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Author Topic: For All Daemon Souls and Dog Lovers  (Read 83845 times)
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« Reply #30 on: May 31, 2013, 06:53 PM »

For all Daemon souls...

God Bless,

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« Reply #31 on: Jun 01, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Hi Katherine,

Gosh thanks so much for this link. I would like to encourage all to watch this devastating video on the treatment and animals worldwide.

God Bless, Rad
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« Reply #32 on: Jun 01, 2013, 10:19 PM »

Hi Rad,
You are so welcome. Thank you for creating this thread.

I have another link, to a photo gallery and article from National Geographic, "Vanishing Voices" regarding the rapid diminishment of native languages. There are incredibly beautiful words here... words that capture deep and reverent relationships with Nature.

God Bless,

« Last Edit: Jun 02, 2013, 02:26 AM by Katherine » Logged
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« Reply #33 on: Jun 08, 2013, 06:49 AM »

June 7, 2013

Federal Protection of Gray Wolves May Be Lifted, Agency Says


Gray wolves, whose packs now prowl through the northern Rockies and the forests along the Great Lakes, no longer need endangered-species protection to prevent their extinction, the Obama administration said Friday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled a proposal to eliminate the remaining restrictions across the country, saying wolves are flourishing again. The only populations to have protection, under the proposal, would be Mexican wolves in southern Arizona and New Mexico and a small experimental population in North Carolina.

The announcement by Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, marked the imminent end of 50 years of controversial efforts to bring back a predator that once roamed the continent but had been all but exterminated in the United States by the mid-20th century.

“Wolves are recovered and they are now in good hands,” Mr. Ashe told reporters on a conference call. “States are the most competent people to make the decisions in the future about how many wolves” there should be and “where wolves can add value to the landscape in the years ahead,” he said.

States like California, Colorado and Utah have few, if any, packs now. It is unclear, if the proposal is made final, whether migrating wolves from the Rockies could flourish there.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the decision, saying that it reflected a parsimonious view of the Endangered Species Act and would hinder the further expansion of the wolves’ current range. Protections have already been lifted for the largest populations of wolves in the Midwest and northern Rockies.

Kieran Suckling, the president of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, said, “What this is really about is the agency saying: We’re closing the door on the recovery of wolves, new wolf populations in new areas. We’re going to be satisfied with a northern Rockies population, a Great Lakes population and a Southwest population.”

The protections available for wolf populations in the northern Midwest have been largely uncontroversial, as was the removal of these populations from the endangered species list in 2011. But in Montana and Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced a generation ago, they were a magnet for bitter controversy, pitting ranchers and hunters against groups dedicated to helping transplanted populations thrive.

Gray wolves in Wyoming had some protections until last year.

The most obvious result of the loss of protections was state-authorized wolf hunts. Because some of the wolves hunted and killed were favorites of tourists in Yellowstone National Park or collared animals being tracked by wildlife biologists, the news of their deaths left raw emotions among conservation advocates.

Friday’s announcement of the proposal to leave management of wolves to state wildlife officials was expected; a version of the proposal had been reported by The Los Angeles Times. But that did not make it any more palatable to environmental groups.

“This proposal is really an unfortunate low bar for endangered-species recovery in the United States,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president of Defenders of Wildlife. “I’m not saying we have to restore them to their whole historic range, but this cuts off wolf recovery in the middle of the movie.”

“We didn’t do this with bald eagles,” she added. “Grizzlies and wolves, the top predators, need the cover of the law. The social tolerance for predators in the West is very low. There is concern that states will follow the race to the bottom. We’re talking about a predator that people are very emotional about to begin with.”

Mr. Ashe, in his news conference, said, “The recovery of the gray wolf is one of the most remarkable successes in the history of conservation.”

He stoutly defended the state agencies, saying: “We need to be dependent on the states to carry out wildlife management on a broad scale. And states are very competent to do that.”

Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that after three hunting seasons, the most recent of which ended with 225 dead wolves, “the population remains robust and very healthy.” He added that the packs are spreading “in every direction.”

But Mr. Suckling does not share the optimism. “There are large areas of big wild habitats outside those three locations that could and should have wolf populations in them, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is closing that opportunity,” he said.

“That on one hand is really bad news for wolf recovery because it sets a low standard. And that is really bad news for those ecosystems.”

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« Reply #34 on: Jun 23, 2013, 06:42 PM »

This singing cockatiel is so super sweet!

Enjoy  Cheesy
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« Reply #35 on: Jul 04, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Shocking footage of hunters killing young seals fails to stop Namibia's cull

Government claims the cull is to protect fish stocks, but campaigners say seals are clubbed to death for their fat and fur, Thursday 4 July 2013 07.00 BST   
This film, shot in 2011 but only just released by Earthrace Conservation, shows sealers clubbing Cape fur seals to death in a nature reserve Link to video: Horrific footage of seal clubbing in Namibia


This video is as sadistic as it is evil ...........Rad


Shocking footage of young seals being clubbed to death in a Namibian nature reserve by hunters has been presented to the country's government, but a request by animal protection groups to ban the practice has been ignored.

Release of the footage, taken by conservation group Earthrace Conservation, coincides with the start of this year's seal cull which is expected to kill 80-90,000 seal pups and up to 6,000 bulls. Campaigners say the seals are killed in order to sell their fat and fur, while the government has previously said they are killed to protect fish stocks – it says they consume 700,000 metric tons of fish annually.

The Netherlands-based conservation group called on the Namibian government to stop the cull, saying that a ban in neighbouring South Africa in 1990 had no economic impact on the fishery.

