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« Reply #7395 on: Sep 18, 2020, 03:15 AM »

Foxes living in the city are starting to become domesticated

They seem to like city life.

Alexandru Micu

Red foxes living in the city are evolving traits associated with pets or livestock animals such as shorter snouts or smaller skulls among other physical characteristics, a new study suggests.

Dr. Kevin Parsons, of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine explains that there are some important physical and behavioral differences between red foxes that live in the UK’s urban and rural environments, with the former becoming more similar to domesticated dogs.

The findings help further our understanding of how domestication processes take place and could help uncover how humanity domesticated other animals in the past
Wild is out of fashion

    “We wondered whether this change in lifestyle was related to adaptive differences between urban and rural populations of red foxes,” said Dr. Parsons, of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, lead author of the paper.

    “We assessed skulls from hundreds of foxes found within London and the surrounding countryside and saw that urban foxes had a smaller brain size capacity but also a different snout shape that would help them forage within urban habitats. There was also less of a difference between males and females in urban foxes.”

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world have created space for wild animals to roam (or even take up residence in) our cities more often. However, they present a very different habitat compared to the wilds, and many species just can’t adapt to long-term life in the city.

But some are especially good at it. Red foxes are one such species, and they’ve become quite prevalent in urban areas, especially in the UK. They’re also adapting to be better suited to life here, and to living in proximity to humans.

The team explains that the changes they documented in the study are the same that they would expect to see during a domestication process. The foxes are far from being domesticated, but they are taking on characteristics seen in domesticated animals. The team explains that their findings here can help us piece together how dogs, for example, evolved into pets from predators.

The changes observed by the team are “primarily involved with” the length of their snouts, braincases, and reduced sexual dimorphism (i.e. physical differences between the two sexes). Urban foxes have shorter snouts and smaller braincases, the paper explains. Differences between the two populations are “widespread and related to muscle attachment sites”, they add and likely driven by different requirements for cognitive ability and physical characteristics when feeding in the two habitats.

These changes matched up with what would be expected during a domestication process. In other words, while urban foxes are certainly not domesticated, they are changing in ways that move them closer to what is seen in many domesticated animals.

    “This is important because human-animal interactions are continuous and some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today,” adds co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

The paper “Skull morphology diverges between urban and rural populations of red foxes mirroring patterns of domestication and macroevolution” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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« Reply #7396 on: Sep 18, 2020, 03:17 AM »

Huskies belong to an almost 10,000-year-old lineage

The lineage is relatively distinct from other modern dogs'.

Alexandru Micu

New research at the University of Copenhagen (UoC) finds that sled dogs are a much older lineage than previously believed. Their ancestors, the team reports, worked and lived with humans in the Arctic for almost 10 millennia.

Man’s best friend is almost ubiquitous in society today as pets, service, and working animals. We know their origin story in large strokes — dogs evolved from domesticated wolves — but the exact details of this process are still unclear.

The team at the UoC’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, in collaboration with researchers from Greenland and Barcelona, analyzed the genomes of ancient and modern sledge dog species to better determine their history. Such dogs evolved much earlier than assumed, they explain.

Snow doggos

    “We have extracted DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, which the dog is named after,” says co-lead author Mikkel Sinding, a Ph.D. student at the Globe Institute in Barcelona.

    “Based on that DNA we have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date, and the results show an extremely early diversification of dogs into types of sled dogs.”

Modern breeds such as the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, and the Greenland sled dog share an important amount of genes with the Zhokhov dog. This suggests the sled dog lineage is at least as old as it and remained quite isolated from other populations of wolves and dogs for the most part.

As part of their study, the team also sequenced the genomes of a 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf and ten modern Greenlandic sled dogs. These were there compared to genetic data from modern dogs and wolves across the globe.

    “We can see that the modern sledge dogs have most of their genomes in common with Zhokhov. So, they are more closely related to this ancient dog than to other dogs and wolves,” says Sinding.

    “But not just that — we can see traces of crossbreeding with wolves such as the 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf — but not with modern wolves. It further emphasises that the origin of the modern sledge dog goes back much further than we had thought.”

Historical population data also shows that Greenland sled dogs were stable in numbers up to around 850 years ago when they went through a “bottleneck”. This coincides with the Inuits colonizing Greenland, the authors explain. This points to the lineage being isolated in the area before and after humans entered their ecosystem.

While modern sledge dogs share more of the genetic makeup of the Zhokhov dog than other modern breeds, we still don’t know when this split in lineages took place, or why. However, Greenland sledge dogs are the most genetically-remote from other modern dog species.

Some of the genetic differences between these two groups include genetic adaptations for a starch- and sugar-rich diet that the sledge dogs lack. Instead, their genetics favor diets with a lot of fat, similar to that of Arctic natives or polar bears.

    “This emphasises that sledge dogs and Arctic people have worked and adapted together for more than 9,500 years. We can also see that they have adaptations that are probably linked to improved oxygen uptake, which makes sense in relation to sledding and give the sledding tradition ancient roots,” concludes Associate Professor Shyam Gopalakrishnan, the other co-lead author.

The paper “Arctic-adapted dogs emerged at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition” has been published in the journal Science.

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« Reply #7397 on: Sep 19, 2020, 03:43 AM »

 The week in wildlife – in pictures

The best wildlife pictures from around the world, from golden frogs to homebound birds

Eric Hilaire
19 Sep 2020 19.04 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2020/sep/18/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

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« Reply #7398 on: Sep 19, 2020, 03:44 AM »


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

God Bless, Rad


Symbolically Adopt a Polar Bear

Polar bears depend on sea ice to survive. But as temperatures rise, their sea ice melts more every year. They need our help now.

Will you help us protect polar bears and vulnerable wildlife and wild places around the world? Symbolically adopt a polar bear today.

Monthly gifts provide WWF with the dependable stream of support we so critically need for our global conservation efforts.

When you donate at least $8 a month, you can receive a symbolic polar bear adoption kit as our way of saying thank you.



