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« Reply #180 on: Nov 26, 2013, 06:30 AM »

South Carolina 16-year-old may face charges for throwing cat into fire

By David Edwards
RawStory
Monday, November 25, 2013 15:28 EST

Law enforcement officials in South Carolina are considering charging a 16-year-old boy after he was accused of throwing a cat into a fire last week.

In a Saturday Facebook post, the Darlington County Humane Society Rescue explained that the cat named Elizabeth had been brought to the shelter by its owner after a 16-year-old neighbor tossed it into a fire. However, some reports said the boy was only 13 years old.

“She is burned over the majority of her body – and was in incredible pain,” the post said. “Yet, she still purrs and head butts even when her painful burns are being cleaned.”

“We had a hard decision to make when she came in – euthanize her or try to make a difference for this abused sweetheart. We opted for the latter – we are hoping our community friends will support us in this endeavor and prove that we made the right choice for Elizabeth.”

WMBF reported that the community had responded by donating over $12,000 to cover medical bills for Elizabeth and other needy animals.

And on Monday, WPDE noted that the Humane Society had found an appropriate foster home for Elizabeth.

The organization also asked that people focus on helping the animals instead of posting negative comments about the 16-year-old suspect: “The outpour of love and help have been wonderful but the negative, nasty comments are coming in faster then we can keep up. It’s not productive and saddens me to have to constantly go in and block all the vulgar language that was getting through. I know people are upset and want to vent but it isn’t helping. Thank you for caring.”

Darlington County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to WPDE that the teen boy was being investigated for allegations he threw the cat into the fire.


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« Reply #181 on: Nov 26, 2013, 06:46 AM »

How a Canadian town is teaching polar bears to fear humans in order to save them – video

Laurence Topham and Suzanne Goldenberg   
Length: 6min 45sec
theguardian.com

Churchill in northern Manitoba bills itself as the the polar bear capital of the world and its tourism-based economy depends on it. But as climate change forces the polar bears inland in search of food, attacks on humans are increasing. Can this small community continue to co-exist with the world's largest land predator? Suzanne Goldenberg reports from Churchill where its bear alert programme uses guns, helicopters and a polar bear jail to manage the the creatures

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/nov/25/polar-bear-canada-churchill-manitoba-video
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« Reply #182 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:00 AM »


World Trade Organisation upholds EU ban on imported seal products

WTO ruling claimed as victory by conservationists who campaigned against hunts in Canada and Norway

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 17.37 GMT      

The World Trade Organisation has upheld a European Union ban on imported seal products, finding it addressed "public moral concerns" about the controversial hunt.

The WTO ruling was claimed as a victory by conservationists and animal welfare activists who have been campaigning for years against such hunts in Canada and Norway.

Monday's ruling did find some flaws in the 2010 ban, but found that: "It fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective."

However, the trade organisation said the exceptions granted under the EU ban were not "even-handed", and would have to be revised.

The EU had exempted seal products resulting from Inuit or other aboriginal hunts, as well as from hunts conducted to protect fishing stocks.

"The report from WTO panel is a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans," Sonja Van Tichelen, EU regional director for the International Federation for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Canadian Inuit leaders, speaking to CBC radio ahead of the decision, argued that the ban was discriminatory.

"They're basing it on public morals and, when you do that, you're in danger of all the other industries being banned in the same way. I mean, who's to say what's more cruel? Industrialised agriculture? The poultry, pork and beef industry? Who draws the line?" said Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents about 55,000 people.

With the EU embargo in place, some 34 countries now ban the trade in seal products. The US, Mexico, Russia and Taiwan also ban imported seal products.

Canada's seal hunt has declined over the years. The commercial seal hunt off Newfoundland resulted in about 91,000 harp seals last year, well below the government quota of 400,000.

There are 60 days to appeal the WTO decision.


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« Reply #183 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Okapi and Flufftail make ‘red list’ of species nearing extinction

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 22:25 EST

The giraffe-like Okapi and the White-winged Flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds, are on the verge of extinction, conservation body the IUCN warned on Tuesday.

