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« Reply #690 on: Jan 27, 2015, 06:30 AM »

Chinese officials feasted on endangered salamander, then beat journalists: report

Agence France-Presse
27 Jan 2015 at 06:31 ET                   

Chinese officials feasted on a critically endangered giant salamander and turned violent when journalists photographed the luxury banquet, according to media reports Tuesday on the event which appeared to flout Beijing’s austerity campaign.

The 28 diners included senior police officials from the southern city of Shenzhen, the Global Times said.

“In my territory, it is my treat,” it quoted a man in the room as saying.

The giant salamander is believed by some Chinese to have anti-aging properties, but there is no orthodox evidence to back the claim.

The species is classed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, which says the population has “declined catastrophically over the last 30 years.”

“Commercial over-exploitation for human consumption is the main threat to this species,” the IUCN said.

The Global Times cited the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, which said its journalists were beaten up when their identities were discovered by the diners.

One was kicked and slapped, another had his mobile phone forcibly taken, while the photographer was choked, beaten up and had his camera smashed, the reports said.

A total of 14 police have been suspended and an investigation launched into the incident, added the Global Times.

One of the Shenzhen diners provided the salamander and said it had been captive-bred, according to the report.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a much-publicized austerity drive for the ruling classes, including a campaign for simple meals with the catchphrase “four dishes and one soup.”

The ruling Communist Party also says it is cracking down on the consumption of endangered species, including shark’s fin.

China’s legislature last April approved a law including prison sentences for people caught eating rare wild animals.

The Chinese government considers 420 wild animal species as rare or endangered, state media previously said.


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« Reply #691 on: Jan 27, 2015, 08:57 AM »

Hadrosaurs would have run cross country in dino high school

January 26, 2015
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

In the struggle to survive against big meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex, some smaller dinosaurs evolved the ability to sprint, while others developed long-distance running abilities.

The duck-billed hadrosaur fell into the latter category, according to a report from the University of Alberta. The physiology of the herbivore allowed it to outrun T. rex, but only over longer distances. The legendary predator was a faster sprinter.

Published by Indiana University Press, the report describes how hadrosaurs’ large tail muscles (caudofemoralis) affected their running abilities.

Using data from the 3-D modeling of modern reptiles, researchers know T. rex could sprint fast because “the physical distance the muscle has to contract to swing the leg through a single arc is very, very short,” report author W. Scott Persons, a paleontologist from the University of Alberta in Canada, told Scientific American.

In contrast, hadrosaur’s caudofemoralis muscles were attached much farther down on the femur. This made its muscle contractions longer and its strides slower, meaning it wasn’t quick, but could travel greater distances.

The study is based on 75-million-year-old fossils of two hadrosaurs from Alberta, one of an adolescent and one of an adult.  The comparison between the hadrodaurs and T. rex is relevant not just because of their potential predator/prey relationship, but also because their physical make-ups are quite similar.

A new species of hadrosaur

Hadrosaurs include a range of duck-billed dinosaurs and one particularly unique hadrosaur was just discovered, according to a report published in September. The 30-foot-long, 8,500-pound Rhinorex condrupus was particularly unique for its enormous “King Nose,” which its scientific name roughly translates to. The massive proboscis is different from the bony crest that appears atop the skulls of most other hadrosaurs.

“The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery. If this dinosaur is anything like its relatives then it likely did not have a super sense of smell; but maybe the nose was used as a means of attracting mates, recognizing members of its species, or even as a large attachment for a plant-smashing beak. We are already sniffing out answers to these questions,” said study author Terry Gates, a paleontologist from NC State.

The big-nosed dinosaur was first found in Utah during the 1990s, but it wasn’t until researchers recently began reconstructing the skull that they realized just how unique this animal was. Closely related to other hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus and Edmontosaurus, Rhinorex is the sole complete hadrosaur fossil from central Utah.

“We’ve found other hadrosaurs from the same time period but located about 200 miles farther south that are adapted to a different environment,” Gates said. “This discovery gives us a geographic snapshot of the Cretaceous, and helps us place contemporary species in their correct time and place. Rhinorex also helps us further fill in the hadrosaur family tree.”


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« Reply #692 on: Today at 06:17 AM »

VIDEO: When hawks attack

January 26, 2015
Abbey Hull for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

According to a report in The Journal of Experiment Biology, scientists have now discovered that the best way to escape a hawk attack is by darting to the side as quickly as possible.