All friends of animals,

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

God Bless, Rad

                                          World Animal Protection

We move the world to protect animals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                                                Hope For Paws

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

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

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

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

Please help these folks and the animals they rescue.


                                                Howl Of A Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                                                       WOLF HAVEN

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

Main website: https://wolfhaven.org/

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


                                                  ANIMAL AID UNLIMITED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/AnimalAidUnlimited?&ytbChannel=null
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« Reply #7399 on: Sep 21, 2020, 02:58 AM »

At least 25 whales dead and more than 200 stranded in Tasmania's Macquarie Harbour

About 250 whales believed to be stuck on a sandbar on state’s remote west coast

Adam Morton and Australian Associated Press
Mon 21 Sep 2020 04.06 BST

At least 25 pilot whales have died and more than 200 are stranded at Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s west coast in what is believed to be one of Australia’s worst beaching events.

A government marine conservation team was assessing the health of the whales late on Monday after they became stranded in three spots in and outside Macquarie Heads, near the town of Strahan.

Nic Deka, incident controller from the Tasmanian department of primary industry, parks, water and environment, told reporters it appeared from the air that about 25 of 30 whales stranded near Ocean Beach, outside the heads, have died.

It was unclear how many in two larger groups on sandbars several hundred metres apart off the heads and inside the harbour were dead.

“They are in water. It’s very difficult to see how many might be deceased or what condition they’re in,” Deka said.

Authorities hope to launch a rescue mission for surviving whales early on Tuesday, when there would be an outgoing tide.

Tasmania is a known whale stranding hotspot as the mammals pass it to and from Antarctica. Deka said beachings were not uncommon in the area, but it was the first in at least 10 years.

A department spokeswoman said a decision would be made on whether help was needed from the public once the whales had been assessed. In the meantime, police urged people to stay away and leave the local boat ramp clear for rescuers.

Meanwhile, in a more positive development, a humpback whale that took a wrong turn into a crocodile-infested Northern Territory river has swum free after more than two weeks in the murky waterway.

It’s the first time a humpback has been spotted in Kakadu national park’s remote East Alligator River, with reports placing it 30km inland.

Kakadu national park manager and zoologist Feach Moyle said the whale managed to navigate its way out of the maze of shallow channels back into Van Diemen Gulf over the weekend.

“It made its way out on the high tides and we’re pleased it appeared to be in good condition and not suffering any ill effects,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Experts weren’t sure why the humpback swam up the muddy tidal river and didn’t migrate south to Antarctica for its annual feed.

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« Reply #7400 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:00 AM »

Swedish scientists are working on a radical COVID-19 blocker involving alpacas

on September 21, 2020
By Agence France-Presse

Tyson the alpaca could hold the key to developing a process to block the coronavirus. FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent and James André report from the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Leading scientists in Stockholm are working on a pioneering treatment involving llamas and alpacas such as Tyson in the fight against Covid-19.

“Tyson has the antibodies against SARS-Covid-2 virus,” explains Dr Gerald McInerney, Associate Professor of Virology at the Karolinska Institute. “Camels, and alpacas and llamas and other animals from that family have special, small single-chain antibodies.Tiny antibodies they’ve proved can block Covid-19.”

The institute is studying how to put these tiny antibodies on cells, blocking the virus from getting in and to stop patients from developing the disease.
Defend democracy. Click to invest in courageous progressive journalism today.

From alpaca blood samples the researchers can clone antibodies en masse in the laboratory. They hope to produce a short term treatment, most likely as a mouth spray, or inhaler.

“We are very excited that we have something that’s very functional,” says Dr McInerney.

Watch: https://youtu.be/e94WSeh1uvA

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« Reply #7401 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:03 AM »

Koalas still under threat in NSW despite Berejiklian's ultimatum to Nationals

The NSW Liberals now look like koala saviours – but green groups say much more is needed to save the animal from extinction in the state by 2050

Anne Davies and Lisa Cox

Last week the leader of the New South Wales Nationals, John Barilaro, brought the state’s Coalition government to the brink of collapse over koala protections. Within days, the Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, had stared him down and Barilaro retreated from his threats.

In comparison with the Nationals, who want to repeal new legislation aimed at protecting koala habitat, the Liberals now seem like the animals’ saviours.

But environmentalists say the Berejiklian government’s commitment to protecting the endangered species is patchy and that even with the new rules there are serious risks to the koala’s survival.

For groups such as the Nature Conservation Council, the koala protections in the new Koala habitat protection state environmental planning policy (Sepp) at the centre of last week’s drama don’t go nearly far enough.

They warn that much more aggressive steps are needed, including the creation of a Great Koala national park to be formed out of conversion of key state forests, if the koala is to avoid extinction in NSW by 2050. To create the park the NSW government would need to cease logging in several state forests on the north coast.

The new Sepp changes the definition of what is core koala habitat, meaning more land can potentially be captured under the policy. Farmers, developers or land owners whose land is captured by the definition and who want to undertake a significant development will need to get a koala assessment done.

The new Sepp does not apply to routine farming practices. Councils with koala populations can choose to develop a strategy to manage koalas in their area. But the Sepp does not actually stop koala habitat from being bulldozed if the development is approved by council.

These are some of the current threats to koala habitat.

The Brandy Hill quarry extension in Port Stephens

The NSW independent planning commission has approved an extension to a rock quarry in the town of Port Stephens that would destroy 52 hectares of koala habitat.

The project is on a list of developments the NSW government wants fast-tracked as part of its economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It would more than double the output of the Brandy Hill rock quarry from 700,000 tonnes a year to 1.5m tonnes to supply the Sydney construction market.

Local residents have been running a campaign asking the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, to step in and use her powers under national laws to knock the development back. The community argues the risk to the species is too great, particularly in the aftermath of the bushfires.

It comes as the federal government is looking to transfer its decision-making powers under federal environmental laws to state and territory governments. Ley has delayed her decision on the quarry expansion to mid-October.

