Thursday 31 March 2016

Bison to return to Montana after 140 years in the Canadian wilderness

Herd ‘coming home’ under treaty between North American tribes that seeks to return bison from Canada to Montana

Associated Press
Monday 28 March 2016 05.43 BST
Last modified on Monday 28 March 201623.50 BST

Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than a century ago will be relocated to a Montana Native American reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island national park to the Blackfeet reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the US and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The 89 plains bison, also known as buffalo, will form the nucleus of a herd that tribal leaders envision will soon roam freely across a vast landscape: the Blackfeet reservation, nearby Glacier national park and the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness — more than 4,000 square miles combined.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s as European settlers advanced across the once-open American west.

Most of the animals that survive today are in commercial herds, raised for their meat and typically interbred with cattle. The Blackfeet have a commercial bison herd established in 1972 that numbers more than 400 animals.

The lineage of Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American Indians on Blackfeet land just south of Canada.

Warts and all: critically endangered warty piglet on show in Cornwall

Visitors to Newquay zoo can now catch a glimpse of Visayan warty piglet born in February
Press Association
Saturday 26 March 2016 18.47 GMT
Last modified on Saturday 26 March 201619.13 GMT

Zookeepers are celebrating the birth of a critically endangered warty piglet.

The Visayan warty piglet was born in February at Newquay zoo in Cornwall, where it is now on show.

Warty pigs originate from the Visayan Islands in the Philippines, where they live in dense forested areas.

The species, which is in rapid decline, is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.

John Meek, curator of animals at Newquay zoo, said: “I am really thrilled we have successfully bred a warty piglet, as the species is in dire straits and without intervention from us they are in danger of becoming extinct.

“We had to keep it inside for the first few weeks as it’s been so wet, but the piglet is thriving and visitors can now catch a glimpse of it out and about.”

Habitat destruction and over-hunting have been blamed for the warty pig population almost becoming extinct in the wild.

Little is known about the pigs, which were only recognised as a species in their own right in 1997.

Male warty pigs are much larger than females and develop long crests and manes – similar to a mohawk hairstyle – in the breeding season.

Rapid transformation turns clinging tadpoles into digging adult frogs

Indian Purple frog skeleton changes dramatically to adapt from clinging to digging

Date: March 30, 2016
Source: PLOS

The Indian Purple frog skeleton undergoes dramatic transformation as tadpoles clinging to underwater rocks become adults digging their way underground, according to a study published March 30, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Gayani Senevirathne from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and colleagues.

The Endangered India Purple frog is very unusual among amphibians. Whilst most frog tadpoles hatch into streams and swim, the Indian Purple frog's young instead cling to rocks underwater. Then, unlike most amphibians which spend their adult life on land and in water, the adult frogs dig underground and spend their life there, only emerging to reproduce in forest streams. The authors of the present study used staining techniques to document the bone and cartilage changes which allow rapid transformation of the frogs from clinging tadpoles to digging adults.

‘The Siberian Unicorn’ roamed free 30,000 years ago

MARCH 29, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

Though considerably different than the majestic, white-colored, horse-like creature they are so often depicted as, unicorns actually did exist, and newly discovered fossilized skull suggests the long-extinct mammals last roamed the Earth less than 30,000 years ago.

According to Yahoo News and ScienceAlert, the species known as Elasmotherium sibiricum or the "Siberian unicorn" more closely resembled a mammoth or a rhinoceros than a horse, stood roughly six to seven feet tall, weighed upwards of 8,000 pounds, and  was covered with fur.

Experts had previously believed that the not-quite-fairy-tail-like creature became extinct around 350,000 years ago, but radiocarbon dating of a well-preserved skull found in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan revealed that the animal actually lived as recently as 29,000 years ago.

Researchers at Tomsk State University in Siberia, who dated the newfound fossil, reported in the latest edition of the American Journal of Applied Sciences that the size and condition of the fossil suggests that it most likely belonged to a male Siberian unicorn of advanced age.

So how did the unicorn manage to survive for so long?
Lead author Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State, and his colleagues believe that the Siberian unicorn lived in a refuge-like region in the south of Western Siberia, allowing it to remain alive and well thousands of years after the majority of its relatives died off.

