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 on: May 03, 2016, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Eight years for falling asleep in a parked car: welcome to Angola's penal system

Prisoners detained for years on minor charges accuse the police of using violence to extract false confessions. Maka Angola reports

Rafael Marques de Morais
Friday 29 April 2016 09.00 BST

One Friday night in Angola’s capital 24-year-old Domingos Manuel Filipe Catete had had a few too many drinks and passed out in a stranger’s minivan. When the owner discovered him, he was taken to the local police station and arrested.

Catete had come to Luanda in search of work, but now aged 32 he is still being held in the city’s central prison after eight years without trial under a “preventive detention” order.

Though Angola’s punitive justice system came under intense scrutiny since popular rapper Luaty Beirao was jailed along with 16 other young activists last month for “plotting a rebellion” against president José Eduardo dos Santos, little is known about the men and women held indefinitely without charge.

Deprose Muchena, director of Amnesty International, has said the Angolan authorities increasingly “use the criminal justice system to silence dissenting views”, while Human Rights Watch has accused local police of using harassment, intimidation and pervasive surveillance to keep citizens in check.

Catete’s story is a common one for those held under the detention order: almost all have been detained for more than six years without charge, and are usually from out of town.

“I was drunk and there was a car with an open door parked in front of me... so I got in and went to sleep,” he explains. The next morning, the owner “drove me straight to the police station where he accused me of stealing a CD case full of music.”

Hungover, Catete protested: “How could I have stolen anything from the car when I was still fast asleep?”

Catete then claims that officers attached to the bureau of criminal investigation beat him until he confessed. “To this day, I bear the scars across my forehead and right arm.”

He was then put in a cell and says he was only formally questioned five years later in 2013. It took another two years until he was questioned by another prosecutor.

“He asked me to explain what had happened. I did, and I’ve heard nothing since,” he says.
17 Angolans activists were accused of preparing acts of rebellion in Luanda.

“Preventive detention, even with extensions, should last no more than 210 days and be reserved for crimes against state security,” explains Godinho Cristóvão, a spokesman for national human rights group the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (AJPD).

“By that time, if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the charge, the suspect should be released.”

Detention without charge lasting six, seven or even eight years is illegal, he adds, “and an extraordinary abuse of process. It’s actually scandalous. Horrifying.”

Even if a prisoner is legitimately found guilty of damage to property or trespass, the maximum punishment should not exceed a two-year prison term according to national law.

But this has not been the case for men like Catete. Many men held in detention speak of experiencing physical abuse at the hands of police and criminal investigation officers, often to extract false confessions.

João Domingos da Rocha, a 26-year-old who spent seven years in preventive detention on suspicion of having stolen second-hand clothing, says he was attacked to produce a confession, while Justino Longia, accused of a similar crime, spent five years in jail and was also forced to falsely confess. Both were set free, but only after their cases made national headlines.

Nelson de Assunção Manuel, 26, has been held for four years and eight months in preventive detention. He too claims that the police used violence to extract his confession.

Manuel, who is still incarcerated, explained what happened: “It was 8am and we were preparing the materials for a house we were building in [the] Kapolo neighbourhood, when suddenly a small boy appeared with a police unit. He pointed at us and said we were thieves.”

Manuel was with six other workers who were all taken into custody. “We were set up on by several policemen who beat us with hosepipes and iron bars and forced us to say that we [had been] armed,” he explains.

“They broke my left arm with an iron bar and to this day I have difficulties because I never received any medical treatment.”

According to Manuel, who also has no relatives in Luanda, the group was only questioned for the first time in 2013, then again last year in 2015. There have been no further development in their cases.

Physical abuse and torture are prohibited under the terms of the Angolan constitution and “in cases where the law is clearly being breached – because the term of preventive detention has exceeded the limit, or because of the use of violence to extract a confession – the law has a provision for the public prosecution to free the detainees,” says Rui Verde, a legal analyst.

“Failure to do so is a failure to comply with the law, and a violation of fundamental human rights,” he adds.

A police spokesperson said they would look into both of the ongoing cases but declined to give an official comment.

According to Verde, a public prosecutor who holds suspects in preventive detention beyond the limit could also face prosecution in both the criminal and civil courts for damages.

With regard to allegations about police violence, Verde explained that the “ultimate responsibility lies with the Interior Minister who should be called upon to resign if nothing is done to put an end to such abuse.”

