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Author Topic: For All Daemon Souls and Dog Lovers  (Read 81201 times)
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« Reply #105 on: Sep 21, 2013, 06:43 AM »

New book reveals: Queen Elizabeth’s a major dog person

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 20, 2013 20:40 EDT

Queen Elizabeth II is so fond of her corgis that she personally supervises their daily meal and pours the gravy for them herself, according to a new book on British royal pets since the 16th century.

“Pets by Royal Appointment”, by author Brian Hoey, who has written about Buckingham Palace for more than 40 years, suggests that the monarch prefers animal company to those of humans.

The book says that the royals “are suspicious of practically everyone outside their own family, so the only creatures they really trust are not of the human variety,” according to a statement released with the book’s publication.

The book says the dogs’ meals of fillet steak and chicken breast are prepared by a footman and served at 5:00pm sharp every day, with the 87-year-old queen pouring the gravy on the feast.

Elizabeth currently has two corgis and two “dorgis”, a cross with a dachshund, and has had more than 30 corgis during her reign.

Prince Philip however loathes the waddling, short-legged animals because they yap too much, according to Hoey.

The 300-page book traces the five-century love affair between the royals and their animals, starting with Henry VIII, a keen rider.

He says the royals are known for an aversion to cats.

Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, had 88 dogs and also received a number of exotic animals from foreign rulers including an elephant from Cameroon, a baby crocodile from Gambia, a giraffe and a giant tortoise from the Seychelles.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #106 on: Sep 23, 2013, 06:54 AM »

More than 600 rhinos killed in South Africa in 2013

Conservationists say latest figures showing scale of poaching is extremely worrying

Adam Vaughan, Monday 23 September 2013 10.43 BST      

More than 600 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year, in what conservationists called an "extremely worrying" escalation of the illegal wildlife trade.

Last year, a record 668 rhinos were poached for their horns, but that figure now looks likely to be eclipsed in 2013 with 618 rhinos dead and three months left of the year. There are around 18,000 white and 4,000 black rhinos in the country.

The dramatic growth in rhino poaching in South Africa, up from just 13 in 2007, has largely been driven by demand in Asia, in particular Vietnam, where rhino horn is seen as a status symbol. A survey of 720 people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, published earlier this month, found that typical buyers were "educated, successful and powerful individuals" and use rhino horn for social networking.

Anti-poaching efforts are turning to technology, such as drones, as well as attempting to elevate the problem from a conservation to a national security issue. In the next fortnight, the US will crush its 6m tonne stockpile of seized ivory in a symbolic act of destruction to raise awareness of the problem.

Edna Molewa, South Africa's minister of water and environmental affairs, told an anti-poaching street parade on Sunday that the trade was also a threat to the country's tourism industry. "Because of the increase in rhino poaching since 2008, rhinos have been at the centre of the world's attention. This is because losing a rhino not only disturbs the ecological balance, but also harms the South African economy through the resulting harm it does to the tourism industry as a job creator, and poses a security threat as international poaching syndicates cross illegally into South Africa to rob this precious animal of its horn," she said.

Heather Sohl, WWF-UK's chief species adviser, said of the latest figures: "The scale of poaching we are now seeing is extremely worrying. 618 rhinos in South Africa have already been killed by poachers in 2013, so it's appalling to think how many may be lost to this illicit trade by the end of the year. Governments need to act with pace and in a way that fits the seriousness of the crime – this is no longer just an environment issue; illegal wildlife trade transcends national boundaries and undermines national security and economic development in some of the world's poorest countries."

Governments and the WWF will meet at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday to discuss efforts to tackle the problem.

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« Reply #107 on: Sep 24, 2013, 12:23 AM »

Photographer Lassi Rautiainen recently captured the profound partnership between a she-wolf and a brown bear in the wilds of northern Finland. For days, he witnessed the strange pair meet every evening to share food after a hard day of hunting. No one knows when or how this relationship was formed, “but it is certain that by now each of them needs the other.”