In an update to its “Red List” of threatened species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said the animals had been driven to ever closer to destruction.

The Okapi, a smaller cousin of the giraffe, is unique to the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where poaching, habitat loss, and the presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners are the principal threats to its survival.

It is now ranked as endangered, the third step from extinction on the IUCN’s nine-notch scale.

“The Okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol -? it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” said Noelle Kumpel, head of the organisation’s Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group.

“Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of Okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin,” she said, adding that its survival hinges on supporting government efforts to stem violence and help the poor.

The White-winged Flufftail, meanwhile, has been listed as critically endangered, putting it on the edge of the extinction abyss.

The small, secretive bird is found in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

It has been hit by wetland drainage, conversion for agriculture, overgrazing by livestock and cutting of marsh vegetation.

But there was good news for threatened species, the IUCN said: two kinds of albatross, plus the Leatherback Turtle and the Island Fox are showing signs of recovery.

The Black-browed Albatross and Black-footed Albatross — both vulnerable to accidental capture by fishermen — are now at a lower risk of extinction due to populations increases.

The albatross is one of the most threatened of the planet’s bird families, but the Black-browed variety was shifted from endangered to near threatened — five steps from extinction.

The Black-footed Albatross, meanwhile, was moved one notch down the list from vulnerable to “near threatened”.

The Leatherback Turtle’s fortunes were nonetheless mixed, the IUCN cautioned.

The Northwest Atlantic population is now abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation.

But in contrast, the East Pacific Ocean population along the coast of the Americas, and the West Pacific Ocean subpopulation, found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, are in severe decline due to egg harvest and incidental capture in fishing gear.

The Island Fox, previously listed as critically endangered, also improved in status and is now listed as near threatened.

Found on the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California, the Island Fox suffered catastrophic declines in the mid 1990s mainly due to disease and predation by non-native species such as the Golden Eagle.

But it has been given a helping hand by the US National Park Service, via captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases and relocation of Golden Eagles.

“This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” said Jane Smart, global director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group.

“However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories,” she added.

Of the 71,576 species assessed by the IUCN, 21,286 are threatened with extinction.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #184 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Rare whooping cranes in U.S. face enemies large and small

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 12:02 EST

Jane Chandler raises the rarest cranes in the world. For them to have a chance at surviving in the wild, the young birds must never see her face, hear her speak, or know her to be a human being.

If they did, these whooping cranes, named for their characteristic calls, would come to think of themselves as human. Then they would not find a mate in the wild, or understand the true danger that people represent.

So Chandler dons a disguise whenever she comes near the chicks.

Her bird suit is made up of a sheet-like drape that covers her from neck to ankles, and a full white head covering with a camouflage screen hiding her face. She wears a puppet of a crane’s head on one hand, using the beak to pick up food pellets, grapes, mealworms or corn to feed the young birds.

Chandler’s title is Crane Flock Manager at the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and on a crisp morning in November, her charge was a group of 11 juveniles.

Nearly six months old, they stand about three feet (one meter) high. Their heads and wings are light brown, a hue that will fade as they become adults, giving way to sleek white plumes, black-tipped wings and a scarlet crown.

These iconic North American birds poke around their outdoor enclosure, walking delicately through a pond, flapping their wings occasionally, pausing to peck corncobs and squeaking in response to the throaty sounds of adult cranes nearby.

Soon, they will be packed up and sent via private aircraft to their new home, added to a group of 23 captive-bred counterparts at the White Lake Wetland Conservation Area in Louisiana.

“Historically there was a non-migratory flock in Louisiana in the 1900s,” Chandler says. “So we are trying to recreate that.”

Whooping cranes all but disappeared from the United States more than a century ago. The tallest birds in North America, reaching up to five feet, they were hunted to the brink of extinction and lost critical habitat in the 1800s when pioneers drained their freshwater marshes for farmland.

By the 1940s, the only remaining wild population was down to around two dozen birds.

Now, after five decades of efforts and millions of dollars spent annually to rebuild their numbers, there are nearly 600 — about 300 in the wild and the rest in captivity.

Conservationists say a sustainable population would have 1,000 wild birds, in at least two independent flocks.

