Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chimps and Mid-Life Crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — Chimpanzees going through a midlife crisis? It sounds like a setup for a joke. But there it is, in the title of a report published Monday in a scientific journal: "Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes." So what do these apes do? Buy red Ferraris? Leave their mates for some cute young bonobos? Uh, no. "I believe no ape has ever purchased a sports car," said Andrew Oswald, an author of the study. But researchers report that captive chimps and orangutans do show the same low ebb in emotional well-being at midlife that some studies find in people. That suggests the human tendency toward midlife discontent may have been passed on through evolution, rather than resulting simply from the hassles of modern life, said Oswald, a professor of economics at the University of Warwick in England who presented his work Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A second study in the journal looks at a younger age group and finds that happiness in youth can lead to higher income a few years down the road. More on that later. Let's get back to those apes. Several studies have concluded that happiness in human adults tends to follow a certain course between ages 20 and 70: It starts high and declines over the years to reach a low point in the late 40s, then turns around and rises to another peak at 70. On a graph, that's a U-shaped pattern. Some researchers question whether that trend is real, but to Oswald the mystery is what causes it. "This is one of the great patterns of human life. We're all going to slide along this U for good or ill," he said. "So what explains it?" When he learned that others had been measuring well-being in apes, "it just seemed worth pursuing the hunch that the U might be more general than in humans," he said. He and co-authors assembled data on 508 great apes from zoos and research centers in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Singapore and Japan. Caretakers and other observers had filled out a four-item questionnaire to assess well-being in the apes. The questions asked such things as the degree to which each animal was in a positive or negative mood, how much pleasure it got from social situations, and how successful it was in achieving goals. The raters were even asked how happy they would be if they were the animal for a week. Sounds wacky? Oswald and his co-authors say research suggests it's a valid approach. And they found that the survey results produced that familiar U-shaped curve, adjusted to an ape's shorter lifespan. "We find it for these creatures that don't have a mortgage and don't have to go to work and don't have marriage and all the other stuff," Oswald said. "It's as though the U shape is deep in the biology of humans" rather than a result of uniquely human experiences. Yes, apes do have social lives, so "it could still be something human-like that we share with our social cousins," he said. "But our result does seem to push away the likelihood that it's dominantly something to do with human life." Oswald said it's not clear what the evolutionary payoff might be from such discontent. Maybe it prods parents to be restless, "to help find new worlds for the next generation to breed," he said. Frans de Waal, an authority in primate behavior at Emory University, cautioned that when people judge the happiness of apes, there may be a "human bias." But in an email he called the results "intuitively correct" and said the notion of biological influence over the human pattern is "an intriguing possibility." Even happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside, who thinks the U-shaped pattern in people is a statistical mirage, says she can't write off the ape result the same way. "I'm not really sure what it means," she said. "I am finding this very intriguing." Maybe it will spur more thinking about what's going on in both apes and humans, she said. Oswald is also an author of a second report in the journal that finds new evidence that being happy can help young people earn more money later on. Prior research had also reached that conclusion, but Lyubomirsky and University of Virginia psychology professor Shige Oishi called the new work the best evidence yet. "Wow," Oishi said in an email. "This is a very strong paper" in its approach. Researchers drew on data from a huge sample of young Americans who were surveyed repeatedly. They were asked to rate their positive feelings such as happiness and hopefulness at age 16 and again at 18, and their satisfaction with life at 22. Researchers then compared their ratings with their income around age 29. The data came from nearly 15,000 participants at age 16, and at least 11,000 at the latter two ages. Higher income at age 29 was consistently linked to greater happiness at the earlier ages. The least happy 16-year-olds, for example, went on to average about $10,000 a year less than the happiest. That disparity shrank by about half when the researchers statistically removed the effect of other influences such as ethnicity, health and education. A happiness effect even appeared between siblings within their own families. What's going on? Most likely, happiness raises productivity and helps a person work effectively with others, factors that promote success in the workplace, Oswald said. The study found that happier people were more likely to get a college degree and get hired and promoted. Ed Diener, an authority on happiness research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said optimism probably plays a role because it helps people persist in their efforts and take on difficult goals. Since several studies, including his own, have now linked happiness to later income, that idea seems reliable, he said. Parents should recognize that "the psychological well-being of their children is important in how well the kids will do in simple dollar terms later on," Oswald said. And unhappy people should realize that they might have to strive harder than others to focus on work and promotion rather than their unhappiness, he said. By: Malcolm Ritter

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New monkey species discovered; only second such find in 28 years

Scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo claim they have discovered a new species of monkey, making it only the second such discovery in nearly 30 years. The claim is published in the journal Plos One, in which the team of U.S. scientists have named the find Cercopithecus Lomamiensis. The team says the monkey, which locals call the Lesula, has been known among inhabitants of the Congo's Lomami forest basin for years but had never been seen by the outside world until now. "We never expected to find a new species there," said the project's lead scientist, John Hart. "But the Lomami basin is a very large block that has had very little exploration by biologists." The Lesula has large yellow eyes, a long narrow nose and a pink-colored face under its golden fur. It is reportedly very shy, requiring Hart's team to set up remote monitoring devices to detect the animals in their natural habitat. Interestingly, the team first made its apparent discovery when scientists came across an unidentified monkey tethered to a post and belonging to the daughter of a local schoolteacher. "Right away I saw that this was something different," Hart said. "It looked a bit like a monkey from much further east, but the coloring was so different and the range was so different." For three years, Hart worked with geneticists and anthropologists as he labored to determine whether the monkey actually belonged to a previously unclassified species. "I knew it was important to have a collaborative team of experts," he said. Eventually an ancient, common genetic ancestry was linked between the Lesula and the Owl Face monkey. Scientists at New York University and Florida Atlantic University say they believe the species' split may have occurred after a series of rivers broke apart the animal's natural habitat. Hart is working with Congolese authorities to establish a national park in the basin that will help protect the Lesula and other animals that reside there. "The challenge now is to make the Lesula an iconic species that carries the message for conservation of all of DR Congo's endangered fauna," Hart said. By Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! News

Dog stands guard over deceased owner’s grave for six years

An extremely dedicated dog has continued to show its loyalty, keeping watch on its owner's grave six years after he passed away. Capitan, a German shepherd, reportedly ran away from home after its owner, Miguel Guzman, died in 2006. A week later, the Guzman family found the dog sitting by his grave in central Argentina. Miguel Guzman adopted Capitan in 2005 as a gift for his teenage son, Damian. And for the past six years, Capitan has continued to stand guard at Miguel's grave. The family says the dog rarely leaves the site. "We searched for him, but he had vanished," widow Veronica Guzman told "We thought he must have got run over and died. 'The following Sunday we went to the cemetery, and Damian recognized his pet. Capitan came up to us, barking and wailing as if he were crying." Adding to the unusual circumstances, Veronica says the family never brought Capitan to the cemetery before he was discovered there. "It is a mystery how he managed to find the place," she said. Cemetery director Hector Baccega says he and his staff have begun feeding and taking care of Capitan. "He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master," Baccega said. "During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o'clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave, stays there all night." But the Guzman family hasn't abandoned Capitan. Damian says the family has tried to bring Capitan home several times but that he always returns to the cemetery on his own. "I think he's going to be there until he dies, too. He's looking after my dad," he said. By Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! News

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bulldog Adopts Litter of Orphaned Kittens

Molly, a two-year old American Bulldog, is one busy pooch. She gave birth to a litter of puppies only six weeks ago, and now she has a bunch of hungry kittens to look after too. Related: Kitten Takes 412-mile Ride in Car Bumper According to the Dothan Eagle, when mother cat "Kitty Kitty" was hit by a car, Molly allowed her four orphaned kittens to nurse. Both dog and cat were raised by Elbert Bristow, 84, of Columbia, Alabama. They gave birth only a day apart. "I've had dogs all my life. I've trained bird dogs and coon dogs," Bristow told the Eagle, "but this is the first time I've ever had a dog take a litter of kittens." Bristow says the kittens, which include one orange, one white, one grey and white, and one with Siamese-type markings, follow Molly around just like she was their mom. She spends 5 to 10 minutes with them at a time, and lies down and lets them eat. Bristow keeps the puppies separated on another part of his property. "It is unusual, very unusual," says Bristow. Still, it's not the first time a dog has adopted a kitten. Dogs have been documented mothering cats, piglets, and even baby tigers. By Sarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger | Parenting

Animal smarts: What do dolphins and dogs know?

