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« Reply #195 on: Dec 04, 2013, 08:28 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

How the hummingbird ended up in the Andes

By Elizabeth Barber / December 3, 2013 at 9:23 am EST

Hummingbirds, fast and busy birds, live full lives – and some species do so even in the thin air of the Andes.

Just how these birds do so has been unclear: a bird that needs as much oxygen as does the hummingbird seems ill suited for the oxygen-poor Andean highlands. Animals, of course, tend to live where their resource needs are met.

But a new paper published in PNAS this week reports that different species of high-altitude South American hummingbirds have, independent of each other, alighted on the same genetic mutations to solve their high-altitude problems: these birds have optimized oxygen transport systems that keep their bantam bodies flush with oxygen.

“Natural selection has hit upon the same solutions time and time again,” says Jay Storz, co-lead author on the paper and a geneticist at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The hummingbird, all dressed up and ready to dance in ruby reds and sapphire blues, looks like a living jewel. In Victorian England, fashionable girls wore the bright, sparkling birds as taxidermic baubles swinging from their lobes. The birds are still the darlings of jewelers, but as inspiration, not material.

But these decadent-looking birds live their lives at speeds unbefitting the leisure class. The hummingbird’s life is fast – so fast that is has the highest metabolic rate among all vertebrates. A hovering hummingbird burns energy at about 10 times the rate of a standout human athlete operating at peak performance. When the diminutive bird is afraid, its heart can beat up to 1260 beats per minute.

So, the hummingbird needs oxygen, and lots of it. But, in a puzzling point, about a quarter of these little oxygen guzzlers are found in the rarified air of elevations above about 10,000 feet. That kind of elevation is anathema to a human athlete. How do these birds do it?

To find out, the research team collected blood and tissue samples from 10 species of hummingbirds distributed at different elevations in the Andes, up to about 15,020 feet (hummingbirds are found at up to around 16,400 feet in the Andes). The team found a strong relationship between these species’ elevations and the likelihood that their hemoglobin had the high oxygen-binding affinities needed to take up enough oxygen in oxygen-poor environments.

The authors then reconstructed the ancestral states of each species’ hemoglobin. This analysis showed that multiple species of hummingbirds had, independent of each other, colonized the mountain range’s high-altitudes and evolved the same adaptive trait required to do so.

“Hummingbird species that live at high altitude have had to evolve highly efficient oxygen-transport systems to fuel their high rates of aerobic metabolism,” says Dr. Storz.

The team next sequenced 63 hummingbird species’ DNA to investigate how optimized oxygen binding appeared at the molecular level. Previous work has shown that different species often happen on the same adaptive solution to a problem without mirroring each other at the genetic level. In other words, the mutation that codes for superior oxygen binding might be found in different places in different species’ DNA. Or, different mutations in the same gene might produce the same changes in the animals’ oxygen transport systems.

But, in high-altitude hummingbirds, the change in how the birds’ hemoglobin binds oxygen occurred in mutations at the same two amino acid sites in their DNA. One of these mutations occurred in at least 13 separate hummingbird species. The other one occurred in four different species.

“This is the single most remarkable case of parallel evolution ever discovered,” says Christopher Witt, a co-lead author on the paper and an ornithologist at the University of New Mexico. “The hummingbird example is spectacular because it's the same changes to the same gene that occur repeatedly, each time in the exact same environmental context.”

That several species of high-altitude hummingbirds have alighted on the same molecular change to their oxygen transport systems “makes sense,” says Dr. Witt, “because there are probably very few possible ways that they could tweak such a finely honed system.”

 “We imagine that the vast majority of possible mutations would be damaging,” he says, “so natural selection insures that we never find them in nature.”

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« Reply #196 on: Dec 04, 2013, 08:31 AM »

Suit seeks legal personhood for chimp who animal rights activists claim is a ‘slave’

By Scott Kaufman
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 14:22 EST

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) filed a writ of habeas corpus in a New York court today on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee it claims is being held captive in deplorable conditions.

According to the NRP, Tommy is being held, alone, in a small cage in the back of an unlit shed in a trailer park. Three years ago, the group claims there were between 4 and 6 chimpanzees being held in that facility. Those chimpanzees are presumed to have died in the interim, which means that not only is Tommy’s living conditions inhumane — his only company is a small television on the opposite wall — but his life is likely in danger.

The NRP believes that the isolation he endures, compounded with the imminent danger to his life, warrants a writ of habeas corpus. A writ allows someone being held in prison — or someone advocating on his or her behalf — to have a judge compel a captor to show cause for imprisoning him or her.

Precedent for filing habeas corpus writs on behalf of those deemed to be “nonhuman” does exist. The NRP cites the 1772 case of James Somerset, an American slave who escaped from his owner while in London, but was recaptured and about to set sail for Jamaica in chains when his godparents, with the help of abolitionist lawyers, filed a writ of habeas corpus on his behalf.

The Chief Justice of the Court of the King’s Bench heard Somerset’s appeal, and in what became a significant triumph for the abolitionist movement, declared Somerset to be a legal person, not a piece of property, and as such was accorded the same rights of all legal persons.

The NRP notes that New York case law permitted slaves to file a writ of habeas corpus under the precedent set by the Somerset case, and that their proposal on behalf of Tommy is no different. It compared the current position on the status of cognizant animals to those of “states in the south, which considered slaves to be simply chattel, not legal persons, simply barred them altogether from using habeas corpus to challenge their enslavement.”

The organization also vowed to continue the fight even if this suit is turned down. New York has an automatic appeal of habeas corpus decisions, so it knows its case “will be heard, sooner or later, by New York’s intermediate appellate court, and quite possibly by New York’s highest court, the State Court of Appeals. And, from many points of view, that’s where we would like the case to be heard, since what happens at the appellate level has much wider reach than at the trial level.”

