Monday, 31 August 2009

Cats' tale which leads to Germany

Saturday, 29 August 2009 14:25 UK

The phrase Auf Wiedersehen Pet has taken on a new meaning after two cats were found to have travelled from Germany to Northern Ireland.

The animals were found straying in Coleraine, County Londonderry, five weeks ago.

They were brought to a vet in Limavady and so far attempts to contact their owners have been unsuccessful.

But the cats, lent the names Stu and Chris by the clinic, were microchipped and tattooed in Germany.

The clinic has been looking after the cats since.

Maggie Bobby of the North-West Pet Rescue and Re-homing Centre has been helping in the bid to trace the cats' owners.

On Saturday, she said she believes she now knows the name and address of the owner, but has been unable to contact them.

She also said that they had received two calls from people offering to look after the cats.

"They are beautiful, the most lovely cats you could meet. If we can't find the owners, we would love to find a good home for them," she said.

Vet Michael Forgie, of Roe Valley Veterinary Clinic, said: "We realised when we scanned them they had a microchip, and a tattoo which is done in Germany and relevant to Germany.

"The central agency that deals with microchips, Petlog, were able to tell us they came from Germany."


"The problem is, German vets can't release the name of the owners because of confidentiality.

"We have a German client and we got her to ring up to see if the German microchip people would contact police in Coleraine to see if the owners were living or taking up residence in Northern Ireland."

Mr Forgie said he did not know why the cats had been brought to Northern Ireland, but said the fact they had been micro-chipped indicated the owners "must have thought a good bit about them".

He said tests had revealed one of the cats had the feline form of HIV - feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The owners or potential foster carers for Stu and Chris are asked to contact Roe Valley Vets on 028777 62528.

The Loch Ness monster: Nessie sightings throughout history

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Disease Threat May Change How Frogs Mate

ScienceDaily (Aug. 31, 2009) — Dr Amber Teacher, studying a post-doctorate at Royal Holloway, University of London, has discovered evidence that a disease may be causing a behavioural change in frogs. The research, published in the August edition of ‘Molecular Ecology’, has unearthed a surprising fact about our long-tongued friends: wild frogs in the UK may be changing their mating behaviour.

Dr Teacher conducted her research with colleagues from the Institute of Zoology and Queen Mary, University of London. The research followed concerns over the survival of wild frog populations in the UK. Ranavirus, which had its first reported case in England in the early 1980s, is one of many pathogens ravaging the amphibian community.

Dr Teacher’s pioneering new research looks at the genetic make-up of populations, and indicates that wild frog populations that have been infected with this virus may be choosing mates differently to those in healthy populations.

As Ranavirus is typically associated with heavy death tolls in infected populations, there are often few frogs left alive to mate. This frequently leads to inbreeding, which causes an increase in relatedness in the population. However, Dr Teacher has uncovered startling results; finding that despite inbreeding there has been no subsequent increase in relatedness in these populations.

Dr Teacher’s conclusion is that this lack of relatedness has been caused by a change in the frogs’ mating strategy. With diseased frogs struggling to mate, healthy frogs are likely to be mating more often with other healthy frogs, leaving diseased frogs to mate with each other. These frogs could also be selecting mates based on their Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) type; a group of genes directly involved with the animal’s immune system. As the common frog is generally thought to mate randomly, this is a major shift in the frogs’ mating behaviour.

Active mate choice based on MHC type is not uncommon in other species, with research indicating that a number of vertebrates, including humans, may use it to choose prospective mates, and improve their immunity to diseases.

‘The situation requires directed behavioural research’, says Dr Teacher. This discovery could re-shape the way we look at disease management in animals. If such behavioural effects from diseases are widespread, it is likely they have been overlooked in the past, meaning we may be forced to reconsider how such diseases impact on animals. Whilst Ranavirus has been researched in specific relation to population dynamics, Dr Teacher has exposed previously unknown effects that require further investigation.

Dr Teacher believes the next step is to observe these wild frogs over the coming years. ‘The world of wildlife disease research would benefit greatly from such long-term investigations, allowing us to see how the host and the pathogen respond to each other over time’, ‘It would also shed further light on whether Ranavirus does indeed cause observable behavioural changes’, she explains. Further research may also bring us closer to knowing if this new mating strategy could lead to wild frogs in the UK developing immunity to Ranavirus.

Journal reference:

  1. Teacher et al. Population genetic patterns suggest a behavioural change in wild common frogs (Rana temporaria) following disease outbreaks (Ranavirus). Molecular Ecology, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04263.x

White pedigree poodle gives birth to eight black puppies

A dog owner is celebrating after her white pedigree poodle gave birth to eight black puppies.

Published: 9:56PM BST 30 Aug 2009

Retired nurse Carol Marsden, 50, helped deliver the litter at her home near Doncaster, South Yorkshire. The pedigree dog is called Sukanto My Fair Lady.

The father of the puppies, four boys and four girls, is a black pedigree poodle called Alfie, whose full name is Kertellas on Easy Street at Montravia.

Beverly Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today, said: “Black is the dominant gene in poodles so this is not unusual but the exact outcome would depend on the genetic history of the father and the mother.”

Carol has named the male puppies Shadow, Victor, Leo and Duke and the girls Lucy, Belle, Duchess and Tess.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

How a search for the world's most endangered animals turned into an agonising ordeal for Stephen Fry

By Amanda Cable
Last updated at 1:54 AM on 29th August 2009

In the jungle, accidents happen when you are exhausted. Add darkness, torrential rain and a small film crew – along with two presenters, Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Carwardine – attempting to climb onto a boat from a floating jetty, and the recipe is there for a truly horrific accident.

At 5am, deep in the Amazon jungle, as the film-makers struggled through horrific conditions, Fry slipped on the makeshift dock and crashed down onto his side.

It was immediately obvious that he was badly hurt. But this was the middle of the jungle, there was no help at hand, and the rain was beating down.

Carwardine, Fry's long-term friend, recalls, 'Seeing Stephen in agony, and trying to decide quickly what to do, was tough. We couldn't tell if he had damaged his spine, because the pain was so severe he couldn't move. We called for help on our satellite phone, while someone else ran to a village that had a small medical centre to get pain relief.'

With Fry's permission, the TV cameras kept rolling throughout the drama, and the resulting footage showed how even efforts to gently move him onto the boat brought fresh waves of unbearable pain.

Carwardine, 50, says, 'He needed to get to a hospital fast, but we were miles from anywhere.

'We were able to arrange for a sea plane to airlift Stephen, but it took another couple of hours for it to reach us. I felt utterly helpless. There was nothing we could do, other than try to reassure him that help was on the way.

'The plane took us to the nearest hospital, and poor Stephen had to hold his arm steady throughout the flight. Each time he moved, he could feel the bones shifting, and he knew it was broken.'

In fact, X-rays revealed that Fry's right arm was broken in three places, and he required urgent surgery.

Carwardine spent the rest of the night trying to arrange a flight to a better medical centre.

'I arranged for Stephen to be flown to Miami the next morning,' he says.

'Neither of us slept at all that night, and when I arrived at the hospital to pick him up, he looked unrecognisable.His hair was standing on end, his face was grey with pain and exhaustion, his shirt was torn and his arm was in a plaster to protect it during the flight to Miami.'

While Carwardine stayed on in Brazil to finish filming, Fry flew to the US. But when doctors there decided that he needed major surgery, he faced yet another tortuous journey – back to England, where specialist doctors could operate to save the use of his arm.

One last agonising challenge lay in store for the 52-year-old.

'Doctors warned that the air pressure in the plane could cause his arm to swell,' says Carwardine, 'so Stephen had to endure the flight without his arm being supported by a plaster cast. He was incredibly brave.

'We had started out on our expedition as friends who had seen each other occasionally over the years, but, in that week of hell, he earned my deep respect.

