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« Reply #360 on: Jul 24, 2014, 06:17 AM »


Conservationists call for Canary Islands whale sanctuary instead of oil scheme

World Wide Fund for Nature launches campaign as Repsol announces that exploratory drilling could start in October

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 July 2014 17.03 BST   

Months before oil exploration is slated to begin in the Canary Islands, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is calling on the Spanish government to abandon the search for oil and instead create a sanctuary for whales and dolphins in the region.

The waters off the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are home to nearly a third of the world's cetacean species. "We're talking about an area that's Europe's richest when it comes to whales and one of the top in the world," said WWF Spain's secretary general, Juan Carlos del Olmo.

The group launched its campaign just as the Spanish oil and gas company Repsol announced that exploratory drilling in the region could start as early as October. If the project moved forward, Del Olmo said, oil extraction would put the whales and dolphins at constant threat of oil spills, contamination and loud noises.

Since the launch on Tuesday, more than 5,000 people have signed a petition backing the campaign.

Del Olmo said the idea had come from the Spanish government. In 2011, concerned about the death of several whales in the region due to noise pollution, the environment minister examined the possibility of creating a protected zone. "What we've done is simply take the government's own proposal and said, listen, here is scientific data showing that this zone is vital for whales and it just happens to be where Repsol has a permit to prospect for oil."

Plans to explore for oil in the region have been vigorously opposed by many across Spain, including environmental groups and locals who worry that it could jeopardise tourism, one of the principal drivers of the regional economy. Last month, Spain's supreme court threw out several challenges against the project, paving the way for the exploration to go forward.

Last week, the Repsol spokesperson Marcos Fraga said the company "respected" the protests, but the strong reaction was premature. The company was simply looking to determine whether the oil reserves existed and the costs associated with accessing them. "From there, we can open a quiet, calm debate regarding the pros and cons, to take a decision as a company, as a society and as a country," Fraga told Teide Radio. "But the discovery of hydrocarbons would be good news for the country," he added.

On Tuesday, Spain's industry and tourism minister, José Manuel Soria, described the exploration as necessary, saying that Spain "cannot afford the luxury" of not knowing whether it has gas or oil reserves in its territory. Spain imports 99% of its hydrocarbons. "Just knowing whether these reserves are available is a strength for the Spanish economy," he told a business forum.

Oil exploration would take place at least 30 miles from the shore, next to where Morocco is prospecting for oil. It would be ridiculous, Soria said, if Morocco found oil or gas while Spain refused even to investigate the idea.

Soria, who is from the island of Gran Canaria, pointed to the 33% unemployment rate on the Canary Islands as a reason to move forward with exploration. "It's not because there's a crisis, but rather because there just isn't any industry there."

Del Olmo dismissed the minister's link between oil exploration and Spain's fragile economy. "Betting on oil is betting on the past," he said. "The future of the Canary Islands isn't in installing oil platforms off its coasts, but rather in cultivating quality tourism, nature conservation and renewable energies."


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« Reply #361 on: Jul 26, 2014, 06:00 AM »

Giant anteaters kill two hunters in Brazil

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 26, 2014 3:16 EDT

Giant anteaters in Brazil have killed two hunters in separate incidents, raising concerns about the animals’ loss of habitat and the growing risk of dangerous encounters with people, researchers said.

The long-nosed, hairy mammals are not typically aggressive toward people and are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), largely due to deforestation and human settlements that encroach on their territory.

However, they have poor vision and if frightened, they may defend themselves with front claws that are as long as pocketknives.

The case studies of two fatal attacks by giant anteaters were described in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, which released the paper online this month, ahead of its publication in the December print issue.

“Both were farmers, were hunting and were attacked by wounded or cornered animals,” lead author Vidal Haddad of the Botucatu School of Medicine at Sao Paulo State University told AFP.

In the first case, a 47-year-old man was hunting with his two sons and his dogs when they came upon a giant anteater in northern Brazil. The hunter did not shoot at the animal, but he approached it with his knife drawn.

The anteater stood on its hind legs and grabbed the man with its forelimbs, causing deep puncture wounds in his thighs and upper arms.

The hunter bled to death at the scene, said the report, which noted that the encounter happened on August 1, 2012 but had not been described in scientific literature until now.

The other case involved a 75-year-old man who died in 2010 when an anteater used its long front claws — which typically help it dig into anthills — to puncture his femoral arteries, located in the groin and thigh.

“These injuries are very serious and we have no way of knowing whether it is a defense behavior acquired by the animals,” said Haddad.

He stressed that such attacks are rare, but said they are important because they show the need for people to give wild animals plenty of space.

- Easily startled -

Giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are believed to be extinct in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Uruguay. Some 5,000 exist in the wild and can be found in parts of Central and South America.

Overall their numbers have declined about 30 percent in the past decade due to habitat loss, roadkills, hunting, wildfires and burning of sugar cane plantations, according to the IUCN.

They range in length from four to seven feet (1.2-2 meters), and may weigh as much as 100 pounds (45 kilograms).

Giant anteaters eat mainly insects but they also enjoy citrus and avocados, according to zookeeper Rebecca Lohse who works with them in captivity at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona.

“They are animals that can startle quickly — planes going overheard, chainsaws, leaf blowers can startle them,” she said.

