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« Reply #120 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:27 AM »

Hong Kong seizes elephant tusks worth $1 million

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:15 EDT

Elephant tusks worth more than $1 million were seized by Hong Kong customs after being discovered hidden under bags of soya in shipments from West Africa, officials said Thursday.

In what officials called an “intelligence-based” operation last month, the southern Chinese city’s border control found 189 tusks in three containers.

“After X-ray examination, the officers found the ivory tusks, weighing 769 kilogrammes (1,695 pounds) in total, in the innermost parts of the containers. The ivory tusks were packed in linen and nylon bags and covered by bags of soya,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said in a statement released Thursday.

The three six-metre (20-foot) containers arrived at the city’s maritime port from Cote d’Ivoire in separate shipments, according to customs officials, who did not specify when the shipments arrived.

They said the tusks could be sold for HK$11.53 million ($1.49 million).

The seizure came less than two months after the last major haul of 1,000 elephant tusks found in a container from Nigeria, which along with rhino horns and leopard skins also discovered was worth more than $5 million.

Ivory is popular with Chinese collectors who see it as a valuable investment and leopard skin is a popular material for fashion and decoration.

“Hong Kong…is committed to continuing to take vigorous enforcement action against the trafficking of endangered wildlife,” Hong Kong customs head of ports and maritime command, Vincent Wong, said in the press statement.

The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Hong Kong, a free port which runs one of the biggest container terminals in the world, often sees the seizure of products from banned trades.

But customs officials have previously said there was “no concrete information” to show that the financial hub had become a gateway for ivory smuggling.


Zac Goldsmith and Nicky Campbell to join London march for elephants

Global protest against illegal ivory trade and poaching of wild elephants as 15 cities including New York prepare for marches

Adam Vaughan, Friday 4 October 2013 10.52 BST      

Several hundred people including Tory MP Zac Goldsmith and radio presenter Nicky Campbell will march in London on Friday to tell world leaders to put a stop to the escalating illegal trade in ivory.

The march in Westminster is one of 15 other in cities across the world, including Melbourne, New York and Cape Town, organised by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. In Nairobi, instead of a march protesters organised a memorial for elephants. Last week, poachers killed over 80 elephants in Zimbabwe in one incident where a water hole was poisoned with cyanide. Poaching has led to the loss of two-thirds of Africa's forest elephants over the past decade.

Much of the demand is driven by consumers in Asia and the US, and next week the US is expected to crush its 6m tonnes of seized ivory in a symbolic show that it is getting tough with the worldwide illegal trade, estimated to be worth several billion pounds annually.

Goldsmith told the Guardian he was attending because "some 25,000 elephants are killed every year, a rate that will render them extinct within 15 years. The vast majority die so the Chinese middle class can buy ivory trinkets from an industry that is fuelling terrorists around the world. It is an almost unimaginable tragedy, and it must be stopped."

    Stop Elephant poaching march reaches Parliament Square

    — dominic dyer (@domdyer70) October 4, 2013

Campbell said: "Ivory consumers the world over need to ask themselves which is more beautiful: a family of elephants by a watering hole at sundown or an ivory cigarette holder? An elephant never forgets and unless this stops, our grandchildren will never forgive. That is why I am marching for elephants ..."

A delegation from the march will deliver a letter to 10 Downing Street, calling for stronger penalties against the trade.

    Elefriends on the march to Parliament Square in London - stop the #ivory trade! #elephants

    — Born Free Foundation (@BFFoundation) October 4, 2013

Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, said that it was not just elephants that were at risk: "Plants and other animals unique to the African wilderness are dependent on elephants for survival, from spreading seeds to sculpting habitats which are essential to the long-term survival of both grazing and browsing species. The extinction of wild elephants will have severe repercussions on entire ecosystems."

She also pointed to the national security dimension of the trade, which public figures such as Hillary Clinton have highlighted in a bid to elevate it beyond just a narrow conservation concern. "Recent terror attacks in Kenya, my home country, claiming the lives of 67 people further highlights the need for international action by Governments now. The tragic link is that the illegal ivory trade is known to fund terrorist groups linked with other illicit activities such as drugs and arms trafficking. The illegal trade in wildlife exploited by criminals is valued at $19bn [£12bn] per year," she wrote in a blogpost for the Huffington Post.

    Speaking in Parliament Sq at the March for Elephants

    — Nicky Campbell (@NickyAACampbell) October 4, 2013

Rob Brandford, UK director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, said: "Ultimately, the decline of elephant populations affects us all, whether it be emotionally, economically or morally."

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« Reply #121 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:22 AM »

African gorillas are under threat from oil survey

UK and conservationists express opposition towards drilling in Virunga National Park

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013   
Controversial aerial surveys aimed at finding oil under Africa's oldest national park have been started by a British company amid fears that drilling in the area could seriously threaten the world's last sanctuary for mountain gorillas.

The moves towards possible oil exploration in Virunga national park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been condemned by the UK government and by the World Wildlife Fund.

This week the WWF is launching a campaign, Draw the Line, against the exploitation of the park, which was established in 1925 and designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1979.

Soco International, whose headquarters are in London, has defended its aerial survey, saying it was being governed and monitored under the terms of the Environmental Acceptability Certificate issued by the DRC's ministry of the environment, nature conservation and tourism.

But earlier this year the Unesco world heritage committee called for the cancellation of all such Virunga oil permits and appealed to two concession holders, Total and Soco International, not to undertake exploration in world heritage sites. Total has since agreed to respect Virunga park's current boundaries, leaving Soco as the only oil and gas company planning to explore inside the park's 7,800 sq km. It claims its area of interest is not near the gorillas' habitat. Rangers and wildlife experts disagree.

