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« Reply #300 on: Apr 08, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Endangered butterfly defies climate change with new diet and habitat

Quino checkerspot, native to Mexico and California, shifts to higher altitude and chooses new species of plant for laying eggs

Patrick Barkham   
The Guardian, Monday 7 April 2014 11.03 BST   
A butterfly species whose population collapsed because of climate change and habitat loss has defied predictions of extinction to rapidly move to cooler climes and change its food plant.

The quino checkerspot (Euphydryas editha quino), found in Mexico and California, has shifted to higher altitudes and surprisingly chosen a completely different species of plant on which to lay its eggs, according to research presented at the Butterfly Conservation's seventh international symposium in Southampton.

Its rapid adaption offers hope that other insects and species may be able to adapt unexpectedly quickly to climate change.

"Every butterfly biologist who knew anything about the quino in the mid-1990s thought it would be extinct by now, including me," said Prof Camille Parmesan of the Marine Sciences Institute at Plymouth University.

The Quino was once abundant in southern California but the expansion of Los Angeles and San Diego saw it reduced to just two small colonies. Other populations in Mexico began declining sharply as global warming made conditions too hot and dry for its caterpillars' food plant, a species of plantain.

Six years ago, Parmesan suggested that the endangered quino could be a prime candidate for "assisted colonisation" – to be moved by humans to cooler, unspoilt habitat north of Los Angeles. Instead, to the amazement of scientists, the butterfly did not need human help and reappeared on higher ground to the east, where its caterpillars are feeding on a flowering plant it has never eaten before.

Several other butterfly species have been changing habitat or diet to cope with a changing climate but the quino checkerspot is the first butterfly known to science to change both so rapidly.

Many environmentalists fear that climate change is happening too quickly for species to adapt but, according to Parmesan, this surprising example shows that some apparently doomed species may be more resilient than we imagine.

However, she warned that this case showed that nature reserves, and linking together unspoilt habitat, was more important than ever to enable species to survive a changing climate. Without undeveloped land to the east of Los Angeles and San Diego, the quino checkerspot would have had nowhere to go and would have become extinct.

"We have to give these species the space to adapt," said Parmesan. "In the early days of climate change people worried that nature reserves would be no longer useful because the species they protected would move out. Now we know that new species move in, and so they are more important than ever."

More than a quarter of Britain's 59 species are moving north, with butterflies such as the comma moving around 10km each year. With climate change, another UK species, the brown argus, has started to feed on wild geranium plants as a caterpillar, enabling it to spread rapidly through the Midlands and into northern England.

But the international symposium also heard strong scientific evidence that climate change will create more losers than winners because unspoilt habitat is so fragmented, preventing many butterflies, moths and other insects from moving to more suitable places. Tom Oliver of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology told the symposium that scientific modelling predicted a number of UK butterfly extinctions by the middle of this century.

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« Reply #301 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:24 AM »

Clever chimps use improvised bridge to escape Kansas City Zoo

By Reuters
Friday, April 11, 2014 6:23 EDT   

Seven chimpanzees used an improvised ladder from a tree to scale a wall and briefly escape their enclosure at the Kansas City Zoo on Thursday, a zoo official said.

One of the chimps apparently pulled a log or a branch and leaned it against the wall of the enclosure, giving the primates a leg-up to the top, zoo director Randy Wisthoff said.

The animals did not have any contact with zoo visitors, as they escaped into an area reserved for zookeepers, he added. There are 12 chimps in total at the zoo, which was closed after the incident.

“We had a ringleader,” Wisthoff said. “He got up on the log and got some others to join him.”

Using food to entice them, the zookeepers herded the wayward chimps back into an indoor enclosure. The chimps were on the loose for around an hour.

Wisthoff said zoo staff regularly checks trees in the area of the chimpanzees for fallen limbs but in this case a chimp apparently pulled a log or large limb out of a tree.

“Chimps are so much stronger than humans,” Wisthoff said, adding that they are also very smart.

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« Reply #302 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:27 AM »

Maine moose population ‘walking dead’ after ticks drain blood due to climate change

By David Edwards
Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:59 EDT

Researchers in New England say that warmer weather caused by climate change has allowed ticks to thrive, and devastated the moose population by literally draining them of blood.

In a segment on PBS Newshour this week, reporter Hari Sreenivasan traveled to New Hampshire and Maine, where teams were tagging moose with radio transmitters to better understand why the animal population was in steep decline.

Film crews were there the day that researches found one dead calf covered in winter ticks.

“Literally, this is the walking dead,” University of New Hampshire wildlife ecology professor Peter Pekins explained. “The animal is totally emaciated. And there is no way it can survive.”

“They are literally being sucked dry of blood. So, they can’t consume protein to replace the blood loss,” Perkins pointed out. “Their only choice is to catabolize their own tissues. And that is going to be their muscles. The hind legs on a moose are some the most powerful legs in North America. And that animal doesn’t have any. And it’s because it has chewed up its own body to survive as long as it can.”

According to scientists, warmer weather has caused an explosion in the tick population.

And the National Wildlife Federation’s Eric Orff expected that the problem would get worse as climate change accelerates.