“The law must be observed, and must be seen to be observed, by all.”

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:50 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Climate protesters invade UK's largest opencast coalmine

Hundreds of activists take control of vast site and bring operations to a halt as part of a coordinated global direct action against fossil fuel companies

Steven Morris
Tuesday 3 May 2016 11.11 BST

Hundreds of environmental activists have invaded the UK’s largest opencast coalmine and claim they have halted operations across the vast site.

Dressed in red boiler suits, groups of protesters stepped across barbed wire fences to gain access to Ffos-y-fran mine near Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales. Some chained themselves to machinery, others lay across access roads.

    — Global Justice Now (@GlobalJusticeUK)
    May 3, 2016

    Amazing work by @reclaimthepower activists, currently occupying & shutting down the UK's largest opencast coal mine

Dozens of protesters, joined by local people, blockaded the entrance to the mine’s headquarters.

    — steven morris (@stevenmorris20)
    May 3, 2016

    Protest at Ffos-y-fran opencast mine in South Wales.

The action in Wales marks the start of a global wave of direct action coordinated by the group Reclaim the Power supporting a transition away from fossil fuels in 13 countries including Germany, South Africa, Indonesia and North America over the next two weeks.

Following a weekend of planning, protesters entered the site shortly after dawn on Tuesday. They had widely publicised their action and there was a large police presence including thesouth Wales force’s mounted section but no attempt was made to stop the demonstrators.

Within hours Reclaim the Power was claiming it had brought operations at the mine to a standstill. Nine people, including an 80-year-old from Penarth and members of Christian Climate Action, were locked to each other, blocking road access to the mine. The Green Party also said work had stopped at the site.

    — Reclaim The Power (@reclaimthepower)
    May 3, 2016

    #EndCoal stopping that machinery from going.

Hannah Smith, on site at the action said: “Today we’ve shut down the UK’s largest coalmine because we must keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop catastrophic climate change.”

Explaining the significance of the vivid red clothing the protesters wore, she said: “Continuing to dig up coal is a red line for the climate that we won’t allow governments and corporations to cross. We are taking action in solidarity with the local community who have been battling Ffos-y-fran for nearly a decade, and now face the threat of a new mine next door.

    — steven morris (@stevenmorris20)
    May 3, 2016

    Ffos-y-fran mine protest

“Wales deserves a transition away from dirty coal, and the creation of sustainable employment in an economy that respects our planet and its inhabitants, now and in the future.”

The demonstration comes days before the Welsh assembly elections. Smith added: “With Wales going to the polls this Thursday and the climate crisis more urgent than ever, our action sends a bold signal that we must end coal now.”

Among the activists outside the HQ of mine operator Miller Argent was Coralie Datta, from Leeds, who said the idea was to stop traffic going in and out. “We’re not setting out to be arrested – we’re just going to have a party here.”

    — steven morris (@stevenmorris20)
    May 3, 2016

    Protestor Coralie Datta on why she has joined the demo at Ffos-y-fran mine.

Andrew Dey and Maya Williams, from London, were there with their six-month-old son Robin. Williams said: “We’re showing solidarity with the local community, who have to live with this mine.” Dey said: “It’s amazing to be here on a Welsh mountain but involved in a world-wide movement.”

    — steven morris (@stevenmorris20)
    May 3, 2016

    Ffos-y-fran mine protest - young and old trying to halt work there today.

Retired coalminer Phil Duggan, who lives in the nearest village, Fochriw, said Ffos-y-Fan blighted the local community and plans to create another mine nearby had to be resisted. “This mine is killing the local area,” he said.

    — steven morris (@stevenmorris20)
    May 3, 2016

    Ffos-y-fran mine protest - ex deep coal miner Phil Duggan joins the demonstrators.

Green Party leaders joined the protest. Alice Hooker-Stroud, leader of the Wales Green Party said: “We are here to support the local community who are fighting against the devastating impacts of open cast mining in their local area. Fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we’re to act responsibly on climate change. There is huge potential for renewables in Wales, creating a clean energy economy fit for the future.

    — Wales Green Party (@WalesGreenParty)
    May 3, 2016

    awesome action taking place in ffos-y-fran to #endcoalnow with @natalieben @AliceGreenParty @Amelia_Womack

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales said: “If we are to meet commitments made in Paris to keep temperature rise below 1.5C we need to end fossil fuel extraction now. The UK government is failing to act to cut our carbon emissions, instead it is decimating the renewables industry, pursuing fracking and continuing the operation of opencast mines; the UK’s climate change and energy policies are in crisis.”

