Friday 29 November 2019

Only eat oysters in months with an 'r'? Rule of thumb is at least 4,000 years old

NOVEMBER 20, 2019 

Foodie tradition dictates only eating wild oysters in months with the letter "r"—from September to April—to avoid watery shellfish, or worse, a nasty bout of food poisoning. Now, a new study suggests people have been following this practice for at least 4,000 years. 

An analysis of a large shell ring off Georgia's coast revealed that the ancient inhabitants of St. Catherines Island limited their oyster harvest to the non-summer months

How can scientists know when islanders were collecting oysters? By measuring parasitic snails. 

Snails known as impressed odostomes, Boonea impressa, are common parasites of oysters, latching onto a shell and inserting a stylus to slurp the soft insides. Because the snail has a predictable 12-month life cycle, its length at death offers a reliable estimate of when the oyster host died, allowing Florida Museum of Natural History researchers Nicole Cannarozzi and Michal Kowalewski to use it as a tiny seasonal clock for when people collected and ate oysters in the past. 

Stowaways on discarded oyster shells, the snails offer new insights into an old question about the shell rings that dot the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi. 

"People have been debating the purpose of these shell rings for a very long time," said Cannarozzi, the study's lead author and Florida Museum environmental archaeology collection manager. "Were they everyday food waste heaps? Temporary communal feasting sites? Or perhaps a combination? Understanding the seasonality of the rings sheds new light on their function." 

The seasonality of oyster deposits in the St. Catherines shell ring may be one of the earliest records of sustainable harvesting, said Nicole Cannarozzi, the study's lead author and Florida Museum environmental archaeology collection manager. Credit: Kristen Grace/Florida Museum 

Cannarozzi and Kowalewski, Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology, analyzed oysters and snails from a 230-foot-wide, 4,300-year-old shell ring on St. Catherines Island and compared them with live oysters and snails. They found that island inhabitants were primarily harvesting oysters during late fall, winter and spring, which also suggested the presence of people on the island tapered off during the summer. 

The seasonality of the shell ring may be one of the earliest records of sustainable harvesting, Cannarozzi said. Oysters in the Southeast spawn from May to October, and avoiding oyster collection in the summer may help replenish their numbers. 

A sea turtle from the tropics has been found a long way from home and in frigid waters near Port Alberni, B.C. – via Herp Digest

The olive ridley sea turtle, nicknamed 'Berni Stranders,' had a body temperature of only 11 C
CBC News Oct 03, 2019
The olive ridley sea turtle showed signs of hypothermia when it was found off the coast of Port Alberni, B.C. on Sept. 30, 2019. (Vancouver Aquarium)

A sea turtle from the tropics has been found a long way from home and in frigid waters near Port Alberni, B.C.

The olive ridley sea turtle, nicknamed Berni Stranders, had a body temperature of just 11 C, nine degrees colder than its ideal body temperature, according to the Vancouver Aquarium.

The adult, male turtle was hypothermic or cold-stunned, said head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena.

When that happens, a turtle's heart and respiration rate will slow and it becomes unable to swim or look for food, a statement from the aquarium said. 

The turtle is currently being treated at the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

"Once he's stronger and showing signs of responsiveness, staff will place him in a pool set at the same temperature as his body for short periods of time," said rescue centre manager Lindsaye Akhurst in a news release.

"Berni has a long road to recovery but he is responding to treatment," she said. 

In an interview Thursday on CBC's On The Coast, Akhurst said staff are slowly increasing the temperature in the room at the aquarium where Stranders is rehabilitating, and that he perks up during his scheduled swims.

"It's a fairly slow process," said Akhurst (no pun intended).
Stranders measures just about one meter long and just over half a meter wide.

'He's very handsome," said Akhurst.

Rescuers at the Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre are trying to nurse the olive ridley sea turtle back to health, after it was found far from home in B.C. on Sept. 30, 2019. (Vancouver Aquarium)

It's still not clear why the turtle showed up so far north. The aquarium said it's only the fourth of its species to be recorded in B.C. waters in about 20 years.

Olive ridley turtles can typically be found in the Gulf of California, as well as reefs in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Central and South America.

Stranders was spotted by members of the public who called Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries staff transported the turtle to Parksville, B.C. where aquarium staff collected him and moved him to Vancouver.

Haulena said it could be due to a warm area of water in the Pacific Ocean called the blob or higher than average sea temperatures in general. 

Olive ridley sea turtles are fairly abundant worldwide but are considered vulnerable because they nest in only a few places, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. 

South America calls for international action on rare reptile smuggling at first anti-poaching conference – via Herp Digest

By Shravan Kumar reddy Apparigani - October 2, 2019 Herald Publicist

South American states are calling for a world response to finish the smuggling of uncommon animals together with reptiles, amphibians and parrots.

