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« Reply #4050 on: Oct 17, 2017, 04:11 AM »

Amid Sonoma’s ashes, family is overjoyed to find their dog Izzy — alive, well and wagging her tail

By Samantha Schmidt
October 17 2017
Wa Post

As flames enveloped their Santa Rosa, Calif. home on Oct. 9, the Weavers had seconds to leave. In the midst of their flight, their beloved 9-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Izzy, ran away from them.

“My mom couldn’t chase after her without risking her own life,” their daughter, Beckyjean Widen, wrote on Facebook. To get to safety, she said, the couple “had to drive through walls of flames and across a burning wooden bridge.”

The day after evacuating, as fires continued to burn across California wine country, the Weavers — like thousands of other displaced families — wondered what had become of their home. They were convinced they had lost everything.

But they were most devastated with the thought of losing Izzy, Widen said.

So their son, Jack Weaver, and son-in-law, Patrick Widen, decided to make the three-mile trek to the property to find out exactly what was left of the home. More importantly, they needed to find out if Izzy had by “some miracle” survived, Beckyjean Widen, Widen’s wife, wrote on Facebook.

“They were turned away by police officers, but if you know my brother Jack or husband Patrick . . . neither one likes to be told no,” Beckyjean Widen wrote. Weaver decided to capture what he saw on video, to show his parents.

In the video, the two are heard panting and out of breath as they hike up the last hill before reaching the property.

“I can see the vineyards,” Weaver says in the video, which was shared on Facebook and has now been viewed more than 1.7 million times. His voice sounds exhausted as he nears the home. “The anticipation is killing me,” he says.

As they got closer, Jack Weaver notices the gate is still standing.

But, he says, “I don’t see the house. I had my hopes up.”

He sees the remains of a wall. Aside from that? “Nothing. It’s gone.”

“There’s so much smoke I can’t show you the view,” he says.

The two men begin clapping and whistling, calling out for Izzy, wondering if maybe, at least, Izzy had made it.

They see that some parts of the property have been spared — the vineyards, a tractor.

Then, suddenly, there’s movement up ahead.

“Izzy is here!” Weaver shouts excitedly. “Izzy, Izzy, come here baby, Izzy!”

The Bernese Mountain Dog is seen walking toward them, wagging her tail.

In the background, Patrick Widen’s voice is heard wavering, cracking, overcome with emotion.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” he cries out.

Izzy was covered in ashes, and smelled like soot, they later told NBC News. But otherwise the dog was fine. A veterinarian said she was likely insulated from the heat of the blaze by her thick fur coat, the Associated Press reported. She was panting, and visibly stressed, but Izzy did not panic, Weaver said.

“She was very happy to see us,” Weaver told the AP. “She’s such a brave dog.”

After all, Izzy is a two-time cancer survivor, the family told NBC News.

Eventually, Weaver was able to get through on a cellphone to tell his mother. She was staying with relatives in the San Francisco Bay area at the time.

“She just lost it,” Weaver told the AP. “She went from being devastated about losing her home to the being the happiest person I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t get home fast enough. She was really, really happy . . . She’s still shaken up by the whole thing, but she’s in much better spirits now that Izzy is at our house.”

Across the fire-ravaged region, where 40 people have been confirmed dead in four counties, reunions like this bring hope amid despair.

Statewide, an estimated 5,700 structures have been destroyed and nearly 100,000 people have been displaced, according to officials. In the Weavers’ town of Santa Rosa, the county seat and gateway to the wine tourism industry, the fires have destroyed nearly 3,000 homes and caused $1.2 billion in damage.

At Sonoma County Animal Services, veterinarians and assistants are providing care for 64 cats and 44 dogs, almost all of them brought in from areas affected by fires, the AP reported.

On Facebook, the shelter has been posting videos and pictures of the animals they take in, hoping to get the word out to their owners.

Sometimes it works. Ed Ratliff, a Santa Rosa resident, was reunited with his cat, Milo, on Thursday. An officer found the cat crouching under a Honda Civic and took him to the shelter, KTVU reported.

Ohndrea Elliot began looking for Kitty, her 10-year-old calico cat, the day after she evacuated her home and Kitty had run across the street. She lost her home and all of her belongings in the fire.

“I felt horrible,” Elliot, 23, told KTVU. “It broke my heart. We had everyone else safe except Kitty. And she was the last thing I saw as we were leaving. She was running for her life.”

Elliot contacted the Sonoma Humane Society, and the shelter sent her a photo of the cat, which had burned its paws and fur.

“I broke down really hard,” Elliot said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

As for the Weavers, Jack Weaver told NBC News his mom had “gone through a lot.”

“The goal was to try to put her mind at ease one way or the other,” he said. “We didn’t believe [Izzy] would’ve survived.”

“We didn’t expect to see her, and she came bounding out,” he recounted to Good Morning America. “It was elation, tears, happiness, one of the greatest moments of my life.”

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« Reply #4051 on: Oct 17, 2017, 04:19 AM »

Ant queens rip apart and bury dead companions to prevent disease

The gruesome "undertaking behaviours" were found to increase the chances of the new colony succeeding.

By Aristos Georgiou
New research has found that ant queens perform gruesome "undertaking behaviours" when founding a new colony, to minimise the threat of disease and ensure its success.

A team from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria observed these behaviours in cases where two ant queens co-founded a colony and one of the queens died before the first workers arrived. In these situations, the surviving queens often ripped apart and buried the corpses of their dead companions.

The researchers found that this burial technique was associated with a seven-fold reduction in the odds of the surviving queen dying. The strange behaviour has been observed in worker ants before, but it is considered unusual for queens.

"Ant queens usually focus on reproduction and do not engage in any risky or dangerous tasks," said Christopher Pull, an author of the study.

"That's why we were surprised to find that while ant queens do not avoid founding new colonies with other, sick queens – due mainly to competition for suitable nest sites – they perform undertaking behaviours that may have an impact on their survival. We found that queens that perform these behaviours are actually less likely to contract infections from dead co-founders and are less likely to die compared to those that do not perform undertaking."

The team's findings were published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

"Most previous research on how ant queens fight disease during colony foundation has focused on their immunological responses after infection has occurred. We set out to investigate how queens behave to prevent contracting infections in the first place. Avoiding infection is important for ant queens because they live solely on the breakdown of fat and muscle until their first workers arrive. Having to expend resources on fighting an infection could affect their reproductive success and the success of the overall colony."

The study looked at the behaviour of black garden ant queens, which sometimes found colonies in pairs.