Using a 20-gram video camera strapped to the head of a northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), researchers in the region of Twenthe in the Netherlands sent the hawk into the forest to hunt for food and studied the recording.

Click to watch: http://media.aaas-science.org/services/player/bcpid618572355001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAADFlexpk~,loqkjB2yVJwXpvZvSdjalz1oUpEUGCue&bctid=4002855956001

There were a total of 16 recordings of the hawk’s hunt. Each time, the hawk would fly at a constant angle towards the anticipated point where he would reach his prey if it ran in a straight line. When the hawk got close, the hunt would become a direct approach behind the animal.

Fifteen times the prey was able to escape the hawk by darting off to the side, both outmaneuvering the hawk and breaking the hawk’s gaze during its direct approach so it couldn’t quickly recover.

So, in case Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds ever becomes a reality, we will now rest a little easier knowing we can at least avoid a hawk attack.


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« Reply #693 on: Today at 06:19 AM »

Pollution may damage polar bear penile bones

January 27, 2015
Brian Galloway for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

To put it plainly: human activity makes life difficult for polar bears. Climate change is destroying their habitat and dictating their diet. And now, as it turns out, we’re also hurting their penises.

Well, our pollutants are hurting their penises, that is.

Christian Sonne, professor in Veterinary Ecotoxicology and Wildlife Health at Aarhus University in Denmark, and his team connected high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with low baculum (penile bone) density. PCBs were used for decades in industrial electrical equipment, but have since been banned throughout much of the world due to health concerns.

The researchers used the baculum because, well, they’re easy to find.

“It’s the kind of bone that’s taken by local trophy hunters and subsistence hunters. It’s an actual sign that you have hunted and shot a bear,” reports Sonne to NewScientist.

The researchers compared penile bone density with the area’s historical pollution data. They found a connection between PCB concentration and baculum density, but admit that the results aren’t strong enough to prove definitive causation.

Scientists have yet to fully uncover the baculum’s function (probably because it’s tough to study half-ton bears during sex), but Sonne adds that, “If it breaks, you probably won’t have a bear [that] can copulate.”

The team now wants to pursue a connection between pollutants and evolutionary change. They believe that PCBs and other chemicals have killed many bears and forced genetic change in the population.


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« Reply #694 on: Today at 06:22 AM »

Snakes are 70 million years older than scientists previously thought

Agence France-Presse
28 Jan 2015 at 06:56 ET                  

A new look at four fossils has revealed that snakes’ earliest known ancestor lived as many as 70 million years earlier than thought, scientists said Tuesday.

Until now, the fossil record had suggested snakes slithered onto the scene in the Upper Cretaceous period, about 94-100 million years ago.

But an international team of researchers reported in the journal Nature Communications that serpents actually have a much longer lineage.

“Evolution within the group called ‘snakes’ is much more complex than previously thought,” Michael Caldwell, a professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a press release.

Re-analysing fossils in museum collections, the scientists found that the oldest among them belonged to the earliest identifiable snake, which lived between 143 and 167 million years ago.

Its skull has key features that have continued to appear among snakes ever since, even through millions of years of species diversification.

The granddaddy is a critter dubbed Eophis underwoodi, after Garth Underwood, an expert at Britain’s Natural History Museum, who wrote an important reference work on snakes in the 1960s.

Its fragmentary remains were found at a cement quarry in Oxfordshire.

E. underwoodi lived in the Middle Jurassic period, during the final stage of an important event in Earth’s geological history — the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent into two components called Gondwana and Laurasia.

It, and the three other ancient fossils, suggest that snakes by this time had already differentiated from their lizard cousins, the study says.

The big giveaway is the skull, which remains almost unchanged among snakes to this day.

Though E. underwoodi still had limbs, its cranium and dental features closely resembled today’s snakes.

Snakes lost their limbs gradually under evolutionary pressure as they adapted to niche habitats.

Caldwell and his team are hoping for other fossil finds to show whether there were even older snakes. They would also like to fill a knowledge gap of tens of million years the discovery has opened.


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« Reply #695 on: Today at 08:20 AM »

IVF is best chance to save endangered northern white rhino, scientists say

Talks held in Kenya to come up with a last ditch plan to save the final five of the endangered species from extinction

Wednesday 28 January 2015 13.07 GMT
TheGuardian   

Conservationists and scientists have held talks in Kenya this week to come up with a last ditch plan to save the northern white rhinoceros from extinction.

