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Author Topic: For All Daemon Souls and Dog Lovers  (Read 83775 times)
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« Reply #330 on: May 23, 2014, 06:26 AM »

PETA allowed to post anti-Sea World billboard at San Diego airport

By Reuters
Thursday, May 22, 2014 22:19 EDT

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – San Diego International Airport has agreed to run an animal rights group’s advertisement asking visitors to avoid SeaWorld, a major city tourist attraction that has faced criticism over shows featuring killer whales, a civil rights group said on Thursday.

The airport, which had balked at displaying the ad, agreed to do so as part of a legal settlement after an animal rights group sued in March accusing the airport and the company that handles its advertising of infringing on its free speech rights.

“There appears to have been viewpoint discrimination, and we are glad that issue was resolved,” said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, which helped represent People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the lawsuit.

Officials at San Diego International Airport, without admitting wrongdoing in a legal settlement filed this month, agreed to allow the PETA advertising poster to go up this week in the airport’s baggage claim area.

The ad welcomes visitors to San Diego and features film and television actress Kathy Najimy, a San Diego native. “If you love animals like I do, please avoid SeaWorld,” the script says.

The legal tussle over the advertisement comes as SeaWorld faces scrutiny over conditions for its killer whales, in large part due to last year’s broadcast of the documentary “Blackfish,” which tells the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld’s park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

A California Democratic lawmaker has said he was inspired by “Blackfish” to introduce legislation proposing to ban SeaWorld from using killer whales to perform tricks in famed “Shamu” shows at its California park. The bill was effectively killed last month, as other lawmakers called for more research.

SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz called the ad a publicity stunt, and said the park’s animals were healthy and happy and that SeaWorld was committed to ensuring their well-being.

“There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of animals than SeaWorld,” he said.

Representatives for the airport did not immediately return calls on Thursday.

An official with JCDecaux, which handles advertising at the airport, initially told PETA its ad featuring Najimy could not go up because it violated policies against “disparaging” and “demeaning” content, according to the lawsuit.

Najimy has guest-starred on the HBO comedy Veep, played a supporting role in Kirstie Alley’s 1990s sitcom Veronica’s Closet and had a supporting role in the 1992 film Sister Act.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Eric Walsh and David Gregorio)

[Image: A People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) poster featuring actress Kathy Najimy is pictured at the San Diego County Regional Airport, in this handout photo taken May 21, 2014, courtesy of PETA. REUTERS/PETA/Handout via Reuters]

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« Reply #331 on: May 30, 2014, 06:31 AM »

An Island Marred by a Ferry Disaster and Sustained by Dogs

MAY 29, 2014

DONJI-RI, South Korea — This hamlet of cinder-block huts with blue and red roofs slumbered in a drowsy repose. Weeds with yellow flowers grew in the corners of dusty front yards and through cracks in the pavement of deserted alleys. The town’s only “hagwon,” a private cram school, stood empty, because so many families with school-age children had moved away.

In those respects, Donji-ri, on Jindo — an island just southwest of the Korean Peninsula, near where a deadly ferry sinking occurred in April — was typical of rural towns in South Korea. The occasional motorist driving through the vales and green rice paddies of Jindo could easily miss this village of 300 homes — except for one major attention-grabber.

Carved into a hillside is a sign in white letters that motorists can see from hundreds of yards away: “Homecoming White Dog Village.”

Jindo, at least before the ferry disaster, was known largely for one thing: its dogs. And Donji-ri is the most dog-famous village on the island.

Called Jindo dogs, they are South Korea’s most celebrated canine breed, famous for their loyalty and homing instinct. Islanders tell different stories about the dogs’ origins. Some say the animals arrived with Mongolian invaders centuries ago. Others say their ancestors kept domesticated wolves. They all remember that their grandfathers used the dogs, distinctive for their perked ears and tails, to catch mice at home and to chase pheasants and deer on the hills.

Designated a national treasure in 1962, Jindo dogs recently found a powerful sponsor in President Park Geun-hye, who was given a couple of white ones by her neighbors in Seoul when she moved into the presidential Blue House early last year. In January, she praised the dogs’ companionship during a nationally televised news conference. She later urged public servants to learn from “the spirit of the Jindo dog.”

“Dogs are the pride of our island,” said Lee Seong-kyo, a Jindo official who runs a “Jindo dog theme park,” which houses a dog museum, a canine hospital and a training center. Each year on May 3, designated by the local government as Jindo Dog Day, the island hosts a Jindo dog contest. (This year, the show was canceled because of the ferry disaster.)

Jindo dogs are not just an obsession, though. They also provide a livelihood for many residents.

The island’s former mainstays, rice and other farms, have been driven out of business by cheap imports and the rising cost of local labor. As its human population plunged to 28,000 from around 100,000 in the 1970s, Jindo turned to its canine population, hoping to cash in on a pet-dog boom in South Korea.

Virtually every family on this island raises dogs; 30,000 to 50,000 puppies arrive every year, and go for as much as $1,000 apiece. No Jindo dog can leave the island without a government permit. To protect the local breed, the government controls other types of dogs entering the island and implants microchips in the shoulders of Jindo dogs that meet its detailed criteria on the shapes of ears, tail, head and legs.

But nowhere on the island is pride in the dogs more fierce than in Donji-ri.

It is an obsession that traces to one dead white dog. As the story goes, back in 1993, an old woman named Park Bok-dan was living alone with a 5-year-old dog named Baekgu, or “a white dog.” Ms. Park considered the dog a hassle, though, in that she produced litter after litter, as many as 12 puppies at a time.

Fed up, Ms. Park sold Baekgu. The last thing she heard from the dog trader was that he, too, had sold her, to a family in Daejeon, a city 186 miles north. (A bridge connects Jindo to the mainland.)

