Monday, 31 October 2011

Antarctic Killer Whales May Seek Spa-Like Relief in the Tropics

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2011) — NOAA researchers offer a novel explanation for why a type of Antarctic killer whale performs a rapid migration to warmer tropical waters. Scientists believe that warmer waters help the whales regenerate skin faster, after spending months coated with algae in colder waters.

"The whales are traveling so quickly, and in such a consistent track, that it is unlikely they are foraging for food or giving birth," said John Durban, lead author from NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. "We believe these movements are likely undertaken to help the whales regenerate skin tissue in a warmer environment with less heat loss."

As evidence, the researchers point to the yellowish coating on Antarctic killer whales caused by a thick accumulation of diatoms or algae on the outer skin of the animals. The coloring is noticeably absent when they return from warmer waters indicating the upper epidermis of the skin has been shed.
One tagged Antarctic killer whale monitored by satellite traveled over 5,000 miles to visit the warm waters off southern Brazil before returning immediately to Antarctica just 42 days later. This was the first long distance migration ever reported for killer whales.

The coloring is noticeably absent when they return from warmer waters indicating the upper layer of skin has been shed. The scientists tagged 12 Type B killer whales (seal-feeding specialists) near the Antarctic Peninsula and tracked 5 that revealed consistent movement to sub-tropical waters. The whales tended to slow in the warmest waters although there was no obvious interruption in swim speed or direction to indicate calving or prolonged feeding.

"They went to the edge of the tropics at high speed, turned around and came straight back to Antarctica, at the onset of winter," said Robert Pitman, co-author of the study. "The standard feeding or breeding migration does not seem to apply here."

Researchers believe there are at least three different types of killer whales in Antarctica and have labeled them Types A, B and C.

Study: Optical clues help flying birds

BRISBANE, Australia, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Australian scientists say they've discovered how birds avoid collisions with objects and each other as they perform their aeronautic maneuvers.

The graceful flight of birds, even in crowded environments, is a result of their perception of something called optic flow, Partha Bhagavatula of the University of Queensland said.

"Our findings show, for the first time, that birds regulate their speed and negotiate narrow gaps safely by balancing the speeds of image motion, or optic flow, that are experienced by the two eyes," Bhagavatula said in a university release.

In a study, researchers trained parakeets to fly through a 23-foot corridor lined with varying combinations of thick black horizontal and vertical stripes, and then filmed their flights.
They found birds flew down the center of the corridor when optic flow cues were balanced -- with identical, vertical stripes on either side of the corridor -- but flew more closely to one wall or another when the cues were unbalanced, for example, when one wall was lined with horizontal stripes and the other with vertical stripes.

Also, the birds flew faster when the tunnels were lined with horizontal, rather than vertical, strips, suggesting they were using optic flow cues to regulate their flight speed.

While similar flight behaviors have been demonstrated in flying insects, this is the first time the use of optic-flow signals has been demonstrated in birds, the researchers said.

Read more:

More huge ivory seizures as rampant poaching is reported

Elephant poaching in DRC and seizures in Vietnam show elephants imperilled by ivory tradeOctober 2011. Reports this week of rampant poaching by armed forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo add a disturbing twist to the recent announcement of a seizure of more than one tonne of ivory in Vietnam.

Record poaching
These alarming events come after seven months of record poaching incidents and seizures. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) commends the authorities for the arrests that have been made but warns that much more needs to be done to reduce the threat to elephants.

All ivory sales should be banned
"As long as demand for ivory in China continues to rise, elephants in Africa and Asia will be under increasing pressure from poaching," said James Isiche, IFAW East Africa Director. "China and Japan may have bought legal ivory in 2008 but here in elephant range states we continue to pay the price for that purchase as any legal trade in ivory provides the cover for ivory trafficking. We know what the solution is - it worked in 1989 and it can work again - a full and complete ban on all sales of ivory."

DRC soldiers poaching ivory
According to media reports, soldiers from different parts of the DRC conduct massive poaching raids in the Okapi Reserve, in the north-east of the DRC near the Ugandan border. Local populations are coerced into leading soldiers to find their wildlife targets, predominantly elephants. The soldiers use automatic weapons for poaching from the 7,500 forest elephants in the reserve; the largest remaining population in eastern DRC.

1 tonne of ivory confiscatedIn Mid October, Vietnamese authorities found one tonne of ivory made up of 221 individual pieces hidden in rolls of fabric that were being transported on a boat on the Ka Long river bordering Vietnam and China. Customs officials said on Monday that a Chinese man who was escorting the boat and the Vietnamese captain were detained by local police for further investigation. Earlier in the year Vietnamese officials seized 122 tusks and Chinese officials seized 707 tusks just over the border in separate incidents.

"These events make it clear that China's legal ivory market is a big attraction for ivory smugglers. There is ample opportunity to get the illegal ivory ‘white-washed' and sold under the cover of legal trade," said Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW Asia Regional Director. "We need the international community to stand up against the ivory trade once and for all. We urge everyone to go to to pressure their government into taking action to save elephants."

Illegal ivory seizures in recent months

According to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) there has been, "a steadily increasing trend in levels of illicit ivory trade in 2004 onwards, with an exceptionally sharp upsurge in 2009....seizures of ivory reached record levels in 2009 and that these levels were largely sustained in 2010."

2011 has borne witness to a staggering degree of carnage with 5,004 elephant tusks seized in these known major seizures. Countless smaller seizures have also taken place.

Dung beetles brought back to battle bushflies

Scientists are hoping bushflies may be all but eradicated from Perth and the South-West under a new program to re-introduce dung beetles into the region.

The dung beetle program was suspended over a decade ago but a former CSIRO scientist has lobbied successfully to have it restored.

Two European species of beetle, one from France and one from Spain, will be imported from next March.

They will then be gradually introduced to breeding sites in the Peel and Boyup Brook districts.
John Feehan, who once ran the program for CSIRO and now operates an independent consultancy, says it will take time but bushflies will eventually be eradicated:

"Both species will work in early Spring and that's the very time that the bushfly population builds up into their millions so the beetles are just filling a little gap in the year that was not previously filled," he said.

Mr Feehan says it may be a little while before the results become evident.

"Bringing these beetles into Australia they have to go through very strict quarantine system," he said.
"They then have to be mass reared so it may be quite a few years before there is any particular result."
He praised the efforts of Canning MP Don Randall who he said had actively lobbied for the program.

Could legalising rhino horn trade stop poaching?

Read on ...

Farne Island seal research

National Trust celebrates 60 years surveying seals
October 2011. The 60th anniversary of one of the longest ever British mammal surveys is being celebrated by the National Trust.

Since 1951, wardens have been counting and tagging seal pups born on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast. During this time, the number of pups born each year has trebled, from 500 to 1499, making it the largest English colony of Atlantic grey seals.

Nothing known about seals
When the survey began, scientists knew almost nothing about how seals bred, what they ate or where they went during the winter. Those early studies on the Farnes were groundbreaking, setting the standard for all later seal research around the world.

The seal colony is monitored throughout the autumn by a team of five National Trust wardens, led by National Trust Head Warden David steel. This dedicated team lives on the islands full time from October to December and they're regularly cut off from the mainland by storms.

"Out here you're really in the hands of nature. We can go a couple of weeks without seeing anyone else, it's just us and the seals. The young pups can cry like human babies so it can be really eerie but after 11 years I'm used to it," said David. One mother seal usually has her pup about 10 feet from the door of where we live which makes life interesting. It means that once it's dark you can't go outside!"

