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« Reply #6720 on: Feb 13, 2020, 04:37 AM »

'Intelligent drones': albatross fitted with radar detectors to spot illegal fishing

Scientists design lightweight device to identify suspicious ships and send location back to authorities

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin

Albatross cops may soon be taking to the skies over the subantarctic Isles to scan remote parts of the Pacific Ocean for illegal fishing boats.

In a trial using technology shared by New Zealand and France, 169 albatrosses were fitted with radar detection tags in November 2018 and released to the south of the Indian Ocean.

In a separate experiment New Zealand Fisheries fitted 20 radar detection tags on to antipodean albatrosses in January 2019, allowing the department to track their movements between New Zealand’s sub-antarctic islands and the west coast of South America.

Rebecca Blowes, from Fisheries New Zealand, said the government wanted to track the birds to better understand their distribution and foraging range for conservation purposes.

But there was also another motive: the radar detection tags were able to locate fishing boats in remote seas and may be able report back which ones were hunting illegally.

It is estimated the global illegal fishing industry costs upwards of £17.6bn a year.

“The majority of radar detections received were within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone and as part of our analysis we will check these against reported fishing activity in the same locations,” Blowes said.

“Albatross are taonga [precious] species and this research will help understand more about their movements and how we can protect them.”

The New Zealand birds are part of a larger global effort to fight the illegal fishing trade.

In the northern hemisphere a squad of 169 albatross fitted with the same radar detection tags revealed this week that a third of the vessels plying Antarctic waters below the Indian Ocean were very likely filling their hulls unlawfully with toothfish, ice fish, krill and other species.

Henri Weimerskirch, a marine biologist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said albatross were perfectly adapted for the long-distance and strenuous ocean reconnaissance missions.

They cover great distances and are particularly attracted to fishing boats – especially the fish or fish parts thrown overboard.

To turn the albatross into high-flying spies, a team of international scientists designed a lightweight device with a GPS antenna to track location, another antenna to detect ship radar, a third one to send the data back to headquarters and a solar panel to power them all.

The units were mounted on the backs of the birds, which seemed unfazed by the extra cargo.

Airborne albatross can spot a vessel from 30km away and will consistently come in for a closer look once they do. “They’re like drones, only intelligent,” said Weimerskirch.

When a bird zeros in on a boat its logger detects the radar signal and sends the coordinates back to the scientists.

Of 353 radar contacts made, about 30% were from vessels that had turned off their positioning systems. If they were in national waters, that was a likely sign of illegal activity, the researchers reported.

It is believed the United Kingdom is interested in the trials and would like to use them to reduce seabird bycatch in its waters.

An estimated 300,000 seabirds are killed annually through accidental encounters with fishing vessels but scientists are hoping these risky encounters may soon serve a greater purpose.

The results of the New Zealand trial are expected later this month.

With Agence France-Presse

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« Reply #6721 on: Feb 13, 2020, 04:42 AM »

Defenders: saving Congo's parks: Gorillas, charcoal and the fight for survival in Congo's rainforest

A deadly conflict simmers between the autochthon people forced out of Kahuzi-Biéga national park, and the rangers protecting the land


On a scarred hillside on the edge of the Kahuzi-Biéga national park, smoke rises from the once-forested slope as men cut down trees and burn them for charcoal. Suddenly, warning cries echo across the landscape. Park rangers are arriving. More men come running to the scene, some carrying machetes in anticipation of a confrontation. A tense stand-off follows.

This corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a frontline of a simmering and sometimes deadly conflict between two largely impoverished groups: the autochthon people, forced out of the forest as part of conservation efforts, and the rangers, who are tasked with protecting the land.

The situation across the vast Kahuzi-Biéga national park, home to the endangered eastern lowland (Grauer) gorilla, is itself a microcosm of growing tensions across the globe between conservation efforts and the rights of tribal peoples displaced by those efforts.

Here, the conflict escalated sharply at the beginning of the year, after candidates in national elections encouraged the autochthon – popularly known as the Pygmies – to return to the forest. Violence erupted again at the weekend, leaving one person dead, reportedly a Pygmy, and 14 injured.

    Park rangers talk to autochthon people who have just felled a large area of trees for charcoal on the edge of the Kahuzi-Biéga park

The autochthon sell the charcoal to traders, who in turn sell it at a giant markup in the nearby city of Bukavu, on the border with Rwanda, where it is used as cooking fuel. Standing in a recently felled area, Mirindi Songolo (below), a 23-year-old autochthon villager, says his people have no choice.

“We are cutting the forest because we do not [otherwise] have the means to survive,” he says. “This was our land that was taken for the park. Our forefathers were born here. Now there are so many of us [in the communities outside the park] there is no room for us. That’s why we decided to come into the park to cut trees for charcoal.”

A second man interjects: “The solution would be for the government to give us the land or money to live somewhere else, because it is too difficult for us to live the way we are now.”

A short distance away, park official Gloria Mwenge Bitomwa reflects on the deaths since last year of four rangers. In the most recent case, in April, a tracker called Espoir Bajoda had gone to an autochthon village to buy some food while off-duty. An argument ensued and he was killed. The clashes with the autochthon have contributed to a growing crisis of morale, fuelled by the longer term problem of armed militias who operate within the park’s boundaries, and low pay. The rangers earn a basic salary of around $100 (£79) a month before additional payments – barely enough, they say, to live on.

Listed by Unesco as one of 53 world heritage sites under threat, Kahuzi-Biéga has long faced serious challenges. Spread over 600,000 hectares (1.5m acres) and dominated by its two extinct volcanoes, the park encompasses a variety of ecosystems, from lowland forests to montane highlands, forests of bamboo and even areas of sub-alpine prairie, characterised by continuous vegetation.

    Women carry large sacks of charcoal, illegally made with trees cut from the park

Unlike the mountain gorillas found in the nearby Virunga national park as well as in Uganda and Rwanda, eastern lowland gorillas are found in only two locations, and the recent incursions into their Kahuzi-Biéga habitat have created anxiety for the primates, according to the rangers.

Songolo says his people were invited back into the park as part of an agreement with authorities, but that a dialogue about what they could and couldn’t do fell apart. The agreement refers to an attempt to introduce arrangements based on the “Whakatane Mechanism”, which was set up to ensure that conservation practices respect the rights of indigenous peoples, and takes its name from a town in New Zealand where a commission was held on the subject in 2011.

In theory the Whakatane Mechanism allows for indigenous people to return to conservation areas to practise sustainable activities like foraging, and it has been pioneered elsewhere in Africa.

In his house in the rangers’ accommodation near the park’s main administrative office, Kasereka Kioma – nicknamed Tout Terrain – and his wife reflect on the difficulties facing the rangers, their concerns over money mirroring those of the autochthons.

“I like my job,” he says, adding that he has worked as a ranger for 24 years. “I’m passionate about protecting the gorillas but with a family I don’t earn enough to live on.”

His wife, Jeanette, adds that most months she needs to borrow money before his salary comes in to pay for schooling and essentials. She is also worried about his safety after so many violent incidents involving the rangers.

    Left, Gloria Mwenge Bitomwa, park official; right, Kasereka Kioma, a ranger, with his wife Jeanette

Asked about his biggest worry for the park, Tout Terrain answers: “The biggest threat is cutting the trees in the park for charcoal burning. I just pray that they don’t destroy what we have spent so long protecting. More trees are being cut down every day.”

Their 17-year-old son Johnny arrives. Asked whether he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, he says he has no desire to become a ranger because of the pay, and would rather work in IT.

The park’s director, De-Dieu Bya’ombe Balongelwa, blames the DRC’s complex and contested politics for feeding the recent wave of destruction.

“The issue of the Pygmies returning to the park emerged as a serious issue in September during the election campaign,” he says.

“We felt that it was being pushed by some NGOs and then the issue was manipulated by some local politicians who wanted to profit from the situation. We feel they have been stoking conflict here between the Pygmies and the park.”

The final element in Kahuzi-Biéga’s perilous equation is to be found deep inside the forest.
Bonne Année, an eastern lowland gorilla, eats vegetation in the Kahuzi-Biéga park

At the end of a sinuous and muddy trail, trackers lead the way to where Bonne Année (above), a male gorilla, is recovering from wounds sustained in a fight with another male. Nearby, a female suckles a baby while two infants play on a branch.

