Idaho lawmakers target undercover activists as video surfaces of cow sex abuse
By John Byrne
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 11:59 EST
As Idaho lawmakers seek to target undercover animal rights activists, yet another video has surfaced of an agricultural worker abusing a cow.
This time, it’s even more grotesque: a worker fondling a cow’s vagina.
If Idaho lawmakers have their way, however, future abuses may never see the light of day.
Legislation targeting those who aid efforts to expose animal abuse, which passed the Idaho Senate Friday, would subject those who surreptitiously film dairies or agricultural operations after misrepresenting their intent to up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine. Specifically, the proposed law targets those who falsely represent their affiliation or lie on job applications in order to gain access to animals activists suspected of being mistreated. The bill now goes to the Idaho House.
The penalty, activists note, is similar to that doled out to abusers themselves.
Idaho’s dairy industry says they need a shield to protect them from animal rights advocates who misrepresent their backgrounds on job applications. Local politicians have compared such activists to terrorists, with the bill’s cosponsor, Idaho Sen. Jim Patrick, even likening advocates to pre-medieval marauders.
“This is clear[ly] back in the sixth century B.C.,” Patrick was quoted as saying. “This is the way you combat your enemies.”
Animal rights activists and whisteblowers are outraged.
“This legislation is a desperate attempt to sweep evidence of animal cruelty and sexual abuse under the rug,” Mercy For Animals executive director Nathan Runkle said in a statement. He called the law “pathetic.”
“People who are whistle-blowers are terrified,” Boise resident David Monsees told one news outlet. “They lose their jobs. They lose their careers. This bill drives another nail in their hearts.”
Yesterday, Mercy for Animals released a graphic video of an Idaho dairy worker fondling a cow’s vagina. (The video appears below.) The Los Angeles-based activist group withheld the segment when it released other parts of the recording in an effort to prod officials to investigate Idaho’s Bettencourt Dairies in 2012. The worker captured in the video received a 102-day sentence for additional abuses.
Bettencourt Dairies supplied some cheeses for Burger King and In-And-Out Burger. Both corporations distanced themselves from the dairy following the revelations; Bettencourt forced workers to watch the video and sign a statement acknowledging the company’s policy on ethical treatment.
The earlier two-minute video captured farmworkers stomping on animals, twisting their tails, and in one scene, dragging one animal with a tractor by its neck. Mercy for Animals said the clip showed “some of the most abusive treatment of animals” they’d ever seen. (That clip follows the more graphic clip below.)
Undercover videos have forced large corporations to sever relationships with their suppliers. Earlier this year, Nestle cut ties with a Wisconsin dairy farm after it emerged they were beating, whipping and cutting animals. Four workers captured in the video — also shot by an undercover Mercy for Animals investigator — were charged with animal cruelty.
Several states already have so-called “ag gag” laws on their books. Iowa is one; Utah is another. Utah’s law is currently being challenged in court.
More than 90 percent of all known lemur species are rapidly approaching extinction
Sunday, February 23, 2014 7:13 EST
True Lemurs, found only on the isolated island of Madagascar, are the most endangered mammalian group on the planet — more than 90% of all known lemur species are rapidly approaching extinction, primarily as the result of deforestation and habitat loss.
Previous conservation efforts have been generally ineffective, so how do you prevent their extinction? Now, an international team composed of prominent primatologists, conservationists and researchers, think they may have a workable solution. The team has devised an action plan to save the 101 species of lemur that live on Madagascar — one which contains “strategies for 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation, and aims to help raise funds for individual projects.”
Something to note — ‘true’ lemurs are a clade of primates found only on the island of Madagascar, they are entirely unrelated to any of the animals commonly referred to as ‘lemurs’ that live in South Asia. Those animals aren’t primates, they’re related to rodents. True lemurs are primates that have evolved completely separate from the other clades of primates for the last 65 million years.
The University of Western Ontario provides more:
Ian Colquhoun from Western’s Faculty of Social Science co-authored a ‘Policy Forum’ commentary titled “Averting Lemur Extinctions amid Madagascar’s Political Crisis” for the high-impact journal, Science, with many of the top primatologists in the world, including Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at Bristol Zoo Gardens and vice-chair for Madagascar of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) SSC Primate Specialist Group, and Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group.
Vital steps outlined by the collaborators include effective management of Madagascar’s protected areas, the creation of more reserves directly managed by local communities, and a long-term research presence in critical lemur sites.
“Through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism, lemurs have important ecological and economic roles for Madagascar,” states Colquhoun, a professor in Western’s Department of Anthropology and Chair of the Master’s in Environment and Sustainability Program in Western’s Centre for Environment & Sustainability. “I think there is huge potential for Malagasy all over the island to take pride in their lemurs.”
“Native to the shrinking and fragmented tropical and subtropical forests of Madagascar, off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, lemurs are facing grave extinction risks driven by human disturbance of their habitats, including deforestation, and its effects. Combined with increasing rates of poaching and the loss of funding for environmental programs by most international donors in the wake of the political crisis in Madagascar, challenges to lemur conservation are immense.”
Roughly 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed in the 2000 years that humans have lived on the island. Much of this loss has been the result of agriculture. Nearly all of Madagascar’s megafauna has gone extinct in those 2000 years — this includes 8 species of giant elephant birds, 2 species of hippopotamus, a very large species of Fossa, a strange unique mammal named Plesiorycteropus, and 17 species of lemurs. One of the extinct lemurs, Archaeoindris, grew to be as large as a full-grown male gorilla.