On the continent’s first Unlawful Wildlife Commerce anti-poaching convention in Lima, Peru, on Thursday, delegates will urge nations the world over to assist battle the rising black market business.

Reptile collectors within the US and Europe have an insatiable urge for food for the brightly-coloured frogs from rainforests throughout from the Americas. 

Most underneath risk from this rising commerce is the glass frog, standard with pet house owners due to their translucent bellies that present their beating hearts. Nevertheless, their inhabitants is being decimated to the purpose the place scientists are afraid to publicise new glass frog species because it encourages unlawful poachers to hunt them out and steal them from their habitat.

Parrots are sometimes taken from their habitats in South America and traded internationally. This has contributed to many species turning into endangered. The clever and social birds undergo in captivity, as these shopping for smuggled parrots hardly ever hold them in enough enclosures, and they’re largely caged alone with out their flock.

There was an effort to halt the smuggling of uncommon reptiles and amphibians earlier this yr on the Conference on the Internatonal Commerce of Endangered Species Convention, held in Geneva. Many uncommon animals are protected of their native nations, however worldwide commerce is authorized, so as soon as smuggled, they are often freely traded.

Delegates voted to ban the commerce of assorted geckos threatened by the unlawful pet commerce, however didn’t vote for cover of glass frog species, after the EU opposed the movement.

Worldwide Setting Minister, Zac Goldsmith stated: “The UK is a world-leader in wildlife conservation each at dwelling and overseas. We have now dedicated to doubling our spend on local weather change and focusing a lot of the uplift on nature safety and restoration. We’re seeing a worldwide development for individuals needing unique pets akin to glass frogs, and we want to ensure this wildlife commerce doesn’t drive additional biodiversity loss and harm fragile ecosystems.

“I commend countries in the Americas working together to fight the Illegal Wildlife Trade. This First High-Level Conference was a commitment made at last years IWT conference here in London, and will help drive further firm action to tackle the Illegal Wildlife Trade to protect wild animals in South America.”

An 18-foot, 4-inch python becomes one of largest ever captured in Florida – via Herp Digest


This massive snake was caught by the Python Action Team of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last month. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

That’s a big snake.

Wildlife conservation officials in Florida caught a massive Burmese python that measures in at a whopping 18 feet and 4 inches.

The serpent, which weighs 98 pounds, was captured on Sept. 22 by the Python Action Team of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the organization said in an announcement.

The adult female was caught in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The snake is the biggest of the 900 Burmese pythons that have been removed from the wild by the FWC, and the biggest to be captured in Big Cypress, the organization said.
the animal, illustrating just how big it is.

"Removing 900 pythons is a great milestone for our Python Action Team!” said Eric Sutton, the group’s executive director. “These snakes coupled with the thousands removed by our partners at the National Park Service and the South Florida Water Management District make a significant impact to protect Florida’s native wildlife.”

The organization says it is important to remove such animals from nature because adult females can be responsible for an additional 30 to 60 hatchlings, which pose a threat to other animals.

The more-than-18-foot python captured last month is the second largest to be caught in Florida. The biggest was only 4 inches larger, the FWC said.

Thursday 28 November 2019

China 'medicine' demand threatens world donkey population: report

NOVEMBER 21, 2019 

Researchers say China's demand for donkey skins threatens the world's donkey population 

China's demand for donkey skins to make a traditional medicine could wipe out more than half the world's donkey population in the next five years, researchers said Thursday. 

Nearly five million skins are used every year to make ejiao, a gel believed in China to be a remedy for troubles ranging from colds to ageing, putting enormous strain on donkey populations around the world, Britain-based animal welfare group Donkey Sanctuary said in a report. 

Ejiao was once the preserve of emperors but is now highly sought after by a burgeoning middle class, with production growing 20 percent each year between 2013 and 2016, Donkey Sanctuary said. 

China's domestic donkey population has collapsed by 76 percent since 1992, and the country imports most of the donkey skins it uses, mainly from traders in South America, Africa and Asia. 

There are currently around 45.8 million donkeys in the world, Donkey Sanctuary said. 

The donkey skin trade has resulted in "suffering on an enormous and unacceptable scale", the group's chief executive Mike Baker said in a statement. 

Researchers documented instances of unhygienic and inhumane processing conditions, including donkeys being crudely bludgeoned on the head at one slaughterhouse in Tanzania while still conscious and restrained. 

At a holding facility in Brazil, malnourished animals were being kept in the same pens as "hundreds of donkey carcasses" that had contaminated the only available water source, "putting remaining donkeys at risk of either infectious disease or severe dehydration". 