'I saw a man who was truly brave - who entered the jungle with no previous experience, and who changed and learned over time, and then faced the worst sort of pain without any complaint.'

The two men had come together to film the BBC series Last Chance To See, in which they search the world for the most endangered animals on Earth.

Twenty years earlier, Carwardine, now an author and conservationist, had spent a year doing the very same thing with the late Douglas Adams - famous for writing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Their travels became a BBC radio series and book. While the two men were away, Fry stayed in Douglas's house, taking urgent phone calls from them to send maps and lenses to faraway places, and they all became firm friends.

Carwardine and Fry were devastated when Douglas died suddenly of a heart attack in 2001.

Now, given the chance to return to the countries Carwardine and Douglas visited, to see what has become of the animals in two decades, they jumped at it.

However, just three weeks into filming, the accident happened and it looked as though the project was prematurely over.

Carwardine says, 'Even as Stephen lay writhing in pain, he realised that the project was in jeopardy and told the crew to carry on filming so that we had some footage with which to wrap up the first episode.

'It was only later that I thought, "He's not going to want to return after this", because he had been so far out of his comfort zone in the jungle, and now he was injured.

As the months went on, I prepared myself for the phone call to say he was pulling out, so I was thrilled when he said he wanted to carry on.'

And so it was that, nine months later, Fry – his arm fitted with metal plates and screws, and sporting a livid ten-inch scar – travelled with Carwardine to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the next stage of their journey. Did life get easier?

Well, with the threat of kidnap or death from rebel forces in one of the most volatile areas in the world, the answer was no. But the results make for extraordinary television – and far more drama than either man ever envisaged.

Read more:

African Experts Study Escaped Hippos in Colombia

By Hugh Bronstein
August 26, 2009

BOGOTA (Reuters) - African zoologists are in Colombia to advise local authorities on what to do with dozens of hippos roaming around the abandoned zoo of late drug lord Pablo Escobar in the north of the country.

Colombia was shocked last month at news that one of the giant beasts, who had escaped from Escobar's Hacienda Napoles, had been hunted down and shot on order of the government.

Bogota-based beer company Bavaria, owned by SABMiller, invited wildlife experts Michael Knight and Peter Morkel from South Africa and Tanzania to find the best way to deal with the surviving animals.

The slain hippopotamus, called Pepe, was killed by a .375 caliber round through the heart.

It was a fate not unlike that of Escobar, who controlled most of the world's cocaine supply before being gunned down by police on a Medellin rooftop in 1993. He was so flush with cash in the 1980s that he flew in hundreds of exotic animals, including kangaroos, elephants, rhinos and nine hippos.

The experts will spend a week at Hacienda Napoles to come up with a plan for caring for the hippos that are still living and multiplying on the estate.

The zoologists will also help look for Pepe's mate, Matilda, who escaped along with him in 2006, and their calf.

The mother and child are living in the wild near the Magdalena River, according to local residents who catch sight of them from time to time.

The government called off the hunt for Matilda following the scandal caused by Pepe's killing.

Zoologist Knight sympathized with the position of Colombia's Environment Ministry, which had argued that hippos living wildly represented a threat to the local ecosystem.

"The primary responsibility of the ministry is the conservation of the biodiversity of Colombia," he said.

"You are dealing with an alien species," Knight said but he added: "We are looking for alternatives and solutions depending on what opportunities exist."

Escobar's zoo was seen by Colombians as a symbol of his power and extravagance. Most of the animals were taken to local public zoos after his death but the hippos were considered too big and dangerous to transport.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, Editing by Sandra Maler)

Did two species mix to make butterflies?

27 August 2009 by Bob Holmes

WHAT child's imagination has not been captivated by the near-magical transformation that caterpillars undergo to become butterflies? This is the result of an ancient hybridisation between an insect and a worm-like animal, according to zoologist Donald Williamson, and now he says there is enough genetic information to test the theory.

Unfortunately for Williamson, now retired from the University of Liverpool, UK, the early returns are not encouraging.

Many insect groups, such as butterflies, bees and wasps, have larval stages that look nothing like the adults. Most biologists believe these evolved gradually, perhaps because natural selection favoured juvenile stages that differed from the adults and thus would compete less with them.

Williamson offers a different explanation. At some point hundreds of millions of years ago a larva-less insect - something like a grasshopper or cockroach, say - hybridised with a velvet worm. Also known as Onychophora, velvet worms are worm-like invertebrates with stubby, leg-like appendages. According to Williamson's theory, the resulting hybrid and its descendants now develop successively through stages resembling both parents.

"Nobody knows where caterpillars came from," says Williamson, who thinks that many other invertebrate groups acquired their larvae in the same way (New Scientist, 24 January, p 34). "It's the only solution that makes sense."

Williamson offers little evidence other than physical resemblances, but he predicts that insects with caterpillar larvae should show genetic similarities to velvet worms (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0908357106).

Tommyrot, other biologists snort. For a start, the resemblance between velvet worms and caterpillars is only superficial. "In my view, Onychophora and caterpillars do not resemble each other at all," says Georg Mayer, a specialist in velvet worm development and taxonomy at the University of Jena, Germany.

Moreover, the genetic affinities Williamson predicts do not seem to be there. Geneticists have sequenced the genomes of several insects with caterpillar larvae, including silkworms, fruit flies, honeybees and mosquitoes. Yet there is no indication that any of their genes differ from what would be expected in a typical insect.

"I think it would be fairly obvious if there was lots of non-insect stuff in there," says Max Telford, a zoologist at University College London. For instance, all animals use the Hox family of genes to help them develop a front and a back. If caterpillars and adults derived from two separate ancestors, they would need two sets of Hox genes to guide their distinct developmental processes, but this is not the case.

In fact, caterpillars and their adults do seem to have genetic links. In beetles, for example, the genes that control larval leg development are the same ones that guide leg development in adults, says Nipam Patel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

As appealing to the imagination as Williamson's theory may be, it looks like the evidence is not there to support it.

Wildlife springs to life

Samantha Healy
August 30, 2009 12:00am

THE animals are stirring – and the unseasonal early start to spring is the reason.

Record heat over the past two weeks has been an end of winter wake-up call for everything from snakes to ants.

University of Queensland zoology expert Dr David Booth said the sudden rise in daily maximums and overnight minimums had fast-tracked the behaviour of a number of species.

"We are seeing distinctly summer behaviour in some species, particularly reptiles," Dr Booth said.

"The next time we get some rain I would expect to see a flurry of breeding activity in the animal kingdom."

Gold Coast snake catcher Tony Harrison said snakes are out searching for a mate one month earlier than normal.

"My catch is three times the average," he said.

University of Queensland shark expert Professor Shaun Collin said warmer weather could lead to an increase in shark activity.

"If it stays warm and the water warms, we might see more bait fish in the water and an increase in shark feeding," he said.

Hervey Bay Whale Watch manager Sarah Perry said humpback calves had arrived in the Bay a week earlier than normal, with the warmer temperatures providing perfect nursing grounds for newborns.

"Normally we don't get calves in the Bay until early to mid-September," she said.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary's Matt Hingley said male koalas were also on the move, looking for female koalas.

He said there were signs bee hive activity and wombat mating rituals had started early.

Queensland Museum entomology curator Dr Chris Lambkin said there have been out-of-season insect swarms.

"The heat has broken the hibernation for some insects, with swarms of thrips and parasitic wasps reported recently," she said.,23739,25999329-3102,00.html

Stolen monkeys found in Durg

29 August 2009, 05:06am IST

KOLKATA: Seven of the eight common marmosets stolen from Alipore zoological garden on August 9 were rescued from a house in Chhattisgarh’s Durg — some 900 km from Kolkata — on Friday night. One had died while in captivity.

