Archive for April, 2008

Legless Lizard And Tiny Woodpecker Among New Species Discovered In Brazil

April 30, 2008

Researchers discovered a legless lizard and a tiny woodpecker along with 12 other suspected new species in Brazil’s Cerrado, one of the world’s 34 biodiversity conservation hotspots.

The Cerrado’s wooded grassland once covered an area half the size of Europe, but is now being converted to cropland and ranchland at twice the rate of the neighboring Amazon rainforest, resulting in the loss of native vegetation and unique species.

An expedition comprising scientists from Conservation International (CI) and Brazilian universities found 14 species believed new to science — eight fish, three reptiles, one amphibian, one mammal, and one bird — in and around the Serra Geral do Tocantins Ecological Station, a 716,000-hectare (1,769,274-acre) protected area that is the Cerrado’s second largest.

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Dead as a dodo? Why scientists fear for the future of of the Asian vulture

April 30, 2008

You have to feel sorry for vultures. For animal campaigners they are a difficult case. Other, more photogenic, slightly less sinister creatures may gain the world’s sympathy at the drop of a hat, but raising money to save the world’s most proficient scavenger is a different matter.

As far as the Asian vulture is concerned, however, the situation is now urgent. Asian vultures may be ugly, but soon, if current trends continue, their unprepossessing appearance will be consigned to history.

The population of the oriental white-backed vulture, predominantly native to India, is dwindling at a rate of 40 per cent a year, making it the fastest declining wild bird in history. Their numbers have plummeted by 99.9 per cent since 1992. Indeed, its slide to extinction may be more rapid than that of the dodo.

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Animals Use “Chemical Compasses,” Study Says

April 30, 2008

The idea that some animals navigate by “seeing” Earth’s magnetic field has been shown to be feasible in laboratory tests, a new study says.

First proposed about 30 years ago, the theory suggests that sunlight absorbed by molecules in the eyes of animals such as birds and bats triggers a chemical reaction.

This reaction makes the molecules sensitive to the local magnetic field, according to study co-author Peter Hore, a chemist at the University of Oxford in England.

But Earth’s magnetic field is so weak that scientists were skeptical that it could have a detectable effect on the molecules.

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Why Are Kids So Crazy About Animals?

April 30, 2008

Yeah, zoos are fun. So are cartoons. And I certainly see the appeal of a teddy bear.

But why are kids so over-the-top crazy about animals? I am especially struck by the fact that some of the most popular cartoon and children’s-book animals are among the least appealing animals in real life. Mice, for instance. And pigs and rats and bears and fish.

Here’s what I read the other day in the class newsletter my daughter brought home from kindergarten:

Post Office Money Update: After a vote among all four K classes about how to spend this money, “Animals” received the most votes. (Other choices were Kids, Grown-Ups, and the Earth.) Please let us know if you are aware of any reputable organizations which are devoted to animals.

I wouldn’t expect kids to want to give any of their money to grown-ups. And while kids may be helping to drive awareness of climate change, “the Earth” is a pretty amorphous target.

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Debate: Do Pets Make Us Happier?

April 30, 2008

Growing up, my family had a much-beloved dog, Paddy-Wack (“Knick knack paddy wack, give your dog a bone…”), but we don’t have a pet now. I’m very thankful that our building doesn’t allow them, because the Big Girl would constantly be pestering me about it, if not. I definitely wouldn’t want the responsibility of having a pet – we’re taxed to the uttermost right now, with two children. We can’t even keep a houseplant alive.

Nevertheless, I know that for many people, pets are an enormous source of happiness. The other day, though, I had a fascinating conversation with a friend about the negative happiness consequence of having pets. There are pros and cons I hadn’t considered.

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Rampant overfishing endangers Baltic fish stocks

April 30, 2008

A storm is brewing, which means that coastal fisherman Zbignew Struck, 46, is taking in his salmon nets in the Bay of Puck in Poland.
“The storm could tangle the nets”, he says from the cabin of his boat.
There is another reason for the haste: Struck has cast his nets into the sea without permission.
“I am afraid that the fishing inspectors will show up. They watch us from the air and at sea, and wait for us in the harbours”, says the fisherman, who shakes his head at the thought of a hefty fine.

The inspectors have been cracking down on coastal and open-sea fishing, as Poland has been put under pressure by the European Union to do something about rampant fish poaching.  According to an assessment made last year, Poland had been in violation of cod quotas. As punishment, a ban on cod fishing in the Baltic Sea was imposed on Poland for the second half of the year.  The most defiant flouted the ban. Now the fishing routine is nearly back to normal, and illegal fishing continues unabated.