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« Reply #108 on: Sep 24, 2013, 12:32 AM »

Indian village relocates to make room for tigers
200 families accepted government incentive packages to move outside tiger reserve borders.
Laura Moss
Mon, Sep 23 2013 at 1:14 PM

A month ago, the village of Ramdegi was home to 200 families. Now, antelope, bison, deer and boars roam the streets.
Recently, even a tiger has been seen prowling the abandoned farming village.
The people of Ramdegi moved in the name of conservation. Their home was located in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, and last month residents accepted incentive packages from the Indian government to move outside reserve borders.
The move was part of the government’s ongoing efforts to reduce human conflicts with wildlife, especially endangered species like tigers.
Tiger numbers have decreased by about 95 percent over the past century, and only about 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
It didn’t take long for nature to reclaim Ramdegi. In the weeks since the villagers left, a variety of wildlife has moved in.
The Times of India reports, "Herds of bisons, chitals, sambars, nilgais and wild boars are now a common sight in the meadows. Wildlife is seen quenching thirst at the village lake. Even a tiger is said to be regularly stalking the village in pursuit of prey."
This isn’t the first time that an entire Indian village has made room for nature.
Last year, the 350 residents of Umri moved out of the Sariska Tiger Reserve and were compensated with land, cash and livestock worth up to $20,000.
"It is a long-drawn process because the villagers have to agree to move out," PS Somasekhar, Rajasthan, India’s chief conservator of forests, told the BBC. "We can't force them to leave. We can only persuade."
Other communities across India are expected to accept government incentive packages and move out of tiger reserves in coming years.

Photo caption: A tiger stalks a deer at the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. (Photo: Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

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« Reply #109 on: Sep 26, 2013, 05:22 AM »

Hornet attacks kill 18 in China

More than 100 people stung by swarms of insects in Angkang city in Shaanxi province, according to health official

Associated Press in Beijing, Thursday 26 September 2013 09.27 BST   

An unusual spate of hornet attacks in central China has killed at least 18 people.

Zhou Yuanhong, a health official in the city of Angkang, in Shaanxi province, said more than 100 people in the area had been stung by swarms of the insects in recent months and treated at hospital, and that 18 of them died.

The local state-run newspaper Huashangbao reported that 21 had died in hospitals.

Zhou said a handful of people are killed every year in the region by hornets, especially in forested areas, but that this year has been unusually severe, possibly because of weather changes.

In the affected village of Sanping, local official Wang Zhengcai said people have been warned to be vigilant if they go into the woods.

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« Reply #110 on: Sep 26, 2013, 05:24 AM »

Venezuela prison raid reveals inmates' private menagerie

Racoons, macaws, farm animals, dogs and endangered species discovered after 16 inmates died in riots at Sabaneta prison

Virginia López in Caracas, Wednesday 25 September 2013 15.24 BST   

When armed police stormed a Venezuelan prison where 16 inmates had just been killed in rioting, they will not have been surprised to find assault rifles, hand grenades and a stash of plastic explosives.

But they will have been astonished to also discover a private menagerie consisting of pedigree dogs and jungle animals – including several endangered species.

Venezuelan jails – notorious for their dire conditions and overcrowding – are largely under the control of heavily armed inmates. The raid at Sabaneta prison, in the western state of Zulia, has however revealed the some of the prisoners were also avid wildlife collectors.

Among the animals being kept were an ocelot, several caymans, raccoons, and a couple of macaws, according to a regional newspaper, La Verdad.

More than a dozen farm animals were found, including turkeys, pigs and cows, as well as an unspecified number of purebred dogs, including pitbulls, neapolitan mastiffs, siberian huskies and yorkshire terriers. It is not known to which inmate or inmates the animals belonged.

Sabaneta prison was built for 700 but currently houses more than 3,700 inmates, as well more than 192 children living alongside their imprisoned parents.

Last week's riots, which erupted after rival gangs clashed in a dispute to gain control of the prison, were some of the most brutal in recent years. Humberto Prado, of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory, said several inmates were dismembered.

Last year, close to 600 inmates were killed inside the country's 34 prisons.

Venezuela's minister for penitentiary affairs, Iris Varela, ordered the Sabaneta prison to be evacuated while a thorough search was conducted to guarantee that no weapons remained inside. The inmates will be transferred to several of the other jails across the country.

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« Reply #111 on: Sep 26, 2013, 05:29 AM »

Human evil .........

NRA lobbyist shoots elephant in the face and then celebrates with champagne

By David Edwards
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 13:12 EDT

The NBC Sports network came under fire this week after it aired an NRA-sponsored program that included gun lobbyist Tony Makris shooting an elephant in the face and then drinking champagne.

Deadspin noted on Tuesday that the Botswana hunt had aired during this week’s episode of Under Wild Skies.

Makris is a longtime friend of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and is best known for orchestrating Charlton Heston’s rise within the organization.

In a video of the hunt, Makris spots an elephant in the brush, walks up and shoots it in the the face twice. After a short chase, Makris fires again and the elephant is dead.

The NRA lobbyist then takes a moment to pose with his .577 “Tyrannosaur” rifle and the dead pachyderm.