Virunga is already in a fragile state, thanks to poachers. In addition, it sits close to the DRC's borders with Uganda and Rwanda and has been affected by influxes of refugees and militias during both the Congo civil war and the Rwandan genocide, as well as ongoing skirmishes with rebel groups. It is home to 200 of the endangered mountain gorillas, a quarter of the world population. Although recent years have been a success story for the park, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and local rangers and the number of mountain gorillas has more than doubled in the past decade, many park staff have been killed by poachers and militias. Virunga is temporarily closed to visitors because of the violence.

Last year the UK government expressed its opposition to drilling inside the park. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga national park, a world heritage site listed by Unesco as being 'in danger'. We urge any company involved, and the government of DR Congo, to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory."

Drew McVey is the regional manager for East Africa at WWF in the UK and has just returned from the region. He said: "Virunga has been a fantastic success in the past few years. We've seen the population of gorillas jump and tourists are starting to come to see them. In terms of the local people, they understand the importance of the mountain gorillas to their future prosperity, and we have even had reports of rebel groups in the park no longer poaching, but making money pretending to be authorised tour operators. Ironically that is a sign of how important these big mammals are.

"Virunga has the most biodiversity in all of Africa … it is heavily populated around the park, so there's a massive demand on the park and its resources. The conflict that has gone on in the area adds another dimension of fragility.

"But now to have this terrible threat hanging over it of oil exploration is just so disturbing."

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« Reply #122 on: Oct 08, 2013, 06:06 AM »

b>British oil company endangering Africa’s most biodiverse area: WWF

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 7, 2013 13:10 EDT

Environmental campaigners WWF filed a complaint on Monday against a British oil company accused of intimidating the local population and endangering wildlife in the oldest nature reserve in Africa.

The wildlife charity claims that Soco International’s oil exploration activities in and around Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo put “people, animals and habitats at risk” and violate international guidelines issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in a complaint to that organisation.

“The only way for Soco to come into compliance with the OECD guidelines is for the company to end all exploration in Virunga for good,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of conservation at WWF International.

“We urge the company to stop its activities immediately,” he said.

Organisations can refer to OECD guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour as a way of piling pressure on companies or even governments.

Soco dismissed the claims as “baseless” on its website, adding it had not yet begun any operational activity and would not do so until impact studies had been completed.

Virunga is one of the world’s oldest UN World Heritage sites and is the most environmentally diverse area on the African continent, home to thousands of rhinos and 200 endangered mountain gorillas.

Soco’s own assessment of its exploration of the park warns of potential pollution and damage to the fragile animal habitats in Virunga.

The WWF alleges that Soco has used state security to intimidate opponents to its business and says the organisation failed to disclose the true impact of development during consultations with local villagers.

Soco’s contract with the Congolese government effectively exempts it from further regulation, the WWF says, calling on the company to also consider the health and livelihoods of 50,000 local residents.

The UK is a founding member of the OECD and the organisation’s guidelines have previously been used to put political pressure on the British government.

Anthony Field, a campaigner at WWF-UK, told AFP: “OECD guidelines are the most well-respected standards of good practice for businesses, and are internationally recognised by 45 countries including the UK.”

OECD complaints could be “incredibly effective”, Field said, giving the example of a 2009 case when mining firm Vedanta Resources was condemned by London for failing to respect the rights of an indigenous group when planning a bauxite mine in the Indian state of Orissa.

Soco said its first environmental impact studies were conducted in “close collaboration” with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, which manages the park.

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« Reply #123 on: Oct 09, 2013, 05:30 AM »

Execute elephant poachers on the spot, Tanzanian minister urges

By David Smith, The Guardian
Tuesday, October 8, 2013 12:05 EDT

A government minister in Tanzania has called for a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers in a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants.

Khamis Kagasheki’s proposal for perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade to be executed “on the spot” divided opinion, with some conservationists backing it as a necessary deterrent but others warning that it would lead to an escalation of violence.

There are already signs of an increasing militarisation of Africa’s wildlife parks with more than 1,000 rangers having been killed while protecting animals over the past decade, according to the Thin Green Line Foundation. Tanzania is said to have lost half its elephants in the past three years.

“Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens,” said Kagasheki at the end of an International March for Elephants, which took place in 15 countries to raise awareness of the poaching scourge. “The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.”

Anticipating criticism, the natural resources and tourism minister added: “I am very aware that some alleged human rights activists will make an uproar, claiming that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts as the next person, but let’s face it, poachers not only kill wildlife but also usually never hesitate to shoot dead any innocent person standing in their way.”

Ivory has been dubbed the “white gold of jihad” by activists who say it is funding armed rebel groups including al-Shabaab, the militia behind the siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenyan conservation charity that organised last week’s protest march, says one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks and they could disappear from the wild by 2025.

On Tuesday the trust declined to condemn Kagasheki’s remarks. Rob Brandford, its director, said: “Rangers are in the middle of a poaching war against well-armed poachers and many have lost their lives in the battle to protect elephants. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed annually for their tusks and poachers need to know that are risking their lives if they choose to target elephants.

“Soft measures, which we witness today, especially with sentencing for those caught poaching, will not deter poachers. Our own teams in Kenya can arrest a poacher one day and then the next week come up against the same poacher, who having paid a small fine was released by the courts – where’s the deterrent?”