Shpanski said in a statement that his team is hoping to discover what environmental factors may have played a role in the species extinction, and whether or not migration helped keep them alive up that point – data which could be useful in dealing with modern-day climate change.

Their research, he said, “makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general. Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future.” The hope is that their work will be able to shed new light on exactly how environmental factors contribute to extinction in general.

No snow, no hares: Climate change pushes emblematic species north

Date: March 30, 2016
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

If there is an animal emblematic of the northern winter, it is the snowshoe hare.

A forest dweller, the snowshoe hare is named for its big feet, which allow it to skitter over deep snow to escape lynx, coyotes and other predators. It changes color with the seasons, assuming a snow-white fur coat for winter camouflage.

But a changing climate and reduced snow cover across the north is squeezing the animal out of its historic range, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Writing in the current (March 30, 2016) Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the Wisconsin researchers report that the range of the hare in Wisconsin is creeping north by about five and a half miles per decade, closely tracking the diminishing snow cover the animal requires to be successful.

"The snowshoe hare is perfectly modeled for life on snow," explains Jonathan Pauli, a UW-Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and one of the co-authors of the new study. "They're adapted to glide on top of the snow and to blend in with the historical colors of the landscape."

As climate warms, northern winters have become shorter and milder. And the annual blanket of snow that many organisms have evolved to depend on is in steady retreat, becoming thinner and less dependable in regions that once experienced snow well into the spring months.

Pandas hear more than we do

Sensitivity beyond human range may have conservation implications

Date: March 22, 2016
Source: Zoological Society of San Diego

A study published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation may help field conservationists better understand the potential for human activities to disturb endangered giant pandas in native habitats. Using pandas located at the San Diego Zoo, conservation scientists worked with animal care specialists to determine pandas' range of hearing sensitivity, discovering that they can detect sound into the ultrasonic range. Because giant pandas depend in large part on information transmitted through vocalizations for reproductive success, noise from human activities in or near forest areas could be disruptive.

"An understanding of a species' hearing provides a foundation for developing estimates of noise disturbance," said Megan Owen, associate director of giant panda conservation, San Diego Zoo Global. "For the giant panda, vocalizations are typically emitted in proximity to conspecifics (members of the same species), however the ability to discriminate between fine-scale differences in vocalizations is important for successful reproduction; and so, a thorough understanding of acoustic ecology is merited in order to estimate the potential for disturbance.

"In order to learn about panda hearing, researchers at the San Diego Zoo worked with giant pandas to teach them to respond, if they could hear sounds at a particular pitch and loudness, thus communicating their ability to hear across the acoustic spectrum," Owen said.
"Through this study, the pandas at the San Diego Zoo have made a significant contribution to our understanding of what may be affecting panda reproduction in habitats in China," said Ron Swaisgood, director of applied animal ecology, San Diego Zoo Global. "It is only because of the strong relationship that animal care staff have with the bears at the Zoo that we have been able to gather this information."

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Wyoming wolves slaughter 19 elk in rare 'surplus killing', say wildlife officials

Carcasses of 17 calves and two adults found earlier this week
Wildlife officials say nine wolves in pack were responsible for deaths

Saturday 26 March 2016 19.00 GMTLast modified on Saturday 26 March 201620.03 GMT

A pack of Wyoming wolves killed 19 elk in a rare “surplus killing”, wildlife officials said late on Friday after finding the carcasses of 17 calves and two adults on a snowy plain near the tiny town of Bondurant.

A contractor delivering hay to the elk herd, which is supported by wildlife officials to counteract loss of territory, found the dead animals earlier this week.

“This is a rare event,” John Lund, regional wildlife supervisor for Wyoming’s game and fish department, told local County 10 news. “A lot of people call it surplus killing.

“Normally one or two elk a night [are killed] here and there is no big deal. But 19 in one night is fairly rare.”

Lund also described the kill to CNN as “sport killing”, although the consensus among biologists and wildlife officials is that wolves do not hunt for “sport” but sometimes kill more than they can eat at one point, especially in winter, when frigid temperatures preserve the killed prey for later consumption.