Two of the four major efforts to reintroduce the Grus americana to the wild have failed since the 1960s. A third is struggling so much that experts are questioning whether it is even possible to bring them back to places from which they have vanished.

“Is reintroduction a valid tool for conservation?” asks Jeb Barzen, director of field ecology at the International Crane Foundation.

“It is a critical question we are engaged with.”

Chicks are not surviving in a key population of captive-bred whooping cranes that have been set free since 2001 at a wildlife refuge in the midwestern state of Wisconsin.

These cranes are meant to migrate south toward Florida, serving as a second wild population to the existing flock that travels between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

They learn to fly by following human pilots in bird suits aboard a one-seat ultralight aircraft, run by a non-profit group called Operation Migration.

The cranes begin pairing off, making nests and laying eggs by the time they are four to five years old.

But nearly all these attempts in Wisconsin have failed. Of 132 nests counted from 2005 to 2013, 22 hatched at least one chick. Only five of those chicks survived one year, says USGS research ecologist Sarah Converse.

Often, the birds were getting up off their nests before their eggs could even hatch. But why? For years, it remained a mystery.

“We now think that it is very likely because of the harassment of birds by biting black flies,” says Converse.

“They are incredibly irritating and painful, and they bite and draw blood.”

Conservationists scouted some new places for release nearby, where the bird-attacking black flies are less common, and began releasing whooping cranes there in 2011.

Another new approach is having cranes, instead of humans in bird costumes, raise some of the chicks born in captivity.

In the wild, whooping cranes spend up to a year with their parents before they go off on their own, learning behaviors to help them survive.

“There may something lacking that we are not giving them,” says USGS chief veterinarian Glenn Olsen.

This year, four young birds were brought up this way and released in Wisconsin near adult whooping cranes.

Two died within weeks. One was hit by a car. The other was killed by a large predator, likely a wolf or a coyote.

The two survivors formed bonds with adult birds and migrated south with them.

Despite the 50-50 outcome, Olsen calls the project “very successful,” and said next year six to nine chicks will be raised and released this way.

But he says this approach will never replace the need for costumed human parents like Chandler, who has worked at Patuxent for 25 years.

She says a high point of her job is when she occasionally gets to see the birds flying free in the wild.

Though she must stay invisible to the birds, she forms strong bonds with them on the protected Maryland refuge, where cranes in captivity can safely reach old age.

“Some of the birds that I work with have also been here for 25 or even 40 years — our oldest bird is 42. When one of those birds dies, it is sad,” she says.

“It is like losing a friend.”

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« Reply #185 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Why the stealthy seahorse wins by a head

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 13:35 EST

Close examination of the seahorse has shown that the delicate little fish is a master of stealth, using streamlined features in its head to sneak up on its prey, scientists reported on Tuesday.

At first glance, the seahorse is an unlikely candidate for hunter of the year.

Swimming vertically, its tail curled, it progresses through coral reefs and shallow beds of seagrass thanks to a little dorsal fin that flutters three dozen times per second.

Its top speed is no more than 150 cms (five feet) an hour, a pace politely described as dignified.

By this yardstick, the species should not give planktonic copepods any sleepless nights. These are tiny crustaceans that are super-attuned to any water movement caused by an advancing predator.

The critters can move at super-speed, reacting to a threat within as little as two thousandths of a second.

They can propel themselves away at the speed of than 500 body lengths per second — the rough equivalent of a human clearing 10 football fields in a single leap.

Given these challenges, how is the ponderous seahorse able to eat?

The answer, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, lies in the extraordinarily hydrodynamic — the watery equivalent of aerodynamic — shape of its head.

With a long snout and sleek cheekbones, the organ offers minimal resistance to water, which enables the seahorse to ever-so-slowly sidle up on a copepod without being detected.

Once it gets within about 1mm (0.04 of an inch) of its target, the seahorse strikes, using a system of elastic-like tendons in its neck to drive its head forward, covering the distance in less than one thousandth of a second.

Laboratory tests using 3D holographic video found that dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) were 84 percent successful at getting within range of a copepod without triggering an escape response.

