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« Reply #495 on: Oct 14, 2014, 06:43 AM »

Chefs Fight for Songbird (Swallowed Whole)

The Ortolan: A Tiny Bird as a French Cause Célèbre

OCT. 13, 2014

PARIS — The menu at Les Prés d’Eugénie, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in the bucolic Landes region of southwest France, reads like a decadent litany of the terroir: truffle blini in a silky galette; toasted pigs’ feet with smoked eel; verveine soufflé scented with citronnelle.

But the chef, Michel Guérard, says that one essential dish is missing: the ortolan, a tiny songbird that gourmands, including former President François Mitterrand, used to covet, consuming the head, bones and body in a single, steaming mouthful, while covering their faces with a white napkin to conceal the act.

Now, Mr. Guérard and three other celebrity chefs who hail from southwest France — Alain Ducasse, Jean Coussau and Alain Dutournier — are trying to engineer a public comeback for the ortolan, an overhunted species that France banished from restaurant menus in 1999. If they get their way, the forbidden food will be legally offered to napkin-wearing diners at restaurants in Landes for one weekend a year — the gastronomic equivalent of a visitation from the holy grail.

“The bird is absolutely delicious,” said Mr. Guérard, who recalled preparing ortolans for Mitterrand and his successor, Jacques Chirac, back when it was legal. (Mitterrand was said to linger over two ortolans in his last supper before his death in 1996, also consuming three dozen oysters, foie gras and capon.)

“It is enveloped in fat that tastes subtly like hazelnut,” Mr. Guérard said, “and to eat the flesh, the fat and its little bones hot, all together, is like being taken to another dimension.”

But the campaign has provoked environmentalists, who accuse the chefs of engaging in a publicity stunt to promote what they say is an archaic custom that will further endanger the bird, and that treats the ortolan inhumanely before it is killed.

“These chefs are totally backward; they are not living in the 21st century,” said Allain Bougrain Dubourg, the president of France’s Birds Protection League. “They aren’t doing this for gastronomy. It’s all about raising their profile.”

Mr. Ducasse, who has several restaurants around the world, had already alarmed animal-rights activists in New York City when he served about 20 ortolans during a 1995 dinner at Le Cirque that grabbed tabloid headlines.

Today, Mr. Ducasse and his confreres say their main objective is to revive a culinary tradition that dates to Roman times, when emperors sought out the ortolan’s intoxicating taste, and to pass the savoir-faire to a new generation of cooks. “We want to be able to do this so as not to lose all the beautiful things that make up the history and the DNA of French cooking,” Mr. Guérard said.

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The European Union banned the hunting of ortolans and declared them a protected species in 1979 amid concerns about their survival and an outcry from environmentalists. But France waited two decades to codify the measure.

Still, many people in France continue to capture and eat the birds. Families in Landes would traditionally savor them once a year, “like a bonbon” at the end of a big lunch, eating them in total silence with a glass of Sauternes and the shades drawn, said Mr. Dutournier, a native of Landes and the head chef at Carré des Feuillants in Paris, which has two Michelin stars.

Wearing the white napkin allows diners to savor the aromas and enjoy some privacy while devouring the bird — or, critics say, hide their indulgence from the eyes of God.

Eating ortolan is also a surreptitious pleasure beyond France: The author and chef Anthony Bourdain, in his 2010 book, “Medium Raw,” described a secret, late-night meeting of French chefs in a New York restaurant to eat ortolans. “It’s sort of a hot rush of fat, guts, bones, blood and meat, and it’s really delicious,” he told Stephen Colbert in an interview.

Such extravagance can involve an uncomfortable trade-off. Poachers lure the ortolan into ground traps during its migratory flight from Northern Europe to Africa. Mr. Dubourg, the activist, said that because the birds are prized for their fat, they are kept in darkness for 21 days and are sometimes blinded, prompting them to gorge on millet and grapes. Once the ortolan’s fat has tripled in volume, the bird is drowned with Armagnac, plucked, roasted and served hot in its entirety. “Good cuisine cannot be used as an excuse for the condition these animals are kept in,” Mr. Dubourg said.

Last month, he led a group of activists into the fields of Landes, where they released scores of trapped ortolans and demanded that poachers be arrested. The police declined to take action, and a scuffle broke out between protesters and trappers.

Mr. Dubourg’s group estimates that the ortolan population fell by more than 40 percent between 2001 and 2011. About 30,000 wild ortolans are still being culled illegally in the South of France every summer, while the police look the other way, he added. A single ortolan can fetch up to 150 euros ($189) on the black market.

Lifting the hunting ban would reduce prices significantly, the chefs argue.

Mr. Coussau, the chef at the two-Michelin-star restaurant Relais de la Poste in southwest France, insisted that the birds were not treated inhumanely, and cited an unpublished Canadian ornithological study indicating that the ortolan population in Northern Europe is around 30 million. “They are hardly endangered,” he said.

Besides, Mr. Guérard added, he and his fellow chefs are seeking a waiver from the French government to serve ortolan only one weekend a year. But with all of the other problems confronting the nation, they don’t expect quick results.