"Terrified pups are rounded up, separated from their mothers, and violently beaten to death. An additional 6,000 bull seals are killed for their genitalia which are thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures. Most of this is exported to Asia," said a spokesman for Earthrace who witnessed the hunt.

"At 6am, the clubbing begins. Then, at 9am each morning, bulldozers clean up and restore the beach before the tourists arrive to view the colony, because all of this happens in a designated seal reserve."

Namibia is the only country in the Cape fur seal's range in which commercial hunting is permitted. Sealing occurs on two mainland colonies, Cape Cross and Wolf/Atlas Bay .

Commercial hunters are thought to hire around 160 part-time workers to kill the pups, which are between the ages of 7 and 11 months, using spiked wooden clubs.

Namibia and Canada are the only two countries in the world which allow major seal culls. Two foreign journalists filming the Namibian seal cull in 2009 were arrested on the grounds they had entered a protected marine area without a permit, and one of them was beaten by seal hunters.

The Namibian government declined to comment on the new video.
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« Reply #36 on: Jul 05, 2013, 07:16 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

How hawkmoths jam the sonar signals from bats

By David Clark Scott, Staff writer / July 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm EDT

In the dark caves and jungles of the world, there's an epic 65-million-year evolutionary battle going on between bats and moths.

Moths are obviously the underdogs. But scientists are learning that moths have found ingenious ways to counter the weapons of the bat.

The latest discovery is that the hawkmoths may be jamming the sonar signals bats use to track and catch moths in flight. How do they do it?

According to an article in Nature, behavioral ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University in Idaho and phylogeneticist Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida in Gainesville went to Borneo to study how hawkmoths defend themselves.

    "When the researchers played bat ultrasound to the hawkmoths, they found that three species (Cechenena lineosa, Theretra boisduvalii and Theretra nessus) they had captured emitted ultrasound clicks in response. The males did so by rapidly grating stiff scales on the outer surface of their 'claspers' — structures normally used to grab females during mating — against part of the abdomen, the researchers report. Females also seem to pull part of their genitalia inwards so that genital scales rub against their abdomens."

This is the second species of moth known to man to find a way to jam the echolocation system employed by bats.

In a 2009 article in the Scientific American, Aaron Corcoran, a biology PhD student at Wake Forest University and the lead author of the paper about how tiger moths jam bat sonar, described how scientists studied and tested behavior of the Bertholdia trigona against the big brown bat Eptesicus fuscus, using high-speed infrared cameras and an ultrasonic microphone to record the action over nine consecutive nights.

    "Normally, a bat attack starts with relatively intermittent sounds. They then increase in frequency—up to 200 cries per second—as the bat gets closer to the moth "so it knows where the moth is at that critical moment," Corcoran explains. But his research showed that just as bats were increasing their click frequency, moths "turn on sound production full blast," clicking at a rate of up to 4,500 times a second. This furious clicking by the moths reversed the bats' pattern—the frequency of bat sonar decreased, rather than increased, as it approached its prey, suggesting that it lost its target."

But sonar jamming is not the only weapon in the moth's self-defense system. Researchers have known for 50 years that moths have an early warning system: They can hear the ultrasonic hunting calls of their nocturnal predator.

In a 2006 paper in Current Biology, Dr. James Windmill who was at the University of Bristol, England, at the time, wrote that not only was the simply designed moth ear detecting the echolocation pulses of the bat, but it was actually fine tuning its receptivity when under attack.

He noted that the hearing of Noctuid moths is most sensitive to frequencies at 20–40 kH, which put it at the lower range of the ultrasound frequencies used by bats. And as bats move in closer, both the loudness and the frequency of the bat's sonar calls increase. And the moth responded.

"The moth's ear mechanically tunes up and anticipates the high frequencies used by hunting bats," wrote Dr. Windmill.

Check out a rather cool video depicting what an underwing moth does once he hears that there's a bat in hot pursuit.

An acoustical engineer now at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, Windmill has continued to study moths. His latest research, published in May in Biology Letters, reports that greater wax moths can hear higher frequencies than any other animal on earth, up to 300 kilohertz.

The highest known frequency of bat echolocation calls is 212 kHz, but some scientists have suggested that bats are evolving higher frequencies or switching frequencies in order to confuse moths.

“A lot of previous work has suggested that some bats have evolved calls that are out of the hearing range of the moths they are hunting. But this moth can hear the calls of any bat,” Windmill told Nature.

And so the epic evolutionary war goes on outside the audible range of some very interested human spectators.

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« Reply #37 on: Jul 05, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Re-wilding offers hope for survival of northern hairy-nosed wombats

Scientists are buoyed by locations being found for severely endangered species to live in

Georgina Kenyon, Friday 5 July 2013 06.07 BST

There are only 200 northern hairy nosed wombats left in the wild, making them one of the most endangered species on the planet, more at risk than even than the giant panda and the Sumatran tiger.

But innovative, new methods of "re-wilding" – a kind of eco-engineering – where species are re-introduced into habitats they once lived, are having some success and might point the way for conservation of other species too.

Scientists now believe there is hope for the wombats' survival, partly due to locations being found for the species to live in, back in their old habitat range from centuries ago.

"In the 1980s, there were as few as 35 of the northern hairy-nosed wombat remaining on the planet. Now we have 200," said Alan Horsup, a scientist with the threatened species unit at the department of the environment and heritage protection (DEHP) in Queensland.

Once the northern hairy-nosed wombat lived throughout a band of arid, sand forest from Queensland through to New South Wales and Victoria. But competition with cattle for grass to eat since the late 18th century has caused the wombats to slowly die out.