It's not just man's closer primate relatives that exhibit brain power. Dolphins, dogs and elephants are teaching us a few lessons, too. Dolphin brains involve completely different wiring from primates, especially in the neocortex, which is central to higher functions such as reasoning and conscious thought. Dolphins are so distantly related to humans that it's been 95 million years since we had even a remotely common ancestor. Yet when it comes to intelligence, social behavior and communications, some researchers say dolphins come as close to humans as our ape and monkey cousins. Maybe closer. "They understand concepts like zero, abstract concepts. They do everything that chimpanzees do and bonobos can do," said Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University who specializes in dolphin research. "The fact is that they are so different from us and so much like us at the same time." In recent years, animal researchers have found that thought processes in critters aren't a matter of how closely related they are to humans. You don't have to be a primate to be smart. Dolphin brains look nothing like human brains, Marino said. Yet, she says, "the more you learn about them, the more you realize that they do have the capacity and characteristics that we think of when we think of a person." These mammals recognize themselves in the mirror and have a sense of social identity. They not only know who they are, but they also have a sense of who, where and what their groups are. They interact and comprehend the health and feelings of other dolphins so fast it as if they are online with each other, Marino said. Animal intelligence "is not a linear thing," said Duke University researcher Brian Hare, who studies bonobos, which are one of man's closest relatives, and dogs, which are not. "Think of it like a toolbox," he said. "Some species have an amazing hammer. Some species have an amazing screwdriver." For dogs, a primary tool is their obsessive observation of humans and ability to understand human communication, Hare said. For example, dogs follow human pointing so well that they understand it whether it's done with a hand or a foot; chimps don't, said Hare, whose upcoming book is called "The Genius of Dogs." Then there are elephants. They empathize, they help each other, they work together. In a classic cooperation game, in which animals only get food if two animals pull opposite ends of a rope at the same time, elephants learned to do that much quicker than chimps, said researcher Josh Plotnik, head of elephant research at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Thailand. They do even better than monkeys at empathy and rescue, said Plotnik. In the wild, he has seen elephants stop and work together to rescue another elephant that fell in a pit. "There is something in the environment, in the evolution of this species that is unique," he says. By SETH BORENSTEIN | Associated Press

What was he thinking? Study turns to ape intellect

The more we study animals, the less special we seem. Baboons can distinguish between written words and gibberish. Monkeys seem to be able to do multiplication. Apes can delay instant gratification longer than a human child can. They plan ahead. They make war and peace. They show empathy. They share. "It's not a question of whether they think — it's how they think," says Duke University scientist Brian Hare. Now scientists wonder if apes are capable of thinking about what other apes are thinking. The evidence that animals are more intelligent and more social than we thought seems to grow each year, especially when it comes to primates. It's an increasingly hot scientific field with the number of ape and monkey cognition studies doubling in recent years, often with better technology and neuroscience paving the way to unusual discoveries. This month scientists mapping the DNA of the bonobo ape found that, like the chimp, bonobos are only 1.3 percent different from humans. Says Josep Call, director of the primate research center at the Max Planck Institute in Germany: "Every year we discover things that we thought they could not do." Call says one of his recent more surprising studies showed that apes can set goals and follow through with them. Orangutans and bonobos in a zoo were offered eight possible tools — two of which would help them get at some food. At times when they chose the proper tool, researchers moved the apes to a different area before they could get the food, and then kept them waiting as much as 14 hours. In nearly every case, when the apes realized they were being moved, they took their tool with them so they could use it to get food the next day, remembering that even after sleeping. The goal and series of tasks didn't leave the apes' minds. Call says this is similar to a person packing luggage a day before a trip: "For humans it's such a central ability, it's so important." For a few years, scientists have watched chimpanzees in zoos collect and store rocks as weapons for later use. In May, a study found they even add deception to the mix. They created haystacks to conceal their stash of stones from opponents, just like nations do with bombs. Hare points to studies where competing chimpanzees enter an arena where one bit of food is hidden from view for only one chimp. The chimp that can see the hidden food, quickly learns that his foe can't see it and uses that to his advantage, displaying the ability to perceive another ape's situation. That's a trait humans develop as toddlers, but something we thought other animals never got, Hare said. And then there is the amazing monkey memory. At the National Zoo in Washington, humans who try to match their recall skills with an orangutan's are humbled. Zoo associate director Don Moore says: "I've got a Ph.D., for God's sake, you would think I could out-think an orang and I can't." In French research, at least two baboons kept memorizing so many pictures — several thousand — that after three years researchers ran out of time before the baboons reached their limit. Researcher Joel Fagot at the French National Center for Scientific Research figured they could memorize at least 10,000 and probably more. And a chimp in Japan named Ayumu who sees strings of numbers flash on a screen for a split-second regularly beats humans at accurately duplicating the lineup. He's a YouTube sensation, along with orangutans in a Miami zoo that use iPads. It's not just primates that demonstrate surprising abilities. Dolphins, whose brains are 25 percent heavier than humans, recognize themselves in a mirror. So do elephants. A study in June finds that black bears can do primitive counting, something even pigeons have done, by putting two dots before five, or 10 before 20 in one experiment. The trend in research is to identify some new thinking skill that chimps can do, revealing that certain abilities are "not uniquely human," said Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal. Then the scientists find that same ability in other primates further removed from humans genetically. Then they see it in dogs and elephants. "Capacities that we think in humans are very special and complex are probably not so special and not so complex," de Waal said. "This research in animals elevates the animals, but it also brings down the humans.... If monkeys can do it and maybe dogs and other animals, maybe it's not as complex as you think." At Duke, professor Elizabeth Brannon shows videos of monkeys that appear to be doing a "fuzzy representation" of multiplication by following the number of dots that go into a box on a computer screen and choosing the right answer to come out of the box. This is after they've already done addition and subtraction. This spring in France, researchers showed that six baboons could distinguish between fake and real four-letter words — BRRU vs KITE, for example. And they chose to do these computer-based exercises of their own free will, either for fun or a snack. It was once thought the control of emotions and the ability to empathize and socialize separated us from our primate cousins. But chimps console, and fight, each other. They also try to soothe an upset companion, grooming and putting their arms around him. "I see plenty of empathy in my chimpanzees," de Waal said. But studies have shown they also go to war against neighboring colonies, killing the males and taking the females. That's something that also is very human and led people to believe that war-making must go back in our lineage 6 million years, de Waal said. When scientists look at our other closest relative, the bonobo, they see a difference. Bonobos don't kill. Hare says his experiments show bonobos give food to newcomer bonobos, even when they could choose to keep all the food themselves. One reason scientists are learning more about animal intellect is computers, including touch screens. In some cases, scientists are setting up banks of computers available to primates 24-7. In the French word recognition experiment, Fagot found he got more and better data when it was the baboons' choice to work. Animal cognition researcher Steve Ross at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago agrees. "The apes in our case seem to be working better when they have that control, that choice to perform," he said. Brain scans on monkeys and apes also have helped correct mistaken views about ape brain power. It was once thought the prefrontal cortex, the area in charge of higher reasoning, was disproportionately larger than the rest of the brain only in humans, giving us a cognitive advantage, Hare said. But imaging shows that monkey and ape prefrontal cortexes have that same larger scale, he said. What's different is that the human communication system in the prefrontal cortex is more complex, Hare said. So there are limits to what non-human primates can do. Animals don't have the ability to communicate with the complexity of human language. In the French study, the baboons can recognize that the letters KITE make a word because through trial and error they learn which letters tend to go together in what order. But the baboons don't have a clue of what KITE means. It's that gap that's key. "The boundaries are not as sharp as people think, but there are certain things you can't overcome and language is one of them," said Columbia University animal cognition researcher Herbert Terrace. And that leads to another difference, Ross said. Because apes lack language skills, they learn by watching and mimicking. Humans teach with language and explanation, which is faster and better, Ross said. Some of the shifts in scientific understanding of animals are leading to ethical debates. When Emory University researcher Lori Marino in 2001 co-wrote a groundbreaking study on dolphins recognizing themselves in mirrors, proving they have a sense of self similar to humans, she had a revelation. "The more you learn about them, the more you realize that they do have the capacity and characteristics that we think of as a person," Marino said. "I think it's impossible to ignore the ethical implications of these kinds of findings." After the two dolphins she studied died when transferred to another aquarium, she decided never to work on captive dolphins again. She then became a science adviser to the Nonhuman Rights Project, which seeks legal rights or status for animals. The idea, Marino said, is to get animals such as dolphins "to be deemed a person, not property." The intelligence of primates was one of the factors behind a report last year by the Institute of Medicine that said the National Institutes of Health should reduce dramatically the number of chimpanzees it uses in biomedical research. The NIH is working on new guidelines that would further limit federal medical chimpanzee use down from its current few dozen chimps at any given time, said NIH program planning chief James Anderson. Chimps are a special case, with their use "very, very limited," he said. But he raises the question: "What happens if your child is sick or your mother is dying" and animal research might lead to a cure? The issue is more about animal welfare and giving them the right "not to be killed, not to be tortured, not to be confined unnecessarily" than giving them legal standing, said David DeGrazia, a philosophy and ethics professor at George Washington University. Hare says that focusing on animal rights ignores the problem of treatment of chimps in research settings. He contends that for behavioral studies and even for many medical research tests they could be kept in zoos or sanctuaries rather than labs. Animals performing tasks in near-natural habitats "is like an Ivy League college" for the apes, Hare said. "We're going to see them do stunning and sophisticated things." By SETH BORENSTEIN | Associated Press

