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