Re-wilding started in 2009 when the Queensland government started to translocate 15 of the wombats by air and road, from Epping Forest in central Queensland, to a second site: a 105 hectare eucalyptus forest on part of a cattle property, owned by the Underwood family, near St George in southern inland Queensland. The Underwood family donated the land to the government for the wombats to live in. It was an unusual partnership between a farming family and the government, but one that is working, because of the family's interest in wombats. New babies (joeys) are expected in mid 2014.

Now a third relocation is being planned and the team is searching for a site of 400 hectares or more of suitable forest with deep, sandy soil.

Horsup explained that having previously just one location at Epping Forest meant that the wombat was extremely vulnerable to disease, fire, flood and attacks by dogs.

Although re-wilding has been in existence for a few decades it is only recently that conservationists have started to take it more seriously. Part of its growing acceptance is due to conservationists realising that the survival of species depends intrinsically on the survival of ecosystems, while those same ecosystems and species are under unprecedented pressure from climate change and habitat destruction.

In March this year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that it was compiling a Red List of Threatened Ecosystems alongside its annual species at risk list.

Its success however, depends not only on suitable habitat but on how the animals cope after being moved.

In the case of wombats, locals turned into diggers themselves, excavating burrows for the marsupials to move into.

"Wombats cannot survive above ground for long, and digging their own burrow requires a lot of energy, so we needed to help them. Burrows are essential for wombats: to regulate the underground temperature and humidity," said Dave Harper, principal project officer, threatened species, at the department of Environment and Heritage Protection in Queensland.

"They are known as the 'engineers' of the mammal world, as they dig burrows up to 90m long."

The team used an augur drill – a kind of bulldozer with a large drill on its nose – to create man-made wombat burrows. The wombats then wasted little time in making their own renovations, digging extra chambers.

According to Clive Hambler, an ecologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, re-wilding is essentially about restoring ecosystems.

"Re-introducing species to ranges they have been driven from in historical times is a key conservation tool," he said. "It's particularly important to re-introduce species which are 'ecological engineers' - such as burrowing wombats, because the way they change the physical landscape benefits so many other species."

The northern hairy-nosed wombats' burrows, for example, also act as home to echidnas as well as to pardalote birds.

Hambler describes how re-wilding is essentially about reintroducing missing animals and plants back into a habitat where they once lived, eradicating invasive species and then letting the ecosystem look after itself following the reintroduction.

But wombat conservation is also dependent on the fact that female wombats usually only give birth to one baby joey every two years and IVF techniques for wombats are still at an extremely rudimentary level.

No northern hairy-nosed wombat currently lives in zoos, due to their high levels of stress in captivity.

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« Reply #38 on: Jul 06, 2013, 07:16 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Da Vinci-code, bird-style: Cockatoos can solve complex puzzles

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / July 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm EDT

These are birds with intellects to rival even those of Alfred Hitchock.

Researchers have found that Goffin's cockatoos can complete a complicated sequence of tasks in pursuit of a reward, suggesting that species' cognitive ability to innovate solutions to an unfamiliar problem.

In the experiment, ten untrained cockatoos were presented with a complex device that, if a series of steps were completed, would proffer up a quarter of a cashew: first, the birds must remove a pin, then a screw, then a bolt; then turn a wheel 90 degrees and then a latch sideways. It took one of the birds, Pipin, less than two hours to finish the process unassisted in five different sessions. Other birds finished the puzzle with some help, after being offered either the series of locks incrementally or after watching a bird partner do the task.

"The cockatoos sudden improvement in removing the five locks, each of which required a different set of behaviors indicates pronounced levels of behavioral plasticity,sensorimotor control and practical memory in this species," said Alice Auersperg, who led the study at the Goffin Laboratory at Vienna University, in an email interview.

Except for work with chimpanzees, a nonhuman animal successfully completing more than three, completely novel, sequential steps without prior training has not been previously documented in scientific literature. Most similar studies test the animal’s ability to learn through reinforcement a set of behaviors. But this study was more interested in the cockatoo’s capacity to innovate: Could this Indonesian bird develop solutions to a problem not present in its natural environment? Did it understand the logic of working toward a series of tasks sequentially?

“Our aim was to investigate innovative problem solving under controlled conditions, to explore the mechanism of learning, and to advance towards identifying what it is that animals learn when they master a complex new sequential task,” write the scientists in the paper, published in PLOS ONE.

To complete the puzzle, the birds had to understand the necessity of completing each step in sequence. Because there was only one reward at the end of the puzzle, that means that the birds had to complete the first four steps with only the promise of another step. And to test whether or not the birds both understood the underlying problem of the sequential tasks and had to innovate in each round, rather than simply having learned through reinforcement how to undo each lock, the scientists reordered the locks, removed a step, or changed the locks’ functionality in each of the five sessions.

In addition to appearing to understand the general concept of sequential task doing, the birds also seemed to demonstrate what is known as the “cognitive ratchet” process: once the birds learned to solve one lock, they seldom struggled with future locks of the same type.

"As our subjects also reacted sensibly as well as flexibly to sudden chances in the sequence and omitted most irrelevant parts we assume that they also formed some inference about the effect the locks have on one another; the depth of their understanding of the problem is however still debatable," said Dr. Auersperg.

Goffin's cockatoos - small and white - are a uniquely curious and not-easily-discouraged species, eager to explore their world with their tongues, beaks, and claws, and the scientists say that that the birds' intrepidness and fascination with their surroundings was a critical factor in their success.

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« Reply #39 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:14 AM »

The quest is to clone a mammoth. The question is: should we do it?