Camels Linked to Spread of MERS Virus in People
By DENISE GRADY
FEB. 25, 2014
A new study suggests that camels are the major source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, a viral disease that has sickened 182 people and killed 79 of them since it was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
The animals are most likely to infect people through respiratory secretions — from coughing, sneezing, snorting or spitting — that travel through the air or cling to surfaces.
People with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disease or kidney failure, or other conditions that weaken their immunity, seem to be most susceptible, and should avoid close contact with camels, researchers say.
Saudi Arabia has had the most cases, other Middle Eastern countries have had a few and a handful of travelers from that region have taken the disease to Europe. There have been no cases in the United States. Although people have infected one another, the disease is not highly transmissible among humans, so researchers say that unless the virus changes to become more contagious in people, the risk of global spread does not seem high.
The new study provides the first evidence that the virus is widespread in dromedary camels (the kind with one hump) in Saudi Arabia, and has been for at least 20 years.
Younger animals are more likely than older ones to be infected and contagious. The virus invades the camels’ nose and respiratory tract, but does not kill them. It is not known whether it even makes them sick.
“It would be very difficult to know if they were ill, since these are creatures that slobber a great deal,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, the senior author of the study and a virus expert at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York. The results, by researchers from Saudi Arabia and the United States, were published on Tuesday in mBio, an online journal.
Tests on 203 dromedaries from different parts of Saudi Arabia found evidence of past infection in about 75 percent overall, with higher rates in some regions. About 35 percent of young animals and 15 percent of adults had current infections, with significant variations by region. In addition, measurements of stored blood samples from camels indicate that MERS or a virus closely related to it has been present in the animals since at least 1992.
Genetically, the virus found in camels matches samples from infected humans.
The disease was not detected in people until 2012. It is not known whether the cases in humans are a new phenomenon, or whether they have been occurring but were not recognized. Some people develop mild respiratory infections, but in others the disease turns deadly, with worsening fever, cough and shortness of breath.
In some cases, patients were known to have been around camels, but until recently it was not clear whether the animals might be the source. Other cases have been complete mysteries, with no known exposure to animals or ill humans. Sick people have infected family members, health workers and nearby patients in the hospital, but the virus is not considered highly contagious among humans.
Researchers do not know how camels become infected, but they suspect that the virus may have originally come from bats. MERS belongs to the coronavirus family, like SARS, the deadly and more contagious respiratory infection that began in China and caused a global outbreak in 2003. Bats are a host for SARS and other coronaviruses, and studies have found evidence linking MERS to bats.
But at this point the evidence linking people and camels is stronger.
“This is an issue for Saudi Arabia,” said Peter Daszak, an author of the study and the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a group that studies the links between human and animal health. “Camels are highly valuable livestock, traded internationally. Unfortunately, they have an endemic virus that can cause death in people.”
Camels are sold for meat and milk in the Middle East. There are also racing camels, and prized “beauty camels” that compete in pageants and have fetched prices of $1 million or more.
Dr. Lipkin and Dr. Daszak said it was not immediately obvious how to protect people who come into contact with camels, like farmers, breeders and slaughterhouse workers. But they said animals can be quickly and cheaply tested for the virus, and those with current infections could be quarantined and not sold or transported.
Dr. Lipkin said MERS in camels may be analogous to the many respiratory infections that children catch early in life and then become immune to. In camels, once tests no longer find the active infection, the risk of transmitting the disease is probably greatly reduced or even gone, Dr. Lipkin said.
He also said it may be possible to develop a vaccine to prevent the disease in camels. But he said creating a vaccine for people would not make sense, given that so far, MERS is rare.
Saudi Arabia imports many camels, from other countries in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia. Dr. Lipkin said studies should be done in those countries, or in animals being imported, to try to find out where MERS is coming from, in hopes of eliminating it.
Correction: February 25, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article gave an incorrect date for a research report in the online journal mBio. The report was published on Feb. 25, not Feb. 18.
Whale graveyard in Chile unearths fossil treasure trove
Site is branded most diverse on planet for marine mammals after Pan-American Highway roadworks unearth baleen whales
theguardian.com, Wednesday 26 February 2014 10.19 GMT
The baleen whale fossil graveyard in Chile known as Cerro Ballena, 'whale hill'. Photograph: Adam Metallo, Smithsonian Institution
A mass graveyard of whales has been unearthed beside the Pan-American Highway in Chile, in what scientists believe is one of most extraordinary marine mammal fossil sites on the planet.
The skeletons of dozens of baleen whales were found in ancient sandstones in the Atacama region of northern Chile, where they are thought to have lain undetected for between 6m and 9m years.
Whale fossil graveyard in Chile Whale fossil graveyard in Chile. Photograph: Adam Metallo/Smithsonian Institution
In an article published in the Royal Society journal, scientists explain that the whales ended up in the same small area as the result of four separate mass strandings over a period of more than 10,000 years.
Researchers believe the animals ingested toxic algae before being washed into an estuary and, eventually, on to flat sands at the site dubbed Cerro Ballena ("whale hill").
Nicholas Pyenson, a palaeontologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, told the BBC: "We found extinct creatures such as walrus whales – dolphins that evolved a walrus-like face. And then there were these bizarre aquatic sloths.
"To me, it's amazing that in 240 metres of road-cut, we managed to sample all the superstars of the fossil marine-mammal world in south America in the Late Miocene. Just an incredibly dense accumulation of species."
Cerro Ballena was famed locally for its hidden ancient skeletons – but the latest discovery was made by chance during construction work on the busy Pan-American Highway that runs alongside the area, which is now seen as one of the richest fossil sites in the world.
Many of the fossils were found in perfect conditio, with the skeletons of two adults whales laid on top of the skeleton of a juvenile whale.