Once they were in the 1mm strike zone, they were 94 percent successful in grabbing their prey.

The study, led by Brad Gemmell at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests that these insights could have applications in industry, when manufacturing processes need hydrodynamic microstructures that can be immersed into a fluid yet not disturb it.


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« Reply #186 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:16 AM »


'Wildlife at risk' from incoming ban on pesticide linked to bee deaths

Farmers and beekeepers warn that crop-growers may turn to older pesticides when EU ban on neonicotinoids begins

Mark Riley Cardwell   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 27 November 2013 12.00 GMT   
   
Wildlife could be at risk from an imminent ban on pesticides linked to bee deaths, farmers and beekeepers have warned.

On Sunday, a European Union-wide ban on three neonicotinoids will come into force, but the National Farmers Union (NFU) and British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) have said the restriction could fuel a rise in spray-based pesticides.They say such alternatives could harm bees, soil-dwelling insects and spiders, and lead to higher genetic resistance to pesticides among crop-eating insects.

The NFU has said there has not been a full assessment of the environmental effects of the ban, while the BBKA has called for a revision to guidelines on safe use of neonicotinoid alternatives.

In May, the European commission introduced a restriction on three neonicotinoid-based pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – after a string of scientific studies linked neonicotinoid chemicals to harm in bees. There is also evidence to suggest neonicotinoids are harmful to a wide range of other wildlife.

A two-year suspension on the chemicals begins on 1 December, meaning farmers will need to rethink their practices for several key crops – such as oilseed rape, linseed and maize – on which neonicotinoids have been widely used in the past.

The NFU disputes the scientific evidence for the ban, and believes farmers will be forced to use older pesticides – particularly pyrethroids – in order to protect crops such as oilseed rape.

Unlike neonicotinoids, which are generally used as seed treatments, pyrethroids are mostly sprayed across crops.

"The neonicotinoids shut down will leave a big hole," said Don Pendergrast, NFU plant health adviser. "We have anticipated farmers will use one or two extra spray applications of pyrethroids on oil seed rape in the autumn."

"Using more broad-spectrum insecticides could damage beneficial insects like spiders and soil-dwellers, which eat beetles and aphids."

He said there is also a danger of increased genetic resistance to pyrethroids among insects which feed on oilseed rape – and pointed to evidence suggesting resistance is already starting to build up in Germany.

BBKA chairman, Dr David Aston, said he did not think the alternative pesticides were necessarily more dangerous to bees than neonicotinoids, but said an increase in pyrethroids could pose risks of its own.

"There is the potential of an increased risk to bees and other pollinators from the older chemicals," he said. "We would like to see reassurance that risk assessments for these technologies have been revised."

But invertebrate conservation charity Buglife, which campaigned for neonicotinoids to be banned, said there was no reason for farmers to use more pyrethroids once the ban comes into place.

"Farmers are already using more pyrethroids than they need to," said chief executive, Matt Shardlow. "All the science suggests 95% of the time they don't need to be using it. Farmers have been using both neonicotinoids and pyrethroids with a belt and braces approach. All we have done is take away the braces."

"We are much less concerned about pyrethroids than neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have a higher persistence in environment, and are generally a more toxic option."


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« Reply #187 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:17 AM »

American Humane Association accused of ignoring Hollywood animal abuse

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 21:25 EST

A rights group that monitors animals used in the entertainment industry has dismissed a report that it turns a blind eye to deaths and injuries because it is too cozy with TV and film bosses.

The Hollywood Reporter lists alleged incidents on movies including Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Life of Pi,” the “Pirates of the Caribbean” blockbusters and “The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey,” among others.

Twenty-seven animals involved in the production of the first of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy died, it said, also listing other incidents in which a chipmunk was squashed, a husky dog was punched, and fish died.

But the American Humane Association (AHA) said the story “distorts the work and record of a respected nonprofit organization that has kept millions of beloved animal actors safe on film and television sets around the world.”

“The article paints a picture that is completely unrecognizable to us or anyone who knows American Humane Association’s work,” the group added in a statement.