There was no immediate comment from Miller Argent.

It was given planning permission to mine the site in 2005 and has so far extracted more than 5m tonnes. It aims to extract up to 11m tonnes in all . It says it has created “high quality jobs” for more than 200 people – 85% of whom live within 10 miles of the site. It has put forward plans to open a second mine nearby at Nant Llesg. Caerphilly county council rejected the application for the new mine but Miller Argent is seeking to overturn this decision.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Activists launch fresh court challenge over Carmichael coalmine

Australian Conservation Foundation argues emissions from coal mined from Adani’s project will put the Great Barrier Reef at risk by exacerbating climate change

Michael Slezak
Tuesday 3 May 2016 00.48 BST

A landmark case pitting the Great Barrier Reef against Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine begins in the federal court on Tuesday.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is arguing that environment minister Greg Hunt unlawfully approved the mine in central Queensland, which would be the largest in Australia. They will argue the emissions released when the coal from the mine is burned will put the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef at risk by exacerbating climate change.

The case begins in Brisbane amid the worst bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has ever experienced, with 93% of the reefs seeing damage – something directly caused by climate change. Scientists warned last week that the bleaching event was made 175 times more likely because of climate change, and the conditions that caused it would be commonplace in less than 20 years, putting the continued existence of the reef in doubt.

When the minister approves a project under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, he must act consistently with Australia’s obligations under the world heritage convention. That requires Australia do everything it can to protect the “outstanding universal values” of world heritage areas, including the Great Barrier Reef.

“If the Carmichael mine is allowed to proceed its coal will produce 128.4m tonnes of CO2 per year at peak production, contributing to the world’s climate problem,” said ACF’s chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy out the front of the court in Queensland.

Environmental approvals of mines usually consider the emissions caused in the production of the coal – from the fuel burned by trucks and the electricity used by the equipment. But in the past they have not considered the impact of the greenhouse gasses released when the coal itself is burned.

The ACF’s case will test the section of the federal environment law that requires the minister to act consistently with Australia’s obligations under the world heritage convention.

If successful, the case will have ramifications beyond the Carmichael mine or even the Great Barrier Reef. It could have implications for any fossil fuel development, and require the minister to consider the effect of the burned fuel on any world heritage area – like the forests in Tasmania, for example.

“This is the first case of its kind to be heard in Australia,” said O’Shanassy. “The court will be asked to examine a section of Australia’s national environment law that has never before been tested in court. If this case is successful it will strengthen climate change considerations and world heritage protection in Australian law.”

The hearing at the federal court in Brisbane is expected to go for two days. Hunt and Adani will be represented.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
EU is central to tackling climate change, says Ed Miliband

Former Labour leader joins environment secretary Liz Truss and Green MP Caroline Lucas in supporting remain campaign

Rajeev Syal
Monday 2 May 2016 00.01 BST
Ed Miliband has joined a cross-party attempt to persuade voters that leaving the EU would damage the environment.

The former Labour leader has signed a joint declaration with environment secretary Liz Truss, former energy secretary Ed Davey and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas in what pro-EU campaigners called an unprecedented partnership.

They claim that those campaigning for Brexit are climate change deniers who are ignorant of the potential impact.

“Collective action is the only solution to rising seas and rising temperatures. The European Union is central to both these challenges,” they say in a pamphlet setting out the arguments.

EU membership supported domestic action to improve air quality, protect nature and wildlife and invest in renewable energy, they say, and Brussels is “a leader in the battle to secure binding agreements” internationally.

“Those campaigning for Britain to leave Europe cannot be trusted on the environment,” they say.

“They have opposed vital green measures and denounced climate change as ‘mumbo jumbo’. They demonstrate a cavalier ignorance about climate matters which embodies the extreme and out-dated outlook of those who want to leave.

“If Britain leaves Europe, our environment, our wildlife and our global habitat will be starved of investment, bereft of protections and denied the leadership it needs,” the declaration says.

But environment minister George Eustice – who supports Vote Leave – said the EU had “systematically undermined the UK’s place on international wildlife conventions”.