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« Reply #197 on: Dec 05, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Oil exploration in the Arctic ‘a new menace to polar bears’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:53 EST

Oil exploration and increased sea traffic in the Arctic are encroaching on polar bear habitat, adding to the existing climate change risk, representatives of Arctic nations said at a Moscow conference Wednesday.

“Today we face new challenges with the ship traffic increase and the oil and gas development,” Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at the international forum on polar bear conservation organised by the World Wildlife Fund.

The United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway host a global population of 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears.

But increased economic activity in the environmentally sensitive region and global greenhouse gas emissions are speeding up the melting of ice, threatening the species, the forum heard.

Polar bears depend on ice cover to hunt seals, their major source of food.

Habitat change like loss of ice and permafrost also affects maternity denning by female bears — when the future mother bears dig shallow dens in the snow and go into light hibernation after feeding heavily.

“We are really concerned about the Northern Passage development and exploration of hydrocarbons,” said Sergei Kavry, a member of the Association of Indigenous People of the North, Siberia and the Far East, an umbrella group of Russia’s indigenous ethnic groups.

Russia has increasingly turned its attention to the region in recent years, with President Vladimir Putin recently calling it an area that marks an “era of industrial breakthrough”, and publicly berating a Russian professor who floated the idea that the Arctic should be placed under international jurisdiction.

“We must develop (the Arctic),” Putin said Tuesday, addressing students in Moscow.

State gas giant Gazprom has already launched exploration for oil on the Arctic shelf — to the dismay of environmental activists who say energy producers cannot contain or adequately clean up spills in the extreme climate.

“We should not be allowing the development of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic,” said WWF general director Jim Leape.

“There is no company in the world that has the technology to contain disasters.”

In September Greenpeace staged a protest on a Gazprom platform in the northern Barents Sea, with two activists attempting to scale it and set up camp there.

The stunt led to the entire crew being arrested and charged with piracy. Although Russia later scaled down the charges to hooliganism and released the multinational crew of 30, they spent about two months in jail.

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« Reply #198 on: Dec 06, 2013, 06:43 AM »

France will increase penalties for ivory traders

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 5, 2013 21:00 EST

President Francois Hollande said Thursday France would increase fines for illegal trading in ivory and endangered animal species.

Speaking at a round table on poaching that gathered French and African leaders, Hollande said he had asked Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to ramp up action against trafficking in imperilled species and animal parts.

Police and customs officials will be directed to step up surveillance, he said.

Purchasing illegal ivory “has to be an act that is clearly punishable,” Hollande said.

“The profitability of poaching (must) be placed under threat through heavy fines.”

According to presidential aides, fines will be increased tenfold.

Hollande called for better cooperation between national customs authorities, as well as standardised penalties, to close loopholes.

France will put forward proposals next February for giving the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) more powers in fighting the trade in endangered species, Hollande added.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the global trade in wildlife is worth between $15-20 billion (11.02-14.7 billion euros) annually.

The round table was held on the eve of a two-day summit on peace and security in Africa, expected to be attended by about 40 leaders from the continent.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #199 on: Dec 06, 2013, 09:02 AM »

Gov't to extend authorizations for eagle deaths

The Obama administration is letting companies seek authorization to kill and harm bald and golden eagles over 30 years without penalty.

Associated Press

The Obama administration is letting companies seek authorization to kill and harm bald and golden eagles over 30 years without penalty.

The reason is to aid in renewable energy development.

The wind energy industry asked for the change. It will provide legal protection for wind farms and other projects that get a permit and do everything possible to avoid killing eagles.

Companies already can apply for 5-year permits to injure, harass, or kill bald and golden eagles.

But despite an AP investigation and federal studies documenting eagle deaths, not a single wind energy company has obtained a permit as required by law.

Conservation groups are aligned with the wind industry on other issues.

They say the decision sanctions the killing of an American symbol.
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« Reply #200 on: Dec 08, 2013, 09:31 AM »

Crocodiles, alligators use sticks to lure, capture prey

Scientists say two crocodilian species — mugger crocodiles and American alligators — balance sticks on their snouts in order to draw in birds during nesting season. The discovery is the first report of tool use in reptiles.

By Amina Khan
Los Angeles Times

As if crocodiles and alligators weren’t terrifying enough, scientists have discovered that these ancient, sharp-toothed beasts are incredibly cunning — so clever that they use lures to trap and gobble unsuspecting birds.

The discovery in two crocodilian species — mugger crocodiles and American alligators — is the first report of tool use in reptiles, according to a study in the journal Ethology Ecology and Evolution.

Some birds, such as egrets, choose to nest around crocodile and alligator hangouts because they offer some protection from tree-climbing predators such as raccoons, snakes and monkeys. There’s a blood price, however. Chicks and sometimes adult birds will become snacks for the crocodilians if they venture too close.

While on a research trip to Madras Crocodile Bank in Tamil Nadu, India, lead author Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee noticed that mugger crocodiles seemed to be balancing twigs on their snouts.

“The crocodiles remained perfectly still for hours, and if they did move to change position, they did it in such a way that the sticks remained balanced on their snouts,” according to the paper.

Then, as an egret came close and leaned over to grab a stick, the crocodile lunged. The bird barely escaped with its life.

The study’s two other co-authors noticed similar behavior over 13 years working at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida.

Were the sticks purely there by coincidence? Was it just part of the camouflage? Or could these reptiles be using these sticks as lures?

After studying the habits of these reptiles at four sites in Louisiana for a year, the scientists confirmed that alligators and crocodiles do use twigs to lure unsuspecting birds to their doom.

The really strange part: The reptiles were covering their snouts with sticks only during spring nesting season, when demand for twigs was high and birds would grab every little woody scrap they could get their beaks on to build nests.

Birds will get into nasty fights over these valuable building materials and even steal twigs from one another. If a camouflaged crocodile or alligator had a stick on its snout, chances are a foolish bird would make a go for it.

So the crocodilians were not just clever enough to use lures, they were also aware enough of bird behavior to know exactly when their bait would be useful.

