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« Reply #5040 on: Jul 09, 2018, 04:29 AM »

Is it a panther? Is it a puma? No, just a cat and a huge claws for frustration

Rangers are sick of mistaken panther sightings, which detract from the fight against feral cats

Naaman Zhou
9 Jul 2018 23.26 BST

A large cat in Western Australia that was mistaken for a panther is the latest in a long line of mythical big cat sightings that wildlife rangers say are unhelpful.

The large black feline – estimated to be 50% larger than a house cat – was spotted in the town of Coorow, 275km north of Perth, in late June, and reported to wildlife authorities as a potential panther or big cat.

But local wildlife ranger Tim Gilbertson told the ABC he was getting sick of panther reports.

“People need to get over the idea the cats are panthers,” he said. “It is just not on. They are big feral cats, at least 50% bigger than a house cat and they are powerful.”

Gilberston believes that mistaking cats for panthers detracts from the fight against feral cats, which cover 99% of the Australian continent and kill 1 million native birds a night.

“If you are getting larger cats, you have to ask what they are eating,” he said. “They are eating native animals.”

Dr Aaron Greenville, from the University of Sydney’s school of life and environmental science, analysed the picture of the Coorow feline and said it was a cat.

“You can see it’s an obvious cat,” he said. “It’s a bit larger than usual, but the general body shape, particularly round the head, doesn’t really show any signs of a panther.”

The sighting of the “Coorow panther” follows many big cat sightings across Australia, where panther myths and urban legends have been a part of life for years.

In June, a teenage boy in Queensland claimed he discovered what he described as a 1.25-metre-long panther in his driveway in Glenwood on the Fraser Coast.

He told news.com.au that “quite honestly, I shat myself” upon discovering the creature.

In New South Wales, the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and Lithgow area is home to the legend of the Lithgow panther, with 560 people reporting sighting the mythical feline since 1998.

The UK is also plagued by reports of big cats: from the Beast of Bodmin Moor, said to stalk the moors of Cornwall, and the Beast of Buchan in Scotland to the Surrey puma and the Cotswolds big cat, which killed and ate a deer in 2012.

Greenville said that despite the Australian love of panther myths, all these sightings were probably cats.

“Cats in general can range in size quite a lot, and feral cats can get quite big as well. People are used to seeing a very small subset of domestic cats around their neighborhood. And one that comes out of the ordinary that is bigger than usual, maybe confusion can get in.”

Even if its size is to be believed, the Coorow panther is unlikely to be longer than Omar, the 120cm, 14kg house cat from Melbourne, who claims to be the world’s longest cat.

Could Omar be the world's longest cat ? Click here to watch: https://www.youtube.com/embed/jrL9Mu9Xwdo?embed_config=%7B%22adsConfig%22%3A%7B%22nonPersonalizedAd%22%3Afalse%7D%7D&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com&widgetid=1

« Last Edit: Jul 11, 2018, 04:42 AM by Darja » Logged
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« Reply #5041 on: Jul 09, 2018, 04:31 AM »

Meet the creatures that thrive in the dark

An exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum looks at how animals move, hunt and feed in places where no light ever shines

Robin McKie Science Editor
9 Jul 2018 05.59 BST

The pale-throated sloth, from the northern Amazon forests, has evolved in an unusual way to survive the dangers of swinging through trees in total darkness. The nocturnal bear-like creature has developed a sense of smell so sensitive it can tell whether branches nearby are emitting whiffs of sap or not.

“That allows them to swing only on to branches that are healthy,” said Professor Geoff Boxshall of the Natural History Museum in London. “They can avoid grabbing one that is sapless and dead, which might break, causing them to fall out of a tree and injure themselves. Thus they can swing safely through forests in complete darkness.”

The sloth’s adaptation to the dark side is one of many remarkable responses of living beings to nocturnal or lightless existences and features in a new exhibition, Life in the Dark, which opens at the museum on 13 July. The show will use the Kensington museum’s vast collection of specimens to demonstrate how life can thrive in the absence of light. Installations will include recreations of bat-filled caves and the spectacular luminescence of deep-sea creatures.

“At any one time, half the world is in darkness, and sunlight is also excluded from the deep sea and from underground caves,” said Boxshall. “Living creatures thrive in all these places – though they have been able to do this only by evolving in remarkable ways to overcome the problem of lack of light.

“Our own senses are utterly dominated by information from our eyes, but countless other creatures can happily survive without this input. Their approaches to lack of light give us a new way to explore nature.”

Another remarkable creature of the night is the blind aquatic salamander Proteus anguinus – or olm. These animals spend their lives in total darkness in caves in central and south-eastern Europe, especially the Postojna cavern complex in Slovenia. They grow up to 30cm long, can live for up to a century and have no vision – instead they have evolved a technique for detecting the bioelectric fields of their main prey, cave shrimps, so they can hunt in total darkness. A display recreating the olm’s electricity-directed attacks is included in the exhibition.

“Living in total darkness might protect you from predators but you still have to find food – and the olm has evolved an intriguing way of doing that,” said Boxshall.

A similar trick is adopted by the Puerto Rican cave boa, though it uses heat sensors, not bioelectric sensors, to locate bats in caverns. “These slender snakes hang from cave roofs and detect the infrared radiation bats emit,” said Boxshall. “They just snatch them and eat them.”

Scientists separate lightless environments into three categories: night-time, cave systems and the deep sea. Crucially, it is only creatures adapted to underground caverns, like the olm, that lose their ability to see. For nocturnal animals and deep sea creatures, the ability to see – even though they dwell in almost complete darkness – remains useful. An example is provided by spookfish, which swim at depths of around 1,000 metres and have upward-looking eyes that can detect the silhouettes of smaller fish above them. “That is quite an achievement, given that hardly any light makes it from the surface to this depth,” said Boxshall.

However, the exhibition also makes it clear that the Stygian world that shelters these creatures is under threat. As humanity spreads, we carry light pollution with us. For example, the nocturnal boat-billed heron of Peru and Brazil will not eat in the presence of any light source, and this is a growing problem as urbanisation spreads.

“Life in the dark is a delicate business,” Boxshall concludes. “We should not take it for granted.”

Life in the Dark runs from 13 July until 6 January 2019

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« Reply #5042 on: Jul 09, 2018, 04:33 AM »

Leadbeater's possum: conservationists say draft report proves endangered status

Forestry industry and Barnaby Joyce have been pushing to downgrade species’ status

Lisa Cox
9 Jul 2018 19.00 BST

Conservation groups say the Leadbeater’s possum should retain its conservation status as a critically endangered Australian species, based on new advice from the government’s scientific advisory body.

In a draft consultation document, the threatened species scientific committee says the Victorian possum meets at least one of the criteria to make it eligible for listing as critically endangered.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, species only need to meet one criterion to be eligible for listing as either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

The forestry industry and the former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce have been pushing the government to downgrade the species’ critically endangered conservation status to open up protected areas of Victorian forest for logging.

Habitat loss from logging and fire are key threats to the possum, which is primarily found in mountain ash forests of Victoria’s central highlands.

The government is reviewing the possum’s listing as critically endangered and conducting public consultation until mid-August.