“We have already been stripped of our voting rights on regional fisheries management organisations and, extraordinarily, it is now unlawful for the UK to speak at wildlife conventions like Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) without first getting permission for what we want to say from the European commission.

“If we vote to leave and take control, the UK would regain its own seat and its voice in vital international wildlife conventions and everything from promoting shark conservation to ending whaling would become much easier.”

In a further development, Tory grandee Michael Heseltine has criticised MPs backing Brexit for turning on the government during the debate. The former cabinet minister said some Tory MPs owe their jobs and the party’s surprise general election victory to David Cameron.

He told Sky News: “The facts are that he won this election for the Conservatives, and now to see people who, frankly, many of them would not have their seats and certainly many of them wouldn’t be in government if David Cameron hadn’t won that election for the Conservatives.

“And to see them now turning on the policies that some of them have been sitting in the government implementing, I just find mind-blowing.”

It comes after senior figures insisted the Conservatives could unify after what has been a fractious EU referendum campaign. On the Andrew Marr show, Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed Cameron would not continue as prime minister if the UK voted to leave the EU.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Google and eBay refuse to ban ads offering to remove car pollution filters

Internet giants say removing diesel particulate filters which reduce toxic emissions is not illegal, although driving without them is

Damian Carrington
Monday 2 May 2016 07.00 BST   

Google, Gumtree and eBay have refused to ban adverts for a service which removes crucial pollution filters from the exhausts of diesel cars, sending toxic emissions soaring.

Over a thousand diesel car owners have already been caught after removing the filter, though experts warn the problem may be far more widespread.

Campaigners are now complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that such adverts break its code, which bans motoring “practices that condone or encourage anti-social behaviour”. The service exploits a loophole in the law which means that driving a diesel car without a filter is an offence, but the act of removing it is not.

Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, MPs said this week and particulate pollution causes 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths every year in the UK. But garages across the country are offering to remove diesel particulate filters (DPF), a practice ministers have labelled “unacceptable” and “clearly detrimental to people’s health”.

DPF filters can become clogged, especially for diesels driven mostly in cities, and replacement can be expensive, leading garages to offer to remove the filters completely. Google and Gumtree say they accept the adverts for the service because removal itself is not illegal.

Since 2014, cars missing DPF filters automatically fail the MOT test and, earlier this month, the Guardian revealed that 1,188 vehicles had been caught so far. But some garages boast on their websites that they can beat the visual MOT check.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) is now complaining to the ASA over adverts for DPF removal services. Oliver Hayes, at FoE said: “Air pollution is a public health crisis of breath-taking proportions. We’re asking the ASA to clamp down on those advertising these dubious practices and help prevent more deadly pollution hitting our children’s lungs.”

“But we’re also calling on the government to make it illegal to remove these pollution filters in the first place,” he said. “Unless they do, the absurd loophole remains.”

The House of Commons environment audit committee is currently investigating diesel emissions and air quality and its chair, Mary Creagh MP, said: “The removal of DPF filters by rogue garages is another diesel test dodge which cheats the public out of clean air. The Department of Transport did the right thing in introducing visual checks into MOTs. But it should now look at tightening up MOTs and outlawing the removal of pollution filters altogether.”

“Our changes to the MOT test are helping cut harmful emissions and are taking hundreds of polluting vehicles out of circulation,” said a spokesman for the Department for Transport. “We are also investigating the latest technology so garages can carry out tougher, smarter tests that will act as a deterrent and keep these cars off the road.”

Google said it did not comment on individual cases and declined to take down DPF removal adverts. A spokeswoman said: “Our policies require advertisers to comply with all applicable laws and local regulations. If we discover sites or services that are in violation of this policy we take appropriate action.”

Hannah Wilson, from Gumtree, said: “Our policy for posting adverts on Gumtree is based on compliance with English law. As there are sometimes legitimate reasons for the removal of diesel particulate filters, and the removal of the DPF is not an offence, then these services can be offered by advertisers via Gumtree. If the practice of removing DPFs was outlawed, then we would immediately ban and remove these listings from the site.” Repeated requests for comment from eBay received no reply.