World loses species with death of Lonesome George

Lonesome George has died, leaving the world one species poorer. The only remaining Pinta Island tortoise and celebrated conservation icon passed away Sunday, the Galapagos National Park Service said in a statement. Estimated to be more than 100 years old, the creature's cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned. Lonesome George's longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the tortoise's remains stretched out in the "direction of his watering hole" on Santa Cruz Island, the statement said. Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when tortoises of his type were already believed to be extinct. Since then, the animal had been part of the park service's tortoise program. Repeated efforts to breed Lonesome George failed. "Later two females from the Espanola tortoise population (the species most closely related to Pinta tortoises genetically) were with George until the end," the park service said. In honor of Lonesome George, the park service said it was convening an international workshop in July on management strategies for restoring tortoise populations over the next decade. The Galapagos Islands, situated about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off Ecuador's coast, is considered a haven for tortoises. By AFP

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dog herds tigers in South Africa

To view video: Border collies were bred to herd—sheep. But what's a herding dog to do without a flock? Easy. Round up a pack of tigers. Meet Solo, the tiger-herding dog. The 4-1/2-year-old pooch grew up at Seaview Lion Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and has had to make due with a litter of big cats to boss around. The video shows the black pup with white paws running circles around the Siberian tiger cubs while managing to keep a safe distance from their claws or jaws. The collie's instincts come in handy for wrangling his charges on to a truck that takes them to a watering hole and back. "You can see that when we come to the dam and the tigers stray away out of their little area, then he'll go and bring them back into position and bring them back towards the water," Ashley Gombert, the manager of the wildlife park, told Gombert added that the canine is comfortable around the cubs since it has known the cubs since their birth. Solo also plays and herds hyenas and jackal pups. What, your dog sits on command? That's…great. By Claudine Zap

Monday, June 11, 2012

Turtle Couple Calls it Quits After 115 Years Together

Bibi and Poldi have been together longer than most humans have been alive: both are 115 years old, and have known each other nearly since birth. The two giant turtles share a cage at a zoo in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt, where they have been living for the past 36 years. But it looks like that time might be coming to a close, and Bibi is ready to move on. In recent weeks, Bibi has started attacking her partner (how’s that for a sign that the relationship is over?), biting off chunks of Poldi’s shell and carrying out “several further attacks” — prompting the two to be physically separated. Zoo officials say that the giant turtles, weighing over 220 pounds each, could kill each other if they wanted to Apparently, it’s quite rare for turtles to separate after having been paired for so long. It’s certainly not for lack of effort: zoo workers have tried marriage counseling through the form of bonding games and creating good feelings through food. Nothing has worked. But maybe the underlying tension between the two is pretty simple. The zoo’s director, Helga Happ, told the Austrian Times: “We get the feeling they can’t stand the sight of each other anymore.” By Erica Ho

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Gives Former Research Chimps a Happy Retirement

We recently visited Save the Chimps. It's a very unique chimpanzee sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida. Most of the chimps there are former research chimps who endured difficult living conditions in harsh facilities where they were often confined to cages. Today, their lives are very different. There are no cages at Save the Chimps, just twelve islands, separated by moats and filled with tall grass and platforms for them to climb. The chimps live in family groups of 20-25 on the islands, where they are free to interact with each other. They play with each other, groom each other, and hug each other. It's a great place to be a chimp. If you want to find out more about Save the Chimps, you can visit their website at By Bridget Marquardt | Animal Nation –

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Community, officials at odds over free-roaming dog

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Blue the dog doesn't have a home. And he apparently doesn't want one. But the blue-eyed Australian cattle dog has $1,800 in savings, a Facebook page and an air-conditioned dog house. He also has a lawyer, who is working to get him an exemption from local leash laws so he can continue his free-wheeling lifestyle in southern New Mexico's lakeside community of Elephant Butte, where he was abandoned as a puppy a decade ago. The City Council has scheduled a June 13 meeting, where supporters of Blue, who is also known as Bluedog, hope to end an impasse over his fate. Janice Conner, co-owner of Butte General Store and Marina, says it all began about 10 years ago when the dog was abandoned at Casa Taco, where Blue was cared for by the owner until he died two years ago. After that, Blue made his way to the general store, where he was fed and peacefully coexisted until last spring, when a 48-year-old woman was fatally mauled by pit bulls in nearby Truth or Consequences. After that, Conner says a woman started complaining to the city when Blue would follow her and her dog on a nearby walking path. And this spring, Conner's husband, Bob Owen, was cited for having Blue off-leash, prompting the legal skirmish that caught the attention of Albuquerque attorney and lake property owner Hilary Noskin. Noskin says she is working pro bono, trying to win an exemption for Blue so he can live out the rest of the years in front of the store he now calls home. "He's one of my favorite clients," says Noskin. "He is a sweet, sweet dog. He doesn't meet any vicious dog standards. Somebody said he snarls ... but I am not sure I believe that." City Manager Alan Briley says the city hopes to reach a compromise on Blue, but he noted that the safety of the dog and the community comes first. He says the city has received complaints about Blue snapping and growling and almost being hit by cars crossing the street. Conner says Blue has rebuffed several attempts at adoption, always making his way back to the store where he has become a community mascot of sorts. She says residents have dumped more than $1,800 in a jar for his care — funds she says she keeps for legal bills or medical issues. Residents have also built him a dog house with heating pads for the winter months and air conditioning for the summer. "Everybody just loves this dog. People who can't afford a dog bring their kids here to play with Blue. ... He is the only dog I know who got four plates of Thanksgiving dinner at his dog house," Conner said. Conner says she has collected more than 1,100 signatures in support of Blue, who is on Facebook as Bluedog EB-Mascot. She says she just wants to find a way for Blue to "remain the way he always has. He was here before we became a city, so all we are asking for is for the city to grandfather him in as a representative of the community." By JERI CLAUSING | Associated Press

Three rare elephants found dead in Indonesia

Three critically-endangered Sumatran elephants have been found dead in an oil palm plantation in western Indonesia and are believed to have been poisoned, an NGO said Saturday. Villagers found the dead animals on Thursday in a government-owned oil palm plantation in the eastern part of Aceh province. They were estimated to be four and five years old, local environmental group Fakta said. "We suspected that they died after consuming bars of soap laced with poison we found near the carcass," the group's chief Rabono Wiranata told AFP. "It seems that the elephants have died around one week," he said. The animals are usually either killed by villagers, who regard the beasts as pests that destroy their plantations, or by poachers for their tusks. Early last month, two other Sumatran elephants were found dead in the west of the province. There are fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, marking a 50 percent drop in numbers since 1985. WWF changed the Sumatran elephant's status from "endangered" to "critically endangered" in January, largely due to severe habitat loss driven by oil palm and paper plantations. Conflicts between humans and animals are increasing as people encroach on wildlife habitats in Indonesia, an archipelago with some of the world's largest remaining tropical forests. AFP

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Incredible Osprey video -

ARKive - Osprey video - Pandion haliaetus - 00

A Must see - Fiona update!!!

Mama dog takes care of abandoned piglet

Mother Nature is amazing!!

From the owner of the two animals…

The pigs run wild on our land and the sow had given birth to a litter of five in our forest. I found Paulinchen [the piglet] all alone and when I lifted her up she was really cold.