The remains of an extinct species of sperm whale, a walrus-like toothed whale, an aquatic sloth and two seals were also uncovered at the site, but scientists believe there may be hundreds more ancient creatures waiting to be discovered.
Sol Square, a palaeontologist who worked on the discovery, described the find as "a discovery of global importance".
"There has never been a find of this size or this diversity anywhere in the world, which is one of the very special parts of the Atacama region."
French zoo announces birth of rare Asiatic lion cubs
Announcement delayed for almost two months because of concerns that trio would not survive
Associated Press in Besancon
theguardian.com, Thursday 27 February 2014 17.11 GMT
Three Asiatic lion cubs are making their debut at a zoo in eastern France, raising slim hopes for one of the world's rarest species.
The Besancon zoo held off announcing the cubs' births on 31 December until this week, afraid the two females and a male might not survive. Their mother let a single cub die last year, and the three are being kept from their father until zookeepers are sure he will not hurt them.
There are about 300 Asiatic lions in the wild, all in an Indian reserve, according to the World Wildlife Fund. About the same number are in captivity.
"Lions in captivity will not be reintroduced in nature – or probably not – because they are used to men and might potentially be dangerous," zookeeper Guillaume Limouzin said on Thursday.
Regulators block development on Alaskan Pebble mine to protect salmon population
Friday, February 28, 2014 19:51 EST
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – U.S. environmental regulators moved on Friday to block development of the Pebble mine in Alaska, which could be one of the largest copper projects in the world, citing potential “irreversible harm” to the state’s salmon fishery.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it has initiated a rarely used process under the Clean Water Act to “identify appropriate options to protect” the Bristol Bay fishery from the impact of the proposed mine.
The decision follows a report in January that found large-scale mining would pose serious risks to salmon and native cultures in the pristine corner of southwest Alaska.
“Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
“This process is not something the agency does very often, but Bristol Bay is an extraordinary and unique resource.”
Shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, which owns the Pebble project, plunged 29 percent to close at C$1.17 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday. The stock has fallen more than 64 percent in the last 12 months.
The Vancouver-based company was swift to condemn the EPA’s action, saying the agency is looking to preemptively block the project without allowing it to go through the established permitting and environmental review process.
“What the EPA is trying to do is short-circuit that process,” said Tom Collier, chief executive of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a Northern Dynasty subsidiary. “That’s just a huge mistake. That’s not the way America works.”
Northern Dynasty said it remains confident that Pebble, one of the richest copper-gold deposits in the world, will eventually move ahead. It has said the mine can be developed in a safe manner and would provide an economic boom for Alaska.
Indeed, the company expects to employ about 2,500 people through the construction phase and then about 1,000 throughout the mine’s operating life, and filter hundreds of millions in tax dollars to federal, state and regional governments each year.
Opponents have long said the environmental risks outweigh the benefits, citing the potential for widespread damage if polluted water were to enter streams in the region.
The EPA can use the Clean Water Act to effectively veto the mine. It has initiated similar processes just 29 times and completed the entire process only 13 times. The review will include a new consultation period, public hearings and further consultations with the Army Corps of Engineers and the company.
Permits cannot be approved during the review process.
The Pebble project is located some 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, in a region of Alaska that produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon. The area also has a booming sport fishing and tourism industry.
Northern Dynasty lost its project development partner last September when mining group Anglo American pulled out of the venture.
Animal rights campaigners protest as fur comes back into fashion
Millions of pelts will be sold for record prices this month as models wear fur on the catwalk again
The Observer, Saturday 1 March 2014 16.55 GMT
There is a popular uniform for many of those attending the present round of fashion shows in the world's hippest cities – skinny jeans, trainers and a fur coat. Big-name design houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Tom Ford have been pushing fur on the catwalks, and the fur coat for the male market is a major new trend for next winter.
This month the biggest auction of furs ever seen in the industry will take place in Helsinki, when dealers and designers will be vying for 11 million mink pelts, two million fox and one million assorted wild animal furs. Prices are expected to reach record levels.
Mark Oaten, chief executive of the International Fur Trade Federation, says that demand for fur is so huge that the industry is suffering a desperate skills shortage. According to Oaten, a younger generation has discovered fur, while recent technological advances mean that the industry can do far more with fur in terms of mixing it with other fabrics, thinning it and dyeing it.
"The traditional fur was grandma's fur coat, which was a one-off luxury buy that you bought and treasured all your life," he said. "But five or six years ago technology moved on and allowed designers to use fur in fashion, allowing it to be used in a million ways. It can be affordable and there is a whole new generation to fall in love with fur."
The renaissance of fur poses a major challenge to anti-fur campaigners such as Meg Mathews, who is now leading the latest effort by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) to persuade people to stop wearing furs.
Mathews was behind last week's decision by the nightclub Mahiki, frequented by London's young rich, to announce that it would no longer admit anyone wearing fur. She spent last Thursday evening at the Mayfair venue's front door, handing out "no fur" badges to customers. "The idea of wearing an animal's fur has always made me feel sick," she said. "You only have to see the videos of skinned animals lying in a heap, still breathing and lifting their heads, to understand that stealing an animal's skin for the sake of vanity is wrong.
"I remember when Peta released its first iconic 'I'd rather go naked than wear fur' campaign in the early 1990s – back when few people had ever seen a video or even a photograph of how horribly animals die for fur. The impact was huge. Almost overnight, wearing fur became unfashionable and designers couldn't wait to shout about how they were fur-free and fabulous. Retailers such as Selfridges and Liberty brought in strict no-fur policies.
"There are so many great designers working with cruelty-free fabrics, and that's what we should be celebrating during fashion season.