"This study expands our view about the challenges facing colony-founding ant queens, and how those challenges shape the evolution of queen behaviour, which appears to be far more complex than previously thought," Pull said. "The simplistic view of the founding queen, waiting patiently for her workers to emerge so she can assume the role of egg-producer, is clearly not a comprehensive picture."

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« Reply #4052 on: Oct 17, 2017, 04:21 AM »

If dolphins had evolved opposable thumbs, they would be ruling the world instead of humans

Dolphin and whale societies are about as sophisticated as our own. They just lack thumbs.

Martha Henriques

The sophisticated societies that whales and dolphins live in are as complex as human societies, a study has found. Their only downfall is the lack of opposable thumbs, making complex technology next to impossible for them to develop.

An extensive study comparing 90 species of dolphin, whale and porpoise – collectively known as cetaceans – found a remarkable level of social and cultural development among the animals. They talk to each other and have regional dialects. They even have the concept of naming.

"They have things called signature whistles, which identify individuals, and function more or less as names," study author Susanne Shultz of the University of Manchester told IBTimes UK.

"What's exciting about that is that these dolphins use these names to talk to each other when present, but also when they're not there."

That's not all. Dolphins and whales can build alliances and coalitions for mutual gain, hunt cooperatively and work with other species, such as humans. These are all included when summing up a species' so-called 'social repertoire'.

It's tough to make direct comparisons between species and groups of animals, but cetaceans can certainly give some of the most intelligent species on the planet a run for their money.

"Whales and dolphins are at least as complex as our closest relatives – the Great Apes – if not more so," Shultz said. But are they as complex as our own human societies?

"It's very hard to compare, but one of the things interesting about dolphins is that their societies are very complex and even human-like."

Some species, such as the bottlenose dolphin and the orca, stand out as the most complex cetacean cultures. But this could be because these are the ones we know the most about, Shultz cautions. Other cetaceans may have equally or more developed social and cultural lives we just haven't been able to study yet.

Some researchers have argued that because dolphin and whales brains are structured so differently from our own, it would make them inherently less able to achieve higher levels of cognition and social skills. This research shows that view to be false, the researchers say.

As well as their complex social structures, the size and nature of their brains was closely related to how many marine environments they had been able to conquer. Those with the larger brains were more successful in occupying very diverse habitats.

In fact, the main thing holding cetaceans back is not their brains, but their flippers, Shultz said. They lack the opposable thumb that has made apes such prolific tool-users.

"Cetaceans can't build things they can't really make tools because they don't have opposable thumbs. Dolphins use sponges as tools but just don't have hands and arms that allow them to do much else," Shultz said.

"It's quite hard to figure out the relative complexity of species' cultures when they can't show any technological sophistication. But in terms of behaviours, communication and social structure, they seem to be very, very advanced."

As well as appreciating how clever cetaceans really are, this research can help put into perspective what does – and doesn't – make humans unique.

"In order to move toward a more general theory of human behaviour, we need to understand what makes humans so different from other animals," Michael Muthukrishna, another author of the study and an economist at the London School of Economics, concluded.

The findings are published in a study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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« Reply #4053 on: Oct 17, 2017, 04:29 AM »

Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild

OCT. 17, 2017
NY Times

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement.

At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves.

When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones. But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well.

Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction. No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

The scientific consensus is that dogs evolved from some kind of extinct wolf 15,000 or more years ago. Most researchers now think that it wasn’t a case of snatching a pup from a den, but of some wolves spending more time around people to feed on the hunters’ leftovers. Gradually some of these wolves became less afraid of people, and they could get closer and eat more and have more puppies, which carried whatever DNA made the wolves less fearful. That repeated itself generation after generation until the wolves evolved to be, in nonscientific terms, friendly. Those were the first dogs.

People must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end with wolf puppies just to assure them that humans are tolerable. Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Despite all the similarities, something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is.

There are clues.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

Another idea being studied is whether a delay in development during a critical socializing period in a dog’s early life could make the difference. That delay might be discovered in the DNA, more likely in the sections that control when and how strongly genes become active, rather than in the genes themselves.

This is research at its very beginning, a long shot in some ways. But this past spring and summer, two scientists traveled to Quebec to monitor the development of six wolf pups, do behavior tests and take genetic samples. I followed them.

I visited other captive wolves as well, young and adult, to get a glimpse of how a research project begins — and, I confess, to get a chance to play with wolf puppies.

I wanted to have some firsthand experience of the animals I write about, to look wolves in the eye, so to speak. But only metaphorically. As I was emphatically told in a training session before going into an enclosure with adult wolves, the one thing you definitely do not do is look them in the eye.

Zoo Académie is a combination zoo and training facility here on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence River, about two hours from Montreal. Jacinthe Bouchard, the owner, has trained domestic and wild animals, including wolves, all over the world.

This past spring she bred two litters of wolf pups from two female wolves and one male she had already at the zoo. Both mothers gave birth in the same den around the same time at the beginning of June. Then unusually bad flooding of the St. Lawrence threatened the den, so Ms. Bouchard had to remove them at about seven days old instead of the usual two weeks.

Then began the arduous process of socializing the pups. Ms. Bouchard and her assistant stayed day and night with the animals for the first few weeks, gradually decreasing the time spent with them after that.

On June 30, Kathryn Lord and Elinor Karlsson showed up with several colleagues, including Diane Genereux, a research scientist in Dr. Karlsson’s lab who would do most of the hands-on genetics work.

Dr. Lord is part of Dr. Karlsson’s team, which splits time between the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and the Broad Institute in Cambridge. Their work combines behavior and genetic studies of wolf and dog pups.

An evolutionary biologist, Dr. Lord is an old hand at wolf mothering. She has hand-raised five litters.

“You have to be with them 24/7. That means sleeping with them, feeding them every four hours on the bottle, ” Dr. Lord said.

Also, as Ms. Bouchard noted, “we don’t shower” in the early days, to let the pups get a clear sense of who they are smelling.

That’s very important, because both wolves and dogs go through a critical period as puppies when they explore the world and learn who their friends and family are.

With wolves, that time is thought to start at about two weeks, when the wolves are deaf and blind. Scent is everything.

In dogs, it starts at about four weeks, when they can see, smell and hear. Dr. Lord thinks this shift in development, allowing dogs to use all their senses, might be key to their greater ability to connect with human beings.

Perhaps with more senses in action, they are more able to generalize from tolerating individual humans with a specific scent to tolerating humans in general with a scent, sight and sound profile.

When the critical period ends, wolves, and to a lesser extent dogs, experience something like the onset of stranger anxiety in human babies, when people outside of the family suddenly become scary.