I felt sure some local foxes would have taken the little pig that very night so I took it into my house and gave her to Katjinga [the dog].

She had just finished with a litter of her own, who are now 10 months, so I thought there was a chance she might take on the duties of looking after her.

Katjinga is the best mother you can imagine. She immediately fell in love with the piggy. Straight away she started to clean it like it was one of her own puppies.

Days later she started lactating again and giving milk for the piggy. She obviously regards it now as her own baby.

Via The Daily Mail

Hippo nose-eater

Simply delicious!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Animals without borders

IN A rare bit of good news for wildlife in Africa, last week saw the launch of the world's biggest conservation area stretching across five southern African countries—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Kavango/Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) has been in the works since 2003; a memorandum of understanding was inked in 2006, followed by a fully fledged treaty to establish the park in August 2011. The area under conservation has expanded during the process, from under 300,000 to 440,000 square kilometres, nearly the size of Sweden.

Kaza encompasses over 20 existing conservation areas and national parks including Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage site shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe and by some measures the world’s largest waterfall, and the Okavango delta in Botswana. Linking the areas up in this way is meant to allow vegetation to thrive and animals to return to their natural migration routes along protected corridors. Among the park's denizens will be 325,000 elephants, almost half the total number in Africa.

The hope is that a co-ordinated approach will be more effective at tackling poaching and other wildlife-related crimes since the five countries can now share patrols and information. Pooled resources should also go further to protect the landscape and attract investors and tourism to the region. Development and the welfare of the 1.5m people living in the park are priorities, too. The parks are to draw on the expertise of the World Wildlife Fund, an advocacy group, in techniques which allow local communities to benefit financially from conservation efforts on their land.

This park is just one (albeit the grandest) of a number of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) inside the South African Development Community, a club of 14 countries from the region. As well as addressing environmental problems, which seldom respect national borders, TFCAs have been dubbed “peace parks” by some, because of their beneficial effect on regional diplomacy. The opening of Kaza, then, is an encouraging landmark all round.

The Economist Mar 23rd 2012, 15:17 by A.W.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Apps for Apes: Orangutans using iPads to paint and video chat with other apes

Orangutans across the world may soon join the ranks of millions of humans as proud owners of new iPads. As strange as that may sound, a conservation group is testing its "Apps for Apes" program, allowing orangutans to communicate with each other remotely via the iPad's video chat technology.

Orangutan Outreach founder Richard Zimmerman has already donated iPads to zoos in Milwaukee, Houston, Atlanta and Florida, and will soon send iPads to the Memphis Zoo, the Center for Great Apes in Florida and to the Toronto Zoo. Orangutans are considered to be amongst the most intelligent of primates, making them a good case study for the interactive technology.

"It's not a gimmick," Zimmerman told Yahoo News in a phone interview Tuesday. "If they don't want to do it, they won't. There are actual measurable benefits."

Zimmerman said that orangutans in zoos and other primate facilities usually receive all the food and love they need. However, during winter months they are forced to spend long periods of time indoors, which is counter to their natural habitat. And living indoors for extended periods of time can result in boredom and stunt social growth among other primates.

"They need stimulation, especially indoors," Zimmerman tells Yahoo News. "The zoo keepers can see the benefit from this sort of enrichment. We're doing this as enrichment as opposed to research. But researchers are getting involved, that's just not our jurisdiction."

Scientists and layman alike have long speculated on ways to better indoctrinate primates and other animals with human technology. Dolphins have already demonstrated an ability to interact with iPad technology with researchers using it as a language interaction device between dolphins and humans. There are even several iPad games made specifically for cats.

But even more interesting possibilities present themselves once a number of zoos have their orangutans acclimated to using the iPads. Zimmerman said he hopes they will be able to use Skype or the iPad's FaceTime feature to communicate remotely with orangutans at other zoos during "play dates." Zimmerman said he recently visited Jahe, an orangutan at the Memphis Zoo who used to live at the Toronto Zoo. When Zimmerman showed Jahe a photo on his iPhone of some of her relatives still living in Toronto, she appeared to recognize them.

"Given an opportunity to demonstrate that intelligence, it's pretty amazing," Zimmerman tells Yahoo News.

The biggest obstacle for now is coming up with the funding to purchase more iPads. Orangutan Outreach refuses to use its funds on the tablets, saying its priorities must be toward conservation and helping to rescue orangutans that are victims of violence in the wild.

Zimmerman said so far he has been unable to reach Apple directly about any possible donations for the project. "I could get them to the zoos tomorrow," Zimmerman said, if Apple were to make such a donation. "Our Plan B has been to hopefully get their attention through this effort."

If you'd like to make a direct donation to Orangutan Outreach, you can do so here:

By Eric Pfeiffer | The Sideshow

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dogs' Feet Give Japan Scientists Paws For Thought

Ever wonder how dogs can walk barefoot in the snow? Now a Japanese scientist may have the answer — an internal central heating system.

The secret lies in how dogs circulate their blood to prevent cold surfaces from chilling the rest of their bodies, according to Hiroyoshi Ninomiya, a professor at Yamazaki Gakuen University, just west of Tokyo.

The system uses warm, oxygenated blood to heat the cold blood that has been in contact with a cold surface before returning it to the dog’s heart and central circulation.

“Dogs exchange heat at the end of their legs. Arterial blood flows to the end of their legs and then heats up venous blood before returning it to the heart,” Ninomiya said of his findings, published in the journal Veterinary Dermatology.

“In other words, they have a heat exchange system in their feet.”

Ninomiya studied a preserved dog’s leg under an electron microscope and found that because of the proximity of arteries and veins in the foot pad, the heat in the blood carried from the heart to the arteries is easily conducted to the cooler blood in the veins.

This heat transference maintains a constant temperature in the foot pad, even when exposed to extremely cold conditions.

Dogs are not alone in having this sort of heat exchange system, which is shared by other animals such as dolphins, Ninomiya said.

But not all dogs thrive in the cold, due to refining by breeders seeking specific traits, he added.

“Dogs evolved from wolves, and so they still have some of that ancestry remaining,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that one should always go and drag around in the snow all the time. There are many varieties of dogs nowadays that are not able to stand the cold.”

© Copyright (c) Reuters

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fossil Footprints Reveal Oldest Elephant Herd

The world's oldest elephant tracks have now been revealed, 7-million-year-old footprints in the Arabian Desert, researchers say.

These prehistoric footsteps, likely the work of some 13 four-tusked elephant ancestors, are the earliest direct evidence of how the ancestors of modern elephants interacted socially, and the oldest evidence of an elephant herd.

"Basically, this is fossilized behavior," said researcher Faysal Bibi, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Museum for Natural History in Berlin. "This is an absolutely unique site, a really rare opportunity in the fossil record that lets you see animal behavior in a way you couldn't otherwise do with bones or teeth."

The site, known as Mleisa 1, is in the United Arab Emirates. The region then was home to a great diversity of animals, including elephants, hippopotamuses, antelopes, giraffes, pigs, monkeys, rodents, small and large carnivores, ostriches, turtles, crocodiles and fish. These were sustained by a very large river flowing slowly through the area, along which flourished vegetation, including large trees. The animals resembled those from Africa during the same time, though there are also similarities with Asian and European species of that period.

Fossil trackways in the region have been long known to locals, and were taken to be the prints of dinosaurs or giants of ancient myth. It was not until January 2011, when researchers mapped the area from the air for the first time, "that we realized what we had and how we could go about studying it," Bibi said. [The Creatures of Cryptozoology]

"Once we saw it aerially, it became a much different and clearer story," said researcher Brian Kraatz at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif. "Seeing the whole site in one shot meant we could finally understand what was happening."

The footprints cover an area of 12.3 acres (5 hectares). This is about equal to nine U.S. football fields, seven soccer fields, or the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

"The trackways are visually stunning," said researcher Andrew Hill at the University of Poitiers in France. "It is quite obvious to anyone, without any technical knowledge, that these are the footprints of very large animals, and to learn that they are over 6 million years old presents a visitor with the sensation of walking back in time."

The researchers noted that while these prehistoric titans were proboscideans like modern elephants, they likely looked quite different. Of the three kinds of fossil proboscidean species in the area at that time, the one that most likely made the trackways was Stegotetrabelodon syrticus, the earliest known member of the elephant family, "which carried tusks in both its upper and lower jaws," Bibi told LiveScience.