There are only five northern whites left on the planet: three live in a 700-acre enclosure on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya, where the emergency meeting was held on Tuesday, while the other two are kept in zoos in the Czech Republic and the US.

“The battle is to work out what is feasible scientifically in the short time still available to us,” Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s chief executive, told AFP.

Northern white rhinos have suffered from the loss of their traditional habitats in Central African Republic, Chad, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, nations that have been hit by decades of chronic conflict, lawlessness and misrule that made conservation impossible.

Poachers have also taken their toll, killing the animals for their horn – long prized for making ceremonial dagger handles in Yemen and, more recently, to be ground into a powder for medicine in Asia. Rhino horn is worth more than $65,000 (£42,770) per kilo on the black market, more than gold or wholesale cocaine.

The remaining northern white rhinos are all elderly or incapable of natural reproduction, so artificial methods are now the only hope.

The best chance is the creation of a “test tube rhino” by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). The embryo could then be implanted in the womb of a surrogate southern white rhino, a closely related rhinoceros subspecies that is less endangered.

Past attempts at artificial insemination of northern white rhinos, carried out at the Dvur Kralove Zoo, failed, and surrogacy is untested.

Stores of frozen sperm and eggs could be used to revive the animal artificially, but neither method will provide an immediate solution, meaning the northern white rhino will likely disappear, at least for a while.

“The science is just not there yet,” Vigne said.


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« Reply #696 on: Today at 08:22 AM »

Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin

Endangered species may be saved from extinction after eradication of feral cats that had been eating its chicks

Robin McKie, science editor
1/28/2015
Guardian
   
One of the world's rarest seabirds has returned to remote Ascension Island in the Atlantic 150 years after its colony was wiped out by feral cats. Last week ornithologists spotted two nests containing eggs being guarded by Ascension frigatebirds, the first of the species to breed there since Charles Darwin visited the island in the early 19th century.

Ascension frigatebirds only survived in a small colony on a nearby rocky outcrop where they were considered to be highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease and oil spills. But now they have returned to the island after which they are named, raising hopes that the vulnerable bird may be rescued from extinction.

The news marks the success of a project which has cost UK taxpayers more than £500,000 and has involved the eradication of hundreds of feral cats that had been eating frigatebird chicks.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed," said Derren Fox, a conservation officer based on Ascension. "We thought it would take decades for the Ascension frigate to come back and breed after we had got rid of the island's feral cats. But we have already succeeded after only a few years. This suggests we have a real chance of saving the Ascension frigate."

The project's success also raises hopes of saving colonies of other species threatened by feral animals. These include populations of seabirds and amphibians on Montserrat, Gough Island and South Georgia, which are all ravaged by rats, mice and other wild creatures.

In the early 19th century, Ascension Island was home to more than 20 million seabirds, mainly masked boobies, black noddies, brown noddies and Ascension frigatebirds. The frigatebird was considered to be the most important because it was unique to the island. Adults are about 30 inches in length while males have distinctive red sacs on their chests which they inflate during courtship.

Around 1800, rats – accidently introduced by settlers – began to kill off chicks. Cats were imported to kill the rats but instead joined in the killing of frigatebird chicks. "By the time Darwin visited the island in 1836, there were only a few frigatebirds left and the last few were killed off not long after he left," said Clare Stringer of the RSPB, which has played a key role in re-establishing the bird on Ascension. Only a small colony of around 10,000 survived on Boatswain Bird Island, a rocky outcrop off Ascension's east coast which could not be reached by cats.

In 2002, the RSPB – backed with funding from the Foreign Office – launched a programme to eradicate Ascension's feral cats. "It was slightly tricky," said Stringer. "We had to avoid killing islanders' pet cats and kill only feral animals. Owners were told to collar and microchip their pets. Then traps were laid and feral cats caught in these were put down."

In 2006, Ascension was declared to be free of wild cats. "It has taken six years to get frigatebirds to start to recolonise the island since we got rid of the feral cats and frankly it could have taken much longer," said Fox, who – with fellow conservation officer Stedson Stroud – has been monitoring the island for signs of the frigatebird's return. "We now have two nests being tended by parent birds and that should encourage a lot more to settle here in future."