US-born Bei Bei settles into new home at Chinese panda base (Update)

NOVEMBER 21, 2019 

by Yanan Wang 

Giant panda Bei Bei explores his surroundings on his first day at the Ya'an Bifengxia Base of the Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center in Ya'an in southwestern China's Sichuan Province, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. After a transcontinental flight on the "Panda Express," a furry American darling arrived early Thursday in his new Chinese home. The Washington-born giant panda Bei Bei was a beloved figure at the National Zoo, where he spent the first four years of his life. (Chinatopix via AP) 

After an intercontinental flight on the "Panda Express," a furry American darling arrived early Thursday in his new Chinese home. 

Giant panda Bei Bei was a beloved figure at the National Zoo in Washington, where he was born and spent the first four years of his life. By agreement with the Chinese government, the zoo had to return Bei Bei to China this year. 

He is now settling into the Ya'an Bifengxia Base of the Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center in southwest Sichuan province. Bei Bei will be quarantined for one month while he adjusts to the time difference, learns to eat local foods and picks up Sichuanese dialect, state broadcaster CCTV reported. 

Bei Bei was conceived through artificial insemination and born to the National Zoo's Mei Xiang and Tian Tian in 2015. His name, which means "treasure" in Chinese, was jointly selected by then-first lady Michelle Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife, Peng Liyuan. Bei Bei quickly became a favorite on the zoo's Panda Cam, and fans bid a bittersweet farewell to the cub online with the hashtag #byebyebeibei. 

With his handler, a veterinarian and 23 kilograms (66 pounds) of bamboo in tow, Bei Bei flew on a private jet provided by the shipping company FedEx and with a panda painted on its fuselage. 

Manta rays and whale sharks consuming massive amounts of plastics near Indonesia


by Bob Yirka , 

Various sizes and types of plastic debris found in manta ray vomit material (n = 1) from Nusa Penida, Indonesia. Larger debris are photographed under high (A,B) and low (C) magnification, and smaller debris (D) under high magnification. Credit: Frontiers in Marine Science (2019). DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00679 

A team of researchers from Australia, the U.S., Indonesia and New Zealand has measured the amount of plastics that manta rays and whale sharks are ingesting off the coast of Indonesia. In their paper published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the group describes how they measured the ingestion of plastics by the marine animals. 

There is a large amount of plastic in the ocean due to a variety of human activities. In recent years, scientists have been trying to better understand the impacts of the plastic on marine life. In this new effort, the researchers focused on manta rays and whale sharks, and plastics in the ocean off the coast of parts of Indonesia. 

The work began after one of the team members went swimming off the coast of Indonesia and found the waters teeming with plastics. Curious about the impact of so much plastic on marine creatures that sift plankton for their survival, they undertook a study to learn more. 

The work involved tossing fine-meshed nets over the side of a boat and trolling to mimic the way mantas and whale sharks feed—they noted the mesh was fine enough to collect both plankton and very tiny bits of plastic. They noted also that they trolled areas that were known to be feeding grounds for both marine animals.

World wildlife trade affects one in five species, says report-More than 5,500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are bought and sold on the worldwide animal market. – Herp Digest

More than 5,500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are bought and sold on the worldwide animal market, a volume that is around 50 percent higher than earlier estimates, a study published in Science said Thursday.

The legal and illegal trade of wildlife as pets or for animal products is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and recognized as one of the most severe threats to biodiversity.

But the extent of the trade has remained poorly understood.

The research by scientists at the University of Florida and University of Sheffield found that threatened and endangered species were disproportionately represented.

Overall, 5,579 of the 31,745 vertebrate species are traded, or 18 percent.

Among mammals, the figure rises to 27 percent, with the animals mainly used to produce products—for example pangolins, which are killed for their scales and for their meat. 

Amphibians and reptiles are more often sold as exotic pets or to zoos, while 23 percent of bird species are traded, both as companion animals and for their use in medicine.

There is a growing demand, for example, for the ivory-like casque of the helmeted hornbill, which has resulted in tens of thousands being traded since 2012.

The authors predicted that future trade, both legal and illegal, will add up to 3,196 more species to the list, mainly threatened or endangered, based on similarities with currently exploited species—for example, the African pangolin, which started to be exploited after Asian pangolins became harder to find.
"Often, species are flagged for conservation only after a severe decline is documented," they concluded.

More information: B.R. Scheffers el al., "Global wildlife trade across the tree of life," Science (2019). … 1126/science.aav5327
Journal information: Science

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Scientists develop new method to estimate seal breeding frequency

NOVEMBER 21, 2019 

New research, led by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, develops method to better record breeding histories of seals, allowing for improved fecundity calculations. 

