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« Reply #75 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:37 AM »

An ‘aporkalypse’ has Texas fighting losing battle against feral pig menace

By Tom Dart, The Guardian
Thursday, August 22, 2013 21:14 EDT

Texans have penned them in state-of-the-art traps, tracked them with night-vision goggles, massacred them with machine guns and and even shot them from helicopters.

But despite all the firepower and ingenuity the Lone Star State can muster, it is losing the war on feral hogs. The population of one of the most invasive and destructive wild animals in the United States is growing rapidly. And now they are trotting inside city limits.

What was once a largely rural problem is blighting suburban areas near parks and lakes. The city of Dallas has contracted a company to catch the swine starting next month after discovering that they are causing damage only a couple of miles from the heart of downtown.

“They’ve come to downtown Dallas using the flood plains, using the levees,” said Kevin Acosta, a city employee. “We’ve already had damage in parks, trails, city building locations near our landfill. Rooting with their nose they can dig two-to-three feet below the surface. They kill, in a sense, the ground – you’d think a machine had come through.

“We’ve seen the damage they can do in some of our parks where we have plants growing … we don’t have exact numbers but we do know they are increasing. When you look at the spots, you’d be surprised: ‘they went here?’ ‘How did they get here?’”

Dallas created a task force to tackle its pig problem and it is cooperating with affected neighbouring cities such as Arlington and Fort Worth. It is illegal for civilians to discharge a firearm inside Dallas’ city limits so the hogs must be caught and then slaughtered elsewhere.

Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension service conducts feral hog research and educates landowners. It has launched an online reporting system in a bid to track activity.

Mark Tyson, from the project, said that studies indicate there are between 1.8 and 3.4m wild hogs in Texas – about half the total number in the US. Some 79% of the state’s land mass is a suitable habitat for them, and they have infiltrated almost every county.

Texas allows hogs to be hunted year-round and the state’s many gun owners have responded to the “aporkalypse” with predictable enthusiasm.

Traps are also becoming more sophisticated, using wireless surveillance technology.

An estimated 750,000 of the animals are harvested each year – not enough to keep pace with the birth rate.

Tyson said that as things stand, the number of feral hogs in Texas is predicted to grow by 16% annually, roughly doubling in five years. They already cause an estimated $52m in damage to the state’s agriculture industry each year. And they are becoming partial to the comforts of suburban life.

“They’re roaming across the landscape searching for the best food sources available,” said Tyson. “Irrigated, fertilised lawns offer higher-quality food resources than the natural environment. They can cover less area and get the same food benefits in an urban setting.”

Hogs were introduced to Texas in the 1500s by Spanish explorers and cross-bred with imported European boars in the last century, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife department. Adults are omnivorous, weigh from 100 to more than 400 pounds and have sharp tusks.

Mainly nocturnal, they can breed from as young as six months and produce litters of, on average, four to six – but up to twelve – piglets as often as three times every 18 months. Scouting for food, they damage crops, fields, trees and habitations and sometimes eat other wildlife. And they are cunning. “Feral hogs are very smart, right in there with the range of dogs as far as intelligence,” said Tyson.

They feed often and have no sweat glands, meaning they cannot regulate their body temperatures so seek to cool down by wallowing. Though there have been reports of hogs colliding with vehicles and cyclists and of sows behaving aggressively to protect their families, their bathing habits could pose the biggest threat to humans.

“They distribute their fecal matter indiscriminately,” said Tyson. “A lot of their feces ends up in the water or in the upland areas which wash into the water.” That can increase bacteria levels. Some pigs carry swine brucellosis, which puts hunters at particular risk. It can be transmitted through skin wounds and inhaling bacteria and may cause flu-like symptoms and chronic organ infections in humans.

For years, the infestation has been so acute in George Bush Park, on the western edge of Houston, that in 2009 the commissioner responsible for the area, Steve Radack, claimed up to 15,000 hogs live in the park. He proposed allowing bow-hunters to shoot them and donate the meat to the homeless. The idea was rejected on safety grounds.

Across the country, hogs cause an estimated $1.5bn in damage annually.

Mark Smith, an associate professor at Auburn University in Alabama, is a co-coordinator of the bi-annual Wild Pig Conference, to be held in Montgomery next April. “People are definitely mobilising, [the issue] has definitely gotten on the radar,” he said.

