nicaragua - via Herp Digest

Date: December 11, 2014- Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

A WCS team in Nicaragua reported today a dramatic increase in nesting of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles including the highest nest counts since a conservation project began there in 2000.

The total nest count for hawksbill turtles in the project area in Nicaragua's Pearl Cays region has increased some 200 percent from 154 in 2000 to 468 in 2014. 

Of the areas monitored, poaching rates have decreased by more than 80 percent. Poaching in 2014 was one of the lowest in project history at approximately five percent. Nest success has averaged approximately 75 percent this season, with over 35,000 hatchlings going to sea as of the end of November.

Before the project began, a preliminary study of the Pearl Cays showed that almost 100 percent of nests laid were poached and most eggs were removed for human consumption.

WCS established the Hawksbill Conservation Project in 2000 to reduce poaching andcreate awareness. In 2010, it helped contribute to the establishment of the Pearl Cays Wildlife Refuge, which safeguards nesting, foraging, breeding and migratory areas for sea turtles, while protecting other marine species and important habitat types.

"These recent nest counts show that by working with local communities, we can save sea turtles from extinction," said Caleb McClennen, WCS Executive Director of Marine Conservation. "Communities partnering with WCS are directly involved with safeguarding their own natural resources. Without their help and commitment, this project would fail, and Nicaragua's hawksbill turtles would be doomed."

In addition to monitoring nesting success WCS scientists satellite-tagged three nesting females this year. The turtles are currently being tracked as they move northward near the Honduran border. Since 1999, WCS has captured and released nearly 3,000 sea turtles in the Pearl Cays. Staff record the date, size, and location for each sea turtle encounter as part of the tag and release program. This information can help improve the understanding of the species for informed management and development of conservation efforts in the region.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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