But within the conservation movement there are a range of attitudes, with some taking a less militant approach to poachers, who are often from impoverished backgrounds. Bell’Aube Houinato, WWF’s country director in Tanzania, said he attended the march there and “could feel in the room people were very agitated and concerned as a country we need to do more. Many solutions have been proposed.”

“It is very true that poaching has taken such an alarming route and it’s obvious the government is getting worried. It’s important the punishment for poaching is a deterrent, but killing poachers is not part of the measures we have been advocating. It would lead to an escalation of violence; it’s very difficult to control who is actually killing. There are law enforcement and judicial systems and they should be made more effective.”

It is also important to combat the demand for ivory from far east countries such as China and Thailand, Houinato added. “I do see there is commitment from ministers but in terms of resource allocation we need to see more investments. People do not have the resources to do what it takes.”

Tanzania, with 70,000-80,000 elephants in 2009, is thought to have nearly one-quarter of all African elephants. Media reports have alleged that some MPs and other officials are involved in and benefiting from the lucrative ivory trade.

Human rights defenders warned that Kagasheki’s demand for lethal force was unconstitutional and would result in extra-judicial killings. Rodrick Maro, of the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania, said: “Poaching is a problem but the minister’s statement is also problematic. It is not only against the law but against human rights.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #124 on: Oct 10, 2013, 05:13 AM »

Vietnam seizes massive shipment of illegal ivory

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 15:17 EDT

Vietnam has seized two tonnes of illegal elephant tusks found stashed in bags of shells being shipped to China, state media reported Wednesday.

Customs officials found the tusks in a shipping container that had been transported to the northern port city of Hai Phong from Malaysia, according to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.

“The shipment is supposed to be transferred by road to the Lang Son border gate, heading for China,” it added, without specifying when the tusks had been discovered.

The report did not give the value of the shipment, but a haul of 769 kilos (1,695 pounds) of ivory tusks in Hong Kong last week had an estimated sale price of $1.49 million, according to the city’s customs officials.

Elephant tusks and other body parts are prized in both China and Vietnam for decoration, as talismans, and for use in traditional medicine.

The international trade in ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after the population of African elephants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to just 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

More than 25,000 elephants were poached last year, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Environmental group WWF says communist Vietnam is one of the world’s worst countries for trade in endangered species.

The country outlawed the ivory trade in 1992 but shops can still sell ivory dating from before the ban.

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« Reply #125 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Tanzania ditches plan to evict Masai for Serengeti 'wildlife corridor'

Activists claim victory as plan to annex 1,500 sq km bordering national park to benefit UAE-based luxury safari firm dropped

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Monday 7 October 2013 16.38 BST   

Activists have claimed victory in a campaign to stop Tanzania evicting 40,000 Masai pastoralists from their ancestral land to make way for a big game hunting reserve for Dubai's royal family.

Government officials had planned to annex 1,500 sq km bordering the Serengeti national park for a "wildlife corridor" that would benefit a luxury hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.

But campaigners said ministers dropped the scheme after visiting the Masai, who complained that their livestock would be cut off from vital grazing pasture, as well as 18 months of co-ordinated protests that included a global petition signed by more than 1.7 million people.

Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group, said Tanzanian prime minister Mizengo Pinda spent two and a half days with the Masai in Loliondo district late last month. "The Masai said we cannot lose this land at any cost – this land has been ours for centuries.

"The conclusion was that government has turned down the plan to evict tens of thousands of Masai. It's a big success story, not only for the Masai in Loliondo but also in Tanzania and east Africa."

The Masai will now try to renew their legal rights and end long-running disputes over the land with the assistance of the land minister, Nangiria added. He was not aware if alternative arrangements had been made for the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), a safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family.

"The OBC called last week and wanted a meeting with us," he said. "They are feeling very threatened, for sure."

Nangiria paid tribute to a "very sophisticated, high level" campaign that was mounted in defence of the Masai with the help of methods old and new. It included a protest march, pressuring international donors to Tanzania, and adverts in the East African newspaper that warned that the Masai would reconsider their support for the government at the ballot box.

The international effort was led by the online activism site, whose Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted 1,775,320 signatures and led to targeted email and Twitter protests. It argued that the Masai would be robbed of their livelihoods if their land was used for the commercial hunting of prize game such as leopards and lions by UAE royals.

Sam Barratt, a spokesman for Avaaz, said: "It's been amazing. The government did all it could to stop this becoming a national story but I think the confidence of the Masai has grown and grown. We helped get it out internationally and it was tremendously successful."

He added: "This is a nomadic tribe thousands of years old that lives by ancient traditions, but modern technology unlocked their cause to the world."

The Tanzanian government did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

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« Reply #126 on: Oct 11, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Elephants understand pointing, scientists show

Scientists claim elephants inhabit as complex a social system as humans so they can recognise unspoken signals and make them

Press Association, Friday 11 October 2013 09.40 BST   

Elephants understand pointing without being trained to recognise the human gesture, research has shown.

Scientists believe they may even use their trunks to communicate in a similar way to pointing. The ability may have evolved from the complex social system elephants inhabit, which involves recognising unspoken signals.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, shed light on the way elephants have been associated with humans for thousands of years.

The creatures seem to possess a natural ability to interact with humans despite not being domesticated in the same way as horses, dogs and camels.

"What elephants share with humans is that they live in an elaborate and complex network in which support, empathy, and help for others are critical for survival," said Prof Richard Byrne from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

"Elephant society may have selected for an ability to understand when others are trying to communicate with them, and they are thus able to work out what pointing is about when they see it."