“Use of objects as hunting lures is very rare among animals, being known to date only in captive capuchin monkeys, a few bird species and one insect,” the authors wrote.
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« Reply #201 on: Dec 08, 2013, 09:33 AM »

Mice inherit an induced fear in intriguing experiment

When offspring of the fearful mice caught a whiff of cherry blossoms for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful.

By Meeri Kim
Special to The Washington Post

A newborn mouse, seemingly innocent to the workings of the world, may harbor generations’ worth of information passed down by its ancestors, a new study shows.

In an experiment, researchers taught male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms by associating the scent with mild foot shocks. Two weeks later, they bred with females. The resulting pups were raised to adulthood having never been exposed to the odor.

Yet when the critters caught a whiff of it for the first time, they suddenly became anxious and fearful. They were even born with more cherry-blossom-detecting neurons in their noses and more brain space devoted to cherry-blossom-smelling.

The memory transmission extended out another generation when these male mice bred, and similar results were found.

Neuroscientists at Emory University found that genetic markers, thought to be wiped clean before birth, were used to transmit a single traumatic experience across generations, leaving behind traces in the behavior and anatomy of future pups.

The study, published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that characteristics outside of the strict genetic code may also be acquired from our parents through epigenetic inheritance.

Epigenetics studies how molecules act as DNA markers that influence how the genome is read. We pick up these epigenetic markers during our lives and in various locations on our body as we develop and interact with our environment.

Through a process dubbed “reprogramming,” these epigenetic markers were thought to be erased in the earliest stages of development in mammals. But recent research — this study included — has shown that some of these markers may survive to the next generation.

“When I was in school, this was against Darwin — it was ridiculed,” said University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Christopher Pierce, who was not involved in the study but previously discovered an epigenetic inheritance related to cocaine. Male rats whose fathers were exposed to cocaine chose to ingest less of the drug than those rats whose fathers never took cocaine.

Pierce said he believes this is an adaptive effect; because cocaine is a toxin, the fathers passed down information to their pups that would help them survive and avoid the substance.

Role of markers

In the past decade, the once-controversial field of epigenetics has blossomed. But proving epigenetic inheritance can be a daunting undertaking. Researchers need to measure changes in offspring behavior and neuroanatomy, and tease out epigenetic markers within the father’s sperm.

The DNA doesn’t change, but how the sequence is read can vary wildly depending on which parts are accessible. Even though all the cells in our bodies share the same DNA, these markers can silence all the irrelevant genes so that a skin cell can be a skin cell, and not a brain cell or a liver cell.

“This fine-tuning of gene expression occurs by epigenetics,” said postdoctoral researcher and study author Brian Dias of Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

For instance, methyl molecules can bind to the sequence and block access to genes. Other proteins called histones act like spools for the 2 meters of DNA, about 6.5 feet, crammed into every tiny nucleus in our bodies. Some areas are so tightly wound up that those parts are unreadable.

Dias combined his interest in animal development with neurobiologist Kerry Ressler’s focus on the mechanisms of fear learning. They taught two groups of male mice to fear odors by zapping their feet with an electric shock every time they blew scented air into their cages. The experimental group became afraid of cherry blossoms with a hint of almond, and the control group feared alcohol.

After three days of fear conditioning, the cherry-blossom mice later reproduced. The offspring, having grown to adulthood, had a heightened jumpiness to the cherry-blossom odor, despite never having been exposed to it. They had no overreaction to alcohol.

They could also pick up on lesser amounts of cherry blossom in the air, which reflected their changes in olfactory and brain anatomy. When Dias stained only the cherry-blossom-detecting olfactory neurons blue, he saw significantly more of them coding for that smell as compared with the control mice.

The researchers also artificially inseminated females using the sperm from the original fear-conditioned mice, to attempt to get rid of any possible socially transmitted effects between the fathers and the females. The results were the same, suggesting epigenetic inheritance rather than environment.

The findings were also verified by comparing the epigenetic markers on the DNA of sperm, specifically on the gene responsible for detecting cherry blossoms. On the sperm of the cherry-blossom-fearing mice, there was less of the methylation that can silence genes, possibly pointing to a mechanism of how the information got passed down.

Human impact?

Does this mean we humans have also inherited generations of fears and experiences? Possibly, scientists say. Studies on humans suggest children and grandchildren may have felt the epigenetic impact of such traumatic events as famine, the Holocaust and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Those are really powerful studies — unfortunately so, since the effects have been detrimental to subsequent generations,” Dias said. But because environmental factors for human subjects can’t be controlled, it is difficult to parse out the effects of epigenetics alone.

There are some who are skeptical of even mammal studies of epigenetics, and Dias believes they are rightly so since the field of epigenetics is still relatively new.

“We’re still scratching the surface,” he said.
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« Reply #202 on: Dec 15, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Orangutans fight for survival as thirst for palm oil devastates rainforests

Palm oil plantations are destroying the Sumatran apes' habitat, leaving just 200 of the animals struggling for existence

Gethin Chamberlain   
The Observer, Sunday 15 December 2013          

Even in the first light of dawn in the Tripa swamp forest of Sumatra it is clear that something is terribly wrong. Where there should be lush foliage stretching away towards the horizon, there are only the skeletons of trees. Smoke drifts across a scene of devastation.

Tripa is part of the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the world's most ecologically important rainforests and once home to its densest population of Sumatran orangutans.

As recently as 1990, there were 60,000 hectares of swamp forest in Tripa: now just 10,000 remain, the rest grubbed up to make way for palm oil plantations servicing the needs of some of the world's biggest brands. Over the same period, the population of 2,000 orangutans has dwindled to just 200.

In the face of international protests, Indonesia banned any fresh felling of forests two years ago, but battles continue in the courts over existing plantation concessions.

Here, on the edge of one of the remaining stands of forest, it is clear that the destruction is continuing.

Deep trenches have been driven through the peat, draining away the water, killing the trees, which have been burnt and bulldozed. The smell of wood smoke is everywhere. But of the orangutans who once lived here, there is not a trace.

