Incredible journey: one wolf's migration across Europe
Slavc is a wolf. In 2011, he began an epic 2,000 kilometre migration across Europe from Slovenia to Italy via the Austrian Alps. Several months earlier, he had been fitted with a collar that allowed his movements to be tracked in incredible detail. I talked to Hubert Potočnik, the biologist whose work made this possible
theguardian.com, Friday 8 August 2014 07.05 BST
It's estimated there are now around 10,000 wolves in Europe. It has been estimated that there are now around 10,000 wolves in Europe. Photograph: tbkmedia.de/Alamy
Every year, Hubert Potočnik and his colleagues at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia capture and collar a number of wolves in order to get a handle on the movements of these much-misunderstood creatures. In July 2011, he collared a young male that became known as Slavc. In June, I spoke to Potočnik for a feature that appears in New Scientist this week and he told me about Slavc’s extraordinary journey across Europe. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview …
HN: After you captured and collared Slavc in July 2011, he stayed with his pack for several months. Then, on 19 December 2011, he began to move. How did you know?
HP: We knew something was different because the GPS points showed that he had crossed two large motorways far outside of his natal territory.
Tell me about these collars. How do they work?
The collar is equipped with three types of different technology. It has a GPS receiver, a GSM modem to send SMS and also with a VHF radio transmitter as a back-up. We programme all our wolves to send a GPS signal every three hours, so we get about seven locations a day to give us continuous location sampling data.
What if the wolf can’t get a signal? Do you lose a datapoint?
No, because the collar has a special memory storage. All locations are stored and when the animal gets a signal again, it sends packages of seven locations per SMS. Sometimes we didn’t get any data for 3, 4, 5 days. Then after that we got six or seven SMSs with about 40 locations from the previous days.
The first motorway Slavc crossed was the A1 between Trieste and Ljubljana. How much of an obstacle would this have been?
It’s a fenced motorway. Wolves can only cross these highways on underpasses or overpasses or along the rivers. He crossed the A1 motorway on an overpass.
What happened next?
The last location that we got on that first day was from the backyard of a house in the middle of a small town called Vipava. Our first thought was that he had been poached. While we were discussing what to do with a wildlife manager from this region, discussing whether to call the police and so on, we got another location which showed the wolf was moving further and further.
He crossed another motorway, the H4?
It was quite easy. There is a 150 metre-long viaduct.
What time of day was he moving?
Typically he moved through these open areas during the night-time. But not always. For example, he spent three days in the forest near Ljubljana international airport and on the morning of the last day, he passed through an open area and headed towards the Alps.
What else did you discover about his stay near the airport?
At every place he stayed for more than three hours, we went to investigate and we found that he’d caught two foxes there. Our colleagues from Austria and Italy really got involved in this communication and sampling and anlaysing what he was doing on the route, collecting spray and so on.
At that point, he wasn’t far from Ljubljana University. I don’t suppose you saw him did you?
No. Over the course of his entire migration, we had only one report of a possible wolf sighting that might have been Slavc and that came from Austria.
As Slavc passed through this very human landscape, how worried were you for his safety?
Along his route we were scared that someone would shoot this wolf, thinking it was a stray dog because of its collar. We tried to communicate through the media, local papers and inform especially hunters about the wolf with the GPS collar.
Apart from the motorways, can you identify two other significant obstacles that Slavc faced over the course of his migration?
The Drava River was certainly a major obstacle. He actually crossed it at a spot where the Drava is 280 metres wide. He swam. There is no bridge and we got riverside locations on one side of the bank and on the other. The only explanation is that he swam and crossed the Drava at that very wide part.
He also made his way across some really high mountains, entering a closed valley in the middle of winter where the lowest pass was 2,600 metres and the snow would have been about six metres deep. There were really extreme conditions at the time.
Then he made his way into Italy?
When the wolf entered Italy I got an email from an Italian colleague about video footage of possible wolves in the Lessinia Natural Regional Park. We started joking that Slavc was going there and would meet a female, because from the footage it looked like a female because of the way it urinated.
But he carried on past Lessinia?
Yes. He arrived in the Valpolicella region just north of Verona – greenhouses and vineyards – in March 2012. That was the first time this wolf killed a domestic animal on his route. He killed there, I think, two sheep and a goat. He stayed there for 12 days, probably because there was a private animal park and the owner had three captive wolves, one female and two males. But then he moved back to the north, and entered the Lessinia Natural Regional Park. It was April and we had exact GPS locations and we asked a park manager to go and check the tracks in the snow. When she got to the spot, she found the tracks of two canids, the first indication that Slavc had actually met the female.
You had programmed Slavc’s collar to drop off in August 2012. Why?
We expected that the collar batteries would run out at around this time. Besides getting some additional data stored in the collar, it is ethical to release a collar from such an animal.