Lund said there were 1,100 elk in the area and nine wolves in the pack believed to be responsible for the killing. Wolves are an endangered species in Wyoming, federally managed and protected. Lund said they were responsible for about 70 elk kills this winter, more than average and enough to affect the hunting season for humans.

“Surplus killing”, though an unusual behavior, is recorded in many predator species, including mountain lions and bears. Livestock seem especially vulnerable to it. Sheep, for instance, sometimes respond to predators as they would to a sheep dog, by running in circles, allowing hunters to pick off many animals.

Taiji legal battle: court backs activist over baby dolphin kept in aquarium

Victory for animal rights after Japanese court awards Australian activist 110,000 yen after museum refused her entry to check on captive bottlenose

Justin McCurry in Osaka
Saturday 26 March 2016 01.04 GMTLast modified on Saturday 26 March 201601.12 GMT

Animal rights activists have claimed a significant victory in its battle to end Japan’sdolphin slaughter after a court ruled that an aquarium in Taiji – where hundreds of dolphins are killed every year – acted illegally when it refused entry to an Australian campaigner.

The court in Wakayama, western Japan, on Friday awarded 110,000 yen (£690) to Sarah Lucas, head of Australia for Dolphins, who had attempted to enter the Taiji whale museum in 2014 but was turned away and shown a cardboard sign saying “anti-whalers” were not welcome.

Lucas had intended to check on the welfare of a baby albino bottlenose that had been kept at the museum since being separated from its pod and captured earlier in the year. The museum reportedly paid $500,0000 (£354,000) for the animal.

Lucas said the rare dolphin, called Angel, was being kept in a tiny crowded tank full of chlorine, and was being bullied by other dolphins.

“The legal battle to save Angel is much bigger than a rescue mission to save one albino dolphin calf,” Lucas said after the verdict.

“This win proves the Taiji whale museum, the institution at the heart of the dolphin hunting trade, behaved illegally. It also shows the Taiji dolphin hunts are not above the law, which means the Japanese legal system can be used to end the cruel dolphin hunts for good.”

Tetsuo Kirihata, deputy chief of the Taiji museum, said he was satisfied with the verdict because the initial demand for damages had been for about 3m yen.

“We feel much of our case was taken into account by the court,” he told Associated Press. Kirihata said the dolphin was eating well and getting along with other dolphins, with regular blood tests showing it was healthy. What to some might look like bullying was, in fact, “part of regular activity in nature,” he added.

The museum is owned by the town government in Taiji, the setting for the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, which showed fishermen driving pods of dolphins into shallow water before killing them with knives.

Rattlesnake roundup organizers deny snakes will be let loose after record haul

‘There’s always a market for snakes … There will be nothing left over’
Record 24,262lb of snakes collected – four times the typical haul

Thursday 24 March 2016 17.42 GMTLast modified on Thursday 24 March 201620.50 GMT

Organizers of the world’s largest rattlesnake “roundup” have downplayed concerns that thousands of snakes will be let loose in Texas after a record haul meant that hunters couldn’t find buyers for all of their legless reptiles.

The 58th annual roundup event, held in the small west Texas town of Sweetwater, hauled in a record 24,262lb of snakes, primarily western diamondback rattlesnakes – roughly four times the typical haul. Each snake weighs about 1lb and can be sold for around $10 for meat or to be made into clothing and accessories.

The enormous catch, aided by ideal rattlesnake wrangling conditions, has led to concerns that hunters will simply let snakes go because they couldn’t find buyers at the Sweetwater event. But organizers have denied there will be thousands of dumped snakes.

“There’s always a market for snakes,” said Rob McCann, spokesman for the event. “There will be nothing left over, they will be processed for meat or made into wallets.

“It was a phenomenal year, but a lot of hard work. There was a perfect storm of conditions – a lot of late-season moisture, which meant the rodent population exploded. The snakes didn’t need to den very deep for us to get them.”

The event has proved controversial among animal welfare groups and herpetologists, who have criticized the conditions the snakes are kept in and the practice of gassing them out of their nests using gasoline.

Once captured, the snakes are taken to the four-day event, where they are displayed in giant snake pits, butchered for cooking demonstrations and sold to buyers. There are also various competitions – this year, the longest snake prize was given to a serpent 75.5in long.