This is the tough physical landscape in which environmental campaigners fighting to save the last of the orangutans are taking on the plantation companies, trying to keep track of what is happening on the ground so that they can intervene to rescue apes stranded by the destruction.

But physically entering the plantations is dangerous and often impractical; where the water has not been drained away, the ground is a swamp, inhabited by crocodiles. Where canals have been cut to drain away the water, the dried peat is thick and crumbly and it is easy to sink up to the knees. Walking even short distances away from the roads is physically draining and the network of wide canals has to be bridged with logs. The plantations do not welcome visitors and the Observer had to evade security guards to gain entrance.

To overcome these problems, campaigners have turned to a technology that has become controversial for its military usage but that in this case could help to save the orangutans and their forest: drones.

Graham Usher, from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, produces a large flight case and starts to unpack his prized possession, a polystyrene Raptor aircraft with a two-metre wingspan and cameras facing forward and down.

The £2,000 drone can fly for more than half an hour over a range of 30-40km, controlled by a computer, recording the extent of the destruction of the forest.

They can also use the drone to track animals that have been fitted with radio collars. Graham opens his computer and clicks on a video. Immediately, the screen fills with an aerial view of forest, then a cleared patch of land and then new plantation as the drone passes overhead. "We are getting very powerful images of what is going on in the field," he says.

The footage is helping them to establish where new burning is taking place and which plantations are potentially breaking the law. Areas of forest where the peat is deeper than three metres should be protected – the peat is a carbon trap – but in practice many plantations do not measure the depth.

"They shouldn't be developing it but the power of commerce and capital subverts all legislation in this country. There is no law enforcement or rule of law," says Usher.

The battle to save the orangutans is not helped by the readiness of multinational corporations to use palm oil from unverified sources. Hundreds of products on UK supermarket shelves are made with palm oil or its derivatives sourced from plantations on land that was once home to Sumatran orangutans.

Environmental campaigners say that the complex nature of the palm oil supply chain makes it uniquely difficult for companies to ensure that the oil they use has been produced ethically and sustainably.

"One of the big issues is that we simply don't know where the palm oil used in products on UK supermarket shelves comes from. It may well be that it came from Tripa," says Usher.

In October, the Rainforest Foundation UK singled out Superdrug and Procter and Gamble (particularly its Head and Shoulders, Pantene and Herbal Essences hair products) for criticism over the use of unsustainable palm oil. A traffic light system produced using the companies' responses to questions from the Ethical Consumer group also placed Imperial Leather, Original Source and Estée Lauder hair products in the red-light category.

A separate report by Greenpeace, also issued in October into Sumatran palm oil production, accused Procter and Gamble and Mondelez International (formerly Kraft) of using "dirty" palm oil. The group called on the brands to recognise the environmental cost of "irresponsible palm oil production". According to the Rainforest Foundation's executive director, Simon Counsell, part of the problem is that even companies that do sign up to ethical schemes, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, cannot be certain that all the oil they receive is ethically produced because of the way oil from different plantations is mixed at processing plants.

"The smaller companies sell to bigger companies and it all gets mixed. Even those companies making some effort cannot be certain that what they are getting is what they have paid for," he said.

Driving out of Tripa, the whole area appears to have been given over to palm oil plantations; some long-established, 20-25ft tall trees in regimented rows, others recently planted. Every now and again there is a digger, driving a new road into what little forest remains, the first stage of the process that will end with the forest burned and gone and replaced with young oil palms.

There is a steady flow of lorries loaded with palm fruits, heading for the processing plant not far from the town of Meulaboh. From there, tankers take the oil to the city of Medan for shipping onwards.

It is outside Medan that the orangutan victims of clearances are taken to recover, at the SOCP's quarantine centre. These are the animals rescued from isolated stands of forest or from captivity. Those that can be will eventually be released back into another part of the island.

Anto, a local orangutan expert, says the spread of the plantations is fragmenting the remaining forest and isolating the orangutans.

"Then people are poaching the orangutans because it is easy to catch them," he says. "People isolate them in a tree and then they cut the tree or they make the orangutan so afraid that it climbs down and is caught. After that they can kill it and sometimes eat it. Or they can trade it."

This is what happened to Gokong Puntung and his mother. The one-year-old ape – now recovering with the help of SOCP – was rescued from Sidojadi village in February. He had been captured a month earlier in the Tripa forest.

A group of fishermen spotted Gokong Puntung and his mother trapped in a single tree and unable to reach the rest of the forest without coming down. The men apparently decided to try to grab the baby in the hope of selling it. One climbed the tree, forcing the mother to fall to the ground, where another man set about her and beat her with a length of timber. In the confusion, mother and baby became separated and the fishermen were able to get away. They sold the animal for less than £6 to a plantation worker.

"We got information from people who heard an orangutan crying in one house," says SOCP vet Yenny Saraswati. "They went in the house and found the baby orangutan in a chicken cage. The owner said he had bought it from people who had taken it from the plantation."

It was a very unusual case: more often, the mother is killed.

"They are very good mothers – better than humans," she says. "A lot of human mothers don't care for their babies, but I have never seen an orangutan leave its baby. They always hug them and don't let them cry."

That's why poachers tend to kill the mothers, says Anto. "They hit it with sticks. One person uses a forked stick to hold its head and the others hit it and beat it to death. But the young orangutans they sell."

The effect on Tripa's orangutans has been disastrous. Cut off from the population on the rest of the island, they teeter on the brink of viability; experts say they really need a population of about 250 to survive long term and, because orangutans produce offspring only once every six or seven years, it takes a long time to replenish a depleted population.

Those that remain in the forest face other dangers. Some die when the forest is burned, others starve to death as their food supply is destroyed.

If the orangutans did not already have it tough, there may yet be worse to come: gold has been found in Aceh's remaining forests and mining is starting.

"If there is no government effort to protect the remaining area, we will never know the orangutans here again," says Anto.

"If this continues they will be gone within 10 years."