But Slavc is still in Lessinia with the female (who became known as Juliet)?
As far as we can tell. Slavc and Juliet had at least two cubs last year because they were captured on camera traps set around their territory and on this video it was possible to see two pups. The information from this year is that they probably have another litter.
Lessinia Natural Regional Park Lessinia Natural Regional Park just north of Verona. As far as we can tell, Slavc is still out there. Photograph: La Casara Caseificio/flickr
How would you sum up this experience?
There are lots of data about long-distance dispersal of wolves but there are very few cases where we have had the opportunity to follow an animal in such detail. Following Slavc across Europe offered a rare insight into the secret life of the wolf. It was one of the most amazing events in my life.
New Delhi’s stray dogs to form police security squad
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 10, 2014 4:50 EDT
Stray canines roaming the Indian capital may soon find themselves attending police training school with civic authorities planning to turn the animals into security dogs, reports said Saturday.
New Delhi residents have long informally adopted some strays as watchdogs for their homes and shops and fed them, but this marks the first formal plan to turn them into municipal security dogs.
City authorities said they would enlist police animal trainers to work with the strays and press the canines into service as guard dogs alongside a newly formed “May I Help You?” city security force which aims to assist the public and bolster safety.
“If these dogs are going to roam the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corp) area, they might as well work,” the civic body’s chairman Jalaj Shrivastava told The Hindu newspaper.
“Our plan is to adopt these strays and train them as guard dogs” to work with the public security force — 40 officers have already been deployed with the city planning to engage as many as 700, he said.
But “we do not expect street dogs to perform high-end security activities” such as sniffing for dangerous substances such as explosives, Shrivastava told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
- Stray dogs a menace -
While some stray dogs are friendly and docile, others are more menacing, barking ferociously at strangers who wander down New Delhi streets, and there is a high incidence of dog bites.
Night watchmen doing their rounds often take a bamboo stick to scare dogs away.
“This initiative is meant to address two issues: take the strays off the streets, thereby tackling the dog menace, and make the city safer for residents,” added Shrivastava.
There are no recent figures on the number of dogs in Delhi but a 2009 city survey put them at more than 260,000.
The reports did not say how many dogs would be used in the security scheme or when their training would start.
Dogs will be fed and vaccinated under the plan, welcomed by animal rights activists.
“This will engage the street dogs with society and also benefit people,” Radha Unnikrishnan, an animal rights activist, said.
A 2001 law forbids killing roaming dogs and the stray population has since soared, feeding off India’s infamous mountains of street garbage as well as on kitchen scraps given to them by residents.
Hindus object to the killing of many types of animals. But the stray population in cities across the country has risen to such a level — estimates are in the millions — that many officials are worried.
- Many rabies victims children -
Cities across India already run sterilisation and vaccination programmes but an estimated 20,000 people die each year from rabies infections in India, some 36 percent of the global annual total of 55,000, according to World Health Organisation figures. Many of the Indian rabies victims are children.
A number of India’s growing affluent class have dogs as pets. But most prefer pedigreed dogs, seeing them as status symbols, and scorn so-called “Indian” mixed-breed mutts, known as “desi dogs”.
However, many expensive purebreeds end up abandoned when people get tired of looking after them.
The strays programme is the latest animal initiative in New Delhi.
A federal minister earlier this month announced the hiring of 40 professional monkey impersonators in government buildings to frighten away rhesus macaque monkeys which terrorise bureaucrats, invading offices, grabbing files and snatching food.
The 40 “monkey wallahs”, a term roughly translating as monkey men, who mimic sounds of the larger langurs which were long used to scare away macaques until authorities started enforcing in 2012 an old wildlife law banning keeping langurs in captivity.
Tortoises trained to use touchscreen as part of spatial navigation study
Monday, August 11, 2014 7:24 EDT
An international team of scientists has successfully trained four red-footed tortoises how to use a touchscreen, according to new research appearing in the July edition of the journal Behavioral Processes.
The research, which was led by Dr. Anna Wilkinson of the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, was part of a study designed to teach the creatures navigational techniques. Previous research has demonstrated that red-footed tortoises are proficient in several types of spatial cognition tasks, including the radial arm maze.
For the new study, Dr. Wilkinson’s team attempted to determine if the tortoise was able of learning a spatial task in which they were required to touch a stimulus presented in a specific position on a touchscreen. They also looked at the relationship between this task and performance in a related spatial task requiring whole body movement.
Red-footed tortoises were selected because their brain structure is vastly different than that of mammals. In mammals, the hippocampus is used for spatial navigation, and while it is believed the reptilian medial cortex has a similar function, little behavioral research has been conducted in this field. In order to examine how tortoises learn to navigate around their environment, the study authors tested how they relied on cues to get around.