When the park was established in 1970, the gorillas’ habitat encompassed over 8,000 square miles of DRC. In the ensuing decades it has declined by half.

“When I started it was a different time,” says Juvenal Munganka (left; mobile view, above) who has worked in the park for 17 years. “We worked without guns. Then after the militias came into the park we were allowed to be armed. There were various rebellions and that was a time of disturbance for the flora and fauna.”

He adds that a period of stability after 2015 saw numbers of gorillas and elephants in the lowland area increase.

“That’s been the positive side of our work. The negative side is poaching, the continued presence of militias in some places and the recent problem of Pygmies entering the park to cut the trees.”

He suggests a compromise is possible.

“They should be able to go back, but on our terms. No cutting trees. No poaching.”

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« Reply #6722 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:23 AM »

Wolves regurgitate berries for their pups to eat

It's a berry important task for wolves.

Mihai Andrei

Fruit seems to make up an important part of the wolves’ diet — much more important than previously thought.

Wolves (Canis lupus) can eat a lot of things. They are, of course, hunters — but their chances of catching prey are much higher when they’re a group. They’re also scavengers, not being particularly picky about food. They also complement their diet with fruits and berries. For centuries, scientists have made notes of this, and many farmers can attest that wolves will sometimes come to their fields.

This was thought to be only a complement in their diet — a way to compensate for poor hunting, accounting for a small amount of their caloric intake. That may not be the case.

In 2017, biologist Austin Homkes of Northern Michigan University in Marquette noticed some unusual behavior. He was following the GPS signal from previously installed wolf collars. It seemed like a gathering where several wolves met up — indicative of a hunt, he thought.

It’s common for wolves to hunt something and then bring the pups to the carcass to feed. But this wasn’t the case. It was, indeed, a rendezvous site. Homkes watched from a distance, observing as pups gathered around an adult wolf. They started licking its mouth, which stimulates adults to throw up. Then, Homkes thought, it must be still some meat the adult wolf had previously consumed.

But this wasn’t the case here. Homkes watched in shock as the wolf regurgitated piles of partially chewed blueberries, which the pups munched on.

Premastication (the act of pre-chewing food for the purpose of feeding it to babies) is not uncommon. Humans still do it sometimes, though we don’t consume and regurgitate the food. Several species of animals are known to do it as well, either with or without the regurgitation — that’s not the surprise. The surprise is that the wolves would go to such lengths to provide berries to their pups, even when hunting is not unsuccessful.

    “It’s a pretty big part of wolf ecology that was right under our noses that we didn’t see,” Homkes says.

This also raises some interesting questions: how much nutritional value do berries carry for wolves, which are thought to be primarily carnivorous? Homkes is also curious to know what happens when blueberries are not available to a pack that relies on them.

But this is not just a biological curiosity, it could be important in conservation.

    “Given the dearth of information on the role of berries in wolf ecology, we think considerable research is needed to understand the importance of wild berries to wolves. Such research could, for example, illuminate how forestry practices that dramatically increase berry abundance might affect wolf pup survival,” the study reads.

The study has been published in Wildlife Society Bulletin.

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« Reply #6723 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:26 AM »

This is the only pink manta ray in the world — and people are going crazy over it

The ray, named after a beloved character from the Pink Panther movies, may have a genetic mutation that makes its skin color pink.

Tibi Puiu

Ocean photographer Kristian Laine was freediving and taking pictures in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef when he came across what can only be described as a marine unicorn: a manta ray with a pink belly instead of its usual white coloring. It’s the only pink manta ray that we know of and scientists still aren’t sure why it’s colored like this.

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    Its pink manta kind of monday today. The only pink manta in the whole world can be found cruising the shallow waters around lady elliot from time to time, around 8 times in 8 years i think is more like the odds Wink . . . . . #thisisqueensland #seeaustralia #southerngreatbarrierreef #nikonaustralia #gbrmarinepark #australiangeographic #ladyelliotislandecoresort #underwaterphotography #ocean #oceanvision #discoverocean #ausgeo #qldparks #aquatech_imagingsolutions #madeofocean #freedive #natgeowild #natgeoyourshot #natgeoau #aussiephotos #ig_australia__ #natgeo #ourblueplanet #padi #australia_shotz #abcaustralia #oceanconservancy #underwater_is_life #snorkel.around.the.world #naturephotographer

    A post shared by Kristian (@kristianlainephotography) on Feb 9, 2020 at 10:07pm PST

This isn’t the first time that the pink manta ray — named Inspector Clouseau after the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies — has been spotted. In fact, Clouseau is a sort of local celebrity, especially among marine biologists. The 3.3-meter (11-foot) pink ray was first identified in 2015, but it’s only been spotted around 10 times since then.

Although Clouseau is rather camera shy, scientists affiliated with Project Manta have confirmed that the ray’s rosy coloring is real, and not some photoshopped fake as some have speculated on social media.

Like whale sharks, manta rays are filter feeders that scoop up plankton and krill through their large toothless mouth, which acts as a sort of sieve. The rays’ wingspan can easily reach several meters, allowing them to swim very fast. Occasionally, you can see them leap out of the water, landing with a loud slap. Unlike stingrays, manta rays don’t have a sharp barb, so they’re safe to swim, snorkel, or dive with.

Initially, scientists thought that the unique pink hue of the ray may be due to some skin infection or diet. Pink flamingos, for instance, get their famous coloring due to their diet of crustaceans. A 2016 biopsy from Clouseau, however, showed that the animal’s coloring has nothing to do with an infection or the food it eats.

Instead, the leading theory now is that Clouseau has a very rare genetic mutation, perhaps linked to a condiction called erythrism, which causes some animals’ skin to be reddish or pink. Similar genetic mutations are responsible for albinism, the condition that causes some animals (and even people) to lack any pigmentation in their skin or hair, appearing completely white.

Normally, reef mantas come in three color patterns: all-black, all-white, or black-and-white. The latter pattern is the most common and involves countershading, whereby the ray’s back is black and the belly is white in order to better blend with its surroundings and avoid predation.

Clouseau’s pink skin, however, shouldn’t be a threat to its existence. The reef manta is massive in size and can weigh up to a ton, and there are few predators if any that can take it on.

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« Reply #6724 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:40 AM »

African wild dogs kill 16 animals at West Midlands safari park

12 African wild dogs escaped from their compound due to damage caused by Storm Ciara

PA Media
14 Feb 2020 23.15 GMT

Sixteen animals were killed at a safari park after a pack of African wild dogs escaped from their compound due to damage caused by Storm Ciara.

At West Midland safari park in Bewdley, Worcestershire, staff were left “extremely saddened” by the loss of six deer and 10 sheep last weekend.

A spokeswoman for the park said 12 wild dogs were able to enter a neighbouring compound in the early hours of 9 February as the storm hit the country.

The compound housed Persian fallow deer and Barbary sheep.

“At no point was there a risk to public safety and there was no danger of any animals escaping the park’s perimeter fencing,” the spokeswoman said.

She said the wilds dogs were returned to their compound unharmed.

“The wild dogs entered the neighbouring compound through a gated entrance which had been damaged in the storm which hit Worcestershire earlier that morning,” the spokeswoman explained.

She added: “Given their personal attachment to our animals, our staff are extremely saddened by the incident.”

Commenting on the impending arrival of Storm Dennis on Saturday, she said: “We are aware of the current weather warnings in place for this weekend and will monitor this closely, making our decisions, as always, in the best interests of our animals and public safety.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the African wild dog is one of the world’s most endangered mammals, with only about 1,400 left in the wild.

The largest populations remain in southern Africa and the southern part of east Africa.