As the episode ends, the group of hunters enjoys a glass of champagne while watching the sunset.

“To hunt an elephant and to harvest and elephant and to bring the ivory back to camp is a very, very special occasion,” one hunter says.

Botswana announced in 2012 that an all-out ban on commercial elephant hunting would go into effect in January of 2014 over concerns of sharp declines in wildlife species.

The outrage over the NBC Sports broadcast comes as authorities in Zimbabwe this week said that poachers seeking ivory had used cyanide to poison at least 81 elephants.

If you want to watch this human evil killing this innocent elephant click here:


Updated on 09/28/2013

NRA elephant hunter slams ‘animal racists’: Hitler would oppose killing elephants too!

By David Edwards
Friday, September 27, 2013 11:28 EDT

A National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist this week lashed out at critics who called on NBC Sports to cancel his hunting program after it aired an episode where he shot an elephant in the face.

By Friday, almost 50,000 people had reacted to this week’s episode of Under Wild Skies — which features gun lobbyist Tony Makris shooting an elephant in the face and then drinking champagne — by asking NBC Sports to cancel the NRA-sponsored show.

In an interview with the NRA talk show host Cam Edwards on Thursday, Makris explained how he responded to animal rights activists who could not understand why he would kill an elephant.

“The short answer is because hungry people eat them and because I’m a hunter,” he said. “You know, I’m not an elephant hunter. I’m a hunter. I hunt all things.”

Makris continued: “And they go, ‘They’re so big and kind and gentle and smart.’ And I said, ‘Okay, let me ask you a question. Should I be able to shoot birds? Well, I guess that’s okay. Ducks? Yeah. Pigeons? Oh, they’re flying rats, okay. Rabbits? Well rabbits are cute. But yeah. Squirrels? That’s nothing but a rat with a tail — with a fuzzy tail.’ And I said, ‘Well deer eat all my mother’s roses in Long Island.’ And I go, ‘So I can shoot all of those, but not an elephant?’”

Makris called that philosophy “a very unique form of animal racism.”

“And now they’re shocked,” he added. “And they said, ‘But they’re so big and special and they’re smarter.’”

“And I went, ‘You know, Hitler would have said the same thing.’”


Updated 09/30/2013

NBC cans hunting show after lobbyist star compares critics to Hitler

By George Chidi
Sunday, September 29, 2013 16:57 EDT

NBC Sports Network pulled the new show Under Wild Skies from broadcast Saturday after its star — National Rifle Association lobbyist Tony Makris — defended shooting an elephant in the face by comparing his critics to Hitler on an NRA news show.

Makris came under fire, metaphorically, after the premiere episode of the hunting show captured Makris in Botswana shooting an elephant from concealment twice, chasing it down and then killing it with a bullet in its face, followed by a champagne celebration. Elephant hunting in Botswana will be completely illegal in 2014.

Responding to comments about the brutality and inappropriateness of his actions, Makris said that condoning one kind of hunting while opposing another is “committing a very unique form of animal racism,” and that “they said but they’re so big and special and they’re smarter. And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing.”

Following those comments, NBC Sports told the sports site that they’re pulling the show. “Under Wild Skies will no longer air on NBC Sports Sports Network due to the program’s close association with its host, whose recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable,” an NBC spokesman told John Koblin at Deadspin. “NBCSN will continue to air all of our other quality outdoor programming.”

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« Last Edit: Sep 30, 2013, 05:33 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #112 on: Sep 26, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Wildlife comeback in Europe - in pictures

A new report has selected 18 mammal and 19 bird species that have made a successful comeback in Europe in the past 50 years and looked at the factors behind their recovery

Jessica Aldred, Thursday 26 September 2013 06.00 BST   

Click to watch:
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« Reply #113 on: Sep 26, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Zimbabwe poachers jailed 15 years for elephant poisoning

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 14:03 EDT

A Zimbabwe court on Wednesday sentenced three poachers to at least 15 years in prison each for poisoning and killing 81 elephants, state radio reported.

A provincial magistrate sentenced 25-year-old Diyane Tshuma to 16 years in prison for poisoning elephants with cyanide at in Hwange National Park, in the west of Zimbabwe, Spot FM reported.

His co-accused Robert Maphosa, 42, and Thabani Zondo, 24, were each sentenced to 15 years.

“The parks and wildlife management authority has hailed the sentences saying they will be a deterrent to would-be poachers,” Spot FM reported.

