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« Reply #1185 on: May 26, 2015, 05:30 AM »

Swifts migrate from Beijing to southern Africa without landing

New research uncovers mystery of migration route of bird that spends up to three years in the air after leaving its nest

Emma Graham-Harrison in Beijing
Monday 25 May 2015 17.41 BST
Guardain

Swifts born in Beijing’s old imperial palaces travel 16,000 miles every year to southern Africa and back again without touching ground, and over a lifetime clock up enough miles to get halfway to the moon.

New research suggests that after they leave their nests for the first time, the birds spend up to three years in the air, eating, drinking and mating on the wing.

They come down to earth only to rear their own chicks, having already made a 16,000-mile round trip to their winter homes at least twice. Over the course of their lives, the average Beijing swift will travel nearly 124,000 miles.

“That this tiny bird – that can fit into a human hand – travels to southern Africa and back every year without landing once, is simply awe-inspiring and proof that the natural world is the greatest source of inspiration there is,” said Terry Townshend, founder of Birding Beijing.

    — Birding Beijing 北京观鸟 (@BirdingBeijing)
    May 24, 2015

    Out of Africa! The Beijing Swift’s Incredible Journey Charted At Last http://t.co/WxW3IpeFTU pic.twitter.com/OrADUaYcci

The birds have been visitors to the Chinese capital for hundreds of years, nesting in its gatehouses and palace eaves. They are so closely associated with the city that a subspecies carries its old English name, the Peking swift or Apus apus pekinensis.

The number of swifts in Beijing has dropped by over half in the last three decades, however, and conservationists are trying to find out more about the birds’ habits. Their largely airborne lives mean they are difficult to study and although their winter and summer bases were well known, their migration route was largely a mystery before this research.

A group of British, Swedish, Chinese and Belgian scientists and bird lovers worked together in a project that began last year with the trapping of 31 birds at a pavilion in the Summer Palace of China’s former rulers. They were fitted with tiny light-sensitive geo-locator devices, then released to make the annual migration.

So loyal are the birds to their nesting grounds in the city that this year the research team was able to trap more than a third of the swifts in the same pavilion and retrieve data about their flight. It showed that when they started their long migration in July, the birds swept north through Mongolia then down to Iran and across to Africa, heading for Namibia and the Western Cape, where they stayed for the winter.

In February they began retracing the same long route back, flying incredibly fast – the swifts have been recorded hitting speeds of more than 110km/h.

“Swifts have a special place in the hearts of Beijingers and their screaming flights at dusk around many of our major landmarks are one of the most enchanting features of our summer,” said Fu Jianping, president of the China Birdwatching Society.

“For years we have waved them goodbye at the end of July not knowing where they go. Thanks to this project, now we do.”


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« Reply #1186 on: May 26, 2015, 05:34 AM »

Australia to import micro wasp to wage war against plague of crazy ants

Scientists hope the Malaysian wasp will severely dent populations of crazy ants, which have been blamed for killing red crabs on Christmas Island

Oliver Milman
Guardian
Tuesday 26 May 2015 09.18 BST
    
A diminutive Malaysian wasp is set to be imported to Australia in order to wage war against a plague of destructive crazy ants on Christmas Island.

The tiny wasp, which is just 2mm long, doesn’t sting or build nests but, it is hoped, will severely dent crazy ant populations.

It will do this, scientists believe, by preying upon an insect that produces a sugary substance called honeydew that crazy ants consume.

“By reducing the ants’ food supply, we hope to interrupt their breeding, and potentially stop them from building their devastating super colonies,” said Dr Peter Green, a La Trobe University researcher who is leading the project.

Park Australia, a federal government agency that oversees Australia’s leading national parks, is backing a move to import the micro wasps to Christmas Island this year.

Crazy ants were thought to have originally been brought to the island by south-east Asian traders in sea cargo. A horde of the pests is blamed for killing tens of millions of Christmas Island’s red crabs over the past 20 years. The loss of these crabs has had a negative knock-on impact upon the island’s entire ecosystem.

The importing of species to deal with another destructive species hasn’t always been stunningly successful in Australia. The cane toad was introduced to Queensland in the 1930s in an attempt to eradicate the cane beetle, which damage sugar cane crops. Instead, the toad spread across northern Australia and has been blamed for the decimation of native wildlife.

Australian cane toads meet their match

However, Green said five years of research into the micro wasp show that it will be safe for people, pets and native wildlife.

“Other types of micro wasps are already used extensively for biological control on mainland Australia and overseas, so we know this can be safe and successful,” he said.

“We’ll be monitoring the roll-out carefully and we hope to see results within two to three years.”

Parks Australia, which is waiting for final approval for the plan, said the new approach will be a “lifesaver” for Christmas Island’s wildlife.

Christmas Island is home to a diverse range of species, including 20 types of crab, 28 species of butterfly, 28 species of bird and a handful of scorpions. The wasp will be deployed to aid these animals, pending final government approval.

“Red crabs are the keystone species for Christmas Island, so it’s crucial to protect them,” said Sally Barnes, director of National Parks.

“Until now, our only option has been intensive baiting with fipronil to kill the ants. That means dropping baits from choppers and sending rangers out to bait by hand – a very costly exercise that has to be repeated every few years.


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« Reply #1187 on: May 26, 2015, 05:40 AM »

Dog uses trampoline to escape and follow owner to work - video

Guardian
5/26/2015

A clever dog surprised its owner on a train after making a spectacular escape from its kennel by using a trampoline to bounce over a 6ft fence. Owner Thomas McCormack was surprised when his four-year-old pet, Paddy, unexpectedly followed him on his morning commute, only to discover from his neighbours that the dog had been using a trampoline to jump over the fence.