In its draft advice for the review, the threatened species scientific committee says there are observed and forecast total population size reductions that are high enough to meet the threshold for a critically endangered listing.

“However, the purpose of this consultation document is to elicit additional information to better understand the species’ status,” the draft states. “This conclusion should therefore be considered to be tentative at this stage, as it may be changed as a result of responses to this consultation process.”

Steve Meacher, the president of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, said the indication from the committee the species was still eligible for a critical listing was welcome “but there is still work to be done to ensure they hold that line and that when the recommendation eventually goes to the minister he accepts the advice”.

“Its numbers are in decline and the main issue is we are still losing habitat at a rate of knots through logging,” he said.

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA), which nominated the species for downgrade, said the committee’s draft advice made it clear it was still inviting more submissions that would inform its final recommendation and that population estimates had been based on surveys of only 6% of potential habitat.

“The draft advice does not take into account some new evidence about the Leadbeater’s possum’s range, based on new detections, and also new evidence on the future availability of hollow-bearing trees,” a spokesman said. “This new evidence will be submitted as part of the consultation process.

“Importantly, the TSSC’s draft advice recognises that there has been a significant number of new possum sightings in the last four years, and concludes that the Leadbeater’s possum population and habitat range is significantly greater than previously thought.”

But Evan Quartermain, head of programs for Humane Society International, said the draft advice made it clear the species remained eligible for the highest level of protection.

“The scientific committee has confirmed that the Leadbeater’s possum is a critically endangered species and the EPBC Act prescribes that the absence of evidence it’s no longer threatened at this highest level leaves Minister Frydenberg with no option but to maintain its status,” he said.

The Greens’ forestry spokeswoman, Janet Rice, said the committee’s draft recommendation “considered the evidence from the AFPA and it shows there’s still a clear case the Leadbeater’s possum is critically endangered”.

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« Reply #5043 on: Jul 10, 2018, 04:32 AM »

Illegal ivory found on sale in 10 European countries

Europe must increase efforts to investigate and control the ivory trade, say campaigners

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Tue 10 Jul 2018 06.30 BST

Illegal ivory has been found on sale in 10 European countries, contravening international efforts to cut down on the trade which campaigners say encourages the poaching of elephants.

The campaigning group Avaaz bought 109 items of ivory and had them tested using radiocarbon dating. Nearly one-fifth of the objects were found to contain ivory from animals killed since 1990, which is illegal, after restrictions on the global ivory trade were put in place in 1989.

Three-quarters of the items were dated to after 1947. The sale of ivory made after that date is subject to restrictions, and to be sold legally requires official documentation.

Avaaz said the findings, which echo other research that has found illegal ivory objects on sale in the UK and elsewhere, showed that Europe should do more to investigate and control the ivory trade.

Bert Wander, campaign director at Avaaz, said: “This proves beyond doubt that illegal ivory is being sold across Europe. It must spark the end of this bloody trade. Every day the sale of these trinkets continues is a day closer to wiping out majestic elephants forever.”

Current restrictions are meant to ensure that ivory from recently killed elephants cannot find its way to market, but does allow restricted trade in antique ivory. Ivory was used for centuries in objects from piano keys to billiard balls and objets d’art, and banning it completely has until recently been viewed as difficult, given its widespread use in antiques.

However, campaigners have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to any form of trade in ivory, as demand from China has shown little sign of abating and the dwindling remaining populations of elephants in Africa and Asia are under more threat than ever from increasingly mechanised and vicious predations by poachers.

Prince William has called for an outright ban on any sales of objects containing ivory. He argues that the trade in antiques provides cover for poachers looking for outlets for their illegal killing of elephants and rhinos.

Hong Kong and China have recently moved to place new restrictions on the ivory trade. Demand in China, where ivory pieces are regarded as high-prestige gifts, is one of the biggest drivers of the continuing illegal international trade.

The UK is taking steps to close down the trade further, through a forthcoming bill that would prevent ivory objects being sold, except under a small number of narrowly circumscribed conditions. The government has described it as the toughest ivory legislation in Europe, and among the toughest in the world. More than 70,000 people responded to the government’s consultation on the potential legislation.

Some African countries have publicly burned stockpiles of ivory seized from poachers, in order to stop it coming on to the market and potentially fuelling the international trade.

Avaaz bought 109 items containing ivory over a four-month period in Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK. The items were tested in labs at Oxford University to determine their age. The testing was funded from small donations made by 50,000 Avaaz supporters around the world.

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« Reply #5044 on: Jul 10, 2018, 04:34 AM »

Possum rescued after getting head stuck in Nutella jar

RSPCA Queensland officer helped the sweet-toothed possum while trying to avoid getting scratched by its claws

Pádraig Collins
10 Jul 2018 03.01 BST

Queensland’s RSPCA helpline gets many unusual calls, but this was stranger than most – a possum with its head stuck in a Nutella jar.

The organisation was alerted to the situation by a man in Loganholme, south of Brisbane, whose dog was showing a keen interest in the wheelie bins.

“The man looked around the back of the shed near the garbage bin and there was the possum with his head caught,” BRSPCA spokesman Michael Beatty told the ABC.

“It managed to get his head in the jar, but obviously couldn’t get it out. They were worried he may be badly dehydrated, they didn’t know how long he had been caught in the jar.”

Beatty said possums are no strangers to getting into unusual difficulties. “I’ve seen some stuck under stairs, and occasionally they might be trapped in a drain or something like that,” he said.

Chantel Sibilla was the RSPCA wildlife officer who went to the rescue of the chocolate-loving marsupial.

“You know you have a problem when you end up in a situation like that,” she told the Jimboomba Times.

Sibilla put towels around the possum so she could get him out of the jar without getting scratched by his claws.

Once freed, the creature was taken to the RSPCA’s native wildlife hospital for a check up.

The possum was later released into the wild close to where it was found.

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« Reply #5045 on: Jul 10, 2018, 04:38 AM »

The Lost Dogs of the Americas

Exhaustive DNA studies find that the dogs of European colonists completely replaced ancient American dogs.

By James Gorman
July 10, 2018

Before Europeans began to colonize the Americas about 500 years ago, the land, north and south, was populated with people who had been here for thousands of years. And their dogs.

The devastation visited on the native human inhabitants of North and South America is well known. Whether their dogs survived in some form, perhaps only as a portion of the DNA of some modern dogs, has been a matter of dispute. The available evidence indicated that only traces were present in current breeds and mixed breed dogs, but questions remained.

An international team of researchers who conducted the most detailed and thorough study yet of ancient and modern dog DNA  reported Thursday in the journal Science that new evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the so-called pre-contact dogs have disappeared to an extent similar to the Neanderthals. The study found no more than 4 percent of pre-contact dog DNA in any sample, and those results could be interpreted as zero. By comparison, some modern humans may have a bit more than two percent Neanderthal DNA.

In a macabre scientific twist, the new study found that the closest living DNA match to the pre-contact dogs is a strange, but well known cancer, a tumor in which the cancerous cells themselves spread from dog to dog during sex, like rogue tissue transplants. Called canine transmissible venereal tumor,  it originated thousands of years ago in one dog, probably from East Asia. The cancer is now present worldwide, still carrying the genome, much mutated but still identifiable, of that original host dog.