"My daughter Anais is at a time in her life when she's making choices about the kind of person she wants to be, and I want to show her that it's cool to be kind and that making compassionate choices shows character. We had a great turnout this week for the celebration of Mahiki's new fur-free policy, and we hope that other clubs follow Mahiki's positive example by going fur-free as well."
But can anyone persuade the fashion-leaders to abandon fur? Vocal anti-fur campaigners Stella McCartney, Sadie Frost and now Mathews are all chums of model Kate Moss, who has a wardrobe packed with fur jerkins and sealskin boots and seems supremely unfazed by her controversial choices. Models and celebrities have been notoriously contrary around the issue. Naomi Campbell appeared naked in 1994 in an advert for Peta under the strapline "I'd rather go naked than wear fur"; 15 years later she caused consternation by becoming the face of a furrier firm. Cindy Crawford was another high-profile defector from the Peta cause.
Shortly after Tony Blair's government signed into law a bill banning fur farming in the UK – which came into effect in 2003 – his wife, Cherie, was unhelpfully photographed while wearing a rabbit-fur coat.
Designer Vivienne Westwood has gone the other way. Persuaded to strip out fur from her collections, she became a convert after seeing a video of steel traps used to catch wild animals for their furs – some 10% to 15% of fur comes from wild as opposed to farmed animals.
Many high-street shops in the UK have banned fur, including H&M, Topshop, New Look, Selfridges and House of Fraser. Diesel, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Zara joined them last month. But there are plenty of specialised UK outlets selling fur, including a new one specialising in buying and selling vintage and remodelling existing items.
One owner of a store in northern England asked not to be named by the Observer but said: "We're very cautious about drawing attention to ourselves because of past events and the way some people are. There's definitely a resurgence and we are happy to see our sales growing; it's nice to see."
Peta rejects the defence that a fur is fine to wear if it is vintage or second-hand. "Whether the animal died 50 years ago or last week is hardly relevant. Wearing it is sending an unacceptable message that it is OK to wear fur," said Ben Williamson of the lobby group.
He urged people to give any furs they have to Peta. "We use them as bedding for animal rescue centres," he said. "You will always get celebrities and designers using fur to provoke controversy, but it doesn't translate to what people are wearing on the streets. An RSPCA survey in 2011 showed that 95% of British people would not wear fur."
The cold winter has seen record sales of fur in New York, while China and other Asian markets are clamouring for it. Even Dubai now has 400 shops selling fur.
Peta is holding out for a hero to change the mood. Can Mathews be the one to get fur's most famous UK ambassador, Kate Moss, to stop wearing it? "We're always hoping," said Williamson.
Five views on fur
"The strong showing of fur on the catwalks is a continuation of an enduring trend. The fashion industry is responding to consumer demand for fur. Today the fur trade has greatly improved its communication skills, so any designer who wishes to use fur can properly inform themselves how the industry is run. They find that animal welfare standards far exceed those normally found in other sectors of animal husbandry. Consequently, they are more than happy to use fur which provides them with a great canvas for their creative skills."
Frank Zilberkweit of Hockley, London's leading fur company.
"In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and even clothes, the discussion of fur is childish."
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.
"Killing an animal to make a coat is sin. It wasn't meant to be, and we have no right to do it. A woman gains status when she refuses to see anything killed to be put on her back. Then she's truly beautiful."
"I find it astounding, because fashion is supposed to be about change. I mean, we're supposed to be about cutting edge! I think people in fashion are pretty heartless. Why on earth would they use fur and leather otherwise? There's no excuse for fur in this day and age. Baby kids are boiled alive. Foxes are anally electrocuted. If that's not heartless, what is?"
"Tell Peta my mink is draggin' on the floor."
Lyric by Kanye West who, with his partner, Kim Kardashian, has faced flour-bombing protesters over their fur coats.
Indonesian clerics issue fatwa to protect wildlife
Islamic clerical body issues religious fatwa against the illegal hunting and trade in endangered animals in the country
theguardian.com, Wednesday 5 March 2014 11.19 GMT
Indonesia's top Islamic clerical body has issued a religious fatwa against the illegal hunting and trade in endangered animals in the country, which the WWF hailed on Wednesday as the world's first.
The fatwa by the Indonesian Ulema Council declares such activities "unethical, immoral and sinful", council official Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"All activities resulting in wildlife extinction without justifiable religious grounds or legal provisions are haram (forbidden). These include illegal hunting and trading of endangered animals," said Sholeh, secretary of the council's commission on fatwas.
"Whoever takes away a life, kills a generation. This is not restricted to humans, but also includes God's other living creatures, especially if they die in vain."
The country of 250 million people is the world's most populous Muslim nation, but it remained unclear whether the fatwa would have any practical impact.
Indonesia's vast and unique array of wildlife is under increasing pressure from development, logging and agricultural expansion.
The government does not typically react to fatwas by implementing specific policy changes.
However, a Forestry Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told AFP the ministry and the religious council would make a joint announcement regarding the fatwa on 12 March, without elaborating on its content.
The WWF called the fatwa the first of its kind in the world, and said the use of religion for wildlife protection "is a positive step forward."
"It provides a spiritual aspect and raises moral awareness which will help us in our work to protect and save the remaining wildlife in the country such as the critically endangered tigers and rhinos," WWF Indonesia communications director, Nyoman Iswara Yoga said.
The fatwa was the result of months of dialogue between government officials, conservationists and other stakeholders, said Sholeh, the fatwa commission official.
Acknowledging it was not legally binding, Sholeh said in English: "It's a divine binding."
He said the fatwa was effective from 22 January. It was only made public late Tuesday.