“In New Hampshire, our winters have warmed some four degrees since 1970,” Orff said. “So, the warming of the winter means less snow, means more ticks, means fewer moose.”

He has asked the outdoor industry to help pressure lawmakers into reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change.

“In my lifetime, as a wildlife biologist, I witnessed the disappearance of winter here in New Hampshire,” Orff observed. “So we really need to curb carbon, get off the carbs world, and we need to put this earth on a diet of carbs, carbon, and bring back winter.”

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« Reply #303 on: Apr 12, 2014, 07:00 AM »

SeaWorld loses appeal against killer-whale occupational safety ruling

• Judges: company exposed trainers to 'recognised hazards'
• Trainer Dawn Brancheau died in 2010 incident

Reuters in Washington, Friday 11 April 2014 17.38 BST   
Killer Whale Kills Trainer At Florida Seaworld Dawn Brancheau at Sea World Florida in 2009. The following year she was killed during a killer whale show at the theme park. Photo: Barry Bland/Barcroft Media

A US appeals court on Friday upheld a federal occupational safety agency's finding against SeaWorld Entertainment Inc, following the workplace death of one of its killer whale trainers.

The ruling by the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit could have a major impact on how SeaWorld presents its shows, because it would require increased separation of humans and killer whales.

The three-judge panel, split 2-1, held that SeaWorld had violated its duties as an employer by exposing trainers to "recognized hazards" when working with killer whales.

A spokesman for SeaWorld, which operates 11 parks around the US, had no immediate comment on the ruling.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had fined the company $75,000 after trainer Dawn Brancheau died in February 2010. She drowned after being pulled underwater by Tilikum, a 12,000lb bull orca at the SeaWorld site in Orlando, Florida.

The fine was later reduced to $12,000 but SeaWorld was more concerned by the federal agency's application of federal safety law to an unusual workplace situation.

OSHA had told SeaWorld it could resolve the problem by requiring trainers to be protected by physical barriers or by adopting other abatement measures. The appeals court concluded that OSHA did not overstep its authority in bringing the action against SeaWorld.

"Statements by SeaWorld managers do not indicate that SeaWorld's safety protocols and training made the killer whales safe; rather, they demonstrate SeaWorld's recognition that the killer whales interacting with trainers are dangerous," Judge Judith Rogers wrote on behalf of the court.

She played down SeaWorld's concerns about the impact on its operations, saying that improved safety "does not change the essential nature of the business".

Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion noting that people who work in dangerous fields in the sports and entertainment context are aware of the risks.

OSHA has "departed from tradition and stormed headlong into a new regulatory arena," he said.

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« Reply #304 on: Apr 21, 2014, 05:50 AM »

Conservationists and marksmen of Malta battle over annual bird hunt

Hunters try to block referendum on traditional spring shoot, while British volunteers help patrol countryside to protect birds

Patrick Barkham in Malta   
The Guardian, Sunday 20 April 2014 17.41 BST   
As dawn breaks over the sea and ancient stone churches turn pink, the morning's stillness is broken by volleys of gunfire. Tucked behind walls, sitting on armchairs in specially built turrets or else popping up from old stone sheds, Malta's marksmen open fire as migrating birds flap desperately for cover.

When it comes to bird hunts, this is one of Europe's more uneven contests. Birds flying over the islands of Malta on their annual migration to northern Europe must evade 31 licensed marksmen per square kilometre – 15 times more than in shooting-friendly France. On one day in 2013, more than 9,000 shots were logged by a conservation charity's observers.

Spring hunting is banned by the EU but the Maltese authorities obtain a exemption each year, enabling its 9,798 hunters to shoot 5,000 quail and 11,000 turtle doves, the latter a migratory bird whose British population has slumped by 95% since 1970.

But now a backlash is being felt. More than 44,000 Maltese citizens have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the traditional spring shoot.

And a flock of celebrity naturalists including Brian May, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie have swooped in, joining mostly British and Dutch volunteers patrolling the countryside at 5am each morning to monitor illegal shooting for the charity BirdLife Malta.

Packham will broadcast his confrontations with hunters on YouTube every day this week.

Steve Micklewright, executive director of BirdLife Malta, said: "The birds flying from Africa to northern Europe in the spring are the strong birds. They've survived the winter. If we don't allow these birds to breed, their populations stand no chance of recovery."

As a roosting marsh harrier rises from a field of barley displaying wings tattered from shotgun pellets, Nimrod Mifsud, a Maltese volunteer for the charity, says local birdwatchers take little pleasure in seeing a rare bird. "The first birds I've seen – my first stork, my first peregrine, my first glossy ibis – they all fell out of the sky, shot," said Mifsud. "That affects you. There's only so much you can take."

Last year, the Maltese army was deployed during the spring shoot after recent years in which naturalists had their cars set alight and a BirdLife Malta warden was shot in the face.

But Joseph Perici Calascione, head of the Maltese Federation for Hunting & Conservation (FKNK), said hunters felt bullied by foreign activists monitoring illegal shooting in Malta's countryside.