45% mortality rate
David also explained the perils faced by the young seals: "The first three weeks of life for the pups is the most important, as they must stay away from the open sea. They can't swim until they moult their white fur coats and put on weight. Big storms can wash many youngsters off breeding colonies at a very young age and we can expect a mortality rate of around 45% in this harsh environment."

The results of the Farnes Seal Survey are collected by the Sea Mammal Research unit at St Andrews University. Senior Research Scientist Callan Duck said: "The Farne Islands are an integral feature in the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast Special Area of Conservation and the National Trust's monitoring of grey seal pups provides as essential component of the information required by European conservation legislation for this area."

Read on ...

First BTO Cuckoo crosses the Equator

All 5 cuckoos now in Central Africa
October 2011. Kasper has become the first of the 5 cuckoos that BTO are tracking to cross the Equator and he is now the most southerly Cuckoo! Having moved rapidly south, by the morning of 23 October, he was in the savannas of southern Congo, about 50km north of the capital Brazzaville. He seems to have taken a route that minimises the distance across the rainforest.

Is Congo their final destination?
Meanwhile, Lyster, despite being the last Cuckoo to leave the UK, has leap-frogged Clement and is now further south than both him and Martin! Having left Burkina Faso, Lyster was located in southern Nigeria on the 24 October, and has now travelled along the western edge of Cameroon, in to Gabon (see orange route on maps). Kasper also stopped in Gabon for four days before moving in to Congo. Lyster is now in the massive area that is the Congo rainforest, in which Kasper, Martin and Chris are also located. Kasper and Chris though, are in Congo itself, while Martin is in the Central African Republic. Clement remains in Nigeria.

Read on ...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Insects Are Scared to Death of Fish

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2011) — The mere presence of a predator causes enough stress to kill a dragonfly, even when the predator cannot actually get at its prey to eat it, say biologists at the University of Toronto.

"How prey respond to the fear of being eaten is an important topic in ecology, and we've learned a great deal about how these responses affect predator and prey interactions," says Professor Locke Rowe, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and co-principal investigator of a study conducted at U of T's Koffler Scientific Reserve.

"As we learn more about how animals respond to stressful conditions -- whether it's the presence of predators or stresses from other natural or human-caused disruptions -- we increasingly find that stress brings a greater risk of death, presumably from things such as infections that normally wouldn't kill them," says Rowe.

Shannon McCauley, a post-doctoral fellow, and EEB professors Marie-Josée Fortin and Rowe raised juvenile dragonfly larvae (Leucorrhinia intacta) in aquariums or tanks along with their predators. The two groups were separated so that while the dragonflies could see and smell their predators, the predators could not actually eat them.

"What we found was unexpected -- more of the dragonflies died when predators shared their habitat," says Rowe. Larvae exposed to predatory fish or aquatic insects had survival rates 2.5 to 4.3 times less than those not exposed.

In a second experiment, 11 per cent of larvae exposed to fish died as they attempted to metamorphose into their adult stage, compared to only two per cent of those growing in a fish-free environment. "We allowed the juvenile dragonflies to go through metamorphosis to become adult dragonflies, and found those that had grown up around predators were more likely to fail to complete metamorphosis successfully, more often dying in the process," says Rowe.

The scientists suggest that their findings could apply to all organisms facing any amount of stress, and that the experiment could be used as a model for future studies on the lethal effects of stress.

The research is described in a paper titled "The deadly effects of 'nonlethal' predators," published in Ecology and highlighted in Nature this week. It was supported by grants to Fortin and Rowe from the Canada Research Chairs program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and a post-doctoral fellowship awarded to McCauley.

Python Study May Have Implications for Human Heart Health

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2011) — A surprising new University of Colorado Boulder study shows that huge amounts of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstreams of feeding pythons promote healthy heart growth, results that may have implications for treating human heart disease.

CU-Boulder Professor Leslie Leinwand and her research team found the amount of triglycerides -- the main constituent of natural fats and oils -- in the blood of Burmese pythons one day after eating
increased by more than fiftyfold. Despite the massive amount of fatty acids in the python bloodstream there was no evidence of fat deposition in the heart, and the researchers also saw an increase in the activity of a key enzyme known to protect the heart from damage.

After identifying the chemical make-up of blood plasma in fed pythons, the CU-Boulder researchers injected fasting pythons with either "fed python" blood plasma or a reconstituted fatty acid mixture they developed to mimic such plasma. In both cases, the pythons showed increased heart growth and indicators of cardiac health. The team took the experiments a step further by injecting mice with either fed python plasma or the fatty acid mixture, with the same results.

"We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme, first author on the Science paper. "Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in hopes that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans."

The paper is being published in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Science. In addition to Leinwand and Riquelme, the authors include CU postdoctoral researcher Brooke Harrison, CU graduate student Jason Magida, CU undergraduate Christopher Wall, Hiberna Corp. researcher Thomas Marr and University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Professor Stephen Secor.

Previous studies have shown that the hearts of Burmese pythons can grow in mass by 40 percent within 24 to 72 hours after a large meal, and that metabolism immediately after swallowing prey can shoot up by fortyfold. As big around as telephone poles, adult Burmese pythons can swallow prey as large as deer, have been known to reach a length of 27 feet and are able to fast for up to a year with few ill effects.

There are good and bad types of heart growth, said Leinwand, who is an expert in genetic heart diseases including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. While cardiac diseases can cause human heart muscle to thicken and decrease the size of heart chambers and heart function because the organ is working harder to pump blood, heart enlargement from exercise is beneficial.

Read on ...

Environmentalists hunt wildlife-killing nurdles

Environmental regulators walked gingerly along the San Leandro shoreline Friday, keeping a sharp eye out for the elusive wildlife killer known as the "nurdle."

"I've got one," said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after scooping one out of a worker's net. There, in his palm, was a tiny white pellet.

Nurdles are the tiny bits of plastic that are melted down and used in the production of plastic bags, bubble wrap, packaging and wrapping material. They may sound cuddly and nonthreatening, but they are believed to be responsible for the sickness and death of thousands of fish and birds in the region that have mistaken them for food.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, State Water Resources Control Board and the EPA have targeted four San Leandro plastic manufacturers in a first-in-the-nation effort to halt the rampant spillage of the pellets, hundreds of thousands of which have washed into storm drains that flow into San Francisco Bay.

"It's a very big problem," Blumenfeld said during Friday's first mandated nurdle cleanup operation at Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline in San Leandro. "We're looking at the practices of companies that have a great deal of these nurdles and we're making sure they are contained."

Three plastic bag manufacturing companies and one automobile bumper manufacturer have been ordered to develop procedures to prevent future spillage of pellets. The companies also have to conduct cleanup operations during high tides at nearby Oyster Bay, where the local storm drains empty out. The wetland around Oyster Bay, where workers were using pool skimmers Friday to capture the nurdles, is prime habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.

As mitigation for the pellets that were already spilled and can't be recovered, the companies have to clean up litter on the shoreline between Sept. 1 and Feb. 1 for the next two years.

Ironically, one of the bag manufacturers produced a plastic sack with the phrase "Don't Trash California Bags."

Regulators have known about the problem ever since a giant floating patch of plastic - including nurdles and other debris - twice the size of Texas was found in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre.

Read on ...

Antarctic fur seals breed where they were born

Scientists have discovered that female Antarctic fur seals have an uncanny ability to return to within a body length of where they were born when it's time to breed.