After the dramatic display of a frozen carcass in Japan, the ethics of reviving an extinct species are under intense scrutiny

Robin McKie   
The Observer, Sunday 14 July 2013   

The idea would make headlines around the world and bring tears of joy to the planet's journalists. An adorable baby woolly mammoth, tottering on its newborn legs, is introduced to the media. Cloned from a few cells scraped from the permafrost of Siberia, the little creature provides the latest proof of the might of modern science and demonstrates the fact that extinction has at long last lost its sting.

It is a fascinating prospect, one that was raised again last week when the most recently discovered carcass of a mammoth was revealed to the public in Yokohama, Japan.

The female, thought to have been around 50 when she died, had lain frozen in the ground for tens of thousands of years. Yet she still had hair, muscle tissue, and possibly blood. Samples have now been sent to South Korea, where scientists say they are planning to use them to clone a mammoth, though the proposal is considered to be highly controversial.

"The hunt for mammoth corpses has been transformed in recent years," said Professor Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum, London, and one of the advisers for the museum's current "Extinction" exhibition. "We have found as many mammoths in the past five years as we did in the previous 50, partly because global warming is melting the Siberian permafrost and is revealing more and more bodies and partly because local people realise it is a lucrative business. Mammoth ivory is viewed as a legal and ethically acceptable alternative to elephant tusks.

"The only trouble is that every time a new well-preserved mammoth is found, people also repeat the claim that we will soon be able to clone them, and I very much doubt that we will."

Mammoths ranged from the British Isles to eastern Asia and northern America until they disappeared around 10,000 years ago, though one small population was recently found to have survived to around 4,000 years ago on the Russian island of Wrangel.

Hunting by cavemen or climate change, or a combination of the two, are generally blamed for their demise.

Now some scientists are talking openly of bringing them back to life. Yokohama mammoth samples have been sent to the private laboratory of the disgraced South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who is co-operating with Russian scientists with the specific aim of recreating mammoths. Similarly, Semyon Grigoriev, who led the team that excavated the mammoth, has speculated that fluid found near the creature may be blood that contains intact cells which could be used to bring about their resurrection. "This find gives us a really good chance of finding living cells, which can help us implement this project to clone a mammoth," said Grigoriev.

The idea gathers little support from scientists such as Lister, however. "I very much doubt if the idea of cloning a mammoth is feasible," he said, a point that was backed by the molecular biologist Professor Michael Hofreiter, of York University.

"There are two ways that you could try to clone a mammoth," said Hofreiter. "The first is straightforward. You could simply look through the bodies we dig up in the Arctic to see if we could find one that had a cell that still contained a nucleus with a complete, viable genome in it.

"Then, employing the cloning techniques that were used to create Dolly the Sheep, we could put that nucleus inside an elephant embryo and then implant it into a female elephant, who would later give birth to a mammoth.

"The problem is that these creatures died many thousand years ago, when their DNA would have started to degrade, so the chances of finding an entire viable mammoth genome are essentially zero," he said.

There is another approach, however. Scientists could use the scraps of DNA they do find in preserved bodies to build up a map of a mammoth's genome. "Then you would use the same techniques that are employed in creating transgenic mice to make stretches of DNA – using your map as a guide – that you would then put into the embryo of an Asian elephant embryo which is the closest living relative of a mammoth," said Hofreiter.

"Bit by bit, you would continue with this process with separate pieces of mammoth DNA until you had completely replaced the DNA in your elephant embryo with mammoth DNA. You would now have an embryo with a mammoth genome it. This would then be placed in a female elephant in whom the embryo would develop to birth."

There are many difficulties with this approach, however. "A key point to remember is that elephants and mammoths each have about 4 billion DNA bases in their genomes," said Hofreiter. "However, the maximum size of the DNA section you can add is about 1 million bases. So you would have to repeat the process sequentially 4,000 times – without mishap – to create your mammoth embryo. The chances of that happening are also essentially zero." On top of these problems there is the simple issue of differences in proteins that exist between the Asian elephant that would be used as a surrogate mother and the mammoth embryo you have created. "It is quite possible that these differences would be big enough to make the embryo incompatible with the elephant. It is a further factor to suggest that mammoth cloning is not going to happen for a very long time indeed."

For good measure, there are other concerns that make the idea of cloning animals such as the mammoth controversial, added Lister.

In particular, there is the question of the ethics involved. "Mammoths were very similar to elephants, we believe," he said. "In other words, they were highly social, intelligent creatures. What right have we got to recreate one or two and then keep them in solitary confinement at zoos or research facilities? I have problems with those who think this is not a real issue."

Several other concerns also trouble scientists. Species are now being wiped off the planet at a staggering rate. The WWF has suggested a figure of around 10,000 species a year, for example, though these figures are disputed by other scientists.

The crucial point is that resources are desperately needed to help slow down the rate at which animals and plants are being rendered extinct. As a result, the idea of investing large amounts of money on reviving special interest species while the natural world is dwindling as the climate changes and human populations soar is leaving many scientists uncomfortable.

"We shouldn't be piling our cash into projects that could resurrect an already extinct large mammal," said Lister. "We should be trying to help those who are now hovering at the edge of extinction today. That would be the best way to invest our money in conservation."

Extinction: Not the End of the World? runs at the Natural History Museum London until 8 September.

Other creatures being studied by scientists as possible candidates for cloning include:

Southern gastric-brooding frog

An amphibian, found in Queensland, Australia, that is remarkable for incubating its young in the mothers' stomachs. The species interested doctors because it stops making acid in its stomach during incubation and so could help develop ulcer treatments. However, they were thwarted when the frog became extinct in the 1980s. Now researchers at the University of New South Wales are attempting to clone the frog from old tissue samples.