Byrne and his colleague Anna Smet studied African elephants that used to give tourists rides near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The animals were trained to follow vocal commands, but were not accustomed to pointing.

To their surprise, the researchers found that the elephants spontaneously understood human pointing and could use it as a cue to find food.

"When people want to direct the attention of others, they will naturally do so by pointing, starting from a very young age," said Byrne. "Pointing is the most immediate and direct way that humans have for controlling others' attention.

"Most other animals do not point, nor do they understand pointing when others do it. Even our closest relatives, the great apes, typically fail to understand pointing when it's done for them by human carers; in contrast, the domestic dog, adapted to working with humans over many thousands of years and sometimes selectively bred to follow pointing, is able to follow human pointing – a skill the dogs probably learn from repeated, one-to-one interactions with their owners."

Smet added: "Of course, we always hoped that our elephants would be able to learn to follow human pointing, or we would not have carried out the experiments. What really surprised us is that they did not apparently need to learn anything. Their understanding was as good on the first trial as the last, and we could find no sign of learning over the experiment."

Elephants with more experience of being around humans, or those born in captivity, were no better than less-experienced wild-born creatures at following pointing gestures.

Elephants are known to make regular prominent trunk gestures. It remains to be seen whether they act as "points" in elephant society, but the researchers do not rule it out.

"Elephants are cognitively much more like us than has been realised, making them able to understand our characteristic way of indicating things in the environment by pointing," said Byrne. "This means that pointing is not a uniquely human part of the language system."

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« Reply #127 on: Oct 11, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Second endangered orangutan dies at Indonesian ‘death zoo’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 10, 2013 8:51 EDT

An endangered Borneo orangutan died Thursday at Indonesia’s “death zoo”, the latest in a series of suspicious animal deaths that have prompted calls to close the notorious facility.

Fifteen-year-old Betty the orangutan had difficulty breathing before she died, Surabaya Zoo spokesman Agus Supangkat said, adding she had just undergone a week of intensive treatment.

“Based on her medical records, she was suffering from inflammation of the lung,” he said.

Supangkat said the inflammation was caused by “extreme hot weather that has hit Surabaya city”.

The ape’s death comes two weeks after a 12-year-old Borneo orangutan named Nanik died from an intestinal tumour and liver problems. Orangutans typically live between 50 and 60 years.

Supangkat denied any negligence by the zoo, saying the orangutans lived in a leafy outdoor enclosure and were given healthy diets of fruit, milk and multivitamins.

The Surabaya Zoo is Indonesia’s largest and has been dubbed a “death zoo” as hundreds of animals have died prematurely or suffered abuse there in recent years.

In July last year a 15-year-old endangered orangutan at the zoo named Tori was forced to quit smoking. Management had allowed visitors to throw lit cigarettes at her for 10 years, making the smoking orangutan the zoo’s star attraction.

Also last year a 30-year-old male giraffe died at the zoo with a 20-kilogram (44-pound) beachball-size lump of plastic in its stomach from food wrappers thrown into its pen by visitors.

Animal welfare groups have called for the zoo to be closed down, with British singer and animal rights activist Morrissey joining the chorus of criticism last year.

There are an estimated 45,000 to 69,000 Borneo orangutans left in the wild. They are native to the vast island of Borneo, shared among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Destruction of Indonesia’s lowland rainforest and peatland for palm oil plantations and agriculture has led to a dramatic decline in the number of orangutans, Asia’s only great ape.

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« Reply #128 on: Oct 13, 2013, 06:06 AM »

The ethics of animal tests: inside the lab where marmosets are given Parkinson's

As a national debate is launched on animal research, Robin McKie meets the London scientists whose work goes to the heart of an ethical controversy

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Sunday 13 October 2013   

The marmosets in Room One of the animal laboratories of King's College London are typical of their species. They are lively and curious. No bigger than small cats, these little natives of South America crowd to the front of their cages when visitors or scientists enter their rooms.

The animals are natural dwellers of rainforest canopies and instinctively head to the top of their cages to peer down on newcomers. They are also highly active and have tyres, swings and tubes to play with. In addition, Callithrix jacchus has a very sweet tooth, with a particular fondness for marshmallows.

By contrast, the marmosets in the next room are noticeably different in demeanour. They are slow and hesitant. Several shake distinctly and, despite marshmallows being sprinkled near them, none would move from their perches during my visit last week. The animals remained watchful, however.

The difference in behaviour between the two groups has a simple explanation. The second set had been given a drug known as 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine – or MPTP, a neurotoxin that causes permanent symptoms of Parkinson's disease in monkeys (and humans) by destroying the pathways used by the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Hence the animals' shaking, lack of mobility, and hesitancy.

As to the reason for creating marmosets with Parkinson's, that is straightforward, say researchers. The animals – which are not taken from the wild but come from breeding centres – are used to test drugs that can halt the progress of the disease and reduce side-effects of current treatments. More than 100,000 people in the UK suffer from Parkinson's, which causes tremors, stiffness and slowed movements. There is no cure and, although new treatments have greatly alleviated patients' suffering, new drugs are still urgently needed. Hence the use of marmosets. These are small creatures but they nevertheless mimic many human cognitive attributes and have already helped develop new medicines.

"About 80% of all drugs for Parkinson's have been developed and tested using marmosets from this laboratory," says Professor Roger Morris, the scientist in charge of the facility at King's. "Of all species, only they provide a reliable model of the disease in humans."

This progress comes at a cost, of course. The lab is home to a few dozen marmosets who have to endure the symptoms of Parkinson's before they are put down after six years. (Marmosets live up to 14 years in the wild.) Such work is vehemently opposed by groups who believe that animal experiments are ethically inexcusable and who deny they help produce new drugs.