The odds of being able to pin down genetically the shift in this crucial stage are still long, but both Dr. Lord and Dr. Karlsson think the idea is worth pursuing, as did the Broad Institute. It provided a small grant from a program designed to support scientists who take leaps into the unknown — what you might call what-if research.

There are two questions the scientists want to explore. One, said Dr. Karlsson: ”How did a wolf that was living in the forest become a dog that was living in our homes?”

The other is whether fear and sociability in dogs are related to the same emotions and behaviors in humans. If so, learning about dogs could provide insights to some human conditions in which social interaction is affected, like autism, or Williams syndrome, or schizophrenia.

The pups at Zoo Académie were only three weeks old when the group of researchers arrived. I showed up the next morning and walked into a room strewn with mattresses, researchers and puppies.

The humans were still groggy from a night with little sleep. Pups at that age wake up every few hours to whine and paw any warm body within reach.

Wolf mothers prompt their pups to urinate and defecate by licking their abdomens. The human handlers massaged the pups for the same reason, but often the urination was unpredictable, so the main subject of conversation when I arrived was wolf pup pee. How much, on whom, from which puppy.

As soon as I walked in, I was handed a puppy to cradle and bottle-feed. The puppy was like a furry larva, persistent, single-minded, with an absolute intensity of purpose.

Even with fur, teeth and claws, the pups were still hungry and helpless, and I couldn’t help but remember holding my own children when they took a bottle. I suspect that tiger kittens and the young of wolverines are equally irresistible. It’s a mammal thing.

The first part of Dr. Lord’s testing was to confirm her observations that the critical period for wolves starts and ends earlier than that for dogs.

She set up a procedure for testing the pups by exposing them to something they could not possibly have encountered before — a jiggly buzzing contraption of bird-scare rods, a tripod and a baby’s mobile.

Each week she tested one pup, so that no pup got used to it. She would put the puppy in a small arena, with low barriers for walls and with the mobile turned on. She would hide, to avoid distracting the puppy. Video cameras recorded the action, showing how the pups stumbled and later walked around the strange object, or shied away from it, or went right up to sniff it.

At three weeks, the pups had been barely able to get around and were still sleeping almost every minute they weren’t nursing. By eight weeks, when I returned to have them gambol all over me, they were rambunctious and fully capable of exploration.

The researchers won’t publicize the results until observers who never saw the puppies view and analyze the videos. But Dr. Lord said that wolf experts considered eight-week-old wolf puppies past the critical period. They were so friendly to me and others because they had been successfully socialized already.

Before and after the test, she collected urine, to measure levels of a hormone called cortisol, which rises during times of stress. If the pup in the video would not approach the jiggly monster and cortisol levels were high, that would indicate that the pup had begun to experience a level of fear of new things that could stop exploration. That would confirm the timing of the critical period.

She and Dr. Karlsson and others from the lab also collected saliva for DNA testing. They planned to use a new technique called ATAC-seq that uses an enzyme to mark active genes. Then when the wolf DNA is fed into one of the advanced machines that map genomes, only the active genes would be on the map.

Dr. Genereux, who was isolating and then reading DNA, said she thought it was “a long shot” that they would find what they wanted. She and the other researchers plan to refine their techniques to ask the questions successfully.

When They Grow Up

And what are socialized wolves like when they grow up, once the mysterious genetic machinery of the dog and wolf direct them on their separate ways?

I also visited Wolf Park, in Battle Ground, Ind., a 65-acre zoo and research facility where Dana Drenzek, the manager, and Pat Goodmann, the senior animal curator, took me around and introduced me not only to puppies they were socializing, but to some adult wolves.

In the 1970s, Ms. Goodmann worked with Erich Klinghammer, the founder of Wolf Park, to develop the 24/7 model for socializing wolf puppies, exposing them to humans and then also to other wolves, so they could relate to their own kind but accept the presence and attentions of humans, even intrusive ones like veterinarians.

The sprawling outdoor baby pen was filled with cots and hammocks for the volunteers, since the wolves were now nine and 11 weeks old and living outdoors all the time. There were plastic and plywood hiding places for the wolves and plenty of toys. It looked like a toddlers’ playground, except for the remnants of their meals — the odd deer clavicle or shin bone, and other assorted ribs, legs and shoulder bones, sometimes with skin and meat still attached.

The puppies were extremely friendly with the volunteers they knew, and mildly friendly with me. The adult wolves I met were also courteous, but remote. Two older males, Wotan and Wolfgang, each licked me once and walked away. Timber, the mother of some of the pups, and tiny at 50 pounds, also investigated me and then retired to a platform nearby.

Only Renki, an older wolf who had suffered from bone cancer and now got around on three legs, let me scratch his head for a while. None was bothered by my presence. None was more than mildly interested. None seemed to realize or care about my own intense desire to see the wolves, be near them, learn about them, touch them.

I saw how powerfully a visit with wolves could affect how you feel about the animals. I wanted to come back and help raise pups, and keep visiting so that I could say an adult wolf knew me in some way.

But I also wondered whether it was right to keep wolves in this setting. In the wild, they travel large distances and kill their food. These wolves were all bred in captivity and that was never a possibility for them.

But was I simply indulging a fantasy of getting close to nature? Was this in the same category as wanting a selfie with a captive tiger? What was best for the wolves themselves?

I asked Ms. Goodmann about it. She said that park operated on the idea that getting to know the park’s wolves, which had never been deprived of an earlier life in the wild, would make visitors care more for wild wolves, for conservation, for preserving a life for wild carnivores that they could never be part of.

And she noted that Wolf Park operates as a combination zoo and research station. Students and others from around the world compete to work as interns, helping with everything from raising puppies to emptying the fly traps.

This is the rationale for all zoos, and it was a strong argument. Then she made it stronger. She pointed out that one of the interns, Doug Smith, worked on the reintroduction of wild wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Smith has had a major role in the Wolf Restoration Project from the very beginning in 1995 and has been project leader since 1997. I reached him one morning at his office at park headquarters and asked him about his time as an intern at Wolf Park.

“I hand-reared four wolf pups, sleeping with them on a mattress for six weeks,” he said. “It had a profound effect. It was the first wolf job I ever got in my life. It turned into my career.”

From there he went on to study wild wolves on Isle Royale in Michigan, and then to work with L. David Mech, a pioneering wolf biologist who is senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. Eventually, he went to Yellowstone to work on restoring wolves to the park.

He said ethical questions about keeping wild animals in captivity are difficult, even when every effort is made to enrich their lives. But places like Wolf Park provide great value, he said, if they can get people “to think about the plight of wolves across the world, and do something about it.”

In today’s environment, “with conservation on the run, nature on the run, you need them,” he added.