Tshuma was ordered to pay $600,000 (440,000 euro) to the Zimbabwe Wildlife and Parks Authority for killing the animals, while Zondo must pay $200,000 by the end of the year.

Elephant’s tusks are highly sought after for Asia’s ivory trade.

The three were among nine people arrested on suspicion of poisoning watering holes in the game park.

However, Jerry Gotora, chairman of the Zimbabwe parks department board of directors on Tuesday said the poison had been “put at places where elephants graze, not in water”.

Two years ago nine elephants, five lions and two buffalo died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park.

Just 50 rangers patrol the 14,650-square kilometre (5,660-square mile) park, and wildlife authorities say 10 times that number are needed.

There are more than 120,000 elephants living in Zimbabwe’s national parks.

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« Reply #114 on: Sep 26, 2013, 07:06 AM »

British zoo bans ‘confusing’ animal print clothing

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 17:40 EDT

A British zoo said Wednesday it has banned visitors from wearing leopard or zebra print clothes because they are confusing the animals.

“We have announced an animal-print ban. This follows confusion amongst our ‘Zufari: Ride Into Africa!’ animals,” Chessington World of Adventures said in a statement.

The park-wide prohibition was introduced after the launch of a new ride, Zufari, in which visitors come face to face with giraffes, rhinos and other animals as they drive around in off-road trucks.

When the animals encountered a visitor wearing a print similar to their own they acted a little “overfriendly”, said a spokesman for the zoo located southwest of London.

“If they were wearing a pattern similar to a predator, they would get scared and run away,” he told AFP.

The zoo said that anyone wearing animal prints would be able to borrow clothing to cover up while on the ride.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #115 on: Sep 27, 2013, 05:42 AM »

Researchers: Sonar mapping for oil near Madagascar killed 100 whales

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 26, 2013 21:35 EDT

A noisy technology that blasts sounds below water to map the ocean for oil is being blamed for 100 melon headed whale deaths off Madagascar, experts said Thursday.

An independent panel of scientists found that sonar surveying by ExxonMobil in late May 2008 led to the sudden displacement of the whales, which became stranded and died.

“This is the first known such marine mammal mass stranding event closely associated with relatively high frequency mapping sonar systems,” said the report released by the International Whaling Commission.

“Earlier such events may have been undetected because detailed inquiries were not conducted.”

The researchers described a “highly unusual event” in which about 100 melon headed whales became stranded in shallow waters in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in May and June 2008.

“This typically open ocean cetacean species had never previously nor since been reported in this shallow tidal estuarine system, nor in any other in Madagascar,” said the study.

The culprit was named as a “high power 12 kHz multi beam echosounder system (MBES)” operated by an Exxon Mobil vessel on May 29 about 65 kilometers (40 miles) offshore from the first known stranding.

The five-member independent scientific review panel said the vessel’s operation was “the most plausible and likely behavioral trigger for the animals initially entering the lagoon system.”

The sounds would have been “clearly audible over many hundreds of square kilometers of melon headed whale deep water habitat areas.”

The advocacy group Oceana said the findings show how dangerous the technology can be to aquatic animals.

“Seismic blasts can disturb the vital behaviors of dolphins and whales such as breathing, feeding, mating and communicating,” said the group’s vice president for US Oceans, Jacqueline Savitz.

“This can quickly turn deadly when animals are startled into rushing to the surface or are driven into shallower areas, where they often die as these whales did.”

A spokesman said ExxonMobil said it does not back the panel’s findings.

“ExxonMobil believes the panel?s finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008.”

The evidence was compiled by the International Whaling Commission, the US Marine Mammal Commission, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, ExxonMobil Exploration and Production (Northern Madagascar) Ltd, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Government of Madagascar.

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« Reply #116 on: Sep 29, 2013, 07:05 AM »

How Spain saved the lynx

Spain's impressive effort to save the lynx is an example to follow, but the UK needs to act swiftly

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013 21.30 BST      

If Scotland needs a lesson on how to save an endangered feline, it need only look to the little town of Santa Elena, in Andalucía, Spain. Biologists there have overseen a remarkable conservation enterprise: the Olivilla captive breeding centre for the Iberian lynx. Dozens of these distinctive, beautiful creatures have been bred here, watched over by staff working in a control room that has enough television monitors to do justice to a particle accelerator. This is cat care at its most sophisticated.

Adult lynxes, which are about a metre long and weigh around 10kg – twice the size of a wildcat – have been reintroduced to the surrounding hills. Ten years ago, there were fewer than 100 Iberian lynxes left on the planet. Habitat destruction, loss of prey and indiscriminate trapping by landowners was propelling Lynx pardinus towards extinction. Today there are at least 300 of them, and their numbers continue to rise. Call it the Lynx effect.