“Tortoises are perfect to study as they are considered largely unchanged from when they roamed the world millions of years ago. And this research is important so we can better understand the evolution of the brain and the evolution of cognition,” Dr. Wilkinson, who first started training the tortoises while at the University of Vienna, explained in a recent statement.
The study authors gave strawberries or other treats to the reptiles whenever they examined, approached and pecked blue circles on the screen. Two of the creatures went on to apply their knowledge to a real-life situation in which the research team placed them in an area with two empty food bowls that resembled the blue circles. Those tortoises went over to the bowl on the same side as the circles they had been trained to peck on the screen.
“Their task was to simply remember where they had been rewarded, learning a simple response pattern on the touchscreen,” Dr. Wilkinson said. “They then transferred what they had learned from the touchscreen into a real-world situation. This tells us that when navigating in real space they do not rely on simple motor feedback but learn about the position of stimuli within an environment.”
“The big problem is how to ask all animals a question that they are equally capable of answering,” she added. “The touchscreen is a brilliant solution as all animals can interact with it, whether it is with a paw, nose or beak. This allows us to compare the different cognitive capabilities.”
In addition to Dr. Wilkinson, other authors of the study included Julia Mueller-Paul and Ulrike Aust of the University of Vienna’s Department of Cognitive Biology, Michael Steurer of the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Physics, Geoffrey Hall of the University of York’s Department of Psychology and the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychology, and Ludwig Huber of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna’s Messerli Research Institute.
One for All, and All for Hunt: African Wild Dogs, True Best Friends
AUG. 11, 2014
By NATALIE ANGIER
SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK, ZAMBIA — We saw the impala first, a young buck with a proud set of ridged and twisted horns, like helical rebar, bounding across the open plain at full, desperate gallop. But why?
A moment later somebody in our vehicle gasped, and the answer became clear. Rising up behind the antelope, as though conjured on movie cue from the aubergine glow of the late afternoon, were six African wild dogs, running in single file. They moved with military grace and precision, their steps synchronized, their radio-dish ears cocked forward, their long, puppet-stick legs barely skimming the ground.
Still, the impala had such a jump on them that the dogs couldn’t possibly catch up — could they? We gunned the engine and followed.
The pace quickened. The dogs’ discipline held steady. They were closing the gap and oh, no, did I really want to watch the kill?
To my embarrassed relief, the violence was taken off-screen, when prey and predators suddenly dashed up a hill and into obscuring bushes. By the time we reached the site, the dogs were well into their communal feast, their dark muzzles glazed with bright red blood, their white-tipped tails wagging in furious joy.
“They are the most enthusiastic animals,” said Rosie Woodroffe of the Institute of Zoology in London, who has studied wild dogs for the last 20 years. “Other predators may be bigger and fiercer, but I would argue that there is nothing so enthusiastic as a wild dog,” she said. “They live the life domestic dogs wish they could live.”
In 1997, while devising an action plan to help save the wild dog species, Lycaon pictus, Dr. Woodroffe felt anything but exuberant. Wild dogs were considered among the most endangered of Africa’s mammals; Dr. Woodroffe had yet to see one in the wild, and she feared she never would.
“I remember sitting on my kitchen floor thinking, ‘They’re going to go extinct,’ ” she said. “They have such a massive requirement for space in a world where human populations are only increasing.”
Today, although still classified as endangered, African wild dogs are holding their own over all, and in some parts of the continent are doing better than expected. Today, even yellow-bellied safari goers are regularly treated to displays of the canids’ extraordinary hunting prowess.
“Everything I thought 20 years ago was, if not entirely wrong, then certainly inaccurate,” said Joshua R. Ginsberg, the president-elect of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., who was Dr. Woodroffe’s adviser. “Wild dogs turn out to be far more resilient than anyone expected.”
African wild dogs hunt in selfless packs to take down big game; a survey finds that female scientists still face sexism in the workplace; researchers use blue light to turn off hunger in mice. David Corcoran, Michael Mason and Joshua A. Krisch
Scientists have been impressed by the dog’s behavioral and dietary flexibility, and its capacity to coexist with people (providing the people don’t set out snare traps or kill off all its prey). Population estimates remain crude guesses at best, but some researchers suspect that the census may be inching toward 7,000 dogs across the continent — a distressingly small fraction of the presumed premodern population but still an improvement over the 1990s estimates of 4,000 to 5,000 dogged survivors. And packs have reappeared in places like northern Kenya, where they were long presumed extinct.
Scientists who study the splotchy, autumnally tricolor dogs celebrate their subject as an outlier among canids, a species that split off from wolves, jackals and other members of the dog clan about three million years ago and has trotted along in Darwinian independence since.