Proponents of the roundup claim that it brings great economic benefits to Sweetwater and helps protect people from bites by controlling rattlesnake numbers.

12,000 year old Ice Age puppies could be first evidence of domesticated dogs

MARCH 28, 2016

by Brett Smith

Researchers working in northeast Russia were recently able to recover the fully-intact remains of two puppies that sat preserved in ice for 12,460 years.

According to a report from the Agence-France Presse, the puppies could shed light in the history of dog domestication as they may have been owned by local cavemen.

"To find a carnivorous mammal intact with skin, fur and internal organs -- this has never happened before in history," Sergei Fyodorov, head of exhibitions at the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University, told the AFP.

Finding prehistoric puppies
When the hunters came across the first frozen puppy in 2011, they alerted Fyodorov who quickly flew over to the distant Russian Arctic region of Yakutia, located approximately 2,900 miles from Moscow.

Last year, he returned for a more comprehensive examination and discovered the second puppy near the same spot. Both dogs passed away when they were approximately three months old and they probably come from the same litter, Fyodorov said.

Last week, the Russian scientist oversaw the removing of the second puppy's amazingly well-preserved brain.

"Puppies are very rare, because they have thin bones and delicate skulls," he said.

Fyodorov said an initial check of mammoth remains also discovered at the dig indicated some had been butchered and burned, a sign of humans. However, the scientists said they weren't sure if the puppies were domesticated or wild. Sequencing the genomes, which will take a year, should reveal the answer.

Biologists discover sophisticated 'alarm' signals in honey bees

'Stop signals' found to encode predator danger, attack context

Date: March 25, 2016
Source: University of California - San Diego

Bees can use sophisticated signals to warn their nestmates about the level of danger from predators attacking foragers or the nest, according to a new study.

Biologists at UC San Diego and in China found that an Asian species of honey bee can produce different types of vibrational "stop signals" when attacked by giant Asian hornets.

These signals have different effects depending upon type of danger and the context. A bee delivers a stop signal by giving another bee a brief, vibrational pulse, usually through a head-butt.

"Surprisingly, this signal encodes the level of danger in its vibrational frequency, its pitch, and the danger context through the duration of each pulse," said James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research team., which was also led by Ken Tan, a professor at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Science.

The scientists report their discovery, which they say is the most sophisticated form of alarm signaling found in a social insect, in a paper published this week in the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Giant Mammoth Skull Discovered by Bulldozer Operator

by Jeanna Bryner, Live Science Managing Editor | March 29, 2016 12:42pm ET

A bulldozer operator at a sand pit in northwestern Oklahoma got quite a surprise this month when he spotted a huge skull that belonged to a Columbian mammoth.

These giants were plentiful across the plains of Oklahoma during the Pleistocene epoch, which lasted from about 1.8 million to 11,700 years ago, said Leland Bement of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey.

The discovery was not unheard of, as the Survey typically receives about three "mammoth-sighting" calls a year, Bement said. That made it now less exciting, though. " "Archaeological fieldwork is always exciting. You never know what you are going to find," Bement told Live Science in an email.

He added, "When it comes to mammoth finds, we are always on the lookout for the next one that has projectile points or stone tools associated with it to indicate that the animal was killed and butchered. We have so few of these sites across North America and only one so far in Oklahoma."

Ash tree set for extinction in Europe

By Claire Marshall
BBC Environment Correspondent

23 March 2016 

The ash tree is likely to be wiped out in Europe, according to a review of the evidence.

The trees are being killed off by the fungal disease ash-dieback along with an invasive beetle called the emerald ash borer.

According to the research, published in the Journal of Ecology, the British countryside will never look the same again.

The paper says that the ash will most likely be "eliminated" in Europe.

This could mirror the way Dutch elm disease largely wiped out the elm in the 1980s.

Ash trees are a key part of the treescape of Britain. You don't have to go to the countryside to see them. In and around towns and cities there are 2.2 million. In woodland, only the oak is more common.

However, according to a review led by Dr Peter Thomas of Keele University and published in the Journal of Ecology, "between the fungal disease ash dieback and a bright green beetle called the emerald ash borer, it is likely that almost all ash trees in Europe will be wiped out - just as the elm was largely eliminated by Dutch elm disease".