DPFs can be removed, cleaned and replaced, and there are many advertisements for this legitimate service, but other garages advertising “DPF removal” services make clear the filter is not replaced.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
David Attenborough unveils UK's newest nature reserve in east London

Britain’s threatened birds including kingfishers, bitterns and Cetti warblers find a refuge in Woodberry Wetlands, once a barren wasteland

Alison Benjamin
Tuesday 3 May 2016 12.23 BST   

The UK’s newest nature reserve was opened in east London over the weekend by Sir David Attenborough. Overshadowed by council tower blocks and swanky high rise developments, the 11 hectare (27 acres) site which includes a reservoir that supplies water to millions of Londoners, has become home to some of Britain’s more threatened birds including kingfishers, bitterns and Cetti warblers.

London Wildlife Trust has transformed the once barren wasteland into Woodberry Wetlands, with teams of dedicated volunteers planting dense reedbeds, hedgerows and wildflower meadows to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other insects.

Attenborough, who celebrates his 90th birthday later this week, officially opened the free-to-visit nature reserve, which has been closed to the public for 200 years. “Being in contact with the natural world is the most precious inheritance that human beings can have. If you lose that contact, you are losing your birth right.

“Being able to see beautiful birds, some of them coming here all the way from Africa, is a great pleasure everyone in cities should be able to enjoy,” he said as chiffchaffs, among the first migrant songbirds to arrive in the spring from western Africa, sang noisily from the treetops above.

“I’ve spent the last 60 or 70 years hearing about this disaster or that disaster – and ‘how can we stop this further catastrophe happening?’ and ‘we’re losing this species, we’re losing much that is so precious’... So it’s marvellous to be here seeing the reverse – seeing things getting better,” he told a crowd of volunteers and supporters.

Originally built in 1833 to store drinking water for the capital, the reservoir was pumped full of chlorine and sodium phosphate gas between 1955 and 1980, to disinfect the water, preventing almost all wildlife from living there.

LWT began work to create a public nature reserve six years ago as part of the regeneration of the Woodberry estate in Hackney. The £1m project was funded by the heritage lottery fund with support from the reservoir’s landlord, Thames Water, private housing developer, Berkley Homes, Hackney council and Veolia Environmental Trust.

Gordon Scorer, LWT’s chief executive, said: “Access to nature is incredibly important for people’s wellbeing, especially in built-up cities. Bringing nature within reach of a huge urban audience, demonstrates that nature and all its benefits can be successfully weaved into the fabric of London and other cities as they develop and grow.”

Millie Williams, 18, is one of the youngest of the 70 local volunteers who gives up their weekends to pick litter, scythe reed beds, make fences and plant trees and flowers on the site.

She said: “Volunteering here is the highlight of my week. I love it. It’s rare to find a place in the city where you can have a quiet walk and hear the birds. There’s a lot of pressure on young people with exams at school. Here you physically feel less stressed and anxious.” Asked why there aren’t more young volunteers, Millie said: “It’s not seen as a cool thing for young people to do.”

Jonathan Law, 56, and partner Geraldine, moved to their flat in Lincoln court overlooking the reservoir three years ago because of the bird-spotting potential. This winter Jonathan says he saw a bittern – one of the UK’s most threatened birds which is dependent on reedbeds to nest. Jonathan and Geraldine have volunteered as litter pickers. “It’s on our doorstep and we wanted to help clean it up for everyone to enjoy,” says Jonathan.

David Mooney, Woodberry Weltand project manager, promises that anyone who comes on the wetlands’ dawn chorus walks will catch a glimpse of a brightly-coloured kingfisher, described by Attenborough as “one of the most wonderful sights that Britain has to offer”. The site also attracts shovelers, tufted ducks, wades and terns. It is Hackney’s first breeding ground for Cetti’s warbler.

On the day of the opening, elegant great crested grebes glided by, which were once hunted almost to extinction in the UK for their ornate head plumes, while a gull was repeatedly dive bombing a couple of nesting Canadian geese in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place on an Attenborough wildlife programme. The naturalist said the great crested grebe’s breathtaking courtship ritual was as beautiful as any bird of paradise. “It’s a sight which , put on television, people say it’s fantastic ... but it’s out there [on the wetlands].”

The urban nature reserve also provides foraging and roosting for bats, and habitat for frogs, toads and newts and a wide range of insects including the rare red-eyed damselfly and moths. The reedbeds were created with channels of water to protect the birdlife from more unwelcome city visitors such as cats and foxes. Alongside the conservation work, a Grade II-listed coal store has been resorted and turned into a visitor centre and café, and on the far side is a classroom and learning area with pond dipping and bee hives.