“They’re on a distinct branch of the evolutionary tree, the only species in their genus,” said Scott Creel, a professor of ecology at Montana State University and a field researcher with the Zambian Carnivore Programme. “That’s one reason I feel they’re so important to conserve.”
Researchers have known for some time that wild dogs are exceptionally social and civic-minded. Among most group-living carnivores, big adults feed first, gulping down the choicest organs and leaving junior diners to scrounge through gristly leftovers. Among wild dogs, said Patrick R. Thomas, the curator of mammals at the Bronx Zoo, “it’s the exact opposite.”
“The adults let the puppies feed first,” he said. “It’s very peaceful to watch.”
For puppies too young to leave the den, or for injured pack members unable to hunt, hale-bodied adults go further, provisioning the needy by regurgitating a portion of a recent meal.
Researchers have also known that wild dogs are so-called cooperative breeders. In any given pack of closely related animals, a single male and female will do the bulk of the reproducing, while the other half-dozen or so adults serve as guardians, babysitters, even wet nurses for the alpha pair’s pups. Family is family, after all.
Yet researchers continue to be impressed by the depths of the dogs’ self-sacrificing behavior. In one recent study, Dr. Creel and his colleagues determined that the bigger a pack grew, the more efficiently it hunted and the greater the number of offspring it raised. However, the researchers were startled to see that not everyone benefited from the swelling ranks.
“Big packs with lots of offspring turn out to have poor adult survival,” Dr. Creel said. The cost of regurgitating food for a surging number of pups, it seemed, exceeded the advantages of bringing down more prey. As a result, nonbreeding adults in big packs would gradually become malnourished and end up dying at a somewhat younger age than their peers in smaller clans.
The dogs are “true altruists,” essentially willing to shorten their lives for the sake of the hive, Dr. Creel said, adding, “They’re even further along the line of evolving into the mammalian equivalent of honeybees than we thought.”
Researchers also consider wild dogs a critical element of efforts to establish a vast wildlife reserve, roughly the size of Sweden, that would span parts of Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. If approved, the reserve, known as the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or Kaza, would rank as the largest terrestrial protected area in the world and would acknowledge the reality that nonhuman animals don’t carry passports or respect national borders.
As midsize carnivores, wild dogs offer clues to the health and stability of a wide array of other animal populations, not only the herbivores on which the dogs prey but the other major carnivores with which they compete. Researchers have found that the fate and fortunes of wild dogs are strongly linked to the relative abundance and distribution of rival predators, particularly lions and spotted hyenas.
Not only do all three carnivores favor similar game items for dinner — impalas, warthogs, a nice beefy wildebeest — but lions and hyenas are notorious carcass thieves and will readily exploit their comparatively greater body mass to claim the fruits of wild dog labor.
The bigger carnivores will also consume the wild dogs’ young. “Lions don’t go out of their way very often,” Dr. Creel said, “but they’ll make the effort to dig up a wild dog den and kill the pups.”
Wild dogs have an array of tricks and adaptations for avoiding contact with larger predators. They communicate through soft calls and birdlike twitters that are difficult for any but their large-eared pack mates to hear. They kill efficiently, often disemboweling prey while it’s still in midair; eat quickly; and, once they’ve abandoned a carcass, rarely return to it, lest a scavenging lion be up for a fight.
Wild does not mean mild, however, and wild dogs will readily take a few moments from their busy day to harass carnivores closer to their own size, like leopards.
Some researchers worry that wild dogs are doing relatively well lately because lions and to a lesser extent hyenas are not — the results of disease outbreaks, conflict with farmers, trophy hunting and other problems.
Through projects like Kaza, conservationists seek to encourage complementarity and habitat diversity: the wide Serengeti-type horizons that favor big cats and bone-crushing hyenas and the scrubbier woodlands where wild dogs thrive, where every day another spectacle unfolds and you don’t know whether to look or turn away.
Only 300 left, but US wildlife managers deny federal protections for wolverines
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 8:20 EDT
By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) – U.S. wildlife managers on Tuesday denied federal protections for rare wolverines, outraging conservationists but pleasing Western states that opposed adding the reclusive but feisty member of the weasel family to the endangered and threatened species list.
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed applying Endangered Species Act safeguards for the estimated 300 wolverines left in the Lower 48 states, most of which inhabit the high country of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The service had said global warming was reducing mountain snows the animals use to dig dens and store food.
But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was “insufficient evidence” that climate change would harm wolverines, which resemble small bears with bushy tails and which are known for their ferocious defense of their young.
“After carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement.
The decision was welcomed in states such as Montana, which will determine next year whether to reinstate a limited wolverine trapping season that was suspended in 2012 after a lawsuit by conservationists.
Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday’s decision was part of a disturbing trend by the Obama administration of managing imperiled wildlife based on pressure by states and industry instead of science.