He said the chefs do not want to wipe out the birds: “We just want to maintain a tradition.”

Mr. Coussau rebuffed critics who say the ortolan is an unnecessary extravagance. “There are many things that we eat that are not essential to live,” he said. “We could survive on nutritional pills if we had to.”

“But if we go down that path,” he concluded, “the notion of pleasure will disappear.”

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« Reply #496 on: Oct 14, 2014, 07:15 AM »

The Big Lie Behind Japanese Whaling

OCT. 13, 2014

TOKYO — The International Court of Justice’s decision last March to prohibit Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters was greeted by many as an historic step against a reprehensible practice. Yet last month, despite the enormous diplomatic toll, Japan vowed to continue its whaling activities under a controversial research program of dubious scientific merit.

Japan’s determination may seem puzzling, but only if you assume its whaling activities are about science, or that its purportedly scientific whaling is a cover for commercial whaling. In fact, Japan’s pro-whaling stance isn’t really about whales at all; instead, it is about ensuring access to other fishing resources.

Japan’s so-called research whaling program is far from scientific: Thanks to unprofessional methodology and sloppy standards, its findings are widely regarded as risible. Some 3,600 whales have been slaughtered since 2005, but Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (I.C.R.), the de facto government entity that oversees the country’s whaling program, has only two peer-reviewed scholarly articles to show for it. And much robust testing doesn’t even require killing whales.

Meanwhile, the market for whale meat in Japan has slumped considerably. Whaling proponents claim the practice helps safeguard Japan’s culinary heritage against Western cultural imperialism. But survey after survey shows that outside a handful of small whaling communities, most Japanese regard whale meat with indifference, if not disgust. They eat less than 24 grams per capita annually. Thousands of tons of frozen whale steaks and whale bacon languish unwanted in expensive cold storage. As a result, the I.C.R., once largely funded by the sale of whale meat, is now claiming more taxpayer money.

These inefficiencies result from a policy that hides its true motives: If the Japanese government adamantly defends its marginal whaling rights, it is because it fears encroachment on its critical fishing activities. This concern is not only a point of cultural pride and a commercial necessity; it is also perceived as a strategic imperative. Japan catches several million tons of seafood a year and is the third-largest importer of seafood, behind the European Union and the United States. Japanese eat more fish per capita than the people of any other industrialized nation.

The problematic use of whaling to safeguard fisheries dates back to the early 1980s and discussions about an international moratorium on commercial whaling. With the negotiations stalled because Japan opposed the idea of a ban, the American government threatened to limit Japanese ships’ access to fishing stocks in United States waters unless Japan withdrew its objection. Japan complied in 1986, privileging fisheries over whaling. But the United States then curtailed Japan’s access to American fish stocks anyway. And in 1987 Japan announced it would resume whaling under the controversial pseudo-scientific program still in place today.

Since then, more hidebound Japanese bureaucrats, particularly in the Fisheries Agency, have feared that giving ground on whaling would undermine Japan’s ability to harvest other seafood. Joji Morishita, now Japan’s commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, let slip this rationale in an interview in 2000. He said he worried that conceding too much would “set a precedent” and that “once the principle of treating wildlife as a sustainable resource is compromised, our right to exploit other fish and animal products would be infringed upon.”

The Japanese government has been hostile to the creation of sanctuaries for threatened species as well as to any restrictions on indiscriminate catching methods, like the drift nets used in the 1990s or the huge, sinuous long lines in use today. Even with the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna, a clear case of overexploitation, Japanese negotiators have pushed hard to ensure that oversight is conducted by smaller regional bodies, like the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, rather than high-profile international bodies created by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species. In January 2008, the business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai quoted a government source as stating, “If we give an inch on the whaling issue, we will also have to back down on tuna.”

Perhaps sensing that this domino theory might not convince non-Japanese, the whaling lobby also makes another, spurious, case: that whales, rather than humans, are responsible for declining global fisheries. The Institute of Cetacean Research claims that whales are “top predators” and “consume a colossal amount of fish.” Never mind overfishing or pollution. And never mind that many whales don’t eat the seafood prized by fishing fleets, or that many areas with recovering whale populations also boast abundant fish stocks. According to the I.C.R.’s twisted logic, to protect fish you must cull whales.

Such fallacies are reinforced by the patronage system that prevails in Japan. Being curmudgeonly on whaling plays well in conservative circles. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s return to power in December 2012 was a virtual palace coup for whaling proponents. When critical decisions on Japan’s research program were being made earlier this year, no fewer than 12 members of the cabinet — including the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary and the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries — were or had been members of the conservative Parliamentary League for the Promotion of Whaling. In his book “Whaling in Japan,” Jun Morikawa details how the corrupt official system that bolsters Japan’s whaling lobby virtually guarantees loyal officials a cushy salary and fringe benefits for their entire careers.

Solving this problem and the broader issue of Japanese whaling starts with the recognition that Japan’s insistence on whaling is far less about whales than about fish. Drawing on realpolitik, the governments that are concerned about whaling would do well to help Japan secure access to sustainable fisheries. Because, as it happens, the best way to protect the whales is to protect the fish.