"I would like to see some Maltese lads going to the UK to try to stop one of their traditions. It's not nice to be treated as a third-world country. You [the British] shoot lots of migratory birds such as ducks and geese but it's only bad when the Maltese do it," he said.

Sergei Golovkin, head of the Maltese government's wild-bird regulation unit, said there was "an element of hypocrisy" in international criticism. "Unfortunately, some NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have chosen very aggressive confrontational tactics that are not based on science or law or enforcement."

Golovkin admitted that shooting protected species was commonplace 20 years ago, but said the government had recently introduced an automatic €5,000 (£4,100) fine and up to a year in prison for the crime.

It is deploying two drones and 70 enforcement officers to check hunters' licences and bags, he said. "It shows that we are prepared to really demonstrate that our system of checks and balances is sustainable and credible," he said.

Malta's government and its hunters argue that the main cause of the turtle dove's decline in Britain is industrial farming and there is no evidence that British populations of the bird fly over Malta. However, BirdLife Malta says Malta's turtle dove quotas are too high for a species in decline across Europe.

But the Maltese people are set to decide the species' fate on the islands after 13 Maltese charities obtained the signatures of the 10% of registered voters required to trigger a referendum. After every signature is checked by the electoral commission, the vote will be challenged in the country's constitutional court by the hunters, who claim it oppresses a cherished minority right – to shoot migrating birds. "If the referendum does take place, we would create a dangerous precedent on a small island where tolerance is of the essence," said Perici Calascione.

An opinion poll found that 60% of Maltese people favoured a ban on spring shooting. But if a referendum does not end this tradition, then dwindling turtle dove numbers might. So far this year hardly any have arrived.

Perici Calascione admitted the season had been a disappointment: he had fired just one shot in a week – and missed. "If there were turtle doves, each one would have at least 15 shots to bring it down because people are excited."

After a morning when more than 200 gunshots rang out on one tiny headland, a hunter opened his shooting bag to reveal only sandwiches and a drink. "The referendum is for nothing. There's no need to press down on the hunting in Malta because little by little it's finishing," said the 67-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous.

"I used to go shooting with my father and say: 'Look Dad, a flock of turtle doves! Look, another one.' My father shot with a musket. The more time passes, the less we're seeing of even small birds. The trouble is outside Malta – all the pesticides in the rest of Europe.

"If the referendum is passed, it will make no difference."

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« Reply #305 on: Today at 05:46 AM »

Czech deer still wary of iron curtain boundary

Areas where Czechoslovakia had three electrified fences now avoided by generation of deer who never encountered them

Associated Press in Prague, Wednesday 23 April 2014 12.36 BST      

Almost 25 years after the iron curtain came down, central European deer still balk at crossing areas where there used to be electrified fences, scientists have found.

A seven-year study in Sumava national park, in the Czech Republic, discovered that red deer were still wary of spots where the then Czechoslovakia had three parallel electrified fences patrolled by heavily armed guards.

Nearly 500 people were killed when they tried to escape the country across the frontier with Germany, and deer were killed too.

"It was fascinating to realise for the first time that anything like that is possible," said Pavel Sustr, a biologist who led the project. Scientists conducting research on German territory reached similar conclusions.

The average life expectancy for deer is 15 years and none living now would have encountered the barrier. "But the border still plays a role for them and separates the two populations," Sustr said.

He said the research showed the animals stuck to traditional life patterns, returning every year to the same places. "Fawns follow mothers for the first year of their life and learn from them where to go."

Wildlife officials recorded the movement of 300 Czech and German deer with GPS-equipped collars.

Professor Ludek Bartos, of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, who was not involved in the research, said: "I don't think it's a surprising result. These animals are really conservative."

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« Reply #306 on: Today at 06:29 AM »

Texas robbery victim forced kill his dog with his bare hands after cop shoots it for barking

By David Edwards
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 13:45 EDT

A Texas man said this week that he was forced to kill his dog with his bare hands after an officer who he called to investigate a burglary shot the animal because it was barking.

Earlier this week, Cole Middleton explained on Facebook that he had contacted the Rains County Sheriff’s Department about a robbery last Friday.

Middleton admitted that his 3-year-old dog, Candy, was probably barking when the Deputy Jerred Dooley arrived, but he insisted that the animal had never bitten anyone.

“I shot your dog, sorry,” Middleton recalled Dooley saying.

Middleton said Candy had been shot behind the ear, but she was not dead.

“I BEGGED him to shoot her again (SINCE MY WEAPONS WERE STOLEN!) and he refused,” Middleton wrote on Facebook. “I then had to do the otherwise unthinkable and take my poor baby’s life with my own hands while praying for this to be over with.”

In a video posted to Facebook, Middleton sobbed as he told other officers how he was forced to drown Candy.

“They then asked, ‘Well whose blood is on your shirt?’ That is the blood of my dog that I was holding because this deputy pulled up and shot her in my yard. Then the Tasers were put away and the pistols withdrawn,” Middleton told KLTV.

Texas Rangers are now investigating the case, KLTV reported Rains County Sheriff David Traylor declined to comment.

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