The implication is clear. Endangered felines can be saved – although we should be under no illusions about the cost involved. As lynx conservationists explained during my visit to Santa Elena, around £30m was spent setting up the project, money raised mostly by the Andalucían regional government, and which funds captive breeding and also pays for teams of energetic young conservationists to trap and release animals in areas around the town.

It is a price tag that makes Scottish conservationists wince. At present, a mere £200,000 has been pledged by Scottish Natural Heritage to save the Highland wildcat.

A promise to seek Heritage Lottery funding has also been made, but no serious money has been talked about for a captive breeding programme, which many believe may be critical to wildcat recovery plans.

Nor does the Scottish wildcat help its own cause. It is nocturnal, shy and extremely elusive. Assessing its status is therefore difficult. Only a few dozen may be left – or there could be as many as a few hundred. Nor is it easy to determine how much hybridisation has occurred between the Scottish wildcat, a close relative of the European wildcat, and the domestic tabby, a cousin of the near-eastern wildcat, a separate subspecies. Scottish National Heritage proposes that this data be uncovered as a matter of priority. Other conservationists argue that time is now too short for that. Only a captive breeding programme can save the wildcat now, they say. Others retort that such actions, based on scanty data, could do more harm than good to the wildcat.

In fact, it is clear conservation groups cannot do this alone. They need proper government support to trace and trap Highland wildcats, to build breeding centres, and to breed them in facilities that are clean and safe. Areas for reintroduction will have to be home to sufficient prey to sustain a wildcat population, while local landowners need to be happy about their presence nearby. The lesson from Andalucía suggests this can be done – but only by spending millions.

Unfortunately the Scottish government has shown no sign that it understands the proper dimensions of the wildlife crisis that it faces, although it is the only agency that possesses the resources – and the jurisdiction – to save the Highland wildcat. Andalucía decided it was worth spending millions to save the Iberian lynx. Scotland's leaders need to decide, very quickly, if they want to follow suit.


Extinction by stealth: how long can the Scottish wildcat survive?

The Scottish government has launched a £2m drive to save a unique species – but the plan is mere camouflage, say experts who fear the pure-bred animal's days are numbered

Kevin McKenna   
The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013 20.43 BST   

Are these the final few days of the Scottish wildcat, currently numbering perhaps as few as 35 scattered beasts? That is the fear of some supporters of Scotland's most vivid species, and it is leading to an almighty row over a creature that has graced the Highlands for around 10,000 years. The argument relates to a deceptively simple question: when is a wildcat not a wildcat?

The wildcat's imminent extinction may have been camouflaged from our consciousness by the existence of a counterfeit cat – a feline facsimile that looks like a wildcat but whose genealogy is far from pure. Staring implacably from the midst of rock and heather it will do for the postcards and tea-towels. And if it looks like a wildcat, then why should the rest of us worry about its lineage?

Last week the Scottish government and its leading environmental agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, in response to insistent calls for action to be taken to protect this endangered species, announced a £2m, six-year strategic plan to reverse the decline in numbers by reducing cross-breeding with domestic and feral cats and curbing exposure to feline diseases.

No stone, it seems, will be left unturned in seeking to preserve this beastie and all the usual key words were present and correct: "targeted", "outcomes" and "viable". "A conservation breeding programme will be set up to reinforce wild populations in the future," SNH insisted, "and scientists will also carry out further research to improve understanding of wildcat ecology and genetics." But it's the presence also of phrases such as "distinct groups" and "relaxed definitions" that fuel the suspicion that saving the pure, un-hybridised Scottish wildcat may not be on the government agenda.

The government masterplan is as fake as the DNA of the hybrids masquerading as pure-bloods, said Steve Piper, founder of the Scottish Wildcat Association and the country's foremost authority on the preservation of the species.

In short, anything that looks roughly two-thirds wildcat will be classified as a wildcat, so in the time it takes to say "re-contextualised" the population has ballooned from 35 individuals to thousands; quite a few pet cat owners worldwide will be waking up tomorrow morning to find they have a government-approved Scottish wildcat purring at the end of the bed.

According to Piper, the government and Scottish Natural Heritage studiously avoided almost all mention of the pure wildcat. So is the government and its main species conservation body signalling, by stealth, the extinction of the unalloyed, pure Scottish wildcat?