Peter Wynn Kirby is an environmental researcher and Japan specialist at the University of Oxford, and the author of “Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan.”

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« Reply #497 on: Oct 14, 2014, 08:37 AM »

Sperm Whales Adopt Deformed Dolphin


Sperm whales are fierce squid hunters, but they also have a softer side. In a serendipitous sighting in the North Atlantic, researchers have discovered a group of the cetaceans that seem to have taken in an adult bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation, at least temporarily. It may be that both species simply liked the social contact.

Creatures form "friendly" connections with members of other species throughout the animal kingdom. These often short-lived relationships can offer increased protection from predators and more effective foraging. Some particularly unusual alliances illustrate that they can also satisfy a social craving. For example, the signing gorilla Koko had a pet cat named All Ball; in a Kenyan nature park, a hippopotamus, Owen, grew close to a giant tortoise, Mzee.

Among ocean-dwelling mammals, dolphins are perhaps the most gregarious. They've been spotted traveling, foraging, and playing with a wide variety of other animals, including many whales. On the other hand, as far as the authors of the forthcoming paper in Aquatic Mammals know, sperm whales had never been reported cozying up to another species. Specialized deep-water hunters who travel great distances, the whales are more timid than dolphins and harder for people to observe.

Indeed, behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin did not expect to find a mixed-species group when they set out to observe sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) some 15 to 20 kilometers off the island of Pico in the Azores in 2011. But when they got there, they found not only a group that included several whale calves, but also an adult male bottlenose dolphin ( Tursiops truncatus). Over the next 8 days, they observed the dolphin six more times while it nuzzled and rubbed members of the group (see slideshow). The sperm whales seemed to at least tolerate it; at times, they reciprocated. "It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason," says Wilson, who was snorkeling nearby. "They were being very sociable."

The researchers could be sure that the bottlenose dolphin was the same one each time because it had a rare spinal curvature that gave its back half an "S" shape. Although the dolphin seemed otherwise healthy, that probable birth defect could be the key to understanding its attachment to the sperm whale group. Very few predators stalk the Azorean waters, so they doubt that it needed the whales for protection. But they speculate that the malformation could have put the animal at a disadvantage among its own kind. Perhaps it couldn't keep up with the other dolphins or had a low social status.

"Sometimes some individuals can be picked on," Wilson says. "It might be that this individual didn't fit in, so to speak, with its original group." The dolphin was able to stay with the whales because they swim more slowly and always leave a "babysitter" near the surface with the calves while the other adults dive deep.

Less clear is what was in it for the sperm whales. This study shows that they have a capacity for these types of relationships, which implies that they may sometimes get benefits from them, Wilson says. However, there's no obvious advantage on their side in this case. What's more, cetacean ecologist Mónica Almeida e Silva of the University of the Azores in Portugal, who was not involved in the study, says that sperm whales have good reasons not to like bottlenose dolphins, which she has often seen chasing and harassing whales and their calves. "Why would sperm whales accept this animal in their group?" she says. "It's really puzzling to me."

Nonetheless, we shouldn't be tempted to "overread" the whales' motivations as pity for the dolphin, says behavioral biologist Luke Rendell of the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. Interpreting is hard given the observation's briefness and rarity, as well as how little is known about these particular whales. They might simply enjoy the dolphin's attentions, or "they could just be thinking, 'Wow, this is a kind of weird calf.' "

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« Reply #498 on: Oct 14, 2014, 09:55 AM »

NYC rats and their alarming germs — some new to science

Although the scientists examined just 133 rats, they found plenty of pathogens. Some caused food-borne illnesses. Others, like Seoul hantavirus, had never before been found in New York. Others were altogether new to science.

The New York Times

Rats are displayed in a lower Manhattan alley after being caught and killed in 2013 by small hunting dogs owned by a group of people who gather to let their pets hunt rats in New York. City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, that New York is losing the rat race. He said citizen complaints about pests to the 311 hotline plus online reports went from 22,300 in fiscal year 2012 to 24,586 the next year.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that our well-being is intimately linked to the health of animals.

The current Ebola epidemic probably got its start when someone came into contact with an infected animal, perhaps a monkey or a fruit bat. The virus causing Middle East respiratory syndrome appears to spread from camels to humans.

Yet animal pathogens remain a scientific terra incognita. Researchers have begun cornering animals in far-flung parts of the world to learn more about what infects them.

Recently, a team of pathogen hunters at Columbia University went on an expedition closer to home. They conducted a survey of the viruses and bacteria in Manhattan’s rats, the first attempt to use DNA to catalog pathogens in any animal species in New York City.

“Everybody’s looking all over the world, in all sorts of exotic places, including us,” said Ian Lipkin, a professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia. “But nobody’s looking right under our noses.”

On Tuesday, Lipkin and his colleagues published their initial results in the journal mBio. Although the scientists examined just 133 rats, they found plenty of pathogens. Some caused food-borne illnesses. Others, like Seoul hantavirus, had never before been found in New York. Others were altogether new to science.