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« Reply #6725 on: Feb 14, 2020, 04:43 AM »

Country diary 1920: bush harrow reveals banquet for the birds

14 February 1920 Some of the fields are ‘bushed’, old style, with a five-barred gate harnessed to a horse with collar and long traces

RC Spencer
14 Feb 2020 06.00 GMT

Rooks, companies of them, but each to his own flock, have searched the meadows to-day, following the bush harrow, and in some instances thinking, in their way, it has gone over grass, where in reality it has yet to come. In this remote part the fields are “bushed”, some of them, old style. We throw a five-barred gate, pull faggot wood from the copse, hazel, thorn, ash, and birch boughs in and between the bars, turn the gate thus furnished bush downward to the ground, weight it with slabs of stone or a small boulder, harness the horse with a collar and long traces, and so harrow the field. At once how startled are the myriad inhabitants that live in the soil. Over go the molehills – the moles must tremble, for it is a long time before one will appear; but worms instinctively curious, come to the surface, and a feast is ready for the birds. The banquet lasts for hours, minute insects of many kinds are devoured, starlings join in it, a stray jackdaw sails over from the church tower, perhaps to report, struts about, finds little to his taste, and returns. But to-morrow they will all be here again.

Long stalks have shot up among the daffodils, seemingly in a night, lords and ladies have pushed early leaves above the winter refuse on the hedge bank, wild parsley is fresh and green, a little farther along ground ivy has crept about the roots of last year’s teazles that are still erect, bearing their big, spiked heads as though the power of living remained yet in the dead.

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« Reply #6726 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:24 AM »

Books: The sky’s the limit: why together we’re greater than the sum of our parts

From bats to honeybees, when individuals act as a group they unlock amazing possibilities. Can emergence help us fashion a politics to heal our divided age?

Colum McCann
Sat 15 Feb 2020 11.00 GMT

We stood in the mouth of a cave above the Colorado River in Texas. It was early evening, just before sunset. A biologist friend, Joel Hunter, and I were waiting for a swarm of bats to emerge from the depths of the Gorman cave. Joel gestured to its wall, where a number of daddy longlegs were quiescent against the stone.

“Stand still,” he said, “and try not to flinch. The bats will fly out any minute. One or two of them might hit you because their echolocation can be off. But don’t take your eyes off the wall.”

We could hear the eerie flap of 5,000 pairs of wings as the Myotis bats emerged from below us – the odd music of whoosh and wingbeat. I stood, terrified, in the centre of the cave. And then, suddenly, the walls on either side of us started to throb. It had to be an illusion: they appeared to be pulsating. One bat hit my chest; another my ankle. But 5,000 others swung around us, all agility and dare, out into the reddening sky to feed on mosquitoes and other insects.

When the bats were gone the walls of the cave stopped pulsating. A sharp scent hung in the air.

“What just happened?” I asked.

The principle of emergence states that a multitude of any number of living things – neurons, bacteria, ants – can exhibit properties way beyond the capability of any one individual. Flocking birds can display emergent qualities, wheeling across the sky in seamless formations. Honeybees become so much more startling when they work in unison. Groups of people possess intelligence, or indeed stupidity and violence, far greater than the sum of our parts.

Storytelling, too, can exhibit the possibility of emergence and, in this fractious day and age, sharing our stories might be one of the only things that can save us. We are living in the exponential era, a carousel of quickening, in which almost everything is becoming faster and smaller, faster and cheaper, faster and more accessible. We like to think we’re capable of listening to, and understanding, anyone from any place, but the stark reality is that, even with our vast technological capabilities – or perhaps because of them – so many of us are heading indoors, closing the curtains and locking down the GPS systems on our imaginations.

Increasingly our stories have parameters, borders, no-go zones. A sense of: you’re wrong, I’m right; don’t step into my world; stay away from my truth. We often tell stories so as to win a battle or to fulfil a narcissistic need to feel we’re in the right. Our lack of affection for others is astounding. In all of this, our world can become so tiny and atomised that we wall off our empathetic abilities.

But what happens when we actually set out to understand the stories of others, not just of those across the street, but also from people vastly different from ourselves? What happens if the simple act of listening and talking becomes the thing that bolsters our very notions of peace, equality, democracy and understanding?

On the other hand, what happens if we don’t? What occurred in the cave was startling. Individually, the daddy longlegs could have been food for the bats. As prey, they would have been eaten in flight. But they had interlaced their legs – their many thousands of legs – on either wall, and when the bats emerged they had begun to move in unison, each using their energy to appear huge while also releasing a sharp-smelling odour. Their bounce made it seem as if the daddy longlegs were one giant organism. The bats swerved out into the evening and dined on the individual mosquitoes swirling around in the air. Some things, it seems, are more emergent than others.

Over the last six years, students at a school in the south Bronx, New York, have been conducting an experiment in empathy in which they employ storytelling as a means of engagement. The experiment is taking place under the auspices of Narrative 4, an organisation I co-founded with the social entrepreneur Lisa Consiglio and supported by several writers, including Ishmael Beah, Lila Azam Zanganeh, Marlon James, Darrell Bourque and Terry Tempest Williams. The school, in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States, is run by a visionary principal, Hazel Joseph-Roseboro. The programme is relatively simple: you step into my shoes, I step into yours, and then I will tell your story back to you in the first person. “Since we began running it we have had higher levels of attendance, lower amounts of conflict, better test results and a soaring level of empathetic engagement,” says Roseboro.

One Narrative 4 programme brought together the Bronx students with pupils from the Floyd County High School in rural Appalachia: mostly black kids meeting mostly white kids, urban meeting rural, “blue” meeting “red”. Some of the young people admitted that they were nervous to the point of feeling unable to talk at first. But when they began telling stories to one another – and then telling those stories back to their partners – the fear faded, their imaginations expanded and they began to see the world in an altogether different way.

Those from the Bronx got a glimpse into what it might be like to be from a coal-mining family in the south. The students from Kentucky could understand the northerners’ fear of stepping into a grocery store where the Confederate flag hangs over the cash register. They talked about the opioid crisis, the US suicide epidemic, and they discovered what we mean when we talk about love.

They were not discussing facts and figures, but sharing the deep texture of their lives: the stories of their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers and teachers. The exchange highlighted what stories can do: the world gets nuanced, complicated, muddied even. And because stories never really end anywhere – in fact it is hard to find their beginnings, too – the students were then tasked with turning their newfound empathy into action, embarking on projects involving the opioid epidemic and issues of mental health. “Storytelling has transformed our school. Our young people started opening all sorts of doors,” says Mary Sloane, a teacher at the Floyd County High School.

    A dozen Greta Thunbergs could get a lot done; 100,000 could completely transform the planet. One story adds to the next

Here it was: stories turning into action on the ground. Whether we are talking about Israel and Palestine, or India and Pakistan, or London and Dublin, or indeed the South Bronx and Kentucky, there is a vast need to know one another. This sounds slightly twee, a sort of pie in the sky for those who want to peddle the value of stories. But I’d rather be wide-eyed about it than remain locked down with the squinty-eyed cynic in the corner of the room.

In these cataclysmic times, the new reality is constant dislocation. We don’t really have a single place in which we can remain. We are essentially threatened with a sense of moral homelessness. And yet at the core of it all, one thing remains constant: we have a need to tell our stories. The problem is that we’re largely telling them to ourselves. In this way we are truly sentimental; we are refusing to journey.

What needs to change is our ability to listen to and engage with the stories of those we don’t necessarily know, or even like. It begins in our own backyards and then spreads outwards. Often we come up against the notion – especially from the marginalised – that our own narratives don’t matter. But, inside the principle of emergence, everything matters.

This emergence occurs when the smaller, even anonymous parts interact in a wider whole. The Arab spring was an example of a failed emergence, but just because it failed does not mean it, or some renewed version of it, won’t happen again. Much of what occurred during the uprising came from bottom-up systems, not top-down. It was crowdsourced, random, to some degree self-correcting. It spread itself outwards. It showed a need to fly and the flocking ability of the political movement gave people a brief sense of hope.

Next time around, perhaps, the pull will be deeper: it might even come from youngsters in high schools across the region or indeed from around the globe. A dozen Greta Thunbergs could get a lot done; a hundred thousand could completely transform the planet. One story adds to the next. This is the essential democracy we inhabit. Emergent storytelling is a means of change. By getting to know one another – good and bad – we link in underneath our histories and we begin to pulsate •

Colum McCann’s Apeirogon will be published by Bloomsbury on 25 February (RRP £18.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.