Even if they don't manage to get this close, the majority of females give birth to pups within 12 metres of where they themselves were born.
'It's as if they have some sort of in-built GPS system,' says Dr Joe Hoffman from the University of Bielefeld in Germany, who led the study. 'Or it could be simply that they're using cues, like smell, that we can't measure. What is remarkable is that the colony is featureless, so it's impressive they find their way back.'
What's also striking is that these seals may have spent up to five years feeding hundreds of kilometres out at sea before coming home.
Knowing more about how these seals live their lives will help scientists understand how populations affect the fragile local ecosystem of South Georgia in the south Atlantic Ocean.

Read on ...

Wolves 'thriving' in Germany

Wolves are thriving in Germany, according to a new study, which found the animals could soon become part of the natural wildlife across the country.

One hundred years since hunting nearly wiped wolves out in Germany, they are moving out from their last bastion in the forests on the Polish border.

While 11 years ago there was one pack, there are now 12, and the return of the wolf to all of Germany, said Professor Beata Jessel, head of Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, is now "unstoppable".
The two-year study by the agency has surprised experts by revealing that far from requiring vast forests, the grey wolf has started to adapt to the modern environment.
"Wolves do not need wilderness, rather they can rapidly spread in our landscape and fit into the most varied habitats," said Prof Jessel in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
GPS tracking of one female wolf revealed that she built her lair just 500 metres from a busy road and raised her young undisturbed by the traffic.

Two packs, comprising 18 animals all together, now live just 40 miles from Berlin.

"One should thus be prepared for the appearance of wolves across Germany, and use management plans to establish the most conflict-free relations between people and wolves as is possible," the professor added.

The study also showed the huge distances wolves can travel. One male animal, called Alan by researchers, travelled the 963 miles to Belarus in two months, crossing countless main roads and swimming the Oder and Vistula rivers. This tendency to wander, wolf specialists say, should aid the spread of wolves across Germany.

But canis lupis also face dangers.

Wolves have struggled to shed a reputation forged in centuries of folklore and stories that casts them as sinister and ruthless killers, prepared to hunt down man or beast. This has made them a target for hunters.

Official figures put the total of illegally shot wolves since 1990 at 13 but experts believe the true figure is much higher owing to hunters hiding the carcases.

Road accidents also inflict an annual toll on the population with 17 reported deaths since 2000.

Imperial Woodpecker found on 1956 film but not on surveys to film location.

The largest woodpecker that ever lived and the closest relative of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker probably went extinct in Mexico in the late 20th century concludes a paper just published in the October 2011 issue of The Auk, the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

It was thought that no photos or film of the two-foot-tall, flamboyantly crested bird existed, until a biologist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracked down a 16-mm film shot in 1956 by a dentist from Pennsylvania. The footage captures the last ever confirmed sighting of an Imperial Woodpecker.

The researchers not only restored the film to use it to describe the species’ behavior but also to study the habitat of the woodpecker by tracking down the exact filming location during a 2010 expedition to the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, in Mexico. This ’lost species’ survey, was co-funded by The British Birdwatching Fair – Founding Global Sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. Pronatura (BirdLife in Mexico) helped with the expedition logistics.

“It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent Imperial Woodpecker moving through its old-growth forest environment, and it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone,” said Martjan Lammertink, lead author of the paper.

Read on ...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Peckish python: 16ft-long snake found with adult deer in its stomach

A 16-foot-long Burmese python was found to have a whole adult deer in its stomach after it was captured and killed in a U.S. national park.

The reptile - one of the biggest ever found in South Florida - had recently swallowed a doe the size of a small child.

Skip Snow, a python specialist who conducted the autopsy at Everglades National Park, said the animal had a girth of 44ins with the 5st 6lb deer inside its stomach.

'This is clearly an extreme event,' he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 'It shows you they can eat huge things.'

The python - an ambush predator - would have staked out a known deer trail, seized the animal in its sharp teeth, crushed it by coiling around it and then eaten the corpse, he said.


Leatherback turtle washed up on Cumbrian beach, Ireland (Via Herp Digest)

Leatherback turtle washed up on Cumbrian beach, Ireland
By Victoria Brenan, News & Star, 10/27/11

An amazing discovery was made on a Cumbrian beach earlier this month when a leatherback turtle washed ashore.

The reptile - which is critically endangered - is not often seen in the waters around Cumbria but the latest appearance has confirmed the breed's existence in the Irish sea.

They say the turtles have been spotted swimming in the Irish sea, a rich food source for them because of the high levels of plankton and algae but numbers of them have dwindled worldwide due to egg theft.

The male turtle was found by a member of the public who alerted Cumbria Wildlife Trust after making the grim discovery at St Bees around a week ago.

"It was in such a bad condition it's not easy to say [how it died]," said Alan Wright, of the trust.
"We are still investigating.

"[Other ones] have either been killed by boat propellers or eaten a plastic bag and died. There's good chance there would be some human involvement in its death."

Mr Wright said the discovery was 'good and bad news.'

"It's good in that we know they are in the sea but obviously bad in that it's dead. We do get the odd one washing up on shore in Cumbria."

He said they believed the turtle was between 10 and 15 years old and said they could live for hundreds of years.

The largest one ever found in the UK was reportedly washed up in Wales. It was nearly 10ft long and weighed 916 kilos, equivalent to a Mini.

The turtle's body was removed by trust officers working with marine bodies, Defra and Natural England.
Experts are now trying to establish how it died.

The Halifax X-Files: We reveal secret police dossier of hauntings, UFOs and vampire sheep

CALDERDALE is revealed today as a hot-spot for supernatural activity.

Official figures released to the Courier show that in the last five years 142 calls were made to police detailing paranormal events.

Today, as Calderdale celebrates Hallowe’en, we reveal the amazing stories told by terrified residents.
They have been released to the Courier after a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among the 142 calls received by police, were reports of ghosts, werewolves, UFOs and witches.
Others claimed ghouls were stealing their possessions, that a Russian witch had taken over the soul of a Halifax woman and that sheep had turned into vampires.

In Halifax calls included:
August 2006: Halifax: Reference made to witchcraft
September 2006: Halifax: Caller believes ghost responsible for theft of handbag
November 2006: Todmorden: Caller claims to be a witch
December 2006: Halifax: Caller reported hearing footseps in house and seeing ghosts which enter the house through reflections in the bedroom cabinet
December 2008: Sowerby Bridge: Caller believes there are ghosts of little boys playing cricket at the end of the garden
January 2009: Halifax: UFO sighting
July 2009: Halifax: Caller claims to be involved in witchcraft
August 2009: Brighouse: “Caller reported her friend suddenly and unexpectedly leaving her house after a visit and was concerned for her safety. On attendance it transpired the friend had been dead for some time so the caller believed she had seen the ghost of her friend.”
May 2010: Halifax: Caller seen bright light moving through sky
March 2010: Halifax: Caller believes to have a Russian witch inside her
February 2011: Caller reporting things being moved around the house and believes a ghost is to blame
Feb 2009: Bradford: Caller seen lights

Calderdale has long been seen as a centre for the supernatural.

In 1980, policeman Alan Godfrey, from Todmorden, says he saw a diamond-shaped UFO.
Later, under hypnosis, he told of being taken aboard it.

Python circulating fatty acids study could benefit diseased human heart (Via Herp Digest)

Python circulating fatty acids study could benefit diseased human heart
Press Relese 10/21/11, Provided by University of Colorado at Boulder

Boulder professor Leslie Leinwand and her team have discovered that huge amounts of fatty acids circulating through the bloodstreams of feeding pythons promote healthy heart growth in the constricting snake, a study with implications for human heart heath. Credit: Photo by Thomas Cooper
A surprising new University of Colorado Boulder study shows that huge amounts of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstreams of feeding pythons promote healthy heart growth, results that may have implications for treating human heart disease.