Then he said what all wolf specialists say: That even though wolf pups look like dogs, they are not, that keeping a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid as a pet is a terrible idea.

“If you want a wolf,” he said, “get a dog.”

How Did Wolves Become Dogs? https://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000005162472/wolves-puppies-become-dogs.html?action=click&contentCollection=science&module=lede&region=caption&pgtype=article

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« Reply #4054 on: Oct 17, 2017, 04:34 AM »

Penguins starving to death is a sign that something’s very wrong in the Antarctic

John Sauven
17 October 2017 14.38 BST

The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life don’t need is additional strain on food supplies.

Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary – the largest protected area on Earth – which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a “pale blue dot”.

“Our planet is a blue planet,” echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBC’s landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.

The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, that’s the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.

It wasn’t long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.

All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.

Here’s the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.

This ocean treaty won’t be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.

Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months’ time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.

The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adélie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.
Antarctic sea ice levels hit record low, but experts are not sure why
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The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.

Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but it’s not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.

Creating the world’s largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.

• John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2016/oct/28/landmark-agreement-will-create-worlds-largest-marine-park-in-antarctica-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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« Reply #4055 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:26 AM »

Why Are America's Bats Disappearing?

By John R. Platt

It's Friday evening in Pittsburgh, and the mosquitoes are out in force. One bites at my arm and I try to slap it away. Another takes the opportunity to land on my neck. I manage to shoo this one off before it tastes blood.

I'm at Carrie Furnaces, a massive historic ironworks on the banks of Pennsylvania's Monongahela River. Stories-tall rusting structures loom all around me, as do the occasional trees poking their way out of the ground. A tour guide, leading a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists conference, tells me the soil here is full of heavy metals and other pollutants from the factory, which operated for nearly a century before closing in 1982.

Plants and trees have started to recolonize the area, but cleaning up the soil itself remains an unlikely task that could cost millions and millions of dollars—if it's even feasible. Another nearby site, he tells me, was so polluted that it couldn't be reclaimed and had to be paved over.

For a moment, as I walk the grounds around Carrie Furnaces, I wonder about the toxic substances biding their time beneath my feet. Quickly, though, I become more concerned about what's in the air—or what's missing from it. As another bug lands on my hand, I can't help but think we'd be experiencing fewer mosquito bites if Pennsylvania's bat populations had not been devastated over the past 10 years.

It's a day earlier, and the sun is still young in the morning sky. A group of journalists from the conference has piled onto a bus on our way to Laurel Caverns, the biggest cave system in Pennsylvania. With us are representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), there to tell us about a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, best known by the name of the often-fatal disease it causes in bats, white-nose syndrome (WNS).

Since the pathogen first turned up in 2006, millions of bats have fallen victim to its deadly embrace. It often collects around their snouts, which is where the disease got its name, but that's not where the worst damage occurs. "It erodes right through their wing membranes," Robyn Niver, endangered species biologist with the USFWS, told us during the two-hour bus ride from downtown Pittsburgh. "Flight is extremely important for bats, and the fungus affects their basic ability to move around and forage for themselves."

The easily transmissible fungus also does something to bats' metabolism, causing the animals to wake up during hibernation more than twice as often as they normally would. This increase in winter activity burns up the bats' winter reserves of fat, water and electrolytes, leaving the animals hungry, thirsty and confused. "If they go out to forage in the winter, there's nothing available to them," Niver said. "They'll go out on the landscape and just die. Sometimes you'll see piles of dead bats. Other times they're just gone." Caves that once held tens of thousands of bats now, more often than not, now lie nearly empty.

That's the case in Laurel Canyons. Before the disease turned up, the caves were the winter home of a relatively small population of hibernating bats, about 2,500 animals from four species. Last year, Canyons representative Laura Hall later told us, they counted just 12 bats.

We knew going into Laurel Canyons for our two-hour underground tour that we weren't likely to see any of the flying mammals. For one thing, it was still a few weeks before hibernation season. For another, the guides wouldn't have taken us into the bats' hibernacula. But still, knowing what we knew, the caves we explored felt eerily silent and empty.

Other Pennsylvania caves must seem even worse. Greg Turner, a mammologist and WNS researcher with the state's Bureau of Wildlife Management, shared information on bat declines throughout the state. One mine, he told us, had more than 30,000 bats in 2007. White-nose syndrome arrived just three years later. By 2013 only 155 bats remained. In cave after cave, that pattern has repeated itself.

And Pennsylvania is not alone. White-nose can now be found in 31 states and 5 Canadian provinces and has affected nine bat species, including the endangered gray bat (Myotis grisescens) and Indiana bat (M. sodalis). Some populations have fallen 99 percent or more, meaning other species could soon become officially endangered.

When the fungus first turned up—probably accidentally carried by humans from Europe, where it has no effect on the continent's bats, to a cave in Albany, New York—no one expected it to be as bad as it has become. "We all just thought, maybe it will only be in one site and it won't be a big deal," Niver said. "Then the next year happened. 2008 was a terrible year. We had mass mortality in Vermont." Some estimates suggest half a million bats died that winter.

After that the disease just "took off," she said. "We were hopeful it wasn't going to be much of anything, but every winter just was devastatingly proving us wrong. It was terrible."

Biologists around the northeast scrambled to figure out what was happening. "There were just these bats dying and there was nothing we could do," Niver said. "We didn't know what was killing them. We would have these weekly phone calls just trying to figure out who found it where and on which species. We went through all the steps of grief."

Fortunately, there was already a model for figuring out these types of pathogens: the working groups for bee colony collapse disorder. Biologists quickly organized, developed their own working group, identified the fungus and developed protocols to help slow its spread.

Those protocols for human activity, however, can only do so much when all it takes is the beat of a bat's wings to spread tiny but deadly fungal spores to all of its neighbors. And protocols can't stop bats from migrating, which has taken the fungus from coast to coast in just over a decade. As that happened, the death toll has climbed. Biologists estimate that at least five to six million bats—probably more—have died since 2007.

What is the impact of these mass bat fatalities? It's too early to know. "I feel like we're just in this huge environmental experiment," Niver told me. Scientists never had very good information on insect populations, so we don't know how exactly they're changing as the bats disappear. She suggests it's time to start keeping an eye on things like gypsy moth or tent caterpillar outbreaks, which could become a problem without bats to control the insects' populations. Other pest insects could also be a problem; a 2011 study estimated that bats provide an estimated $22.9 billion a year in economic services by eating insects that could damage crops.

Then there's the impact on the bats themselves. Some species could become endangered, if they're not already.