The fatwa urges the government to effectively monitor ecological protection, review permits issued to companies accused of harming the environment, and bring illegal loggers and wildlife traffickers to justice.
The clearing, often illegally, of Indonesia's once-rich forests for timber extraction or to make way for oil palm or other plantations poses a severe threat to critically endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, orangutan, and Sumatran elephant.
Poachers also target wild elephants for their ivory tusks, for use in traditional Chinese medicines.
Under Indonesian law, trafficking in protected animals can result in a maximum of five years in jail and 100 million rupiah ($8,700) fine.
Five-tonne dinosaur species discovered
Torvosaurus gurneyi was up to 10m long and had 10cm blade-shaped teeth, say scientists who found fossils in Portugal
theguardian.com, Wednesday 5 March 2014 23.43 GMT
Fossilised remains of what scientists believe was the largest terrestrial predator ever to have roamed Europe have been found in Portugal.
The dinosaur, a new species named Torvosaurus gurneyi, was up to 10m (33ft) long and weighed between four and five tonnes.
Its head measured 1.15m from front to back and was filled with blade-shaped teeth up to 10cm (4in) long, suggesting it may have been near the top of the food chain and eaten other large dinosaurs.
Scientists found the bones north of Portugal's capital, Lisbon, and originally thought they belonged to a species from North America, Torvosaurus tanneri.
But comparisons of the shin bone, upper jawbone, teeth, and partial tail vertebrae suggested it was a new species, making it one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs of the Jurassic period found in this area, living around 150 million years ago.
The new dinosaur is the second species of Torvosaurus to be named, and scientists believe recently-discovered embryos from Portugal also belong to it. The number of teeth, as well as the size and shape of the mouth, are though to differentiate the European and the American Torvosaurus.
The fossil of the upper jaw of Torvosaurus tanneri has 11 or more teeth, while Torvosaurus gurneyi has fewer than 11, and the mouth bones have a different shape and structure. Fossilised remains of other closely related dinosaurs suggest Torvosaurus gurneyi may have been covered with "protofeathers" – the precursors of bird feathers.
The findings were published in the online journal PLOS ONE. Report co-author Christophe Hendrickx said: "This is not the largest predatory dinosaur we know. Tyrannosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and Giganotosaurus from the Cretaceous were bigger animals.
"With a skull of 115cm, Torvosaurus gurneyi was however one of the largest terrestrial carnivores at this epoch, and an active predator that hunted other large dinosaurs, as evidenced by blade-shape teeth up to 10cm."
• This article was amended on 6 March 2014. The original suggested the newly discovered species is thought to have been the largest of any terrestrial dinosaur in Europe. This has been corrected.
Watch out Sea World: California bill would ban orca shows, captive breeding
Saturday, March 8, 2014 14:17 EDT
A California lawmaker introduced a bill on Friday to ban live performances and captive breeding of killer whales in the state, a measure that would force the SeaWorld San Diego marine theme park to end is popular “Shamu” shows.
The measure was introduced by state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who told a news conference his interest in the issue was sparked by last year’s documentary “Blackfish,” dealing with the treatment of killer whales at SeaWorld parks.
The film, which SeaWorld has criticized as a misleading, inaccurate piece of animal rights propaganda, explores circumstances leading to the 2010 death of a top SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled underwater and drowned by an orca she had worked and performed with in Florida.
Trainers have not been allowed back into the water with killer whales during performances at SeaWorld parks since Brancheau’s death.
The film concludes that keeping killer whales penned up in captivity is inherently cruel and that SeaWorld has persisted in the practice because orcas are the primary attraction in its highly lucrative theme park business.
“There is no justification for the continued display of orcas for entertainment purposes,” Bloom said in prepared remarks. “These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives.”
SeaWorld, which also operates marine parks in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas, called Bloom’s proposal “severely flawed on multiple levels” and questioned its validity under the U.S. or state constitution.
The company also said the individuals “he has chosen to associate with for today’s press conference are well-known extreme animal rights activists, many of whom regularly campaign against SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks and institutions.”
SEAWORLD DENIES MISTREATMENT
Joining Bloom in announcing his bill were Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist with the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of “Blackfish,” and two former trainers.
SeaWorld San Diego is home to 10 killer whales, seven of which were born in captivity. It is the only facility in California with orcas on display and thus the only one immediately affected by Bloom’s bill.
In addition to banning all performances and captive breeding of orcas in the state, the measure would prohibit anyone in California from engaging in the import or export of orcas or their genetic material.
The bill also would require current captive orcas to be retired and returned to the wild when possible, or to “sea pens” when available, but allows them in the meantime to remain on public display in existing enclosures.
SeaWorld has denied mistreating any killer whales and points to its involvement in marine mammal research, conservation, rescue and public education.
“Our passionate employees are the true animal advocates – the pioneering scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, marine biologists, educators, aquarists, aviculturists and conservationists who for 50 years have cared for the animals at SeaWorld and also saved thousands in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned,” the company said.
Rose said only two dozen killer whales live in captivity in the United States – one at the Miami Seaquarium and the rest in the three SeaWorld parks.
While the precise language has not been finalized, the legislation is expected to allow the continued display of the whales in the existing 7-million-gallon pool complex at Shamu Stadium in San Diego, said Sean MacNeil, chief of staff for Bloom. Shamu is the name of the first killer whale brought to the San Diego park in the 1960s.
The bill could pose a political dilemma for state lawmaker Toni Atkins, the Assembly majority leader who will soon become the speaker, whose San Diego district includes SeaWorld.
“I have not seen the bill yet, but I respect my colleague and value what SeaWorld does economically and scientifically for our region,” she said. “I will carefully consider all the issues and opinions surrounding this legislation.”