It is a highly divisive issue and will be the focus of a remarkable project this week when dozens of debates will be held across the UK, Ireland and the US as part of the Big Animal Research Debate. At universities and other centres, debaters and speakers will argue the case for and against animal research. Those involved will include David Willetts, UK minister for universities and science, a supporter of animal experiments. The fate of the King's College marmosets, therefore, acts as a perfect focus for the discussions about animal research – though they are certainly not the only creatures used in experiments. At King's, mice, rats, snakes, frogs, guinea pigs, fruit flies and zebrafish are also exploited in research that ranges from immunology to embryo development to basic research on diseases such as Huntington's disease and other ailments.

However, it is the marmoset – furry, curious and humanlike – that triggers the most intense emotional responses, a point acknowledged by Mary (who asked not to be fully identified), the senior research technician in charge of the animals at King's, who devotes her time to the animals' welfare, right down to knitting hammocks for them to sleep in. "You end up having favourites. You cannot help it. And when, after six years, they have to be put down, it is very hard. You have to block it off."

And that perhaps was the most unexpected part of my visit – to realise the staff's innate love of animals. (One senior technician , having cared for animals at King's during the week, works as a part-time keeper at London zoo at weekends.) This is not a place of distress or misery and it is not run by callous individuals indifferent to animal suffering.

That does not, on its own, justify animal research, of course. For that Morris uses a different argument. "When we used to address groups of Parkinson's patients years ago, they were a mass of uncontrollable movement, jerking and waving their hands and arms.

"These devastating symptoms were the side-effects of the drugs we then used to treat the disease. Research on marmosets has allowed us to develop medicines that have allowed patients to control their movements again and to run their lives normally. Essentially, we have given them back their lives."

• Comments on this article will be opened on Sunday morning

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« Reply #129 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Norway's solution to elk collisions: disco poles

Devices with flashing lights and rhythmic sounds to be installed in attempt to cut collisions between animals and cars

Helen Russell, Friday 11 October 2013 17.28 BST      

North Norway is famed for its midnight sun, northern lights, stunning landscapes and rich flora and fauna, but one of its best-known creatures has been causing problems. Elk, which can grow to more than two metres and weigh more than 600kg, pose a real danger to drivers on the region's roads.

Between 2005 and 2011, 315 people were injured in collisions with the giant deer in Norway. Insurance companies put the average damage to a car at about 150,000 kroner (£15,600). In terms of personal injury, loss of working hours, taxes, hospital treatment and clearing roads, the cost is more like 9.5m kroner for a serious injury, according to the Norwegian public roads administration. Transport officials have long racked their brains for a way to keep elk off the highways and have tried everything from traditional fences to motion-sensing technology to alert drivers.

Fences were effective but at the point where they ended, elk would dart on to the road and the number of collisions would rise, while motion sensors were prone to false alarms from low-flying birds or trees moving in the wind.

Now there is a flashier solution. Henrik Wildenschild, of the region's roads administration, read that LED traffic poles used in Austria to deter deer reduced collisions by 90%. He wondered whether a similar system might work for Bambi's big cousin. "These solar-panel-powered devices, nicknamed 'disco poles', react to car headlights and emit a high-pitched, rhythmic sound and flash LED lights in blue and yellow to frighten elk away," he says. "Since it's the law that headlights must be on day and night in Norway, this should work perfectly. Even a 30% reduction in collisions would be a success for us."

The scaled-up "elk disco poles" are in production and will be installed on four main roads in a trial in November. If successful, they could be introduced across Scandinavia.

"We'd need more testing in densely populated areas," warns Wildenschild. "We're a bit worried about how domestic cats and dogs will respond and don't want to be held responsible for people's pets running off."

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« Reply #130 on: Oct 15, 2013, 05:40 AM »

South Dakota's cattle cataclysm: why isn't this horror news?

Ranchers in South Dakota lost tens of thousands of cattle from a freak storm. Thanks to the shutdown, no one is paying attention

Carrie Mess, Monday 14 October 2013 13.17 EDT

If you aren't in the ag world, you most likely haven't heard about the devastating loss that ranchers in western South Dakota are struggling with after being hit by winter storm Atlas.

For some reason the news stations aren't covering this story. I don't understand why they wouldn't. This story has heartbreak, tragedy and even a convenient tie into the current government shutdown. Isn't that what the news is all about these days?

But the news isn't covering this story. Instead, it is spreading around on social media, and bloggers are writing from their ranches in South Dakota. Bloggers are trying to explain how the horrible happened. And now I am going to join them to tell you the part of the story that I know, and I am going to ask you to help these people, because if you are here reading this, I know you give a crap about these people.

Last weekend western South Dakota and parts of the surrounding states got their butts handed to them by Mother Nature. A blizzard isn't unusual in South Dakota, the cattle are tough and can handle some snow. They have for hundreds of years.

Unlike on our dairy farm in Wisconsin, beef cattle don't live in climate controlled barns. Beef cows and calves spend the majority of their lives out on pasture. They graze the grass in the spring, summer and fall and eat baled hay in the winter.

In winter these cows and calves grow fuzzy jackets that keep them warm and protect them from the snow and cold. The cows and calves live in special pastures in the winter. These pastures are smaller and closer to the ranch, and they have windbreaks for the cows to hide behind. They have worked for cows for hundred of years.

So what's the big deal about this blizzard?

It's not really winter yet.