Passenger pigeon

Vast flocks of passenger pigeons once darkened the skies of North America until the bird was hunted to extinction by the early 20th century. Now American scientists want to bring back the bird their countrymen blasted out of the skies so recently. They are sequencing the bird's genome from museum specimens with the aim of using band-tailed pigeons as surrogate mothers.

The Baiji River dolphin

It was declared extinct in 2006, the first cetacean to become extinct in modern times. Its recent demise offers scientists one advantage: its DNA can still be easily extracted from remains. Efforts to retrieve and store it have now begun. However, the Yangtze River system, the dolphin's home, remains heavily polluted.

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« Reply #40 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:16 AM »

The weird and wonderful world of the naked mole rat

They behave like ants and can live for more than 30 years, but what's really captured the imagination of scientists is the fact that naked mole rats don't get cancer

Tim Adams   
The Observer, Sunday 14 July 2013   

Doctor Chris Faulkes, who has been working with them almost every day for the last 25 years, has long since learned to love naked mole rats, but, as he concedes, since they are "pretty much blind and live underground in the dark, they are not necessarily naturally selecting on good looks".

We are talking in Faulkes's lab at Queen Mary University in the East End of London, surrounded on all sides by his home-made rat-run of Perspex tubing in which 70 or so naked mole rats – each between 10cm and 20cm long – are scurrying, climbing over and under one another, backing up and beetling forward, worrying at anything in their path with their protruding incisors, teeth that they can move independently like chopsticks, all to apparently urgent purpose.

Faulkes argues for "a certain cuteness" in his research subjects (a quality that challenged even Disney in its animation Kim Possible), by pointing in particular to "their little twittering noises, with about 18 vocalisations that seem very important to them and which makes them sound a bit like baby birds". But though the naked mole rats do not immediately impress with grace and beauty, there are plenty of other characteristics in which they are almost preternaturally evolved; traits including extraordinary longevity and the apparent ability to avoid cancerous tumours, qualities that might yet make them man's best friend.

Naked mole rats – the name is bluntly accurate – are native to the drier plains of East Africa. Though they can live for more than 30 years, up to 20 times as long as comparable-sized rodents, they almost never emerge from below ground. A typical colony tunnel network might run to 4km in an area the size of a football pitch and the mole rats, which can run as fast backwards as they can forwards, will shift three or four tonnes of earth in the few weeks after it rains.

A naked mole rat was first documented by Eduard Rüppell, a German naturalist, in the 19th century, but he assumed from its unprepossessing appearance, the sagging nude flesh, the teeth growing straight through the skin, that it was a diseased or mutated individual of another species. It was not until the 1950s that the strange habits of this animal began to be known.

Jenny Jarvis, a researcher at the University of Nairobi, established a group in her lab, but could not understand why so few of them seemed to breed. This mystery was solved when advances in DNA studies proved that the naked mole rat was eusocial, which is to say colonies are organised like those of ants or termites – there is a single breeding queen, and two or three sexually active males, and the rest of the group, which can number up to 300, do not mate, but are deployed as workers – digging for the roots and tubers on which the colony feeds – or as soldiers, fighting off the occasional incursions of snakes into their tunnels.

It was this eusocial behaviour – currently considered to be unique among mammals to the naked mole rat and its close relative the Damaraland mole rat, though other social animals, including meerkats, practise a less regimented version – that first led Faulkes into a PhD on the animal. He had been working on odour research at Spillers cat food, trying to establish how smell influenced feeding, but when the chance came to return to academia at London Zoo, where the first British colony of naked mole rats had been established in 1987, he jumped at it.

"Time has gone pretty quickly since then," he says, with a laugh. "I suppose the first 10 years people were really focused on social behaviour, how the queen establishes precedence and suppresses the reproductive instinct of 99% of the colony. We wondered if it was done by smell, but it became clear she achieves precedence just by her behaviour rather than any pheromones or whatever." Faulkes was part of the team that wrote the naked mole rat genome and it was only after a lot of work had been done on relatedness, using genetic fingerprinting techniques and so on, that scientists "started looking at other weird aspects of their physiology".

The most striking of these to begin with was just how long naked mole rats lived. When researchers studied the rodents over a period of years in the lab, they began to notice how few of them ever died. Faulkes has some individuals from the original colony at London Zoo established from nearly 30 years ago. In American labs, there are naked mole rats still going strong – both forwards and backwards – at 32. Closer study revealed that not only did naked mole rats live a long time, they also resisted almost all typical signs of ageing. The queen and her chosen males could continue breeding without any apparently loss of fecundity. There was no menopause. Blood vessels remained in good condition throughout the naked mole rats' life, with negligible loss of elasticity.

One emphasis in Faulkes's work is into muscle conditioning – naked mole rats seem able to maintain near-perfect muscle structure into old age and are able to repair mitochondrial damage in cells, the kind of damage that is the causal factor in any number of human ailments, from senility to heart failure.

Some of these traits appeared to be linked to the particular series of adaptations that the animals had made to their extremely harsh underground environment – the ability to breathe in low oxygen/high CO2 atmospheres that would kill a human, as well as the evolved ability to suppress pain in their skin (acid burns do not make naked mole rats flinch) and, most extraordinarily perhaps, their cancer-free existence (again, apparently unique among mammals).