CU-Boulder Professor Leslie Leinwand and her research team found the amount of triglycerides -- the main constituent of natural fats and oils -- in the blood of Burmese pythons one day after eating increased by more than fifty-fold. Despite the massive amount of fatty acids in the python bloodstream there was no evidence of fat deposition in the heart, and the researchers also saw an increase in the activity of a key enzyme known to protect the heart from damage.

After identifying the chemical make-up of blood plasma in fed pythons, the CU-Boulder researchers injected fasting pythons with either "fed python" blood plasma or a reconstituted fatty acid mixture they developed to mimic such plasma. In both cases, the pythons showed increased heart growth and indicators of cardiac health. The team took the experiments a step further by injecting mice with either fed python plasma or the fatty acid mixture, with the same results.

"We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme, first author on the Science paper. "Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in hopes that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans."

The paper is being published in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Science. In addition to Leinwand and Riquelme, the authors include CU postdoctoral researcher Brooke Harrison, CU graduate student Jason Magida, CU undergraduate Christopher Wall, Hiberna Corp. researcher Thomas Marr and University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Professor Stephen Secor.

Previous studies have shown that the hearts of Burmese pythons can grow in mass by 40 percent within 24 to 72 hours after a large meal, and that metabolism immediately after swallowing prey can shoot up by forty-fold. As big around as telephone poles, adult Burmese pythons can swallow prey as large as deer, have been known to reach a length of 27 feet and are able to fast for up to a year with few ill effects.

There are good and bad types of heart growth, said Leinwand, who is an expert in genetic heart diseases including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. While cardiac diseases can cause human heart muscle to thicken and decrease the size of heart chambers and heart function because the organ is working harder to pump blood, heart enlargement from exercise is beneficial.

"Well-conditioned athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and cyclist Lance Armstrong have huge hearts," said Leinwand, a professor in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department and chief scientific officer of CU's Biofrontiers Institute. "But there are many people who are unable to exercise because of existing heart disease, so it would be nice to develop some kind of a treatment to promote the beneficial growth of heart cells."

Riquelme said once the CU team confirmed that something in the blood plasma of pythons was inducing positive cardiac growth, they began looking for the right "signal" by analyzing proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and peptides present in the fed plasma. The team used a technique known as gas chromatography to analyze both fasted and fed python plasma blood, eventually identifying a highly complex composition of circulating fatty acids with distinct patterns of abundance over the course of the digestive process.

In the mouse experiments led by Harrison, the animals were hooked up to "mini-pumps" that delivered low doses of the fatty acid mixture over a period of a week. Not only did the mouse hearts show significant growth in the major part of the heart that pumps blood, the heart muscle cell size increased, there was no increase in heart fibrosis -- which makes the heart muscle more stiff and can be a sign of disease -- and there were no alterations in the liver or in the skeletal muscles, he said.
"It was remarkable that the fatty acids identified in the plasma-fed pythons could actually stimulate healthy heart growth in mice," said Harrison. The team also tested the fed python plasma and the fatty acid mixture on cultured rat heart cells, with the same positive results, Harrison said.

The CU-led team also identified the activation of signaling pathways in the cells of fed python plasma, which serve as traffic lights of sorts, said Leinwand. "We are trying to understand how to make those signals tell individual heart cells whether they are going down a road that has pathological consequences, like disease, or beneficial consequences, like exercise," she said.

The prey of Burmese pythons can be up to 100 percent of the constricting snake's body mass, said Leinwand, who holds a Marsico Endowed Chair of Excellence at CU-Boulder. "When a python eats, something extraordinary happens. Its metabolism increases by more than forty-fold and the size of its organs increase significantly in mass by building new tissue, which is broken back down during the digestion process."

The three key fatty acids in the fed python plasma turned out to be myristic acid, palmitic acid and palmitoleic acid. The enzyme that showed increased activity in the python hearts during feeding episodes, known as superoxide dismutase, is a well-known "cardio-protective" enzyme in many organisms, including humans, said Leinwand.

The new Science study grew out of a project Leinwand began in 2006 when she was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and awarded a four-year, $1 million undergraduate education grant from the Chevy Chase, Md.-based institute. As part of the award Leinwand initiated the Python Project, an undergraduate laboratory research program designed to focus on the heart biology of constricting snakes like pythons thought to have relevance to human disease.

Undergraduates contributed substantially to the underpinnings of the new python study both by their genetic studies and by caring for the lab pythons, said Leinwand. While scientists know a great deal about the genomes of standard lab animal models like fruit flies, worms and mice, relatively little was known about pythons. "We have had to do a lot of difficult groundwork using molecular genetics tools in order to undertake this research," said Leinwand.

CU-Boulder already had a laboratory snake facility in place, which contributed to the success of the project, she said.

"The fact that the python study involved faculty, postdoctoral researchers, a graduate student and an undergraduate, Christopher Wall, shows the project was a team effort," said Leinwand. "Chris is a good example of how the University of Colorado provides an incredible educational research environment for undergraduates." Wall is now a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.

BOTSWANA: Government calls off Maun crocodile hunt (Via Herp Digest)

Governmentt calls off Maun crocodile hunt

Mmegi, 10/27/11-MAUN: The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has called off an operation to recapture crocodiles that escaped from a farm in Setatunga.

The reptiles escaped from the Okavango Swamps Crocodile Farm last month after floodwaters swept them into the Setatunga River, which is a tributary of the Thamalakane River.Ngamiland Regional Wildlife Officer, Molothanyi Othomile told Mmegi that the search for the crocodiles was stopped because there were no more reports of the reptiles in the Setatunga area.

He said more than 200 crocodiles were captured and returned to the farm. Thirty-five were earlier on shot to reduce conflict as they had already resorted to killing and eating livestock, he said. The shooting was stopped after concerns that the ammunition might contaminate the river and endanger not only the river system but also residents of Setatunga and Tsanakona settlements who rely on it for their water supply.

At the time, government took the decision to kill the crocodiles, the giant reptiles had already slain at least 100 goats and two calves. Although the owners of the animals were promised that the crocodile farm owner Albert Willers would compensate them, they have not yet received anything from him. In an earlier interview with The Monitor, two women farmers in the area, Bosiame David who lost 32 goats and Keseme Taolo expressed worry that they may never be compensated.

Frank Ramsden who is the Member of Parliament for Maun West also feigned ignorance about the crocodiles. "I only read about it in the papers and nobody has informed me about it," he told Mmegi last week, after addressing a Kgotla meeting in Borolong ward.

The escape of the reptiles from the crocodile farm has raised questions about crocodile farming in Botswana and the need for regulation of the industry. According to the Wildlife Department, a farmer can keep as many crocodiles as he can manage. The extent to which a farmer "can manage" crocodiles has become a contentious issue in Maun lately as villagers want to know from government if the farm could be overcrowded.

For example, with over two thousand crocodiles in its cabins and swamps concerns have surfaced that the farm was overcrowded and prone to crocodile escapes whenever there is a flash flood, which is what eventually happened.The ownership and licensing of the farms has also come under scrutiny. Here again the law is silent on whose responsibility it is to monitor the farms.