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« Reply #6727 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:26 AM »

Flying high, not getting high: the poppy-eating cockatoos of Tasmania are no opiate addicts

Scientists say it’s the poppies’ fat and protein, not their narcotic alkaloids, that keep the birds coming back for more

Amaani Siddeek
15 Feb 2020 19.00 GMT

Tasmanian farmers have reported their poppy crops are being ravaged by cockatoos, but experts say it is likely that it is a taste for the fatty seeds, and not an addiction to opiates, that is attracting the birds.

Tasmanian farmer Bernard Brain told the ABC on Tuesday that flocks of about 300 white cockatoos had decimated his harvest by ripping capsules from his poppy flowers and eating them, leading him to believe that the native birds were addicted to the alkaloid found in the seed.

Poppies, which naturally produce opium, are used to produce highly addictive drugs such as morphine, opium, heroin and codeine.

But Maggie Watson, a lecturer in ornithology at Charles Sturt University, has cast doubt on that theory.

“The pathways of addiction for birds and mammals are very different,” she said.

“The cockatoos are not affected by the opiates in poppy seeds, rather they are interested in the fat content of the seeds.”

Poppy seeds are high in fat (about 50%) and protein (about 22%), so they are very nutritious for the cockatoos.

A spokesperson from BirdLife Australia supported this and said: “Our senior bird expert says he’s not entirely convinced it is about the cockies being addicted.

“I actually think it is a case of these intelligent birds discovering and exploiting a new food resource rather than them becoming the junkies of the bird world.”

But while the newfound source of food is popular among the birds and safe for them to eat, Brain says it has cost him both time and money.

“The damage has been far worse this season than any other, mostly due to the dry weather,” he told Guardian Australia.

“I’ve got three poppy paddies and the damage [done by the cockatoos] is worth about $15,000, which you know, it’s about 10% of my poppy crops.”

But worse than the poppy damages, Brain’s biggest problem is the amount of time he feels is wasted chasing after the huge flocks.

“I can usually get them gone by ten o’clock in the morning by chasing them around for a couple of hours and then they disappear until five o’clock and then I chase them again for a couple more hours.”

The hours spent chasing cockatoos in the morning is, on a normal day, the time where he’s able to get a few small jobs out of the way, water the crops and put out the hay before having breakfast at home.

Watson explained that eating seeds, even poppy seeds, is normal behaviour for the white cockatoos of Tasmania.

“In Tasmania, there are several species of cockatoo that are white, these include the long-billed corella, little corella and sulphur-crested cockatoo. All three are known seed and fruit eaters and will eat agricultural grains.”

For Brain and other nearby farmers, it’s not just poppy crops being affected. Cockatoos also feast on the seeds of other crops, which has forced the company he works for to buy broad acre netting to cover seedlings.

Recent bushfires have affected feeding grounds for many species across Australia.

In Tasmania alone at least 32,302 hectares have been burned since the start of the 2019 fire season, which may have affected the regular feeding grounds of Tasmania’s white cockatoos, with drought also depleting resources.

“I don’t know the specifics about Tasmanian feeding grounds, but in general, across Australia, all the birds are struggling to find food this year,” Watson said.

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« Reply #6728 on: Feb 15, 2020, 05:27 AM »


We had to take down the thread we had on animals because of being notified by the Guardian newspaper out of England that we had to do so because we had been posting article from their website. Anyway, I am a great lover of animals, and a champion for their well being. So I want to start up a new thread that will not post articles from the Guardian. Hopefully, what I do post from whatever source will just let us be because, in the end, it is about doing whatever we can to help our animal friends.

God Bless, Rad


All friends of animals,

I would like to direct your attention to a world wide organization who is doing all it can for our animals friends. They really need all the support and help possible, including donations of money. Please visit their website at http://www.worldanimalprotection.org/ to learn more about all that they do, and how you can donate to them if you feel so inclined. Below is just some of the incredibly important things that they are doing. Please help them if you can.

God Bless, Rad

                                          World Animal Protection

We move the world to protect animals.

Animals in communities: We move the world to protect the one billion animals that live in communities.
We move the world to protect the one billion animals that live in communities

Animals in farming: We move the world to protect the 70 billion animals farmed each year.

Animals in disasters: We move the world to protect and rescue animals in disaster zones. Animals in disasters

We move the world to protect and rescue animals in disaster zones

Animals in the wild: We move the world to protect wild animals – and keep them in the wild.

Global animal protection: We move the world to put animal protection at the heart of global thinking.

Education: We move the world to teach students and vets that animal protection is vital.


                                                Hope For Paws

Here is another outfit called Hope For Paws that is just doing incredible work for animals that need help that really needs financial support to help them keep doing what they do. Here is there web address so you can see what they do: https://www.hopeforpaws.org/. And here their address do donate: https://www.hopeforpaws.org/donationrecurring. And here is an example of what they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q3PDuU17P4

Hope for Paws is a 501 C-3 non-profit animal rescue organization (E.I.N: 26-2869386). We rescue dogs, cats and other types of animals suffering on the streets or neglected in the wild. Through rescue and education, Hope For Paws works to raise awareness for abandoned animals.
Hope For Paws was founded on June 11, 2008 by Eldad Hagar.

For eight years, Eldad volunteered with other rescue organizations in the Los Angeles area. Because he gravitated towards the most challenging rescues, often saving animals with the most pressing and complex medical conditions, rescue organizations need thousands of dollars to care for the new animals. At one point, Eldad started to feel like a burden on the main organization where he was volunteering and decided it was time to be responsible for his own fundraising. Eldad spent a few hours thinking about a name for the new rescue organization, and came up with Hope For Paws.
When and why did you decide to start posting videos on YouTube?

A friend of Eldad's mentioned one day: "If I didn't personally know you, I would have never believed the stories you're always sharing with me".  She continued to say "Why don't you take a camera with you, and show me... take me with you on a rescue journey".  YouTube was a fairly new platform, and the first video uploaded by Hope For Paws was seen 14 times (10 of the views were from Eldad's Mom).  The channel has grown significantly since that first video in 2009, and as of today, Hope For Paws has almost 3 million subscribers and over 660,000,000 views!

Please help these folks and the animals they rescue.


                                                Howl Of A Dog

Howl Of A Dog is a small nonprofit animal rescue organization located in Romania.

We rescue abandoned, neglected, injured and abused animals from the streets and from over-crowded shelters, we offer them the medical care they need and find them loving forever homes.

To help reduce dog overpopulation which is a huge problem in our country and to prevent abandonment, we provide free neuter/spay programs and we also support and help low-income families pay for veterinary care and lifesaving medical treatment for their dogs.

At the same time, our efforts aim to build a more compassionate and responsible society. We want to raise awareness and show the world how amazing all animals are and how their unconditional love, loyalty and friendship can bring joy and happiness and improve the lives of their human companions.

Through the stories of our rescued animals we are trying to inspire and help humans learn to respect and protect the lives of other species we share this planet with, resulting in better lives for both the animal and human communities.

Many of the dogs we rescue are seniors or dogs with special needs that would otherwise have very few chances of surviving by themselves on the streets and would be usually scheduled for almost immediate euthanasia in over-crowded shelters from Romania. Being unfairly considered “less-adoptable” because they are old, blind, abused, traumatized or injured, these dogs wait for a home much longer than the average adoptable pet does, sometimes even years. For some of them, we may even be the only family they will ever have.

While waiting for their forever families, our rescued animals are provided with everything they need, from veterinary care and adequate nutrition to basic training and lots of affection. They even have their own parties, on Christmas and other special occasions!

All the animals we rescue are being fostered by us, at our house. They are accommodated in a very nice, clean and cozy facility that we built specially for them and they have a play yard and a large fenced-in area, with grass and trees where they can run and play safely. And of course, they also have full access to our house. They live with us as part of our family and are considered and treated as family members, being given all the love and attention they need to be happy.

Our commitment is to find the most suitable adoptive homes for the animals we save, where they will live happily, being loved and cherished. We also facilitate international adoptions and many of our rescue dogs found forever homes in the USA, Canada and Europe.

Howl Of A Dog does not receive any government funding, our life saving work relies entirely on the support and generosity of compassionate animals lovers like you.

Thank you for helping us give neglected animals the chance to live a better and happier life!