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Gunna Dickson and Richard Chang)
Scientists: Genghis Khan’s rise was aided by ‘warm and wet’ Mongolian climate
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 10, 2014 18:13 EDT
A pleasantly warm and wet spell in central Mongolia eight centuries ago may have propelled the rise of Genghis Khan, according to a US study Monday.
The research was based on an analysis of tree rings spanning 11 centuries, showing that the conqueror seized power during dry times and was able to expand his empire across Asia during an unusual stretch of good weather.
The years before Genghis Khan’s rule were marked by severe drought from 1180 to 1190, said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But from 1211 to 1225, as the empire spread, Mongolia saw an unusual period of sustained rainfall and mild temperatures.
“The transition from extreme drought to extreme moisture right then strongly suggests that climate played a role in human events,” said study co-author Amy Hessl, a tree-ring scientist at West Virginia University.
“It wasn’t the only thing, but it must have created the ideal conditions for a charismatic leader to emerge out of the chaos, develop an army and concentrate power.”
For the oldest samples, Hessl and lead author Neil Pederson, a tree-ring scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, focused on an unusual clutch of trees found while researching wildfires in Mongolia.
The strand of gnarled, stunted Siberian pines were emerging from cracks in an old solid-rock lava flow in the Khangai Mountains, according to a statement from Columbia.
Trees living in such conditions grow slowly and are particularly sensitive to changes in weather, so they provided an abundance of data to study.
Some of the trees had lived for more than 1,100 years. One piece of wood they found had rings going back to about 650 BC.
Researchers compared those samples to younger fallen trees and some pieces bored from living trees.
“Through a careful analysis of tree-ring records spanning eleven centuries, the researchers have provided valuable information about a period of great significance,” said Tom Baerwald, a program director for the National Science Foundation, which funded the research.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, but his descendants ruled most of what became modern Korea, China, Russia, eastern Europe, southeast Asia, India and the Middle East.
Bird-killing vet drug alarms European conservationists
A notorious veterinary drug that killed millions of vultures in India is now on sale in Europe
Tuesday 11 March 2014 19.01 GMT theguardian.com
In early 2003 I travelled across India to investigate a mysterious scourge that was killing off some of Asia’s most spectacular birds, its vultures. Little did I know that now, more than ten years later, the avian holocaust I witnessed there would be looming over Europe.
Here’s the story:
Until the early 1990s, India was home to tens of millions of vultures. They were almost everywhere, their presence taken for granted across that country’s wildernesses and into the hearts of its most crowded cities.
The gigantic scavenging birds performed a valuable service, cleaning up the mortal remains of street dogs, sacred cows and even people; members of the ancient Zoroastrian religion had long laid out their dead to be consumed by vultures in specially constructed “towers of silence”.
In the mid-1990s biologists began noting rapid declines in vulture populations across the country. Cities that had hosted thousands of birds were suddenly vulture-free. Animal carcasses that before had been reliably stripped to bone within hours lay rotting for weeks in fields and streets.
Something was killing massive numbers of vultures, but what? Diverse theories abounded, and bitter rivalries developed between scientists jostling for the research dollars flowing towards the crisis.
Some experts told me that vultures were being starved into extinction because westernised Indians were eating more meat, leaving fewer cows for the birds. Others said vulture nest sites on cliffs and in tall trees were being destroyed by the relentless demand for stone and timber, or that unknown pesticides were to blame for their vanishing from the skies.
The most prominent and best-funded Indian scientists were convinced that it was an infectious virus. Nothing else, they told me, could explain the astounding crash in vulture numbers and that many dead vultures were found to be suffering from visceral gout. But despite exhaustive lab analyses of vulture tissues, they still hadn’t identified it.
I then found a site in rural Rajasthan where thousands of vultures fed and roosted together daily — the only large gathering I saw on my whole Indian sojourn — and although the situation presented ideal circumstances for an infectious agent to spread rapidly between birds, I didn’t find a single sick or dead vulture there in days of searching.
When I called the main proponent of the virus theory and his British collaborator to discuss the roost I’d seen, they were oddly uninterested in hearing how apparently healthy the birds were; they’d recently received a large UK grant to study potential routes for the ‘virus’ to travel along to Europe and Africa.
I left India unconvinced that any single factor could explain the die-off, and the birds remained on their trajectory towards extinction.
Shortly after my departure a group of researchers backed by The Peregrine Fund, a US conservation nonprofit, announced a bombshell finding (“bombshell” in terms of emotionally repressed ornithologists, that is). Working in Pakistan, where the machinations of Indian conservation politics had confined them, they’d figured out that a miniscule amount of a pharmaceutical called diclofenac could cause deadly kidney damage in vultures of the genus Gyps, commonly known as griffon vultures.
Three species of griffon vultures, the White-rumped, Slender-billed and Indian Vultures, and a close relative, the Red-headed Vulture, had shown the biggest declines of the nine vulture species found in India.
Diclofenac was developed in the 1970s for human use — it’s a key ingredient of Voltaren gel — but became widely available across India as a cheap veterinary drug in the early 1990s. It was mainly used on cattle to treat inflammation, fever and pain resulting from disease or injury.
The Peregrine Fund established that griffon vultures could ingest lethal amounts of diclofenac in a just a single feeding on the carcass of an animal that had been dosed with the drug shortly before its demise. This extreme sensitivity means that vulture populations can be wiped out even if less than 1% of carcasses available to them are contaminated with the drug.