Click to watch:

<iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2015/may/26/dog-uses-trampoline-escape-follow-owner-to-work-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>


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« Reply #1188 on: May 26, 2015, 07:52 AM »

Danish radio station kills baby rabbit with bicycle pump

Agence France-Presse
26 May 2015 at 08:28 ET 

A Danish radio station on Tuesday defended the live killing of a baby rabbit with a bicycle pump on one of its shows, saying it wanted to highlight cruelty in the farming industry.

“We didn’t do it for the sake of entertainment,” talk radio station Radio24syv wrote on Twitter.

“Thousands of animals die each day so that people can eat them,” it added.

The broadcaster said radio host Asger Juhl on Monday killed baby rabbit Allan with repeated blows to the head to highlight “hypocrisy” in Danes’ attitudes towards animal welfare.

“We buy and eat animals that have had an awful life. And animals that have been killed under the same controlled conditions as the rabbit in the studio,” it wrote in a statement.

Reality TV show star and animal rights activist Linse Kessler tried to grab the animal and chased Juhl around the studio several times before being asked to leave.

“They wanted to see if they could kill him during the last show or if they had gotten too attached to him,” she said in a video clip on her Facebook page.

Kessler said she thought she was capable of wresting the animal from Juhl but feared it would die a more painful death if she grabbed it.

“I hit it hard over the neck twice so that the cervical vertebrae fractured,” Juhl told broadcaster TV 2.

“I was instructed by a zookeeper from Aalborg Zoo who hits several baby rabbits every week (to feed) the snakes,” he added.

Juhl said he had brought the dead rabbit with him home — where he had skinned and cut it up with his children, aged six and eight — and that he later would have rabbit stew for dinner with fellow morning host Kristoffer Eriksen.

A Copenhagen zoo prompted international outrage last year by putting down a healthy giraffe, known as Marius, and then dissecting it in front of children.

That incident, just like the radio station’s stunt, drew a mixed response in Denmark where agriculture is a key export industry.

“To provoke and to promote itself,” Twitter user Steffen Andersen in Aarhus wrote, while journalist Brian Esbensen tweeted: “What if people were just as outraged over drowned refugees.”

Radio24syv said it wanted to put more focus on “one of the world’s most industrialised agriculture sectors.”

Danish farming “allows 25,000 piglets to die every day because farming has been streamlined and (breeds) pigs that give birth to far more offspring than the mother pig can handle,” it said.


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« Reply #1189 on: May 26, 2015, 07:53 AM »

Poachers kill half of Mozambique’s elephants in 5 years: survey

Agence France-Presse
26 May 2015 at 08:30 ET 

Poachers have killed nearly half of Mozambique’s elephants for their ivory in the past five years, the US based Wildlife Conservation Society said Tuesday.

A Mozambique government-backed survey showed a dramatic 48 percent decline in elephant numbers from just over 20,000 to an estimated 10,300, the WCS said in a statement.

“This decline is due to rampant elephant poaching in the country’s most important elephant populations,” the statement said.

Remote northern Mozambique, which includes the Niassa national Reserve, was the hardest hit, accounting for 95 percent of elephant deaths, reducing the population from an estimated 15,400 to an estimated 6,100.

The aerial survey found that in some parts of the country nearly half the elephants seen were already dead.

Across Africa, up to 30,000 elephants are estimated to be killed illegally each year to fuel the ivory trade, mainly to China and other Asian countries.

A total of 470,000 wild elephants remain in Africa, according to a count by the NGO Elephants Without Borders.


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« Reply #1190 on: May 27, 2015, 05:03 AM »

Syria conflict threatens endangered species

May 26, 2015
Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

War inevitably produces unpredictable collateral damage and, although the human cost is always at the forefront of our minds, military conflict can have deadly consequences for wildlife.

According to a report by the BBC, the advance of Islamic State in Syria is now a serious threat to one critically-endangered species, the northern bald Ibis. The capture of Palmyra by IS means that a small breeding colony of the Ibis, discovered in 2002, is at risk. If this colony fails, the species will almost certainly become extinct in Syria.

The species was already struggling to survive. In 2013, only one female returned from the birds’ wintering quarters in Ethiopia. Now, three birds held in captivity to support the colony in the future were abandoned last week when their Bedouin guards fled the fighting.

$1,000 reward for Zenobia

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) has offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who can provide information on the last remaining wild bird, known as Zenobia after the queen of Palmyra. She has been known to follow the ancient migration route.

If Zenobia does not survive and return, she could not teach any captive birds the ancient migration routes, and this could see the extinction of the species in Syria.

Real danger of extinction

“Culture and nature, they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction,” Asaad Serhal, Head of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, told the BBC.

These birds were once common in large areas of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Numbers have slowly dwindled as hunting and loss of habitat loss take an immense toll. Morocco and Syria were the last remaining strongholds, and 95% of truly wild birds are now in one subpopulation in Morocco. Human encroachment, predation by other species, including birds of prey and the Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis, and even the birds’ tendency to use electricity pylons as perches are major risks for the Moroccan survivors.

The situation looks bleak for the northern bald Ibis, but conservation efforts continue in Morocco.


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« Reply #1191 on: May 27, 2015, 05:08 AM »

Every bear I treat is an individual. They feel pain, joy and they make choices

Jen O'Dwyer

Our ultimate aim is stop bear bile farming but my work is also about helping a bear feel the grass under her feet for the first time in 20 years

Wednesday 27 May 2015 05.35 BST
Guardian   

The trucks arrive, everyone is silent but poised and ready to help transform these beautiful bears’ lives from misery to opportunity. They arrive on the trays of trucks, jammed into tiny cages, with their eyes sunken, their wounds bleeding and their teeth rotten. My task as one of Animals Asia’s veterinarians in China is to assess the damage.