The Setatunga Farm management in particular has been accused of failing to conform to best environmental practices as they allegedly channel dirty water from the crocodile ponds into the Setatunga River. Efforts by this newspaper to contact the farm owner have been futile. For a month since we have been following this story his mobile either rings unanswered or is off air.

100,000 turtles sacrificed in ritual slaughter to celebrate Hindu festival (Via Herp Digest)

100,000 turtles sacrificed in ritual slaughter to celebrate Hindu festival
by Daily Mail Reporter, 10/27/11

You must see the pictures that go with this article go to
A Hindu festival that celebrates light has been shrouded in darkness following the sacrificial slaughter of up to 100,000 turtles.

Shown in these horrifying images, critically endangered species including the northern river terrapin and the black soft-shell turtle, are sacrificed in the name of religion.

The ancient ritual takes place during the celebration of Kali Puja, which started in Bengal yesterday.
Held once a year, and corresponding with the festival Diwali, sacrifices are made to Kali, the Hindu goddess of power.

During Kali Puja, market streets are teeming with devotees who purchase and consume thousands of turtles.

One of the species found on Dhaka's markets is the northern river terrapin.

On paper it is offered the same level of protection as a tiger.

Another targeted species is the black soft-shell, which has only recently been officially been found in the wild and it has a single population in a pond in the region of Chittagong.

Even though many of the turtles are critically endangered and feature on Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, the slaughter is often overlooked by authorities.

The act has enraged conservation groups in India and abroad.

"Since the killing of turtles was made illegal, this mass slaughter has been carried out in the name of 'religion'," said Dr Rashid of Centre for Advanced Research in Natural Resources & Management (CARINAM) in Bangladesh.

'It's because of this that the authorities turn a blind eye - they are too scared of causing social unrest."
At Dhaka's Tanti Market, the turtles are butchered and their meat, limbs and organs are then sold to customers.

The meat sells for between $10 - $60 per kilo (£6-£37), depending on the species.
Followers believe that by eating the turtle, they will take on its strength and longevity.
During festival, the majority of Bangladesh's Hindu population consume turtle meat.

Businessman Sunil Kumar Bala commented: "We have been eating turtles during Kali Puja for a long time. It is a tradition that we will maintain even if the government tries to stop us."
The turtle trade offers a source of income to up to 30,000 people.

Hari, the longest serving trader of turtles in Dhaka's markets, estimates he has been responsible for killing around 20,000 tons of turtles.

"If this this trade stops, many people's livelihoods will suffer," he said.

"I have been doing this for the last 40 years, if you stop this now, what will I do?"

Turtle conservationists, however, are up in arms.

"The Kali Puja turtle market is a wildlife travesty of the worst kind," said Rick Hudson of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) in Fort Worth, US.

"The brutality with which turtles are slaughtered is gruesome, shocking and an abomination of nature."

Once the market concludes, the shells are cleaned, scraped of meat and then dried.

The dried shell has multiple uses. It is processed and fed to fish and chicken.

The pharmaceutical industry uses it to make the containers of capsules for antibiotics and other drugs.

However, the majority of dried shell is shipped to south east Asia where it is used in traditional medicine. It is believed that consuming turtle shell increases virility.

As night fell in Dhaka yesterday, the ceremonies began. During sacrifices to Kali, goats were beheaded and turtles impaled upside down on poles.

As they tried to escape, their head and legs were chopped off.

Turtles have been on earth for over 220 million years, even surviving K-T boundary that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Now they are amongst the world's most endangered animals; around half of their 300+ species are threatened with extinction.

"Turtles are being collected, traded, and eaten or otherwise used, in overwhelming numbers.

"They are used for food, pets, traditional medicine-eggs, juveniles, adults, body parts-all are exploited indiscriminately, with little regard for sustainability. On top of the targeted onslaught, their habitats are being increasingly fragmented, destroyed, developed, and polluted," from "Turtles in Trouble" by the Turtle Conservation Coalition.

Over recent years Bangladesh has become a hot spot for the illegal turtle smuggling trade.

Animals are smuggled in from neighbouring nations and then re-exported due to Bangladesh's porous border security.

The current outlook for many of the species is grim.

"This situation is completely unsustainable. Unless the trade for turtles stops and a slaughter in the name of religion is regulated, a number of species will be lost forever," said Dr. Rashid.

Friday, 28 October 2011

How woodpeckers avoid head injury

Read on ...

Giant stag killed by poachers

One of the country's most majestic stags, which was set to rival the famous Exmoor Emperor, has been shot dead illegally by poachers.

The impressive young animal - dubbed the Goodleigh Giant - was shot in north Devon.

 Photo: SWNS

He was expected to become one of the biggest stags in the country when fully mature because he already had an impressive 19 points on its antlers - compared to The Emperor's 14.
The stag had become less wary as the rutting season approached and local landowners tried to keep him a secret for fear of trophy hunters tracking him down.
But rumour of the 200lb animal's presence spread and poachers descended on the region to get a glimpse or a shot at the stag, which would fetch thousands of pounds on the black market.
The death follows a series of stag slayings in the area as poachers target the impressive animals as trophies.

News of the animals' demise also comes almost a year to the day after the country's largest wild animal - the 300lb 9ft Exmoor Emperor was killed.

Experts branded the slaying as ''unnecessary'' and ''reprehensible''.

Peter Green, of Shirwell, near Barnstaple is veterinary advisor to the British Deer Society as well as the Royal parks of London and National Trust.

He said: ''Stags are removed either because they are poorer quality younger animals or when they become older and are no longer in their prime.

''There is nothing wrong with the shooting of a mature stag that is older and in decline, since he will already have left his genes in the population and he will no longer be able to compete with the more vigorous stags that are a year or two younger than him.

''There is therefore a legitimate place for the trophy shooting of older stags that have started to go back in condition and dominance, but the indiscriminate shooting of mature stags simply for trophies is reprehensible.''

Stags can only be shot legally during daylight hours by licenced people from August 1 to April 30 and there are strict controls upon the calibre minimum of rifle that can be used, so that deer are not wounded by inappropriate bullets.

Mr Green said he has previously chased hunters with rifles after they were spotted on his farmyard.
He added: ''On Monday October 17 the 19 point stag was found dead on private land locally.

''I examined the stag post-mortem to recover forensic material and found that he had been shot two or three times in the back and in the belly. He had undoubtedly suffered considerably from these wounds before dying slowly.

''He had travelled some distance from where he had been holding his hinds and had obviously managed to flee from the poachers, who had clearly taken indiscriminate potshots at him as he ran away.

''This was the very worst of cruel, senseless deer poaching.

''The stag was not an elderly animal and was not past his prime. He would have continued to improve in size and spectacle and would probably have had even better antlers next year.

''He had probably mated with very few hinds this season, as the rut is barely under way.

''Deer poaching is not just a slightly questionable countryside activity undertaken by wily countrymen steeped woodcraft and field skills, who take the occasional deer for the pot.

''It is a vicious and violent crime, committed by thugs with no thought of animal welfare or human safety.

''I am appalled and distressed by such killing. Not only is it cruel and illegal, but also it makes no sense for the long-term quality of the local deer.

''Every farmer knows that herds are improved by keeping the best ram or the best bull for breeding, yet the best deer are at greatest risk of being shot because of the emphasis upon trophies.

''The venison from rutting stags is poor in both taste and texture, it seems that the poachers were simply after the head of the stag to hang a trophy on a wall.

''In the event, all they achieved was the painful and lingering death of a fine animal and they went away empty-handed.''