The cows don't have their warm jackets on. The cows are still out eating grass in the big pastures. Atlas wasn't just a snowstorm, it was the kind of storm that can destroy the ranchers that have been caring for these cattle for hundreds of years.

Last weekend Atlas hit. It started with rain. The rain soaked the cows and chilled them to the bone. Inches and inches of rain fell. The rain made horrible mud. Then the winds started – 80mph winds, hurricane force. When the wind started, the rain changed to snow. A lot of snow. The cows were wet, muddy and they didn't have their winter jackets when the wind and snow came. Wet snow. Heavy snow.

The cows tried to protect themselves. They hid in low spots away from the wind. The low spots where the rain had turned the ground to thick mud. Some got stuck in the mud. Some laid down to get away from the wind, to rest a little, they were tired from trying to get away from the weather when they were already so cold.

The snow came down so heavy and so fast the the low spots that the cattle were laying in filled with snow. Not a few inches of snow, not a foot of snow. Enough snow that the cows and their calves were covered in snow.

The cows and calves suffocated or froze to death.

The caretakers of these cattle had no power to save them. They had to stand by and take the lashings from Mother Nature. They had no options. When it was all over, they went out to discover what they had left.

Can you even imagine what that would feel like? Standing with your hands tied as your life's living, breathing and mooing work is destroyed. I can't imagine, I don't know how I would recover from a loss like that. This wasn't just one or two herds of cows. This wasn't just one or two families that lost animals. This wasn't just a few cows. Tens of thousands of cows are gone. Some ranchers lost their entire herds. All of their cows, gone.

In the fall, a cattle rancher sells their calves to someone who specializes in raising them for market. It's how a ranch generates income. Calves are the lifeblood of a cattle ranch. Most ranchers had not yet sold their calves when Atlas hit. Their calves are gone. The cows that made those calves were pregnant with with next year's calves. Those cows are gone, those calves are gone.

Meanwhile in Washington DC, the shutdown has doubly screwed the ranchers. The people that are supposed to try to help these people are unable to do their jobs. The farm bill is held up again. No one knows when, how or if help is going to come.

Insurance? Not likely.

When a flood comes and your corn is flooded out, you have some options. Insurance for cattle is expensive and it comes with hundreds of loopholes that make the gamble of farming without it the most practical choice for many.

There is no way around it, this storm has put some ranchers out of business. Time will tell just how many.

• This was originally posted on the author's blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie. The author also points out that the AgChat Foundation has partnered with several organizations to create a grassroots effort to help ranchers who lost so much.

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« Reply #131 on: Oct 15, 2013, 07:11 AM »

October 14, 2013

Moose Die-Off Alarms Scientists


CHOTEAU, Mont. — Across North America — in places as far-flung as Montana and British Columbia, New Hampshire and Minnesota — moose populations are in steep decline. And no one is sure why.

Twenty years ago, Minnesota had two geographically separate moose populations. One of them has virtually disappeared since the 1990s, declining to fewer than 100 from 4,000.

The other population, in northeastern Minnesota, is dropping 25 percent a year and is now fewer than 3,000, down from 8,000. (The moose mortality rate used to be 8 percent to 12 percent a year.) As a result, wildlife officials have suspended all moose hunting.

Here in Montana, moose hunting permits fell to 362 last year, from 769 in 1995.

“Something’s changed,” said Nicholas DeCesare, a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks who is counting moose in this part of the state — one of numerous efforts across the continent to measure and explain the decline. “There’s fewer moose out there, and hunters are working harder to find them.”

What exactly has changed remains a mystery. Several factors are clearly at work. But a common thread in most hypotheses is climate change.

Winters have grown substantially shorter across much of the moose’s range. In New Hampshire, a longer fall with less snow has greatly increased the number of winter ticks, a devastating parasite. “You can get 100,000 ticks on a moose,” said Kristine Rines, a biologist with the state’s Fish and Game Department.

In Minnesota, the leading culprits are brain worms and liver flukes. Both spend part of their life cycles in snails, which thrive in moist environments.

Another theory is heat stress. Moose are made for cold weather, and when the temperature rises above 23 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, as has happened more often in recent years, they expend extra energy to stay cool. That can lead to exhaustion and death.

In the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia, a recent study pinned the decline of moose on the widespread killing of forest by an epidemic of pine bark beetles, which seem to thrive in warmer weather. The loss of trees left the moose exposed to human and animal predators.

In Smithers, British Columbia, in April, a moose — starving and severely infested with ticks — wandered into the flower section of a Safeway market. It was euthanized.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #132 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:10 AM »

Study shows functional similarity between human and ape emotions

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 11:36 EDT

Young bonobos share hugs and kisses to make their peers feel better much the way children do, according to a new study suggesting people and ape emotions function similarly.

The bonobo is as genetically similar to humans as is the chimpanzee, and it is also considered the most empathic great ape.

“This makes the species an ideal candidate for psychological comparisons,” says one of the lead researchers, Frans de Waal.

“Any fundamental similarity between humans and bonobos probably traces back to their last common ancestor, which lived around six million years ago.”

The new research, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, studied video footage of bonobos in their daily interactions at a sanctuary near Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The scientists from Emory University found that bonobos who “recovered quickly and easily from their own emotional upheavals, such as after losing a fight, showed more empathy for their fellow great apes,” according to a statement from the school’s health sciences department.

Co-lead researcher Zanna Clay said those empathetic bonobos were also more likely to give body comfort, such as hugs, touches, or kisses, to others in distress.