The trackways stretch up to about 850 feet (260 meters) long, making them "the most extensive ever recorded for mammals, and to view them is to be transported 7 million years back in time when herds of four-tusked primitive elephants and other related behemoths roamed a wetter and more vegetated Arabian Peninsula," said paleontologist William Sanders at the University of Michigan, who did not take part in the study. [Photos of Elephant Trackways]

Actually mapping these footsteps proved challenging, since the individual tracks are each only about 15 inches (40 centimeters) wide, too small to show up in satellite imagery. To do so, researchers mounted a pocket digital camera onto a kite, stitching the hundreds of pictures it took into a single large mosaic image that gave a broad overview of the site.

Analysis of the footsteps suggests they belonged to a herd of at least 13 elephants of different sizes and ages that walked through mud, leaving behind tracks that hardened, were buried, and then re-exposed by erosion.

The researchers also discovered tracks from a solitary male traveling in a different direction from the herd. These suggest the extinct giants divided into solitary and social groups, just as elephants do today. Also, these ancient pachyderms might have structured themselves along lines of sex just as their modern relatives do, with the males leaving the herd to live alone.

"Like the human handprints in Paleolithic caves, animal trackways crystallize in time [the] identity and behavior of the organisms that made them, and yield rare insights about these organisms, which fossil bones alone cannot provide," Sanders said.

The scientists detail their findings online tomorrow (Feb. 22) in the journal Biology Letters.

By Charles Choi |

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dolphins hitch rides on whales in rare playful display between species

Humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters each winter to nurse and mate, but they sometimes interact with other species and the accompanying video features the first recorded examples of the gregarious cetaceans lifting bottlenose dolphins out of the water with their heads in what seems a game for both animals (the first images showing this phenomenon appear 30 seconds into the production).

Photographs of these peculiar events -- one occurred near Kauai, the other near Maui -- are featured in the video, which was posted recently to the American Museum of Natural History website as part of its Science Bulletins program.

"The two species seemed to cooperate in the activity, and neither displayed signs of aggression or distress," the website describes. "Whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters often interact, but playful social activity such as this is extremely rare between species."

During the Kauai episode, a bottlenose dolphin was lifted gently out of the water by a humpback whale, and slid tail-first down the whale's head and back into the water.

During the Maui encounter, scientists watched and photographed a humpback whale and bottlenose dolphin performing the same routine six times, with the dolphin sliding gently off the whale head after each "ride."

It may not be everyone's idea of fun, but it sure is cute.

By: Pete Thomas,

Diver frees entangled orca that had been crying for help

An orca that had become entangled in a crayfish pot off a New Zealand beach cried for the help of nearby orcas, but is alive thanks to a local diver who plunged in with a knife and cut the mammal loose. Part of the event was videotaped, and the orca's cries can be heard in the footage.

The rescue, just a few hundred yards off Hahei Beach, was performed by Rhys Cochrane of a Cathredal Cove dive outfit. The rope attached to the crayfish pot had become twisted around the orca's tail and, in order to surface and breathe, the mammal had to lift the heavy pot off the ocean floor.

The accompanying video shows only some footage.

In the 3 News video report, more footage is revealed and Cochrane explains that when he dove in he could see several other orcas nearby.

The entangled orca, Cochrane explained, became still as he approached with his kinfe. "He didn't seem to mind or maybe even knew that I was trying to help him," Cochrane said.

After being freed, the orca joined its family and the mammals disappeared into the blue-green haze.

By: Pete Thomas,

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rare Tiger Sighting Provides Inspiration for Conservation

Debmalya Roy Chowdhury, WWF staff member, works in the Terai Arc Landscape, a vital refuge for tigers in India and Nepal. As he crossed the River Kosi with two colleagues one day, he heard a scream, “Sir, tiger, tiger!”

“I looked up and how I felt at that moment is very hard to describe,” says Chowdhury. “There was a huge male tiger walking along the river bed. The big cat was only a few hundred meters away from us. After a few seconds of stunned inaction, I began taking photographs.

“The tiger spotted us and tried to take cover. It realized there was none, turned back and disappeared into the jungle. This rare sighting of a tiger during broad daylight completely rejuvenated us and we tracked his pugmarks up to our camera point.

“This was the most memorable on foot sighting of a tiger I have ever had in my life and probably the best direct evidence to document the importance of the River Kosi forest corridor in the Terai Arc Landscape.”

Kosi corridor allows tigers to roam freely
Chowdury’s work is part of WWF’s efforts to provide a safe place for tigers to move freely between two separate habitats. His tiger sighting took place in a corridor where the mighty River Kosi separates the Corbett Tiger Reserve from the forests of the Ramnagar Forest Division. This wildlife corridor is critical for big cats to move between the two places.

Results from WWF’s monitoring efforts in the area are astonishing. Camera traps confirm that tigers use the River Kosi corridor and that the adjacent Ramanagar Forest Division has the highest density of tigers outside of a protected area in India.

WWF continues to study the pressures faced by the River Kosi corridor. The unchecked growth of holiday resorts in the area is the greatest cause for concern. Because these tigers are roaming through non-protected areas, safeguarding the species and their habitat is urgent.

WWF - World Wildlife Fund

WWF - Update - The Story of Baim, a Rescued Baby Orangutan

Somehow, in the long day and night that he was rescued and given to WWF’s care, my little “man of the forest”—a tiny baby orangutan with a nimbus of red hair—managed to lodge himself in my heart.

I met Baim—incongruously named after an Indonesian celebrity—in the Heart of Borneo, a forest region on the island of Borneo. Baim was in a cardboard box lined with newspapers and crying for his mother, terrified to be without her and surrounded by strangers in a place far from home. We locked eyes as his fingers desperately clung to mine.

He should’ve been latched on to his mother instead, knowing that she would be there for comfort and nourishment. He should’ve had years of learning from her ahead of him—what to eat, how to build nests, where to find his kind. His playground should have been the tree tops of shady forests until he matured into an adult.

Instead he faced a future that would take him deeper into human territory before offering any hope for a return home to the forest.

The road to rescue

Baim’s cries were heard by two men hunting for frogs in the forest. They waited four hours for his mother to return. The men knew that a mother orangutan would never willingly leave her infant behind and was instead likely the victim of poachers, so they took Baim to their longhouse. They could’ve sold him into the pet trade, but chose to hand him over to the national park ranger who notified WWF staff.

After meeting with senior district officials, WWF was given responsibility to take Baim to the provincial headquarters. There he was placed in a rehabilitation center.

For most of the five hours bumping over rough roads to the nearby town, he squeezed his eyes shut and clutched my finger, pulling it close to his face. That night he was inconsolable in his makeshift crib until he found a safe place in the crook of my arms. We both fell into an exhausted sleep on the floor of the WWF office.

Saying goodbye the next day was not easy.

I was embarrassed to cry in front of the staff as I held Baim close one last time before leaving for the airport to fly back to my family in the U.S. Before leaving, I whispered in his ear that I’d pray he would one day find his way back home too.

Baim now lives with more than a dozen other orangutans in Ketapang Orangutan Centre of International Animal Rescue. He will grow to adulthood there and like the others, wait for a future that will return him to the forest.

Securing a future for orangutans
Progress is being made to protect orangutans and their homes. In 2007, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei signed a historic agreement to save the Heart of Borneo. WWF is working with these nations to conserve 85,000 square miles of rain forest—about the size of the state of Utah—through a network of protected areas and sustainably-managed forests.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono also outlined a national strategy in 2007 to protect orangutans, stating that by 2015 all orangutans still in rehabilitation centers would be returned to the wild.

What we need now is to move good intentions to real action. It’s the only way to ensure that Baim will have a place to call home.

Written by Trishna Gurung, Program Communications Manager at World Wildlife Fund

Gabon: Surfing hippos, lacking tourists

A decade ago Gabon set aside 10% of its land for national parks. It wanted to become Africa's version of Costa Rica - a magnet for eco-tourists. But turning Gabon's natural assets into tourist cash has been tougher than expected.

"They're body-surfing in the waves, it's quite amazing."

Before they do anything at all, they ask you for a lot of money” - Rombout Swanborn Tourism investor.

So says my guide, Wynand Viljoen, as he recalls seeing hippos along this part of the Atlantic coast of Africa, just south of the equator.

This is what led National Geographic, in a 2004 article, to call Gabon "the land of the surfing hippos".