The researchers could not say how ill New Yorkers were getting from these rat-borne agents, but already the results were raising alarms among experts.

Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a scientific organization that researches the links between human health and wildlife, called the study “shocking and surprising,” particularly given the close quarters shared by rats and New Yorkers.

“This is a recipe for a public health nightmare,” he said.

It has been hard for scientists to measure the medical threat that rats pose. Identifying pathogens has traditionally been a slow, painstaking business, requiring researchers to rear microbes in labs.

Since the 1990s, Lipkin has helped speed the search by developing methods for fishing out pathogen genes from infected hosts. This research took him around the world, but Lipkin had long wondered what he might find if he studied New York’s rats.

In 2012, Cadhla Firth, then a postdoctoral research scientist in Lipkin’s lab, and her colleagues picked four buildings and a park in Manhattan where they set traps. Luring the rats into them proved harder than Firth expected.

“New York rats are a lot wilier than rats in other cities,” she said. “We had to bait traps and just leave them open for a week.” Once the scientists caught the rats, they took samples of blood, urine, feces and tissues from a number of organs. After extracting DNA from the samples, they sifted through the gene fragments.

First, the scientists looked for disease agents previously found in rats. They discovered bacteria that caused food poisoning, such as Salmonella and a strain of E. coli known to cause terrible diarrhea. They also found pathogens that caused fevers, such as Seoul hantavirus and Leptospira.

They did not, however, find some of the nastiest germs infecting rats in other parts of the world, such as Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague.

Then the scientists searched the rats for new species of viruses. So far, they have identified 18 unknown species related to viruses already shown to cause diseases in humans. Two of the new species were similar to the virus that causes hepatitis C.

David Patrick, the director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, called the identification of new viruses “groundbreaking.”

“These viruses may or may not have any links to human illness, but it is good to be able to describe them in detail,” he said.

The viruses resembling hepatitis C could prove to be the most important discovery in the survey, not because rats might give us hepatitis C. (They will not.) But scientists may be able to glean clues from the rat viruses to fight the disease, which affects about 150 million people worldwide.

Hepatitis remains a mysterious disease, because lab animals do not suffer the same symptoms as humans when they are infected with the human virus. Infecting lab rats with the new rat viruses could change all that.

“It’s still a few steps to go before you can call it an animal model, but I think overall it’s a really exciting finding,” said Alexander Ploss, a molecular virologist at Princeton University.

Some experts cautioned that we have yet to understand how much harm the rat pathogens are doing to residents. “I don’t see it as a call to wage war on rats just yet,” said Angela Luis, a biologist at the University of Montana.

Lipkin and his colleagues are now collaborating with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look for signs of infection from some of the rat pathogens in the blood samples of New Yorkers.

Jay Varma, the deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health, said the study would not lead to any immediate changes in how the city deals with rats, but the data would help health officials better understand how diseases spread.

“We live in a world where humans are in the minority,” he said. “We as a society probably haven’t done enough to understand the true ecology of bacteria and viruses.”

The study should alert New York to monitor rats and control them better, Lipkin said.

“I think people are going to have to start paying attention to this,” he said.

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« Reply #499 on: Oct 15, 2014, 05:18 AM »

Pets a last solace in Damascus

Abandoned dogs and cats find a shelter in the city

Rasha Elass in Damascus, Wednesday 15 October 2014 11.58 BST      

The human toll of Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war has been horrendous, and there is no end in sight. Well into its fourth year, the war spares no man, woman or child. It has also killed and displaced animals. Here are the stories of the abandoned pets of families who fled for their life, and the humans who find solace in new, furry friends.

Click here:

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« Reply #500 on: Oct 15, 2014, 05:19 AM »

Animal rights activists victorious as Supreme Court leaves California’s foie gras ban intact

14 Oct 2014   

In a victory for animal rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed California to continue to ban foie gras, a delicacy produced from the enlarged livers of ducks and geese that have been force-fed corn.

Rejecting a legal challenge to the law, the court declined to hear an appeal filed by restaurants and producers of foie gras. In doing so, the high court left intact an August 2013 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law.

California enacted the law in 2004 but it did not go into effect until 2012.

Foie gras means “fatty liver” in French. The product is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese to enlarge their livers, which are harvested to make gourmet dishes. Animal rights groups contend that the force-feeding process is painful, gruesome and inhumane.

The law specifically bans any product created by “force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond a normal size.”

Los Angeles-based Hot’s Restaurant Group, Canada’s Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec and New York producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras challenged the ban in a lawsuit filed last year.

They argued that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument, saying the state was within its rights to impose the ban.

The case is Association des Eleveur v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1313.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)

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« Reply #501 on: Oct 15, 2014, 05:55 AM »

Siberian tiger set free by Vladimir Putin crosses into China

Officials removing traps and setting up cameras to try to locate tiger released into the wild by Russian president in May

Agencies in Beijing
The Guardian, Thursday 9 October 2014 18.19 BST   

A rare Siberian tiger released into the wild by Vladimir Putin has strayed into China and may be in danger, according to Chinese state media.