Diana Badescu, Co-Founder
Catalin Stancu, Co-Founder

Howl Of A Dog Organization
Registration Number 33570458, Romania
E-mail: contact@howlofadog.org
Website: www.HowlOfADog.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HowlOfADog
YouTube: www.youtube.com/HowlOfADog
Instagram: www.instagram.com/howlofadog
Twitter: twitter.com/HowlOfADog

Please help these folks by donating here: https://www.howlofadog.org/make-a-donation/

Some of there rescue videos can be viewed here: https://www.howlofadog.org/howl-of-a-dog-rescue-videos/


      Pegasus Society: rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of horses and donkeys in Israel

The Pegasus Society was founded by Zvika Tamuz of "Moked Hai" ("Living Hotline"), who has been rescuing animals since 1993.

Zvika has been taking care of horses for over twenty years. In 2004 he became aware of how prevalent the abuse of equestrian animals in Israel had become. Different animal welfare organizations began referring him cases involving these animals, knowing that he had the know-how as well as facility to care for them. News that somebody is actually rescuing and caring for neglected and abused horses and donkeys spread quickly. The National Traffic Police, the National Roads Association and municipal vets, who did not know how to help these animals, also started calling Zvika whenever they encountered a stray horse or donkey wandering alone in a place where they were endangering themselves and others (such as on busy roads).

With the price of iron going up, many residents of the occupied territories began scouring the border area of the Sharon plain, collecting (and quite often stealing) scrap iron. That process marked a new era in terms of the numbers of horses and donkeys in very poor physical condition working in the area. An influx of calls was received from people from Kfar Saba, Ra'anana, Hod HaSharon etc. – appalled by the sight of these emaciated and injured animals pulling carts piled high with very large and heavy loads of scrap iron, beaten mercilessly by their owners to keep them going, many of which simply collapsed on the street, unable to go on. The different animal welfare societies who received these calls referred them to Zvika Tamuz.

In August of 2006 Ms. Eti Altman, spokesperson of the "Let the Animals Live" organization, wrote to several government and state agencies, alerting them to the grave hardships endured by horses and donkeys in Israel and demanding that the government will take responsibility for the rescue operations and, for the expensive upkeep of these animals which, up until then, was being paid for by Zvika Tamuz out of his own pocket.

As a result of this effort, the Ministry for Environmental Protection began funding the rescue operations of donkeys and horses, but there still remained the problem of keeping and caring for them during the long rehabilitation periods they required. There was an urgent need for an organization that would take responsibility of these animals in Israel. Dozens of horses and donkeys were rescued by Zvika, at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. No report of a horse or a donkey in distress was left unattended to. The fear that the owners would try stealing them back or harming them in any way prevented Zvika from making public the rescue stories, and he emphatically requested that the police would never divulge his name or address.

In May of 2007 a team of the International WAP (formerly WSPA) came to Israel on a visit and was taken by Ms. Rivi Meier, founder of The Society for Cats in Israel, to visit Zvika Tamuz's ranch. This surprise visit provided the basis for the founding the Pegasus Society.

In collaboration with WAP the Pegasus Society started on a new path with a clear vision of establishing an educational center and a visitors center that would convey the message of the plight of these animals and supply the tools that would enable the general public to recognize states of distress in horses and donkeys.

In the 'Susita' sanctuary run by the Pegasus Society these horses and donkeys are being rehabilitated both physically and mentally. Some of them remain at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives and become permanent residents.

One of the upcoming projects the Pegasus Society intends to launch in the near future is an educational program, in the Jewish and Arab sectors alike, with the intention of passing on the message of compassion and caring for animals to the younger generation.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyQvabcygSU

Here is there homepage: https://www.pegasus-israel.org/en/home

And to donate: https://www.pegasus-israel.org/en/home#!88


                                                       WOLF HAVEN

Wolf Haven International is a nationally recognized wolf sanctuary that has rescued and provided a lifetime home for 250 displaced, captive-born animals since 1982. Guided 50-minute walking visits offer guests a rare, close-up view of wolves. Wolf Haven provides a variety of educational programs, participates in multi-agency Species Survival Plan programs for critically endangered wolves and advocates for wolves in the wild.

Main website: https://wolfhaven.org/

To Donate: http://store.wolfhaven.org/donate.asp


                                                  ANIMAL AID UNLIMITED

Animal Aid Unlimited is a life-changing place for both people and animals in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

Founded in 2002, our mission is to rescue and treat the un-owned street animals of Udaipur, Rajasthan, who have become ill or injured. Through their rescue we inspire the community to protect and defend the lives of all animals.

Animal Aid’s hospital has approximately 370 animals of different species with us under treatment on any given day, and our sanctuary is home to 150 animals.

Our work focuses on the vital moment when a resident of Udaipur sees an animal who needs help, and stops to help. Taking action is the pivotal experience that can change everything for good.

By providing a phone number someone can call and a shelter and hospital, we are inspiring action in the community. Action that though small at first, maybe just a phone call on our helpline, is the first step for someone on the road of becoming the person that animals desperately need.

Our ultimate goal is equality and protection of all animals and a complete end to the use and abuse of animals. We are working for the day that every dog, donkey, cow, pig, fish and mouse can live their lives in freedom.

Based out of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, our emergency rescue team responds to calls on our help-line reporting sick or wounded animals in need of help throughout the day, every day. Animal Aid is the life-line for thousands of animals who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance.

With the involvement of thousands of Udaipur residents who have become aware of street animal’s needs, we have rescued more than 90,000 injured or ill dogs, cows, donkeys, birds and cats to date.

Website: https://animalaidunlimited.org/what-we-do/attachment/street-animal-rescue/

To Donate: https://animalaidunlimited.org/how-to-help/donate/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/AnimalAidUnlimited?&ytbChannel=null
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« Reply #6729 on: Feb 17, 2020, 04:34 AM »

Beavers cut flooding and pollution and boost wildlife populations

Five-year study of animals in Devon finds measurable benefits to wildlife and people

Patrick Barkham
Mon 17 Feb 2020 07.00 GMT

Beavers have alleviated flooding, reduced pollution and boosted populations of fish, amphibians and other wildlife, according to a five-year study of wild-living animals in Devon.

The report, which will help the government decide whether to allow wild beavers to return to England after being hunted to extinction more than 400 years ago, concludes that the species has brought measurable benefits to wildlife and people.

The study, by a team of scientists overseen by Prof Richard Brazier of the University of Exeter, concludes that beavers’ quantifiable benefits on the River Otter, including eco-tourism and “ecosystem services” such as flood alleviation, outweigh costs such as the minor flooding of some farmland.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcyLVOk_Znw&feature=emb_logo

The beavers, which escaped from a captive population, were discovered in 2013 living wild on the river. When plans to exterminate the animals were greeted by a popular outcry, the government agreed to a scientific trial, with the funds entirely raised by Devon Wildlife Trust and its supporters.

The number of beavers on the Otter has risen from two breeding pairs in 2015 to at least eight pairs today as the herbivorous rodent has expanded along tributaries including the River Tale.

The beavers’ positive impact includes one family constructing six dams upstream of the flood-prone village of East Budleigh. The dams have slowed the flow of floodwater through the village, reducing “peak flows” during flood events.

The scientists also found that the beavers played a significant role in filtering pollutants including manure, slurry and fertilisers from the river, while new wetlands created by the beavers have benefited water voles, riverine birds such as dippers and wildfowl including teal. There were 37% more fish in pools created by beaver dams than in comparable stretches of river. Trout have been recorded leaping over beaver dams during high river flows.

While beavers prevent flooding by slowing floodwater flows, their dams can also flood valuable valley farmland. The study identified an “adverse impact” at just five sites in the 250km2 river catchment over five years.

In one case, a small organic potato field was flooded. Riverside orchards were also at risk from beavers gnawing the trees, but negative impacts were mostly solved with active management.

Wire guards were provided to protect trees while Devon Wildlife Trust and Clinton Devon Estates – a supportive local landowner – occasionally removed beaver dams or installed “beaver deceivers” to prevent flooding. Beaver deceivers are pipes that carry water through beaver dams without the beavers realising, to lower water levels and stop flooding.

“Following five years of detailed research work, the report concludes that the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives,” said Brazier. “However, it also makes clear that those who benefit from beaver reintroduction may not always be the same people as those who bear the costs, highlighting that the reduction of flood risk in communities downstream may come at a cost of water being stored on farmland upstream.”