It is a triage like no other.

Over time and with patience, some of the bears that arrive will finally go on to feel grass under their feet, some for the first time in 20 or 30 years.

Each bear that comes into our care is an individual. They have a name. They have a personality. All of our medical attention is focused and tailored to the individual and how best to ensure the physical and mental needs of that individual. This may mean dental procedures to remove broken or rotten teeth, eye examinations to check for evidence of cataracts, abdominal surgery to remove damaged and diseased gall bladders and radiographs to document and appropriately treat the arthritis that develops from years of confinement.

Our ultimate aim is to end bear bile farming, but that means ending the exploitation and suffering of each individual bear. It’s important to remember this and to be focused on this as a vet, so that the welfare of each animal is at the centre of everything I do.

Like so many issues with the use of animals by humans, the individual is forgotten. You have only to look upon a bear to see his or her personality. Each bear shows different preferences in play and food, has different social groups, and chooses differently how to spend their day. We know these animals are sentient, we know they have emotions and thoughts. We know they are frustrated and bored being confined to small cages by the damage to their bodies from the constant rocking back and forth, rubbing on metal bars, or the grinding of the teeth from chewing on the bars.

For me, the work is more than helping to heal wounds – it is helping to change attitudes. Education and empowerment is bringing about a change in China and Vietnam. The work that Animals Asia does to stop bear bile farming is not about sentiment and emotional blackmail; the science tells us that there is no need for this industry. There are many alternatives, including from within the Chinese medicine pharmacopeia, a plant called Coptis.

Animals are sentient, they do feel pain and they do suffer. They choose. They feel joy and sorrow. These notions go far beyond bear bile farming and into the treatment of animals in captivity, treatment of animals at slaughter, and even the treatment of our pets, or “companion” animals.

In its simplest form, I have witnessed this from year to year with the house guard dogs in the dwellings around the bear sanctuary. I’ve seen a dog transition from a tethered being – without access to water or shelter – to a companion of the house, who is walked and bathed but still gladly guards his companions. This is happening one individual at a time and I get to be a small part of it as a bear vet working in China.

I’ve also been happy to help build relationships with local vets so that the knowledge of our team can be shared. It is through these collaborations that we gain cultural understanding and, at times, hear of the limitations that they’re dealing with. Together, we try and forge paths forward.

These collaborations globally have seen bears’ vision returned after cataract surgery and laparoscopic surgery employed to minimise tissue damage done in captivity. Most recently, orthopaedic specialists in Hong Kong have used a 3D printer to help repair the fractured elbow of a bear called Claudia.

Being a bear vet is the greatest job I have ever had, it has helped me to be a better vet, a better person and hopefully a better teacher.


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« Reply #1192 on: May 27, 2015, 05:10 AM »

Endangered snails sent home to Tahiti from Detroit zoo

Effort to restore a south Pacific species that became extinct in the wild have put it on ‘the road to being saved’, zoo says

Associated Press
Wednesday 27 May 2015 02.44 BST   

A hundred endangered snails are on their way to Tahiti to restore a species that became extinct in the wild, the Detroit zoo said on Tuesday.

The zoo has been working for decades to preserve the tiny Partula nodosa snail, one of several species driven out of their native south Pacific habitat by efforts to control another invasive snail species that went awry.

In 1989 the Detroit zoo was sent 115 snails from five related species. The zoo asked other institutions to focus on four species and concentrated on breeding Partula nodosa.

At one time, the zoo had all the known Partula nodosa snails in the world.

“Our efforts and successful breeding of the snails resulted in the rescue and recovery of the species,” said Scott Carter, the zoo’s chief life sciences officer,. “Currently there are 6,000 individuals living in North American zoos, all descendants from the Detroit zoo’s original small group.”

The disappearance of the species and its cousins in the wild was a result of an effort at biological control of giant African land snails, which were introduced to Tahiti and other south Pacific islands in 1967 as a human food source. Some escaped, bred rapidly and began eating farmers’ crops.

To control the African snails, Florida rosy wolf snails were introduced about 10 years later, but the wolf snails instead developed a taste for the Partula nodosa and its cousins.

“With the sufficient growth of the captive population and the establishment of a protected area on Tahiti, this species is officially on the road to being saved,” Carter said.


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« Reply #1193 on: May 27, 2015, 05:11 AM »

Dog walkers: why ditching the rat race is no walk in the park

Fed up with being yanked in six directions and dealing with other people’s mess at work? You could take up professional dog walking instead …

Rhik Samadder
Tuesday 26 May 2015 19.11 BST
Guardian

If you want to jack in the rat race, your best bet might be to become a dog walker. It’s been reported that they earn a fifth more than the average UK salary – but work less than half the average hours.

The statistics behind that claim depend on what is taken as an average salary. What is certainly true is that a dog walker charging £11.50 per dog, per hour, and performing 197 dog-walks per month, can equal the current UK median salary of £27,200 a year. And, at a rate of 13 dog-walks per day, that month’s work is done in just over 15 days. If that same walker worked for 20 days per month, they’d earn more than £35,000 per year. In London, dog walkers charge more, around £14 per hour, probably because the dogs there have developed fancy tastes and need to be bribed with macaroons.

Paws for thought, indeed. So should we all down tools and up leads? I’ve come to Peckham Rye, south London, for some grassroots investigation. Some of the dog walkers there tell me it’s possible to make £200 a day, working only four hours. But none of those I meet are making anywhere near that much. The discrepancy is mainly because of the difference between being self-employed and able to charge per dog, or working for an agency, many of which pay a flat hourly rate, regardless of how many dogs are under a walker’s care.