In response to the criticism over its use of unsustainable palm oil, Superdrug said it "is aware of the complex issues surrounding palm oil and its derivatives, which are currently used in some of its own-brand products, and is committed to working with its suppliers to use sustainable alternatives when they become widely available."

Estée Lauder Companies, which makes Aveda hair products, said: "We share the concern about the potential environmental effects of palm oil plantations, including deforestation and the destruction of biodiversity and habitats."

The statement said that its palm oil (made from the pulped fruit) came from sustainable sources. But the company said the majority of its brands used palm kernel oil (from the crushed palm fruit kernels) and that it was working to develop sustainable supplies.

"We are committed to acting responsibly and will continue to work with our suppliers to find the best ways to encourage and support the development of sustainable palm kernel oil sources."

PZ Cussons, which makes Original Source and Imperial Leather products, along with the Sanctuary SPA range, said it was committed to using raw materials from sustainable and environmentally friendly sources wherever possible.

The company said it had "embarked on a sustainability journey" and was working with other producers to gain a better understanding of the supply chain and "to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products". Mondelez International (formerly Kraft) said it wanted to eliminate unethical plantations from its supply chain by 2020.

"We fully share concerns about the environmental impacts of palm oil production, including deforestation. As a final buyer, engaging our supply chain is the most meaningful action we can take to ensure palm oil is grown sustainably," said a spokesman.

"Palm oil should be produced on legally held land, protecting tropical forests and peat land, respecting human rights, including land rights, and without forced or child labour.

"We expect palm oil suppliers to provide us transparency on the proportion of their supplies traceable to plantations meeting these principles by the end of 2013 and to eliminate supplies that do not meet these criteria by 2020."

Procter & Gamble, which makes Head and Shoulders, Herbal Essences and Pantene products, said it was "strongly opposed to irresponsible deforestation practices and our position on the sustainable sourcing of palm oil is consistent with our corporate sustainability principles and guidelines.

"We are committed to the sustainable sourcing of palm oil and have set a public target that, by 2015, we will only purchase palm oil from sources where sustainable and responsible production has been confirmed."


Orangutans are facing extinction as their habitats are becoming fragmented and agricultural production expands.

Populations of orangutans have been broken up into groups and this is causing a problem for the survival of the species.

The WWF estimates that a century ago there were more than 230,000 orangutans living in the wild, now they think there are only 41,000 in Borneo and 7,500 in Sumatra. Others put the figures at 54,000 in Borneo and 6,600 in Sumatra.

Some conservationists predict that orangutans could disappear in as little as 20 to 30 years, others think it could happen in a few hundred years.

Orangutans share 96.4% of their genes with humans

Click to watch: Sumatran deforestation threatens orangutan population - video

Aerial footage, filmed by a drone operated by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation programme, shows the extent of large scale deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia. The Tripa swamp forest once boasted 60,000 hectares of forest, which was home to 2,000 orangutans. Now most of it has been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Barely 200 orangutans survive

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« Reply #203 on: Dec 16, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street: animal rights group calls for boycott

Director's film on stockbroker Jordan Belfort, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is accused of abusing animals during its shoot

Ben Child, Monday 16 December 2013 11.53 GMT   

A US animal rights group is calling for a boycott of the new Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street, over scenes in which star Leonardo DiCaprio is seen acting alongside a rollerskating chimpanzee.
The organisation, Friends of Animals, says chimp Chance may have been permanently damaged on a psychological level by the experience of acting. Activist Edita Birnkrant is planning to confront Scorsese and DiCaprio over the matter at tomorrow night's Big Apple premiere, according to Variety.

"When The Wolf of Wall Street premieres in NYC on 17 December, there is sure to [be] buzz about whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays real life law-breaking stockbroker Jordan Belfort, will get an Oscar nod," writes the group in a statement. "But what likely won't be talked about is one of DiCaprio's co-stars, a chimpanzee named Chance who portrays his character's pet, and the long-term damage that is done to primates exploited in entertainment."

Birnkrant says the chimp is likely to suffer negative and neurotic behaviours and an inability to socially interact with others of its kind. In an article titled "Animals in Entertainment – Hollywood's Betrayal of Great Apes" in the organisation's Action Line magazine, she details Chance's "life story of exploitation" and describes "the cruel teaching methods" of a circus trainer earlier in his life.

The Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour black comedy about the notorious financial fraudster Jordan Belfort, was last week named one of the top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute and is indeed being tipped for Oscars success. The movie's early scenes depict chaotic parties in the offices of Belfort's 1990s Long Island brokerage house Stratton Oakmont, but his real-life partner has denied suggestions a chimpanzee was ever present.

Danny Porush, who is portrayed by Jonah Hill in the movie (albeit under a different name after the broker threatened to sue) told Mother Jones magazine: "There was never a chimpanzee in the office. There were no animals in the office … I would also never abuse an animal in any way."

However, the former president of Stratton Oakmont did admit to eating a fellow broker's goldfish, and hiring little people to mingle at drug-fuelled office parties.

"We never abused [or threw] the midgets in the office; we were friendly to them," he points out in the magazine's article. "There was no physical abuse."

Porush, who was sentenced to 39 months in prison for securities fraud and money laundering in 2004, said Belfort's 2007 memoir (used by screenwriter Terence Winter as the basis of The Wolf of Wall Street's script) was only a loose translation of the reality at Stratton Oakmont between 1988 and 1996. "The book … is a distant relative of the truth, and the film is a distant relative of the book," he said.

Criticism of The Wolf of Wall Street's use of a chimpanzee arrives as Hollywood comes under ever-increasing scrutiny for its employment of animals on screen. The Hollywood Reporter last month published a report which accused industry body The American Humane Association of negligence. The organisation, which issues the coveted "no animals were harmed in the making of this picture" stamp that adorns most Hollywood films, was accused of turning a blind eye to mistreatment of animals on the sets of major films.
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« Reply #204 on: Dec 17, 2013, 08:08 AM »

December 16, 2013

A Struggle to Balance Wind Energy With Wildlife


DENVER — As the Obama administration seeks to clear a path for more renewable energy projects, it has increasingly found itself caught between two staunch allies: the wind energy industry and environmental organizations.