“Then, one October night seven months later, Mother was awakened by a whining and scratching sound at her door,” said Ms. Park’s son, Lee Ki-seo, 58, who keeps a photograph of his late mother with the white dog on his living-room wall. “Baekgu was there, grown thin after a long trip. Mother never parted from it again until it died.”

Up to that point, it was one of those dogs-returning-to-their-old-home stories, not unprecedented on this island famed for its canine exports.

Yet, Baekgu went on to become a legend after an upstart computer company called Sejin saw in her story a perfect symbol of the corporation’s loyalty to its customers. Sejin approached Ms. Park and Mr. Lee for a deal, and its commercial soon hit prime-time television.

With “You Needed Me” as the background music, the hugely popular commercial showed the “real-life story” of Baekgu making a cross-country journey to return to her old owner. It ended with the company’s slogan: “Once master, forever master.”

Journalists began trekking to the village to meet the dog. Baekgu was featured in children’s books, cartoons, even computer games. Poets sang her name. A national classical music institute went so far as to stage an opera in the dog’s honor.

Baekgu died in 2000 at the age of 12. Around that time, Sejin went bankrupt. Ms. Park died three years ago, at 89.

But this village was determined not to forget the dog that had put its name on the national map. Villagers buried Baekgu at the main entrance to the town and memorialized the grave with a tombstone, a bronze statue and a stone monument that said, “Growing children should learn from the loyal white dog.” Work is underway to build a park in the dog’s honor.

“Baekgu was too good not to remember,” said Park Gang-yul, 56, the head of an association of villagers who kept track of Baekgu’s descendants by issuing lineage certificates for their owners.

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« Reply #332 on: Jun 03, 2014, 05:59 AM »

Horrible: Animal rights group exposes ghoulish experiments on cats by UK universities

By Arturo Garcia
Monday, June 2, 2014 17:30 EDT

A British animal rights group accused 10 universities around the United Kingdom of conducting garish experiments on hundreds of cats between 2008 and 2012, the Independent reported.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) made its allegations in a study released on Monday saying 855 cats were used in 1,304 experiments designed to see “how cats ‘work.’”

In one experiment, the BUAV said, researchers at University College London anesthetized and restrained cats with clamps on their backs before screwing plates onto their skulls and attaching electrodes to nerves near their spines, ribcages and into their spinal cords. The research was designed to gauge “how abdominal nerve cells and muscles work together to allow for normal respiration, coughing and breathing.

In another experiment, cats were raised in total darkness to gain insight into “lazy eye.” The report named not only the London school, but the University of Cardiff, and University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“The information gained from cat research has little direct relevance to humans because of the fundamental nature of the work and the substantial differences between the two species,” the BUAV said in a statement. “Research on cats is cruel, unnecessary and unpopular. Sophisticated, humane and human-relevant techniques can be used instead.”

Two of the colleges listed in the report, University College London and the University of Cardiff, released separate statements saying that the experiments detailed by BUAV had not taken place in years; the London school said BUAV’s information covered tests conducted in 1992 and 1998, while the University of Cardiff said the tests listed took place four years ago.

“Animals are used in important research targeting diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, and parasitic diseases, and only where there are no alternatives,” the University of Cardiff said in its statement. “When doing so, the University adheres to extremely strict ethical and welfare guidelines and legislation and all work is licensed by the Home Secretary only when the benefits of doing so are made absolutely clear.”

But the BUAV said that the University College London experiments in which electrodes were put in cats’ brains was for research published in 2013.

“People will be shocked to learn that animals lare being treated like disposable research tools,” Humane Society International UK spokesperson Wendy Higgins told the Mirror. “But what makes it truly immoral is that these animals are losing their lives in experiments that have little scientific credibility whatsoever.”

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« Reply #333 on: Jun 03, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Texas woman shoots and abandons caged mother dog as puppies still try to suckle

By David Edwards
Monday, June 2, 2014 13:39 EDT

A Texas woman told police that she shot her caged dog and left it on the side of the road with a litter puppies still trying to suckle because she was “agitated” with the animal.

Parker County deputies arrested 44-year-old Tammy Green Douglas Sunday on charges of cruelty to a nonlivestock animal after the news went out on social media that authorities were looking for a suspect in the shooting, according to the Star-Telegram.

Authorities said that Douglas told them that she shot her 4-year-old heeler/shepherd mix, Aowa, in the head near her home with a 9 mm handgun, and then left the body in a cage with the 10 newborn puppies on Raley Road.

“Aowa was discovered early Thursday morning, May 28, 2014, inside a cage with her puppies nursing her deceased body, partially in the roadway on Raley Road in Springtown,” a statement from the Parker County Sheriff’s Office explained on Sunday.

“To a normal, caring human, this is an incomprehensible act,” Sheriff Larry Fowler noted. “I can’t imagine what the suspect thought theses puppies did in order to warrant her actions. Animal cruelty can never be justified.”

Douglas was released on $3,000 bond after being booked into the Parker County Jail.

The puppies were placed in the custody of Angels & Outlaws 2nd Chance Bully Ranch in Hico. Caretakers told KTVT that one of the puppies had died by Sunday afternoon.

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« Reply #334 on: Jun 04, 2014, 05:26 AM »

Why koalas hug trees to beat the heat

During hot weather the marsupials make the most of the cooler branches by sprawling out along them

Helen Davidson, Wednesday 4 June 2014 05.35 BST      

Tree-hugging koalas sprawled across low-hanging branches are desperately trying to cool down by using the dramatically lower temperatures inside trees, researchers have discovered.