“The way they defend themselves is by standing up on their rear legs and swinging their front legs in from the side,” she explained.

“They have incredibly muscular forearms and those claws are several inches long.”

Zookeepers generally avoid being in the same space as the animals, coaxing them into separate fenced-off areas when they approach their living quarters for cleaning, she added.

Anteater expert Flavia Miranda, who works with the animals in Brazil, said she was concerned that the journal article could cause more woes for a creature that already faces plenty of threats to its livelihood.

“We have a lot of problems with this species because people believe that (they) bring bad luck and kill the animal on purpose,” she told AFP in an email.

“But I understand the importance of the article because recently I also had an accident with a giant anteater that almost cost me my life.”

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« Reply #362 on: Jul 28, 2014, 06:32 AM »


How Rwanda's gorillas are helping to sustain entire communities

A tourism revenue-sharing scheme has helped finance hundreds of community projects and benefitted thousands of people

Usher Komugisha in Kinigi and Andy Nicolson   
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 07.00 BST      

Console Nyirabatangana sits on a stool outside her three-bedroom house preparing the evening meal and, as the sun sets over Volcanoes national park in north-west Rwanda, she reflects on another day of being thankful.

Facing the towering peaks that have in many ways contributed to her wellbeing, Nyirabatangana is in a hurry to have dinner ready in time for her family. She cuts tomatoes and onions, and peels Irish potatoes, all from her garden. With a smile, she sings along to a song on the radio.

If it were not for an innovative approach to tourism, however, life would have been very different for the 55-year-old. A decade ago, Nyirabatangana was living below the poverty line of $2 a day. She could barely afford one meal a day for her family. "We went hungry for days and woke up every morning wishing we could get just a meal a day," she says. "It was a difficult time for us."

The mother of five, whose husband died in 1995, has been able to feed and educate her children using the money extended to members of her community through one of the projects funded by gorilla tourism in Rwanda. Her eldest child, Christine Ndacyayisaba, 22, completed school and a diploma in education, and is a teacher in Gasizi, a village in Musanze, near the national park.

Rwanda is well known for mountain gorillas – an endangered species found only in the border areas between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – and hosted more than a million visitors between 2006-13, generating from the national parks alone $75m (£44m) in tourism revenue in that time; 85% of this is from trekkers who come to see some of the country's 500 gorillas.

In 2005, the Rwandan government initiated a tourism revenue-sharing scheme, whereby 5% of annual income from national parks is disbursed to communities. As a result, $1.83m has been distributed over the past nine years to fund 360 community projects across the country, ranging from roads, bridges, bee-keeping, water and sanitation, small and medium enterprises, and handicrafts. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) estimates that 39,000 people have benefitted from this tourism.

The home of the Rwandan gorillas is the Volcanoes national park in Kinigi, close to the border with DRC, where communities are allocated 40% of the scheme; communities around Nyungwe forest in the south-west and Akagera national park in the east each receive 30%.

NGOs are involved in the implementation of community initiatives, but the government works hard to ensure that decisions on which projects get funded are made locally. "We sit down with community leaders and decide how to distribute the money according to the priorities in the area, to address the issues that prevail in the area," says the RDB's conservation division manager, Telesphore Ngoga.

Transparency is ensured by regular follow-ups and by the presentation of financial reports at monthly and annual meetings of the RDB, community leaders and the boards that run the various cooperatives.

Many of the projects incorporate a strong theme of sustainability. In the past, for example, villagers would go into the forests of the Volcanoes park to collect wild honey, interrupting the delicate ecosystem that sustains the gorilla populations. However, thanks to the tourism revenue, communities formed cooperative societies, and some have become bee-keepers and farmers.

In addition to community projects, the tourism revenue has been used for public works – the government has built 57 primary schools in 13 districts, serving approximately 13,700 students over the past decade, 12 health centres have been built, along with roads and bridges.

However, the scheme has not had universal approval. Jean de Muru Habyarabatuma, who has been a guide at Volcanoes for five years, says he does not profit from the tourism sector. He is neither paid for his services nor does he receive any of the money given to other members of the community. "I have been working in this park since 2009 and I have never received any money like the other people," the 35-year-old father of three said.

Habyarabatuma survives on the little money he gets from odd jobs such as clearing people's compounds. He says he has complained many times to the park officials, but because he loves the work and has always dreamed of being part of conservation efforts in his community, he continues to work as a guide, albeit an unpaid one.

For Nyirabatangana, though, the scheme has transformed her and her children's lives. She was able to buy a hectare of land to grow potatoes, and says: "As a widow, this project has helped me to run my family including paying school fees, buying food and facilitating my farming.

"I really don't know what would have happened to us if we weren't part of this scheme. Our lives have completely turned around and now we can afford to have a nice meal three times a day and buy clothes."


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« Reply #363 on: Jul 28, 2014, 06:51 AM »

IL cop shoots 6-year-old girl’s pet in head as she watches: ‘The dog wasn’t doing anything’

By David Edwards
RawStory
Monday, July 28, 2014 8:41 EDT

Police in Illinois promised a full investigation over the weekend after a Chicago-area officer shot a family’s dog in the head as its 6-year-old owner watched.