Ash dieback, also known as Chalara, is a disease that was first seen in Eastern Europe in 1992. It now affects more than 2 million sq km, from Scandinavia to Italy.

It was identified in England in 2012 in a consignment of imported infected trees. It has since spread from Norfolk and Suffolk to South Wales. Caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, it kills the leaves, then the branches, trunk and eventually the whole tree. It has the potential to destroy 95% of ash trees in the UK.

The emerald ash borer is a bright green beetle that, like ash dieback, is native to Asia. It's not yet in the UK but is spreading west from Moscow at a rate of 25 miles (41 km) a year and is thought to have reached Sweden.

The adult beetles feed on ash trees and cause little damage. However the larvae bore under the bark and in to the wood, killing the tree.

According to Dr Thomas: "Our European ash is very susceptible to the beetle. It is only a matter of time before it spreads across the rest of Europe - including Britain - and the beetle is set to become the biggest threat faced by ash in Europe, potentially far more serious than ash dieback."

Discovery of extinct bat doubles diversity of native Hawaiian land mammals

Newly named Hawaiian bat lived alongside hoary bat for thousands of years before humans arrived

Date:March 22, 2016
Source:American Museum of Natural History

The Hawaiian Islands have long been thought to support just one endemic land mammal in the archipelago's brief geologic history, the Hawaiian hoary bat. But new fossil evidence indicates that a second, very different species of bat lived alongside the hoary bat for thousands of years before going extinct shortly after humans arrived on the islands. The research, published in the journal American Museum Novitates, describes the mysterious bat, named Synemporion keana, whose remains were first discovered in a lava tube more than 30 years ago.

"The Hawaiian Islands are a long way from anywhere, and as a result, they have a very unique fauna--its native animals apparently got there originally by flying or swimming," said Nancy Simmons, a co-author on the paper and curator-in-charge of the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Mammalogy. "Besides the animals that humans have introduced to the islands, like rats and pigs, the only mammals that we've known to be native to Hawaii are a monk seal, which is primarily aquatic, and the hoary bat. So finding that there actually was a different bat--a second native land mammal for the islands--living there for such a long period of time was quite a surprise."

Pangolins, the World's Most Trafficked Mammals, Move Closer to U.S. Endangered Species Act Protection

Washington, D.C. -- Responding to a scientific petition by conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said Endangered Species Act protections may be warranted for seven species of pangolin, one of the most sought-after and poached wild animals in the world. With more than 1,100,000 pangolins estimated to have been trafficked globally from 2006 through 2015, Born Free USA, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International (HSI), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) petitioned to protect the species in July 2015.

Following today's preliminary positive finding on the petition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will now invite information from scientists and the public about the pangolins' status and threats to determine whether an Endangered listing would be appropriate.

"This is an important first step in the fight to protect pangolins," said Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director for IFAW. "Pangolins have been silently killed and trafficked for far too long. It's time to recognize the grave situation threatening the survival of the species and offer them the protections they rightfully deserve."

What's the Difference Between Rabbits and Hares?

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | March 25, 2016 03:58pm ET

If a rabbit or a hare were to hop across your path this Easter, would you be able to tell the difference?

Both are furry and capable of pulverizing a vegetable garden, but they have several key differences. Here are some tips that will transform you into a bunny expert come Easter time.

Rabbits and hares are closely related, said Mary Dawson, curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. They belong to the same order (Lagomorpha) and family (Leporidae), but they have separate genuses. 

The 30 or so species of hares fit into just one genus (Lepus), whereas rabbits branch out into 10 genuses, including the North American genus Sylvilagus, more commonly known as cottontails. There are also about 30 species of rabbits, including the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which is often bred as a pet.

Ground-nesting bees on farms lack food, grow smaller

Date:March 24, 2016
Source:Cornell University

The size of a common ground-nesting bee -- an important crop pollinator -- has grown smaller in heavily farmed landscapes, a new study has found. The study points out yet another potential threat to pollinators, along with mites, pesticides and loss of habitat.

According to a recent study, the size of a common ground-nesting bee -- an important crop pollinator -- has grown smaller in heavily farmed landscapes.