With Australian heatwaves increasing in length and intensity, koalas have developed a new behaviour to deal with the heat, acting in much the same way as a human fed up with a scorching day – sprawling across a cold surface.

A study of a koala population conducted on French Island, near Melbourne, found that significantly cooler temperatures in tree trunks and thick branches during a heatwave provide relief to the animal which, unlike a lot of tree-dwelling mammals, does not use hollows or dens for shelter.

“They’re just stuck out on the tree all the time so when hot weather comes they’re completely exposed to it,” Dr Michael Kearney from the University of Melbourne’s Zoology department told Guardian Australia.

“When a heatwave comes the most effective way for the koala to lose heat is through evaporation. They don’t sweat but they can pant and lick their fur,” he said. However, in times of high heat and low rainfall, koalas, which don’t have sweat glands, cannot sustain the evaporation.

The team witnessed French Island koalas seeking out lower, cooler branches and laying listless and flat along the surface. This is not its usual posture.

“I sort of see it as ‘Oh I’m so hot, I’m going to lie down, but there’s more reason to it than that,” said Kearney, a co-author of the report.

“The fur on their tummy is quite a lot thinner than the fur on their backs, so they’re pushing that fur and that part of their body as much against the tree as possible.

“Any way that they can lose heat that doesn’t involve losing water is going to be a huge advantage to them. Dumping heat into the tree is one of those methods.”

The team of researchers from the university’s department of zoology, who were studying the effect of climate change on Australian animals, noticed the koalas’ unusual behaviour when the temperature increased. They used thermal imaging technology to further examine their observations.

“Tree temperature profiles showed strong congruence with observed koala behaviour patterns,” read the group’s research. “During hot weather average tree surface temperatures of the four dominant tree species at the site were significantly lower than local air temperatures.”

Surprisingly, a species of wattle was the coolest of all the studied trees. The act of leaving the edible gums and moving to a wattle tree had been observed before, but it was only now that the scientists had a better idea of why.

“It was [previously] thought that maybe they’re shadier or something like that, but in fact a big part of that behaviour in using non-food trees may be because they have cooler trunks,” Kearney said.

The wattle tree had base and mid-trunk temperatures that were up to 8.9C cooler than the air temperature.

“There are a couple of reasons why might be,” he said. “One is that a big tree has a lot of thermal inertia – they heat up and cool down more slowly that the ambient conditions. When it’s the peak heat of the day in terms of the air temperature the tree may not have caught up yet.

“Perhaps what’s even more important is that trees are drawing up cold water from underground. At least where we studied the koalas on French Island, it’s on average cold throughout the year, so the temperature underground is quite cool.”

Kearney predicts koalas will use this behaviour more and more as climate change leads to longer and more extreme heatwaves, and further research is needed on how temperatures will affect the geographical distribution of populations of koalas and other animals. If it’s too hot then no behavioural method will work.

“There are times when it gets far too hot for a koala in certain parts of Australia and that’s a constraint on where they can live,” he said. “That behaviour, that resource and micro climate in those trees are likely to be really important for a whole lot of other tree-dwelling species. It’s not just the koala that would use this behaviour.”

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« Reply #335 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:27 AM »

Utah state board approves September crow hunt to cull growing ‘nuisance issue’

By Reuters
Friday, June 6, 2014 20:03 EDT

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – Utah will hold its first ever crow hunt this fall as authorities try to contain the noise and mess from a population of the big, black birds that officials say has tripled over the last 12 years.

The state’s Wildlife Board voted 3-2 on Thursday to let hunters cull up to 10 crows each per day in September, and then again between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, an official said on Friday.

State data shows the crow population has grown some 300 percent since 2002, in part because they live mostly in urban areas across northern Utah where they are relatively safe from predators and have easy access to food.

As communities have grown bigger along the Wasatch Front, the number of crows has grown alongside them, said Blair Stringham, the state’s migratory game bird coordinator.

“It’s gotten to be a nuisance issue,” Stringham said.

“When they roost, it can be in groups of 1,000 or more, so there’s a lot of noise associated with that and a lot of fecal matter and mess, which people don’t like.”

The proposal was prompted by a growing number of complaints from urban residents, and from farmers who say the birds damage corn, fruit and grain crops.

Bird enthusiasts and other opponents of the plan say it will not solve the problem because hunting will remain prohibited in the urban neighborhoods where most crows are found.

Bill Fenimore is an avid hunter and Wildlife Board member who voted against the proposal. He said he doubted many of his fellow hunters would rush to kill the birds for food.

“Nobody’s going to go out to hunt crows because they are hungry,” said Fenimore. Crows look similar to protected ravens, he added, and he said he worried that younger, less experienced hunters might accidentally shoot the wrong birds.

Under the new rules, homeowners will also be allowed to kill nuisance birds if other means of driving them out, such as the use of shiny objects or loud noises, are unsuccessful.

Crows are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, but about 45 states allow them to be hunted, Stringham said.

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« Reply #336 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:29 AM »

Europe's vultures under threat from drug that killed millions of birds in Asia

After an ecological disaster in India, wildlife groups call for ban on vets using diclofenac in Italy and Spain

Robin McKie Science Editor
The Observer, Saturday 7 June 2014 12.06 BST      

Wildlife groups have launched a Europe-wide campaign to outlaw a newly approved veterinary drug that has caused the deaths of tens of millions of vultures in Asia. They say that the decision to allow diclofenac to be used in Spain and Italy not only threatens to wipe out Europe's vultures but could harm other related species, including the golden eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle, one of the world's rarest raptors.

Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory agent and painkiller, was introduced around the end of the 20th century in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh to treat sick cattle. But when the cattle's carcasses were eaten by vultures, the birds contracted a fatal kidney condition. Within a few years, vulture numbers had declined by a staggering 99.9% across south Asia. The worst-affected species included long-billed, slender-billed and oriental white-backed vultures. Dead cattle were left to rot without vultures to consume their flesh. Packs of feral dogs grew to fill the ecological gap. The risk of rabies also rose, said health experts. Now diclofenac has been approved for use in Italy and Spain.

"It defies common sense to approve of a drug when there is abundant, solid evidence to show that it is deadly to so many species of birds and that it causes such ecological damage," said José Tavares, director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation. "We now know diclofenac was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of vultures in India. Several species were brought to the brink of extinction in the process. Once the Indian government realised that, it banned diclofenac. That was in 2006. Now two countries in Europe have decided to give it the go-ahead. It is simply appalling."

Dr Toby Galligan of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: "It is utterly brainless to approve a drug which you know has killed tens of millions of birds in such a short space of time. Yet this is exactly what the Italian and Spanish governments have done. Based on some very, very poor risk assessments, they have given approval to an agent that could have devastating consequences for critically important large birds in Europe." Galligan's own research has found that diclofenac not only kills vultures but is also fatal to eagles of the genus Aquila whose members include the golden eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle. At present there are only about 300 pairs of imperial Spanish eagles left.

Most worries are focused on diclofenac's probable impact on vultures, which play a critical ecological role by rapidly disposing of animal carcasses before they rot. "In Africa, vultures have been in severe decline for a long time," said Tavares. "Then, in south Asia, we had the impact of diclofenac which has left the subcontinent with hardly any vultures."

Europe is now the last refuge of Old World vultures. (New World vultures, including Andean and Californian condors, are made up of different species.)

A spokesman for the UK's Veterinary Medicines Directorate said: "As a precautionary measure the VMD will not approve any requests from vets to import products containing diclofenac. Furthermore, we have agreed not to issue any export certificates which name diclofenac-containing products in the list of products to be exported."

In a bid to persuade the EU to ban diclofenac, a petition – set up privately in the UK – has been signed by 28,000 people so far. It calls on the European commissioner for health, Tonio Borg, and the commissioner for the environment, Janez Potocnik, to intervene. This could be done by diclofenac being referred to the EU medicines agency, which could ultimately ban the drug.

If you want to support the campaign to protect vultures, you can sign the petition at or contact the RSPB or Vulture Conservation Foundation.

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« Reply #337 on: Jun 08, 2014, 08:36 AM »

Chimpanzees make monkeys of humans in computer game

Chimpanzees playing each other in a simple matching game outperformed human players, apparently by paying closer attention to opponents’ patterns and adjusting more optimally, a new study says.

By Geoffrey Mohan
Los Angeles Times

When it comes to simple competitive games, chimps make a monkey out of humans and make a genius out of John Forbes Nash Jr.

Chimpanzees playing each other in a simple matching game outperformed human players, apparently by paying closer attention to opponents’ patterns and adjusting more optimally, according to a study published last week in Scientific Reports.

As a result, the chimps more often reached an equilibrium point described by Nash, where neither could do much better by adjusting strategy (think of all those frustrating stalemates in tic-tac-toe, for example).

Researchers believe the different outcomes could be the byproduct of a cognitive trade-off in the course of evolution. Humans left the trees and developed language, semantic thought and cooperation, while our distant cousins kept right on doing what made them so successful in the first place: competing, deceiving and manipulating.

Lost? Let’s follow the chimps.

It’s called the Inspection Game, and it’s kind of an abstraction of a two-person game of hide-and-seek. Each player faces a computer screen the other can’t see, and chooses between two blue squares, left or right. One player is rewarded for matching the other player (right-right or left-left), the other for mismatches.

Laboratory chimps in Kyoto, Japan, outperformed 16 Japanese university students, and did the same against 12 men playing the game with bottle caps in Bossou, Guinea. Humans in Africa were just as far off from the equilibrium point as in Asia, the study found.

Even when researchers switched matchers and mismatchers and tinkered with the rewards (matches on one side of the screen or bottle cap earned more), the results were consistent: Chimps play more like Nash predicted.

It’s not that Nash (played by Russell Crowe in the 2001 feature film “A Beautiful Mind”) was wrong about humans and right about chimps. It’s just that in certain strategic games, the older species is quicker and perhaps more “economical” in its calculations.

“It seems like they’re keeping better track of their opponents’ previous choices,” said Colin Camerer, a California Institute of Technology behavioral economist whose work on the neuroscience behind economic decision-making won him a MacArthur “Genius Grant” last year. “You can see, compared to the human subjects, they’re just more responsive. They’re keeping better ‘minds’ on what their opponents are doing.”

The Nash equilibrium is a concept that is more readily recognized and described mathematically. In this type of game, said Camerer, “it’s the point at which no one is leaving a pattern that leaves themselves vulnerable to exploitation. So there’s no more competitive improvement that they can get.”

How our primate cousins build on their memory of behavioral patterns and whether they conceptualize their counterparts’ minds have been hotly debated and won’t be resolved by the study, published Wednesday. But the results are consistent with previous work that shows a chimp advantage in several other competitively strategic tasks, according to the Caltech-Kyoto University research team.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a primatologist at Kyoto University and a study co-author, has shown previously that chimps are faster and more accurate than humans at tasks involving working memory. He suggests such expertise might have been reinforced by natural selection during chimpanzee evolution, while time diluted the skill among humans as they acquired more abstract cognition involved in language, a feature that also made humans more cooperative.

Or as Camerer put it: “One theory is that the humans are overthinking it, and the chimps have a simpler model.”
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« Reply #338 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:02 AM »

Rats regret their decisions, study finds   

BY Rebecca Jacobson  June 9, 2014 at 6:33 PM EDT

We bemoan our decisions when we get a bad deal or miss out. New research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience this week finds that regret may not be just a human emotion. It turns out rats also experience regret.