Mother Nicole Echlin told WMAQ that their 1-year-old shepherd-mix Apollo escaped on Friday, and the family was returning home just as officers from the Hometown Police Department were arriving.

“We were in the lawn and the cop already had his gun out,” Echlin explained. “I tried to call him in the house and he just stood there staring and I guess he showed his teeth and the cop just shot him, right in front of me and my 6-year-old daughter.”

The daughter immediately “started screaming,” Echlin recalled.

Neighbors who witnessed the shooting insisted to WMAQ that the dog had not tried to attack the officers.

“The dog wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t see it doing anything, it wasn’t barking,” Nicco Torres observed. “Then I saw a cop shoot the dog, the dog fell to ground on the lawn. I saw through the window the dog was on the floor shot but the dog was still moving, it was moving its legs like it was trying to run but it was laying down.”

Apollo’s co-owner, Kristy Scialabba, who is Echlin’s 23-year-old sister and works at an animal care center, said that the dog was not aggressive.

“I don’t know why they would pull out a gun they had so many other options,” Scialabba pointed out. “And to shoot a dog in front of a child, that’s going to scare her for the rest of her life.”

In a statement on Hometown Police Department’s Facebook page, Chief Charles Forsyth promised a “full investigation.”

“It would be too early for me to make any statement without reviewing all the facts,” Forsyth said. “I can assure the people of Hometown that a full investigation of the incident will be conducted.”

Apollo died on Saturday after being treated at an animal hospital.

“We’re just completely broken and we really don’t know what to do,” Scialabba lamented. “That was my boy, that was my dog. This is hometown you don’t hear anything like this. Nothing ever happens here.”

The family is using a “Justice for Apollo” Facebook page to promote a rally outside the police department on August 3, and to sell T-shirts.


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« Reply #364 on: Jul 28, 2014, 06:53 AM »

Georgia cop shoots dog, threatens owner with arrest when he attempts to take dog to the vet

By Tom Boggioni
RawStory
Sunday, July 27, 2014 19:41 EDT

A Georgia man has accused a Dekalb County police officer of shooting his dog and then threatening him with arrest when he attempted to take the dog to a veterinarian in order to save its life.

Speaking with 11 Alive Atlanta, Tim Theall said he could understand why the officer shot the dog, after being taken by surprise while responding to a burglary call, but he couldn’t understand why the officer attempted to block him from saving the dog.

“No steps were taken by DeKalb police whatsoever to try to save my dog’s life,” Tim Theall said.

The dog, a 9-year-old German Shepard named Doctor, survived and is expected to recover, leaving his owner with extensive medical bills.

According to Theall, he let Doctor out of a fenced backyard and the dog immediately ran to the front of the house. Before Theall could follow he heard two shots, and an officer exclaim, “Holy [expletive].”

According to authorities the officers were responding to false alarm in the neighborhood.

Theill came around the corner of his to find his dog, shot through the jaw. When Thiell attempted to take the wounded dog to the hospital, he says the police officer attempted to block him.

“The dog was still alive clearly, bleeding like crazy,” Thiell recalled. “And the police officer blocked my exit.”

Thiell claims the officer blocked his car several times as he and his wife attempted to leave with the dog.

“Finally he convinced me that I would be thrown in jail if I didn’t just stay where I was,” Thiell said.

After other officers arrived, Thiell was finally allowed to take Doctor to the vet, more than an hour after the shooting.

According to Thiell’s wife, Melissa Brewer, the officer who shot the dog said animal control had been contacted and would be arriving to “assist.”

On a gofundme page she set up to help with veterinary bills, Brewer wrote, “I find out that animal control was told to come pick up a dead dog and had no idea about the dog needing help aka still being alive. I asked the cop who shot him why he lied and he stated that he never promised help was coming.”

In a statement, DeKalb County Police spokesman Capt. Stephen Fore said that the incident was under investigation, adding that officers are trained to preserve evidence at a shooting scene. Fore said but he understood Thiell’s concern over the dog not being taken for treatment immediately, and that the department’s policies would be reviewed.


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« Reply #365 on: Jul 28, 2014, 06:55 AM »

Vietnam’s taste for ‘little tiger’ leaves cat owners in constant fear

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 6:58 EDT

The enduring popularity of “little tiger” as a snack to accompany a beer in Vietnam means that cat owners live in constant fear of animal snatchers, despite an official ban.

At an unassuming restaurant next to a carwash in central Hanoi, a cat is prepared for hungry clients: drowned, shaved and burned to remove all fur before being cut up and fried with garlic.

“A lot of people eat cat meat. It’s a novelty. They want to try it,” said the establishment’s manager To Van Dung, 35.

Vietnam has forbidden the consumption of cats in an effort to encourage their ownership and keep the capital’s rat population under control.

But there are still dozens of restaurants serving cat in Hanoi and it is rare to see felines roaming the streets — most pet-owners keep them indoors or tied up out of fear of cat thieves.

Such is the demand from restaurants that cats are sometimes smuggled across the border from Thailand and Laos.

Dung said that he had never had problems with the law. He buys his cats from local breeders but also so-called cat traders, with few checks on their sourcing.

“Little tiger” is typically enjoyed at the start of each lunar month, unlike dog meat which is eaten at the end.

On a busy day, the restaurant can serve around 100 clients.