City police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti confirmed the recovery and said that the Chhattisgarh police had made an arrest as well. “A Kolkata Police team will leave for Chhattisgarh on Saturday morning to make a detailed probe,” he said.

It was the Interpol notice and countrywide alert that led to the breakthrough, say sources. Kolkata Police’s detective department had few clues to work on. The Chhattisgarh police, who knew a lookout notice was on for the stolen Brazilian monkeys, got a tip on Friday afternoon that some people were trying to sell off monkeys.

They raided a house in Durg and found seven marmosets in a cage. The housekeeper was arrested and interrogated. “It was he who revealed that one of the monkeys had died while being transported from Kolkata,” said the city police chief.

Alipore zoological garden director Raju Das said he has been informed by the Chhattisgarh forest department that the marmosets would be returned to Kolkata soon.

Zoological park receives star tortoises, white peacocks and parakeets

Staff Reporter

This is the first time Kurumbapatti zoo is getting parakeets

SALEM: A visit to the Kurumbapatti zoological park located a few kilometres away from the city is going to be more attractive hereafter.

Four Alexandrine parakeets, 20 rose-ringed parakeets and five plum-headed parakeets have arrived from the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur to be displayed in enclosures put up for them at the Kurumbapatti zoo.

First time

This is the first time that the zoo is getting parakeets.

Besides, the officials also brought four white peacocks, 23 pigeons and 20 star tortoises from Vandalur.

They will also become residents at the zoo.

The zoo administration had made necessary arrangements for the new members of the park.


Separate enclosures were made for the parakeets to ensure that the visitors have a good view of these magnificent birds.

The start tortoises were also kept in a separate area. Earlier, the park had only one star tortoise, which was seized by the police.

In April, the zoological park received two white peacocks from Vandalur. The park already has pairs of crocodiles, deer and tortoises.

After the recent development works undertaken by the Forest department, the zoo has started getting more visitors, particularly during the weekends.

As the park is located at the foothills of the Shevaroyan Hills, more and more people come to spend their leisure time in the lap of nature, officials say.

The park authorities were constructing separate enclosures for deer and crocodiles with the funds that had been made available from the Central Zoo Authority.

Zoology department to celebrate centenary

30 Aug 2009 09:05:09 AM IST

BANGALORE: Year-long programmes have been chalked out by Bangalore University to commemorate the centenary celebrations of its Zoology Department.

In this regard the university released a special centenary year logo, here on Saturday. Following is a snapshot of the programmes lined up.


The department is organising a seminar on revision of under-graduate and postgraduate syllabus on September 23, which will be followed by workshop on revision of UG and PG syllabus from September 29-30. They will also organise a national workshop on biodiversity awareness, conservation and utility on October 12 and October 13.


National Beekeeping Congress and All-India Honey festival from February 25-27, 2010. There will be a symposium on recent trends in the field of Cell Biology during April, 2010. Later, during May-June 2010, an international conference on animal health and global warming will be held, which will also be the valedictory function for the year-long function. “I am personally meeting President Pratibha Patil on September 8 to invite her to the valedictory function,” Bangalore University vice chancellor Dr N Prabhu Dev said.


The university will publish a book on history of the genesis of the Department of Zoology from 1909 till date. A compilation of the department’s research activities for the last decade is also on the anvil.

Summer schools

Summer schools for both teachers and students to update the recent developments in animal sciences will be organised. This includes classroom teachings, lab and training on specialised areas like toxicology, gerontology, medical entomology, water quality and management.

Memorandum of Understanding

The department will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom on ‘Physiology of Aging’ and with Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Aging on aging. An MoU with National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology, Bangalore, on `Physiology and Toxicology’ will also be signed.


Registrar Sanjay Vir Singh said that the Department of Posts will bring a stamp to commemorate centenary celebrations in October.

Department’s past

The department was started by borrowing a microscope and one dissection set from the Department of Physics in 1909 at Central College.

Prof C R Narayana Rao was the first head of the department.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Tortoise saved by B&Q drill

A tiny pet tortoise with a huge bladder stone had her life saved by a vet - with the help of a £100 drill from B&Q.

Published: 10:54AM BST
28 Aug 2009

The three-year-old spur-thighed tortoise called Twinnie who is the size of a 50p coin would have died if the half inch wide stone blocking her bladder had not been removed.

But her owner Lorna Parker, 46, from Norwich, spent £400 on surgery to remove the stone.

Veterinary surgeon Louise Rayment-Dyble operated on Twinnie with a Dremel drill and cutting blade bought from the B&Q store in Hellessdon, Norwich.

She cut an inch wide square in the underside shell and sliced open the tortoise's bladder to remove the stone in an hour long operation.

Twinnie who weighs just one ounce was then stitched up and had the piece of shell stuck back in place with a special glue and a resin to make a watertight barrier.

It was allowed home two days later and is now recovering by slowly getting used again to her diet of dandelions, thistles and lettuce treats.

Mrs Rayment-Dyble, 38, who has been a vet for 15 years and runs All Creatures Healthcare in Horsford, Norfolk, said: "The drill from B&Q was perfect for the job.

"I bought it a little while ago to operate on tortoises because you need something with a powerful torque force to cut through their shells.

"Twinnie is the smallest tortoise I have operated on and I had to wear special magnifying pair of glasses to see what I was doing. The stone was an incredible size bearing in mind how tiny she is. It must have been extremely painful.

"The owner brought her in last week because she had gone off her food and was constipated. Bladder stones are a common problem in tortoises and an X-Ray showed she had this huge one inside her.

"I told the owner that I could either put her to sleep to stop her suffering or we could try and operate. People love their tortoises and she asked me to operate to give Twinnie a chance of life."

Mrs Rayment-Dyble said tortoises developed stones if they got pieces of grit in their bladders which then built up with urate from their bodies.

She said: "The stones grow as the waste builds up like the layers of an onion. This particular one was enormous compared to the size of Twinnie's body - the biggest I have seen."

Mrs Parker, a part time artist, said she noticed Twinnie was ill last week when she was off her food and straining as she tried in vain to pass water.

She said: "I suspected that she might have a bladder stone and I put her in warm water to try and help her relax and pass it naturally.

"That did not do any good so I took her to the vet who X-rayed her. It showed up this huge stone. It was so big that there was no way it would get through her pelvis.

"I was told there were three options - let her die, euthanase her, or try and get the stone out."

Deer 'fakes death' to escape cheetah and a hyena: video

A deer "fakes its own death" to escape being eaten by a cheetah and a hyena, in an inspiring nature video that is fast becoming an online hit.

Published: 4:07PM BST 28 Aug 2009

The prone deer looks certain to become dinner for one of the vying predators, but exploits their battle to sprint to freedom after "convincing" them that its life is ebbing.

The clip begins with footage of the cheetah gnawing the leg of its fallen prey in preparation for an expected feast.

But his banquet is disturbed by the arrival of a hyena that runs in from the wilderness, scaring the cheetah away and claiming the deer as its own.

It begins to bite into the animal's belly, with the lifeless deer offering no resistance.

Certain that his main course is going nowhere, the hyena dashes towards the loitering cheetah to ensure that it does not have to share its dinner.

But as the two animals tussle, the deer seizes its chance, springing to its feet and speeding into the safety of the undergrowth.

The provenance and location of the footage are not certain, but the deer's lucky escape has been enchanting thousands of web users since it was posted on LiveLeak, the video-sharing website on Friday.

Last year a hunter in the US state of Missouri was shocked to come under attack from a large deer that he was convinced he had just shot dead. Randy Goodman, 49, described the deer's back-from-the-dead assault as "15 seconds of hell", but eventually managed to kill it with two more shots.

Devon river team's piranha shock

Friday, 28 August 2009 13:53 UK

A "killer" fish native to South America has been found in a Devon river.