Smith said that feral hogs are established in 40-45 US states and have spread rapidly in the past three decades because hunters seeking convenient sport have trapped, transported and released them in new areas, only for the populations to migrate and spiral out of control. “Before you know it you’re up to your neck in pigs,” he said. “In Alabama we have pigs which are creeping into people’s backyards.”

Auburn scientists are in the early stages of attempts to research and develop a contraceptive. Given the limited effects of hunting and trapping, the best hope for population control is fine-tuning a pesticide such as sodium nitrite, which has been very effective in reducing Australia’s hog problem. It is not yet authorised as a swine-control method in the US because of the risk it poses to other animals, such as bears.

At least there is one positive: hog meat is delicious. “It tastes real good,” said Smith. “I made a batch into sausages.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #76 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Southern Spain on the hunt for a prowling black panther

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 23, 2013 11:48 EDT

Spain stepped up the hunt Friday for a “large feline” feared to be a black panther prowling near startled residents, after a four-day search netted no more than a fox and a domestic cat.

Environmental officers set up night-vision cameras and extra cages to try to trap the elusive animal seen by half a dozen people as it roamed in a protected park popular with walkers near the town of Berja in southern Spain.

“From all the witnesses’ descriptions it seems it is a black panther but we’re not sure,” said search coordinator Jacinto Navarro, an environmental officer of the Andalusia regional government.

“This very morning, almond farmers called us saying they were stunned to see this animal walking around,” Navarro said.

“They are worried because we are dealing with a dangerous animal in the wild,” he said, although no one had reported any aggressive behaviour.

There were no reports of such an animal going missing, Navarro added.

“We guess that someone who had the animal as a pet let it loose in this area,” he said.

But the “absolute priority” of the team of three environmental officers and three police was to catch the feline alive.

Despite setting up two cages in the area with large chunks of meat inside on Tuesday, they trapped no more than a domestic cat and a fox, both of which were immediately released, Navarro conceded.

On Friday, two more cages and two night-vision cameras were added, the regional government said in a statement.

If the animal is trapped, officers hope to shoot it with a tranquiliser gun and hand it over to a zoo in the neighbouring town of Tabernas which has offered to take it in, the government said.

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« Reply #77 on: Aug 26, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Government plans to euthanize hundreds of desert tortoises after budget cuts to refuge

By George Chidi
Sunday, August 25, 2013 20:33 EDT

A combination of federal budget austerity and the dramatic decline of the Nevada housing market may claim some unlikely victims: desert tortoises.

The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center — a 23-year-old federal refuge in Las Vegas for the threatened species — has collected only $290,000 from its primary funding source of local developer fees over the last 11 months, the AP reports. The center can’t count on the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Nevada Department of Wildlife to make up the shortfall on the center’s $1 million annual operating budget because of federal and state budget constraints.

The result? Center administrators are planning to close the 220-acre facility in 2014 and euthanize about half of the 1400 tortoises under their protection, the AP reports. No more than 100,000 of the desert tortoises are believed to exist in the wild. Most of the tortoises there are former pets returned to their habitat once the government classified the species as threatened — one step short of endangered. And most are too feeble to be returned to the wild, the AP reports.

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« Reply #78 on: Aug 27, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Badger cull: environment secretary defends move on 'dark day'

Cull necessary as workable vaccine not ready, says Owen Paterson, amid protests as pilot schemes get under way in Gloucestershire and Somerset

Adam Vaughan, Tuesday 27 August 2013 10.25 BST   

Two pilot culls to kill up to 5,000 badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset have begun.

The cull, which the Guardian revealed last week would start on Monday night and the National Farmers Union has confirmed is under way, is designed to test whether badgers can be killed in a safe, humane and effective way. Farmers and the government say the cull is necessary to combat bovine tuberculosis, which led to 37,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2012, at a cost of £100m in compensation from the taxpayer.

Free-running badgers will be shot by licensed marksmen, rather than being trapped and killed, which is a more expensive option.

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, said on Tuesday that a cull was necessary because a badger vaccine – advocated by opponents of the cull – would not treat badgers that already carried the disease.

"We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won't get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle. That's the clear lesson from Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.

"That is why these pilot culls are so important. We have to use every tool in the box because TB is so difficult to eradicate and it is spreading rapidly."

He continued: "If we had a workable vaccine we would use it. A badger vaccine would have no effect on the high proportion of sick badgers in TB hotspots who would continue to spread the disease. We are working on new badger and cattle vaccines but they are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while TB gets worse."