In its latest issue, dated December 6, the Hollywood Reporter quotes an AHA monitor about an incident in which the bengal tiger central to Taiwanese director Lee’s “Life of Pi” allegedly nearly drowned.

“This one take … just went really bad, and he got lost trying to swim to the side,” wrote the monitor. “Damn near drowned… I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!”

Citing interviews with AHA staffers and documents including emails, the Hollywood Reporter‘s lengthy investigation claimed the AHA has a fundamental conflict of interest, because its funding came from two industry bodies.

“It’s fascinating and ironic: from being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty,” Bob Ferber, a veteran LA prosecutor who ran a city Animal Protection Unit until retiring in March, told the journal.

The journal itself added: “Once a distinctly outsider entity, which had to fight for its right to independently monitor productions in the first place, today the AHA has transformed itself into an entrenched industry insider.”

The AHA defended itself, saying: “Far from allowing abuse or neglect to occur, we have a remarkably high safety record of 99.98 percent on set.

It acknowledged that accidents did occur. “Over a span of many years, despite our best efforts, there have occasionally been rare accidents, most of them minor and not intentional.

“Regrettably, there have even been some deaths, which upset us greatly, but in many of the cases reported, they had nothing to do with the animals’ treatment on set, or occurred when the animals were not under our care.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #188 on: Nov 27, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Dragonflys’ ‘black silicon’ found to be potent germ-killer

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 18:24 EST

Imagine a hospital room, door handle or kitchen countertop that is free from bacteria — and not one drop of disinfectant or boiling water or dose of microwaves has been needed to zap the germs.

That is the idea behind a startling discovery made by scientists in Australia.

In a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, they described how a dragonfly led them to a nano-tech surface that physically slays bacteria.

The germ-killer is black silicon, a substance discovered accidentally in the 1990s and now viewed as a promising semiconductor material for solar panels.

Under an electron microscope, its surface is a forest of spikes just 500 nanometres (500 billionths of a metre) high that rip open the cell walls of any bacterium which comes into contact, the scientists found.

It is the first time that any water-repellent surface has been found to have this physical quality as bactericide.

Last year, the team, led by Elena Ivanova at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, were stunned to find cicada wings were potent killers of Pseudomonas aeruginsoa — an opportunist germ that also infects humans and is becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Looking closely, they found that the answer lay not in any biochemical on the wing, but in regularly-spaced “nanopillars” on which bacteria were sliced to shreds as they settled on the surface.

They took the discovery further by examining nanostructures studding the translucent forewings of a red-bodied Australian dragonfly called the wandering percher (Latin name Diplacodes bipunctata).

It has spikes that are somewhat smaller than those on the black silicon — they are 240 nanometres high.

The dragonfly’s wings and black silicon were put through their paces in a lab, and both were ruthlessly bactericidal.

Smooth to the human touch, the surfaces destroyed two categories of bacteria, called Gram-negative and Gram-positive, as well as spores, the protective shell that coats certain times of dormant germs.

The three targeted bugs comprised P. aeruginosa, the notorious Staphylococcus aureus and the ultra-tough spore of Bacillus subtilis, a wide-ranging soil germ that is a cousin of anthrax.

The killing rate was 450,000 bacterial cells per square centimetre per minute over the first three hours of exposure.

This is 810 times the minimum dose needed to infect a person with S. aureus, and a whopping 77,400 times that of P. aeruginosa.

If the cost of making black silicon is an obstacle, many other options are around for making nano-scale germ-killing surfaces, said the scientists.

“Synthetic antibacterial nano-materials that exhibit a similar effectiveness … can be readily fabricated over large areas,” they wrote.


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« Reply #189 on: Nov 28, 2013, 06:11 AM »

Sweden’s H&M stops making angora products after rabbit torture video

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 21:50 EST

Swedish fashion giant H&M said Wednesday it would stop making clothing containing angora hair after an animal rights group released video showing fur being plucked from live rabbits on Chinese farms.

“We are halting production” of angora products, said H&M spokeswoman Camilla Emilsson Falk.

“We need to check to be sure if the producers are conforming to our standards,” she said, although angora products already in H&M stores would not be withdrawn.