The Environment Agency said its staff were amazed to find a dead piranha in the East Okement tributary of the River Torridge.

The piranha, which has razor-sharp teeth, is generally considered to be the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world.

The 35cm (14in) fish was spotted by Bob Collett, Dave Hoskin and Eddie Stevens during a sampling trip on the river.

Among the species the team would have expected to find in the river were salmon, brown trout, bullheads, stone loach and minnow.

"What we actually discovered was something we would not expect to find in our wildest dreams - we could hardly believe our eyes," Mr Stevens said.

"After completing 20m of the survey, a large tail emerged from the undercut bank on the far side of the river.

"Our first thought was that a sea trout had become lodged in amongst the rocks and debris collected under the bank, but when it was removed from the river we were speechless to find it was a piranha."

Tests carried out on the dead piranha revealed it had been eating sweet corn, which proved it must have been kept as a pet.

The Environment Agency said the average size of a piranha was 15 to 20cm (6in to 8in), making the fish found on the East Okement an exceptional size.

A shoal of piranha fish is said to be able to strip the flesh of large animals within minutes. They have also been known to attack humans.

In the wild, piranhas are found in the Amazon basin, in the Orinoco and the rivers of the Guyanas.

The Environment Agency said it believed the piranha was alive when it was put in the river, possibly because it had become too big for its tank.

Spokesman Paul Gainey said: "Whilst piranhas can't survive the colder climates of the UK, this latest find highlights a real issue - that releasing unwanted exotic pets or plants into rivers can have serious consequences for native wildlife.

"Rather than dumping things in the wild, we would urge people to seek advice about what to do with exotic species."

Humanists accuse West Country zoo of pushing creationist agenda

Noah's Ark farm denies allegations, saying it promotes debate between science and religion over evolution

Staff and agencies, Thursday 27 August 2009 13.26 BST

A secular group was today demanding that tourism groups stop promoting what it calls a "creationist" zoo, that questions the traditional view of evolution.

The Noah's Ark zoo farm, in Wraxall, near Bristol, was accused by the British Humanist Association (BHA) of misleading tens of thousands of annual visitors and "threatening public understanding".

The zoo, however, rejected the BHA's claims that it is not open about its interest in creationism, the belief that all life was created by God, and said that it wanted to promote a debate about Darwinism and 6000 BC creationism (also known as young Earth creationism), both of which it said on its website were "flawed" and "extreme in their own rights".

The BHA has written to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums , North Somerset council, Visit Britain and the tourism group South West England, asking them to remove Noah's Ark from their material.

The BHA said the zoo farm, run by husband and wife Anthony and Christina Bush, seeks to discredit scientific facts such as radio carbon dating, the fossil record and the speed of light. The BHA said signs at the zoo also describe how the "three great people groups" could be descended from the three sons of Noah.

The zoo's owners said they were "slightly different" from pure creationists because the zoo explains life as being created by "both God and evolution", and there is a long detailed section on this on the zoo's website entitled "Creation Research".

BHA director of education and public affairs, Andrew Copson, said: "We believe Noah's Ark farm zoo misleads the public by not being open about its creationist agenda in its promotional activities and by advancing misunderstandings of the natural world.

"We have therefore asked the South West England and Visit Britain tourist boards to stop promoting the zoo.

"As they are public bodies, we believe it is inappropriate that they should support establishments that seek to urge religious or ideological beliefs upon people in these ways."

Noah's Ark research assistant Jon Woodward said: "To say that we are not upfront with our beliefs is unfounded. The name Noah's Ark is the first indicator.

"We also have much material on our website, which is not disguised or hidden, as well as being on our leaflet. Our education policy is purely based around the national curriculum. At no point is religion taught in the classroom, unless requested, as that would go against the national curriculum.

"We are offering our visitors the chance to look at the evolution/creation debate. As it is a free country, that is within our right. Contrary to a small minority of people's claims, we do not teach false science. This is clearly shown within the zoo with one exhibition talking about Darwin and another offering another point of view."

A North Somerset council spokesman, Steve Makin, said: "The licensing of zoos does consider education in so far as a zoo must promote an understanding of, and concern and respect for, biodiversity, animals and the natural world. The zoo licensing system therefore does not comment on or is involved in personal beliefs."

Gorilla Pop-Tart break-in

A US policeman has reportedly been caught breaking into a zoo - to feed the captive gorillas Pop-Tarts.

The unnamed officer is being investigated over claims he snuck into Como Zoo in Minneapolis- Saint Paul to feed the three animals - named Schroeder, Gordy and Togo - the Kellogg's breakfast treat.

Two security guards reportedly spotted him on CCTV, feeding the beasts.

The zoo says the animals have not suffered any ill effects from the experience, but have never eaten the sugary treat before.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Is the Loch Ness monster on Google Earth just a boat?

A Google Earth image which was said to have shown the Loch Ness monster could have been a boat which regularly tours the loch.

By Ben Leach
11:04AM BST 27 Aug 2009

Earlier this week a British security guard claimed to have found the legendary creature using Google's satellite mapping programme.

The image, which can be seen by entering coordinates Latitude 57°12'52.13"N, Longitude 4°34'14.16"W in Google Earth, depicts a large object resembling a sea clearly visible beneath or on the surface of the water.

Adrian Shine, a researcher on the Loch Ness project, called the new images "really intriguing" and said they deserved further study.

Following the report Google announced that its specially-altered trike camera – which is able to take eye-level images of areas that are inaccessible to Street View's camera cars – would be sent to Loch Ness on Thursday.

But it has now been suggested that the images are not of the mysterious creature but of the Ness Express, a boat which regularly tours the loch.

Another image of the boat can be seen on Google Earth by entering the coordinates Latitude 57°10'8.21"N, Longitude 4°37'53.37"W.

The Loch Ness Monster remains a subject of mass intrigue and debate. Scientists have widely written off the idea as a modern-day myth and continued sightings as set ups and wishful thinking.

Yet it has remained a contested phenomenon for almost 80 years.

Earlier this year it was reported that climate change may have killed the Loch Ness Monster. There have been "no "credible sightings" of Nessie for over a year.

Veteran American monster hunter Bob Rines thinks environmental conditions in the Highland loch have changed and can no longer sustain the elusive reptile.

The animal was first brought to the world's attention in 1933. Since then there have been dozens of sightings, many of which have turned out to be hoaxes.

There have also been a number of searches for the creature. The most recent was in 2008 when scientists used sonar and underwater cameras in an attempt to find the animal.

Monster found on Google

27 August 2009 16:30 PM

Scotland's Loch Ness monster has been spotted on Google Earth.

Security guard Jason Cooke stumbled across the strange sighting - which resembles the sea creature and looks like movement and shadows in the water - whilst browsing satellite photographs of the lake from his home computer.

He said: "I couldn't believe it. It's just like the descriptions of Nessie."

Researcher Adrian Shine, from the Loch Ness Project said: "This is really intriguing. It needs further study."

There have been a number of searches for the water creature over the years.

In 2008 scientists used sonar and underwater cameras in an attempt to spot the animal with no success.

Animals doing weird things: Pelicans play catch

These pelicans are not your average 'dumb birds' and are out to prove that despite having no hands, they can catch a ball too

by: Kirsty Ross
27 August 2009

WHO said animals were supposed to behave like, well, animals?

Pelicans, Bootsmann and his pal Petry, certainly don't - and are turning the 'dumb bird' notion upside down.

In an unbelievable demonstration of playfulness, these amazing pelicans learned to play catch with a ball (which is a football-sized soft world globe).

The crafty water birds, with a distinctive pouch under the beak birds, have mastered several tricks with the ball and can even throw it back and forth to each other.

Nine-year-old owner Adrian Adam, from Hoerstel, Germany, trained his giant pets to play the game after first teaching them to catch their dinner as day-old chicks.