Tensions between both groups and the administration have risen since a new federal rule was announced this month allowing wind farms to lawfully kill bald and golden eagles under 30-year permits.

Conservation groups reacted with anger to the rule, saying it gives wind farms too much leeway to operate without sufficient environmental safeguards and does not consider the long-term impact on eagle populations.

“A 30-year permit is like a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, which was involved in months of negotiations on the rule. “It basically says you can go operate these wind turbines and kill as many eagles as happen to die.”

Conservation groups said the United States Fish and Wildlife Service needlessly rejected an agreement, also endorsed by the wind industry, to develop more detailed regional plans that would set firm, research-based limits on how many eagles could be killed in a particular geographic area.

“We put a historic deal on the table, and they didn’t have the vision to say yes,” Mr. Yarnold said.

“Eagles are migratory birds,” he added. “Having a regional plan that reflects how they live and where they travel just makes sense.”

Federal wildlife officials defended the rule, which will take effect early next year, saying it sought to balance the practical considerations of long-term wind farm projects with the need to keep eagle populations stable.

While neither bald nor golden eagles are considered endangered — the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007 — both birds are still afforded federal wildlife protections. It is illegal to kill or hunt them without a proper permit.

Since 2009, wind farms have been able to apply for five-year permits, allowing them to “take” — meaning kill — a certain number of eagles, as long as the farms demonstrate that they have undertaken adequate measures to keep the birds safe.

The new rule extends the maximum term of the permits to 30 years. It includes federal reviews every five years to assess whether sufficient measures are being taken to make sure eagles are being conserved.

While it is unknown precisely how many birds are killed by wind turbines annually — usually by flying into a turbine’s path — estimates range from 10,000 to more than 500,000. According to the American Wind Energy Association, eagles account for only a tiny fraction of those deaths.

The group said that less than 2 percent of the annual golden eagle deaths from human causes are because of wind turbines, and fewer than six bald eagles have ever been killed by a wind turbine.

Last month, in the first case of its kind, Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines after a subsidiary pleaded guilty in federal court in Wyoming to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The company was charged with killing dozens of birds since 2009, including 14 golden eagles, at two Wyoming wind farm projects.

Daniel M. Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said that ensuring eagle populations are preserved is a central focus of the new rule.

“The conservation element is key,” he said. “We’re not going to authorize a permit unless we believe it provides for the conservation of eagles.”

Mr. Ashe added that the wildlife service would issue a permit only if a wind developer had minimized the risk to eagles through its choice of location and the design of the project, among other variables. Regional thresholds on how many eagles can realistically be killed are already in place, according to the service.

Mr. Ashe said that many of the measures presented by environmentalists and the wind energy industry would likely be considered as the permitting process continued to be modified.

For its part, the American Wind Energy Association has publicly endorsed the new permitting process, saying that the spirit of many points of common interest had been included, or would be addressed in the near future.

The group said that it expected wind companies would seek the longer permits, because it made more sense than having to reapply every five years.

“This is a conservation plan for eagles,” said John Anderson, director of siting policy for the association, “so all efforts must be first made to reduce the potential for impacts on eagles and then fully offset them.”

“Wind developers are willing to go through all these requirements,” he added. “It is in the best interest of the species from a conservation standpoint, as well as their own from the standpoint of legal certainty.”

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« Reply #205 on: Dec 18, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Foie gras off the menu? Animal rights activists want Christmas boycott

French farmers admit they might have gone 'too far' in their attempts to produce the fatty goose and duck liver delicacy

Kim Willsher in Paris, Tuesday 17 December 2013 19.00 GMT   
Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. But animal rights campaigners are asking shoppers not to put a penny in the foie gras industry's hat this year.

The appeal came as farmers producing the traditional French delicacy issued an astonishing mea culpa over the way the fatty goose and duck liver is produced.

It also followed the decision by two high-profile chefs either side of the Channel – Gordon Ramsay in the UK and Joël Robuchon in France – to drop their foie gras supplier after the publication of shocking photographs showing the extent of suffering endured by the birds.

Cifog, the body representing French foie gras producers, has admitted that farmers may have "gone a little too far".

Spokeswoman Marie Pierre Pe said producers were determined to be more open and transparent about the most controversial aspect of foie gras production, the gavage, or force-feeding, of ducks and geese. This is most often done by pushing a tube down the bird's throat and pumping a grain mix into the stomach.

"Of course gavage is not very romantic and so we avoided talking about it. But now we are trying to explain it more and more," Pe said. "In the 1980s about 30% to 35% of foie gras was coming from eastern Europe and we had to improve production to be more competitive, but perhaps we've gone too far," she added.

Sébastien Arsac of the L214 Ethics and Animals association, which runs a Stop Gavage campaign, said most French foie gras production is now industrial not traditional. France produces and consumes 75% of the world's foie gras.

"We would like chefs to come up with a new French gastronomy not based on the suffering and ill-treatment of animals," Arsac said. "It's hard to change attitudes because people see foie gras as something French and traditional, but we are seeing a slow change and people are moving away from this."

L214, which derives its name from a law in the French rural code, says a survey it commissioned in 2009 showed 18% of French consumers said they would refuse to buy foie gras on the grounds of animal cruelty. This has now risen to 29%, it said.

An 89-page scientific study, adopted in 1998 by the European commission, found death rates among force-fed birds was up to 20 times higher than usual. The report described foie gras as the "pathological liver of a bird suffering from hepatic steatosis" – a buildup of fat cells that, in humans, would usually be caused by alcohol abuse or obesity.

Producers say the rural code decrees: "Foie gras is part of the protected cultural and gastronomic heritage of France."