"I don't think that's overstating it," said Piper. "They are certainly looking in all the wrong places. If it diverted just a few hundred thousand of its £2m or so to efforts currently being made in the Ardnamurchan peninsula, where the Scottish Wildcat Association has been working to breed the last cats in isolation, the final few dozen might yet have a future. It seems, though, that they are simply not prepared to take the risk of spending that money without the guarantee of success."

In effect, the government stands accused of lowering the bar so that it can include an ornamental wildcat which will remain capable of bewitching the tourists.

The uncertain fate of an emblematic creature is in stark contrast to the upturn in fortunes of some of Europe's other famous animals. Important research conducted by a conservation group that includes the Zoological Society of London points to startling increases in numbers of species such as bears, wolves, lynx, eagles and vultures. Targeted protection against hunting and poaching, along with rural depopulation, have been critical in this process.

Scottish Natural Heritage is unflinching in the face of the criticism. A spokesman said simply: "Steve Piper's opinion is not one that we share. And we've no idea where he gets his figures from."

This ought to matter a great deal to Scotland and its sense of itself. While the Highlands sustains several famous animals, almost all of them can also be found in other countries. The Scottish wildcat is unique to Scotland. It cannot stand to be around humans or their habitats, and thrives on its own, hunting rabbits, birds and rodents. The hybridised wildcat, though, will exhibit few such solitary tendencies.

As the last few Scottish wildcats run free and un-intruded upon in one of the world's wildest neighbourhoods, a few hundred miles away two of another threatened species, the giant panda, are reduced to a grotesque circus act eating bamboo and playing hide and seek with a million rubbernecks.

The Edinburgh Zoological Society committed £8m of public money (it's a charity) to hire a Chinese circus act. The same amount of money might give a unique Scottish species a sporting chance of survival. But if it is to disappear, better that it does so running free in a bleak wilderness and not before a wretched human audience in a glass menagerie.

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« Reply #117 on: Sep 30, 2013, 05:30 AM »

Chimpanzees clobber humans in complex memory tests: study

By Justin McCurry, The Guardian
Sunday, September 29, 2013 8:41 EDT

Tetsuro Matsuzawa begins his working day, conventionally enough, in front of a computer. He taps in a few commands, takes a seat and waits. Within minutes, the calm of his basement laboratory is pierced by the sound of excitable primates.

On cue, two chimpanzees appear through an opening in the ceiling, flash a look of recognition at Matsuzawa, and then aim an inquisitive stare at his unfamiliar companion from the Observer.

Matsuzawa feeds them a spoonful of honey each and wipes their hands and fingers – a near-daily ritual meant to reward them for arriving on time, and to encourage them to show up again the following morning.

After all, Ai, a 36-year-old chimpanzee, and her 13-year-old son, Ayumu, are free to stay in their nearby home, a re-creation of a west African rainforest they share with 12 other chimps. That they are such willing participants in Matsuzawa’s experiment is a tribute to the bond that has built up between the professor and the chimps during many years of research.

Over the course of more than three decades, Matsuzawa, a professor at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, a historic town in central Japan, has gained unprecedented insights into the workings of the primate mind, and by extension, our own.

In a landmark test of short-term memory conducted in public in 2007, Ayumu demonstrated astonishing powers of recall, easily beating her human competitors, who had been in training for months.

The strength of Ayumu’s cognitive functions surprised even Matsuzawa, who has studied the mental dexterity of chimps for 36 years. He makes long annual visits to Bossou in south-eastern Guinea, where he witnesses chimps display in the wild the same powers of recognition and recall that Ayumu and other young chimps demonstrate on his computer screens.

“We’ve concluded through the cognitive tests that chimps have extraordinary memories,” Matsuzawa says. “They can grasp things at a glance. As a human, you can do things to improve your memory, but you will never be a match for Ayumu.”

The results stunned observers. In the tests, Ai and Ayumu, and two other pairs of a mother and offspring, were shown the numerals 1 to 9 spread randomly across a computer screen.

Their task was to touch the numbers in ascending order. To complicate matters, the game was altered so that as soon as the chimps touched the digit 1, the remaining eight were immediately masked by white squares. To complete the exercise, they had to remember the location of each concealed number and, again, touch them in the correct order.

In an even harder version, five numbers appeared on the screen before turning into white squares. The animals and their human counterparts displayed the same degree of accuracy – about 80% – when the numbers remained visible for seven tenths of a second. But when the time was reduced to four tenths of a second, and then just two tenths, Ayumu maintained the same level of accuracy, while his mother and the human volunteers floundered.

Given that humans share 98.8% of their DNA with chimpanzees, why do the latter have such vastly superior working memories?