“All of the science points to the wolverine being in serious trouble. The Service’s own biologists said global warming was pushing the wolverine toward extinction and urged listing,” he said.
World's first surviving panda triplets born in Chinese zoo
Newborn pandas are being looked after by a team of feeders but face 'extremely high' mortality rates
Agence France-Presse in Hong Kong
theguardian.com, Tuesday 12 August 2014 11.41 BST
A Chinese zoo has unveiled newborn panda triplets billed as the world's first known surviving trio, in what it hailed as a miracle given the animal's famously low reproductive rate.
The mother, named Juxiao, which means "chrysanthemum smile", delivered the triplets at Guangzhou's Chimelong safari park in the early hours of 29 July, but was too exhausted to take care of them afterwards.
A video from the zoo showed Juxiao sitting in the corner of a room as she delivered her cubs for four hours and licking them after they were born. By the time it came to the delivery of the third cub, she was lying on her side.
Her cubs were initially put in to incubators while Juxiao regained her strength, but they have now been brought back to their mother for nursing and were being attended to by a round-the-clock team of feeders, the zoo said on Tuesday.
"It was a miracle for us and [the births] exceeded our expectations," the safari park's general manager, Dong Guixin, said.
"It's been 15 days. They have lived longer than any other triplets so far."
An official from Sichuan Wolong national nature reserve, considered the foremost authority on pandas, said the trio were too young to be officially recognised as surviving, but that they were the only known panda triplets alive.
"We can only say they are surviving once they reach six months. For now they are indeed the only surviving triplets," said an official from the centre.
The cubs were naturally conceived when the zoo paired 12-year-old Juxiao and the 17-year-old father, Linlin.
"In September last year, we made them neighbours so they could see each other and get familiarised with things such as smell. Juxiao also had to do more exercise to strengthen herself ," Dong said.
"The triplets can be described as a new wonder of the world," a statement from the safari park said, adding however that mortality rates among newborn pandas were extremely high.
Pictures taken earlier this month showed the cubs inside an incubator with their eyes closed and bodies thinly covered with white fur.
The zoo said they weighed between 83 and 124 grams (2.9 and 4.4 ounces) and were smaller than the size of a human palm at birth.
The cubs' gender cannot be determined until they are older, and they will be named at a later date.
The first known case of giant panda triplets was recorded in 1999, when a 15-year-old mother gave birth following artificial insemination in the south-western Chinese city of Chengdu.
The youngest of the three died of a bladder infection after three days.
Pandas, whose natural habitat is in mountainous south-western China, where there are thought to be 1,600 living in the wild.
Ohio kids devastated after officer shoots tame deer in front of them: ‘It was my best friend’
By David Edwards
Thursday, August 14, 2014 12:19 EDT
Residents of a Ohio community said this week that children in the neighborhood were devastated after they witnessed an officer shoot a deer that had become so friendly that it regularly ate out of people’s hands.
In photos and video obtained by WTRF, the deer a can be seen playing with people in the Clarington community. Residents said that an Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer who was stalking the deer asked parents to bring children inside on Monday so he could shoot it.
However, residents who wanted to see the deer relocated refused, and the officer eventually gave up on that day.
But on Wednesday, Shannon Lee told WTRF that the officer returned and shot the deer as both of her daughters watched.
“I petted it, and I would feed it,” daughter Olivia Lee recalled. “And I would play with it some more, and it was my best friend.”
Shannon Lee said that the officer followed the deer through people’s yards for 20 to 30 minutes before shooting it.
“They saw us sitting on the porch,” she explained. “They didn’t say, ‘Would you please take your kids inside? You know, this is what’s going to happen.’ No warning at all until we heard the gunshot.”
In a statement, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources argued that “wild animals are unpredictable by nature and are capable of becoming aggressive and dangerous at any time. It is in the best interest of humans that wild animals remain in the wild.”
According to WTRF, officers became interested in killing the deer after a resident reported that it was eating from their garden.
Watch the video below from WTRF, broadcast Aug. 14, 2014.
Breakthrough: Scientists use gene-editing to prevent muscular dystrophy in mice
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Friday, August 15, 2014 3:48 EDT
Proof-of-principle experiment shows gene-editing can be used to prevent muscle wasting in Duchenne muscular dystrophy
Scientists have prevented muscle wastage in mice with a form of muscular dystrophy by editing the faulty gene that causes the disease.
The radical procedure could not be performed in humans, but researchers believe the work raises hopes for future gene-editing therapies to stop the disease from progressing in people.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in a gene on the X chromosome and affects around one in 3,500 boys. Because girls have two X chromosomes they tend not to be affected, but can be carriers of the disease.
The pivotal gene is used to make a protein called dystrophin which is crucial for muscle fibre strength. Without the protein, muscles in the body, including the heart and skeletal muscles, weaken and waste away. Most patients die by the age of 25 from breathing or heart problems.