Xavier Fernandez ,of the institute of agronomic research in Toulouse, said: "Force-feeding is no more shocking than any other method of animal husbandry. At the end of the day, the real question is whether we should be rearing animals for human consumption at all."

Arsac said animal rights campaigners were planning a busy seasonal period. "Producers are spending millions on TV advertising in the runup to Christmas and the new year. We have to counteract that by reminding people that foie gras is produced by making animals suffer."


VIDEO: Cruelty of chef Gordon Ramsay's foie gras supplier exposed in shocking footage

Nov 08, 2013 11:16
By Andy Lines
The Mirror.Uk

Ducks used in Gordon Ramsay’s foie gras dishes suffer horrific cruelty before being killed. One campaigner said: “This is torture”

Crammed into tiny cages, caked in filth, riddled with sores and in agony from broken beaks and wings, these are the ducks used to make foie gras at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.

Campaigners last night branded the horrific conditions the “worst ever seen” after being shown the pictures of shocking cruelty at plants that supply the celebrity chef with the posh dish.

Ducks lie dead and dying, many have painful eye injuries and abscesses and all are force-fed grain through a tube to make their livers 10 times the normal size during a two-week ordeal in a ­windowless shed before they are slaughtered.

In one pitiful scene, an exhausted and clearly distressed bird can be seen on its side with its tongue hanging from its beak.

A vet who saw the disturbing footage, obtained by the Mirror, said if pets were kept in such appalling conditions their owners would be hauled before a court.

Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager for animal rights group Viva!, said: “This is torture, pure and simple.

“I can’t imagine Gordon Ramsay would dare defend this. We have seen many images of animal suffering in our 20-year history, but this footage from a supplier to Gordon Ramsay has to rank as among the worst and the most heart-breaking.

“Ducks caged and filthy in their own vomit and clearly in distress, all to produce a dollop of fat as a choice on expensive menus that no one needs.

“How long can he say that taste trumps ethics when faced with this?”

Ramsay last night stopped all purchasing from the French firm Ernest Soulard that supplies his foie gras.

A spokesman said: “We have only just been made aware of these allegations but as a precaution have suspended purchasing from this supplier while we investigate further.”

Viva! launched an investigation into conditions with French campaign group L214 after being passed the footage.

The films were from five Soulard farms in France’s Vendee region.

We asked respected vet Amir Kashiv to examine the footage, which he branded “appalling”. He said: “The system depicted in this is shocking.

“If any keeper of dogs or cats, or pet birds, were found to keep their animals in such conditions and with similar intentions they would surely find themselves in a courtroom.

“These are waterfowl yet they have no access to water. They have no access to anything at all.

"Mostly, the ducks are either extremely confined or at best in a crowded group in larger pens where weaker birds can be seen trampled upon by others in the group.

“Ducks have obvious eye lesions. Many can be seen panting heavily.

"This can be due to serious respiratory disease and high environmental temperature in the unit. Several ducks are extremely ill and appear to be dying.

“One is seen facing backwards in the pen, its left wing is caught in between the bars and a bloody lesion is visible.

“The bird is seen making several unsuccessful attempts to free the wing. It is clearly distressed. Several dead birds are seen on the floor.

“Workers can be seen feeding the birds. The whole procedure takes seconds.

"Due to the abruptness and speed there is a danger of damaging the mouth or oesophagus in the process. The purpose is to produce a huge, fatty, unhealthy liver.

"Specifically - to damage the birds’ health.”

Seared foie gras with compressed apple Taste of death: Foie gras

The process of obtaining foie gras is so cruel its ­production has been banned in Britain. But imports from France and other countries is not controlled.

Soulard’s logo is a happy picture of a duck wearing a bow tie and free range living. Although the birds do have a period of outside, they then spend a miserable fortnight cooped up in the tiny pens as they are prepared for death.

Foie gras appears on the A La Carte Menu at the ­flagship Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London.

It is on sale at his Maze restaurant and Michelin starred Savoy Grill.

It is believed his ­restaurants buy it using an ­intermediary and he was unaware of any cruelty.

Gordon Ramsay restaurants had boasted Soulard was an “industry leader in terms of animal welfare”.

Former farming minister David Heath urged diners to boycott foie gras over its cruel farming methods.

The Somerton and Frome MP added: “I am far from convinced there is a humane way of producing it.”

A Soulard spokesman said the chief executive would contact the Mirror, but no call was received.
Delicacy created by misery

Every year 38 million ducks and geese are killed in France to make foie gras, a delicacy there.

At slaughter they are hung upside down, have their throats slit and are left to bleed to death.

About a million birds die in the force-feeding process. Only males are used.

Females, which do not put on weight so fast, are typically destroyed at a day old by being dropped into electric mincers.

France is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of foie gras, which by law can only have that definition if force-feeding is used.

But small producers in other countries – amid growing fury over the cruel methods – let birds eat freely before killing them when their livers are naturally bigger.

Click to watch this sadism: warning it is beyond upsetting ....

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« Reply #206 on: Dec 18, 2013, 07:36 AM »

Sea Shepherd environmental activists set out to confront Japanese whalers on the high seas

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 7:45 EST

Sea Shepherd campaigners left for their tenth annual campaign to prevent Japan’s slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean on Wednesday, with three vessels departing Australia for Antarctic waters.

The Bob Barker, which was once a Norwegian to harass the Japanese fleet as they harpoon the giant animals, and prevent them from taking their full quota.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt said it was his ninth campaign protecting whales, which have at times included high-seas clashes between the conservationists and the Japanese.

“The Japanese whaling fleet intends to kill 1,035 whales of which 50 are endangered fin whales and 50 are endangered humpback whales, the very same whales that frequent the shores here off Australia,” he said.

“Our intention is to once again intercept the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary and to do everything that we can.”

Sea Shepherd Australia said its two other boats the Steve Irwin and Sam Simon left Melbourne on Wednesday for the annual campaign it took over from the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in late 2012.

The Australian government, which strongly opposes Japanese whaling, is expected to announce later this week that a Customs vessel will monitor the hunt.