“I know in the United States and Britain they don’t eat cat. But here we do,” Nguyen Dinh Tue, 44, said as he chewed on a piece of fried cat meat.

“I don’t kill the cat! But this place sells it so I like to eat it,” he added.

‘We ate everything’

Vietnam’s penchant for eating animals that are considered pets in many other countries came about largely as a result of circumstance, said Hoang Ngoc Bau, one of Hanoi’s few trained vets.

“The country was once very poor, and we had a long war. We ate everything we could to stay alive,” he told AFP. “Insects, dogs, cats, even rats … It became a habit.”

Bau decided to become a vet after his pet dog saved him from a poisonous snake when he was a child. “From that time, I had a debt to dogs,” the 63-year-old said.

Dramatic changes to society and cultural attitudes in the once tightly-controlled communist country in recent decades mean that a growing number of Vietnamese now share his love of animals.

But old eating habits die hard and pet owners have a battle on their hands to protect their furry companions from the dinner pot.

“No one is breeding dogs and cats for slaughter. So nearly all the animals in restaurants are trapped and stolen,” Bau said. “For me and other pet lovers in Vietnam, they’re our best friend.”

Yet some people manage to reconcile society’s dual affection for cats.

Le Ngoc Thien, the chef at one Hanoi cat meat restaurant, keeps a cat as a pet — but when it is big enough he will cook it and get a new kitten to repeat the cycle.

“When my cats become old we kill them because according to our tradition when a cat gets old we need to change it and get a younger one,” he said.

“When I first started working here, I was surprised so many people ate cat. But now, fine, they like it,” he said, adding that demand appeared to be increasing each year.

“Eating cat meat is better than eating dog as the meat is more sweet, more tender than a dog,” Thien said.

A cat sells for between $50 and $70 depending on how large it is and how it is prepared.

Many pet owners get fed up of the risks of letting their cats go outside.
Phuong Thanh Thuy owns a Hanoi restaurant and has cats to keep rats in check, but she has had to replace them regularly.

“My family is sad because we spend a lot of time and energy raising our cats. When we lose a cat we feel pain,” she said as a newly purchased batch of kittens played at her feet.


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« Reply #366 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:46 AM »


Parisian public gardens next to Louvre overrun by 'really big' rats

Rubbish left by tourists in the Tuileries garden is blamed for the infestation, which has become a problem even in broad daylight

Anne Penketh in Paris   
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 16.55 BST

It is one of the most famous parks in the world and attracts visitors from far and wide. But now Paris's Tuileries garden, next to the Louvre museum, is attracting another kind of visitor in possibly even greater numbers.

"It's horrible, we're scared of being bitten," said Audrey Hacherez, a gardener who was weeding a flowerbed on Monday in the formal gardens, which stretch along the Seine. "They're really big. Sometimes they fight each other."

Tourists' litter is being blamed for an influx of rats that was brought to the attention of Parisians last week after a photographer, Xavier Francolon, took pictures of the rodents scampering in the gardens. He told Le Parisien that he had seen about 30 in the space of the two days, and had been surprised to see so many among picnickers on the grass in broad daylight.

"The tourists throw their scraps of pizza and sandwiches all over the place," said Hacherez.

Standing beside a lavender bed strewn with plastic bottles and discarded food wrappings, another gardener explained that they were using an "ecological" poison against the rats but that it was proving less effective than chemical varieties. The gardeners said they had approached the Louvre's technical experts about the problem and were waiting to hear back.

The Louvre, which along with the culture ministry is responsible for maintaining the Carrousel and Tuileries garden, said on Monday that pest control is carried out twice a month, and more frequently in the summer months. The museum, which coordinates with the city of Paris sanitation services, was aware that last week "there were more rats than usual" in the gardens. It noted that "like any space or urban building near a river, particularly in the centre of Paris, the public domain of the Louvre museum can be the victim of a large and harmful presence of rodents, particularly in the summer".

The rat problem in the Louvre gardens has been acute for the past couple of years, according to local residents.


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« Reply #367 on: Jul 29, 2014, 06:58 AM »

Can evolution explain why so many domesticated mammals have floppy ears?

By The Conversation
Monday, July 28, 2014 15:26 EDT

By Don Newgreen, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Jeffrey Craig, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Take a look at several domesticated mammal species and you might spot a number of similarities between them, including those cute floppy ears.

The famous naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin even observed in the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species that: Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears.

And it’s not just the ears. Domesticated animals share a fairly consistent set of differences from their wild ancestors such as smaller brains, smaller teeth, shorter curly tails and lighter and blotchy coats: a phenomenon called the “domestication syndrome”.

A paper published this week in the journal Genetics poses a new explanation as to why so many domesticated animals have such a similar set of traits.

Adam Wilkins, from South Africa’s Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, and colleagues propose that human selection has, in domesticated species, altered the development of the neural crest, an organ system present during embryonic development.

The silver fox experiment

The dog has been befriended by humans for at least 11,000 years, longer than any other domesticated animal. They differ from their wild ancestor wolves in all the above listed features of domestication syndrome.

Dogs aren’t the only examples, of course. Humans have also domesticated cattle, horses, sheep, goats … the list goes on.