Researchers in the US used a powerful new gene-editing procedure called CRISPR to correct mutations in the dystrophin gene in mice that were destined to develop the disease. They extracted mouse embryos from their mothers and injected them with the CRISPR biological machinery, which found and corrected the faulty gene. After the injections, the mouse embryos were reimplanted in females and carried to term.
Tests on the mice found that the therapy helped to restore levels of dystrophin, and that their skeletal muscle performed normally, even when only 17% of their cells contained corrected genes.
The procedure could not be done in humans, but the proof-of-principle experiment demonstrates that correcting only a small proportion of cells could lead to a dramatic improvement for patients.
The researchers, led by Eric Olson at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, said that instead of correcting faulty genes in human embryos, future procedures might achieve the same effects by correcting genes in muscle cells soon after birth. That challenge is considerable though, because the gene-editing must be done in far more cells that are harder to get to.
“The approach we describe could ultimately offer therapeutic benefit to Duchenne muscular dystrophy and other human genetic diseases in the future,” the authors write in the journal Science.
Marita Pohlschmidt, director of research at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: “We welcome the encouraging results described in this paper because they show that in principle it might be possible to repair genetic defects. Successfully repairing a genetic defect to restore production of a functional protein has the potential to be a long-lasting treatment or even a cure.”
But she warned that the research was at an early stage. “To develop this technique into an effective treatment for people with muscle-wasting conditions it may be necessary to combine it with other therapeutic approaches such as stem cell therapy,” she said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
Study reveals Antarctic minke whales feeding ‘frenzy’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 15, 2014 4:54 EDT
Antarctic minke whales engage in an underwater feeding frenzy, filling their huge mouths up to 100 times an hour as they gorge on prawn-like krill during the summer, new research showed Friday.
The Australian Antarctic Division said it was the first time that the feeding behaviour of the animals under the sea ice had been recorded, and the frenetic pace of the activity was unexpected.
“We were really surprised,” the division’s chief scientist Nick Gales told AFP.
“To actually see it and to see the incredible number (of lunges at food) and how cleverly they were able to use their behaviour to exploit the krill under the sea ice was amazing to see.”
Like other baleen whales, the minkes lunge forward with their mouths wide open to collect food, taking on a large volume of water which they then spill out as they trap the fish inside.
While the huge blue whale will only do two or three such lunges during a dive for food, the smaller minke can do more than 20, sometimes at the rate of one every 30 seconds.
“It’s bloody hard work living down in Antarctica getting your prey and these guys when they find their patch they work incredibly hard exploiting what prey is there,” Gales said.
“This is by far the most frequent number of lunges in this sort of feeding that any baleen whale has ever been recorded to do.”
The recordings were made possible by satellite tags attached by Australian and US scientists to the animals off the west Antarctic Peninsula in 2013.
The tags measured the orientation, depth and acceleration of the whales, Gales said, adding that the study also found that the minke’s length of nearly nine metres (30 feet) gave them access under the ice to areas the larger blue whale could not reach.
“The minke’s preferred prey, Antarctic krill, aggregate under the sea ice and attract the whales to the area, leading to these feeding frenzies,” Gales added in a statement.
“Any future change in sea ice has the potential to impact on the minke whales’ foraging habits.”
Gales said prior to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the movements and diving behaviour of these whales were a mystery.
But the work exposed a successful strategy by which the animals could fatten during the southern hemisphere summer when there was a lot of food available to them in Antarctica.
“It’s a really, well, uniquely evolved strategy for getting krill, that’s why they are so successful. There are probably over half a million minke whales in all the oceans around Antarctica,” he said.
The study was part of the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership, which is endorsed by the International Whaling Commission.
Animals caught in crossfire, trapped at Gaza zoo
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 16, 2014 5:25 EDT
The lions sit dazed in the shade of their damaged pen, while nearby the decayed carcases of two vervet monkeys lie contorted on the grass of a Gaza zoo.
The animals were caught in the crossfire in over a month of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed more than 1,960 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side.
In one enclosure at the zoo a fly-covered pelican huddles in the corner with a duck. Opposite, a small crocodile sits motionless in an inch of stagnant water, next to the rotting corpse of a stork.
A gazelle shares another pen with a goose.
Around the corner, a baboon picks listlessly at the ground of the tiny pen it shares with the dried-out remains of another monkey.
Everywhere, there is a sickly stench from the animals’ cages, which have not been cleaned for weeks.
Shadi Hamad, the park’s director, said the zoo was damaged and that the animals died as a result of Israeli air strikes.
An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that the military was looking into allegations that it fired missiles in the Al-Bisan park area.