Tears for the 'river pig'

Increasing pollution of the Yangtze River and the threat this poses to the finless porpoise is also a warning for a third of the nation's population that depends on these waters. Wang Ru reports.Growing up in Huanggang, a city by the Yangtze River in Central China's Hubei province, He Dan had heard from elderly fishermen about a rare fish, dubbed the "river pig" by locals.

volunteer is distraught after seeing the Yangtze River finless porpoise rescued in Shishou, Hubei province, in May. Gao Baoyan / For China Daily

The fishermen described them as shy animals that often chased their boats, making a whistling sound. However, the term "river pig" was not really appropriate for the clever animal, that fishermen recall leaping out of the water in pairs or as a group.

He says she never spotted a "river pig" in her childhood, but did witness the increasing dredging of the river to feed the construction sites on its banks, and the resulting muddying of its waters.
He, a junior student of Chinese literature at Central South University in Hunan province, recalls how shocked she was to see a photograph that stirred much online discussion. It was of a rescued dolphin-like animal seemingly shedding tears. She learnt it was the "river pig" - the Yangtze finless porpoise - of her childhood.

By Wang Ru (China Daily)

Read on ...

Blue whales off California. Why aren't they recovering?

Research shows Blue whales endangered by shipping
October 2011. Scientists in California have been puzzling as to why, when most large whale species have recovered well in the last 20 years, Blue whales have not.

Blue whales migrate past the Post of Los Angeles, one of the busiest in the world, between May and December. There are regular reports of ships striking the Blue whales, and at least 4 were killed in 2007. The true number may be much higher because most blue whale deaths go undocumented with the carcass sinking or the blue whale floating offshore undiscovered. Blue whales face serious risks from ship strikes especially when they use areas like LA/Long Beach on the route of the high level of shipping traffic serving these ports.

Blue whale research on occurrence off S California, abundance, and presence near shipping lanes has benefited by the recent collaborative effort between Cascadia Research and the Aquarium of the Pacific with the help of Harbor Breeze Cruises. This work has revealed a higher level of recent use of the waters off LA by Blue whales than had been known previously.

The lack of increase in blue whale populations is in contrast to many other large whale species that occur off California like Humpback, Fin, and Gray whales which have shown strong recoveries from whaling over the last 20 years.

Read on ...

Attempt to reunite rescued Bengal tiger cub with mother

Found alone and dehydratedOctober 2011: Attempts to reunite a month-old tiger cub with its mother is under way in the Burapahar range of Kaziranga National Park, by the Assam Forest Department assisted by International Fund for Animal Welfare - Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI).

The female cub was found alone by forest guards earlier this month. The following day, a makeshift shelter was prepared at the site where the cub was found for the attempted reunion. The cub was left overnight with five infra-red camera traps set up by Aaranyak scanning the area around it, with hopes that her mother would come to get her.

Sadly, no tiger movement was recorded. As the cub was getting weak, she had to be taken to the IFAW-WTI run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) where she was treated for dehydration.

The cub is now active and noisyAs the cub recuperated, camera traps were left at the site to capture any tiger movement. No relevant images were found on the camera traps, but tiger pugmarks were observed around the area. Given the territorial nature of tigers and that the cub was found here, conservationists believe that there is a high probability that the pugmarks belong to the mother.

‘The cub has now recovered and is active and noisy, which could help in the reuniting effort, if you look at it positively,' said Dr Abhjit Bhawal, IFAW-WTI veterinarian. ‘She will be placed in the shelter tonight, which has been shifted closer to the area where the pugmarks were seen and in an area with better cover, unlike the area where the cub was found.'

WTI's chief vet, Dr Ashraf said: ‘There are calculated risks. Given the pugmarks observed and the cub's improved health, she has a fair chance at making it back to a normal life in the wild. However, predators are a threat to the animal's safety. In case these attempts bear no results, the authorities will decide on the fate of the animal.'

Dinosaurs may have migrated: study

Giant plant-eating dinosaurs may have lumbered across hundreds of miles as they made seasonal migrations in search of food and water, scientists believe.

The long-necked "sauropods", which stood on four legs, were the largest animals that ever walked the Earth.

Given their enormous appetites and water needs, their ability to survive in lowland flood plains affected by seasonal dry spells and drought has puzzled scientists.

Now researchers have learned at least one dinosaur species made regular journeys between lowland to highland habitats covering several hundred miles.

The evidence is in the teeth of Camarasaurus, a large sauropod which grew to a length of 60ft and weighed to 18 tonnes.

Fossilised Camarasaurus teeth, found in the US states of Wyoming and Utah, contained a chemical record of the animals' movements during the Late Jurassic period around 150 million years ago.

Different atomic versions of oxygen, or isotopes, occur in the surface water of lowland and highland regions.

These differences remained imprinted in the oxygen from drinking water deposited in the Camarasaurus teeth.

Comparing the oxygen isotopes to those in ancient soil, lake and wetland samples revealed a picture of the dinosaurs' migration patterns.

The researchers, led by Dr Henry Fricke, from Colorado College, US, wrote in the journal Nature: "Camarasaurus populations... must have directly occupied high-elevated regions for at least part of the year before returning to the basin where they died."

PETA Sues SeaWorld Under US Slavery Law

An animal rights group has sued SeaWorld on behalf of its whales under an American law abolishing slavery.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claim the chain of theme parks violate the rights of killer whales under the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Five performing whales at SeaWorld - Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises - are listed as plaintiffs in the complaint.

"All five of these orcas were violently seized from the ocean and taken from their families as babies," said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk.

"They are denied freedom and everything else that is natural and important to them while kept in small concrete tanks and reduced to performing stupid tricks," she said.

SeaWorld San Diego labelled the lawsuit, filed in the city on Tuesday, as "offensive".

A park statement said that PETA's efforts to "extend the Thirteenth Amendment's solemn protections beyond human beings is baseless and in many ways offensive."

David Steinberg, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, called the suit "patently, absolutely frivolous".

"The 13th Amendment abolished the abhorrent, despicable practice of the slavery of human beings," he said.

"PETA is demeaning the integrity and humanity of people who were owned as slaves. That is outrageous."

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring SeaWorld to release the five killer whales to a "suitable habitat".

One of the whales, Tilikum , killed a trainer in Orlando last year by dragging her underwater. The incident raised an outcry about safety and animal rights.

The suit lists PETA and two former SeaWorld employees who have become activists opposing the captivity of marine mammals as "next friends" bringing the suit on behalf of the whales.

PETA, famous for its "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign, has undertaken a number of controversial actions in the past in seeking to advance the cause of animal rights.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Face-To-Face With an Ancient Human

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2011) — A reconstruction based on the skull of Norway's best-preserved Stone Age skeleton makes it possible to study the features of a boy who lived outside Stavanger 7 500 years ago.

"It is hoped that this reconstruction is a good likeness and that, if someone who knew him in life had been presented with this restoration, they would hopefully have recognised the face," says Jenny Barber, an MSc student at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

She has scientifically rebuilt the face of the strong and stocky Viste Boy, who lived in the Vistehola cave near Stavanger, so that people can now look him right in the eye.

Ms Barber is studying forensic art, an unusual discipline embracing such elements as human anatomy and identification in order to recreate the appearance of an actual person.

This modelling method is primarily employed to assist police investigations, and is little known or used in Norway. But the country's most extensive reconstruction of a Stone Age skeleton has now been achieved.

Discovered in 1907, the Viste Boy represents the most complete Norwegian Stone Age skeleton and the third oldest human remains ever found in the Norway.