Fecundity is a defining feature of the population dynamics of long-lived animals. Adult female seals typically give birth to single pups in most years so recording how often seals breed is a vital stage in estimating population size. However, some seals appear to "skip" breeding in some years and determining how often individuals breed is then complicated by observability; is a 'missing' year a failure to breed or a failure to record a breeding event? 

Researchers have used the pattern of sequential changes in a seal mother's body mass over several years to reconstruct incomplete breeding histories. 

The new approach, developed in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, and published in the Journal of Animal Ecology (Thursday 21 November) allows missing years to be assigned as breeding or non-breeding, producing complete breeding records for each seal and fecundity of all seal mothers to be estimated. 

The new method relies on understanding the mass changes that mothers experience in the course of rearing a pup. Rearing offspring is costly, and a seal mother must be in good condition to breed successfully. Grey seals in the UK are true capital breeders, that is, a mother fasts during the brief but demanding period of pup-rearing, so that all the costs of rearing a pup, including nursing the offspring with high fat milk and sustaining the mother's own requirements are met from body reserves accumulated before breeding. If food is scarce before breeding takes place or the mother experiences other difficulties, breeding in that year may be sacrificed as a trade-off against her future survival and breeding. 

From anomalure to zebra duiker: Spotlight on West Africa's mammals

NOVEMBER 21, 2019 

If you thought zebra duiker and otter shrew were four different animals, think again. These are just two of the elusive creatures that Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners were hoping to track down during recent surveys of large and small mammals in one of West Africa's most important rainforests. 

When we talk about African mammals, it tends to conjure up certain images: elephants at a waterhole; lions lounging in the shade of an acacia; vast herds of wildebeest and zebra sweeping across a spectacular savannah backdrop dotted with towering giraffes and the occasional irascible rhino. 

It's easy to forget that the lush primary forests on the other side of the continent harbor some of Africa's most charismatic and endangered mammal species. Ziama-Wonegizi-Wologizi Transboundary Forest Landscape (ZWW), which straddles the border between Liberia and Guinea, is one such area. 

With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) program, survey teams comprising FFI staff, rangers from Guinea's Centre Forestier de N'Zérékoré and Liberia's Forestry Development Authority, external consultants, students and communities on both sides of the border have been conducting a series of rapid assessments of the biodiversity—including mammals large and small—in this relatively unexplored forest

Imprinting on mothers may drive new species formation in poison dart frogs- What do marrying one's parents, Oedipus complex have to do with evolution? – via Herp Digest

Date: October 3, 2019
Source: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

The old saying that people marry their parents may be true for poison dart frogs, and it may even lead to the formation of new species, according to a new study in Nature based on work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Strawberry poison dart frogs live on the mainland in Panama's Bocas del Toro province and have been isolated on islands in the archipelago that formed during the past 10 million years as sea level rose. Only a single color morph exists on some islands -- orange or green, for example, but on other islands several color morphs exist together, like blue and red frogs.

"In the past, people assumed that this group of brightly colored poison dart frogs were warning predators that their skin is toxic," said Corinne Richards-Zawacki, research associate at STRI and professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "But predators don't seem to care what color the frogs are, at least based on our earlier experiments. That's why we started asking whether the way they choose mates might lead to populations of different colors on different islands.”

The team set up three different situations: baby frogs raised with two parents of the same color (red baby, red parents), baby frogs raised with each parent a different color (red baby, one red and one blue parent) and baby frogs raised by foster parents of a different color (red baby, blue parents). In each case they asked which color the female offspring would choose as mates and which color the male offspring would perceive as a rival.

"We discovered that female frogs with parents of the same color tended to choose mates of that same color, whereas frogs with foster parents of a different color would choose mates the color of the foster parents," said Yusan Yang, who is completing her doctoral thesis at the University of Pitts-burgh. "The same was true for male-male aggression. This tells us that imprinting was more important than genetics when it comes to shaping these behaviors that are based on color.”

When baby frogs were raised with one parent of the same color and one parent of a different color, females chose mates the color of their mother, and males chose rivals the color of their mother, indicating that maternal imprinting was probably more important than paternal imprinting.
They also created a mathematical model showing that male aggression based on imprinting, in concert with female mate choice based on imprinting was enough to cause a scenario to evolve, where like mates with like, which could lead to two color morphs becoming separate species.

"We're fascinated by the idea that behavior can play such an important role in evolution," Richards-Zawacki said.

Story Source:
Materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Yusan Yang, Maria R. Servedio, Corinne L. Richards-Zawacki. Imprinting sets the stage for speciation. Nature, 2019; 574 (7776): 99 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1599-z

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How world-first technology in Australia could prevent crocodile deaths – via Herp Digest

By Jason Lye, 9/29/29 NewsMax, 

A summer swim in North Queensland comes with a warning; danger is often not far away. 