Israel launched an air campaign over Gaza on July 8 to take out militants’ rockets, followed by a ground offensive nine days later to destroy a network of Hamas cross-border tunnels leading into the Jewish state.
The zoo ?- part of Al-Bisan City — was built by the Hamas government in 2008 as a tourist village to give Gazans some relief from the hardships of life in the Strip, and had a cafeteria and tables where families could sit and relax.
The animals were all smuggled through tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, before the passages were shut last year with the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a key ally of the Islamist movement Hamas.
Now, Al-Bisan is far from relaxing, with the wire of its enclosures twisted and crushed, debris and dead animals strewn around, and the remains of militant rocket launchers lying nearby.
“Before the war the area was very beautiful. There were trees, lots of greenery, palm trees. It was an area for children, there were playgrounds and areas for families,” zookeeper Farid al-Hissi said.
Hissi got his job at Al-Bisan after working in a zoo in Israel and because of his love for animals.
The death of the animals he cared for has clearly left him in a state of shock.
“Eight monkeys were killed, and an ostrich was killed too. The lion’s enclosure was wrecked and the zoo was completely destroyed. The Al-Bisan zoo was totally devastated,” he said.
The administrative centre has been flattened and some of the palm trees lining the avenue from the entrance down to the animal enclosures have been uprooted.
-’Makes you sad’-
The destruction to the zoo has shaken Hissi badly.
“You can see that the cages for the animals are badly damaged. When you see it, it makes you sad because they are in a jail now,” he said, standing by the lion enclosure.
A lion and lioness lie in a steel pen inside their enclosure, the roof of which has collapsed from the force of the nearby explosion.
They make little noise, standing only when Hissi tosses in a couple of dead chickens.
And in a filthy three-by-three metre (10-by-10 foot) pen, seven mange-ridden wild dogs zig zag around their enclosure incessantly.
Hissi was insistent there had been no militant weapons inside the zoo.
But buckled rectangular metal rocket launch systems lay among the debris on the edge of the park, near a large building that was also hit by Israeli air strikes. Some appeared still to be loaded with rockets.
Hamad, the park’s director, was adamant that the rockets had not been fired from inside the park.
“Maybe there was a base around Al-Bisan village or next to it. But the enemy decided and insisted on punishing Al-Bisan village,” said the neatly-dressed director.
“They punished the park for the presence of the rockets nearby but not inside the village,” he said.
The Jabaliya area north of Gaza City is home to the Strip’s second park, the Jabaliya Zoo, which escaped major damage.
Completed just six months ago, the park’s exhibits range from pigeons and a German Shepherd in cages to six lions. All were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt.
Although the park in Jabaliya was relatively unscathed, bombardment had impacted on the animals psychologically.
“It was the noise that really affected the animals here. The sound from the bombing terrified the animals. When the birds heard the shelling they would take flight and flap around the enclosure in panic because they were so scared,” said Aamir Abu Warda, director of the Jabaliya park.
“The continuation, the repetition of this killed several birds, and other animals abandoned their young ones, some of which died,” he said.
Struggling SeaWorld plans new tanks for killer whales, pledges $10 million for new research
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 16, 2014 5:46 EDT
US theme park operator SeaWorld said Friday it would build new, giant tanks for its killer whales, whose captivity has caused uproar and hit the company’s earnings.
SeaWorld also pledged $10 million in funds for killer-whale research and announced a multi-million-dollar ocean health partnership, but animal rights groups were quick to savage the initiatives.
The Orlando, Florida company, whose shares have hit their lowest point since going public in April 2013, has faced rising criticism since last year’s release of the documentary “Blackfish.”
The film probed the impact of captivity on SeaWorld’s orcas and the fatal 2010 attack by one of them, Tilikum, on a trainer.
The first of the so-called whale environments, due to open to the public in 2018 at SeaWorld San Diego, will have a total water volume of 10 million gallons, nearly double that of the existing facility.
With a maximum depth of 50 feet (15 meters) and spanning more than 350 feet in length, the so-called Blue World Project will also provide large viewing points for the public.
“Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales,” CEO and president Jim Atchinson said in a statement.
“Our guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore, watch them interact at the depths found in the ocean, or a bird’s eye view from above.”
But animal rights group PETA ridiculed SeaWorld’s announcement as a “desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time, at a time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas.”
“It will not save the company,” PETA added.
“What could save it would be the recognition that it needs not to make larger tanks but to turn the orcas out in seaside sanctuaries so that they can feel and experience the ocean again, hear their families, and one day be reunited with them.
“A bigger prison is still a prison.”
New killer whale environments are also planned for SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio.
On Wednesday, SeaWorld announced a drop in quarterly earnings, sending its shares plunging by more than 30 percent.