We are no longer paid what we are worth – just look at dog walkers | Peter Fleming

So it’s best to be your own boss? Not necessarily. “You’d need a sizeable client base. And you wouldn’t be able to take days off, because they’d take their business elsewhere,” explains Denise, a professional dog walker I meet. Actually, what she says is closer to “Izzy! Izzy! Milo! You’d have to have a client ba- Nero! Cassie! And you can’t have days- Izzy!” because as soon as she stops to talk, her charges wander off like hairy children with attention-deficit disorder who can run at 45 miles per hour.

Tunder, another dog walker, joins us. I’m now surrounded by Nero, Cassie, Sprocket, Mila, Lillie, Mabel, Ria, Tilly, Izzy and Matty. It’s not a business to get into if you’re bad with names. Tunder and Denise are friends, but don’t usually get to walk together in case the dogs don’t get along. Fights are inevitable, they tell me. “A bull mastiff took an instant dislike to one of my dogs, and sunk his teeth into her neck. You have to be strong. And patient.”

Dogs often get lost and take hours to track down, and Denise drives far afield to make pickups and to drop off – she calculates she works nine to five.

So much for quitting the er, nine to five. If your job involves being yanked in six directions and dealing with other people’s crap, you could quit and take up dog walking – but you might be in for more of the same. And there’s another unpredictable element the two agree on – the frequently atrocious British weather. “I only started in spring,” says Tunder, who until two years ago worked in a hospital in Hungary, and wants to re-enter medicine. “Hopefully I’ll be done with this by October.”


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« Reply #1194 on: May 27, 2015, 05:14 AM »

Calls for SNP to make anti-foxhunting stance clear as hunts caught on video

Scottish MPs under pressure to block any repeal of foxhunting ban as League Against Cruel Sports alleges half of Scotland’s hunts break the law

Libby Brooks Scotland reporter
Tuesday 26 May 2015 18.55 BST
Guardian

The SNP has been challenged to underline its opposition to foxhunting across the UK as fresh video evidence alleges that half of Scotland’s hunts are breaking the law on hunting with dogs.

Since Scotland became the first part of the UK to ban traditional foxhunting and hare coursing in 2002, it has been illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a dog.

Hunts in Scotland can continue to kill foxes by practising an exemption to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act called ‘flushing to guns’, which means using dogs to chase foxes from beneath cover in order to shoot them.

But covert video footage taken by the League Against Cruel Sports over a three month period apparently shows no practice of ‘flushing to guns’. The surveillance of five of Scotland’s 10 hunts suggests that they are routinely behaving as they did before the ban, with a complete absence of shotguns.

The footage, which will be presented to MSPs in Holyrood on Wednesday, shows dogs in full cry apparently following a scent and appearing to be encouraged to do so by members of the hunt. On two occasions dogs are seen following the line of a fox.

Footage by the League Against Cruel Sports showing that hunting foxes with dogs appears to be continuing in the same way as before the ban.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2Pj5TsxFvE

Scottish Labour’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs, Sarah Boyack, called on the Scottish government to fully investigate the League’s allegations.

“Foxhunting is a cruel pursuit and we need to know that Scottish ministers are serious about properly enforcing the law passed by the Scottish parliament to ban it.

“At the same time as enforcing the ban in Scotland, the SNP should underline its opposition to the practice across the UK by stating clearly its objection to any repeal of the law in England and Wales.”

The League is likewise calling on SNP MPs to be given a free vote on any repeal of Labour’s 2004 Hunting Act, which was promised in the Conservative manifesto.

Although traditionally SNP MPs do not vote on legislation that only affects England and Wales, both the party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Westminster leader Angus Robertson have hinted that they may be reconsidering this position.

Last week the Guardian revealed that SNP MPs are being lobbied by voters in the rest of the UK who are promising to holiday in Scotland and buy more whisky if they vote against the repeal of the hunting ban.

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said: “Scotland led the way on legislating to ban hunting with dogs in the British Isles. We are calling on the Scottish government to lead the way once more and make two simple amendments to the law [to reduce the number of dogs used in flushing to guns to two and to add a clause outlawing reckless behaviour].

“These changes would make it extremely difficult for Scottish hunts to use cynical subterfuge to mask packs of hounds being encouraged to chase foxes and eventually kill them.”

But Jamie Stewart, Scotland director for the Countryside Alliance, disputed the nature of the footage, telling the Guardian: “Having viewed the footage, I am appalled that the League Against Cruel Sports is wasting the Scottish government’s time with what is at best subjective and at worst contrived.”

He insisted that there was no illegal activity shown in the filming, and that anti-hunting legislation worked well in Scotland. “The Act is robust and we have had 13 years of monitoring by animal welfare groups and Police Scotland without seeing the Scottish court system backed up with cases.”

Polling commissioned by the League from IPSOS Mori in March found that 84% of the Scottish public supported the foxhunting ban. But the same polling revealed that just over half believed that illegal foxhunting was still taking place in Scotland.


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« Reply #1195 on: May 27, 2015, 05:56 AM »

Thorny frog and dementor wasp among new species discovered in Mekong

139 new species were identified in South East Asian region in 2014, including four moths named after Thai princesses and a new mammal

Press Association
Wednesday 27 May 2015 00.00 BST   

A “dementor” wasp named after the Harry Potter creatures, a stick insect more than half a metre long, and a colour-changing thorny frog are among new species discovered in South East Asia’s Greater Mekong region.

The discoveries also include a bent-toed gecko which is the 10,000th reptile to be recorded on Earth, a feathered coral whose nearest relatives are found in Africa and four moths named after Thai princesses.