His dark-coloured skull and bones are currently on display in a glass case at the Archaeological Museum on the University of Stavanger (UiS).

Analyses show that the Viste Boy was approximately 15 when he died. He stood a bit less than 1.25 metres tall and probably lived in a group of 10-15 people.

From their studies of rubbish in and around Vistehola, the archaeologists determined that this clan ate fish -- mostly cod -- as well as oysters, mussels, cormorants, elk and wild pig.

They also thought that the teenager might have been sickly, which would explain his early death.

The oldest of Norway's known skeletons from the Stone Age belonged to a woman and was discovered at Søgne near Kristiansand in 1994. Her skull has been dated to 8 600 years ago.

She was the subject of Norway's first and hitherto only reconstruction of such ancient bones, which was exhibited at the University of Oslo's Museum of Art History in 1997.

This model was based on data from a series of skull X-rays, which allowed specialists at University College in London to build a three-dimensional recreation.

But reconstruction techniques are steadily improving, and the model of the Viste Boy reproduces his features differently than with the Søgne woman.

"The goal has been to create something as similar as possible to the original," explains Ms Barber. "That's what facial reconstruction is all about -- identification and recognition of a unique person."

Read on ...

Chequered Skipper – Rare butterfly numbers double in Lochaber

Recent monitoring results of Chequered Skipper butterfly numbers at Lochaber’s Allt Mhuic butterfly reserve on the north shore of Loch Arkaig show that numbers have increased for the second year running.

The butterfly, which can only be found in the UK at a handful of Scottish sites, in and around Lochaber and north Argyll, is staging a remarkable come-back after several years of decline.

After reaching a low point of only 3 counted on the reserve’s butterfly transect (a standard way of monitoring butterfly populations) in 2009, new management practices were introduced at the reserve, run by Forestry Commission Scotland, in 2010 and the recorded population has now increased five fold

The reversal of fortunes is down to the Commission using 15 Highland Cattle from its 100 strong Lochaber herd to graze specific areas during the year, benefiting the habitat and the food plants that Chequered Skippers prefer.

Independent eco-consultant, Tony Millard, who has been monitoring the project since it began in 2002, said:

“These latest results are a terrific achievement for the Commission’s local team, who all show a real passion for what they are doing.

“Back in 2005 we recorded 38 Chequered Skipper along the transect and that declined year-on-year until 2009, when we only counted 3. The Commission then brought the cattle in during the winter and we’ve seen Chequered skipper numbers surge – up to 8 in 2010 and now 15 this year.

“That is a brilliant result - especially as the poor summer has generally meant fewer butterflies across the UK. The cows have done an excellent job and must take much of the credit!”

The Allt Mhuic reserve remains one of the primary sites for the development and refinement of grazing regimes for the conservation cattle herd based in Glen Garry.

Approximately 100 cattle, in smaller groups are grazing areas at the Sound of Mull (Savary), Poloch, Loch Shiel (Scamadale), Glen Loy, Cow Hill above Fort William and the original site at Loch Arkaig – and during 2011, Chequered Skipper were confirmed on all of these sites.

Kevin Peace, the local District Manager said:

“Our conservation cattle are a valuable resource, carrying out work where machines would find it impossible to function, and doing their thing 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“Seeing Chequered Skipper numbers increase like this indicates that introducing cattle to Allt Mhuic – and other sites – was definitely the right thing to do. It’s great news for the butterfly, but conservation grazing is also helping the beautiful demoiselle, black grouse, and plants such as the montane or dwarf birch and juniper.”

Tom Prescott from Butterfly Conservation Scotland confirmed:

“It is great to be able to point to exemplary sites where there is practice in place to show how sites can be managed.”

Notes to Editors
1) Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government’s forestry directorate and manages the 660,000 hectare national forest estate. The Commission protects, manages and expands Scotland’s forests and woodlands in a way which benefits biodiversity, communities and the economy.

2) Alt Mhuic reserve lies on the north Shore of Loch Arkaig approx 15 miles from Fort William and is open all year round.

3) Highland Cattle are present all year but graze different habitats within the reserve according to season. Currently there are 15 cattle as a permanent group on the site, part of the wider Garry Pinewood cattle grazing project. At least two other sites are now being grazed on a regime that we pioneered at the Butterfly Reserve, but The Alt Mhuic reserve remains the first and will be the core of the Commission’s butterfly management within the forest district.

4) Detailed monitoring of butterfly species and habitats has been carried out by Forest Research and independent consultants since the reserve was established.

5) The Chequered skipper butterfly is one of six key species in Forestry Commission Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to carry out work across the national forest estate to help conserve and enhance species numbers. The other key species are, black grouse, capercaillie, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, juniper and red squirrel.

6) Butterfly Conservation is the largest insect conservation charity in Europe with nearly 15,000 members in the UK. Its aim is the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats. It runs conservation programmes on over 100 threatened species of butterfly and moth as well as world leading recording and monitoring programmes. For more information, visit

7) For more information about the reserve and the butterfly species present visit

Reindeer pant to stay cool in fur coats

Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death

It is a living fossil whose ancestors go back a half billion years — to the early days of complex life on the planet, when the land was barren and the seas were warm.       

Naturalists have long marveled at its shell. The logarithmic spiral echoes the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies. In Florence, the Medicis turned the pearly shells into ornate cups and pitchers adorned with gold and rubies.

Now, scientists say, humans are loving the chambered nautilus to death, throwing its very existence into danger.

“A horrendous slaughter is going on out here,” said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines. “They’re nearly wiped out.”

The culprit? Growing sales of jewelry and ornaments derived from the lustrous shell. To satisfy the worldwide demand, fishermen have been killing the nautilus by the millions, scientists fear. Now marine biologists have begun to assess the status of its populations and to consider whether it should be listed as an endangered species to curb the shell trade.

On eBay and elsewhere, small nautilus shells sell as earrings for $19.95, and as pendants for $24.95. Big ones — up to the size of plates — can be found for $56, often bisected to display the elegant chambers.

As jewelry, the opalescent material from the shell’s inner surface — marketed as a cheaper alternative to real pearl — can fetch $80 for earrings, $225 for bracelets and $489 for necklaces.

Catching the nautilus is a largely unregulated free-for-all in which fishermen from poor South Pacific countries gladly accept $1 per shell.

Scientists worry that rising demand may end up eradicating an animal that grows slowly and needs 15 years or more to reach sexual maturity — an unusually long time for a cephalopod. (Its cousins include the squid and the octopus.)

“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said Neil H. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the co-editor of “Nautilus: The Biology and Paleobiology of a Living Fossil,” a compendium of scientific reports.

The nautilus lives on the slopes of deep coral reefs in the warm southwestern Pacific. While it is easy to catch with baited traps on long lines, the depths — as much as 2,000 feet, below the range of sunlight and scuba divers — make it hard to study.

So to find out just how endangered the nautilus is, biologists began a formal census last summer in at least six regions known to harbor the shy creatures.

Dr. Landman said the relatively few scientists who study the nautilus must overcome “a tremendous lack of knowledge” about its overall numbers and geographic range.

By contrast, modern consumers know far too much, he said: “You can see the shells polished and sold all over the place.”

The fossil record dates the ancestors of the nautilus to the late Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Some grew to be true sea monsters, with gargantuan shells and big tentacles. Over eons, the thousands of species have dwindled to a handful.

The word “nautilus” comes from the Greek for boat. When the first shells arrived in Renaissance Europe, collectors were stunned: They saw the perfect spirals as reflecting the larger order of the universe.