Below are various videos you can watch that document the horrible sadistic cruelty towards Orcas:
BLACKFISH - Killer Whales at SeaWorld Documentary Maker Gabriela https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_gk1sVAyhU
Frontline: A Whale of a Business https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3fZ2dMdtu8
Blackfish Clip: Mother Orca Cries for Her Baby https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWFo6kf21Hw
"Tilikum's Story" - a tale of kidnap and exploitation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUTetFY__B4
Lolita Slave to Entertainment animal right documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGxMLiL1uZI
Liberating Lolita https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAB9yn3Wn1UAnd this is what happens because of the sadistic cruelty: Just one example which is enough because there are many others.
FULL: Killer Whale Drowns Trainer! (Seaworld) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EhqM7Q82sw
Italian authorities urged not to kill bear who attacked man in woods
Environmentalists angered by plan to capture bear who mauled a man foraging for mushrooms while it was nursing its cubs
Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Sunday 17 August 2014 18.25 BST
Environmentalists in Italy have urged authorities in the northern province of Trentino not to capture or kill a brown bear that attacked a man on Friday.
Daniele Maturi, 38, was reportedly foraging for mushrooms in the woods near Pinzolo in the heart of the Dolomite mountains when he was set upon by Daniza, a female bear nursing her cubs. Maturi was bitten and scratched, and suffered injuries to his wrist, leg, knee and back during the attack.
"She seemed crazy," he told local television station TNN after being released from hospital. "She chased me. She took me with one paw on my back; she made a hole in my back. I was on the ground and then she jumped on top of me."
The vice-president of the autonomous province of Trentino, Alessandro Olivi, has signed an order for Daniza to be captured, a step the authorities believe is necessary to guarantee public safety. She is already reported to be under surveillance.
Olivi said the bear's life would only be at risk should she pose "an imminent, serious and not avoidable danger for the operators [of the capture] and third parties".
But as well as prompting a social media backlash, the proposal – accompanied by the hashtag #iostocondaniza (#I'mwithDaniza) – sparked anger and concern among many environmentalists.
Caterina Rosa Marino of the League for the Abolition of Hunting (Lac) disputed the need for the capture, arguing that Maturi had stumbled across Daniza in "the only [situation] which is really dangerous: encountering a mother with her cubs".
Massimiliano Rocco of WWF Italia, meanwhile, was quoted as telling Il Messaggero: "Capturing Daniza now, preventing her from raising her cubs, would be an historic defeat."
Daniza is part of a reintroduction scheme known as Life Ursus, which is viewed as one of the most successful conservation efforts in Europe. Between 1999 and 2001 10 brown bears were brought from the Slovenian wilds to the Dolomites in northern Italy, where they have since thrived.
But the effort is far from being beloved by all. Among local farmers, in particular, it is loathed: livestock including sheep, goats and lambs have been killed by the roaming bears. The right-wing Northern League has repeatedly called for the scheme to be ended.
As he displayed his bandaged limbs, slashed trousers and damaged boots for the cameras, Maturi, from Pinzolo, said he thought the scheme was dangerous. "It only needs to happen once," he said. "With me it went OK. If it had been a woman or someone else … I don't know if it would have been OK because it's really brutal."
Bengal slow loris flies to UK safety
It is hoped the rare primate will live at the Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon and befriend another slow loris called Doris
theguardian.com, Monday 18 August 2014 23.40 BST
A vulnerable primate has been flown more than 5,000 miles from the Maldives to start a new life in Britain.
The Bengal slow loris, a species no larger than a bag of sugar, had been living in the capital Male after police officers confiscated it during a drugs raid.
Officers housed the nocturnal creature in a birdcage on Dhoonidhoo, also known as "prison island", for eight months, feeding it baby food and bananas, while they searched the globe for a suitable new home. Officers named the loris, believed to be male, Kalo, which translates as "Buddy".
Alison Cronin, who runs the Ape Rescue Centre at Monkey World in Dorset, embarked on a complex mission to rehouse the primate in the south-west of England.
With other countries unable to help transport the animal, which is one of only a few thousand in existence, she brought the case to the attention of the British authorities and requested permission for it to be brought to the UK.
She said: "It would have been a huge loss if a healthy, vulnerable animal had to be destroyed, but it was also really important for us to support the Maldivian authorities, and to send a message to other countries around the world that vulnerable creatures don't need to be put down – organisations like ours will provide support and assistance to ensure that endangered species aren't allowed to die off."
British Airways captain Will Rennie, who flew the animal from Male to Gatwick airport, said: "Travelling at more than 500mph with us, our special little guest was for once not such a slow loris!"
The animal will spend the next four months in quarantine at Monkey World. It is then expected to begin a new life at the Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon, with a new friend, a slow loris called Doris, who has been without a companion since she arrived in the UK 15 years ago.
• This article was amended on 19 August 2014. The original stated the slow loris was a monkey. This has been corrected.