The Swedish fashion retailer’s move marks a U-turn from five days ago, when it insisted that its suppliers met necessary standards and that it carried out routine spot checks to ensure that.

But that stance was met with sharp rebuke in Sweden, with critics saying that the checks were not entirely efficient while calling for angora hair products to be banned completely.

According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), China produces 90 percent of the world’s angora hair.

Its video shows white angora rabbits at a variety of different farms in China tied to wooden tables in rooms filled with cages, as workers hold them down and tear off clumps of their fur by hand, while the animals scream in agony.

Another part of the video shows the rabbits pink-skinned after having their downy fur pulled off.

PETA said its sources told them that plucked angora hair fetched more money due to its length and quality, even though the method put the rabbits at more risk due to stress.

H&M’s Swedish competitors Lindex, Gina Tricot and MQ have all said they would stop producing and purchasing angora products as they could not guarantee that the supplies originated from ethical farms.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #190 on: Nov 28, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Hong Kong returns seized rhino horns and elephant tusks to South Africa

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 17:50 EST

Hong Kong returned a consignment of seized rhino horns and elephant tusks worth $2.25 million (1.66 million euros) to South Africa on Wednesday, authorities said, as poaching for the Asian black market continues to escalate.

The contraband of 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks, and 127 ivory bracelets arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport after over a year of negotiations.

“It’s a first for us,” Colonel Johan Jooste of the Hawks special branch of police said of the consignment.

South Africa, whose 25,000 rhinos make up 80 percent of the global population, has been especially hit hard by poaching.

Over 890 rhinos have been poached this year, already 200 more than the number of animals slaughtered in 2012.

The horns, made from the same material as human finger nails, are a popular status symbol in Asia.

South Africa has deployed the army in the world-famous Kruger National Park, and nature reserves have cut off the horns or injected them with ink to curb the hunt, but with little success.

Hong Kong is the main entry point to Asia for the smuggled goods, according to the authorities.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #191 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:58 AM »

Fossilized feces shows some dinosaurs gathered in ‘poop groups,’ like elephants or camels

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 28, 2013 14:13 EST

Some large, grass-eating mammals, such as elephants, rhinos and camels, gather together not only when they eat, but also when they defecate.

The group poop, researchers have surmised, has several important functions.

One is hygiene, to prevent the emergence of new parasites; another is safety, to provide surveillance in numbers against any prowling predator.

But new evidence, turned up in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, suggests the communal latrine has a much older history, and one that predates the mammals.

A team led by Lucas Fiorelli of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigation (CONICET) in Argentina report on a treasure trove of fossilized feces in the northwest of the country.

They counted no less than 30,000 of feces, ranging in size from 0.2 to 14 inches in length. In some spots, the ancient excreta piled up to 100 per square meters.

The feces-counting may have been exhaustive, but it showed that going through the motions can sometimes bring rewards.

It turns out the communal latrine dates back to 240 million years, a whole 20 million years earlier than the previous record-holder.

And close examination of the feces showed it was deposited by none other than members of the Dicynodontes, “megaherbivore” reptiles which lived cheek-by-jowl with early dinosaurs.

“This is the first evidence of megaherbivore communal latrines in non-mammal vertebrates, indicating that this mammal-type behavior was present in distant relatives of mammals,” says the paper.


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« Reply #192 on: Dec 03, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Sea eagle steals camera and films bird's eye view - video

A sea eagle in Western Australia's Kimberley region swipes a camera and inadvertently makes a short wildlife film. The young bird of prey picked up the motion-sensor camera, which had been set up to film fresh-water crocodiles, and took it on a journey of more than 100km. The footage shows the young bird of prey scooping up the recorder, and taking to the air before putting it down and pecking at it.

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/dec/03/sea-eagle-steals-camera-australia-video
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« Reply #193 on: Dec 03, 2013, 07:37 AM »

Africa risks losing 20 percent of elephants in 10 years if poaching isn’t curbed: study

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 2, 2013 8:18 EST

Africa could lose 20 percent of its elephant population in a decade if current poaching levels are not slowed, animal conservation groups warned Monday.