Meanwhile, other bats are actually changing in the face of the disease. Turner told us that some bats have started to hibernate at colder temperatures where they could be safer from the fungus, while Niver said some species have potentially started to expand their territories into habitats previously inhabited by one of the species hardest hit by the disease, the little brown bat (M. lucifugus).

The bats may also be starting to change physically or behaviorally. Turner shared data, still pending publication, which suggests that some bats that survive the initial infection in one year appear to be packing on additional weight to help them persist through their next hibernations.

Despite these minor adaptations in some populations, the future for bats in this country is precarious. Over the past year the fungus has spread to Texas and Washington state; Niver said biologists in the East are warning their colleagues in the West what to expect. The message isn't an easy one: "Don't count on anything being different enough for your bats to survive," she warns.

Survival of any bats, now, is the key. Turner told us their best hope is not that the declines will stop, only that they'll level off. "Stabilization," he said, "that's what we're hoping for."

Journalists descend into Laurel Cavern.
John R. Platt

As we come to the close of our underground tour, our guide—a former steelworker named Justin—brings us into a large cavern where there's room for us to sit or lean against the rock walls. This, he tell us, is our opportunity to experience total darkness. One by one, we switch off our flashlights and headlamps. The room grows darker and darker until all light disappears. Our eyes struggle to adjust, but there's nothing they can do except send false signals to our brain.

Then Justin tells us to enjoy a moment of silence. The journalists stop talking, and for a few minutes all we can hear is the soft rustle of wind through the caverns around us.

It's peaceful, but it would have been more comforting to hear the flap of a bat's wings in the darkness.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

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« Reply #4056 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:29 AM »

How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution

10/17/ 2017
NY Times

Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution
By Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut
209 pp. University of Chicago Press. $26.

Imagine a time when scientists worked in secret, wondering if government officials would declare their research counter to state interests, endangering not only the personal liberty of the scientists themselves but their ability to let the experiments take them where the facts led. A time when how good a scientist you were was not all that mattered — what was important was how well you fit into political and ideological dictates. No, this is not a setup for a book ripped from yesterday’s CNN feed. Instead, it is the backdrop to a story that is part science, part Russian fairy tale and part spy thriller.

“How to Tame a Fox” sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? In the late 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Belyaev decided to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of replicating the domestication process in real time. He and his colleagues took silver foxes, widely bred in vast Siberian farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into friendly house pets. It was a deceptively simple process: Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat. Lyudmila Trut, the current lead researcher of the silver fox experiment, who began work as Belyaev’s intern, along with Lee Alan Dugatkin, an American scientist and writer at the University of Louisville, documents their monumental effort in this sparkling new book.

Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date — a far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred from the tamest members of their groups. Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike, with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur. Recent work uses modern genomics to understand the genetics behind the foxes’ changes in personality and appearance. The results are not nearly as widely known among scientists, not to mention the public, as they deserve to be.

The story, fraught with the drama of difficult labor in the Siberian winter, would have been extraordinary enough as a work of science. But it began as the Soviet Union was shaking off the disastrous influence of Trofim Lysenko, the director of biology under Stalin. In keeping with the idea that the government could engineer a perfect society simply by manipulating the environment — whether of crops or people — Lysenko rejected the burgeoning field of genetics and promoted agricultural improvement through the inheritance of acquired characteristics, à la Lamarck. (According to this view, a bodybuilder would pass on bulky muscles to his children.) His efforts resulted in the failure of Soviet agriculture, but for decades he was highly influential, and Belyaev and Trut had to pursue their research in the face of lingering skepticism at best and the threat of imprisonment at worst.

The book, however, is not only about dogs, or foxes, or even science under siege from political interests. It is an exploration of how genes, evolution and then environment shape behavior, and in a way that puts paid simplistic arguments about nature versus nurture. It may serve — particularly now — as a parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.

Marlene Zuk is a professor at the University of Minnesota whose latest book is “Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live.”

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« Reply #4057 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:36 AM »

Alligator devours shark in extraordinary photo captured by scientists

This is the first time this interaction between the freshwater and saltwater animals has been documented by scientists.

By Aristos Georgiou
October 17, 2017 13:34 BST

American alligators on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are eating small sharks and stingrays, according to a new study published in the journal Southeastern Naturalist, in what is the first documented evidence of widespread interaction between the freshwater and marine animals.

"In the article, we documented alligators consuming four new species of sharks and one species of stingray," said James Nifong, an author of the study and postdoctoral researcher with the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Kansas State University.

"Before this, there have only been a few observations from an island off the Georgia coast, but the new findings document the occurrence of these interactions from the Atlantic coast of Georgia around the Florida peninsula to the Gulf Coast and Florida panhandle."

Though there has been anecdotal evidence of alligators eating sharks previously, this is the first scientific study of its kind.

Even though alligators live in freshwater, and sharks and stingrays reside in the ocean, it is fairly common for them to share the same water, according to Nifong. Many sharks and rays can occasionally swim into freshwater, while opportunistic alligators can also travel between freshwater and marine habitats, despite not having salt glands like crocodiles.

"Alligators seek out fresh water in high-salinity environments," Nifong said. "When it rains really hard, they can actually sip fresh water off the surface of the salt water. That can prolong the time they can stay in a saltwater environment."

Normally, alligators eat crustaceans, snails and fish, but they are not ones to pass up the chance of a larger meal, which explains why rays and small sharks end up on the menu.

"The findings bring into question how important sharks and rays are to the alligator diet as well as the fatality of some the juvenile sharks when we think about population management of endangered species," Nifong said.

During the research, Nifong pumped the stomachs of more than 500 live alligators to learn more about their diet. The reptiles were also equipped with GPS transmitters to monitor their movements.

The researchers found that the alligators travelled between freshwater sources and estuaries – partially enclosed coastal bodies of water where freshwater meets the sea. These estuaries often house nurseries of young sharks.

"The frequency of one predator eating the other is really about size dynamic," Nifong said. "If a small shark swims by an alligator and the alligator feels like it can take the shark down, it will. But we also reviewed some old stories about larger sharks eating smaller alligators."

Nifong found news reports from the 1800s which described large battles between sharks and alligators after flooding and high tides washed the two predators together.

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« Reply #4058 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:39 AM »

Photographers against wildlife crime – in pictures

In a new project, an international group of photographers have joined forces to use their powerful images to raise awareness and funds to help stop the illegal wildlife trade

Monday 16 October 2017 10.00 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/oct/16/photographers-against-wildlife-in-pictures

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« Reply #4059 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:42 AM »

As badger culls begin, could one pioneering vet’s bovine TB test end the slaughter?