Last month, new research published in Nature by a group at Rochester University at New York gave an insight into how this tumour-resistant mechanism might work, research that promises, perhaps, to have a profound effect in a human context. Vera Gorbunova, who co-led that research, has been working on the question since 2005. She describes the work by phone as a different, other-end-of-the-telescope kind of approach to applied biology. "Generally, biologists have worked with mice or drosophila fruit flies to test theories because they are comparatively short-lived and have a quick reproductive cycle, which allows you to study effects on many generations," she says. "With this, we went at it in a different way. If you are studying longevity, for example, why not study animals that have evolved such genetic traits to enable them to live a long life and see how they might have done it?"

With her team, she identified the fact that cells of naked mole rats display a very high degree of proximity inhibition – they don't like to grow close together. This inhibition was proved to be the result of a complex sugar called hyaluronan (HMW-HA), which is present in all mammals, filling the gaps between cells, but which naked mole rats produce in abundance. The molecular structure of their HMW-HA is many times larger, and they are slower at recycling it, meaning that the hyaluronan "goo" builds up in a unique way, giving the naked mole rat the ability, among other things, as Faulkes says, of "almost turning a full somersault within its own skin".

The team at Rochester discovered that the presence of the "goo" enabled a gene identified in an earlier study to activate, causing cancer cells effectively to self-destruct and tumours never to form. The goo is a natural by-product of any attempt to grow naked mole rat cells in a Petri dish. Gorbunova suggests that the next step will be "to introduce this into mice, to see if it has the same effect, and the mice achieve greater age, as well as no cancer". After that, human trials may be possible, though there are no plans in place yet; the Nature article produced a great deal of interest but no extra funding.

Gorbunova is hopeful, however, that the introduction of HMW-HA will be possible into human cell structures and the usual laborious timescale of trials might be short circuited somewhat, not least because a very similar sugar molecule is already being used as an anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis in people, and is also present in some cosmetics, suggesting it may be tolerated by the body.

However, while the body might tolerate one-off applications of HMW-HA, acting against cancer may require re-engineering of all the body's cells to express the molecule, an extremely ambitious and potentially hazardous project. Moreover, it may be that HMW-HA has a role in preventing cancer in mole rats but it's not the entire explanation. A lot of complex research needs to be done to determine whether this discovery could help treat cancer in humans.

Having studied the mole rats for a long time, Gorbunova, like Faulkes, has become somewhat obsessed with their outlier qualities. She suggests that their unique and generally peaceable social organisation may be one factor in their longevity. Not only does the suppression of reproductive urges help the colony to co-operate rather than compete, it also means that an individual might be called on to step up to mating duties at any time. "Potentially, any animal can become a breeder, so they may sit and wait for years for their chance to become productive," she says. "It would follow that it would be worthwhile for them to live very long in the hope that eventually their time will come."

Faulkes is examining that extraordinary capacity for patience in a comparative study with the Damaraland mole rat, a close cousin of the naked mole rat from southern Africa, animals that conversely display aggressively solitary behaviours, the males meeting the females only to mate. "Partly it seems to come down to the availability of food," Faulkes says. "For the naked mole rats, finding food is hard; the underground tubers on which they live are scattered far apart and an individual would struggle to find enough digging in the dark. A co-operative strategy, though, benefits the whole colony."

But, with South African colleagues, he also is studying the genetic component of this behaviour. Citing the noted study by Larry Young into voles, which went some way to proving their monogamy was a function of the way in which the hormone oxytocin was transmitted in the brain, Faulkes believes something similar will likely be revealed in the naked mole rats. The presence of oxytocin in the "pleasure centre" of the brain seems crucial to their ability to form harmonious groups (its lack seems equally significant for their antisocial South African relations).

In this kind of way, Faulkes says, "we are slowly learning more and more" about the compelling and unique creatures that are rattling endlessly round the tubes around us as we talk. More than a few stubborn mysteries remain, however, including the obvious one: "We have no real idea at all," Faulkes admits, "about why they might be naked."

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« Reply #41 on: Jul 15, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Spain's endangered Iberian lynx brought back from brink of extinction

'Now there is hope', says director of conservation programme that has tripled wildcat's numbers in Andalusia

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona, Sunday 14 July 2013 14.03 BST   

Ten years ago the Iberian lynx was nearing extinction but today, thanks to an imaginative conservation programme that has brought hunters, farmers and the tourist industry under its wing, its numbers have tripled from 94 to 312.

"We can't claim victory yet but now there is hope," said Miguel Ángel Simón, the director of the programme for the recovery of the lynx in Andalusia, southern Spain. Only five years ago the animal was classified as critically endangered.

The project, which is jointly funded by the Andalusian government and the European Union, has been singled out for the second time by the EU as an exemplary conservation programme. Brussels is funding 40% of the €26m (£22m) needed to extend the project into the neighbouring regions of Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Murcia, as well as Portugal.

According to Simón, when they first carried out a census in the lynx's key habitats in the Sierra Morena and the Doñana national park, not only were there few lynxes but the rabbit population had also been severely depleted by disease. Rabbits are the lynx's main source of food.

Simón says they began breeding lynxes in captivity in case they became extinct in the wild.

When the current project was launched in 2006 the Andalusian government worked with farmers and hunting clubs and persuaded them that saving the lynx was in everyone's interest.

Lynx-spotting has become a tourist attraction in the area; as well as creating 31 full-time jobs, forestry work carried out under the programme has provided much-needed work for hundreds of small businesses in the area. Unemployment in Andalusia is running at nearly 37%.

The second phase of the programme involved trying to expand the narrow gene pool of the lynxes in the Doñana region. Lynxes from the Sierra Morena were released into the area and, thanks to the efforts of one male in particular, nicknamed Caribou, last year 61% of new-born lynxes in Doñana were descended from Sierra Morena animals. In May 2014 the third phase of the programme will begin, introducing animals into Portugal and other regions.