“The government’s commitment to monitoring in the Southern Ocean remains undiminished,” a spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an email.

But the left-leaning Greens said the purpose-built Customs vessel that would be used was nowhere near the Southern Ocean, instead in waters north of Australia on a border protection mission.

“It is purpose-built for the Antarctic, it is ice-rated, it is sitting off topical waters on Christmas Island,” said Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson.

“I’ve got a photo of it during the week sitting in tropical waters. What’s it doing there?”

Australia wants Japan’s annual whale hunt in the southern hemisphere summer to stop and has taken the matter to the UN’s top court the International Court of Justice. A decision is expected in early 2014.

Japan says it conducts vital scientific research using a loophole in an international ban on whaling, but makes no secret of the fact that the mammals ultimately end up as food.

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« Reply #207 on: Dec 18, 2013, 09:32 AM »

Originally published December 17, 2013 at 1:08 PM

Blind man falls onto subway track: 'The dog saved my life'

Gallant guide dog Orlando was just doing his duty.


Associated Press

Gallant guide dog Orlando was just doing his duty.

The black Lab bravely leapt onto the tracks at a Manhattan subway platform Tuesday after his blind owner lost consciousness and tumbled in front of an oncoming train.

Cecil Williams, 61, and Orlando both escaped serious injury when the train passed over top of them -- a miraculous end to a harrowing ordeal that began when Williams began to feel faint on his way to the dentist.

"He tried to hold me up," an emotional Williams told The Associated Press from his hospital bed, his voice breaking at times.

Witnesses said Orlando began barking frantically and tried to stop Williams from falling from the platform. Matthew Martin told the New York Post that Orlando jumped down and tried to rouse Williams even as a train approached.

"He was kissing him, trying to get him to move," Martin said.

Witnesses called for help and the train's motorman slowed his approach as Williams and Orlando lay in the trench between the rails.

"The dog saved my life," Williams said.

As Williams regained consciousness, he said he heard someone telling him to be still. Emergency workers put him on a stretcher and pulled him from the subway, and made sure Orlando was not badly injured.

"I'm feeling amazed," Williams said. "I feel that God, the powers that be, have something in store for me. They didn't take me away this time. I'm here for a reason."

Williams was taken to a hospital where he is expected to recover, with Orlando at his bedside. Williams, a large bandage on his head, said he is not sure why he lost consciousness, but he is on insulin and other medications.

Orlando, described by Williams as serious but laid-back, was making new friends at the hospital. He will be rewarded with some kind of special treat, Williams said, along with plenty of affection and scratches behind the ears.

"(He) gets me around and saves my life on a daily basis," Williams said.

Williams, of Brooklyn, has been blind since 1995, and Orlando is his second dog. The lab will be 11 on Jan. 5, and will be retiring soon, Williams said. His medical benefits will cover a new guide dog but won't pay for a non-working dog, so he'll be looking for a good home for Orlando.

If he had the money, Williams said, "I would definitely keep him."

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« Reply #208 on: Dec 20, 2013, 06:17 AM »

German woman fined over mouse-crushing fetish video

Former soldier convicted of making video in which she taped 33 mice to the ground and then stepped on them

Associated Press in Berlin, Thursday 19 December 2013 16.35 GMT   

A German woman filmed crushing mice for a fetish video has been convicted of violating animal protection laws and fined.

The dpa news agency reported that a court in Koblenz ordered the 29-year-old former German army soldier Thursday to pay €1,500 (£1,250) to an animal shelter.

The woman, whose name wasn't given in keeping with German privacy laws, was convicted of making a video in which she taped 33 mice to the ground and then stepped on them one by one.

The 33-year-old man who filmed the video was also convicted and given the same fine.

The woman said she made the video for an unidentified man she met online who offered her €100,000 for it. The woman delivered the film, but says she was not paid.

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« Reply #209 on: Dec 21, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Environmentalists pledge to stop Swedish wolf hunt

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 20, 2013 11:55 EST

Swedish environmental groups on Friday vowed to block plans to cull wolves in controversial licensed hunts aimed at keeping their numbers down and potentially cutting the wolf population in half.

The first hunt is scheduled for February 1, 2014 with a target of 30 wolves and will be the first licensed wolf hunt since 2011.

“We will appeal, we stopped it last time,” Mikael Karlsson from the Swedish Society for Natural Conservation (SNCC) told AFP, referring to a court decision in February which stopped the cull of 16 inbred wolves and ruled that hunts were not the right method.

But since then the government has argued that the wolf population has increased and that licensed hunts are needed to protect livestock and increase public support for maintaining wolves in the wild.

“Sweden has never had so many large predators as now. That’s good news for everyone who works to protect biodiversity,” Environment Minister Lena Ek said in a statement at the launch of its new wildlife policy.

“But it means we have to take into account people who live and work in areas with a concentration of predators.”

Under the new policy Sweden’s wolf population could be reduced to 170 from the current level of 350 to 400.

Environmentalists say that is too few to ensure their survival and claim that Sweden is violating European Union conservation laws.

“It’s deplorable that the government is consciously undermining the whole EU legal system that should protect endangered species,” Tom Arnbom, an expert on predators at Swedish WWF, said in a statement.

The European Commission has threatened Sweden with legal action over the licensed hunts in the past and Swedish activists believe it will back up their case again.

“There is no scientific basis for these figures… It’s a purely political decision,” said Karlsson, arguing that the government fears losing votes in rural areas targeted by the pro-hunting Sweden Democrats party.

However, the new targets do not go far enough for Sweden’s hunting lobby which said that killing 30 wolves in February will not keep the growth of the population in check and that its numbers should be reduced to at least 170.

“We think grey wolves in Sweden should not be in the wild… they should be kept behind fences,” said Johan Bostroem from the National Association of Huntsmen, adding that there is no longer enough space for wolves and people to co-exist in parts of Sweden.

“They cause a lot of problems… and too much destruction of sheep and cattle.”

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