Research at a secret location in Devon may help eradicate bovine tuberculosis without a single badger being killed, says leading vet

Patrick Barkham
18 October 2017 00.04 BST

A pretty stone farmhouse sits in a bucolic green valley, surrounded by airy cowsheds. It looks like a timeless west country scene but is actually a pioneering farm, where cutting-edge science is helping to solve the hugely controversial, multimillion-pound problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

As an expanded badger cull gets under way this autumn, in which 33,500 animals will be killed to help stop the spread of the disease, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, believes this Devon farm demonstrates a way to eradicate the disease in cattle – without slaughtering any badgers.

Sibley’s trial, at a secret location, was halted earlier this year when two new tests to better identify bTB in cattle were deemed illegal. But government regulators have now given the vet permission to continue. His work is backed by rock star-turned-activist Brian May, whose Save Me Trust last week began a four-year programme of vaccinating badgers at the farm against bTB.

The family that owns the farm, which has 300 milking cows, turned to Sibley in despair after being virtually shut down with bTB for five years. Because of the disease, their cattle cannot be sold on the open market.

“We had nothing to lose,” said the fourth-generation farmer, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of interference from extremists on both sides of the argument. “We want to get rid of TB, it’s costing us a lot. Any technology would be better than the old bTB test.”

Despite four years of badger culling, bTB continues to rise in England, and 30,980 cows were slaughtered in the year up to June in attempts to control it, an increase of 4%. Farmers, as well as wildlife campaigners, are increasingly critical of the cattle test for bTB, which misses many cases, leaving undiagnosed cows to spread the disease within herds. In 2015, 16% of English bTB “breakdowns” were only detected in abattoirs, after supposedly healthy cows had been slaughtered.

Sibley is pioneering two new tests. The phage test, developed by microbiologist Cath Rees of Nottingham University, uses a bTB-invading virus to “hunt” for the live bacterium. It is detecting bTB in cows on the Devon farm months before they test positive with the traditional “skin test”: 85 cows have tested positive with the phage test despite all being found disease-free by the conventional test.

Farmers then need to know if infected cows are infectious. For this, Sibley uses a second test, qPCR, developed by Liz Wellington, life sciences professor at Warwick University. It detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.

Both professors have given Sibley free use of their new technologies, and the tests have shown that supposedly healthy cows are the “hidden reservoir” of bTB on the farm. But Sibley said what farms need as well as better testing is better risk management and more resilient cows. “I’ve never cured a cow with a test,” he said.

    We have to accept that the badgers are a risk. We either kill them, fence them out or vaccinate them
    Dick Sibley

The farm is an intensive dairy operation that keeps its cattle indoors once they are fully grown and milks them robotically – some cows produce 15,000 litres of milk each year. “If you don’t give that cow everything she needs, and keep the disease away from her, she will crash and burn,” said Sibley. “It’s just like athletes: if there’s a bit of E coli in the Olympic village, they all go down.”

TB – in cows as well as humans – is traditionally a disease of bad living conditions, so the farm’s barns are airy. There are fewer cows in each barn compared with a typical dairy farm, walkways are cleaned three times a day, and regularly changed drinking water is held in “tipping troughs” that are kept scrubbed clean. Dung falling into troughs is likely to be a key transmitter of the disease.

After studying each cow’s history, Sibley believes mothers often spread the disease to their calves at birth. The farm is combatting this by building a new maternity unit with rubber floors that will be disinfected after every delivery. Colostrum – the crucial first milk that boosts a calf’s immune system – is harvested from each mother but pasteurised before it is fed to each calf, so it won’t spread disease.

After being “shut down” for five years, the farm had its first clear test last year. It hopes to be clear of all restrictions within 12 months. But Sibley says that removing the disease from cows without tackling diseased badgers is like “crossing the road and only looking one way”.

Farm CCTV reveals that no badgers come close to the cattle sheds, but Wellington’s qPCR technology tested badger latrines and found local badgers were shedding the disease: 30% of 273 faecal samples contained the bacterium. Young grazing cows are potentially exposed to the disease.

“We have to accept that the badgers are a risk,” said Sibley. “We either kill them, fence them out or, more constructively, vaccinate them to reduce the risk of infection in the environment.”

May’s Save Me Trust is funding badger vaccination around the farm. The Queen guitarist became a hate-figure for some farmers when he suggested that if bTB was such a problem they should stop rearing cattle. But he has been working behind the scenes for several years to support farmers.

“I’m very, very hopeful that Dick Sibley has the answer,” said May. “I hope it works out, not just for this farm but for the whole of Britain. That would take away this awful polarisation between farmers and the public and animal welfare groups.”

A global shortage of BCG vaccine stopped May vaccinating badgers last year and he points out that the farm has virtually banished the disease without touching a single badger. “If badgers are running around with bTB and the herd has been cleaned up with advanced testing, that really makes you wonder whether badgers are contributing to the disease,” said May.

While some epidemiologists have privately expressed frustration that the government has not yet adopted new cattle-testing technologies, Sibley said the regulators move slowly. “The authorities must have rock-solid evidence in case they end up in court. I predict that in five years time phage and qPCR will be in the toolbox for farmers.”

Other bTB-hit farms are interested in Sibley’s approach and May’s charity has pledged to help meet veterinary costs. In Wales, farms with chronic bTB are receiving special support from the Welsh government and could be among the first to adopt the new techniques. Christianne Glossop, Wales’ chief vet, said: “I have known Dick for many years and have great respect for his work. I am also well aware of his current trials and will be keeping a close eye on the results of his pilot in Devon exploring innovative new testing methods.”

The Devon farmer admits he has been surprised by his success. “This test is showing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited that it could help us get clear of the disease and help other farmers in the future.”


A zoonotic disease – one that can jump from animals to humans – bovine tuberculosis (bTB) caused thousands of human deaths until the pasteurisation of milk began in the 1920s. It was then almost eradicated from British cows with the widespread slaughter of herds in the 1950s.

However, in 1971 it was discovered that cows had passed the disease to badgers after a dead badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The find led to five decades of debate and scientific uncertainty, and it is still not known what proportion – if any – of cattle TB cases are caused by badgers. The scientific consensus is that cows and badgers pass the disease between them but the precise method of transmission is also not known. Epidemiologists believe it is most likely via animal faeces.

Cattle TB has risen steadily since the 1980s and cost £500m in compensation to farmers in the decade up to 2013. That year, badger culling began in two “zones” in Gloucestershire and Somerset. It has since expanded to 21 zones in England. Ireland, the only other country with a bTB problem, also culls badgers.