Researcher David Redish at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis set up a “restaurant row” for his lab rats. The “restaurants” consisted of four stops where the rat could receive one option of his favorite flavor foods — banana, cherry, chocolate and a fourth unflavored food. The rat stops at the entrance and presses a button, which made a sound. The pitch indicated how long the rat needed to wait for food, anywhere from one to 45 seconds. If the rat was impatient, it could walk to the next stop and try again. However, each rat had an hour to get through the course, so it needed to be efficient.

To watch how these decisions manifested in the brain, Redish and his colleagues wired electrodes into the rats’ brains, so they could monitor the neural activity in the orbitofrontal cortex. Specific neural patterns indicated which foods the rats were thinking about at the time.

The experiment replicates a common human dilemma, Redish said. You go to a restaurant, discover it has a long wait and decide to go somewhere else, only to find your second choice restaurant has an even longer wait.

To the researcher’s surprise, when the rat got a “bad deal” it immediately turned around and looked back at its first choice. It’s neural pattern changed, and it thought of the first-choice food.

“That’s the regret,” Redish told National Geographic.

But regret is not just wishfully thinking about the past. Redish found that the regretful rats were more likely to wait longer for a “bad deal” than they would normally. They also ate their less-desirable treat more quickly. A few of the rats learned from their mistake and their neural activity showed them planning their next food stop.

Which leads Redish to wonder: “Humans avoid regret. Do rats?”

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« Reply #339 on: Jun 11, 2014, 06:40 AM »

Famous French bear Balou found dead in Pyrenees

Bear controversially brought to France from Slovenia, and who had Gérard Dépardieu as its 'godfather', dies after apparent fall

Kim Willsher in Paris, Wednesday 11 June 2014 11.43 BST   
One of France's celebrated and controversial brown bears, introduced from Slovenia, has been found dead in the Pyrenees.

Experts say the animal, aged just 11 – who boasted actors Gérard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant as "godparents" – appeared to have fallen.

Balou was in competition with the alpha male of the southern European mountains, 26-year-old Pyros, who is believed to have fathered all other males in the region and is jealously protective of his harem.

Spanish officials are considering castrating or segregating Pyros – one of the oldest bears roaming the mountains – amid fears that his sexual dominance is threatening the genetic diversity of the species.

Pyros had previously excluded Balou from his bear group, leaving the younger male alone. He was frequently spotted wandering huge distances between France and Spain in search of a mate.

"The theory that he fell seems the most probable from the initial information we have been given. He was found in a relatively dangerous area and had injuries to the back and one of his paws consistent with a fall," the local prefecture announced.

The National Office for Hunting and Wild Fauna said it had sent specialists to the area after the Réseau Ours Brun (Brown Bear Network) reported seeing the body of a bear. Experts confirmed it was Balou, named after the clownish bear in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.

An autopsy is under way to establish the cause of death.

The Pyrenees mountains are one of the last great strongholds of the European brown bear in southern Europe. There are about 22 animals in the area, all of them from Slovenia and reintroduced as part of a controversial government programme after the last of France's indigenous brown bears, Canelle, was run over and killed in 2006.

Pyros was born in Slovenia in 1988 and released into the French Pyrenees in May 1997. He was already the dominant male in his group in Slovenia and immediately impressed the female bears – and researchers – by his ability to reproduce. He is the father of nearly all the bears born in the mountains since 1997.

Balou was born in Slovenia in 2003 and released in 2006 wearing a tracking collar. He appears to have established his territory in the east of Pyros's domain but was, according to trackers who last filmed him last month, mostly alone. He was the only male in the area not fathered by the older bear.

The French authorities say bears are a native species and should be present in France. Farmers counter that the bears are unwelcome and kill their livestock. Several bears have been shot by hunters, allegedly by mistake. Balou was injured in a shooting in 2008.

Brown bears originated about 600,000 years ago in China and were first reported in Europe about 250,000 years ago. They are the same species – ursus arctos – as the American grizzly.

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« Reply #340 on: Jun 12, 2014, 05:59 AM »

More than 90% of lemurs face extinction, IUCN warns

Updated 'red list' describes the primates as one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth

Jessica Aldred   
The Guardian, Thursday 12 June 2014   

More than 90% of lemurs are facing extinction, according to the latest global assessment of the world’s most threatened species.

The update to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) “red list”, which contains more than 73,000 species around the world, also warned that temperate slipper orchids and the Japanese eel have joined the list of the 22,103 species now classed by experts as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

With 90 species of lemur now classed as being at risk of extinction (91%), the primates are one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth. Of the 99 known species – which live only on the island of Madagascar off the coast of east Africa – 22 are critically endangered, including the largest living lemur, the large-bodied Indri (Indri indri). Almost half (48 species) are endangered, including the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae). Twenty lemurs were listed as vulnerable to extinction.

Lemurs are threatened by the destruction of their tropical forest habitat in Madagascar, where political instability and rising levels of poverty in the past 20 years have accelerated illegal logging. As much as 90% of the original natural vegetation on the island has been destroyed and what remains is severely fragmented. Lemurs – members of the primate family – are also being hunted for food.

Dr Thomas Lacher, of Texas A&M University, said: “The high level of threat among lemurs is particularly troubling and calls for significant conservation action. These distinctive primates serve a critical role in the threatened ecosystems of Madagascar. They also represent an important source of tourism revenue for the country, and as a result are a clear case where conservation can provide local economic benefits.”

The red list also flagged up the threat to slipper orchids, finding that 79% of the popular ornamental plants found in North America, Europe and temperate parts of Asia are threatened with extinction.