Berkley Homes provided support for a boardwalk from the entrance to the café and a bridge to connect the wetlands to its new homes, which are being sold from £425,000 up to £1.24m for a penthouse.

Asked if it housing developers should be obliged to do more to improve the natural environment for local residents, David Mooney said “Yes, it should be more incumbent on every developer to participate in projects like this.”

Attenborough said Woodberry Wetlands was a “win, win situation.”

Forty-seven separate wildlife trusts manage 2,300 nature reserves across the UK. Woodberry Wetlands is the 42nd nature reserve in London.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:40 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Mammal on Victorian beach thought to be rare dwarf sperm whale

The 2.42-metre whale washed up on Lake Tyers beach and authorities suspect it could be rare species spotted only 17 times since records began in Australia

Calla Wahlquist
Tuesday 3 May 2016 05.22 BST

A rare dwarf sperm whale that has been spotted only 17 times since records began in Australia may have washed up on a Victorian beach, local authorities have said.

The 2.42-metre whale died after becoming stranded on Lake Tyers beach in Gippsland, about 330km east of Melbourne, on Saturday.

The species is yet to be confirmed, but Tony Mitchell, biodiversity officer with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Victoria, said it was believed it could be a dwarf sperm whale, Kogia sima, which has never been recorded in Australia before.

“It’s leading us towards a dwarf sperm whale rather than the more commonly encountered dwarf pygmy whale,” Mitchell told ABC news.

Charlie Franken, wildlife manager with the department, said the final identification would depend on genetic testing and also comparing the animal’s bone structure to skeletons in storage.

“It’s not 100% yet but it’s maybe 95 to 99% certain,” he said. “It’s not [like] if you look at an emu or a budgie and you can clearly see one’s one or one is the other.”

A second, similar whale washed up on a beach at Wonthaggi, 136km south of Melbourne, on Monday, but authorities are confident it is a pygmy sperm whale.

At an average length of just 2.7 metres the dwarf sperm whale is the smallest whale species in the world and a head shorter than a bottlenose dolphin.

Dr Kevin Rowe, senior curator of mammals at Museum Victoria, said sightings of pygmy and dwarf sperm whales were extremely rare because the animals appeared to live in deep-sea chasms at the edge of continental shelfs.

Like their more famous large cousin, the smaller sperm whales are predatory, hunting crabs and squid.

But while the slightly larger pygmy sperm whales, Kogia breviceps, have been known to wash up on Australian beaches on rare occasions, Rowe said there were only six physical records of dwarf sperm whales mentioned in the 150-year history of the Atlas of Living Australia, and all were incomplete specimens.

“There’s so much we don’t know about these animals because it’s hard to study things in the deep ocean, even things that are three metres long,” Rowe said. “We can really only study them through carcasses.”

Department firefighters were called in to lift the body off the beach on Saturday and a preliminary examination by a department vet has found no obvious cause of death.

It will be delivered to Museum Victoria for a closer examination on Wednesday.

“We know it’s a Kogia [the genus for both pygmy and dwarf sperm whales] but differentiating between these two is very difficult,” Rowe said.

The main differences are the placement of the dorsal fin, which is further down the back on a pygmy sperm whale, and the shape of the “false gill”, a light patch near the whale’s head which, combined with their relatively small size, meant the whales were frequently mistaken for sharks.

Rowe said both attributes were visible on photos he had seen of a second whale that washed up on Monday but not in photos of Saturday’s whale.

Even if both turn out to be pygmy sperm whales it would provide scientists with two intact carcasses to study, which Rowe said was itself a rarity: “Usually by the time you come to a whale carcass it is rotting away and we are lucky to get the skeleton out of it.”

Rowe said researchers would also try to figure out why the whales were so close to the coast, saying the animals, which are believed to dive to depths of 1,000 metres, “wouldn’t be coming near shore unless they were a bit crook”.

The discovery of the two small sperm whales comes two months after a tooth believed to belong to a long-extinct giant sperm whale was found on a Melbourne beach. The 30cm fossil dates from the Pliocene epoch (about five million years ago) and is believed to have belonged to an 18-metre, 40-tonne whale.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Mother duck and ducklings waddle through school halls in Michigan

Elementary in Hartland is used to hosting ‘Vanessa’, who hatches her brood under the same shrub each year, then parades them through buildings to a pond

Associated Press in Hartland
Tuesday 3 May 2016 01.08 BST   

A mother duck has grown attached to a Michigan elementary school’s courtyard, returning each year to lay her eggs and then walk the hallways with her ducklings — with the help of students and staff — to get to a nearby pond.