A total of 139 new species were identified in the region in 2014, including a new mammal - a long-toothed pipistrelle bat - as well as 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians and nine fish found by scientists.

It brings the total number of species found in the Greater Mekong, which covers Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam, between 1997 and 2014 to 2,216 or an average of three new plants or creatures a week.

But many of the newly-discovered species are already at risk from threats such as destruction of their habitat, poaching or the illegal wildlife trade, a Magical Mekong report by wildlife charity WWF warned.

Teak Seng, conservation director for WWF-Greater Mekong, said: “The Greater Mekong’s unique ecosystems are truly the gift that keeps on giving, providing sanctuary for a treasure trove of species and critical benefits for millions of people across the region.

“As Magical Mekong reveals, the scientists behind these discoveries feel they are racing against the clock to document them and strongly advocate for their protection before they disappear.”

The Ampulex dementor wasp from Thailand, which was named by popular vote after the soul-sucking creatures in the Harry Potter books, paralyses its prey with venom before eating them alive.

A stick insect measuring 54cm (21 inches), making it - for now - the world’s second largest insect, was found in Vietnam, while a stealthy wolf snake with a “flying bat” pattern on its skin which helps it blend into trees and mosses was discovered in Cambodia.

The gecko which became the 10,000th reptile known to science when it was discovered a few hundred metres from a cornfield carved into the forest, was one of 16 bent toed gecko species found in the Greater Mekong in 2014 alone.

And the thorny frog found in Vietnam breeds in pools of water in plants and changes colour from pink and yellow at night to a dull brown during the day.

Experts warned of the threats facing many of the newly discovered species.

A newly-discovered crocodile newt in Burma is threatened by a construction project and demand from the international pet trade, while two new orchid species were also found being traded in Bangkok, Thailand.

The long-toothed pipistrelle bat, which has long fangs, faces the loss of its habitat in Laos to dam construction and quarrying.

Flying squirrel and eyeless spider discovered in Greater Mekong

Carlos Drews, WWF global species programme director, said: “While species are being discovered, intense pressures are taking a terrible toll on the region’s species.

“One wonders how many species have disappeared before they were even discovered.”


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« Reply #1196 on: May 28, 2015, 05:46 AM »

Thieves steal £700,000 of rhino horn from Mozambique police

Officers seized largest haul of elephant ivory and rhino horn in the country’s history – but reportedly left it secured by just three padlocks at police station

Karl Mathiesen and David Smith Africa correspondent
Wednesday 27 May 2015 17.32 BST
Guardian

Thieves have raided a police storeroom holding Mozambique’s largest ever haul of confiscated rhino horn and ivory, making off with 12 horns valued at around £700,000.

A picture of loneliness: you are looking at the last male northern white rhino | Jonathan Jones

A police spokesman told the investigative journalism group Oxpecker that the horns had disappeared from the police headquarters in the capital, Maputo, early on Friday morning and had not been recovered.

Four state officials who were guarding the store were arrested on suspicion of aiding the theft. A further two suspects were arrested for producing bull horn replicas to switch with the stolen horns. The suspects were due in court in Maputo on Wednesday.

Two weeks ago the largest seizure of ivory and rhino horn in Mozambique’s history was made from the house of a Chinese national in Maputo. The 1.3 tonnes were poached from 65 rhinoceros and 170 elephants. Worth millions of pounds on the black market, the cache was reportedly secured with just three padlocks.

Rhino are extinct in Mozambique. The horns likely came from South Africa, where a rhino poaching crisis centred on Kruger national park has spiralled out of control in recent years.

Governments across Africa have become increasingly hostile to the international crime gangs that operate the trade in ivory and rhino horn. But in Mozambique the gangs have found a vulnerable gateway to the black markets of China and Vietnam.

Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, said: “Mozambique has fenceless borders with the largest supply of rhino horn – Kruger national park in South Africa. Powerful gangs similar to Colombian drug cartels can walk across the border, poach, and then escape home with horn to safety as police are either bribed or intimidated.”

Sabri Zain, director of policy at wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic, said the government’s credibility had been damaged by the security breach. “The reported disappearance of rhino horns from a police warehouse just days after they were seized is a serious cause for concern and puts Mozambique’s law enforcement actions firmly back into the limelight for all the wrong reasons,” he said.

Colman O’Criodain, a WWF wildlife trade analyst, said the country was under scrutiny by the standing committee of the convention on international trade in endangered species (Cites) for its failure to combat rhino and elephant poaching and this breach could lead to sanctions under the convention.

“We are extremely concerned by news of the theft of 12 rhino horns from a police facility after a very successful seizure,” said the Cites secretary-general, John Scanlon. He said the organisation’s Maputo office would assist in the attempt to retrieve the stolen horns.

WWF’s Mozambique director, Anabela Rodrigues, said: “The Mozambican authorities must do everything in their power to recover the stolen horns before they are smuggled overseas, and to arrest and prosecute all those involved – both the wildlife criminals and corrupt officials.”

David Higgins, head of Interpol’s environmental security unit, said “corruption, bribery, murder and fraud are at play across the entire illicit trade chain”.

“As can be expected, some countries are more advanced than others in their law enforcement response, which means criminals target the countries that have greater law enforcement vulnerabilities. Mozambique faces some challenges that it is working to address, but the international community also has a role to play in providing support to Mozambique to help them confront the challenges,” he said.

Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi, used an address to a police anniversary celebration this week to lament police involvement with trafficking. “When policemen are caught in the gangs trafficking in rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks, and various drugs, or facilitate these same crimes, I am unable to sleep,” he said.