In the late 1950s, Russian fox-fur-farmer-turned-geneticist Dmitry Belyaev set up a long-term experiment to find out whether he could selectively breed the wildness out of the silver fox, which was hard to breed because of its aggressive nature.

In each generation of foxes, he bred from animals that showed the least aggression towards their captors.

It took him and his successor Lyudmilla Trut just 20 generations – only about 25 years – to create a line of silver foxes who from birth were tame enough to be kept as pets. For those who study evolution, this is an extraordinarily short time span.

But that wasn’t the most surprising result. Although selected only for their temperament, the later generations of silver foxes also had shorter faces, smaller teeth, soft and droopy ears, curly tails and altered colour.

Humans might selectively breed for less “flighty” and less “fighty” beasts, but why should domesticated animals also show characteristic changes in other body features?

The neural crest

In 1868, the same year that Darwin published an entire monograph on domestication, Swiss anatomist Wilhelm His Sr described what became known as the embryonic neural crest.

Vertebrate embryos at an early stage of development consist of three “germ layers”. He described a strip of cells in the outer layer (ectoderm), between the part that produces skin and the part that produces the central nervous system, and named this the Zwischenstrang (“between-strand”). It’s now called the neural crest.

These cells migrate into the middle layer (mesoderm), which produces skeletal, connective, muscular, glandular and reproductive tissues.

In a developing embryo, neural crest (NC) cells migrate in the direction indicated by the red arrows, from the outer germ layer (ectoderm) to the middle germ layer (mesoderm). Once there, they form a range of body structures.

Each germ layer was thought to produce mutually-exclusive tissues, but the bombshell came 20 years later when Russian biologist Nikolai Kastschenko proposed that archetypal middle layer tissues such as the craniofacial skeleton originated in the neural crest.

It took more than 30 years before Kastschenko’s heretical observations were accepted.

Explaining domestication syndrome

Wilkins and colleagues now propose a hypothesis that links the development of the neural crest with the body changes that accompany domestication.

The neural crest produces not only facial skeletal and connective tissues, teeth and external ears but also pigment cells, nerves and adrenal glands, which mediate the “fight or flight” response.

Neural crest cells are also important for stimulating the development of parts of the forebrain and for several hormonal glands.

The researchers argue that the domestication process selects for pre-existing variants in a number of genes that affect neural crest development. This causes a modest reduction in neural crest cell number or activity. This in turn affects the broad range of structures derived from the neural crest, giving rise to domestication syndrome.

Interestingly, deleterious alterations in genes controlling neural crest development cause wide-ranging syndromes called neurocristopathies in humans and in animals.

The researchers bolster their argument using several examples including Treacher Collins, Mowat-Wilson and Waardenburg syndromes. Indeed, they suggest that the domestication syndrome resembles a mild multi-gene neurocristopathy.

Surprisingly, they fail to include Williams Syndrome, which allies a mild variation in facial development with an unusually friendly disposition, as illustrated in the last year’s French-Canadian film Gabrielle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l4cV6KjlxU

The genetic region associated with Williams syndrome has been identified as one of the many regions in the canine genome that varies genetically between dogs and their wild ancestors, wolves.

This new hypothesis proposes one intriguing answer to the domestication question originally identified by Darwin and illustrated by Belyaev and Trut: why do all the traits of domestication co-exist in multiple species?

It may be that neural crest contributions are so diverse that it’s possible to cherry-pick points of congruence to support any hypothesis. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several lines of molecular genetic and functional experiments that can further put their ideas to the test.

The Conversation

Don Newgreen receives funding from National Health & Medical Research Council, Stem Cells Australia and Financial Markets Foundation for Children.

Jeffrey Craig receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Financial Markets Foundation For Children and the Jack Brockhoff Foundation


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« Reply #368 on: Jul 30, 2014, 06:28 AM »

Houston cop forces family to leave blind Chihuahua at roadside to die in traffic stop

By David Edwards
RawStory
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 13:15 EDT

The mayor of Houston has apologized to a family whose nearly blind dog was killed in traffic after a police officer forced them to leave it on the side of the road.

Josie Garcia told KTRK that the family pet Chihuahua, named Guero, was along for the trip when her husband gave a friend a ride on July 13. The men were stopped by a Houston police officer for failing to use a turn signal, and a search of the vehicle turned up prescription medication, which Garcia said belonged to the passenger.

The officer took both men into custody. And when the tow truck arrived, the dog was placed on the side of the road.

“My husband pleaded with the officer to let him call someone to come get Guero, and asked him to call Barc [animal shelter], but he said it wasn’t his problem, that the dog would be fine,” Garcia recalled.

Charges against Garcia’s husband were later dropped, but the family still could not find their dog.

Garcia placed “lost” signs around the area where Guero was last seen, and three days later, she was notified that she could find the dog lying dead on Eastex Freeway. The 14-year-old pet, which was almost completely blind from cataracts, had been hit by a car.

After filing a complaint with the HPD Internal Affairs, and voicing her concerns before the City Council, Garcia got an apology from the mayor.

“Let me give you a public apology right now on behalf of the city of Houston,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “I don’t know what airhead — there’s another word in my mind but I’m not going to say it — would throw, you wouldn’t put a kid on the side of the road. You shouldn’t put someone’s pet on the side of the road.”

The Houston Police Department also expressed its condolences, but could not comment on the case because of an ongoing internal investigation.