This suggests the apes are able to keep strong emotions in check — for example stopping themselves from blowing up in anger or crumbling under disappointment. That’s an important part of healthy social development for human children as well, the researchers said.

These observations are important to human evolutionary history “because it shows the socio-emotional framework commonly applied to children works equally well for apes,” the statement said.

That would mean researchers can make predictions about ape behavior, based on human patterns, and then test whether they are, in fact, the same.

Along those lines, the researchers noted that human orphans often struggle with regulating their emotions — and the same was found true among bonobos without parents.

In the sanctuary, many of the young bonobos lost their parents to hunters looking for bushmeat. They are reared with substitute human mothers, but “compared to peers raised by their own mothers, the orphans have difficulty managing emotional arousal,” said Clay.

The orphaned apes also took longer to recover from emotional distress.

“They would be very upset, screaming for minutes after a fight compared to mother-reared juveniles, who would snap out of it in seconds.”

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« Reply #133 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:12 AM »

U.S. joins Australia and France in pushing for Antarctic sanctuaries

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 23:40 EDT

Australia, New Zealand, the United States, France and the EU on Wednesday stepped up pressure on Russia for a swift agreement to create vast Antarctic marine sanctuaries.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), comprising 24 nations plus the European Union, meet in Australia next week with Russia seen as key to protecting large swathes of the wilderness area.

At a special summit of CCAMLR in Germany in July, Moscow blocked a plan to create the ocean sanctuaries off Antarctica for a second time, and foreign ministers from the main proponents issued a rallying call on Wednesday.

“Australia, the European Union, France, New Zealand and the United States jointly call for the establishment this year of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean, in the Ross Sea Region and in East Antarctica,” they said in a joint statement, without naming Russia.

“The establishment of such MPAs follows through on the vision expressed by all nations at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 and the Rio+20 conference in 2012.”

CCAMLR is a 31-year-old treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Southern, Ocean but at the meeting in Bremerhaven Russia questioned its legal right to declare such a haven, according to organisations at the talks.

Russia has argued that planned restrictions on fishing are too onerous although most other nations support the proposals.

One of the proposed sanctuaries, floated by the United States and New Zealand, covers 1.6 million square kilometres (640,000 square miles) of the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side.

The other, backed by Australia, France and the EU, would protect 1.9 million square kilometres of coastal seas off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.

Protecting the areas — which biologists say are rich in unique species — would more than double the area of the world’s oceans declared sanctuaries.

The waters around Antarctica are home to some 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses and penguins, as well as unique species of fish.

In their statement, the foreign ministers said the Ross Sea and East Antarctica regions were widely recognised for their remarkable ecological and scientific importance.

“The MPA proposals now before the Commission are based on sound and best available science, will provide a unique laboratory for continuation of marine research, and will have profound and lasting benefits for ocean conservation, including sustainable use of its resources,” they said.

CCAMLR nations meet in Hobart from October 23.

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« Reply #134 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:55 AM »

10/16/2013 01:05 PM

Ethical Farming: Germany Ponders the Super Chicken

By Michael Fröhlingsdorf

Every year, millions of male chicks are discarded because of the demands of industrial chicken farming. Now a German company has engineered a new breed that could solve the problem -- but it comes with drawbacks of its own.

In the town of Kitzingen, in the south German state of Bavaria, a nondescript barn houses some heavily researched chickens. The building contains two long rows of tall wire cages, each three meters (10 feet) long and two meters (6.5 feet) wide. Each cage contains 24 chickens. They look healthy and vigorous. Some are sitting on poles, others are scratching on the ground, and a few have retreated to nests at the end of the chicken coop.

This new breeding line, "Lohmann Dual," is a registered trademark of the world's largest producer of egg-laying hens, Lohmann Tierzucht, which has its headquarters in Cuxhaven in the northern German state of Lower Saxony. They were created by Lohmann Managing Director and Chief Geneticist Rudolf Preisinger. For years now, the 55-year-old professor has been working on this breeding line -- crossing breeds, measuring birds, counting eggs and weighing chicken feed.

Now he has traveled to this testing barn run by the Bavarian State Research Center for Agriculture, where the birds will be compared with other breeds under controlled conditions. Preisinger gives a loud clap with his hands and then carefully observes his birds. Hundreds of chickens fall silent for a second and stretch their necks, but none fly up in panic. "That's how it should be," says the geneticist, "very calm, good-natured animals."

This new breed of Gallus gallus domesticus, the domestic chicken, is a small sensation in the agricultural industry. The bird is the first so-called dual-purpose chicken in the product range of the company, whose hatcheries in Germany alone produce some 45 million laying hens every year. This means the new breed supplies both eggs and meat: The female animals of the breeding line reportedly lay 250 eggs a year, while the males make respectable broilers -- meaning a bird fit for broiling -- at an age of 70 days.

Solution to Chicken 'Mass Murder'

Lohmann bred the dual-purpose chicken in response to growing criticism of conventional practices in modern egg production. Millions of male chicks belonging to egg-laying breeds are destroyed immediately after they are hatched. They are worthless for the poultry industry because they don't lay any eggs and, because of their breed, don't produce much meat. The male chicks are thrown alive into a kind of meat grinder, called a macerator, and then discarded as refuse. Or they are suffocated with carbon dioxide. This at least allows their bodies to be used as feed at zoos and reptile farms.

For years, animal-rights activists and consumer associations have been denouncing this "mass murder" in the hatcheries as one of the perverse excesses of profit-driven factory farming. The legality of this culling is also the subject of considerable debate: Germany's animal protection laws prohibit the killing of vertebrates without "reasonable cause." Until now, local authorities have tolerated the practice, at least when the dead chicks are marketed as animal feed.