Every three years a person is killed by a crocodile in the sunshine state. 

But world-first technology could now prevent it; spotting crocodiles from above by drone. 

In the murky waterways of far North Queensland, subtle signs are deceiving to the naked eye. 

Crocodile spotted using pool noodle to cross the canal 

Croc wanders onto Aussie beach metres away from locals, tourists 

Australians give each other crocodiles for Christmas 

It’s often hard to tell the difference between logs and crocodiles, but the deadly consequences are instantly clear. 

“That second could mean the difference between life and death in a potential crocodile attack,” said Ben Thurgood of Amazon Web Services. 

But now new technology developed in Australia can spot a crocodile by drone from the air. 

The “CrocSpotter” algorithm, supported by Amazon uses artificial intelligence. 

And it’s already vastly better than the naked eye – picking up 93 percent of crocodiles – more than six times what a human can. 

The drones were designed to spot swimmers in trouble and now can identify deadly threats. 

First, they developed shark spotting software, and now crocodiles are in their sights. 

It’s the newest tool for lifesavers this summer in Queensland, who will know within a second if danger is near. 

An eye in the sky over cloudy waters, where danger never lurks far beneath. 


Monday 25 November 2019

Extinct giant ape directly linked to the living orangutan

Date: November 13, 2019
Source: University of Copenhagen The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

By using ancient protein sequencing, researchers have retrieved genetic information from a 1.9 million year old extinct, giant primate that used to live in a subtropical area in southern China. The genetic information allows the researchers to uncover the evolutionary position of Gigantopithecus blacki, a three-meter tall and may be up to 600 kg heavy primate, revealing the orangutan as its closest, living relative.

It is the first time that genetic material this old has been retrieved from a warm, humid environment. The study is published in the scientific journal Nature, and the results are groundbreaking within the field of evolutionary biology, according to Frido Welker, Postdoc at the Globe Institute at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and first author of the study.

'Primates are relatively close to humans, evolutionary speaking. With this study, we show that we can use protein sequencing to retrieve ancient genetic information from primates living in subtropical areas even when the fossil is two million years old. Until now, it has only been possible to retrieve genetic information from up to 10,000-year-old fossils in warm, humid areas. This is interesting, because ancient remains of the supposed ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens, are also mainly found in subtropical areas, particularly for the early part of human evolution. This means that we can potentially retrieve similar information on the evolutionary line leading to humans', says Frido Welker.

Simple model explains why different four-legged animals adopt similar gaits

Date: November 21, 2019
Source: PLOS

Most mammals walk at slow speeds and run or trot at intermediate speeds because these movement strategies are energetically optimal, according to a study published in PLOS Computational Biology by Delyle Polet and John Bertram of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

When unconstrained at a given speed, members of a quadrupedal species will generally select a common gait, which is seldom unique to that species alone. With few exceptions, mammals choose a walk at slow speeds, a running trot at intermediate speeds, and a gallop at high speeds. The consistency of gait choice is remarkable, given how many alternatives exist. In the new study, Polet and Bertram explore why quadrupedal mammals move in such consistent ways, when so many options are available. They tackled this problem by determining energetically optimal gaits using a simple computational model of a four-legged animal.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation

Buildings are vital summer roosting places for little brown bat maternity colonies in Yellowstone National Park

Date: November 19, 2019
Source: Ecological Society of America

For the little brown bat -- a small mouse-eared bat with glossy brown fur -- a warm, dry place to roost is essential to the species' survival. Reproductive females huddle their small furry bodies together to save thermal energy during maternity season (summer), forming "maternity colonies." In the face of severe population losses across North America, summer access to an attic or other permanent sheltered structure, as opposed to just trees or rock crevices, is a huge benefit to these bats.

In a new study published in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecosphere, researchers with Ohio University, University of Kentucky, and the US National Park Service investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone's iconic high-elevation landscape provides abundant natural roosting places but not many buildings. The study involved four visitor areas with several buildings that are known to host bold little brown bats, which are among the few bat species that will make their homes in structures that are actively used by people, allowing humans to get up close and personal. Sometimes, the investigation even involved researchers capturing them by hand.

Monday 18 November 2019

Secret lives of rats: Studying the ecology of urban ship rats

NOVEMBER 15, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

"Rats are a particularly damaging invasive species in New Zealand," Henry says. "Understanding them better, including how they move through an urban environment and what their habitat preferences are, will give insight into how to more effectively eradicate them and protect native flora and fauna, especially as there's currently very little known about the ecology of urban ship rats."

Henry and his supervisor, Associate Professor Stephen Hartley from the School of Biological Sciences, along with vet Craig Pritchard from Wellington Zoo, have spent the last three months trapping rats in the suburbs of Brooklyn, Roseneath, and Kelburn.