The duck named Vanessa has appeared at Village Elementary School in Hartland for the past 13 years and made her latest waddle through the school took place last week, according to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus of Howell.

The duck flies into the closed-off courtyard, where children in the surrounding classrooms can take a peek out the window to watch, and then crawls under a specific shrub, digs out her nest, lays her eggs and waits for them to hatch.

After the ducklings appear, now-retired teacher Ruth Darrah and others tape black construction paper along the walls, creating a clear path for the ducks to get to a nearby pond outside the school. Teachers and staff make sure students are out of Vanessa’s path so they don’t frighten her.

“It’s so unusual, but everyone gets so invested in this duck because how cool is it that she comes back each and every year,” said Elizabeth Krause, a mother who has witnessed the duck’s appearance almost every year.

This year, Vanessa waited by the courtyard door for it to be unlocked and waddled with her ducklings through the school within minutes.

“She has it down by now, after 13 years,” Darrah said.

 on: May 03, 2016, 05:35 AM 
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Feast of cat shown on eagle cam scares feline owners: 'Nature isn't pretty'

Footage from a live web camera nest shows bald eagles serving up a cat to eaglets – but the Audubon Society determines dead cat was not preyed upon

Oliver Milman
Monday 2 May 2016 19.06 BST

Cat owners have been warned of the dangers their feline companions face when venturing outdoors after video emerged of bald eagles feasting on the body of a dead cat near Pittsburgh.

Footage from a live web camera mounted at the Hays bald eagle nest, located a few miles from the center of Pittsburgh, showed the eagles serving up the cat to hungry eaglets. Concerned cat owners bombarded the local Audubon Society about why the eagles had preyed upon the cat.

“After reviewing the footage, we believe that the cat was dead when brought to the nest,” the Audubon Society of western Pennsylvania in a statement. “While many may cringe at this, the eagles bring squirrels, rabbits, fish (and other animals) into the nest to eat multiple times each day.”

“To people, the cat represents a pet but to the eagles and to other raptors, the cat is a way to sustain the eaglets and help them to grow. While seeing a cat in the nest was difficult for many, we’re hopeful that people will understand that this is a part of nature, and nature isn’t always kind or pretty.”

Eagles aren’t the only threat facing cats. Coyotes are considered one of the most common predators of felines. Coyotes have expanded their range in parts of the US, causing occasional clashes with cats and dogs. In 2009, residents of a Denver suburb decided to scare off problem coyotes using paintball guns.

Other threats to cats include snakes, raccoons and porcupines. Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy at the Humane Society, said eagles and owls are the biggest threats to cats.

“I live in New England and the fisher [a small carnivorous mammal] can take a cat too,” she told the Guardian. “When cats are outside, they are part of the natural world. The animals that prey upon them don’t think ‘that’s a pet, it’s different’.”

But it’s worth noting that cats are more often predators than prey. The Audubon Society has urged people to keep cats indoors because the felines kill and eat “many, many songbirds”.

Cats kill an estimated 1.3 billion to four billion birds and an incredible 6.3 billion to 22.3 billion mammals, such as rodents, each year in the US. While the majority of these deaths are caused be free-ranging “feral” cats, rather than pets, separate studies suggest that around a third of all domesticated cats engage in hunting.

In Australia, where huge numbers of native animals are threatened by feral cats, several jurisdictions have considered making owners place bells around cats’ necks, in order to warn unsuspecting birds. The Australian government has authorized a mass cull of feral cats, to the dismay of celebrities including French actor Brigitte Bardot and British singer Morrissey, but no such intervention is planned in the US.

The Humane Society said that more needs to be done to reduce the number of feral cats, although primarily through trapping and neutering untamed felines.

“There should be an overall goal of fewer unowned cats,” Lisnik said. “Cats being harmed isn’t a good thing and nor is killing large numbers of birds and other wildlife.”

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 on: May 03, 2016, 05:28 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
'The end of an era': Ringling Bros circus closes curtain on elephant shows

Final show for the pachyderms comes after local government actions made touring with the animals difficult, as activists herald ‘victory’ for animal rights

Susan Zalkind in Providence, Rhode Island
Monday 2 May 2016 18.21 BST

After the last-ever circus to feature elephants, capping 145 years of elephant shows and decades of pressure from animal activists, two professional clowns walked into a bar to reflect on the state of the circus industry.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Crickett McGrath, sipping a gin and tonic. “It’s older than baseball.”