On Tuesday, Craig Malisow of the HoustonPress demanded to know why it would take longer than two weeks to provide Garcia with answers.

“Internal affairs investigations triggered by complaints could take up to 6 months, if not longer, according to an HPD spokesperson,” Malisow wrote. “We can understand why a complex case with multiple witnesses with conflicting stories might be a real quagmire of a case, but, really, to say it could take 180 days to determine whether an “airhead” (to quote Mayor Parker during the public input session) left a freaking dog on the side of the road is a bit of a stretch.”

“We don’t understand why a complaint as odd as this is allowed to remain unresolved for more than 72 hours,” he added. “Either Garcia is withholding part of the story, or just fabricating it outright, or this police officer acted irresponsibly. Call us selfish, but we think the public — if not Garcia and her husband — deserves a timely answer.”


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« Reply #369 on: Jul 31, 2014, 05:43 AM »

Dept. of Interior advances plan to reintroduce wild bison herds outside Yellowstone

By Reuters
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 20:44 EDT
By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – New herds of genetically pure wild bison may once again roam vast expanses of the American West where the iconic animal has been absent since the end of the 19th century, under a tentative plan federal officials advanced on Wednesday.

The proposal, for which Yellowstone National Park officials have begun seeking public comment, is almost sure to draw staunch opposition from ranchers concerned about disease, competition for grass and property destruction from straying bison.

Yellowstone is now home to more than 4,000 bison, or buffalo, constituting the bulk of the country’s last pure-bred population of the animals.

Dozens from the Yellowstone herd have been relocated to two Montana American Indian reservations in recent years. Park officials, wildlife advocates and Native American groups are now eager to restore wild bison to more of their native habitat.
 
A recent U.S. Interior Department report on bison concluded they could potentially be reintroduced to swaths of public lands it manages in states such as Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and South Dakota, without posing a risk to livestock.

The chief concern is brucellosis, an infection that causes stillbirths in cows and may have been transmitted to roughly half the bison in Yellowstone from exposure to cattle.

Park wildlife managers are eyeing a plan that would start by quarantining dozens of bison for several years to prevent them from contracting the disease. Those animals shown to be free of brucellosis could then be considered for relocation to establish controlled herds elsewhere, said David Hallac, chief of Yellowstone’s science and research branch.
 
The park is one year away from crafting a final proposal, which will be shaped by the public comment period that opened on Wednesday and closes in September, he said.
 
Quarantine facilities could be placed inside the park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, just outside its borders, or on lands owned by Native American tribes.
 
Hallac said a program that would see new bands of bison with the prized genetics of the Yellowstone herd established across the West would mark a conservation milestone.

Millions of the powerful, hump-shouldered animals once roamed the plains west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove their numbers to the fewer than 50 that found refuge in Yellowstone in the early 20th century.
 
But livestock industry representatives said even disease-free bison could prove problematic to the landscape, since the outsized animals would likely venture beyond fences or property lines and might compete with cattle for forage.
 
“We have legitimate concerns about containment and damage to private property and we need to address the impact on ranchers that graze on federal lands,” said Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman from Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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« Reply #370 on: Jul 31, 2014, 05:44 AM »

Oregon hunting guide pleads guilty to injuring wild cats to make them easier to kill

By Reuters
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 15:21 EDT
By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – An Oregon hunting guide accused of injuring or caging mountain lions and bobcats to make it easier for his clients to shoot and kill pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a U.S. Court in Denver to violating a federal wildlife law, prosecutors said.

Nicholaus Rodgers of Shady Cove, Oregon, could face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 for the felony count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, which bans the transportation or sale across state lines of illegally gained wildlife, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Under a plea agreement, Rodgers admitted he was part of a ring of hunting guides employed by a Colorado outfitter who shot, trapped or caged the wild cats to provide clients with faux fair chase hunts in Colorado and Utah from 2007 to 2009, prosecutors said in a statement.

Rodgers, 31, is the fourth guide who worked for the Colorado outfitter, Christopher Loncarich, to plead guilty to Lacey Act violations in a case investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Loncarich was indicted by a federal grand jury in Colorado in January over numerous illegal big-game hunts in his home state and in Utah in guided hunting packages that ranged in price from $700 to $7,500, prosecutors said.

Rodgers could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. He is to be sentenced in November in U.S. District Court in Denver.

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« Reply #371 on: Aug 01, 2014, 10:29 AM »

How small birds evolved from giant meat eating dinosaurs

By The Conversation
Friday, August 1, 2014 11:19 EDT

By Mike Lee and Gareth Dyke, University of Southampton

Spectacular transitional fossils, many from northern China, provide overwhelming evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds and thus didn’t all perish when the deadly meteorite struck at the end of the Cretaceous period.

We now know that many bipedal, meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) – including relatives of T. rex and Velociraptor – were adorned with a variety of feathers. They were preserved in such detail in fine volcanic ash that often even their colours can be reconstructed. Plumage might have even been present in all dinosaurs

A study by our team published today in the journal Science sheds new light on the evolutionary journey from bulky ground-dwelling dinosaurs to agile flying birds.

Our research shows that the ancestors of birds were the only lineage of dinosaurs to continually shrink in size for an extended period of time (at least 50 million years, and perhaps twice as long). They were also the fastest-evolving lineage of dinosaurs.