"We've been safely trapping a number of rats in these areas and attaching radio tracking collars to the rats," Henry says. "While attaching the collar we also record data like sex, body and tail length, species, and weight. We then release the rat at the site where they were trapped, and I then go out at different times during the day and night and attempt to triangulate their location using a directional antenna."

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

NOVEMBER 15, 2019

Cambodia's Angkor Wat complex attracts a large number of tourists, and many opt for elephant rides around the ancient temples

Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country's famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.

The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom's foreign tourists—which topped six million in 2018—and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.

But these rides "will end by the start of 2020", said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.

"Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore," he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were "already old".

So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the temples.

"They will live out their natural lives there," Kosal said.

The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.

Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.


Tourists previously paid $10 to visit
by Helen Coffey, The Independent

Komodo Island, home to the famed Komodo dragons, will now remain open next year, but with a hugely inflated entry price.

Visitors could previously access the Indonesian island and Unesco World Heritage site for $10, but the cost will now soar to $1,000 for a full-year membership, pricing out many tourists.

Indonesian officials announced the changes on Thursday 3 October, which also include restrictions on visitor numbers to the island.

“Komodo Island will not be closed,“ coordinating maritime affairs minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said in a statement. "A restriction will be placed on the number of tourists to Komodo Island by rearranging its ticketing system.“

This marks a shift in position from the government, which previously announced the intention to shut the island to visitors for the whole of 2020 due to a decline in the population of the world’s largest lizards.

The original announcement followed the theft of 41 Komodo dragons by an alleged smuggling ring in March 2019; they were sold abroad for 500 million rupiah (£26,825) each.

However, officials have now gone back on the decision, opting instead to restrict access via ticketing and the higher entry cost.

Tourists can choose between a premium membership, which permits access to Komodo Island itself for $1,000, or non-premium, which allows them to visit the neighbouring islands, which are part of Komodo National Park. The price for non-premium membership is not yet known.

Komodo National Park, which comprises the larger islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca, plus 26 smaller ones, received 10,250 visitors per month in 2018, 95 per cent of whom were foreign tourists.

Komodo dragons aren’t just found on Komodo Island – they also inhabit Rinca, Gili Montang and Gili Dasami, all part of the national park, plus the island of Flores.

Rare sand lizards reintroduced to Eelmoor Marsh, UK - via Herp Digest

September, 23 2019

Image caption
Sand lizards are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981
Eighty juvenile sand lizards - one of the UK's rarest reptiles - have been released into the wild in Hampshire.

Conservationists from Marwell Wildlife released the creatures at Eelmoor Marsh, near Farnborough.

The animals were tagged with tiny radio transmitters as part of the group's three-year research project.

The programme has so far brought the number of lizards reintroduced at the site to 240, with the aim of creating a self-sustaining population.
Once common in heathlands across southern England, habitat loss means sand lizards are now only found in a handful of sites.
PhD student Rachel Gardner, who led the scheme, said: "It's been a privilege to work on this project and observe the sand lizards in such detail.

"We hope the research will help inform and make recommendations for the reintroduction protocol in the future, and therefore help optimise its conservation success."
Sand lizard facts:
  •                 They live on protected heathland sites in Surrey, Dorset, Hampshire and in the protected Merseyside dunes
  •                 They grow up to 20cm (7.8in) long and weigh about 15g (0.5oz)
  •                 Both sexes have brown patterns down their backs with two stripes
  •                 Their diet is mainly insects, spiders and grasshoppers

Sunday 17 November 2019

Bigger doesn't mean better for hatchery-released salmon

NOVEMBER 15, 2019

Chinook salmon are also known as king salmon. They depend on healthy estuaries to spawn, which also provide habitat for invertebrates and smaller fish. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish permeate the culture of the Pacific Northwest (PNW). In particular, the iconic salmon has been an important part of the region for thousands of years, from ancient Native American trade routes and legends to modern fishing and sporting. In the area of the Salish Sea—inland waterways including Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca—the cultures, economies, and technologies there are all impacted and influenced by salmon. It is no wonder, then, that salmon are of high conservation interest and constitute a large proportion of hatchery-raised fish in the region.

A recent study in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecosphere examines hatchery practices in regard to how the Chinook salmon that are released back into the natural waterways in the PNW are affecting wild populations.

In the face of changing climate, ocean conditions, freshwater habitat loss, and increased human consumption, many salmon populations in the PNW are depleted relative to historical abundance. A large salmon, for instance, is a prized and sought-after catch for a sport fisher. There is a growing demand for salmon hatcheries to provide food security and to bolster fish populations; many hatcheries release fish after they reach a certain age or size, with a goal of increasing opportunities for commercial, recreational, and indigenous fishers.