The answer lies in evolution, says Matsuzawa. As humans evolved and acquired new skills – notably the ability to use language to communicate and collaborate – they lost others they once shared with their common simian ancestors. “Our ancestors may have also had photographic memories, but we lost that during evolution so that we could acquire new skills,” he says. “To get something, we had to lose something.”

For the chimps, the ability to memorise the location of objects is critical to their survival in the wild, where they compete for food with other, often aggressive, ape communities. To thrive, an individual chimp must be able to look up at, say, a sprawling fig tree and quickly note the location of the ripe fruit.

“They have to be able to think quickly because there are other hungry chimps behind them,” Matsuzawa says. “They have to grasp the situation as quickly as possible and decide where to go.”

The same instincts kick in when confronted with a rival. “They have to see how many opponents are in front of them and decide whether to move forward or stay put. It can be a life-or-death decision.”

Six years after Ayumu first demonstrated his skills in public, the institute’s researchers are trying to find how far he can go before he falters badly. In the most recent tests, the number of digits has been increased from 1-9 to 1-19. The juxtaposition of two digits to form a single number is proving a worthy nemesis.

The chimps have a famously short attention span and have struggled to apply themselves to the lengthier tasks. Starting when they were aged about four, it took Ayumu and two other young chimps about six months to memorise the digits 1 to 9. In 2009, Matsuzawa and his team added the number 10, then 11.

“There might be a limit to how many things they can pay attention to at one time,” the professor says. “One to nine was easy, but one to 19 may be too much for them. In that sense, they’re like us. Numbers have infinite sequencing, which is why we developed the decimal system.

“Ayumu was amazing at remembering one to nine, and I know that’s not her limit. By increasing the numerals we want to discover her natural limit.”

To motivate the chimps, Matsuzawa programmes the computer to flash different numbers of digits on to the screen at any one time. “Motivation is the second most important thing after freedom,” he says. “It is totally up to them whether or not they show up in the morning, and if they actually start the tests. And I never scold them. I only ever offer them encouragement.”

As an extra inducement to persevere, each correctly completed task released a tiny chunk of apple or grape, or half a raisin, down a chute and into the windowed enclosure separating Ai and Ayumu from the watching researchers.

But Matsuzawa cautions against describing Ayumu as a genius. All three pairs of apes he works with at the institute can replicate her abilities to a certain extent. In fact, he believes he can bring any chimp up to speed: “All chimps potentially have the same capability; they just haven’t had it extracted by the computer tasks.”

Matsuzawa says our temptation to ascribe “super-chimp” status to the animals stems from a natural aversion to being thrashed at memory tests by primates. “Some humans are uncomfortable with the idea that beasts are cleverer than us, because we are supposed to be their intellectual superiors,” he says.

Now 13, Ayumu is being encouraged to produce offspring that, Matsuzawa hopes, will prove more serious rivals than his ageing mother. In chimps, as in humans, the ability to memorise complex scenes or patterns declines with age. In the 2007 experiment, Ai, then aged 31, did not perform as well as the human volunteers.

With the first morning session over, Ayumu climbs back out of the lab, while Ai stays behind to play with Matsuzawa, an almost constant companion since they met in 1977, when she was just a year old.

In the years since, Ai and her offspring have given Matsuzawa unprecedented access into the inner workings of the simian mind. “Until I met Ai, the only chimps I knew about were in Tarzan movies,” he says. “But she opened a window into the chimp world. She was my navigator. Studying the remains of our ancestors doesn’t tell us anything about how the mind works. But to know chimps is to know humans.”

Super natural: some other clever animals

Alex the parrot

African Grey parrot Alex, an affectionate shortening of “avian language experiment”, was subject to a 30-year study by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. In observing two trainers communicating, Alex developed a vocabulary of more than 100 words and basic counting capabilities. Following Alex’s unexpected death in 2007, Pepperberg wrote Alex and Me, an ode to their cognitive journey and “deep bond”.

Koko the gorilla

Now 42 years old, veteran resident of California’s Maui Ape Preserve Koko is proficient in Gorilla Sign Language, a communications system devised by her owner, researcher Dr Penny Patterson. Preternaturally gentle, Koko has kept a number of kittens as companions, naming each of them herself. Patterson is now coaxing her to mate with fellow sanctuary resident Ndume, and is poised to see whether she will communicate in signs with her offspring.