The Shenhua Watermark coalmine

Koalas on the site of the proposed coalmine are heading towards localised extinction even before the mine commences, according to meeting minutes for the company.

Experts who sit on the mine’s technical working group have warned there has been a steep drop in koala populations at the mine site in the Liverpool Plains and have raised concerns that the clearing of habitat for the project will accelerate this decline further.

Koalas at the site have been under pressure due to drought and chlamydia. As part of its approval conditions for the mine, Shenhua must produce a koala management plan that will be assessed by the NSW government.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Defenders Office called for this approvals process for the management plan to be suspended because the full impact of the project could not be fully understood until the effects of the bushfire crisis on NSW koala populations was known.

In the months after the bushfire crisis, NSW Forestry Corporation resumed logging of unburnt forest that is habitat for several of the state’s most imperilled species.

This has included logging of unburnt koala habitat in a number of forests, including the Lower Bucca, Nambucca and Comboyne state forests, despite dismay from state MPs and local communities.

The Lower Bucca has high-value koala habitat that may be important for species recovery after the fires and is part of the bushland identified for the proposed Great Koala national park.

The logging is being carried out under the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, an agreement that sets out the rules under which forestry can conduct its logging activities.

NSW Forestry Corporation has argued the logging of unburnt habitat is necessary for regional jobs and businesses rebuilding after the fires.

Barilaro is the minister for forestry. The ministerial diaries, published as part of the state’s disclosure regime, show he met with a dozen or more timber companies after the bushfires to discuss a recovery plan for the industry.

Blueberry farming around Coffs Harbour

Blueberry farming has expanded dramatically in the last two decades around the Coffs Harbour region. Many of the farms are close to housing developments and surrounded by bushland that have been mapped as koala habitat. The new Sepp would apply if there was expansion of farming areas that required land clearing or farmers wanted to redevelop their holdings into housing developments.

Nationals MP for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh, a former blueberry farmer, was chair of the Oz Group Co-Op, a major agricultural cooperative, prior to entering parliament. He has a one-sixth interest in a property in the Pillar Valley that has had areas affected by the new koala Sepp. His family trust also owns a large blueberry farm at Upper Corindi. He was one of the first MPs during last week’s drama to threaten to sit on the crossbenches.

Urban expansion of cities and towns

The loss of Cumberland Plain woodland around Sydney, which is now an endangered ecological community, has had an enormous impact on local koala populations. The pressure is continuing, particularly on the south-west fringe of Sydney.

In 2018 the state government approved a major subdivision by Walker Corp at Wilton, on the condition that protection measures were put in place to keep koala corridors and erect fences to stop them straying onto roads. The developer has worked with Wollondilly council to come up with a strategy.

Lend Lease has recently been given approval for the Mount Gilead development which also raised concerns about koala habitat. The state government put a heritage listing on an historic homestead in the area to protect 150 hectares of core koala habitat threatened by the development.

But there are other urban pressures, particularly on the mid and north coast of NSW. Some farmers object to the koala Sepp because of the potential damage it could do to the value of their rural properties, should the opportunity arise to subdivide them.

Some say the maps are too imprecise and will affect their values when there is no evidence of koala populations. They accuse the government of taking a broad brush and drawing the maps using satellite imagery to identify 65 tree species that might hold koala populations.

Particular hotspots with koala populations are Hawks Nest, Myall Lakes, Bellingen, Coffs Harbour and the Clarence Valley.

The MP for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Sepp.
Land clearing in north-west NSW

The continued clearing of land for broad acre farming in the north-west of the state is also leading to habitat loss. Land clearing is covered by land management laws and clearing can continue if it is permitted under the land-clearing codes. The adequacy of the land-clearing laws is another battle that is currently being waged by environmental groups.

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« Reply #7402 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:06 AM »

Elephant poaching is still at its peak in most of Africa

Central and Western Africa are the most affected regions.

Fermin Koop

Although initial research suggested otherwise, poaching of African elephants has not decreased since 2011 in Western, Southern, and Central Africa, according to a new study. This highlights the need for continued efforts to save the remaining elephant populations on the continent.

Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory affected populations of savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (L. cyclotis) across Africa. The total population of savannah elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015. In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years.

Recent reports, however, indicated that elephant poaching may be abating. Since 2016, some African parks have reported reductions or even a halt in elephant poaching. Likewise, global ivory prices appear to have peaked and may have begun to fall, perhaps as a result of bans on ivory sales.
Besides Eastern Africa, poaching rates are still at their peak

In a new study, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) with the University of Washington applied a novel statistical technique to analyze poaching data from the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Program. They found poaching reduced only in Eastern Africa in recent years, dismissing previous estimations.

    Lead author Dr. Scott Schlossberg, an analyst with EWB, said in a statement: “Reports of falling poaching rates in Africa are something of an illusion. Regionally, elephant poaching is decreasing only in Eastern Africa. For the rest of the continent, poaching rates are still near their peak and have changed little since 2011.”

The MIKE program is administered by The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. At MIKE sites, rangers record the number of elephant carcasses they find. The proportion of those carcasses that were killed illegally was used as the measure of poaching rates in the new study.

The researchers said Central and Western Africa are the areas of more concern regarding poaching. In Western Africa, remaining elephants are mostly in small and scattered, which makes it difficult to withstand poaching. Central Africa is the home of the African forest elephant, a species that has experienced severe losses.

    “The poachers are not easing up their efforts, so the countries of Africa and supporters of elephants around the world need to keep up the fight against poaching. We have already lost over 100,000 elephants to poaching since 2007. Reducing poaching should be a top priority of conservationists,” co-author Michael Chase of EWB said.

While they described the reduction in poaching in East Africa as “real and laudable,” the researches said governments and conservationists shouldn’t let that improvement influence their outlook on what’s happening in the rest of the continent. Poaching levels in Central and Western Africa are “unsustainable” and more vigilance and anti-poaching efforts are needed.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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« Reply #7403 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:54 AM »

Botswana says it has solved mystery of mass elephant die-off

Elephants may have ingested toxins produced by bacteria found in waterholes

Phoebe Weston
22 Sep 2020 13.38 BST

Hundreds of elephants died in Botswana earlier this year from ingesting toxins produced by cyanobacteria, according to government officials who say they will be testing waterholes for algal blooms next rainy season to reduce the risk of another mass die-off.