Mark Elliott, who led the River Otter beaver trial for Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “We’ve all been surprised by these amazing animals’ ability to thrive, once again, in our wetland ecosystems. It also shows their unrivalled capacity to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands, very few of which are in good health.

“There are overwhelming reasons why beavers should be reintroduced back into the wider countryside.”

According to Elliott, the key to successfully returning the beaver across England will be to provide support for affected landowners, so that those who lose small areas of farmland to flooding will not incur financial losses.

In recent months the government has licensed dozens of schemes for wild beavers to be placed in large fenced areas in valleys to help with flood alleviation and restoring wildlife.

But Elliott said the next step would be for the government to approve wild releases into particular river catchments. “We’re not zookeepers, we’re conservationists and it’s a native species to Britain so we shouldn’t be having to keep them in with fences in the long-term,” he said.

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “It is fantastic to see the successful reintroduction of these majestic creatures back into the English countryside, which Natural England has licensed. I commend the work of the Devon Wildlife Trust in helping to show how beavers can have such a transformative impact on the natural world.

“This is a massive step towards boosting the richness of wildlife around the River Otter, reducing pollution, mitigating flooding and making this landscape more resilient to climate change.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced an extension of the Devon trial until September, when it will decide if the Devon beavers can remain.

If Defra backs the beavers, it is likely that a new licensing system will enable the release of free-living beavers in other river catchments – with the beaver officially recognised as a native species again.

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« Reply #6730 on: Feb 17, 2020, 04:54 AM »

'A moment of complete despair': last population of Macquarie perch all but wiped out in NSW river carnage

Fisheries managers arrived too late to save more of the endangered species as heavy rain washes ash into NSW rivers, robbing fish of oxygen

Graham Readfearn
17 Feb 2020 19.00 GMT

Luke Pearce had arrived at Mannus Creek for a three-day mission to rescue the Murray catchment’s last population of Macquarie perch.

For 10 years Pearce had visited this spot on the edge of the Snowy Mountains that, just weeks earlier, was ravaged by fire. There had been rain and the creek was flowing fast.

But as Pearce and his colleagues stood on the bank – nets at the ready – the water turned “to a river of black porridge”.

“We got there at about midday with two teams. But we were too late,” he says.

Pearce is a fisheries manager in the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. A week earlier, he had caught nine of the endangered perch and taken them to the tanks at Narrandera Fisheries Centre.

But Pearce says nine was not enough to be confident they could breed enough in captivity to replenish the river. About 100 specimens would be ideal, but Pearce says the fish are in such low numbers that he was hoping for 20. Hence the rescue mission on 20 January.

“It was a front of black water coming down,” Pearce says. “The water was pretty bad to start with, but it went from green to inky black.

“It was a moment of complete despair and, really, a feeling of a missed opportunity. Maybe if we’d got there four or five hours earlier we may have been able to get one or two more.”

An electronic probe in the water monitoring the oxygen levels dropped to show zero within hours, Pearce says.

“Watching those oxygen levels drop like that I had grave fears we could have lost all the fish in that system. It was devastating having worked there for such a long time to then potentially lose all this.”

The river was too black to see any fish, but crayfish, shrimp and mayfly larvae were crawling out.

What happened at Mannus Creek is one example of what scientists have described as a “triple whammy” hitting rivers on Australia’s east coast and inland.

Drought and a long-term drying has delivered a cascade of mass fish kills since late 2018, with low river flows, low oxygen and algal blooms. Authorities and politicians warned repeatedly in 2019 that ongoing drying would see more mass fish kills.

Then Australia’s bushfire crisis struck across catchments. Now heavy rain has washed sludge and ash into rivers, robbing the remaining fish of oxygen.

Hundreds of thousands of fish have died in multiple events – some caused by lack of water, and some caused by downpours running over burned catchments.

At one time, Macquarie perch was one of the most abundant native fish in the Murray-Darling system – prized by anglers and also commercial fishers.

But a NSW government assessment of the fish in 2008 wrote the building of dams and weirs had compromised spawning areas and blocked the fish’s movement. Overfishing, pollution and predation by introduced species like redfin perch had also caused numbers to plummet.

Now, Pearce says there’s just one known population of the fish at Mannus Creek, near the town of Tumbarumba.

On 14 January, Pearce had been to the creek to see what was left after the fires. The vegetation, the animals and the usual audio backtrack of birds and bugs he was used to seeing was now a scene of carnage.

The area was littered with the burnt remains of wildlife – kangaroos, wombats, possums, birds and deer. “There’s wasn’t a sound – nothing at all,” he says. “There was nothing left – just black stalks.

“All that spoke to me about the speed and ferocity of the fires – these animals just couldn’t escape. We were really concerned about the potential impact if we had any rainfall.”

The rescue attempt for the Macquarie perch is part of the biggest fish rescue project the NSW government has ever attempted.

Since September, with water levels low across rivers, some 4,000 native fish have been taken from rivers and placed in tanks across the state – most in government facilities and some in private hatcheries.

NSW DPI’s Dr Trevor Daly, a senior fisheries manager working on threatened species, says rescues of threatened fish have included 1,630 olive perchlet, 740 southern pygmy perch, 292 Oxleyan pygmy perch, 107 southern purple spotted gudgeon, 98 eastern freshwater cod, 79 silver perch and 34 eel-tailed catfish.

Catchments targeted for rescues have included Gwydir, Border Rivers, Macquarie, Lachlan, and Upper Murray catchments in the Murray-Darling Basin, and in the Clarence and Richmond River catchments on the coast.

“We’ve been battling the worst drought on record and we know we can’t save every fish, but we are doing what we can to save as many as we can,” Daly says, adding the heavy rain will likely see more fish deaths.

The government says the rescue efforts are “critical” if populations of fish are going to recover when river conditions improve.

Some fish are being held in tanks, while others have been relocated to rivers that do have some water.

Prof Lee Baumgartner, a freshwater ecologist at Charles Sturt University, says the Murray-Darling Basin has gone through an extreme swing from wet to dry in just 18 months.

“The climate change science tells us that this could be the new normal and, if it is, then we have to manage that transition much better and share the water in a more equitable way.

“Fish need water in rivers. Birds can fly away if there’s drought, trees can drop leaves. But fish need water.”

How long it will take for conditions to improve at Mannus Creek is hard to say. That initial flush of “black porridge” could travel through in a matter of days, but the sediment could linger for months or even longer depending on river flows and rainfall.

Last week, Pearce returned to Mannus Creek and went a little further upstream. On the banks, the black sludge was about 15cm thick, but that visit has also given him some hope.

“I managed to catch another two – I released one,” he says. “I was astounded that there were still some fish surviving – I had real fears that nothing could survive. It’s given me some hope that they can still hang on.

“Hopefully they’re through the worst of it.”

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« Reply #6731 on: Feb 17, 2020, 04:58 AM »

New discovery: Madagascar’s bizarre aye-aye has six fingers on each hand

on February 17, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

The aye-aye is one of nature’s most fascinatingly bizarre creatures. Native to Madagascar, this lemur is the largest nocturnal primate in the world and has unique features that set it apart. It has bat‐like ears that allow it to echo-locate and rodent-like ever-growing incisors – both unique among primates.

It is most famous for its exceptionally long and skinny fingers. In fact, they are so long that the aye-aye’s hand accounts for about 41% of the total length of the forelimb.

The animals also have highly specialised, extremely long third digits – middle fingers if you like – which they use to find food. They “tap” them against wood to generate acoustic reverberations that allow them to find wood‐boring larvae. These are then fished out with exceptional dexterity because the finger can swivel like a shoulder, and it is so thin that the animal habitually rests it on its even longer fourth finger for support.

My colleagues and I recently found yet another unique specialisation that sets the aye-aye apart from other primates: a sixth finger on each hand.

Previously undocumented, this tiny extra digit – called a “pseudothumb” – is a structure on each wrist made of bone and cartilage. We think that it may have evolved to help the lemur grip branches as it climbs through the trees and to help it grasp small objects, since its other fingers became so long and specialised.

The discovery

In my studies of primates, I always wanted to examine the exceptional hand structure of aye-ayes and I was recently able to dissect some specimens to do so.