Pelicans normally eat fish, but they also eat amphibians, crustaceans and on some occasions, smaller birds - luckily not little boys.

When catching fish, they expand the throat pouch much in the same way they open it to catch balls.

Vic town fights cockatoo invasion

By Gus Goswell

28 August 2009

Visitors are fascinated by them, but flocks of cockatoos are proving a mixed blessing for the residents of Kallista in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges.

The birds are a big tourist draw card, but locals are tired of repairing the damage they cause.

Some locals say the sulphur-crested cockatoos may have caused millions of dollars worth of damage throughout the ranges.

Kallista resident Kate Hannan says a lot of people feel under siege.

"We want to live in balance with nature, and with animals and birds, and we don't want to keep them at bay at all. At the moment it feels like that balance isn't there," she told the ABC.

Ms Hannan's youngest child attends the Kallista kindergarten, which has been damaged by cockatoos, along with car-parks, and the local Uniting Church.

Parishioners have put plastic sheeting over wooden rails and the church to try to stop the damage.

They are also using rubber snakes to try to frighten the birds. But to no avail. The cockatoos have pecked wooden shards away from window sills and door frames.

It is the same story at Kallista's Community House.

Primary school students have strung streamers and CDs on wooden rails to keep the birds away. But that has not stopped the damage.

Many residents believe feeding by some locals and tourists is part of the problem.

Visitors to a Kallista picnic ground are allowed to feed the birds under a 20-year lease signed with Parks Victoria.

Ian Temby from Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment agrees feeding of birds is part of the problem.

"They don't have to spend very long foraging, so they've got a lot more time to spend idle, chewing things," he said.

About 50 Kallista residents met with Parks Victoria staff and their local MP at the Kallista Mechanics Hall on Wednesday night to discuss the problem.

They want to know whether the birds are in unsustainable numbers, and what can be done to keep them away from houses and public buildings.

Local Greens councillor, Samantha Dunn says the Victorian Government needs to amend the Wildlife Act.

"We need to put some teeth into making it illegal to feed wildlife, and particularly cockatoos," she said.

Monbulk MP, James Merlino says that after concerns about bushfires and the upcoming fire season, cockatoo damage is the most important issue to the residents he represents.

"There's been a spike in activity, and the number of complaints in recent months," he told the meeting.

"Not just in and around Grant's picnic ground, but a much wider area around Kallista.

"So I've got questions, I don't necessarily have the answers," he said.

Shark born on land

27 August 2009 16:30 PM

A shark was born out of water in Britain.

The rare incident happened when the tiny creature - which was being moved to a quarantine section of Cheshire's Blue Planet Aquarium - hatched in a British diver's hands during medical checks.

The 4ins long fish - which has been named Ariel - was being transferred from a large display to stop it from falling prey to bigger water-bound creatures.

Diver Kelly Timmins said: "We're just hoping it doesn't bond with the first thing it sees, which was me.

"It is pretty unique for a shark to be born out of the water. Ariel's doing well though.

"We're also hoping it is only a matter of time before his brothers and sisters start hatching out - although we're hoping they'll do it all in the water."

Gorillas get sneak preview of new mate

Three female gorillas have been given a sneak preview of their potential new mate - a 12-year-old called Yeboah.

Published: 2:58PM BST 27 Aug 2009

The new arrival is coming to ZSL London Zoo from La Boissiere Du Dore zoo in western France this autumn.

Mjukuu, 10, Effie, 16, and Zaire, 34 have been without male attention since the death of silverback Bobby in December.

Staff at the zoo offered the animals a tantalising glimpse of his hulking 20-stone replacement by showing them a picture of him to see if they would make an association between the face in the picture and Yeboah's face when he arrives.

Tracey Lee, team leader of the zoo's mammal south department, said: "It would be nice to think they'll recognise him. I wouldn't be surprised if the penny drops when he arrives."

Staff at the French zoo are also showing German-born Yeboah pictures of the females so that he can get to know their faces too.

It is hoped that Mjuku, the youngest, will get pregnant very quickly.

Ms Lee said: "Mjukuu was holding the picture as if she was reading a newspaper. We think Yeboah will go for her first because she's very pretty, very social and she's a terrible flirt. She used to hug Bobby and sit on his knee all the time, while looking over her shoulder at the others."

Thursday, 27 August 2009

RSPCA: Hedgehog numbers may be at risk from rat poison

Photo: G L Wilson
Wednesday, 26, Aug 2009 12:00

New scientific research aided by the RSPCA has for the first time found that rat and mice poison may be having an effect on the welfare of hedgehogs.

The new study shows that anticoagulants, which are a group of chemicals used to kill rodents by preventing the blood from clotting, have shown up in significant levels in the hedgehogs studied. This could have an impact on their survival, breeding success or mobility.

RSPCA’s Wildlife Scientific Officer Sophie Adwick said “All four of the RSPCA’s Wildlife Centres, along with other establishments, supplied scientists at the University of Bristol with the carcasses of 120 hedgehogs that had died or were put to sleep due to illness or injury. The findings of this study are a great surprise and may have a significant impact on how these poisons are used in the future, so I’m pleased that our RSPCA Centres were able to contribute to this important study.”

Dr Claire Dowding, from the University of Bristol, who carried out the research said “the number of hedgehogs affected is quite worrying. It’s difficult to tell exactly how these animals are exposed to the chemicals. They may be eating them directly, scavenging on dead rodents that have been killed by the poison or eating their favourite diet of slugs and snails that have fed on the poison bait. Slugs and snails are not affected by anticoagulants because their blood is different, but they will retain poisonous residues.”

Out of the 120 hedgehogs sampled, 80 of them had been exposed to these poisons, Claire said “this high figure really is of concern and might be one of the reasons why the British hedgehog population is thought to be declining”.

Sophie added “The findings of this study mean that we must ensure these poisons are used with even greater care. Because they are widely available and the most common form of rodent control, we would urge people to bear in mind the wider problems these are now thought to cause, and use them responsibly.”

Hundreds of hedgehogs are admitted to RSPCA Wildlife Centres every year, usually because youngsters born late in the season will not have had enough time to build up sufficient fat reserves to survive hibernation. Once their weight has been increased they are released back into the wild. Sadly some are too ill to rescue or have suffered some sort of injury, only in these cases are the animals are put to sleep.

Information regarding the rescue and rehabilitation work that RSPCA Wildlife Centres carry out can be found online at where you can also listen to the monthly wildlife podcast.$1321465$366366.htm

A Rhinostone Cowboy

HE MAY not be the ideal partner for a star-spangled rodeo but Dennis, a wild white rhino, is perfect for a ride through the plains of Africa.

Despite being a ferociously territorial animal, the two-tonne beast has forged a strong bond with James Ndlovu and allows the game warden to ride on his back.

Badly wounded by a dominant bull in 2000, Dennis was nursed back to health by the 32-year-old and the unlikely duo now regularly explore the Moholoholo reserve in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

Reserve manager Colin Patrick said he 'couldn't believe his ears' when Mr Ndlovu told him years ago he planned the ride the 12-year-old beast.

'I thought Dennis would end up killing him - this is a wild rhino, a very dangerous animal, very territorial, very powerful,' he added. 'But James has been riding Dennis for four or five years now and is up to the point where he can even steer where he walks by leaning left and right.'

Mr Patrick said the animal could be as destructive as his comic book namesake.

'Dennis has turned out to be quite a menace,' he added. 'He often breaks into the reserve centre and trashes the place.

'He also likes to tag cars and building with his horns. It's like rhino graffiti.', Thursday 27 August 2009, p3.

Unusually large St Bernard litter, Thursday 27 August 2009, p10.

Police hunt wolf after sighting in Lothians

26 August 2009

POLICE are investigating a reported sighting of a wolf in West Lothian.
The animal was reportedly seen being chased through a field by a herd of cattle.