During my short stay, I'm not so lucky. I don't get to see any hippos playing in the ocean.

But I am astonished to see two African forest buffalo wandering along the beach.

The buffalo look like cattle, with coats the colour of cinnamon and horns that curve backwards.

They don't look like they belong here - on this strip of white sand where the rainforest meets the sea.
Elephants at the beach

"It looks even weirder if you see the elephants," says Mr Viljoen.

And you often do see elephants on the beach. All sorts of animals wander this rare stretch of undeveloped coast.

Just inland, Mr Viljoen shows me forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, red river hogs, and fresh leopard tracks in the sand.

This is Loango National Park, one of 13 Gabonese national parks established by presidential decree in 2002, and which cover 10% of the whole country.

Conservationists hailed the move as a way to protect Equatorial Africa's endangered animals and dwindling forests.

Gabon saw the parks as a way to boost their economy, long dependent on oil.

The idea was to turn Gabon into the African equivalent of Costa Rica - a country that has profited from its rainforests and wildlife through eco-tourism.

Of all the new parks in Gabon, Loango held perhaps the greatest potential to lure international tourists, given its rare wildlife and unusual coastal setting.

Gabon is co-hosting, with Equatorial Guinea, this year's Africa Cup of Nations football tournament. For the Gabonese authorities, this has been a unique opportunity to show to the world that they can organise events like this and that they are open to foreign visitors.

I have been lucky enough to have visited Gabon twice recently: A year and a half ago as a tourist, and in the last few days as a journalist covering CAN 2012. Both times getting a visa has been easy and I have not had a single problem travelling overland on my own.

People are extremely friendly and hospitable. And in contrast to its neighbours - Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo - I have never been asked for money at its frequent checkpoints.

However, it is still a difficult destination for all but the most hardened travellers. Although most of its roads are in very good condition, it is not easy to get to the main tourist attractions, including Loango National Park.

And, this being a country used to oil money, accommodation at hotels and lodges can be prohibitively expensive for many individual travellers. But, as a businessman told me a couple of days ago in Libreville, the government knows that its oil reserves are drying up quickly and it will have to get its act together and seriously encourage alternative sources of revenue, including tourism.

From the start though, it was clear that bringing tourists to an out-of-the-way corner of this underdeveloped country would take serious investment.

That's when Rombout Swanborn stepped in.

"No single investor would have done in this country what I have done," he says.

Mr Swanborn is Dutch, but grew up in Gabon. His father worked for the Shell oil company.

As an adult, Mr Swanborn made millions in the oil industry, and at the time Loango was being created, he used part of his fortune to open a tourist operation here.

"It was actually meant to function as a demonstration project," he says. "I'd hoped that in our wake more people would see that Gabon would be a viable area to invest in."

At first, Mr Swanborn's investment seemed to pay off. Within a few years, Loango Lodge - as it was called - was drawing several thousand visitors a year, many from the US and Europe. It was the busiest tourist operation in Gabon.

The tourist cash provided local employment, and supported conservation work on gorillas, elephants and sea-turtles.

In 2008, the British Guild of Travel Writers named Loango the top new tourist destination in the world.
Bumpy ride

But then, two years ago, Loango Lodge shut down.

"As a pioneer, it became victim to the fact that Gabon wasn't really ready," says Lee White, a British-born biologist who pushed for the creation of Gabon's national parks and helped launch the tourist and conservation effort at Loango. Now he is director of Gabon's national park service.
Leopard tracks in the sand Leopard tracks in the sand

"When you're trying to move a country that has no experience with tourism to become a tourist-friendly country, there are huge challenges," he says.

Transport in Gabon is unreliable. Hassles with police and immigration officials are common.

Investor Rombout Swanborn says, for some time, he was able to circumvent these problems. He bought his own planes and flew tourists directly to Loango from throughout the region.

But Mr Swanborn says he faced problems with Gabon's civil aviation authority, an agency considered so ineffectual by the European Union, it put Gabon on an air safety blacklist.

"Before they do anything at all, they ask you for a lot of money," says Mr Swanborn. He says he refused to give money when officials asked for it. "We were not ready to pay an extravagant additional tax. We knew it wouldn't benefit the country - let's put it that way."

The government grounded his planes.

Mr Swanborn tried to bring tourists to Loango by other means, involving a four-hour boat ride down the coast, followed by a car ride on pot-holed roads. But that proved too inconvenient and time-consuming for many tourists. Bookings dried up and the lodge shut down.

This may seem a straightforward tale of a well-meaning businessman stymied by alleged African corruption and inefficiency, but others who were involved say it is not that simple.

They say Mr Swanborn didn't do enough to build trust with the Gabonese, and that undermined his efforts.

"The definition of eco-tourism is this: You have to help local people. You have to share the benefits," says Rene Adiaheno, a former head of Gabon's national park service.

Mr Adiaheno says as an eco-tourism operator, Mr Swanborn should have done more to train and employ local villagers.

Romain Calaque was an early employee at Loango who now works for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Gabon. He says Mr Swanborn didn't always take government rules and regulations seriously. "The government became very upset, and it was almost impossible to find a way to get all the partners back around the table," he says.

Mr White says it boiled down to a clash of cultures - an aggressive European businessman operating in a country where people prefer to avoid conflict.

"You know, everybody made mistakes," he says. "The truth is there are both good and bad on both sides."
Looking up

Whatever went wrong at Loango, Mr White remains optimistic about the eco-tourism potential of Gabon. He says things are beginning to look up.

For one, the country has a new President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has given some signs he wants to root out the corruption that plagued this country under the former president, his father, who held office for 42 years.

The new government is negotiating with tourism companies to build as many as nine new national park lodges in the next few years.
Loango beach Some hope that tourism can help Gabon reduce its reliance on oil

Loango Lodge may also have a future.

Mr Swanborn recently announced he will re-open it. He is renovating the facilities and says he is trying to resolve his differences with the government so he can resume flights.

For now, though, his planes remain grounded, and visitors are scarce.

Everyone involved hopes things will go better this time because what is at stake isn't just money.

If tourist cash doesn't flow into the economy here, pressure could mount to open Loango and the other national parks to other forms of revenue.

And the land that was set aside for the hippos in the surf, and the buffalos on the beach, could be handed over to people who value this place for other reasons - to extract its timber, minerals and oil.

By David Baron
Additional reporting by Rob Hugh-Jones.

Gabon facts and figures

Population: 1.5 million
Official language: French
Major religion: Christianity
Main exports: Oil, timber
Ranked by World Bank as upper middle income country
One-third of the population lives in poverty
Transparency International gives the country 3/10 on corruption scale

Sharks kill 12 people in 2011, a global 20-year high.

75 unprovoked shark attacks occurred worldwide in 2011

Humans kill a lot more sharks each year than sharks kill humans.

Humans kill a lot more sharks each year than sharks kill humans.
Photograph by: File photo, AFP

MIAMI - Sharks killed a dozen people worldwide last year, a two-decade high as tourists ventured into waters in remote areas far from medical care, Florida researchers said in a report released on Tuesday.

None of the deadly attacks occurred in the United States, which saw a five-year downturn in the number of reported unprovoked shark attacks, said ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

“We had a number of fatalities in essentially out-of the way places, where there’s not the same quantity and quality of medical attention readily available,” Burgess said. “They also don’t have histories of shark attacks in these regions, so there are not contingency plans in effect like there are in places such as Florida.”

Seventy-five attacks occurred worldwide, close to the decade average, but the number of fatalities doubled compared with 2010, he said.

Despite the increased number of deaths last year, humans still pose a much greater risk to sharks than sharks do to humans, Burgess said.

“We’re killing 30 to 70 million sharks per year in fisheries - who’s killing who?” Burgess said. “The reality is that the sea is actually a pretty benign environment, or else we’d be measuring injuries in the thousands or millions per year.”

Australia had three shark attack fatalities and there were two each in Reunion, the Seychelles and South Africa, and one each in Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia.

The average global fatality rate for the last decade was just under 7 percent, and it rose to 16 percent last year. Excluding the United States, which had 29 shark attacks but no deaths, the international fatality rate averaged 25 percent in 2011, Burgess said.

“We’ve had a decade-long decline in the number of attacks and a continued decline in the fatality rate in the U.S.,” Burgess said. “But last year’s slight increase in non-U.S. attacks resulted in a higher death rate. One in four people who were attacked outside the U.S. died.”