Little is known about the actual population size of aye-ayes, but they are hard to find and a large-scale loss of their habitat suggests population decline.

My colleagues and I dissected six adult and one immature specimen. Of course, no animals were sacrificed for the purposes of this study. Three specimens were captive‐raised, acquired from the Duke Lemur Centre in the US. Three were wild‐born adults housed in the collections of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris. One was a wild‐born adult from Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park in Anatananarivo, Madagascar.

Dissections were performed to analyse the anatomy of the hand and wrist. A seventh specimen was used to create a digital reconstruction of these anatomical structures following MRI scanning and manual segmentation – a technique similar to a medical scan that allows the anatomy to be viewed in three-dimensions in a digital space.

Our discovery of the extra digit was pretty much accidental. As we traced the tendon of one of the forearm muscles down past the wrist and into the hand, it unexpectedly split into two directions and the smallest bit extended to a strange little structure near the thumb.

View of pseudothumb structures in (a) volume rendering of an MRI of the right hand of aye-aye (b) superficial and (c) deep dissections. Blue = tendon of palmaris longus.

When we examined the structure further, we noted a small bone and a cartilaginous extension that were moved in different directions by three different muscles. We realised the little structure was a “pseudothumb”. It even had its own fingerprint!

All the aye‐aye specimens observed during the course of this study displayed this full suite of anatomical structures on each hand: it is not merely an anomaly, but is clearly a feature typical of the species.
Why the extra finger?

It’s rather mysterious that no one had noticed the finger before, but this could be because it is mostly embedded in the fleshy part of the hand and therefore easy to miss. It could also be that the long fingers are so distracting that anatomists just never noticed this small structure.

Collectively, the muscles associated with the aye‐aye pseudothumb are positioned to enable adduction (moving it in toward the thumb), abduction (moving it away from the thumb) and opposition (moving it across the palm toward the little finger). Essentially, it moves in the same way as the real thumb.

My colleagues and I propose that there are three evolutionary scenarios for why the pseudothumb exists.

First, a pseudothumb may appear in species in which the thumb has become just another finger. That is what happened in the early bears: they lost the need for a thumb sticking toward the middle as this would just get in the way while the animal was walking.

Second, pseudodigits may emerge if the animal needs really broad hands for digging or swimming – as in the case of some moles.

Lastly, a pseudodigit may develop when the hand has become hyperspecialised and in which the evolution of a pseudothumb can facilitate greater manual dexterity. This scenario would appear to explain the presence of a pseudothumb within the aye‐aye.

We suggest that the tap foraging adaptations of the aye‐aye hand have resulted in the loss of grip dexterity, and so the pseudothumb can help to address this.The Conversation

Adam Hartstone‐Rose, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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« Reply #6732 on: Feb 17, 2020, 05:00 AM »

Canada driver captures rare sighting of mother lynx and her kittens

The wild cats which are larger than bobcats spend much of their life hidden in thick forest and are rarely seen in groups

Leyland Cecco in Toronto
17 Feb 2020 17.39 GMT

It is one of Canada’s stealthiest predators, so spotting a single lynx is rare enough for travelers in the country’s hinterland.

But a driver in the western province of Manitoba recently managed to capture on video an entire family of the wild cats as they crossed the road.

Shaun Kirchmann was travelling along Highway 6 from Grand Rapids to Winnipeg, when a silhouette close to the treeline caught his eye.

The Manitoba Hydro employee pulled over to the side of the road, hopeful the shape he had spotted would move closer into view. Moose and deer are common sights along much of the country’s highway systems, and wolves and coyotes can occasionally be seen too.

But Kirchmann was shocked as a mother lynx and her five kittens emerged from the trees, cautiously padding through the snow towards the highway.

“It was one, two, three … I just kept seeing heads poke out of the bushes and I was just stunned. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a family of lynx.’ But I’d never heard of this many lynx being together,” Kirchmann told CBC News.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ3eGhqxaZQ&feature=emb_logo

The wild cats, known for their distinctive black-tipped ears, spend much of their life hidden in thick forest, and are rarely seen in groups, making Kirchmann’s sighting all the more special.

Manitoba Hydro shared Kirchmann’s video on Facebook, racking up more than 5,600 views.

“Caution: cat crossing. Our employee Shaun Kirchmann filmed this lynx litter on the highway to Grand Rapids after he saw a bunch of little heads peeking from the trees,” said the company.

Canadian lynx, which are larger than bobcats, have a large range throughout the country. Their diet consists mainly of snowshoe hare, which has white fur in the winter and brown during the spring and summer.

Population numbers remain healthy for the lynx in Canada, but it is considered a threatened species much of the United States, the result of excessive trapping and timber harvest.

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« Reply #6733 on: Feb 18, 2020, 04:51 AM »

Hive heists: why the next threat to bees is organized crime

Pollination has become big business, and thieves are now targeting hives with growing sophistication in the US

Oliver Milman in Modesto, California
Tue 18 Feb 2020 09.00 GMT

Mike Potts was aware he was at risk of being a victim of crime, he just didn’t think it would happen to him. But Potts is an owner of an increasingly valuable commodity that thieves are targeting with growing sophistication in the US: bees.

A booming demand for honeybees for pollination drew Potts, owner of Pottsy’s Pollination in Oregon, to load 400 hives of his bees on trucks and drive them down to California’s agricultural heartland last month. He unloaded them to a holding area just outside Yuba City and returned just a few days later to find 92 hives had been whisked away by thieves.

“I pulled in the yard and noticed that there was some stuff missing,” said Potts, who estimated the theft cost him $44,000. Police subsequently pulled over three suspicious beekeepers traveling late at night, to no avail. “I’ve heard that there had been some stealing but didn’t think it would happen to me. It’s frustrating because it’s getting harder and harder to keep bees alive. And then you transport them down and they just get taken.”

The theft is the latest in a string of beehive heists, often undertaken at the dead of night using forklifts and trucks. Hives are regularly split open or dismantled, interventions that can kill tens of thousands of the kidnapped bees. The problem has become severe enough in California that certain police officers now specialize in hive crime.

“Hive theft has always been an issue but it has definitely increased over the last eight years,” said Rowdy Freeman, a Butte county police officer who is commonly referred to as “bee theft detective”. Freeman has compiled figures showing there was an explosion in California hive thefts in 2016, with 1,695 being taken, compared with 101 in 2015. In 2017, the figure was 1,048 hives.

“The number fluctuates but it is definitely something that will continue and that will require resources and advancements in the use of technology to help prevent and deter theft.”

The center of beehive thefts is California’s Central Valley, a fertile stretch of agricultural land responsible for about a quarter of all the produce grown in the US. This huge output – of lettuce, grapes, lemons, apricots and more – requires pollination from far more bees that naturally live in the area.

The main driver of the demand for honeybees is the almond industry, which has doubled in size over the past two decades. There are currently 1.17m acres of almonds in California that require pollination which, at a standard rate of two beehives an acre, means the industry somehow needs to conjure up 2.34m beehives for a short window of time each February, when almond trees start to blossom.

Beekeepers from across the US congregate in the Central Valley in a sort of annual almond jamboree; more than two-thirds of the nation’s commercially managed honeybees sent on trucks to a 50-mile-wide strip of fertile land. Unlike native, wild bees like bumblebees, honeybees are carefully marshaled in hives and are now more valuable as contract pollination workers than as honey producers.

But the almond industry’s growth is heightening the demand for more bees at a time when even maintaining current numbers is a struggle. Due to the ravages of deadly mites, diseases and toxic pesticides, beekeepers now typically lose 40% of their colonies each winter, only making these numbers up through splitting hives and using various treatments and supplements to boost reproduction rates.

This dynamic – growing demand for pollinators at a time when supply is under pressure – has seen the typical cost of a hive for pollination shoot up, from just $35 a few years ago to $200, and upwards, now. Pollination has become big business, causing some desperate beekeepers, or organized gangs, to be drawn to beehive crime.

“Normal people can’t just go steal 500 hives with a forklift and a truck,” said Charley Nye, a beekeeper researcher at University of California, Davis. “So it’s a pretty small pool of people that are able to steal them. But the reward is so big that I think it can be tempting to people to do that.”