Greger Larson at the University of Oxford, an author of the paper, and the leader of an international effort to investigate the evolution and domestication of dogs, said the study emphasizes how inseparable are the fates of humans and their animals.

“The Europeans come through. They knock out the humans. They knock out the dogs,” he said. Given the necessary caveats that a pocket of dogs with substantial ancient American ancestry could turn up somewhere, Dr. Larson said that he was convinced by the evidence so far that, “It’s a complete disappearance.”

Laurent Frantz, an ancient DNA expert at Queen Mary University of London, who led the research, said that until now, there had not been enough evidence to know “the story of these dogs and what happened to them after the Europeans arrived.” Now, he said, it is clear that the pre-contact dogs were an identifiable group, separate from any other, and that some combination of disease and European persecution of native dogs led to their disappearance.

Elaine Ostrander, a comparative geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, who studies dogs as a model for human cancers, and who has reported traces of ancient American dog DNA in some modern breeds, said the study was “unique, really well done.” But she was not giving up hope for the possibility of uncovering dogs somewhere with a substantial portion of DNA from ancient American dogs.

Fifty researchers collaborated on the study, which included both biological and archaeological evidence. They derived DNA from the remains of 71 ancient dogs from the Americas and Siberia and compared them to genomes of modern dogs.

The story they draw from their analysis is familiar, but backed up with more data than ever before. Dogs, which were domesticated at least 15,000 years ago, came over to North America with humans from Siberia, but perhaps not with the first wave of migration.

The earliest archaeological evidence for dogs in North America is around 10,000 years ago, and attempts to date dog movements using changes in DNA are not accurate enough to say how much earlier they arrived. Humans first arrived at least 14,000  years ago, so the first wave may have come without dogs.

The ancient American dogs, derived from East Asian ancestors, evolved into their own group, distinct from their ancestors, and from modern dogs. They are related to but distinct from Arctic breeds like huskies and malamutes, which appear to have arrived with later migrations into North America. 

The American dogs spread with humans through both continents and remained undisturbed for more than 9,000 years until the arrival of European colonists. And then they were gone.  Until further notice, that is. There are odd bits of data, like a Carolina dog with 30 percent of its genome that is either pre-contact dog — highly unlikely, or, more probably, genetic material from Arctic breeds. Genomic science is never free of anomalies.

As to that strange tumor, Elizabeth Murchison at the University of Cambridge, one of the main authors of the new research paper, sequenced the tumor genome in 2014 and joined with Dr. Frantz and Dr. Larson in the recent work to learn more about its origins.

She said the new work provides “stunning” insights into the founder dog, the one animal who first had the tumor, and passed it along to all dogs since. Dr. Murchison said it now seems to have first appeared 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Cell lines are usually kept growing in laboratories like the famous HeLa cells, whose story was told in the book and movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The cervical cancer cells from Ms. Lacks are the oldest human cell line and have been growing since they were taken from her in 1951.

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« Reply #5046 on: Jul 10, 2018, 04:40 AM »

Scientists just discovered that spiders can fly using electricity, spawning fresh nightmare fuel

Mike Wehner @MikeWehner
July 10, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Some animals were born to fly, but most were not. Humans have no business in the air but we’ve come up with a number of ways to get there, and now it seems that spiders are following very close behind. Scientists have known for some time that various spider species have learned to fly by creating silk sails to carry them aloft, but a new study reveals that gusts of wind might not be the only way they’re getting around.

The research, which was published in Current Biology, reveals that spiders have learned how to harness the Earth’s own electric fields and use them to fly for incredibly long distances. The discovery suggests that the arachnids are capable of traveling over long distances even without wind to carry them.

Theories surrounding spiders responding to electrical fields have existed for some time, but there was very little in the way of concrete evidence to support them. Spiders have been observed taking to the skies en masse, even when there is very little winds present, so scientists believed there must be something pushing them along and perhaps even triggering their behavior.

To finally test this idea, researchers mimicked a natural electrical field in an experiment using a pair of electrically charged metal plates. When placed between the plates, the spiders began to behave as though they were preparing to release their silk balloons, giving some serious weight to the theory that invisible electrical forces can prompt the arachnids to sail away. Some of the spiders even managed to launch themselves into the air in despite being stuck in the confines of the enclosed test box.

The fact that these lightweight spiders can fly even without gusty winds is a remarkable discovery, and it helps explain why spiders are often found in some of the most unlikely places. As NPR notes, spiders are often found on newly formed volcanic islands, and have even been spotted landing on ships far off the ocean coasts. They seem to be able to travel just about anywhere, and if they’re using electrical fields to take to the skies they might even be more talented fliers than us.

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« Reply #5047 on: Jul 10, 2018, 04:42 AM »

As Arctic warms, reindeer herders tangle with new industries

10 Jul 2018 at 06:40 ET                   

When he’s not out on the Arctic tundra with his 2,000 reindeer, his dog and Whitney Houston blasting through his headphones, Nils Mathis Sara is often busy explaining to people how a planned copper mine threatens his livelihood.

Along with other Sami herders and fishermen, the 60-year-old is in a standoff with the mine owners, Norwegian officials and many townspeople that is, after six years, coming to a head.

It is a litmus test for the Arctic, where climate change and technology are enabling mineral and energy extraction, shipping and tourism while threatening traditional ways of life and creating tensions among its four million inhabitants.

“This mine is completely nuts,” said Sara, preparing to move his herd from winter pastures on Norway’s windswept Finnmark plateau three days north to the grass-rich pastures on the coast, where females calve and there are fewer mosquitoes.

“We would be losing summer pastures for our reindeer again.”

Herders around the Arctic – in other Nordic nations, Russia, Canada and Alaska – echoed his concerns in interviews, citing threats from climate change, mining, oil spills and poaching as well as thoughtless behavior from townspeople and tourists.

Global majors, including Eni, Equinor, Gazprom, Glencore, Lukoil and Rio Tinto, are all grappling with how to square their prospecting plans with the interests of people whose views count more than in the past.

Anders Oskal, Executive Director of the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry, said the copper mine was in the spotlight. “Big industry is sitting on the fence and seeing how it plays out,” he said.


Local officials gave the green light for the privately-owned Nussir copper project back in 2012 on the grounds it would bring in much-needed jobs and funds. It has been stuck ever since.

Indigenous Sami herders and fishermen say the plan to dump the mine’s tailings in the fjord, while less damaging than piling them on land, would destroy spawning grounds for cod and the mine would damage summer pasture grounds and frighten the reindeer.

“I don’t get it,” Tommy Pettersen, a 47-year-old Sami fisherman, said on board his boat, which gives him a potentially lucrative but unpredictable income. “We are a maritime nation. We have relied on the ocean to live off and we want to dump this stuff in the fjord?”

He had just caught king crabs worth 16,000 Norwegian crowns ($1,990). Last year he earned 1.6 million crowns ($199,000) for four weeks’ work — about half from cod and the rest from crabs, a Pacific species brought to the Barents Sea in the Stalin era.

Sara’s income is steadier. He gets up to 130 Norwegian crowns ($16) a kilo for his meat, 300 crowns for each skin and 140 crowns a kilo for the antlers, which he sells to China as aphrodisiac.