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« Reply #42 on: Jul 19, 2013, 06:22 AM »

07/18/2013 05:39 PM

Highway Slaughter: Germany's New Anti-Roadkill Offensive

By Julia Koch

Every year, hundreds of thousands of wild animals die on German roads. Now scientists are studying new ways to prevent deer, boar and other creatures from being run over.

Bertram is dead. The roe buck was hit by a car on the L 95, a regional road near Willstätt in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. The same thing happened to fellow deer Charlotte and Norbert. In the space of 14 months, Jutta, a doe, crossed the heavily traveled L 85, near the town of Bühl, more than 1,000 times -- accident-free. But then she too was hit.

Falko Brieger and Max Kröschel, two forest managers from the city of Freiburg, have affixed bright yellow GPS receivers to 45 deer. Once a week, the scientists drive from the Baden-Württemberg Forestry Testing and Research Institute to their test regions and read the movement data from the GPS collars. They want to know how often animals like Bertram, Norbert, Charlotte and Jutta head towards the road. What is their range? How often do they cross the road? And how -- and this is the most important question for the researchers -- can they be prevented from running blindly onto county, regional and federal roadways?

Germany's Roadkill Epidemic

A car smashes into a wild animal on a German road over one million times a year. Collisions with foxes, badgers and rabbits rarely cause significant harm, at least to drivers and passengers. But collisions with deer and wild boar or, as was the case on Berlin's Ring Road last September, with a stately elk, can kill drivers.

There were approximately 200,000 accidents involving collisions with wild animals in 2012. They claimed 20 lives, seriously injured 615 people and caused about half a billion euros in insurance losses. According to horrific statistics compiled by hunters, about 20 percent of the wildlife killed throughout Germany each year is so-called roadkill, dispatched by the radiator of a speeding car instead of a hunter's gun.

In some regions, such as the heavily forested Waldeck-Frankenberg administrative district in the western state of Hesse, surprise encounters between wildlife and vehicles already account for a third of all traffic accidents. When an animal steps onto the roadway in the dark, drivers often have little time to apply the brakes. "It stood there as if it had just been beamed down," recalls Werner Hankel, a businessman who killed a deer with his Audi one night on the B 252, a federal road between the towns of Twiste and Berndorf. The accident caused €5,000 ($6,500) in damage to his car.

Although some animals initially survive a crash, they often sustain serious injuries. When it happens at night in his district, forest ranger Gerhard Thomas receives a call from the police. Then Thomas, a hunter from Kleve in the Lower Rhine region, hitches a trailer to his car and drives to the accident site. "The worst thing is the curious onlookers," says Thomas, "the 'friends of Bambi' who want to take a deer with an open fracture to the vet." Forest rangers and tenant hunters -- hunters who have had a hunting license for at least three years -- are required to shoot seriously injured wildlife.

Cutting-Edge Anti-Collision Technology

This is one of the reasons hunters are especially keen to test methods of driving wildlife away from the side of the road. Over a million reflectors have been attached to black-and-white reflector posts throughout the country by hunters. When the light from a car's headlights hits the disks, they emit a bluish beam along the edge of the roadway -- in essence, a fence made of light that's designed to make animals hesitate before crossing the road.

In other locations, hunters spray expanding foam -- infused with the odors of lynx, wolves, bears and human beings -- onto trees and stakes on the roadside. These "perfumed fences" are also meant to induce animals into thinking twice before running into a deadly encounter.

One problem with these light and odor barriers: They have been used for decades, and yet the number of wildlife collisions still hasn't declined. "We only want to use measures that have proven to be effective," says Alfred Overberg of the road construction authority in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He also fears that the reflectors, for example, could become detached from the posts in a collision and pose a threat to drivers.

So-called green bridges at some wildlife crossings are intended to make it easier for animals to safely cross major roads. Another seemingly effective measure: New systems that use infrared cameras to monitor the roadside and activate flashing road signs when an animal is approaching the asphalt. Measures like these, however, are far too costly to be installed on a large scale.

Although some carmakers have begun installing new safety packages in their vehicles, few drivers will be able to afford them. Volvo and BMW have designed their cars to detect, at a distance of about 100 meters (328 feet), wildlife on a collision course with the vehicle. Some BMW models come with a special headlight that flashes at an approaching animal. If the driver doesn't brake, a warning tone sounds. The "animal recognition" option costs about €2,000.

Researchers Dig In

Two major research projects are currently underway to determine whether the most common prevention methods are effective. Falko Brieger and his fellow Freiburg forest managers are testing wildlife warning reflectors in the Baden-Württemberg region of Hegau and on the upper Rhine plain. The GPS collars are a critical part of the experiment, because, in the past, experts merely compared the numbers of wildlife accidents before and after a measure's implementation. Now, for the first time, they are studying the actual animals to determine whether they hesitate before stepping onto roads.

The researchers spent a year observing the collared deer before the luminous blue disks were installed. "We want to see whether the animals' crossing behavior changes as a result of the reflectors, so that wildlife accidents can be reduced," Brieger explains. The project will continue until 2014.

Christian Trothe of the Institute of Wildlife Biology in Göttingen, in central Germany, is studying scent fences and reflectors on 25 test routes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. The project partners include the German Automobile Association (ADAC) and the German Hunters' Association (DJV).

"The measures work wonderfully on some stretches of road, but not at all on others," Trothe concludes. Now the forestry scientist wants to find out what the segments of road that have high accident counts -- despite reflectors and odor-emitting foam -- have in common. He hopes "it will enable us to provide individual recommendations for each district."

Hunters to the Rescue?