But in late September Johannes Remmel, the agricultural minister of the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, decided to intervene. "This practice is absolutely horrifying. We cannot allow animals to become the object of an overheated and industrialized system," says Remmel, who is a member of the environment-friendly Green Party. The minister has decreed local authorities ban the killing of male one-day-old chicks within the next year. Lower Saxony, the state with by far the largest hatcheries, will perhaps soon follow suit. Remmel's fellow party member and counterpart in Lower Saxony, Christian Meyer, is currently exploring the possibility of introducing a ban.

The root cause of the mass killings is the industrialization of poultry production. Up until the 1960s, chickens were raised together with many other animals on farms. The hens laid eggs, and when their productivity declined, they ended up as stewing hens. The roosters were sold on the market as broilers. As the demand for eggs and poultry grew, breeders sought to optimize the animals -- laying hens to be lean and tough; broilers to be meaty. Since then, there have been egg-laying breeds and meat breeds.

Numbers Game

The specially bred laying hens manage to produce 310 eggs a year, 100 more than their ancestors 50 years ago. But they hardly put on any meat. By contrast, meat chicken breeds weigh 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) within five to six weeks. Then they are slaughtered before they even become sexually mature.

These days, the industry uses virtually only hybrids: high-performance chickens produced by crossing a number of breeds. This is a good business for companies like Lohmann because the animals -- in contrast to purebred birds -- cannot be bred on farms. Chicken farmers have to continuously buy new chicks from the breeders.

Chicken breeders have even managed to introduce a gene whose sole purpose is to make it easier to identify the sex of the chicks. Males and females have slightly different color feathers, allowing them to be quickly sorted for culling after they hatch.

The dual-purpose chicken bred by Preisinger could put an end to the massacre of male chicks that has existed since the introduction of the hybrids. But there are problems: the animals are still not very efficient, despite all the breeder's efforts. "The hens lay fewer eggs than the egg-laying hybrids. Their brothers need 50 percent more feed than conventional broilers before they are ready for slaughter," admits Preisinger.

Consumer Obstacles

Furthermore, broilers sold in the supermarket have always appeared round and compact, while the dual-purpose chicken tends to be long and bony. Where hybrid meat chickens have breast meat, the new breed only has a thin, protruding breastbone. On the other hand, the bird has more meaty thighs. "Consumers will have to want something like this," says the top breeder.

But customers -- and thus also the retail food trade -- yearn for light breast meat; the rear third of the bird's body is largely unsellable. To make matters worse, the eggs of the dual-purpose chicken are two to three cents more expensive. Many customers are particularly price-conscious when purchasing eggs.

Not surprisingly, Lohmann's super chicken, which has been on the market for two months now, has suffered dismal sales. Only three farms in Austria have ordered the young hens. Even organic farmers are reluctant to buy the new birds. While those farmers allow their chickens more movement and give them different feed than conventional farmers, they rely on the same high-performance hybrids. Indeed, millions of male chicks are also killed for the production of organic eggs.

High-Tech Alternatives

Meanwhile, researchers are exploring another possible high-tech solution to the chick problem: a way that allows the birds' sex to be recognized while still in the egg. Male animals could then be sorted out before they hatch, which would circumvent the animal-protection debate and cut costs at hatcheries. For the past eight years, the University of Leipzig in eastern Germany has been researching a method based on hormone analysis of the fertilized egg. Researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium are also testing a technique that involves scanning the eggs. But both systems are not yet reliable, and they will probably be too expensive.

Such a process would allow Lohmann and other producers to continue with the profitable hybrid breeding they have been doing for years -- though even that strategy has its own shortcomings, because hybrid animals are susceptible to diseases. The high laying performance also means the hens rapidly use up the calcium stores in their bones. After only a little over a year, they are -- just like their brothers before them -- disposed of as animal fodder or, at best, stewing hens.

Back to the Basics

This has prompted some organic farmers to go another route -- by returning to traditional methods of chicken farming. Two years ago, the organic food association Naturland launched a pilot project which relies on an old French breed, the Bresse chicken, instead of intensively bred hybrids. One of the participating growers is Lutz Ulms, who has an organic farm on the outskirts of the small town of Sonnewalde, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Berlin. He bought 500 male and 500 female chicks, bred the next generations himself, and let the egg-laying hens live longer than one year.

His organic food customers are delighted with the project, says Ulms. But, for him, it hasn't paid off. "It's a hard way to earn a living," he admits. When he wanted to have the young hens vaccinated, he had difficulties finding a vet. "It's not worthwhile for farm animal vets to drive out to our place. Small animal vets don't know anything about raising poultry," he says. He also had to pay extra at the slaughterhouse because he deals in such small quantities.

Even the chickens turned out to be more unpredictable than expected. Many of them injured themselves or died as a result of feather pecking. Others tried to brood their eggs rather than lay new ones. Ulm's birds ultimately laid between 160 and 170 eggs each year. Four eggs sold for €2.40 ($3.25) in natural food stores (in comparison, 6 organic eggs sell for €1.55 at Aldi Nord, the German discount food chain).

But Preisinger's dual-purpose chickens aren't much of a money-making venture either. Although they are diligently laying their eggs in the barn in Kitzingen, their eggs are much smaller than expected. "For weeks now, they have only been large enough for weight class S," complains the geneticist (S being the smallest weight class for eggs). In the store on the experimental farm, 30 eggs from the super birds go for just one euro. But just like the chickens, the eggs aren't selling.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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