Nussir has won the necessary permits, says the area contains 72 million tonnes of copper — Norway’s largest reserve — and plans more than 1 billion crowns ($124 million) in investment.

“We can run this mine alongside reindeer herding and fishing,” said Oeystein Rushfeldt, the head of the project.

Terje Wickstroem, mayor of Kvalsund, a village of painted wooden houses on the Repparfjord with 1,027 inhabitants, said the mine would boost a municipality which spends 40 percent of its income caring for the elderly as young people move away.

“It would create optimism for the town,” said Wickstroem, who is himself a Sami.

After years of back and forth with locals and the consultative Sami Parliament of Norway, as well as assessments by ministries and government agencies, the center-right, pro-business government will make a ruling on the copper mine this year.

Oskal, of the reindeer husbandry center, said it was ironic that Nussir may be allowed to dump waste when Norwegian laws oblige Sami reindeer herders to send the animals’ stomachs and intestines for destruction, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away, to reduce risks of disease.

Traditionally, herders just buried the remains.

The Sami herders insist they are not opposed to change — their language has no word for “stability” — but Sara said the politicians were not listening. “If this mine gets the go ahead, we will go to the courts to stop it,” he said.

Wickstroem said he understood Sara’s concerns. “His business is under pressure. But this is a bigger, national debate.”

It is also an international one.


Average temperatures in the Arctic region have risen more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) since pre-industrial times, twice as fast as the world average, according to research for the intergovernmental Arctic Council.

Temperatures now sometimes spike above freezing in mid-winter, melting snow that then re-freezes into a blanket of ice on lichen pastures that the reindeer cannot nuzzle through. In the worst recorded ‘rain on snow’ event, in the Yamal Peninsula in Russia in 2013-14, about 61,000 of 275,000 reindeer died.

“Indigenous peoples and systems in the Arctic” top a list of populations vulnerable to warming in a draft U.N. scientific report about the risks of climate change to be published in October.

Shrinking ice also means liquefied natural gas tankers can now travel west to Europe year-round and east to Asia in summer from the Yamal Peninsula in northern Russia, where Gazprom is the dominant producer.

“There is an explosion of industrial development in Arctic regions,” said Mikhail Pogodaev, Chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders, who is based in Yakutsk, eastern Russia.

The Nenets herders on the Yamal Peninsula still live in tents and travel with their herds, unlike the Sami, who now venture out on snowmobiles or quad bikes from village homes and overnight in caravans or wooden huts on skis.

Russia does not have Norway’s consultative system — its regional governors are often swapped by the Kremlin — making things easier for companies able to navigate Kremlin politics but leaving the Nenets little power, wealth or legal redress.

Gazprom says it goes out of its way to cooperate with herders, raising pipelines to let reindeer pass underneath and making road crossings where herders request them.

“Around 10,000 reindeer cross via these crossing points during a season,” it said by email.

Oskal, Pogodaev and some academics say Gazprom does plan carefully, but, like all energy majors, it is in the environmental firing line over its impact on global warming, which is speeding up as the polar ice caps melt.


In Norway, some reindeer herders and fishermen noted efforts by Italian oil group ENI to cooperate, for instance using Sami interpreters and discussing the sifting of an electric cable that takes power to the Goliat oilfield offshore.

Norwegian Equinor, formerly Statoil, operates the offshore gas field, Snoehvit, in Norway’s Barents Sea, sending gas to a liquefied natural gas plant near the northern town of Hammerfest.

The government is offering exploration licenses ever further north, in areas covered by winter sea ice until recent decades.

Some reindeer herders see the influx of workers as a potential new market for their meat, but say companies rarely buy enough.

A 2007 U.N. declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples obliges states to “obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands”.

In practice, that usually stops short of a veto and lawsuits abound.

In neighboring Sweden, the government has appealed to the Supreme Court to resolve a dispute over management of hunting and fishing rights in the Sami village of Girjas.

And there is a long-running conflict over the Kallak magnetite iron ore deposit near Jokkmokk in Norrbotten county, where British miner Beowulf Mining is pursuing an exploitation concession for the Kallak North project. The Swedish government has not yet taken a final decision.

In Finland, opposition from Sami people and environmentalists has blocked proposed geological surveys for iron ore, copper and gold in the Sami region of Enontekio.


It is not only herders and companies that are facing off. Conflicts of interest between those continuing millennia-old traditions and other residents and visitors are increasing.

Across the Arctic from Norway, in Canada, Lloyd Binder said his 4,000-strong reindeer herd at Inuvik, the country’s biggest, had suffered poaching since a new highway opened to cars in November.

Bruce Davis, of the Midnite Sun Reindeer Ranch in Alaska, says he has just 40 reindeer left from a herd of 8,000 in his father’s day. It was partly because many had mixed with wild caribou, but damage by past gold prospectors and climate change had also taken their toll on the reindeer’s pastures.

Still, some reindeer find ways around their problems. In Norway’s Hammerfest, a 19-km (12-mile) long wooden fence, built a decade ago with money from Equinor, has a gaping hole.

“The reindeer are annoying … They eat all the flowers I plant,” said Karin Karlsen, 78, knitting on her patio while reindeer nibbled at the grass behind her red wooden house.

Additional reporting by Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki, Oksana Kobzeva and Olesya Astakhova in Moscow, Johannes Hellstrom, Anna Ringstrom and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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« Reply #5048 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:38 AM »

Watch: Courageous orangutan confronts loggers' bulldozer destroying its jungle home

 More than 1,000 orangutans living in the region have been threatened by illegal actions in the forest

Staff Reporter
An orangutan was seen in a video released by International Animal Rescue apparently confronting a bulldozer that was destroying its habitat in the West Kalimantan province of Borneo, in Indonesia.

The great ape is seen rushing towards a mechanical digger along a fallen tree trunk and trying to grab the huge steel bucket as it descends, before grabbing the bucket's claws in a vain attempt to stop the destruction of its age-old jungle home. Eventually, it flees through the upturned roots of smashed trees.

The incident happened in 2013 but the footage has only just been released by IAR to show the extent of the devastation caused to the endangered apes' natural habitat. Since the footage was taken, the Bornean orangutan has been reclassified as Critically Endangered

More than 1,000 orangutans living in the region have been threatened by illegal actions in the forest despite the Indonesian government's vow to protect it

In a report by Greenpeace, the non-profit group says at least six illegal logging settlements were identified in Sungai Putri, home to one of the last orangutan strongholds in the world.

"This is a major embarrassment for the Indonesian government, which has consistently promised to protect Sungai Putri. More than a year ago, the government ordered MPK to stop trashing the forest and peatlands, yet its excavators are still in place and now chainsaws are finishing the job. The government cannot let this stand - it must uphold the law and ensure the full and permanent protection of this beautiful and important forest," said Ratri Kusumohartono, Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner.

According to the report, protecting Sungai Putri forest is essential if Bornean orangutans are to survive.

"Habitat destruction forces orangutans to enter neighboring plantations and farms looking for food, and this frequently leads to conflict with humans. That's why last year we had to rescue a male orangutan in the south part of MPK's concession. Sungai Putri is home to one of the largest populations in the world and we are at a critical point for the Bornean orangutan, without forests like this they can't survive," Karmele Llano Sanchez, Program Director of IAR in Indonesia, said.