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The `Cat Lady of Baghdad’ battles on, saving strays of Iraq

April 30, 2008

The mission was to get Simba al-Tikriti out of Iraq and to a new life in Britain.

First, a roadside bomb nearly wiped out the taxi heading to the border with Kuwait. The next step was to hide under tarps in the back of a truck. More hardship awaited: six months caged by authorities in England.

But freedom eventually came for Simba, who walked away from captivity with tail held high.

So began the improbable work of the self-proclaimed Cat Lady of Baghdad.

“Some people buy flash cars, others flash clothes. But it’s my animals that float my boat,” said Louise, a security consultant in Baghdad who moonlights as a one-woman animal rescue unit that may be the only such organized effort under way in Iraq.

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New York bans grisly electrocution of animals for fur

April 30, 2008

New York has become the first state in the nation to ban the electrocution of animals in a particularly gruesome way to harvest their fur.

The law bans the practice of anal and genital electrocution of fur-bearing animals, including mink, foxes, chinchillas and rabbits. The misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail.

National animal rights advocates on Wednesday said they hope it will force similar measures in other states.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to use the law to push other states to ban similar practices on farms, which are often hidden in rural areas where animals are born and bred unsheltered in cages.

“Anal electrocution is common practice in fur farms across the world,” said Melissa Karpel of the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA. “A lot of these methods aren’t effective and these animals will wake up while they are being skinned.”

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Custom wheelchairs recover mobility for pets

April 30, 2008

When Gary Mikus learned that an incurable nerve disease was starting to paralyze the hind legs of his German shepherd, he immediately dismissed the idea of putting the dog to sleep.

Then he spotted an ad in a pet food store: “Eddie’s Wheels For Pets. Help for Handicapped Pets.” Now the dog named Bear, which has been Mikus’ constant companion for a decade, has a lot of living left to do — much of it in his new pet wheelchair.

“He’s healthy in every other way,” Mikus said. “Until something tells me otherwise that he’s failing, I’ll do everything I can to keep him mobile and happy.”

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Tropical Reforestation Aided By Bats

April 30, 2008

German scientists are engaging bats to kick-start natural reforestation in the tropics by installing artificial bat roosts in deforested areas. This novel method for tropical restoration is presented in a new study published online in the science journal Conservation Biology this week. Detlev Kelm from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin (IZW) and Kerstin Wiesner and Otto von Helversen from the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg report that the deployment of artificial bat roosts significantly increases seed dispersal of a wide range of tropical forest plants into their surroundings, providing a simple and cheap method to speed up natural forest regeneration

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Giant squid may decimate British Columbia fish population, scientists fear

April 30, 2008

Nightmarish packs of rapacious giant devil squid are hunting off the B.C. coast — and as their numbers increase, scientists are worrying about an attack on fish stocks.

Humboldt squid, called diablos rojos or red devils in Mexico, have been known to attack scuba divers, and were once a rarity in B.C. waters. But a changing ocean environment has brought them northward, and they may now be permanently establishing themselves off the B.C. coast.

Along the squid’s tentacles are about 2,000 suction cups, each circled with dozens of sharp teeth, to drag food to the razor-sharp beak with which it eats.

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Virtual pets & digital animals – remember that 90’s fad?

April 30, 2008

You were in elementary school and in a complete pickle. Your Tamagotchi was about to starve, but you knew if your teacher caught you feeding it, she would surely kidnap it.

Released in the late ‘90s, Nano Babies and Tamagotchis are little tiny virtual pets that conveniently attached to key chains, wallets and school bags. They were also part of the reason you earned a C in your fourth-grade reading class. Who had time to pay attention when your Nano Baby desperately needed your undivided attention?

Tamagotchis were so popular that McDonald’s gave a version away in Happy Meals for a month in 1998.

“Why were those things ever popular?” wondered nursing student Michael Matthews.

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Dog survives 8 days trapped in building rubble

April 30, 2008

A dog was found alive and in relatively good shape after spending eight days trapped in the rubble of a building that exploded, critically injuring the pup’s owner.

Lulu, a Springer spaniel, was rescued Sunday after the owner of the business that had been housed in the two-story building heard her whimpering.

“We turned off the radio and started calling out Lulu’s name. Then we heard some yelping,” Brian Hold, owner of Good Times Adventures, told the Summit Daily News in Tuesday’s editions.

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Japan Detects First Case of Bird Flu in a Year, Kyodo Reports

April 30, 2008

Japan detected the bird flu virus in three dead swans, the nation’s first case of the disease in more than a year, Kyodo News Agency reported, citing a National Institute of Animal Health study.