Pro-cull farmers argue that reducing badger numbers will reduce bTB in the environment. No data has been published on the impact of four years of badger culling on cattle TB, but many scientists question the cull’s effectiveness.

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« Reply #4060 on: Oct 19, 2017, 04:33 AM »

Cumbrian zoo where nearly 500 animals died allowed to stay open

South Lakes Safari zoo gets green light after making changes and officials conclude requirements of licence complied with

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

A zoo where nearly 500 animals died in less than four years has been allowed to stay open despite fresh welfare concerns under its new owners.

A two-week inspection of South Lakes Safari zoo in August found that there were too many “contact incidents” between animals and visitors, including a lemur climbing into a baby’s pram and squirrel monkeys jumping on members of the public.

The zoo’s animal director, Andreas Kaufmann, additionally told council officials last month that a diagnosis of chlamydia had been reported in its peacock population.

But councillors on Barrow borough council gave the zoo the green light to stay open at a meeting of the authority’s licensing regulatory committee on Thursday.

The attraction is in the hands of new owners – Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd – after the founder David Gill was refused a licence to run the facility in March.

The previous month, a report said 486 animals died of causes including emaciation and hypothermia between December 2013 and September 2016.

At Thursday’s meeting, councillors heard that Kaufmann – who was appointed in August to turn around the zoo’s tattered reputation – had already threatened to resign over “misunderstandings and disagreements” with the attraction’s new boss Karen Brewer. However, Kaufmann said the issues had since been resolved and “now we’re back to a good process”.

Kaufmann, a renowned animal expert, told councillors the zoo had made a series of changes since he arrived, including removing squirrel monkeys from public areas and altering the food given to lemurs.

The changes also include feeding the animals multiple times a day to reduce their hunger at public feedings and limiting the number of visitors at these viewings to three or four at a time.

Some animals would be moved to other zoos, he said: “We will move a number of animals to other zoos. This is a great place but one of the areas we have to work on is the number of animals for our capabilities.

“We are doing a good job of finding good homes for them. We’re looking at other institutions and we make sure they are in a position to care for them appropriately. We do not euthanise our animals.”

Council inspectors who carried out a fresh two-week inspection in August concluded that there were too many “contact incidents” between animals and visitors. Seven incidents involving contact between animals and visitors were reported within a 14-day period.

The inspectors saw a lemur climb into a baby’s pram before it was removed by two zookeepers. Another lemur pulled off a visitor’s glove during a feeding session while trying to snatch a grape, while a third jumped on to a member of the public.

An ageing nyala – a spiral-horned antelope – which was completely blind and had been separated from its herd, had deteriorated and was euthanised the day after the inspection.

Despite the concerns flagged up by the inspection team, licensing officers recommended that the council’s licensing regulatory committee should acknowledge that the requirements of the licence were being complied with. They praised zookeepers for doing a “good job” in educating the public about safety.

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« Reply #4061 on: Oct 19, 2017, 04:35 AM »

House Republicans Advance Five Bills to Cripple Endangered Species Act


In party-line votes, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, led by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), advanced five bills today that would hamstring the Endangered Species Act and condemn hundreds of species to extinction. The legislation can now move to the full House floor for further consideration.

In December, Rep. Bishop stated that his goal was to repeal the act in its entirety. These bills represent the foundation of this longstanding goal.

"These bills would put monarch butterflies, wolverines and hundreds of other imperiled animals on a fast track to extinction," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This legislative onslaught is a brutal, blatant effort to cripple the Endangered Species Act. The only winners would be special interests that put profits ahead of our nation's most cherished wildlife."

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved the following bills today:

    H.R. 717 by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) would require consideration of the economic costs of protecting an animal or plant on the endangered species list and remove deadlines for completing the listing process.

    H.R. 1274 by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) would automatically deem any information submitted by a state or local government to be the "best available" science even if such information were contradictory, out-of-date or fraudulent, weakening the listing process for endangered species.

    H.R. 3131 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) would hamper citizen enforcement and participation in the implementation of the act's provisions. Undercutting the ability of citizens to bring lawsuits would make the agency more prone to improperly consider politics in its listing decisions and prevent imperiled species from receiving protections in a timely manner.

    H.R. 2603 by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) attempts to limit the Endangered Species Act's provisions for exotic game species that have been imported into the U.S. for trophy hunting. If taken literally, this legislation would remove the need for conservation permits of exotic game species, eliminating a critical funding source for overseas conservation of those very species.

    H.R. 424 by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) would reinstate a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states. In 2014, a federal judge found numerous scientific and legal deficiencies with that 2011 decision and brought back protections for gray wolves. The legislation would invalidate the court opinion and preclude all judicial review into the future.

Since January, congressional Republicans have launched 47 legislative attacks against the Endangered Species Act or particular endangered species. Since the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2011, more than 270 attacks have been instigated.

"When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, Rep. Bishop is only interested in undermining science, stopping citizens from holding the government accountable in court and green-lighting the slaughter of wolves," said Hartl. "The American people do not support these radical attacks. They want our government to do more to help endangered species recover, just as it did with bald eagles and gray whales."

Nine out of 10 Americans support the Endangered Species Act and want it either strengthened or left unchanged by Congress, according to a 2015 poll.

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« Reply #4062 on: Oct 19, 2017, 04:37 AM »

These male jumping spiders evolved dance moves because the ladies ignore them

October 19, 2017
Sara Chodosh
Popular Science

You don’t often feel bad for spiders. But when a fuzzy, black-eyed jumping spider raises his green forearms into the air, wiggles his butt, and flashes his orange knees, only to have a lady spider literally turn around in the middle of his dance...what kind of monster doesn’t feel a pang of empathy? It doesn’t even matter that arachnids are unlikely to experience rejection and angst the way humans do—you feel for the little guy.

It’s somehow worse once you know that male jumping spiders evolved this ability specifically to woo mates. Or at least, that’s the going theory. A group of biologists at the University of Pittsburgh wanted to understand why Habronattus pyrrithrix performed these mating dances even when the female partner wasn’t looking in their direction. Why dance for a lady who’s not even paying attention?

This isn’t an unheard of problem in the animal world. Peahens—the female equivalent of peacocks—tend to look elsewhere while their potential mates are strutting around. It seems that part of the point of the peacock display is to capture the distracted peahen’s attention. And so too with jumping spiders. The biologists video-taped pairs of H. pyrrithrix as the males courted the females to figure out how this delicate little performance worked. They published their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology, along with an oddly delightful video of the dance.