Other countries with multiple non-fatal attacks included Australia with 11, South Africa with five and Reunion with four. Indonesia, Mexico and Russia had three each, and the Seychelles and Brazil had two each.

While the higher number of fatalities worldwide came as a surprise, the drop in the number of U.S. attacks follows a 10-year decline, Burgess said.

“There has to be a cause for that. People might argue there’s less sharks, but since the late 1990s, populations have begun a slow recovery. By contrast, the number of attacks in the United States and Florida suggests there’s been a reduced use of these waters,” he said.

With its long coastline and year-round aquatic recreation climate, Florida historically leads the United States in shark attacks, and last year was no exception. The state had 11 of the 29 U.S. attacks.

Six of them occurred in Volusia County on the state’s central Atlantic coast, a popular surfing area, but that was the lowest number there since 2004, when there were three.

“It’s a good news/bad news situation,” Burgess said. “From the U.S. perspective, things have never been better, our attack and fatality rates continue to decline. But if it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy, it might suggest that other areas have made a real push to get into the tourism market.”

The next step to reducing the number of fatalities is creating emergency plans for those alternative areas, said Burgess, who has been invited to work on developing a response plan in Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean.

“Ironically, in this very foreign environment that has animals and plants that can do us harm, we often don’t seem to exhibit any concern at all, we just jump in,” Burgess said.

Surfers were the most affected group, accounting for about 60 percent of unprovoked attacks, largely due to the nature of the activity. Swimmers experienced 35 percent of attacks, followed by divers with about 5 percent.

Humans are not part of the sharks’ preferred diet, but those splashing around on the water’s surface can be mistaken for normal shark prey such as fish, turtles or seals. Burgess also pointed out that humans in wetsuits can be mistaken for seals by the sharks.

“When you’re inside the water, there’s much less chance of sharks making a mistake because both parties can see each other,” Burgess said. “Surfing involves a lot of swimming, kicking and splashing.”

© Copyright (c) Reuters
By Jane Sutton, Reuters

75 unprovoked shark attacks occurred worldwide in 2011

Bear Hibernates in Family's Cabin

A Washington state woman was in for a big surprise when she arrived at her family's Montana vacation cabin: It was ransacked, and the family's belongings were strewn everywhere.

"My sister went up for New Year's and thought someone had broken into the cabin," Molly Reynolds told ABC News affiliate KXLY4 in Spokane, Wash.

She realized nothing was taken, but something was definitely there that shouldn't have been: a hibernating black bear that has made the home his own for the season.

Family members were in for an even bigger surprise when they realized the bear had stripped the pillows and a blanket from one of the beds.

After inspecting the cabin, Reynolds' uncle found a small, broken trap door leading to the crawl space between the home and the ground. Once he went inside he saw two bright eyes staring back at him.

"We had a bear crawl up through the crawl space of our cabin and he took out some pillows and some bedding and took it back underneath the cabin," Molly Reynolds told KXLY4. "I thought that was a comfortable place for him with the bedding and he's been there ever since."

Reynolds refused to have the bear moved.

"We told [wildlife officials] that we didn't want to disrupt the bear or have him hurt in any way," Reynolds told ABC affiliate KXLY4. "We don't use the cabin right now, so we didn't feel there was the need to get him out."

They even nicknamed the sleeping bear Blue. From the looks of it, the bear seemed rather large, so the Reynoldses hope when they go back to their cabin, a family of bears won't be waiting.

"We wondered if there were going to be little babies, but I don't know that yet," Reynolds told ABC affiliate KXLY4.

By Sarah Hoberman

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creatures caught in the act

Motion-activated remote cameras are capturing images of wildlife throughout the southern Rockies of Alberta and B.C. and researchers hope they give them some answers on wildlife behaviour, movement and distribution over a large landscape.

With no one actually behind remote battery-operated cameras, these images offer a rare and privileged view of wild animals going about their everyday lives. Every time something passes the camera’s infrared beam, an image is taken.

This year marks the third year of the remote camera wildlife monitoring program in Banff, but it’s now being extended to include Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, as well as provincial lands in Kananaskis Country.

Wildlife officials say they are excited about the multi-jurisdictional pilot project because they can potentially use this non-invasive and relatively low cost method to monitor several wildlife species and human use across a study area of more than 40,000 square kilometres.

“We realized we were all putting out remote cameras for different reasons and not working together at all and so we all got together to work collaboratively,” said Jesse Whittington, a wildlife biologist for Banff National Park.

“This is super exciting because it will give us a lot more power to determine how wildlife populations are changing. Remote cameras are increasingly being used to monitor species diversity around the world.”

Approximately 42 motion-activated cameras are mounted on trees or encased in rock cairns along hiking and game trails throughout the 6,500 square-kilometre Banff National Park.

The larger-scale project has 40 cameras in Jasper, 20 in Yoho and Kootenay and about 40 in Waterton Lakes. There are also about 20 cameras on provincial lands in Kananaskis Country.

All parks are involved with setting up and servicing cameras, classifying photos, and participating in discussions on how to proceed with analysis and future sampling.

Robin Steenweg, from the University of Montana, will analyse the data and come up with recommendations on the best sampling protocols to use and will conduct large-scale analysis on factors affecting species distributions.

While the power of remote cameras lies in their ability to capture images from all species, this project is primarily interested in grizzly bears (including the number of females with cubs), wolverines and lynx, which are struggling in parts of the United States, and of which little is known here.

Researchers also want to keep a close eye on species such as white-tailed deer, which could have potential wolf-mediated effects on caribou, and keep an eye on levels of human use on trails.

So far, the cameras have recorded grizzly bears on 39 of the 42 cameras in Banff National Park, discovered wolverines are concentrating in the Cascade area and that lynx are scattered throughout the park.

Parks Canada officials say they have been particularly surprised by the number of fox photos in Banff, noting very few staff have ever seen one in Banff National Park, which is a testament to the fox’s nocturnal and wily nature.

Whittington said Parks Canada recently finished processing 130,000 images taken over the course of last summer.

He said the cameras captured a family of three wolverines going over a pass in the south end of Banff National Park and recorded at least four grizzly bears using a rub tree in the Cascade area.

But what Whittington found most interesting is that the Fairholme benchlands in the Bow Valley are proving to be a “huge hot spot for wildlife activity,” noting there were several grizzlies using the area last summer.

“We have a female grizzly with a cub that we didn’t know about, and the Fairholme wolf pack denned up on the bench and had at least six pups, which we also didn’t know about,” he said.

“The Fairholme is one of most productive habitats in Banff and it’s great to see it’s teeming in wildlife… this kind of information is always fascinating. There’s some really neat stuff.”

Whittington said researchers have been surprised at how well the remote cameras have worked for wolf monitoring, given wolf packs are very dynamic and their numbers and range can change considerably each year.

“The cameras work well because we can determine the minimum number and colours of wolves within each area and from that we can piece together how many wolves are in each wolf pack,” he said.

“Wolf density and distribution are very important to monitor because wolves can have large top-down effects directly on prey species, such as elk, and secondary effects on vegetation and song-bird communities.”

Whittington said, similarly, wolf density can have large effects on caribou survival, which is important given Parks Canada is working towards a caribou translocation program in Jasper and/or Banff through captive rearing.

He said most caribou herds require wolf densities of less than six wolves per 1,000 square kilometres.

“For the last four years, we’ve had between two and three wolves per 1,000 square kilometres, which makes us think that conditions should be better for caribou survival,” he said.

“Caribou survival also depends on how much time wolves spend in caribou range, which recently has been high.”

Whittington said the cameras also pick up human use activity, noting hardly any people were recorded going into the voluntary closure on the Fairholme bench at all, with the exception of Carrot Creek.

He said the cameras may also help Parks monitor human use in the backcountry.

“Knowing how many people use the backcountry in Banff will help us determine where to concentrate efforts for maintaining backcountry trails and how human use in the backcountry may be affecting wildlife,” he said.

By: Cathy Ellis

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snowy owls soar south from Arctic in rare mass migration

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Bird enthusiasts are reporting rising numbers of snowy owls from the Arctic winging into the lower 48 states this winter in a mass southern migration that a leading owl researcher called "unbelievable."

Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts.

A certain number of the iconic owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter but rarely do so many venture so far away even amid large-scale, periodic southern migrations known as irruptions.

"What we're seeing now -- it's unbelievable," said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana.