Russia informed Chinese forestry officials that the tiger, tagged with a tracking device, was observed in a nature preserve in Heilongjiang province, Xinhua news agency reported. Officials were removing possible traps and setting up more than 60 cameras in the hope of locating the tiger, it said.

The Russian president was photographed in May releasing the 19-month-old cub, named Kuzya, and two other Siberian tigers in a remote part of the Amur region.

The cubs had been found two years earlier starving in the Ussuri Taiga forest near the Russia-China border, Russian media reported. They were rehabilitated, taught to hunt, and eventually released back into the wild. The other tigers remain in the Amur region.

Russia adopted a national strategy to protect the endangered Amur tiger in July 2010. Putin has been personally involved in the promotion of conservation efforts.

Siberian tigers have not been found before in Luobei county, where Kuzya is believed to have strayed, Xinhua said.

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« Reply #502 on: Oct 16, 2014, 07:00 AM »

Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population

Csaba Borboly has called for military assistance and for culling quotas to be lifted following a spate of cases involving brown bears damaging property in Romania

Luke Dale-Harris in Targu Mures, Romania, Thursday 16 October 2014 13.24 BST   
A bear walks on the road near Sinaia, 200km north of Bucharest, August 11, 2008. With half of Europe's brown bears living in Romania's largely unspoilt Carpathian mountains, environmentalists and local authorities are struggling to keep the wild animals and residents in mountain towns like Brasov safe from each other. Bears’ normal diet of nuts and acorns has been scarce leading to more frequent cases of bears venturing into towns in search of food. Photograph: Mihai Barbu/Corbis

In the depths of Transylvania, Romania, a war against one of Europe’s largest brown bear populations is looming.

Following a string of cases involving damage to private property from bears in recent months, Csaba Borboly, a senior politician from the Transylvanian region, has called for the army to be brought in. “The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army.”

Borboly’s remarks follow on the heels of a decision made in late September by the Romanian government to raise the bear hunting quota by the largest margin in recent history. The new quota allows for 550 bears to be killed over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from the 2012 quota.

At present, hunting is the key method in “controlling” the bear population. It acts both as a lucrative business and, according to hunters, a means of removing specific bears who have been shown to be particularly dangerous to humans and their property.

However, this is no longer considered to be enough. With support from the hunting lobby and egged on by the increasingly bear-wary Romanian media, Borboly is calling on the Romanian government to amend a European treaty which limits the number of bears that can be culled each year.

“Bears need to be considered in line with other natural disasters, such as floods and forest fires,” Borboly said. “They are out of hand and something needs to be done.”

Attila Kelemen is a Romanian MP and eastern European representative of Brussels-based lobby group the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation (FACE). “We have very big problems with bears. Bears are everywhere now in Romania. The French have three bears and they are pushing in parliament to get rid of them as they cause problems for farmers. But they won’t let Romania do anything about our bears, and we have 8,000.”

The numbers, however, are open to debate. Csaba Domokos is a bear specialist with Milvus Group, a Transylvanian wildlife protection organisation. “The reality is that no one knows how many bears there are in Romania. The official number is around 6,000, but to know that we need three numbers: How many bears are being born, how many are dying from all causes – not just hunting – and how many are currently alive. And we know none.”

The counting system is fundamentally flawed, conservationists claim. Romania hosts hundreds of hunting associations, and each one is responsible for counting the bears in a particular area on the map, using the animals’ footprints as gauges of their numbers.

“Of course bears don’t respect these areas,” explains Domokos. “They wander in and out of different hunting areas. Each one can certainly be counted more than once. This could put the total number up by thousands.”

Another issue causing conservationists concern is that the bears most feted by hunters are the alpha males, for which foreign hunters often pay up to €10,000 (£8,000) to shoot a single specimen. It is these large males, however, who usually keep populations in check by committing infanticide – the killing of the offspring of other males – in order to be able to mate with their mothers, an evolutionary trick designed to ensure the continuation of individual bears’ genetic codes.

With the alpha males dwindling in number, the young can proliferate rapidly.

“These young bears are more adventurous,” explains Domokos. “They are the ones who are more prone to enter towns and so, even though the population could be falling as a whole, we are seeing more and more bears in human habitats. The last few months were particularly disastrous as there was almost none of the bears’ normal food – beach nuts and acorns – available. As a result, in the run up to winter, they are getting desperate.”

The danger is that, with the Romanian media becoming increasingly frenzied about the ‘bear problem’, people will take the issue into their own hands. In the last few weeks, Domokos has found four bears trapped in poachers’ snares along just a 25-mile stretch, and believes there are many more which he doesn’t see.

“Once the population turn against bears, we have a serious problem,” says Domokos. “The hunting lobby can get away with raising the quota in the name of social protection. And once the quota goes up, it is very unlikely it will come down again.”