You can see in that recording that the lady spider seems pretty uninterested in what the male is doing. He waves his arms, he waggles his knees, and when he finally makes his move, he’s totally rejected. He doesn’t even seem that intent on staying in her field of view, though. It’s possible that this is actually intentional, since cannibalism is not uncommon in the jumping spider world, at least in captivity. If ‘eaten alive’ were a potential option before and after sex, you might also be hesitant to really commit to the mating ritual.

Then again, it may be that the male simply doesn't have to constantly move himself to be in her field of view. Jumping spiders have eyes on the sides of their head, so they can see movement in every direction, though their side-eye vision isn't especially sharp. His dance might be just the trick to get her attention. Once she turns to face him, he starts that little knee raise bit to up the ante, now that he knows she’s seen him.

As for her apparent disinterest, that’s a pretty standard reaction to this mating dance. About 70 percent of the time, female jumping spiders didn’t look at the males. The biologists aren’t totally sure why this was, though they have some theories. One is that the lady only needs a few quick glances to make her decision. Another is that she just literally can’t focus for that long, and so the guy keeps dancing to re-capture her attention. Or it could be that she’s keeping an eye out for predators that might be notice a bright green waving spider and eat both of them.

Or maybe—just maybe—it’s a test. By turning away, the female spider is forcing her partner to interpret her signals and react appropriately, so she could then differentiate between the guys who care to really court her and the dolts who just want to wave their butts around. Males who accurately interpret her body language might be better partners. Or, as the biologists put it in the paper, “that more attentive males may be more successful communicators and, in turn, more valuable mates.”

Spiders really are just like us.

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« Reply #4063 on: Oct 19, 2017, 04:39 AM »

North Atlantic Right Whale Population Dips Below 450 After 'Deadliest Year' Since Whaling Era


Fifteen North Atlantic right whales—one of the most endangered of all large whales—have already died this year in U.S. and Canadian waters, according to researchers.

"This makes it pretty much the deadliest year we've seen for North Atlantic right whales since the days of whaling," Tonya Wimmer, director of Canada's Marine Animal Response Society, told the Toronto Star.

The population of North Atlantic right whales previously stood at 458 but that was before this year's deaths, Scott Kraus, vice president and chief scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, explained to the New York Times. Only five calves were born this year.

This means there are now fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet.

Unfortunately, new research shows that many of these whales died because of human-related activity.

According to recent study, Incident Report: North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence 2017, necropsies on seven of the whales showed that four had died of blunt force trauma from ship collisions and two died of entanglement. The cause of death for the seventh whale was inconclusive.

The population of North Atlantic right whales has declined from 482 in 2010 to 458 in 2015, and entanglement is a major threat to the slow-moving creatures. A study published last year found that from 2010 to 2015, 15 percent of right whale deaths were caused by vessel strikes, while 85 percent were caused by entanglements.

A whale trapped in tangled fishing gear such as ropes and nets can suffer and ultimately die from a grisly death, as it can lead to drowning, laceration, infection and starvation.

Conservation groups are demanding immediate action from the U.S. and Canadian governments to protect the at-risk marine animals and have recently sent legal notices to Canadian officials and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

"Right whales risk spiraling toward extinction if we don't protect them from deadly fishing gear," said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This has been a tragic year for a species already teetering on the brink. U.S. and Canadian officials need to do everything they can to prevent gear entanglements and the slow, painful deaths they can cause."

Anna Frostic, senior wildlife attorney for The Humane Society, said that NMFS "is mandated to protect endangered marine mammals like the North Atlantic right whale."

"Unfortunately, NMFS is failing to perform its duties under federal law, causing devastating impacts to this critically endangered species," Frostic concluded.

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« Reply #4064 on: Oct 19, 2017, 04:43 AM »

Many of Florida’s Sea Turtle Nests Were Destroyed by Hurricane Irma

OCT. 19, 2017   
NY Times

In addition to wiping out homes and businesses, Hurricane Irma swept away a large number of sea turtle nests as it tore across Florida last month.

The state is a center of sea turtle nesting, and this year was developing into a very encouraging year for the endangered leatherback turtles, the threatened loggerheads and green turtles, said Kate Mansfield, a marine scientist and sea turtle biologist at the University of Central Florida. The hurricane suddenly dashed those hopes.

An official statewide picture of the damage to sea turtles won’t be available until Nov. 30, because the nesting season runs through at least the end of this month, said Simona Ceriani, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But it’s clear that nests in many areas of the state were destroyed by Irma, she said.

The northwest Atlantic region is one of the world’s two largest loggerhead nesting areas, and 89 percent of those animals are hatched in Florida, Dr. Ceriani said, citing a 2015 assessment.

At the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Cape Canaveral, more than half of the green turtle nests laid this season and a quarter of the loggerheads were lost as the storm tore up beaches, said Dr. Mansfield, whose program monitors turtles in the refuge.

Endangered leatherbacks lay their eggs earlier in the season, so none of their nests were lost in the refuge.

Sea turtles, which take 25 to 30 years to reach reproductive age, lay their eggs in the open beach, under vegetation or at the base of a dune. The hurricane eroded key nesting beaches, washing away nests or flooding them with rainwater or seawater, Dr. Mansfield said.

Along two stretches of beach south of Cape Canaveral, more than 90 percent of incubating loggerhead nests were destroyed by the storm, representing about 25 percent of the season’s total.

Sea turtle eggs take 45 to 70 days to incubate in the sand and are more vulnerable early in development, she said.

Sea turtles may lay eggs several times a season. Loggerhead nesting tends to wrap up by August or September, while green turtle nesting may continue through part of the peak hurricane season, Dr. Mansfield said.

Loggerheads have laid only eight new nests at the refuge since the storm, while green turtles have laid 466.

Green turtles typically lay more nests in alternate years. Last year, Hurricane Matthew wiped out many nests, but it was a light laying season for the greens, so there were fewer nests to destroy, Dr. Mansfield said.

This year, with record numbers of green turtle nests on the northeastern coast of Florida — with 12,000 north of Cape Canaveral and more than 15,000 a bit farther south — huge numbers were lost, Dr. Ceriani said.

Hurricane Nate, which is bearing down on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is unlikely to have a huge impact, because the loggerheads that are more common in that area have already laid their nests for the season.

There may be some impact on remaining green turtle nests on the Atlantic coast if the storm hits hard on those beaches, “but I don’t expect it would be bad,” Dr. Ceriani said in a follow-up email.

Although the losses this year are significant, sea turtle populations will survive as long as the hits don’t keep coming, Dr. Mansfield said.

But with hurricanes expected to intensify and increase in frequency, Dr. Mansfield worries about the longer-term health of the populations.

“I’m just hoping with two hurricanes like this in a row that we don’t have another few,” she said, “because we need a break.”

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