Keith McDowell said he witnessed the scene while he was walking along the edge of Polkemmet Country Park near Whitburn in West Lothian on Tuesday.

Lothian and Borders Police, who sent a team of officers to investigate, say they have alerted local farmers at locations near the country park.

Mr McDowell, 38, who is a manager at the government's Housing Access department, reported the sighting to police because so many children walk through the area.

He said: "I was just having a walk alongside the park when I saw a bit of commotion with the younger calves in the field just across from me.

"I saw something circling the cattle – but at first I thought it was only the farmers dog or perhaps a fox.

"But then the larger cattle began charging right down the field after this animal I think it had been after the calves.

"It came right through the fence onto the road – the cattle were stamping their feet and roaring around behind the gate.

"A small blue car came down the road and slowed down – if it hadn't slowed down it would have hit the animal.

"I was about 30 yards away when I realised it wasn't a fox – and it was way too big for a dog.

"It was only when I saw the size of it I knew it was a wolf.

"It was silver with a sort of black dark streak along the back and it and quite a bushy tail.

"It was either a wolf or the biggest, strangest looking Alsatian I've ever seen."

Mr McDowell was concerned after the creature escaped into the country park where families and children often to play.

He added: "When I got home the only thing on my mind that was it was definitely a wolf."

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police confirmed that they are investigating the sighting.

He said: "One patrol car was sent out to look for the creature.

"We've also spoken to the local farmer and made him aware of the sighting."

Richard Morely, Director of the Wolves and Humans Foundation, said: "It is unusual to see wolves in the wild – but there are a number of people who claim they have seen what they believe to be wolves.

"I can tell you that to my knowledge there aren't any wolves living wild in the UK.

"But if it is a wolf it's more likely to be escaped from a private collection or a zoo."

Extinct Seabird Rediscovered In Laboratory

Wednesday, 12 August, 2009 - 13:06

Three University of Canterbury academics have helped rediscover a seabird thought to have been driven to extinction by hungry European sailors in the late 18th century.

Dr Tammy Steeves, Dr Marie Hale and Adjunct Professor Richard Holdaway (Biological Sciences) are part of a team of scientists from across New Zealand and Australia who have used an innovative multidisciplinary approach to resolve the taxonomic status of the "extinct" Tasman booby (Sula tasmani).

It is the first study of its kind to report the rediscovery of an extinct bird using classical palaeontological data combined with ancient and modern DNA data.

"Many rediscoveries of 'extinct' birds are the result of an intensive search in the field, but ours is a little different - we rediscovered our bird in the laboratory," said Dr Steeves.

"What was once considered to be an extinct species, the Tasman booby (Sula tasmani), turns out be a subspecies of a living species, the masked booby (Sula dactylatra fullagari). And now these charismatic seabirds have a new name - Sula dactylatra tasmani."

Masked boobies are large colonial seabirds that breed on oceanic islands throughout the tropics and subtropics. In addition to having longer wings than birds elsewhere, the masked boobies breeding on three remote island groups in the North Tasman Sea have sepia, not yellow, eyes.

The findings have just been published online in the journal Biology Letters.

Dr Steeves, who is the article's lead author, said the researchers approached the task in two stages. First, they compared standard morphometric measurements of fossil material collected from Norfolk Island to modern specimens collected in the North Tasman Sea. In the second stage, the scientists used ancient and modern DNA methods to compare mitochondrial control region sequences from Norfolk Island fossils to those in a global sample of modern birds.

"Despite limited sampling, we found an overlap in skeletal size between fossil and modern boobies in the North Tasman Sea and show that fossil birds have mitochondrial control region sequences that are identical to those found in modern North Tasman Sea birds."

"In addition to reporting the rediscovery of an 'extinct' seabird taxon, our study highlights the need for a multidisciplinary approach when classifying both past and present diversity."

Future research will explore how these long-winged, sepia-eyed birds came to be so different from their short-winged, yellow-eyed counterparts.

See also: Merging ancient and modern DNA: extinct seabird taxon rediscovered in the North Tasman Sea

Koniks horses set to help another nature reserve

A locally important nature reserve and local wildlife site Wraik Hill is being helped by Konik horses.

In a partnership between Kent Wildlife Trust who manage the reserve and the Wildwood Trust who run another five herds of wild horses throughout Kent will see the horses grazing areas of the reserve to keep the grass short and allow a wide range of grassland species to grow, which in turn will increase the bio-diversity of the area. The horses will also help control the scrub which has, up to now, been cut back by using heavy machinery.

The area is well known for its many warblers and nightingales - This particular species is listed in the Kent Red Data Book as a rare species.

The wild horses are part of a bold plan to re-introduce the wild horse to Britain, the horse imported are the closest living relatives of the extinct Tarpan, the wild forest horse which roamed Britain in Neolithic times.

"This expands the number of sites being managed by Koniks to six which is really exciting" commented Peter Smith Chief Executive of Wildwood Trust "the work the horses are doing across Kent is invaluable they really are helping to breath life into so many rare habitats."

Wild Horses are just one of the huge range of British animals that can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park as well, for more information visit the website at or telephone 0871 782 0087.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. For more information visit our website at or telephone 0871 782 0081.


It is always good to see new generations born to our herd when we consider they where nearly made extinct during the Second World War. Some of the wild horses' ancestors were stolen by Nazi genetic experimenters under the patronage of Reichmarshal Herman Goering. The Nazis where bent on recreating a genetically pure 'Arian' wild horse.

Thankfully the polish scientists who were looking after the wild horse herds where able to protect some of them. After the War the protected herds were allowed to repopulate the national parks of Poland under the soviet occupation. Once soviet occupation was ended, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, conservationists where able to transport the wild horses to national parks across Europe.

Wildwood Trust pioneered the re-introduction of these amazing animals to the UK in 2002. Wildwood brought the first ever of their breed to arrive in southern England and these horses and their offspring have been helping to restore some of the most precious national nature reserves in the UK.

The 'Konik pony' as they are sometimes known originated in Poland and Konik is actually the Polish word for small horse.

They are a highly unusual breed in that they directly descended from the wild European forest horse or 'Tarpan' which was hunted to extinction in Britain in Neolithic times. Tarpan survived in central Europe until the late 1800s when the last of their race were captured in the primeval forest of Bialoweiza, Poland, and transported to zoos. When the last of these died in 1910 the pure race disappeared forever.

Since this time conservation grazing projects throughout Europe have used the Konik horses for wetland grazing projects. The former habitat of Tarpan was marshy woodland where their grazing activities help create ideal living conditions for a host of associated wildlife such as rare geese, spoonbills, bitterns and corncrakes.

Forest fires robbing animal charity of valuable funds

"Visit Wildwood and support our animals", that's the plea from the Canterbury based Conservation charity. The popular animal park is fully open and unaffected by the nearby forest fires.

Dramatic news reports of the forest fires surrounding the park has put off visitor coming, costing the charity thousands of pounds.

The coming August bank holiday will be the animal charity’s busiest week of the year and this income will help sustain their essential work all year round.

Wildwood wants everyone to know that they are open for business as normal and they need visitors to help their animals.

Peter Smith Chief Executive of Wildwood Trust said:

“I need people to know that we are open for business as usual and the park and animals remain unaffected by the nearby Forest Fires, visitors to Wildwood are essential if we to earn enough money to help look after our animals and fund our wildlife conservation projects”

“Kent Wildlife Trust and the Fire Brigade have done an outstanding job in stopping the fires spreading and Wildwood is now safe and secure.”

Visitors to Wildwood can see a huge range of British wildlife Discovery Park. For more information visit the website at or telephone 0871 782 0087.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. For more information visit our website at or telephone 0871 782 0081.