An estimated 22,000 elephants were illegally killed across the continent last year, as poaching reached “unacceptably elevated levels,” said a joint statement by CITES, TRAFFIC and IUCN.

“If poaching rates are sustained at current levels, Africa is likely to lose a fifth of its elephants in the next ten years,” the statement said.

The study was released as experts and ministers met in Botswana Monday to look at ways to stamp out the elephant slaughter, which is fuelled by a growing demand for ivory in Asia.

“We continue to face a critical situation,” said John E. Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Current elephant poaching in Africa remains far too high, and could soon lead to local extinctions if the present killing rates continue,” he said.

Scanlon described the situation in central Africa, where the estimated poaching rate is twice the continental average, as “particularly acute”.

There are around half a million elephants left in Africa compared with 1.2 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900.

Researchers believe that poverty and weak governance in African countries harbouring elephants are the driving forces behind a spike in elephant poaching.

Elephants are killed for their tusks that are used to make prized ornaments.

Ivory trade is banned under the CITES, yet illegal ivory trade is estimated to be worth up to $10 billion a year.

The price of ivory on the black market shot up tenfold in the past decade to more than $2,000 per kilogramme. On average, an adult elephant tusk can weigh 20 kg (44 pounds), according to experts.

In the past 13 years, the quantities of ivory traded have steadily shot up, according to Tom Milliken, an ivory trade expert with the wildlife monitoring agency TRAFFIC.

“2013 already represents a 20% increase over the previous peak year in 2011; we’re hugely concerned,” said Milliken.

In recent years ivory trafficking routes appear to be shifting from the traditional West and central African seaports to east Africa with Kenya and Tanzania as the exit points.

Most of the ivory ends up in Thailand and China.

The group meeting in Botswana is expected to adopt a pact that will commit signatories, including the biggest ivory markets such as China, to demonstrate political will at the highest level in the fight against poaching and ivory trafficking.

African ministers and experts meet from Monday in Botswana to find ways to curb a spike in the killing of elephants for ivory. Ali Kaka, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, says action is urgently needed to prevent extinction.


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« Reply #194 on: Dec 03, 2013, 07:39 AM »

Researchers: Male koalas use extra vocal cords to woo females

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 2, 2013 17:15 EST

Male koalas may be small, but to woo the ladies they make a low-pitched grunt as deep as an elephant’s call, thanks to an extra set of vocal cords, researchers said Monday.

This previously unknown organ lies outside the voice box, or larynx, and is not known to exist in any other land mammal, said the study in the journal Current Biology.

Koalas seeking to mate make noises that sound like a mix between snoring and belching, something akin to a donkey’s braying, explained lead researcher Benjamin Charlton of the University of Sussex.

“They are actually quite loud,” he said.

The koala makes a bellowing call 20 times deeper than would be expected for an animal that weighs just eight kilograms (17 pounds) on average, the study said.

But since these vocal cords lie where the oral and nasal cavities connect, they are not limited by the size constraints of the voice box, which typically makes for higher-pitched calls among smaller creatures.

These extra vocal cords are like two lips inside the soft palate, a location researchers described as “highly unusual.”

After locating them, scientists performed an experiment using three koala cadavers “by sucking air through the pharynx and the larynx via the trachea, mimicking inhalation of air using the lungs,” the study said.

A tiny camera was also inserted in the trachea to film the movement of the vocal cords during this time, and sound recordings captured the noises, confirming the organ’s role in making the deep sounds.

Researchers said more study is needed to find out if female koalas have these vocal cords as well. Females are sometimes known to bellow deeply, though not as often as males.

Scientists are also taking a closer look at other mammals to see if this extra set of vocal cords is truly unique to koalas or if other creatures may be similarly equipped.

Koalas live in eastern Australia and spend most of their lives clinging to eucalyptus trees and eating their leaves.

While not endangered, experts say the fuzzy gray marsupials are on the decline due to human settlements and loss of habitat.

The study was co-authored by researchers at the Leibniz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, the Moggill Koala Hospital in Queensland and the University of Vienna.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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