Campaigners said the start of the cull marked a "dark day" for the UK. Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director for the Humane Society International/UK, said: "We are appalled to learn that the mass shooting of badgers has begun in our countryside. This is a dark day for Britain as science and ethics have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. Thousands of innocent badgers will now suffer and die in a completely unjustified slaughter that will at best have a marginal impact on TB in cattle and could very well make the problem worse."

By Tuesday morning, over a quarter of a million people had signed a petition calling on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to cancel the cull and focus on vaccination and better biosecurity. Jay Tiernan, the man behind the Stop the Cull campaign, was arrested on Monday for trespassing at a Defra site in Gloucestershire. Protesters have said they will do their best to disrupt the cull, which will see a police operation dubbed Operation Themis working to ensure public safety.
Many local residents in the cull-zone oppose the action and are doing all they can to help the animals survive. Yet most farmers believe a cull is the only way to safeguard their livelihoods. Patrick Barkham reports Link to video: Badger cull divides communities in west Somerset

Scientists including Lord Krebs, the head of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007, have called the cull "mindless" and said: "The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case."

But in a letter to his members, the NFU president, Peter Kendall, wrote on Tuesday: "We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of TB while knowing the disease exists in wildlife uncontrolled. It is why the NFU will be working with the pilot companies to ensure the successful delivery of these pilot culls over the coming weeks.

"Badger control remains a controversial subject and we understand that some people will never agree with controlling badgers in this way.

"I am confident however that through the combined efforts of farmers, the NFU and government over the last year to illustrate the impact TB has on farms, and the scientific basis for badger control, more people than ever recognise the need to address the disease in badgers."

The pilot culls were originally intended to begin last autumn but were postponed in October on the grounds that there had not been enough time to prepare for it because of a rainy summer, policing and the Olympics, and legal challenges to the cull.

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« Reply #79 on: Aug 27, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Happy National Dog Day: Joint task-force busts second largest dog-fighting ring in U.S. history

By Scott Kaufman
Monday, August 26, 2013 15:26 EDT

On National Dog Day, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced that they had assisted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in rescuing 367 dogs in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi in what government officials believe is the second-largest dog-fighting bust in U.S. history.

“This is a great example of federal, state, and local agencies working together to make communities safer,” said Paul Register, Auburn Police Division Chief, in a statement. “It is not just about the egregious act of dog fighting itself, but the other criminal activity that is affiliated with it.”

On August 23, law enforcement agencies in the states simultaneously executed 13 search warrants. Ten suspects were arrested on charges of felony dog-fighting. Firearms, drugs, and $500,000 in proceeds from gambling on dog-fighting were also seized from the properties, some of which contained the remains of dogs who are believed to have died as a result of fighting or neglect.

“These defendants were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 on one dog fight,” stated U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. “The number of dogs seized and the amount of money involved this in case shows how extensive this underworld of dog fighting is. These dog fighters abuse, starve and kill their dogs for the supposed ‘fun’ of watching and gambling on a dog fight. Their behavior is deplorable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished to the full extent of the law.”

Both the ASPCA and HSUS helped federal officials collect forensic evidence, both from the dogs and the compounds in which they were housed. One yard contained 114 dogs, most of which were chained outside in the summer heat without access to water or food. Many appeared emaciated, and all but the youngest — only a few days old — presented scars consistent with having been trained or forced to participate in dog-fights.

“Today we ended the torture of hundreds of abused and neglected dogs,” said Matt Bershadker, President and CEO of the ASPCA. “Never again will these dogs be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of the bare necessities. The ASPCA is extremely grateful to federal and local authorities who pursued this widespread investigation for so long, and we are happy to lend our assistance.”

Video of dogs being rescued by a similar joint effort last year can be found here:

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« Reply #80 on: Aug 30, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Evidence suggests bird migration patterns are learned, not genetic

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 29, 2013 15:55 EDT

Whooping cranes learn how to migrate by following elders in their midst, suggesting that social influence has a larger bearing than genetics on the birds’ behavior, scientists said Thursday.

The large, white birds are endangered in the wild of North America, with just one native population of about 250 in Canada that spends winters along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

But a growing captive-bred group in the northeastern state of Maryland has provided researchers with an unparalleled set of genetic and travel data to study, answering the critical question of whether the birds are programmed by nature to make their way south or if their behavior is learned.