The mysterious death of 350 elephants in the Okavango delta between May and June baffled conservationists, with leading theories suggesting they were killed by a rodent virus known as EMC (encephalomyocarditis) or toxins from algal blooms.

“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water,” Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Botswana department of wildlife and national parks, said in a news conference on Monday. “However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”

Local sources suggest 70% of elephants died near water holes containing algal blooms, which can produce toxic microscopic organisms called cyanobacteria. Toxins were initially ruled out because no other species died – except for one horse – but scientists now think elephants could be particularly susceptible because they spend a lot of time bathing and drinking large quantities of water.

Reuben said the investigation looked at how mortality affected the elephant population and injuries on carcasses, as well as testing water samples at laboratories in Botswana, South Africa and the US. He said the cause was a “combination of neurotoxins” but declined to give further details and declined to say at which institutions tests had been carried out.

“I hope that what the government has said is true because it rules out some of the more sinister things,” said Dr Niall McCann, director of conservation at UK-based charity National Park Rescue, who initially suggested the elephants may have been poisoned or died from an unknown pathogen. To test tissue samples they need to be kept in specific conditions and quickly transported to specialised laboratories, but this was not done in Botswana which fuelled speculation about potential causes.

“Just because cyanobacteria were found in the water that does not prove that the elephants died from exposure to those toxins. Without good samples from dead elephants, all hypotheses are just that: hypotheses,” said McCann.

In July, the government’s official count was 281 deaths but this has now risen to 330 deaths. Reuben said he would be monitoring waterholes for blooms next rainy season to avoid another die-off. “It is important to monitor now to effectively detect the growth of these algal blooms in the water”, he said.

Climate change is increasing both the intensity and severity of harmful algal blooms, making this issue more likely to reoccur. McCann confirmed he was working with officials to set up regional early warning systems.

Across the border in Zimbabwe, more than 20 dead elephants were found between Hwange national park and Victoria Falls in August, with concerns that the two incidents could be linked. Authorities currently believe this die-off was caused by a bacterial infection.

One leading theory is that it was caused by a strain of a bacteria called pasteurella, which killed 200,000 Saiga antelope in Kazakhstan in 2015, says McCann. “There are various options. Thankfully the UK government has collaborated with the government of Zimbabwe to export these samples and now they’re going to be tested in the UK,” he said.

If it is something relatively common scientists should be able to detect it. “However, new emerging infectious diseases are happening all the time and the more we look into epidemiology the more we discover we don’t know. So it could be a complete mystery again,” said McCann.

A spokesperson from the UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) said: “Our world-leading scientists are currently running tests on samples sent from Zimbabwe, and will share findings with Zimbabwe Parks as soon as possible.”

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« Reply #7404 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:57 AM »

Australia whales: rescuers in Tasmania free 25 stranded pilot whales, but 90 already dead

A huge rescue effort is under way near Strahan in Macquarie Harbour, with 60 people and several boats
Rescuers work to save a pod of whales stranded on a sandbar in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania

Graham Readfearn
Tue 22 Sep 2020 07.47 BST

Rescuers have freed 25 of the 270 whales stranded on Tasmania’s west coast with the state government confirming about 90 of the marine mammals have already died.

A huge rescue effort got under way near Strahan in Macquarie Harbour on Tuesday morning, with 60 people and several boats trying to free the marine mammals stuck on two sandbanks and a beach.

The coordinator of the rescue, Parks and Wildlife Service regional manager Nic Deka, has told Guardian Australia of the daunting task ahead after first seeing the long-finned pilot whales from the air.

Deka said the first rescues of the morning involved staff and volunteers up to chest deep in the water.

“We’ve hit upon a method that’s giving us the best chance of success,” he said. Rescuers put a large sling under the whale and then pull and coax the animal off the sand.

“There comes a point when the whale becomes slightly buoyant then we allow the boat to help the whale into the channel and the animal is then released.”

He said it was a 30-minute round trip for each animal, as they needed to be taken far enough away from the other stranded whales so that they didn’t just turn around and swim back.

“It’s just a matter of steering them. These animals have been in a reasonable shape. They tend to want to return to the pod – they’re very social – so we have to get them far enough away.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Deka’s team had rescued 25 whales.

Late on Monday, Deka surveyed the stranding from a helicopter. “It’s a bit disturbing and distressing to see that number of animals stuck and in trouble,” he said.

“My role is an incident controller and it was quite daunting as I started to get an appreciation of the task ahead.”

With about 90 animals already dead, Deka said they were starting on plans to dispose of the carcasses as some were close to areas used by the public.

Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, was advising on ocean currents that could be used to move the dead animals out to the ocean. A landfill could also be used, but this was “not without its problems”, he said.

Long-finned pilot whales can weigh well over a tonne, with some about the weight of a small family car.

Deka said no dead animals had been moved yet as the focus was on freeing the survivors. The rescue effort is likely to last at least several days.

Tasmania’s west coast is exposed to changeable and wild weather. A high tide was approaching and a low-pressure system in the area over the next two days could also push water levels in the harbour higher.

This could theoretically free some of the whales, Deka said, but the problem could be that they would not swim out beyond Macquarie Heads and into the ocean.

He said: “The problem is that they return to the animals that are in distress. Our assessment is that if they are free, they are unlikely to head out unless we give them some assistance.”

Tasmania’s coastline, and Macquarie Harbour, have seen many strandings of whales.

The rescue is being coordinated by the state’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

As well as 40 departmental staff, another 20 volunteers are also helping, mainly from the harbour’s fish farming industry.

Deka added: “It’s certainly a challenging task and you need people not just trained and competent in whale rescue, but are also quite proficient in the water. These are quite stoic individuals – we have some very experienced people involved.