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« Reply #503 on: Oct 17, 2014, 07:21 AM »

Pit bull hailed a hero after saving boy from bees

By Kelsey Watts


An Oregon City family is calling their pit bull a hero after it saved an 8-year-old boy from a swarm of bees.

On Tuesday evening, a group of kids were playing near a creek down a steep embankment behind their apartment complex when one of the kids stepped on a rotten log, unleashing the swarm of bees.

The kids tried making their way back up the hill toward home for help, but 8-year-old Jesse-Cole Shaver couldn't.

Luckily, that's when "Hades" did her doggone best to help, grabbing Jesse-Cole by the leg of his pants.

"Hades saw me and came and dragged me up to the grass and stopped and let me crawl on her back and took me to my mom," Jesse-Cole told Fox 12.

His mother, who did not want to be identified, says she was in her car when she heard the kids screaming and running up the hill surrounded by bees. She was astonished to see her dog dragging her son to safety, after he'd already been stung at least 24 times.

"A couple of these kids could have gotten really sick or died, I'm sure of it," she told Fox 12.

Her daughter, Jasmine Jones, 14, was stung five times and is allergic to bees, so she ran to grab her EpiPen while a neighbor called 911. Both children were taken to Willamette Falls Hospital for treatment and were released after a few hours.

"Oh, I thank my puppy," their mother added. "I'm so glad we adopted her."

The kids say they won't go back down the trail behind their apartment ever again.

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« Reply #504 on: Oct 17, 2014, 07:26 AM »

Family Chooses Homelessness Over Abandoning Pit Bull

By Jaime Lutz

For the past year, the Devia family has chosen to be homeless rather than give up their beloved dog.

Carol Devia, her husband Peter and her teenage sons Leandro and Christoffer own Camilla, a lab mix, and Rocco, a pit bull. Both are sweet, housetrained dogs, according to the family. But only one is keeping them from moving out of a car that they have been living out of in Walnut Creek, Calif.

“When landlords see Camilla, they have no problem with her. Everybody will take her,” Carol Devia said. “But as soon as they see Rocco, they say ‘Oh no.’”

Animal welfare advocates say this is part of a housing crisis for pit bull owners, with some landlords forcing families to choose between a roof over their heads and their beloved pup.

“It’s not uncommon for people to say ‘I can’t take the dog to the shelter where it will be killed,’” said Donna Reynolds, the director of Pit Bull advocacy organization BAD RAP.

“What we’re finding is our inbox is filled with people who say ‘I’m about to go homeless, can you take my dog?’” she added.

The Devia family never expected to be in that situation until Carol and her husband were fired from their newspaper delivery job at the same time last year for a breach of security. Carol Devia said she had nothing to do with the breach and that she was terminated wrongfully.

When the family told their landlord what happened, they were evicted from their apartment, Devia said, noting their savings, credit and stability began dwindling rapidly. Worst of all, she said, they couldn’t find a new place to live that would let them bring Rocco, the kind of dog that slept next to them every night.

“I can’t find a place unless I give up my dog, and everyone tells me to, but I can’t do that,” Devia said. “We’ve had Camilla her whole life and Rocco her whole life.”

The issue went viral last weekend, when the owner of a rescued pit bull took to Craigslist to find out the name of the dog’s former owner, who abandoned her in a Manhattan apartment after being evicted.

The dog was underweight and had a few burns behind her ears in the shape of cigarette burns, according to the post. But Alex de Campi — the New Hampshire mother who wrote the post — said she has sympathy for the previous owner of the pit bull she calls “Cathy.”

“These people could have found her on the street and taken her in,” de Campi told ABC News. “She could have had three or four owners. She’s not hand shy in any way, meaning she’s not afraid of my hand, which would be an indication of abuse.”

The reason she wrote the post, de Campi said, was in hopes of reaching the former owners to let them know that their old dog was safe and loved.

Cathy became “a 65-pound lapdog,” as de Campi put it.

But Rocco was not always a model pit bull, Devia said. One time, when a Dachshund peeked his nose into Devia’s yard, Rocco ran over to the dog and broke his snout, Devia recalled.

After the incident, the family had to go to court, take a class, and pay $500 for three years for a special dog license on top of a $200 per year insurance plan, she said.

The dog has been well-behaved ever since, Devia said, especially since he began going to classes at BAD RAP.

“We’ve noticed a huge difference in his behavior,” she said. “He’s like a totally different dog. He wants to meet everybody and lick everybody.”

For now, Devia said her family spends a lot of time driving back and forth between wooded areas where the dogs can get exercise and parking lots where they can get Wi-Fi and make food with their Crock-Pot plugged into the cigarette lighter. They’re working new jobs delivering newspapers at night and sleeping in their car during the day, she said.

For families who are struggling to find housing that will accept their dog, Reynolds suggest they ask friends for help, post on Craigslist, and talk to rescue organizations. They can also consider getting an insurance policy on the dog, so any liability doesn’t fall to the landlord ­– though so far, that hasn’t helped the Devia family.

“It was hard in the beginning but then you kind of consign yourself to it and say okay,” Devia said. “I’m alive, I’m working. I hit bottom, so now I’ve been there and now the only place I can go is up.”