Kusumohartono also said: "Sungai Putri is one of the last refuges of the orangutans and the survival of the species relies on creating wildlife havens and protecting the existing ones. It is time for the Indonesian government to ensure the full protection of Sungai Putri, its environment and wildlife."

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4zzbwM07bw

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« Reply #5049 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:41 AM »

Orcas of the Pacific Northwest Are Starving and Disappearing

By Jim Robbins
NY Times

SEATTLE — For the last three years, not one calf has been born to the dwindling pods of black-and-white killer whales spouting geysers of mist off the coast in the Pacific Northwest.

Normally four or five calves would be born each year among this fairly unique urban population of whales — pods named J, K and L. But most recently, the number of orcas here has dwindled to just 75, a 30-year-low in what seems to be an inexorable, perplexing decline.

Listed as endangered since 2005, the orcas are essentially starving, as their primary prey, the Chinook, or king salmon, are dying off. Just last month, another one of the Southern Resident killer whales — one nicknamed “Crewser” that hadn’t been seen since last November — was presumed dead by the Center for Whale Research.

In March, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing state agencies to do more to protect the whales, and in May he convened the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, a group of state, tribal, provincial and federal officials, to devise ways to stem the loss of the beloved regional creature. “I believe we have orcas in our soul in this state,” he said. At another point, he wrote of the whales and Chinook salmon that “the impacts of letting these two species disappear would be felt for generations.”

The orcas are also facing a new threat. The recent agreement between the Canadian government and Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline would multiply oil tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat by seven times, according to some estimates, and expose them to excessive noise and potential spills. Construction is set to begin in August, despite opposition from Governor Inslee and many environmentalists.

In the late 1990s, there were nearly 100 of these giant whales in the population. Following the salmon, they migrate in the Salish Sea to the northern coast of British Columbia and often surface in the south at Puget Sound within sight of downtown Seattle, especially during the spring and summer months. The males, which can weigh up to 22,000 pounds, typically live about 30 years, and females, up to 16,000 pounds, survive longer — up to 50 or 60 years, although one J-pod member, Granny, lived to be 105 years old.

Not only are there fewer calves in recent years, but signs of inbreeding also point to a weakening population. In the 1970s and 80s, theme parks like Sea World captured nearly 4 dozen orcas from the region, possibly shrinking the pods’ gene pool. In the last three decades, just two males fathered half the calves in the last three decades, and only a third of the females are breeding, just once every decade instead of every five years. Researchers worry that reproducing females are aging out of the population, and won’t be replaced.

Some conservationists are concerned that the orcas’ decline is another sign of a marine ecosystem in collapse. Beginning in 2013, something known as “The Blob” — a gigantic mass of nutrient poor, extremely warm water — warmed the Pacific from Mexico to Alaska, as much as six degrees above normal. Several years ago, starfish succumbed to a wasting disease and vanished from tide pools.

Much is still unknown about the plight of these orcas, but biologists and conservation managers have zeroed in on several main factors — and they are all connected.

The biggest contributing factor may be the disappearance of big king salmon — fish more than 40 inches long. “They are Chinook salmon specialists,” said Brad Hanson, team leader for research at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center here, part of NOAA. “If they could, they would eat Chinook salmon 24/7.” Orcas gobble 30 a day. Hunting enough smaller prey requires a lot more energy.

The underwater world in the region is also getting noisier, especially an area between the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island called Haro Strait. It is one of the orcas’ favorite foraging grounds in the summer.

“It’s also essentially a big rock ditch where sound bounces off. When you add in commercial vessel traffic going to Vancouver, recreational boaters and whale watching operations, it’s a pretty noisy place,” Mr. Hanson said.

Researchers are studying noise there now. They believe the cacophony of ship traffic interferes with echolocation and makes it harder for the whales to locate their prey and to communicate prey location among themselves. It can also cause hearing loss.

In recent years, officials have expanded the distance which vessels, including whale watching boats and kayaks, must keep from the whales. And there is a voluntary no-go zone near the San Juan Islands.

“Just the presence of boats can cause the whales to spend less time feeding,” said Lynne Barre, of NOAA Fisheries, recovery coordinator for the orcas. “And it’s harder to communicate. They have to call longer and louder when boats are nearby.”

Another factor is the pollution in Puget Sound. Whales that live off the coast of Seattle, Tacoma and other cities are effectively urban whales buffeted by municipal and industrial waste, and the occasional spillage from wastewater treatment plants into the ocean. Killer whales carry some of the highest levels of pollution of any marine animal.

Of most concern are the lingering effects of chemicals and pesticides, including the now banned DDT, as well as PCBs and PBDE, widely used in flame retardants and found through the world. The pollutants accumulate in salmon as they feed, and when the whales eat salmon they also ingest PCBs at even higher levels.

“It’s very lipophilic, which means it stays in the fat, and the females transfer a huge proportion of the contaminant burden to their offspring,” Dr. Hanson said. “About 85 percent gets transferred to calves through lactation.”

And while much of the pollution is from the region’s industrial past, Boeing disclosed this spring that over the past five years it had discharged highly toxic PCBs into the Duwamish River, which flows into Puget Sound, thousands of times over the legal limit.

These toxins suppress the whales’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease. They can also impede reproduction. That may be why tests show a high number of females who have become pregnant have failed to calve.

However, the decline of the whales can’t be pegged, experts say, to contaminants alone. A separate population of transient whales near here eat mammals that eat fish, and so consume concentrate contaminants at even higher levels — many times as high as the resident pods. Yet they are thriving, which has left scientists scratching their heads. Global populations are robust as well.

One possible scenario is that the dearth of salmon coupled with the interference of engine noise, which can affect their immune system, too, deprives the orcas of a sufficient diet. Their bodies then draw on fat reserves, which are laced with chemicals that suppress their immune system and reduce fecundity.

But experts aren’t sure what is raising their mortality rate. Often, when whales die, their carcasses sink or wash up onto remote beaches and are hard to find and test.

In recent years, researchers have been focusing on anthroponeses, diseases that humans may be passing to wildlife. Scientists have sailed out among the pods with a petri dish at the end of a 25-foot long pole to pass through the mist that whales exhale and see what they carry in their lungs. They found a range of pathogens that could be from humans, including antibiotic resistant bacteria and staphylococcus, which can cause pneumonia.

“It doesn’t mean they are sick, we don’t have evidence for that,” said Linda D. Rhodes, a research biologist expert in marine microbes and toxins and part of the study. “It means they are being exposed. Whether or not the whales get sick is a product of how much of it is present in the environment and how well is the whale able to defend itself.”

There is deep concern that a fatal human or animal disease has, or will, cross the species barrier and find its way into these immuno-compromised killer whales. “I’ve had dreams about it at night,” said Joseph K. Gaydos, a veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society in Eastsound, Washington in the San Juan Islands, who studies the southern residents. “Disease smolders in the environment but can break out. If there were a highly virulent virus to come through here it would take out a large part of the population and totally stop recovery efforts.”