“With these events there’s generally mortality [of the animals] and it’s sad, but it’s not unfamiliar [to the rescuers].”

Dr Kris Carlyon, from the department’s Marine Conservation Program which is carrying out the rescue, said it was hard to know why strandings happened.

He told reporters on Tuesday morning: “We have had multiple mass strandings of pilot whales and sperm whales at a similar location.

“It could be they are being drawn into this area by feeding closely to the coast, but it could be simply misadventure by one or two animals.

“Pilot whales are such a social species they could draw the rest of the group in, but we just don’t know.”

Carlyon said the stranding was the “trickiest” he’d had to deal with in his 12 years with the program, with tides, sand, weather and scale all making the rescue effort a challenge.

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« Reply #7405 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:59 AM »

Human activity might undo more than 50 billion years of evolution

At least 50 billion years worth of unique evolutionary history is at risk, a new study found.

Tibi Puiu

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College have completed one of the most comprehensive analyses of the evolutionary history of terrestrial vertebrates and how countless species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles are being impacted by human activity — as expected, it’s not pretty at all.

    “We found that the most important areas for global evolutionary history are facing much higher levels of human pressure than we expected, with 3/4th of the most diverse regions under high or very high human pressure. Conversely, just 5% of these critical areas are under little or no human pressure,” lead author Rikki Gumbs, of ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme and the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College London, told ZME Science.

    “When we quantified the scale of impact by human activities across the tree of life for amphibians, birds, and mammals, we found it to be incomprehensibly large: close to 50 billion years of unique evolutionary history is at risk of being lost forever due to humanity’s actions. Numbers that large are typically associated with astrophysics, not biodiversity.”

This was the first time that researchers have investigated how areas with important concentrations of evolutionary distinct and threatened species are being impacted by human activity.

Although it’s not secret that humans are driving many species extinct through habitat encroachment, hunting, fishing, and wildlife trade, the new study has revealed important insights that animal conservation may have missed before.

For instance, the authors conclude that many regions of the world that are home to the greatest amount of unique evolutionary heritage are also some of the most affected by human footprints. These include the Caribbean, the Western Ghats in India, and large regions of Southeast Asia.

In order to figure out the amount of evolutionary history currently threatened with extinction, the researchers turned to data relevant for around 25,000 species.

    “We embarked on this study for several reasons. First, we understand that the tree of life is an extremely important component of the world’s biodiversity. It is linked to ecosystem productivity and to future benefits for humanity. Identifying what species and regions across the planet are highly evolutionarily unique and facing intense human pressure will allow us to target conservation efforts to better understand and conserve these unique and amazing species and places,” Gumbs said.

The Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) is an endangered short-necked turtle that is endemic to the Mary River in south-east Queensland, Australia. Credit: ZSL, Chris Van Wyk.

After combing through hundreds of gigabytes of data and making sense of huge datasets, Gumbs and colleagues were stunned by the results of their calculations.

    “I still remember having to double-check my calculations when I found that we stand to lose close to 50 billion years of evolutionary history across amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles! I counted and re-counted the number of zeroes to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake before emailing my supervisor. Unfortunately for the tree of life, my estimates weren’t a mathematical error,” he recounted.

All living things on Earth can trace their descent back to a common ancestor. However, smaller groups of species can also trace their ancestry back to common ancestors, often a much more recent one.

Phylogenetic trees map these relationships, with common ancestors acting as branch points. Biologists draw the branching tree of life by grouping species by shared characteristics that illustrate the degree of relatednesses, such as external morphology (shape/appearance), internal anatomy, behaviors, biochemical pathways, DNA and protein sequences, and even the characteristics of fossils.

However, not all branches are equal. Some are broad and rich, encompassing many living related species, while others are short and stubby. Then, there are branches in the tree of life where only a single species is still left — when that species dies, the entire lineage disappears with it.

For instance, the researchers found that human activity is threatening groups of closely-related species that share long branches of the tree of life, such as pangolins and tapirs. However, some of the species that face extinction belong on the tail end of extremely long branches. These include the ancient Chinese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus), the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), a gigantic bird that stalks the wetlands of Africa, and the Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), a nocturnal lemur with large yellow eyes and long spindly fingers.

As such, the study is offering a framework for conservation that highlights priority species, such as the punk-haired Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus), the Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), and the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus).

    “All species are worth saving! Sadly, in conservation, we lack the resources to actually achieve this, given our huge impacts on the environment. Prioritising species based on their evolutionary uniqueness, as we do at the EDGE of Existence programme, should be seen as a complementary approach to other conservation efforts, such as preserving entire ecosystems and species critical to their environments that are perhaps not evolutionarily unique. However, as evolutionary history (as Phylogenetic Diversity) is a fundamental measure of biodiversity, saving species that are responsible for greater amounts of unique evolutionary history than others does represent a greater gain in the conservation of biodiversity at a global scale,” Gumbs said.

The reality may be even more depressing as this analysis is just the tip of the iceberg. The study did not account for the decline in biodiversity for insects (more than 40% of which are threatened by extinction), flowers, or fungi.

    “Our work focuses on the world’s terrestrial vertebrates: amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles. We used these groups as they have the best data available. However, these species are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the current extinction crisis. We don’t know how humanity is threatening the entire tree of life, from insects and fish to fungi and flowers. Hopefully we can gather enough data to expand our work to incorporate other groups of animals and plants that are also facing huge losses during this crisis,” Gumbs said.

    “We hope this research can inspire others to develop a better understanding of, and provide effective conservation for, the species we highlight as priorities before it’s too late. This study highlights just how harmful our current global system is to the future of biodiversity, and we need to enact change at all levels before it’s too late for the world’s most unique and threatened diversity.”

The findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications.