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« Reply #505 on: Oct 18, 2014, 05:42 AM »

Who would kill a deaf woman’s deaf dog with a gunshot, police want to know

Travis Gettys
17 Oct 2014 at 13:48 ET       

Police are investigating the shooting death of a dog in southern Alabama.

Tabitha Venable lost her hearing as a toddler, and she said she was drawn to her dog the moment she met him because the animal was also deaf.

“They were about to put to sleep, because he was deaf, and I told her I wanted to see him, and he probably needed a deaf mom,” Venable said. “So we were paired up. He was a beautiful dog. I had to keep him.”

Venable, of Satsuma, said she taught sign language to the dog, which she named Si.

She noticed Si was lethargic when she returned home recently, and she took him to the veterinarian – where Venable discovered the dog had been shot in the side by a small-caliber firearm.

“I don’t feel safe,” Venable said. “If somebody shot my dog, it could happen to me. I can’t hear a gunshot.”

Si died during emergency surgery, and police are investigating the case as felony animal cruelty.

“He was a good dog,” Venable said. “He was very protective of me.”

Watch this video report posted online

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« Reply #506 on: Oct 19, 2014, 05:46 AM »

Already close to extinction, last male white rhino capable of breeding dies in Kenya

Agence France-Presse
18 Oct 2014 at 19:18 ET     

One of the last northern white rhinos on the planet has died in a reserve in Kenya, leaving the sub-species on the verge of extinction, experts said Saturday.

The male, called Suni, “was probably the last male capable of breeding”, according to Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where the rhino was born in 1980.

There are only six of the very rare rhinos left, having been hunted by poachers in central and east Africa for their horns, which are highly prized for traditional Chinese medicine.

The Czech zoo is the only one in the world to have succeeded in breeding the sub-species in captivity.

Suni — who is thought to have died from natural causes in the Ol Pejeta reserve — was one of two males and two females from Dvur Kralove zoo reintroduced into the wild in Kenya in 2009, in an operation dubbed “the last chance of survival”.

It was hoped that the females’ hormones would normalise in the wild, but even attempts at assisted conception failed.

“One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” the zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told AFP.

Sperm from the males born at Dvur Kralove has been conserved at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin.

Another pair of the rhinos, too old to reproduce, live at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego in the United States, with another aged female remaining at Dvur Kralove, close to the border with Poland.

“The number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased incredibly in the past few years,” Mysliveckova said. “According to some scenarios, there will be no rhinos left in the wild in Africa in 10 years or so.”

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« Reply #507 on: Oct 19, 2014, 05:59 AM »

Tasmanian devil killed at US zoo had skull crushed by asphalt block

Police investigating case believe the marsupial was killed either by workers or visitors at zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Australian Associated Press, Sunday 19 October 2014 01.41 BST   
A Tasmanian devil at a US zoo has had its skull crushed by a block of asphalt and police are trying to determine whether a zoo employee or a member of the public was responsible.

Jasper was one of four Tasmanian devils shipped from Australia to the Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo in New Mexico last December.

It appeared he did not die instantly, with evidence from an examination by the zoo’s head veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman suggesting the injured devil crawled to a log in the enclosure before dying.

“The first suspicion of how the devil died was that it was possibly killed by another devil,” the police report states.

“After the necropsy was completed and veterinarian Zimmerman found a small piece of the devil’s skull fractured, staff went back into the enclosure.”

A chunk of asphalt 10cm thick and the size of a dessert plate was located.

It appears the killer threw it at Jasper.

The devil’s body was found on Wednesday morning, and zoo staff and visitors are the focus of the investigation.

Surveillance cameras are located on the zoo’s walkways, but do not cover the enclosure.

About 4.30pm on Tuesday two young boys and an adult male can be seen on footage walking away from the enclosure area.

The zoo is one of only two in the US with Tasmanian devils and hopes to breed them.

“It looks like there was malicious intent and essentially our poor Tasmanian devil was killed, intentionally, by what seems to be blunt force trauma to the head,” the Albuquerque mayor’s chief-of-staff, Gilbert Montano, told TV station KRQE.

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« Reply #508 on: Oct 21, 2014, 05:02 AM »

Rich Chinese are literally eating this exotic mammal into extinction

21 Oct 2014 at 06:56 ET     

MONG LA, Myanmar — “It’s delicious,” the Chinese waitress says, pointing at the three metal cages on the pavement. Inside each is a pangolin — an odd-looking creature that, over the past decade, has become the most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

At the moment, each pangolin resembles a ball about the size of a melon, covered in crocodile-like scales.

Sensing danger, the three animals have instinctively curled themselves into tight balls. In the wild, this reflex protects them from predators like bears and large cats. But there’s little defense against wildlife traffickers and well-heeled diners hoping to taste a rare and exotic meat.

This neon-soaked eatery in Mong La, a shabby town in a tiny rebel-held fief on the China-Myanmar border, is just one end-point of a global trade that is pushing the pangolin to the brink of extinction. The main trigger: a soaring demand for their scales and meat, mostly from China and Vietnam.