Disease threats are myriad. A young killer whale died from a fungal infection last year. Toxoplasmosis is a disease spread by parasites in the feces of cats. It is one of the top threats to the Hawaiian monk seal, killing eight of the remaining 1,400 since 2001. It’s not known, though, to affect whales.

Canine distemper from dogs is also a concern. It’s a morbillivirus, which is an RNA rather than a DNA virus. Some 1,500 dolphins were killed by a single outbreak of morbilliviruses on the East Coast several years ago.

“RNA viruses can mutate rapidly and cross species lines,” Dr. Gaydos said.

Steps are being planned to help the whales persevere. More Chinook salmon are being reared in hatcheries as whale food, but that is far from a certain fix.

In the end trying to maintain a population of whales in the shadow of one of the fastest growing cities in the country may not be possible.

“It’s an ecosystem-wide problem,” Dr. Hanson said. “Things are out of whack and we have to get them back to where we can sustain killer whales. And the clock is ticking.”

Losing the charismatic, intelligent animals with the distinctive black-and-white “paint job” and permanent smile would be a blow to the area.

“There would be a great sense of loss,” Dr. Rhodes said. “They are such a part of our identity here. It would be a real sense of failure.”

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« Reply #5050 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:47 AM »

Doctor, Your Patient Is Waiting. It’s a Red Panda

Medical students at Harvard take part in an elective with veterinarians, learning about  diseases and treatments between animals and humans.

By Karen Weintraub
\NY Times

BOSTON — Hoppy,  a young red panda, was the first patient of the day, carried —  and anesthetized — into the exam room so he could get a physical.

Then Mildred, a 24-year-old barnacle goose, wobbled painfully across the floor as veterinarians analyzed her gait. They couldn’t see any improvement 10 days after an earlier exam. Replacement of the degenerating joints isn’t an option for a goose. Maybe acupuncture could help?

Next up was Sofina, an 8-year-old diabetic lemur that had done well on insulin shots for six years, but displayed troubling new symptoms. She kept her right hand clenched, though she could use it when necessary — reminiscent of a human diabetes patient coping with neuropathy.

This was a typical morning for three veterinarians at the Franklin Park Zoo. But it was a fairly unusual one for the Harvard Medical School student alongside them.

Although medical students usually stick to the human species, Harvard med students have been signing up for rotations at the zoo during their final months of training. The clinical elective, offered for the last three years, is also intended to reinforce the idea that animals and people share the same environment.

Outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola and Lyme disease are stark reminders of how vulnerable people are to a dysfunctional ecosystem, said Dr. Eric Baitchman, vice president of animal health and conservation at Zoo New England, which operates the Franklin Park Zoo in central Boston, and the smaller Stone Zoo in nearby Stoneham, Mass.

“Most medical students don’t get that side of the picture,” Dr. Baitchman said, noting that it is often human logging, bushmeat consumption and other man-made habitat changes that trigger such crises. “Human activities can have direct influences on our own health,” he said.

Dr. Sharon Deem, director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the St Louis Zoo, said zoos and medical specialists have worked together for decades, but there have only been modest collaborations between zoos and medical schools.

What Harvard Medical School and Zoo New England are doing is more formal and longstanding than any other program she’s aware of. “Eric and his team are at the forefront of what is hopefully going to be a common thing, but it’s not right now,” she said, speaking of Dr. Baitchman. “I feel like the wick is lit now and it’s got enough momentum that it will light the candle at the end.”

People also have a profound need for animals and nature, Dr. Deem said, citing things like therapy dogs and the restorative power of a walk in the woods. “These have positive physical and psychological impacts that we shouldn’t overlook,” she said.

Several students who completed the rotation said they were surprised by how much they learned during a month at the zoo. One tested a gorilla for heart disease, another treated a bat who had broken a wing in a fight, and another spent part of his first day struggling to keep an African tortoise from ambling out of an X-ray machine while he tried to check it for bladder stones.

“Seeing him being shy helped me come out of my shell,” said Dr. Gilad Evrony, the first Harvard medical student to do a rotation. Dr. Evrony, now a pediatrics resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, wrote about his zoo experience in 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I would never have predicted that I would spend my final month of medical school performing fetal ultrasounds on a pregnant gorilla, phlebotomizing a 500-pound tapir with hemochromatosis, caring for a meerkat in heart failure, and investigating medical mysteries across the animal kingdom,” he wrote in the article.

He also observed: “For nearly every disease I saw at the zoo, the simple question of why certain species, human or nonhuman, are susceptible to it, while others are not, raised immediate possibilities for research. Nearly every day at the zoo, the veterinarians and I would make fascinating, unexpected connections between human and veterinary medicine.”

In an interview, he said the stint at the zoo inspired new respect for the complexity of veterinary medicine. “I really had to overcome some bias that I think pervades much of medicine, that human physiology and disease is unique and that veterinary medicine does not have much to teach us,” Dr. Evrony said.

He and other students in the elective said they were repeatedly struck by how much they learned from treating species other than their own.

Dr. Travis Zack, now a resident in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he gained new insights into a rare form of human chronic lymphocytic leukemia by treating the zoo’s 13-year-old black swan, Merlot, for the same disease.  The swan appeared to be responding well to a human leukemia drug.

“We think of these as human diseases, but they’re really diseases that occur across the animal kingdom,” said Dr. Zack, who also has a doctorate in biophysics, and works at the Broad Institute, a genetics research institute affiliated with Harvard and MIT.

Of course, Drs. Zack, Evrony and their peers are not the first to realize that there’s a lot to learn from the animal kingdom. The vaccine for smallpox, for instance, was developed after Edward Jenner at the turn of the 19th century recognized that milkmaids were protected against smallpox because they’d already been infected with a related disease from cows.

Flies, worms, fish and mice have long been research laboratory staples. But many of those animals don’t naturally develop the same diseases as humans, so the ailments have to be created through genetic manipulation or other means, some of which raise ethical concerns.

Dr. Elisa Walsh, another student who did the rotation, said she was impressed by the range of evolutionary changes among animal life, solving problems in different ways. “It’s just incredible how much diversity there is,” she said.

She collaborated on a project with a nearby hospital that is using ultrasounds to test gorillas for heart disease — aimed at learning more about the disease in humans and other great apes.

She also learned about tricky diagnoses, and how to to improvise, she said. Among other animals, Dr. Walsh treated an aging Macaw named Henry that suddenly couldn’t fly. Rolling him into an MRI machine to figure out what was wrong was an “interesting experience,” she said. After diagnosing him with a small stroke, she and the veterinarians devised a physical therapy regimen to help him recover his ability to fly. “Thankfully it had a good ending,” she said.

One morning at the Franklin Park Zoo, Wataru Ebina  had a few ideas for tests that might help identify what was going on with Sofina the lemur. The veterinarians suspected that the animal’s newfound resistance to insulin might have been caused by Cushing’s disease, an endocrine problem triggered by too much of the stress hormone cortisol.

But testing cortisol levels requires several exams over time, which is tricky for an animal that won’t pee in a cup or stay still for a blood draw. Medical tests cause animals tremendous anxiety, which drives up their cortisol levels. And taking them out of their social environment for repeated testing can upset the social dynamics and hierarchy of all five of the lemurs that share a habitat.