The founder of wildlife charity Born Free, Will Travers, called on Nyusi to personally intervene to stop police corruption.

He asked: “What is the point of carrying out enforcement in the field, tracking and intercepting wildlife crime and putting the lives of rangers and other officers at risk if confiscated high-value wildlife products can be so vulnerable to corruption and insecurity?”

In a separate incident this month, Kenyan airport authorities arrested a Vietnamese man carrying $82,000 worth of rhino horn between Mozambique and Hanoi while he was on a stopover in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. On Tuesday, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced Mozambique had lost half its elephant population to poaching in five years.

The Mozambique government was not available for comment. The Chinese embassy did not return calls asking for comment on the alleged involvement of Chinese nationals in the theft.


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« Reply #1197 on: May 28, 2015, 05:48 AM »

Chimpanzee representatives argue for animals' rights in New York court

Attorney for Nonhuman Rights Project says two chimpanzees are unlawfully imprisoned and should be released as ‘self-determining beings’

Alan Yuhas in New York
Wednesday 27 May 2015 19.02 BST
Guardian

Representatives for two chimpanzees argued before a New York judge on Wednesday, in the first hearing of its kind over their “personhood” rights and freedom from a research institution.

Steven Wise, the lead attorney for the Nonhuman Rights Project, the group arguing on behalf of the chimps, said that the apes are unlawfully imprisoned and that the court should relieve them. They are “autonomous and self-determining beings”, he argued, and therefore deserve the right to bodily liberty.

He cited some of the same evidence that in April convinced judge Barbara Jaffe to grant the historic hearing, and spoke about research on chimpanzee intelligence, emotions and consciousness. He argued that chimps should not be classified as legal “things” if they share more in common with humans than not.

The chimps, named Leo and Hercules, are kept at Stony Brook University, where researchers use them in locomotion studies. As part of New York’s state university system, Stony Brook is represented by the state attorney general’s office.

Assistant attorney general Christopher Coulston argued that the case could set a bad precedent on animal rights, opening the possibility of court cases on the rights of zoo animals or even pets.

In a brief, he described the petition as a “radical attempt” to extend rights that “could set a precedent for the release of other animals”, such as those “housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet, and enmesh New York courts in continuing litigation”.

Coulston and Wise sparred through much of the hearing on how to interpret the centuries-old legal principles of unlawful detainment, such as the question of legal standing.

In December, a state appeals court ruled against a petition from the group, deciding that a 26-year-old chimpanzee named Tommy cannot be a legal person. In the court’s decision, justice Karen Peters wrote that chimpanzees deserve protections and share qualities with people, but do not participate in society and cannot face legal consequences for their actions.

The Nonhuman Rights Project counters this argument by noting that some humans, such as children and disabled people, receive full rights and have unquestioned “personhood”.

In January, another appeals court decided against the group, this time rejecting a petition on behalf of a chimpanzee named Kiko. That court ruled that it could not grant a habeas corpus petition because the group is trying “only to change the conditions of confinement rather than the confinement itself”.

The Nonhuman Rights Project has sought to take the chimpanzees from their owners in New York to a sanctuary in Florida named Save the Chimps. Wise argues that that sanctuary, home to more than 250 chimpanzees on a series of islands, is as close to a natural environment as the animals can have in the US. The group is appealing its failed petitions.

Last week a Gallup poll found that almost a third of Americans support the idea of animals having the same rights and protections as humans, but the poll did not enter specifics of rights or species.

Attorneys, law professors and researchers disagree about personhood for chimpanzees and the ramifications of such a decision. Some, such as Richard Cupp of Pepperdine University and Richard Epstein of New York University, argue that chimpanzees may deserve greater protections but not human rights, and that arguments comparing the primates to children distort the issue and raise intractable, and impractical, questions for the courts.

Others, including David Favre of the University of Michigan and Cass Sunstein of Harvard, have argued for limited rights for some animals. In his book on animal rights, for instance, Sunstein suggests: “We could even grant animals a right to bring suit without insisting that animals are persons, or that they are not property.”

Researchers submitted briefs on behalf of both Stony Brook and NhRP for the case. A group of philosophers called Center for the Study of Great Ideas took up the argument that chimpanzees cannot bear responsibilities for the university, for instance, while primatologist Christoph Boesch and behavioral psychologist James Anderson have submitted on Wise’s side.

The chimpanzees did not appear in court.

Jaffe will rule on the case in the next one to two months, and has been careful not to tip her hand. Jaffe struck out the words “habeas corpus” from her April order to avoid the suggestion that she implicitly recognized the legal personhood of the chimpanzees. But Jaffe also did not dismiss the case on technical grounds, as the state attorney general’s office had requested, instead pressing on to confront “the condition of personhood”.


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« Reply #1198 on: May 28, 2015, 05:54 AM »

'No wilder place on Earth': explorers tackle the full Okavango Delta

A new expedition seeks to conserve the source of the Okavango Delta in the war-torn, little-known highlands of Angola

Jeremy Hance
Thursday 28 May 2015 07.54 BST
Guardian

Recently, wildlife news from Africa has been almost universally bleak and frustrating to the point of despair: rhinos with their faces cut off, elephants slaughtered en masse via helicopter, and chimps and gorillas gunned down or snared for bushmeat. A massive onslaught of people, poaching and habitat destruction has led to declines in everything from lions to giraffes and hippos to okapi. But this picture of blood, carcasses and seemingly relentless loss isn’t the only reality on a continent three times the size of Europe. There are still places where wildlife runs largely unmolested, where abundance is unquestionable, and where wilderness covers an unbroken horizon: one of these is Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

“The Okavango Delta is the largest, most important Ramsar site in the world – one of the last, great wetland wildernesses on the planet,” said Steve Boyes, a National Geographic Explorer and renowned bird expert, referring to the international Ramsar treaty for the protection of the world’s wetlands.