Conservationists campaigned for years to get diclofenac banned for veterinary use across India (and succeeded) and are now promoting a vulture-friendly albeit somewhat more expensive substitute called meloxicam. This appears to have slowed vulture declines, but the birds are nowhere near safe from extinction yet. Diclofenac that’s been legally packaged for human use is showing up in Indian vet stores, and the drop in vulture numbers over the last 20 years has been so serious that recovery will take decades, even under ideal conditions.
The White-rumped Vulture, formerly known as “probably the most abundant large bird of prey in the world”, with a population of millions, has lost more than 99% of its numbers since the mid-1990s. Less than 15,000 remain. Slender-billed, Long-billed and Red-headed Vultures have declined by well over 90%. All four species are now red-listed as critically endangered, and researchers are figuring out how toxic other anti-inflammatory drugs could be to vultures, and if other scavenging birds share griffon vultures’ sensitivity to diclofenac (‘non-griffon’ vulture species and large eagles are also likely at risk).
The evil genie of cheap diclofenac is hard to force back into its bottle, and conservationists have worked hard to publicise the dangers of the drug and prevent it coming into veterinary use in Africa, home to ecologically important populations of griffon vultures. The continent has generally poor regulation of pharmaceuticals and is rapidly adopting more modern farming techniques, and the potential for an inexpensive drug to spread rapidly there is obvious.
Conservationists haven’t worried much about diclofenac in Europe, where information is readily available and veterinary drug regulation is relatively good.
This turns out to have been a mistake: Vulture researchers were recently stunned to discover that veterinary diclofenac has been authorised for manufacture and use in Italy and Spain and been distributed to other European countries.
“It is shocking that a drug that has already wiped out wildlife on a massive scale in Asia is now put on the market in crucial countries for vulture conservation,” says José Tavares of the Zurich-based Vulture Conservation Foundation.
The drug is manufactured in Italy for some years now and is authorised for use there in cattle, horses and pigs in a medication called Reuflogin. There’s evidence that it’s been exported to the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia and Turkey.
Last year the manufacture and veterinary use of diclofenac was approved in Spain, the vulture stronghold of Europe. The approval went through without government agents or the drug’s manufacturers speaking to wildlife experts. “Risk assessments were done,” says Tavares “but these do not mention vultures at all, and the competent authorities did not send these risk assessments to any conservation NGO for checking.”
Spain holds by far the majority of all four species of vultures found in Europe: 90% of the continent’s Eurasian Griffon Vultures, 97% of its Cinereous Vultures 67% of its Bearded Vultures, and 85% of its Egyptian Vultures — the latter classified as endangered worldwide.
The birds were almost extirpated from many other European countries during the 20th century as farming practices changed, but they’ve been making a slow return to many of their former haunts thanks to expensive reintroduction projects, many using Spanish birds.
Spain’s vultures feed largely on the carcasses of domestic animals that are placed in traditional carcass dumps called muladares. Even if diclofenac was used sparingly, it’s almost inevitable that significant numbers of vultures will feed on drug-laced carcasses, say experts, because these dumps are poorly regulated and sometimes even illegally operated. Because vultures often forage hundreds of kilometres away from their nest sites, diclofenac’s effects can be felt over massive areas. The drug could easily be sold into Africa, they say.
A coalition of organisations including the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and BirdLife Europe are urgently pushing for an EU-imposed, continent-wide ban on veterinary diclofenac.
“Decades and millions of Euros have been spent protecting Europe’s vultures,” says the coalition, “we should now not let all of them disappear.”
An online petition to ban veterinary diclofenac in Europe has been launched here:https://www.change.org/petitions/janez-poto%C4%8Dnik-european-union-diclofenac-the-vulture-killing-drug-is-now-available-on-eu-market
Animals see power lines as glowing, flashing bands, research reveals
Study suggests pylons and wires that stretch across many landscapes are having a worldwide impact on wildlife
theguardian.com, Wednesday 12 March 2014 18.00 GMT
Power lines are seen as glowing and flashing bands across the sky by many animals, research has revealed.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLrP9mck7eM
The work suggests that the pylons and wires that stretch across many landscapes are having a worldwide impact on wildlife.
Scientists knew many creatures avoid power lines but the reason why was mysterious as they are not impassable physical barriers. Now, a new understanding of just how many species can see the ultraviolet light – which is invisible to humans – has revealed the major visual impact of the power lines.
"It was a big surprise but we now think the majority of animals can see UV light," said Professor Glen Jeffery, a vision expert at University College London. "There is no reason why this phenomenon is not occuring around the world."
Dr Nicolas Tyler, an ecologist at UIT The Arctic University of Norway and another member of the research team, said: "The flashes occur at random in time and space, so the power lines are not grey and passive, but seen as lines of light flashing."
He said the discovery has global significance: "The loss and fragmentation of habitat by infrastructure is the principle global threat to biodiversity – it is absolutely major. Roads have always got particular attention but this will push power lines right up the list of offenders." The avoidance of power lines can interfere with migration routes, breeding grounds and grazing for both animals and birds.
Autopsies on dozens of mammals from zoos and abbatoirs showed their eyes were able to see UV, including cattle, cats, dogs, rats, bats, okapi, red pandas and hedgehogs. Also on the list were reindeer and further work published in the journal Conservation Biology showed these animals, whose eyes are specially adapted to the dark Arctic winters, are particularly sensitive to UV light. UV vision helps reindeer find plants in snow cover, but in the depths of winter their wide irises and sensitive eyes means the power lines appear particularly bright.
The avoidance of power lines had been explained in the past by the corridors cut through forests to accomodate them, where animals would be exposed in the open to predators.
But this explanation could not apply in the treeless tundra of northern Norway, where 220,000 reindeer are tended by 7,000 herders from the traditional Sami people. "Right now, there is a plan to build a 186-mile long power line in north Norway," said Tyler. "This new work will encourage power companies to negotiate with herders about where they put the power lines."