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« Reply #7406 on: Sep 22, 2020, 03:01 AM »

Country diary: the sacred giants of the dung-beetle world

Big Moor, Derbyshire: This specimen glittered purplish-blue in the setting sun – no wonder the ancient Egyptians thought them divine

Ed Douglas
22 Sep 2020 05.30 BST

The year seemed finely balanced as we ambled down to the pond at Little Barbrook in the evening sunshine. Bracken was crisping to bronze and the birch leaves were turning, yet it had been the warmest day in weeks and heat was still radiating off the dusty track. So slipping into the chocolate-coloured water to cool off was a pleasure, knowing all the while that this might be the last swim of summer, a valediction of sorts and a reminder that the seasons still roll along, even in these strange and stressful times.

Back on shore and half-dry, we had just started for home when I noticed something shimmering in the dirt. I scooped it up and marvelled: a dor beetle, counted among the dung beetles, its elytra, or wing cases, divided and the wings outspread, as though it had met its end in flight, perhaps taking off too late from the warm earth to escape a bicycle wheel. When I tilted my palm, its black body glittered purplish blue in the long rays of the setting sun, as though I’d discovered a jewel. No wonder the Egyptians thought scarabs divine.

Broadly oval in shape, dors are the giants of the British dung-beetle world, and while there are only a handful of species, telling them apart can be difficult. This one was particularly big, being 26mm in length, and the markings on those glittering wing cases suggested Geotrupes stercorarius.

We think of dung beetles as rolling balls of dung across the ground, but they are divided into “rollers” and “burrowers”. The genus – Geotrupes, “earth-borer” – gives the game away. This beetle digs, or rather dug, deep shafts under a nourishing pile of dung, and side chambers where the female lays a single egg, bringing small packets of dung for larvae to eat before sealing them inside. Some pupate in the autumn; others wait until spring.

Flipping the beetle on its back, I studied its iridescent abdomen, fringed with violet and green, as well as a stronger version of the metallic blue that was a feature of its wing cases. I wanted to keep it, so I nestled my treasure in some damp clothes. But before we even reached the car the brilliance of its colours had faded.

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« Reply #7407 on: Sep 23, 2020, 02:44 AM »

380 whales dead in worst mass stranding in Australia's history

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales became stranded in harbour in Tasmania with rescuers managing to save about 50

Graham Readfearn
Wed 23 Sep 2020 07.52 BST

About 380 pilot whales were confirmed dead in Tasmania’s west on Wednesday afternoon with rescuers fighting to save the remaining 30 that are still alive.

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales were caught on sandbanks and beaches inside Macquarie Harbour with a rescue effort starting on Tuesday morning.

Some 50 whales have been rescued and coaxed back to the open ocean.

Rescuers were focussed on 270 whales stranded near the town of Strahan, but on Wednesday morning a further 200 whales about 10km away in the same harbour were discovered from a helicopter. Officials later confirmed all had died.

The stranding is likely one of the largest on record globally and is the worst in Australia’s history.

Nic Deka, the coordinator of the rescue from Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service regional manager, said they were fighting to save the remaining 30 whales but focus was now turning to retrieval and disposal of the dead whales.

“We will try and rescue as many of the remaining live animals as we can.”

Dr Kris Carlyon, a marine conservation program wildlife biologist, said on Wednesday that the addition of 200 whales made this current stranding the largest in Tasmania’s history.

Records show some 294 whales, also long-finned pilots, stranded at Stanley on Tasmania’s north-west in 1935.

About 60 rescuers led by the Tasmanian government’s Marine Conservation Program entered the second day of the rescue on Wednesday focused on an area called Fraser Flats.

About 25 whales were lifted off sandbanks and pulled by boat to open waters on Tuesday, but two had returned to the main stranded pod. A further 25 were rescued on Wednesday.

Deka said the new group of 200 dead whales were in two bays between 7km to 10km south of the main rescue site.

They appear to have gone undetected and likely entered the harbour about the same time as the others. The harbour is about 35km long and about 8km wide.

Deka said: “From the air, most appear to be dead.”

Asked why they hadn’t been seen before, he said: “The water is a very dark tanin colour and maybe they stranded and then washed back in to the bay. From the air they did not look to be in any condition for rescue.”

He said even if those 200 whales had been seen late Monday when the group to the north was discovered, it was unlikely that it would have changed their strategy.

When the first 270 whales were discovered, about 90 were estimated to be already dead. “We would still have focused our efforts on Fraser Flats because they are the ones with the best chance of survival.”

On Tuesday, Deka told Guardian Australia that two methods were being considered. Burying the whales in a landfill was one, or towing them out into open water and using ocean currents to keep them offshore was another.

“We do know we can’t leave them in the harbour because they will present a range of issues. We are committed to retrieving and disposing.”

About 40 government staff and 20 volunteers, mostly from the harbour’s fish farming industry, are in chest-deep in water and manoeuvring large webbing under the whales and lifting them off the sand.

About 17 surf lifesavers with six inflatables and a jet rescue boat joined the efforts throughout Tuesday.

Tags are attached to the rescued whales to monitor them. Pilot whales are very social and need to be taken far enough away from the main group that they don’t turn around and go back.

Deka said it was disappointing that two whales saved on Tuesday had returned to the stranding site, “but the majority of the whales [we saved] are still out in deep water and are still swimming. We have been more successful than not.”

Carlyon said: “There’s nothing to indicate that this [stranding] is human caused. This is a natural event and we know strandings have occurred before and we know that from the fossil record.

“As far as being able to prevent this occurring, there’s little we can do.”

Even though Carlyon said the event was natural, there was a public expectation that the survivors should be helped.

Euthanising some animals was an option, he said, but it was not a simple practice and at this stage it was not being considered.

“We think we have a chance with the animals that are still alive.”

Dr Karen Stockin, an associate professor at Massey University in New Zealand, is an expert on whale and dolphin strandings globally and is on an International Whaling Commission expert panel on the issue.

She said the Macquarie Harbour stranding was likely Australia’s largest ever.

“It’s fair to say this will probably rank third or fourth globally in terms of the numbers of stranded animals.”