“Visible from space, [it] is the jewel of the Kalahari Desert, an emerald gem that supports an abundance of life,” he added.

But while the Okavango Delta has been well surveyed, its main source rivers have not. The Cuito and Cubana Rivers begin nearly two thousand kilometres away in the highlands of Angola, a region that has been long-veiled by a 27 year civil war. The brutal conflict ended in 2002, but the area is still riddled with its scars, including broken down tanks, crumbling buildings, and, worst of all, fields of unexploded land mines. Not surprisingly, scientists and conservationists have stayed away.

But a new National Geographic expedition headed by Boyes – Into the Okavango – is currently running the full length of the unexplored Cutio River in order to bring attention to its importance for the survival of the Delta.

A ‘first’ expedition

Boyes’ team, which started out on May 21st, has already begun moving downriver on the Cuito. Over 90 days and 1,900 kilometres, they intend to travel the entirety of the river, cross the sprawling Delta and end in the hot salt plains of the Makgadigadi Pans.

James Kydd, the expedition’s photographer, called the journey “the first of its kind ever attempted... from ‘source-to-sand.’”

The explorers are live tweeting their journey, including sharing photos, videos, interactive maps and even animal sounds, recording every species they encounter in real-time.
National Geographic Emerging Explorers Gregg Treinish and Jer Thorp, together with Lelamang Kgetho, pull their mokoro and supplies. When the water runs out, the team is forced to pull, sometimes for days.

“Social media has made an expedition like this, traditionally only for scientists, something the public can actively get involved in and help drive,” noted Kydd. “The more eyes fall on this expedition, the more likely protection will be committed to this great wilderness.”

Although the team will be using the latest in technology to bring their expedition to the world, the basics of the expedition are decidedly low-tech.

    This is the Africa of a hundred thousand years ago
    James Kydd

“On land, armed only with spears, we will be conscious of every step, mindful of snake, lion, buffalo or numerous other potential dangers including human,” said Kydd. “We will also be interacting with whatever people we encounter along the way, some the direct descendants of the ancient San people hoping to share stories and understanding of the river. We will eat water lily bulbs and fish, and listen to the Tswororo, the traditional melody of our compatriot Ba’Yei.”

The Ba’Yei are the traditional people of the Delta, who have long used dugout canoes – known as mokoros – to survive in the watery landscape. The team will be travelling on these mokoros – far more flexible than motorboats – propelled by Ba’Yei expedition members.

The journey will result in a feature story in National Geographic, a documentary and a book. But, most of all, the team hopes their efforts will push policymakers to protect the Okavango’s source waters in Angola, which Boyes called “a landscape unseen by science and last explored by non-military personnel almost 100 years ago.”

The kinda famous Okavango Delta

Although well-known to researchers, conservationists and even some intrepid tourists, the Okavango Delta does not have the same international profile as many other African wildernesses, such as the Serengeti and the Congo. Still, Kydd said the Okavango Delta is arguably the continent’s most pristine wildlife area.

“There is no wilder place on Earth: this is the Africa of a hundred thousand years ago.”

Elephants illustrate this point. The team estimates that the Delta is home to around half of the continent’s elephants. Indeed, a recent survey by the Great Elephant Census counted 129,000 elephants in northern Botswana.

Moreover, compared to most regions of the continent, elephants are relatively safe in the Okavango. The most recent census found no evidence of poaching. Researchers also believe that more elephants are moving into the Delta from neighbouring countries. These are psychologically-scarred immigrants fleeing poaching hotspots.

The landscape is also home to key predators like cheetah, African wild dog, leopard and lions – many of which have vanished or crashed in other protected areas. The Delta is also the global stronghold for the red lechwe, a water-loving antelope.

Rhinos are even making a comeback here, after nearly being wiped out in the last poaching epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. Desperate to save black and white rhinos from the poaching crisis in South Africa, conservationists have begun moving small populations to the Delta for safe-keeping.

This doesn’t mean that the Okavango Delta is wholly immune to the threats present in other African wilderness, such as habitat fragmentation, deforestation, human-wildlife conflict and poaching. Indeed another survey in 2011 by Mike Chase found that some populations of animals had crashed in the delta, most particularly wildebeest, ostrich, giraffe and several antelope species. However, scientists suspect the largest driver behind these drops was cyclical drought.

Although still a place of incredible abundance, the Okavango Delta remains somewhat obscure. Its humble place on the world stage is best illustrated by the fact that UNESCO only gave the vast freshwater wilderness World Heritage status last year, listing 999 other sites before getting around to the Delta.

The other end of the Okavango: bloodied Angola

However, the Delta’s wildlife riches and political stability couldn’t contrast more sharply with the Angolan highlands. And even as the Okavango Delta may not be as famous as it should be, the Angolan highlands remain wholly obscure.

    We hope to rediscover the Angolan lion, wild dogs, elephant, buffalo and cheetah
    Steve Boyes

Boyes called the Angolan highlands “a landscape preserved in time by war, blood diamonds and instability” where the “deep Kalahari sand” makes vehicle travel so difficult that the “war was fought on foot and using helicopters.”

The quarter century conflict left an estimated half-million people dead and an additional million displaced. And it’s still killing people today.

“The people along the [Cuito River]...have to exist with the constant threat of a mine going off,” noted Boyes, whose expedition could only make their way to the river after a route had been cleared by the de-mining NGO, Halo Trust.

The war also decimated the country’s once great wildlife spectacles.