The link between intensive agriculture and the size of Andrena nasonii bees has important implications for how farmers might diversify these landscapes to benefit bees. It also points out yet another potential threat to pollinators, along with mites, pesticides and loss of habitat.

Cornell researchers, who published the study March 4 in the journal PLOS ONE, discovered that female A. nasonii bees in intensively farmed areas may not be able to find enough pollen sources in the landscape to adequately feed their offspring.

Sunday 27 March 2016

Trophy hunting Q&A: How can killing animals help protect them? Why has Prince William been criticised?

The duke faced a backlash for describing the practice as 'a justifiable means of conserving species under serious threat'

Friday 18 March 2016

trafficking of wildlife goods, Prince William surprised many by coming out in defence of trophy hunting.

The duke was criticised for describing the practice as “a justifiable means of conserving species that are under serious threat” – but is it really such an unreasonable view?
What exactly is trophy hunting? 

A legal form of wildlife hunting in which “sportsmen” pay large sums of money for the right to kill animals and take home a trophy. If you’re willing to pay, and provided you abide by strict permit conditions and quotas, pretty much all African animals can be legally hunted in such a way. 

World's oldest living animal, 184-year-old tortoise named Jonathan, has first ever bath

 Jonathan the tortoise from St Helena is 184 years old
23 MARCH 2016 • 9:44AM

A giant tortoise living on the British outpost of St Helena is given a clean-up ahead of Royal visit.

The world's oldest living animal, a 184-year-old giant tortoise, has had its first ever bath.
Jonathan, a giant tortoise living on St Helena, was cleaned up by the island's vet in preparation for an upcoming Royal visit.

Almost two centuries' worth of grime was scrubbed off its back using a loofah, soft brush and surgical soap.

Dr Joe Hollins, the vet for the tiny British outpost island in the south Atlantic, scrubbed each of the segments of Jonathan's shell, known as scutes, and removed black sludge and bird droppings while the tortoise sedately chewed on grass.

Surgical soap was chosen as it is not caustic and the soft brushes and loofah were gently used so not to damage its shell.

It was only after Jonathan's bath it was realised the rings on its shell, which usually tell a tortoises' age, have completely worn away.

There was no medical reason for the hour-long clean-up but it was done ahead of a visit by a member of the Royal family to the tiny island of St Helena in May for the dedication of the new airport.

Campaigners call for release of SeaWorld-owned wild-born killer whale in Tenerife

The orca captured off the Dutch coast and now performing shows should be released into a sea pen, say animal rights activists

 By Senay Boztas, Amsterdam
4:54PM GMT 22 Mar 2016

Calls are growing for the release of a wild-born killer whale who performs to British tourists in Tenerife in the wake of a decision by America's SeaWorld to stop breeding and end “theatrical shows”.

The director of a new short film on Morgan – an orca born wild, captured off the Dutch coast – has called for her to be released into a sea pen or sanctuary.

Heiko Grimm, director of the short film ‘I am Morgan – Stolen Freedom’, believes the orca, who belongs to SeaWorld, was considered valuable as she potentially introduced a new blood line to widely in-bred orcas. “The whole situation could now change for Morgan with SeaWorld’s latest announcement to stop their breeding programme,” he said.

“Because of that, Morgan is not essential for SeaWorld any more. Additionally Morgan is a good candidate for a sea pen or sea-sanctuary because she was born in the wild…Can the last part of her ‘capture, rehabilitation and release’-permit now be fulfilled? I believe so.”

Friday 25 March 2016

The manta ray is the first fish to show self-awareness

MARCH 23, 2016

by Brett Smith

Once we reach a certain age, we understand that the person staring back at us from a mirror is just a reflection, and not someone else.

Several other animals, mostly primates, can also pass this “mirror test” that is said to show self-awareness and according to a new study published in the Journal of Ethology, manta rays might also be one of those animals.

In the study, researcher captured video of two giant manta rays swimming in a tank, with and without a mirror inside. The fish altered their behavior in a manner that indicated that they recognized the reflections as themselves rather than a different manta ray.

Furthermore, the rays did not show signs of social interaction with the image, which is what you should expect if they saw it as a different individual. Rather, the rays consistently moved their fins and circled in front of the mirror. This indicates they could see if their reflection moved when they moved. The regularity of these movements was much greater when the mirror was in the tank than when it was not, the study said.