Dr. Ebina, who also has a doctorate in stem cell biology, offered several suggestions, based on what he knew from human treatments, but allowed that none was a great option for a lemur.

In the end, Dr. Megan Watson, an associate veterinarian, decided they would get a urine sample first, by strategically placing a plastic sheet under her. Then Sofina was briefly anesthetized to get a blood sample. The results didn’t suggest Cushing’s disease, so the vets have tried another form of insulin that seems to be helping.

Hoppy, the male red panda who is now 3 years old, taught Dr. Ebina different lessons. The student helped the vets carry the sedated animal in a dog crate. Inside the zoo’s hospital, they slid Hoppy carefully out onto the metal exam table. A veterinary technician slipped a mask over its face, and positioned the tongue out of the way.

Dr. Ebina gingerly inserted a tube down Hoppy’s throat, intubating him to make sure he could breathe.

“How much to push the tube in is very different” than in human patients, Dr. Ebina said.

As a technician took Hoppy’s temperature, the medical team checked his eyes: his pupils were constricted but looked healthy; his ears, no problems; his abdomen: “No obvious masses. Not distended.” They moved each of his limp limbs to ensure he had a full range of motion, and squeezed his furry paws to poke out and inspect each extended claw.

“It’s all the same anatomy,” Dr. Ebina said, a few minutes later with the exam successfully completed, and Hoppy’s X-rays displayed on a nearby computer. “Seeing an animal that looks completely different but is actually similar reinforces the anatomical concepts that we learn, which is very helpful for my education going forward.”

Later, driving the red panda back to his exhibit space at the front of the zoo, Dr. Alex Becket, an associate veterinarian, reported that Hoppy seemed to be recovering well from the anesthesia. He hadn’t vomited, appeared aware of his surroundings, and had begun grooming himself to get back to normal. Although the elective program is supposed to teach species interdependence, Hoppy hadn’t quite gotten the message. “He’s trying to get the stink of human off of him,” Dr. Becket said.

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« Reply #5051 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:49 AM »

Can Crows Make Mental Pictures of Tools?

New Caledonian crows were trained to seek rewards by tearing paper of a certain size, demonstrating what researchers say is quite advanced toolmaking.

By Karen Weintraub
NY Times
New Caledonian crows are known for their toolmaking, but Alex Taylor and his colleagues wanted to understand just how advanced they could be.

Crows from New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific, can break off pieces of a branch to form a hook, using it to pull a grub out of a log, for instance. Once, in captivity, when a New Caledonian male crow had taken all the available hooks, its mate Betty took a straight piece of wire and bent it to make one.

“They are head and shoulders above almost every other avian subjects” at toolmaking, said Irene Pepperberg, an avian cognition expert and research associate in Harvard University’s department of psychology. “These crows are just amazing.”

Dr. Taylor, a researcher at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and several European colleagues wondered how the crows, without an ability to talk and showing no evidence of mimicry,  might learn such sophisticated toolmaking.

Perhaps, the scientists hypothesized in a new paper published Thursday in Scientific Reports, they used “mental template matching,” where they formed an image in their heads of tools they’d seen used by others and then copied it. 

“Could they look at a tool and just based on mental image of the tool — can they recreate that tool design?” Dr. Taylor said. “That’s what we set out to test, and that’s what our results show.”

In a series of steps, the researchers taught the birds to feed pieces of paper into a mock vending machine to earn food rewards. The scientists chose a task that was similar enough to something the animals do in the wild — while also brand new. The birds had never seen card stock before, but learned how to rip it into big or little shapes after being shown they would get a reward for the appropriate size.

The template used to show the birds the right size of paper was not available to them when they made their “tools,” yet the crows were able to use their beaks to tear off bits of paper, which they sometimes held between their feet for leverage.

The finding is consistent with what previous research has shown about the brains of songbirds, said John Marzluff, an expert in crow behavior and a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. 

Earlier research has shown that connected neural circuits in the front part of the brain allow songbirds to learn songs they heard their parents sing months earlier, and might be useful for other complex activities, he said. “I thought their demonstration of behavior that’s consistent with that in tool manufacturing was really cool,” Dr. Marzluff said.

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« Reply #5052 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:52 AM »

Threatened species: nine mammals and mountain mistfrog could join extinction list

Number of extinct species on EPBC fauna list will rise by almost 20% if species added to list

Lisa Cox
11 Jul 2018 19.00 BST

Ten species could soon be added to Australia’s list of extinct fauna, including a Queensland frog that was last seen in 1990.

The federal government’s scientific advisory body is assessing whether to add nine mammals and the mountain mistfrog to its list of native animal species considered extinct under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

If declared extinct, the number of extinct species on the EPBC fauna list will grow by almost 20%, and the number of extinct mammals by one-third, with scientists saying it demonstrates Australia’s extinction record is worse than currently recognised.

Seven of the mammals are species considered to have died out between the 1800s and the 1950s, and which were discovered through small piles of fossil remains.

The remaining two mammals are the bramble cay melomys and the Christmas Island pipistrelle, recent species that scientists confirmed as extinct between 2009 and 2014.

“We’ve lost much of the nature that makes this country distinctive and special,” said John Woinarski, a professor of conservation biology whose book, The Action Plan for Australian Mammals, prompted some of the new assessments.

“But the extent of loss has been even more severe than is generally acknowledged.”

The species being assessed for extinction

    mountain mistfrog
    bramble cay melomys
    Christmas Island pipistrelle
    desert bettong
    Nullarbor dwarf bettong
    Capricorn rabbit rat
    broad-cheeked hoppingmouse
    long-eared mouse
    blue-grey mouse
    Percy Island flying fox

Australia already has the worst record for mammalian extinction of any country in the past 200 years.

Last month, the Senate launched an inquiry into fauna extinctions following a Guardian investigation.

The mountain mistfrog was a rainforest dwelling frog found at higher elevations in north-eastern Queensland.

Its decline is believed to have been the result of a deadly disease caused by chytrid fungus, which wiped out many populations of frogs globally in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ross Alford, an emeritus professor of ecology at James Cook University who worked on the recovery plan for the mountain mistfrog, said the disease had hit frog species across Australia but it was in high elevation rainforest that it had the biggest effect.

“In the case of the mountain mistfrog people have pretty intensively searched for it ... so it probably is time to shift it into the extinct category,” he said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the potential additions were unsurprising and it “cements Australia’s awful record as a world leader in species loss”.

“Australia’s troubling record is why the community will be coming together on September 10 outside federal parliament to rally against extinction and urge our elected representatives to take stronger action to protect the places and wildlife we love,” she said.

There have been calls from environment groups this year for an overhaul of Australia’s environment laws to stall the rate of species extinction in Australia.

As part of the investigative Our wide brown land series, Guardian Australia has revealed inadequate and misplaced funding for threatened species work, lack of implementation of recovery plans, and failures to register critical habitats.

Labor’s environment spokesman, Tony Burke, said that while the government had been vocal on wanting to improve the trends for threatened species, it had not delivered.

“The game this government has played has been to talk about threatened species, to give someone the title of threatened species commissioner and simultaneously wind back environmental protection every chance the government gets,” he said.