“Almost 30 years of civil war and border wars depopulated the landscape, leaving it with one of the world’s highest concentrations of land mines and very few animals,” said Boyes, who noted that the region suffered both from deforestation and poaching during the long, internecine conflict.

But, he added, there are signs that after more than a decade of peace, wildlife are beginning to return. For example, he said “elephants are slowly coming back [to Angola] as de-mining NGOs and government agencies lift the curtain of mines.”

As the team makes their way further down river, they may uncover a lost world.
A destroyed bridge in Angola with a shell beneath it and a boy standing on top.

“We hope to rediscover the Angolan lion, wild dogs, elephant, buffalo and cheetah,” said Boyes. “We are expecting to find new species of fish, dragonflies, reptiles, plants and even birds and mammals. We are looking for the first confirmed sightings of wattled crane and slaty egret [in Angola], as well as the first records of crocodiles breeding along the river system in Angola.”

He added that the local governor told the group the Cuito River “has the highest density of crocodiles in the world.”

Already, the team has uncovered lion and leopard footprints, heard bushbabies, found evidence of pangolins and listened to a strange story about a mystery antelope that plays dead to avoid predation.

Conservation goal

The transnational journey by mokoro is not just about scientific discovery, though. Arguably more important is harnessing the political will, both locally and internationally, to protect the long-neglected Angolan highlands. Not only are the highlands unprotected at the moment, but they are not even included in the UNESCO listing.

“If the river upstream of the delta in Angola is not protected, the consequences for the Okavango Delta, its people and wildlife could be catastrophic,” said photographer, James Kydd.

Boyes added that the team is pushing for a “a multinational World Heritage Site that includes the rivers that sustain the Okavango Delta.”

If the listing expands to include the Angolan highlands this could also help drive tourism – and international funding – to the forgotten part of the world.

“We need to act now to save this river before it is too late [from] charcoal production and ill-planned agriculture and mining,” said Boyes, who noted that people were returning to the river now that the war has ended.

“Economic development is incredibly important, but we need to make sure the Angolan government has all the information they need for decision-making,” he added.

Even more than the Okavango Delta is at stake in the highlands, though. Boyes said the region should be known as the “water tower of southern Africa,” since, in addition to providing the origins of the Delta, the region also sources such vital rivers as the Zambezi, which includes Victoria Falls, and the Lomami River, a major tributary in the Congo Rainforest.

Although the team expects the expedition to be gruelling – “days of dragging our mokoro through muck, sharp reeds and leeches,” said Kydd – it will all be worth it in the end.

“We will share great camaraderie, and in the Delta we will experience the tear-jerking beauty of Africa’s greatest wilderness.”

And if the team can succeed in protecting the Angolan highlands, the Okavango Delta has a chance of remaining just that.

**********

Adventure on the Okavango: The Conservationist - Nat Geo Live Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiZH4xuDoJM


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« Reply #1199 on: May 28, 2015, 09:01 AM »

New find may dethrone Australopithecus ‘Lucy’ as the ‘Mother of Mankind’

Agence France-Presse
28 May 2015 at 05:39 ET   

In 1974, anthropologists in Ethiopia found the astonishing fossilised remains of a human-like creature who last walked the planet some 3.2 million years ago.

Was “Lucy,” as the hominid was called, the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens? Was she “The Mother of Mankind,” as some headlines claimed?

Over the years, the dramatic assertion has come under attack by doubters, who point to ancient yet inconclusive finds in Kenya and Chad.

But a new fossil, reported on Wednesday, may have dealt Lucy’s claimed status an irreversible blow.

Another species of hominid lived at the same time and in the same Afar region of Ethiopia, according to the paper, published in the journal Nature.

Named Australopithecus deyiremeda, the hominid and Lucy are probably only part of a wider group of candidates for being our direct forerunners, the finders said.

“The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar,” said Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“Current fossil evidence… clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity.”

The find, in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region, comprises fossilised remains of an upper and lower jaw, dated to a range of 3.3-3.5 million years ago.

This overlaps with the range given to Lucy, of 2.9-3.8 million years ago.

The bones are clearly different from Lucy’s, with teeth of different size, shape and enamel thickness and a more robust lower jaw, said the study.

They were found in March 2011 on top of silty clay in the Burtele area, about 500 kilometres (325 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa and 35 km north of Hadar, where Lucy was found.

The estimated age is derived from radioactive dating of the soil and “paleomagnetic” data, which traces changes in Earth’s magnetic field, recorded in iron-bearing sediment, as a calendar.

The name “deyiremeda” means “close relative” in the language of the Afar people.

– Heated debate –

Understanding the human odyssey has always been a fraught business, complicated by the rarity of fossil finds and sometimes fierce squabbles about where — or even if — they should be placed in the family tree.

The same team had previously found the 3.4-million-year remains of a foot in the same region, but were unable to assign the fossil to a particular hominid species.

“Some of our colleagues are going to be skeptical about this new species, which is not unusual,” Haile-Selassie admitted.

“However, I think it is time that we look into the earlier phases of our evolution with an open mind and carefully examine the currently available fossil evidence rather than immediately dismissing the fossils that do not fit our long-held hypotheses.”

Only a week earlier, anthropologists shook the coveted position held by Homo habilis, the hominid deemed to have come before Homo sapiens.

Habilis — “handy man” in Latin — has traditionally been enshrined as a benchmark of hominid smartness, endowed with a bigger brain and greater dexterity than his predecessors.

But earlier hominids may have had some of his skills, if the May 20 study is right.

It reported finding the world’s oldest stone tools in northwestern Kenya.

The implements date back to around 3.3 million years ago, which is some 500,000 years before Habilis emerged and 700,000 years before the first known Habilis tools.


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