Meanwhile, hunters with the Environmental Hunting Association (ÖJV) would rather solve the problem with their weapons. "Most tenant hunters want a lot of game, so that there is enough there when they happen to have time to go hunting," says ÖJV Chairwoman Elisabeth Emmert. "In hunting grounds like those, there are too many animals." Emmert points out that there is a forested area in the northern part of the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate where an above-average number of deer are shot to protect young trees from being gnawed. "The number of wildlife accidents dropped to almost zero," says the hunter.

"If a hunting ground along the side of a road is attractive, it'll always be popular, even if there are fewer animals there," argues Torsten Reinwald of the DJV. "The main cause of wildlife accidents is the high volume of traffic."

But, says researcher Trothe, "shooting two deer and scraping 20 off the road isn't a very good record." When hunters tell him about the many animal collisions in their hunting grounds, he says that he often thinks to himself: "Then go ahead and shoot something!"

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #43 on: Jul 22, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Iberian lynx will be extinct within 50 years, biologists warn

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 21, 2013 14:46 EDT

Within 50 years, climate change will probably wipe out the world’s most endangered feline, the Iberian lynx, even if the world meets its target for curbing carbon emissions, biologists said on Sunday.

The gloomy forecast, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that without a dramatic shift in conservative strategy, the charismatic little wildcat seems doomed.

The lynx — Latin name Lynx pardinus — grows to about a metre (3.25 feet) in length, weighs up to 15 kilos (33 pounds), and is characterised by its spotted beige fur, pale yellow eyes and tufted ears and cheeks.

Only around 250 of the animals live in the wild, holed up in two regions in southern Spain, the Sierra Morena and the Donana National Park, according to estimates published last year.

In just half a century, its range has shrunk from 40,600 square kilometres (15,600 square miles) to 1,200 sq. km. (463 square miles), driven by efforts to wipe out the rabbit, its main food, as well as poaching and fragmentation of its grassland-and-forest mixed habitat.

The new study, led by Miguel Araujo of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, models the impact of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on habitat, rabbits and lynxes.

On current trends, the changes will occur too fast for the lynx to adapt, it suggests.

“Climate change is predicted to have a rapid and severe negative influence on Iberian lynx abundance, exceeding its ability to adapt or disperse to more climatically favourable regions where prey densities are sufficient to support viable populations,” says the study.

“We estimate time to extinction to be less than 50 years, even with rapid and deep global cuts to anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse-gas emissions,” it said, referring to stabilising atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels to 450 parts per million (450ppm).

Reaching the 450ppm target would give a high probability of curbing warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, the goal set at UN climate talks.

The researchers say that the picture is not entirely bleak.

Extinction could be staved off, at least for the coming decades, by overhauling conservation strategies, they say.

At present, policymakers plan to release each year between 20 and 40 lynxes which have been bred in captivity, with the idea of placing them in their historical range — a vast area that includes parts of western and central Spain and eastern Portugal, too.

But the study says that, rather than a general re-introduction, a smarter tactic would be to target only top-quality habitats which are least fragmented and offer the best chance of resisting climate change.

This could be done with a yearly release of six males and six females, aged between one and four years. Computer models suggest this “would avert the likely extinction of (the Iberian) lynx this century,” it adds.

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« Reply #44 on: Jul 23, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Bottlenose dolphins know each other by name

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 22, 2013 17:57 EDT

Wild bottlenose dolphins design unique signature whistles to identify themselves, and they answer when a close cohort calls them by name, researchers said Monday.

A study of 200 bottlenose dolphins off the eastern coast of Scotland found that they are the only non-human mammals to use the names of those in their close circles to get each other’s attention.

“It is the first evidence we really have of naming and labeling in the animal kingdom,” said lead author Stephanie King of the Sea Mammal Research Unit in the School of Biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“I think it draws some quite interesting parallels between dolphin and human communication, which is something people had thought was the case but hadn’t been experimentally proven until now,” she told AFP.

Scientists have previously found that each dolphin creates his or her own signature whistle, or name, in the first few months of life.

Then, they spend a lot of time swimming around and announcing themselves.

About half of a wild dolphin’s whistles are its own signature whistle, King said.

But King and her co-author Vincent Janik wondered what would happen if a dolphin heard someone else calling out his or her signature whistle.

So they recorded a group of dolphins and played back the sounds of their name whistles, one by one.

“Interestingly, the animals would only respond and only react when they heard their own whistle,” said King, whose study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal.

“They would then call back very quickly and sometimes multiple times, and they did not respond that way to any of the other whistles we played.”

Researchers tried different ways of playing back the sound, both by preserving the voice of the dolphin and by stripping all voice features so it would sound like another dolphin calling out a specific name whistle.

They also played control whistles of unfamiliar dolphins from different populations, as well as the signature whistles from the same population.

“When an animal hears a copy of its whistle it will call back, it will reply very quickly and it doesn’t do that for any other whistle type,” said King.

“The results were striking,” she added. “We actually saw a really strong response. The animals would always call back, sometimes multiple times to hearing their own whistle.”

Other animals, including songbirds, bats and parrots, have been shown to be capable of copying sounds in their environment and developing a distinctive repertoire of calls.

But only parrots and dolphins use labels that they have learned for other objects or creatures.

King said her research shows that dolphins call each other by name in their own social circles, such as between mother and calf or from one male friend to another.

“Animals are really using this when they want to reunite with a specific individual,” said King.

Since dolphins appear to be whistling their own names about half the time, the next big question is to figure out what else they are talking about, said King.

“We don’t know what the other 50 percent is used for,” she told AFP. “That is the next step, really, for dolphin communication research.”

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