Assessing the mountain mistfrog, as well as the nine mammal species, for extinction under the EPBC act is part of work by the committee to modernise the list so that it better reflects the state of Australia’s record on species conservation.
Stunning coral forests discovered around Sicily's deep sea volcanoes – in pictures

“It’s a reminder that extinctions have been frequent in Australia,” said Sarah Legge, an associate professor of wildlife ecology with the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. “The three most recent species are a reminder that the extinctions are not just historical, they’re continuing.”

The assistant environment minister, Melissa Price, said the committee had been going through a process to ensure the EPBC list was current and based on the best available scientific assessment.

“Ensuring the EPBC act list of threatened species is current in regard to these species does not mean Australia’s extinction record is worse than previously thought,” she said.

In the case of the mountain mistfrog, which would be the first amphibian declared extinct on mainland Australia since the EPBC act was introduced, she said it was premature to call the species extinct until the committee gave its advice.

Advice on the frog is due in March next year, while advice on the remaining nine species is due in September this year.

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« Reply #5053 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:30 AM »

Wellington whale: frolicking southern right whale charms New Zealand capital

Traffic grinds to a standstill on Wellington’s harbourside roads as locals try to catch a glimpse of the rare visitor

Eleanor Ainge Roy
12 Jul 2018 01.57 BST

A huge southern right whale frolicking in Wellington harbour has brought the capital’s waterfront to a standstill as locals skip work to catch a glimpse of the animal.

Southern right whales used to be a common sight in Wellington harbour, but 150 years of whaling from the 17th century brought them to the brink of extinction.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/embed/zjRreSec1W8?embed_config=%7B%22adsConfig%22%3A%7B%22nonPersonalizedAd%22%3Afalse%7D%7D&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com&widgetid=1

Known as Tohora in New Zealand, the whales were targeted because of their propensity to swim close to the shore, their huge quantities of flesh and approachability.

    chris 🐓 (@Lukeurmyson)

    Seriously though, John Key spent years promising pandas and not delivering, Jacinda was in for six months and gave us a baby, and Winston got us a whale within a fortnight
    July 5, 2018

    Seán Gillespie (@SeanDG)

    This gives a sense of how big our friendly whale is. Shot it from my office window in Wellington CBD. pic.twitter.com/UvVRoq0AWx
    July 5, 2018

According to the Department of Conservation, the whales are now rare in New Zealand waters, with DOC urging the public to help with their conservation by reporting any sightings.

“Your help is urgently sought to look out for tohora around New Zealand and to report sightings immediately,” a plea on its website reads.

The whale currently making its home in Wellington harbour – less than a kilometre as the crow flies from parliament house – is quickly becoming a favourite with locals, who have described it as “iconic”, “beautiful” and “majestic” .

During the breeding season in the southern hemisphere’s winter and spring southern right whales are usually found in the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands, so the appearance of the creature in the capital’s harbour is unusual.

DOC has urged people to stay 50m clear of the whale, but some locals have taken paddle boards and row boats to get a closer look.

Wellington’s council – which has postponed a harbour fireworks display on Saturday night in case it disturbs the visitor – said Wellingtonians had fallen in love with the whale, and did not want it harmed in any way.

“We at Wellington city council are waiting on some advice from experts at the New Zealand Department of Conservation re whether the sound of exploding fireworks will be harmful to the whale if it’s in the vicinity of the fireworks display tomorrow night,” said media manager Richard MacLean.

“This morning the whale was again seen breaching and frolicking in the harbour – and we’re getting lots of ‘save the whale’ sentiment from local people who’ve been captivated by its antics over the past few days.

“We’ve had traffic coming to a standstill on the motorway and other harbourside roads ... the whale is making everyone very happy and work in many offices has been disrupted by whale-watching.”

According a Newshub poll, 90% of respondents would rather see the whale stay in the harbour undisturbed, and have the fireworks rescheduled or cancelled.

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« Reply #5054 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:34 AM »

Warming climate could see butterfly loved by Churchill return to UK

Former PM unsuccessfully tried to reintroduce black-veined white in 1940s, but conditions may now allow species to prosper

Patrick Barkham

He was the consummate politician who could bend nations to his will, but Winston Churchill was powerless when it came to butterflies.

The British prime minister hired the country’s leading lepidopterist and spent years attempting to reintroduce two extinct species into his back garden.

Despite his best efforts, and the release of hundreds of black-veined whites and swallowtails in the 1940s, his schemes to have rare butterflies feasting on “fountains of honey and water” at Chartwell in Kent were an ignominious failure.

Churchill may, however, simply have been seven decades ahead of his time: new research has revealed that climatic conditions may be suitable for the black-veined white to fly in Britain once again.

The species – which is still found across much of Europe – became extinct in Britain after a series of disastrously wet autumns in the early part of the 20th century. Now, with average temperatures rising, experts believe it could prosper here once again.

Two studies in northern France, which has a similar climate to southern England, have found that it would be easy to provide for the black-veined white’s needs by creating flowery field margins and allowing the growth of young scrub such as hawthorn and blackthorn.

Fabrizia Ratto, from the University of Southampton, who conducted one of the studies for the charity Butterfly Conservation, said: “Our study found that the butterfly has a strong preference for small isolated bushes of blackthorn and hawthorn as egg-laying sites with abundant nectar sources such as red clover nearby.

“These habitat conditions can be recreated relatively easily in the UK through the implementation of agri-environmental measures such as nectar flower mixes in crop margins and by allowing some scrub regeneration beside adjacent hedgerows.”

The results of the studies are revealed at Butterfly Conservation’s international symposium in Southampton this weekend.

It is believed that Churchill became fascinated by the spectacular butterflies he encountered while serving as an officer in India. Unfortunately for him, his ambitious attempts to bring back the black-veined white were partly scuppered by his gardener, who accidentally hacked the nests of the young caterpillars from the hawthorn bushes where they had carefully been placed and burned them.

Churchill had no better luck with his attempts to bring the swallowtail back to Kent. Despite enlisting the services of the leading butterfly breeder of the day, L Hugh Newman, he could not persuade it to breed in the wild, and was again not helped by gardeners who burned the fennel which the caterpillars fed upon.

Churchill might have had more success today. While the British subspecies of the swallowtail is confined to the Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk, in recent summers climate warming has encouraged the continental subspecies of the swallowtail to cross the Channel, and several individual butterflies have bred successfully on carrot and fennel plants in gardens and allotments in Sussex.

Maverick attempts such as Churchill’s to reintroduce rare or extinct butterflies are frowned upon by conservation groups because they risk disrupting the scientific monitoring of species or introducing pathogens, but there is an increasing number of officially approved schemes to bring back scarce species. This summer the chequered skipper, which became extinct in England in 1977, is being returned to the forest of Rockingham in Northamptonshire via specimens from Belgium.

Of the possibility of bringing back the black-veined white, Prof Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation, who supervised the research, said: “We have so few butterflies in the UK, the return of one of Europe’s most spectacular species would be a major boost for everyone who loves butterflies. Creating habitat conditions for this butterfly would benefit pollinating insects and other valuable species, many of which are threatened by the impacts of climate change.”

While average temperatures look good for the black-veined white, experts say more research may be needed to determine whether the butterfly could survive the increasing frequency of extreme weather events that is a feature of our changing climate.

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