If you would like to receive our monthly newsletter then sign up on:

Wildwood Trust
Herne Common
Herne Bay

Registered Charity No 1093702

Wildwood Trust is Kent's unique 'Woodland Discovery Park', a visitor attraction with a difference.

Wildwood is not only the best place to bring the family for a day out, but it is also a bold and innovative new charity, backed by the UK 's leading wildlife conservationists. As a new charity Wildwood needs everyone's support in its mission to save our native and once native wildlife from extinction.

Wildwood Trust's vision is to bring back our true 'wildwood', a unique new way of restoring Britain's land to its natural state. This involves releasing large wild herbivores and developing conservation grazing systems to restore natural ecological processes to help Britain team with wildlife again.

The Wildwood 'Woodland Discovery Park' is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here.

Set in a sublime 38 acres of Ancient Woodland, Wildwood offers visitors a truly unique experience. Come Nose to Nose with our secretive badgers, experience what it is like to be hunted by a real live pack of wolves, watch a charging wild boar or track down a beaver in his lodge.

Wildwood Trust runs a highly successful programme of Conservation Projects - we are the UK 's leading experts in rescuing and re-establishing colonies of Britain 's most threatened mammal, the water vole. Wildwood Trust has pioneered the use of ancient wild horses to restore nature reserve. Wildwood Trust has been at the forefront of efforts to re-establish the European Beaver back in Britain where they belong. European Beaver have been proven to help manage water ways to bring back a huge range of plants, insects and animals.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Kent Wildlife Trust Battles Flames to Rescue Wildwood Animals

Kent Wildlife Trust and the Fire Brigade have rushed to the help of Wildwood, the popular Animal Park in the Blean Woods, north of Canterbury.

Over the past week forest fires have broken out, threatened to engulf the popular Wildwood animal park. Align Left

Staff of Kent Wildlife Trust, lead by Project Manager Mike Enfield, have been battling to contain forest fires and worked tiressly to bring them under control.

The hot dry winds where fanning the flames and driving the fire ever closer to the Wildwood Animal Park . The fires are breaking out all over the woodland around an area frequented by unauthorised campers, who's camp fires are the most proble cause.

Peter Smith, Chief Executive said:

“I cannot praise Kent Wildlife Trust enough for coming to our rescue. They have organised a huge rescue effort to protect our animals and are spending thousands of pounds putting in a fire break to stop the fires spreading.”

Kent Wildlife Trust and the Fire Brigade now have the fires under control and are hoping for a heavy shower to make sure they do not restart. The Kent based wildlife charity have set up a 24 hour guard to make sure the fires do no more damage.

Dramatic footage of fire fighting efforts by Kent Wildlife Trust was caught on video by Wildwood Trust Boss, Peter Smith, who was shown how to fight the fires by the Trust's lead contactor, John Wincott of Sovereign Forestry Contracting.

Kent Wildlife Trust are embarking on a project to return the woods to native species that will make sure the forest fires do not break out again. The woods were planted with non native pine trees as a tax fiddle in the 1980’s which destroyed much of their wildlife value. Over the coming years more and more wildlife will return to the woods as native trees are re-grow.

The now very safe animals of Wildwood can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park, for more information visit the website at or telephone 0871 7820087.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. For more information visit our website at or telephone 0871 782008.

Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs

25 August 2009

After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur.

Hans Larsson, the Canada Research Chair in Macro Evolution at Montreal's McGill University, said he aims to develop dinosaur traits that disappeared millions of years ago in birds.

Larsson believes by flipping certain genetic levers during a chicken embryo's development, he can reproduce the dinosaur anatomy, he told AFP in an interview.

Though still in its infancy, the research could eventually lead to hatching live prehistoric animals, but Larsson said there are no plans for that now, for ethical and practical reasons -- a dinosaur hatchery is "too large an enterprise."

"It's a demonstration of evolution," said Larsson, who has studied bird evolution for the last 10 years.

"If I can demonstrate clearly that the potential for dinosaur anatomical development exists in birds, then it again proves that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs."

The research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program and National Geographic.

The idea for the project, Larsson said, came about during discussions with renowned American paleontologist Jack Horner, who served as technical advisor for the Jurassic Park films.

Horner recently wrote a book entitled "How to Build A Dinosaur," in which he refers to the embryo experiment as part of a quest to create a "chickenosaurus."

Larsson's team has previously worked to uncover prehistoric animal remains, including eight unknown species of dinosaurs and five new types of crocodile in Niger. He also recently uncovered the remains of a new carnivorous dinosaur in Argentina.

The coupan returns

19/08/2009 9:47:00 AM

STRANGE goings on near Augusta have convinced two young women there is a big cat nearby.
Recorded sightings of big cats, colloquially known as Coupans, in the district go back some 30 years.

The women, who wish to remain anonymous, first saw the cat-like animal on July 30.

Alerted by barking dogs, one of the women was startled to see a large animal slinking away from a pile of kangaroo carcasses in the darkness.

She described it as greyish in colour with a white bib, a round head and a long tail.

The animal starred at her for several seconds before quickly retreating into the bush.

Early the next morning, her neighbour was woken by screaming close to her house, unsettling both her and her dogs.

“It was not a roar, not a bark, and not a meow – more of a scream.

“After a while, I heard the sound again but this time it had moved out of my yard and was in the bush.”

In daylight she found footprints, larger than her dogs, on a muddy track along with animal scat containing hair.

Convinced her mind was playing tricks, she tried to dismiss the strange happenings.

However, the next day she came upon a large kangaroo carcass partially hidden in vegetation alongside a stream.

“The first thing I noticed was that it had been plucked – it had skin, but the hair on the upper surfaces had been removed.

“The upper part of the animal had been completely devoured - from the ribs right up to the head, there was nothing but bones.”

Research confirmed prey-plucking to be a trait of some cats, and discounted the notion a dog or fox may have made the kill.

“Cougars always go for the neck, and kill prey by suffocating or snapping the neck, the kangaroo’s neck was bent so far back that the head was centimetres from touching its back,” she said.

Sound clips on the internet added to her concerns.

“The scream I heard was very similar to the cougar screams I listened to.”

An online search on cougar scats confirmed they look similar to dog scats except that they usually contain hair or bone fragments from their prey.

The bizarre behaviour of her dogs the following morning prompted her to keep them inside.

“After my dogs acting so strangely, I was terrified and rang a shire ranger for help.
“He said that he has never heard of any other sightings or such killings down here before.”

But several neighbours have confirmed seeing big cats and have found large kangaroo carcasses which appeared to have been killed in a similar way.

The women are worried the animal may be a threat to pets, livestock or even a child.

Coupan folk lore

FARMERS in the South West have reported losing large numbers of sheep and lambs since the 1970s.

While wild pigs, foxes, dingoes and feral dogs have always snatched a small number of domestic stock, these animals are messy killers, tearing, shredding and wounding.

The new predator killed cleaner, peeling the skin back, sometimes plucking the prey, and stripping the ribs clean.

The animals known in the black form as the Coupan, and similar fawn-coloured cats as Cordering or Karridale cougars, have since been spotted numerous times.

Various theories have been put forward to explain the origin of the big cats.

Rumour has it that a pair of cougars had escaped from an overturned circus truck in the area in 1960.

Other people have talked of newspaper reports in 1944, telling of two pet cougars, one light and one dark, released from warships and last seen swimming into Windy Harbour and disappearing into the sand dunes.

Another explanation is that they are escaped exotic pets or zoo animals, or animals smuggled into the country and later released to avoid prosecution.

Big cat sightings have occurred throughout Australia and even in Sydney.

New Zealand has its own big cat legand, with many recent sightings in the Canterbury foothills.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Researchers seek to learn more about Mink

Wildwood is hosting researchers from Oxford to test equipment to learn more about Mink in the wild.