These results also relate – unexpectedly – to human health and an implausible 1980s TV show.

The incredible shrinking dinosaur

We constructed a detailed family tree for theropod dinosaurs including birds, and nutted out the evolutionary events that happened on each branch – that is, did body size increase or decrease and did any novel adaptations evolve?

For instance, if all the dinosaurs above a branch possessed a unique adaptation (such a shoulder blades fused into a bird-like wishbone), then we can infer that the wishbone evolved on that branch.

We then identified the series of successive branches leading from the very base of the dinosaur tree all the way to living birds: this is the “bird stem lineage”.

A close analogy would be taking a real tree and tracing the single path that leads from the trunk all the way to a “special” little bunch of leaves somewhere high in the crown.

It turns out that the bird stem lineage – the dinosaurs on the road to becoming birds – were evolving in a noticeably different manner to other theropod lineages around at the time.

This lineage kept shrinking in size, with each successive descendant smaller than its predecessor. In contrast, in other dinosaur lineages, body size was alternately increasing and decreasing, with no sustained trend in one direction.

Another recent study further shows that body size along the bird stem lineage often changed unusually rapidly (in addition to in a coherent direction).

Taking the evolutionary lead

Evolutionary novelties were appearing on the bird stem lineage at a faster rate than across the rest of the tree. Many were major innovations such as complex feathers, bigger brains, wings and wishbones. Stem-birds were out-evolving their contemporaries by changing approximately four times as fast.

This continual and often rapid shrinking was probably directly related to the accelerated evolution of anatomical novelties.

Reduced body size, for instance, allowed bird-stem dinosaurs to explore new postures (bird-like walking where the thigh bone is held horizontal) and habitats (such as arboreal and, later, aerial habitats). This in turn would have created pressure to evolve radical new adaptations such as reshaping fluffy feathers into wings.

Perhaps the movement of small dinosaurs into trees was one reason for the appearance of gliding flight, using aerodynamic feathers?

Small theropods with feathered arms, legs and tails – such as Microraptor and the recently-described Changyuraptor – were very likely excellent climbers, as fossils have been found with small birds in their stomachs.

Survival of the ‘MacGyver dinosaurs’

Ultimately, the dinosaurian lineage that was the most evolvable during the Mesozoic also proved to be the most long-lived (there are 10,000 species of birds still alive today).

It is not surprising that the ability to adapt rapidly is a key to long-term survival.

A timely example concerns the influenza virus in the (southern) winter. Of the many and varied flu strains circulating now, the fastest-evolving strains are more likely to outwit our immune systems and to persist and cause problems next winter.

A certain resourceful 1980s TV character fits into this picture in two ways: secret agent Angus MacGyver epitomised the ability to adapt quickly to any novel situation – just like the avian stem lineage.

But there is a more profound point of relevance. The methods we used to infer dinosaur evolutionary trees and patterns of size evolution were actually originally developed to better understand the molecular evolution and geographic spreading of viruses (such as influenza and HIV) in real time.

The intricate theory and mathematics required are virtually identical for both situations. So rather than re-invent a very complex wheel, we “MacGyvered it” by transferring the analytic tools from molecular biology over to palaeontology.

The Conversation

Mike Lee receives research funding from the Australian Research Council, the South Australian Museum, and the Environment Institute (University of Adelaide).

Gareth Dyke does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQd9TXW5SXw

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« Reply #372 on: Aug 02, 2014, 04:09 AM »


Bear attacks leave at least three people dead in Siberia and far-east Russia

Experts suggest extreme weather could be disrupting biorhythms and food supply, and fishing nets cutting off access to salmon

Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 1 August 2014 13.47 BST   

A rash of bear attacks in Russia have left at least three people dead and many more injured in recent weeks as record high temperatures, freak snow, hailstorms and flooding hit Siberia and the country's far east.

Human activity may be behind some of the attacks. Experts cited by the news agency Interfax said nets and obstacles have prevented salmon from swimming up rivers to spawn, leaving bears without a regular food supply.

Extreme weather can also disrupt the predators' biorhythms and food supply, said Vladimir Krever, director of the biodiversity programme at WWF Russia.

Recent attacks include one at 2am on Wednesday at a meteorological station in the forests of Sakha Republic. A bear broke down the door of a residential trailer and bit the arm of the woman inside, only to be scared away by her loud screaming.

Three days earlier another bear ambushed a boy on Iturup island as he was walking home from his grandmother's house. The bear had dragged the 14-year-old to the shore by the time police arrived and shot it dead. The boy had 170 stitches and remains in critical condition.

This month, a bear killed three construction workers on Sakhalin island and left two in critical condition in an attack that was partially filmed on one of the men's mobile phones. During another attack in the Sakha Republic, a man's mobile phone saved his life when it suddenly activated and the tone scared off a bear that was biting his head. Adult brown bears found in Siberia and far-east Russia can grow to more the 590kg (1,300lbs) in size.

"The increase [in] number of extreme natural phenomena, hurricanes, storms, sudden heat or cold  … can lead to a growth in conflict situations for people in nature, including with bears," Krever said.