Betty the crow

New Caledonian crow Betty surprised Oxford University researchers in 2002 with her deft tool manipulation. The group placed morsels of meat in plastic tubes and monitored her use of wire to harpoon it, but instead of jabbing the food with straight wire lengths, she repeatedly bent them into hooks and fished it out. As such, Betty was declared the first animal to create a new tool for a specific task without trial and error, something primates have yet to achieve.

Betsy the dog

Eleven-year-old border collie Betsy spontaneously began to relate words to objects at around four months old. Her vocabulary tally is now 340 words, and she can retrieve items after simply being shown their picture. Despite being a National Geographic cover star and featuring in a BBC documentary, her precise location – somewhere in Austria – and her real name remain closely guarded secrets. Amelia Walsh

 © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #118 on: Oct 01, 2013, 08:45 AM »

The Huffington Post  |  By Nick Visser   |  Posted: 09/30/13 EDT

Elephant Says Goodbye To An Old Friend (PHOTO)

"There is one universal experience, that's death. That is something we are all going to experience at some distance in the lives of loved ones, strangers and friends, people around us and certainly our own."

Journalist Scott Simon's words are probably some of the most poignant when paired with this heartbreaking photo of an elephant standing guard over her deceased friend.

This incredible photograph was taken by John Chaney as part of the 2012 National Geographic Traveler photo contest. Chaney wrote that the female elephant in the image, which was taken in 2007, stood guard over the body of her friend for hours to pay her respects, chasing off birds and predators. She then wrapped her trunk around the other's tusk in a heartbreaking goodbye.

"I think it should be something we are comfortable talking about," Simon said in August following the death of his mother. "Insofar as we can talk about it comfortably, we can reset the clocks in our own lives. If we can accept death and understand it and know, whether we are 10 or 30 or 60 or 80, that it's just over the horizon."

Sadly, this scene is only reflective of the growing peril African elephants face. The international ivory trade is thriving and poachers are going to extreme lengths to hunt and kill the giants for their tusks. Wildlife conservation groups estimate upwards of 35,000 elephants were killed in 2012.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced a sweeping, $80 million effort to stop elephant slaughter.

"Unless the killing stops, African forest elephants are expected to be extinct within 10 years. I can't even grasp what a great disaster this is ecologically, but also for everyone who shares this planet," she said.

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« Reply #119 on: Oct 03, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Animal rights groups condemn Spanish bullfighting bill

Measure passed by congressional commission designates bullfighting as part of cultural heritage worthy of protection

Paul Hamilos in Madrid, Thursday 3 October 2013 12.50 BST   

A decision by the Spanish congress to protect bullfighting by awarding it cultural heritage status has been condemned by animal rights groups who have decried the use of public funds for "unacceptable animal cruelty".

The legislation, which was passed by the congress's culture commission by 24 votes to six, with 14 abstentions, designates bullfighting as "part of the cultural heritage worthy of protection throughout the national territory". The bill now goes to a vote in the senate, expected later this month.

The governing rightwing People's party rejected most of the amendments to the proposal put forward by smaller opposition parties who strongly rejected the bill, while the main opposition party, the PSOE, abstained, saying it wanted neither to "ban nor promote" bullfighting.

A coalition of international animal protection organisations said: "Spain's government has signalled its support for unacceptable animal cruelty and the allowance of public funds used to assist the blood sport.

"This move is a cynical attempt by a desperate bullfighting industry to secure the future of this dying industry. Bullfighting is cruel and outdated and has no place in a modern society; culture stops where cruelty starts."

The organisations included the Humane Society International, World Society for the Protection of Animals, CAS International, League Against Cruel Sports, Peta and Torture is not Culture.

Marta Esteban, of Torture is not Culture, said: "The declaration of bullfighting as cultural patrimony in Spain … simply aims at the allocation of further public funds to support this decadent activity and to indoctrinate children with education on the 'virtues' of torturing and killing animals for entertainment."

Bullfighting has a long and bloody history going back to the Roman amphitheatres, but its modern incarnation in Spain is usually dated to 1726 when Francisco Romero began fighting on foot with a cape and sword.

Over the years bullrings were introduced to prevent bull or fighter from being cornered, and the event became embedded in Spanish culture. Juan Belamonte is seen as the father of the modern school, popularising the now common practice of drawing the bull close to him with a cape, in the mid 20th century.

But in recent years bullfighting's popularity has dwindled considerably as animal rights groups have raised awareness, leading to permanent bans in Catalonia and the Canary Islands. Figures released by the culture ministry revealed that bullfighting attendance is at an all-time low, and an Ipsos Mori poll this year suggest that 76% of Spaniards opposed the use of public funds to support bullfighting.

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