The swans, which tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, were found in Japan’s northern prefecture of Akita on April 21, Kyodo said.

Akita’s local government will carry out inspections at 15 farms within a 30 kilometer radius of where the infected swans were found, Kyodo reported. Inspectors will examine about 42,000 birds, the news agency said.

The government will ask local farmers to take additional precautions to prevent wild birds entering their properties and to detect any chickens showing signs of illness, Kyodo said.

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First baby camel born at Helsinki Zoo in 37 years

April 30, 2008

Seeing the baby camel at the Helsinki Zoo is a bewildering experience. Its eyes are beautiful, as if designed by Disney, but other than that it is all legs. The four-day-old camel foal is hairy, long-limbed, and clumsy.
When it squeaks, its mother, Selma, rises on her legs and walks over to the youngster. Staggering and occasionally falling, the foal seeks its way to its mother’s teats.

The father, 13-year-old Voodoo, looks at his family from behind a fence. “When the baby was born, the father stamped its feet. It was nervous”, explains the Helsinki Zoo veterinarian Eeva Rudbäck.
The family will be reunited in a couple of weeks’ time. The young has to learn to be quick to be able to flee in case its father loses his temper.

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Why puppy love can give your children a healthy start in life

April 29, 2008

Children run less risk of being sensitive to allergens if there is a dog in the house in the early years of their lives, scientists have found.

The conclusion, based on a six-year study of 9,000 children, adds weight to the theory that growing up with a pet trains the immune system to be less sensitive to potential triggers for allergies such as asthma, eczema and hay fever.

The “hygiene theory” of allergy holds that modern life has simply become too clean, meaning that babies’ immune systems are not exposed to enough germs to develop normally.

Having a dog provides enough dirt of the right kind, the new German study suggests. But it may be important that baby meets dog early enough to affect the immune system as it develops. “Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during subjects’ infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitisation to pollens and inhaled allergens,” said Joachim Heinrich of the National Research Centre for Environmental Health in Munich.

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Feds sued for taking gray wolves off endangered list

April 29, 2008

Environmental and animal rights groups sued the federal government Monday, seeking to restore endangered species status for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted federal protections for the estimated 1,500 wolves in March. It turned over management responsibilities to state officials in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana for the first time in more than three decades.

The lawsuit alleges those states lack adequate laws to ensure wolves are not again eradicated from the region. At least 37 were killed in the last month.

The groups are seeking an immediate court order to restore federal control over the species until the case is resolved.

“We’re very concerned that absent an injunction, hundreds of wolves could be killed under existing state management plans,” said attorney Jason Rylander with Defenders of Wildlife, one of twelve groups that filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

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‘Ordinary’ pets to the rescue on human-animal therapy teams

April 29, 2008

Most of the time, Biscuit the bulldog is just a regular stubby-legged young dude who runs around the yard collecting sticks and making everyone laugh with his goofy antics.

But each Friday, once he dons his green work vest, he adjusts his jowly mug into an expression of genial concern, discards all thoughts of canine capers and calmly sets about the business of cheering up stroke patients or encouraging children in their classrooms.

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Scientists call for protection of rare alpine fish species in religions shrines

April 29, 2008

Yunnan Province, a wildlife paradise in southwest China, is the native habitat of many alpine fishes, including some rare species never found anywhere else in the world today.

Due to a variety of reasons, either natural or anthropic, however, the natural endowment in biodiversity is now in peril, and many rare piscine species are at the brink of extinction.

Facing such a grim situation, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences(CAS) Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ) recently lodged an appeal, calling for energized efforts to preserve the pristine eco-systems for the survival of the endemic fishes in Buddhism temples of the region.

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Insects Use Plants Like A Telephone

April 29, 2008

Dutch ecologist Roxina Soler and her colleagues have discovered that subterranean and aboveground herbivorous insects can communicate with each other by using plants as telephones. Subterranean insects issue chemical warning signals via the leaves of the plant. This way, aboveground insects are alerted that the plant is already ‘occupied’.

Aboveground, leaf-eating insects prefer plants that have not yet been occupied by subterranean root-eating insects. Subterranean insects emit chemical signals via the leaves of the plant, which warn the aboveground insects about their presence. This messaging enables spatially-separated insects to avoid each other, so that they do not unintentionally compete for the same plant.

In recent years it has been discovered that different types of aboveground insects develop slowly if they feed on plants that also have subterranean residents and vice versa. It seems that a mechanism has developed via natural selection, which enables the subterranean and aboveground insects to detect each other. This avoids unnecessary competition.

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