"This is the most significant wildlife event in decades," added Holt, who has studied snowy owls in their Arctic tundra ecosystem for two decades.

Holt and other owl experts say the phenomenon is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. The largely nocturnal birds also prey on a host of other animals, from voles to geese.

An especially plentiful supply of lemmings last season likely led to a population boom among owls that resulted in each breeding pair hatching as many as seven offspring. That compares to a typical clutch size of no more than two, Holt said.

Greater competition this year for food in the Far North by the booming bird population may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal.

Research on the animals is scarce because of the remoteness and extreme conditions of the terrain the owls occupy, including northern Russia and Scandinavia, he said.

The surge in snowy owl sightings has brought birders flocking from Texas, Arizona and Utah to the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, pouring tourist dollars into local economies and crowding parks and wildlife areas. The irruption has triggered widespread public fascination that appears to span ages and interests.

"For the last couple months, every other visitor asks if we've seen a snowy owl today," said Frances Tanaka, a volunteer for the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Olympia, Washington.

But accounts of emaciated owls at some sites -- including a food-starved bird that dropped dead in a farmer's field in Wisconsin -- suggest the migration has a darker side. And Holt said an owl that landed at an airport in Hawaii in November was shot and killed to avoid collisions with planes.

He said snowy owl populations are believed to be in an overall decline, possibly because a changing climate has lessened the abundance of vegetation like grasses that lemmings rely on.

This winter's snowy owl outbreak, with multiple sightings as far south as Oklahoma, remains largely a mystery of nature.

"There's a lot of speculation. As far as hard evidence, we really don't know," Holt said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and David Bailey)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Did you know cheetahs ride shotgun?

The Cincinnati Zoo has a traveling version of its Cat Ambassador Program where zoo trainers bring a cheetah and several "smaller" cats to local schools. And that means road trips. But not in a cage. Nope. When these cheetahs go out on the town, they ride shotgun.

This is Sara, who became the fastest animal on earth back in 2009, breaking the 100 meter sprint record at 6.13 seconds. To put that in perspective, Usain Bolt's official human record is a languid 9.58 seconds.

World record holders aren't the only ones who get to ride in the zoo's Subaru Forester. Below, find a photo of another cheetah named Nia — who was just a year old when the picture was taken — as she looks out at Cincinnati.

Are we the only ones who think it's weird that a program requiring the disclaimer of "Due to the nature of wild cats, students will not be permitted to touch animals" probably shouldn't be running said wild cats around town in the front seat of a car? Sure, we've seen this type of thing before, but that was Dubai — not Ohio.

What if there's an accident? Or what if someone sees the cat in the front seat and, you know, flips the hell out?

So is this legal? Although we know Ohio has pretty lax laws on exotic animals we know that it may be illegal to do so on the Ohio Turnpike thanks to Section 5537-3-01 of the pay-for-use road's rules. The section concerns limitations on use of the turnpike and clearly states: "Vehicles transporting animals or poultry not properly secured or confined." We're assuming that could mean the front seat.

Of course, Cincinnati is nowhere near the turnpike and otherwise it appears Ohio's statutes are silent on the subject. But this is Ohio we're talking about — so we're just impressed they have laws of any sort.

By Raphael Orlove Jalopnik

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who Knew...?

Rare Sea Creature Appears on Seattle Woman's Dock

A Seattle resident recently got a big surprise when she discovered a strange-looking furry visitor on her property.

"She woke up and it was lying on her dock, hanging out and sleeping — just chilling," said Matthew Cleland, district supervisor in western Washington for the USDA's Wildlife Services, and the recipient of a photo of the bizarre intruder.

"I thought, 'That's an interesting-looking creature,'" Cleland told OurAmazingPlanet. "I had no idea what it was."

A quick glance through a book in his office soon revealed it was a ribbon seal, an Arctic species that spends most of its life at sea, swimming the frigid waters off Alaska and Russia.

Somehow, the seal turned up on the woman's property, about a mile from the mouth of the Duwamish River, a highly industrialized waterway that cuts through southern Seattle. In 2001, the EPA declared the last 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) of the river a Superfund site — an area contaminated with hazardous substances in need of cleanup.

The sighting was "pretty exciting," said Arctic seal researcher Peter Boveng, leader of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory's Polar Ecosystems Program. "It's really unusual."

Ribbon seals, named for the unmistakable stark white markings that ring their necks, flippers and hindquarters, typically shun dry land.

Boveng said the animals spend only a few months per year on sea ice, to molt and give birth, and have almost never been seen so far south. "So it's a surprise, but knowing the species, it's not a complete surprise to me," he said. "They're good travelers."

The ribbon seal, which Boveng identified as an adult male, "looked to be in really good shape," he said. "We don't have any way to rule out other possibilities, but I'd say it's almost certain that it swam there."

Satellite tracking studies have revealed that ribbon seals do sometimes make it as far as the north Pacific Ocean, south of the Aleutian islands, but much about the species remains mysterious. Because they spend so much of their lives in the open water, it's a challenge to track them.

"Unfortunately we don't know a lot about their numbers," Boveng said. "There's never been a reliable survey."

A conservation groups has made efforts to list ribbon seals as an endangered species because of concerns about disappearing sea ice in the Arctic. So far the federal government has declined to do so, but is continuing to review the case for listing.

The Seattle ribbon seal appears to be only the second on record to make it so far south.

In 1962, a ribbon seal showed up on a beach near Morro Bay, Calif., a town about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. According to contemporary reports, the seal was in good shape, but totally bald except for hair on the head, neck and flippers. It died a month later at the local aquarium.

The Seattle ribbon seal's story is unknown, but one could be forgiven for thinking it a harbinger of things to come. This week, cold winds from Alaska helped create a record winter storm in Seattle, slamming the metro area with 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of snow.

The ribbon seal hasn't been seen again since it was first spotted last week.

"It stirred up a lot of interest," Cleland said. "There are a lot of people out here looking for it."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Monkey long believed extinct found in Indonesia

Scientists working in the dense jungles of Indonesia have "rediscovered" a large, gray monkey so rare it was believed by many to be extinct.

They were all the more baffled to find the Miller's Grizzled Langur — its black face framed by a fluffy, Dracula-esque white collar — in an area well outside its previously recorded home range.

The team set up camera traps in the Wehea Forest on the eastern tip of Borneo island in June, hoping to captures images of clouded leopards, orangutans and other wildlife known to congregate at several mineral salt licks.

The pictures that came back caught them all by surprise: groups of monkeys none had ever seen.

With virtually no photographs of the grizzled langurs in existence, it at first was a challenge to confirm their suspicions, said Brent Loken, a Ph.D. student at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and one of the lead researchers.

The only images out there were museum sketches.

"We were all pretty ecstatic, the fact that, wow, this monkey still lives, and also that it's in Wehea," said Loken.

The monkey, which has hooded eyes and a pinkish nose and lips, once roamed the northeastern part of Borneo, as well as the islands of Sumatra and Java and the Thai-Malay peninsula. But concerns were voiced several years ago that they may be extinct.

Forests where the monkeys once lived had been destroyed by fires, human encroachment and conversion of land for agriculture and mining and an extensive field survey in 2005 turned up empty.

"For me the discovery of this monkey is representative of so many species in Indonesia," Loken told The Associated Press by telephone.

"There are so many animals we know so little about and their home ranges are disappearing so quickly," he said. "It feels like a lot of these animals are going to quickly enter extinction."

The next step will be returning to the 90,000 acre (38,000 hectare) forest to try to find out how many grizzly langurs there are, according to the team of local and international scientists, who published their findings in the American Journal of Primatology on Friday.

They appear in more than 4,000 images captured over a two-month period, said Loken, but it's possible one or two families kept returning.

"We are trying to find out all we can," he said. "But it really feels like a race against time."

Experts not involved in the study were hugely encouraged.

"It's indeed a highly enigmatic species," said Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist who spent more than eight years doing field research in the area.

In the past they were hunted to near extinction for their meat and bezoar "stones," he said, which can, on occasion, be found in their guts.

Bezoars, as Harry Potter fans know from lectures given by Prof. Snape to first year students, are believed by some to neutralize poison.

Meijaard said the animal has long been considered a subspecies of the Hose's Leaf Monkey, which also occurs on the Malaysian side of Borneo, but it now looks like that may not be the case.

"We think it might actually be a distinct species," he said, "which would make the Wehea discovery even more important."