The plants, which have slipper-shaped flowers that trap insects to ensure pollination, have suffered from habitat loss and over-collection of the wild species for trade, even though international trade is regulated.

“What was most surprising about this assessment was the degree of threat to these orchids,” said Hassan Rankou of the IUCN’s orchid specialist group, which is based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Slipper orchids are popular in the multimillion-dollar horticultural industry. Although the industry is sustained by cultivated stock, conservation of wild species is vital for its future.”
Undated handout photo issued by IUCN of a Japanese Eel, a traditional delicacy and the country's most expensive food fish, is now endangered according to the latest global assessment of at-risk species. A Japanese eel, a traditional delicacy and the country's most expensive food fish, is now endangered according to IUCN red list. Photograph: IUCN/PA

Other species of concern are the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica), a traditional delicacy and the country’s most expensive food fish, which has been listed as endangered due to loss of habitat, overfishing, barriers to migration, pollution and changes to oceanic currents. The freckled cypripedium (Cypripedium lentiginosum) plant, which has fewer than 100 individuals left in south-eastern Yunnan in China and the Ha Giang province of Vietnam, was also listed as endangered due to over-collection and deforestation.

The banana orchid (Myrmecophila thomsoniana), the national flower of the Cayman Islands, had been assessed for the first time and listed as endangered due to loss of habitat for housing and tourism developments.

A reassessment of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) – the mascot for this year’s football World Cup – found it remained vulnerable to extinction and has declined by more than one-third in the past 10-15 years due to loss of half its shrubland habitat.

But there was good news for Israel’s Yarkon bream (Acanthobrama telavivensis), a fish species whose status went from extinct in the wild to vulnerable as a result of a captive breeding programme and release of 9,000 fish into restored habitat in the country’s rivers.

Some 73,686 species were assessed by conservationists for the red list, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. The latest update listed 4,554 species as critically endangered, 6,807 species as endangered and 10,742 species as vulnerable to extinction.

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« Reply #341 on: Jun 15, 2014, 08:08 AM »

Anna Friel 'shocked' by her success as oil firm pulls out of Congo park

Campaigner and actress warns that gorillas may still not be safe in troubled nature reserve

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Sunday 15 June 2014    

Actress Anna Friel has said she was still "completely in shock" at the unexpected decision last week of British oil and gas company Soco to pull out of exploration plans in Africa's oldest national park, something she has been campaigning for on behalf of the wildlife charity WWF.

But while delighted at the decision, she warned vigilance was needed over what happened next in the park, situated in the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She vowed to step up her own efforts as a conservation campaigner, saying: "It's still not safe and we really can't rest on our laurels."

In the weekend that actress Angelina Jolie was given an honorary damehood, Friel defended celebrities using their fame to promote causes they care about.

"Well-known people are given a profile in the media and it seems to me to make sense to use that profile responsibly to highlight the causes closest to their hearts. In my case it concerned the unnecessary exploitation of Virunga and helped, for the time being at least, to preserve a precious world heritage region.

"I was delighted my daughter was able to join me as I feel it's equally important for us to educate and hopefully pass on our sense of responsibility and concern for issues that are not just in our own backyard. It is surely important to stand up and be counted, if you believe strongly enough in the stance that you have taken."

In what is one of the greatest successes by wildlife conservationists in many years, several groups had been campaigning against the Soco presence, especially after the DRC government indicated it was likely to give the company permission to drill. Last-minute mediation between WWF and Soco led to a joint statement being issued, just as Friel was planning a Trafalgar Square demonstration against any drilling in the area, home to the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world.

It marked the end of what had become a personal issue between the Yorkshire actress and the oil company, which had attacked her for making a film about the Virunga from over the border in Rwanda. "It was ridiculous," said the stage and film actress. "I went out there to make a film with Stephen Poliakoff about the park and the threat posed to it but because of violence in the Congo we couldn't cross the border so we filmed in Rwanda with the park behind me. And I quite clearly say that in the film. To start attacking me was an attempt to get away from the point."

Friel, who went to Virunga initially to see the gorillas, along with her then eight-year-old daughter Gracie, ended up becoming the public face of the WWF campaign after hearing about the danger posed to the area. "I suppose it was quite a political thing to do but once I had seen the gorillas, and got into things a little deeper, and realised just how serious the situation facing them was, then it was the only thing to do.

"It's a region of outstanding beauty. Mainly because it is untouched. Lush virgin rainforests stretching further than the eye can see. It created for me a deep feeling of calm, peace and tranquillity. I felt honoured to share it's serenity.

"My involvement in what was a wider campaign was minor, compared to the people who are devoting their lives to this cause, but I'm proud to have been part of it."

Virunga was designated a world heritage site in 1979 but since then has become one of the world's most volatile regions. The park has been at the heart of intense fighting between armies and militias like the Mai Mai rebel group for more than 20 years and is home to tens of thousands of people who fled the genocide in Rwanda. Many park rangers have been killed, by poachers or militias, and last month the Virunga chief warden, Emmanuel de Mérode, was shot and seriously wounded.

The joint statement with WWF and Soco read: "Soco has agreed with WWF to commit not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga national park unless Unesco and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its world heritage status.

"We will complete our existing operational programme including completing the seismic survey on Lake Edward which is due to conclude shortly. The company confirms its previous statements that no Block V drilling commitments have ever been made. The conclusion of this phase of work will give the DRC government vital information it will need in deciding how to proceed in Virunga national park."

The threat to the last remaining natural habitat for mountain gorillas has been further highlighted in the documentary by director Orlando Von Einsiedel, Virunga: The Movie, which is being screened in the US to critical acclaim.