Later on, Victorian homes displayed them as curios. In his famous 1858 poem “The Chambered Nautilus,” Oliver Wendell Holmes admired “the silent toil” that produced the “lustrous coil.” And in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Jules Verne created a watertight submarine of many compartments and christened it the Nautilus.

About those chambers: The creature periodically erects barriers inside its shell as it grows, leaving a series of unoccupied spaces behind. Like a submarine, the nautilus changes the amount of gas in the empty chambers to adjust its buoyancy. And it uses jet propulsion to swim.

To feed on fish and shrimp, it has as many as 90 small tentacles — and, like all cephalopods, a relatively large brain and eyes. The coiled shell can exhibit a nacreous luster or bands of bright color. The creature cannot go too deep lest its shell implode — like the hull of a submarine.

Urgent need for action to save polar bears

Bears' habitats are literally melting away...October 2011: A dramatic reduction in polar-bear habitats in the next ten to 50 years has been predicted. The study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) warns this is due largely to global warming.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses polar bears as Vulnerable, with trends that suggest the population is decreasing. Polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, so much so that large scale changes in their habitat will have a devastating impact on the population.

'They will disappear from many areas they are found today'‘Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population,' says Dag Vongraven, who heads up IUCN's polar bear specialist group, the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI). ‘If we fail to make a stand to save this species we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they're found today.'

Climate change poses the most substantial threat to polar bear habitats. Recent trends for sea ice extent and thickness predict dramatic reductions over coming years- declines of roughly ten to 50 per cent of annual sea ice are predicted by 2100. A recent study by the NPI suggests that summer sea ice in the Polar Basin might be gone in a decade, not 50 to 100 years as most models have projected in the past. The long-term trends reveal substantial global reductions of the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic and the length of time ice when is present each year.

There must be strong commitments to cut greenhouse gases – now‘Climate change will be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century,' says Simon Stuart, chairman of IUCN's Species Survival Commission. ‘In order to slow the pace the adverse effects of climate change are having on species around the world, we must work to reduce use of energy from fossil fuels and ensure that our leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions now.'

Polar bears live throughout the ice-covered waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation and Alaska. Their range is limited by the southern extent of sea ice. Polar bears that have continuous access to sea ice can hunt throughout the year, but in areas where the sea ice melts completely each summer, the bears are forced to spend several months on land fasting on stored fat reserves until freeze-up.

Other population stress factors that also impact the species survival include toxic contaminants, shipping, recreational viewing and oil and gas exploration. The polar bear is unique among species protected under the Endangered Species Act because it is the first to be designated as threatened due to global warming.

Bay of Plenty oil disaster: Rare birds dying in their hundreds

‘It is really shocking - they don't look like birds' October 2011: Forest & Bird's Seabird Conservation Advocate Karen Baird is used to seeing petrels and shearwaters skimming over the waves at sea, rather than having to identify their dead bodies encased in black tar-like lumps of oil.

Karen has been working in conservation for about 25 years and has never before been involved in a similar operation to New Zealand's Bay of Plenty oil spill disaster.

Since the disaster unfolded, some of her work has been at the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre in Mt Maunganui, identifying dead birds that have been washed ashore in the Bay of Plenty .

‘You find half a dozen stuck together in a tar-like mess'‘When you start doing this work, it is really shocking, they don't look like birds, they are totally covered in oil.

‘They are brought into the centre in bags and you might find half a dozen stuck together in a tar-like mess.'

But Karen realises the identification work she and other scientists have been doing is essential to try to gauge the impact of the Rena oil spill and its likely long-term effects.

‘From a conservation point of view, it is important to have an idea of how many birds of a particular species died, especially for some of the more endangered ones,' she said.

The impact will be felt for several years‘We know where the breeding colonies are, so it will be important to check the colonies of some of the worst affected species.'

The impact of the oil spill is likely to be felt well into the future.

‘Many birds from the species that are breeding locally will lose this breeding season and there is the potential to lose next season as well, because some surviving birds are likely to remain in poor health or have damaged breeding ability.'

The dead birds brought into the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre are the tip of the iceberg. Most of the birds that got covered in oil had probably sunk, disappearing from sight for ever, she said.

Many birds are drowned, others die of coldSo far more than 900 dead birds had been identified, comprising 23 species. These included 458 diving petrels, 198 fluttering shearwaters, 92 Buller's shearwaters, 38 white-faced storm petrels and 20 little blue penguins.

Many are likely to have died by drowning, while others probably were killed by cold after the protective waterproof coating on their feathers was stripped away by the fuel oil.

Among the victims of the spill, there have been some surprises. The species have included mottled petrels, blue petrels and Antarctic prions, which are rarely found in the Bay of Plenty area.

The response centre is treating about 100 live birds and looking after three penguin chicks and three seals. There are also 13 unharmed New Zealand dotterels being held in a temporary aviary after being taken off their beaches after the oil pollution spread east along the Bay of Plenty coast. New Zealand dotterels are endangered, with only 1,500 birds known to exist. Some of their main habitats are found along the Bay of Plenty coast.

Bat killer cause confirmed as fungus (via Dawn Holloway)

Read on ...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Old Jawbone Found Near Kennewick Man Site

Bone turned over to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Federal archaeologists are investigating a very old jawbone that turned up Monday along the Columbia River in Kennewick.

The human remains were found a short distance from where Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996. Those ancient remains sparked a decade of legal conflict.

The jawbone with six worn teeth was spotted in shallow water by a jail work crew doing routine park cleanup. Kennewick police and the Benton County, Washington, coroner quickly determined that the bone is that of an adult human, but is too old to connect to a modern crime. Archaeologists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, took jurisdiction.

Army Corps spokeswoman Gina Baltrusch says it is pure "speculation" to connect the single bone to any era or people at this point.

"Basically, too soon to know. We'll follow the law. And we're treating these remains with respect," Baltrusch says.

A retired archaeologist who investigated the ancient Kennewick Man fears the Army Corps will quickly turn the bone over to a local tribe for reburial without sufficient study. Tribal leaders argue strenuously that their spiritual traditions demand such remains be put back to rest as soon as possible.

Tom Banse

Panther tracks found

New Carlisle resident says he saw big cat in field; deputies on hunt.
NEW CARLISLE — Several footprints that apparently belong to a large exotic cat have been found in the area.
Resident Jeff Brown said his neighbor, Matt Cooper, called him Sunday morning saying he’d spotted what looked like a panther sunning itself in his hay field in the New Carlisle area.
“He called me and said, ‘I just shot at something out back. I think I might have hit it,’ ” Brown said.
Believing it to be a black panther, the two set out with Clark County sheriff deputies but could not find it. However, they did find several footprints authorities said looked like those of a large cat.
Sheriff Gene Kelly said after receiving reports of a panther in the Harrison Twp. area in Montgomery County, he believes it could be the same cat.
“It could have followed the river and come north,” he said. “We have alerted Miami County and Champaign County since this area borders those other counties.”
Brown said he’s sure it was a panther, about 4 feet in length. He tied a large piece of venison in a nearby tree, and when he checked back hours later, something had devoured it.
Deputies are following up, and Kelly said anyone who spots the animal should notify his office and not try to catch it.
Following the release of several exotic animals in Muskingham County that had to be put down by authorities, Kelly said he’d like to apprehend the animal “in the most humane way” possible.
“We would certainly like to capture this animal safely and make sure the community is safe as well,” Kelly said.

By Jessica Heffner, Staff Writer

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