“The species here in Southeast Asia are getting absolutely hammered by a very large-scale, well-organized, systematic collection and trade to supply demand in China,” says Chris Shepherd, Southeast Asia regional director of the wildlife protection organization TRAFFIC.

In Mong La, pangolins are openly sold in restaurants to border-hopping Chinese tourists. Nearby wildlife boutiques sell pangolin skins and scales immersed in rice wine. At the open-air central market, one Chinese trader offers to sell me the skin of a Sunda pangolin, listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN, for 200 yuan (about US$32). “Here, feel how soft it is,” she says, running her hands over the grey scales.

A shy, nocturnal animal, the pangolin has a long snout, tough outer scales, and snaking tongue, which it uses to lick up insects. In China, where it is known as lingli, or “hill carp,” in reference to its scaly exterior, pangolin meat has long been prized. The creature’s scales — made from keratin, the same substance as human fingernails and hair (as well as Rhino horn) — are also prescribed by traditional doctors to treat skin disorders and other ailments —despite lacking medical benefits.

The trade in pangolin parts from Southeast Asia to Hong Kong and China has taken place since at least the early 20 th century, according to Dan Challender, co-chair of the IUCN’s Pangolin Specialist Group. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Challender says, pangolin skins were also exported in small quantities to the US and Mexico, where they were used to make shoes and clothes. The “official” exports of these products came to an end in 2000, when the trade in wild-caught pangolins was effectively banned under the international wildlife treaty CITES.

But with China’s boom, demand for pangolins has skyrocketed. For many middle-class Chinese, consuming black-market pangolins is now considered a sign of wealth and status, says Challender, who is writing his PhD on the global pangolin trade.

While conducting research in Vietnam in 2012, Challender witnessed a diner pay $700 for a two-kilogram pangolin. “The creation of urban luxury markets for wild meat, especially where wild meat has been consumed historically, has been a key driver in the trade of pangolins,” he says.

To meet increased demand, pangolins are now harvested and processed illegally on an industrial scale. In one week in March 2008, Vietnamese officials confiscated 23 tons of pangolins at Hai Phong port, part of a shipment making its way from Indonesia to China. In 2010, another 7.8 tons of frozen pangolins were seized in southern China, along with 1,800 kilograms (nearly 4,000 pounds) of scales. Similar hauls have been made more recently en route to the Chinese market.

By the time they are packed into these large shipments, the pangolins are “effectively meat,” Challender says. “They’ve had all the scales taken off, they’ve had all the organs taken out — they’ve been processed industrially.”

In a June report, the Pangolin Specialist Group estimated that more than a million pangolins have been taken from the wild over the past decade, and that populations across Asia were in “precipitous decline.” Of the eight pangolin species, the IUCN now lists four as vulnerable, two as endangered, and two as critically endangered.

With pangolin supplies in China and nearby countries dried up, wildlife traffickers have looked further afield. The newest frontier is Africa. People in countries like Gabon, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic have grown more aware of the value of pangolins to international traffickers.

So far this year, more than six tons of African pangolin scales have been seized prior export to Asia — more than the combined total of all previous seizures on the continent. “The pull from China is getting bigger and bigger, and stretches wider and wider,” says Vincent Nijman, a zoologist at Oxford Brookes University in the UK who has studied the wildlife trade in Southeast Asia.

According to Challender the beginnings of an intercontinental trade present nothing short of a “global crisis.”

“The worrying thing is the scale of it. The worrying thing is the number of countries from which African pangolins have been [taken],” he says.

Conservationists say that despite occasional large seizures, and despite pangolins being protected by law in every Asian country other than Brunei and Bhutan, dismantling wildlife trafficking networks remains a low priority.

In Cambodia, Toby Eastoe of Conservation International works with forestry rangers in the thickly-forested Cardamom Mountains, one of the few places in the country where significant populations of pangolins remain.

As in many other countries, the trade in pangolins is driven by poverty and opportunity. For a poor Cambodian villager, finding a live pangolin or accidentally snaring one in the forest is like winning the lottery. A live animal can fetch them anywhere from $100 to $400. “Everybody’s looking for pangolins,” Eastoe says. “It’s one of the most lucrative animals that you can easily get.”

Even while rangers sometimes arrest local people for catching pangolins, few higher up the chain are ever caught. As Eastoe says, “most of the people we arrest are poor. They’re just poor people trying to earn an extra buck.”

Despite all of this, there is some reason for optimism. Awareness of the pangolin’s plight is greater than it has ever been—the necessary first step to the effective enforcement of wildlife laws. And while pangolins only produce one offspring at a time, they can breed in the wild quite quickly, meaning that populations could potentially bounce back quickly if hunting pressure is alleviated.

But without a concerted push to fight trafficking cartels and give teeth to longstanding wildlife treaties, pangolins will remain easy prey. “Their only real defense, other than hiding, is rolling up into a ball,” says Shepherd of TRAFFIC. “They aren’t designed to deal with this sort of threat.”   

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