A heatwave this month has led to Russia football matches to be delayed and a ceremonial changing of the presidential guard to be cancelled. ThisRecord-breaking temperatures were reported in the Siberian cities of Barnaul, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk and Novokuznetsk.

On 12 July, a heatwave in the Novosibirsk region ended suddenly when the temperature dropped and the area was pelted with egg-sized hailstones, to the horror of beach-goers in one viral video. The same day, a rainstorm turned into a blizzard and left up to 10cm of snow in the Chelyabinsk region owing to what experts said was an Arctic cyclone. Also in July, authorities declared a state of emergency after three months' worth of rain fell in 36 hours in Magadan, cutting off some residents while others wakeboarded behind cars and trucks.

According to Alexey Kokorin, head of the climate and energy programme at WWF Russia, these phenomena are part of a trend he attributed to global climate change, which on top of natural variations has caused the frequency of extreme weather events to more than double in all parts of Russia over the past two decades. "In Russia, all these things have happened, snow in southern Urals and heatwaves in Siberia, but now they're happening more often," he said.


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« Reply #373 on: Aug 05, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Denmark's cage-free zoo will put humans in captivity

Bjarke Ingels’s ‘zootopia’ reverses the role of captor and captive to let animals roam free, while humans are hidden from view. But will it become a feral version of the Hunger Games?

Oliver Wainwright   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 August 2014 10.50 BST   

He’s designed apartment blocks in the shape of mountains and a power station with a ski-slope on the roof. He’s made museums that erupt from the ground with cartoonish glee, and proposed a viewing tower like a gigantic spiralling lollipop. Now the Danish architectural wunderkind, Bjarke Ingels, has reinvented the zoo – by making humans the ones that are captive.

His plan for the Givskud “Zootopia”, a 1960s zoological park in southern Denmark, is a world where animals roam free, liberated from cages and tanks, while visitors observe them hidden from view, buried beneath the ground or obscured inside piles of logs. It is like a live Truman Show for animals, a 300-acre stage set wilderness in which the roaming beasts should never even know you are there, carefully concealed behind the scenes.

“Architects’ greatest and most important task is to … make sure that our cities offer a generous framework for different people – from different backgrounds, economy, gender, culture, education and age – so they can live together in harmony,” says the Bjarke Ingels Group, aka BIG. “Nowhere is this challenge more acrimonious than in a zoo.”

The architects propose to reduce the acrimony by banishing the human captors beneath the carpet – in some cases quite literally. Visitors will be able to observe lions from a bunker buried beneath a hill and peep at pandas through a bamboo screen. They will look at bears from a little house hidden in a stack of tree-trunks, and gawp at giraffes through holes cut into a hillside.

“Instead of copying the architecture from the various continents by doing vernacular architecture, we propose to integrate and hide the buildings as much as possible in the landscape,” say the architects – keen to avoid the usual Disneyish approach of Sumatran temples to see the tigers and Chinese pagodas to view the pandas, by doing away with buildings all together.

The scheme also flips the traditional model of endless swaths of public concourse surrounding mean little enclosures. Instead, it will channel visitors into a central circular piazza, conceived as a sort of a base camp, from which they then venture into the wilds, exploring the three themed continents along snaking routes. Floating along a winding river through Asia, cycling across the African savannah, or flying above America, visitors will be housed in little mirrored pods, under the slightly strange assumption that animals won’t be able to see shiny metallic blobs trundling through their territories.

Looking at the renderings, it is all too tempting to imagine it ending up like a feral version of the Hunger Games, as elephants eye up the shiny capsules for a game of throw and catch between their trunks, while monkeys make mischief with the cable-car. But the architects have a higher goal, that by liberating the beasts, we might learn from their ways. “Who knows,” say BIG, “perhaps a rhino can teach us something about how we live – or could live in the future?” They could surely also do that by being left alone in the wild. But as long as zoos continue to exist, BIG’s model shows how architects can help them improve, by barely being there at all.


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« Reply #374 on: Aug 07, 2014, 06:23 AM »


Zonkey named Telegraph born at Crimean zoo

Foal's head and body are the solid brown of a donkey, while his legs have the characteristic black stripes of a zebra

Agence France-Presse in Belogorsk
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 August 2014 11.56 BST   

A zoo in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has welcomed its latest arrival – a zebroid, or zonkey. Named Telegraph by keepers at the Taigan zoo park in southern Crimea, the foal's head and body are the solid brown of a donkey, while his legs have the characteristic black stripes of a zebra.

Oleg Zubkov, director of the private zoo near Simferopol, said Telegraph was very popular with visitors. He said Telegraph's mother, a zebra, had not had a mate for a long time and had been lonely and uncomfortable in her enclosure. "So on the advice of a zoologist we moved her in with several other hooved animals and she really liked the donkey. As a result of their affection for one another we've gotten Telegraph."

Cross-breeding between zebras and other members of the equine family is not unheard of, although it is rare that the zebra is the mother. The breeding of zonkeys or other hybrids is normally frowned upon by the zoo community.

"Such things don't happen in civilised zoos, but can occur at private zoos or on farms," said Anna Kachurovskaya, a spokeswoman for Moscow zoo. "This sort of marketing is not justified or scientific … zoos are for preserving wild species, that is one of their most important goals."

Telegraph was named after a local newspaper that recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.


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