“And Coca-Cola,” added Anthony Hoang.

Feld Entertainment, the production company behind Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus, has retired its elephant herd and discontinued the act. Sunday evening’s show in Providence, Rhode Island, was a formal farewell to the practice that McGrath called “the hooks on which a circus is hung”, paraphrasing PT Barnum.

Feld is retiring eleven animals in total, after five others performed their final show in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

In Providence, Kellyann, a four-ton Asian elephant renowned for amusing her fellow entertainers with rude noises by pressing her foot to her trunk and emitting air, took her final bow along with five other females. The elephants stood on their hind legs, feigned sleep and spun on circular podiums, shorter than the elephants are wide, dancing to choruses of “This is the greatest show on earth!”

Feld Entertainment has fought lawsuits against animal rights groups in the past. In 2014, it won a $16m settlement, and in 2011 the USDA fined it $270,000 for Animal Welfare Act violations after Mother Jones reported the elephants spent most of their lives chained, were often whipped with bullhooks, and were left in cages full of feces.

None of the efforts of animal rights groups appeared to have any direct impact on the circus until last year, when local governments began taking action. Los Angeles and Oakland both banned the use of bullhooks, short hooked poles used to train and instruct elephants; and Asheville, North Carolina, banned performing elephants at the 7,600-seat US Cellular Center.

The bans put limitations on the circus’s ability to tour. In an interview on the Ringling Bros elephant conservation website, Kenneth Feld, the company’s CEO, also cited a shift in the public’s attitude toward touring wild animals. Earlier this year, SeaWorld banned the breeding of captive orcas.

The company’s response to criticism seemed to be written into the show script Sunday night. “We have the healthiest, happiest and most physically fit herd in the world!” boomed ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, as a half dozen female elephants strolled into the arena in a neat line, trunk grasping tail.

The audience burst into applause, peppered with the excited screams of children, twirling an assortment of plastic light-up toys.

Dropping the elephant act and moving the animals to the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida is not an admission of guilt, said Feld spokesman Stephen Payne, who insists that nothing about the training or the touring process is abusive. “You cannot make 9,000lbs do what 9,000lbs doesn’t want to do,” said Payne.

Answering concerns that the elephants are taken away from their mothers too young and spend much of their lives in chains, Payne said they were separated at around two to three years old and were tethered only at night, “so they don’t disturb each other”.

Elizabeth Hogan, US wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, welcomes the change from the household circus name. “It is a victory, certainly, for the elephants,” she said, adding that there is a “growing awareness” among the general public about animal rights issues.

Still, she is still concerned about other wild animals featured in the circus as well, such as lions, tigers and a kangaroo.

The history of the mistreatment of elephants is as long as the history of the circus itself. One called Jumbo was known to be fed large quantities of alcohol by his trainer, and was hit by a train. After his death, Barnum proceeded to take the beast’s skeleton on tour.

Elephants are not normally afraid of rodents in the wild, but circus elephants such as Jumbo were often kept in rat-infested stalls, and were gnawed on by the beasts.

Meanwhile, Ringling Bros faces the challenge of coming up with a new act as popular as the elephants.

Circus aficionado Ernest Albrecht said taking elephants out of the show would cause irreparable damage to the event.

“Elephants in the circus in America have always been just about the most important ingredient; it was the way a circus was measured, and if it [didn’t] have any elephants, it wasn’t considered much of a circus,” said Albrecht.

Several children at the Providence show reported having no interest in attending the show without elephants. “I hear elephants are endangered,” said Rama Colley, seven, who had seen Peta protesters outside the arena.

John De Leonardo, a Peta employee, said: “We’re going to continue protesting until all the animals are out of the circus.” He held a model elephant bullhook and a sign that read “Elephants are beaten” alongside a dozen other protesters outside the arena.

De Leonardo has no faith in the wellbeing of elephants at the Ringling Bros-run Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. “If they are calling it a sanctuary, it’s like calling a puppy mill a dog rescue,” he said.

Payne maintained animal activists have no first-hand knowledge about the Center for Elephant Conservation. He said the circus would evolve with new traditions, including a new ice-skating feature.

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