“The knowledge is transmitted from older to younger birds,” said study co-author Thomas Mueller, a biologist at the University of Maryland.

“Migration becomes more and more efficient as these birds age and that takes place over many years.”

Without an experienced crane to follow, young birds strayed much farther from their intended path, said the findings in the US journal Science.

The longer the birds practiced, the better they became at sticking to a straight route.

The research was based on eight years of data from a population of 73 birds that were bred in captivity.

Humans play a key role in getting the migration started.

The chicks are born in the spring and soon begin learning to follow a light aircraft that is at first driven along the ground by a human wearing a white-suit disguise in order to prevent the birds from growing accustomed to humans in their midst.

Later, the aircraft is flown as the birds gain strength.

Eventually, in the fall, the young birds will follow this aircraft all they way south.

The cranes make their own way back to Wisconsin after the winter, and fly back southward in their own pairs or groups without the aircraft after the first year.

Scientists studied the birds’ behavior beginning the first year after the human-led flight.

Their movements were tracked by satellite transmitters, radio telemetry and people observing them from the ground.

Researchers found that groups that included a seven-year-old adult were much better able to stick to a straight path for the 1,300 mile (2,000 kilometer) journey.

“We had groups that were only just juveniles, for example. They did significantly worse than if there was an older bird in the group,” Mueller told AFP.

One-year-old birds that did not follow older birds veered an average of 60 miles (97 kilometers) from a straight flight path.

But when the one-year-old cranes traveled with older birds, the average deviation was less than 40 miles (64 kilometers).

Researchers said the experience of elders might have helped them recognize landmarks and keep the group on track.

“We’ve long known that learning is important in this species. But we were surprised by the degree to which the learning continued for many years,” said co-author Sarah Converse of the US Geological Survey.

“Eight-year-old birds are better than six-year-olds, and they are better than four-year-olds, and so on,” she said.

“Also, we were impressed by the importance of cultural transmission of knowledge.”

Gender, group size and genetic closeness to other birds in the group had no impact on helping the birds stick to the straightest flight path.

The whooping crane, or Grus americana, is the largest bird in North America. It stands about five feet tall and can live for 30 years or more.

The birds were hunted heavily in the 1800s and beyond, and have lost much of their wetlands habitat. Barely more than a dozen were left by 1941. The population is now slowly rebounding.

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« Reply #81 on: Aug 30, 2013, 07:50 AM »

Terrifying Gastornis bird turns out to have been a vegetarian

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 29, 2013 22:00 EDT

A giant “terror bird” deemed to have been one of Earth’s top predators after the demise of the dinosaurs was in fact probably a plant-loving herbivore, German scientists reported on Thursday.

Palaeontologists have wrangled for years about Gastornis, a huge flightless bird that lived between 40 million and 55 million years ago.

Up to two metres (6.5 feet) high, Gastornis had a massive beak with a hooked top — a feature that looks so ferocious that many experts conclude the creature must have been a meat-eater, hence the “terror bird” monicker.

“The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modelling of its bite force,” said University of Bonn geochemist Thomas Tuetken, who took part in a new assessment.

“It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small.

“The terror bird was thought to have been a top predator at that time on land.”

Tuetken and his colleagues, though, reassessed the bird’s diet. They began to forge a pro-veggie opinion after they measured calcium isotopes in fossilised Gastornis bones found in a former open-cast brown-coal mine in Saxony-Anhalt, eastern Germany.

The residual signal of these isotopes is a telltale of what proportion of the animal’s diet came from meat versus plants.

The indicator gets “lighter” as the isotope passes down the food chain.

In theory, the bones of a supposed apex predator like Gastornis should have sent a strong signal.

But the team found the isotope levels were weak, similar to those of herbivorous mammals and dinosaurs held in museum collections. Carnivores, including the Tyrannosaurus rex, had a far stronger signature.

The work was showcased on Thursday at an annual international meeting of geochemists called the Goldschmidt Conference taking place this year in Florence, Italy.

The vegetarian view of Gastornis has had other recent backing from evidence in the United States.

Footprints from the American cousin to the Gastornis suggest that its feet did not have sharp claws, which are characteristic of predators.

And its big size meant that it may have been quite unable to hunt for small and nimble early mammals, which for carnivores were the food du jour, say some experts.