WWF experts believe that, if managed sustainably, Virunga could be the source of 45,000 jobs through eco-tourism, hydropower renewable energy and fishing. Thousands already rely on the park and its bordering lake for food and water and past examples of oil exploration in Africa by multinational companies have left whole swaths of land polluted.

"The trip was, to coin a cliche, life changing and life affirming for me. My upbringing made me aware of the fragile nature of our planet, and the need to protect it. We are not all imperialist interlopers in this global community. There are so many inspiring people out there fighting the fight, daily, to protect our planet. Robert Ddamulira from WWF told me how the age of easily obtainable oil is over, and the few reserves left are in unique places like Virunga."

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« Reply #342 on: Jun 15, 2014, 08:24 AM »

Worry Under the Big Top as Mexico City Moves to Ban Circus Animals

JUNE 14, 2014

MEXICO CITY — It is a weekday evening under the circus tent, and Bebeto Fuentes does it all effortlessly. He soars on the trapeze, vaults on and off a cantering horse, keeps an eye on the tigers, spins off the trampoline and takes a turn as a melancholy clown.

But once he is out of the ring, he talks anxiously, worry on his young face. If the ban on circus animals that was approved here last week goes ahead, he said, the Fuentes Gasca Brothers Circus, founded by his grandparents, will not survive.

“My grandmother taught my father; he taught us,” said Mr. Fuentes, 20, who appears with his brothers as the Fuentes Boys, twice each evening and four times on Sundays. “I was born among the tigers and the monkeys.”

Mexico City’s legislative assembly voted last week to prohibit animals from appearing in circuses, a ban that will take effect a year after the law is published in the city register. That may take awhile: The city government has agreed to meet with circus owners first. The ban echoes rising concern in many countries about the treatment of circus animals, stoked by undercover videos circulated by animal rights groups on social media, investigative magazine articles and high-profile lawsuits.

Mexico’s tight-knit community of family-owned circuses, whose big tops seem like a midcentury relic compared with the glittering spectacle that most Americans know, is on the defensive, arguing that a cherished Mexican tradition would vanish and tens of thousands of people, many of them the working poor, would be thrown out of work.

“We know how to put on a show without animals, but people don’t want to see it,” said Armando Cedeño, the president of the National Union of Circus Owners and Performers, who began his career as a trapeze artist when he was a boy. “People say they would prefer to see a horse rather than the best trapeze artist.”

Supporters of the ban say that it is an attempt to restore dignity to animals.

“It isn’t in a bear’s nature to wear roller skates,” said Jesús Sesma Suárez, the city legislator who introduced the bill. “It isn’t in a tiger’s nature to jump through a flaming ring. It isn’t in an elephant’s nature to sit on a stool. Our thinking has to evolve.”

Six Mexican states have already banned circus animals, and there are full-blown bans or local bans in most Latin American countries. Many countries in Europe ban wild animals from circuses, and a few ban all animals.

The United States lags behind other countries, although a growing number of municipalities have begun to pass partial bans, said Delcianna Winders, a lawyer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The ban is an issue that has gained some traction for Mr. Sesma’s Green Ecologist party, which despite its name has failed to convince many voters of its concern for the environment. One reason may be that its last big cause was a failed push to restore Mexico’s death penalty.

Circus families ask why advocates’ concern for animals does not extend to a much crueler spectacle: bullfighting.

Beginning in September, politicians and businessmen will assemble on Sundays at Mexico City’s Plaza México to see and be seen as the bulls in the ring below are baited and speared.

Bullfighting, Mr. Sesma said, is a battle the Green party simply cannot win, even if it tried.

Ms. Winders, too, said that PETA had not taken on the bullfighting industry directly in Mexico because “it was seen as more realistic to get circus animals banned.”

“There was a rising tide of opposition to animals in circuses,” she said. “It has become less and less popular to go to the circus.”

But Mr. Cerdeño sees a more personal motive behind the animal rights movement’s Mexican campaigns. “They aren’t against animal mistreatment,” he said. “They aren’t against bullfights, cockfights, horse races. It’s an attack against the Mexican circus.”

The circus families argue that they are an easy political target because their audience has no political power.

“This show is for the people who can’t afford to go to Las Vegas to see Cirque du Soleil,” said Bebeto’s brother Juventino, 23, referring to the expensive Canadian circus featuring acrobats and other performers. A ticket to his circus could go for as little as $2.30, with the most expensive ticket costing $15.40. “Ordinary people go to the Mexican circus.”

The four Fuentes brothers say that attendance is dropping because of the campaign against them. But they argue that removing the animals from their show will drive everyone away. “The image of the circus are the animals,” said Bebeto Fuentes.

Before the show, Bebeto and Juventino Fuentes led the way to an animal enclosure behind the tent pitched at the edge of a Sam’s Club parking lot.

A dromedary, two llamas, a zebra and three horses stood in pens on fresh sawdust. Nearby, five Siberian tigers, somnolent after lunch, lie in small cages.

“The best shield against the tigers is to keep them super full,” said Juventino Fuentes.

Because space is tight in Mexico City, the tigers are confined to the cages for much of the day, but when the circus is in the countryside, the tigers are given a larger enclosure, he said.

A caged tunnel leads the tigers into the big top, but come showtime, they are sleepy and have to be coaxed into the ring. They sit on stools, roar at Alex Fuentes, 30, a third brother who is their trainer. They take a couple of desultory jumps through flaming hoops before sauntering back through the tunnel.

The animal portion makes up less than a quarter of the fast-paced show, which is just under two hours. At the end, beaming children cluster around the Fuentes brothers in the lobby as parents snap photographs.

Bebeto Fuentes will do it all again in an hour for the second show of the night, as he will for as long as the circus survives.