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« Reply #697 on: Today at 08:30 AM »

Angry birds? These lost species have every right to be…

Human greed and thoughtlessness are responsible for the loss of hundreds of species that could have been saved, and the extinction rate is increasing alarmingly. Here are some we have already lost for ever

John Vidal
1/28/2015
TheGuardian   

The Laysan crake stood six inches tall, had a yellow bill and black legs, and its cry, said one ornithologist, was "like pebbles ricocheting on a glass roof". In the 1890s there were around 2,000 of these friendly but flightless birds alive on Laysan, a tiny Pacific coral island.

Fifty years later there were none, and the bird, which ran like a chicken and was so unafraid of humans it would crawl up trouser legs, has disappeared for ever – a sad chapter in the dismal history of modern bird extinctions.

Like so many other bird species, it was made extinct not because it was wanted for its meat or feathers, or because of climate change or even a rare disease, but thanks to sheer human thoughtlessness.

First, a US businessman set up a guano-collecting station on Laysan and introduced rabbits. But the rabbits escaped and bred, eating most of the vegetation on which the bird depended. Then, in 1942, rats escaped off a US landing craft and thrived by smashing and eating its eggs. Three years later the Laysan crake was to be found only in a few museums, and immortalised on a grainy black and white BBC film.

The Laysan crake is one of around 1,000 bird species known by exhibits, written accounts, illustrations, skeletons, eggs or subfossil remains to have existed but which have vanished in the last 700 years. It joins the dodo, the great auk, the huia and species of woodpeckers, boobies, pigeons, parakeets, cormorants, owls, swifts, finches, crows, petrels and birds of almost every taxon in a remarkable new book that documents for the first time the world's known extinct birds.

"The sheer magnitude of bird extinctions that have taken place is shocking, says Julian Hume, a research fellow at the Natural History Museum, and co-author with Michael Walters, of Extinct Birds. "Many more recently extinct species await description, and a number of critically endangered species will probably disappear in the next decade. A human-induced mass extinction is taking place."

Walters, former curator of the egg collection at the museum, adds: "In the last millennium the impact of humans on the natural world has accelerated out of control, at a rate unprecedented in the earth's long history. Before humans evolved on the planet, mass extinction events were caused by things like extraterrestrial impacts, volcanism and changes of climate and sea level. Now we recognise a new agent of mass destruction – ourselves."

According to BirdLife International, the organisation that assesses bird populations worldwide, the natural rate of bird extinction is about one per century. But in the last 30 years, 21 bird species are known to have become extinct, and 189 are classified as "on the very edge of extinction". Most of these could be lost for ever without immediate action within 10 years, says Birdlife spokesman Martin Fowlie.

"Usually mass extinctions take place over millions of years. Nothing has ever happened like this. They are being lost at an irreplaceable rate. One in eight of all the world's 9,920 bird species are "threatened"; 381 are classed as "endangered" and a further 683 are "vulnerable"', says Fowlie.

Biodiversity is under massive threat everywhere, with amphibians, mammals and bees in the frontline as the world's remotest places are developed for mining, forestry and habitations or are severed by roads. But no vertebrate has suffered more than birds, which evolved over millions of years from dinosaurs, and which specialised in certain foods and habitats. Because they are relatively large, conspicuous and are mostly active by day, they have been long prized by humans for food, collections and their cultural connection.

Most threatened bird species are in the tropics because that is where there is most biodiversity, but losses in the last 200 years have been distributed widely across the Pacific, Latin America and Africa. Such is the rate of deforestation and intrusion into earth's last wild areas that huge numbers of species other than birds are being lost before they are even recorded.

"Birds are symbols of life, movement, vitality and freedom," says Errol Fuller, author of several books on extinct birds. "The fact that they live so noticeably around us makes it doubly difficult to come to terms with the idea that a species should no longer exist."

"When a bird species goes, we are all diminished," says Will Turner, a researcher with Conservation International. "Organisms are all connected to each other. Lose one species and it can have an effect on many others. When the dodo went it meant that a tree could no longer disperse its seeds. Take one piece out and the entire system becomes less resistant. Gradual loss [of species] can result in decreased resilience and productivity."

Fowlie adds: "In fact, a lot of bird species have been saved. We know what to do, we understand what the problem is, we only need action and money. It's possible that £20m would save them all."

***********

Extinct Birds - in pictures

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2012/feb/19/birds-endangeredspecies


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