World's oldest captive white rhino dies in French zoo

NOVEMBER 14, 2019

The life expectancy of white rhinos in the wild is about 50 years

The world's oldest captive white rhino, South African-born Sana, has died at the age of 55, the French zoo that she called home for the last 26 years said Thursday.

Born in 1964 in the Umfolozi National Park in South Africa's eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, the southern white rhino was transported to Europe seven years later as a zoo attraction.

Sana lived in several parks in Germany before arriving in 1993 at Planete Sauvage, a zoo in western France near the city of Nantes that had opened the previous year.

The life expectancy of white rhinos in the wild is about 50 years, according to the Save the Rhino advocacy group.

Sana required special care in her later years, the park said in a statement.

Notably, she was no longer able to roll in the mud, a popular and crucial pastime that helps rhinos regulate their body temperature, prevent sunburn and ward off pesky insects.

"Once a week, they coated her in green clay to help her skin stay hydrated and to stave off infections," the park said.

It added that Sana "always had a strong character, she was the one who set the rules."

Her death has "deeply affected" her caretakers, the zoo said.

Survey finds gain in endangered red squirrel population

NOVEMBER 16, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Wildlife officials say an endangered squirrel subspecies in southeastern Arizona is fighting its way back after much of its mountain habitat was burned by a 2017 wildfire.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says the Mount Graham red squirrel's population is stabilizing, with a 4% increase recorded in September during an annual survey that produced an estimate of 78 squirrels, up from 75 in 2018.

According to the department, the population peaked at about 550 in the late 1990s. Before the 2017 wildfire, the population ranged between 200 and 300.

Terrestrial wildlife specialist Tim Snow says the results are encouraging though much work remains to help protect the squirrel population.

The squirrel is found only in upper elevation conifer forests of the Pinaleño Mountains.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Secrets of the largest ape that ever lived

By Helen Briggs

13 November 2019

A fossilised tooth left behind by the largest ape that ever lived is shedding new light on the evolution of apes.

Gigantopithecus blacki was thought to stand nearly three metres tall and tip the scales at 600kg.

In an astonishing advance, scientists have obtained molecular evidence from a two-million-year-old fossil molar tooth found in a Chinese cave.

The mystery ape is a distant relative of orangutans, sharing a common ancestor around 12 million years ago.

"It would have been a distant cousin (of orangutans), in the sense that its closest living relatives are orangutans, compared to other living great apes such as gorillas or chimpanzees or us," said Dr Frido Welker, from the University of Copenhagen.

Moth populations in steady decline in Britain, study finds

Long-running survey finds 1976 heatwave boom has been followed by dropping numbers.

Moths are declining in abundance by 10% each decade in Britain but the average weight of moths caught in traps is still double what it was in 1967, according to a new study.

Researchers studying the biomass of moths caught in the world’s longest-running insect survey said their findings suggested that if there had been an “insect armageddon” in Britain, it had occurred before scientific recording began in 1967.

Rather than a precipitous recent decline, scientists at the University of York found that moth populations had boomed following the 1976 heatwave – and moth biomass today was still twice as high as 1967 levels – but there had been a steady decline in abundance since 1982.

More than 200 elephants in Zimbabwe die as drought crisis deepens

Parks agency plans to move hundreds of animals in ‘biggest translocation of wildlife in Zimbabwe’s history’

Hundreds of elephants and tens of lions in Zimbabwe will be moved by the country’s wildlife agency as part of a major operation to save the animals from a devastating drought.

More than 200 elephants have died over the last two months due to a lack of water at the country’s main conservation zones in Mana Pools and Hwange National Park.

Residents of Jutshume village, near to Hwange National Park, shared a video of an elephant calf that had fallen into a well last month after desperately searching for water. Residents managed to rescue the calf, which later fled into the wild, but believe its leg was broken in the process.

A second adult elephant, which had collapsed near to the village, was fed by residents until it was strong enough to walk.

Cows swept off island during Hurricane Dorian found after swimming for miles

Cows missing for two months were located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks after ‘mini tsunami’ carried wildlife away

Three cows swept off an island during the raging storm of Hurricane Dorian have been located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks after apparently swimming four miles during the storm.

The extraordinary swimming bovines were grazing on their home of Cedar Island when the giant storm hit on 6 September, generating an 8ft “mini tsunami” that swept away wildlife, including 28 wild horses and about 17 cows from the island’s herd.

They were presumed dead, but Cape Lookout National Seashore staff spotted one of the cows on another barrier island a month after the storm. That sighting was followed by two more, apparently grazing peaceably. A picture of the rangy-looking trio is now on Facebook.