Around the world, Tyler said: "There are hundred of examples of animals avoiding power lines. Now we know that, not only do these clear-cut corridors mean exposure to predators, at the same time there is this damn thing flashing at you."
Jeffery said burying all power cables would be unrealistically expensive but added that one idea would be to put a non-conducting shield around the cable to screen it from view. The UV light, which is caused by electricity ionising the air around cables, are a major source of inefficiency for electricity companies and also cause the hissing or crackling noises sometimes heard.
Power companies already use helicopter-mounted UV cameras to monitor power cables, because the flashes can be an early sign of conduction problems, but the cameras only record a very narrow range of UV. "Animals see across the range, so the intensity of light seen by them is much more than seen by the helicopter flights," said Jeffery.
The new research was funded by the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Georgia veterinarians lose battle to save dog that was shot 7 times, thrown in dumpster
By David Edwards
Thursday, March 13, 2014 9:19 EDT
Veterinarians in Georgia have said that they were not able to save a dog that was found after being shot seven times and then left in a dumpster.
Atlanta police found “Catie,” a 3-year-old terrier mix, in a dumpster on March 7 after an anonymous tip about gunfire in the area.
The dog was turned over to Society of Humane Friends, but they quickly contacted the University of Georgia Vet school after realizing how serious Catie’s injuries were.
“Either the person was a really bad shot or they just wanted to torture her instead of kill her,” Dr. Lori Chandler told WGCL. “Because there were no bullets through her chest, really not many in her abdomen. They were all kind of around the edges, through her throat, through the top of her back.”
Catie’s neck and spine were shattered by gunshots, and shrapnel was lodged in her heart. Damage to her lungs made breathing difficult, and she could not go to the bathroom without help.
Doctors at the vet school contacted the Society of Humane Friends on Wednesday to let them know that Catie was in extreme pain, and infections were inevitable. They decided that the best solution was to put Catie to sleep.
“It really upsets me that anybody would do that to a dog or any other, you know, pretty much helpless creature,” Chandler noted. “This little dog is in pain. And I put my hand in there [her cage] and she just rested her head on my hand.”
Watch the video below from WGCL, broadcast March 12, 2013.
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28-million-year-old fossil gives researchers new insight into origin of whales’ sonar
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 16:45 EDT
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The deadly threat posed by German submarines during World War One helped spur scientists to develop sonar, using underwater sound signals to locate objects like subs that might be taking aim with a torpedo.
In the 20th century, it was an important technological breakthrough.
But it was old technology as far as whales go. These marine mammals have been using echolocation – bouncing high-frequency sounds off underwater objects – to find prey for tens of millions of years.
U.S. scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of the most ancient whale known to have used echolocation – a creature called Cotylocara macei, a bit larger than a bottlenose dolphin, that lived about 28 million years ago.
The discovery suggests that echolocation evolved in toothed whales – the group that includes modern day varieties like sperm whales, killer whales, dolphins and porpoises – perhaps 32 million to 34 million years ago, the scientists said.
That was relatively soon after whales, around 35 million years ago, split into two major cetacean groups – toothed whales that were active hunters and toothless baleen whales that were filter feeders, straining food like krill from the ocean.
Jonathan Geisler, an anatomy professor at New York Institute of Technology who led the research published in the journal Nature, called echolocation “an amazing trait.”
“It’s a sonar-like system which allows them basically to navigate and find food, particularly in waters where there’s little light, either at great depth or in very turbulent waters with a lot of mud, like estuaries or around marshes,” he added.
Cotylocara, whose fossilized remains include a 22-inch skull, neck vertebrae and ribs, was about 10 to 11 feet long and probably swam in a shallow ocean environment, feeding on fish and squid, Geisler said.
The fossils were unearthed near Summerville, South Carolina, outside Charleston, said College of Charleston geology professor James Carew, another of the researchers.
‘AN EXTINCT FAMILY’
While Cotylocara looked superficially like some smaller modern-day toothed whales, it was not closely related to them.
“This is a member of an extinct family that split off very early from other echolocating whales, dolphins and porpoises. They went extinct 25 million or 26 million years ago and they don’t have any living relatives,” Geisler said in a telephone interview.
Whales that use echolocation produce very high-frequency vocalizations through a soft-tissue nasal passage located between the blowhole and skull. Other mammals, including people, produce sounds using the voice box, or larynx, inside the neck.
When air is pushed through the whale’s nasal passage, it produces extremely high frequency clicks, squeaks and squeals that then echo off objects in the water, enabling the whale to get a high-resolution audio image of its surroundings.
“They can ‘see’ the fish and then they know to swim in that direction to catch it,” Geisler said.
The sound-producing mechanism is complex, with big muscles, air pockets and bodies of fat – all in a small facial area.
The sound is too high frequency for human ears to hear.
Modern-day whales that use echolocation possess a melon, or a fat-filled organ in the head, that focuses the sound wave. Geisler said he suspects that Cotylocara already had this organ.
The whale’s genus name, Cotylocara, means “cavity head” in recognition of a very deep pocket atop its skull thought to be associated with an air sinus used in echolocation.
Whales are not the only animals that use echolocation. Bats, which also first appeared more than 50 million years ago, use it while flying to pinpoint insects and other prey.
The first whales appeared more than 50 million years ago, arising from wolf-size land dwellers. Whales gradually became better suited to sea life and grew larger – one called Basilosaurus that lived about 40 million years ago was at least 56 feet long. Echolocation was a later adaptation.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; editing by Gunna Dickson)
[Image via Agence France-Presse]