Blowing bubbles for fun
The rays also exhibited a behavior the scientists conducting the experiment said they had never seen before: They blew bubbles.

“The behavioral responses strongly imply the ability for self-awareness, especially considering that similar, or analogous, behavioral responses are considered proof of self-awareness in great apes,” study author Csilla Ari, a physiology researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa, told New Scientist.

Female fish grows testicles and fertilizes itself in strange case of ‘selfing’

MARCH 23, 2016

by Brett Smith

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for a female tropical fish known as a cichlid, that means growing a testicle when there aren’t any males to mate with.

According to a report published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, the gender-additive fish, or ‘hopeful monster’, was ultimately able to fertilize its own eggs and produce fertile offspring.

"Selfing" when no mates are available
The phenomenon is the first known example of "selfing" in a vertebrate that normally reproduces sexually, the study authors said. Self-fertilization has been observed in mangrove killifish, but selfing is the primary mode of reproduction for those fish.

"In the mangrove killifish, selfing is an adaptation," lead author Ola Svensson told Discovery News. "It is believed that it can be hard for them to find a mate, and selfing is better than not producing at all."

The study began with the examination of Crenicara punctulata and Cichlasoma portalegrense, two species of cichlid believed to have the ability to change sex. In the course of that research, scientists produced a hybrid offspring not seen in nature. The hybrid fish then shocked researchers by producing four offspring. Then, over the ensuing year, she produced 42 more.

List of farmers signed up for badger cull leaked to activists

Badger Trust says leak could put proposed culling in south Devon in jeopardy

Tuesday 22 March 2016 12.53 GMT
Last modified on Tuesday 22 March 201616.26 GMT

Police are investigating after a list apparently showing farmers who have signed up for the next phase of the badger cull was leaked to animal rights groups.

One group that advocates direct action, Stop the Cull, has said it intends to publish the list of farmers in south Devon – one of the new areas where culling may take place later this year – once it has verified it.

Another group, the Badger Trust, which represents a range of local badger groups, has handed the list it received to Devon and Cornwall police and suggested the leak could make a cull in the area unviable.

Devon and Cornwall police has confirmed it is investigating. It said: “We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the release of information that has been brought to our attention by the Badger Trust. At this stage it is too early to confirm the full circumstances and we will continue to review the situation.”

On its Facebook page, the Stop the Cull group said it had the list. It added: “We’ve received a list of farmers who have signed up for the Devon badger cull … The source of the information is from within the farming industry, seems the badgers have friends everywhere. When we have confirmed that the information is 100% correct, we’ll publish it.”

Sanctuaries or showbiz: what's the future of zoos?

 While most zoos in the US and Europe have moved away from cramped cages the tension between displaying captive animals and a scientific purpose persists

Wednesday 23 March 2016 17.14 GMT
Last modified on Wednesday 23 March 201620.57 GMT

It hasn’t been a great month for zoos and aquariums. Seaworld finally bowed to pressure to end its captive orca breeding program, three US zoos were criticized for secretly flying 18 elephants out of Africa and zoo keepers in Calgary accidentally killed an otter with a pair of pants, adding to a list of mistakes that includes giving a knife to a gorilla.

These unrelated events have provoked questions about the modern role of zoos and what, if any, future they should have. While most zoos in the US and Europe have done away with cramped, empty, concrete dungeons and embraced a message of conservation, the difference between the vast natural ranges of elephants, whales and polar bears and their zoo environments remains stark.

“Animals collected from the wild are doomed to a rather dull life – a sort of life they don’t deserve,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. The not-for-profit group launched a legal action to stop three US zoos from importing 18 elephants from Swaziland, only, as Feral puts it, for the trunked beasts to be “whisked away at midnight” before the court hearing. The zoos maintain this was for the elephants’ welfare.

Dallas zoo will take several elephants and put them in an 11-acre area. Omaha will put them in four acres. How on Earth will they divide that space? It’s rather pitiful. A zoo isn’t an ecosystem. If zoos could breed elephants and whales properly, they wouldn’t have to steal them from nature. It’s nefarious to do that and then confine them in a tourist trap.”

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