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« Reply #82 on: Aug 30, 2013, 09:22 AM »

Navy: Training, testing may kill hundreds of whales, dolphins

Navy training and testing could inadvertently kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and injure thousands over the next five years, mostly as a result of detonating explosives underwater, according to two environmental impact statements released by the military Friday.

Associated Press


Navy training and testing could inadvertently kill hundreds of whales and dolphins and injure thousands over the next five years, mostly as a result of detonating explosives underwater, according to two environmental impact statements released by the military Friday.

The Navy said that the studies focused on waters off the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California and Hawaii from 2014 through 2019, the main areas that the service branch tests equipment and trains sailors.

The studies were done ahead of the Navy applying to the National Marine Fisheries Service for permits for its activities. The Navy said that it if hadn't done so and was later found to have harmed marine mammals, it would be found in violation of federal environmental law and have to stop its training and testing.

Most of the deaths would come from explosives, though some might come from testing sonar or animals being hit by ships.

Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, the Navy's energy and environmental readiness division director, told reporters this week the Navy uses simulators where possible but sailors must test and train in real-life conditions.

"Without this realistic testing and training, our sailors can't develop or maintain the critical skills they need or ensure the new technologies can be operated effectively," Slates said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

According to the reports, computer models show it may kill 186 whales and dolphins off the East Coast and 155 off Hawaii and Southern California.

The Navy said it developed the estimates by totaling the hours it will test and practice with sonar, torpedoes, missiles, explosives and other equipment over five years. Experts then combine the data with what's known about the marine mammals and then use computer modeling.

Off the East Coast, there could be 11,267 serious injuries and 1.89 million minor injuries like temporary hearing loss. The reports said the testing and training might also cause marine mammals to change their behavior - such as swimming in a different direction - in 20 million instances.

Off Hawaii and Southern California, the reports said that the naval activities may cause 2,039 serious injuries, 1.86 million temporary injuries and 7.7 million instances of behavioral change.

But Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Navy was underestimating the effect its activities on marine mammals.

For example, he pointed to a study by government and private sector scientists published just last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society showing mid-frequency active sonar can disrupt blue whale feeding. The study says feeding disruptions and the movement of whales away from their prey could significantly affect the health of individual whales and the overall health of baleen whale populations.

Jasny said the Navy's ocean activities are "simply not sustainable."

"These smaller disruptions short of death are themselves accumulating into something like death for species and death for populations," Jasny said.

One of the statements covers Hawaii and Southern California, while the other covers the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
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« Reply #83 on: Aug 31, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Orca Parade Caught On Video


On the InterWebs it is more common to see videos of huge dolphin gatherings, but recently one with many orcas was uploaded to YouTube. It is a very rare window into their movements and in a large number. The camera person does a good job of capturing them and made a great decision to used a tripod, so the images are easy to watch.

The orcas appeared at Active Pass, Galiano Island, British Columbia.

This large marine species has also been called ‘killer whales’, but they don’t hunt or kill humans in the wild and they aren’t whales, they are members of the dolphin family.

The idea that they are dangerous may have started when orcas kept in captivity have attacked their human trainers, but these incidents are very rare. They are likely due to the extreme stress of being kept in tiny swimming pools, because orcas in the wild normally swim for miles every day.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #84 on: Aug 31, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Watch: New ‘walking’ shark species discovered in Indonesia

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 30, 2013 12:14 EDT

A new species of shark that “walks” along the seabed using its fins as tiny legs has been discovered in eastern Indonesia, an environmental group said Friday.

The brown and white bamboo shark pushes itself along the ocean floor as it forages for small fish and crustaceans at night, said Conservation International, whose scientists were involved in its discovery.

The shark, which grows to a maximum length of just 80 centimetres (30 inches) and is harmless to humans, was discovered off Halmahera, one of the Maluku Islands that lie west of New Guinea.

Bamboo sharks, also known as longtail carpet sharks, are relatively small compared to their larger cousins, with the largest adult reaching only about 120 centimetres (47 inches) in length.

They have unusually long tails that are bigger than the rest of their bodies and are found in tropical waters around Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Conservation International said the discovery of the shark, which was first disclosed in the International Journal of Ichthyology, “should help draw diver interest to this mega-diverse but largely undiscovered region”.

Ketut Sarjana Putra, Indonesia country director for the group, said the Hemiscyllium halmahera shark could “serve as an excellent ambassador to call public attention to the fact that most sharks are harmless to humans and are worthy of our conservation attention”.