The team from Oxford University Wildcru (Wildlife Conservation Research Unit), have put a collar on the mink which will record depth and temperature. This will allow future researchers to use the equipment on wild mink to learn more about their movements especially how they dive.

It is hoped that the research will help to see what mink are doing in the wild, by seeing the pattern of activity of the mink over long periods of time. The new data logger is the latest and smallest of its type, and is being tested in a controlled situation at the park.

"The data logger is very clever it measures the temperature and depth of water in which the mink is swimming" commented Joanna Bagniewska, Wildcru researcher "The whole unit is no bigger than a boiled sweet and the collar is very similar to ones used on cats"

This is very important as the mink is one of the major causes of the fall in water vole populations since it escaped in to the British countryside so learning more about how they actually behave in the wild will enable scientists to be able to protect British species like the water vole in the future.

Mink are just one of the huge range of British animals that can be seen at the Wildwood Discovery Park, for more information visit the website at or telephone 0871 7820087.

Wildwood is an ideal day out for all the family where you can come 'nose to nose' with British Wildlife. Wildwood offers its members and visitors a truly inspirational way to learn about the natural history of Britain by actually seeing the wildlife that once lived here, like the wolf, beaver, red squirrel, wild boar and many more.

Wildwood is situated close to Canterbury, just off the A291 between Herne Bay and Canterbury. For more information visit our website at or telephone 0871 782008.

American Mink - Neovison

The mink is a medium-sized member of the weasel family. The first American mink were brought to British fur farms in 1929 and all wild mink in Britain today are descendants of escapees. The natural wild colouring is a glossy dark brown, appearing almost black in some light. Commercial farming selectively bred much paler colours, hence most of those in the wild in Britain are a lighter brown. Mink spend up to 80% of their time in their dens, sleeping, grooming and eating food they have carried home. Frequently found near water, they are often mistaken for otters, although mink are in fact considerably smaller.

Mink are a major factor in the decimation of the water vole population, because they are small enough to follow their prey down its burrow.


Male: length of head/body 42 cm plus tail18 cm.
Female: length of head/body 36 cm plus tail 15 cm


Elongated body, relatively short legs, limited webbing between the toes, glossy dark brown coat, commonly white fur patches on chin, throat, chest and groin.


May be seen on every kind of waterway, streams, rivers, and canals,but are capable of living away from water provided prey, such as rabbits, small mammals and birds, is available.


Delayed implantation delays the 30 day gestation period to 39 - 42 days. Kits are born in a den lined with vegetation in April - May. One litter, 4 - 6 young. At 10 weeks they cease to depend on their mother for food. They learn to hunt with their mother. In August they disperse in search of their own territories. Females settle within 5 km of their place of birth, males 10 km May have 2 - 10 dens close to their favourite hunting grounds, usually made in the eroded roots of oaks, sycamores or willows.


Rabbits, ducks, water voles, shrews, fish, frogs, crayfish, eels, moorhens, rats, birds and eggs are all taken by the mink.

Ouch!, 25 August 2009, p4.

Dog who believes he is a cat

Chippy, a dog who developed an identity crisis after sharing a home with 40 cats, is being offered for adoption by the Cats Protection League as an 'honorary' feline.

Published: 7:00AM BST 25 Aug 2009

The Jack Russell never learned how to be a dog after spending his life around cats, the charity in Stroud, Gloucestershire believes.

He sleeps beside his best friend, a black female cat called Annie, and uses the litter tray. He also rarely barks.

Liz Dart, who is fostering Chippy in Nailsworth, said: "He came to us as part of a rescue from a multi-cat household in Cirencester.

"At first we were told he was 19, blind and deaf but that wasn't the case.

"We couldn't leave Chippy behind because he had lived with cats all his life. I suppose, having always lived among them he just doesn't know any different. He never learned how to be a dog.

"He goes to bed with Annie, one of the other cats, as they are very close and ideally we would home them together. She's very protective of him.

"He didn't really bark and still uses a litter tray now. He has chewed up a toy mouse – whether he was responding to cat nip on it, I don't know. He eats dog food now – goodness knows what he ate before."

Vets believe that Chippy is aged between 13 and 15 years old.

"He's a very gentle, old dog and we are very fond of him. It's sometimes hard to find a good home for elderly pets," Miss Dart continued.

"He doesn't mind children but a quieter home would suit him better because of his age."

A vet has estimated that he is aged between 13 and 15 years old.

'Writing' on the Stroud Cats Protection League website, Chippy said: "During the last 19 years I have lost count of the number of cats that I have shared my home with.

"I use a litter tray but have never got the hang of purring! When my owner and 40 felines were evicted the nice people at CP just couldn't leave me behind."

Scientists discover new species of crustacean on Lanzarote

Photo: Crustaceans -- Abludomelita obtusata. Image: Wikimedia Commons. By Hans Hillewaert Lycaon

Published: Monday, August 24, 2009 - 21:32 in Biology & Nature

They gracefully swim through the complete darkness of submarine caves, constantly on the lookout for prey. Instead of eyes, predatory crustaceans of the class Remipedia rely on long antennae which search the lightless void in all directions. Like some type of science fiction monster, their head is equipped with powerful prehensile limbs and poisonous fangs. Accordingly, the translations of their Latin names sound menacing. There is the "Secret Club Bearer" (Cryptocorynetes) or the "Beautiful Hairy Sea Monster" (Kaloketos pilosus). The names of some genera were inspired by Japanese movie monsters, for example, the "Swimming Mothra" (Pleomothra), the "Strong Godzilla" (Godzillius robustus) or the "Gnome Godzilla" (Godzilliognomus).

During a cave diving expedition to explore the Tunnel de la Atlantida, the world's longest submarine lava tube on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, an international team of scientists and cave divers have discovered a previously unknown species of crustacean, belonging to the remipede genus Speleonectes, and two new species of annelid worms of the class Polychaeta.

The team consisted of scientists from Texas A&M University and Pennsylvania State University in the U.S., the University of La Laguna in Spain, and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover and University of Hamburg, both in Germany. The extensive results of the Atlantida Diving Expedition will be presented in a special issue of the Springer journal Marine Biodiversity, comprising seven articles, to be published in September 2009.

The newly discovered species of Remipedia was named Speleonectes atlantida, after the cave system it inhabits. It is morphologically very similar to Speleonectes ondinae, a remipede that has been known from the same lava tube since 1985. Based on DNA comparisons, the group of Prof. Stefan Koenemann from the Institute for Animal Ecology and Cell Biology of TiHo Hannover conclusively proved that the lava tunnel harbors a second remipede species. The divergence of the two species may have occurred after the formation of the six-kilometer lava tube during an eruption of the Monte Corona volcano some 20,000 years ago.

Remipedia are among the most remarkable biological discoveries of the last 30 years. The first specimens of this crustacean group were discovered in 1979 during dives in a marine cave system on Grand Bahama in the Bahamas archipelago. Since then, 22 species of Remipedia have been discovered. The main distribution area of the cave-limited group extends from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, through the northeastern Caribbean. However, two geographically isolated species inhabit caves in Western Australia and Lanzarote.

The occurrence of these disjunct species has continues to give rise to speculation about the evolutionary origins and history of Remipedia. Since it is assumed that the relatively small (largest specimens are up to four centimeters long) and eyeless cave-dwellers could not cross an entire ocean by actively swimming, there must be other reasons for their disjunct global distribution. It has therefore been suggested that Remipedia are a very ancient crustacean group, which was already widespread in the oceans of the Mesozoic, over 200 million years ago. For these reasons, remipedes are often considered as a primeval group of crustaceans.

According to this evolutionary scenario, the newly discovered species Speleonectes atlantida and the previously known species Speleonectes ondina, both occurring in the undersea lava tube on Lanzarote, would represent ancient relicts that became isolated from the main Caribbean group during the formation of the Atlantic Ocean.
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