Cows are recognized as adept swimmers comfortable with covering a few hundred yards. But swimming miles of open water in a hurricane is outside their general range of expertise.

Cape Lookout Park spokesman BG Horvat said the animals were lucky not to have been swept out into the Atlantic.

“I’ll say it’s about four miles across Core Sound,” Horvat told McClatchy news service. “Remember, the cows and all the horses were swept away with the water surging back. Who knows exactly, but the cows certainly have a gripping story to share.”

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Mouse deer species not seen for nearly 30 years is found alive in Vietnam

Silver-backed chevrotain caught on camera after it was feared lost to science

A distinctly two-tone mouse deer that was feared lost to science has been captured on film foraging for food by camera traps set up in a Vietnamese forest.
Two silver-backed chevrotains
Photograph: Global Widlife Conservation

The pictures of the rabbit-sized animal, also known as the silver-backed chevrotain, are the first to be taken in the wild and come nearly 30 years after the last confirmed sighting.

“We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a chevrotain with silver flanks,” said An Nguyen, a scientist and expedition team leader at Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC).

“Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it,” he said.

The silver-backed chevrotain is a half-painted beast. Behind the russet head, neck and front legs lies a silver-grey body and hind legs rounded off by a white, grizzled bottom. Though probably preyed on by leopards, wild dogs and pythons, scientists fear that snares laid by hunters have pushed the species to the brink of extinction. Despite the name, they are neither mice nor deer, but the world’s smallest ungulate, or hoofed animal.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Aussie researchers mount rescue bid for endangered pygmy possum

NOVEMBER 4, 2019

The tiny mountain pygmy possum lives in Australia's alpine regions but less than 2,500 remain in the wild, according to estimates, with winter snowfall declines and warmer weather threatening extinction

Climate change is threatening to wipe out Australia's critically endangered mountain pygmy possum, but researchers are hoping to save the hibernating species by relocating the last remaining mammals to cooler lowlands.

The tiny mammal lives in alpine regions but less than 2,500 remain in the wild, according to estimates, with winter snowfall declines and warmer weather threatening extinction.

The possums hibernate deep inside humid rock piles that are insulated by snow during winter and provide shelter from high summer temperatures that can prove fatal.

The species—Australia's only hibernating marsupial—needs temperatures to hover just above freezing to hibernate successfully, but without enough snow the cold air outside penetrates the rocks and chills the atmosphere inside, University of New South Wales (UNSW) associate lecturer Hayley Bates said Monday.

"Anything less than 0.6 Celsius will wake them from their hibernation and they can shiver and starve to death," she added.

"You just need two bad winters like this and the species could collapse."

Scientists at UNSW have started a breeding program in a lowland area of New South Wales state in an attempt to acclimatise the possums to a new home, with hopes of establishing an inital colony of 25 animals.

Bats live mostly out of sight and out of mind. But their falling numbers are a reason to look up and worry

NOVEMBER 5, 2019

by Patrick M. O'connell
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

It's the time of year when ghouls and goblins, mummies and monsters are out in force. But unlike many Halloween creatures, bats live in more than the imagination, making their homes in caves and hollowed-out trees in Illinois and the urban parks of Chicago.

The elusive winged mammals who make special appearances in decorations and throughout popular culture during the fall are under increasing threats across the state and the Midwest, the victim of a stubborn and spreading disease, shrinking natural habitat and a growing wind turbine industry. And with new changes to the Endangered Species Act, scientists and environmental advocates fear additional species of bats may be under siege from encroaching development and a changing, warming climate.

"It's really important to protect those remaining in the landscape so the bats do have a chance to reproduce," said Winifred Frick, the chief scientist at Bat Conservation International, adding that she believes it will be harder to prove that certain habitats are critical for the survival of a species in order for them to qualify for protected status in the future. "Anything that would hinder our ability to protect their habitat or their maternity habitats is less than ideal."

Mostly out of sight and out of mind because of their nighttime lifestyle and solitary flight tendencies, a dozen species of bats regularly call Illinois home, at least during the summer months, and the animals can be found throughout the Midwest. Aside from their rare nuisance appearances in attics, bats play a positive, critical role in the ecosystem, scientists say.

The animals can be found in a variety of places across the city and the suburbs, scientists said, including city parks, forest preserves, golf courses and under roof tiles. Bats benefit humans during the summer by eating pesky insects, including mosquitoes, and provide important protection for Midwestern crops like corn and soybeans by feasting on bugs that could otherwise ravage farmland. In addition to pest control, bats—there are more than 40 different species that live in the U.S. - help pollinate plants and disperse seeds. And contrary to popular myth, less than half of 1% of bats carry rabies, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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