“The day things go bad,” he said, “my animals will eat before I do.”

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« Reply #343 on: Jun 19, 2014, 08:32 AM »

Passenger pigeon mounts return, century after extinction

A century ago, Martha, a red-eyed, gray and brown bird famous as the last surviving passenger pigeon, keeled over, marking an extinction that shook science and the public.

Susan Walsh / The Associated Press


It was the moment that humanity learned we had the awesome power to erase an entire species off the face of the Earth in the scientific equivalent of a blink of an eye: The passenger pigeon went from billions of birds to extinct before our very eyes.

It was one bird’s death after many. But a century ago, Martha, a red-eyed, gray and brown bird famous as the last surviving passenger pigeon, keeled over, marking an extinction that shook science and the public.

A century later, Martha’s back, in a way. She is being taken out of the file cabinets of history in a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit this month that reminds the public of her death and of other species that have gone extinct because of humans. A new study published this week shows how pigeon populations fluctuated wildly, but how people ultimately killed off the species.

Some geneticists are working on the longshot hope of reviving the passenger pigeon from leftover DNA in stuffed birds.

“Here was a bird like the robin that everybody knew and within a generation or two, it was gone — and we were its cause,” Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm said.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird species on Earth. In 1866 in Ontario, one flock of billions of birds, 300 miles long and one mile wide, darkened the skies for 14 hours as it flew by overhead. Unlike the domesticated carrier pigeon used for messages, these were wild birds.

And famed naturalist John James Audubon once described a mile-wide migratory flock that darkened the Kentucky skies for days in 1813 — and brought the Louisville population to the banks of the Ohio River with guns.

The birds were easy to catch because they stayed together. They were considered a poor man’s food; domestic workers complained about eating too much passenger pigeon.

“Nobody ever dreamed that a bird that common could be brought into extinction that quickly,” said University of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Bob Zink.

Population fluctuation

Examination of the passenger pigeon’s genetic code shows that its population ping-ponged regularly from up to 5 billion to as few as tens of millions, said a study co-authored by Zink in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released Monday.

The passenger-pigeon population probably swelled, crashed and recovered cyclically over the past million years, based on climate, food and other factors, the study said. By the late 1800s, the bird population may have been in a down cycle that was exacerbated by overhunting and land clearing.

Indeed, the chief causes of the extinction — cutting down Eastern U.S. forests and hunting — were man-made, Zink said. “Passenger pigeons always reached lows like this, it’s just this time their luck ran out because we were around,” Zink said.

By 1900, there we no passenger pigeons left in the wild. By 1914, there was just 29-year-old Martha — named for Martha Washington — at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. People lined up to see her. She was a star.

On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha was found lying on the bottom of her cage. The passenger pigeon was officially extinct. It had gone from billions of birds to zero in about one century, probably less.

It was the first public extinction, something people used to think happened only to relics of the past such as dinosaurs, or critters stuck on islands such as dodos, Pimm and other scientists said.

“This was a real wake-up call for the public and frankly for scientists, too,” said Helen James, curator of birds at the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of History. “Ornithologists studied birds and they didn’t really think of species becoming extinct.”

But they did. And Martha was put in a 300-pound block of ice and shipped to Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian. She was stuffed and mounted, and continued as a star. When she traveled back to Cincinnati or to San Diego for a big conservation conference, she flew in a first-class seat.

But her star faded. For the past 15 years, she has been in a drab metal filing cabinet in the bowels of the Smithsonian, stuck on the same stick with an older stuffed unrelated pigeon named George. They were separated Monday. George was put back in storage and a prettied-up Martha was ready for a comeback. An exhibit on her extinction and the 100th anniversary opens June 24 at the Smithsonian.

DNA resurrection

If scientists can figure it out, there may be a bigger comeback in the offing. The passenger pigeon is the prime candidate for something new: de-extinction.

Some top geneticists in a nonprofit are looking to see if they can create living versions of the passenger pigeon, by editing the DNA of the closely related band-tailed pigeons, growing those birds from embryo and breeding them. It would cost millions and take at least a decade, said Ben Novak, lead researcher of the group, Revive & Restore of San Francisco.

Pimm and Zink don’t like the idea, ethically or practically.

Novak sees a world on the verge of a mass extinction of many species and feels something has to be done about it. Reviving some long-lost species may offer “a type of justice for what we’re doing now” and also teach people, “It’s so much easier to keep something alive than to bring it back to life.”

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« Reply #344 on: Jun 23, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Angry Japanese farmers say their animals are poisoned by radiation

By GlobalPost
Sunday, June 22, 2014 10:00 EDT

Angry farmers from Fukushima brought a large cow to the center of Tokyo Friday to demand Japan's government investigate a disease they say cattle have developed since the nuclear disaster three years ago.

Operators of nonprofit "Kibo no Bokujo," or "Farm of Hope," delivered a full-size black cow to the front of the agriculture ministry to demand an investigation into why it and many other animals have developed white dots on their skin since reactors went into meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

The farm is located only 14 kilometers (nine miles) from the nuclear plant and is keeping some 350 cows that were abandoned in the area when their owners had to evacuate because of radiation contamination.

"Our cows cannot be shipped as meat. They are evidence of lives affected by radiation," said Masami Yoshizawa, leader of the farm, in front of the ministry, as his supporters and media looked on.

Fellow Fukushima farmer Naoto Matsumura said: "What if this started happening to people? We have to examine the cause of this and let people know what happened to these animals."

The vast farmland in Fukushima has been contaminated by radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant, forcing tens of thousands of local residents to give up their homes to live in temporary shelters.

The government says it could take decades to clean the region, but scientists say many residents may never be able to return because of the contamination.
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