Lloyd Cunniff, who has been involved in beekeeping since he was 13 years old, never intended to bring his bees to the Central Valley, where endless rows of almond trees stretch out across the landscape in almost every direction.

But Cunniff, now 59, had seen his third-generation apiary in Montana decimated by colony collapse disorder – a mysterious syndrome where the worker bees vacate a hive en masse – and needed the income. In January 2017, he loaded 488 beehives, each handmade in distinctive pine and cedar, and headed west.

Through a trusted intermediary, Cunniff set his hives down to rest in a remote area near a levee. As is typical in the beekeeping world, there were no fences or other security systems to protect them. The next day, amid heavy fog, Cunniff went back to find them.

“We had a GPS reading and we drove out there and my hired man said: ‘There’s your turn.’ And I turned in there and I said: ‘This can’t be the right turn.’ And he said: ‘Why?’ I said: ‘Because there’s no bees sitting,’” Cunniff recalled. “And I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’”

All 488 boxes had gone, quickly and skillfully loaded on to a truck and spirited away, costing Cunniff not just the $100,000 in pollination fees but also the basis of his livelihood. He wasn’t to know, but he was just one of many victims of a well-orchestrated operation.

Not long after the theft, police were called to a scruffy field near Fresno where they saw something akin to bee carnage. Beehives were scattered randomly across the land, some open with their innards torn out, others scratched and daubed in paint. An irate swarm of bees made officers wary of exiting their cars.

    It was like a chop shop for bees ... And there were a lot of aggressive bees
    Det Andres Solis

“It was like a chop shop for bees,” said Andres Solis, a Fresno detective who specializes in agricultural crime. “None of the boxes matched, it was really untidy. And there were a lot of aggressive bees.”

Police called in beekeepers who estimated there were 2,500 hives belonging to a variety of legal owners. A nearby man, Pavel Tveretinov, was arrested under suspicion that he was hacking up the hives in order to multiply them and sell them on to needy growers.

An alleged accomplice, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, was also arrested and both now face trial. “Victims started coming out of the woodwork after we started putting it out there,” Solis said. “We looked at what we saw and thought none of these beehives belonged to these gentlemen.”

The overall number of thefts dropped following the arrests but beekeepers are concerned that the ballooning demand for honeybees is only going to spur further criminal enterprises. The fallout from the ecological crisis in the bee, and wider insect, world is likely to include more and more bee rustlers.

“There’s a shortage of bees this year, again,” Cunniff said. “You watch in this next week or two, there’s going to be stealing of bees like crazy down here.

“It was just my turn. That’s how I look at it because it happens to somebody every year down here. They’re stealing them all the time. It’s just going to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

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« Reply #6734 on: Feb 18, 2020, 04:55 AM »

Ireland revokes licence of livestock ship operator over low performance rating

Decision concerns two ships regularly transporting live animals to the Middle East, prompting questions about monitoring of fleet

Sophie Kevany
18 Feb 2020 15.39 GMT

The Irish government revoked approvals for the operator of two regular livestock carriers, the Atlantic M and the Express 1, last week, following questions from the Guardian and Irish farm animal welfare organisation Ethical Farming Ireland (EFI).

Internal emails appear to show that Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) was unaware that the performance ratings for the ships’ operator was below the required standard until a campaigner from EFI got in touch last year.

Last week DAFM told the Guardian it had written to the “owner/operator of the Atlantic M and the Express 1 regarding the department’s intention to revoke their approval … once the department became aware of the performance rating”.

“The operator was given 14 days to make representations”, the email went on to say, before the “owners/operator’s approval was subsequently revoked”.

Ireland’s exports of dairy, beef and livestock are a pillar of its agri-food sector. The latest figures from Bord Bia, the Irish food board, show agri-food products account for 10% of total exports. International sales of meat and livestock earned the country almost €4bn (£3.3bn) in 2019.

Shipping is an opaque and complex area, however, all the more so when live animals are involved. In 2016, to complement EU law, Ireland introduced another layer of regulation on the carriage of livestock by sea.
A shipment going to Libya from Cork aboard Atlantic M on 4 December 2019.

The regulations stipulate that the performance level of companies operating livestock vessels “must not be listed as ‘low or very low’ on the performance tables of Port State Control published by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)”.

But the operator of the Atlantic M and the Express 1, two ships that regularly carry livestock from Ireland, fell into EMSA’s “low or very low” bracket. The EMSA website and Panama-based shipping registration service, PMA Certification, show both vessels are operated by Turkish company Emiroglu Deniz Nakliyati. The list is updated daily and relates to the previous 36 months.

The Guardian contacted DAFM to ask for more information about the situation. On 10 February the department replied, saying that it had revoked the operator’s approval for both ships. Questions about the future of both ships, or the approval of a new operator, were not answered.

Emails seen by the Guardian indicate that the DAFM was previously unaware that the safety and compliance manager for the Atlantic M and Express 1 was on the EMSA’s “low or very low performance” list.

The monitoring gap allowed livestock shipments to continue as normal in the preceding months. In the emails the management for the ships expressed surprise at the sudden approvals revocation in early 2020, given that the vessels had already “loaded from Ireland many times”, and each time the DAFM had inspected the vessels, “we get approval, so what happened now?”

In an interview with the Guardian, the ships’ former safety management company, the Istanbul-based Emiroğlu Deniz Nakliyatı, confirmed that the DAFM had revoked their approval in January this year because the company was on the EMSA’s low-performing list. Explaining the rating, Emiroğlu Deniz Nakliyati’s operations manager Erhan Çavdar said this had followed the detainment of some of its ships. One of the detained ships was the Atlantic M.

Caroline Rowley of EFI told the Guardian she had emailed the DAFM on 30 December, raising concerns about the Atlantic M and the Express 1. The same day, the DAFM raised those concerns with the ships’ management in an email marked “urgent”.

Earlier in December, Rowley had also notified the DAFM about problems with the operator of a third Irish livestock carrier, the Sarah M. At that point, the Sarah M was operated by the Beirut Shipping Company, whose performance was listed by EMSA as “low or very low”. The Sarah M is now operated by DMS lines, which is not on the low or very low listing.

Despite Rowley’s emails, which the department acknowledged, the next Sarah M cattle shipment went ahead at the end of 2019.

The Guardian tried to contact the Beirut Shipping Company, but was told by Farouk El Murr, who works for the Sarah M’s current operator, DMS Lines, based at the same address, that the Beirut Shipping Company had closed in “late December, early January”. El Murr said the closure had come “after its licence was revoked by the Irish DAFM because it was on the low or very low performing EMSA list”.

An Irish marine law expert, who has asked to remain anonymous, told the Guardian that the Irish carriage of livestock regulations appeared to make no provision for monitoring any changes to an operator’s rating. Nor, the lawyer said, do they appear to require an operator to inform the DAFM if it is placed on the EMSA’s “low or very low performance” list after it has been approved.

‘Floating feedlots’: animals spending weeks at sea on ships not fit for purpose..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/26/floating-feedlots-animals-spending-weeks-at-sea-on-ships-not-fit-for-purpose

Responding to the lawyer’s comments, the DAFM said the “system for the approval of vessels for the carriage of livestock in Ireland involves a comprehensive inspection by a marine surveyor and by a departmental veterinarian to determine the suitability of the vessel for that particular purpose”.

“In addition to that, the department requires the vessel to have a valid classification certificate issued by a classification society which is a member of the International Association of Classification Societies. This is clearly not the sole requirement for approval.”

Rowley fears that if she had not contacted the DAFM, “these vessels would still be operating in breach of regulations with the department being none the wiser.”

She said there is a wider issue in the way that these regulations are being monitored and what seems to be a gap between what the agriculture department says and what it does. “The DAFM prides itself on its exceptionally high standards. But when we see vessels with operating companies that don’t meet the criteria, vessels transferred to new operators just a few weeks after we send emails, we have to wonder whether anyone really cares about those animals.”

An internal document appears to justify some of her concerns about the DAFM prioritising appearances. Although undated, a slide from a DAFM presentation seen by the Guardian, titled “Changes for 2019”, says it expects animal exporters to “comply fully with legislative requirements and minimise opportunities for NGOs and the [European] Commission to criticise and complain about Ireland’s compliances”.

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