Long-finned pilot whales, which can live for up to 40 years, were notorious for large strandings, Stockin said, because of the way they stick together in tight social structures.

“Some will remain within their pods their entire lifetime,” she said.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Australia’s environment minister Sussan Ley said: “It is heartbreaking to see these stranded whales in Tassie. I want to thank the hard working rescuers and all the amazing volunteers on the ground.”

She said the Tasmanian government was leading the rescue, but the government had also offered support.

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« Reply #7408 on: Sep 23, 2020, 02:48 AM »

Bird Island review – strange goings-on at a Swiss avian sanctuary

This quasi-documentary about injured birds and distressed humans in a secluded locale will appeal to the most rarefied of viewers

Leslie Felperin
Wed 23 Sep 2020 09.00 BST

Slow paced and deploying minimal sound – apart from gentle bursts of voiceover and the sound of wings and planes taking off – this Swiss-set quasi-documentary about a bird sanctuary is relaxing to watch, like one of those machines that plays the sound of waves breaking to help you fall asleep. And like one of those sleep machines, it’s a rarefied piece of kit that only a specific set of customers will see the point of spending money on. But those select few will probably be entranced by its peculiar nature: it is not quite a work of fiction and not quite a doc, but one in which the non-professional cast mostly play versions of themselves.

Click here for the trailer: https://youtu.be/cgtbmffroVM

At this secluded, exclusive Swiss sanatorium for injured avian creatures and distressed humans, the staff is seem to be made up of people like protagonist-narrator Antonin (Antonin Ivanidze), who is recovering from cancer. Slender and blank of expression, like almost everyone else we see, and also apparently possessing only one set of clothes, like all the others, Antonin is shown how to raise rats and mice to feed the birds of prey by retiring employee Paul (Paul Sauteur). Also observed are veterinarian Emile Brethaut and keeper Sandrine Bierna, who also tend to the creatures, work that sometimes involves operating on them in vivid closeup – squeamish viewers beware.

Antonin mutters darkly about something being terribly wrong with the birds outside the sanctuary, inexplicable illnesses that afflict them, which leads some to come fluttering back, hoping to swap freedom for safety. Meanwhile, an owl who seems to have lost vision in one eye appears to have given up all hope and won’t hunt for itself any more. That low-level melancholy ratchets up in a climactic scene at an airport where Antonin suddenly collapses; but the reason why is as enigmatic as what was behind the decision to use an almost square aspect ratio with rounded corners that recall the images seen through an old View-Master.

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« Reply #7409 on: Sep 23, 2020, 02:56 AM »

7 brainy reasons why crows and ravens are the smartest birds in the world

Who you calling bird brain?

Tibi Puiu

Humans often like to relish the fact that they’re the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. Sure, a generous brain-to-body-mass ratio can be a nice ego boost, but let’s not kid ourselves. After all, there are birds that act more reasonably and in cleverer ways than some humans, I know personally. That may sound like an exaggeration, but wait until you learn what corvids, particularly crows and ravens, are capable of pulling off.

Crows and ravens may look very similar to the untrained eye, but their appearance and behavior clearly distinguish them from one another once you know where to look.

Compared to ravens, crows are less shiny and smaller. Crows also prefer to live in densely human-populated areas like urban landscapes, whereas ravens would much rather forage in wilder areas. However, if you really want to tell the two apart look at the bill and tail. Crows have smaller and flat bills, while those of ravens are bigger, more powerful and curved. Crow tails are fan-shaped while ravens have wedge-shaped ones.

Both birds are extremely intelligent for their body size, though, and extremely resourceful given they can only count on their bills to manipulate objects and the world around them. Yup, it’s easy to do smart things when you have opposable thumbs.

1. Crows and ravens use tools, but also make their own tools, sometimes using other tools they manufactured earlier

Watch: https://youtu.be/W5RynqzhZEE

You can tell right away that a species is capable of complex cognitive abilities when it uses tools. Corvids not only know how to employ tools, but they also make their own.

Scottish researchers at the University of St Andrews observed New Caledonian crows — birds which live on the remote tropical island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific — fashioning hooked twigs to stir beetles from their holes.

    “It’s a painstaking sequence of behaviours,” explains lead author Dr. James St Clair, from the School of Biology, University of St Andrews. “Crows seek out particular plant species, harvest a forked twig, and then – firmly holding it underfoot – carve, nibble and peel its tip, until it has a neat little hook.”

According to Clair and colleagues, hooked tools yield between 2 and 10 times more food than a straight twig. That’s a huge difference, and the crows likely recognized the improved yield.

In another mind-boggling example, researchers have witnessed not one, but two crows inserting sticks into objects to allow for easier transport. Some of these objects were too cumbersome to carry by beak alone, which is telling of the birds’ ingenuity.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden witnessed two crows inserting sticks into objects that were too cumbersome to lift by beak alone. During four instances, the crows slipped a wooden stick inside a metal nut or into the hole of a large wooden ball. In all instances, both stick (carrying tool) and the hooked objects were flown away by the crows, the researchers reported in the journal Animal Cognition.

In a 2002 study, researchers followed a captive New Caledonian crow called Betty that took a piece of wire, bent it into a hook, then retrieved some food that was otherwise out of reach. Betty used the wire after another crow had taken all the available hooks.

Alex Taylor, a researcher at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, believes that the birds are using a sort of “mental template matching,” forming a mental picture of the tool-making process they’d seen in another bird, then copying it.

This is quite akin to how humans learn and pass on new skills between one another — through cultural transmission.

    “Under the mental template matching hypothesis, New Caledonian crow tool designs could be passed on to subsequent generations if an individual used or observed the products of tool manufacture (such as their parents’ tools), formed a mental template of this type of tool design (a mental representation of some or all of the tool’s properties), and then reproduced this template in their own manufacture,” Taylor and colleagues wrote in a study published Scientific Reports.