Conservation International, whose scientists discovered the shark along with colleagues from the Western Australian Museum, added it came at a time when Indonesia was increasing its efforts to protect shark and ray species.

Watch the shark ‘walk’ in the video below, uploaded to YouTube by Conservation International:

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« Reply #85 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Nationalists and environmentalists square off at protest against Japanese dolphin hunt

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 31, 2013 20:45 EDT

Environmentalists staged a rally in Tokyo Saturday to protest the start of Japan’s annual dolphin hunt, which was made infamous by an Academy Award-winning documentary.

The rally organiser, Action for Marine Mammals, said it was one a number of demonstrations taking place around the world this weekend ahead of the season’s hunt in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji.

About 50 activists gathered in central Tokyo carrying banners that read: “Stop the slaughter.”

“Japanese people are responsible for stopping our country’s barbarian dolphin hunt,” said Toshiaki Morioka, head of the group, adding that some of his members planned to travel Taiji later.

The village drew global attention after “The Cove”, a hard-hitting film about the annual dolphin hunt, won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2010.

Fishermen corral hundreds of dolphins into a secluded bay, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and slaughter the rest for meat. The dolphin hunt takes place over a period of months.

Marching side by side with the environmentalists, a dozen of Japanese nationalists shouted through loudhailers: “Get out of Japan! Hypocrites!”

The nationalists accused the environmentalists of undermining Japanese culture and traditions, labelling the demonstrators as “environmental terrorists”.

Some tried to break up the march, but police separated them from the procession to avoid a possible skirmish.

Japanese rightwing activists have recently increased their presence, stirring nationalistic sentiment amid territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

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« Reply #86 on: Sep 02, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Monster crocodile traps tourist on Australian island

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 2, 2013 7:55 EDT

A tourist has had a lucky escape after being trapped on a remote Australian island for two weeks by a monster six-metre (20-foot) crocodile, reports said Monday.

The New Zealander, identified only as Ryan, was dropped with his kayak on Governor Island off Western Australia’s far north by boat and had been intending to paddle the four kilometres (2.5 miles) back to the mainland.

He told his rescuer, Kalumburu resident Don Macleod, that every time he tried to kayak away from the island, the giant reptile stalked him. So he stayed on dry land, despite diminishing food and water supplies, for fear of being eaten.

“He said he was there for a fortnight and he came to the conclusion very quickly that he couldn’t get off there without attracting this crocodile that lives in that area and probably was watching him all the time,” Macleod told the ABC.

“So he was reduced then to trying to conserve his water and signal (for help).”

Macleod said he was familiar with the crocodile which roamed the island, which has no fresh water source.

“That crocodile, I’ve seen him several times actually going by quite fast,” he said.

“One day he just happened to surface alongside me as I was going past and my boat’s 20 foot long so he was well up towards the 20-foot mark.”

Macleod said he only went to investigate on Saturday after spotting a light on Governor Island and came across the distressed man.

“I went across and Ryan came out looking a bit distraught,” he told the broadcaster. “He came down the beach, he had no hat on and no shirt on.

“He was relieved and shocked, and thankful someone had come along because he was running out of options pretty quickly. He is a very, very lucky man.”

“He was desperate for water when I trotted up. We gave him a cold beer, which was probably the wrong thing, and then he went to sleep about three-quarters of the way home.”

The New Zealander is reportedly recovering on the mainland.

Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven metres long and weigh more than a tonne, are a common feature of Australia’s tropical north.

Last month a man was snatched by a large crocodile in front of horrified onlookers as he swam in a river in the Northern Territory.

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« Reply #87 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Tiny rainforest Gardiner’s frogs found to listen using their mouths

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 2, 2013 21:00 EDT

Some of the tiniest frogs on Earth have no middle ears or eardrums but can hear by using their mouths, scientists said Monday.

Gardiner’s frogs live in the rainforests of the Seychelles, a series of 115 small islands in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar.

Most frogs have eardrums on the outsides of their heads. The eardrums vibrate when incoming sound waves hit, sending the vibrations to the inner ear, then the brain.

But not the wee Gardiner’s frogs, which measure about a centimeter long or the size of a thumbtack.

Researchers thought that the creatures might be deaf, until they tested them by playing pre-recorded sounds of other frogs croaking. They found that male Gardiner’s frogs croaked back, as if in conversation, proving they could hear.

Advanced X-ray images showed that neither the lungs or the muscles of the frogs were helping transmit sound to their inner ears.

Instead, scientists realized that the frog’s mouth is what acts as an amplifier for the sound frequencies the frog emits.

The system is boosted by very small amount of thin tissue between the mouth and inner ear.

“The combination of a mouth cavity and bone conduction allows Gardiner’s frogs to perceive sound effectively without use of a tympanic middle ear,” said Renaud Boistel of the University of Poitiers and French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, add to what is known about how some creatures, including frogs and turtles, evolved the ability to hear.

“We show that the presence of a middle ear is not a necessary condition for terrestrial hearing, despite being the most versatile solution for life on land,” said the study.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #88 on: Sep 05, 2013, 06:32 AM »

India might ban the use of animals at circuses

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 12:32 EDT

India is considering a ban on the use of all animals used in circuses after activists said Wednesday they discovered elephants and horses shackled for long periods, dogs housed in tiny cages and drunk trainers.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a statutory advisory body, said it has recommended the ban after a nine-month investigation by animal rights activists into conditions at 16 of the nation’s circuses.

The recommendation to India’s environment ministry follows a ban by many Western circuses of the practice amid public concern over the treatment of animals trained to perform tricks.

“Everyone enjoys the circus, but nobody sees what’s happening behind the show, the horrible treatment to the animals or how they are kept,” AWBI secretary S. Umarani told AFP.

“We need to bring in the right legislation to stop this cruelty. That’s why the board has recommended a total ban. Now the ministry will consider and take a call,” Umarani said.

Many wild and endangered animals are already banned from Indian circus acts including bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions, but the latest proposal is for a ban on all animals. Elephants are still widely used in circuses despite a ban issued in 2009, activists said.

Rights groups PETA and Animal Rahat (meaning Animal Relief) said their investigation handed to AWBI found evidence that animals have been hit with sticks with iron hooks and constantly shackled and caged, while some trainers were found drunk.

Many animals were forced to perform acts despite being partially blind and injured, PETA said.

“Tricks are not natural to animals. They are beaten and punished for it…that’s why we are calling for human-only performances in circuses,” said Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs at PETA India, said in New Delhi.

Many of the circuses lack the money and facilities to properly care for the animals, including adequate veterinary care, PETA said.

Ministry of Environment and Forests official Surjit Singh said a final decision on the ban could take “a long time” as it was still waiting for details on AWBI’s recommendations.

The circus tradition in India dates back to the late nineteenth century, but in recent times its popularity has dwindled. Now only a little more than 20 government-registered circuses perform across the country.

Some circus owners have been quoted in local media as saying the recommendation, if accepted, would spell the death knell for their businesses.

A handful of countries have similar bans, while Britain’s parliament introduced a draft bill in April which would ban travelling circuses from using wild animals.

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« Reply #89 on: Sep 05, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Pacific nations agree to cut bluefin tuna catches

By David Ferguson
Thursday, September 5, 2013 7:30 EDT

Asia-Pacific fishing nations and territories agreed on Thursday to cut catches of young bluefin tuna by 15 percent, with an agreement environmentalists said would not stop overfishing.

Nine economies, including the United States, China, South Korea and Taiwan, concluded a four-day meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Fukuoka, western Japan.

The participants agreed to reduce the amount of bluefin tuna aged three years or younger in 2014 by 15 percent of the average between 2002 and 2004, a Japanese fisheries agency official said.

The United States had proposed a 25-percent reduction, but a majority of participants, concerned about the impact on local fishing industries, agreed on the 15-percent cut proposed by Japan, the official said.

The accord will be endorsed at the commission’s annual assembly in December in Australia, the official added.

Greenpeace immediately denounced the reduction, saying only a total ban on catching bluefin tuna — at least until a sign of clear recovery of the species can be confirmed — was enough.

Greenpeace also called on Japan — the world’s biggest consumer of tuna — to take the lead in adopting effective measures “to assure the sustainability of fishing bluefin tuna in the Pacific”.

Environmentalists say industrial-scale fishing that takes large amounts of young tuna from the ocean before they are old enough to breed is destroying the population of a fish highly-prized in Japan’s sushi restaurants.

The WCPFC was formed in 2004 based on a UN treaty to conserve and manage tuna and other highly migratory fish stocks across the western and central areas of the Pacific

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