This New Caledonian crow made a hook out of a paper card from scratch in order to receive a reward. Credit: Sarah Jelbert

During one logic test, ravens had to reach a hanging piece of food by pulling up a string, anchoring it with its claw, and repeating until the food was within reach. Many ravens got the food on the first try, some within 30 seconds. In the wild, ravens have been seen pushing rocks towards people to keep them from climbing to their nests, stealing fish by pulling a fisherman’s line out of holes in the ice, imitating wolves in order to attract them, and playing dead beside a beaver carcass to scare other ravens away from a delicious feast.

2. Crows remember and respond to people’s faces (and can hold a grudge)

Watch: https://youtu.be/bOkj7lJpeoc

Most birds or animals scatter when a human is approaching no matter what. However, crows only fly away when people are actually heading their away, as opposed to just strolling past them. But there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

A study published in the journal Ethology, led by Barbara Clucas of Humboldt State University, revealed new dimensions in the crow’s social reasoning. Namely, the researchers found that crows can recognize, respond and adapt their behavior to specific human faces.

In one of their experiments, the researchers separated into two groups, each wearing a different type of mask. One of the groups would trap crows in the park, while the other would just pass crows by.

Five years later, the researchers returned to the park with their mask on. Lo and behold, birds present at the original trapping events remembered which masks corresponded to being captured—and they passed this information to their young and other crows. All the crows responded to the sight of a researcher wearing a trapping mask by immediately mobbing the individual and shrieking.

    “It’s one thing to learn from one’s own experience and another to observe that happening to other individuals and infer it could happen to you,” John Marzluff of the University of Washington, a co-author of the paper explained.

Seeing crows communicate abstract information and symbols (the particular type of mask associated with trapping) to other crows that did not have first hand, affective information is truly impressive.

When the crows viewed human faces that they associated with threat or care, the birds had increased activity in the amygdala, thalamus, and brain stem—areas related to emotional processing and fear learning. In response to threatening faces, areas that regulate perception, attention, and fleeing also lit up. That’s quite similar to how humans process faces in the brain.

Interestingly, jackdaws, which are crow relatives, can distinguish between friendly and dangerous people. This suggests that recognizing human faces may be a feature of corvids.

Corvids don’t just hold grudges, though. Researchers found that when they behaved fairly with crows, the birds would bring back shiny objects as a token of gratitude for being nice to them.

3. Ravens use gestures to point out things and communicate

In a 2011 study, German and Austrian researchers described how ravens would use their beaks in the same manner a human might use their hands to point out ob­jects such as moss, stones, and twigs.

Besides gesturing, the ravens also interacted with their peers using various objects, touching or clasping their bills together, or by manipulating the item together.

    “Most exciting is how a species, which does not represent the prototype of a ‘gesturer’ because it has wings instead of hands, a strong beak and can fly, makes use of very sophisticated nonvocal signals,” Si­mone Pi­ka of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Or­nith­ol­o­gy in Mu­nich, Ger­ma­ny told LiveScience.

Pika believes that ravens could offer a unique glimpse into the origin of gestures in humans.

    “Ges­ture stud­ies have too long fo­cused on com­mu­nica­tive skills of pri­ma­tes on­ly. The mys­tery of the ori­gins of hu­man lan­guage, how­ev­er, can only be solved if we look at the big­ger pic­ture and al­so con­sid­er the com­plex­ity of the com­mu­nica­t­ion sys­tems of oth­er an­i­mal groups,” the researcher said.

4. Crows understand water displacement better than some children

In Aesop’s famous fable, The Crow and the Pitcher, a thirsty crow finds a pitcher with a bit of water left in the bottom. Alas, the bird’s beak isn’t long enough to reach it. But the clever crow is steadfast and drops stones into the pitcher until the water comes to it.

Turns out this is no fiction. A 2014 study showed that crows understand water displacement at the level of a 5- to 7-year-old-child. For instance, when researchers put pieces of meat floating in a long narrow glass, the crows figured out that they could add objects to the container to raise the water level and bring the treat to them. You can see them in action in the video below.

5. Ravens can tell when people are spying on them (and can get paranoid)

Watch: https://youtu.be/NGaUM_OngaY

When people suspect they’re being watched, they tend to be very self-conscious. And if they don’t want to be seen, they will minimize their movements. This level of abstraction was thought to be unique to humans, but a 2014 study published in Nature Communications showed the ravens are also aware when they’re being spied upon.

During one experiment, ravens were placed in adjacent tiny rooms, separated by a window. Initially, the window was left uncovered so each raven could see where its neighbor was hiding food. Later, the window was covered, leaving only a small peephole, which the ravens quickly learned they could use to see but also be seen through.

The researchers played an audible track from one of the cages which sounded like a raven was in the process of hiding food (scratching, pecking, dirt being displaced). Only when the peephole was left uncovered did the neighboring raven bother to take extra care in hiding its food. The bird hurried to hide the food and once the audio track stopped playing, the raven returned to the hiding spot to improve the concealment. If the peephole was closed the raven was careless, suggesting it understood that no one could track its actions.

6. Crows can solve highly complex puzzles

Watch: https://youtu.be/AVaITA7eBZE

BBC Two journalists put corvid intelligence to the ultimate test by setting up the most complex animal puzzle ever. Captured wild crows completed eight individual steps, which they had to solve in a specific order, to gain access to a food reward. To do so, the crows had to collect tools and interact with puzzles to move to the next step. Watch the video of the experiment — it’s crazy good.

7. Crows hitch rides on eagles

    A crow hitching a ride on a bald eagle. pic.twitter.com/YCNF69JwtH
    — SERIOUSLY STRANGE (@SeriousStrange) July 5, 2015

Wildlife photographer Phoo Chan caught the shot of a lifetime: a crow riding atop a bald eagle. Although the scene only lasted for a few seconds, it speaks volumes about crows’ fearsomeness, even when faced with a much larger predator.

It might not be the smartest move, but it sure is freaking amazing.

    Adventurous crow hitches a ride on the back of a bald eagle http://t.co/o1j697kpLC pic.twitter.com/JcsQneLInz

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